Question: I have a 2 year old little girl who has had hearing problems before, and this past October she had tubes put into her ears. Her vocabulary and her speech have improved greatly. I am just wondering what I can do to discipline her. If I tell her to do something she tells me no, she screams, throws herself to the ground and she just won’t listen. I have tried putting her in time out, taking away her most prized toys, taken away her TV time and even tried getting to her level. It’s either I get hit in return or just screamed at. She also has a sister who is 3 years old, but she is well behaved. I am at a loss of what to do with my 2 year old. I also tried being the teaching type and trying to explain to her what is right or wrong and even why she is getting into trouble. I am at a loss right now and my 2 year old is winning and I don’t know what else to do.
Dr. Jen: We’ve all been there! Methods to approach discipline in the toddler-early preschooler age range will provide a foundation for how your child responds to appropriate discipline moving forward. It sounds like there are several factors at play in your situation. Here are some Dr. Jen® strategies to manage them!
1. The “hearing problems” and speech/vocabulary delay. You mention that your daughter’s speech has improved greatly since getting tubes put into her ears. Have you had her hearing tested? Is she working with someone to independently evaluate her speech and language? Communication struggles can be very frustrating for young children – trying to say something and either not having the language or the ability to vocalize the words can lead to some of the behaviors you describe. Calmly and quietly, ask her: “What are you upset about? What are you trying to tell Mommy?”
2. The older sibling who is well behaved. Perhaps your daughter is doing everything she can to get some of Mommy’s attention, and seeing her older sister being so good is one way to distinguish herself from the bunch. Some children will use tantrums (screaming, hitting) as a way to get attention – because it’s worked before and it will continue to work. Stop the pattern and ignore her screaming and crying behavior. Say, “Mommy’s ears work better when you talk quietly and tell me what you are upset about. Mommy isn’t going to be able to help you if you scream and hit me.” Then be sure to follow through with what you say.
3. You are at a loss for what to do. Your daughter knows it! She sees that her behavior is getting the best of you, and giving her the attention and most likely the goal she’s seeking (screaming for a toy, she eventually gets the toy because she has worn you down). Break the cycle, don’t let her tantrums wear you down. Let her know you are turning the tables. Be sure if you are really frustrated NOT to turn to physical or verbal methods of discipline (no spanking, no yelling) and seek help from a friend or professional if you feel you may lose control.
Finally, as with all aspects of parenting, consistency is key. Stick to the principles you establish and don’t waver. Communicate in a calm voice, and once things settle down, celebrate! Have fun! Bring some play into the equation (“If you tell me why you are sad, and say it in a calm voice, we can play dolls!”). Most of the time, behind the tantrum is a little girl who simply wants some attention, some snuggles and play time with mom.