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Two-Year-Old Shows His Ugly Side

Question

My 24 month old is usually pretty good. I previously used time outs to train him out of hitting and food throwing. However, he will get into this “drunk” state, where he is simultaneously giggling, screaming, saying no to everything and being bossy. This state usually occurs right before bed time, or when he’s super hungry. We are having construction done on our house so sometimes his naps are compromised and I think this is exacerbating this. Tonight, he hit my husband when we were getting him ready for bed. I didn’t know what sort of “punishment” to mete out because a time out before bed seems pointless and I don’t think he would remember the reason for any punishment the next day. What should I have done?

Answer

Thank you for your question. As suggested in a previous response by another coach, John's book, Making the Terrible Twos Terrific!, is an excellent resource as is The Well Behaved Child. In both books, John shares numerous scenarios and suggestions for addressing a variety of behaviors.

Keep in mind that you cannot reason with a two-year-old. Two-year-old's are impulsive. They don't think ahead, nor do they have much hindsight. This will change closer to age three. By age three your son needs to understand that he is to pay more attention to you than you to him. To move him along on this journey, I suggest a strong focus on consistency, structure and mastering the effective use of Alpha Speech (explained on p. 21-22 in The Well Behaved Child).

You indicate that your son goes into a "state" of negative behaviors right before bedtime or when he's super hungry. Adults can get cranky when tired and/or hungry, so it is not surprising that little ones do also. Since you already know when the behaviors usually occur, create a plan whereby you start the bedtime process before your son is likely to have a meltdown; in other words before he gets overly tired. When children get overtired, it becomes much more difficult to reason with them. The same may be true when they are hungry.

All children do better with set routines and consistency. If you find that those have gotten out of whack, I strongly urge you to take time to reset the nighttime dial! Make a chart using pictures to indicate the steps that will precede actually going to sleep (examples of appropriate pictures are: toothbrush, bathtub, pajamas, bedtime story book, prayers, lights out). Sit down with your son, show him the chart and how it works. Each evening, point to each step on the chart and, after completion, draw a smiley face or put a sticker beside the completed task. Allow a good 30-45 minutes for the bedtime routine. Create a calm atmosphere. Speak with a soft, clear, confident tone. After the final step on the chart is complete, exit the room. If your son cries, go back in every 10 minutes or so, reassure him quickly, give him a kiss and exit the room. Do not stay in the room.

You state that you had previously trained your son "out of hitting and throwing food." That being the case, it sounds like his hitting your husband recently, while getting ready for bed, was a random act. In any case, an appropriate response would be to take hold of your son's arm firmly, look him directly in the eye and say (again firmly), "NO hitting! You do not hit Daddy." This is when Alpha Speech is very effective. You do not need to shout, but your tone of voice, facial expression and firm hold on his arm should send a clear message that what just happened was not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Two-year-old's respond to a sudden change in voice tone and facial expression. The point is to get their attention, not to scare them. If you have a contained gated area, depending on your son's reaction to your corrective tone and words, it may/may not be appropriate to scoop him up and place him there briefly. In the event that you do place him inside a gated area, do so quickly and walk away. Go about your business and ignore him. Within a minute or so, you can take him out and say again, "no hitting." You are correct that punishing him the next day would serve no purpose as he would not remember the reason for the punishment. Once your son turns three, you will be able to reason with him and delay consequences.

Stay the course. This too shall pass!

Sincerely,
Sharon Lamberth, CLPC
sklamberth17@gmail.com

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