Saturday, December 11

Toddler Hitting, Pushing Baby Brother, Only Sees Traveling Dad Once a Month

Question:  My wife and I are having trouble with our 2 1/2 year old hitting, pushing his 10 month old brother, and acting out. I think the activator is that I am working out of state and only see them once a month. This occurs at various times of the day, and my wife does do time outs with him and tries to explain what he's doing isn't nice. Our daycare provider also is having difficulty. I talk to them almost every day by webcam so he knows I am still around. Any advice? Thanks -
The first thing he needs is structure, consistency, and limits (these are part of my Five Basics found in the book).  Toddlers LOVE a set routine and get loads of security from knowing what comes next and what to expect.  Your schedule is upsetting to him, as toddlers need consistency to keep them balanced.  Plus, my guess is that baby brother is getting more of the attention - just by sheer necessity, and he's only showing you he's off balance and feeling insecure.  BUT, your schedule is what it is and we need to get a mutual respect going.  He has to respect that you have a job to do, that you don't love him any less, and you are doing your best.  And you have to respect that he needs a little different approach from you and your wife to decrease the unwanted behaviors.  Often our guilt overrides what is best for our kids - thus we give them what they want all the time, thinking it will make them happy - or we overlook hitting or pushing because we know they are tired or upset.  The intention is honorable, but it only serves to make them feel more and more insecure, as they are desperately searching for boundaries.  So the "respect" he needs from you two is firm and loving guidance.  Your wife is most likely completely exhausted, so that doesn't make it any easier, but this is the marathon.  Like you, I've had the two little ones at the same time, and it's a grind, but you have to keep getting up every day, giving them the same routine, and CONSTANT guidance. 
1.  Look on my website ( and click on the fridge icon for the TAG (Toddler ABC Guide) for a very basic overview of the three steps to decreasing unwanted behavior.  It really needs to be used in conjunction with the book - there is just too much information to put in an email or simple 4 page guide, but it will give you basic picture of how to approach the behavior.  We have to change our reactions and stop reinforcing behaviors we don't want to see.  (If the behaviors are getting worse or staying the same, then you are unknowingly reinforcing it - he will do it again because it works.)  You have to look at why he's doing it (my guess is attention and a bit of anger and imbalance) and customize your response.  He has to know that the behavior is unacceptable, of course, but he also has to have guidance on what you WANT to see for next time.  When you first get home, you may need to pull him aside, give him tons of love, and at the same time, if he is resistive or aggressive (in anger or for attention) do not tolerate it.  I know you are just thrilled to see him after being away, but don't let guilt or sadness get in the way of what he needs, okay?  You are a great father and having to discipline as soon as you step foot in the door only means that you are on the ball and giving him what he needs: consistency, guidance, limits, security, balance.  THAT is love.
 2.  When you first get home, set aside time for him - with just you.  A game, a book, a walk - quality time so he can get adjusted to you being home again and get in a groove.  And remember, kids don't need 'things' - they need time.  They don't care about toys and gifts.  Attention is what they want and need.  
3. Get a schedule going.  Have a set routine that he goes through each and every day with mom - everything at the same time everyday: wake up, breakfast, errands, lunch, nap, snack, play, dinner, bath, bedtime - whatever fits your needs.  Keep it absolutely consistent.  Don't change it just because you're home for two days, either.  He needs it to stay the same so he will feel secure.  Toddlers thrive on a routine - it helps SO much with behavior.
4.  Time outs are tricky.  You have to do them correctly and be absolutely consistent or they are a waste of time.  My book details the how-to's.  You need minimal talking/input, and you have to make sure you are giving them the opposite of what they want.  Time outs aren't always the full answer, or even the answer at all.  I do use them a lot with toddlers, but they need to be customized to each situation depending on WHY the child is acting out.
5.  Your daycare providers should have a procedure in place to deal with behavior.  Most of it is doing your part at home with a strict schedule, consistent consequences, and constant guidance on what you want to see, but the daycare should have a routine and consequences that they put in place as well.  You will need to work together on this. 
6.  My last suggestion - make sure there are no teeth coming in or something physical making him cranky.  Two year molars are a bear.  Also, make sure his diet is good - processed foods and sugars are (in my humble opinion) behavior problems waiting to happen.        
Best of luck!

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