2 1/2 Yr Old Acting Out

Updated on August 31, 2008
J.M. asks from San Ramon, CA
10 answers

My 2 1/2 yr old has started within the past 3 weeks or so crawling around and crying like a baby to get attention. I spend equal amounts of time with all my children and am always playing with them, reading books or doing activities with them. My daughter is 10 months old now so I am surprised that he has waited until now to regress. When he gets mad he yells and throws toys. He also likes to push her down or he will lay on her to take any toy she is playing with away from her. What is strange is he is so sweet to anyone else he is playing with, just not her. When I send him to his room for a time out he throws things at the door or hits me. When I take away whatever he throws at me, he throws something else and then it begins to be a game for him because he will start laughing. I tried putting him in the high chair for a time out but he rocks it and I am afraid he will tip it over and hurt himself. I have tried timeout on our stairs but I almost have to sit on him to get him to stay seated for the timeout. I have also tried holding him and standing in the corner, but then he will throw his head backwards and hit me in the face with the back of his head. Yeah, not fun!! I chose the room because it gives him time to cool down and me time to cool down on those days he is really being a toad. I am frustrated and my sitter is getting frustrated. I am not sure what is an appropriate punishment that he will learn from. I know I am consistent with punishments and I know my sitter is as well. Any ideas welcomed. Thank you for your time.

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answers from Sacramento on

I don't really have any experience w/ a younger sibling b/c I have twins that re 2 1/2 years old....but I tell you watch Supernanny and you will get great hints that really do work. Be as consistent as you can w/ the time outs and it really will work in a place that doesn't have the distractions of toys, games, etc. Good luck and hang in there...you will get through this together.

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answers from San Francisco on

The most effective time-outs with my son at that age were when I removed all interaction between him and myself--that way he didn't get any attention from me for his negative behavior. Here are a few ways it looked at my house:
--I had a child gate at the kitchen entrance, so I would close it between us (didn't matter safety-wise which side he was on), and I refused to look at him or talk to him for two minutes (or one minute when he was one). He would inevitably stand at the gate crying and trying to interact somehow with me.
--Or, since my bathroom was a also child-safe place, one of us would go into the bathroom during the time-out.
--Or, if it happened in the car or store (he was strapped into his carseat or shopping cart), I would tell him he was on a time-out and refuse to look at or talk to him even though he was right there.

The two minutes would seem like an eternity because he would cry and carry on and shout for me to look at him, but I stood firm and watched the second hand go by. As soon as two minutes were finished, I would look at him again and explain again why the behavior was unacceptable, remind him not to repeat it, have him say he was sorry, and give him a hug.

I'm not sure how your house is set up, but if there are no safety issues in your son's room, and the things he can get at to throw won't really hurt anything (you could put those on a higher shelf), then you could try putting him there--BUT ignore the tantrum and throwing. It gives him attention for the negative behavior, and that will actually reinforce it instead of eliminating it.

So that was the key to time-outs for me--removal of interaction, rather than a specific place that he had to sit.

One more thing, about sharing toys with his baby sister....It will be good if you can give him words to say when he wants the toy. We do a lot of "scripting" at our house (mine are 21 months apart). I would make my son say "let's trade", and he would have to trade to get what he wanted from his baby sister, and then I would answer for sister "ok, here you go." When they were a little older it was "may I have a turn in 1 minute?", and the timer would be turned on, and when it rang I made my daughter give up the toy and said for her "it's your turn now, can I have a turn again in one minute?" We've gotten more advanced than that now that they are 5 and 7, but it made my son feel like he had words to say and that his baby sister wasn't always at the advantage with having whatever she wanted.

Best wishes. Hope you find some strategies that work for you.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Your 2 year old is getting way too much attention for his behavior. Kids seek out attention in any form when they want it. Negative or positive- they'll take what they can get. He has no reason to stop his behavior when he is engaging you so deeply.

Make sure the baby get the most attention when he hurts her. Tell him sternly "NO! Hurting people is not okay." Then pick up the baby and walk away from him. Go into another room with her and shut the door if you have to. Give her hugs and kisses and lots of lovies because she doesn't deserve to be picked on.

Pick a time when he is not attacking his sister and tell him hitting his sister is wrong, it hurts, and if he hurts her he will have to sit on the timeout. Put him there next time he hurts her. Say, "You are sitting here because you hurt your sister." Walk away. If he gets up put him back and say nothing. Keep putting him back there and walking away. Don't get mad, don't engage with him. Be very matter of fact. Don't restrain him. If he kicks you ignore it because he is trying to get attention and engage you. Say nothing and walk away. He will probably have a full on tantrum. He may even test you and get up 20 times. Each time just plop him back down and walk away. When he finally gives in and sits there, give him time to cool off. Then go over and say, "You are sitting here because you hurt your sister and that is not okay." Tell him you want an apology. After he apologizes to you give him a big hug and take him to his sister to apologize and give her a gentle hug. Give him lots of positive attention for being so sweet and gentle with her.

Once you establish that he is isn't going to get anywhere he will stop testing you and you will have a successful time-out place. Be consistent. If you let him out of it even once he will see that he has power and will push even harder. It helps to have support from someone else so one of you can be on time-out duty while the other one is managing the rest of the household. Most of the time there is only one of us around though so just keep with it. I hope it gets better soon!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Jen, I don't think any situation can be more frustrating: you have a child who is hurt and a child who is causing hurt, and I imagine that you're experiencing both fear and sorrow about one child, and anger at the other~all at the same time! An encouraging few words: it won't last forever! Your children will grow through this and will be playing together happily in another year. They'll end up as great friends as adults. This is just a tough time, and it will pass!
Children hurt others when they are hurting inside, often out of jealousy. You are doing the right thing to give each child equal time, but your little boy isn't old enough to realize that: and he wants it all, now! When he doesn't get what he wants, he gets fearful or angry and hits the "cause" of his fear, or someone he knows he can over-power (who won't hurt him back). Keep on giving each child equal time, and try this:
If your son hurts his sister, or takes her toy, comfort her and also put your arm around him, pulling him in closely to you. Put your hand on her where she is hurt, and then rub the his hand that did the hitting. Ask him in a calm voice to look at his sister's face and ask him if she's crying, or if she's sad. Then turn to him with full eye contact and ask him what can we do to help your sister feel happy, how can we make it better, etc? You might have to make suggestions in the beginning: shall we get her some ice, shall we give her a toy?? make it a definite action, as opposed to an apology which are abstract words (children this age learn by movement and action).
Teaching your son that her can help those he may have hurt will help him to heal his own hurt. Using your own power to hurt someone else can be a very scary feeling, and perpetuate bad behavior. Resolving a conflict can overcome that fear, boost self-esteem, and generate loving and positive behavior.
You also might add that you feel so sad when your baby is hurt.
When his sister is feeling better, he can go back to play.
Of course, anticipating and preventing these situations from occurring is the best strategy. Is there a time of the day, or place, or with certain toys that this happens? Be extra vigilant then and teach some loving interactions at these moments: would you like to pick out a toy for your sister? would you like to pick out her clothes? if you want the toy that she has, let's trade. Children need to be taught how to interact with each other.
Also, your son is probably testing his power and enjoying getting a reaction from his sister and from you. He doesn't intend the meanness of it, he just finds the reactions exciting. Getting dramatic reactions is exciting! Maybe you can add some games or songs to your home life that provide some dramatic outlet for him: throw a ball to him but don't let him know exactly when you will let go, sing some rowdy songs. make funny faces with him. Feed his need for drama and surprise.
And please speak with him every day about using his hands to "help others." Tell him exactly how you want him to treat his sister. Ask him why he pushes (he may or may not have an answer). Children need a lot of repetition, and if he is able to express his feelings verbally, he may not need to express them physically. These talks may fulfill him in a way that the pushing, etc doesn't.
Punishment does not work. It may seem to work, but in the long run it builds up resentment. Punishing a child may cause the behavior to stop, but inside the child is seething and vowing to get even someday (or right away, ie throwing his toys in his room).
I would not recommend it at all; if you want him to move away from his sister for her own safety, use a distraction, or simply say that your sister needs a break from him and he needs to play somewhere else for a while.
I think that it is a good development that your son is "playing baby." I would not consider it a regression at all. He is play acting what he sees around him, and trying to understand who his sister is. I would honor it, treat him like a baby for a few minutes if he wants This action from you may even ease up the tension that exists between him and his sister.
I hope that some of these ideas and support helps. Your son WILL outgrow this, and hopefully soon! Good luck in the meanwhile, and be sure to take some time for yourself! G.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Pat yourself on the back first off for all the work you do. Yes, its so hard and you working 3 days a week I can't imagine your schedule. Secondly, I have a 2 month old son and a super active busy little 2.5 yo son who was the center of the world till his baby brother showed up. Now he is learning to share the spotlight and there are good days and bad days. I do the time outs and set the timer for 2 mins. Everytime he gets out of the time out spot he gets another 10 seconds. The one thing that worked for us is telling him over and over when he acts up that he is a Big boy and big boys don't do that. Things like Your a big brother and only the baby does that,(whatever it is you dont' want him to do) We start everything off with your a big boy or big brother and finish out what we don't want him to do. Making him feel very important. My challenage is my husband lives in LA 3 days a week for work so i feel like a single mom a lot and want to drop dead. We also threaten him with time outs which makes him getting one less and less per day sinec he now hates time outs. I agree with some of the responses, What the super nanny does. As i tell myself on hard days. "this too shall pass". Making your son feel important and a part of the process has helped us as the baby gets older. When he helps me dress the baby, change him etc. Sure there are times he starts helping and then removes seconds later but you are including him which makes him know you are still paying attention to him. We tell him Mommy needs your big boy help with baby brother etc.

Good luck.
SAHM, 39 with a super bright active 2.5yo son 2 month old lot of work baby boy. I have my hands full but love being a full time mom and very blessed I don't have to work outside the home. On really difficult days I tell myself I could be dealing with a horrible manager (CEO) which was the type of people i use to report to. LOL

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answers from San Francisco on

I don't have any real advice. I just want to commiserate as the mother of an almost 2.5 year old who sits on, hits with blocks, and pushes over his 7 month old baby brother. It is so exasperating that I feel like I can't leave them out of sight for 20 seconds.

I do time outs (we just set up a lock on his door which means I don't have to leave the baby crying just to correct big brother). I'm experimenting to see if I can generate a little compassion by letting him see my emotions, but I really think the best approach for my two year old is along the lines of 1,2,3 Magic. The emphasis in that "method" is in not engaging with the child when correcting behavior. No games are possible because you just count, don't cajole or explain unless necessary, and don't reward the child with seeing you get angry or with attention. Some collateral damage to the room may be inevitable in certain circumstances.



answers from Fresno on

The timeout in his room is great except it needs to be in a place where he has to think and not have toys or anything to occupy him. They learn very early on how to push our buttons and consistency is the key. You could try the ball and jar thing like supernanny where he would start out with a certain number of balls each week and get one taken away for bad vbehavior and if he has a certain amount left at the end of the week he gets to go with you to get something special.



answers from San Francisco on

I highly recommend "Siblings Without Rivalry" - they are going to be siblings forever, and as they grow and move through new phases, they will find new ways to test your patience :-) If you haven't seen this book before, it has text and a comic book style that illustrate the lesson/point, so it doesn't take forever to read.

Examples they used for handling a young child hurting an even younger sibling were things like channel hostile feelings into symbolic or creative outlets :"show me your feelings with your doll" or express what the child might wish.

Feeling understood is one of the most powerful things for people of any age.



answers from Sacramento on

I have to agree with Meridith M. that time-outs and 'punishment' are counter productive in this situation.
Your 10 month old is at a point of just really getting involved with your 2 1/2 year old. My observations of my 11 month old grandson with his cousins who are 3 and 4 years old, is that he wants to join in their fun, but doesn't yet have the skills to know how to play with them, without disturbing them. They have been quite gentle and loving until recently, but have begun pushing him away because he gets in the way of what they are doing, trys to take toys from them, etc. What I'm trying to do is consistently remind them that he is a 'baby' and doesn't know how to play with them, but is trying to learn from them. I don't allow them to do things to hurt him, but also am watchful for what he may be doing that hurts them. I make sure that they hear me reprimand him as consistently as I do them, and rather than punishing them when they forget and try to handle his disturbances in an incorrect manner, I remind them that I can't allow them to hurt him, then try to find an activity I can re-direct him to for a brief time. The key is constant watch and consistency. Your 2 1/2 year old needs to be re-assured (by actions rather than words) that he is not being replaced by the 'cute' 10 month old. We sometimes don't realize how much more attention we tend to give a younger child, partly because they need more care, and partly just because babies are cute and cuddly. If the 2 1/2 year old indicates he doesn't want to play with his sister, that needs to be validated by allowing him to play alone, or have mommy attention alone for at least a brief time. That may mean saying something like "let mommy take care of sister's diaper ... or whatever, then I'll play with you." but don't forget to follow up immediately. If the phone rings or some other interuption comes up before you get to him, do your best to ignore it and go right to him. No one said being a mommy (or a caregiver) was easy, but the rewards are tremendous... and believe me, in ten years you won't even remember how tough these days were.



answers from Modesto on

It's kind of hard to get a read on a situation from a single snapshot description, but based on my own experiences with our very sensitive now four year old, it sounds like your son is really trying to tell you something. And he's communicating it in the only way that two year olds know how to communicate.

I suspect that time outs and punishment are going to have the opposite effect to what you want. I think he's trying to connect with you and those things only make him feel farther away.

He's learning a pattern of interaction with you (and other adults) here, even though you might not intend for that to happen. He's seeking emotional connection with you, and when it doesn't happen in a positive way, he makes it happen in any way he can - which is to act out and elicit your anger and frustration.

Can you block out some time with your son every day? Have dad or big brother watch the 10 month old. Go out into the yard with your son, or into another room. Sit on the floor with him. Let him direct the play and call all the shots. Give him 20 minutes of just 'him' time. Not in the context of trying to get him to sleep, or at the dinner table, or anything else. Just focused you-and-him time.

I hope and bet that you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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