Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My 17 month-old has started biting other children when at nursery but not at home.

I have a 17 month old little girl, who attends a very good nursery 3 days a week. She is extremely happy there and likes the interaction she has with the other children. However, over the last 3 months she has started to bite the other children at random. Sometimes in retaliation, but most of the time she bites them for no reason. I am beginning to worry, as this is now happening once or twice a day when she attends, and some of the other parents aren’t happy. The nursery is dealing with her by telling her it’s wrong, giving her time out and explaining that she mustn’t do it again. Unfortunately this is not working, and I can’t deal with the issue at home as she doesn’t display this behaviour when with us or with other children in our family. I have purchased a book to read to her (“Teeth are not for biting”) and talk to her about it when I collect her from nursery, but she is still biting. Other friends have said that they bite their children back, but I haven’t taken this action as most of the advice you read tells you not to do this – and I tend to agree, that you should not mirror their behaviour. Please suggest what I should do. People have been trying to give me explanations of why she is biting such as : “It is just a “phase”, and she will grow out of it”; she is attention seeking; or she is tired. (she is a very active little girl !!) But it’s not great when other parents are complaining about your child, and you are lost for an answer.

Biting others is a common issue for young children in the 2-6 age range. It can be extremely worrying and stressful for parents. My advice to you is to tackle it and not ignore it, as it could affect the development of your daughter’s successful relationships with other children as well as adults. In order to address it successfully, you will need to have good, open discussions with the nursery staff and plenty of time to do this calmly and without distractions. You need to agree with them at the outset that biting is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated in the nursery or at home.

When looking for a way to stop the biting, it is important that you and the nursery staff look closely at the context it occurs in and to identify what sets it off. This is crucial because there are various strategies which you can use to change the behaviour. Choosing the right one will depend on you looking carefully at what is causing the biting in the first place.

To look at what is triggering your daughter’s behaviour, you and the nursery staff need to think about the following questions:

-What happens before the biting occurs? (triggers)
-What happens after the biting occurs? (consequences)
-Does it happen in any environment? (Children usually behave differently in different contexts. Bad behaviour can be inhibited in one place and not another, either because the triggers don’t exist or because the children are affected by knowing the consequences of what they do ).

Speak to the nursery staff to ask them what occurs before the biting happens. If they do not know, they need to observe the child closely over a period of a few days to identify what happens prior to a biting incident. It may be that it occurs at a particular time of the day or during a certain activity. If this is the case, then you can make plans to try to avoid it occurring.

Once you have identified the triggers then it is safer to speculate on what the cause is and to look for a way to manage the problem. The child’s biting behaviour could be a display of several things, for example:

1. Frustration/anger

If your daughter is becoming frustrated with a task or another child, or simply getting out of sorts through tiredness, this can cause stress and may result in an episode of biting. The best way to deal with this is careful monitoring and support through calm handling and a change of scene to a quiet smaller setting. It may be that certain activities need to be restricted or her time spent with certain children or groups of children reduced.

2. Boredom

If your daughter is getting bored and finding biting or other aggressive behaviour more stimulating, it may be worth looking at the group of children she is with and the activities she is engaged in. Changes to these can be made in order to stretch her a little more. A box of activities especially for her can be created, or an individual “timetable” of tasks be set up to provide her with a bit more challenge.

3. Seeking attention

All children seek attention because attention is something we all need, especially when we are little. There is nothing wrong in seeking attention in itself. The problem arises when the method used is inappropriate, hurtful or harmful to others. In this case, it is very important that the biting behaviour is acknowledged as being unacceptable. Your daughter as a person must still be accepted. She needs to know that she will get attention when she behaves appropriately. This will be easier to achieve if the adults involved are very clear about what is appropriate behaviour and make this explicit. It is not enough to tell her to “be good” or to “behave”. She needs a very clear message describing the desired behaviour, for example “Use your mouth for speaking and eating”, “Use you teeth for chewing food”, “Keep your hands and feet to yourself”. When she shows this behaviour, she should be rewarded with appropriate attention. This is not necessarily the same as praise. At the most simple level it could be a friendly smile, a nod or a hug. If more heavyweight strategies are needed, then it might need to involve more tangible rewards.

4. Attempt to interact (unsuccessfully) with others

Some children find it hard to know how to approach others and end up having a series of unsuccessful attempts at interacting with them. This is usually very clear by the way the child acts, and can be linked to other difficulties with language or communication problems. It is important in this case to teach the child the social skills required to interact successfully with others. This may mean teaching things that come relatively naturally to other children and may need to be done on a frequent, regular, timetabled basis over a period of time.

As with all attempts to change a child’s behaviour, the key principles are consistency and review. This means that all adults involved need to agree strategies and plan to carry them out for a given amount of time before reviewing them. Sometimes things just don’t work well and need to be thought out again. Alternatively, your strategies might work well and need to be reduced or dropped altogether.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My 14-month-old son loves to be very noisy.

My 14-month-old son constantly bangs everything together. I try to keep items, such as spoons, out of reach, but he will use anything he finds. He will hammer on tables, doors and even the TV screen. I have tried buying him a toy drum, but he is not interested; I don’t think it makes enough noise. I am at my wits end. How can I stop this behaviour?

Making noise is very typical at this age, especially if it gets a reaction from you. It is hard to ignore banging, particularly during a family meal or while you are on the phone, and your son has discovered this.

It is important to immediately discourage him from dangerous banging. Banging on the TV, glass topped tables or china plates should not be allowed under any circumstances. Tell him in a firm but calm voice that we don’t bang on glass. Try not to shout over the banging, as this just sends the message that making a lot of noise is acceptable. Becoming annoyed, even though you may feel it, will just intensify his behaviour, so try to stay in control and calmly repeat the message as often as required. If appropriate, you might remove him from the scene and try to distract him with something else. You will then have to remain watchful and try to catch him before he starts again.

There should be times when you allow him to bang, but on your terms. Put on some music and get out his toy drum. Use songs with plenty of rhythm and encourage him to stamp his feet and clap. Find songs you both like and have a jamming session together. This is a great idea on a wet afternoon with a boy who has excess energy.

There are also toys that can be used for banging. One is a small wooden bench with pegs to bang from one side to the other. Another is a box with four holes into which are banged wooden balls; the balls run out a hole at the bottom and the action can be repeated. Both toys are simple, but they offer a better and safer alternative to striking the TV screen with a wooden brick.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

How can I stop my 17-month-old from biting?

At almost 17 months, my son has taken to biting my nanny and I when he doesn’t get his own way. He has been on CLB routines since birth. He sleeps well, loves being in his cot and on the whole is a happy toddler. But when he doesn’t want to be changed (especially after his bath) or is told “No”, he bites. I have told him sternly that we don’t bite, but this behaviour has continued for a month. Tonight I lost my patience and yelled at him, a response that I feel guilty about, but how can I deal with the problem without yelling?

Toddlers who bite are not uncommon, but this behaviour needs careful handling. Yelling is not the answer, as you know, but the tone of voice you use is important. Learning how to discipline your son fairly is all part of parenting.

Firstly, he has to learn that you are serious when you say, “We don’t bite” or “Biting hurts”. Remain calm, but pitch your voice lower so he gets the message. When you speak to him, make sure you are at eye level and, if necessary, hold his hands so he has to look at you. Encourage your nanny to do the same, as a consistent approach to the problem will be more effective.

It is also important to find out what triggers your son to bite. With toddlers, it is usually an impulsive action triggered by frustration, anger or tiredness. Once you are aware of the causes, then you can try to avoid them. Watch his body language carefully so you are aware of what he looks like and how he behaves just before biting.

At this age, your son will be very active by day and tired by bath time. If you could bring bath time 15-20 minutes forward and avoid noisy splashing games, he is less likely to be over-stimulated when it is time to get dressed. You could try giving him a special toy to hold, one he only gets at this time, to keep him occupied while you get him ready. Or you might try singing, or quietly chatting about your plans for the next day.

Otherwise, use distraction to diffuse a situation that might escalate into a biting episode. Limiting the amount of times you say “No” is not easy at this age, but it helps to divert his attention away from doing something, rather than always using “No”. Hearing this word too often will result in frustration, which in turn may lead to another biting episode. If you feel he is getting frustrated, then suggest a time of quiet play, such as doing a jigsaw or looking at a book together. It is also important to make sure that your son has plenty of outside play with the chance to let off steam.

When your son has behaved well, be sure to point out that you have noticed his good behaviour. If, for example, you manage to change him without fuss, thank him and compliment him on staying still. This positive attention will help to build his self esteem and should limit the times he feels frustrated when something is denied to him.

You should also show plenty of affection and offer lots of cuddles. Indulge in role-play with teddies to help him become aware of how much nicer it is to be kind and how good he will feel as a result. Also be aware of any adult behaviour that may give mixed messages. It is all too easy to play pretend “nibbling” when drying a child after his bath, for example by saying “These toes look good enough to eat”, but I would advise against this type of game as, when biting, he may be trying to imitate you.

