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Discipline doesn’t work on my defiant toddler!
Q: My 2½-year-old son is having behavioural problems that no one seems to have an answer to. We have tried time-out, expressive language—even spankings. Nothing seems to work. He does very bad things, like pouring drinks all over the floor and laughing about it. Last month he poured chocolate syrup all over the place. He seems to have no remorse for the things he does. We took him for testing and found he’s ahead in development, but he’s behind in speech and will be starting speech therapy. Could his problems be related to his need to communicate?
Gini Winchester
A: At 2, kids aren’t really all that complicated. They want attention and then they want more attention. Since their conscience is at a very weak stage of development, toddlers rarely experience much remorse or guilt. Rather than attributing your son’s behaviour to his delay in speech development, I would attribute it to his need for attention. Here’s how to make sure he’s getting enough:
  • Make it a point to give your son more hugs and be very nurturing, even if you think you’re giving him all the attention he needs.

  • Read two to three books to your son every day. He will love the attention. Plus, this activity will help him with his speech.

  • Do puzzles together while sitting close to him.

  • Select fun activities and introduce them to your son. Little boys this age love playing with wooden trains where the tracks can be made into interesting layouts. Fun like this can add to your son’s contentment.
I think you will be surprised how much his behaviour will change. At times, your son may still misbehave…after all, he is only 2. Simply put up a safety gate in a doorway so you have a ready-made location for time-out. If he does pour syrup on the floor, immediately place him behind the gate with a sharp “no.” You don’t have to spank or yell. Just isolate him for about five minutes and don’t talk to him. Withdraw your attention. After five minutes, let him know that he can come out of time-out, but he must help you wipe up the mess. Together, clean things up and then give him a hug for helping.

Children this age love attention so much that they will try to get it either by cooperating or getting into mischief. Sounds like you have a normal little boy.
Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist