Saturday, December 11

Toddler is Mean, Hits, Bad Temper, Won't Sleep Through the Night, Punishments Don't Work

Question:  I have a 2 year old and he is always hitting his older brother with toys.  He throws them at him and is just mean with him.  He also always thinks of bad things to do like mess things up or make a mess with his drink or food.  He tries to hit me and others.  He has a bad temper when he doesn’t get his way.  He also doesn’t sleep through the night.  He gets up at least 3 times throughout the night and fights in his sleep sometimes.  I get really frustrated because I don't know how to talk to him anymore and punishments don't work on him.  He just doesn’t care.  I would really like some advice because I didn't have this problem with my older child.  Thank You -
This sounds like attention-getting behavior.  It sounds like your son does not feel secure and thinks that the best way to get attention is to be mean.  The way we make kids feel secure is to provide them with structure, communication, limits, consistency, and guidance (my Five Basics).  This means a strict daily schedule/routine - the same tasks at the same time everyday - wake up, eat breakfast, daycare/or activity at home, snack, nap, lunch, dinner, bath, bedtime...ALL of it.  He also needs a way to communicate his wants/needs with you NICELY, he needs limits on all activities, actions, choices, etc., he needs you to be CONSISTENT with your follow through, and he needs your nonstop guidance on what you WANT to see...not just what you DON'T.  It's very easy to say 'no, stop that, cut it out', all the time, but what kids need is your guidance on what you DO want to see: 'touch softly, use your words, quiet bottom, quiet feet'.  For example, when eating a meal, instead of saying, "stop squirming" tell him "quiet bottom, quiet feet".
 There are tons of strategies to stop negative behavior and increase good behavior - too much for an email - but if you are a book reader, or can even get through sections here and there, Life with Toddlers can teach you some great strategies to use.  You need to learn how to stop reinforcing bad behavior; if you give him what he wants, he will repeat the behavior because it works.  You also need to learn how to set him up to feel secure.  Toddlers act out when they don't understand their boundaries - they really want and NEED boundaries to feel secure.  And you need to understand the daily things you can do to help him understand what you want to see. 
I am sure you are a busy person - and the more kids we have, the less time we have to deal with it, but they each need the same focus, attention, and guidance.  When my kids were little I was SO tired ALL THE TIME, but each day I had to do my best, not hound myself when I messed up, and promise to do better tomorrow.
 Think about his goal in acting mean, hitting, making a mess, etc.  Is it to get your attention?  Even if it's simply yelling at him, that's attention - and he'll take what he can get.  And if you yell, he gets what he wants, so the behavior works and he'll do it again.  Whatever it is you are doing for punishment - if it is not working, then you need to try a different approach.  Stop doing it because it's only reinforcing his behavior.  When YOU start to approach his behavior differently, HE will stop acting that way.  Change your thinking: think more in terms of 'what can I change/do' instead of 'how can I stop him from hitting, etc.'  Focus more on you - your behavior and reactions to him.  When you change, and he starts to understand what you want to see and how to act, then he will change. 
 Also, remember that our kids pick up our frustration, anger, and resentment and it keeps a negative spin going.  He will act out more because he wants your attention, but you get more and more frustrated with the behavior...and it just keeps spinning.  You have to stop, refocus, rethink, and do things differently.
 Good luck!  You are a great Mommy - I know you can do it!       

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