In conclusion, biting is a phase which is common around this age. As a toddler grows and becomes more verbal, he will be able to use words to express his feelings, and frustrations will lessen. Until then, a firm but calm approach to the problem and an awareness of potential flash points should help.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

How do I stop my 1-year-old wriggling and protesting at nappy changes?

I wondered if you could give me some tips on how to combat my constant struggle to dress or change my 12-month-old. I’ve never seen anything like it! Every time I change his nappy he struggles and screams and will not keep still, which can get very messy when I’m trying to change a dirty one. I’ve tried saying “No” very sternly but he doesn’t take any notice at all. Have you come across this before? It basically happens whenever I try to do something my son doesn’t want to do: i.e. dress him, put him in car seat/buggy. He’s even started doing it now when I put him in his high chair to eat. He goes berserk! Is this just a phase that will pass or is there a way of teaching him he cannot behave like this?

This is perfectly normal behaviour from a baby of this age. He is showing his growing independence. He will know that he gets a reaction from you for this behaviour so will probably do it more. It is a phase. How you handle it will determine how long it lasts.

There are several practical things you can try when changing him: find a place which is safe to change him which is not on the floor. The top of a washing machine or fridge freezer would be ideal downstairs. You may have a changing table or chest of drawers upstairs. This will limit how far he can wriggle and he will soon be aware that if he goes too far he may get a bump. Being on the floor offers endless opportunities for escaping.

Use distraction to keep him occupied whilst you change him. There are two tricks here: One is to find something he is unfamiliar with and change it often; it could be as simple as keys or the tube from a loo roll but there must be an element of surprise. Secondly, don’t produce it at the first instance of wriggling but build up the suspense by telling him ” Mummy has something for you, I wonder what it is?” and then produce it at the crucial moment when you really need him to be still.

If he continues to struggle and fuss you need him to be aware that “no” means “no”. Your tone of voice is important but it is better if you also hold his hands to his sides and look him in the eyes when you say it. “Mummy says `no`, no wriggling, I need to change your nappy”, then talk about what is going to happen next. Be matter of fact but firm that you are in charge. The more you try to hold him down or grab his leg as he wriggles away the more of a game he will think it is and will keep on trying. A few words spoken firmly are better than a lot which will have little meaning to him.

Your son is growing up rapidly now and is no longer a “baby” but a small determined person who does not like being constrained when there is a whole wide world to be explored. Although you may feel he is too little to understand, begin to tell him what is going to happen rather than just swooping him into his highchair saying: “time for lunch”. Get down to his level and look into his eyes, use simple short sentences such as: “Mummy has made pasta for lunch. It is time to stop playing, it is time to get in your chair”. A child of a year old lives in the present, they have no conception of five minutes or tomorrow so you need to help them go from playing to another activity with simple, concise explanations: “Lets put on our coats and go in the car”. It won’t always work; he will try to wriggle out of his car seat, or arch his back on occasions. But if you are consistent in giving a simple explanation and follow it through straight away with the putting on of coats or taking to the high chair, he will learn that “no” always means “no”, no matter how hard he resists.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My son of 16mths is aggressive with other children both at home and nursery.

My son is consistently aggressive with other children at nursery and at home. He is a lively and boisterous boy, often starts off playing well but then starts to be aggressive, seeking others to pull over by the scruff of the neck or pull hair, or bite. We distract him but he goes straight back to it. We have just started (when at home) removing him from the room and putting him into his cot for a minute but I don’t know if this is beneficial or potentially damaging.

How you deal with your son’s behaviour now will help him become a more sociable and friendly boy with whom other children like to play. He needs to learn both self-control and respect for the feelings of other children. By teaching him that some behaviour is always unacceptable he will learn, in time, how to control his impulses.

A toddler of this age does not always understand that he is hurting other children when he pulls or bites them. He does not always deliberately set out to hurt. It is easy for toddlers of this age to become very excited by other children but not know quite how to play with them. Playing together will not happen until he is nearer to three years of age but he can be taught to play alongside another child without always hurting them. By dealing in the same way with every incident when it arises, whether at home or nursery, you will help your son learn what is and is not acceptable behavior.

At his age your son is too young to really understand the concept of “time out” in his cot. He does not make the connection between the action of pulling someone’s hair, which causes pain and distress, and being put in his cot. He may well have acted on impulse to see what happened when he pulled hair, or because the other child came too close to his personal space. He may have thought they were going to take away the toy he was playing with at the time. At this age a lot of seemingly aggressive behaviour is due to curiosity. But this does not mean that the behaviour should be ignored or excused because your son is too young to know what he is doing.

To deal with each incident, remove him from the situation – picking him up if you need to – and take him to another, quieter part of the room. Stand him in front of you, crouch down to his level and hold his arms firmly to his sides. Make him look you in the eye. The tone of voice you use when talking to him is as important as the words you use. You need to use a firm voice so he will know that you are displeased with his behavior and that you mean what you say. Use the same few words for each incident. Keeping the sentences short will make them more comprehensible to him: “No, you may not pull hair, it hurts”; “No, you may not bite, it hurts” etc. Make sure he is looking in your eyes as you say this to him and wait another few seconds, still holding him, so he really understands that you are serious. He may not like being restrained in this way, or he may cry at the sound of your voice. You may feel uncomfortable with upsetting him but don’t make the mistake of trying to excuse his behaviour and stop his tears with talk such as, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt” or, “I know you were just trying to be friendly”. Your child will not love you less if you continue to set limits on his behaviour. It will take some time for him to learn that you will never ignore this behaviour but eventually, as he matures and develops empathy with the feelings of others, he will know that, however frustrated or cross he feels, hurting people is unacceptable. Once you have spoken with him let him return to the other children or settle him in to a new activity.

Until this behavior lessens, you will need to keep a close watch on your son at all times whilst he is playing around other children. Often you may be able to spot a potential incident about to happen and can quickly step in with some kind of distraction to diffuse it. Be aware if the incidents happen more frequently when he is tired or hungry and, if they do seem to be linked, then make play dates shorter and provide healthy snacks at appropriate times.

Be sure to discuss with your son’s nursery your strategies for coping with his behaviour. Ask the nursery staff for their full co operation in dealing with him in the same way as you are doing. Most nurseries are used to coping with this type of behaviour as it is not uncommon in toddlers of his age.

Make sure you are not giving your son mixed messages about certain types of behaviour. It is easy to play games with him which may involve friendly nibbling; “ Your toes are so delicious, I’m going to eat them!” can often be said in fun after bath time as you dry him. But, at his age, he does not know the difference between playful nibbles that his mother gives him and the satisfaction of sinking his teeth into another child’s flesh. Check how you or your partner rough-house with him. A child of this age loves all the chasing, tickling, turning upside down and general boisterous play, at which fathers are often good, but you do need to be aware of getting him over excited. He may well think that pulling at Daddy, who then pretends to fall over, is a great game, which it can be. But not if he tries the same thing with someone his own size who may fall heavily when taken by surprise. Being aware that he may well copy with other children what he does when rough-housing with you will help you keep this type of play within sensible limits. He is unable to realize that behaviour which an adult will accept as part of a game might be painful to a child his own age.

Watch your son at play and when you do see him giving up a toy to someone else, or playing alongside a child without becoming physical with him, praise his behaviour. It can be easy to overlook good behaviour when trying to eliminate unacceptable behaviour. A child will quickly learn that it is a much better feeling to gain your approval and praise than to be taken on one side and spoken to in a firm voice. Whilst over praising will quickly lose its effect a quiet, “Well done for sharing your toys” will encourage your son to continue to behave in a way which he knows pleases you.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My daughter of 14mths finds it difficult to cope with my husband’s repeated absences and reappearances due to work.

My husband works abroad and is away from home for a week / 2 weeks at a time. When he goes, we explain that he is working but will be back. We talk to my 14mth old daughter about her “daddy” daily in a very relaxed way taking care not to make a big deal about his absence and also speak on the phone regularly. We try and make this very matter of fact and not make a big deal about his going. For the first couple of days after he leaves, my daughter is very “clingy” with me – but I try to be gently reassuring and we continue in our routines and soon she settles down. However, on my husbands return home, our normally settled little girl becomes very overwrought. For the first few days she clings to her daddy and gets extremely upset when he leaves the room / goes out to the office etc. We try very hard to be relaxed about this, we are matter of fact about when he has to go out and that he will return and does. We have also noticed that when my husband comes home my daughter “performs” showing him all her toys, her books, dancing, photos etc – it appears to be almost a “desperate” attempt to get him to stay. We have tried giving him something of my daughter’s ( a toy etc) to take with him explaining that he will bring it back soon – so she feels he will have to return.

As my husband has to work away we do need to get to a situation where my daughter can deal with this without becoming extremely upset and understands that he will come back when he goes away. Any advice would be very welcome as it is so upsetting to see her get so distraught.

Your daughter is at the age where separation anxiety can be quite strong. Although it is distressing to see that she is so upset it does mean that she has formed a strong bond with her father despite his repeated absence. This phase will pass as she develops her reasoning and the distress she displays at present should disappear.

A few months ago your daughter probably did not show such distress when your husband came home and then had to go out again. This is because, for her at that age, once out of sight her father was also out of her mind. By the age of one year a baby’s reasoning has developed so she can understand that, although she cannot see someone, she knows they do still exist. Her clinginess to you when her father first goes away is very understandable. She reasons that if Daddy can go away then so might Mummy. By reassuring her in the way you do she soon realizes that this is not going to happen. Because your daughter has such a strong bond with her Daddy she is delighted when he returns. But then imagine her distress when he goes out to work. At her age she has no concept of time at all. You may tell her that Daddy will be back by teatime but that means nothing to her. For all she knows he has gone away again for a length of time. She knows he still exists and she has strong feelings towards him but he keeps disappearing.

As your daughter gets older she will get more used to the idea of time, although a real concept of it does not happen for many years yet. By providing her with a routine to her day you will help her come to learn the differences between waving good bye to Daddy for one or two weeks or waving goodbye until teatime. Many toddlers of this age can be heartbroken every morning when Daddy leaves for work, even though he returns home every night. They have no way of reasoning yet so feel real distress when their father leaves. Your daughter is having to cope with a more difficult situation, that of long and short absences, but not yet having the mental capability to distinguish between the two.

The way you are already dealing with this situation is good. Being positive but keeping things quite light will help her get used to Daddy coming and going. It is wonderful that she is so pleased to see him and wants to show all her things to him when he is home. Many fathers who have to cope with repeated separations may find that their toddlers are reluctant to come to them when they are home, preferring instead to be with Mummy who is the known constant presence in their life.

There are a couple of things you could try with your daughter to help her over this phase. Although you already talk about Daddy and speak with him on the phone when he is away have a small daily ritual of saying good night to him. Find a photo of him, a head and shoulders quite close up would be best, and place it in her room. Every night as part of her bedtime routine make a point of saying, “Good night” to Daddy. She may like to kiss the picture. This small way of acknowledging that Daddy is part of her life even when not in sight could help.

Secondly, it is easy to try to hide your own feelings from your daughter but sometimes acknowledge to her that you too miss Daddy when he is away. You may feel she is too young to understand your words but babies and small children are very perceptive to an adult’s moods and feelings. By expressing sometimes that you miss him or that you are happy he is coming back soon will help her as she develops her own feelings.

Until able to express herself verbally your daughter will find other ways to show how she feels about the situation. Showing all her things to Daddy is her way of telling him he is important to her. A small child will proudly show to Daddy, when he comes home in the evening, the painting she did at nursery. If your daughter is beginning to scribble with crayons start a box in which to keep some of her drawings, so she has plenty of different things to show Daddy when he comes back. Because your husband is away for stretches of time it is to be expected that your daughter will want to make up for this when he returns and she will find things to keep his attention on her. Encouraging her to have a special place to keep things to show Daddy will help her understanding that he will come back to see them.

As well as giving a toy to her father to look after let your daughter have something of his to keep. It could be an old wallet, but one she has seen him use, a key ring, anything small which could have a special place next to his picture in her room. Although you don’t want to make a big deal about his absence you do need to acknowledge it to her. This is the way your life will be in the next few years. Your daughter will grow to accept it, as children are very adaptable and she will not have known her life to be any other way. In a few months her anxiety every time he leaves the room will diminish. She will be old enough to remember that he is coming back at tea time and that teatime will happen after she has been to the park but, until she has reached that stage in her reasoning, be prepared for tears and upset.

Once your daughter is showing less signs of anxiety each time her father leaves you could begin to keep a simple calendar for when he is away for a length of time. Quite small children are reassured by the visual impact of each day being crossed off with a reassuring “ X “ after tea and counting the diminishing number of days left until Daddy returns.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My son of 14 months has begun to throw tantrums when he is told he may not do something. He also seems to ignore the word “No” both at home and nursery, returning to what he was trying to do even when he has been moved away.

My son of 14 months is becoming very strong-willed and determined to get his own way. When he tries to do something, such as empty the fridge, and is stopped he throws himself backwards onto the ground screaming with rage. If I catch him about to do something such as fiddle with the video controls and say his name followed with “No” he will smile at me very cheekily. At nursery they have commented that he does not listen to the word “No”. Even if they remove him from what he was trying to do he will go right back and try all over again.

Am I expecting too much from him to really understand the word “No”? Is his natural curiosity just so strong he cannot resist doing things he has been told not to do? I am not sure if my son does not understand or if he does and is choosing to ignore us, which would mean he is becoming strong-willed and headstrong.

At this age a baby is beginning to explore every aspect of his world. He is naturally inquisitive about everything and still is not yet able to understand why you won’t let him empty the fridge. This can be the start of the “terrible twos” which refer to the second year of life rather than beginning at the age of two.

It can be a time of frustration for both you and your son. You will be trying to prevent him from touching things, or acting in a certain way, and he will show his determination by returning again and again to forbidden places that he is desperate to explore. This is not “naughty” behaviour as such. At this age he wants to explore everything he sees and even if he has been told several times before that he may not empty the fridge or fiddle with the DVD player he is unable to always suppress his desire to explore.

When dealing with headstrong and determined behaviour you need to be very specific to prevent it becoming a battle of wills. It can begin to feel as if you use the word “No” a lot of the time, and your son’s resulting tantrums are very tiring to deal with constantly. This is why you need to be aware of potential problems before they occur.

Look around your home from your son’s point of view. You may need to get down on the floor to see it from his level. You may notice that things such as the video player are at his eye level so he is bound to be attracted to the dials and flaps. Working out how to make his usual play area as child friendly as possible will go a long way to help stop a lot of confrontation between the two of you. There should still be one or two things which are restricted to him, as this is the way he will learn the meaning of the word “No” but, by removing a lot of potential flash points, he will be able to explore his surroundings more freely.

Move video, CD and DVD players to high shelves or into cupboards protected by child-proof locks. Take away any breakable objects and cover all power outlets. The fewer reasons you have to say “No” the more meaningful they will become.

At this age the use of distraction can go a long way to defuse situations before they get out of control. Rather than waiting until your son has got his hand on the fridge door anticipate what he may be about to do and distract him. Instead of saying “No, don’t go into the fridge” find something to take his attention elsewhere. This could be drawing his attention to something, such as a cat in the garden or taking him to another room to find a toy or occupation, to engage his interest. This does not mean he will not return to the fridge later on: his curiosity does often get the better of him.

When your son does continue with his course of action and you have to stop him, make sure you are at his eye level when telling him “No”. Your tone of voice will tell him that you disapprove of his actions. The word “No” will mean nothing to him if said in an everyday voice and without conviction. There is no need to shout at your toddler but you need to be firm. This will mean using a lower tone of voice than usual. If he tries to avoid looking at you when you are beside him hold his arms to his sides so he has no alternative but listen to you. At this age long explanations will just wash over his head so use short sentences. If he constantly tries to empty the fridge then always use the same words to stop him, “No, you may not empty the fridge. The door needs to stay closed”.

If your son goes on to throw a tantrum deal with it in the way best suited to him. Some toddlers will not mind being held whilst having a tantrum, but this may infuriate others even more and they are best ignored until it is over. If your son does let you hold him do this by sitting him on your knee facing outwards. Hold him firmly around the middle, and restrain his arms if you are able. This may help him get rid of his frustration and rage quicker and he will begin to calm down. Once he is calm again, give him a cuddle and then find something you can do together.

You do need to set limits on certain areas of your toddler’s life in order to keep him safe. He will not understand that but you must always be consistent, even if it means going through a tantrum until he understands that you are not going to change your mind. Everyday safety procedures such as being strapped into a car seat, holding your hand when crossing roads and not standing up in the bath always need to be observed. If you are inconsistent over matters of safety your son will not learn that some things in life are non-negotiable. As he gets older you will be able to use more explanations but at this age keeping it to a simple, “I am keeping you safe” is enough should he begin to refuse to co operate. If he insists on standing up in the bath remove him after one warning. If he refuses to hold your hand when crossing a road, ask him once and then pick him up and carry him over. You cannot take him out in the car unless he is in his seat, strapped in. Although he seems to be headstrong, most toddlers will realize very quickly it is just not worth having a tantrum over something which is not going to change.

Being prepared for confrontations goes a long way towards preventing them.Have a positive attitude and try to use language which gives your son the idea of co-operation. When you are going out in the car tell him where you are off to and what he is going to do. “Let’s go to nursery now, I wonder what you will do today” is better than “You must be strapped in “.

This age group can be very demanding as the limits imposed by parents and carers seem to be constantly tested by the toddler. By beginning to set reasonable limits now, which are acknowledged by all who deal with him, your son will get through this phase in time. Ask at the nursery from which activities your son needs to be removed. Explain to the nursery staff how you set limits at home by making his surroundings as child friendly as possible. In a nursery setting there should also not be too many restrictions although one or two are likely. Ask the staff to deal with your son in the same way as you deal with him. If they are unable to distract him in time then they must remove him from the undesirable activity and give him a short explanation as to why he may not do what he wants to do.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My daughter of 15mths has little speech but one word she uses constantly is “no”. She will say this when either asked to do something, or told to stop doing something. At first it seemed quite amusing but now I feel as if every day is battle of wills from the moment she gets up. How can I get her to have a more positive response to things? Or is this just a phase?

