How to discipline an active toddler without being overly "no" and negative?
November 4, 2010 7:29 AM   Subscribe

How do you discipline a 2 year old without being "that parent"?

Our 2 year old is a curious little guy and is always, always on the move. We love him more than words. However, the more curious he gets the more risks he's taking thus the more disciplinging we get into. I grew up in a house of screaming and fear. I do not want to be that parent. I've read Happiest Toddler on the Block but the whole "caveman" discipline just doens't sink in or I"m doing it wrong. My friend's theory is to talk with him by stating empathy (I know you want that toy) and giving alternatives (but you know, you can't have that toy becasue it's dangerous and you can choke and then I would be sad). You know, a 2 year old that has the attention span of 2 seconds is not going to sit there and listen to my 5 min. explaination.

It's come down to the point of me going on Prozac because I know I'm not a person with patience and all I know is a raised voice (not to the scream-fest my parents gave me). But after say yesterday which was filled with:

Sit down!---as he stands on our kitchen chair, which has slipped out from underneath him where he fell and banged his head

Get down!--where he is standing on top of the couch looking out of the window. If he fell backwards, holy head injury.

Please don't turn on that tub (the hot water is what he can reach)!

Get that our of your mouth! I've never seen him grab something so quickly and shove it in his mouth where he almost swallowed it. I had to swab his mouth to get it.

I'm sorry honey but I have to get this email out (I work from home 1 day a week) which resulted in a top of lungs screaming tantrum (he's getting good at this). Then preceeded by him hitting the wall, me, etc. (not sure where he's learning the hitting!! But he never outright hits to be mean).

And so on and so on. It was a trying day nonetheless and first day on Prozac left me in and out tiredness but it sure did kick the internal frustration.

I'm becoming overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious because nothing is working without the standby 'no no no no' and you know I don't want to be a constant wave of negativity to this very rambunctious, active, curious little man. He doesn't deserve that. But my goal is to keep him safe (we have babyproofed the house and he STILL gets into things).

So any suggestions before he views me as mean ol mom who always says no?
posted by stormpooper to Human Relations (46 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god, I have no advice but to tell you YOU ARE SO NOT ALONE. I could have written this, even word of it. The hitting, the biting... and I feel the exact same about just being a broken record that has to say no, no all day long. I feel terrible that it's so negative - because he's an awesome dude.

The only thing I can do is look forward 6 months or so and think "god, hopefully he will be out of this phase."
posted by kpht at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know what you're going through - have gone through it with my 8- and 5-year-olds, and am currently going through it now with my two-year-old.

First and foremost, don't beat yourself up. His job is to test boundaries, your job is to enforce them. DO NOT feel guilty because you're correcting him a lot, correcting him every time he pushes said boundaries. That's what you're supposed to do.

What has specifically worked for me is simple: When a behavior is taking place that you want to discourage, get down to eye level with him and speak very sternly (and yes, sometimes that means being loud) about "don't do that". You don't have to explain - as you said, a two-year-old won't listen to an explanation and wouldn't understand anyway - but be in his face and be as loud as needed to get his attention. I have found that there's something about the simple act of an adult stooping down to eye-level that says, "hey, she's serious, I'd better listen and do what she says."
posted by jbickers at 7:40 AM on November 4, 2010 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: @JBickers I will say I do do that and the look on is face (guilt?) does in turn make me feel guilty a bit because I worry that I'm instilling unnecessary fear in him. I want to make sure I"m not mimicing the anxiety, fear, etc that my parents instilled in me but I also know I'm not screaming like a drill sergeant at him for spilling milk--I do know when to firmly discipline (like the get down) vs a simple, cute, soft "uh oh" when he spills. So I don't want to give the impression I'm flying off the handle over every little thing. When I do feel that it's going that way I ask my DH to step in.
posted by stormpooper at 7:43 AM on November 4, 2010

I feel your pain. I had to take my 2 year old to the doctor this week to extract an acorn from her nose.

We recently implemented the 1-2-3 Magic technique mentioned in this recent thread. It took one day for both our 2 and 4 year olds to completely understand that we mean it. The key is consistency. Say it, mean it, and ALWAYS follow through. We clearly and calmly say "Do (or stop doing) [X]. I'm going to count to 3 and if you're haven't done (or stopped doing) [X], you're going to get a timeout. 1... 2... 3." There's no 2-and-a-half, no 2-and-three-quarters, etc. And when we get to 3 the timeout is immediate, there is no negotiating, even if they decide at that point to do what we asked they still get a timeout. We have two timeout variations -- one in their room, and one that we call a "baby timeout", where we hold them in our arms like a baby and count to 60; they enjoy the attention for the first 15 seconds but then realize we mean business and really don't like being restrained. If the issue is something that needs further discussion (like "don't sit on your baby sister, it hurts her"), then we briefly and clearly explain it both before the initial 1-2-3 count, and after the timeout.

It's been about 3 weeks since we started; we still give timeouts occasionally, but about 80% of the time we don't even have to start counting.
posted by ellenaim at 7:50 AM on November 4, 2010 [39 favorites]

It is your job to say No. You will be failing him if you don't. You know that you can't let him do things that are dangerous, which he can't comprehend right now; you know that you need to teach him, eventually, to be patient, to share, to not hit, etc, etc, and that's all about setting limits.

It is absolutely human to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient when parenting a toddler. Feeling that way does not mean that you're doing it wrong. I will also add that, in my limited experience (2 kids), children can vary A LOT even in the toddler years about how much they challenge limits, respond to discipline, etc. So just because you read a book and the technique doesn't work for your particular kid doesn't mean that you're doing it wrong, either.

From your question, it sounds like you're having a lot of trouble figuring out how to set limits without freaking out yourself. I think you're right that the five minute explanation isn't going to work, but being short and firm and calm (as much as you can) might be worth a shot. "X is not for Y" is a good way to limit without saying no (i.e., "Trucks aren't for thowing"). Redirection is also good ("Pens aren't for babes, let's get some crayons." "We don't write on the wall, here, let's get some paper, writing is only for paper.")

But, if you lose your cool and yell--that's only human. You are not fated to be a yeller forever, you know what you want to do differnently, and you're problem-solving around it. In my book that's doing a great job.

Last point--I am a yeller by nature and not terrifically patient. My kids are 6 and 10 now and now that we're well clear of the preschool years I yell a lot less. Not that my kids have been cowed into submission or anything, it's just way less challenging now. You'll make it through too. Hang in there.
posted by Sublimity at 7:50 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

what jbickers said and I'd add that when diverting a behavior or telling him "no" also give him something he can do. That way he's not just inundated with "no" all the time. "No you cannot turn on the tub, but you can play with this bowl of crushed ice."

Also, so much of having a little person that age is heading them off at the pass. If you see him headed to the bathroom, stop him asap. If you see him climbing up onto the couch, remind him that he must sit on the couch ("bum on the couch, no standing").

It's such a tricky age - because they're so quick, meaning you have to be quicker. But there will be some tumbles, and that's ok - a lesson learned. Best of luck!
posted by Sassyfras at 7:50 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have two boys - ages 4 and 2 - who are as active as wildcats, so I know exactly how you feel. The three most commonly, ah, screamed...words in my household are NO, STOP and DON'T. It can be frustrating as hell, but you have to be firm enough to establish safe and reasonable boundries. The problem is 2, and even 4 year olds do not yet understand reasonable boundries. You have to scream sometimes to get the point across. Don't hit. Drag them to their room for a time-out. They will scream more and louder about this for awhile, but it has to be done in some situations. Do your best to stay calm and stick to your guns in situations where examples need to be set. People keep telling me it gets better. At least with my 4 year old I can sit him down and talk to him a little and explain why I am doing something or he is not allowed to do something. It works, at least for a little while with him. My experience is that freaking out - and it happens - does nobody any good. Good luck.
posted by joyride at 7:50 AM on November 4, 2010

when diverting a behavior or telling him "no" also give him something he can do.


The Supernanny TV show is a good resource for lots of tips like these, with the benefit that you can see them being put into action.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: I yell firmly and do the time outs. I think they work but I think what is most frustrating is they work short term. Maybe I have high expectations of say it once and it will stick.

Man, parenting is hard!
posted by stormpooper at 7:58 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think that getting down on his level means that you are being menacing. In fact, it really should be the opposite. Imagine the difference between a stern voice on high saying "no" and someone looking you in the eyes and saying "no" kindly.
I just finished reading this book in which they discuss "loving discipline." While the examples in the book are a little idyllic, the logic is still good. They don't mean "loving" as in "soft" either, it's just a focus on the intentions that make a difference.

I think you need to emphasize to yourself, in your own head, that children need discipline to help them feel safe in a big scary world. They need to know what the boundaries are, and that you're going to be consistent in enforcing them. Being consistent isn't about being negative, or mean; it's about helping your kid learn how to be in the world. And that you are a person he can rely on.

I'm also from a household where yelling, and irrational anger were displayed a lot. It's hard for me to reign in my temper sometimes, but if I keep reminding myself that getting mad doesn't help, but being firm and consistent does... well, it gets easier. If you're really struggling with it, consider an anger management course or something like that.

Also, two year olds suck a little bit :)
posted by purpletangerine at 7:59 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I remember when my mother was correcting every little thing that I've done wrong when I was 3 to even 6 years old. At the time, I felt bad and almost like I couldn't do anything right, however, I'm thankful for the lessons because today it's teaching me discipline as an adult of where to guide my emotions during heavy situations. It's ok to yell and it's ok to get in a 2 year old's face and be serious. Doesn't matter what look he gives you, he needs to understand you mean business. Not every kid is meant to have a soft, coddling experience. Some need a stern talking and babies are no different. It's not your job to coddle your child, it's your job to be the parent and guide him for his well being through this difficult journey called life. Many times we revert back to the way we were raised because we figured we survived then. I think you need to embrace the raising you do know, along with the patience of teaching yourself ways to be stern without screaming. Don't worry so much about his guilty faces. He should feel shame for his actions. It shows he's a normal child and you are doing your job as a mother. Go with confidence in your parenting skills and learn from them.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 7:59 AM on November 4, 2010

You're doing fine, really, and there's some great advice in this thread. I found what helped most was to really, thoroughly toddler-proof the house when my active, busy, two-year-old son had me at my wit's end. Can you shut the bathroom door and install a door cover so he can't turn on the tub water? Can you give him a little step-stool so he can look out the window without standing on the back of the couch? Go around the house at his level (walking on your knees, maybe) to see the potential hazards. If you've already done this, ignore me.

As for him throwing a tantrum when you have to work for a minute, give him something to do before you start answering emails. Two-year-olds love to have "jobs." I would give my son construction paper to rip, a puzzle to do; anything to keep his hands and mind busy. But phrase it like, "Can you help mommy with this?" And then when you're done doing whatever it was you had to do, help him glue the construction paper bits to make a collage, or help him finish the puzzle.

Lastly, when you find yourself saying no, think if you could have phrased it in a yes. So, if he's standing on the couch, tell him, "Come stand on the step stool instead of the couch," or if he's starting to throw a tantrum, tell him, "Can you come help me with this puzzle?" Parenting a toddler is 98% distraction and redirection. If you can head off the problems before they really start, you'll find yourself feeling much better.
posted by cooker girl at 8:14 AM on November 4, 2010 [17 favorites]

This might sound a bit heartless but I assure you it's not.

Your kid has his own ideas about how the world should work, and they will almost never overlap with yours. But they're also still very much figuring out a lot of things you and I might take for granted, so honestly it's kind of useless to try to employ reason. It's not that your kid is too dumb to understand, it's that causal relationships aren't really the same in his head as they are in yours.

You need to stop worrying about his feelings just now. When he's a bit older you can explain to him that you don't want him to get hurt because you love him a lot and so that's why there are all these rules, et cetera. But with a toddler, you have to be unafraid of being a bit of a hardass. At this point he doesn't understand cause and effect - he doesn't get that he might hurt himself by taking risks. But don't worry, he'll eventually figure that out when he's, oh I don't know, twenty-four or so.

Tell yourself this, and allow it to inform your decisions: He doesn't need to understand why he has to do things a certain way. He just has to do it. Don't try to convey empathy, don't explain. Don't say please. Coddle him when he scrapes his knee, not when he's headbutting you.

But instead of saying "get down," say, "Don't stand on the chair. Chairs are for sitting. Get down." If you tell him only to get down, he'll figure it's not okay right now for reasons he doesn't understand, but it might be later. That sounds crazy to you or me, but it's been a long time since we've had such a colossal mountain of seemingly arbitrary rules thrown at us.

Worry about being his mean old mom when he's old enough to be told "no" without throwing a tantrum.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use positive approaches when I remember to, and believe me, I often forget. Much like you, I am not a perfect parent. But what I aim to do is something like this: "Be a safe baby. Show me how a safe baby [sits/stands/walks, etc.]." You got me as to why on earth that works, but it does more than I would think. I also help him do the thing I want him to do and tell him, "Very good listening! Thank you for listening to me. I really appreciate it when you listen to me," emphasizing the "listening" part of all of this.

I also give short, brief explanations. For example, climbing on something he shouldn't: "You need to be a safe baby! [Sit/Stand/Walk] right now!" Then once the emergency is over and if he's upset it's, "I know you wanted to [x.] You're not big enough, and a mommy's job is to keep you safe." That also seems to, sometimes, work. Though not as much as the first approach.

We take public transport a lot, so I have a firm expectation of how he should behave on a 6:30 am train with a bunch of sleepy-eyed and grouchy commuters (robo cop is bleeding can provide witness statements as to whether my methods work as he's had the fortunate or unfortunate pleasure of sharing a seat with us). If Toddler Zizzle shouts and I want him to speak in an inside voice, I whisper. He's starting to get this.

Rather than "No" and "Don't," I ask him, "What did you do that you shouldn't?" Even though he's not verbal enough to tell me, he's getting the message he did something wrong. And then I give him the words, "You threw your trains," or "You hit Mommy," or whatever else he did. Then I firmly say, "We don't behave this way. Show me how you do behave." And sometimes that works. This morning I had a wonderful moment where I knew this was working when I did exactly that and then he all of a sudden sat quietly with his trains and didn't throw them and then didn't hit me and didn't yell. I told him I was so, so, so, so, so, so proud of him and got a big huge happy grin from him. So, I think even though I'm constantly repeating myself and I feel like I'm getting absolutely nowhere, that I am in fact getting somewhere.

Oh, also, if I use, "STOP!" instead of, "NO!," I find I get his attention more easily.

I also find that time outs So I redirect, redirect, redirect, and model, model, model, model. And there are consequences, of course --- we had to leave a park once after a particular nasty incident involving another child, and he often loses his toys on our commute until he can show me how he can behave properly.
posted by zizzle at 8:18 AM on November 4, 2010 [11 favorites]

You don't always have to explain. He is a child and has not developed or experienced enough to make reliable decisions.

There are times when a quick, firm correction is necessary. Firmly tell him "no," and remove him or the offending object. That could mean removing him from you or putting him in a location where he is by himself with nothing to occupy him (timeout?). You tell him once, do what you need to do, and no discussion.

Other times, you can replace the activity he wants with one that you deem appropriate. Grab something else for him to play with, and give it to him.

When you need time by yourself, move him someplace else, and ignore his tantrum (I know it's hard - hum to yourself or something). Is there a place that is super, super kid proof?

On another note, I've heard that simply holding a child's chin to bring his face right to yours (within three inches) and giving a strong "NO!" is punishment enough - it's doesn't hurt him, but it's a little scary.

Whatever you choose to do, be consistent -- you correct the same way for the same thing every time as quickly as possible. Get him out of these dangerous habits before he has the freedom to do them without your supervision.

Oh, and someone suggested counting up to 3. Try counting down, which will help you resist the temptation to go on to 5 or 10.
posted by jander03 at 8:21 AM on November 4, 2010

What others have said : You need to instill some discipline and control.

It's OK to yell, if that's your style, but make sure you've got a carrot with the stick, too - lots of hugs and praise when he does well. Consistency is key, however.

He's not a bad kid. Some kids just have to test things. I was that way, and my son was, too. It's partly establishing trust and partly just not thinking things through.

Something to remember is that those qualities of pushing boundaries and testing limits are very good qualities to have in certain contexts. Your job is to teach your boy how and when to use those talents for good and not for evil.

In any event, whatever tactic you come up with, you are going to be constantly re-evaluating and adjusting it as he grows and his boundary testing abilities develop. That is to say, there is no right answer, but merely an method that works for the moment. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, the error part of trial and error is pretty much unavoidable.

Keep your chin up. :-)
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:21 AM on November 4, 2010

Well, three things, that I'm trying to pursue as a parent myself.

- Redirect that energy; present the kid with alternatives instead of just "stop and "no", and have those alternatives available. Bring the kid to those alternatives, and engage in those activities with them. If they're climbing at home and that's no good, suit up and go to the park together. Try drawing or reading together, or just going out and running around chasing a soccer ball. If that doesn't work, and they insist on whatever it is, then if it's not going to actually put them in the hospital, accompany them; parenting as mentoring and companionship, not just protection. I don't know for sure, but I strongly suspect that the more you are there to help them with stuff like the hot water tap, the more they'll acknowledge that you _should_ be around when they decide they're going to try dealing with something _like_ the hot water tap.

- Really, really declutter your space, and really, really put things away that the kid might decide to eat. Sometimes that means making real changes to the layout and content of your space - that statue you love in the corner, or that heavy table with the sharp corners, maybe those things need to go into storage for a year or two; c'est la vie, it will be back. Broadly speaking, you want to mitigate risk by managing your environment whenever possible, in a way that doesn't require your constant attention. Does your hot water actually scald? If so turn it down, and if not, it's probably OK if he gets some on him. Keep the bleach and drain cleaner locked up in a cabinet and have some bactine, bandaids and hugs handy for the rest.

- Diet and exercise. Keep an eye on their diet, mostly with an eye towards simple sugars. Cookies, sweet juices, stuff with lots of sugar in it means exciting sugar rush, and brutal sugar crash meltdown soon afterwards. Lots of sugar plus no exercise is a recipe for a miserable, unmanageable kid, and you want the exact opposite of that. Manage their diet, get them outside and let them run themselves into the ground, has so far been a successful formula for a happy, well-mannered kid.

Kids are going to get hurt, full stop. They're going to bump into things, bruise their knuckles and skin their knees. They're going to jump off stuff and go bonk. And to some extent actually want that - you want them pushing the envelope, you want them to be inquisitive and brave and to learn about limits and consequences on their own. That's not some monstrous parenting failure, that's "kids growing up".

But the other thing is: kids bounce. True story, or none of us would be here. Falling off a couch is nothing.
posted by mhoye at 8:24 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

We have an independent-minded exploring-oriented toddler. I am with cookergirl: The simplest thing to do is to create a play space where nothing is off-limits. As long as he's not likely to poison himself, chop off a finger (oh, doors, how I hate you), or gash his head open, we mostly let him make his own errors and save the constant supervision for when we're out-and-about or he's in a non-toddler-proofed area of the house. It's also far, far easier to redirect than to get him to just plain stop doing something.

On occasion I have even LET him hurt himself ... he kept trying to slam his fingers in the door, so I finally stood there and held the knob where he couldn't see me and let him slam the door on them GENTLY with me preventing serious injury. OH, was he mad when he pinched his fingers! That was the end of slamming that particular door. Though not all the other doors. But that's the only door in his "safe" playspace, so it mostly works out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:32 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

God, my son is 11 and some of these are such good advice that I'm going to try to really stick to them NOW. (This is not meant to be discouraging, by the way, ha.) But trying to make the house as "no-proof" as possible is a great idea. You don't want to live in a day care center, but minimizing the big things will help. And distracting and redirecting when he's doing something undesirable, also great. Try giving him two choices - either of which are fine with you, so he feels like he's got some control. And you can sometimes get more attention from them by going quieter rather than louder.
posted by lemniskate at 8:37 AM on November 4, 2010

I don't know why I'm posting in kid threads as I don't have kids (but will have my first very soon so I guess this stuff is all on my mind) and one thing that I think is important to keep in mind is that kids younger than 3 really don't develop long-term memories of this stuff. In fact, they often don't remember things from hour to hour let alone day to day. I think these early years are where the parents establish good patterns for their own behavior. You're right not to get into a rut of over-the-top reactions like your parents had with you (and mine with me). But, having his independent will apparently crushed when what it wants to do is drink glue and throw itself off high ledges is okay at this stage. I don't think it matters that he needs these boundaries reinforced a million times a day. He won't remember that and he needs it.

