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Toddlers: Tantrums, Time Out & Hoarding

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

When I see my toddler patients, lots of words come to mind.  Busy, active, inquisitive, climbers, impulsive, biters, but never before did the word “hoarding” make me think of a toddler.

During an 18 month old well child visit the biggest discussion I have with parents is related to toddlers behaviors.  While a toddler may do the cutest thing one minute, the next minute they may be laying on the floor kicking and screaming and having a tantrum.

Toddlers are truly like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Parenting a toddler requires a great deal of energy, patience, and consistency.  While many people talk about “the terrible twos” I really think that one of the most difficult stages, as a parent, is from 15 months – 30 months. In other words a long time!!

The reason I bring up hoarding stems from a remark from a parent during their child’s 18 month old check up. We had discussed so many topics related to their child and concerns that they had. We discussed how to ignore a tantrum and try to redirect the child after several minutes.

We talked about how to begin time out.  I start using time out at around this age when a child has been overtly defiant (yes, it does happen to all of us).  In that case, when the behavior cannot be ignored, I use a small chair in the house and have a kitchen timer handy. I tell the child that they have “misbehaved by —————-“ (fill in the blank) and that must sit in the time out chair for 1 minute.

I typically recommend 1 minute per year of age.  If your toddler will not sit in the chair, then you go behind the chair and wrap your arms around the child (like a piece of human rope).  This way there is no eye contact, and you can restrain the child in the chair.  Of course, the child will be crying while this is going on as they are not happy about being held in a chair. Once the minute is over, go back around to the front of the chair, get down on your child’s level and explain again why they had to sit in time out.

Over time (sometimes days, even months) your child will begin to understand that they sit in time our when they have misbehaved and they will learn to sit in the chair alone.  The concept of time out is useful throughout childhood, as you will see when you “send your teen to their room one day”, which is another variation on the same theme.

So, at the end of this fairly lengthy visit the father says, “I have one more question Dr. Sue”. “Our toddler puts all of her stuffed animals in her crib. She plays with them and then just adds them to the crib so that by the end of the day the crib is covered with her stuffed animals and dolls.”  He paused for a minute and then said, “Is this a sign that she will be a hoarder?”   I thought I had heard it all but this was a new one!!  I started to laugh as I thought of those reality TV shows I had heard about with hoarders.

I reassured the Dad that it is quite normal for a toddler to “hoard” all of their toys in one place. Their crib, or a favorite old cardboard box, or under the bed etc.  They like to “have control” over their toys, and this may be a way that their child “knows where her animals are”.

I could not stop laughing the rest of the day as I thought about this. I just hope that the behavior modification discussions did not make him think he needed to “redirect” her toddler hoarding. This behavior sounds perfectly normal to me. I am still giggling about hoarding, very cute.

That’s your dialy dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow!

Send your question to Dr. Sue!

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