Dealing with difficult behavior

As you know, I like to keep it real here.

We’ve had a couple of days recently where I wondered if someone was borrowing my son’s body. Where he is usually very careful with handling his things, he recently started throwing and dropping them for different reasons it seems.

I usually let him go about his business for the most part, redirecting or modeling when needed, but like I would do with a child who is being difficult in the classroom, I have stayed close to him recently. On this day, I decided to  record some of it so that I could go back and evaluate to see what his triggers are, and how I could have helped him better.

I am sharing these videos because I know hope everyone deals with these situations and many do not know how to handle it. My hope is that it will lead to some discussion. What did you observe? What triggers did you notice? What would you have done differently? In Nigeria, a lot of situations like these are handled with threats like “I’ll beat you oh!” or actual spanking. These methods do not go along with my goal of raising a peaceful child or laying the foundation for a good life so I hope to provide some alternatives.

The videos are long (about 28 minutes in total) but I hope you can make out time. After watching, please share your observations and thoughts. I’ll give it a day or two and then I will be back with another post to put the thoughts together and add my own thoughts after watching it. I have also asked some of my favorite mums and trained teacher friends to provide some input, so contribute to and read the comments.

Ok here goes!

Live a Good Life!



17 thoughts on “Dealing with difficult behavior

  1. So I watched the first video and I was like, ‘aww Solu is just having a bad day’; but after watching the second video I was like, ‘what! Who is this? Not the Solu I know.’
    It’s so funny how even after we have seemingly done everything right, set up the environment, responded as appropriately as we can, given enough room for exploration and enough support, our children still have those moments, I call, of madness.
    I think you responded appropriately to the situation. Helped when you needed to and stepped back when you needed to. What amazed me is how relaxed you were. I’d probably be pulling out my hair and his lol. But on a serious note, climbing the table was the only thing I probably would not have condoned but all in all, you handled it really well and I think it’s consistenly handling it like that that produces the results (child) we desire to see.
    Would have done the exact same thing.

  2. Hi Junnifer.
    As you know we definitely went through a throwing stage. Joshua went through this stage for quite a few months from around Solu’s age until he was perhaps 18 months old? It’s hard to remember now. At the time it felt like it would never end but invariably it always does and reflectively wasn’t as bad as I thought it was at the time.
    When i asked people I was told it was just a stage – which it is – but no solutions on how to handle it. I was left at the time to really just figure out what to do. Initially I started saying “no”. After a while I realised that I was saying no too much and it was having no real effect. Unused to hearing me say no so much had a negative effect. I very quickly realised that this was not the right way to handle it so i tried exactly as you are doing – staying close, redirection when undesirable behaviour arises and putting activity away when throwing starts (after telling J if you throw that again we will be putting activity away because we don’t throw).
    After watching this video it resonated with me – I remember those behaviours from Joshua and I should have recorded them at the time as you have done with Solu to go back and reflect and observe after the fact to analyse both our behaviours. Looking back I do believe that Joshua was throwing things from frustration but he was also testing boundaries. Above that he was actually testing what happens – cause and effect. He would hurl something to see what would happen to it, going up, through the air and CRASH! as it hit the floor. Sometimes it hit carpet and would not be so loud. Wooden floors are loud. Tiles are loud. But I digress.
    I will reserve my observations to see what others say but I observed that Solu’s trigger was frustration. So it brings up the interesting question of how toddler’s deal with frustration and what we can do to help.

  3. You have provided such a beautiful and well-ordered environment for Solu! He has a great many purposeful activities to choose from, and the fact that the behavior exhibited in the videos is out of character speaks volumes about how well the environment generally meets his needs.
    Of course, there are times like this when he’s going to want to do something other than what you want him to do. This happens all the time with Owen (less so now, actually, but has happened routinely), and I’ve learned to let go of much of my Montessori mentality to deal with it. Instead of presenting, re-presenting and requiring that materials are handled carefully or carried/put away in a certain manner, I have adopted the advice of Magda Gerber and Janet Lansbury (founder and practitioner of the Resources for Infant Educarers, or RIE, method, respectively) and simply allow for more open-ended exploration and play. If things are misused, I “sportscast” what is happening and offer choices: “You threw the yellow circle. That material is not for throwing. Would you like to get a ball to throw or keep working with this material?”
    Sportscasting is a wonderful, sanity-saving technique. Just observe what is happening and say it as you see it, dispassionately. Remove from the environment entirely anything that is being damaged or not used the way you want it to be. Offer materials appropriate for the child’s current energy (things to bang on, throw, jump on, etc.). Spend as much time as possible outdoors.
    I’ve also adopted the RIE technique of empathizing whenever Owen gets wound up: “You’re throwing things. Are you feeling frustrated? Can I help?” Sportscasting and empathizing with Owen’s moods have saved me!
    Remember that the Montessori order directives (put it away, push in your chair, etc.) are most appropriate for ages 3 to 6 and up. At this age, it is our job to model putting things away and pushing in chairs, but not to tell the child to do it. He will do it in his own way, and then we will straighten up afterward. The best way to maintain peace and your connection with the child is to simply observe, offer materials appropriate for his current interest and emotional state, remain grounded, invite lots of free play and exploration, provide appropriate challenges and small helps.
    You’re doing so much to foster Solu’s development! Trust yourself and trust him. All best!

