“Terrible 19-month-olds”?

LO has been acting up these past few weeks. Granted, he’s not as bad as other kids his age when I google’d up about this issue, but he’s frequently upset about something. Sometimes there are valid reasons why he’s upset, like he is told to leave something alone, or not to do a certain thing. Other times, he’ll just yell because his dad is feeding him breakfast instead of his mom. Or because he saw his aunt. Or because he’s just standing there. Before, he used to love going to my aunt’s. Now he scowls at her. He’s fine when I pick him up, but drop offs are increasingly difficult nowadays. Same with his dad—he used to love seeing his dad come home, now he scowls and yells when his dad greets him. Never mind that five minutes later he’s playing chase with him around the apartment and laughing.

This may be developmental, as he is discovering that he has a choice, and that he’s a separate human being from the world. We don’t do time outs because we don’t want to reinforce that he’s not allowed to express negative feelings with others and must only do so in isolation. We discipline him with a stern, low voice and make it known that the actions aren’t acceptable. And we praise when he acts positive. I’ve read that punishments always have to be in context with what initiated the reason for punishment, so simply taking away a beloved toy because he won’t stop playing with the closet doors doesn’t really reinforce the rule of not playing with closet doors.

We’ve also tried addressing and labeling his feelings. He’s at the age where he’s experiencing emotions but, unlike adults, don’t know what emotions are nor how to deal with them. So we’ve said, “It looks like you’re mad that we have to stop playing.”

After labeling his feelings, we end up ignoring him or not giving him attention when he’s acting up. I’ve heard that kids will act up because they know they will get some sort of attention for misbehaving. Even if it’s not positive attention, it’s still attention. This is where paying them attention for good behavior is key.

We’ve also tried redirecting. When he isn’t allowed to play with the closet doors, we’ll show him another door that’s safer that he can play with. As much as possible, we try to honor the impulse and curiosity that drove him to explore, albeit unsafe closet doors. So if he wants to see the cause and effect of opening and closing a door, he can do so, just not those doors.

However we can only redirect or honor an impulse that’s truly for learning’s sake. If he’s cranky and acting out, he’s not really playing with doors to learn; he’s testing our limits and being disobedient.

It’s bad enough that he scowls throughout the day, but the most painful part is when he scowls at people he loves, like his dad and aunt. Where he once couldn’t wait to see them, he now greets them with a grouchy disposition.

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