16 answers

21 Month Old- Misbehaving

My son Nick is 21 months old and I have been having a few problems with him and I am looking for some ideas to control the problems. First off, like many kids his age he is hitting. I have tried hitting him back (lightly) to show him how it feels, that only works sometimes, I have tried the time out thing, which at his age I don't think it's really worth trying yet, I have tried pretending to cry when he hits me-that doesn't work either. I'm getting fusterated, because nothing seems to work. He also pulls on our dogs legs and ears(we have a weiner dog) I tell him No, but after only a minute he is doing it again. I have showed him how to be nice, but he keeps doing it. Our dog has nipped at him, NEVER breaking the skin, kind of telling Nick "hey that hurts" but Nick still pulls at him.
Another problem I have with Nick is, we live in a rural area, 18 miles from the actual town we live in, and it doesnt have much, so we end up driving to the next town, which is much bigger to do all of our shopping, it is about a hour drive. Anyhow when we go into stores, about 80-85% of the time he throws these huge fits. It is embarressing, and I try to ignore him, or tell him "look at all the people looking at you" or "nobody wants to listen to you throwing fit, and neither do I" but it never works, he just keeps screaming. I end up having everyone staring at me or I just leave the store with nothing. And then when we get to the car he screams even louder when I try to put him in his seat, acrching his back. It gets to be a huge struggle to even get him buckled in.
My husband family sometimes takes him (only when it is convienent for them) and he is always good whenever they go somewhere. Am I crazy or is he just getting tired of being around me. I am the only one he does all this bad behavior with.
Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make my shopping trips a little easier? I hate drive for an hour one way and come home with nothing because of Nick's fits.

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Thanks for the feedback, I will try your ideas, and your right, me hitting him back, even if it is lightly is not the right answer and sends the wrong message. THANK YOU

Featured Answers

I have a 2yr old grandson and the one thing I do when he hits is hold both his hands together and count slowly to 10. I look directly into his eyes and when I finish counting, I tell him, nice hands don't hit. You want to help him refrain from hitting without introducing a punishment that says hit. I told my daughter that when she hits him for hitting, he's thinking, "well, you hit me." After he begins to get standing still while you count, then when you finish hug him and tell him he's a good child.

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The parenting book "Creative Correction" by Lisa Welchel has a special section in the front of the book on toddlers. It is an awesome and creative book with great parenting ideas!

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Two things. First, I don't think hitting him back is a good response to his behavior. It's sets the "do as I say not as I do example" which isn't very effective. Also, it illustrates that you are so frustrated you don't know what to do. I would try again with the time outs. He is old enough for them to be effecive as long as they are applied consistently. You've got to follow through! Since he's almost two I would give him two minutes in time out. Make sure it's in an area where he is removed from stimulus. Second, I don't think he's tired of you. I think he knows how to push your buttons. If he is having a fit in public you need to remove him from the situation immediately. As much as you might hate leaving without what you came for, you've got to be consistent and show him that he's not going to get the reaction he wants from the temper tantrum behavior. I think that if you are consistent in removing him from the situation when he acts out then eventually he will stop.

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Hi M.,

Wow - sounds like you have your hands full! Far be it for me to tell you how to raise your son, but I do have a few pointers as I have been through this stage with my now almost 8 year old (who is a complete joy :))

As far as the hitting goes, every kid goes through it, and parents have to find their individual ways to deal with it. At this age, children learn from example. Hitting him back (even just lightly) is teaching him to do exactly what you don't want him to do. What worked for me was just to hold his arm when he went to hit, kiss his hand or face or whatever, and say "gentle, that hurts mommy". They don't always get it right away, but if you show them what you want by doing it yourself, eventually they catch on. With the dog, same basic prinicple. Either that or you could try moving the dog to another room when he does that so that he doesn't have the opportunity to hit the dog. Eventually he will get bored of torturing the poor puppy, and learn to respect him as he sees you doing the same.

Regarding the fits in the store, that one is a little harder but you will get over it, as do 99% of parents. First of all, when you say you come back from the store with nothing after driving an hour each way... you're letting him control you. While he's not really able to understand the control thing right now, he can understand that he gets his way when he throws a fit, and it will develop into an understanding of control very soon if you don't get it figured out now. It's a power struggle, and if you let him win now, you'll be struggling for the rest of his childhood. You might try bringing a special "store time toy" that he likes and gets to play with only when you are in the store. This gives him something to look forward to while you are in the store. In regards to the fits ... I totally understand where you are coming from ... I've been there and it seems like everyone is staring at you. Now that I've had my second son, I've realized that it really doesn't matter. Unless you are in a controlled setting like a restaurant or library etc., you aren't being rude by letting your child express his feelings. If people don't like it ... they can leave if they don't want to listen to it. Telling him that people don't want to hear him throw his fits, or telling him it's embarrassing will only serve to knock down his self esteem (yes, even at such a young age - you would be amazed at what sets in!) and you could face problems in the future with him not expressing his feelings, and that's way worse than temper tantrums. If you are still uncomfortable with letting him throw a fit, try taking him outside until he calms down and then go back inside. It may take a few rounds, but eventually he will understand that throwing a fit will not result in him getting to go home like he wants.

I guess as a summary, don't let him control you and don't reward him for bad behavior.

Good luck - I hope this helps!


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I have a 2yr old grandson and the one thing I do when he hits is hold both his hands together and count slowly to 10. I look directly into his eyes and when I finish counting, I tell him, nice hands don't hit. You want to help him refrain from hitting without introducing a punishment that says hit. I told my daughter that when she hits him for hitting, he's thinking, "well, you hit me." After he begins to get standing still while you count, then when you finish hug him and tell him he's a good child.

1 mom found this helpful

My daughter is exactly the same age as your son so I kind of know where you are here. What I have found to be the most effective skill (and quite frankly, the most difficult) in dealing with outbursts of all kinds is to show absolutely no emotion back to her. I attribute the extremely short-lived hitting episodes in our home to saying "That hurt mom/dog/cat" and then simply walking away or seperating the animal from her. I find that getting mad makes it more engaging, and I would suspect hitting back would further that concept.

With the store I would say that leaving is definately part of the solution if the outburst peaks. But, if there is any way to prevent the outburst that sure is preferable.;-) I find that having food for my daughter to eat as we go through the store, telling her what we're shopping for (she always gets to hold the list), asking her to name the things we get as we buy them, and allowing her to hand the money to the cashier when we check out works for us. Basically she enjoys going to the store because she's always engaged in the activity.

Best of luck to you!

Hi M.. Our son is 27 months now and was hitting also around that age. Here are some suggestions to try out and see if anything works for his personality.

1) really work at preventing the hitting. look for signs that he may hit and literally catch his hands before they land and firmly but gently say no hitting
2) our son sometimes hit because he was hit by another child and that child wasn't disciplined. he thought it was all right because they weren't in trouble. let your child know (sometimes after the other one was gone) that the hitting was a no no.
3) teach him alternatives every time he wants to hit. for example, say "No hitting! What CAN you do? You can wave or you can do gentle pats. Keep at it consistently with alternatives."
4) try to model the good behavior you want from him. i don't think hitting back or fake crying work (although I understand trying different things because your so frustrated). be careful, because he will learn to continue hitting back if he's hit and he will be smart enough to learn fake crying!
5) practice gentle touch and waving with a favorite stuffed toy
6) make him say sorry whenever he hits and put him in time out. if he doesn't say sorry don't get mad or frustrated. say, "it's important to have good manners and if you and i will say sorry for you until you are ready. when will you be ready, in one minute or two minutes? and then he'll either answer or start screaming. ignore if he screams and then model the good behavior and drop it and start over again next time it happens.

OK, the tantrums in the store. that's so hard.
1) Prep him in the car on every place you are going to in the store and make up games. For example, we're going to buy fruit and vegetables. I need your help to find red things in the store or round things.
2) Over praise him for every little thing he is doing right. He's sitting like a big boy in his car seat. He's helping mommy look out the window for driving.
3) something about the trip needs to be fun. like at the end of shopping he holds the money to give to the cashier
4) maybe a small reward at the end of the trip to look forward too. like a cool rock you can find in the parking lot or something low cost. ok the rock may be lame, but you get the idea. maybe even special bear hugs or kisses when you're done
5) make sure he's not hungry by the time you get there
6) have a favorite toy he can play with to be used ONLY on the trip home if he's a good boy.
good luck, be creative, stay calm and no these phases shall pass too!

Hi M.,

Reading your request was almost like reading about myself! My son is 15 months, he is hitting too, pulling and hitting at our Dachshunds as well and we live in a rural area too. Crazy, huh!

I know it's a huge hassle but you right in leaving the store when he throws a fit. Since the stores are so far from home perhaps you can just stay in the car until he calms down. Maybe a little incentive will help - like a candy/sucker if he behaves. As for hitting at home - when our son hits us or the dogs, we grab his hand, firmly tell him No!, and remove him from the situation. It usually works because he wants to be with everyone else. By removing him I don't mean time out, definitley too young for that, we just separate him from whatever he is attacking. If it's me, I put him down and walk away. If it's the dogs, then he can't be near them for awhile. Oh, and I've read several times that hitting them back (even lightly) just teaches them that it's okay to hit.

I hope this helps some. Good luck!

I have learned that the reward system works well. Try a chart with stars or little fake dollars. Every time he makes it through the store without misbehaving he will get a star or buck. Chart is probably better so he can see his progress and the goal. Keep it in the car so you can add it together when you get out or when you get home if he misbehaves in the car. Remind him in the store that he won't get a star. when he gets whatever amount you decide on (make it a reachable goal) he will get to go out for icecream or something else he enjoys. And praise him when he does good, say nothing when he doesn't make it except maybe next time you can get one and remind him what he will have to do to get them. I hope this helps.
G, in Idaho

I hear your frustration in your writing. I've even been there. I've been a mom for 10 years and a nanny before that. I didn't have support when my kids were little. The baby stage was so hard! At one point we lived 45 minutes from any kid friendly place around. Drive 45 minutes for swim lessons? Yep. Drive 45 minutes once a week so that my daughter could interact with other kids at a kids group. Yep.
Here is what I have learned; A child feel safe emotionally his it's mother. If he going to to push buttons (hurting the dog) or envelopes or let his hair down (tantrums) or test boundries (hitting or biting) he feels safe doing it with his mother. If there is a strong bond with his father, dad gets to be treated to the tantrums as well. If a child is bored or tired or hungry it's mom he feels safe expressing it with her. As ugly as it feels at the time think of it as a compliment. He feels safe with you.
After being in the carseat for a long time and then tasting freedom (all be it tired or hungry or just irritable) and then being put into the carseat again, I too would arch my back and scream. At 21 months he isn't going to express himself as we would. So the tantrums make sense. Perhaps after leaving the store and getting to the car a simple talk about what "can't happen in that store or we are leaving" will give him the message. Perhaps this happening in the same way with the same words several time will sink in. Remember. People of 21 months live in the moment. It takes time to have a lesson imprint in his brain. The exhaustion of taking him into a store may not seem worth it but the incredible feeling of lightness that occures when your kids are in school full time and you do your shopping without them is surprizingly euphoric. A weird place to find joy, I know.
And yes, he could be sick of you. I get sick of my husband after his is home for 3 days! I'll bet your little guy could use some little buddy time. Someone else to drool on. Someone else to talk to. Some new perspective. We all need friends. Diversity. New stimulation.

This alway worked for me: If a child hit or bit or pulled on my earings I would hold their hand firmly, look them in the eye to make direct contact and say "No hitting." "No. works well too. I also learned that yelling it made too much of a "cool" reaction and they did it again. I read this somewhere.

And no store will say anything to you if you have to open a bag of fish crackers in the middle of shopping just to keep your child happy as long as you put the bag on the conveyerbelt at checkout time.

Good luck. And stay sane for heaven's sake!

Oh ya, and the rewards system didn't work for either of my kids.

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