Category Archives: Tantrums

Q&A: “spoiled” 2-year-old?

Carla writes:

"OK, I don’t want to overreact since
it is my first time at this (my only child is a 2 year old girl).  But
there have been some comments from relatives that my daughter is spoiled
and that I over-indulge her.  I feel like I am strict where it makes
sense to be strict with a 2 year old, that she is just 2 and will act
like it at times and there is only so much you can do.  So I’m looking
for a sanity check.  Over all, I think she is a happy, cheerful, busy
girl, but there are a few things that have come up recently.

1. She is a very
picky eater.  This has gotten worse in the last 3-6 months.  Sometimes
she barely eats all day.  I don’t give her milk with meals but if she
asks for milk 30 minutes after a meal, I give it to her.  Am I spoiling
her?  Should I provide 3 squares and 3 snacks, and that’s it?  (I would
feel like a prison guard enforcing such a rule but maybe I should.)
Should I make her sit at the table until she has eaten a pre-determined
amount?  She seems to young for that to me but maybe I am wrong.  And
it seems to me pointless to battle over food (can I really force her to
eat?) but again, maybe I am wrong.

2.
She is big on the "mine" and "no" these days.  I try to let her have
something when it doesn’t matter (sure, feed Elmo a cracker) to avoid
saying "no" all day long.  But if it is unsafe or means a lot to me, I
definitely don’t fold.  She has little tantrums and I just ignore it,
they seem to me a normal 2 year old thing to do.  But should I act more
strict when she has a tantrum?  (E.g., tell her "no tantrums!" in a big
voice or something like that, give her a time-out, etc.)  Should I give
up the pretense of letting her have her way?  A lot of times I phrase
something as a question — should I cut up that sandwich for you?  Some
family members say I am over-catering to her.  But I am going to cut up
the sandwich regardless, what does it hurt for her to feel like it was
her choice?

3. She
is constantly interrupting me when I am talking to other adults.
I don’t particularly care for this, but I feel my attempts at
saying "Mommy is talking to X right now, you need to wait a minute,"
are like talking to a brick wall.  It even eggs her on more — she says
"Mommy no talk to X!"   I can just feel the person I am talking to disapproving of her as she does this.

4. Lastly — the big one — she is not big on hugging/kissing/being sweet to other adults when asked, and I am her clear
favorite.  Like "give Grandma a hug" or "give Daddy a kiss."  She
usually says "no."  I try to encourage it but really, how do you force
anyone, even a 2 year old, to kiss someone they don’t want to?  I talk
about how much we love Grandma/Daddy (this one especially), and I give
hugs/kisses, but I don’t like forcing.  But the relatives, obviously,
dislike this behavior, and I do wish she was nicer to them.

I
spend a lot of time with her but not all the time — I work 3 days per
week so she has a babysitter those days, plus she goes to day care at
the gym a few times a week for an hour or two each time.  Am I spoiling
her?  Do I give her too much attention?  Should she be less of a mommy’s
girl at this point?  I don’t want to be over-sensitive but when someone
says she is "spoiled" it really raises my hackles. 

What do you think?"

I don’t think she’s spoiled at all. I think she’s 2.

When I got this question I knew it would be perfect for the site because it’s so universal. Your 2-year-old sounds like almost every 2-year-old I’ve ever met, and your list is like a Two-Year-Old’s Greatest Hits.

Let’s just go in order.

1. She may not be hungry, she may be trying to exert control, she may just not want to stop to eat. Whichever one (or combo of all of these) it is, trying to crack down is only going to make you nuts and make a lot more work for you, and it probably won’t work anyway. At every meal, make sure you’re offering a variety of nutritious options, but let her choose to eat what she wants from within that. Some families only allow what’s been made for the meal (my grandmother always said that if we didn’t like what she made, "go bump your head") and if you don’t eat it, that’s it. Other families have one (and only one) alternative meal allowed (I’m one of those, and our alternative is peanut butter and honey on multi-grain bread) that requires virtually no prep and is still nutritious. Decide which way you want to go (bump your head vs. one standard alternative), and then don’t worry about it. Just offer dinner and then stick with your plan if she won’t eat it. Don’t get frustrated or take it personally.

Snacks are a great way to sneak in nutrition. Some kids don’t seem to realize that they’re eating healthily if it’s in a snack and not a meal. They’ll eat baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes, cucumber rounds, sliced bell peppers, broccoli dipped in hummus, etc. as long as it’s a snack. Figure out if there’s something healthy she’ll usually eat, and offer that as a snack.

2. It sounds to me like you’re doing exactly the right thing with regard to tantrums. If you’re solid on the things you won’t allow (or require) then let the other things go. As enraging annoying as tantrums are, they’re really the only way little people with limited verbal skills can express their emotions. Forbidding a kid to have a tantrum is like saying "You’re not allowed to have or express your feelings." That doesn’t mean that you give in, just that you allow the child to have her own feelings.

One technique many parents use is helping the kid verbalize the feelings, expressing sympathy, reiterating that the kid can’t do what s/he wants, and offering an alternative. For example, "You must feel so angry that we can’t go to the park. I’m sorry you feel so angry, sweetie. We can’t go to the park now, but would you like to go tomorrow morning?" It’s not going to stop every tantrum short, but it sets up a pattern of letting the child know that his or her feelings are heard, but tantrums won’t change the outcome, but that there’s room to come up with a mutually agreeable alternative.

When a child is really worked up, you can ask "Do you want me to hug you, or do you want to be alone until you feel better?" Some kids need the physical touch of a hug, while others really just need to be left alone to calm down. You know your kid well enough to know what’s going to help them process the feelings and feel better. But if you ask the child what s/he wants in that moment, it can give the kid a way to save a little face while also calming down.

