Child Discipline: How Do I Get My Toddler To Stop Screaming?

Hi Dr. Heather,


My 19-month-old screams at the top of his lungs, "MYYYYYYY" for everything! Yes, we know it comes from not getting his way - most of the time. Quite often, though, we can be happily watching The Backyardigans and he starts screeching out of control for no reason. We've tried ignoring, we've tried yelling, we've even tried bottom-swatting. Help, please!


Landlocked in Louisville,


 Hi Amy,

Little kids need to be able to make noise, and we need to be able to hear ourselves think (once in awhile). With these conflicting needs in mind, you can let them make noise, but only within certain parameters. At 19 months, he is loving the fact that he can consciously control his body and his actions, to a greater degree now. So you have to respect that, and give him an appropriate outlet for for his gleeful screaming. You don't want to use punishment for something like this; you'll just risk an escalation of the behavior as part of his naturally being oppositional at this age.

In our house, the kids are allowed to make as much noise as they can possibly create, but only in their bedrooms, the playroom, or outside. The living room and other common areas require "inside voices".

Explain the new rules to him, once all the adults are on the same page. You want everyone to be consistent if you want the new rules to stick. At 19 months, your little guy will require reminding, but you can make it a game. "You feel like screaming? Let's go to the screaming room!" and then start screaming your head off, once you're there. Have him try to scream louder than you. THEN, make a big deal out of using "inside voices" in other rooms. Tiptoe around, talk quietly, have him follow suit; but make it fun. Soon he'll get the picture!

And check out my Toddlers section for more tips.


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink


Parenting Tips: How To Handle Masturbation in Young Children

Dear BabyShrink, Lately I have been getting very concerned by my 3-year-old daughter’s annoying habit. She lays on the sofa and puts her hands between her legs and does this kind of "bop pushing action". She sometimes uses objects like her blanky or teddy bear to help her bop between her legs. It doesn't seem to change her attitude or behaviour any, but I find it annoying. Some people have told me that maybe she is developing sexually too early; and this is very scary for me, can this be true? I am very worried as this is embarrassing and I know to ignore the problem may make it go away, but I would really like to know WHY is she doing this?


Mama A in Canada

Hi Mama A,

You pose a very interesting and important question. How do we handle the sexual development of our very young children?

Young childrens' bodies are actively developing in every way. As they develop, they learn that their bodies have different kinds of sensations. It’s a normal part of their own self-exploration. Young children do experience immature sexual sensations, and masturbation is quite normal. It does not mean that the child is developing sexually too early.

However, it’s a difficult balance to strike, as parents. We want to send the message that sexual feelings are healthy and normal. But we also want our children to have a strong sense of boundaries and understanding of what is “good touching” and what is “bad touching”. We also want them to know that there are appropriate places for self-exploration. For instance, your daughter can feel free to explore her body when she is alone in her room. But it’s not an activity for the living room, or with other kids. It’s not too early to begin conveying those messages now. You can say, I know it feels good when you do that. But it’s for you to do in private, in your room, OK?

We want them to learn to feel comfortable with their bodies and the pleasurable sensations they experience. But we also want them to develop a strong psychological sense of privacy and safety in experiencing sexual feelings. This is a good time to start mentioning little facts about her body, and who is allowed to touch whom, and where.

The emotional message you send about the issue is at least as important as the words you use.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about bodies and sexual feelings, perhaps practice first. You don’t need to give her a big lecture. You should simply mention little facts now and again, such as Oh, you’re wearing a bathing suit now. Who is allowed to touch you under your bathing suit? Only you. Or Mommy, Daddy or your doctor, to make sure you’re clean and healthy.

You also need to talk to your daughter’s pediatrician about it, since little girls can have irritation caused by a urinary tract infection or rash. This may cause itching and the kind of behavior you describe. So check that out, too.

