34 answers

17 Month Old Discipline

I have a beautiful determined 17 month-old boy that has started screaming and at times falling to the ground when he does not get what he wants. I know that communication is an issue (even though I am teaching him sign). I want to set limits, say no when appropriate and I don't want to go the spanking route. Please advise.

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Wow....thank you, thank you. I can't believe how kind you all are. I am surrounded by experts in the "practical" raising of a child. There are so many great ideas and I have felt really frustrated not knowing what to do. I now have a game plan. I will get back to you all. Again. Thank you, thank you.

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Sounds like he's hit the terrible two's a little early. When my children would throw a tantrum I either put them in a separate room or walked away. I didn't want to give them attention for throwing a fit. When they calm down, they'll come and find you and you can try it again. =)

When my son does this, I ask "oh, no - are you feeling mad?" or frustrated or angry or sad...etc. usually he'll respond "ya, I mad!!!" Then I say "awww - I'm sorry you're mad. Do you need a mommy hug?" Then he comes and gets a hug and calms down in my arms and it's over. I like that he's learning names for his emotions.

My grandfather had a different approach. He'd pull up a chair and holler, "hey everybody, Mary's having a tantrum - everybody come watch!!" even in public he'd watch her like it was a show or a play and invite everyone around to come watch. I don't know why this works, but it kept him from getting mad and the kid's tantrum always ended quickly.

I would simply state "no" to whatever he is demanding and walk away. Ignoring his tantrums will help him to learn that they dont work. You could also tell him "when you are done screaming, you can come join me in the living room. Then we can read a book together." then walk away.

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there are so many other ways to discipline. one idea is time out. another is taking away his favorite toy. a reversed idea is to reward him for good behavior. personally, i think a swat isn't too bad, but there are other ways too.

My son did, and still does the same. He's 21 months old now and it's only gotten worse. I've found the thing that works is to pick him up, without any anger (the hard part!) and place him on the naughty step, or in other words the bottom step of our stairs. You could use a chair, a bed, whatever. This does a few things. It removes him from whatever situation is causing him to be upset, it allows him to calm himself down, which I think is a very important aspect of learning self control, and then it allows me to explain why his behavior is inappropriate. I always give him a hug and a kiss when he's done. Oh, and I do one minute for each year of life--so he only sits there for one minute. This has worked amazingly well for us. It hasn't lessened the tantrums, but it has lessened the duration of the tantrums.I think you are correct, the terrible twos are caused by a toddlers inability to communicate, and their frustration at not being able to control their environment. I usually understand what caused the tantrum, and talking about it to him, letting him know I understand what's going on--I think anyway--helps.

Yeah, here come the "Terrible Two's," I ignored them at first and made sure he wouldn't hurt himself. I still do that and if he gets worse and tell's me "No" after after I have asked him not to do something, he gets "time out" on the couch. We don't have a naughty step, but the idea is the same. He has to stay there for 2 minutes, one minute for each year of age, like the Super Nanny says.
Hope that helps, Good Luck!

Welcome to toddlerhood! ;-) The only thing that I find works is to ignore his fits. Make sure he is in a safe place and leave him be. When he is done calmly ask him what he needed because "mommy can't understand you when you are screaming" "use your big boy words" At this age they are forming independance and oppinions but do not know how to express them. " I know you are up set by __________ bu we need to _______.

I have also used "feeling faces" Put drawings of faces showing different emotions.. happy, sad, hurt, scared, mad, excited, etc. Make a game when you intro the faces and them put them on your fridge or another place he can reach. Ask hime to show you how he feel then acknowlage his feeling.

What ever you do, try not to give in to the fits. Once you do...you have to start all over and this time he will push harder. Find what works for you and stick with it. After having 3 kids and working in a day care... this is the secret to success! Good luck!

Within reason, try ignoring his tantrums. Get a "time out" stool and set it off to the side. Put him there until he is done. If he gets up, put him back. He is looking for you to get fed up and give in and let him have his way.
Tell him calmly that you will talk to him when he decides to be good. Whatever you do, DO NOT give into what he wants otherwise it will only get worse as he gets older and in his mind you will ALWAYS be the pushover.
Good luck, and be strong. :)
He is old enough for boundaries. You just have to be strong enough to enforce them, as hard as it might be.

When my son does this, I ask "oh, no - are you feeling mad?" or frustrated or angry or sad...etc. usually he'll respond "ya, I mad!!!" Then I say "awww - I'm sorry you're mad. Do you need a mommy hug?" Then he comes and gets a hug and calms down in my arms and it's over. I like that he's learning names for his emotions.

My grandfather had a different approach. He'd pull up a chair and holler, "hey everybody, Mary's having a tantrum - everybody come watch!!" even in public he'd watch her like it was a show or a play and invite everyone around to come watch. I don't know why this works, but it kept him from getting mad and the kid's tantrum always ended quickly.

I think you have some great advice here. I'd also reiterate that you don't want to give in to him no matter what-- even if you change your mind about something. Just make sure he's safe and then give him minimal attention during the fit.

Also, I always go back to this, but try to let him have some control over his life-- give him choices about what he wants to wear, eat or play with-- you pre pick only two choices and then present those to him. He'll be less likely to throw a fit if he feels like he gets to decide on something and have some control over his life.

Another form of prevention-- is he doing this in public? If you need to take him somewhere, make sure he is well fed and not too tired and you don't take too long doing really boring (to kids) stuff, if possible.

P.S. Kudos to you on not spanking. I made it work with my two children. They are older and well behaved children now.


For whatever it is worth, my son started to have similar tantrum problems when he was a toddler. Although I am not a behaviorist, I figured Skinner might know something, so I set about to extinguish the behavior according to behaviorist practice. It worked.

I did so as follows: When my son began engaging in tantrum behavior (falling on the ground, screaming, kicking, holding his breath, etc.) I first made sure he was in a situation where he would not hurt himself, then I left the room or otherwise totally ignored his behavior, giving him ABSOLUTELY NO ATTENTION WHATSOEVER, until he resumed normal behavior and stopped tantrumming. I did this consistently, without fail. As a result, he only had about three or four tantrum incidents, total.

The theory behind this strategy is as follows: If you reinforce the negative behavior by giving the child what he wants when he engages in the negative behavior, you teach him that the negative behavior works and gets him the results he wants, so he will do it again and again and again. Even negative attention (yelling, spanking, getting upset) serves to reinforce the bad behavior. What's more, intermittent attention to bad behavior (e.g., reinforcing the behavior some of the time and ignoring it some of the time) sets up an intermittent reinforcement schedule, which makes the behavior almost impossible to extinguish because he learns that if he keeps up the behavior you will eventually relent and give him what he wants as a result of the bad behavior. Only when the child CONSISTENTLY gets NO attention (none, zero, zilch) for the bad behavior, he learns that the bad behavior is useless, stops doing it, and looks to other types of behavior, hopefully more positive, to get what he wants.

Good luck.

Linda B.

Hi R.,

You didn't say, though I am assuming your little boy is deaf or hard of hearing since you are teaching him to sign. I am a mom to two hearing impaired kids (one grown and married to a beautiful (deaf) lady, the other is 17 in High School). Sounds as if it can be one of two things, the ''terrible twos'' syndrome where little tantrums often occur, or perhaps he is frustrated because he cannot make himself clear what it is he does want. I really haven't much in the advice line to give you other than, ignore the behavior. If he doesn't get a reaction from you, eventually he'll give it up. Perhaps a time~out in a corner, or quiet area (no toys, books, tv etc). Either that or once he is calm try to get him to show you what it is he does want. I know its not always easy, and if he is hearing impaired, you are thrown more hurdles than with a hearing child. Feel free to e-mail me anytime!! Good luck!

By the way, my son teaches deaf/hard of hearing middle school kids (in Washington, DC) if you have any questions just holler and I'd be happy to run them by him.


