Monday, January 6, 2014

Crime and Punishment

Today began what I have been seriously dreading since before I even became a parent. It was the day B stopped listening to me and started testing the boundaries.

We were up in the play area and he started slamming (slapping, really) his hands on my face and yelling "no!", all while laughing. I told him no, stop it, it hurts, tried to show him a gentle touch instead - to no avail. He just kept doing it. Finally I figured it was a bid for attention - so I played with him for a bit; but he kept doing it. Fed up, I took him downstairs.

Once down there, he started putting his hand on the TV screen, looking back at me with a big smile. I kept telling him my usual no, don't touch, etc, but he just laughed and kept doing it. I pulled his hand away, kept doing it. Pulled his whole body away, kept doing it. With no other ideas, I picked him up and plunked him in his room, slamming the door. I timed it for five minutes and then went to retrieve him (he was hysterical), giving him hugs and explaining how he has to listen to me when I say no, etc. And two seconds later he runs over to the TV, laughing, and puts his hands on it. Again the nos, don't touchs, pulling him away, putting on my most serious voice and face, getting down on his level, making it all very important...kept doing it. So I slammed him in his room again. More hysterical crying for five minutes. More retrieving his hot, sweaty, crying self and explaining what no means. Only to have him run over to the TV again.

By this time it was overdue for dinner and bedtime so I just brought him into the kitchen and thankfully those two things went well - you would never guess what had just transpired. I think he was just really tired - he conked right out.

But I feel defeated. I don't think he got it at all. I think it was just a big naughty game, with strange and inexplicable trips to his room that made no sense. He was obviously upset by it, but not enough to make the connection between that and his behavior. I'm just really worried that this is what is going to happen from now on - he's going to blatantly misbehave because it's fun, and not care when I punish him.

I hate to make the connection, but my dog was the same. She never listened to me, never came when I called her, never got it when I put her somewhere else as punishment, either. No matter how much authority I put in my voice, no matter how much confidence I had behind me. She just didn't care. 

So the question is, what the heck do you do? Is this approach all wrong? I don't think it's ok to just ignore this stuff - this is where it starts. But what do you do when they think it's a game and just laugh at you? No matter how fierce your voice, face, etc? I'm at a loss. Suggestions welcome.


  1. Ugh! This type of thing is no fun! & for me, it was just as frustrating that E would move on from it while I was still stewing. You may be doing this already but my suggestions would be, use simple language, "No touch" if he does it again, take him to him (his punishment) right then, my understanding is that at that age, they need immediate consequences. You'd probably have to do this a dozen times before he gets it, but he'd get it. I also believe time outs are supposed to be 1 minute per years in age, if it's too long, they forget why they're being punished...also you could distract him by getting him involved in a new activity but that's easier said than done, for sure. I found with E, that I really had to keep my cool, if she realized how much it got to me, she'd do it more.

    Good luck, it will likely get worse before it gets better but hang in there, it will get better.

  2. Um, you are trying to use fear to correct his behavior, and he is just learning that mom is a scary person that slams doors. As frustrating as these moments are, try to stay calm. Show him a disappointed and disapproving face, be stern but don't yell. Five minutes is way too long for a time out, the general advice (from every book/doctor/Super Nanny I've heard) is to have time out one minute for every year old. We had a hard time with my son understanding time outs at first. He has to go to a spot by a blank wall and bookshelf. By choosing a blank wall, I can see that he is in the spot, and I can also find a blank wall if he needs a time out when we are out at other places....can't take his room with you to the playground. Also, you want him to sleep and play in his room, so making it a place to go when he is in trouble is going to turn it into a negative place all the time. To start off, we did time ins in which I stood next to him to reposition him back into the spot when he tried to leave. If he tried to get up, I repeated the reason for the time out ("You are in time out for climbing on top of the table."), replaced him to the spot and started the time over (I never made eye contact with him until he was out of time out). Also, be specific, don't just say no, tell him he isn't supposed to hit/touch the tv, but keep the phrase short. It was a huge power struggle for the first few times (like 20 minutes just to get that minute of time out). It has paid off though, because now I can just warn him of time out and he will stop the behavior, and when he doesn't, I can just tell him to go to time out and he goes on his own. He also will walk by the dishwasher and coffee table (the top two things he gets time out for) and say "no no" to them! Good luck, you can do this!!!