One last comment about masturbation. Some may worry that their child was sexually abused or somehow learned this behavior inappropriately. But how do you know if that’s true? If your child masturbates excessively, to the exclusion of other usually interesting activities, and can’t keep her behavior to herself privately, you might want to ask your doctor for help. (And don’t feel embarrassed asking about it; your pediatrician hears this question several times a day!)

I hope this helps!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Dealing With Toddlers and Picky Eating Habits

Hi Dr. Heather: I eat a variety of healthy foods, heavy on the veggies, with a variety of ethnic cuisines, most of which I cook myself. On the other hand, my daughter more or less eats the same things every day.

It's called experimentation, Mom!

Every resource says the same thing: keep offering it to your child. My question is: how do I do that without wasting large amounts of food? Also, how do I offer it to her at all, when she will eat the foods she likes and leave the foods she doesn't?

Please tell me my kid will grow out of this! I feel stumped when other moms chime in with something encouraging like, "Broccoli is my kid's favorite!" or "I can't pry the sushi from her hands!" I should note that 1) she ate it all just fine when we were in the baby food stage, and right at about 13-14 months she started refusing vegetables, and 2) she doesn't seem like a "picky" kid to me- she eats a wide variety of foods, pretty much anything except vegetables.

I'm sure I'm putting too much pressure on myself with this, but my husband is obese and struggling to lose weight, and I so want to avoid the same fate for her!

Patricia in Atlanta

Dear Patricia,

I know they tell us to keep offering a wide variety of foods to our toddlers and young kids. And we start to feel there’s something WRONG if they don’t eat a nicely rounded diet all the time. It’s another source of pressure and guilt for us, as parents. It had better be healthy! Organic! Wholesome! Etc, etc, etc.

But what they DON’T tell us is that our kids are BORN with very strong tendencies, in terms of eating preferences. I have one kid who’ll eat just about anything, and always has. I have another who is extremely choosy, and yet another who is somewhere in the middle.

You can’t make a kid eat something they don’t want to eat. And if you TRY, you risk setting up a power struggle that YOU CAN’T WIN. It’s normal for young babies (6 to 12 months or so) to happily eat whatever we put in front of them. After one year of age, however, their caloric needs DECREASE, and their desire to be independent INCREASES, as does their desire to get moving! Crawling, walking, running, talking; it all holds much more interest than sitting and eating vegetables. So it’s fairly common to see what you describe; a baby who eats everything, who turns into a toddler who is choosy, or who has inconsistent food preferences. (They often can get into “food fads”, too, where they demand certain things all the time.)

All you can do is go with the flow. Yes, offer her healthy options. Don’t push or insist that she eats her “healthy” food. Set it all out in front of her and then GET OUT OF THE WAY. She needs to make her own food selections, within the range of a variety of foods you set out for her. Your toddler needs to resist and be oppositional, as she works on establishing her independence. Don't let her struggle with you over food. Pick your battles; this one, you won't win. Over time, your daughter will learn to love a wide variety of foods. (But she might not show it until she leaves for college!)

Now, does that mean you give in and offer a Happy Meal morning, noon and night? No. Just try to add something healthy to her plate, and leave it alone.

Let her see you enjoying your healthy, interesting variety of foods. And don’t let her associate pressure or stress with that image.

In our house, our 2-year-old is attempting a coup to establish him as Food Dictator. It's a struggle on a daily basis. His preferences change daily, too. Here's what we do: Put the healthy stuff in front of him while we prepare the rest of the meal. That way, while he's really hungry, he's more likely to try the good stuff. Then we offer him a choice or two, and that’s that. I do try to include something I know he’ll eat, whether it’s pasta, or PB and J, or some cheese. He also does like fruit, so I offer lots of that. If he doesn’t want the options, he can eat at he next mealtime. He whines and complains, but I only have the energy to do a certain amount! What’s interesting is that he often craves the food on OTHER PEOPLE’S PLATES; especially Daddy’s, right now. And he will tackle veggies and other things he flatly refuses when put on HIS plate. So we engage in a little trick-the-baby-psychology, and allow him to eat off his Daddy’s plate, after he’s done with his own. We get a little extra nutrition into him that way. We’ll set firmer limits with him on that as he gets closer to 3, because by then we'll want him to see that he's got to stick to HIS plate. But for now, it’s not so bad for Daddy to share some of his dinner with our cute little guy.

