Toddler Discipline: When Little Nero Emerges

Recently, I noticed that Gavin’s t-shirts are getting shorter. What used to be worn like a dress has turned into something akin to a crop top. His shoes have also been getting smaller. His toes are now threatening to spill out of his former Ronald McDonald-like shoes. How did my son grow so much without me noticing?

Then a trip down to Singapore over the weekend made me realise that the dramatic growth hasn’t only been in size but in mental capacity as well. We had a little incident in Singapore involving a tantrum. Realising that Gavin was short on sleep and very likely overtired, I cut him a lot of slack and tried to be understanding. I tried to hold him to reassure him but he refused to be held. His back was rigidly arched backwards, he was screaming and tears were pouring down his face. I was fully convinced he was in distress but unable to calm him.

I felt a need to step away from the room to clear my head but not wanting to walk away without saying anything, I told him I was leaving the room. To my surprise, as I headed towards the door, Gavin halted his tantrum instantaneously. It hit me like a tonne of bricks that this was not a distress tantrum but what I had witnessed was in fact a “little Nero” tantrum. My toddler had mastered control over his frontal lobes and was, in effect, attempting to manipulate me.

In case you’re wondering, I wrote about distress tantrums versus little Nero tantrums a long time back. There is an interesting distinction between the two types of tantrums and both need to be handled differently. Although I am aware of the little Nero tantrums, I was still completely unprepared for it when it came. This was not the classical description of a little Nero tantrum. Gavin did appear extremely distressed and those were real tears spilling from his eyes. Yet, his ability to turn off the water works and calm down instantaneously is undeniably due to higher brain function – something a child in true distress would have been incapable of.

Not only has my son grown up physically, but there has been a whole new psychological awareness developing that I seemed to have missed. Where I had previously assumed he didn’t know better, I am now beginning to see how much more he is capable of. And, like his growth in size, this turn of events appears almost as if it happened overnight. His tantrums and his need to have his way have increased so markedly that it seems as if a volcano has just erupted.

Is there some magical marker at two and a half years old where higher brain function kicks in, or could this change in behaviour be related to his exposure to other children at school? They say that children learn a lot faster in the company of other children. There is a lot of truth to that statement however it appears there is no discrimination between the kinds of things they learn – good and bad behaviours.

Now that Gavin has begun a new series of behaviours to get his way, parenting for me has taken on a whole new direction. It has gotten a lot tougher, a lot more trying and a lot more tiring. I can’t say that the timing has been particularly great either considering I’m progressively getting larger and more tired as the days go by. We have to have “disciplinary action” on a daily basis and Gavin is more often in the “dog house” than he is out of it.

On the flip side, I am learning a lot more about disciplinary tactics and refining my existing methods to achieve a more desirable end result. Though we’re still at the experimental stages right now, there are some tactics that seem to be working better than others. That said, I think we still have a long way to go to as far as determining the best disciplinary methods that work for Gavin goes.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Toddler Discipline: When Little Nero Emerges

  1. Yes, we’ve been having to exercise some discipline too and I have been re-reading the Complete Secrets of Happy Children. Jack seems to be having more distress tantrums though (maybe cos of his sister’s presence) and the Nero solutions don’t work. Sigh.


  2. Yes, every child is different and sometimes we need to adapt to the individual differences of our children.

    Having a new sibling in the family especially when he’s been the only child up until then must be a very difficult time for him. It is not a wonder that his distress tantrums have increased.

    That said, I do think Jack is adapting well though – he is lovely to Jade and that’s what we all hope for.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with
Get started
%d bloggers like this: