Episode 9 –
Navigating Toddler Behavior –
A Client Call

Episode 9

“Rather than focus on how challenging it is, try to focus on how much you’re enjoying that time with [your kids]”

Sharon speaks with her client, Kate, about parenting through toddler tantrums in this episode of the Raiseology podcast! Listen in for Sharon’s tip on how to give each of your children individual time! Thanks for listening! Share this episode with a toddler parent that needs a little encouragement. You can book your own coaching call with Sharon here! Have an empowered week!

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Intro: Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh, here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your Margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.
Sharon: In this episode I’m sharing a coaching call with my client, Kate. We’re going to be talking about her three year old son’s recent behavior changes. Okay, so tell me what’s going on.
Kate: Well, to follow up on, we did talked about last week. We tried some of the techniques, um, in terms of meal time and they’re working 100 percent.
Sharon: I’m so happy to hear that.
Kate: I just straight up and ignoring him and like not giving him that attention, you know, during meals. And we’ve just been pretty much saying like, this is what’s for dinner, this is what’s for lunch. If you’re not going to eat it, that’s fine, but your other option is to get ready for bed or nap time and you know, he, he’s kind of one of those kids will be like, I’m done. I’m going to go watch something on TV and I’m like, that’s not the way we’re going to handle this. So we’ve just kind of given him two options like you’re going to eat or you’re not. And we had a complete meltdown. Like the first day we did it screaming, crying, not wanting to sit at the table, and then we just kind of ignored it and I was just like, I’m sorry you’re upset, but you, you can sit here with us until everyone else has done. And then if you don’t want to eat that’s fine, but we’re not having anything else. And within like 25 minutes he ate not only the whole bowl of what I gave him but ask for seconds and I was like, I was like, Dr. Somekh!
Sharon: I’m glad.
Kate: But then like the other night, he, um, my parents are over and so she was super distracted and I just kept saying to them like, don’t force it, don’t push him. And he ended up eating as whole dinner after like a half an hour and one night he flat out refused. He walked away. He got ready for bed. We were playing for a little while before bedtime and he looked at me and said, I’m hungry, can I have the rest of my dinner? And I had left it on the counter and he finished the whole plate at like 8:00 before he went to bed. Wonderful. I bet you feel pretty good that you stuck with it. And it was easier to do than I thought it would be to be honest. Like it kind of took our total weight off my shoulders because I feel like I just was like, I’m just done. I’m just done fighting with them and just like if he eats he eats and if he doesn’t he’s not going to die. And that’s been easier for me even though I thought I wasn’t going to be great.
Sharon: I’m really proud of you guys. Yeah.
Kate: So that’s been so much better. And my husband is a 100 percent onboard. He’s been kinda like doing the same thing. I said to him like you’ve got. I know it’s easier to like sit there and force feed him, but you got to stop doing it. And he did, so that’s great. All of them on the same page sometimes. Well, you know, it’s actually, that’s true for a lot of couples. I mean it’s hard. We all were parented differently and we all have different things in our mind. I think he just has like a different relationship with Ben and he gets to kind of be like the fun guy with him. And so having them eat outside with him or like having them eat in front of the TV is something that like he is allowed to happen and I just said like it just setting us up for failure in the long run. Understood that so. But the behavior otherwise has been a real tough and he, I don’t know if maybe like power struggle is shifting then to something else. And so he’s just fighting that but just lots of tantrums, lots of crying over things. And what it culminated in yesterday when I emailed you is that he decided she just didn’t want to go to camp yesterday and he’s been going for three weeks. He generally loves going to school, loves going to camp. Was the interaction with the kids and he started pretty much right from when he woke up yesterday morning like I’m not going. And I was like, you know, I think we’re going to try to go. And I eventually got him in the car, you know, kind of talked them through that. We got to the school and he met up with a little buddy of his and they were running around playing and then the minute we walked inside he started screaming, bloody murder, I don’t want you to go. I don’t want to go to camp. Like totally breaking my heart because of course I’m like, do I really shove this three year old to gap when he’s crying? Is it really worth it? But my gut was saying to me, if I give in crying about this and like let him come home than what precedent do I sent moving forward for next year at school. And so like all of this is going through my mind yesterday morning. And the teacher just said to me, you know, he’s always fine once you leave, so just go. And so they did like kind of just grab him and I walked down the hall to listen to him screaming and I was like, oh my God, where is this coming from? This kid has literally never done this. Never ever, ever cried at school. And they called me like two minutes later and said she’s perfectly fine and he’s playing. And I picked him up yesterday thinking we’ve got to have a long talk about this. And it was like nothing ever happened but he was just fine. And so I. So I racked my brain about it all morning saying why is this bad behavior happening? And now he’s having like this separation anxiety we’ve never had before. So I’m so curious to see what your are.
Sharon: So first I want to know how the rest of that morning one. So I would love to know. He woke up in the morning and he said he didn’t want to go to camp but somehow you got them in the car. So tell me about that.
Kate: I kinda just said to him like, this is the last week of camp and we’re going on vacation next week. And you’re not going to see your friends and I really think you’re going to be sad if you don’t go. And I just Kinda kept saying to him like, let’s go to school and see how you feel when you get there. And he kind of went along with that. He kind of, I think just expected that he might feel. I don’t know. I don’t know what he expected, but he was able, he was able to get in the car by himself. It wasn’t like a kicking and screaming fight. He was able to do that and you know, he ate a good breakfast. He’d didn’t seem sick. He didn’t seem upset. And actually in the way to school, I even said to me like, I just want to stay home. And I said, well mom is not going to be home. I said, I’m going to the gym. And I made a point to say to him like Matt and his brother Matthew was taking a nap. I was like, I’m not going to play with Matthew. Mom’s going to the gym. I’m going to go home and take a shower and I’m going to come back and get you so that he didn’t think like, oh, I’m going to go home and play with Matthew for the rest of the morning. And he gets left out of that somehow.
Sharon: And then you got to camp and it was a little bit of a different story. And so tell me a little bit more about what was really going through your mind when you were trying to make the decision of, do I leave him or do I take him?
Kate: I mean obviously the mom guilt comes into play and I’m like, should I really pushed a three year old when he’s like this upset to do something he really doesn’t want to do? Like what does it matter if he comes home and maybe it’s just, you know, maybe he’s really trying to tell me he just doesn’t want to do this today. And like I do feel like there’s a sense of like giving him some control over how he’s feeling. And I think because of the bad behavior, the tantrums, the kind of out of his own personality behavior that he’s been exhibiting. My thought process at first was kind of like maybe there’s something going on here. I’m just like not getting ready, but then kind of going back to like the power struggle, the food thing. Like I also thought to myself like, you know, he’s not a kid that doesn’t like school, he’s not a kid that’s not super like excited to be around other kids his age. And if I bring him home right now, like where does that leave me moving forward because I’ve kind of given into this particular situation.
Sharon: Right. So I just want to recap for anyone listening that we had discussed that you were away for a couple of days without him and since that time he’s been having some behavior that is uncharacteristic where he’s challenging you in a different way. And one of the ways was picky eating and that has been sort of an on and off issue. But you really in the last week have tried very hard to sort of tackle that as its own issue and I think it’s possible that he’s learning that things are changing at home and he wants to see where he’s testing his boundaries, right? He wants to see where can he get away with things and it is totally normal for a three year old to do that. I sometimes get worried when toddlers don’t challenge at all. So I think your experience in camp is something that I’ve actually had to deal with myself this summer in camp and I have actually a whole podcast episode about separation anxiety and the story of my daughter getting on the campus as part of that episode. But I think your gut feeling was sort of right and I’m happy that you had the support of the teachers or the counselors at that moment because they’re right, right. He’s sort of putting on this show, trying to figure out is he going to win this battle? And I’m not sure he would have been any happier if he did win the battle. Right? Probably not. Right? Because he would have been home and you know, it’s really more fun at camp. And so how did you feel during the day when he was at camp?
Kate: Worried. I think I got in my own head thinking there’s something going on here that I’m not like that or that I’m just not maybe responding to the behavior in a way that’s like helping him. I do think that I kind of overthink it sometimes too because I really was going through my head thinking, you know, is something going on at camp that he’s not telling me about this making him uncomfortable. Is there a dynamic at home that somehow making him upset and we really haven’t had any huge like life altering changes. Like everything’s kind of inconsistent with the exception of my one three night trip away, which I don’t think is like earth shattering for him. The only other thing that I did think about, you know, in the midst of like reeling through all of this in my head, is that his now almost one year old brother is definitely on the move. He’s about to walk. He’s getting a lot more attention because he is becoming like a toddler and not a baby anymore. Um, I do think that part of this may just be he wants the undivided attention that he has had for so long and it’s getting divided in a much more obvious way than just, Oh, I have to feed the baby, you know, he now has to share his toys and he and his time with you, which is almost more precious.
Sharon: Right? But, you know, what I usually say is the amount of guilt that we can have. His parents is unlimited and the most important thing for us to remember is that, you know, when you are making these decisions and doing things like having a sibling or putting him in camp, you’re making all of these decisions because those are the things that you feel are the best things for him to write and for your family. And so if you could try almost to have. I mean, it’s unrealistic to say don’t feel guilty because we all feel guilty. Right? But I would say try not to allow those feelings of guilt to cause you to make decisions that you don’t feel are the right decisions. Right. And so if you had said, oh my God, I feel so guilty about all of these things, I’m going to just bring him home and snuggling on the couch instead of putting him in camp all day. How do you think that would’ve made you feel?
Kate: Oh, totally defeated. Yeah. I think I would’ve felt like I took 12 steps backwards with him because I don’t. I truly didn’t think that that was the right decision. What it did do was I picked him up from camp and took him to just do some things. Just the two of us thinking like, okay, I want to promote the good behavior. Like you went to camp, you stayed, you did a good job, you know you’ve settled down so mom will take you to do. I’m going. We just did errands and I took him out to lunch and we had an. And I think he was annoyed with me because I kept saying, why were you upset this morning? Tell me about what happened. I can’t and he was like, why do you keep asking me about camp mom? Three hours I’ve been killing myself and try to figure out what’s wrong and you don’t even remember you were upset. So it didn’t like click in my brain like this is in my head more than it is in his.
Sharon: Yeah, I mean definitely we create bigger stories in our mind about these things then are going on in their minds and, and some of that plays to their benefit and some of it really just drives us crazy. But I love what you said about how you spent quality time with him and I love even more that that quality time was spent really doing things that you would have had to do anyway. You just brought him along and how special that time is for him and you’re still getting your stuff done. So you know, I want to highlight that you don’t have to feel like we’re making a special plan and doing something extraordinary just to be able to spend time with your kids and that time going to the supermarket or running errands like he feels like your average giving him one on one attention, you’re engaging him in conversation and that’s really special to him and he’s going to remember.
Kate: it was not having his brother like in the car with us and even though Matthew’s baby and doesn’t talk like there is a sense that he, you know, he takes half of my attention away regardless of whether he’s talking to me or not. And it’s funny because then I get to the point where, and I’m sure this is like every mom probably feels like this. No. I spent my whole morning like thinking about ben, devoted to him, took him to lunch, got home. You know, I barely saw the baby all morning and then, you know, I finally did get kind of carve out some time for matthew in the afternoon. But you know, I’m like, okay, well I, I finally kind of got my with Ben and like got him this time, but he liked, sucks all the air out of it, so poor matthew is getting to the end of the stick now. So it constantly, for me it goes back and forth like that where I feel like, and I can’t even imagine with four and you must constantly pulled in four directions because I just feel like, Oh I finally got, I got one kid down and now I’m having spent five minutes with the other one.
Sharon: So. So yeah, I mean it’s not easy, but I think also with four, I try to have a realistic expectation for myself on what I can do. And I wouldn’t say that every single day I spend time alone with every single one of them. Right. You know, I mean, and they don’t need that much time. Sometimes it’s just 10 minutes. And we try. What we try to do is, is create a bedtime scenario where each child is getting at least a few minutes of one on one time. It made it the heart thing. There is that two of my kids share a room, they want to share a room so, but it does interfere with bedtime, so sometimes I have to take one of them away to my room to do bedtime just so that they could feel like they’re really getting alone time and again, it doesn’t have to take forever. It’s 10 minutes for each child and I know that bedtime takes about an hour in our house to get every single person, sort of what their stories read and with their time to talk about their day and um, and then we try. I mean we try to have time as a family at that time that you’re spending with them one on one does wonders for their behavior.
Kate: It’s true and I and after watching are listening to the module on like the love languages and I mean Ben is definitely just a kid who needs to be like physically like cuddled and like he wants me to get in bed with him at bed time and like snuggle with him, read him a book, you know, we lay with me before I fall asleep. So I have tried to amp that up a little bit where I’ve just been babying him a little bit, which I think she really needs. Like he’ll even say to me like holding me like, hold Matthew, okay, well you’re 20 pounds heavier than matthew. We’ll work on that.
Sharon: Everybody likes to snuggle, right? It’s the same thing. Like, you know, even adults in relationships like to be held and like to have that.
Kate: But it is funny that I, you know, like watching that. I was like, well I’m pretty sure that for ben it’s like he needs all of them. Like yeah, it really is for him. Like he loves to get a special tree. He always will say to me like, can I get something special? Can we get, can we go get, do something? So that piece of it is a piece for him and he obviously likes the affirmation that, you know, especially if we’re saying like, oh, matthew did a great job, I’ll be like, mom, I did a great job with something to write, deny. And so it’s like I, and I’m laughing because I’m like, this is just high maintenance. He needs a little piece of all of those, so it does. It feels a little exhausting after a while because I do think that as the oldest child he, you know, he requires a lot of our attention and I work really hard to make sure that he has those pieces of his day like fulfilled and like you said, just even like 10 minutes at bedtime is a huge thing for him. But then it’s like juggling that with making sure that that doesn’t necessarily mean that matthew is not getting those things because ben is so. I wouldn’t even say he’s needed. He’s just very verbal about what it is that he needs, wants, requires. And I think kids are just so different when it comes to like how they put those things into the world for sure.
Sharon: And it’s challenging. But you know, Matthew’s only a year old and so you are going to learn over time what it is that matthew needs and you will learn over time how you can best navigate having two kids with different needs and different wants at different times. And sometimes as soon as you figure it out, it changes on a and then that’s going to change, you know, I really would say rather than focus on how challenging it is, try to focus on how much you’re enjoying that time with each of them.
Kate: And I will say that’s one thing that has been true is that I do feel like I do really enjoy when I get them one on one and he’s like not have, it’s not the day to day like in and out of having these tantrums are falling apart about something, you know, when he’s in that special time. Although he did have a Tantrum in the middle of our time yesterday, but I just kind of have resided myself to the fact that that’s just kind of where we’re at right now. For whatever reason, that’s just what he’s going through. So I even said to our babysitter and my husband like, he, this is just what he’s doing right now. And I don’t know if it’s a reaction to something. I don’t know if he’s just maybe hitting a growth spurt that’s both physical and emotional. I do think that he’s physically growing right now and he’s a huge kid now. It’s almost like he doesn’t know what to do with his body right now because he’s just beyond what he, I think is capable of handling to a certain extent. Um, he just keeps going through these growth spurts. So I think it’s a little like emotionally trying for him to kind of catch up with himself physically.
Sharon: Well, and I think also when you have a large child. So one of my daughters was like this tissues just, she even still today, she’s a six year old that looks like a third grader and what we have to remember is that they are still there age even though they look, even though he might look like a four year old, he sold three year olds. Right. And I know I’ve had this situation with my daughter where when she was younger we would go to the park or do something and people would expect her to behave like an older child because she looked like an older child, but she wasn’t. And she was still a toddler and she wasn’t going to speak like a five year old because she was old and three year olds.
Kate: Right. That has almost like this combination of negatives going for him in an emotional sense because he looks like he’s five and he talks like he’s at least that old. I mean, he, the way that he verbalizes things, he sounds like he’s five or six years old and people will constantly say the same thing to me. They’re like, how old is he? I’m like three and a half. And they’re like, what? Because he sounds like he’s at least in kindergarten. I mean he’s already starting to read. He memo books and verbatim reads them back to me. So he’s intellectually capable of things. And so I think it is hard, you know, I really try to remember like I’m constantly having these in depth conversations with him. I don’t know now like thinking about it, how much of that emotionally he’s even able to process that. He’s able to verbalize things, but I don’t know that he’s able to figure out how we actually like feels or how he should respond to them and so I’m wondering if maybe some of that is what’s going on that he just can’t catch up.
Sharon: Well, I think it’s important to continue having those conversations and not sort of sell him short and that way I would really continue the conversations and speak to him like you think he can understand, but understand in your mind that he may not really be fully able to react the way that you would expect him to react after those conversations. And I think expectations are such a big thing in parenting and really in life and most of our frustrations and disappointments as parents really come from are unrealistic expectations that may not be met. Right. And so if we can know what is truly reasonable for us to expect, then we get less disappointed and it’s the same thing, like you said, about the tantrums. He may be at a point right now in his, in his life where that’s his way of dealing with things and I don’t usually say, you know, you need to stop the tantruming because I think that for some kids they really just need to be able to have that outlet, but if you can avoid giving attention to a Tantrum, then when he has one, he can just have his Tantrum, get it all out and then it will be over and he won’t have tantrums necessarily for your benefit as much. They will really be just for, for his benefit.
Kate: Right. There is some truth to that in the sense that like, and you and I talked about this last week to like try and have any kind of conversation with him when he’s in the throes of being upset about and I think that he’s not processing anything at that point. So trying. We had definitely had been trying to just ignore it and take the energy away from it because it’s irrational behavior. So he really is a kid who was always like, I want to talk about it. Let’s talk about. And I’m like, I’ve just gotten to the point, I’m like, you can say what you want to say, but then we’re just going to be done with this because otherwise it just prolongs it. Right? It’s a fine line because I don’t want to tell him not, you know, my mom was kind of all over me the other day because I kept seeing him like, stop crying, stop being upset, like you’re getting upset about everything. And she’s kind of like, you know, he’s feeling how he’s feeling. Let them feel it. Don’t tell him not to get upset. I was like, but he’s crying about literally everything. So at some point it’s got to stop. But I, I agree with you that I think it’s kind of the same concept with the eating that he just like, he needs to not have fuel to the fire, if you will. He just needs it. Needs to just be whatever he needs to do to deal with it and then let it go. You know?
Sharon: I don’t disagree with your mom. I mean, I think that he can feel how he feels and if he’s upset he should be able to communicate that, but just like you said, you don’t have to add to that attention sitting right to sort of give him that attention that he’s looking for as part of it because that will just make it a longer tantrum or more frequent tantruming.
Kate: Right. Exactly. Yeah. No, that makes sense. Yeah. So I think like we’re moving in the right direction and I also think we’re leaving for two weeks of vacation this weekend and my husband’s going to be home and we’re going to be the four of us and he’s going to be getting a lot of one on one time. He’s going to be getting time with grandparents. So I’m hoping that by the time we get back that some of this will kind of have worked itself out just by having, you know, a change of scenery, a change of pace time with dad time or grandparents Kinda all kinds of special things going on.
Sharon: Yeah. I think what I would also say is, you know, always try to think about when he’s having his meltdowns or he’s really not having a good day. What might be contributing to that in terms of could he be hungry, could you be really tired? Maybe he didn’t sleep well last night and especially when you’re on vacation, sort of have that realistic expectation to what his days are going to be like and how exhausted he is going to be feeling because out of his routine and they’ll be out of your routine to and sometimes that makes it more fun and more exciting, but at point he may really get exhausted and so try to try to see if you can at least listen for that and give him what he needs in terms of more rest if you need it.
Kate: We have been working on the nap schedule too and that has been working. We’ve been trying to get him down between like one and 1:30 instead of waiting until two or 2:30 and he has gone from like two or three naps a week to like. I think he only really skipped one this week.
Sharon: Great.
Kate: The only problem is we have been having to like, he goes down hard when he goes down and so there’s been times where he’s like, he’s gone down at 1:30 and it’s 4:15 and I’m like, no, she’s got to get up, wake him up, and then we deal with cranky toddler for like two years. But, but I think getting him back into the routine of sleeping is worth it in the long run and hopefully the timing of it will just work itself out over a few weeks. But I think you’re right, like keeping that part of the routine and making sure that most of the time he’s going to get a nap or at least some quiet time while we’re away is going to be important.
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean he clearly needs it, right? So some three year olds don’t need it and it’s an age where some kids are phasing that out, but if he falls asleep that hard and deep, he really does need it and we’ll make a difference for you and for him and his behavior the rest of the day. So what was the most useful part of this call for you?
Kate: I think just the, the reaffirmation that like some of the things that we’re doing are moving in the right direction. Um, I think for me this week, like second guessing my decision with camp and with his behavior and wondering if maybe there’s something going on and I’m not thinking of just knowing that like we’re kind of moving in the right direction and kind of sticking to the things that we talked about in our first call just helps me to kind of stand my ground with it. Yeah.
Sharon: Yeah. And I think it’s just honestly a lot of it is our, our own confidence in our decision making and that’s where I think that having the support is so great and being able to sort of touch base with someone and say like, if this is what I’m thinking, do you think it’s reasonable? Um, there, there isn’t always a right or wrong answer. Right? But you have to feel comfortable with the decisions that you’re making because if you’re not comfortable, that’s when we falter. And that’s when we become wishy washy and if we’re wishy washy, our kids feel that and then they know they can take advantage. Great. Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the podcast. Head over to www dot [inaudible] dot com, where you’ll find plenty of. You’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned in today’s show. Be sure to hit subscribe on your podcast so that you can listen to the next episode, the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week.

Meet Your Mentor

Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.

 After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.

 The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.

Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.

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