Freedom Goes to a Two Year Old’s Head

Q: My 2-year-old recently transitioned from crib to bed. The freedom seems to be more than he can handle, and he has taken to destroying the bedroom he shares with his 3-year-old brother. Of course we’ve childproofed the room but there are clothes in drawers and some books on the shelf, mainly for the older brother. Typically in the mornings, I would make both boys help me pick up the mess before breakfast, but I’m now focusing on just the one boy since he is the perpetrator/instigator( I can see it on the monitor and we did not have this problem with the older one).

Since I’ve singled him out though for correction and sent the other boy down for breakfast without helping to pick up, the behavior has gotten even worse and he’s more mad. He refuses to clean up at all and the day goes downhill right from the beginning with him. He will only clean up if his brother is helping and I stay in the room with them. Left alone with instructions, he refuses. I do not show any frustration but simply let him know he made the mess and now he needs to pick it up or he will spend the day in his room except meals. He then proceeds to have fits, fiddle around in the room and look for other items to pull apart. We’ve stripped the room to bare bones but this is making things difficult. Should I be doing something else or is there a way to get some quicker action on his part?

Image courtesy of num_skyman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: It’s amazing how different our kids are, isn’t it? Where one is more laid back, another is a spitfire. Where one stays in bed, the other one is a human tornado.

A couple of things to keep in mind with your particular situation. First, a toddler doesn’t have the long-term memory to put two and two together—in this case, that he wrecked his room, therefore he must pick up and stay in his room until it’s done. When you expect a child to do more than a child is capable, that’s when you build frustration—in the child and parent. Of course he doesn’t want to clean up by himself! He hasn’t connected the dots that it’s his mess.

Second, don’t expect quick action from a toddler. They are by their very nature dawdlers. They are learning so much in a short time frame, and everything fascinates and distracts them. This is the beauty and annoyance of twos!

But don’t despair! There is hope to turn things around. You don’t mention when he does this destruction—in the evening going to bed or in the morning when he wakes up. See if you can pinpoint the timing, then you can make your plan. If in the evening, you are likely able to hear him do this (or station yourself outside his door to listen). When you hear drawers opening, you come into the room and stop him in his tracks. Have him immediately pick up the items by the light of the hallway (with you alongside him) and pop him back in bed with minimal talking. If it’s in the morning, gauge when he usually wakes up, wake up a bit earlier, and repeat the halt him in his tracks/pick up routine.

Anytime he needs to pick up, do it alongside him, directing him gently. “You pick up the toy trucks, while I get the trains” type thing. Have him focus on one part of the job, not the entire thing. Clothes all over the floor can be overwhelming for any child, so picking out the shirts, then moving to socks, etc., will help teach him how to manage a larger task and help keep him on task.

Also make sure you have lots of positive touch points throughout the day with him, little interactions that give him your full attention and love. Keeping that close connection will make the discipline times go more smoothly and will help you have a better attitude toward him as well.

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