Now, I’m not a physician or a nutritionist, so you’d better check with your pediatrician just to make sure things are OK with your daughter's nutrition. You can also read more about the issue in Dr. Brazelton’s books; I love how he deals with the issue.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

PS Want to read more about annoying toddler tendencies? Check out my Toddler Page for more.

Toddler Behavior: My Kids Whine All Day

Dear BabyShrink, My husband and I have two really great little girls, ages four and 22 months. They are both really well behaved, good kids, but we have been having a lot of problems with our youngest whining constantly.

I expect a toddler her age to have plenty of temper tantrums and be willful. But the constant whining all day long is really getting to me. No matter what she is doing, she wants something different and is whining constantly. For instance, she whines for a certain toy she can't reach. When she gets it, she drops it and decides she wants something else. She gets that and she whines that she wants something her sister has. She whines when she wants her snack. I set her at the table and she whines because she wants down the whole time she is eating.

I have tried to treat it like a temper tantrum and not give in if it is something she really doesn't need. But she soon forgets whatever it is she is whining for and moves on to whine for the next thing she decides she wants. It is making my husband and me CRAZY! Is this just a stage that we need to ride out, or do we need to make some changes in how we deal with this? I try to get her to use words to tell me what she wants, but she is very stubborn and refuses even though I know she can say these words. She can talk very well when she wants to. Please help!! We will really appreciate any suggestions you might have, or suggestions for books that address this issue.

Thank you,


Hi Jaime,

Ugh! I am so with you. Our youngest is 26 months old, and just getting to the end of that horrible "constant whining" stage. Whining is specially created by the baby gods to cut through the hustle and bustle of the household to get your immediate attention. It works, right?! Toddlers' whining is super irritating, party because at this age, we KNOW they CAN "use their words" when they feel like it. Why must they insist on whining, when all they have to do is USE THEIR WORDS?! Just like they did so nicely yesterday (for like 14 blissful seconds, but who's counting?).

Well, toddlers this age are really on the brink of a developmental shift. I HIGHLY recommend the DVD series, "The Baby Human". It's terrific at showing so much of what we're talking about here. (Please do yourselves a favor, everyone, and watch that series.) One of the episodes focuses on the time around 18-24 months, when a huge change starts to occur. Before that, they're really just walking babies. We don't expect much more from them. But after this change, they're more like "miniature preschoolers", capable of expressing themselves much more directly. Yeah, they're still toddlers, but an important shift has occurred. They can hold themselves together longer. They can communicate much better. They understand more of what you're telling them. They can wait for things (for a few seconds, anyway).

Have you read T. Berry Brazelton, MD, about how any new developmental shift is first accompanied by some serious regression? Your little girl wants to do all these new, "mini preschooler" things, but is overwhelmed a lot of the time with her inability to make the world work in all the new ways she's trying out. So she's frustrated and feels like freaking out. It's like when we, as adults, are learning a new skill (say on the computer, and writing a new blog!). Until you really understand your new skill, you feel like banging your head on this damn keyboard, and screaming at the screen!

The Best Thing About Whining But I digress. Whining, believe it or not, is a way your toddler has developed to avoid melting down into a total tantrum. This is good, right? What would you rather have: whining -- or a kicking, screaming tantrum? It's also a way your toddler is working on to establish some more power around this place. How can I be in control here? How come everyone decides everything for me?  "I do it! I do it!" These are early signs of the negotiating skills that are used so well by 5, 6 and 7-year-olds. And even though it's irritating as hell, it's also a sign that your baby is growing into a thinking, negotiating little person, striving towards independence and self-assertion. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: you really don't want a passive little toddler who never complains. I worry about those kids. Blustering, loud, irritating attempts at independence are the hallmark behaviors of this stage, and need to be struggled with in order to help your toddler feel a sense of competence and success in the world.

