Issues with 21 Month Old Son

Updated on September 22, 2008
A.P. asks from Morrisville, PA
18 answers

I'm hoping someone can give me suggestions. I'm pregnant with #2, and very hormonal and tired. This is a volatile mix with my 21-month old son, who has suddenly changed from my sweet little boy to a crying, whiny, tantrum-throwing toddler. First, he wakes up very early, sometimes around 5 or 5:30. Sometimes my husband can get him back to sleep before he gets ready for work, but usually not. Then, first thing he wants to watch tv. This has become a bad habit I swore I'd never allow, but it started because I was way too tired for anything else at that hour. He will hardly ever touch his toys--maybe once in awhile, if I sit and play with him. So I allow him to watch 1/2 hour. Then he immediately wants to go outside--it's usually still dark. The whining and crying starts. If I'm sitting down, he grabs my hands and tries to make me get up. If I'm on the computer, which I rarely get time for anymore, he tries to pry my hands off the keyboard. Today I decided to take him out for a run because he wouldn't stop whining and crying--well he threw a tantrum over his box of raisins (for some reason), and then screamed and cried the whole time in the stroller, for 30 minutes, while I ran. Then he fell asleep. I feel like a terrible mom, because I have to restrain myself from screaming or yelling, throwing something in anger (though not at him) or going into a room by myself and locking the door for some peace and quiet. I don't know if this is a sleep issue, behavior issue, excess energy to burn or what. But I'm at the end of my rope sometimes, and feel guilty because I find that I don't enjoy being with my son when he's like this, which is every day lately--I'm also scared of how he's going to act when the baby comes. Has anyone else gone through this? Any suggestions for me?

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answers from New York on

This phase isn't called the "terrible 2's" for nothing,
and my son continues to act that way (now almost 3 1/2 years.

He is getting better, and just started school, but last
night was a huge tantrum,

This is a tough time, it will get better.

Take him to the park, my son loves that and it puts him
in a much better mood.

More Answers



answers from New York on

I feel for you because my twins were (at the age your son is) very early risers and if I were pregnant on top of it, I'd probably lose my mind...

I don't know if he's too young for this (and likely, he might be), but I just bought my twins a clock that glows yellow when it's time for bed and then stays yellow through the night and then I set it to turn green at 6:40. So, even though they can't tell time, they know they cannot wake us up until 6:40 (of course, I'm up for work at 5:15, but on the weekends, I like to sleep a bit longer!)

Here is a link to the clock:

Now my boys (who just turned 3) will say to me: "I waited for green!" So it might be worth a try, although at 21 months, it might not sink in....

I assume he's still in a crib, right? Can you put a soft book in there with him or a crib toy (one of those things that hangs on the sides)?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

Hi momma-

I remember those days, I had a 21 month old when I was pregnant with number two!

I second the putting him to bed earlier. It is strange but they *do* wake up early, wired, when they are put to bed too late- seems like they sleep better when they are well-rested.

This may not meet your needs, but it met mine- a wonderful little book called "Beyond the Rainbow Bridge- Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Age 7". After reading it life in our house took a huge turn for the better- along with another favorite, "Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Compassion" which has revolutionized the way I react to and speak to my kids and how they respond. And even how I react to myself and am able to empathize with my angry feelings and talk myself through them so I can be calm with the kids when they act up (i.e., yesterday my 3 yo became very upset about me throwing out some playdough he submerged in water, and he tried to hit me. I calmed down and said firmly but calmly "mommy feels very angry when my little boy tries to hit me because I need more respect from him" and he looked at me thoughtfully and said "Well, I need a time-out now" and put himself in time-out, then apologized and hugged me! Magic.)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Syracuse on

This sounds a lot like my 20 month old! I also have a 7 month old so I know how tired you are feeling - 5 am is EARLY and is often when we start our day too. I don't stay at home so I get a break which you don't get, I'm sure, but I've lost my cool in pretty uncool ways (yelling, walking away, shutting down). I can't stand whining! Apparently at daycare, my son is a perfect angel almost always, and he saves up the bad behavior for me!!!

