Distinguishing normal 2.5-3 year old behavior from problem behavior

Discussion in 'The Toddler Years(1-3)' started by SC, Aug 22, 2012.

  1. SC

    SC Well-Known Member

    So, yes, it's been one of those days. I am a SAHM and most days that I am home alone with all 3 boys (without visitors or any outdoor activities) can feel quite loooong. This day in particular, though, is causing me to ask some questions. The twins are my oldest so I have never dealt with two year old behavior before. Sometimes I just wonder what is normal 2 year old behavior vs. what might be problem behavior.

    I totally agree with Dr. Karp (I believe it is) who likens them to cavemen. My two are often times completely uncivilized. I'll start with lunch time today. Meals (usually with the exception of breakfast) remain problematic for us. There is a lot of playing with food, smushing food, pretending food is a [insert item here... car, truck,...] and making an absolute mess. NO amount of intervention seems to curb this behavior. A few months ago we thought that our days of cleaning up the floor for 20 minutes following meals was over. But, now we're back at it again. DS1 can literally act like some sort of animal at meals shoving food in his face, in his hair, making animal noises. It's embarrassing when we have company, like we did tonight. Today also consisted of removing the heat registers from the floor over and over and over and dumping stuff down them, ripping their potty charts down off of the wall 2x until I removed them entirely, spitting juice, removing their diapers (including a poopy one--we're in the midst of potty training), climbing on the counters and table repeatedly, hitting each other and their baby brother, and I could go on.

    No, they did not nap today and I know this is a major contributing factor; however, a lot of this behavior goes on when they do nap (the whole nap situation is another story). I guess I'm just trying to figure out what might signal something like ADD. The boys start nursery school 2 days/week for 3 hours at a time next month. We made this decision based on what the program offers and also because we feel it will benefit them and us as a family for them to do something outside of the home. I am now worried about it. I observed a class over there and I saw the kids sitting (for more than 30 seconds) around in a circle, quietly reading or doing whatever it was. I cannot picture my boys doing this. When we were members of Gymboree, DS1 was the kid who wanted nothing to do with the short activities and was trying to unplug the instructor's computer from the wall. I see it everywhere. We were at the zoo last week and while the kids were looking at the animals, DS1 was trying to figure out how to dismantle the fire alarm box in the corner of the room. I should say that DS2 does engage in this, but I am convinced that if not for DS1, he would do virtually none of it.

    DH and I try to keep them as busy as possible. He had a week off a couple of weeks ago and we did dozens of activities with them. But, it's as if when they're unoccupied for even a short amount of time, everything goes to he** in a hand basket. It is not realistic for me to hover over them or engage them in something all day long. I have to also take care of our baby and run this house.

    I feel like all we do is say no, put them in time out, even raise our voices. These days are exhausting. Really EXHAUSTING. I feel like I go into battle every morning and it doesn't stop all day and I never win!!!! Now, of course, there are good days and great moments and they can be the sweetest, funniest boys in the world, but on days like today, I get concerned.

    So, did you go through this? What is normal? What is a red flag behavior? Lastly, WHEN does this get better? When do they stop acting like little cavemen and start listening better?
  2. Danibell

    Danibell Well-Known Member TS Moderator

    Honestly, I think what you are describing is pretty normal. From about 18 months until around 4 yrs old toddlers/preschoolers are just so busy learning how everything around them works. If I pull the potty chair off the wall once, will it come off again a second time? Do my mashed potato's feel as smushy in my hair today as they did yesterday? If I tip my juice cup up side down will it still spill out? They are constantly trying to figure out how this whole entire world works. And they feel 100% safe and secure enough in your love to try everything out while they are at home!! ;) That's actually a good thing :)

    Most kids behave much better in situations where their parents/primary caregivers are not present. Such as daycare or school. I would think they will probably start to learn how to listen to other adults and how to act in a school setting within a few weeks of starting nursery school. And that will give you a much needed break to catch your breath too ;)
    3 people like this.
  3. cheezewhiz24

    cheezewhiz24 Well-Known Member TS Moderator

    Your boys and mine could play together. ;)

    I have found a trick this week that is working at mealtimes. I do breakfast and dinner just for them (as in, I eat separately, usually) but dinner we all eat together. For breakfast and lunch, if someone is being silly, I send them up to their room and they wait until their brother is done eating. Then, they switch and kid who is full goes in his room while the other goes back to finish eating. It has cut down on my stress level exponentially to separate them when they are acting up. I feel as though mine are tag-teaming me; they'd rather get their brother to laugh rather than listen to my rules. If you can, do activities with them separately. It is amazing how they act 1:1.

    Separating has also been working when it comes to naps. They start jumping on their beds and I go up there and bring out my best napper and lay him on the couch 2 feet away from me. I sit not looking at him; he looks at a wall and falls asleep very quickly. His brother, without his audience, seems to fall asleep fairly quickly, too.

    If we go out someplace I bring the stroller and keep the baby in it. If one isn't listening, he rides in the stroller. If I perceive I'll have a problem with both boys, I wear the baby and will not hesitate to put both in the stroller.

    Mine have also been transitioning out of baby toys into interactive play (play BBQ grill is a birthday present, dress up clothes are going to be a Christmas present), as well as analytic play. I plan on getting some preliminary games and nature based toys in the future; including an ant farm as mine adore nature.

    People speculate that mine have ADD, too, but it's so hard to tell with twin boy toddlers that I'm just trying to give them as much physicality and stimulation as I can, safely.
    1 person likes this.
  4. eagleswings216

    eagleswings216 Well-Known Member

    Sounds a lot like my kids, although my kids may be just a tad calmer (but not by much!). We are also potty training, too, and that has made things REALLY crazy.

    Meals are still a trial for us many days. I have found a couple of things that help. If they are throwing food, I remove all the food, but leave them in the high chair, and turn them to face the wall. I also do things like "oh, you must not want that food since you're playing with it, so I'm going to eat it (or give it to your brother, or give it to the dogs, etc.) - sounds horrible, but 95% of the time that works and they will go back to eating. I also do things like "wow, Diego (Bob, Barney, Grandma, whoever they find important) would be really sad to see you having such bad manners and playing with your food!", while making a sad face. Again, sounds horrible, but that works well, too, and I figure it's better than yelling or other punishments or getting into a power struggle. And when those techniques fail, I usually just end the meal and get them down, and no snacks before the next scheduled meal time.

    If there is ANY way you can get them outside, that really, really helps my guys. I don't dare take them to a park or playground and let them loose by myself because I would lose one of them, but we have created a couple of "safe" areas at our house - our front deck, a small fenced portion of the back yard, etc., where they can play and be outside and burn off some energy. We can also take walks around the neighborhood or at the mall in the stroller, etc, although they are beginning to protest the stroller now, so those days may be ending. But even a very, very short trip somewhere helps.

    I get what you mean about it being embarrassing, too. DH's sisters have very calm kids in general, and a month or so ago, they invited us to go to a museum. Against my initial instinct, we went, and it was AWFUL. They wanted to get out of the strollers, but they would run away, touch things, etc., but when they were in the strollers, they would cry and fight to get out. The only pleasant part of the day was when we ate lunch at McDonald's. Let's just say there are no more museum in our near future.

    And honestly, some days they watch more TV than I would like. I try to keep their TV time to around 1 hour a day, 2 hours max, and all educational, but I will admit that on days where they are very whiny and I've about had it, they might watch something extra (but NOT because they ask for it or demand it....I wait until they are calm for a few minutes to put something on so they don't learn to get TV by bad behavior). I feel bad about it sometimes, but I figure an extra 30 minutes of TV that keeps me from totally losing my cool is better for ALL of us.

    Anyway, I know I didn't have any totally earth-shattering advice here, but you are definitely not alone!! Hang in there - I keep telling myself it has to get better some time.
  5. Fran27

    Fran27 Well-Known Member

    Your kids sound like my DS. Not all kids get into everything, but if they do, it's perfectly normal too.

