Toddler Behavior: 21-month old turns violent

Parenting Question: I have a 21-month old son. He was looked after by my mother-in-law since he was 17 months-old. Then she fell ill and could no longer care for him. So we sent him to a babysitter near our house. The babysitter is also taking care of another child who is three years old. This boy loves to watch Ultraman videos and has lots of Ultraman toys. I am against the idea of play themes with violence.

My husband and I do not allow our son to watch any violent action movies. He does not own a toy gun or a sword. He is very disciplined and obedient. But recently, he has become rather stubborn and demanding. If he does not get want he wants, he will say “beat Mummy” or “beat Daddy” or beat anything that he dislikes.

I do not know if my son learned this from the little boy at the babysitter’s. How can we discipline our son without spanking him?

Concerned parent of one

Answer: Toddlerhood is a time to declare independence. Your toddler son was very disciplined and obedient a few months ago because he was younger then. Now he is older and wiser, he will try to assert his will which is a part of growing up. It is up to parents to know the right thing to do so that toddlers can grow up with a positive self-esteem.

Changing care providers may make your toddler feel anxious. Your child will require a period of adjustment before he settles down. The change in behaviour could also be his way of exploring and finding out what works and what does not. He is trying to understand the new people around him and new ways of doing things.

When your child hits you or say “Beat Mummy”, you can show him an angry face and block his hand. You can say to him, “I don’t like to be hurt. You can let me know what you want in words.” Act firmly and be in control. Your toddler needs to know that hitting is unacceptable when you send him a message using both verbal and non-verbal skills.

Give him the words when he finds it difficult to express himself. For example, if he insists on something that he wants and refuses to wait for it, you can say to him: “You want me to give it to you now. But you can only have it when we get home. You will have to wait a bit longer.”

Pick your battles wisely with your toddler. He will need your guidance and ideas in dealing with different situations. Be patient with him. Your toddler may learn from the way you work and develop these lessons into life-long habits.

Ruth Liew is an expert in early childhood education, child development, parenting, and child care. She is an author and a columnist.