Monday, August 29, 2011

Toddler will not take NO for an answer

Questioner: V

Subject: toddler will not take NO for an answer

Question: QUESTION: Hi, I have a 2 year old, soon to be 3 in November and I feel like he is the one in control.

I work far and get home late during the week.My husband also works full time but watches him right after work. He goes to the sitters 3 days a week for 3 1/2 hrs. The only time I have to spend with him is on weekends and our family outings become so stressful we avoid going anywhere. When we tell him NO he screams off the top of his lungs.

I have tried everything and nothing works.He will even throw himself on the floor. Nor my husband or I can control him. We all stress over his behavior, including his 12 yr old brother. I sometimes find myself giving in to avoid the stress and embarrassment, and I guess some guilt of not being there for him as much as I would like to.

Hope you can help,


You may not like my answer. He is not the problem. I suspect you all are when he throws fits and you give in or respond to him you are reinforcing his behavior and making it stronger.

When he throws a fit you all need to disengage. Disengage by not giving him any eye contact or responding to his behavior. Remove yourselves from his stage or arena as far as possible and still keeping him safe. Let him know you will talk to him when he is using his big boy voice and not until.

Do NOT give in even one time. Do not look at him or pay any attention to him. Act natural no matter how hard it is to do so.

Every one in your house has to respond the same to him or it will reinforce his behavior.

NOW his behavior will get worse before it gets better as it has obviously worked for him before.

Several other things you will need to do when he is not throwing fits.

1. Notice when he doesn't throw a fit and tell him what a big boy he is and how proud of him you are, reinforce behavior you do want. Pay attention and notice immediately. (Again you all need to to do this together every time.)

2. Go to the bookstore and get a children's feelings book which has feeling words matched with the appropriate feeling and read it to him. Help him to identify his feelings and express them in a more appropriate manner. There are lots of books for children on appropriate behavior.

Although you work late make sure you have established routines. Especially a bedtime routine and notice I did not mention a schedule I said a routine. There is a difference. Schedules are about time and routines are about processes.

Because he sees so little of you it is important you establish a good bedtime routine so he knows he has your full attention and can count on you to be there, reinforcing his trust.

I suggest massaging him at night after a story. Who doesn't feel good about a massage and a bedtime story each night!

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

You are right. I will definitely take your advice. One more question,what do you suggest we do in a restaurant where ignoring him makes him scream louder and eventually bothers other people around us? I usually take him to the bathroom and look at him straight in the eye and tell him we will sit here until he calms down. it works but not for long and I find myself taking 5 trips to the bathroom. This also happens in the movie theatres. Am I doing wrong by removing him from the situation rather than removing ourselves from his stage?

Answer: Dear V:

You have several options. I would suggest a sitter until he gets his behavior under control with the previous suggestions. You really do not have to take a two year old out to dinner or to the theatre.

However, you can also choose to take him with you AND be willing to get up and leave immediately when he throws a fit. (Sometimes this back fires as with some children this maybe what they want. If so then the first suggestion is best.)

Lastly, your method would work if you took him to the bathroom and ignored him. When you say you take him in there and give him reinforcement by looking him in the eye and speaking with him, this maybe exactly what he needs at the time he is throwing a tantrum. When I said previously you have to do the same thing every means anywhere. Prepare the rest of the family that you will take him to the bathroom and remain there until he is finished. Let him have his time to have a tantrum and discourage others from talking to him in the bathroom. IGNORE the inappropriate behavior and when he is done ask him if he is now ready to join the family.

Good Luck!

M Kay Keller

Knowledgeability Clarity of Response Politeness

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Comment: I wanted to say thank you again. Although I know this will take time I have already noticed a difference in him in the last few days since I have followed you advice.I was always so focused and always expecting his bad behaviors and never reinforced the good ones,this has really helped out. Thanks,V

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