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Toddler acts out a lot since starting daycare

Dear Dr. Pat,

My 23-month-old was a well-behaved little toddler until she went to daycare. Now she is whining like there is no tomorrow. She never did this until attending there. What do you do to stop it? I told her it's not nice to whine and mommy doesn't like it, but she insists on doing it now. She is also hitting and never did that before going to daycare either. Can these bad habits be broken or do I have to remove her from there and hope she forgets what she has seen? Please help!

Dr. Pat responds:

Children often pick up new ways of doing things at daycare. Some of these habits are good; others are a challenge.

There are several strategies that you should use to help your daughter.

  1. Pay a lot of attention to her positive behaviour, for example, when she is friendly, nice to people, or helpful. Notice specific good behaviour at least five times more often than you notice negative behaviour.
  2. Notice the good by:

    • saying things like "I really like it when you ..."
    • smiling at her
    • giving her hugs
    • telling others about her good behaviour so she can hear it

    Paying attention to her good behaviour will improve your relationship with her. She will learn to value what you think.

  3. Your daughter knows you don't like her to whine and complain. No need to tell her over and over. Ignore her whining and complaining every time. Don't give her any attention for her whining and complaining. Don't punish her. Just turn away. This is very hard to do. She will increase her whining and complaining for a few days or a week or maybe even more. It is important that you be consistent.
  4. When your daughter hits you or anyone else, firmly say "No hitting." Put her in a two- to three-minute time out. That is, put her in a boring place, maybe a chair in the corner for two minutes after she is quiet and stays in the chair. Don't give her a lecture. Don't get angry; just be firm.

We have used this combination of strategies to help the parents of hundreds of children get control of problems like your daughter has. It is hard to do but works really well.


Patrick J. McGrath OC, PhD, FRSC is a clinical psychologist and a researcher. He is Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University and Vice President - Research at IWK Health Centre in Halifax. He is also the CEO of the Strongest Families Institute, which provides mental health care to families across Canada.

Read more "Ask Dr. Pat" columns

If you would like to send Dr. Pat a question, please email us at about.kidshealth@sickkids.ca.  

Dr. Pat will respond to as many letters as possible with evidence-based answers. We hope that the column will be interesting and helpful for readers; however, Dr. Pat cannot provide health care through the column. Please contact a physician or other registered health care professional to provide health care guidance or advice.

Patrick J. McGrath OC, PhD, FRSC is a clinical psychologist and a researcher. He is Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University and Vice President - Research at IWK Health Centre in Halifax. He is also the CEO of the Strongest Families Institute, which provides mental health care to families across Canada.

Read more "Ask Dr. Pat" columns

If you would like to send Dr. Pat a question, please email us at about.kidshealth@sickkids.ca.  

Dr. Pat will respond to as many letters as possible with evidence-based answers. We hope that the column will be interesting and helpful for readers; however, Dr. Pat cannot provide health care through the column. Please contact a physician or other registered health care professional to provide health care guidance or advice.


9/28/2012




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