What do you think, parents? For me as I try to think about how I'll parent and what is the "right" thing to do and as I rethink things my parents did well and not so well, I'm taking solace that my memories of very early childhood are so limited. I remember anger and anxiety coming from my parents probably from around age 5 but surely that was a continuation of a pattern that I don't recall. That's why I said in another thread, as a parent, when you see a pattern developing in your own behavior that is negative, you need to reset your own boundaries and figure out a way to change that. Which is what you're doing which I think is great.
posted by amanda at 8:49 AM on November 4, 2010

I'd just like to reinforce the point others have made about consistency, and that fact that at this age, there's no need to explain anything.


1. Be consistent. If something's no allowed, it's pretty much never allowed.
2. Follow through. If you count to three, three is where it ends and the timeout begins, even if they do the thing they were supposed to do two seconds after 'three'. Similarly, never make a threat you're not prepared to follow through with.
3. Balance criticism with praise. Praise every positive thing, even if it doesn't seem like much.
4. Don't explain why things are not allowed until they're old enough to ask.
5. Don't shout. Kids quickly learn that you're not serious until you shout, and that's the wrong lesson.
6. Always insist that they listen to you. You're wasting both your time and theirs if they're ignoring you.
7. If you have to take sanctions (a timeout or whatever), go back to 'friendly parent' mode straight afterwards. They've done their time.
8. Above all, remember that small children prefer boundaries to total freedom. Don't feel guilty about constraining their options. Children test boundaries because they want to know where they are, not because they want to go beyond them.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 8:59 AM on November 4, 2010 [18 favorites]

Totally agree with the positive approaches. Instead of "Get down!" try "No standing on the couch, it's not safe." And ideally, "Let's get a stool so you can look at the window," or "Come look out this other window with me." Instead of "I'm sorry, but I need to get this email out" (which to a 2 year old means "go away and wait forever") you could try something like "I have to get this email out, but I'll be with you in two minutes. I'll set a timer and when it beeps, I'll be done." It makes you both feel better when your day isn't a constant barrage of NO... even though there will still be plenty of times when it feels that way.

Try your best not to raise your voice unless it's an absolute emergency, like your kid is running out into the street. If you stay calm, your kid will act calmer too. It takes practice, but keep trying and your kid will notice.

"Catch them being good" is a classic and great piece of parental advice -- when your kid is doing something right, tell him, "Yesterday I asked you not to climb on the couch, and you remembered and today you're sitting down nicely! That makes me really happy!" When your kid is doing everything right, or during a calm time when you're just hanging out together, it's also a good time to casually initiate short conversations about behavior. Like, "When you climbed up on the couch yesterday, I was really worried that you'd fall. You won't do that again, right? No? Good. I knew I could trust you."

Finally: this, too, shall pass. As you know, kids go through phases. Each one seems like it will last forever, but eventually it'll get easier. (And then harder again. And then easier again.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:01 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, man, two year olds are shits. My kid is four now, and she's a shit in a totally different way. (Also obviously the delight of my life and the joy of my heart, etc.)

Right now, he's learning how the world works, and what he most needs from you is clear, consistent feedback. He's in a giant laboratory, pushing buttons and turning dials, and you're the one providing the "bonk" noise when he tries to do something that is outside the rules. It may help to remember that one of the things he's learning at this point is how many times the same action will get the same result before he can count on that action leading to that result; adults (pretty much the world over) know that once is a fluke, twice is coincidence, and three times is a dependable correlation, but that has to be learned. so when he does things over and over again even though you keep saying "No"? That's not just him being bad; that's him establishing the ground rules of what's correlation and what's coincidence.

As for being "that parent. . ." We are all that parent some days. I once locked my daughter in her room while she screamed bloody and unceasing murder for ninety minutes. Cut yourself a little slack; screaming "OH MY GOD WHY WILL YOU NOT JUST SIT DOWN AND DO WHAT I SAY" occasionally does not equal "a house of screaming and fear." As my shrink told me when I had to go off my antidepressants when I got pregnant, "C+ is a passing grade, even when it comes to parenting. We all strive to do better, but good enough really is good enough."
posted by KathrynT at 9:15 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Giving him options for what he CAN do that gets the same sort of yayas out--this really works. You don't even have to use the word no.
"You want to stand on something, but we don't stand on the table. You can stand on the couch! Try it out! It's fun!"
"You want to play with my phone, but phones are not for babies. Here, play with this toy instead, it has lots of cool buttons too!"
"I don't like it when you pull on my leg. Do you need a hug?"

For the tantrums, ignore them. There's no point in engaging in them at all, unless he really spirals out of control, and then I would put him in his crib until he settles down. I don't have a huge tantrum-girl on my hands though, so YMMV.

And start implementing time outs and 1-2-3 immediately. Age 2 is exactly when it began to catch on for my kid. At 18 mo it was totally pointless. Now at age 2.25 she gives her dolls time outs for hitting. And if she wants to avoid time outs, she has to stop doing the bad thing, and also apologize. When she's done with time out, I ask her if she remembers why she is there (often she doesn't, but sometimes she does), ask her to apologize, and it's back to playing.

Despite the near-constant testing of limits, we keep things in a pretty good mood around here with those tricks.

I have to say, Supernanny is a total genius. I watched her before I had kids and I use many of the techniques I saw on her show. We needed a time-out area with real restraints, though. When we're out, I threaten to strap her in her stroller, at home, I threaten to put her in her bed and close the door.

posted by tk at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2010

I've found that my 2 yr old really like rules - simple, consistent, easily understood rules. She likes to be able to confirm and test out the rules and to enforce them with other people, too. So not only does she know "No shoes on the sofa/bed" but she will remind anyone else of the rule, too and is very pleased to be able to let them know.

Think up a few very basic rules: no standing in the high chair, no running in the house, brush your teeth before bedtime and see if you can consistently apply them and make them his job to enforce them. Tone of voice is key. Low, firm, and stern works well if I'm telling her no. I also use her name a lot to impress that I'm specifically focused on her. I do provide very short explanations ("You could fall down and hurt yourself" "That knife is sharp and dangerous") since I think it does help her understand that there's a reason for my disapproval, even if it's not immediately clear what I mean. Lots of praise for stuff that's good behavior reinforces the positive, too.

My daughter tries out all kinds of things to see what my reaction will be. I can see her looking for approval or disapproval ("Can I climb this?" "Can I jump off of here?") as she tests all the boundaries. Sometimes, it really seems like she wants me to say no, just so she can confirm that something isn't appropriate behavior.

It's a tough age though and if you're really feeling like your coping mechanisms aren't doing the job, it's okay to ask for help. Are there parenting resources in your community that you can tap into? A day of Prozac shouldn't be enough to have measurable results. It takes a few days to build up in your system so maybe it's just that you feel empowered by doing something to help yourself.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of the Love and Logic approach. That book's a good starting point, but they have many more resources at their web site. L&L, plus baby sign, made the "terrible two's" not so terrible for our three boys.