This is just one of the many different phases of your child’s normal development.  She has now reached the age where she is beginning to assert herself emotionally, physically and verbally and is gradually learning the skills that will eventually lead to her becoming independent.

Your daughter has probably realised that she is getting a strong response from you when she uses the word “no” repeatedly. Try to adopt a new approach:  when she says “no”, try to distract her.  Most importantly, do not challenge her response by becoming either agitated or questioning.  Toddlers quickly work out how to get your full attention, even if this attention is negative.  Praising positive answers and ignoring negative ones, will immediately begin to lessen your daughter’s wish to say “no” repeatedly.

To help you to deal with what can seem a disconcerting stage, think of different ways of phrasing sentences and questions so as to give your daughter less opportunity to respond with a “no”. Instead of saying, “Let’s put your toys away now” you could say “Which toy shall we put away first?”   Encouraging your child to take part in making decisions will also help her to understand that she does have some influence over what she does.  It is important to offer her some choices at this age, although these should usually be limited to not more than two or three options; for example, “Would you like to wear your blue jumper or your green jumper?”. The question phrased in this manner is much more likely to produce a positive response than “Let’s put your green jumper on”.

There are, of course, some situations where offering a choice is not appropriate, such as bedtime.  But even this could be turned into a positive action if, instead of saying “Would you like to go to bed now” you could say “its bedtime now, let’s go and find Teddy”.

To help you to cope with this stage of your daughter’s development:

  • Let her make some decisions
  • Phrase questions carefully to avoid a “no” response
  • Encourage positive behaviour by thanking her and giving praise for being helpful
  • Be firm and consistent on non-negotiable situations

You might also find it helpful to take a look at Gina ’s book, “The Toddler Years”.  It has lots of useful advice and suggestions for understanding and dealing with the different stages of a child’s development.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

I have a very boisterous 15-month-old girl and she is quite strong willed! How do you approach discipline at this age? For instance when we go to toddlers’ group she just runs in and pulls everything off the shelves; each time I ask her to stop she just runs to something else. She doesn’t seem to be able to concentrate on anything for any period of time.

At 15 months old your daughter’s concentration skills are just beginning to form as well as her social skills. Remember for her everything is new and just needs to be explored and she does need time to do this, however, quite rightly, you do need to start implementing good solid boundaries with her as to what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.

You do not want her running into toddlers’ group tipping boxes here there and everywhere, as she is more than likely to repeat that behaviour at friends’ houses, making any visits you make together very uncomfortable.
You do not mention what she is like at home. The skills she learns at home will often be repeated when she is out and about.

You can help develop her social skills as well as her concentration levels by working and playing together at home.

  • You may have too many toys out at any one time for her, and being a typical toddler, her mind will jump from one toy or toy box to another. Pack some of her toys away and swap them around every few days. This will allow her time to play and explore the toys that are available to her.
  • When you do play together, do you have times where she has no other distractions like the TV? At your daughter’s age, playing with toys and concentrating on what she is doing is so much more difficult if you have a cartoon playing in the background distracting her.
  • Find simple toys and games that she will have to concentrate on and you can do together, i.e. peg jigsaw puzzles, shape sorters, story books, large Lego blocks. Stay away from toys that make noises as that will just excite her.
  • Playing together with your daughter is one of the best ways to help her improve her concentration, as she will enjoy the closeness of being with you and listening to you. Praise and reward her for being clever like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Equally with you helping her to do a jigsaw puzzle, her confidence in her own ability will improve, and will make her want to try and do another jigsaw even if you are not watching and helping her.
  • After you have finished playing get her to help pack away what you have being playing with before you move onto the next toy.

With these skills in hand, when you go to toddlers’ group, practice what you have being doing at home. Arriving at toddlers’ group is very exciting for your daughter, but do not let her charge off, think of a toy she might like and go with her to find it and play with her for a little while; if she then starts to run to another toy go with her, help her get what she wants and then let her play with it. Each time she has finished playing with a toy encourage her, with your help, to return it to its box or shelf.

Keep on doing this, until the initial excitement of arriving at the group wears off. This should then allow you time to have a coffee and a chat!

Remember to go back to her and give her some time before she starts to get bored and agitated, leading to her pulling toys off shelves, which is her way of demanding attention from you and everyone else in the group.

