Toddler Behavior: This Toddler is Driving Me Nuts!

Dear BabyShrink, I am going to make my question quick cause I am eight months pregnant and exhausted. I have a 2.5 year old son who is currently at home with me. He will be returning to "school" in July, which is a nice daycare that does a good job.

I am looking for a book to read to help me communicate effectively with my son. I want to do a better job than my parents, who did almost no job. I read Dr. Harvey Karp’s book on babies, The Happiest Baby on the Block, and it helped me survive a very happy babyhood with my son, and now hopefully my daughter too. But now that my son is 2.5, I feel like I am not doing a good job. I read a book my sister gave me, the name escapes me now, that said to give lots of choices blah blah blah. And I do that and it works.

But what do I do when he just won’t do what I ask of him? I do the whole "you need to follow directions", and sometimes he just ignores me. Recently he has started clicking his tongue at me or squeezing his eyes closed instead of listening to me. Now I feel like I am whining about a great kid cause most of the time he is really good, but I still feel like I am not saying the right things to him. So, are there any books that you suggest that can help me communicate with him better?



Hi Ashley,

You've got your hands full, my friend! Managing a new baby and a toddler was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Pace yourself, get as much help as possible, and keep up the good work. It sounds as though you've got a good head on your shoulders and good mommy's intuition. Keep following that, above everything any of us "experts" have to say.

That said, I can recommend some techniques and books for you.

I like anything by T. Berry Brazelton, MD. He has great empathy for the stormy, torrid, intense world in which our toddlers live. You've got to try to inhabit that mental place from time to time in order to "get" your toddler. Use his words, and reflect the intensity of his feelings, when you talk to him. Speak in short, simple "sound bites". Remember: the intensity of this moment can literally evaporate in a second for a toddler.

I also love Vicki Iovine's Girlfriend's Guide to Toddlers. She talks all about the weird, wacky ways of toddlers, and how you can try to manage it all without throwing your own tantrum (which by the way is unavoidable at times! Toddlers have a way of really pushing our buttons!) You can try to stay vigilant and unemotional about it, but sometimes we ALL need a time out.

Toddlers are really in a mini-adolescence. They are struggling mightily with how to act. Whom to be like. "How can I get some power around this place, anyway?" And otherwise asserting themselves in really important, developmentally appropriate ways. When I evaluate toddlers, the ones who worry me the most are those who are quiet, passive little things who don't cause a minute of struggle for anyone. Those children are either delayed in some form or really repressing themselves, which will cause BIG TROUBLE later on. You don't want to stamp out a toddler's powerful, striving little spirit -- but you don't want to give them the upper hand, either. That's even more destructive down the road.

Now, what to do when your little man flatly refuses to do what he needs to do?  First, make a choice: is this particular issue really worth the power struggle it will create with him? If not, let it go. But sometimes it will be absolutely YES, like staying away from the street or other safety issues, and the things that make you nuts. For me, it's screaming in the house.

In those cases, remember, YOU'RE THE BOSS. I am amazed at how often we as parents forget that simple fact. I was engaged in a power struggle with our then two-year-old daughter once, when my husband reminded me: "Just look at the size of her! She's a little shrimp! How can you let her get to you like that?" Getting that perspective back is crucial. Don't hesitate to pick your resistant toddler up like a football and put him in that car seat, move him away from the street, or place him in that stroller, if need be. And don't hesitate to use a short (one minute for each year of age) time-out for major defiant displays. And tell him how you feel in terms he can understand, using a "listen to me, I'm serious" tone of voice. "I don't like that. No hitting."

Good luck with the little guy and the new baby. And get some sleep, while you can! (AS IF, right?!)


Heather, The BabyShrink