16 answers

Strange Toddler Behavior...HELP!

I'm at a loss what to do about my 2 year old's recent strange behavior. This past week, he has been very resistant to going to bed and he gags himself (sticks his fingers down his throat) to make himself throw up. The first couple of nights, we would go in the room and have to change him and the bedding. He would think it was funny and of course was getting the attention he wanted. Last night I was at my wits end, and when he made himself throw up (several times, mind you!), I didn't clean it up and he slept in it all night. This was such a lovely sight in the morning, let me tell you. I don't know what to do. I am thinking of offering him an incentive if he doesn't throw up (stickers, etc.). Any one else have some ideas?? HELP!! I'm totally stressing out and I really appreciate all of the wonderful you mommies provide!

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Wow, I received such a wide spectrum of responses, and it was so helpful. I felt like such a bad mother after I didn't clean his crib, and I still feel guilty to this day! I asked myself the question, "What does my son need from me that he isn't getting?", as I figured his gagging was his way of showing me that he needed attention from mommy. I truly think that my son was showing some jealousy toward our 7 month old son. My husband and I have now pushed my toddler's bedtime later by a half-hour and both of us spend snuggly time with him. We read three stories, then it is bed time. This has worked like a CHARM the past three nights!! No gagging, no struggles. Such a simple solution, yet I was too stressed out to see it clearly. Thank you again, everyone...thank you!!!

Featured Answers

I think it's attention-getting behavior. And, remember, it's only been a few days. That's nothing.

I like Shane's idea, it's a good one, and I don't like punitive ideas like cold showers. (I tried a cold hose on one son once for pooping his pants, and I regret it.)

More Answers

Definitely consider how your daily routine may be affecting your son's ability to cope, as well as what impact the new sibling may be having. Up until now, the new baby was just that, and probably not as much of a threat as he is now that he's beginning to get around on his own more. I remember, even though there were 7 1/2 years between me and my sister, that when she was about a year old and beginning to be able to get into my things and 'bug' me, I thought for a while that I despised her... this same sweet baby sister that I couldn't wait to have be born the year before.
Don't use the cold shower approach. Just think what your reaction would be if you did something your husband didn't like and he shoved you under a cold shower to get your attention... not a pretty sight at all! I agree with the ideas that have been given to minimize your reaction to the boy gagging himself, and giving more attention outside of the situation. Someone has suggested that perhaps you need a more structured bedtime routine and that is a good possibility. It doesn't have to be elaborate, nor long, but just a routine that he can depend on night after night and know he has your total attention for that period of time just before he goes to bed. If possible, include your husband and the baby in the routine, but definitely work it out so that the baby is not included for part of that time, in order that your son can feel specially loved all by himself too. That may mean mom has a few minutes with him while dad watches the baby, and then trade off. Or you might have mom's night and dad's night and trade off that way. Whatever works out well for you and helps your little guy get over this habit and feel loved and protected.

1 mom found this helpful

I think it's attention-getting behavior. And, remember, it's only been a few days. That's nothing.

I like Shane's idea, it's a good one, and I don't like punitive ideas like cold showers. (I tried a cold hose on one son once for pooping his pants, and I regret it.)

so normal. My son, who is now 3, used to do this all the time. There have been previous posts about this and you'd be surprised at how many kids do this. First find out why he doesn't want to go to bed. I would also put him to bed and read him a story or sit with him for a few minutes. I feel bad that you had him sleep in it. Poor guy, my son did this a lot, but we never had him sleep in it, that is like when a dog poops in the house and then you rub his nose in it, doesn't work and humiliates him.

This is common for kids and a phase he will grow out of. Until then you need to not get mad, not let him sleep in it, and just deal. The less of a deal we made out of it, after he would gag himself, we would clean him and the mess up and go on like nothing happened. Eventually he stopped because it didn't change anything. It was a pain, but he was 2 and it was his way of communicating. Remember 2 year olds can't always express why they are upset and show it by throwingup, banging their heads, being mean etc.

Also, with a new baby, this his hard on kids for a while I would give him extra attention and love andhis own time with you and your husband. I bet that would make a difference.

Stop stressing, it will stop soon and this is the first of many, not fun things you and your children will got through. You can try and discipline him for it, but it won't change it. Good luck.

He may be getting his two year molars. Our son did this when he was 15 months old and we talked to the pediatrician about it and that is what the pediatrician told us at that time. They are bothering him but he doesn't understand the pain, discomfort and it is itchy as well so his way of dealing with it and trying to get to the discomfort is to gag himself. Good luck!

Hi T. - this sounds like strange behaviour indeed..... It must be very tiring to keep changing the sheets.

The only thoughts that I have are to look at it in the bigger picture of your son's whole day..... is he getting special 1:1 time with you during the day? Could he possibly be jealous of the baby? Maybe he has seen the baby spitting up / throwing up and you fussing over him?

Also - you say your house is very crazy and busy.... is it possibly winding your son up too much?

You could try introcuding a little gentle massage as part of his bedtime routine to help him calm down and fall naturally into sleep? Some gentle aromatherapy in his bath... like chamomile... or some music at bedtime.... to help him transition from going from 100mph to "OK - go to sleep now"

Good luck! Another Mom :-)

This sounds tough for you. Kids are so determined to get attention and control--they will do Anything in their tiny toolbox! Think of how little experience they have expressing their needs and negotiating for what they need and want.

Have you asked him why he does not want to go to bed? He may not know so you might have to think of some ideas...jealous of little bro? Scared of being alone? Nightmares? Just not tired? At just this age my daughter gave up napping and bedtime became so much easier for her. Do you think he'd do better without a nap?

Maybe it's time for a later bedtime. If he could help decide on a later time (give him choices to pick from) maybe he'd regain that sense of control over his life without the drama?

Maybe he'd like to sleep with you in the family bed in exchange for giving up the vomiting behavior?

I don't think his behavior is strange if you think about it from a control point of view. That's what two year olds are often said to be all about--autonomy and control. You could think of your son as precocious for hitting upon such a dramatic way to get attention! Maybe reframing the situation for yourself will defuse it a little and begin draining it of the power it currently has in the family. Then it wouldn't be nearly as fun for your son. ;)

Good luck and let us know how it goes.


I had a little girl I used to babysit for who did that too. I just had to get really stern with her and do somewhat like tv Nanny does with time outs. I'd stand at the door right after I put her down for naps and as soon as I heard her gagging herself, I'd walk in the room, rather abruptly which would startle her a bit, and with no words, no eye contact and a cold wash cloth in my hand I'd wipe her face and hand and walk out. I made sure she had nothing in the bed but a sheet on the mattress to minimize the mess. And if she still managed to throw up I would leave her and make a big deal about how messy it was and not a nice thing to do to the bed. I made it real clear to her that I was not happy. But as soon as we left the room I would drop it and let her have a nice happy time, and was loving and kind and fun. I dont want anyone to think I was a big monster and punished her for hours on end. Just at the moment, I made sure she didnt enjoy my attitude. She didnt do this gross habit long. Maybe thats why. My only other suggestion is, buy some little ski gloves,or boxing gloves. Get really thick, stiff ones and put them on your son with long sleeves over them and duct tape around his wrists to the shirt so he cant pull them off. He wont be able to get those in his mouth to gag himself and maybe he will stop. Im half joking about that, but who knows,, it might help!

I would talk to your child's pediatrician. Definitely.

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