22 answers

Help! My 18 Month Old Son Is Mean!

My youngest son is almost 18 months old and he is very physically aggressive. He hits, bites, pinches, pulls hair, and throws toys at people (mostly at me and my older son). I don't know what/if anything I can do. I have tried "redirecting" his attention. It does not work. He just laughs and goes right back to whatever he was doing. Can I give him time out? Does he even understand what he's doing? I have been injured several times by this child and am very frustrated.

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You bet you can give him a time-out. The key is do it in a calm, yet firm way.
Explain: This is the rule. You broke the rule. You go in time out.
Don't give him the reaction he is looking for by showing him he has upset you in any way. Yes, that is hard, but you need to, or it won't work.

I have been there. It is VERY frustrating because you don't know where on earth this behavior is coming from.

K.,

My daughter is 17 months and does similar things. She'll tackle her big brother, "bite" him while giving kisses, jump on us when we're laying on the floor. The list goes on and on.

When she was throwing toys we'd take them away telling her: no throw toy. She doesn't throw the toys anymore.

When she bites we flick her in the mouth and tell her: no biting. It's not a hard flick and doesn't leave a red mark, but it does get her attention.

When she's bothering her brother she usually gets to sit in a lap or placed in her room with the door mostly closed.

You can give a time out, but it's more about putting them in a different room than discipline (at least for us).

For the hitting, biting, pinching, and all that the best way to handle it is to firmly stop the negative behavior and firmly in the Mommy Voice say no bite/pinch/pull. If you're consistent when it happens and stop it from escalating it should stop soon.

Hope this helps,
M.

More Answers

Without knowing too much about the situation, something immediately comes to mind. I taught preschool in a one year old room and have periodically encountered "mean" kids who demonstrate those same behaviors. I have often found that these kids are not really mean, just frustrated because of boredom. your son may be slightly developmentally ahead and need more stimulation from things you might ordinarily do with an older child. Try getting him engaged in things you might think are to "old" for him, such as using small pitchers to pour one colored food coloring tinted water with another and watching the mixture change colors, for example. if he is truly interested in his environment, he will manipulate, create, experiment, and discover rather than spend time throwing things and pinching. Make it a project just for him. Sure, this will mean extra work for you, but it will be worth it to end his frustration.

2 moms found this helpful

Kid's at this age don't know their own power and how bad it hurts when they do things. Time outs can work for some kids when properly enforced but with some kids they have to feel what they are doing to other people. When he bites, bite him back. Show him it isn't fun to be on the other end of aggressive behavior.

1 mom found this helpful

HI K. - I read through your responses, and noticed that one mama quoted a study about children being in daycare being more aggressive. hogwash. I think that it is hard to have a mama working full time ( I work full time as a nanny for another family), but that does NOT lead to aggression. He may be trying to get your attention. But, if you are only saying, no no here play with this truck.....he is thinking "SWEET!! If I hit my brother, I get a truck!" oops, that's not what you are trying to say! Or if you say "NO hitting!" as you are slapping his hand, he is not going to understand that you can hit, but he can't.
I agree with the other mama's who wrote that it's all about consistency. Baby's his age absolutely understand time-outs! Pick a really boring spot in your house, away from everyone, with no fun things to look at (fish, TV, other siblings) and let him know that that is the time out spot. Tell him he will be going there for inappropriate behavior. When he is naughty say, "I am sorry that you chose to throw toys, mama told you that that is NOT okay. YOu must go and sit in time out" Then take him there. if he gets out, put him back. When his timeout is over, get down to his level and tell him, "Mama loves you, but it is not okay to throw toys at people, that hurts. Can you please say you are sorry?" Hugs and kisses to let him know you love him, jus not his behavior.
It's hard mama, I know, my almost 3 year old can be very difficult still, but it's our jobs, tiring as it may be, to show them how to be good little boys and girls!!
Good Luck! L.

1 mom found this helpful

I know this is not how we bring up our children today, but still thought I will share my grandmothers method with you. When any of her grandchildren would bit her (I believe most children go through such a phase) she would immediately take their arm and bite back, not so hard as to do any damage but enough for the child to know that this hurts. Our family story tells that none of us ever bit her again.

1 mom found this helpful

HI, I urge you watch tv program called nanny911 or supernanny. It interests many, many different children's behavior. How it communicate and disciple with your children when your child has been acting aggressive, bite, throwing, temper, etc. Your child need time out to be alone for 5 to 10 mins and talk with your child, example: do you know why your child is time out. If your child respond yes, then you explain dont do that as wrong, hurt family and friends. more communicate open and if your child is repeat and you have to put your child time out... I hope it helps your child improve behavior.

K.

Hi!

Oh boy. Physical aggression can be pretty scary - we did this with my son. Have you looked into any "sports" or kids activities? I know in my area they have musical classes, dancing classes, and soccer even for so young of a guy.

And yes time out can be administered, but you have to be very firm. He sounds like a tester and will probably try to get up to push your buttons. We have a special seat that is "time out chair" away from play area, tv, or anything else fun. The kids have learned now that when I say timeout there is no ifs, ands or buts, but it took sticking to my guns. He understands way more than you think.

If all else fails you can schedule a behavorial appointment with your peditrician. I had to do this with my son and it turned out his aggrevation was a part of a communication disorder.

I hope something in here can help a little bit at least.

I think you can probably start time out - usually a minute per year in age after you make a big point in saying a word he understands, like OWIE. It will take multiple times before he finally understands that one is connected to the other, but it will be good for your older son to see him being punished just as he would for bad behavior. But keep in mind that your youngest probably isn't mean - he's not going to start killing small animals in the tool shed and progress to becoming the I5 corridor killer or anything. He probably just realized that it got him attention from Mom - good or bad, it's all attention in his eyes. So be sure to reinforce gentle touches with positive attention. Good luck!

You bet you can give him a time-out. The key is do it in a calm, yet firm way.
Explain: This is the rule. You broke the rule. You go in time out.
Don't give him the reaction he is looking for by showing him he has upset you in any way. Yes, that is hard, but you need to, or it won't work.

I have been there. It is VERY frustrating because you don't know where on earth this behavior is coming from.

It's definitely time to read "Making the Terrible Twos Terrific" by John Rosemond. He explains why they turn terrible and how to get them under control, and says that the terrible twos start around 18 months. On the other hand, studies show that children in daycare full time are more likely to be aggressive than kids at home with their mommies. That book would definitely help you get the bull by the horns, though. You can find it cheap on amazon.com. The longer you wait to get him under control the harder it will be.

He absolutely understands what he is doing and I think for sure he is old enough for a time out- a minute and a half. I would first warn him what the consequences will be if he does it again, show him the time out spot and then follow through. Also, tell him hitting (pinching, biting, etc.) hurts and he doesn't have the right to hurt people. Tell him that pinches are for salt in a recipe, biting is for food, balls are for throwing, if he wants hit, give him a baseball and bat or golf clubs (perhaps an activity he can share with his brother) and so on. I always took things away from my children when they mis-used them, yes, even their hands-you could hold his hands behind his back during his minute and a half time out. Have him brush your hair and while he's doing it, tell him "This is a nice way to treat hair", comment how you like how he's throwing the ball (outside, of course) and that he's using it the way it's designed to be used. Once he's heard all this and he understands it all (won't take long, just tell him about the stuff) your one line could be "Do the right thing!" or "that's not the way it was designed to be used"
In my opinion, re-directing is over-rated, it's like turning your back and pretending it didn't happen. They need to be taught and after all, we are their first teacher. (And I'm their second, so it needs to be nipped in the bud before he goes off to pre-school or Kindergarten, as I know children who have been kicked out for these types of behaviors)
Good luck and two mottoes I live by are "Prepare for the worst and it won't happen, but if it does, you'll be prepared." And of course "This too, shall pass!" Although in your case, this last one will require a little time and stamina.
~Mary~

Wow, you are facing a tough situation.... I am so sorry! As a student of Early Childhood Education, (as well as a Mother and a preschool teacher,) I can tell you that your son probably cannot really comprehend other people's pain yet. He is still at a very egocentric age, and some children grasp this concept sooner than others. Still, you can give him consequences for his actions. He may not fully understand that Mommy and brother can feel pain just like he can, but he can understand that Mommy said no hitting/biting/pulling hair, etc. I am supposing you have told him "No" when he does these things and that his brother reacts with displeasure when they occur. What you are describing is normal for many children, yet completely inappropriate to allow. There are three types of parents. There are authoritarian parents, permissive parents, and authortative parents. Authoritarian parents have high expectations, but give little or no affection to their children. Permissive parents have little expectations, and the affection part varies. (This group is actually divided into two subgroups, those who are affectionate without expectations, and those who are relatively disengaged altogether...neglectful.) The third category of parents, (authoritative,) has high expectations as well as being generous with affection. This is the type of parent or caregiver that experts recommend we all stive to be. *whew* that was a long-winded way for me to say that it is not only acceptable to have high expectations for your children, but it is recommended. Just because your son is young and "doesn't know better" doesn't mean he should be allowed to make life frustrating for the rest of the family. The sooner he is able to connect the aggressive behavior with consequences, the shorter-lived this stage will be. I will be praying for you! :) Blessings to you and yours!

Parenting can be very hard, but he needs to have consequences for his actions! He is definately old enough to understand that. Time out is a great thing! But you have to stand firm on it and not waver. He has to understand if he acts that way he "will" get in trouble. He might be needing your attention also. But if you are not consistent every time it will not work. And being consistent is very difficult, but it is for his best interest or it will just get worse the older he gets!
Mother of 3

My youngest also had troubles with aggression at that age. Your son is too young to understand that he is hurting you and his brother but he is old enough to understand consequences for his behavior. If he gets aggressive he is definately old enough for a time out. Just be consistent, immediate, and firm. Make sure his child care provider knows what you are doing and echos it.

Always trust your instincts...you sound like a great Mommy! Hang in there!

<laughing> I started putting my son on timeout before he was 1. Cribs are WONDERFUL for this.

I would explain what was wrong, & what the consequence would be, and then scoop up (with an "expression", and not a happy one on my face), and deposit him in his crib. I'd leave the door open so he could see me going about my buisness. At this age time out was EITHER for a minute or two, or until he STARTED "calming down"...yep sometimes he went in his crib in full redface scream mode. When he would start calming down, I'd praise him for it.

Before getting him out of the crib I put a big smile on my face and would remind him why he was put there; "You went on timeout because you hit Susie Derkins. We DO NOT hit our friends. You can come out now, as long as you're playing nice." If he was mean he went right back in.

Same for the park. Even if we JUST got there and he (threw woodchips, hit, tried to run away...anything that was a definite rule...home we went.) Essentially, everything fun ENDS when you break big rules in our house. Either for a few minutes, or totally. If we had to leave the park we didn't go back that day (& I'd remind him why), in the house sometimes certain toys (like the one he hit someone with) would go on timeout for the rest of the day...but HE would only be on "timeout" for a few minutes when he was reeeeaallly young, to up to 20 now that he's 6.

By 18 mo I would ask him if he remembered why he went on timeout. These answers are sometime illuminating. More often then not I'd have to respond "No, you're not in here because of X, you're in here because of Y."

By 2, not only did he have to be able to tell me WHY he was on timeout but "help" me come up with solutions and alternatives.
This was when he also started putting HIMSELF on timeout (usually on the stairs or a couch), when he started to feel his temper getting out of control.

This whole process continues to grow and evolve....but yes. You can DEFINATELY put an 18mo old on timeout. They understand far more then you might think.

~Z

K.,

My daughter is 17 months and does similar things. She'll tackle her big brother, "bite" him while giving kisses, jump on us when we're laying on the floor. The list goes on and on.

When she was throwing toys we'd take them away telling her: no throw toy. She doesn't throw the toys anymore.

When she bites we flick her in the mouth and tell her: no biting. It's not a hard flick and doesn't leave a red mark, but it does get her attention.

When she's bothering her brother she usually gets to sit in a lap or placed in her room with the door mostly closed.

You can give a time out, but it's more about putting them in a different room than discipline (at least for us).

For the hitting, biting, pinching, and all that the best way to handle it is to firmly stop the negative behavior and firmly in the Mommy Voice say no bite/pinch/pull. If you're consistent when it happens and stop it from escalating it should stop soon.

Hope this helps,
M.

I suggest two things.
1. To limit his "attention reward"... The first time he behaves inappropriately, tell him you don't want to play with someone who hurts you, set him down, and leave (out of line of sight). When he comes to find you (because you are his greatest reward) love him up and ask him if he wants to give you hugs/loves/kisses. If he hurts you again, immediately set him down and leave. Repeat as necessary. Be consistant.
2. If you can see that his behavior is a result of frustration or emotions he doesn't understand well, acknowledge his emotion (Did you pinch your finger? That must really make yo umad/hurt)and give him alternates (hit his own fist, say ARG! like a pirate, Use his words "I'm sad/mad/etc."

K.- For children this age, weather they understand or not is not really relevant. They will learn soon enough what is okay and what is not. 18 mo. olds are learning by cause and effect. If they do something and are rewarded, they will learn they will want to do it again. If they do something and receive a consequence....weather that is a time out, slap of the hand and a firm no etc….. they will soon learn that this particular behavior is not worth it or rewarding. I’d suggest that whatever your son throws, he looses for that day. He also needs to learn that he needs to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Obviously at this age you are doing most of the talking, but you are demonstrating this to him. If he is aggressive to another child, you need to tell him firmly… “NO….that is not okay behavior.” Go consol the child that was hurt, make sure he/she is okay and tell them you are sorry that so-and-so hurt them and that it was not okay to do that. Then ask them if they can forgive so-and-so. Have your son be involved as much as possible and possibly give that child a hug. Children will push and push. You must be consistent and let them know that you mean business and you will not back down. He wants to know the limits and he is experimenting with them- and with you at this point. The more consistent you can be the better. My suggestion is pick a method and stick with it. So many times when parents try several different methods, their children either learn to be persistent because they know their parent has a breaking point and desire to push that or that it doesn't matter what parents say now, parents will budge eventually. It also creates confusion. This is the hardest part of parenting....consistent discipline! I think we all struggle with it. The biggest thing is to not give up even if we mess up. (Being a perfect parent does not always mean you raise perfect children and imperfect parents can raise great kids.) Consistent discipline is the greatest gift you can give your child. They love the security they receive from it and the predictability. Just remember never to choose something that you are not willing to follow through with (which is really hard especially when you get desperate!). Good luck! May the Lord give you strength during this trying time!  Sorry I was a little long winded! What’s new?!

HI-
Usually kids at 18 months are really not aware of their power, but it is never to early to start working with him. They really like to see what happens when they do things, so yes they know they are doing it, they just don't fully understand that it hurts others. Redirection didn't/doesn't work well in our house so I came up with an alternate solution. When my daughter would bite me, I would tell her "no biting, please, kisses instead" and I would kiss her. Or "no hitting please, gentle pats please" and show her how to be gentle. Same with hair pulling. She still occassionally does it, but is much more gentle now. My daughter would tell me she was going to do it too. She would say "bite" and then bite me and then laugh. I couldn't even believe it. Anyhow, be consistent and persistant and hopefully it will begin to slow down.
I don't think 18 months is too early for time out, but don't expect for it to work at all like it should for a long time. You can designate a spot, put your son there for no longer than 1 min if he will stay at all. Tell him why you put him there and walk away. He will probably get up, but that is expected this young. I would then pick him back up, go back to the same spot and repeat why he is there and then ask him to say sorry (if he is talking or maybe just give a hug to apologize) and then let him go. I currently have to use a booster chair for my daughter since she is almost 2 and can understand time out and that is the only way I can currently keep her in one spot for 1 min.
Hope this gives you a little help.

- Great question, K.-- as a 40 years teacher ( mostly with preschoolers -) and mom/grandmom to 6 fabulous people now ranging in age from 3 years ( youngest grandaughter so far :-))) ) to 37 ( oldest daughter) - little guys are my business. I've now opened a preschool so I can continue working with these fabulous little wonders.

He's likely not mean- he's just incredulous at how much POWER he has. Little guys have none when they are born- and with an older sibling who can walk and talk - and so SOOOO much that your 18 month old either can't do at all- or must struggle to master- now he's found POWER. What you need to do is make hurting people clearly linked in his mind with instant boring. You need to give him a-close-as-humanly possible instant response along the lines of ''you hit-- you sit''' - you say this as flat,uninteresting, boring as you can. Put him either in a small, empty corner with nothing on the walls - and just a cushion to sit on - you sit him down and use your body to passively keep him there - once he's sat for 15-20 seconds without screaming or hitting - you say in a happy, animated way -- GREAT you are ready to play -- oh that's so nice!!! -- Let's -------- --- '' Once he's complied- and 20 seconds is fine for the first time- you are working toward one minute of quiet sitting- but he can't do it the first time--- once he's given in- you are lively, upbeat - your normal self -but when he is aggresive- you are not only unavailable ( you give him no eye contact- no words - nothing when he is acting out- that's crucial) - because his time with you is limited-= and he COVETS more time/interaction/intensity with you. So you will teach him over the next few weeks that when he misbehaves his attention from you shrinks down to a flat, uninteresting little crumb--- but when he is complying/ playing nicely/ touching kindly-- -WOW - you look right at him, and smile, and give him TONS of approval. It will work ( not the first day- but very soon)

Blessings- he's not mean, I am sure- he is just giddy with this new power

Old Mom
aka J.

Yep, that sounds about right. It is the funniest thing-- at this age they are nasty little critters, but so darn cute at the same time (take a look when he is asleep if you aren't seeing it now). As parents we are expected to keep them alive and teach them better *sigh*.

At this age I find it best to pick them up and hold them in a time out. Also talk to them about nice behavior when you are having nice moments together, such as dinner, coloring together, bathtime, playdough time. Act things out with stuffed animals and make him the stuffed animal that is getting hurt. They don't understand empathy at this age, but there is a occational hint of self-preservation. Best of luck Momma!!

My daughter has done something similar off and on and we have discovered a direct correlation to behavior and her nervous system. The fact that massage helps tells me that your son is in a reactive mode to the environment and expressing what is going on inside him. I am suggesting this idea in addition to all the other great comments. In my experiecne with my daughter, when her nervous system is in a rested, balanced state, she can be bored, want her own way, etc and not be reactive. However, if she is overly tired,on sensory overload
or too much going on, she reacts with her body. That is my signal that she needs an appt with the Occupational Therapist.
(a good person to check with at age 3 if he is still reactive). If there was one thing that I could suggest from an complementary medicine viewpoint, would be accupressure with someone trained in accupunture. They could teach you places to press on the body to help with calming and balance.
in my experience, this is something that doesn't improve with age and will continue to show up in different ways. The earlier the nervous system gets help, the easier things become. My daughter bite a child in preschool at age 3 as a way to show frustration. We immediatly took her to someone that knew cranial sacral work and he said her spine was out of alignment (possible too much sitting in the car seat) and reacting like she did was understandable. The rest of the year went just fine. Wishing you the best in finding what works with your son. Mom's intuition is the best! :)

Hi! My son is also 18 months old and he is definitely old enough for time-outs. We've been doing them for a couple of months now. He completely understands that he is in trouble and while he is in time-out I make sure and talk to him about why he is sitting there...so hopefully he understands why he is in trouble. :) A good guideline for the amount of time in time-out is the child's age. So, a minute and a half for a year and a half old child. We also make our child fold his hands in his lap while in time-out. This way he knows he is not allowed to play or touch anything while in trouble. After a time-out our son usually does not do the bad behavior again, so it works for us. After the time-out is over I again talk to my son about what he did wrong and usually end with a hug or telling him I love him. He hates getting in trouble so this makes him feel better and helps us both to move on after the punishment.

I hopet his helps-good luck!

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