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My two year old exhibits defiant behavior, primarily to mom, his primary care giver. This behavior includes throwing food at dinner, kicking and throwing objects at mom during diaper changes and hitting when he is frustrated or does not get what he wants. We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to find a way to curb this behavior, especially the hitting, which is unacceptable. We have tried "time-out", but aren't convinced it has helped. Many of these things began at a fairly early age. He began having "temper tantrums" around 10 months and he began hitting around 15 months. It has gotten more frequent now that he is two. Thankfully, I have been told he does NOT do this at daycare, which tells me there might be more that we, as parents can do to change this. While I understand that "he is two" and likes to push buttons, I am uncomfortable with the point we have reached. I welcome your thoughts. Thank you.


Brenda Nixon, M.A. Replied: Two year olds go through a developmental phase where they are more aggressive and defiant. It's not pleasant, but its normal. Part of it is because they have powerful feelings, but lack the words to express themselves. Part of it is to get attention if they feel ignored. Part of it is to manipulate their world and get what they want. If you want an hour's worth of specific discipline help, listen to my "Creative Discipline" CD available off my website Here are two suggestions to help you during this turbulent, yet time-limited, phase: READ books, recipes, mail, road signs, anything to your son to surround him with words. This will teach him language and eventually he can use words rather than his body to express emotions. Be a MODEL of self-control to teach him how to self-calm. Therefore, don't yell, spank, or do other behaviors that may teach him to yell, hit, kick, throw, etc. Little ones watch parents and learn from them. . . even when they don't know they're being watched.
Posted On 2008-05-08 12:07:19
Charlotte Cowan, M.D. Replied: The behavior you are describing in your child sounds fairly typical for a two year old, and I am reassured that at daycare your son is fine. I suspect that at daycare they offer the structure and consistency that are often hard to keep up at home especially if the parents disagree at all about how to handle a given situation. Your daycare might have some tips for you since they know your son. In this age child, unacceptable behavior needs to be addressed calmly and firmly every time it happens when it happens. The "wait until I tell Daddy" or "you're going to your room when we get home" is entirely ineffective. Instead, almost regardless of the offending behavior, the child needs to be warned once that this behavior is a "bad idea" and he needs to stop; and then—if he does it again (which he will)—he needs to be interrupted, told again, and moved, usually by carrying him a few feet away. Place him on the floor and leave (assuming that the spot you have put him is baby proofed.) Give him a pillow to hit if he is mad. Tell him that he may join you again when he is ready to stop hitting, throwing food etc. He may try to join you while he is still angry and will need to be carried out again. This takes work but will work-- as long as all caretakers involved are consistent. Children this age need to be expected rather than asked to behave. Sometimes it is hard for parents to remember that they are in charge! By consistently setting limits, by modeling the behavior they are seeking in their child, parents can win these battles with even the most stubborn two year olds!
Posted On 2007-11-27 12:38:12
Trish Booth, MA Replied: Learning self-control takes a long time. It is especially difficult when a child must use actions rather than words to express needs and frustration because he doesn't yet have the vocabulary. You can help with that by naming for him what he is feeling and helping him use words to express it. Parents often have to remind children to "use your words." For a two year old, a time out is simply time away from the situation. Your son is not yet old enough to "think about" what he did. If the time outs don't work because he immediately repeats the forbidden action, it is better to remove or change the source of the problem. If you mean that time outs don't work because he is still doing the behavior despite many time outs, that is par for a two year old. You may even go through the phase where he does the forbidden action and then puts himself in a time out. That demonstrates he understands the action is wrong but doesn't yet have the self-control to not do it. For temper tantrums, it is easier to just walk away from them yourself as long as your son is in a safe place. You can also carry your child to a safer place, such as his bedroom, and then leave. It is hard for a young child to maintain a tantrum when no one is watching. Because it is hard to walk away from a half-changed diaper, you may want to reward his being cooperative. You can use a very small snack or special attention, whichever works best with him. If your son is throwing food at dinner, consider making that the end of his dinner. That means calmly announcing, "You're done when you throw food." and taking away all food and utensils. If you still want him to sit with you at the table, give him a quiet toy to play with. Children who are hungry rarely throw food, so he was probably done anyway. If he is throwing food at the beginning of the meal, consider that he may be overtired and hungry before the meal starts. It may be better to have him eat earlier and join you at the table for only a small amount of food followed by a quiet activity. Children often act better at daycare. His daycare provider may have very clear rules about behavior and consequences. Ask what these are and consider having the same rules and consequences at home to give him consistency. This may not completely solve the problem, however, because children tend to regress when they are in the comfort of home.
Posted On 2007-10-07 11:28:27
Jill Wodnick Replied: I am so glad you wrote in! What a great parent you are asking for insight and support. First, I am going to highly endorse getting 2 books from the library or bookstore asap. The first is called "The Discipline Book" by Dr. Sears. The second is called "The Out of Synch Child"-while for older children, it illumniates a lot about development and the physical body that many of us do not know, re the vestibular system, a sensory profile etc. Now that I have made those 2 text suggestions, let's return to breath, return to bringing in a mantra of balance. I want to know more about him: what is his speaking like in terms of receptive language and expressive language; what truly delights him, singing, dancing, jumping? Does he build with blocks, like or avoid playdough, does he splash in the bath tub or prefer not to be there? I want to understand more of his inner world too--the tantrums and disruptive behavoir give clues and signs that he is desperately trying to tell you something feels off balance: his emotional body, his physical body etc. There is a word called 'regulation' and helping a toddler know what regulates him or her versus what disregulates him or her--How does your son come back into balance after these disruptions? I would recommend a protocol of lavender oil on his feet and temples at night, a brushing protocol to assist with his vestibular system (you can find these on line for $2), and a look at his diet--the Feingold approach for children reduces and eliminates all food color additives due to behavoir which is aggressive--this approach is an amazing tool to recuce the frequency. I am breathing with you, sending you support and giving unconditional love for your question--please write again. namaste, JILL
Posted On 2007-09-28 09:24:40
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