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How do I deal with naughty behaviour?

2011 May 10
by imperfectpages

I always thought I had a well-behaved son. But just lately he’s started really pushing boundaries. I guess he’s just learning what’s naughty and what isn’t, learning about people’s reactions.

He’s started answering back, in a special ‘cheeky’ tone. A typical conversation can go like this:



“It’s time to clean your teeth now”

“Noooo it isn’t”

“Yes, it is”

“Noooo it isn’t”

“It is, and we’re not discussing it any more”

“Yes we aaaare discussing it”

At which point I pick him up and carry him to the bathroom. He’s quite happy to have his teeth cleaned (at least, no more unhappy than he’s always been) but for some reason he’s deliberately contrary. It feels like it’s almost constant.

This afternoon we went into the village. I had the baby in the buggy so that D would have to walk – he’d had a two hour nap and I wanted to tire him out for bedtime. We stopped to look at the diggers on the way and he was lovely, very sensible by the road and we talked lots. We went to the library and he was great – a bit loud and over-excited, but we chose three books and left, no problems. I don’t think he’s lacking in attention – we were talking and doing things together all the way.

On the way home we called into the Co-op. It’s a small shop – we walked round, I picked up some beer, went to the till. As I was trying to pay, he ran off. I could see that he was running round the aisles and not towards the door, so I ignored him while I paid, thinking he might stop and come back if I didn’t engage with it. He didn’t, so I caught up with him, held him by the arm and told him firmly that he mustn’t run away, that it was naughty, and he must stand next to me.

Of course, as soon as my back was turned, he ran off again. I don’t know what to do for the best, as when I start to chase him he starts laughing and runs even faster – he thinks it’s all a game. I say “it’s not funny” and he replies “yes, it is funny”, laughing as he does it.


It’s so frustrating. I talk firmly and clearly to him, make it unequivocally clear that I’m angry and that he mustn’t run off, yet he seemingly just doesn’t listen. It doesn’t seem to go in at all.

I hate it because I felt like such a fool, running at full speed after a toddler, leaving my shopping, handbag and, um, BABY, stranded behind me. And I get so angry, but it doesn’t have any effect.

I’ve talked to him calmly about it at home. It still doesn’t seem to sink in – I can say “running away is naughty” and he’ll come straight back with “no it isn’t”. I explain to him what behaviour is expected, ask him if he understands and I get a blank look and a “huh?”.

So… I’ve ordered a couple of wrist straps. Next time we go out and he’s walking, I’m going to explain before we leave the house that if he runs off, he’ll have to be strapped to me. Before we go into a shop, or anywhere else that it might be an issue, I’ll remind him again. If he runs once, he’ll get a warning, and the next time that’ll be it, strap straight on.

Does that sound ok? A reasonable instruction and consequence? I think I’m thrown by this because it’s started up so suddenly – he’s gone from being always so pleasant to cheekiness and deliberate disobedience in the last couple of weeks.

Ironically, I started a parenting course today at my local SureStart. It’s called Family Nurturing. I’ve actually done it before, when I was a pregnant mother of one. It’s a brilliant course and a lot of the things I learned have shaped my parenting. When I got the new activity sheet last week and saw it was running again, I decided to re-do it because

a) the child had just started this naughty phase

b) I think that going though the ideas and techniques step by step and implementing a new bit each week will have a positive effect on the whole family

c) I’ve been so desperate for a bit of ‘me time’ that I’d vowed to sign up for whatever course was running; the value of two hours per week without the children should not be underestimated.

Today we covered the basic ideas that underpin the course, and talked about the value of praise. Our homework is to praise our kids (and husband). Hopefully I’ll get a chance to write more about it this week, but if not then I’ll do a full write-up after next week’s session.

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28 Responses leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011

    As mentioned on Twitter we are having this problem too. I introduced the reward chart and blogged it here
    It has worked brilliantly all week and all day until the end of the day today when she decided that she would continually pick Spud the kitten up and not listen to us. We took a smiley away and then she made it a game to lose more! Ended up putting her to bed at the normal time but without her song and cuddles.
    Otherwise she’s responded really really well to it as you can see here

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 12, 2011

      Thank you, that’s interesting. I don’t know how I feel about taking smileys off a chart, I think my approach would be to celebrate the good behaviour (with a smiley) and keep bad behaviour separate, rather than have the bad negate the good, IYSWIM. But I think the idea of a reward chart is a good one – we already have one for the potty, but maybe we should have one for other good behaviour too.

