How do you handle a toddler who keeps touching things they shouldn't?

(26 Posts)

DS is 21 months and I'm struggling with how to handle his behaviour at the moment. I'm not sure if it's got worse because we have a new addition (DD is 3.5 weeks) or just normal for his age but basically any time I'm not able to give him 100% attention he's switching the lights on and off, climbing on furniture, pulling my books off the shelves etc.

He's able to play by himself at times but not all the time and I'm not being consistent at all, sometimes I shout, other times I try and ignore. I know that DH and I need to decide on a tactic and stick to it but I don't know what.. Nothing works! What do you do?

Iggly Sat 17-Nov-12 13:58:42

This is normal for his age plus magnified for you have a little one.

Try and give warning. So say "I'm going to put your shoes on in one minute". Repeat a few times then do it.

Give the illusion of choice. Eg should I put your left or right shoe on first? (he won't know left from right, just hold them up). Aim is to get the shoes on, he thinks he has a choice. Choices must be simple.

Use snacks when you can. So when I had to feed dd, I'd get out some snacks for DS which kept him still briefly. This was very handy when out and about.

Keep everything dangerous out of reach.

Tell him what he can do, not what he can't. Eg if he's jumping on the sofa, tell him to roll about on the floor.

Have a bag of small surprise toys to get out for feeding times. Those matchbox cars are great and sainsburys had them for 80p each the other day. Just get out one at a time and put away/rotate to keep his interest.

Good luck! It's hard work but will get easier.

Natural - you've got a point there, I think he hears "play with the light switch" and not the "don't" (if he hears anything at all)

I think it makes me cross because he's pretty intelligent and I know he understands he's not supposed to touch, he just doesn't like it so he ignores me (a major bugbear of mine)

he's been getting better for some nursing sessions - I've been reciting books with him from memory and singing songs so I can really look at him and he feels the focus is on him as well.

I totally understand the theory of picking your battles but I find it hard to put into practice. For example if your child keeps running away when you ask them to come and put their shoes on would you just do the other things you need to do and come back to it? Run and catch them (he loves this but it makes me cross and I can't always do it) or just take the shoes out with you and try again when they get cold feet?!

I left him with his trousers around his ankle earlier and went to the loo because he wouldn't stand up for me to pull them up (he's really heavy and strong so I can't do it any other way) - when I came back he was standing trying to pull them up and asked me to get him dressed.

I'm feeling better the last couple of days but still cross with myself for not being able to know it would be like this. I kept saying when I was pregnant it was going to be hard but I could imagine the logistics of it if that makes sense?

Thank you everyone for replying, I'm trying out your suggestions even if I don't reply to you personally - its really hard to scroll up on my phone, sorry!

naturalbaby Fri 16-Nov-12 18:24:24

My 3 yr old is like this - he really can't help it, I have tried everything! Punishing or telling him off doesn't work because he can't help it so everything has had to be moved and made 'safe' for him - not as bad as it sounds! If you say 'don't touch the light switch' then all he really hears is '...touch the light switch'
He can't just look at things, it's as if he has to touch them to help him see them if that makes sense. When he walks through shops he has to touch everything he sees, and I mean everything!

PetiteRaleuse Fri 16-Nov-12 18:18:43

It is hard. DD1 goes to creche four mornings a week and will continue to do so for another few months. It really really helps.

AlisonMills Fri 16-Nov-12 15:33:47

It can be difficult unfortuantely, when my son was two, I had to make the living room, kitchen and bedroom baby proof so as to stop him touching things he shouldnt.

Its the only surefire solution imo

Shelby2010 Fri 16-Nov-12 14:44:56

A few hours at nursery might help by giving him more stimulation & a chance to burn off some energy.

IWroteToTheZoo Fri 16-Nov-12 14:14:49

A friend of mine gave me a good tip for bookshelves - use a couple of thin books to pack the books in tightly so that little hands can't pull them out. Works a treat for books you don't want rifled through. We also have bookshelves with books he's allowed to pull out too.

yellowsubmarine53 Thu 15-Nov-12 20:39:58

The play group idea was to give you a break! It made a lot of difference to me that dd was in a nursery two days a week. It did tidying up/cooking and other chores on these two days so actually had more time to play with her, and it also gave my head a rest from the intensity of it all.

3.5 weeks is early days - it might be useful to think of a few strategies to get you through the winter.

Oh and no we don't really get time without the baby to play at the moment. She wants to feed pretty much constantly and I am absolutely not going to use any bottles this time. I am using any time I can put her down to play with him (although I am having trouble concentrating on that when it's messy, so hard to leave it) but it's not for very long at the moment. She fell asleep on DH after dinner so I got him ready for bed and he seems happy, I think I just need to make more of an effort to get him to come to me when I can't go somewhere... Or try feeding in the sling but it's not easy!

