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How can I get my active toddler to cooperate?
Q: My 15-month-old son is alert and smart, but he seems hyper 99 percent of the time. He will not lie still for a nappy change or get dressed without a fuss. He continually gets into trouble by pulling his 4-year-old sister’s hair (or the cat’s tail), jumping on furniture and throwing food. How do I get him to cooperate with routines and provide discipline for his actions? He has asthma and uses an inhaler twice a day. Also, he has been in daycare since he was 3 months old.
A: Jackie, it can be exhausting caring for a toddler and a 4-year-old. Every child is different, and a second child can be much different than the first. Many parents also descote their boys being more active and challenging than their girls.

Since you used the word “hyper” you may be wondering if your child is “hyperactive” or has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). There is a wide range of normal activity levels for young children, and it sounds like your son may have a high-normal level of activity. Doctors don’t diagnose children this young with hyperactivity. However, sometimes medicines for asthma can increase children’s activity or change their behaviour, so it is important to share your concerns with his doctor. Please don’t stop his asthma medications without talking with his doctor. Asthma is a serious problem, and changes in medications should be done with careful planning.

It sounds like you could use ideas to help you work with your son’s behaviours, minimize your frustration and keep your household functioning. It would be a good first step to talk with your son’s childcare providers. How are things going there? They’ve probably had experience with other busy little boys. If your son is also having difficulties at childcare, work with the staff to plan a consistent and loving approach to his behaviour. If they aren’t concerned about his behaviour, they might have good ideas for you to try at home. Either way, it’s good to have regular conversations with them about his health and development.

It’s especially important to understand that 15-month-olds are not trying to misbehave or upset you. They are naturally driven to experiment with their environment to learn how the world works, especially children who are very alert and smart like your son. When he pulls his sister’s hair, he gets a response from her like a scream, a cry or a call to you for help. When he jumps on the furniture, he tests gravity, feels the cushions smashing under his feet and hears an adult tell him to stop. When he throws his food, he sees it fall on the floor.

Your son is learning cause and effect, and having a great time. He doesn’t fully understand that some of these things hurt others or could hurt him, and it’s your job to help him learn that. But it will take time. Make sure he gets enough sleep and eats regularly. When he “misbehaves,” try to distract or redirect him to something else. Remove temptations, like things that are easy to dump and spill, and don’t leave him alone with the cat. You can’t remove him from his sister, but if he pulls her hair, say firmly, “We do not pull hair. It hurts.” Then move him away from her. Be gentle yet firm, and realise that he’s testing and learning. Try to see this as a chance to guide him and help him learn rather than punish him. And get a babysitter periodically so you can have a break, too.