Parenting 101: FAQs: Terrible Twos

Parenting 101: FAQs: Terrible Twos
Dr. Phil answers some of the frequently asked questions about raising a child.
Doreen and Kirk's son, Max, is in his "terrible twos." He bites, throws food, screams in restaurants, runs away from them, and won't share with his little brother. Saying "no," "stop," and giving Max a time-out is not working, and Doreen wants to know what Dr. Phil would do if he were to spend some time with her children.

Having been bitten by Max on a number of occasions, Kirk feels there is no effective way to discipline him. Kirk often sits Max on his lap for a time-out, and explains to him that his behavior is wrong. "The time-outs aren't working," says Kirk. "He laughs at us." Doreen and Kirk feel they've tried everything and want Max to learn to listen to them when they say "no" and "stop."
"I'm a strong believer that lazy parents are busy people," says Dr. Phil, explaining that when people are busy, the actual application of parenting isn't getting done. He asks them what Max values the most, because there are things that he will respond to.

"I think he values spending time with us," says Doreen. "I think that's why we're having a problem when we put him on our laps to have a time-out. He loves it."

Dr. Phil explains what happens as "punishment" for Max when he bites. "You have him absolutely wrapped up in your arms, hugging him, and you are bent down cooing in his ear. When you break it down like that, does that not seem like you are actually training him to bite his little brother?" he asks.

Dr. Phil tells them that they need to get Max to predict what is going to happen when he bites someone. "And the biggest lever I see is isolation. He does not like isolation. Time-out is not your lap. That is a reward."

Dr. Phil explains that they need to find a place to put Max that is devoid of stimulation, so that he doesn't want to go there. The place doesn't need to be scary or ugly in any way, just a place that withdraws him from all stimulation. "If you are worried about him, then rig a video camera so you can watch, but he needs to get no social reinforcement at that time," says Dr. Phil.

As for Max's reluctance to share, Dr. Phil suggests, "Don't ask a 2-year-old to share. They do not understand the concept of sharing at this point." Because kids don't really understand sharing until they're about 4, some toys may need to be played with when there are no other kids around.

When Max throws food, Dr. Phil says some of it is normal because kids are exploring. "But if there is a pattern that is pretty consistent, again, they have to be able to predict the consequences of their actions." For example, if Max throws his food, he has to learn that he has to get out of his chair and clean it up. This requires commitment on the part of the parents.

"The same thing with the restaurant," says Dr. Phil. "When he screams, you have to be prepared to walk out of the restaurant. One of you, not both of you," he says, explaining that Max should understand that the rest of the family gets to stay and have a nice meal, but he has to sit in a car seat in the car with a parent who is ignoring him. "You can't give him control," says Dr. Phil. "And you have to be careful that your responses are not rewarding him, but instead taking power away that he doesn't want to give up."

"The same with chasing him," he continues. "That is a game. He hits the ground running and you're after him. Did you notice he giggles when you catch him?" They have to let Max know that he can't run away. Dr. Phil gives examples of not letting him out of his stroller, or picking him back up every time he takes a step. "You have to interrupt the disruptive behavior every single time with something that he does not value," he says.

Dr. Phil sums it up: "You want to raise a felon or you do what you have to do. Because if you let this kid run wild with no boundaries and no impulse control, you are going to have a serious problem."