    About activities. Kids can be overwhelmed by too many activities. They need time to just relax and chill. I don't know why moms these days feel the need to entertain the kids all the time. It sure wasn't the case when I was growing up... Kids need free time to learn to entertain themselves. So, you're doing fine. Just have to keep an eye on them. It gets better though, at 4.5 we're down to one mess every 3 weeks or something (compared to every day).
  6. cheezewhiz24

    cheezewhiz24 Well-Known Member TS Moderator

    I also take mine outside as much as possible (given that I vastly prefer to be inside). I started before they turned 2; and always brought the stroller with me. I made them stay on the woodchips in our local park as it was bordered on all sides by grass. If they left the woodchips I put them in the stroller for 5 minutes. Also, a 3 strikes and we go home rule was in effect. I can say now that they stay in the woodchips for more than an hour. :) Now I'm working on expanding their sphere to a concerete sidewalk loop that surrounds the play area- they are getting scooters for their birthday and I think it'll be a good area for them to ride them.
  7. mommylaura

    mommylaura Well-Known Member

    Sounds pretty normal. They are too young to diagnose ADHD, so I wouldn't worry about that for a couple of years. I would focus on having really clear behavioral plans in place. Take your most problematic behavior and tackle that one first. When you get that one under control, tackle the next one. You can't fix everything at once. For example, for meals you could depict your 3 most important rules using clip art printed on a little poster and review the rules before each meal (at my house it is sit nicely in your chair, no screaming, and try everything on your plate, but you probably need to have rules about using a fork and keeping your food on the table!). Be sure they know that children who follow the rules get a reward (a hershey kiss, a gummy worm or whatever). My twins could recite "the rules" by the time they were 2. And they earn desert most nights, but not all. I definitely think it's important to work on mealtime behavior when you don't have company - my kids are always worse with company because we are paying less attention to them.
  8. Fran27

    Fran27 Well-Known Member

    Something I was thinking about when it comes to meals... do you make them sit until you're done? As soon as we ditched high chairs at 2.5, we just let the kids get up when they were done. We had no issue with food messes after that (plus really, as soon as they started playing we took the plate out and that was it). I think that playing with food has a lot to do with boredom and not being hungry.
  9. NicoleLea

    NicoleLea Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't worry much. It sounds normal from what I experienced. When my girls were in their 2's they were crazy too...they had to be entertained 24/7 or they would be destroying things. I don't think kids that age purposely do destroy things, it's more of exploring and seeing "what happens when I do this?" I also was sooooo frustrated and got tired of saying NO a million times a day to no avail. After they hit 3 things started getting a lot better around here. That was really a turning point for us when they started understanding more, "retionalizing" more, not just going off on random things without regard. I know we like to think "My kid knows exactly what they are doing and they are trying to push my buttons!" esp. when we are in the midst of it. But really think about it...they are only 2! They still have a long way to go. Hang in there...it will get better :)
  10. w101ttd

    w101ttd Well-Known Member

    My twins used to be like that. But they get so much better now. 80% of time, they are happy and well behave. It's the result of daycare and strictly rules at home

    I have to admit that sending them to daycare was one of my best decision for the kids. Even thought they got sick a lot. They have learned a lot: talking, vocabularies, ... The most important things they learn are living community (this world is not just themselves lol), sharing, disciplines, team work.

    At home, we have strict schedule (similar like at school). My kids have not skipped nap for a long time. I don't remember when was huge last time they didn't take nap. I never change our routines, no exception.

    Also, I am very very strict to them. We have strict rules in our house. And the kids know very well that if they cross the line, they will get punishment. I feel like its a battle very day. Even though it's a very tiny bad thing they do, I have to punish them. I can't let it go. Because if I let it go 1 time, everything we have been working on will just collapse. So I'm always tough an strong to them. My husband says I'm too mean to them. But in the return. We have 2 well behaving toddlers. We always have laughs not tears and crying and screaming in the house (80% of the time).

    My pusnisments are no toy, time out (standing and facing the walls), grounded (lol yeah I ground 2 yrs olds. No going out. My kids love love being outside). I remember one Saturday, all we did was time out time out from morning. They stood there crying, stumbling, screaming. So what? They still had time out. If they do bad things over and over again, the next time out is longer and longer. It's their choice. I do explain what they do is wrong and rude and why they are timed out.

    Also, we give them some chores and let them help out. They like that. In the morning, they help picking trash (paper, something they destroy) of their playroom. After we change, they take their dirty clothes to the kitchen, so I will do laundry. Picking up their toys ( this task: they don't do very well. Usually end up playing and forgetting what thy are doing). Also, they like to help out changing their beds and pillow, putting clothes in drawers (not so well. But I don't correct them at the time, I come back and fix things later). My son likes moping the kitchen floor. My daughter likes to helping out with silverwares after the dishwasher machine is done. When they play outside, they pull weeds lol really!! They enjoy doing it. And we pay them lol. Working and helping out really improve their behaviors and mood a lot.