How To Cope But how do you cope with it? First of all, understand that it is a normal phase. Constant whining at this age is really common. If your toddler is whining constantly at a later age; something else is going on. Perhaps there's a speech delay, or you could be unintentionally reinforcing the behavior. Whining also increases a lot when kids are sick. So always check to see if that might be true.

Tell your toddler: "I hear whining. I don't like whining. Tell me in your words. You want juice? Here's your juice. No juice? OK, tell me, 'Mommy, no more juice'. Thank you for using your words. Now you want milk? OK, but no more changes. Milk, or juice. You choose. OK, no milk and no juice?" If whining starts, try again. "No more whining. Milk or juice. You pick." Often, this little exchange will help, at least a little. Your toddler wants to feel that you take her needs seriously, even if she changes her mind a million times.

Lather, rinse and repeat until you start to get irritated. Because there will be a limit to how much any living, breathing parent can do this. And she's checking to see exactly how much you can take  Testing is part of the whole routine. Exactly how much control do I have in this situation? When does Mommy take over and cut me off? How far can I push it? Now, notice I didn't say, "Continue to negotiate until you're about to lose your mind and give her the juice box, milk, water, AND the Diet Coke you were just drinking, plus open up the bottle of wine that YOU need now". Instead, set the limit before you're at your wit's end. "OK, no more drinks, all done with drinks. Let's go do something else."

Try to Ignore? If you're really strong, you can try ignoring the whining. Say you're about to do it. "No more whining.  I don't like it when you whine. Mommy is busy. I don't hear whining." And then go about your business with the whining toddler behind you, trying to get your attention. Breathe deeply, don't make eye contact, and repeat yourself. "I don't listen to whining." This may take several minutes, which seem like several hours, in toddler-time. Some will get the message, others will not.

Take a Time-Out You can also give time-outs for excessive whining. The amount of time necessary for each toddler will vary, but usually a short one (a minute or less) is sufficient to make your point. We have a little place in our kitchen for exactly such purposes; it's just a small corner of space between a wall and an armoire, about three square feet of space, which provides a sense of containment for our little guy. After going through the above routine, I will threaten one. "No more whining. More whining, and you go in time-out." When he was at his peak of whining, I would follow though on this once or twice a day. He felt the pain of the consequence, and  especially the pain of having to give up some power, and often (but not always) return in a better frame of mind.

A key part of all this is to make sure you give huge props for quitting the whining.  "Wow! You used your words! You are playing nicely now! Oh, that feels so much better!  Good job, honey! Gimme five for talking nicely! I love it when we play and talk nicely together like this!"

Also, make sure you can blow off some steam about the whining. Call a friend who understands and complain about your whiner. Exchange "horrible toddler whining" stories. Laugh about it, and get away regularly so you can re-gain your sense of perspective about all of this. Take turns with your partner when the whining is really getting on your nerves, even if you have to "trade off toddler duty" for just a 10 minute break. Ten minutes taking a quick walk around the block, or plowing through People magazine, in the quiet of your own bathroom, can be wonderfully restorative. (I know I'm not the only one who retreats to the bathroom for some peace and quiet! Where else can you go, sometimes?!)

Hope that helps. Let us know how it works out!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

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

Parenting Tips: How To Handle a Sassy-Talking Preschooler

Dear Dr. Heather, I have a 3-year-old son and he is for the most part a good boy. However, he comes home from daycare upset because a friend at school tells him he isn't his friend anymore, or that he doesn't like him. My son takes it very personally and is starting to use phrases like "I'm not your friend" and "I don't like you" to my husband and me. How do we handle this? I tried talking to his teacher at school and she treats it like they are just typical toddlers. I just don't want this behavior to continue or get worse. We try time out, taking toys and TV away, but nothing seems to help.