Giving choices is a great technique. Just make sure you’re equally OK with both answers! "Do you want me to cut your sandwich?" is a good question only if you’re OK if the answer is "No." (And I think we’ve all been bitten in the ass by answers like that.) Otherwise, you might want to reform the question into "Do you want me to cut your sandwich into squares or triangles?" It still maintains the choice, but the sandwich is getting cut either way.

3. I was talking to a friend the other day about the fact that you wrote in about interrupting. I was laughing, saying that mine hadn’t stopped interrupting yet at 4, and she started laughing because her son is 5 and still interrupts. Yes, by age 4 or 5 they can back off once they’re reminded that interrupting isn’t polite, but the urge to interrupt is still there. IMO the only thing to do is just to calmly remind her not to interrupt and that you’ll be with her in a minute, every time it happens. It’s not going to work, but you have to keep reinforcing it anyway.

4. She may be going through the second clingy/stranger anxiety phase that happens right around 2. Everyone gets all excited about the one at around 9 months, but they forget all about the 2-year-old one. Or they think kids should be "beyond" clinginess and should just be forced to go to other people. I disagree, but you guessed that:). Kids who are forced to go physically to adults when they don’t want to could be kids who end up ignoring their own instincts about who’s safe and who isn’t later on.

She may also just be exerting control over her own body by only going to certain people. If she’s going to dig in her heels about controlling her own body, better refusing to kiss Daddy than, say, pooping on the couch, I guess. (I also think rejecting your husband and clinging to you is totally typical, and will probably flip-flop in the next few months and she’ll want him all the time and reject you.)

Again, though, it goes with the letting your child trust her own instincts. You know there’s nothing wrong with Grandma, but if there’s something that strikes your daughter strangely about her at that moment, then your daughter needs to not be forced to kiss her. The challenge then becomes how to create the illusion that your daughter isn’t rejecting your relatives. Maybe you could get her to draw some pictures, and then at the time that she’d be expected to kiss, you could give them the pictures instead. Or you could teach her to blow a kiss, and then make a big deal about how cute that is, so your relatives will want to get in on the blowing kisses thing.

My guess is that your family members may be looking at the theme of raising children differently from the way you look at it. It sounds like your core value is raising a child who makes good decisions. With that in mind, you give her enough room to practice making choices in a safe environment, but also reinforce to her that her opinions and feelings matter. If your family members have the core value of raising an obedient child, then they see no value in allowing her to practice making choices or giving her feedback about her feelings. They can’t approve of the choices you give her, because the big picture you see just makes no sense to them. (And it’s probably hard for you to get where they’re coming from because you’re not feeling the obedience thing.) There’s no right or wrong point of view, but it gets sticky if you all don’t see things the same way. Once you can see exactly where the mismatch is you can evaluate their assessments more objectively.

It sounds to me like she’s totally normal, and you’re in a really good place about the challenges of this age. Don’t let anyone tell you she’s spoiled, because you sound waaaay more focused at this point than many moms of 2-year-olds are.

Daylight Savings Time and kids

There are good things and bad things about Daylight Savings Time*. One good thing about it is that you can stay out longer in the evening before it gets dark. Another is that your kids might sleep a little later in the morning for the first few weeks of it. But still, whenever we spring forward or fall back, babies and kids all across the world can have sleep issues for a few days.

This can be especially frustrating if you’ve just gotten your baby into a really solid schedule, and now 7 o’clock is actually 8 o’clock, so suddenly things aren’t working anymore. Or if your toddler is finally going down with no protests and all of a sudden it’s light outside at bedtime and your child thinks you’re trying to trick him or her into going to bed earlier. Kids who go to school can really be messed up for a few days by their body’s need to sleep later but having to get up earlier to get to school. They can be extra-cranky for a week or more. Of course, there are some kids who won’t miss a beat and switch back and forth easily.

IME there are a few different ways you can approach time changes. You can try to go cold turkey to stick with the official bedtime. (If the bedtime is at 8, just stick with when the clock says 8, even though the kid’s body feels like it’s actually 7.) Or you can go by what your child’s body thinks it is, and then move the bedtime by 10 minutes every day until you’ve transitioned to the new time in a week. (So the first night you keep the kid up until 9, because the child’s body thinks it’s 8. The next night bedtime is at 8:50, then 8:40, etc. until the bedtime is back to 8.) Or you can just roll with it and move bedtime back by an hour. (This only works if you have some flexibility in the morning–if your child has to be at daycare or school soon after waking up, this won’t be an option for you.) But if you can do it, it’s kind of fun to stay up later and wake up later in the summer.

Obviously what you choose is going to be affected by your child’s temperament and also your child’s age. Don’t forget about naps in all of this, either. Your child might switch to the new bedtime easily, but the naps might be off by an hour for days or weeks or permanently. (I wonder if more kids transition from one nap to two in the weeks following time changes than at other times.)

You may have to spend a few days playing around with it all to find the right bedtime again. But don’t be discouraged–things will be fine again soon. You’re not alone, as parents all over the world are dealing with this exact same issue right now. Except for parents in Arizona.

Tips or ideas or anecdotes in the comments, please.

* Europe started last week, North America started two days ago, and Australia just ended it. Check out timeanddate.com
for more information and to find out what time it is in selected world
cities. For specific info about US and Mexican states and Canadian
provinces, check out timetemperature.com.

Q&A: aggressive 2-year-old

Linda B writes:

"My friend has a 2 year old son and a 3 month old son. Her older son C has always seemed older than his age. He walked at 9 months and at a year, was already out of his baby stage. He’s always been very active, running around and playing with every toy in sight. In the last few months, he’s been kind of aggressive towards other kids, walking up to them and pushing them really hard until they fall back. Sometimes he will get a running start so he can push the kids harder.