    Besides all the rules, disciplines and chores, we do have rewards for being good. We have an agreement that we will go to parks, playgrounds, fishing, water park, museum, zoo, restaurants,... If they are good. My kids love being out. And they are well behave when we are in public. Their fav place is kids discovery museum. It's like a huge playground for all age kids. We have membership so we go there almost every weekend. They know that if they are bad, we don't go to museum that weekend. And it doesn't matter how busy and tired we are, we have to take them out have fun and keep our promise. We always clean our schedule on the weekend. Weekend is just for kids and family time.

    It's a tiring long battle. At least to me it is. Some days, I feel so bad because I am so mean to them. But I have to. If I let them to have any idea that "oh I can get away with this", then we will have a problem right away. Our life is so much happier and easier now even though super busy. I can deal with being busy and doing things with them constantly, taking them out so often. But I can't deal with screaming, crying, whiny toddlers. We have been working on all of these for months. I would say from beginning this yr. and we are still working on it every day. It's a forever battle. But it does get easier and easier. As soon as they know it's the rules and they can't cross the line no matter what, everybody life is so much easier. But before then, we have to repeat the rule and punishment over And over again. To me, 2nd yr is all about building agreements, trust, self confidence, disciplines. Good luck! I know how you feel. Hang in there!

    And by the way, your kids don't have ADD. They just have so much energy and curiosity. They need to have ways to burn the energy and explode. That's all
  11. SC

    SC Well-Known Member

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts and experiences. It does help to know I'm not alone. I know a lot of what I describe is probably normal. I truly don't think a lot of it would even go on if it was just one of them. Power in numbers, I tell ya!
    We do try and get outside as much as possible. But... DH does work full-time, mostly days, and our yard is unfenced. Our house is on a very small cul-de-sac and we are closest to a busy road. I honestly have not trusted DS1 enough to listen if we play in the yard (2 on 1). For the most part, I think he would listen and I think the likelihood of him spontaneously running all the way to the road is probably low, but it has been enough to stop me from doing it. Plus, it would have to be when DS3 is napping and I suppose I use that time to get house stuff done. We are in the process of looking for a new home with a fenced yard being our #1 feature (our yard isn't even fence-able. It's very treed and tree lined and a fence would absolutely ruin the whole appeal of it--we bought it long before kids were on our minds!).
    That said, I (or DH and I) get these guys out of the house at every possible opportunity because, like many of you, they're happier that way!
    We actually are going to scale back a bit in the couple of weeks before school starts. Potty training needs some refocus and DS2 is showing signs of being chronically overtired, so maybe we're trying to do too much. Tomorrow we are going to let them wash our cars in the driveway. They did that at my Mom's the other day and really enjoyed it.
    As for meals, they are strapped in booster seats except at breakfast when they are free to come and go. Lunch and dinner simply do not have the calm factor that breakfast often does and we are not ready for them to decide when they're done. They'll never eat or they'll be up-down-up-down.
    We try to be as consistent as possible with rules and disciplining. I am constantly saying "Okay, this is your warning. If you do such-and-such again, you're taking a timeout [or xyz is being taken away]." Constantly. It is working pretty well. They don't want to go to timeout now; about 6 months ago they couldn't have cared less. Some things don't get warnings... hitting, pushing that makes someone cry, throwing heavy/hard objects, and that sort of behavior.
    I guess I just need to be patient for a lot of it to work itself out. It tell ya, though, our bad days reeeeeeeaaaaaally drain me.
    I am *hoping* 3 is better. Some say it is, but many say it's much worse. Ugh.
    Thanks, ladies ;-)!
  12. marikaclare

    marikaclare Well-Known Member

    I just wanted to say we are right there with you. Recently eating and the mess have been better and I think for us it has been related to speeding up the meal. Sometimes we would have them in their seats eating something while we finished cooking, but now we are trying to invite them to the table when everything is ready. These boys are so active and I think that with having a partner in crime things escalates things. Its sounds like you are doing everything right - hopefully it will get easier!
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