Stacey Orlando

Hi Stacey, I know it's really hard when your precious little guy starts talking like that.  But don't take it personally.  He's just trying out the strength and power those new words have.  He sees how much impact they have at school, and wants to "try them on for size" at home.

Talk to him about the meaning you hear underneath the words....not the words themselves.  When he cries about his friends saying those things, say, yes, it's hard when friends say mean things.  I think your feelings are hurt.  We don't like to say mean things in our family.  But try not to dwell on it...the friendships of preschoolers are notoriously changeable.

If he says those things to YOU, try not to overreact, but use it as a lesson.  I think you heard your friend talking like that today, but I know you can talk more nicely.  If you're mad, say 'Mommy, I'm mad' instead.  Can we try that again? It's important that you don't get emotional about it. Remember that he's testing out some new phrases. Staying low-key about it -- but setting the limit about what's allowed (and what's not allowed) -- will help him to learn how to use his words most effectively (and politely).

Otherwise, you run the risk of putting too much emphasis on those powerful words, and he'll be tempted to get into a power struggle with you about it.

Let me know how that works!


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Dealing With Sibling Rivalry That's Alive And Well

Of the tons of emailed questions you’ve sent me, one main theme is coming through loud and clear: SIBLING RIVALRY. Dear BabyShrink,

I thought our five-year-old daughter Emma was doing great with her baby brother, but she has hit him twice. His cries of distress alerted me to what was going on. I want to stop this behavior, but frankly I am stunned by it and don't know how to help the situation. Both times I had a discussion with her about how the baby is so little and how she could really hurt him even if she didn't mean to. She replied that she hated him and hated all little babies. I told her that she still should never hit a baby. BTW, she loves little babies, I just think it's her own flesh and blood she's having the problem with. Needless to say, I am not leaving her alone with him after the second incident.

What really breaks my heart is when Emma tells me, "I need you, Mommy".  She misses me and I miss our time together; I just returned from a visit with the baby to my aunt in Florida. I did tell her that her baby brother is getting bigger and bigger and will be more fun and take less of my time.

Emma has a sister who is 17 months younger, who has accepted her little brother it seems without problems.

Help ~~ Dara

Hi, Dara,

I think Emma should be given a medal for her great verbalization of her feelings. Yes, it's true! I wish ALL 5-year-olds could tell us so clearly how they're feeling. Probably not what you wanted to hear. But I am MUCH more worried about the kids who look like little angels all the time...but have secret plans up their sleeves. The kids who keep it all bottled up often have more trouble later on.

Little ones have incredibly powerful emotions, ones that are still unchecked. As they get older, they learn more “socially appropriate” expressions of them. A great deal of development comes along to mute and contain those feelings as they get older. But for now…watch out, and don’t be surprised.

But of course, you can't allow hitting. Never. Give her the opportunity, regularly, to explain how hard it is to be a big sister, to not one, but TWO siblings! I mean, I bet she did great with the first, but this one is really too much for her! ;) Empathize with her feelings; how the younger ones mess up her things, take away your attention, and get to go on trips. Sometimes it really stinks! Letting her have the space to verbalize her aggressive feelings will lessen her need to act it out physically.

Help her control herself by not letting her alone with the baby, as you've already done, but don't make her feel like a criminal for it. "I know sometimes you get mad at Baby, and the feeling to hit is so strong, but we don't allow hitting in our family, so I will keep you with me so that I can help you use your words about it, instead of hitting."

You can also talk to her about how you know she needs you, and you will always be there for her, even if you have to take care of the babies. Try to plan something special with her now – nothing fancy, like a regular weekly trip to the grocery store, even just 30 minutes, while the other kids are with Dad or someone else. Say, "I need you to come with me on our special weekly trip to find some good fruit for the house for the week! You are getting so good at picking fruit!"  or something.  It does not need to involve anything "special", beyond regular, predictable time with you.