  2. May 10, 2011

    I have so much sympathy for you, like you wouldn’t believe! My son is just coming out of that phase. It’s awful on 2 levels – it’s a shock as he’s always been good, and it’s not particularly “bad” behaviour (as in hitting, biting, sticking forks into sockets, sticking baby’s head down toilet…) but it’s incessant and aggravating and stressful.

    I think the wrist strap is a great idea. I used the star chart, which was good but I could really have done with a “punishment” too for times when positive reinforcement just didn’t quite cur it.

    Good luck and I’ll be thinking of you.

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 12, 2011

      Thanks for commenting. I think what you’ve said actually kind of hides the important issue for me – I need to make sure I’m focussing on positive reinforcement the most, and keep ‘punishment’ for a last resort. More star charts, more praise for good behaviour.

      With the wrist strap, the course I’m doing covers choices and consequences – he can choose to stay next to me nicely, or he can choose to run away and have to wear the strap – rather than it being “you must wear this because you’ve been naughty” then it would be “if you choose to run away from me, the consequence is that you have to be strapped on.

  3. Michelle Twin Mum permalink
    May 10, 2011

    Tiresome toddlers, yes I know those!

    My first thought upon reading was what consequence does he have for his naughty behaviour and you then said about the wrist strap and that sounds great. Kids learn quick when there is a consistent consequence.

    Just make sure that whatever you say you carry though with and yes it will often hurt you far more than it does him.

    One of my twinnies is completely testing and always has been. Stciker charts work amazingly well wiht her. As she does the nuaghty behaviour, I literally say to myself ‘oh I was really looking forward to getting some and doing our sticker charts, woudln’t it be good is Miss M coudl get 3 for her good beahviour today’. Then I might say to her’ What does good behaviour look like Miss M?’, ‘Was running away, not listening, punching your sister etc etc, good behaviour?’ at this point she will realise and apologise.

    It can take an awful lot of work but it comes with time. JJ was the same and he is pretty adorable now.

    Good luck, think positive, it really helps.

    Mich x

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 12, 2011

      Thank you, it’s nice to know that it’s not just me. I think what you say about carrying through consequences is crucial – which is why I try to choose appropriate consequences. It’s hard as we’ve never really had to do this sort of thing before, so we’re struggling a bit to find what’s appropriate and what isn’t. I think the added difficulty is that my husband tends towards stricter punishments (last night he told him “no stories at bedtime for a week” which I think is crazy) and we’re trying to agree a consistent route between the two of us.

      I smile at “at this point she will realise” as my son is just the same. He stands on all sorts of things – will dreamily walk straight over my handbag or a book if they’re in his way – and when he does it I say “what do you stand on?” “Floor” “was that the floor?” “No” “so should you stand on it?” and of course he knows that no, he shouldn’t. But it’s getting him to remember that *before* he tramples on it!

      But we will get there. :)

  4. May 10, 2011

    Teach rules to child. Live happily with child. Child decides to see how far those rules actually stick. Parent enforces rules. Child’s behaviour settles down. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Ad bloody infinitum.

    It’s totally normal, but just so wearing to deal with. You have to be calm, consistent, mature and grown up in your response, always. Naturally i tend towards the fishwife-who-stamps approach myself…

    If it makes you feel better, we have just left the latest bout of this with son No.2. He’s 10 in August. The 12yr old hasn’t done it for a while – maybe he finally grew out of it? *touches wood*

    The wrist strap is a great idea – personally I wouldn’t give so many chances before I used it.

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      Sorry it’s taken me a while to reply to this one – for some reason you went to spam. You seem to have figured it out nicely – I think it’s the volume of patient repeating required that took me by surprise. I think for a two year old, it has to be a couple of broad-ranging, very simple rules. We’re actually studying rules next week on this course so hopefully we’ll work out the crucial ones!

      First outing with the wrist strap in bag today – he was getting a bit skittish so I asked did he want it on and he said yes please! I think he actually found it quite reassuring. Win!

  5. May 10, 2011

    Um. Can I come at it from a different point of view?

    I’ve done the wrist strap, or in our case, reins, with my first child. I don’t do it any more. If at all possible, I hold toddler’s hand, and I wouldn’t put the wrist strap on as a consequence, if I thought I was going to need it, I’d put it on from the start. I’d try to head off the behaviour before it happens that is, and I don’t categorise it as naughty.

    He’s not naughty. He’s doing something you don’t like, and your reaction is then making it far more exciting because you get all of a flap about it. (From his point of view that is, sorry if that sounds a bit down on you!) Don’t give him that power if you can avoid it – it won’t help you or him if this becomes a battle.