Brief summary of L&L:
  • Overuse of commands invites rebellion;
  • natural consequences are the best teachers, and they reduce resentment because the child doesn't associate you with the consequence;
  • allow painful but non-dangerous consequences to occur (with appropriate warnings, e.g. "If you do that, you might fall down and get hurt"), but intervene in truly dangerous situations;
  • look for or manufacture realistic consequences for situations that don't have their own obvious ones, and be sure to make a clear connection between the action and the consequence.
  • give children lots of freedom in trivial matters so they feel enfranchised;
  • recognize that misbehavior is an indicator of loneliness/desire for attention, and address that cause.
Two is not too young to start L&L techniques; the earlier you start, the easier it will be later on.

My one caveat about L&L is that there is a certain gene expression that makes affected people have trouble learning from mistakes. L&L is predicated on this ability; if your child is predisposed to difficulty with it, L&L techniques will be much harder to employ. (But arguably even more important....)
posted by richyoung at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

First, this is amazing advice: But they're also still very much figuring out a lot of things you and I might take for granted, so honestly it's kind of useless to try to employ reason. It's not that your kid is too dumb to understand, it's that causal relationships aren't really the same in his head as they are in yours.

For very young toddlers (under 3) giving long explanations generally gives them a victim complex. The two year-old I take care of recently had a terrible bout of stomach viruses and the doctor advised her parents to take away milk, AKA her absolute favorite food group. When she whined for milk, we all told her "milk makes your tummy hurt!" The kid was totally uninterested in WHY she couldn't have milk, just that we weren't giving it to her. An adult would be dissuaded from something that gave them the runs, but very little kids don't really understand how A --> B. They're pure id, wanting wanting wanting, so telling them about all the rational, complex reasons why they can't drink your wine or can't hold that butcher knife or must wear snow boots in the winter doesn't make much difference. All they generally hear is the "no" part of the sentence and the rest of the sentence is aggravating noise.

Secondly, boundaries make for sane parents and sane toddlers. Imagine if you started throwing out all the rules in your house. Your toddler would freak out, not be totally happy. You define his world, you determine when he eats, sleeps, and plays, and he needs you to be the adult. If you didn't say "no" all the time, you'd have a toddler with burnt hands from turning on the hot water, concussions from falling off the couch and highchair, and who could have possibly choked on some fun foreign objects.

In short, stop thinking of relationship with your very young child in the same terms you think of your relationships with fully developed adults. Don't think of setting boundaries as negativity, think of it as creating the safe and loving parameters of his tiny world. Parents who care enough about their children's safety over their immediate sense of happiness (but he really WANTS to turn on the hot water) are work in their kids' best interest in the long run.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:32 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

First -- wonderful parenting refresher/crash course to be had via these excellent monographs:

Something Better Than Punishment
Helping Young Children Behave
Building a Positive Relationship with Your Child
Am I Spoiling My Child?

Remind yourself that the yelling and punishment doesn't work very well -- if it did, you wouldn't have to keep doing it...

Do reserve a NO! that you trot out only when danger is imminent, and don't overuse that particular "no." For the rest of the wonderful world of no, try less talking, more doing. "Mum said no," and you get up and pull him off whatever, calmly and cheerfully. The "Mum says no" stuff should be chipper and efficient; watch "Mary Poppins" for a tutorial.

At all costs, avoid getting into stupid situations where you are arguing or fighting with your kid. Like the idiots you see getting into squabbles with tots in supermarkets... Don't do that, don't argue. "Mum said no" = cheerful end to whatever it was, not a bunch of angry remonstrations. (But let me make clear that I am a fan of explanations. Mr Kmennie's motto is "Be good or I'll reason with you," and he is always happy to take five minutes to explain the why of something. And it works, and our daughter's vocabulary has really benefitted from the long-winded explanations...)

Mostly I want to say that the ticket out of 2yo fusses here was usually getting out. I live in the sticks and once every couple of weeks (or more) I pack the kid up and we head downtown early in the morning, and stroller/bus it all over the city until I am about to fall over at the end of the day. We hit the museums, cheap restaurants, city parks, etcetera etcetera. There are no fusses from the kid (who nods off beautifully in the stroller) for the day, and I am refreshed from the interesting and fuss-free day; the next day we are still kinda fagged out from our busy day and thus chill, and after that we are full of interesting things to talk about. Dinosaurs! Dinosaur bones at the museum...okay, let's go to the library and get a book about dinosaurs! Parent and tot are totally recharged. For a while, anyway, and then it's time for another day in the city. Find something that refreshes both of you. Right now I am just in from a library storytime, soon to head back out for swimming lessons, and feeling a bit rushed, but it sure beats staying at home fussing it up, and it is when one has too much at home that both of us will be most prone to being argumentative, I notice...

You do not need to be mean and I think stuff like shutting a wee tot alone in a room (!) or using restraints on a toddlers to punish them (!!) would be terrifying, bordering on abuse, quite inappropriate. There is no need to ignore frustration, too; one can say no without being cold about it. I cannot stress the 'don't argue' part enough. It seems to happen a lot to the more insecure sort of parent, so -- confidence! Cheerful confidence.

As for the working at home thing -- I do a bit myself, and over and over I have learned the lesson that getting my work in when given permission to do so, so to speak, means getting a whole lot more work done. My daughter is three now and much more amenable to "I have to do some working right now, so I can't play, but here is a colouring book," but. Wait until he is happily occupied with his blocks or trains or whatever and then dash off your e-mail, and if he comes over in need of five minutes attention -- give the five minutes, because it is better to give the five minutes than to spend fifteen minutes arguing about how he can have five minutes in another five minutes. You can also try boring him out of bothering you by bringing him onto your lap and blithering on: "And now Mummy types in the estimated number right here, and hits return, and then... Here is the send button!" Once it is clear that your work is not very exciting he is less likely to want to be in on it.
posted by kmennie at 9:53 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Fabulous ideas above-and not to stress you out further, but I've always found 3 year olds tougher than 2 year olds-YMMV.

I work in child protection, and one piece of advice I'd give is to spend some time reading about 2 year old development. I think one of the biggest sources of stress and frustration for parents is inappropriate developmental expectations-if you think your child should be capable of doing something they are not doing, then you tend to believe they are CHOOSING not to do it, which makes us angry. If you just understand that two year olds are not capable of remembering a rule after being told once, then your expectations change and you are prepared to say things over and over, intervene over and over, or, even better, just structure your physical environment to reduce opportunities for conflict.
posted by purenitrous at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe I have high expectations of say it once and it will stick.

Somewhere I read that 2-year-olds are in "got it, lost it" land. They do not have good recall for what not to do, what is dangerous, etc. We have to constantly remind them, which is so frustrating. My child is now age 3, and I can hopefully encourage you by saying that she is now in "got it, kept it" land. Occasionally I have to ask, "What's the rule about X?" but she has internalized most rules.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:13 AM on November 4, 2010

On the top of not saying "NO" except in imminent danger -- the non-no phrase we chose was "not for baby" (or "not for Name"). The big thing he gets into a lot is pulling (adult) books off shelves, which we couldn't really childproof. We say "Not for baby! Baby's are over here!" and lead him to his own book shelf. Or sometimes, "Not for baby! Those glasses are daddy's." But it lends itself really well to adding a "... and here's what's for you" at the end of it. He understood it very quickly, though he still will frequently go stand by the bookshelf, look at us and shake his head firmly (which is what he does when we say "not for baby," apparently because we unconsciously do so), and then pull them off the shelf anyway. But at least half the time it clicks and he actually pays attention.

He's also the only kid his age that we know who doesn't actually say "no" or have "no" in his (20ish word) vocabulary, because he doesn't ever actually HEAR "no" unless he's behaving inappropriately towards the cats or about to actually hurt himself or someone else.

That said, at this age, it takes like two weeks of constantly reinforcing a new boundary before he decides it's a real boundary, during which time the ONLY thing he wants to do is go try to pull book off the shelf and see if mommy will REALLY say "not for baby" every single time. It's pretty maddening, but it does work if you're patient and persistent and consistent.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:19 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Some things changed for me when I switched the words "testing boundaries" to "learning". A lot of my daughter's behavior is about learning. Imagine a world where you had no reference point. None. Gravity, manners, violence had no reference point as existing. Then you did "something"... to me, this is the world of a 2 year old. Burgeoning intellect, advancing physical capacity and curiosity about this world that they have been inhabiting but not fully engaging in.

Take things slowly. I am super appreciative of my wife who will just calmly step into a situation and shoo me away. Likewise, me to her.

It is an incredible time for your child and one that can be amazingly challenging for you. I am positive that things will go well for you.

Good luck!
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:20 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

*On the TOPIC, not top.

Also, "Maybe I have high expectations of say it once and it will stick. "

Yeah, no. Honestly even teenagers need repetition a lot of the time. Developing brains misplace rules a lot. :) At this age it takes ENDLESS repetitions where you are consistent every. single. time. they attempt the misbehavior. It's exhausting. (Which is why it remains a good idea to minimize opportunities for rule-breaking and to decide which hills you're going to die on, because inconsistent boundaries are problematic, so make sure you care enough about the boundary to be consistent.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:22 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have a two year old, and we don't really discipline her. I know some people do time outs and spanking and etc. but that's always seemed just not right to us. Maybe she's well-behaved; maybe we're idiots. Several people have commented on her pleasant disposition and general equanimity, but she's the only two year old I've ever known and I'm not in much of a position to comment on it.

If she's doing something dangerous we say No and if she doesn't listen we remove her from whatever it is and because she's two she flips out and weeps or screams and eventually recovers. We don't like it, it's extremely stressful, but she's not going to be playing with scissors and we're not yelling at her or having a discussion about it -- she's simply not permitted. End of story. I'm not saying we're all zombied out about it--it's definitely stressful but the course of action is clear and we're there to protect her.

That said, we absolutely do not make battles out of anything that we can not make a battle about. She's not allowed to put herself in danger or be disrespectful to us or the animals but if we can let something go we always, always do.

On really trying days, dad and I will march into the kitchen and do a pair of vodka shots. There is something about this that we both find hilarious. Your sense of what's hilarious may vary.

FWIW, I'd probably let her stand on the kitchen chair and stand by as a spotter, I'd probably let her stand on the couch and look out the window, probably a no on the hot water followed by a Little Llama freak out, and she's not big on putting things in her mouth but since we've let her eat about five pounds of dog food over the course of her life I'd probably let her stick whatever in her mouth, assuming we're not talking about plutonium.

That email thing? That's a recipe for horrible, horrible frustration--it's a set up for failure. Spare yourself the agony and send it later.

Basically I'd advise trying to design your life for a few conflicts that really matter, deciding what's critical and what you can not worry about, and picking your battles.

Also, don't feel bad about it sucking. It sucks sometimes. And don't feel bad about turning to Sesame Street for a break -- you need breaks to keep your anger to a manageable level so you can get more mileage out of your patience.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:31 AM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

I know everyone on these threads recommends 1-2-3-Magic, but seriously, get the 1-2-3-Magic DVD. That, plus routine, plus being consistent, plus giving yourself a time out when you need to will help. And take heart - difficult toddlers often grow up to be lovely kids. :-) (And vice versa.)
posted by pootler at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2010

I would point out that all of these suggestions are great and compassionate ways to manage behaviour but that when an actual immediate threat to safety is involved, it is totally okay to shout NO! If your kid is picking up a knife or putting a die in their mouth. But really, both No and shouting should be so rare that they have an immediate, startling effect.

A Terrible Lama is wise. Learning to distinguish actual danger from potential danger, and helping your kid to safely navigate the potential ones, will stand you both in good stead.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

DarlingBri makes a very good point.
posted by cooker girl at 12:24 PM on November 4, 2010

I have no kids of my own, so have no specific suggestions. What I do have is a story that might help you feel better about the times that you have to say no.

I substitute teach, every now and then, for a middle/high school. I signed up thinking that I was going to be subbing for high school mostly, but they pretty much always give me the same group of fifth graders. Before I started teaching there, I had forgotten how young fifth graders are. They're very young. I knew nothing about dealing with kids that age.

My plan, initially, was that I wasn't going to try to hard on the discipline front. I remembered the way we never behaved for subs when I was in school, so I figured that as long as they weren't fighting or actively disrupting other people, I'd relax the rules. You want to listen to your ipod? Sure. You want to run around the room? Just stay clear of the tables. I thought they'd like me and get about as much done as ever happens with a sub.

The kids didn't like it. I've heard all my life that "children need boundaries" and "kids want to be told no." I thought it was just something adults told themselves. I was wrong. These kids were, there's no other way to put it, a little scared. They didn't know it seemed like everything was possible, and it freaked them out a little. They said they were having fun, but I could see that it wasn't true.

The next time I came in there, I pretended that I had gotten in trouble for what I let them do the first time, and told them I was going to have to enforce all the rules. They complained outwardly, but it was clear that they liked that system much better. Now they actually do like me - because I told them no. Go figure.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:21 PM on November 4, 2010

1-2-3 Magic might work - it doesn't work (well) on my son.
Nurtured Heart worked GREAT on my daughter (it comes down to this - go into opposite land for positive/negative things - a near constant high energy narrative of their good behavior, a low-energy recognition of bad behavior, many frequent, short time-outs that are easy to give and easy to take, slowly raise the bar on complimentable things)

For him, a merit/demerit chart works pretty well. We have two 15 element columns. For good behavior/helping, he gets a sticker in the happy column. For poor behavior/non-compliance, he gets an X in the sad column. When he reaches the top in either column, he gets a new chart. Top on stickers means he gets a toy or a date with a parent. Top on X's means he loses a favorite toy/activity for a few days. X's are given with as little ebergy as possible.