  3. Ditto to what Ali said. I haven't had to use time outs yet, but we are close. In addition to saying no, I put on a very disappointed face and redirect Felix to something completely different. He also likes to bop the TV with stuff, so I take the item out of his hand, say "Don't touch the TV!" And immediately follow up with something like, "Should we look at this book? Come here, I'll read it to you!" That pretty much always stops the repetitive bad behavior.

  4. Yep, keeping it simple - "NO touch TV." "NO hit mommy!" and then a time out (of 2 minutes, in the room where you are, in a baby pen if necessary) if a couple of warnings don't work - no more than that, as he think really does think it's a game. It should be less than 4 times of saying no before there's consequences. He's too young to understand the more detailed explanations - I don't think they really get the whole empathy thing just yet, I think he needs to be a year or two older for that.

    Have you read Happiest Toddler on the Block? It has a few suggestions that worked well for us, though not everything did.

    This is a hard stage...the good news is that all of toddlerhood is not consistently this bad.

  5. I used to be a board certified behavior analyst, and while that most certainly does NOT mean I know all the answers and/or do it all perfectly (by a long shot!), I have a couple of thoughts.

    First, the above commenters have made some good points.

    Second, unfortunately, Jordyn has already been "testing the waters" for a while now. It's slowly driving me insane! But here's what I do: I ask her to do/not do something, and if she doesn't comply immediately, I count to 3, slowly. Sometimes after saying 2 I'll repeat the direction, just in case she forgot (which I honestly doubt, but you never know). She'll sometimes (but definitely not always) comply by 1 or 2. If I say 3 and she hasn't done it, then "mommy helps" (which I sometimes actually say out loud as I do it), and I (gently!) physically make her do whatever it is (i.e. pick something up off the floor that she threw there, sit on her chair instead of stand on it, etc.).

    I also give her warnings, i.e. "If you stand up on your chair one more time, it will be all finished and mommy will put it away". If she then stands up on the chair while looking at me and smiling, I don't do the count to three, I simply take her off the chair, pick it up, and put it away. She gets upset, but I tell her that mommy said not to stand on the chair, and she did, so now it's all finished. I don't give it back until the next day (I'll take it back out after she's asleep).

    The absolute single most important thing is to *mean what you say*. No empty threats. If I tell her I'll put the chair away if she stands on it one more time, then no more second chances - she stands on it, it's gone. Period. If you don't want or intend to carry through on a threat, fine - just don't say it in the first place. He'll very quickly learn that you don't mean what you say if you say it and then don't do it.

    Be sure to tell B what he's being punished for. I'd suggest a warning - i.e. "If you touch the tv again you will have a time out", and then if he does it, tell him he has a time out because he touched the tv after mommy told him not to. As people said above, time out should be one minute per year of age. And the definition of time out is a removal from the opportunity to receive reinforcement - so make sure he's not getting any! If he's doing the behavior to get attention, and then you talk or make eye contact with him while he's in time out, then he's not removed from reinforcement. But he does need to know what he's being punished for so he can make that connection, so you do want to tell him. Be sure to use simply language, as others have mentioned. Short phrases could be your best bet right now, as suggested - "no hit".

    Another example I do, is if Jordyn persists with throwing food on the floor on purpose while she's in her high chair, I'll take the tray off (which upsets her already if she's not finished eating), take her out of the chair, have her pick up the food (using the count to 3 method if needed), and then put her back in the chair to continue eating. It's annoying for both of us, but I think it's working. Tonight I gave her a plate, which is a new thing, I've always just put food right on her high chair tray. She kept picking the plate up, and I knew it and it's contents were headed for the floor. So I asked her to put it down, and when she didn't, I took it away and kept eating. She didn't like that. After 30 seconds or so, I gave it back. This only happened twice - I think she got the message!

    I've heard good things about "Happiest Toddler on the Block", but I haven't read it myself. I may, though, at the rate things are going around here!

    Sorry I went overboard here... But I hope at least some of it is helpful!!