Friday, December 24, 2010

Concern about 21 month old

Questioner: Sara


Subject: Toddler Discipline

Question: I have two boys, aged 5 and 21 months. My concern is about my 21-month old.

The baby is extremely bright. He did everything early - he started walking at 9 months. However, he still barely speaks; his vocabulary, I believe, though, is much bigger than he lets on - he has used words appropriately, never to repeat. Also, I do not think there is any problem with his hearing, as he usually responds, and can even follow 2-part instructions.

The problem is he is extremely "spirited." Discipline is impossible - he ignores you when you tell him no; if you were to tap his hand, he'll laugh at you. He also throws frequent temper tantrums, pulls hair, throws things, hits, and has recently gotten into the habit of breaking into the refrigerator (whenever anyone forgets to put the gate up) to crack eggs on my bed.

I don't know what to do anymore. If I don't understand what he wants, he will scream, cry, throw things, etc. I'm at my whits end with him.

Answer: Dear Sara:

Two year old toddlers become frustrated when they are not getting their needs met as they often do not have the vocabulary to express themselves. The become frustrated and will act their feelings out in a manner to assist you in experiencing the same frustration that they feel inside. (Notice how you feel when he is acting out and you can probably identify the same feeling his is experiencing as well). Obviously tapping his hand isn't working for you so stop. You will only be frustrated.

I have several recommendations.

1. Take a look at the Nurturing Parenting Program. You can order the materials yourself and read up on the do's and don't for parenting toddlers.

2. Next google positive parenting. There are two sites one for positive parenting and one for positive discipline by Jane Nelson. Both of these sites are excellent for suggestions on interacting with toddlers. What I especially like about Jane Nelson's work is she taught in her original book how to parent from the inside out. In other words that our children often respond intuitively to what they sense in going on inside of us.

3. Behavior strategies to dealing with inappropriate behavior. Refrain from giving your son any reinforcement for his bad behavior. In other words when he throws a fit withdraw from him by not talking directly to him, not holding eye contact with him while he acts out. Let him know you will talk with him when he calms down and give him time to work things out himself without hurting himself or someone else.

From the sounds of his behavior as you describe it he is doing more than throwing tantrums he is acting out for shock effect.

Now having said this when you start responding to him by ignoring him do not give in and decide this is not working. His behavior will get worse before it gets better when you try this new strategy. Any behavior change on your part will increase his acting out at first. Being consistent is the key to getting his attention.

The other part to changing his behavior is to catch him when he is playing or acting appropriately. To make a fuss over his "good" behavior.

4. This is the last recommendation however not the least important. Get a feeling chart (faces which show feelings and have the name of the feeling underneath it) and show him the chart. Ask him to pick out how he feels. There are really great children's books you can buy which also show different faces with different feelings. Another book talks about how hands are not for hitting they are for throwing balls etc....it takes the unacceptable behavior and replaces it with acceptable behavior with the same body part. Teeth are not for biting people they are for biting apples. This sort of replacement helps him to understand why you find his behavior unacceptable.

As for the eggs in your bed.....I think I would keep a few boiled eggs in that carton and keep the fresh ones in the back of the fridge somewhere.

If you practice these skills I think you will see some results within a few weeks.

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller