A Strong-Willed Two-Year Old

A Strong-Willed Two-Year Old

Dear Dr. Meg,

My sons are 22-months apart; they are now 2 and 5 months.  Right before my 2nd son was born, my 1st son really started acting out.  He hits, throws and now kicks for going on 6 months. He is not in daycare, we do not watch “violent” television, and the two days a week that I work he stays with grandparents. We have tried to be compassionate about the fact that he lost the “King of the Castle” when my 2nd son was born, but I am having trouble curbing this behavior and all of our behavior modification ideas have failed so far.  We intentionally spend time with him, especially when little brother is around and I have even tried telling little brother to “wait” while I do activities with older brother.  The acting out is not exclusive to when younger brother is around though; it has become the only way he interacts with other children too. I have tried interacting in play and showing him appropriate contact, we discuss positive interactions on the way to play dates (high fives, hugs, sharing, etc), but as soon as a child walks into his range, he lashes out. He has even started acting out when it is only me and him spending time together.  My husband and I have tried picking a method (spanking, time out, etc) and sticking with only that method for a period of time, but so far we have found nothing that seems to deter him from these actions.  He is a sweet sweet boy half of the time, and then a huge handful the other half.  I know sometimes his actions are meant to seek attention, but in other instances I cannot figure out what is fueling them, and in all instances I am at a loss on how to stop them and encourage positive behavior.  Thank you for any advice!

Mother of Two

Dear MOT-

You have a very strong-willed 2-year-old boy on your hands. I understand your desire to empathize with him, buy you’re overthinking things. Yes, your son’s nose was out of joint when his brother was born but he’s really acting out because he wants to and he can. He’s just a handful.

There are some strategies that really do work with stubborn toddlers. First, pick one behavior that you find most offensive. Is it backtalk? Hitting other kids? Talk with your husband and choose one behavior to discipline your son for over the next month. Then, sit across from your son and look him in the eye and say, “Son, if you do this again, Mommy and Daddy will not put up with it. So if you do this, you will have to go to your room immediately.” (You can choose another consequence but it needs to upset him- so that he will want to avoid it.

Once you have done this, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. He will love this (because strong-willed kids thrive on challenges) and soon he will do that behavior. He will wait until he knows you are watching and then he will disobey. Immediately pick him up (don’t say a word) and put him in his room. He may scream, hit the door, and wail but this is all for show. He’s not used to you laying down the law and meaning it.

When he quiets down and sits for 5-10 minutes quietly, he can come out of his room. Again, you look him in the eye and say, “Do not do that (hit, whatever) again.” Then go on to do what you were doing before. Here’s the tough part: really stubborn kids will go through this routine five, ten, maybe twenty times in one day just to test you. If he’s really creative, he will do it when you’re at a friend’s home, at the grocery store or somewhere he thinks you can’t respond. So be ready, if you are any of those places, you MUST respond. Leave the grocery store, drive home and put him in his room. If you are at a friend’s home, excuse yourself and ask your friend to borrow a bedroom to use with your son. This sounds extreme, but if he is really stubborn, extreme measures are needed. I promise, if you act this way, he’ll stop disobeying.

You may spend one or two whole days accomplishing only one thing- breaking him of this behavior.  He’s trying hard to establish that he, not you, is the boss. The reason that you MUST win this battle isn’t just to curb his behavior but to make him submit to your authority so that he can have a sense of security. Bright, energetic kids who believe that they are in charge are frightened deep down and feel insecure. So you need to devote yourself to making sure that he knows that you are the boss.

Most parents fail because kids wear them down with their energy and stamina. Your job is to simply outlast him. Once you get him to understand that you (and Dad) are the boss, then move on to another behavior. Be patient with yourself and realize this is no task for wimpy parents.

Your job as a good parent of a strong-willed son is to help him channel his will in a direction that works for him, not against him. If you don’t get him to bend his will to yours, his immature desires will run his life. Don’t let this happen.

Dr. Meg

Responding To A Cruel Daughter-In-Law

Dear Dr. Meg,

I have a daughter-in-law of 14-years now! I consider myself as a very good Christian person. I have one son. Anyway, my daughter-in-law is very spoiled, disrespectful, and very rude to me every chance she gets! Her mom is her best friend! She won’t break down the wall and let me in. All she sees is the negitive about me! Her two kids love me!

Even when our son will give me a hug she’ll say sure you’ll hug your mom, but you won’t hug me! She had fours years of physiology in college.  I don’t get into their lives at all! She has got me over a barrel and if I say anything, our son will hate me and I won’t get to see our grandkids any more! I’ve tried so hard with her, but get stomped down by her every time! I am so severely depressed each time we’re with them, and what she does to me. I’m about ready to give up our son, and grandkids! And that is what she wants is to have them all to herself, and her family, and to leave us out! It’s not worth the pain she causes me! I’ve never in my fifty-eight years of my life ever had someone hate me and the ground I walk on. And our one and only son had to marry a girl like her.  I don’t tell our son any of this, because she always turns everything around and tells him that it’s me.

Meg, I’ve never told anyone this before, but I I’ve even thought of suicide, that way I’d be out of their lives, she’d love that! I pray every day for us! My husband is my high school sweet heart and is so very good to me, and I love him so much. I’d never do that to him. He just tells me just let it go, and tune her out! But it hurts me so much! Meg, you’re the first person I’ve sought help from. I don’t know where to go! I can write a book (as you can tell,) on all the mean things she’s done to me all these years! I’m sorry Meg, my question got so long, but I had to tell you just a little about my life and problem! Can you help me? I’d sure appreciate it! I know it would be hard for you to tell me since you don’t know either of our personalities! With my hand on the bible I am a good person, but I don’t want it to look like I’m stuck on myself, I’m not really! Ha!

Thank you,
Looking For Resolution


Dear LFR,

I can tell that your daughter-in-law has really hurt your feelings. For some reason she has decided that you are the enemy. She either feels threatened by you or deeply hurt by you. Probably both. I encourage you to stop thinking about how you feel and try to put yourself in her shoes so that you can try to understand her frame of mind. Of course she thinks very differently than you do and there is a deep insecurity or hurt that continues to eat away at her and she is taking it out on you.

Here’s what I would do. Set asked one month and pray intentionally for her. Ask God to bless her. Then ask Him to help you understand what is bothering her so deeply. When you find yourself focusing on your own hurt, stop and think about her. Praying for someone is powerful because it changes her life and it changes yours.

Then, I would act as kindly as you can to her. Even the hardest-hearted people cave when shown enough kindness. It could be that this young woman has never felt any real kindness in her life- I don’t know. But I do know this: if you humble yourself in her presence and work hard to be nice, she will eventually respond. (And this may take years.)

When Paul was teaching the Romans about how very hard love is, he wrote: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him: if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

At this point, you can either keep doing what you’re doing and lose your son and grandchildren or you can try something dramatic and follow Paul’s suggestion. I highly recommend the latter.

Dr. Meg

Help! My Daughter Wants To Marry Me.

Help! My Daughter Wants To Marry Me.

Dear Dr. Meg,

I have a 3-year-old daughter that has been asking me to marry her every day for the past few weeks. I keep telling her thank you, I love you too, and that I am already married to her mother without telling her ok and or pretending to marry her. My wife and I even pretended to have a wedding in our living room and allowed her to be the flower girl in hopes that she would be satisfied with that and stop asking to marry me. She keeps asking her mother if she could marry my wife and me was trying to be tactful and honest and told her that she could not marry me and said that she would find a guy to marry after college. It seemed to break her heart and crushed her dreams and she cried and cried and cried. When I got home from work, she asked me again to marry her. We keep rolling with the same pattern of responses, I am already married to mommy, lets talk about that when she gets older, and try changing the subject.

