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Ask Dr. Shirley Schaye Your Own Question
Dr. Shirley Schaye
Dr. Shirley Schaye, Doctor
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1673
Experience:  PhD-Psych; Certif. Psychoanalyst NPAP& NYFS; Memb.APsaA;IPA; Pub.Author; Teach/Supervise Therapy
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Hi there, I need advice on how to handle my incredibly stubborn

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Hi there,
I need advice on how to handle my incredibly stubborn toddler, Amy. She is 23 months old and I just cannot compromise with her.
She refuses to have her hair brushed or put in a pigtail. If I try to brush it she runs away shouting 'No!', and if I catch her she thrashes around and screams like she's being beaten. If I do somehow manage to get it semi-brushed and put a pigtail in, she immediately pulls it out again.
She will not sleep in her own bed. She still sleeps with me. All attempts to put her in a cot or bed result in literally hours of intense screaming and tears, to the point where she has made herself throw up. She has cried hard for three hours before while in a cot next to my bed. If I put her in a bed, she simply screams and thrashes and gets out. She will not physically stay in the bed! She'd have to be held down (although I've never done that).

She still breastfeeds. My doctor has told me that this is fine because the World Health organisation recommends breastfeeding until the age of two years, but to be honest the only reason I'm still doing it is because it is the only thing that can stop a tantrum. She will not go to sleep without it and if I do not give her the breast, she throws the most horrific tantrum. I can't take her out in public because of it!

She refuses to sit on the potty at all. Once again, any attempt to make her do do results in a huge tantrum. But every diaper change is a huge ordeal of kicking and screaming and I actually need to get my nine year old son to help me hold her still while I try to change her. The same with her clothing. It's exhausting.
She does not listen to me AT ALL, no matter how firm my voice is. She does as she pleases and any attempt to stop it results in absolute chaos. I'm fed up.
She gets into everything and destroys things all the time. I can't take my eyes off her for a second. She has been very demanding ever since she was a tiny baby.

My son was a dream baby, the absolute opposite of Amy. He is calm and very well behaved. They are both very intelligent children and are performing above the average for their age.
I am a single working mother and the children stay with my mother while I work in the evenings for 6 hours, five days a week. I love Amy to pieces but she is impossible to handle and I feel so drained! I just want her to co-operate with me. The sleeping in her bed and ceasing to breastfeed, plus toilet training (she shows all the digns of readiness but just refuses to cooperate) would make my life so much easier.
Any advice would help. Thanks :)

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Well you have a toddler who in the "terrible-two's". Certainly, not uncommon but horrendous to deal with.

Customer: She is just impossible. She defies me just because she can! I love her but it's hard to put up with sometimes
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

When your Amy is in the midst of a full blown tantrum, keep in mind that she is even more upset than you are by what is occurring. She is also completely terrified by her loss of control with the uncontrollable emotions that she can't stop despite any effort.

Do your best to ensure that Amy, as well as your son or other family members who are present don't try to argue or reason with her because she will not be able to focus on what you are saying. Also, don't raise your voice to match Amy's screams because although her anger may be contagious, your own agitation may provide fuel for her fire, prolonging the outburst in the long run.

Most importantly, don't allow tantrums to relax your role as a parent, and be sure to follow through with consequences no matter where the tantrum takes place or who may be in your presence. Once Amy realizes that her tantrums affect the way you behave in certain situations, she will learn to use them to her advantage, and possibly have tantrums intentionally to get her way.

No matter how you slice it, tantrums go hand-in-hand with growing up and often there is no way around them. How you handle these outbursts now are laying the groundwork for the future, so be careful how you react. Sometimes the best thing to do is the simplest...sit down, take a deep breath and count to ten.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

As for potty training, she is a little young for that.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

I do want to add that a child usually does not have sphincter control until age 3. That doesn't mean that some children aren't able to be trained before 3. However, the physical control doesn't happen until 3.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Let me ask you a question.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Has anything different happened in her life or is this just the "terrible two's?'

Customer: I have never smacked her and I don't believe in shouting at her either. But i think she doesn't take me seriously at all. It's just the inability to do even the simplest things with her (she refuses to even let me brush her teeth) that is so disheartening. And I feel like every time she throws a tantrum to get her way that it reinforces the behaviour. When this happens, the only way for me to follow through regardless of the tantrum would be to physically restrain her and forcibly change her nappy/brush her teeth, which would be even more distressing for everybody
Customer: She understands what's going on but I feel that she is too young for time out
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

She is too young for time out.

Customer: Nothing major has happened recently at all. We moved to a new house two months ago, but she is still as happy as ever (she's a very confident and happy child) and her behaviour has remained the same
Dr. Shirley Schaye :


Emotions are so powerful at this age, and your little one has very little control over them. To top it off, these feelings are still so new that sometimes they can be down right frightening. Over time your toddler will learn how to cope more appropriately, especially once she has had time to grow her tough outer skin, but for now, it's not so simple.

This month your toddler's mind continues to charge ahead while her "skills" sluggishly catch up. Just imagine how frustrating it would be for you if you knew what you wanted to do and how to do it, but couldn't co-ordinate your actions with your mind time and time again.

Tantrums may be part of yAmy's daily ritual, or for the fortunate few they may be few and far between. Sometimes a tantrum can come on slowly, and sometimes it can strike in the blink of an eye. All toddlers will vary regarding their "tantrum style," but once a style is chosen, you can expect them to follow it time and time again. Some children go for the "flop around on the floor" option, some whirl around in circles to the point of toppling over, some throw anything in their path, some hold their breath, and some get their point across by just screaming their lungs out. All are lovely options, and none are easy to cope with from any which way you look at it.

Don't take it personally if your toddler chooses to share her tantrums with only you, or a few fortunate others. Oddly enough, your little one will most likely choose trust-worthy individuals in her life to witness her outbursts, saving her best work for when you least expect it. You have worked so hard to provide Amy a sense of security, and now that she knows she can always count on you to stand by her side, you have been hand-selected to have a front row seat during her not-so pleasant moments as well.

Despite trying all the tricks in the book to avoid a tantrum, it's important that all obstacles are not eliminated from your toddler's life. An essential part of growing and learning is when she tries new things and figures them out, even if she does become frustrated along the way. So pick and choose when you rescue Amy from herself , because solving problems on her own is a wonderful way to boost her ego and give her the confidence she'll need to face challenges in the future.

Continue to offer Amy guidance from across the room, and continuously praise her for any effort or progress she makes. Provide Amy with the words to express how she is feeling, and when she appears ready to give up, encourage her to keep trying, but don't force the issue. Try and allow her to be in charge of deciding when she's had enough, because finding a happy medium between too much protection and too much space is the essence of your job.
Customer: That is good advice.
Customer: Do you have any suggestions on how to approach the bed situation or the weaning from the breast?
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Ignoring the tantrums and helping a young child learn how to deal with anger and frustration are often good ways to deal with tantrums. Pay attention to what starts the tantrums. Knowing what triggers the tantrums can help you act before your Amy's emotions get past the point where she can control them.


Most children will grow out of having temper tantrums. With time, most children learn healthy ways to handle the strong emotions that can lead to temper tantrums.

Children who still have tantrums after the age of 4 may need help learning to deal with anger. If tantrums continue or start during the school years, they may be a sign of other issues, such as learning problems or trouble getting along with other children. At this point, it is not yet a matter of seeking outside help. It is common for 2 year olds.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Oh, I just saw your question.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Have you tried stopping the nursing? If you did what was her reaction?

Customer: The breastfeeding is a comfort and security thing for her as there isn't alot of milk left, but she's still waking in the night for it and feeds up to six times a day. She also cannot go to sleep unless she is in my lap breastfeeding.
Customer: When I tried to stop nursing (trying to distract her when she says "boobie please", gently saying no, wearing clothes that she can't tear open and access the breast) it caused a huge amount of distress. She cried for hours, even while being cuddled.
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Some people and don't laugh when you see this have tried putting vinegar on their breasts at all times when they are going to nurse. They tell their child that mommy's breasts ( whatever she calls them) are feeling sick.Also, they have with them a bottle of milk or water --- whichever will work.

Customer: Haha! The vinegar thing might be worth a try.
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

I see what you wrote. Say, I'm sorry that my boobies don't feel well, let me give you the bottle because the bottle is not sick and will taste better.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

It works -- believe it or not LOL --- who likes vinegar. Just remember to soak your breasts in vinegar.

Customer: She went straight to a regular cup for drinking other fluids, she never took to a bottle or cup. She hated pacifiers as well
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Well tell her she could have a bottle or also have a pacifier --- try either. Make sure the boobie milk tastes like crap.

Customer: Lol! Will do
Customer: Getting her to sleep in her own room will be easier when she isn't waking up in the night looking for boobies :)
Customer: I'm not sure if she understands me when I try to compromise with her - she just figures out that she's not going to get her way and loses it. I can't tell how much of what I say is understood by her
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Try it--- it can't hurt. Just keep me posted and let me know how things are going. My goal is to provide you with Excellent Service. So if this doesn't work you can follow-up with me and let me know her responses so we can continue to chat. Just put Dr. Shirley Schaye before your question and I will be the one to respond.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

You there?

Customer: Yep, sorry
Customer: She just tried to destroy the playstation
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Oh my!!!!!!!!!

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

What was going on, do you think that she did that?

Customer: I'm not sure if she understands me when I try to compromise with her or explain to her. It worked beautifully with my boy but Amy is very strong willed. It worries me when I see children her age brushing their teeth and sleeping in their beds and wearing undies instead of nappies when I know Amy is capable but too stubborn
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

All children are different, as you well know.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Toilet training at her age is early --- so not to worry about that.

Customer: She is just very curious and gets in to absolutely everything. Also she does things like that to get my attention, despite the fact that we spend all day playing together and having fun. Lol
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

As for brushing her teeth --- see if you can find a toothbrush with some figure on it from a book or TV programme that she watches and make a game out of it.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Let's start with the vinegar. See what that does. Tell her --- once you have vinegar in the house and have smeared it bover your breasts that your boobies are sick and you are going to take them to the doctor.

Customer: I'll buy some vinegar right now. Lol
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Let me ask another question.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Was she like this before you moved to the new house two months ago?

Customer: Yes. She's been like this since day 1
Customer: She's now having a fit because she doesn't want to get dressed for playgroup
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

You know what --- why don't you go to her. We can still follow-up and chat again. It is also getting late here. Don't forget to rate your question/response so Just Answer pays me. We can talk again tomorrow.

Customer: Ok. Bye
Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Talk to you soon. Keep me posted.

Dr. Shirley Schaye and other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
You won't believe this but in yesterday's NYTIMES there was an article about BRUSHING THEIR TEETH. I am sending you the link to the article.

Here is the link that they provide in the article about brushing a toddler's teeth.