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

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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

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.

1 mom found this helpful

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!


1 mom found this helpful

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.

so, I read all the responses you have gotten so far, as I struggle with my 2 1/2 year old and his interactions with his little (8m) sister and fit throwing. I would like to say that I do not believe hitting works, or slapping hands. My son would throw these huge fits everytime I changed him with lots of leg kicking. Once or twice I swatted his leg and it only made things worse. He started hitting himself when he thought he was being bad or couldn't get toys to work his way. I dont believe that a toddler in the middle of a fit has the self control to stop when told to, or offered a bribe. I also believe that they are tired/hungry most of the time. An hour is a long time to drive and then shop. Perhaps he is missing a nap and the stimulation of shopping is making it worse. We have a wonderful discount store right near us but when my son is not in a good mood or having a bad day we shop at Fred Meyers which has a childens place. They watch him for free while I shop and the new toys and different surrounding keep him happy. I think the min. age is 2 years but if you have this available you might use it when he is old enough. I make a point to praise him often when he is good, and tell him I love him. Also, when he is having a bad day I work extra hard to get one-on-one time with him. He loves to have me "talk" with him and I am amazed at the things he says.
I dont think he should be allowed to hurt the dog, with my boy he doesnt want his baby sister to have any toys or touch him and often throws things or kicks at her. He has to go imediatly to his room and when he comes out (whenever he is done throwing his fit) he has to appoligize to her (specifically for hitting etc). This too shall pass and he will be all grown up way too soon. Try to stay positive with him and reward the good behavior (time spend playing is the best reward ever although my son will do almost anything for candy) Good luck. Jen

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!

I have a 21 month old as well, who is starting to test me too. Something I found that works well for car rides short and long. A DVD player. My daughter watches and watches and rides calmly. I don't even buy tons of DVD's, I check them out from the library. There are tons of educational ones to choose from. It helps to keep that fighting problem while buckling up to go. Just turn on the movie and she is ready to get set and go.

Hi M.,

I have a 9 year old daughter although she never went through this (because I wouldn't allow her to) I have worked with many children who have.
I was a nanny for many years and I worked as a Day Care Teacher also. So I have a lot of knowledge on child behavior and I was very prepared when I had my daughter.
So it's time for you to put little Nick through Kiddie Boot Camp as I like to call it. It's going to be hard for you and him but it works.
When nick mistreats the dog you say the firmest "NO" that you have in your body, scare him. And when he does it again slap his hand and say "NO" again. If he continues to do it don't allow him to even touch the dog. Tell him that children who hurt doggies don't get to touch doggies at all. Then when he starts to even go towards the dog you say "NO NICK NO DOG!" Unfortunately it sounds like Nick is to the point where he needs to be scared so he knows that you are serious.
As far as hitting when you can catch him going to hit you, you grab his hand firmly and say "NO NICK NO HITTING" tell him "THAT MAKES MOMMY ANGRY WHEN NICK HIT"S" with all of this you have to be consistant and catch him every time and get your husband on board too. And while you're being firm with him also say positive things like "Mommy likes it when Nick doesn't hit" Don't do the positive things at the same time as the descipline though do the discipline then later while snuggling or playing/reading a book when Nick is behaving say "Mommy likes it when Nick is a nice boy and he doesn't hit, do you like being a nice boy Nick?"
As far a going to the store I feel for you because you are so far away. I live in Seattle so it's easy for me to say just leave. But I strongly believe that anytime that a child is acting out in public that the child should be told this is not okay so we are leaving, then be picked up and removed from the situation. One time when my daughter was around 20 months old we were grocery shopping and it was our big shopping day we were almost done and she started acting up the cart was full and I picked up a carton of eggs and opened them to check for broken ones. With both hand she grabbed for the eggs and I told her "NO" and we had a struggle, she got away with one egg and laughed at me then she threw the egg at me. The egg broke and she laughed some more. I picked her up out of the cart let her know that what she had done was not okay and that she was in trouble and we left, we left that entire cart of food, that hour of shopping, But she needed to learn so we went home and she took a nap and the next day we went shopping again and she was an angel.
So maybe you could start by doing practice shopping at home. Maybe he could act like the mommy and you could be naughty Nick and frustrate him. Then he can be mommy and you could act like good boy Nick at the store. Then Maybe you could take hime to the close town and involve him in the shopping like let him pick out the cereal. And talk to him about it before hand and let him know that if he throws a tantrum, crys, or misbehaves that you will leave the store without anything and come home and take a nap. And if he is a good boy he can have a reward (I'm not above bribing when it comes to going out in public, no bribing at home though and no candy) something like a special juice or chocolate milk you know what he likes so it's up to you and it has to be really special. After he gets the hang of that then you can start going to the store in the town further away.
So be consistant, be very firm, take things away, and give positive feed back, give rewards when he does really good or get a calender and mark days that he doesn't mistreat the dog then after marking 5 or 7 days in a row sit down and pet the dog together as a reward. And tell him "Good Boys get to have doggies and pet doggies and you've been a good boy I'm so proud of you!"
I don't want to overwhem you with to much info right now, and I think I've given you the just of it. But please feel free to contact me it you have any questions. My personal email is

Good Luck M.!!

Remember he is a good little boy he is just testing you. And lots of children misbehave for their parents or mom and are angels for others. Don't take it personally and don't let it get you down, you are a good mom, he is a child and as a child he has to test you and give you a hard time. You have asked for help so you realize that it is now your time to put a stop to his behavior and you can do it! You just have to be strong. It will be easier to descipline and change his behavior now at 21 months olds than it would be if you let his behavior continue and tried to change the behavior of an out of control teenager.

Your Mama Source Friend,

I'm sorry you have to go through that. Shopping with kids isn't always the most fun thing to do. My mom is really great about offering to watch them so I can go by myself. When I do take them, they are pretty well behaved. Sometimes if they start acting up I will tell them "If you are a good girl/boy and listen to mommy, maybe you can pick out a prize when we leave." Some grocery stores have those little merry go round things, and kids love that. I don't know where you shop, but I am noticing a lot of the grocery stores having cool shopping carts for the kids to sit in. (I would definately recommend wiping them down with a disinfecting wipe). Albersons has some car ones, and butterfly ones. Cheney trading company and Safeway also have these. It makes it a little more fun for the kids...you can also strap them in, and they can pretend like they're steering! Just a thought. As for pulling the dogs ears, I totally know how you feel. I have 3 dogs and my kids wont leave them alone either! I will put them on time out, etc etc. I will pet them nice and say "See, this is how we treat our animals." Sometimes it works, and other times they're right back at it. My beagle has nipped my son a couple times (not even causing a mark)and I don't want to see anything happen to the kids. I will definately be back to read your suggestions. I wish you luck. Be consistant in whatever you do though. It will pay off. Children learn to respect authority. :)

Don't know if it is possibe for you, but I think that some playdates with other children would be very beneficial for you. Not sure which SE Washington city you travel to, but I live in Spokane and knowt that there are lots of activities that you could take him to that may help with socializing him better. Perhaps on the days that you have to go into town to do shopping, you could arrange to do some type of playdate first, let him play, get some of his pent up energy out (an hour car ride is no fun for a little one) and then try shopping. It would be helpful for him in so many ways, and also beneficial for you to be around other adults/mothers. Good luck.

Hi. I have a 22 month old son who is very much like your son. We go thru hitting spells too. He doesn't do it constantly but like I said he goes thru spells with it. When he hits our animals I tell him no and teach him to give them loves. That seems to divert the mean energy into nice energy. I think sometimes he doesn't know how to deal with his emotions so the only way he knows is to hit. I also do timeouts. I know you said they didn't work for you, and they don't always work for us but I do believe that he does get the idea a little bit. I had to do them for a long time before I saw any result!
As far as the store issue, we have the exact same problem, only I live in town so I don't have the long drive. But my son hates any kind of drive in the car. We bought a portable dvd player and that has been our saving grace!! He doesn't mind the car ride at all anymore, and no more struggling to get him in his carseat!! We just keep a steady supply of dvd's!! As for in the store, I just let him cry and he now usually will just give up but there is times..... I usually try to make sure he is hungry when we go, and get him a happy meal to eat while we shop. He loves drinking a pop from a fast food place so I just get him a sprite sometimes and he's good to go!! Anything to munch on and let him sit in the big part of the cart. I don't know if you shop at Target, but they have popcorn for $1 and my son thinks that is just awesome to get that! Food seems to be the only thing that keeps him busy long enough to shop!! Hope some of that helps!! Just remember when he does act up, everyone that has kids has been there, your not the only one!! He'll eventually grow out of all of this!! I always look around when I'm out, and realize that not too many people go to stores with kids that are their ages!! LOL

Hello M.,
My son is 2 1/2 so a little older than your son. He definitely did these same things -- all though throwing (more like HEAVING things) at people was almost worse than hitting. I have read in so many books that when your child isn't getting enough sleep or his nap/bedtime is not consistent, it results in bad behavior. I have certainly noticed this with my son. When I am super consistent with his nap times (at the same time every day), and his bed time, and establishing a consistent routine for everything, his behavior would be dramatically different than when I faced days with the "wing it" approach. We definitely tried the "special treats" approach -- a jar of fruit snacks on top of the fridge -- "if you get into your stroller without a fit when we're done at the park, you can have a special treat when we get home". This really did work a lot of times. Just the promise of a special treat would change his mind about a big fit. Then when we got home, it would be a big deal about getting the treat, choosing the color, etc. If you're okay with the bribing thing, maybe try putting some "special treats" in your purse and when he's in the store throwing a fit, offer him a special treat if he stops. You can buy those "Treetop" brand fruit snacks at Costco that are 100% natural -- no dyes, preservatives, etc so it's not like giving them candy. That's what I give him. I felt bad about the bribing thing at first, but I came to the conclusion, that maybe it is more like a reward for good behavior -- makes me feel better anyhow. :)

Hope that helps!

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