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Parenting Toddlers and Young Children

Meg A.
MEG A.
Certified Parenting Educator
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Join Parenting Educator and author Meg Akabas for a Q&A all about finding the best ways to parent your children. Meg understands the struggles of parenting children of all ages and is here to help our parents improve their parenting skills. It's time to stop all those tantrums, power struggles and whining at home!

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MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Three-year-old behavioral issues connected to nap/sleep, routine, or development?
SU, PARENT OF 6 YEAR OLD

Similar to Emily's question below, my three-year-old has turned into quite the challenge. For a little while, during her twos, my daughter was turning into such an agreeable and pleasant child, but, in the last month or so, all she does is argue about everything, digs her heels in, and throws massive temper tantrums. We even give her options so that she can decide on her own, but that doesn't work when she's determined on what she wants. Before, when she got upset or didn't get her way, she used to just go to her room, count to ten calmly, and come back down when she felt better -- not anymore. Now she screams and cries and repeats the thing she wants over and over. We typically ignore the tantrums, and she usually will give up since no one is giving in, but that gets exhausting as well. She also is getting extremely difficult at mealtimes (but when she doesn't eat, she gets hangry and all hell breaks loose). We have also just given up on potty training.

I'll have to say, that within the past couple of months, things have been a little crazy (a number of visits from out-of-town family, a break from routine due to holidays, and there was a death in the family, so lots of travel involved). I'm wondering if her behavior could be a result of her being out of her routine?

On some days, she also takes a while to get down for her nap, and when she wakes up, she gets extremely cranky and throws an tantrum. She usually wakes up at 7:30am, takes her nap from around 2 to 4:30-5pm, and goes to bed around 8:30-9pm. She usually goes down for bedtime pretty easily, but dinner is the challenge. I feel like she really needs that nap, because when she goes a couple of days without the nap, she is a mess. But can the behavioral issues and struggle to nap be an indicator that she needs to drop the nap?

Or is this all a result of her normal development (as well as a combination of the other two)? Either way, any advice would be greatly appreciated! Sorry for the extremely long post!

Meg
MEG

Hi Su! I'll respond to your question later tonight. Stay tuned... Meg

Meg
MEG

Hi Su,

You have a lot of questions wrapped into one here, but, I'll try to break it down.

First of all, while travel and other life events can certainly be disruptive, what you're describing sounds more like normal development.

Napping: If you observe that she falls apart more easily and her behavior is worse on days without a nap, then it sounds like she still needs a nap (or at least a set time in her bed to rest -- say 30 or 45 minutes -- since we can't control whether a child actually sleeps!). On the other hand, she's going to bed on the late side for a three-year-old, so if your schedule allows it, you could try (for a few days in a row to see how it works), skipping the nap, but putting her to bed much earlier, around 7 pm. Your right to be considering what schedule changes might need to be made because children's needs and patterns change (just as we think we've got it nailed!) and we need to try different things to see how best to adjust. If you decide to stick with the nap, it also sounds like she needs some sort of transition when waking up (or getting out of bed) from her nap. Maybe you tell her a quiet story or read her a book while she is still in bed to help her make that transition.

In terms of the stubbornness in the first part of your question: I might be wrong, but what you are describing as "giving her options so that she can decide on her own" sounds a little different than the "choices, choices, choices" strategy I mentioned in several other answers below (see my answer to Catalina). Instead of giving her options just when you want her to do something (which is also good any time that you can), I suggest proactively giving tons of choices throughout the day about seemingly inconsequential things (they won't be inconsequential to her - they will feel empowering). So, for example, if she brings you two books to read to her, you can ask "do you want to sit on this side of me, or that side of me?" and "do you want to read this book first or that book?" It may sound silly, but when a child gets to make so many decisions about her little world, she is much more likely to comply when you need her to. If you do this over the course of several days (and get other caregivers on board to do the same) you should see a shift and much less stubbornness.

I hope that addresses all your questions and is helpful.

Best,
Meg

SU

Oh, ok. I thought I was giving her choices, but you're right, it is usually when I need her to do something (geting dressed, eating, etc). I will try to give her choices throughout the day with little things too. And great idea about the transition for getting out of bed after nap. Thank you, this is all very helpful!

MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Clingy 19 month old
RACHEL, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD, 20 MONTH OLD

My 19 month old son is SO clingy to my husband and me to the point where we can get nothing done with him. He wants us to hold him up, not hold him sitting. I put him down to change my clothes after work and he is hysterical, bangs his head against the wall in frustration. When he's with his babysitter or his grandmothers he's an angel- I've seen videos ! We feel helpless and ridiculous being ruled by this toddler. He won't even sit in his highchair anymore. We tried the booster seat his sitter uses but he still wouldn't sit. We strapped him into his high chair and he just screams and bangs his head back. At our wits end please help!

Meg
MEG

Hi Rachel,

It's getting late and I didn't get to your question, but I will answer it tomorrow.

Stay tuned...

Meg

Meg
MEG

Hi Rachel,

I'm sorry that I didn't get to this yesterday. Yours was the last question and they were coming fast and furious all day!

This is a difficult question to answer without knowing a little more about the situation and how you got to this place, and I'm reluctant to offer suggestions without the ability to have a dialogue and learn more.

I would recommend consulting with your pediatrician or a parenting educator who can get a fuller history and picture of the situation.

There is a meaning behind the behavior -- something a child is trying to communicate -- but it's not entirely clear what's going on here. If I had to surmise, I would say that he is communicating that he wants your undivided attention and that he doesn't feel that he gets it unless he is being held by one of you. The reason he might behave fine for his babysitter and grandmothers and not for you is that he doesn't need to communicate frustration to them because they probably give him mostly undivided attention when they are with him. They have the intent and time to do that and that's their job (in the case of your babysitter) or privilege (in the case of the grandmothers).

Of course, it's unrealistic for parents to be able to give their baby undivided attention all the time. But, I'm wondering if you've been giving him enough time where he has the full attention of one or both of you. Are you multi-tasking when you play with him? Do you text or talk on your phone much of the time when you're together? Or, do you have chunks of time where you are able to completely disconnect from electronics and give him complete attention? Babies need undistracted interaction with a parent for healthy emotional development, and I'm just wondering if he's conveying that he's not getting enough. I may be totally wrong, but based on my knowledge of child development and the little I know about your situation, that is worth exploring.

Does this resonate with you at all? If so, I suggest working on talking and interacting with him more without distractions and being fully present when you're playing with him. Also, give him lots of touch -- proactively cuddle and hug him when you're playing, reading, and talking to him as often as possible.

In terms of the dealing with the tantrums, since I don't know enough about this particular situation, I would recommend getting your pediatrician's input on this.

Exploring the message behind the behavior and talking to your baby's doctor about safe ways to handle the tantrums should help you solve this problem.

Best,
Meg



MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Manipulative Behavior & The Pout
YAEL, PARENT OF 6 YEAR OLD, 4 YEAR OLD, 2 YEAR OLD

My 3.5 year old is trying out some new behaviors. He's always leaned toward the cry and scream if he doesn't get what he wants, when he wants and covincing his 2 year old sister to give him the toy she is playing with by distracting her with something else.
But in the past week or two he has taken to more advanced manipulative techniques, saying the thing he thinks we want to hear before continuing to do what we've asked him not too. He is also using some decent logic to get his way. when he doesn't get what he wants, when he wants he's taken to wounded puppy look and marching out of the room.
It really pushes our buttons and we don't know how to respond to him. We definitely don't want him to think this behavior is effective!

Meg
MEG

Hi Yael,

I appreciate that you used the words, "trying out," because that is exactly what he's doing. He is testing the boundaries to see what's allowed and how much control he can get.

So, the way that he'll learn the boundaries is if there is always a "consequence" for an undesirable behavior (notice that I didn't say "punishment" -- for more about the difference, read my book!) and praise/reward (notice I didn't say "bribe" or "present") for desirable behavior. Consequences can involve discontinuing the activity, taking away the game that's being played, or, if there is no obvious consequence, a set time (five minutes would be good at this age - set the timer) where he sits in a designated spot to think about what he did wrong and when the time is up to tell you what it was before resuming normal activities. If he leaves the designated sitting spot before the time is over, the time starts again. This may seem harsh, but if consequences are given consistently, you won't need to use it them at all eventually because he'll know that when you tell him something that you mean it. We used these type of consequences (e.g. stopping the activity/game for any infraction and the "time-out chair" for a very short period in each of our four children's early toddlerhood, and never had to use them again.

As for the pouting, try not to respond except to acknowledge that you see that he's upset and that you understand why he's upset (and, in fact, encourage him to use words to express his feelings), but it doesn't change that you are in charge and set the rules. If he doesn't ever get his way when he pouts, he'll stop pouting.

I hope that helps!

Best,
Meg

YAEL

Thank you!

MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Temperamental one year old
STEPHANIE, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

My formally even tempered baby has turned into an easily pissed off 14 month old. She recently started pointing and has learned the sign for more. So, now she will point and/or sign more when she wants something and than scream when I don't give her what she wants. She also screams when I take something away from her. Is this just frustration because of her limited communication ability? How can I help?

Meg
MEG

Hi Stephanie,

It may be frustration, but it sounds like it might also be about her wanting more control. See my previous answers about control (I explain it most in Catalina's answer). This seems to be the main theme in today's questions.

