Dear Dr. Bill,
My husband and I have 11-month-old twins who are generally good babies. But my son continually is pulling his sister’s hair and even biting her. I have told him “no” over and over again, and I’ve even given him light spank on his legs. He never cries but simply stares at me.
He has also started throwing tantrums — where he give a little grunt and squeal whenever he is frustrated. What do you suggest we do to discipline him?
Some of the behaviors you are describing are a bit unusual. I don’t want to alarm you, but they could be signs of a developmental disorder. I’d recommend that you have your son evaluated by his pediatrician. Describe the behaviors that you are observing and tell the physician how your son responds when you attempt to intervene.
If the doctor gives your son a clean bill of health, you’ll need to try other forms of intervention. With a child his age, the most effective form of intervention is time-out.
I often recommend to parents of toddlers that they use a Pak N’ Play playpen as a “time-out” location. When your son acts aggressively toward his sister, tell him “no” as you’ve been doing, but then immediately remove him from situation and place him in the Pak N’ Play.
Make sure it’s located far enough from the action to be boring, but close enough to monitor him. A good rule of thumb is one minute of time-out for each year of age.
Your son will likely scream and tantrum at being placed in time-out, but don’t give in to the temptation to pick him up until he’s “served his time.” Also, don’t continue to nag or scold him for his misbehavior—that will simply reinforce him by providing him with attention. Instead, ignore him until the time-out is over.
Thanks for writing Amanda. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.
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