Are we doing the right thing? Please help.

Already Married To Mommy

Dear AMTM-

How lucky you are to have a little girl who wants to marry you. You must be a great father. Here’s the reason that your daughter tells you that she wants to marry you. In her very young mind, she never wants life to change. She wants her mother close and she wants you to stay in her life, just the way you are. At such a young age, the word marry means something very different to her than it does to you. It means that you will always stay in her life as her very special Dad.

Your daughter’s question is perfectly normal for her age. Many young girls feel this way about their fathers. Here’s what I encourage you to do. When she asks you to marry her tell her thank you. Then tell her that her mommy will always be your only wife but that she can be your special girl. All she really wants to know is that she can have a spot in your heart reserved for her alone and that nothing will ever change that.

Over the months, your daughter’s mind will change and she will stop asking about marrying you. So don’t worry, even if she seems not to hear your answers now, eventually she stop and then, you’ll wish that she still asked!

Dr. Meg

Debriefing Thanksgiving

Debriefing Thanksgiving

Let me ask you, friends, “How did it go? You know- Thanksgiving?” What would you say? Could it be that many of you would answer, “Ugh, I’m so glad it’s over?” Or how about, “Next year, we’re definitely not including Uncle Jim- he’s out of control.”

Holidays are stressful because of the workload and odd personalities but I do believe that we often make them worse. For instance, have you ever invited family and friends to your home and insisted on cooking the whole meal? Of course you have and I say, shame on you- you’re setting yourself up for too much stress. And when you put too much on yourself, you might turn into someone that no one wants to be around. Believe me, I’ve been that person who is angry at guests for making my life so hard long before they leave.  I see women (usually) use the holidays as a time to prove to loved ones and friends that they can do it all: clean the house, set a lovely table, buy the turkey and the trimmings, bake pies, make the kids take showers and dress up and then put on a smile when everyone shows up. They are happy- it is Thanksgiving after all and life is to be celebrated! After family exchanges pleasantries, the turkey is served; everyone wolfs the meal down in fifteen minutes. This is not Europe. We eat and watch football, we do not linger to talk and debate.

Then these super women turn to the kitchen and there in the sink is a pile of dishes as high as the Eiffel Tower. Thanksgiving is the time when the nicest glassware and china comes out. So they roll up their sleeves and dive into the dishes, insisting that others stay where they are (chatting in the living room or watching football) and enjoy their day. When it is finally time for all to leave, these ladies are in such bad moods that every part of their demeanor screams, how dare you come into my home and make me work so hard!

Thanksgiving is not a time to show how capable we are; rather it is a time to see family and friends and let them know that even though we may disagree, rarely see one another or argue about raising children, it is a time to set aside grievances and let others know that we are thankful that they are alive. We are thankful that God has brought them (and us) through one more year. We are alive, healthy (or mostly healthy) and capable of sitting at a table and eating turkey, stuffing and pie.

Why do we spend so much time focused on ourselves and working to outperform ourselves from last year or another family member? The truth is, we have nothing to prove because that’s not what Thanksgiving is all about.  It is a time to gather as a unit and exchange thanks. So if we are going to do that and be nice and pleasant about it, how dare we set ourselves and others up for experiencing the misery of us stressing?

Let’s not do this anymore. Next year, if you invite family and friends to your home, ask them to bring some food. If they are on a tight budget, they can bring potatoes. If all your guests are on a tight budget, wouldn’t it be kinder of you to ask them to bring whatever they can – even if turkey never shows up- and eat together with you relaxing and enjoying their company rather than invite them into your clean home, beautifully set table while you act like a monster? Of course it would.