Petite - very similar age gap, it's hard isn't it? The good times are so good thus far, I'm still breastfeeding DS and if I feed them together he holds her hand or strokes her head and in general he's accepted her completely and is so gentle and affectionate. But he's very strong-willed and stubborn just like both his parents and he absolutely cannot stand to be told no. I hate being told what to do so I sympathise, but it's my job at the moment to teach him right from wrong, I can't stand to be ignored and it feels like a lot is going in one ear and out of the other at the moment. Very frustrating.

Mycat - I think the calmly redirecting would work but I find it hard to remain calm when all I can hear is 'click click, click click, click click' and also when feeding its difficult to get to him quickly without lugging poor DD around disturbing her feed (if I put her down mid-feed she gets reflux and distressed quite quickly) and he knows it. I have found that if I can get him to sit on my other knee for a story or a song or a tickle he's an angel, but it's getting him there in the first place that's the problem.

Thank you all for your suggestions, I will try and put some into practice, stop shouting, calmly count to 10 and redirect maybe saying in a boring voice "don't play with the light/socket/tap/broken towel rail DS" and then in a normal voice "shall we go and find a book /sing a song" - I think I want to stop using the cot as a punishment as well, I agree its not healthy. The only time I will continue to use it is when I have to take something downstairs because I don't trust him not to put a blanket or something over DD just yet!

mycatlikestwiglets Thu 15-Nov-12 16:12:56

DS is 22mo and what I've found works is the following:

1. Pick your battles - if it isn't dangerous or likely to cause irreparable damage, try to ignore it as it probably doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

2. Distraction - "DS, look what mummy has got over here", "DS, where's your [insert current favourite toy]", "DS, would you like some raisins?".

3. As soon as he looks to be approaching something which he knows he isn't supposed to touch, I try to ward him off (in my case, it's by making a disapproving noise which he knows means no). If that doesn't work, I simply take whatever he's got hold of away from him and say "no, that's not for DS". Put it up higher or in a cupboard if you need to. I've found that doing this consistently since he starting being able to move independently means that it works most of the time now.

As you have a new baby there's probably a lot of attention seeking going on now. Do you manage to get time just with you and your DS, without the new baby around?

PetiteRaleuse Thu 15-Nov-12 16:08:11

No answers from me but going to lurk as I have the same problem. DD1 is 20 months, and DD2 is 4 weeks. The attention seeking is relentless and ever more imaginative. She was using her felt tip pens to make the dog green earlier. When I got her to stop that she decided the coffee table needed colouring in too.

Of course when I'm not feeding or changing DD2 she's an angel....

I absolutely agree with those saying about the cot being a bad idea - I know this but when it's the 20th time I've asked him not to do something I run out of patience and ideas!

We have moved things like our books out of his reach but he's grown and can now reach them! He has a big box full of things to play with that aren't toys (old camera, remote control, spice jars etc) but he isn't silly, he knows the difference and he wants to play with all the things he's not allowed to touch.

I've now turned the lights off at the trip switch and I'm trying to keep him off the furniture bit I'm glued to the sofa at the moment feeding DD so yes he gets bored and acts up.

He has a whole shelf full of books and we read together a lot, but when I'm feeding DD he doesn't want to sit and read, he wants to run around like a mad man touching everything and having a meltdown every 5 minutes. This was manageable last week but I think she's having a growth spurt so I can't put her down at the moment

It's alright saying send him to a playgroup or whatever which might give us a break from each other but I don't see how that's going to stop him touching things when at home. Plus he wants my attention so I think taking him away from me when his sister got to stay would make things even worse.

We go out every day, do lots of things together at home and go to groups several times a week, I just want to find a consistent approach to this particular problem so I don't blow up at him (which probably fuels his desire to do it just to get a reaction) and so he actually stops.

Seeline Thu 15-Nov-12 15:33:40

Have a special box of stuff that you can play with together while feeding - books, stickers, special cars etc. It will keep him busy and also feel that he is having some special time.
I introduced the naughty step at about that age - although didn't call it the 'naughty' step. DS just knew that if he didn't do what he was told, after several warnings he would have to sit on the bottom stair (mainly to give me a chance to calm down) but also for him to have a think about things. I would lways explain and the ned of time out exactly why he was there and tehn give a cuddle before letting him off to play.
Have you thought about a play pen - we used it as a 'special place' where DS could go to play. Served two purposes - kept him out of mischief if I was tie up with DD, and also as DD was older and more mobile it allowed DS to play with toys that weren't baby-safe!

LittleTyga Thu 15-Nov-12 15:15:04

Toddlers love pulling things out of cupboards/shelves etc - I had cupboards with saucepans and tubberware so they could pull those things out - Anything dangerous keep out of reach but books I would leave him to it!

Also make sure there are things to play with lying around - can you read with him while your feeding baby? or so something like singing while you feed? don't exclude him - include him!

mammyof5 Thu 15-Nov-12 15:12:22

I think you hit the nail on the head yourself so to speak when you said you are not being consistent. that's your main problem it doesn't matter what you do (as long as its positive) as long as you do it all the time.

no always means no and the rules always stay the same ie not jumping on furniture.

as already said distraction works really well at this age, limit the amount of times you say no. lots of praise and ignoring the bad behavior really does work.

BleepingSooty Thu 15-Nov-12 15:11:48

Ie what Ponto said!

Ps I love that film smile

BleepingSooty Thu 15-Nov-12 15:09:46

I think rather than just saying 'No, don't do that' it is better to suggest something positive to do because he is probably just behaving that way when he is bored. So, say something like 'No, don't do that. Come here and see if you can build a tower out of Lego'. Then give him lots of praise for that.

QTPie Thu 15-Nov-12 14:54:31

OP, actually a naughty spot is surely better than putting him in his cot? Firstly it could give bad associations with his cot (which is why I have always avoided putting DS in his cot when he is naughty) and secondly, you will probably need to take his cot side down soonish anyway (so not containement then).

Feelings are not ignored on the naughty spot: as with putting a child in a cot (so basically you are using the cot as a naughty spot?), it gives both parties a chance to calm down and think things through. Also, after the two minutes are up, you go and get down to their level and talk things through with them, re-iterate why they are there and hug/kiss and make-up. Then everything is forgotten.

I agree that your son is a bit young (I don't think that we felt the need for a naughty spot until 26 months ish), but it is worth bearing in mind as an option as he grows up: you will probably find you need something...

However, it is far tougher with two (I only have one - makes my life a lot easier ;) ).

Good luck.

yellowsubmarine53 Thu 15-Nov-12 14:53:33

This is normal and has most likely upped a gear since dd came along (congratulations by the way).

The problem with the naughty step is that you're effectively rewarding his bad behaviour with attention. This is very likely to become a game, oh how amusing when you're 21 months, but not when you're an adult trying to feed a newborn.

I found just ignoring things I didn't want dd to do (when she was a toddler with a little brother) and going OTT in praise for things that I did want her to do helped. So ignore the books being pulled off the shelf (and resisting the temptation to put them back on until the evening), but saying 'oh, have you found us a book to read together later, how clever' etc etc. Also, saying to the baby very often, 'sorry, you'll have to wait, dd wants a story/nappy change etc' even if the baby was asleep helped.

Getting out every day helps, even if it's cold. Takes some of the heat out of the situation.

Does he still nap? Is there a playgroup where he could do a couple of sessions as week (lots of areas have ones for 2.5 year olds and up for a few quid). Family/friends he could go round to play with for a couple of hours or so?

A few breaks during the week make all the difference on those early days.

QT we don't do the naughty step partly because I don't believe in it (I worry about a child feeling their feelings are being ignored) partly because I think he's too young to get it and partly because I know he'd never stay there! However I have been putting him in the cot and DH has too, mostly because it gives me a minute to calm down but I'm not happy about it so maybe I should try it.

I agree with getting down to his level but 1) he gets this kind of glazed look in his eyes and I know he's not taking anything in and 2) its not always possible if I'm feeding DD - what would you do then?

Gin - gosh I'm hoping it'll be sorted by then, it's not for another 16 months or so!

Pascha Thu 15-Nov-12 14:42:38

No. No... No..... I said No... Leave it. Leave it alone... Good boy, leave the cat alone. No. No. No he doesn't really like his tail pulled.... Well done, what a good boy. Come and have a biscuit <bribery>

Works most of the time in this house.

ponto Thu 15-Nov-12 14:37:30

Move as much as you can out of the way. Distract if he's getting close to something he shouldn't touch. Suggest an alternative activity rather than just telling him to stop what he's doing. I would think the deterioration in his behaviour is definitely related to the arrival of his sister, he's now fighting for your attention whereas he probably didn't have to before (unless you have older DCs too). So giving him as much positive attention as you can might help

largeginandtonic Thu 15-Nov-12 14:35:38

Grrrr a lot.

It's annoying but quite normal. They stop eventually. Or go to play school to give you a break.

Not very helpful sorry!

QTPie Thu 15-Nov-12 14:30:43

Get down to his level, get his attention, look into his eyes, take his hand and say a firm "no, don't touch" (don't shout). Then, for us, I say "if you touch it again, you go on the naughty spot" (generally the threat works). Do you do naughty spot/step?

I don't ignore with things that they shouldn't touch - I think that they need firm baoundaries... (especially with dangerous, valuable, fragile things or things belonging to others etc).

Also be aware, that they are pushing boundaries: if you say "don't touch x", they will often then move onto the thing next to it. It isn't "naughty" as such, but they are seeing what is ok to touch: you have to be very explicit or very general ("don't touch anything"). You also have to be consistent and keep saying it (if it is not ok to touch it now, then it isn't ok to touch it 10 minutes later or the next day).

Firm, consistent and consequences (for us the naughty spot, but others may have other consequences). If you stick with this, they will get better smile

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