Hi R.,

As a mother of 3, 2 of whom are very much like your son sounds I felt the need to throw in my 2 cents. :) With my oldest daughter I was asking the same exact questions. She had even bumped her head a few times, so I consulted with my pediatrician. Best move I ever made. Her answer was to remove my daughter from the situation (even if this meant a guest room at somone else's house) and allow her to have her tantrum there and AS SOON as she was done we would go back to the activity we/she had been doing. The same rules applied when we returned to the activity. At first she would throw anywhere between 4 and 5 fits, but eventually she did listen. Now she is 8. The rules still apply, but since she has better control over it she now has 1 (and I mean 1 minute) to comply or she may go to her room to finish her fit. (the younger she was the harder it was for her (and me!) but it worked in the long run. If I feared she would hurt herself (at times I did worry) then I held her in a basket hold until she was calm) You can learn this through most parenting classes to do it correctly. It prevents them from hurting you or themselves when they are simply unable to be calm. My daughter had severe fits because (we later found out she had ADD) so your son's may not be nearly as intense. But this same technique worked on my middle and youngest daughters.

I'm sure you got tons of great advice and I hope that you find what works for you and your son.

Best wishes for a tantrum free day!!


Walk away when he throws himself down. Just ignore him. He is wanting a response and don't give it to him. If his behavior is out of control or he kicks a wall, throws a toy or hits someone due to his anger, set him in the corner or playpen to cool off, but the best thing you can do is walk away. I did this with my son and would say "I will be with you when you calm down". Typically when my son figured out he wasn't going to get the outcome he wanted with fit it stopped. Even now at almost four his fits are short lived as he is realizing that he isn't getting what he wants with them.


I'm a mom of a 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year old. Have you heard of Love and Logic? I am reading a book called Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim and Charles Fay. Wish I had read it sooner!!! It has some wonderful ideas for dealing with children's fits and just not obeying without getting angry or frustrated. It also helps you teach them to be self sufficiant. 17 months is the perfect age to get started. Train him now and save yourself a lot of frustration down the road!!

Keep up with the sign language! It may take awhile but it sure does come in handy before they can talk. It was a life saver for me and my son. God bless you and your family. You're on the right track!

I have raised seven children, and have dealt with this problem until I started implementing the information from Growing Families International, gfi.org. I highly recommend their books, especially Becoming Toddlerwise and Becoming Childwise for your child's age. Also, I taught my last children basic signs for the things they might want, and it helped the communication issue greatly.
Hope that helps!

Redirect, redirect, redirect.=o) When you take something away, give him something else in place of it. When he somewhere he isn't supposed to be, tell him no, but move him to an area that he can be. If a full out tantrum does start, ignore it and he'll realize he's not getting attention for it and stop.

Sounds like he's hit the terrible two's a little early. When my children would throw a tantrum I either put them in a separate room or walked away. I didn't want to give them attention for throwing a fit. When they calm down, they'll come and find you and you can try it again. =)

My son used to do that a lot. I think he was doing it to bug me. This is what worked for me. I used to let it go for a couple of seconds. I took a couple of deep breaths to calm my self. Then I asked, "Are you done yet?" Like he wasn't bothering me at all. At first it got worse because he was testing my new found calm approach. So I took a book with me every where I would say "Are you done yet" then if he kept it up I would start reading. When my attention wasn't on him. He stopped. It took about two weeks but he stopped making public scenes when it didn't bother me any more.

I agree ignore the behaviour give it no value and let him know that when he is done you will help the best you can.

I had one friend who's son started this and one day in a store she had had enough so she got down on the floor and started kicking and screaming just like him, he looked up at her in surprise (not to mention the people in the store) and said "if you can do it so can mommy!" and the tantrum was over, she only had to do it two more times, it seemed to of lost some of it's fun when it wasn't just him doing it :). Don't know if I would of done it in public but it a funny little story! Good luck!