    Just a thought or two. Hope it’s a little helpful, and if not, ignore me :)

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 12, 2011

      Thank you very much, especially for disagreeing with my terms, I know sometimes it can feel a bit awkward to disagree but I like it! I totally see what you’re saying. I do that the majority of the time – I explain to him where we’re going, and what sort of behaviour is expected. I do try to avoid things becoming an issue or a battle, which is why I ignored it at first when he ran off. I guess what I find difficult is when I ask him not to do something, and he deliberately does it anyway – yes, it’s for the reaction, but if I don’t react then how does he learn not to do it?

  6. May 11, 2011

    I would reiterate what liveotherwise says. Even though it’s hard. It’s recognising flash points and taking steps to avoid them, I didn’t take Bonus Boy shopping for quite a while, choosing to go in the evening or at weekends and buying on line rather than braving the stress of shopping with toddler. I parked at the supermarket, if I did have to take him, next to the door which didn’t have a pay to ride on toy on it so he couldn’t have a turn when I wouldn’t let him go on it/didn’t have the money/it was broken as usual.

    It isn’t naughtiness, it’s learning to be and testing boundaries with you and it takes a lot of patience and repetition to get the message through. I did have a ‘thinking place’ with my eldest where he would go if it got too much for me so we could both think about what had happened. I never called it the naughty place or punishment because, if I stopped to look, his behaviour wasn’t naughty it was a power struggle between us and power has no place in childhood. I also had star charts to reward him when he had done something fab, I would tell him I had noticed that he had tried hard to be helpful etc. I did try not to use negative terms and ‘You have’ phrases eg not saying ‘You have been naughty’ but rather ‘It makes me sad when you do …’
    I hope that makes sense and is helpful. I’m rushing a bit (as usual) do email me if you want a chat.

    Much love

    C xxx

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 12, 2011

      Yes, that’s all very helpful, thank you. I do do so much of this stuff already, it’s just sticking to it when he’s doing everything I don’t want at once!

      In terms of ‘naughty’ – I’d never, ever say something like “you’re a naughty boy” but I do say “that was naughty” for things that are deliberately disobedient or destructive. While I don’t think it’s a ‘wrong’ thing to say, I can see that it isn’t very descriptive or helpful – it doesn’t give him any explanation as to *why* it’s something we don’t want him to do. So I will try to say that less.

      I’m not sure if I like “it makes me sad when…” though. I don’t want him to have the weight of my happiness or sadness on his shoulders. So “oh dear, you’ve stood on this book and now it won’t be nice to read because it’s broken”, i.e. ‘your behaviour has had this consequence’, but “I feel sad and it’s your fault” on top of that seems a bit much. Or have I misunderstood?

      • May 12, 2011

        No, you’re right, written in haste, regretted at leisure. I don’t think I have actually said that at all because I try hard not to put my feelings on them…doesn’t always work of course. I certainly would never tell them it was their fault.

  7. May 12, 2011

    Your plan sounds just about perfect to me. It’s the 1 = reminder 2 = warning 3 = consequences approach to pesky toddlers and it works a treat! I’ve been doing the old 1, 2, 3 for years with my three and they are pretty good for the most part. Just remember that GOLDEN RULE OF PARENTING: follow-through and you can’t go wrong. x

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      Thanks, it’s reassuring to hear that I have the right idea! I agree that following through is crucial, which is why I try hard to pick appropriate punishments, and ones that aren’t going to inconvenience me (“if you don’t stop it, we won’t go to toddler group… oh, great, now we’re stuck in the house” etc). I’m trying hard to make it immediate, appropriate consequences.

  8. May 12, 2011

    Isn’t it so frustrating when you spend a lot of time explaining and being positive and they still push your buttons. Shops are a nightmare for us. Actually, the weekly shop is fine, he sits in the trolley & we talk all the way round, but popping in is awful. Actually hand holding in general is a minefield. I was chatting to Chris about it the other day & she was said that she used to compromise with BB & only hold hands when absolutely necessary. I thought MM was too young for this but tried it. We went to post box & on the way back he no longer wanted to hold my hand. I explained that I only insist when it’s dangerous and when we got to a certain point he could let go. It worked, I was amazed. Unfortunately I will have to do this 700 times!
    I would probably avoid the wrist band if I could, for fear it would cause more of a confrontation. I try to explain a reward before we go in a shop, but do struggle when he doesn’t cooperate & then clash about lack of reward. Sounds like you’re doing really well though.

    • May 15, 2011

      On the hand holding thing, Moo always had an issue with that. She won’t hold hands if you tell her to.

      But if you say to her – “There are cars here. You have to stay with mummy to be safe”, she’ll hold out her hand to you and happily hold hands…

      Oh, the power struggles, it’s so hard!

      • imperfectpages permalink*
        May 17, 2011

        That’s so funny! Bless her. They know their own mind, don’t they? Since this post I’ve been trying to avoid power struggles all together. The worst was with the ‘cheeky’ tone and talking back, as we could get into an eternal “yes it is bedtime”, “no it isn’t”, “yes it is” and he’d never get tired while I get more and more exasperated. So now as soon as he uses that tone I say nicely “I don’t like it when you talk like that, please talk sensibly” or something similar and cut it right off without making it an issue. Hopefully I can get OH on board with that one…

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      Thank you. We had the wrist band out today and it was the opposite of confrontation! He was getting a bit flighty outside the post office, I asked (nicely!) if he wanted me to put the wrist strap on and he said yes. Very unexpected but maybe he likes knowing for certain when he has to stay next to me?

      It’s frustrating as usually I get my shopping delivered every week – we’d just popped in to buy a few beers, of all things! But I do try hard to keep his abilities and limitations as a two-year-old in mind and rarely try to do activities that I know he won’t enjoy. It’s just easier all round that way…

  9. May 13, 2011

    Things that work for us:

    - distraction / making the thing fun (brushing teeth & me singing a silly teeth brushing song)
    - talking about their same age friends doing something (“you know Sally always brushes her teeth, because she knows otherwise your teeth will get holes in them and she knows that that’s not fun…”)
    - asking the older sibling to lead by example (in our case, the older one is always helpful and will show him how to brush his teeth/walk next to me holding my hand/ etc.)

    And – I don’t go into shops with my 2-year old :) It’s just not worth the battle :)

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      You know, I bet when the older one is bigger and it’s the baby being a terrible toddler, he will be great at leading by example! Just a shame he isn’t now…

      And yes, I very rarely go shopping with him (groceries delivered every week), I think a trek round the shops is asking a lot of him and it’s never going to end happily!

  10. May 13, 2011

    Just read your post and all the comments through with interest as DD is just entering her ‘twos’. Don’t have any advice to add from my own experience yet I’m afraid, except that I was advised myself not to use reins as it can teach little ones to strain against them. Don’t know if anyone has contrary experience? Great advice from the other commenters – so glad you posted this today!

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      Glad you found it useful, I certainly have! I see what you mean about reins – I guess that would be more of a problem when they’re just new to walking, and if you use them a lot. We used the wrist strap today (at his request!) and it worked really nicely for walking along the road.

      If your DD does start playing up, I can’t recommend this parenting course enough, I found it so useful the first time and even more so now that I’m actually dealing with unwanted behaviour.

  11. May 15, 2011

    I love point c!

    But anyways I am currently having a bloody mare as my elder two completly ignore me! I look back fondly now at the terrible twos…

    We coped by using sticker charts, praise and the naughty spot. The naughty spot goes everywhere with us, it just folds up and pops in my handbag. Takes up no room at all because it is invisible to adult eyes.

    To be honest once we taught them at home to sit on the naughty spot and not move then it works anywhere so eradicates the ‘playing’ elimate of being naughty. Plus once you get them out of the ‘spot’ you can then make up and never refer to it again. This way you can also explain why the behaviour wasnt appropiate or acceptable.

    I couldnt use reins bloody kids would tie me in knots.

    My childminder used them as a threat….. she never had to either but they were always better behaved for her!

    J x

    • imperfectpages permalink*
      May 17, 2011

      Point c: seriously, doing courses for me at SureStart has been an absolute lifesaver. The adult conversation and sense of doing something for yourself is so worthwhile. Plus the 2 hour weekly creche for the kids has been great for them, as a SAHM I couldn’t really justify nursery costs but this as taught them to socialise and get on in a childcare environment without me… I could rave about SureStart all day!

      We’ve been talking about the naughty spot (or ‘time out’) at the course today. The idea was that you need a couple of fixed rules, and if they break those rules, it’s warning then spot. But I’m not sure that there’s any behaviour at home that we couldn’t deal with in other ways… maybe hitting/pushing/kicking etc, but it’s pretty infrequent so not sure I need a time-out spot or if gentler reminders will do. Hmmm….

  12. Moira permalink
    May 19, 2011


    I just found you through a link on bumblings blog. Fab post … My boy is 2 in august and really knows his own mind. He is really starting to get frustrated when he can’t do exactly what hexwanrs when he wants and I’m trying to learn how to manage this!

    Sounds like you have a good plan! Being out of buggy near road etc is scary because you just can’t trust they won’t dart off. I’ve started to use a cute little rucksack which has a strap and parent handle. Gives me peace of mind and my boy loves it. It’s a bee and he asks to wear it now.


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