    1. Hi Darcy! My name is Audrey and I have a high-energy, extrovert/sociable 19 mo.-old daughter. I have resonated with your comments here, particularly regarding RIE, which I’ve found recently and love. My daughter frustrates easily at a task (generally fine motor), and is also currently in a limit-pushing stage (for affection & to see the consequences/results). I have observed that the more directives I give her, the more she emotionally shuts down, pushes limits, gets frustrated. So, when I sense the first iota of frustration, I sportscast, empathize, and if she’s misusing the material (i.e., taking the key from the key/lock activity to scratch furniture, I put it away).

      I’ll admit that I myself get frustrated with her level/amount of limit pushing and wonder why she’s SO RESISTANT to helping with things like setting the table, things that I would “expect” a child her age to be eager to help with. So, instead of force/direct, I model the behavior while narrating my actions, always inviting, but never forcing her.

      I’m glad that you mentioned the point about allowing toddlers this young the freedom to play FREELY and that a lot of the “stricter” activities (like, pulling out a toy with a mat and returning it immediately to the shelf) might not be age appropriate, especially if we are told not to force a child. I can ask until I’m blue in the face for my daughter to return the toy to the shelf and she won’t do it. The more I make it a big deal, the more she resists. Thanks again!

  4. Well, I can’t really help you on this because my child never pushes limits so I never have to enforce the rules. I just tell him once, he nods, and we live happily ever after.
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Sorry, I couldn’t resist… Zachary is testing every single concept I’ve ever learned about setting and upholding limits. I’ll be happy to watch and critique, although I must say that sometimes it’s best to not look back. I drove myself nuts the first couple of years. And then the tremendous twos hit and all bets were off.
    ok, I just watched it… Not really sure where your concerns lie? I don’t think you did anything WRONG, I would’ve done a couple of additional things, maybe used slightly different wording but in the end you are amazing in upholding limits.
    So, I prefer to say “you can pick that up” instead of “can you pick that up” or even “please pick that up.”. “Can you pick that up?” is a question that a) puts into doubt the child’s ability, and b) opens the door to a resounding “no”. “Please pick that up” sounds like he’s doing you a favor, instead of it being his responsibility. Leave “please” for when you want him to pass you the salt. I prefer “you can pick that up” or “it’s time to put that away” because it removes YOU from the equation. It’s simply saying “I know you are capable of picking that up, and I know that you know what the limit is.” Does it make a difference at 13 months? Probably not. Will it make a difference when “no” becomes his favorite word? You bet!
    The other thing I would’ve added is the identification of feelings. When he’s frustrated because he can’t put the prism in, you could say: “You seem frustrated because the prism isn’t going in. Do you want some help?” It’s never too early to start using the language of feelings, and it has been INCREDIBLY helpful for my son. Even if he doesn’t know the word for a feeling, he can articulate a general emotion because we have been helping him identify them since he was Solu’s age. The other day he said he felt “grumpy” when he had a bowel movement, which really meant “uncomfortable” but he was able to get his point across and that was a really big deal!
    I think you stayed calm and collected, stopped the throwing when it started (I could learn a lot from you in that department!), and helped him identify when he was done. That’s such an important and underestimated skill to develop! Thank you for sharing the video with me, I really enjoyed seeing how precocious Solu is.

  5. This post is timed perfectly. Been dealing with quite a number of this since last week. Keeping calm takes quite some practice and I notice the children look into your eyes and wail or throw an item just to sense your reaction. Smiling covers up the ‘I’m boiling inside you know?’ And yes, as I’ve concluded, it has quite a lot to do with boundary setting and teachers can’t do it alone. More of home-school partnership… Oh and when they exhibit such behavior, they can be quick to hug you and if you shift, then they try harder next time. It gets more interesting everyday.

  6. I just now got to watch these – after a really crazy day in my own classroom, so at the moment, everything looks perfect!
    Ok, for real, I feel like you are doing the thing I try to impress upon parents as the most important thing they can do: following through after giving a direction. For his age, I feel like he responds beautifully to verbal cues, which makes me think that you always follow through on what you ask him to do. This seems like the simplest thing and, yet, so many people don’t do it.
    The one thing that I sometimes do is to place the work back into a child’s hands, saying something like “remember to take this back to the shelf.”
    You’ll have to remember that I am coming at the from the perspective of a classroom, so when a child doesn’t put something back on the shelf, I can sometimes ask another child to help, which I like because it promotes a sense of community in the classroom. This is generally a last resort, though, because I want each child to get a sense of completing the work.
    There didn’t seem to be any specific triggers to me; it really just looked like typical toddler-ness. And the way you handled it was a good reminder to me to remember to keep my cool, even when the children are doing things that I don’t want them to do. So thanks for that. : )

