Dr. Betti Hertzberg Ressler is a Board Certified Pediatrician on staff at Miami Children's Hospital. Dr. Hertzberg developed the toilet training video "Let's Go Potty." She is the co-author of "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies for Children."
Changing a Toddlers Behaviors
Question: I have a 33-month-old son. He is the first of two. My daughter is one. Over the past three or four months my son has become increasinly fresh. He is not hitting or bitting, so I guess I should be thankful for that. What he is doing however is really getting on my nerves. If he wants something he will demand "I want it now." Or if I ask him not to do something he will just ignore me and do it anyway including things like dragging my 1-year-old around by her legs or delibrately taking a toy away from her or pushing her down. When I ask him to stop, he will yell at the top of his lungs. I then send him into a time out. This goes on every night from the time I get home to the time he goes to bed. I try to reason with him first but it always turns out the same. Charlene
Answer: In the mind of a toddler, "the world revolves around me," "I am the center of
the universe," "I want it, and I want it now!" Sound familiar? He's not
mean (not really)! He's striving for independence and control. This is
Reasoning is not something that a 33-month-old child can do very well. They
do better with simple statements and directions that are straightforward.
Consistency and following through will be more productive. If you say you
will take this away if he does that, then make sure you take it away.
Toddlers quickly learn how to manipulate and "push buttons."
Time out is good, but make sure that the time spent is not enjoyable for
him. (Playing with his toys, watching a video, etc.)
It's important to let your son know that certain behaviors are not
appropriate nor acceptable. He's not really aware that his actions may
hurt his little sister. He only knows that if he does certain things, he'll
be getting attention for it. Any attention will do, whether it's a good word
or raising your voice.
By asking him to stop certain behaviors, you are giving him the choice of
whether he wants to stop or not. With some things, there are no choices.
What your toddler needs during this phase of development is to be given
choices, so he's in control! Examples: choose which shirt or pants he wants
to wear. Choose what colors he wants to color with. Choose which food he
wants to eat first. Allowing him control in everyday tasks will make it
easier to focus on other things that are more constructive.
Behaviors that are reinforced, tend to be repeated. Same goes for not
reinforcing them. A child that is continuously reminded not to suck his or
her thumb may continue to do so because of the reinforcement and attention
that is obtained. Sometimes it's best to ignore an unwanted behavior.
Unless it's going to be hurtful or dangerous. Ignoring this type of behavior may not
Many times, the toddler that has been the center of attention is selfishly
wanting to continue getting the attention. A new sibling or environment that
is removing some of that attention will cause him to demand it more. After
all, IT'S MINE, IT'S ME AND I'M IN CONTROL!
Just remember this is normal growth and development. Try to be patient and
both you and your child will grow.
Dr. Betti Hertzberg
Also see: Does Strep Throat lead to Scarlet's Fever?
Can a pediatrician comfortably prescribe and manage ADHD medication or is it better suited to a psychiatrist?
Ask Dr. Betti your questions
This information is not intended to be a substitute for visiting your pediatrician. If you or your child has specific concerns, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.