I have been thinking over the past 10 days that I am sure you could shed some light on what is happening with my 2 1/2 yo. son. I stay at home with him and there have been no changes to routine or the environment that I can detect. In the past my son has been friendly and charming when around others that live in the home (dad, older sister, and grandmother) but over the past 10 days or so it is as if a switch has been flipped. He now tells people to “go away!” when I talk to them. He is very possessive of me. I try to keep conversations short but he still would rather me not carry on with anyone at all! I want to teach him to “share mama” but I also want to listen to his needs and give all of myself to him. Do you have any idea what is happening? Is this common at this age? How should I react when he screams at me to stop talking to others or cries when other are around? Sincerely, ML
How absolutely frustrating, both for you and for him! While every kid is different, it’s not ‘typical’ for kids to go through a clingy phase at this age, with no changes to routine or environment…18 or 19 months old is much more common. But what IS ‘typical’ is this: I’ve noticed is that kids often go through a kind of change at two and a half, where they just seem to need a little bit MORE. More time outside, more wrestling, more activities. If they don’t get the new challenges that they need, they often create challenges for themselves and those around them, by “misbehaving” in some way.
Children at this age have also discovered that they are definitely, absolutely, their own person. Once they realize that they are not ‘part’ of you and that the two of you are separate, there is often a phase where kids do some experimenting with “who’s in charge.” There are two parts to this: who is in charge of what he does, and who is in charge of what mom does. Children will experiment with this by ordering mom around: I’ve seen kids forbid their moms from singing, insisting that moms do things a certain way or they’ll throw a tantrum, or they’ll throw a fit because mom closed the door when he wanted to be the one to close it…sound familiar? I suspect that what you’re going through with your son may be something along these lines. Does this ring true?
If it does, then the thing to do is to let him know firmly and calmly who is in charge. The tricky part is to do it in a way that doesn’t turn your child into someone who’s being “bad.” (Once a child takes on the identity that they’re “bad,” it can be lots harder to get them to do what you want.) Here’s my suggestion on how to go about it:
When someone wants to talk to you, look directly at your son and say, “I’m going to talk to Daddy for a minute. You can be in my arms if you are quiet, but if you want to cry I will put you down.” Then talk to Daddy, and follow through with what you said. It will probably lead to a few shrieker-tantrums at the beginning. Go ahead and have your (short) conversation, then matter-of-factly say to your son, “I’m done with my conversation now. Would you like a hug?” Make sure that your attitude is that it’s fine for him to choose either one: staying quietly in your arms, or crying on the floor. Don’t let it be a big deal either way. Afterwards, as he’s recovering from crying, you might make an offhand comment, “You were crying and crying. Next time, maybe you’ll choose to stay quiet in my arms.” This approach will have a few effects: first, there’s no obeying or disobeying; there are only choices that are more comfortable or less comfortable. Then, he’ll notice that his tantrums are not having the effect of getting you to do what he wants, OR of getting a rise out of you. After a few days of consistently going through this, he will probably start to make the more comfortable choice (of staying quietly in your arms). Be consistent and be calm, and be compassionate as you go through these growing pains together.
One word of caution: as he starts to calm down and be polite around other people again, be careful not to fall into the trap of over-praising him or making a big deal over it. Being polite to others shouldn’t be a big deal, it should simply be the way you expect him to act around other people. Making a big deal over it simply turns it into a big deal, which isn’t what you want.
Give Him Extra Love
This next little while may be tough for you and for him. In addition, he may be possessive because he really is needing more of you right now, for whatever emotional growth phase he’s going through right now. So make sure that you ARE spending time with him where it’s just the two of you, where you’re giving him lots of eye contact with smiles, hugs and kisses. Whenever you’re ‘stepping up’ your discipline, it’s important to ‘step up’ your love and connection with each other as well.
And, of course, good luck! Give yourself some extra love and care in this time, too. Ask for help from your husband and grandma, to take a bath, go out for a walk on your own, or meet a friend for coffee.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith