Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

My 8.5mth daughter has started to become very clingy to me despite going to nursery twice a week

My 8.5mth daughter has just started to become very clingy towards me. If she knows I am in the room she will whinge until I pick her up but isn’t a cuddly baby. She loved sitting with her dad when he gets home from work whilst I go into the kitchen to prepare dinner but this past week she has screamed as soon as I walk out of the lounge. Also, my husband takes her to bed and always brings her into the kitchen to say goodnight. She has also just started screaming as soon as he walks out of the kitchen. Is there anything I can do to make her less clingy? I thought going to nursery 2 mornings a week would help.

Separation anxiety is common amongst babies of this age. As it is a developmental stage it can happen regardless of whether or not they attend a nursery. The baby has come to realize that she is a separate person from you.

Up until now your daughter thought of herself as an extension of you. Now that she understands that she is a separate person she can become rather clingy, concerned that the person she loves so much is going to leave her. She has learnt that you can go away from her, but she does not know when you are going to return. At the end of the day, when she is tired, she may be clingier than earlier on when you left her at nursery.

If your daughter is already crawling you may notice that she will try to follow you wherever you go. If she is not crawling then she may be more clingy as she knows that when you leave her side she is unable to get to you. If you are in the same room and she is whinging to be picked up, try talking to her about what you are doing. Use a reassuring voice, acknowledging her needs but also encouraging her to wait for a minute or two before you attend to her. Getting the balance right between accepting her present need for being close to you and encouraging her to amuse herself for short periods on her own can be difficult during this phase. At certain times of the day she may need more holding and carrying than at others. When she is tired or hungry she may be less able to cope with her feelings about being apart from you. Accepting and understanding her needs will help you to manage during this phase.

This anxiety can continue for quite a while in varying degrees but will have probably disappeared after her first birthday, although it can overlap a period when she becomes very wary of people unknown to her.

To help your daughter through these times it is best to be sympathetic to her needs, but also help her to understand that, although you have disappeared from sight, you are not gone altogether. It can be difficult if you feel that your baby would prefer to be with you rather than her father. But this is a phase and it will pass so keep encouraging him to care for her. It will help get her used to being apart from you, although it may mean a few tears, if she is cared for by other members of her family, and spends time at nursery. If you try to ignore these feelings she has, by leaving her alone in a room with no warning or sneaking out so she doesn’t see, it may take her longer to get over it. She will become clingier in case you disappear rather then learning to cope with short absences.

Play lots of games of “peek a boo” with your daughter to help her realize that, although she cannot see you, you are still there and will return. Begin with being next to her and hiding your face behind a cushion or muslin. Call to her, “Where’s Mummy?” and then reappear. Once she has learnt how this game works she may try to find you by pulling at the muslin or cushion. Then begin to move further away from her, hiding behind a chair or sofa. Gradually extend the time that you hide, and move further from her side. Reassure her with your voice whilst you are hiding if she begins to look distressed. Play these games at a time of day when she is not getting tired so she can enjoy the surprise element rather than getting upset.

In the evenings when you leave your daughter to go into the kitchen, tell her that you are going and have a short phrase such as “Bye, bye, see you later” which you always use. This may not stop the tears completely but will help her realize that this is what happens just before her bath time and so help her become more used to the idea. Use a similar phrase when kissing her goodnight. The one that comes to mind is, “Sleep tight, make sure the bed bugs don’t bite, see you in the morning light”. Again, she may still cry at the parting but will come to understand that the phrase signals the time she must leave you. It can be distressing to hear your baby cry, especially just before bed, but it is a good idea that her father continues to put her to bed.

Try to keep upbeat and cheerful even if you don’t feel it yourself. It is much better that you ride out this phase by not giving in entirely to her cries for you. She will soon realize that her father is a pretty special part of her world as well. The more time he does care for her, the quicker she will realize this and begin to enjoy his company again. As she learns to cope with her feelings about leaving you and realizes that you do return, her anxieties should begin to decrease.

For more on this subject have a look at Gina’s book Contented Baby to Confident Child, page 73.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

My daughter of 6mths screams whenever we go into shops. What can I do?

My baby hates any sort of shops. She is fine in the pram out and about but really screams in any shop. The supermarket was the first place, so I tried the supermarket with the pram but that still didn’t help. I always make she that she has had a good sleep before we go anywhere from home but this still doesn’t help. It makes my day very boring as I can’t go anywhere. She also seems grumpier when at other people’s houses; she can cry all the time I am there and be perfectly content when we arrive home.

It can seem very isolating if you feel that you cannot go anywhere because your daughter becomes upset. Both of you do need time out and about and visiting with friends. Since your daughter is obviously wary of new situations then begin in a very small and gentle way to introduce her to the world. You are sensible to have tried taking her out at a time of day when she has had a good sleep and is not getting hungry for a feed.

Your daughter will feel more secure if she is close to you. If you have a buggy or pram where you can sit her facing you then use that option as you then can talk to her about where you are going and what you are seeing. If you don’t have a buggy with this option use a baby carrier or sling for your first trips out. The carriers where the baby can face forwards are the best for this age. Your daughter will be able to see what is going on but have the security of your body close to her, and the sound of your reassuring voice nearby. If you do not have a carrier or can’t borrow one you may have to start by carrying your daughter in your arms. This will not be easy if you want to do a lot of shopping so use this method just to get her used to going into shops before trying to do the shopping as well.

Many shops today are brightly lit and have loud music playing. Before attempting to take her into a big, bright noisy supermarket take her into smaller, local shops. Finding a corner store, newsagent or greengrocer will be best for these first few trips. Talk to her about where you are going and what you are going to see. Although she will not understand your words she will understand your tone of voice. If you sound apprehensive or worried she will pick up on that tension and become wary and frightened herself. Your attitude to this problem will really help her. Hold her close to you, and keep talking and smiling at her. “Look, we are going to see all the fruit and vegetables, what shall we buy today?” is the sort of chat you need to keep up.

Take a moment to pause in front of the shop window before entering. If you feel your daughter is becoming apprehensive reassure her with your voice. Show her the pile of bright oranges and lemons or array of chocolate bars; “These are bright, they look good to eat”. Keep chatting to her about all you see. Provided the shop is not too crowded you may be able to buy a newspaper or some fruit and leave. Once outside praise your daughter for managing to stay calm and thank her for letting you get your errands done.

To help her get used to shopping try to go out every day and go into one or two small shops each time, even if just to look around. The step from getting her used to local shops to the supermarket is quite big but if you give her time, and remain calm and upbeat yourself you may decide in a few weeks she is ready to go with you on a supermarket trip. The more familiar she becomes with shops, lights, people and the general busyness of the world the less likely she is to get upset. Keep talking, and praising her and gradually go into bigger, brighter, busier shops as her confidence grows.

For the first trip to the supermarket don’t attempt to achieve a mammoth weekly shop. Have five or six items on your list. If she is happier in a carrier or being held, rather than being in a buggy, take her in that way and buy things you can easily put and carry in a basket. Until she is more familiar with the supermarket don’t attempt to put her in a trolley with a child seat. This step will come later.

If you can, try to choose a quieter time of day for your first visit together. Mid -morning or afternoon before the schools come out may be ideal. Keep talking to her about where you are going and what you will see. Remain confident and happy yourself. If your supermarket is very large and bright pause as you get inside the door and let her look around to take in where she is. Just as you did with the first trips out, draw her attention to what you are looking at whether it is the fruit and vegetable counters or the cereal aisle. Reassure her and praise her for being such a quiet girl and letting you get your shopping done.

If your daughter does start to get upset when in a shop try to calm her and carry on. If she refuses to be comforted then leave as soon as you can and reassure her all the way out. Don’t let a setback this put you off trying again. The more experiences she has of going into shops and busy places the quicker she should get over her fears. It may take a while to get your daughter to the stage where you can put her in the trolley and get the whole week´s shopping done but, taken slowly and in stages, your daughter should get more used to the noise and bustle of shops. The longer you both remain at home and don’t address the problem the longer it will take her to get used to new surroundings.

The same techniques should be applied to visiting friends. Carry her into their house, or remove her from her buggy and hold her as soon as you get inside. Sit with her on the floor and hold her on your knee as she gets used to being in a different place. The first few visits may be spent entirely sitting on your lap observing all that is going on around her. Don’t put her down on the floor amongst other babies until you are sure she is ready. Again, move slowly towards the stage when she will play on the floor alongside other babies. Once she seems content and happy to watch the others, lie or sit her up close beside you, where she can see your face. Reassure her all the time, show her one or two toys and let her gradually get used to being with other people. Around this age separation anxiety can begin so it is best to accept she may need to be held or sit close to you when in strange surroundings. This phase will pass more quickly if you deal with it in a sympathetic and reassuring way, rather than trying to leave her on the floor in a strange house and move out of her sight.

Some babies are very sensitive to bright light, loud music, different smells and surroundings and react to new experiences with fear. Providing you stay close to her and reassure her that she is doing well and how pleased you are with her, her fears should begin to subside. The more you take her out and about, but acknowledge that she will need to be close to you and need a lot of reassurance to get used to new situations, the quicker you will both be able to enjoy both shopping trips and visiting friends.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

What should I be doing to help my 11mth son who has had a few changes recently and is far less settled?

My son was previously a perfect Gina baby, sleeping well for all naps and eating well. We moved house 2 months ago, I started work 1 month ago. My son started to become more unsettled. Now he always wakes crying and screaming whereas he used to chatter in his cot. He jumps up and down in cot in anger until we pick him up. Usually we control cry for at least 45mins in morning. We never bring him out of cot before 6.30am which is a fine time for us. We tend to give up more quickly when he wakes from day time naps.

Now he won’t settle for morning nap any longer, but really is too tired to drop it. So I give him quiet time in buggy, early lunch, and settle him early for his lunch time nap. But he is only sleeping a maximum of one hour at lunch time resulting in overtiredness in evening and early waking.

His chronic over tiredness is starting to make him cranky and now he has also started rousing frequently in the night although we don’t get up to him and he does settle again. How can we get back on track? It is difficult not being sole carer to enforce routines more rigidly but other the carers are on board to try things out. He is cared for by a child minder 2 days a week, my mother takes him for 2 days and I care for him the other 3.

He is ever so active during the day chasing cats and toddling around everywhere but is not as contented as he used to be and is becoming more wingy, clingy and he seems to be regressing further away from the routine that he kept so happily for so long. Is this normal for this age? I also carry a lot of guilt about returning to work and am unsure whether I am meant to be firm setting consistent boundaries or whether I should be reassuring and relieving new anxieties he may be having?

My son eats three meals a day having breakfast of cereal and fruit. He drinks cow’s milk and formula mixed from a beaker. He will have a small snack midmorning followed by lunch at 11.30-1145am. This is his protein meal of the day which he eats well. He drinks milk from a beaker at 2.30pm and eats a vegetarian tea with finger food. At 6.45pm he takes 7fl oz milk from a cup.

Your son has had two quite big changes in his life recently. He is of the age where separation anxiety can become quite intense so it is not surprising that he is a little more clingy and demanding of you.

How you deal with it is important. It can be so difficult when you have to return to work but feel it may be affecting your child. But given sympathetic, consistent but firm handling your son will begin to adapt to his new surroundings and daily routine. It may take a few months but will gradually improve. Being sympathetic to his needs doesn’t mean you need to give in to him all the time to compensate for your return to work.

The energy levels of a newly walking toddler are amazing but they can easily get overtired and so lose their good sleep habits, as you have already realized.

Try to build rest times into his day at regular intervals. As well as the quiet time you give him in his buggy before lunch take him out in it around 4pm. Even just a short walk at this time will help him to rest as he watches the world go by. Until he is more settled at night bring his bath and bedtime forward to nearer 6.30pm if this is possible. Having a quiet time after tea, followed by a warm bath, a short time spent looking at a book and then being settled for the night by 6.30/6.40pm should help him not become so overtired. This earlier bedtime may not show any immediate effects on his early waking or night time restlessness for a week or so, but keep with it. Make sure you follow the same simple routine every night so he begins to feel more secure and able to relax to sleep, rather than falling asleep exhausted. Keep bath time quiet and try not to let him run around too much afterwards. Getting him to his room and into his cot within half an hour of coming out of the bath will really help him calm down.

The early mornings should begin to disappear once he has more rest periods in the day and an earlier bedtime. In the morning you do need to be firm and consistent about telling him it is not daytime yet. He is still young but, if you use the same words every morning when he begins to cry and scream for you, he will come to realize that no matter what noise he makes you are not willing to start the day before 6.30am. Put a few board books and soft toys at the end of his cot when you go to bed so he has something to amuse himself when he wakes in the morning. It may take a few days for him to do this but eventually he will find them.

Controlled crying, when carried out, would mean you lengthen the time before going in to your child each morning. Have a look in Gina’s Complete Sleeping Guide, page 45, for a full description. As your son is waking early and demanding attention it would be a good idea to leave him for about ten minutes and then go in to him. Lay him down in his cot and using the same words each morning tell him; “Go to sleep, it is not daytime yet” then leave. You may have to do this every ten minutes or so for at least a week before he realises that you do mean what you say. This will also help him trust you. Although you are not giving in to his demands to get out of his cot, you are acknowledging that he is awake. By using the same few words you are not rewarding his shouting and crying but teaching him that he has to wait for you in the mornings. Boundaries do need to begin to be put in place at this age, but they need to be appropriate for a very young toddler whose comprehension is still limited. Your tone of voice and body language are the way he understands that you are not going to change your mind about early mornings.

As well as needing to set boundaries you also need to relieve your son’s anxieties, which is hard work for you. Keeping to his routine, asking his other carers to do the same in terms of quiet times in the day and accepting that he no longer needs as much daytime sleep, should all help him. The consistency he receives from all who care for him will help him over this phase of his development. By using the routines and the same rituals when you leave in the morning and come home at night will all help him feel more secure in himself. A toddler of this age thrives on knowing what is going to happen next. He will accept the changes in his life with your help and guidance. Acknowledging and understanding this next stage of his life will help you. You seem already to realise that his needs are changing and you are adapting to them as best you can. How you handle the early mornings will help you as he grows more independent and assertive in other areas of his life.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

At 8.5 months old my son is crawling fast and into everything

Although I was excited when my son began to crawl at 7.5 months, I had no idea how much chaos he would begin to cause. I seem to be constantly tidying up and putting back the books and videos he pulls from the lower shelves. I don’t want to keep saying no to him but the house always seems to look a mess and it really gets me down at times. How do I balance his need for freedom and my need for some domestic order?

Once a baby learns to crawl it is quite amazing to see how quickly he learns to empty shelves and cupboards and delights in doing so. Getting the balance right is a very personal thing. Some people can live in the chaos and it does not worry them at all. They may decide to have one big clearing up session once a day, or not at all. Other women find it hard to see their house strewn with toys and the contents of their shelves and cupboards and are constantly running around picking up. Taking the middle road is the best option.

Decide if you are going to have some “baby free” areas. Shut these off using doors or stair gates. If you have enough room you may be able to keep a sitting room free in this way and so know that one room is suitable to show unexpected visitors into, should they arrive.

Having somewhere as your own personal space is important. It maybe your bedroom or your own desk but whatever corner of the house you decide on, be prepared to be firm and consistent in keeping it for yourself. Although you will not want to constantly say “no” your son does need to learn the meaning of the word and will do so if it used for a few areas and items consistently.
The areas of the house where you spend most time are likely to be centred around the kitchen. Although your baby will like to be near to you, you may decide that the kitchen itself is too small or dangerous with hot stoves to allow him to crawl around and possibly trip you up. Again use stair gates to prevent his entry. He can play beyond the gate and still have you in his sight. He may protest at this until he gets used to the idea but it is better there are a few tears than having to deal with a nasty burn or scald. If you make the area beyond the gate interesting and child proof he will learn how to amuse himself there.

Babies love to empty shelves and drawers. By providing him with a low shelf and or drawer of his own filled with things which will not hurt him if he pulls on them he can be taught that yours are off limits. One way to prevent shelves being emptied is to pack books or videos really tightly so he is unable to pull one out and so clear the lot. Having a drawer of his own will keep him occupied for a time. Fill it with household items such as plastic boxes and lids, wooden and plastic utensils, cardboard tubes from loo rolls and kitchen roll, an old saucepan and other things which you know will appeal to him.

There are plenty of child-proofing items on the market such as door- and drawer locks, film to protect glass doors, video locks and plastic table corners. Look at the room or rooms that your son will spend most of his time in whilst down on all fours and you will be able to see it from his point of view. Use these products to provide a safe but interesting area for him to spend time in.
It is very tempting to constantly clear up behind an exploring baby. You should keep certain areas of the house clear: such as the stairs, hallways and frequently used passageways to prevent accidents. To begin to teach your baby that tidying up is part of the day decide to do a general clear up at certain points of the day. These may be before lunch time, before you go out and before bath time. He is still too young to really grasp the idea yet but if you tell him every time that it is “tidy up time now” he will begin to realise what you are doing. Ask him to hand you a brick or toy to put into a basket or box. Keep his toys in order using baskets or plastic storage boxes for different things rather than a jumble of everything in a one big toy box. Watching you daily he will begin to grasp the idea although he may not be of much help yet. You may have a quick tidy whilst he is around and then a more intensive one once he is having a nap or gone to bed in the evening. He will be able to play more contentedly if he is able to find his toys in the same place rather than living in constant chaos. Let him explore during the day but teach him that some order is a good thing.

Development FAQ: 0-6 months – Behaviour

How can I get my 5 month old to be as willing to play alone as her twin sister?

I have 5 month old twin girls. They were born 2 months prematurely.

While one daughter is quite easy and self entertaining, the other is very active and wants to be carried around all the time. I know that they are different babies with different characters but I am worried about my daughter as she starts crying the moment or after 10 minutes she is put on the play mat or the cot to play. I have tried sitting beside her and play with her with the toys but doesn’t quite work.
How can I make her learn to play on her own for longer periods? Is it ok to leave her cry for a while so that she can break the habit?

I need advice on that issue desperately; it’s getting harder and harder with her.

Accepting that your twins have separate characters is important. But this does not mean you cannot help your daughter be a little more independent and willing to play alone for short periods. It may take her time to do this but with sympathetic and gentle handling things will improve. Although you may have to accept that there will always be one who seems to need more attention than her sister.

Look at her stage of development and see what she is able to do. If her hand-to- eye skills are good and she can manipulate well with her fingers make sure the toys you are providing for her are helping her refine these skills. You may need to go through the toy box and take out the toys which are too young for your girls’ age. You may have to make two baskets, one for each of them, depending on their abilities.

Toys which may interest her now are more complex rattles which she can manipulate in her hands, toys which make a noise ; there are many varieties on this theme with squeakers, bells, “scrumple sounds” and other rewards for pushing, pulling and twisting. A mirror hung on the side of a cot or playpen, or the kind which are wedge shaped and so can be placed in front to of a baby can be fascinating to this age. Simple board books, soft books, soft and hard blocks will all be interesting to your daughter. An activity centre which again may be hung at eye level will offer several different activities needing varying levels of skill.

Once you feel you are providing the right sorts of toys, getting her attention onto them for a space of time is the next step. It is realistic to hope that a baby of this age should be able to manage 15-20mins of playing alone before needing some adult attention. Your other daughter is well able to do this but you will need to build up the time of playing alone for the twin who thinks being carried around is the best occupation.

Set her on her play mat and put one or two toys within her grasp if she reaches for them. If she spends her time lying on her back, put toys to the left or right of her head to encourage her to move from side to side. She may enjoy being propped up surrounded by cushions, as at this angle she can see more of what is going about her. Place a toy or two with in her reach but to one side so she uses her whole trunk to twist and reach it. Stay within her sight and chat to her from time to time about what she is playing with: “Oh I see you have the red brick, can you pick up the blue one too?”, “What a lovely noise you make with that rattle”. Let her see that you are watching her at times but not always actively engaging with her. At this age she will start to become aware that you can disappear from view. This maybe more upsetting to her than her sister. Either take her with you if you move to another room for a period of time, or call through to reassure her if you pop out for a minute or two.

When she begins to get cranky use your voice to “jolly“ her on a little, but increase the time before you pick her up. She may begin to cry but keep the bright voice and tell her “I will pick you up but I need to finish doing this – where is your book?” Distracting her and encouraging her with your voice will help her to play for longer periods. Leaving her for a few minutes before picking her up will not harm her. It is better not to rush in and pick her up as soon as she starts to cry.
Be aware that over stimulation can cause a baby to be unable to play alone. Only have two toys out at a time for each baby. But a baby of this age does have a short attention span. Whilst keeping an eye on her and telling her what you are doing, don’t always rush in to show her how things work or rescue her. If she gets cranky after 10mins and learns to wait another 3-4mins then sit beside her and find a new object to show her. Talk to her for 3-4mins and then leave her again. Rotating toys and her view about every 20mins again will keep her more occupied. Her sister may be happy to stay in one position for longer but accept that your daughter is active and inquisitive so move her from mat to sitting, to time on her tummy in front of a mirror. Interact with her for a short time at each change of scene and then leave her. In this way you are accepting her need for change and your need to have 15-20 mins when she plays independently.
You may want to look at having a baby bouncer for your daughters, if you have not done so already. Used for a short spell of 15-20mins a bouncer can provide an active baby with a different view of the room and the feeling of movement. Read the fitting and safety instructions carefully and don’t use it for prolonged periods.

As well as encouraging your daughter to play alone, make sure you have several times in the day when you give them both your undivided attention whilst looking at a book or singing rhymes together. Spend a short time each day with both of them on the floor practicing rolling and spending time on their tummies.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Behaviour

How do I stop toy throwing?

My son is two and he is becoming a real terror. He throws his toys and anything else in reach down the stairs (over the gate). I’ve tried a whole variety of tactics – being nice, telling him off firmly, smacking his hand, shouting, confiscating the toys, and even ignoring him. But he’s completely unmoved. In fact, he laughs. The problem is, he’s causing real damage. I think the problem is attention-seeking, as it seems to happen when I’m going to the toilet or getting dressed, but how do I stop it?

There are two simple ways to solve this problem. First, allocate a cupboard or a part of a wardrobe with a lock to store all his toys, particularly the heavy ones. Allow him one or two out at any given time in his bedroom – he can only play with one thing at a time so it isn’t really necessary for the whole of the upstairs to be littered with his toys. If he is only allowed one or two toys out at a time and then made to put them away before he gets any more out, he will start to learn that toys are for playing with, not throwing.

If he then throws the toy he has chosen to play with downstairs, he should be told in a very firm voice that toys are for playing with and not throwing. He should then be made to pick the toy up and place it in the cupboard and told that he can choose another toy to play with when he promises not to throw. Allow a period of 10-15 minutes before allowing him to go to the cupboard again. Be consistent with this approach and do not shout or smack him. In most cases of bad behaviour, it is the lack of consistency in dealing with it that causes the long-term problem.

You also mention that your absence often triggers this behaviour. The second way to deal with the problem is not leave him on his own. It may be controversial but I believe children under the age of three should never be left unsupervised, not even for a minute.

Take him with you to the loo or to get dressed. Not only will it save you picking up toys, but it will ensure he is safe. Sadly every year many thousands of young children suffer serious injury because parents turned their back for just a minute.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Behaviour

Dealing with a sensitive child. What is the best approach to have with my two and half year old?

My two-and-a-half year old daughter has always been a very emotional and sensitive child. She bursts into tears for the slightest reason. For instance, if she can’t find the right piece for the jigsaw, she falls over or someone speaks sharply, she gets hysterical unless she is picked up and cuddled. My husband and I are having major rows over how to deal with this. I feel we have to toughen her up a bit before she starts nursery at three years old, but my husband disagrees and says that it is better if she is comforted all the time as this will help her to grow up to be a more sensitive human being.

It is never easy when parents disagree over the upbringing of their children. Try to always have any discussions about your daughter’s behaviour well out of her earshot as the problem will only get worse if she senses tension between you. Look at the following ideas and try to reach an agreement over the best way to handle your daughter’s sensitivity. If both of you handle her in the same way she will learn that you both care for her and her needs, but are also allowing her to be a little more in control of her emotions. This is what will help her to grow up to be a sympathetic person who senses others needs and helps them.

There are many ways that you can console and be sympathetic to your daughter without always resorting to picking her up. In the case of tumbles, the more emotional you become about the situation, rushing to her, picking her up and being overly gushing about whether she is alright, could make her even more hysterical.

Of course you need to make sure she is alright but often it is the shock of falling over rather than any injury which makes children cry. “Whoops a daisy, up you get”, said cheerfully whilst helping her up, rubbing her knees as you do so, may result in her hardly crying at all. If she is upset, then sit her beside you rather than always lifting her up. Look at her knees, hands or whatever using a sympathetic”That was a nasty tumble”, and then think of something to take her mind off what has just happened. Distraction often works wonders. Ask her to help you get the vegetables out so you can begin lunch or take her upstairs to help you make the beds.

Helping your daughter to be a little more in control when frustrated will help her when she begins nursery. If she has lost a piece of jigsaw, make a game of finding it. Be a little silly and ask out loud:”I wonder if it hiding in the fridge?”, and with great flourish pretend to look. “Oh no, silly me!”. A few other places can be searched which will probably result in her laughing rather than becoming hysterical. Help her to look for it properly as well and if possible let her be the “finder” even if you have located it first. If she can’t get something to fit or undo, immediately help her and say: “This is tricky!”. This will help her control her emotions a little, by helping her realise, that if she perseveres things usually will work out.

Small children do get frustrated quite quickly, so they need help in being able to calm down and work at the problem. It will help her independence if she is able to achieve things for herself rather than always bursting into tears, needing long cuddles and an adult to solve things for her.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Behaviour

Thomas, who is 2yrs 7mths won’t let me wash his hair.