I actually learned a lot from reading What to Expect the Toddler Years - about toddlers and controlling my response to the normal toddler behavior. Especially how important it is to set boundaries and let them express their frustration but to love unconditionally. The most successful tactic for us during a bad crying fit (not a tantrum): I tell him I know he's frustrated and explain briefly why it's not going to happen right now, and hold him close, hugging him and telling him I love him. He sometimes struggles against me, but this is the one tactic that consistently calms him and reminds us both how much we love each other. If it's an actual tantrum with the kicking etc., we completely ignore it and don't give in. Distraction is supposed to work but we haven't had success with it very often.

How's your son about routine? Our son is GLUED to routine. If there's a deviation, he becomes totally insane. So we are constantly warning him if something is going to change - "when we get home from work, we're going straight into the house to eat dinner. we're not going to play outside when we get home". Amazingly enough, if I prepare him, he walks right into the house without a fight. Since we started doing this, we've seen a drastic improvement in his behavior and response to change. The other thing I've learned is to minimize the use of "no" by reframing the negative in a positive way (like, "we'll play outside after dinner").

The only other thing I've noticed with us, is that the behavior is 10 times worse when there's a new tooth coming in. We just got our last canine to the surface and had a hellish week - maybe pain is contributing to behavior too.

Good luck! It does get better. And congratulations on #2!



answers from New York on

you have gotten some good advice, but i want to reinterate, never put a baby/child in their crib for time out. that is the absolute worst thing possible to do. you will have made the place he is supposed to feel safe and comfy in, and made it his punishment. he will then become confused and associate it with negativity instead of sleep.

for time outs, you really shouldnt do that until 2 since the comprehension level is just not thier at younger ages. i would say the best thing to do is stop the tv. im sure you know all the negative behaviours associated with it, but the overstimulation in your case is of most concern. i would wonder if he actually is waking up with the anticipation of watching it, and therefore not getting enough total sleep, therefore being more difficult. although i dont like labels, there could be some hyperactivity problems going on, but again, maybe they are situational from the tv watching.

the most important thing is to not give in to the crying. if he pulls your hands, make sure you dont allow it or get up. i know its hard esp being so tired, but the more you give in, the more he will act out. remember, there is NO REASONING with any child when they are actively in a tantrum. do not even try. dont talk to him in any way or react until its over.

try giving him a choice of 2 things. like instead of television, he can either draw or do playdoh- only ever give 2 choices and dont ask what do you want to do. give him all choices, and try to do it before the tantrums start. give a choice of playing in his crib with special toys, or going back to sleep. would he like raisins or fruit. everything is a choice for him.

although i myself arent am not a pro for young children in school, i do believe certain children need to go to school. maybe the schedule of school along with the activities to burn energy will help. i might even consult a doctor if it is that disruptive.

i would really have this addressed, it will only get worse since the baby will be arriving. but i can tell you children at 2 can communicate and comprehend much better. hopefully you will be able to explain things to him better. good luck, im sure its just a phase!!!



answers from Albany on

He sounds like a typical almost 2 year old to me. Sorry, but it is going to get worse before it gets better.

As far as the early am stuff is concerned, do not entertain him if the sun isn't up yet. What i mean by that is he needs to learn that it is way too early for him to be up. Put him back into bed firmly. It may be exhausting because it may take at least a week of repeating this but it will work. And do not turn on the tv. If the above doesn't work for you bring him into your bed and and tell him to go back to sleep & that it is still bedtime. Do not have conversations with him. Shush him when he wants to converse and play. If he gets crazy and whines to go out or for the tv just tell him NO, it's too early give him a warning that if he continues he'll go back to his bed.

Also, when my kids did the 5:30 thing I always put them to bed earlier. For some reason it worked and that unGodly am wake up ceased.

And instead of you doing the running, let him do the running. Fresh air, sunshine and running amok do wonders for their sleeping habits & their behavior.

But all in all, he is almost 2 and 2's are infamously terrible. You are not alone and your child is just doing what he is suppossed to do. Whatever you decide to do to teach him just be firm & consistant.



answers from New York on

Hi A., It seems to me the timing is that your son is entering the terrible 2's at the same time you are beginning your pregnancy. He could be reacting to the way you feel and you cannot control this. If it will help you get some more rest, what would be the harm of letting him watch a little more TV?( you can tape something acceptable) He is not too young to tell him no if he pulls your hands away and you can take him back home when he screams in the stroller. He may just need to go back to sleep. I know moms these days have lots of rules but I would lie down with him and say it is not time to get up yet. You have to do what works for you. Grandma Mary



answers from New York on

Hi A.,
I was at the end of my second pregnancy when my first reached the 17-month mark and let me tell you, it was no picnic! I called a girlfriend of mine who had two boys at the time and she said between 18 months and 2 1/2 years was a very difficult time for her, and I found it to be the same with mine. Once he was potty trained and able to talk to me (closer to 2 1/4) it became MUCH easier. It is VERY hard to be pregnant and taking care of a toddler, but MANY of us have done it and you will survive too. Just know it is a phase and it soon will be over, just as with every other phase. GOOD luck and hang in there!



answers from New York on

Sounds like my 17 month old son! I think he's bored or just wants more of your undivided attention - based on my son's similar behaviors. I suggest just trying to find as many new activities as possible. Sit and read with him, do puzzles with him, make a big deal about everything he does correctly, any activities - I find that if I just sit there with my son while he's doing something that makes him happy. It's funny b/c he will keep looking to make sure I'm paying attention. He'll sit on my lap and then just fall between my legs and he can sit there forever, but if I get up and try to do something else (like go on the computer) or even zone out for a minute he gets upset. Don't get me wrong, he has his independent time too but when he is being difficult I just have to drop everything and focus on him for a while. I think your frustration is from tiredness/hormones and thats normal you just have to overcome it somehow - I'm not pregnant but I work full time so I know I feel like you are describing when I am tired or overwhelmed. Which is usally the week or two before my period when I swear everytime that I AM pregnant b/c of how tired and emotional I am. Just keep trying a variety of activities with him and take the time to really focus on him - not that you don't - but he might realize that you are tired and not 100% and he might be sensitive to that. They don't let us get away with anything!



answers from Albany on

I think the main thing is to remember that he IS only 21 months old but at the same time know you have to work on correcting the behavior. To me, there is a fine line between the two whereas a lot of people seem to either blow it off that they are young or go completely authoritative on them. To me, there has to be a balance at this young age.

Does he still have a crib or a pack and play? If so, when he starts to throw a tantrum, in a quiet, calm tone tell him that nobody responds to that behavior. If he continues to throw a tantrum, remove him from the situation and put him in his crib or pack and play.

Yesterday I was at wits end with my 13 month old because he kept getting into things he shouldn't even though I had them child proofed! He got so blatant about it he would turn around and smile or laugh at me as I told him No touch in a stern voice. I figured he was too young for a time out but I knew I had to remove him from the situation so I told him No touch again as I removed him and then put him in his pack and play which was on the other side of the room. He freaked out. I told him Not nice and to settle down knowing that he isn't really going to understand what I am saying but he WOULD understand not being able to get back to what he was playing with. I was surprised though...he actually figured out that he had to calm down and so when he sat down and quieted, I picked him up and told him what a good boy that was - and no, he wasn't in there for very long but it was more than a minute since I figured it wasn't a technical time out since he was in the same room with us.

Try to be calm and use a calm tone but let him know you aren't going to respond to his tantrums and then as hard as it is, don't. You are right. You do need to get them somewhat under control before the baby comes because you don't want him to freak out and accidentally hit or fall on the baby or drop something on him.

I wish you the best.




answers from New York on

Dear A.,

It sounds like he is not getting enough sleep. When he wakes up at 5 go in tell him night night, lay him back down and leave the room. I am sure he will scream, however if you do this for a few mornings he will eventually stop waking up. I think he may be waking to watch tv. One thing to remember about children is you only have to do things once and it becomes a habit. We all do things when we are tired so don't blame yourself raising children is the most rewarding and tiring job there is. They do not come with a manual unfortunatelly. I think if you stay strong and let him cry it out it will hurt you more than him. I have done it with both of my children and they were both great sleepers as a result. Good luck



answers from New York on

Girl, it's a stage. Our oldest did it at this age, and now our 2O months old is doing the same thing.Very whiny,wants to live:) outside, screams in the stroller, hates when is told no, does not like to share .I was sick as a dog with my second pregnancy when our first was going through this, so I know how you feel. Hang in there. What helped us(a little:)): we put away a stroller and got a car with push handle (made walks much better); put a mattress on the floor,childproofed the room 100% had gate at the door(so when our son woke up too early he was able to play there by himself(ours also had to have a drink when he woke up so I left a sippy cup before going to bed with ice by the gate). Ours watched way more that 1/2 hour of TV , but you know what...I did what I had to do ,at least it was educational.
I had nobody to ask ,but if you have family/close friends close by ask for them to take your son for a little bit so you can take a break.I also would lay on the floor with a pillow and play with him with cars ,little people ect.We also brought outside in(playhouse, climbing toys with slide......yes our livingroom looked like a playground, but hey it worked......if you have a small space you might want to try Little Tikes bouncer that can be stored away when you're done(sanity saver for me even now)). I wish I can tell you it will get better.....Our second was born when his brother was 23 months......he had very hard time adapting to the baby. However when I see them now play and laugh togather( 3 1/2 and 20 months) it was so worth it.
Take one day at a time:)



answers from New York on

Oh goodness....your boy sounds like my daughter! I'm pregnant with number two - they'll be nearly 27 months apart. I think toddlers can SENSE when things are changing around them, and it FREAKS. THEM. OUT. We recently moved from the West Coast to the East Coast and the behavior issues escalated with every box that got packed up. We eased her fears THEN by letting her carry her "lovey" around during the day. (He had previously been confined to the crib.) Here's what I do now:

1) Every once in a while, when I'm tired and cranky (preggo, remember?) I just scream back. It surprises her, and we usually have a good laugh. (Not that I really recommend this...but it always makes me feel better.)

2) If she's screaming and whining, she has two options - 1. Stop whining and ask nicely. If my answer is still no, she can find something else to do. (Yeah right.) 2. Go to her room until she's ready to stop crying. I am not sending her there for punishment - just as a holding tank until she's ready to stop screaming, and she knows that.

3) Be firm. I'm afraid it's only going to get worse once baby #2 comes. Good luck - to both of us!



answers from New York on

Get a babysitter/mother's helper. You deserve a few hours of peace and you need to be healthy for your pregnancy. There is no shame in getting some help with your child while you get rest and time to do some things for yourself. You can even find a mom (like me) who would swap time with you. Once a week or twice you could leave the kids, they get to have a playdate while mom gets to play away for a while.



answers from New York on


I'm sure you've heard of "the terrible twos"? Well, he's getting there! :-)

Your first mistake is allowing him to watch TV when he gets up that early, or when he throws a tantrum. I know that you're probably tired and worn out, but you don't reward naughty behavior. Also, if he's like most toddlers that age, watching TV is probably very stimulating to him, and is not a good way to get him back to bed!

It sounds as though he's screaming just to get his own way, or to get your undivided attention, which you shouldn't allow, just because he's crying. If you don't get this under control before you have your new baby (congratulations, by the way!), you're going to lose your mind! LOL

When he gets up that early, I would go to him, give him a hug, and tell him that you love him, but then explain that Mommy's tired, and that you need him to go back to sleep for awhile. Put him back in his crib, and close the door. If he screams, wait 5 minutes, and then go into his room, and again tell him he must go back to sleep, or at least lay there quietly, until it is time to get up, then leave the room. If he continues to scream, wait 5 minutes and go in again, but this time simply let him see that you're there, without talking to him, and then leave the room. Continue to do this at 5 minutes intervals, until he goes back to sleep.

The next day, do the same thing, but only go into his room at 10 minute intervals, and the next day wait 15 minutes. In this way you're reasssuring him that you love him, and that you're there for him, but that he must stay in his bed, and allow you some time to yourself.

You can also do this when he refuses to allow you time for yourself to sit down, or be on the computer. Explain that he needs to play with his toys, while you play with yours. If his naughty behavior continues, then put him back in his crib for a "time out". He's still very young, so 5 minutes is a good time out. Then let him come back out with you. Then you can allow him some TV time. However,If he goes back to bothering you, then the TV goes off,and he gets another 5 minute time out. If you stick to your guns and be consistant, sooner or later, he will understand, and you'll have a much better behaved little boy.

This is going to take some work on your part, and listening to him cry will be very hard for you, but you need to put a stop to this behavior before the new baby comes. He has to realize that there is more in your world than just him, or he may be terribly jealous of the new baby. If you can get this point across to him now, it will be much easier for him later on, when he has a new sister or brother to share you with.

Remember, letting him cry will hurt you much more than it will hurt him, and is for his own good. (Investing in a good pair of ear plugs may help, since you're going to have to "out stubborn" him to get your point across!)

If its any consolation, many toddlers go through this once they approach 2 years old, and you just have to be consistant with your discipline until it sinks in!



answers from New York on

First of all, congratulations!

I only skimmed the other responses so I hope I'm not being repetitive. Two quick bits of advice: 1.) get on a better schedule before #2 comes and 2.) don't put your son in bed or his crib for time-outs or to confine him during a tantrum. I saw that advice more than once but a child's crib should a a safe haven, not a place they come to think of a punishment. As for #1, one person recommended a light up clock. Another option is at home depot or lowes you can get a device (for like 5-10$)that you set to allow or cut off electricity to anything that's plugged into it. Get one and a soft nightlight and place them within site distance of his bed. Tell him he can't call you or get up until it lights up. He might be a little young still but he'll get it eventually.

Also, at least while you're preggers, sleep when he does. Don't stay up until midnight cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry. It'll get done eventually. But you need your rest. As others said, he IS only 21 months and that means he is still learning what behaviors are (and are not) acceptable. If you look at his behavior from that perspective, it will help you cope. He needs you to teach him why he can't act that way.

Also, don't stress over the tv time. Really. You need a break too. But you can't really sleep while he's bouncing around on your bed singing along to elmo. So try to get to bed earlier so you feel rested when he wakes. It'll make a world of difference.

One more: be firm about nap time. You'll need that time even more when the baby comes.

Good luck!



answers from New York on

Dear A.,
Congratulations on becoming pregnant again and welcome to the "terrible twos." It sounds like your child is begging for more of your attention. I had a needy child, too, and although he's a teen now, I remember spending and enjoying a great deal of time together with him. What you invest now will pay back in spades later on!

Do you run him around to burn off some of his energy? Do you sit down, snuggle up, and read books together?
Check out this poem:

I have accomplished much in my life, but motherhood and helping our son develop into the best person he can be was by far the most interesting and rewarding experience. I worked in engineering before marriage, and my toughest days at work didn't compare to the challenges of dealing with the difficult days of sleeplessness and tantrums and "mommy, mommy, mommy" neediness. But I wouldn't have traded it for anything! I was there at every milestone, not a nanny. One thing that helped me was operating a home-based business selling Discovery Toys. (You can read more about that at It allowed me to earn some money while playing with great toys that engaged my child and allowed me to interact with him in a fun way. As he started school and ultimately spent full days in school, my time became more of my own to work or to enjoy. Hang in there; you won't regret you did.



answers from New York on

I feel your pain...I have a 23 month old that is going through the same thing, only she has a brother already and to add to the mix gets very violent with him.

The challenge that we have been having is that she is getting up early in the morning and she can now climb out of her bed (she's already in a toddler bed b/c my son is in the crib). So she comes waltzing into my room at 5:30 and makes it very clear that she is awake. Then she will only take a two-hour nap...which has been difficult because she used to do three hours.

What I found (just yesterday) was that when I put her back into bed at 5:30 and let her cry for a couple of minutes until she fell back asleep, the day was GREAT! We had a blast, she wasn't violent with her brother and she was very good at playing by herself. Then this morning she didn't fall back to sleep (she woke up at 6:15 so I didn't put her back in) and she was difficult again.

In the past I have found that, with her, it is all about sleep (and sometimes hunger). Not sure if that is true for your little one as well, but if the difficult coincided with the getting up early, possible that he is just overtired? What I am now focused on is regulating wake-up time (back in bed unless she gets up after 6:30 - starting now :)), and nap time (same time every day and no exceptions until we are back on track).

Hope that is helpful - thought I would share since I am going through the exact same thing right now. Hopefully this will work.

Good luck!

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