Outwitted by a toddler

October 19, 2006 | 9 comments

You guys did it again! Great advice to the last post. I’m so down in the weeds here that I often can’t see the big picture, which in this case is the fact that I can get my two-year-old’s yelling under control. Since he’s my first child and I don’t know much about kids I tend to lag behind in terms of my expectations for his behavior. Last time I checked he was only eighteen months old, this whole thing about him being two sort of snuck up on me. 🙂

Although my current system for discipline is going to need some fine tuning.

A few months ago I introduced the dreaded “naughty mat”. I watch Super Nanny so I had this all figured out. I picked out an old red placemat and kept it handy, just waiting for the right opportunity to use it. A couple days later when DB was overtired and had a molar coming in he was really cranky and I was presented with a great opportunity to use it about fifteen minutes into our day.

DB started throwing a fit about the shirt I’d chosen for him to wear, so I took him to the naughty mat. I explained what it was, and calmly told him that while he was screaming he had to sit on the naughty mat and would not get what he wanted. I thought I’d heard somewhere that you need to wait to start the “time out” time until the child is sitting there of his own free will. So…45 MINUTES LATER…I was still holding him there while he screamed.

At that point it was past time to feed the baby and my stamina was wearing out, so I decided to jump on the first opportunity to pronounce his punishment fulfilled. He took a long breath in between screams and I commended his calmness, counted to ten as fast as I could and told him he could now get up.

As soon as I picked up the placemat to put it away he started throwing a fit again…because he wanted to sit on the naughty mat some more.

Touche, DB. Touche.

Parenting is such a humbling experience.


  1. Barb, sfo

    ROFL! Yup, he’s 2.
    I never had the pleasure of watching Super Nanny so I’m not sure what that’s all about, but forcing kids to sit in a time out never worked for me at this age.
    I prefer a combination of “Broken Record” and “Redirection.” I’m good at “Broken Record.” After 3 kids, I’m practically a pro! I can tell a child “Time to put shoes on” 30 bazillion times if necessary, while carrying them to a chair and handing them shoes and helping them put the shoes on. No nonsense, no yelling, just a calm broken record.
    Other tools in my bag of tricks include letting a kitchen timer be “the bad guy”–give a warning–“When the timer rings, we are going to (do whatever).”
    And have some special “quiet time toys” that your 2 year old can use when you need him to be quiet for a SHORT time.

  2. Ersza

    There’s another technique that works very well with toddlers. I think this comes from the author of “Happiest Baby on the Block.” I can’t recall precisely, though, so if anyone can help, please do.

    Anyway, the way it works is that you echo your child’s words and feelings back to him with equal intensity, so that he understands that you’ve heard him. If he cries, “I want a story,” over and over again, you say it back to him, with the same tone and passion, “You want a story, you want a story, you want a story.” It sounds dumb, but when I heard about it, I tried it on my four year old, and it worked wonders. You still need discipline. I used ordinary time outs. I think taking advantage of the momentary quiet was a good start. You can make the time out longer next time. It’s recommended to use no more than one minute per year of age, so two minutes maximum.

    Although I agree that your two year old needs discipline, I think you really have to think about age-appropriateness, too. With a new baby, you are probably tempted to think of your toddler as “big boy” and expect a great deal of him that he can’t give you. You can’t expect a two year old to understand anything about delayed gratification, such as waiting for the baby to be put down before he has you read him a story. All he is really hearing at that point is “no” so that is the level you have to work on. I don’t have two children, but I know that whenever you have two children under three, you are working in a twins situation. You have two babies, with a full set of baby needs. You need to increase your game to meet the needs of both babies, and look for some relief in another year, when the oldest one BEGINS to develop a separate identity.

  3. Bekah

    I thought of something else that may work after I hit submit yesterday. Since I’d already blathered on so long, I didn’t post it. 🙂

    It might help the situation if you engage your older child’s help with your current task. If he feels that you are treating him as a helper, rather than simply asking him to wait, he may endure the time it takes to get baby to bed, better. So, think of ways you can include or adapt your naptime routine to include him. If you sing to the baby, ask him to sing with you. If the baby needs a diaper before the nap, ask him to fetch it. Keep him busy and pretty soon you will have time for that story, which will be a great reward for such a big helper.