Since our son Thomas was about 18 months old, it has been a real struggle to wash his hair. He has always moaned, but now it has developed into a battle where he will kick and scream, especially during the rinsing stage. I have bought different types of halos, but after a few sessions he still protests. He is now 2 years 7 months, but shows no sign of getting any better. Have you any ideas on how to make this time of the week less stressful?

Toddlers and small children often find having their hair washed an uncomfortable experience, despite it having been part of their washing ritual for a long time. Most struggles over hair washing come from the feeling of water running down their faces, especially into their eyes. This is why the special halos often have no lasting effect; as soon as the child puts his head forward, some water will find its way down their face and the struggle begins again. Getting Thomas to keep his head back during rinsing would help, but this is not always easy, especially if he is already struggling.

Rather than giving Thomas too much advance warning about tonight “being hair washing night”, tell him only once he is in the bath. Have a small plastic bucket or mug ready and two dry flannels close at hand. When you are ready to start, ask him to look up to the ceiling. Make a game of it by asking him if he can see any spiders. You should look too and pretend to see a real spider that is very small and moving fast. Keep up a running commentary while wetting his hair, using water scooped up in the bucket. Some protest may occur, but providing his head stays back there should be no real problem. If he senses some water, or you see some, use one of the flannels to wipe it away.

Again make a game of putting on the shampoo. If you have a mirrored splash back, let him see how funny his hair looks when you have styled it, or show him in a small hand mirror. Rinsing can involve the spider game again, or offer him one of the flannels to hold across his eyes while you rinse him off, leaning him back as much as he will let you.

Don’t worry too much. Generally, once children get used to water in their eyes at the swimming pool, something which seems to bother them a lot less than in the bath, hair washing tends to become less stressful.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Behaviour

My three year old rules the house.

My daughter Emily-Jo is getting worse by the day. It’s getting to the point that my husband and I are arguing about her all the time. She is constantly demanding things she wants, and never stops until we give in to her. This behavior could go on and on for days.

She never listens to us, and always manages to get her own way. I have tried to calm her down, but nothing works. She doesn’t sleep well so that does not help either.

She is currently under hospital supervision as my health visitor thought that she might have signs of “ADHD”, but the specialist told me that she was too young to suffer from that condition, and that she is very bright for her age. She also told me to put her in her room when she is naughty but it did not work as within 2 minutes, she undid all the child locks to open all the windows in her room, and leaned out of them.

We also have a 14 month old son Cody, and he has started watching her all the time to copy things she does. She also attacks him if we are not watching her, by biting him, twisting his arms or legs, or picking him up by the neck then dropping him. We are at are our wits end with her.

She is due to start nursery in two weeks and everyone tells me she will calm down, but I am not confident that it will make a difference. Do you have any ideas how I can deal with this behavior ?

It is very wearing for parents dealing with a toddler who is as demanding as this. There are several issues to consider here, aside from the bossiness you describe. Your little girl is also being aggressive towards your young son. I think you must decide which behaviour you wish to focus on in order to consider a way forward. I do not think you should leave it until she goes to nursery in the hope that it will calm down. Attending nursery may affect her behaviour in either a positive or a negative way, and equally, it may not have any impact at all on what is going on within your home environment.

Clearly she has been able to manipulate things within the house to such a large extent that both you and your husband are at your wits’ end. It is understandable that you feel like this, since she is wearing you both down and this is also affecting your relationship. You could choose to address the issue of her making demands first, or you could focus on her aggressive behaviour towards your younger son. I do not think you should try to do both at once, as they will require a substantial effort, and it is better to tackle things one at a time to give them your full attention. My advice to you is to tackle the one which is causing most harm – and that is the hostility towards your little boy.

Whatever you decide, the main point is for you and your husband to regain control over what goes on at home. It cannot be done if, as you describe, you are arguing with each other. This is an indication of your daughter’s strategy (albeit unconscious) of ‘divide and rule’. You and your husband must present a solid, impenetrable, indestructible, united front. This can only be achieved if you discuss with each other what to do, and what to say. We often advise parents and other adults dealing with difficult behaviour in children, to rehearse exactly the phrases they are going to use, so that the child really does hear the same message from each person. Decide with your husband what you are going to focus on first:the aggression or the demands. Then decide on the behaviour you do want to see from her, so that when you see it happening, you both recognise it. In order to address problem behaviour parents must be clear about exactly what they wish to alter, be specific, and know what the opposite of the bad behaviour will look like when it happens. So, for example, if you were running a video film of your daughter behaving well towards her brother, what is it that you would actually see her doing? It may help to write these things down, so that you can agree the types of behaviour you both wish to see and reward. This desirable behaviour must be observable and specific, such as “touch him gently with your hands”, not vague like “be nice to so and so”.

If you feel that no progress is being made, I suggest that you keep a note of the frequency and pattern of her aggressive behaviour. You may well find there is a pattern in terms of when it occurs, and then you can seek to distract her, supervise her more closely or separate them at these times. A tally of how often the behaviour occurs can tell you how effective your attempt to address it has been. You need to tell her in simple words. She will understand that she must not hurt her brother by touching or biting him. Tell and show her the sorts of things she can do with him, like stroking, singing, holding hands etc. Tell her that when she does these things you will be pleased with her, and when she does the others you will be very cross and take away things she likes. This could be toys or treats : you will know what things will have an impact on her if they are withdrawn. Only you and your husband can decide on these things. If necessary write them down. You must then carry out the negative sanction every time you see her behaving aggressively, even if she shows remorse and apologises. If you do not carry it out you will simply have set an elastic boundary. Such flexibility for young children is confusing and unhelpful in modifying their behaviour. She needs to learn from you and your husband that every time she does a certain thing, there will always be a given result. Every time. This is the hard bit, because it can take some children a while to learn it. Nevertheless, they will, if you keep applying the same sanctions for the same actions.