The reason I am writing about this is because our family spends a lot of time with this family and we are actually pretty good friends. We meet every week for a church group and we see them every Sunday. He’s always been really good with my daughter, but since the aggressive behavior began, he’s
been really taking it out on her. He will slowly walk up to her, wave hi and then BOOM. Push her to the ground or against a wall. His parents try so much control their son. They give him time outs, tell him to be gentle, sternly lecture him on why not to hit and continue to watch him carefully when he is around other kids, especially younger ones like my daughter. It seems like they’ve done everything they can. However, nothing seem to work. He continues to be rough. I think he seems to think it is a game. He is a smart kid and I know he understands what it means to be nice and not hit/push.

I feel badly for the parents, especially the mother, because I know she feels horribly when he pushes E. She feels hopeless and doesn’t know how to control her son from acting out this way. Why do you think he is continuing to do this and what are the ways she can get him to stop? Also, is it wise for us to discipline him as well if he harms our daughter again? We really enjoy spending time together but my husband is worried that one day he might really hurt E.

Any advice would be helpful."

This seems like a pretty classic scene to me. Many many many 2-year-olds go through aggressive phases because they’re frustrated and can’t express their thoughts as well as they want to. Add in the new baby, and it’s a real recipe for pushing, hitting, biting, and all sorts of other unacceptable behavior.

Essentially, C can’t process his negative feelings about the baby or his frustrations at not being able to say what he wants to say, so he pushes and gets rough. The important thing to remember is that his feelings are absolutely normal and valid, but he’s dealing with them in an inappropriate way. So to stop the behavior, we need to give him another way to vent his feelings that doesn’t hurt anyone. Being stern and giving time-outs are a way to try to modify his behavior, but they aren’t teaching him how to manage his feelings in a better way, so they aren’t going to stick in the face of the overwhelming urge to just hit someone.

I hit on a way to deal with this in this post on disciplining a 2-year-old:

One highly effective way to deal with this kind of violent outburst is
to recognize that it’s from the frustration and allow the kid to have
those feelings. Instead of trying to get the kid not to hit, give the
kid a a designated object to  hit/bite/scratch/push/throw. That way the
kid is still allowed to release the frustration, just not at people or
animals. If you’re consistent about using a designated object,
eventually the kid will ask for that object when the frustration
strikes.

(How pompous is it to quote myself, BTW?)

This method came from my grandfather in the 40s. When El Chico was 2 and biting all the other kids when he’d get frustrated, I called my mom sobbing that he’d be an outcast with no friends and she told me what her dad had come up with to curb the biting when her little brother was 2. Grandpa had gone into his woodworking shop and made two rounded, smooth pieces of wood. He gave one to my uncle and one to my mom (so she wouldn’t feel left out), and told my uncle his wood was named Toby and when he felt like biting a person or animal he should bite Toby instead. I’ve known my uncle for 33 years, and I’ve never seen him bite anyone, so apparently it worked.

I don’t have a woodshop, so I took El Chico to the pet store and let him pick out his own braided rope chew toy for dogs in the colors of his choice. I explained that the toy was named Toby and whenever he felt like biting someone he should bite Toby instead. Then I carried Toby in my pocket constantly for a few weeks, and when I saw El Chico start to open his mouth to bite a kid, I’d quickly shove Toby in so he’d bite the toy instead. After a few weeks of constant vigilance (and my being teased by the other moms in playgroup), El Chico stopped biting the other kids. When he’d get frustrated he’d run to me and ask for Toby and give him a hard chomp.

I think your friend could use the same idea by buying C a big stuffed animal or pillow that’s his designated hitting/pushing toy. You could help her out by taking some pillow duty since she’s got the baby and it won’t be as easy for her to be there constantly to shove the pillow at him when he starts to push. At the same time reinforce that "We don’t push people or animals" when he’s pushing the pillow. It takes constant vigilance for a few weeks, but it will pay off.

The good news is that the problem will ease in a few months because 1) the baby will start crawling and will be more interactive so C has a playmate instead of just an attention-grubbing larvae of a sibling, and 2) C will be able to express himself more and won’t have to push to tell people he feels sad or angry or whatever he’s feeling.

I think as the friend and not the mother, it’s your job to be vigilant and step in to physically remove C’s hands (calmly and matter-of-factly) before he shoves your daughter. Better to stop bad behavior than to let it happen and then punish it. I think having a pushing pillow will help him vent his feelings, but he also needs to know that it’s just not going to happen anymore because someone will physically prevent him from pushing your daughter down.

The next two weeks are going to be a pain because you and C’s mom are going to have to be helicoptering around him (and your daughter when she’s near him) constantly. But physically stopping the bad behavior plus giving him an appropriate outlet should do the trick in stopping the pushing.

Just a note about aggressive phases: IME there’s a first agressive stage that starts around one year for many kids. You know the one I mean–when your kid hits your face or pulls your hair or scratches, and laughs when you say "No!" sternly. I think that’s just experimentation and limited ability to control impulses, and the only way through it is to physically remove the temptation. The aggressive phase around 2 years seems to be a result of frustration so providing an outlet will help reduce or stop it.

Q&A: Discipline methods for a 2-year-old

Charissa writes:

"I have a two year-old daughter who is generally a
laid back kind of kid.  She sleeps and eats well, and we’ve never had any
kind of screaming/crying/throwing fits from her.  Personality wise, she
tends to be pretty cautious, and prefers to scope out the (social) situation
before getting involved.  I’m only telling you all of this to give a little
background on the type of child she is. 

As far as discipline, we haven’t had to do a whole
lot of it.  What we do do is time-outs, typically for hitting (usually me),
throwing things, or blatant disobedience (it’s fairly easy to tell the
difference between her curiosity and defiance).  When one of these things
happens, I will tell her it’s time for a time-out, and escort her to either a
corner in the room, or to a chair (we don’t have a specific time-out
place).  She will then sit there for a couple minutes (I’m not strict on
timing), and then I will talk to her about the time-out.  I’ll hold her
hands, get on her level and ask her to look me in the eye.  I’ll then
explain why she had the time-out, and ask her if she’s ready to do (or not
do) that specific action any more.  Then I will ask her if I can give
her a hug, and I’ll tell her that I love her.  So that’s our drill. 
We also try our best to give her lots of positive reinforcement (verbal and
physical) for positive actions.

The thing is, lately she has started putting
herself in time-out.  Meaning, she’ll throw something, for example, look at
me and say, "time-out", then go to the corner and sit down.  I had thought
that the point of a time-out was to convince the child not to do the undesirable
behavior?  But she seems okay with a time out, to the point of doing it
herself. 

So I guess my question is, am I doing it
wrong?  Or is there some different type of discipline that you would
suggest?  I’m pretty strongly against any kind of spanking, but I do
believe that it’s my responsibility to teach her appropriate and inappropriate
behavior and so I need a way to do that."

I’m just going to state for the record that I’m against spanking, too (although that doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt the urge to do it!). So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about discipline that doesn’t involve pain (physical pain, or emotional pain from humiliation, etc.).

As I’ve said previously, I don’t think time-outs are particularly good as punishment or deterrent to bad behavior. They just don’t have much long-term bite, and what’s happening with your daughter ends up happening an awful lot: The kid realizes the only thing that’s going to happen is a time-out, which is nothing, so they do the bad thing, sit through the time out, and go on their merry toddler way. (It kind of reminds me of that game in which you have a contest to see who can punch the lightest. You let the other person go first, then you punch them really hard and say "You win.") I use time-outs mainly as a physical or temporal separator to just stop the immediate situation. Or sometimes because I need to stop the bad behavior but don’t want my son to see me either laughing at what he’s done or counting to ten so I don’t go Homer on him. So they’re good tools for on-the-spot situation management, but not really as consistent punishment.

Especially for 2-year-olds. They are interested in absolutely everything under the sun, so it would be virtually impossible to find a place to put them for a time-out that would be a real deterrent to negative behavior. (Contrast that with a 15-year-old who has to be in a room with no X-Box, for example.) And a 2-3-minute time-out really isn’t anything, but you can’t do a longer one because a kid that young doesn’t have the attention span.

I think they also learn that the looking-in-the-eye and apologizing and hugs is part of the drill, so it ceases to have much meaning in that context anymore. They’re just too young to really process it as anything but ritual. (Which is not to say that some kids aren’t extremely sensitive and responsive to any mode of correction, so time-outs probably work for them because they’re so embarrassed to be caught in bad behavior anyway.)

I think, sad as it is to say, that there’s no one method of discipline that’s going to work with a 2-year-old. You’re going to have to turn into a detective to try to figure out either why she’s doing what she’s doing (and how you can stop it) or what you can do to avoid or redirect her behavior even if you don’t know why she’s doing it (and there may not be a reason, because, well, she’s 2).

There seem to be a few huge causes of misbehavior in 2-year-olds. One is frustration at not being able to express their feelings as well as they want to. That usually results in some kind of violent behavior (hitting, biting, scratching, pushing, throwing) that just explodes when the frustration wells up inside of them. One highly effective way to deal with this kind of violent outburst is to recognize that it’s from the frustration and allow the kid to have those feelings. Instead of trying to get the kid not to hit, give the kid a a designated object to hit/bite/scratch/push/throw. That way the kid is still allowed to release the frustration, just not at people or animals. If you’re consistent about using a designated object, eventually the kid will ask for that object when the frustration strikes.

Another big cause of misbehavior is tiredness or other physical discomfort. (I’m actually just about to start a new book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka [the Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles author] about how sleep deprivation is a leading cause of misbehavior even in older kids. I’ll let you know how it is.) No nap and everything gets out of control and they have tantrums about things like wearing blue socks instead of red socks. They skip a snack and their blood sugar goes low and they freak out about not being allowed to unlock the front door (and it’s just not the same if you relock it and let them unlock it again). Too many errands in a row and they become that kid you always thought was the spawn of a Truly Bad Parent, screaming and demanding candy at the checkout, in those scornful days before you had kids yourself. So if you notice a connection between some kind of physical discomfort and bad behavior, you might want to make a concerted effort not to let the situation happen again and give the kid a pass (within reason, of course) on the bad behavior.

Testing limits is another big one. The only thing you can really do about this is to decide what your limits are and then stand firm. If you don’t care about something, don’t set up an artificial boundary just to back down later. It’s not going to hurt a kid to be able to make the choice about some things in his or her life. But the things that you do care about, just stand firm on them, and be as calm as possible. You may need to redirect your child physically (I had to do this all the time with my older one–I’d have to physically move him from the situation, or put my hands on his and give the toy back, or put my hands on his and brush his teeth for him while he held the toothbrush–and sometimes still do when he gets very tired) or just sit down with your kid and hug her so she calms down, or just let her rage until the fit is over. You may have to physically restrain her from doing something, or take something away from her, or just stand between her and the thing. Whatever is going to work with your daughter to get her not to do what she’s not supposed to do (or to do what she’s supposed to do).

The most important part of this is to remain unemotional about it. It’s not you trying to get her to do something. It’s simply time for the thing to be done, and that’s that. Just "Nope, we don’t run into the street!" and then click her into the stroller. Or "It’s 8 o’clock and that means time for bed. Let’s count to 20 together and then we’ll put on your PJs." Or "Oh. You dumped your juice on the floor. Here’s a rag. I’ll help you wipe it up." Decisive, swift, calm, and not punitive.

The things you describe your daughter doing sound like they are probably in the category of frustration or just not being able to deal with emotions that are way more complex than her speech is right now. So I’m betting that you’ll have luck with trying to help her channel her frustrated and angry feelings into something else (increased physical activity and/or hitting a special pillow or stuffed animal) or logical consequences (she runs away from you so she has to ride in the stroller instead of walking, or she yanks the cat’s fur so she can’t go into the room with the cat for the rest of the evening, for example) or even just continuing with everyone’s perennial favorite–distraction.