The other thing: when the baby gets bigger, in many ways he will be MORE of a pain to her, since he will be mobile, getting into her stuff, and requiring even more from you. So don't set her up too much to be loving that! I think in many ways, the 10-20 month age is the hardest; they require so much direct supervision, since they are mobile, but not really trustworthy yet!

I promise, a fierce and wonderful love will grow between them, despite all of this, especially if you can help them manage their aggressive feelings towards each other.

I love Dr. Brazelton's approach to these issues, so for more see his book on sibling rivalry.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Deal With Biting Babies

Dear BabyShrink, My 16-month-old son just got kicked out of daycare for biting, a habit he picked up there! I’ve heard many different ways to stop the biting habit. Do you have any suggestions on what you’ve found that works best?

Amy in Louisville

Hi, Amy,

I'm so sorry that your son's daycare hasn't found a better way of addressing this COMMON toddler behavior -- one that needn't be made into such a big deal.

Now, yes, I know that it is very upsetting to be on the receiving end of a bite, and even more so to be the parent of the "bite-ee", but we have to look at this as normal toddler exploratory behavior. Babies at this age still get a lot of their information about the world through their mouths. Plus, they’re often teething, and they’re not the greatest at explaining their wants and needs. So a bite now and then is really understandable. Some toddlers even bite to convey their love and affection for someone! Modifying the environment usually does the trick in minimizing biting.

First, give care and attention to the "bite-ee" IF he/she is upset, and certainly if the skin is broken. But if the child isn't upset, don't make a big deal out of it (you don't want to unnecessarily reinforce the biting). DO show the biter what to do instead. "We don't bite people, but you CAN bite this special toy! This is YOURS to bite!"  (Click HERE to see a photo of the kind of chewie things that Early Intervention specialists use for toddlers; we have one at home.  It's a little different than what you get at the regular baby store. They're nearly indestructible, and they're fun to chew.)

Analyze what came before the bite. Was the child tired? Overstimulated? Teething? Take care of THOSE issues first, and you should see a reduction in biting.

At home, be unemotional about biting, but firm. "No biting. If you want to bite, bite this instead." If he bites you, say, without reacting TOO strongly, "Ouch. That hurt. No biting.  Here's your bite toy." And then move on. If you have to be a broken record, do so -- you might have to for awhile. But he will eventually stop.

Maybe moving to a new daycare is not for the worst thing in the long run. Toddlers need and deserve daycare settings that know how to handle this, and other annoying (but normal!!) toddler behaviors, without making the kids look like little monsters. Try to find a new daycare that has established approaches that work with biting; you don't want a place that is scared off by a little chomping.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Dealing With Four-Year Olds, Tantrums, and a Death in the Family

Dear BabyShrink, I have a son who will be 4 in April.  Recently he has taken to laughing at us when we get mad at him. He despises doing anything he is asked to do and will cry and carry on until he gets his way. I know giving in is wrong but the tantrums become unbearable sometimes. In the last 2 weeks there has been the added stress of dealing with the death of my father. I'm willing to give my son space and time to grieve the way I imagine a 3 almost 4-year-old would, but it's taking a toll on my stress level and I don't want his behavior to escalate into something bigger that we have no chance of getting our arms around.

Please help!


Karla, MN

Hi Karla,

I'm so sorry about your loss. I can certainly relate, having lost my own father a few years back, with little ones at home too. First, know that little kids really don't understand death until they're 7 or older. You can't do anything about that, it's just their level of cognitive development.  If your son and Dad were close, you can talk to him about " Grandpa has died and we won't see him for a long long time", but ONLY if your son brings it up.  Follow his lead.  Don't assume that he is suffering....or is not.

Most likely he is upset by the adult emotions that must be strong around the house nowadays. That's inescapable of course; but you can try to give yourself room and have supportive people around for YOU...away from your son, so he does not have to get upset by YOUR being upset.  When you feel OK, you can talk calmly to him about it, in very short, simple sentences; just a little sound-bite at a time.  But focus on reassuring him that you are ok, and he is ok, and the family and house have rules, and that they have to be followed by everyone.