    Parenting is really the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, and most people, too, I’d bet. Often the solution is just to think creatively, which can be next to impossible in the midst of it. I usually find success when I really detail what the problem is. Often we see the behavior we want to nix, but fail to really identify the problem.

  4. Bekah

    Another thought…
    perhaps he liked his naughty place because he had your complete attention for 45 minutes. Kids are just ornery like that. Try carving out some special time just for him in a positive way. One of the keys to discipline that I have discovered is that we need to remember to apply generous amounts of positive reinforcement, not just because it encourages our kids in good behavior, but because we need the lift to our spirits especially when we feel we are always forced to be negative.

  5. Martin

    My wife and I watch that and sometimes shake our heads at the parents of some of these children. I cannot imagine letting our own children get as out of control as some of the parents have.

    I’m not sure that with the “Naughty mat” that you are supposed to stay there and hold them. Oprah has some directions on how it is done.

  6. Catholic Mom

    And just to get you prepared, every child is different so once you think you have it figured out with the first, the second one will need a whole different approach. My oldest has always been very needy of approval. Any hint I was displeased set his behavior straight. He would even put himself in timeout and save me the trouble.

    Number two on the other hand really marched to his own drummer. When he was about two we were out to eat at a restaurant. He held his favorite two Hot Wheels toy cars in one hand. He then took his roll and kept dunking it in his glass of water. After multiple requests for him to stop dunking the bread in the water I informed him that if he didn’t stop I would take away his cars. He promptly handed me the cars and dunked away.

  7. 4andcounting

    Good effort on the time out approach. Like others have said, time out may not be effective for him, at least in some situations. Time outs have not always worked for me either. I would suggest you put him in a safe place (his room, the laundry room, whereever) and tell him he can come out when he is all done screaming. I do that with my children sometimes and it really helps. Often they just need to get their frustration out and then they can return to being the usually pleasant children they are. Because, really, if you are sitting on that time out mat for 45 minutes with himm, who is really being punished? My second child is especially dramatic and she now knows to take herself to her room and get her feelings out and then return to the family (she’s four now). This allows your son to have his feelings, but it doesn’t require you to suffer because of them.
    By the way, my kids have all turned the punishment around on my like your son did many times. I threaten to take away toys when they won’t clean up and my 5 year old says “give them to someone else, I don’t want to clean up!” So frustrating! We have taken them away though.
    Parenting is challenging, but you will grow from it. There is no question that God put me in this position because this is where I am weakest and need Him most.

  8. Tanya

    My 3rd child is 22 months and I’m remembering what it’s like to have a 2 year old. (The highest of highs and the lowest of lows) When she has a tantrum I find it most effective to leave her alone. I tell her to listen to what I’m saying, “You may not have that…” and I walk away. She thrashes away and works it out and we have hugs when she’s calmed down. I don’t do much in the way of time outs at 2. We do more stern talking, and lots of re-direction. “You need to put you shirt on, where’s your belly button?”. Hang in there, it’s really tough. And it will pass. And you’ll forget, just like the pain of childbirth.

    p.s. loved Catholic Mom’s Story!

  9. eulogos

    We used “sitting on the stairs.” I don’t think I started it at two, though. To be honest, a lot of times everything failed and I thought I was a complete failure as a mother. One of my children kicked a hole in the sheetrock of the wall by the stairs when having a tantrum in his “timeout.” I must have been a complete failure.

    But that same child is now a college graduate, married, and practices his faith. (It isn’t exactly the same as mine; he is Eastern Orthodox, but believe me, I am intensely grateful to God for bringing him there. ) I am not sure how he got from being the most incredibly difficult child I had to being the adult that gives me the most satisfaction. I am just saying this to point out that it might not be as bad as it looks at any particular instant in time. Or even any set of two or three years!

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