It’s a really tough age, because they’re so much more advanced than they can express, and they are just nonstop. My mom says that the trick to dealing with 2-year-olds is making sure you get enough sleep, because if you’re rested you can stay on top of them and not lose it, but if you’re tired it all spirals out of control. So try to get enough sleep, pick your battles (which it sounds like you do), and try to ferret out what is making her do the misbehavior (which shouldn’t be too hard since it sounds like you know exactly what makes her tick) and react specifically, swiftly, and pleasantly.

It sounds like you’re on the right track in general, and
that you just need to switch out the time-outs and try some other
things.

If you want to do a little more reading on how you can get your own head realigned for the next few years of discipline, I’d suggest Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting. The practical tips are more useful for kids aged 3 and up, but the ideas behind how to look at kids’ moods and misbehavior can reduce your stress level with a kid at basically any age (I first read it when my older son was around 15-16 months, and it helped me even then).

Anyone else who’s been through the 2-year-old stage? What did you do that worked?

Q&A: 2-year-old protesting nap

Kids across the planet are not taking naps! I’ve got two overlapping nap issues for this morning (then a playgroup situation this afternoon that will make you roll your eyes).

Chris writes:

"Here’s the issue:  I had been feeling like my son, 22 months, and I were hitting a great stride.  We were having a lot of fun during the day, he was sleeping solid at night (7:30 to 6:30), and he was even going down for his nap at about 1 or 1:30 without any fuss after reading a couple of books.  Well, for about a week now, things have slowly been unraveling with respect to sleep.  First, he started protesting nap.  Actually, he started by just talking to himself for a long time and then dozing off.  Or I would go in and remind him to sleep and rub him a little and he’d crash out.  Then he decided not to nap at all one day, and he just talked and played in his crib for an hour and a half.  The next day he didn’t protest his nap, but then the following day he talked a lot, then cried for a few minutes, then fell asleep.  Finally, today, I put him down for his nap and he cried on and off, for over an hour.  I checked on him, but didn’t want to cave in and take him out.  But eventually I accepted he was not napping again, and I took him out, and he was immediately happy and playful.  Meanwhile, I felt like a total chump.  I mean, what am I doing wrong here?  I know he’s not trying to manipulate me, but I do know he was testing a limit to see if he had to nap.  So now instead of these great happy go lucky days, I am filled with a sense of dread as the napping hour approaches because I know its going to be a struggle and I feel so dejected at the end of it all that the rest of the day I feel like a stupid mother who can’t even get her kid to take a normal nap."

I was running way behind on answering questions (lots of people wrote in that first week of February), so I emailed to ask for an update before I posted this. It’s gotten worse:

"I wish it had resolved itself by now.  We are still a bit of a
rollercoaster.  Today we had a great nap, 2 hrs.  Our friend was over,
so we pretended to put him down for nap on the couch, then took my son
over to his bed and put him down and he totally went with it without a
fuss.  But two days ago I felt like I hit the brink.  He was resisting
even the notion of naptime.  He didn’t even want to go near his room.
I coaxed him in there by just keeping it fun, playing trains.  Then
while he was playing, I started pulling down the blinds, and he went
ballistic.  Crying first, then full on tantrum.  I told myself I would
stick with the framework, stay calm, and place him in his crib.  I did
that, said soothing words, then told him that he could choose to nap or
not, but that I was leaving and that it was time to rest.  He was a
wreck, but again, I wanted to stick with the framework and stop giving
him mixed signals.  Well, I walk out, he’s screaming, crying, etc.  For
about 5 minutes, then all of a sudden, "boom!"  He jumped out of his
crib.  I have no idea how he did it.  Honestly, I think the adrenaline
got to him.  He was totally blase about the whole thing, he just went
straight over to his train table and started playing.  My heart was in
my throat.  We have removed the bumper, and a  couple of large stuffed
animals that I think he used to climb out.  We are thinking about the
crib tent since we already have the mattress at its lowest setting.

Suffice
to say, its still crazy.  I’m trying to release the stress and just see
it from his point of view.  And I keep telling myself its temporary and
that this will resolve itself.  I just wish I had a better sense of
whether or not I’m doing all that I can to ease him through this."

Yikes. You must have been completely freaked out when he jumped out.

It sounds like you are doing what you can. He needs to know what the limits are, and you’re consistently but cheerfully enforcing them. And you know he’s too young to be actually giving up the nap for good yet.

Full disclosure: My older son never took naps in his crib (he took them on my bed, but slept in the crib at night at that age), and he gave up his nap at 2 1/2. So I don’t have a great track record myself with forcing naps (I was in the first trimester of pregnancy when El Chico gave up his nap and I barely had the energy to make us lunch, let alone enforce nap time).

Let me just toss a few ideas around, and you pick the one that makes the most sense for your son:

1) If he’s the kind of kid who really resists authority and does better when he’s got more control, you might want to think of moving him out of the crib and into a toddler bed. At the right-around-2 age he’s in, some kids resist the crib/confinement like their lives depend on it, but if you remove the obstacle and put them in a bed they can get in and out of, they won’t have anything to rebel against and they start taking naps again.

Obviously, you know whether that’s the way your son is. It may be the perfect answer or it may backfire totally because he needs the structure and confinement. Or it may be a partial answer–a friend kept her daughter in the crib for nighttime, but got a toddler-size Aerobed and her daughter was so enthralled with it that she happily took her naps there every day.

2) If he needs the structure and confinement of the crib, you may want to tell him it’s Quiet Time and leave a few books in the crib so he can play quietly. By designating it Quiet Time and not nap time, it gives him more control over what he does, and that makes it more likely that he’ll actually fall asleep (because he won’t be resisting it so much). It also gives him a way to save face if he’s really caught up in the "No nap" fever.

