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          How to Tame Your 2-Year-Old

          December 17, 2003

          Dr. Phil offers advice if your toddler has you running ragged and taking a “bite” out of your sanity.

          Find out what your child values the most.
          Usually, it’s time spent with their parents receiving attention. A very effective consequence for undesirable behavior is isolation, with no social reinforcements. Find a room or place that is devoid of stimulation to put them in when the bad behavior occurs. The room shouldn’t be scary or ugly in any way, just find a place that withdraws them from stimulation. If you like, install a video camera in the room so you can keep an eye on your child from another room.

          Make a commitment to follow through every single time they misbehave.
          They have to understand with 100 percent accuracy what is going to happen when they misbehave. You have to make a commitment that no matter what, everything stops and the isolation is immediate, relevant and short term. If it happens at 1:00 in the afternoon, the consequence occurs at 1:01, and is over by 1:05. You have to interrupt the disruptive behavior every single time with something that they do not value. Once you establish that, the behavior will extinguish.

          • Biting
            Kids bite because they’ve run out of socially acceptable ways to express themselves. They don’t have a big vocabulary. They’re either scared or frustrated, and they feel powerless. They are very oral at that time so they bite, usually other children. It doesn’t make it OK, but you should understand the motivation of the behavior.
          • Sharing
            Don’t ask a 2-year-old to share. They do not understand the concept of sharing at this point, and until they are 4, it is unfair to expect them to share. If you know there’s a toy that is going to be a problem, don’t take it to a place where there will be other kids.
          • Throwing food
            As egregious as this is, some of it is normal. Kids are exploring. But if there’s a pattern developing that is pretty consistent where your child finishes eating, then starts throwing, the child needs to predict the consequence of his or her actions. They need to understand that they have to get out of their chair and clean the food up.
          • Screaming in restaurants or other public places
            You have to be prepared to drop everything and walk out of the restaurant. And not the entire family. Your child needs to understand that, “Daddy and my little brother get to stay and have a nice dinner, but I have to go out and sit in my car seat in the car with Mommy who is ignoring me.”
          • Running away from you
            Chasing your child is like a game of tag with them. Of course, you want to do what you can to keep them out of the street. Let them know that they cannot run away. If they run, put them back in the stroller. If you put them on the ground and they take a step, grab them back up and communicate that they cannot get back down until they can stand there.
          • Excessive crying
            Kids often keep crying as long as it seems to work for them. It is a powerful form of communication for them, and they won’t move to the next level until you require them to do so. Are you rewarding you child with comfort and attention when they cry? Feeling guilty and reassuring a crying child can shape them to cry to get rewards. Make those rewards contingent upon good behavior and you’ll shape it with as much efficiency as you did the crying. Try ignoring the crying. And rather than assisting them in response to tears, you could say, “We’ll be glad to help you when you can pull yourself together and ask for help in a big boy voice.” The message being: it’s not good to cry about small things.


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