Totally Spent

by Katherine
(California)

My son is just about 2 1/2. He is a very precocious toddler. Often times too smart for his own good. Every day is a battle. I work full time, my husband only comes home every few days and we had our second child, a girl, who is 8 months old. My son's behavior began about 3 months ago and it has only gotten worse. He screams, throws himself around, hits me, knocks over the baby, throws his toys (usually at me) and does the opposite of everything we ask.

At the sitter's, he is always well behaved. Doing as she asks and rarely acting out, his only punishment quiet time. At home, no punishment phases him. I take away his favorite toys, put him in time out in the hall facing the corner but never for more than a few minutes. We've tried spankings and reverse psychology, incentives and ignoring. I'm literally at my wit's end.

Dr Maud Answers

Your son is testing his boundaries - most likely, he has found that at home there is less consistency, which is understandable if you are working full-time, have a baby and are solo parenting a lot of the time. Your husband may have a different approach when he is home and that may also be confusing your son.

First, you need to give lots of positive attention when your son is not "misbehaving". Try and involve him with the baby, so ask him to bring pass you something, eg. a diaper. When he does something good (or just when he is not doing what you don't want) praise him and say "good sitting" or "good listening" or "you are so helpful" etc.

Then you need to be consistent - choose one, or at most two, behaviors you want to change and work on them. Figure out what "is in it for him" to behave the way he does and then changing the behavior will often be easier - read more about working our "what is in it for him" by clicking here.

When you give "time out" remember it is time out from positive reinforcement, so give your son the "cold shoulder" treatment. Don't try and reason with him or tell him off further once he is in time out. Once time is up, act normally. don't insist on an apology, just go back to where you left off. Try if you can to find something to praise your son for shortly after if you can. Make it clear what you want and what you don't.

And persevere and make sure you and your husband are on the same page and doing the same things.

You might find the Talking to Toddlers audio course useful. There are some great tips.

Good luck

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