At the same time you will have agreed how to reward any positive behaviour she shows towards her brother. Such positive behaviour might simply be leaving him alone and not interfering with him at all. Comment on this behaviour by describing it in terms of her playing nicely by herself rather than making reference to what she shouldn’t be doing. So for example don’t say “Good girl you aren’t messing around with so and so”, but instead say “Well done, I’m pleased you are able to play nicely by yourself, tell/show me what you have been doing”. Your rewards could be anything from a smile and a hug, to a special time with you or a special “job” to be done. The rewards and sanctions have to be meaningful to the child. Often adults express their bewilderment at why a certain punishment doesn’t work. Unless it works it is not a punishment. Do not save either rewards or sanctions up until the end of a week. Even for teenagers, a delay can seriously reduce the effect. Reward and punish her as soon as you can, so that she connects her behaviour with the consequence.

With regard to the way in which she is behaving towards you and your husband : at the moment it seems that she has learned that to keep on demanding over a number of days eventually wears you down so that she gets what she wants. Undeniably, it is extremely difficult to put up with the constant whining and demands of young children. They seem to press buttons “irritate” and “annoy” very effectively. What you need to do, is arm yourself mentally against this and be prepared for it to happen. Equip yourselves with the tactic of ignoring or “not being able to hear” her. At the same time you need to offer her some special attention and “treats” when she does not expect or demand it, in order for you to regain control. If you need to respond to her demands, do so without emotion, and in a calm voice tell her that you can’t listen to her when she speaks like that. Then turn away and give her no eye contact until a different subject is raised.

Lastly, a starting point for your discussion with your husband: If your best friends were in the same situation with their little girl, what would you advise them to do? Discuss this first. It may give you a little bit of objectivity, and also shed some light on where you may agree and disagree.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Behaviour

My 26-month-old daughter demands juice all day and has tantrums a lot.

My daughter is, and always has been, very strong willed. She was a good eater up until the age of 13 months when she refused to be spoon fed. She was having 2 bottles of milk a day and slept all night and had 2 naps during the day. She ate a limited variety of finger foods for 6 months (e.g. organic baby bars, bread & butter, rusks, sausages and anything sweet). One day she started eating with a spoon and tucked in to fromage frais, porridge and fruit puree. Slowly she started eating toast, fish fingers, potato faces, some pasta, cereal, ham, baked beans, mini cheddars and anything sweet like cake or biscuits. She has 1 weak bottle of apple juice in the morning, 1 when she wakes up from her nap and a small cup just before she goes to bed. She demands juice all the time and hates sitting at the table in her chair to eat. She can take up to 21ozs of weak apple squash during the day.

Her breakfast may be 5 tbsp of apple puree, cereal or toast [very little of either], biscuit or apricot bread and butter. For lunch she is offered ham, sausages, mini cheddars or fish fingers and beans [the amount she eats varies, sometimes she eats nothing]. In the afternoon she has either fruit or a biscuit and for tea she is offered macaroni cheese or chips and ham [she eats little, sometimes nothing] followed by fromage frais, yoghurt or rice pudding. She quite often doesn’t eat anything and then ends up with a biscuit or some fruit. Her tantrums have got really bad in the last week. She constantly moans and whinges anyway, but now she throws herself on the floor, lashes out, chucks things around, screams really loudly and won’t get up. I have tried putting her in her room until she calms down, which she does sometimes, and then once she has said “sorry” she goes back to being naughty.

The amount of juice/squash that your daughter is consuming daily is affecting both her appetite and probably her behaviour. To be drinking this amount of fluid throughout the day will take away her appetite and she will refuse meals through not being hungry. Snacking on biscuits and fruit will only add to her being less hungry every meal time. The amount of sugar that both juice and squash contain, even when greatly diluted, could well be having some effect on her overall behaviour. Your daughter should be taking all her drinks from a cup now. Again you may meet resistance over bottles but remain calm and firm and explain that as she is two she drinks from a cup like everyone else. Encourage her to be a “big girl” and give her praise when she manages to drink her water from a cup rather than a bottle.

At two, tantrums are not uncommon in most children. There can be many reasons why some children appear to have more than others. These include frustration, a growing sense of independence, the child’s character and how the carers around them deal with each outburst. Now is the time to begin to set limits and boundaries for your daughter in all areas of her life, not to restrict her but to give her a sense of security knowing that all the people who care for her have the same approach to her behaviour and eating habits. She might not appreciate this at first but in time, if all her carers are consistent in their approach, she will begin to realise that her tantrums will not be given into. Alongside these limits she needs to receive praise for good behaviour when it is appropriate. This will help her self-esteem and confidence but must not be overdone as small children can very quickly learn to become dependant on it or rebel against it. Used properly, praise can help a small child behave in an appropriate way most of the time and begin to grow up to be a well-adjusted child. We also need to teach our children how to behave. Our example and how we react to them is important. Encouraging a child to behave well is just as helpful as praising them for doing so.