Substitution works sometimes (ie, offer something else), but he does things at times that need quicker intervention. That means either simply saying "if you do X, you (might) get Y. Is that what you want?" And reflect on it when it happens. Falling off a chair is not a huge deal and a way better teacher than a timeout. I try to point out in terms of non-compliance that he picked it. He usually denies it, so more reflection.

But then there's the tantrums. Oh man. I have seen him keep himself telling for 45 minutes. Someone on mefi once reflected that tantrums are not nearly as fun without an audience, so when he pushes into tantrum land (and BOY DOES HE), he gets firmly escorted to his room to cool off.

Sometimes his behavior is egregious and repeated. Yes we spank. I never want to spank in anger, but I have (to my dismay). Typically, I will hold him on my knee with his pants down and a hand in contact with his buttocks. I give him the choice of "big" or "little" depending on if he can admit to his behavior and talk through what he could have done. The touch makes it clear that punishment is present and not theoretical.

And then there's the nuclear punishment. Oh geez. So at times at daycare he totally loses his temper and, for example, kicks a teacher, hits, throws a chair. They call me since he is a hazard. I take him home and have him move ALL his toys out of his room. No entertainment. He spends the rest of the day (up until when daycare would be done) there. And then we reflect HEAVILY on what happened, how he PICKED his punishment, what he could do next time, and lots of reminders that we love him, but we don't like the behavior he chose.

It's getting better.

Also, we discovered through trial and error that red 40 and yellow 5 affect his behavior BADLY and in a way that he has absolutely no control of his actions.
posted by plinth at 1:38 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

What chickenmagazine said particularly the "catch them being good".
posted by southof40 at 2:01 PM on November 4, 2010

One of the interesting things about the debate about discipline vs. non-discipline is what both agree one, which is that to be a bad parent is to indulge your own desires. To those who emphasize discipline, failing to set limits is a sign of parental indulgence - you want to be your child’s friend, you don’t want to be the bad guy, etc. On the non-discipline side, setting limits is a form of parental indulgence – you’re a tyrant who forces the child to do what you want, you steamroll over them to make sure you get your needs met. Regardless of what approach you prefer, both sides agree that the parent’s indulgent desires must be limited & disciplined – effectively, that the parent should have a brutal, overbearing parental superego of his/her own.

I think you should reject both, because guilt means you are looking over your shoulder at a (imagined, sometimes real) parental third party who is judging you, wondering what a particular action says about you as a parent, instead of looking at your child, what’s good for them and how they are experiencing the situation.

So any suggestions before he views me as mean ol mom who always says no?

My wife has had this problem, our daughter has felt like she’s just one big obstacle to everything they want – the paradox is that I’m much stricter with her, and say no more often. Here’s why this happens: my wife feels that imposing your will on kids is wrong, so she tries to say no as little as possible. This is a moral norm that many people subscribe to among adults, and like lots of parents, she thinks kids should also be accorded this same respect, just as we limit our indulgent desires to tell other people how to live, we should apply the same limits when dealing with kids. An example this norm: when you are out at a restaurant with adults, and someone expresses a preference for something on the menu, you should respect that and not tell them they are wrong just because you wouldn’t enjoy it – failing to do this is a kind of violation or intrusion. So OK, it’s taboo to try to limit someone’s legitimate desire. But there’s another side to this norm – it’s also taboo to want their desire for them. An example of this would be if someone wanted to order a high-calorie dessert, but they were also on a diet and were ambivalent. If you were to say “Oh yes, get the dessert, think about how tasty it will be, you’re going to love it!” this would also be experienced as a kind of intrusion. This is especially true among strangers - if you express a desire or a preference, there’s something violating about a stranger hijacking it and insisting that you should get it. Everyone wants to be loved, but if an acquaintance or coworker suddenly declares their love for you, this is also often experienced as a violation, like “Who is this person? How dare they fall in love with me!” In a strange way, it’s also taboo to give someone what they want - because we are a highly individualistic society, will and desire are synonymous. The norm is that my will is used to achieve my desires, your will is used to achieve your desires. If I use my will to limit your desires, this is a violation, but it’s also a violation in many cases to use my will to help you achieve your desires. The name for this kind of violation is significant: paternalistic, meaning acting like a parent.

Applying this norm to raising kids, you obviously can’t treat them fully as adults – if they want to walk across a busy street, you’re going to physically restrain them – so the rule ends up being “Limit your kids as little as necessary.” The paradox is that this rule means that whenever your child experiences your will, it is always as a limit, and even if this is infrequent, it leads to the conclusion that mom = an obstacle. This isn’t because you set limits on your kids, it’s because you’re also respecting them by not using your will to help them achieve their desires, which is something that is often forgotten about. You can see that in the discussion over dinner – some parents respect their kids by asking “What do you want for dinner?” and accommodating their wants, maybe making something different for everybody. The other choice is parents who think something like “Your desires don’t matter, so I won’t ask you what you want, & everyone eats what I made.” What’s forgotten here is another option: “I don’t ask what you want, you don’t get to express your will, but I made your favorite food.” In other words, sometimes it’s necessary to “violate” the norm and act paternalistically or (maternalistically) and limit their will, but if you do that, then you shouldn’t forget to violate the other half of the norm and use your will on their behalf, for their desires in addition to against their desires. The problem with the norm as it applies to relationships is that yeah, it’s great for respecting other people’s desires, but it can also be incredibly isolating.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:20 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up with a parent a lot like yours. Lots of screaming and yelling and hitting, usually in response to behaviours which are pretty much in a 2-year-old's job description. She would get frustrated, and lash out. I think poorly of her for a lot of reasons, but one thing I have never begrudged is that she stopped me from doing things which were unsafe.

I have a vivid memory of sitting on my plastic toddler bike at the top of steep path, certain that I would turn a tight corner to avoid hitting the plate glass window at the bottom. She grabbed me, and told me NO, and I'm sure I whined and complained at the time. But I never felt wronged, not about that. As an adult, I just think, heck, being a parent is hard, and I'm so lucky someone was there to tell me to stop. I was a kid; I had boundless curiosity and a limited understanding of the laws of physics. I couldn't possibly have understood how much danger I was in. I needed a reasonable adult to override my poor judgement.

What I do resent is the other kind of yelling - the kind that came unpredictably, in bursts of inexplicable rage, the kind that I couldn't avoid by behaving well because it wasn't really about me, it was about her. My spilling the milk, for example, wasn't the kind of dangerous behaviour which required a disciplinary response. It was just an accident. Yelling about it was not going to make me less likely to spill it next time. But her frustration at having to clean up yet another mess seemed to release her anger about everything else, about how miserable she was in her life. And so she would scream and yell and hit, telling herself that kids need discipline, and I would suffer the full force of her rage because of an accident I lacked the motor skills to prevent.