  7. Oh, also! I love that TAG shape work. I’m looking for it right now. Which reminds me that I did wonder if Solu was trying to figure out a way to make all the pieces fit neatly in the tray? Maybe if there was a small box or stand for the shapes to go in on the tray and then the base pieces stack on top of each other? I wondered if his sense of order was keeping him from returning it to the shelf?
    And! I love the objects in the lunch box. I want to find one and move my open and close work to a lunch box.
    Ok, I’ll stop now…. : )

  8. I must admit Junnifa, I was slightly surprised by your post. I expected to see a wild child in full blown Toddler tantrum mode. Instead, what I observed was a beautiful, bright, independent Montessori child. I saw him at such a very young age, pick work independently, work to completion and then return that work to the shelf. Amazing. One of the moments that stood out for me was the locked metal box work. It did hit the floor and I saw his frustration with it. However, I wondered to myself what would have happened if you were across the room? Would he have screamed and thrown the box with the intent to damage it? Would he have picked it up off the floor and continued working? Another point that stood out was the shape puzzles. I observed that he was finished with them and frustrated at not being able to properly do the shapes. I observed his willingness to put it away, but on his own terms. No tray. Just the shapes. Interesting. Again, I thought “What would have happened without the Guide?”. Would he have just put the shapes back and left a mess on the table? Would he have eventually gone back and gotten the tray. Later he does eventually go and return the truck. It’s all so very interesting.

    I can assure you that we have all in some way been there. Solu is smack in the middle of such a frustrating time. An amazing, growing, evolving brain, trapped in an inadequate body. Thoughts that can’t be fully communicated, slow, pudgy, clumsy limbs and fingers. A midget, stuck in a giant’s world and all the while an unrelenting brain, demanding “do this, try this, master this!”

    Solu is such a blessed child to have you as his Mother. You are so gentle but also direct. He knows what you expect of him. You are consistent. So many children I have worked with over the years have not been afforded these parental gifts.

    If you are noticing that the throwing becomes purposeful, give him opportunities to throw. We made bean bags for Quentin of different weights that would fulfill his need safely and wear him out. Give him lots of opportunity to be silently observed. His brain is so loud right now that it often makes hearing others difficult.

    I can only offer one small glimmer of hope. Anthony now 14 was (is) a stubborn, difficult, testing child. However, I have never used those words to describe him. He was and is a creative, bright, independent and strong willed boy. I have never EVER let anyone beat that out of him. I have a post (The Boy) that tells the end story. A story of a testing toddler who grew up to, (in the face of insurmountable peer pressure) choose to stand up for the right thing to do.

    I hope you find peace. This too shall pass.

    1. I love your last paragraph because it gives this mother of a stubborn (I mean independent!) toddler hope. I try to remember to pray not that she will conform to my authority, but that she will grow up to be an independent thinker who stands up for those who need help. 🙂

  9. I haven’t watched both videos to the very end but wanted to comment before much longer. My only feelings are is was it a good time for him to be ‘working’? I can see that he freely chose the materials from his shelf but I could feel some angst early on. For example getting frustrated easily or for very little reason. I say easily but I don’t really know this – it’s just my observation based on this video only. As soon as my children start throwing or playing too much with their chair, crying/singing out/asking for help excessively – I redirect but totally – ‘would you like to go outside’, ‘shall we go for a walk/read a book’ – I feel like this is a sign they have finished and their concentration is broken – I suggest to do something together. There could be many of other reasons why he was feeling this way and of course if you knew what they were you could rectify them. It wasn’t the materials as they are all fantastic. He has a wonderful environment. It wasn’t you – as Beth has mentioned above Solu is blessed and you are very patient. And from my observations his behaviour is totally normal and expected.

  10. Solu is amazing. Even though he threw things and left his work materials on the table he did so well to follow your prompts to pick things up, put them away, push the chair in etc. Lotus is now 22 months and although she often picks things up / puts them away on her own she sometimes still needs prompts and other times she really wants something to be put away but insists that mummy does it. I like to say “ok, time to tidy away” or “lets tidy away” so its open ended and she can join me if she wishes. I think the best thing I can do is just keep modelling good behaviour happily.

    I agree with the comments about redirecting Solu’s interest in throwing towards something that can be thrown. Going outside is also a great idea. This is what always works for us when Lotus is going through difficult times. It doesn’t matter whether we go to visit the chickens, look at the birds or kangaroos, play in the sandpit, water the plants, or just go for a walk – now just the mention of going outside usually calms her. I am also always amazed how she can seem so cranky and tired inside yet once we are outside she will happily go and go for hours before she is finally ready for sleep.

  11. I spent a reasonable part of my day at school hearing your voice in my head (“will you pick it up, please?”) and copying your tone (calm, clear, consistent) – totally helped me to keep my cool. Thanks : )

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