In terms of his behavior, hold the line.  He is testing you partly because he sees that you're down.  He is wondering:  "What happens when Mommy is upset?  Can I get away with things now.....and will things fall apart?" He's pushing the limits to see if he's safe, and if you're OK.  I bet a few days of consistent expectations, and consequences, will set him on a better path.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: Is My Child Becoming A Bully?

Dear BabyShrink, Our three-year-old son is a great kid, but lately he has been playing this annoying little game: he orders us around, telling us what to do and how to do it, with really specific orders like “Mommy has to sit on the orange rug! Put your feet here, not there!” He gets really mad if we don’t do it his way. I have nightmares about where this is going. Is he becoming a bully? How do we handle this?


Dear Lisa,

Your little tyrant is showing you in no uncertain terms that his budding superego is in a fever-pitch of development.

At this age, toddlers are struggling to master their bodies and their environment. They feel a flush of power, since they can now use their words and bodies to control what people do. They really enjoy play-acting, and that’s a wonderful and important part of being three. A three-year-old gets lost in the imaginative process, and we want them to learn from and enjoy play-acting. And they don’t yet feel the pull of what is socially OK. But the tiny superego is blossoming; the internal sense of mommy and daddy, deciding what is right, what is wrong, what is allowed, and what isn’t. The superego is still very primitive at age three; very black-and-white, “my way or the highway”. It’s really common to see three-year-olds behaving like little tyrants, ordering people around, trying out their new dictatorial tendencies.

So what’s a parent to do? It’s our job to help the little dictator get a taste of democracy; or at least accept the role of Vice President. Help him learn the rules of give and take, taking turns, and asking nicely. These skills take years to develop, but this is a really important time to lay the foundation of how your little one will respond to, and create, rules and order in his life.

Next time Junior starts ordering you around, play with it a bit, but with the ultimate idea in mind that YOU are the boss. If you have time to play, go ahead and follow his rules and orders. But sneak in little requests, like, “oh, that works better when you say please”. Or, “Now that you made me dump out these blocks, let’s clean them up, let’s take turns seeing who can get the blocks into the bin!” If you don’t have time to play, or if he’s asking you to do things that aren’t nice, safe, or allowed, remember: you’re the parent, and he’s counting on you to know better. Say, “I know you want me to jump out the window, but that’s not allowed. We’d get hurt. Let’s jump up and down instead.” If he throws a tantrum, that’s OK. He’s upset that he’s not the boss — but deep down, he’s also relieved. And over time, with your help, that primitive, controlling little superego of his won’t be quite so tough.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Pirates of the Crib-bian: How Can I Get My Child To Stop Having Temper Tantrums?

Turns out Johnny Depp is a lot more than a fantastic actor; he’s also an armchair psychologist. On a recent appearance with David Letterman, Depp said this about his kids: “Living with young children is like hanging around with miniature drunks. You have to hold on to them. They bump into things. They laugh. They cry. They urinate. They vomit…

Accurate comparison? Absolutely. In fact, Depp’s comment has striking relevance to an issue thousands of frustrated parents confront every day – “How can I get my child to stop having temper tantrums?

Your Toddler is a Drunk. Kind of. Think about Depp’s analogy. Alcoholics exhibit some distinct behavioral and physical signs – many of them quite similar to the actions of a toddler:

•    They are impaired in their ability to make decisions •    They have difficulty controlling their bodies, speech, behavior, and emotions •    They feel happy one minute and the next they are crying inconsolably •    They slur their words and often forget what they have heard, seen and done •    They fall down, get into accidents, hit people, break things and embarrass those around them

If that sounds familiar to you, you’re either a parent or a bartender.

You Knew The Job Was Dangerous When You Took It Toddlers’ brain development is such that their ability to control their behavior, control and understand their feelings, and use logic are barely starting to emerge. We might see our toddler acting patiently one day and screaming, hitting, and acting like Jack Daniels after an all-night whiskey bender the next.