This ways both her social skills and her concentration levels will begin to blossom, and you will enjoy going out with your daughter.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Behaviour

My daughter Harriet is 13-months-old and sometimes gets really scared of other people – not only strangers, but sometimes friends of mine whom she has met several times before. She looks at them fearfully and bursts into tears. Today we went to a singing group for the fourth time. The first two times were OK but the next two occasions we had to leave after ten minutes because she just wouldn’t stop crying and it was rather embarrassing. Once a week she stays for a couple of hours with a friend who has a son the same age. She has been going there for two months and she still becomes hysterical when I leave, and cries for about 15 minutes before taking a dummy and remaining rather solemn until I return, when she has another cry. However, at home she is happy and active and doesn’t cry when I leave the room etc. I have been at home with her since she was born, but we have always been out and about a lot and go to several baby and toddler groups, where she is happy to play with the other babies if she can see me. However, if I go to the toilet she does start crying. All the other children her age seem to be so laidback and happy to be left at crèches or with babysitters. I read recently that fear of strangers is linked to insecurity and lack of bonding in the first six months.

This made me feel very despondent and guilty as unfortunately Harriet was taken away from me straight after birth and taken to another hospital (where there was no room for me) for two days because of complications. Do you think this brief initial separation has played a part in causing this strong anxiety? Other than this, Harriet was a very easy baby and she has only ever experienced a secure, loving atmosphere. Is her anxiety normal, or can something like a birth-experience cause this sort of behaviour?

Firstly, congratulations on having a happy, active 13-month-old. That’s great. Now, let’s look at Harriet’s reluctance to leave you when out of her own familiar environment. At 13 months, Harriet is the age where ‘separation anxiety’ is at its most prominent. This is a normal reaction in a young child. What this means is that children of this age are most likely to become distressed if put into a new environment or if their mother goes out of their sight, for even a second. Securely attached children, that is children who have bonded well with their primary carer, use them (usually the mother) as a ‘secure base’ from which to begin to explore their environment. As you outline, Harriet has been used to having you around all the time. Therefore Harriet feels it is imperative to always have you with her, especially in new and unpredictable situations which may cause her to feel stress. Harriet’s behaviour clearly shows that she is securely attached to you as she does become distressed if you leave but can be easily comforted by you when upset. You describe a very typical scenario of Harriet being able to play well when you are in sight but becoming distressed if you leave. I am sure you notice her playing happily yet looking at you regularly to check on your whereabouts. Your presence in this situation gives Harriet the confidence to try new things and move further from you but if she feels threatened in any way, she will rush to be near you again. Children all go through this development until such time as they feel safe to do things without their parent. Of course, this happens at different rates with different children and is affected by their personalities and their environment. It seems that it takes Harriet time to get used to new situations and it may be that she is a child who needs longer than other children or who is somewhat shy or sensitive to what is happening around her.

It is very positive that Harriet is being exposed to different social situations which will give her many opportunities to get used to a variety of scenarios. Going to toddler groups, seeing friends and so on will all enable Harriet to get used to seeing new people and to learn that they are not threatening and that these situations can be safe. As you describe, Harriet is taking some time to adjust to experiencing these new situations and despite doing them a number of times is still showing signs of distress. However, the more she is exposed to them the easier they will become and in time it is very likely that Harriet will become more at ease being with different people and will not be frightened of them. She needs to be exposed to these situations in a calm, careful and relaxed manner as children take their cues from their parents, so if you are showing signs of distress it is likely it will transfer to her. However, I know how difficult it is to see your child in distress and as you can anticipate times when she will get upset it is natural for you to become more anxious yourself at these times. So give a lot of thought to how to introduce her to the situation, tell her what is going to happen, who is going to be there and so on, every time you go into it. You can reassure her that ‘Mummy will be with her’ or ‘Mummy will leave and come back soon’, as appropriate. You must judge what situations are appropriate and try not to overload Harriet at this stage with lots of new experiences. With regard to leaving her with your friend, it may be advisable to leave her for a very short period at first, gradually increasing that over time.

It is very unlikely that the experiences following her birth have contributed to Harriet’s worries as there has been plenty of time for Harriet to develop the appropriate bond and attachment with you. Although it was very difficult for you to have Harriet taken away from you following her birth, it was for a relatively short period of time, after which the bonding process between mother and child began in earnest. Harriet and you have had many months to create a warm and secure bond, and the loving environment which you describe will stand Harriet in good stead throughout her life.

As Harriet gets older, I am sure you will notice that she becomes more confident and less threatened by people and experiences. And remember, this stage will not last forever!