3) You could always trick him. Lie down with him and tell him you’re going to nap together. Or tell him you need a nap but you need his help, and ask him to tell you a story while you "fall asleep." The moms of grown kids I know swear this works wonders (although when my mom did it with me she’d fall asleep and I’d sneak downstairs and watch the drawing shows on PBS).

It seems like you just need a way to get across this gap until he moves into a more cooperative phase, so I hope one of those suggestions will help. Anyway, you’re doing the right thing.

Amy’s having a similar problem with an added stress (two, actually). She writes:

"I have a 2 1/2 year old son and 5 month old twins. Up until now my son has been amazing at taking a nap. He would go down after lunch and sleep for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Now he refuses to go to sleep (I know he still needs a nap cause by 3 he has meltdowns all the way until bed. I’ve had some luck at lying down beside him for awhile, but this isn’t really a possible every day when the babies need to be fed or looked after)…, but am okay with him having time by himself in his room. I just need this time to recharge as well as continue to look after the twins. But he will not stay in his room. He bangs on the door, screams at the top of his lungs or cries. It is really hard to recharge while this is happening. In fact it is very stressful part of my day. I need some wisdom. I need him to stay in his room (he has toys and tonnes of books which he loves to look at, he just won’t do it during this time). Am I being unrealistic?  Any advice would be welcome! Please I’m about to pull all my hair out!"

I think this situation is directly related to the new siblings (congratulations, by the way). The acting out and exerting control seems to be a way of processing the changes. He probably feels like nothing is the same or fun anymore because it’s winter and he’s stuck inside, plus you’re busy with not one but two new babies.

I predict that this will pass once the babies start to crawl and he can actually play with them a little bit. So you really just need a strategy to help you deal for the next couple of months. I’m going to suggest that you get him some fun new quiet toy that he’s crazy about, with the stipulation that he’s only allowed to play with it in his room with the door shut during Quiet Time. Is this bribery and manipulation? Absolutely. Is it going to work? I sure hope so. If it doesn’t, I’d try snacks or the reward of watching a favorite DVD or anything else that will get him to stay in his room for an hour or so. Since this is a short-term situation caused by an outside stress I wouldn’t worry about any long-term ramifications of bribery.

Whatever you do, though, I’m going to give both Chris and Amy the same advice I gave Heather a few days ago: Tire him out in the mornings. Playdates, trips to indoor playgrounds, running around in the basement with a borrowed dog, whatever. If he’s really tired, and feels like he doesn’t have to fight sleep (because you’ve given him the Quiet Time out or the toy to play with), he’ll probably be more likely to fall asleep.

Let me know if any of these suggestions work. I’m tired on your behalf.

Q&A: is this 3-year-old spoiled?

Ellie writes:

"I have a 3 year old son who I’m afraid might be spoiled.
He certainly thinks he runs things around here, and to be honest he’s so darn
cute that we tend to give him his way.  In general it’s not a
problem, but I’m worried about two things: he’s very picky in his eating,
and sometimes his bossiness becomes annoying and rude.  I’m not sure what’s
normal for a 3 year old testing his limits, and where we should start to draw
the line (and how!).

First, his eating. He eats fruit (berries, mostly),
apple cinnamon cheerios, bacon, pepperoni and sausage off the top of pizza,
McDonald’s nuggets (but no other nugget-like food), and grilled cheese
sandwiches. Sometimes a muffin. Maybe some pretzels or
popcorn. There are foods he used to eat, like mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti,
or yogurt that he won’t eat any more. We tried the "just one
bite" plan, where we made him take one bite of what we were eating; that
was a fight every night with over 30 horrible minutes of crying and
bribing.  We’re now giving him only a plate of whatever we have for
dinner (he can still have what he likes for other meals), plus a couple of
strawberries. So far, after a month, he still hasn’t touched anything
other than the berries. He’s polite about it, though, waving his hand over
and saying, "no, thank you, mommy". How can we get him to eat other
things?

On the behavior front, he runs the house. If we don’t
put what he want on TV, or if we want to go out when he wants to stay home, or
if Daddy gets him up in the morning and Mommy wants to stay in bed, or if
something isn’t done in the exact way he wants it, he gets mad. He doesn’t
throw a tantrum, but there’s endless whining and screaming. How can
we take control of the day? Is putting him in time out for screaming or
the very hard-to-define "whining voice" effective?

I suspect the two issues might be connected, that he wants to
be in control. But, seriously, how much more control can an only child 3
year old want? Any suggestions are welcome!"

I think you’re absolutely correct in diagnosing this as a control issue. Control is the name of the game for this age, as is categorization. The categories, at least where food is concerned, seem to be "Yes" vs. "No."

His food preferences (or lack thereof) are normal (annoying, but normal) for this age. Read this post, and the comments, and then the Finslippy post (and hundreds! of comments from people with the same problem) someone referenced in the comments, and you may even start to feel better about your little pepperoni consumer. (And at least he’s polite when he turns down everything but the berries.)

But I’m guessing that his eating isn’t really what you’re worried about. You say "he runs the house" and "How much more control can a 3-year-old want?".  So I’m guessing that you’re worried that you’re totally falling down on the job and are creating a monster by giving in to his cute little face.

Well, I’m not going to go all Supernanny on you and tell you to just lay down the law and haul out the Naughty Chair (full disclosure: I’ve never seen the show, so I’m just repeating what I’ve overheard on the playground). But I am going to say that you need to draw your line in the sand now and start enforcing or else it’s going to get worse and worse until one day you wake up and are buying him a pony (or a golden goose) to get him to do his homework.

I think the problem is probably getting worse because he’s trying to test boundaries (the normal developmental task of the three-year-old) but there aren’t really any to test. Even if there are in your mind, you’re not enforcing. So he just keeps pushing harder, waiting to find something to push against.