All of which is by way of saying that if your main motivation for getting in your kid's face and saying NO is that you genuinely do not want them to swallow a penny or suffer a head injury or run into the road, you are doing a great job as a parent. Seriously, it's fine. Set fair rules and enforce them consistently. Don't yell about accidents that have already happened. Be only as loud as necessary, and revert to being gentle as soon as the bad behaviour stops. If you ever catch yourself screaming in a situation where screaming cannot possibly help, then maybe it's time to get some counselling. But honestly, as a person who suffered at the hands of a crazy, angry parent, I think you're doing just fine.
posted by embrangled at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Speaking as a parent of a single-digit-aged kid, I have to say there is a good deal of (surprisingly?) thoughtful, useful advice here, stormpooper. Read and head. It's been helpful to me just to read these comments and think back to my kid's test-and-screaming phases. (Testing/fussy as a toddler; then screaming, damn-near-possessed fits in her fourth and fifth years -- but, curiously, always as a prelude to a growth spurt.)

I'll throw in two points I've not yet read here:

1. I've found it really helpful to realize that kids behave in patterns. They can be foolish and frustrating little buggers, but if you get them figured out a bit by discerning their patterns, putting those in context ("ah...a growth spurt is coming on. Cool.") and crafting a consistent response to them, you'll find things flow smoother. A little.

2. Consistency is key, as mentioned, for them and you -- but that doesn't mean it's easy. Sometimes sticking to one's guns is among the toughest part of being a parent. No dessert for a week has to mean that (or, you know, at least most of a week -- perhaps lessened if they earn it back by extra chores or good behavior), as one example. In one proud parental moment that was difficult at the time, my kid, then 3, was making a scene at the end of a 45-minute big grocery shopping day. That kid knew a tantrum was getting strangers' attention, knew that it was embarrassing, and purposefully did it to bend me to his will. "Stop or we're leaving without getting animal crackers," I said. Those were the traditional treat for being good and shopping with dad. "Big kids don't act like this. Stop now." More scene-making. So, after a few attempts at correcting by talking to him, I picked the kid up and left the store, sans animal crackers and sans groceries. Just left the full cart in the aisle and walked out with a kid and not another word. (In the car: "What about our fooooood?!?" "I can't get it with you acting this way. Time to go.") Went home, time out, etc. I only had to do that once in our life together.


Just -- good luck, s'pooper.
posted by slab_lizard at 10:14 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, you need to understand that you're going to get advice from every angle and it's all going to contradict, just confusing you even more.

I think some relatively universal advice is:
- Be calm
- Be firm (you can raise your voice, but do not yell)
- ALWAYS follow through
- Be consistent
- For kids, it's all about setting expectations for them. It is their nature to explore, so it needs to be as clear as possible to them what their limits are. It's important that even if they only go slightly over a limit you set (and you don't see it as "a big deal"), you still need to follow through with a consistent consequence. It's also important that even if you lay down a consequence that you later deem too harsh, you still need to follow through.
- Also, use natural consequences as much as possible, but only where it's safe/makes sense. Obviously, letting him burn himself with the hot water is a natural consequence but it's also way unsafe.

For me, the following advice makes sense but some people may not agree..

DO NOT go back on your word out of convenience. If you have to leave a store in the middle of shopping because your child is throwing a tantrum, so be it. If he's throwing a tantrum because he doesn't want to be there, then consequences need to follow. You WILL have to sacrifice some of your convenience to earn your child's respect.

Do not be afraid of laying down consequences. Yelling, screaming or belittling is going to hurt the child far more than taking away their favorite toy for a week. Don't let guilt of making them upset control your actions.

There is nothing wrong with the word "no". In fact, it should be used a lot.

You can NOT reason with a child (there are exceptions, but it is a good rule). A child asking "why" (when it comes to questioning a decision, obviously them asking "why is the sky blue?" should be encouraged) leads to you trying to explain (a quick straight forward explanation is okay [such as "Because your behavior was unacceptable"]. Stop there. Do not repeat yourself, do not explain any further. Any further questions from the child should not be entertained. This will simply lead to an argument and you WILL lose. You can not win an argument with a child.

It's okay to tell them no to something because you're simply exhausted or need a break. You are not on this earth to serve your child. They are on this earth to pay attention to you, listen to you, and follow your guidance. It is up to you to teach them (almost) everything they will need to know to be a functional adult (manners, how to interact, appropriate behaviors).

Make sure you have their attention before you speak to them / tell them something. If you have trouble getting their attention, take away whatever they are giving their attention to instead of you. Work towards being able to get their attention the first try. This way, you can tell them something once and know they heard you. You do not have to repeat yourself. If they don't listen, follow throw with consequences. To me, this is the foundation of a parent-child relationship. You need to be able to command your child's attention and they need to give it ASAP and actually LISTEN to what you are saying. This the the foundation for establishing respect.

How your child treats you is how they will treat other adults (teachers, family, etc). If your child disrespects you, their teacher will have trouble dealing with them. They need to be taught early that an adult is to be respected, given undivided attention when asked and listened to.

Following that first foundation, setting those limits and enforcing them consistently is the second foundation.

With those two foundations, everything else should follow.

Really, it comes down to raising the child in a way that they learn "this is simply how things are done". If they are led to believe things are done differently, then it becomes a battle. If you make a big deal out of everyday things, so will your child. Don't make a big deal out of daily/weekly routines because it's not. Don't make a big deal out of going to the doctor, it's not.
posted by volatilebit at 6:01 AM on November 5, 2010

As a follow up to some other responses I've read and to clarify my own points:

Someones a "natural consequence" (or even a logical one) is not a punishment and doesn't need to be treated like one.

If the child spills something by accident, don't get mad. Use it as an opportunity to show them how to clean something up instead and have them do just that -- clean up their own mess.

Now, if the child spills something because they were being careless and goofing off instead of paying attention to what they were doing, that may be a different story. If a child spills something because they were running around the kitchen, jumping, spinning and throwing their arms around which lead to them knocking something off a counter or table, then there are 2 parts to that:
1. They spilled something, they still need to clean it up
2. They were doing something they shouldn't have been -- running around inside, a consequence solely for this should follow.
posted by volatilebit at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

State the facts in a non-accusatory fashion while gentling guiding him to follow your intentions.

You've essentially stated the responses in your original message, you just have to avoid your initial "knee-jerk" response of 'no'.

Sit down!---as he stands on our kitchen chair, which has slipped out from underneath him where he fell and banged his head.

Get down!--where he is standing on top of the couch looking out of the window. If he fell backwards, holy head injury.

You can simply say, "You could fall off the chair/couch and hurt yourself", while pulling out the chair and/or guiding him to sit.

Please don't turn on that tub (the hot water is what he can reach)!

Get that our of your mouth! I've never seen him grab something so quickly and shove it in his mouth where he almost swallowed it. I had to swab his mouth to get it.

Key phrases like hot, dirty, sharp, etc. really work wonders.

In all cases just try to provide the information someone would need to make a decision for themselves. Of course, a toddler won't always make the right decision (I wish!) but you can provide the information and it sets up a good habit/routine as he gets older.

Good luck!
posted by mcarthey at 9:41 AM on November 5, 2010

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