To help your daughter with her eating habits, begin to reduce the amount of squash or juice she has during the day. Dilute it more and more until it is only water and she may well decide she does not need so much. With her other carers at home, plan when her meal and snack times will be. Most children of this age do not have a very large appetite and are often better having 3 main meals a day, and two healthy snacks spaced in between. Her nursery probably has this in place already. Once you have decided on the times of her meals, explain to her that she must sit at the table to eat. You could perhaps find some cheap fun children’s crockery to have as her own and get her to help you set her place. It would help her greatly if at least one of her meals was taken at the same time and with the same food as yourself or her Daddy/Granny. Perhaps breakfast could be a time when you could eat together, as the social side of meals is as important as the content of them.

Explain to her that she may eat as much or as little as she likes, but once she has got down from the table there will be nothing more to eat or drink until her snack time. You may be worried, thinking that if she has eaten a very small amount of breakfast she will be hungry or thirsty before this snack.
She may be on the first few days but as you have decided to organize and control her eating and drinking habits you need to remain firm but calm if she begins to whinge and whine long before her snack is due. This is why all her carers must be prepared to deal with her in the same way, as she will soon realise who will and who will not give into her and her tantrums could well begin to escalate. Plan some fun activities for the morning to do together such as Play-Doh or drawing. Be prepared to sit with her and play alongside her for short spells of time. She may also enjoy helping you around the house. Two year olds can be very effective at dusting and like to feel that they are doing “grown up work”. To them, using grown-up dusters and brushes is as exciting as a new toy. Once her snack time comes, tell her she may have her snack and a drink of water once she is sitting at the table. Try to give her healthy alternatives such as: mini rice cakes, raw vegetables and a dip as well as fruit. Biscuits should be used very sparingly and until her overall eating has improved, then it would better not to offer them at all. Again in the beginning she may not like what is being offered to her and demand the things she is used to. It is important not to give her too many choices as most two year olds become overwhelmed and will refuse everything or constantly change their minds. Decide on two acceptable alternatives to you and tell her she may choose one of them: “Would you like some carrot sticks and dip, or a piece of fruit?”. If both are refused then do not offer anything else until the next meal. It may be hard to begin with but keep calm and use the same simple explanation: “I know you are cross because you want a biscuit but today you may have fruit or carrots. If you don’t want them then there is nothing else until lunchtime”. If you begin to get her to help you in simple tasks of getting snacks and meals ready, she may be more willing to sit and enjoy them. Keep her unbreakable crockery in a cupboard she can reach. When it is snack time ask her to fetch herself a cup and plate. Encourage her to help you put out some carrot sticks or fruit on her plate. Sit with her and enjoy a snack yourself.

With her main meals begin to vary a little what she is offered. Give her small portions as her appetite is not big at this age. Most two-year-olds who are good eaters will eat one fish finger, a tablespoon of peas, a tablespoon of chopped carrots or 2 or 3 small broccoli florets. Give her very small portions but with plenty of colour and variety so her meal looks appetising. Add very small amounts of things she may not usually eat, such as vegetables. If she finishes everything on her plate then offer her dessert. Again be aware how much sugar there can be in some fromage frais. Plain yoghurt with unsweetened puree would be better. If she doesn’t finish her meal then don’t be tempted to let her have an alternative such as fruit. Again she must wait until her snack time. If she plays around or wants to get down without finishing take her meal away and explain she may have something to eat at her next snack time. Consider using a star chart and reward with an extra story at bedtime rather than with sweets or biscuits if she has managed to eat her meals well and sat at the table each time.

Star charts can be a great way for small children to visibly see that they have behaved well as they are invariably impressed with being awarded a shiny star! You could add in a line for using a cup.

To help her have less tantrums try to see what starts them off. Is she tired, bored, frustrated or hungry? If you think it is the last, don’t be tempted to give her a biscuit or drink unless it is her snack or meal time. If you are consistent and persistent in offering healthy meals and snacks she will less likely to have tantrums through hunger. If she is tired then find a quite occupation such as a jigsaw or book to look at together. If you think she is bored look at her general day and how much outside time she has: Is there plenty of opportunity for her to run and climb in a park or your garden? Take her for a walk and talk about what you see on the way; many of the everyday sights in a street are fascinating to small children. Get her to help you around the house with simple chores. Look at her toys and remove all those which she is too old for. Too many toys about often lead to a small child being unable to play with anything for any length of time. Put away as much as you can in baskets which are labelled with a picture of their contents. Sort out bricks from dolls and books from jigsaws so she can see what she has and decide what she would like to play with. Encourage her to put toys away when she has finished with them before choosing something else. If she does have a tantrum, and it is not always possible to head them off, try holding her with her back to you until she calms down. Then tell her “good calming” and suggest a new thing to do. If you do need to talk to her about her behaviour or get her to do something, get down to her eye level and hold her hands by her sides so she has to look at you. Use short and simple sentences rather than long explanations. By using small opportunities throughout the day to encourage her and point out her good behaviour: “that is a great tower you are building”, she will learn that is much better to behave and play than have a tantrum and spend time in her room. Turning a two-year-olds behaviour around is not easy and there may be days when you cannot see any improvement despite all your changes. Keep going as a change in her general eating habits and lessening her intake of squash, along with encouragement and appropriate activities, should help her in all areas.