Q&A: Enough crying already!

Blake writes:

"Please help I don’t know what to do.  I am a stay at home mom (engineer) of a 20 month old and a 3 year old.  My 20 month old seems to cry all the time instead of using his words to get what he wants.  He does not have a great vocabulary yet but knows a lot of words (juice, snack, bath, night night, more, etc).  I am so sick of the crying and I have tried time out for unnecessary crying and it works for the moment but then he just cries the next time.  I feel like it is frustration but I don’t know how to make him stop every time he wants something.  He throws fits, hits and kicks and I ignore him or put him in time out.  I don’t know how to make this stop.  Can you help me please?"

Hey! My younger one is turning 2 next week, and this was our house 4 months ago.

I actually think this is pretty common for a younger child (I'm talking birth order, not chronological age). They seem not to be as verbal as early as the older children. Everyone says that it's because the older child talks for them or gets them whatever they need, but I think that's only part of it. Another part is that I think lots of us, despite our best intentions, just hand the second child whatever they want just to make things go more smoothly because we're trapped between the demands of the older child and the demands of the younger child. (I'm raising my hand.) So the child gets rewarded for crying. Which in turn makes us nuts, and we just want the crying to end. It turns into one big crazy-making cycle.

Of course we know that the answer is just to be firm about not responding to crying, encouraging use of words, blah blah freaking blah. Who has the energy or time for that with the second child? The fact of the matter is that in a few months he'll be able to talk more and will discover the joys of having his requests met cheerfully and more rapidly. The free market will regulate itself and he'll do a little more talking and a little less crying every day, until one day you'll suddenly realize that he hasn't cried, not even a crocodile tear, for a whole 30-minute period.

And then he'll turn 3, and it'll all go down the tubes again temporarily.

One thing that helped us a lot here was for me to verbalize for him what his negative feelings were. "You're so angry! You wanted that truck but it belongs to your brother and he's playing with it. You want to scream and hit someone! You just feel angry and sad and frustrated all at the same time."  Having his feelings expressed for him seemed to be all he needed, and then he could calm down. (If it works for you, you can thank my therapist, who pointed out that a lot of the recurring anger and tantrums were probably because he wasn't feeling understood, and suggested the verbalizing technique.)

In other news, I think the time-out is highly ineffective for a 20-month-old, but it is probably extraordinarily effective for you. So when you just can't take it, instead of putting him in a time-out, put yourself in one with a magazine and a beverage of your choice for 5 minutes. Then you'll be able to return to the scene of the donnybrook with a little more strength and calm than when you left.

Courage. This stage won't last much longer. You're doing a great job.