We all want to enjoy loved ones and friends but we also want (and deserve) to be enjoyed. So next year, how about we try taking some of the focus off of ourselves by showing off our cooking skills, the “best” way to make stuffing, the juiciest turkey or highest meringue on the lemon pie and spend time thinking about what we can really do to make the day pleasant for our guests. That would be, of course, being a more patient and pleasant person to be around.

I’m going to go for it and I must say, as an overachiever in a large family, I have come to love having my enormous and loud family over.  How? I clean the house and they do the cooking. And, we either all clean up together or we eat on paper plates.  It’s their choice.

The Contradictions of Mothering Sons

The Contradictions of Mothering Sons

From Strong Mothers, Strong Sons

They say boys take longer to mature than girls, and in a number of ways, that’s very true. Girls, from a young age, seem to anticipate their future as a woman. When boys are young, they seem to be less fixated on their future and more able to enjoy the moments of childhood. But one of the pressing issues that all boys will face one day is that they will need to learn how to be a man. When they are young, they don’t consciously pay attention to this. But as they grow older, their awareness that this transition must take place swells. And as it grows, so too does a mom’s fear that the process may not go well.

When boys hit their preadolescence years, they begin to sense that manhood is around the corner. As I said, girls seem to start moving toward womanhood at a younger age, and more gradually than boys, who mature in spurts. But while, as women, our transition into becoming adults was probably smoother, we can still understand what our boys are going through. What is more difficult for us to understand is a boy’s concern that we are going to impede the process. Here is the real rub: A son needs a man to help him navigate the transition. Boys are visual creatures. They need to see what a man looks like, speaks like, and behaves like in order to mimic that behavior and internalize it.

This is very important for mothers to understand—especially single mothers. Often sons who live with only their mothers don’t have the opportunity to spend time with men they look up to and there- fore don’t observe healthy masculine traits to mimic and internalize. So it is especially important for single moms to ask a grandfather, uncle, coach, pastor, or friend to spend a little time with their sons. Hard as they try, single mothers can’t be both mom and dad. This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that mothers should relieve themselves of the pressure that they put on themselves to be everything to their sons and just focus on being really terrific moms. The challenge for single moms is to recruit a good man or two to spend time with their sons in order to show them how great men behave.

So where, we mothers wonder, do we fit into this process? Or do we? That is the question that every son grapples with as well. An eleven-year-old boy comes home from school and tells his mother about his day. How gym went, what he got on his science test. Maybe he cries or complains because his teacher is terrible or someone in his class made fun of him. He has a problem, and so he unloads his troubles on his mother. This is a more natural occurrence with mothers than it is with fathers, in general, because women tend to display their empathy more easily than men. And, many of us coddle our sons. This isn’t all bad. As a matter of fact, this can be good—up to a certain age—because there comes a point in every boy’s development where he needs to emotionally pull away from his mother and stand on his own two feet. In other words, we mothers need to learn when it is appropriate to coddle and when it isn’t.

Since mothers tend to allow sons to express a broader range of feelings than fathers do, sons develop a deep level of comfort with their mothers. They don’t have the sense that they need to automatically “man up” when they are with them. In fact, until he is about ten or eleven, life for a boy is often all about his mother. And then the tide changes. When he enters preadolescence, he suddenly— dramatically—gets a glimpse of his future as a man. And he may start to wonder how his emotional comfort with his mother fits into his emerging manhood. He begins to question whether it’s manly to be so close to his mother. The answer can be elusive, and sons can find their confusion disturbing.

From a son’s perspective, his feelings for his mother can be fairly messy stuff—even if we’ve tried to do everything right. We mothers must understand that every son feels this internal conflict as he enters the teen years. In addition to physically maturing, trying to figure out who he is becoming, and enduring emotional shifts that hormonal changes bring, he struggles with his feelings toward his mother. He wants to stay close, but something inside him is pulling away from her. These changes are all part of the process of becoming a man. Once we understand this, life becomes easier for us because we won’t take their changing behavior so personally.

Excerpt taken from Strong Mothers, Strong Sons