Dear R.,

I had to laugh at your message because the same thing happened to my son when he hit 18 months. He was super sweet and then one day BAM! toddler-hood hit with a vengence. He would throw himself on the floor, wail and cry when he would not get his way. My husband and I decided early on that setting limits (like you said in your message) was important as well as not giving in to our son's demands. Just because he wants something does not mean he gets it (e.g. he wants to play with and eat the dog food). We try to praise his good behavior, and when a tantrum hits, we keep our cool, we acknowledge his feelings (e.g "it's frustrating when you can't get what you want isn't it?") and then ignore the tantrum. I've even resorted to walking over him when he's on the floor crying. I tell him I love him and I'll talk to him when he's calm, but we pretty much roll with it and do our best to ignore it. We also decided to pick our battles too. Safety first. But ask yourself if what he's doing is important enough to fight about it? Is it a big deal? That might help too when dealing with a tantrun. We also keep mind they are toddlers....and they are frustrated a lot and the only way they can let steam out is by crying sometimes. It's kind of what they do. Good luck!

This is likely the beginning of the terrible twos, which you can read up on in any childcare book. Keeping in mind that the child is extremely upset during these tantrums, I would wait until my daughter peaked on the anger ('cause she wouldn't let you near her prior!) and then hold her and pet her and say things like "it's so difficult being two!". Essentially, commisserating with what she was feeling. This is not the time to get angry with your child. Be very nice, but follow through firmly, and you two will get through this with love.

Good luck. This time period ranged from between 10 months and 24 months in my three girls.

17 month old children are prone to tantrums because they are frustrated. They don't have a real grasp of language and they don't understand why it is so important to us that they not get what they want. Honestly, whenever my son has tantrums, I hug him and tell him that I love him and wait until he is calm and then redirect him to something else. It is only spoiling him if I give in to what he wanted. Showing love and empathy isn't spoiling. Since my husband and I started doing this, he has actually had shorter moments of frustration, and I know it is because we have shown that we sympathize that he is little and he feels understood and validated.

There are three ways of handling this situation. The first has been mentioned. Leave him alone and let him finish is fit, then get on his level and talk to him about what it is he needs and explain to him (if he can't have it) why or if he can how a better way of getting it.

The second, that I do rarely and if I'm in a good mood, I encourage the fit. Tell them that they need to kick their feet louder, or flip on their back and pound the floor with their hands. Make a game of it in telling them to move different body parts. All the while, I'm usually laughing. After a few minutes, they see how silly they are being and usually stop.

The third, is to leave them alone and when they are done, ask if they feel better.

Either way, I talk to them and then have a "do over". I make them leave the room and come back to me and ask again, using their new skill that we discussed to ask for what they want. If the answer is no, they need to learn to leave it be and be satisfied in that answer or ask for something else...if that is an option.

If I feel it appropriate, when the fit is done, I put them in a corner for time out to think about a better way to communicate...but this is something I do with my 7 and 11 year old. Because they throw fits also. My 7 year old still falls to the floor for a fit when she gets really mad.

Good luck

I would simply state "no" to whatever he is demanding and walk away. Ignoring his tantrums will help him to learn that they dont work. You could also tell him "when you are done screaming, you can come join me in the living room. Then we can read a book together." then walk away.

I am a first-time mom of boy/girl twins who are 15 months right now, and my daughter has started doing the exact same thing. I just make sure she is somewhere she won't get hurt (bang her head or anything) and let her scream it out. It's annoying, and it can be super frustrating not being able to communicate, but if I let her throw her tantrum on her own it usually ends faster than if I immediately interfere. One thing that works with my toddlers is to have them show me what they want. I take their hand or pick them up and have them point and show me what they want. My daughter's tantrums seem to be more about frustration at not communicating rather than pushing boundaries; it sounds like your son might be the same? Good luck, hope this helps. Heaven help all of us going through first-time toddlerhood!

Dear R.,
I have a 2 year old that did the same thing fairly early and sometimes still does. I have tried two approaches, depending on which seems most appropriate at the time. THe first is to tell her that I understand her frustration, but that she can not do or get whatever it is she is throwing a tantrum over right now. If she continues I say, "that's one." Still goes on, I say, "thats two." If she continues, I say that is three and now we go to time out. You can cool down. I put her somewhere safe for the number of minutes she is old. The other option is to just ignore it. Sometimes I think they are just looking for any reaction. One or the other has seemed to work for the most part, with practice and consistency. Good luck!

Sounds like he is hitting the Terrible Two's early. Tantrums are common and the favorite word is "No". Ignoring him when he is in a fit might help - with attention when he is being good. If he screams at you, get on his level and tell him face to face that he does not scream at Mommy (or Daddy, etc.) This may have to be followed up with being put in a separate room until he is done. This will pass.

I had a sister inlaw that had been through it before. She recommended a couple of tapes. "love and logic for toddlers" If you don't want to buy it...It is so popular that most libaries have it. It helped alot and kept things postive. Good luck

EVERY mom goes through this! A book that might help is the happiest toddler on the block. (They also had the DVD at my library which I watched...very helpful as well) It teaches you how to communicate with a toddler before their language is fully developed and get on their level so they feel understood. It feels kind of silly to talk "toddlerese" but it seemed to help with my daughter when she was that age. Hopefully that will help! Good luck!

Hi R.. A 17 month old baby basically doesn't really understand much about rules yet. And the problem is the more you pay attention to his misbehavior the more he'll do it. He's starting to show signs of "wanting to be and individual", and there's nothing wrong with that. You have to stick with your "no's" though and don't give in to his desires. Don't go the spanking route. I went there, and believe me, it doesn't work! It makes them even more aggresive towards other kids. Just check out www.loveandlogic.com they will give you more ideas about how to raise a happy and responsible kid! Good luck.

Ignore the tantrum. I know it is hard to do. If he sees that this is not going to get him what he wants he will stop and try a different way. You need to tell him to ask for what he wants and explain we don't always get what we want when we want it. Is he deaf? Is that why you are teaching him sign? That sounds difficult but it can be done. I was blessed with smart babies. I think they were born talking. =) By two they all could talk in sentences and tell me what they wanted (how and why too). I still tell them the same thing. Needs and wants are different and as the songs says, You can't always get what you want but you get what you need.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes.
Mom of two awesome boys 10 and 12 and one beautiful girl 5.

We have been using Love and Logic by Jim Faye. It has been a great success. I was raise with spanking and just didnt feel right using that technique with my kids. We started using Love and Logic when our kids were young and have continued through the teenage years. Hope this helps.

Just walk away! The more you pay attention to his bad behavior the more he will do it. If he sees that mommy is not giving in then he will quit the fit. Of course you have to let him know that mommy will be there when he is ready to talk. I did it when we were in a store and my son wanted to throw a fit. I let him know that I was moving on, and he decided to screem. I then hid behind a big pillar so that he would not see me. Once he realized that I was not paying attention he stopped and never had another fit again. I hope this works for you.

Welcome to the terrible 2's!! Don't worry too much as just about all moms have gone thru this. Imagine not being able to get what you want when you want!! The horror!! At his age you really just have to try to redirect his energy to something else and make sure you can read the signs of tiredness or hunger. You eventually can read the early signs of a meltdown and steer clear of it. But also they just need to flip out once in awhile and you just have to try not get caught in it. It's not personal, they just have to begin experiencing limits. Give your self some slack and pat your self on the back for trying and try not to have an argument with this little person who wants the whole world on his plate. (who wouldn't...;)

Im not an expert but i have two little boys of my own and they are trying. You might want to try picking him up and embracing him while talking softly, maybe even remove him from the situation. Tantrums can be triggered by more than just not getting their way, the enviroment may be over stimulating. But above all else don't give in, stand your ground and be consistent

Hello R., If you are wanting to set the foundation for a compassionate and empowering home for you and your son, I recommend reading "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish. This book gives lots of ideas and offers new skills for an awesome family environment. And, after that, if you all want to take your parenting to another level, I recommend, "Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joy" by Naomi Aldort. Enjoy! ~T.

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