And, in terms of the screaming, make sure you don't change your mind about giving her something because she's screaming. That will reinforce the behavior. If you never give in to the screaming, she will learn that it doesn't work. Either give her what she wants if it's acceptable when she points or asks for more, or don't if it's not and stick to it.

I hope that helps!

Best,
Meg

MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Ditching the Pacifier
CAITLIN, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

My 20 month old son has always been a very Oral kid - everything goes in the mouth. We are trying to get rid of the pacifier, but when the paci isn't around I look over and he will have four fingers in his mouth instead. I feel like using his hands is a harder habit to break and makes the paci seem sanitary in comparison so now I don't know what to do!

Does cold turkey work for kids or is that too hard of an adjustment too fast? I think I'm most worried I won't survive or I'll create a worse habit in place of the paci. Thanks!

KATRINA

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My2.5 sucks her fingers

Meg
MEG

Hi Caitlin,

In my experience, diminishing the pacifier use gradually over time works better than cold turkey. Your son is still young and may still need some sucking time for soothing. You can limit is to certain places/times. So, start with something like just allowing it at home and when he's getting ready to nap in his stroller. Then later on, when you feel he might be ready, you can limit it to just sleep time. Eventually (age 3 or 4) you can use a reward chart to help him stop altogether.

Best,
Meg

MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Hitting
EMILY, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

My 22-month old has developed a terrible habit of hitting. He doesn't do it to other kids too often, but every now and then, he will hit another child (usually on the head) because of a sharing issue - either they take something from him or he wants something they have. He is also terrible at sharing, which is a whole other issue! The worst of his hitting is at mom and dad though, usually if we're making him do something he doesn't want to do, but also sometimes it seems random. We are struggling with how to discipline him. We've tried saying "no hitting" and talking about why we don't hit, what we do with our hands etc., we've tried time-outs, we've removed him from the situation if we're in public, we've tried yelling, and we've never hit or spanked him. Nothing seems to work though, and the yelling makes things worse as he usually just laughs hysterically when we yell. He says sorry by being gentle instead of hitting, so he'll usually do this by patting you on the head. This makes me think he knows what he's doing is wrong, but I just don't know how to get him to stop. I am also expecting baby #2 in 6 weeks, so am very worried about this behavior continuing or getting worse! Thank you!

Meg
MEG

Hi Emily,

You are correct in assessing that this is behavior that you want to nip in the bud completely! You're right that yelling isn't helpful. And, I'm so glad that you don't hit or spank him -- we know from research that it's counterproductive and has detrimental effects in the long run.

I suggest establishing a zero-tolerance position on any kind of hitting (even gentle). To do this, you need to figure out consequences that are meaningful and impose a consequence for EVERY infraction (time-outs if done consistently usually work because no child prefers getting no attention and doing nothing for a length of time over and over). If consequences (not just saying "no" or explaining why he can't hit) are implemented consistently, he should stop the behavior because children don't continue behavior that's not working for them. Right now, he's getting attention for his bad behavior and that's working for him.

If you need help with implementing time-out effectively, I have a short chapter about it in my book.

It takes perseverance, to establish a tolerance for any kind of hitting, but the pay-off is huge. Children who grow up in a household where no hitting is tolerated feel safe and nurtured, and that is a feeling that will benefit them for a lifetime!

Good luck!

Best,
Meg





MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Dealing with baby sister
KATRINA, PARENT OF 5 YEAR OLD, 3 YEAR OLD

My daughter is 2.5 And baby is 10 months. The toddler yells at her telling her to stop crying, hits her and can be quite mean in general. Not to mention the no sharing. It seems to be getting worse than better. I try to explain baby cries bc she cannot talk to express what is wrong. Hitting we don't tolerate and we all need to share. I just wonder what else i can do. They are both home with me but my daughter will go to 3k next year and want these behaviors fixed by then
Thanks!

Meg
MEG

Hi Katrina,

As I said in a previous answer, there is always meaning behind the behavior. It seems your daughter is communicating that she is not happy that her world has been turned upside down by the arrival of someone else into the family and she wants more control and attention. You are right to explain and remain firm on the rules of civility, but it's going to take more -- you'll need to respond to her need for those two things.

Show her that she has much more control over things than her baby sister by giving her lots of choices to empower her (see the technique that I explained in my answer to Catalina, earlier).

And, make sure that she gets not just attention, but lots of one-on-one "special time" (you can call it that) with the grown-ups in her life. Talk about these special activities in advance, letting her help plan them (i.e. "How about we bake together, just you and me, while baby is napping this afternoon? Would you like that? Let's talk about what we'll make and see what we'll need.") and letting her know how much you (or whomever is spending time with her - daddy, aunt...) look forward to and enjoy the one-on-one time with her. Talk about them afterward (e.g. When tucking her in bed at night "I loved baking with you today! Wasn't that fun? Would you like to do that again soon?")

This will remind her that she is just as important to you, and that she doesn't need to gain control or get attention by acting out towards the baby.

I hope that is helpful!

Best,
Meg

KATRINA

Thank you! Unfortunately my baby is a teething monster, cries a lot and takes only 2 half hour naps a day so the special time is very limited but i will do my best tomaximize it.

Meg
MEG

Katrina - I understand the challenge (I have four children), but see what you can do to arrange with other adults in your life to help with the baby once a week, say, or to have special time with your older child themselves.

MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Toddler Holding in Bowel Movements
JANE, PARENT OF 6 YEAR OLD

My 3.5 yr old has been fully potty trained for 7 months, but the last 3 months, he's been actively holding it in. His emotions while holding it in range from hysterical sobbing to hitting/kicking to screaming and calling names. We've tried reward charts to entice him to go, probiotics to help him go...nothing works. Yet, every single time after he eventually goes he apologizes and says how much better he feels. What am I doing wrong? How do I get him to go?

Meg
MEG

Hi Jane, I'll address your question later tonight. Stay tuned... Meg

Meg
MEG

Hi Jane,

This is a very tricky struggle because there are three things we can't physically make our children do: eat, sleep, and poop! So, you can't get him to go, you can only motivate him to want to do it himself.

You know that he is capable because he was already potty trained. But, first, I'm wondering, are you sure that he is holding it in rather then constipated? You should talk to your pediatrician about this if you haven't already. Perhaps he needs a stool softener.

If you know for sure that he is holding it in, then you are in a power struggle with your son! Reward charts usually work very well for these one-time, behavior-changing challenges (such as potty training and giving up a pacifier). I would encourage you to try that again with consistency. Set up the parameters - how many times will he need to NOT hold in his bowel movement and get a sticker to get a reward. Make the number manageable, yet enough to establish a change in behavior. Create a nice chart using a theme that he might like. And, decide in advance what the reward will be when he succeeds in getting all the stickers (say, ten) -- Perhaps it is a special outing around a particular interest of his, or something similar. It should be something he would really enjoy and will motivate him.

Persevere - you'll figure this out!

Meg


MEG ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Sharing
EMILY, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

A follow-up to below! My almost 2-year old has recently become extremely possessive with his things and has had a very hard time sharing. So bad that play dates have become unmanageable. If we have anyone over, he gets so upset if they touch anything that is his, even if he doesn't want to play with it at the time. Again, we've trying talking to him, practicing sharing with us, punishing, removing him, everything, but nothing seems to work. Everything I read says the idea of "sharing" is just too complex for him to understand at this age, but he seems to be worse than his peers in this department. He has been in a nanny share most of his life, so he's been around at least one other child each day. He has recently started part-time nursery school so I'm hoping this helps, but any other advice would be much appreciated!

Meg
MEG

Hi Emily, I'll respond to your questions later tonight. Stay tuned... Meg

Meg
MEG

Hi Emily,

As you can see from observing his peers, although sharing is difficult for toddlers because of the executive function (self-control) it requires, young children can learn to "take turns." And, it sounds like it might help if you practice that with him. You can do that while you're playing together: "While you push one car, I'm going to play with the other and then we'll switch. Which car would you like to play with first, the red or the green?" He'll see how this works if you practice it at home and should then be able to better manage with his peers.

Nursery school should help, but, in terms of dealing with the bad behavior on play dates, I suggest 1) talking with him about expectations in advance - how he will need to take turns with toys ("remember how we did that together?"), and that he can, for example, before the playdate (if it's at your house), put away in a closet three toys that he doesn't want to share, and 2) using "consequences" (see my book for the difference between consequences and punishment), removing toys from him that he has taken away from his playmate and stopping activities when he becomes disruptive about taking turns and moving on to something else. If he is not able to take turns with a toy that another child wants to share, then he can't play with it (and, the other child can). He can only play if he's not keeping other children from playing with other toys. Be consistent and he will learn to take turns. It will take vigilance, but you'll learn tricks (such as singing a song to keep track of the time each child gets to take turns with a toy).

I'm confident that you'll successfully teach him the art of taking turns and he'll develop into a good "sharer!"

Best,
Meg

Our Q&A is now over.
TINYHOOD, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

Thank you, Meg! Meg will answer all questions asked today. Meg and Parenting Solutions offer parenting workshops and consultation services across the country. Meg’s book, 52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids, is available on Amazon. Check out her profile for more info!