You can see where I’m going with this: Set up some boundaries.

There are probably dozens and dozens of things that you honestly don’t care about. That’s fine. In fact, it’s great, because then he can assert control in those areas and it’s perfectly fine. (Some examples from my life: I don’t care what El Chico wears, as long as it fits and is reasonably weather-appropriate. So he walks around in some rather stunning combinations that he thinks are cool. I also don’t care if he colors all over himself with marker or cuts scrap paper into piles of snippets or runs around in his pajamas all day inside the house.) What you need to do is decide with your partner which things are not negotiable, and then don’t back down. (Examples from my life of things that don’t fly ever: Rudeness to adults, running into the street, loudness in restaurants or other public places, hurting your sibling or other people or animals, screaming inside the house.) If one of those things happens, it just stops immediately. No negotiation, no "I want you to," just "We don’t do that" or "That doesn’t happen" and then immediate removal from the situation (or confiscation of the toy, etc.). Once you’ve done it a few times, he will recognize that you aren’t playing around and he needs to follow those rules.

The tricky part at this age is that a 3-year-old is beginning to learn about social customs and politeness and socialization. So there are situations in which he’ll have to learn the code and that he needs to compromise. If you think of it more as a teaching situation than as a discipline situation it might help you work your way through it intellectually and emotionally.

Let me give an example: Son wants to watch one thing on TV, which partner wants to watch something else. You can approach this as "Grown-up always trumps," and that’s fine if you want it to be a static rule that’s always followed. But if you want to use this as a way to teach your son fluency in social conventions and negotiation, walk him through the steps of weighing both sides. Maybe your son picked the previous show, so now it’s someone else’s turn to choose. Maybe partner wants to watch this specific program but will allow your son to choose the next one. Maybe your son wants to watch the thing he always watches right before he goes to bed, but you want to watch the Olympics, so you explain that the Olympics are only on for two weeks every four years, so you have to watch them while you can. This isn’t bargaining per se, although it does teach some of the same skills that will be useful in bargaining. It’s weighing options and coming up with solutions that are equitable. He won’t always like the compromise, and will probably try to get you to accede to his wishes, but that’s where you just have to stand firm.

A confession tangent: I think time-outs are bullshit ineffective as punishment, because it’s extremely hard to make them a real punishment (unless you have a completely unfurnished room to put your child in for time-out). (I also think there’s a lot to Dr. Lawrence Cohen’s theory–in the stellar book Playful Parenting— that much misbehavior comes from feeling disconnected and not knowing how to verbalize that, so disconnecting your child even more by separating them is actually making the problem worse in the long run.) However, I think timeouts can be extremely effective as discipline techniques. It’s a great way to separate a kid from a bad situation (like two kids fighting), break a bad cycle (like the arguing or whining or sreaming or sobbing cycle kids can get themselves into), give you time to figure out an appropriate punishment or course of action or confer with your partner, or just get a kid out of your sight for a few minutes so you don’t go completely postal and do something you’ll regret.

So I’m going to suggest not framing discipline for screaming or whining or resisting as time-outs, but telling him "We don’t scream/whine in the house. If you want to use that kind of voice, go into your room and do it," and then propel or carry him into his room and keep putting him back there until he stops screaming or whining. It’s going to be labor intensive the first few days you have to do it, and it’s going to suck, but once he figures out that not only won’t he get his way by screaming or whining but that you guys don’t really seem to care about the show business, he may wise up and decide to redirect his energy.

Incidentally, the conventional wisdom that you pretend not to understand a whining voice and keep saying "I can’t understand you when you whine. Talk in your normal voice," has worked like a charm for us, so it’s worth a try.

I think all of us are worried at one time or another that we’re raising some kind of anti-social little freak who will end up playing us, having no friends, and having real problems (and possibly being the puppetmaster behind a presidential administration someday). I doubt that’s the case with your son (and you may feel waaaay better about things if you can get hold of a copy of Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Ames and Ilg, which includes, among other things, the little factoid that many three-year-olds don’t like to leave the house, which relieved my mind at one point). But if you’re worried that he’s actually running things, sit down and define where your boundaries are and what you want to teach him about control and limits, and then stand firm. If you’re tempted to back down, think about how much worse it’s going to be if he’s still whining to get his way at the age of 5. Oy.

Good luck. And don’t forget to write down the hilarious things he says when you’re disciplining him so you can read them and laugh all over again in a few years.

Q&A: major tantrums from big sister-to-be

Remember the lovely Jessica, who is expecting her second baby in a few months? She’s back with a follow-up:

"Since you gave me such great advice about preparing for a second child, I’m hoping you will take a stab at my current parenting dilemma–out of control tantrums by my almost 3-year old daughter.  Summer recently had a discussion about this on her blog, so I know that I am not alone.  It seems like most children go through this stage at about three and that it is all associated with their increasing need for independence.  I understand and am fine with this being just a developmental stage like any other  What I need help with are some more effective practical coping strategies, because I feel like I am trying what others have suggested and the problem just keeps getting worse.

Here’s what I am doing:
(1) Granting reasonable requests (i.e., Yes, you can have an apple),
(2) Trying to involve her in things to make her feel like she has more control (i.e., You are having trouble biting into that big apple. Do you want to pull up a chair to the counter and help mommy cut up the apple?  You can get out the cutting board and put it right here so that I can slice it.),
(3) Not trying to reason with her when she flys off the handle for no reason (i.e., NOT SAYING, however tempting, but you just wanted me to cut up the apple and yes, it does taste the same cut up as it did whole, etc.),
(4) Calmly removing her from the situation, putting her in a safe place like her room, and ignoring her while she screams, kicks, hits, and generally throws herself around for 45 minutes about the apple while telling myself and my husband this is just a phase, this is just a phase over and over again,
(5) Mild bribery (i.e,  Saying, if you can calm down and stop screaming about your apple and join Daddy and me at the dinner table, you can watch your Leapfrog video after we finish dinner),
(6) Resisting going out to the store to buy a new whole apple because I just cut up the last one in the house, or alternatively somehow skewering the apple back together with toothpicks if it will make my previously cheerful preschooler stop screaming, because I shouldn’t be giving into her and rewarding this type of behavior.