Naturally, this behavior needs to be controlled – and the best way to get a handle on it is to understand your toddler’s frame of mind.

What If You Were a Toddler Too? Imagine yourself as a two-year-old. Remember how small and powerless and dependent it feels. Being a toddler is HARD, mostly because they are:

•    Unable to make their needs known most of the time •    Unable to make their body do things that others around them do easily •    Unable to make grown-ups understand what they need to say •    Needing help with almost everything. •    Being overpowered by their emotions several times a day

Why Your Child Is Acting Like That Girl From The Exorcist You certainly can’t prevent ALL tantrum triggers, all the time. But you can try to keep them in mind throughout your day with your toddler – and possibly prevent some tantrums as a result.

Here are some common situations that can trigger toddler meltdowns:

•    Not enough physical activity during the day •    Too many “forbidden” things or activities in the environment •    Frustration at inability to do something (e.g., speech, coordination, dexterity, size) •    Too many people and/or too much noise in the environment •    Unfamiliar/disliked people in the environment, especially if they want something from the toddler, like a kiss •    Major change in routine or environment •    Sleepiness •    Hunger/thirst •    Illness/teething pain/ear infection •    Potty conflicts and frustrations •    Parent “tuned out”/busy/not paying attention to what toddler needs •    Parents trying to accomplish too many “adult” tasks with toddler (e.g., adult conversations) •    Activity overload (e.g., too much TV) •    Environment is too active/chaotic (e.g., dinnertime, kids running around, TV on, neighbors coming and going)

A Personal Anecdote: Diffusing Dinnertime Meltdowns In our house, dinnertime is so noisy and chaotic that it used to lead to nightly meltdowns for our 20-month-old. Now, I try to eat with him, ahead of the rest of the family, so that we can all eat in peace.

Once my husband and "the big kids" are ready to eat, I take Tai into the bathroom for a nice long bubble bath, with the door CLOSED, so he is not distracted by all the noise from his older brother and sister. We work on “eating as a family” at other meals, and he will be far more capable of enjoying family dinners when he is a little older and a little less sensitive to the noise and activity of the house. Plus he gets tired at the end of a long day of trying to share with the “big kids”, trying to communicate with us; he’s exhausted and needs a little break to “mellow out” before bedtime. I know this forced family separation every night is just temporary, and it’s certainly worth everyone’s sanity. And since we have been doing this, we have NO nightly tantrums.

Decide What Works For YOU I’m not suggesting that all toddlers should be separated from their siblings at dinnertime, and I realize this is not practical advice for every family. But what is really important is that you develop routines for your family that work for you. Every family is different, and every toddler is different. KNOW YOUR CHILD. See how they respond in different situations. When are they feeling good? When do they behave well? When do YOU feel good, as a parent? These things are not random occurrences. There are patterns to your child’s behavior and feelings; there are patterns to YOUR behavior and feelings, and patterns to the rhythm of your family. What are those patterns? Become a detective. Observe. Take notes. Remember.  Put it all together. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

•    When does my toddler behave well?  What times of day?  What situations? With whom? •    What kinds of things seem to make my toddler angry or have a meltdown?  What changed in the situation just prior to the meltdown? •    What helps my toddler feel better when she is having a tantrum?  What has worked in the past?  Who is able to help her feel better? •    What was I doing just prior to my toddler’s meltdown?  How was I feeling?  Was I stressed/distracted/not “present”?

Start paying attention to these things.  Once you do, you will start to suspect certain patterns. You might not be sure if your hunches are correct. That’s OK; like any scientist, you will test your hypotheses. How? By being aware, in the moment, with your toddler; then when you see the pattern start to emerge again, do something to MAKE IT DIFFERENT.

If there is a certain time of day that makes him fussy and difficult, try to decrease the noise and stimulation at that time.  If there are certain places you go that make him crazy (WalMart, anyone?), don’t take him there! Change it up, and see what happens. Then, you start to have answers. Your detective work will lead to a much happier toddler. Good luck!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink