The defiant toddler stage

November 13, 2012

QOur son, a Marine who is serving his fourth tour in Afghanistan, had to leave his wonderful wife and their 18-month-old daughter at home. Fortunately, our daughter-in-law can be with her child except for two evenings a week when she takes college classes. A wonderful person babysits for her and gives my granddaughter the chance to play with other kids.

We also see this young family at least once a month, even though they live five hours away; we Skype with them two to three times a week, and I’ll be caring for our granddaughter in February — a month after our son gets back from the Mideast — so Daddy and Mommy can go on a well-deserved cruise. I can’t wait for this adventure because I think that this grandchild of mine is practically perfect. She is, however, giving her mother a real run for her money. I’m not exactly sure what the issues are, but I think they are mostly a matter of “attitude” and acting out.

I tell my daughter-in-law, who is a most patient person, that her child is in a stage — a normal, natural stage — and that she should ignore the unpleasant behavior and praise the good behavior. I tell her she should also give her daughter a healthy diet and plenty of time outside. I don’t say that her child should sleep more than she already does, because she naps in the afternoon and sleeps 10 hours at night!

But what should her mother do when her daughter is defiant or she won’t listen to her? Do “timeouts” work? And do they work with an 18-month-old?

What other advice can I give to her mother?


(The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

AYou’ve already given your daughter-in-law some great advice, but don’t forget to tell her about that gong of independence that rings for every child when they’re between 18 and 36 months, no matter how good the child is or how patient the parents are.

This gong is her reminder that children learn by doing, not by being told what to do, and this encourages them to do many things that might be better left undone — but not out of defiance or malice. A young child simply doesn’t know that glass can break and fire can burn; that she should clean the toilet with the toilet brush and not her toothbrush and that she really shouldn’t draw on a wall or rip books apart, page by page. Young children are charming, but they have about as much impulse control as your average gnat.

A timeout might correct your grandchild if she were 3 or 4 years old and she received only one timeout every couple of weeks, but until then, your daughter-in-law will find that it’s much more effective to discipline her daughter with supervision and diversion.

She only has to watch her child carefully to understand the pattern of her play, and then she can guide her into a new direction when it goes awry or offer a new activity before she gets tired of the old one and completely falls apart. Your daughter-in-law can come up with these diversions quickly if she tucks a basket of toys and picture books in every room in the house. I’d suggest “The French Fry King” by Roge. The picture of that “long sausage dog” will make her child laugh every time she opens this book.

Prevention, however, will stop more problems than anything else at this age. Encourage your daughter-in-law to put breakables, alcohol, medicine, vitamins, perfumes, makeup and power tools out of her child’s reach, rather than locking them in a cabinet and then looking for the key, or saying no to her daughter all day long. Although your granddaughter will eventually learn what she can and can’t touch, her friends will surely forget. Your daughter-in-law should also put her wastebaskets on a high shelf, and on dreary days, she should leave a big box in the living room, without telling her child what she should do with it. There’s really no need to do that. Within minutes your granddaughter will have turned the box into a ship.

Will your daughter-in-law’s housekeeping look a little strange? Of course it will, but it will also make your grandchild quite happy. And as everyone knows, it’s much better to have a happy child than to be a good housekeeper.

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