I wouldn’t mind keeping this up if I felt like it was working, but I think every day it has been getting worse, and the things she is getting upset about are getting more and more ludicrous and impossible for me to head-off.  For example, this morning we had a 30 minute fit because I got up out of bed before she did and used the bathroom first.  She wanted to be first, even though she was still asleep when I committed this crime.  She also is pretty violent with these tantrums and OFTEN either starts one out by punching me or kicking at my 7.5 month pregnant stomach, which is obviously unacceptable.  And it’s not just that she acts out with me.  She does it with my husband, my sister (who she sees on a daily basis) and is starting to do it at preschool, but to a lesser degree.  Also, since her screaming can easily carry on for 30-45 minutes, it’s making it hard for me to leave the house with her, and it is making us late for appointments, etc.  To avoid being late, I often wind up gently physically forcing her to do things she doesn’t want to do, like get dressed, etc. which only makes the screaming and kicking worse, but is occasionally necessary to make it to school on-time.

She is normally an extremely active child, very verbal, and while naturally strong-willed, usually quite thoughtful and pleasant.  She is eating fine, her diet includes very little sugar or other things that could be throwing her off, her sleep routine is good, and she still takes an afternoon nap almost every day.  She’s been going through a bit of a growth spurt, but other than that I can’t think of anything physical that would be turning my baby into a hellion.  But she is one at the present time and I am not sure what to do about it!  Please help!"

Now I’m feeling guilty. Because I should have warned you that this could happen as your due date got closer and closer.

When I was at about the same stage of pregnancy with El Pequeño, we took a sibling preparation class with El Chico geared to kids in the 2.5-5 age range. One of the things we were told was that kids whose parents were expecting another baby had no idea what having a sibling would be like, so they built it up in their heads as a horrible, scary thing. The closer the due date got, the more wigged out the kids would get, and they’d start behaving worse and worse (and worse). Everyone in the class looked around and said slightly different versions of the statement, "I’m so glad to hear it’s normal because I thought my child had suddenly turned into an uncontrollable monster."

The timeline we were given about sibling feelings as a new baby approached was this:

* At the end of the pregnancy or adoption wait, the potential big sibling will get more and more stressed, imagine more and more horrible things, be completely unwilling to talk about them, and start acting out by having crazy tantrums.

* When the baby comes, the big sibling will realize that babies are, essentially, pretty boring. The big shock will be that everyone still loves the big sibling and that things aren’t all that different. Many of your friends and family members will even be kind enough to bring a present for the big kid when they come to see the baby, so the big sibling will get new toys. The sibling relaxes and things are calm for about two weeks.

* After two weeks or so, the big sibling gets bored with the baby and tired of all the attention the baby’s getting*, and wants the baby just to go away. The big sibling may even verbalize this desire for the baby to go away. We were told to let the kid talk and validate his or her feelings. I remember El Chico telling me he didn’t like El Pequeño because he cried all the time. When I said I didn’t like him because he cried, either, El Chico was shocked and said, "But Mom, we love him! He’s just a baby!" It’s important to let the big sibling express negative feelings and not try to tell them they love the new baby if they don’t feel like it right then.

* The big sibling will resent the new baby and might act out. Depending on the age of the big sibling (and how willing you are to allow the sibling to express negative feeling without repercussion) the acting out may be mild pushback on things you ask combined with some benign harrassment of the baby (hugging just a little too hard, licking, etc.), or it may be more serious (actually trying to hurt the baby, throwing tantrums, etc.). The big sibling may also have some nightwaking and bedwetting, even if s/he’s been night trained for a long time.

* Once the new baby gets mobile (scooting or crawling) the baby will start to be more fun for the big sibling, and they’ll start to interact more and the bad behavior should decrease.

So far we’ve found these predictions to be dead on in our house, and it sounds like it’s happening to you, too. Your daughter’s behavior sounds annoyingly textbook for a potential big sister.

Since this is an event-delineated problem, you really only have to tread water until the baby comes. I think you’re doing exactly the right thing by combining limits, distraction, and giving her situations in which she has (the illusion of) control to try to make it through the days with her. You don’t want to just give up on the discipline, because that would be shooting yourself in the head foot and would make your days even worse, but nothing you do at this point is going to make her behavior stop or diminish much. So don’t feel lke you’re doing something wrong or missing something that could fix it. Just try to stay on as even a keel as possible, and hope the baby comes earlier rather than later.

To be prepared for the new baby coming, I’d suggest getting a really good front carrier (Ellaroo, Mobywrap, Hug-a-Bub, etc.) for the new baby so you can still play somewhat with your daughter. Also think now about lining up help for the first few weeks after the baby’s here. You won’t need the same kind of help you did with a first baby (when you’re so freaked out you almost forget how to brush your teeth), but you will need someone to play with your daughter while you’re working out the nursing, changing your pads, changing the 12th poop blowout of the day, etc.

Hang in there. It’s extremely tiring when you’re huge and exhausted to have to deal with escalating tantrums and unreasonable requests from your older child. As confusing as having a newborn and a preschooler is, I still found it way easier than the few months before having the second.

*Why do so many people think the best way to pay attention to a new big sibling is to ask "So how do you like your new brother?" or "So how do you like being a big sister?" It’s just like that old chestnut "But enough about me. How do you feel about me?" If you’re looking for something to ask a new sibling, try "Have you gotten any new toys lately?" instead. Kids love to talk about their toys.