Free-For-All Friday – When Toddlers Go Into Deactivation Mode

As I am writing this my son playing happily at my feet, oh wait now he is pushing the dog off the lounge, and in the time it took me to write that he is now across the other side of the room pushing his brand new nano-bugs into the eye pieces of a pair of binoculars (“Son please don’t do that!”) Anyone that has a boy (or possibly any toddler) knows that they are not reknowned for their ability to perform any one task for an extended period of time.

I think in alot of ways, Son is like any other toddler, and then just when I think everything is going great – he goes into ‘Deactivation Mode’. When my daughter was a toddler I was fairly fortunate that she never really went through the screaming tantrum throwing performances some children are prone to. Son, however, loves a tantrum  – and his are way worse than the screaming hissy-fit kind.

When something occurs that my son is not happy with (and this can be anything from me not letting him have a piece of cheese, to him getting into trouble for throwing something at his sister, to me trying to make him go to the toilet BEFORE he brushes his teeth, heaven forbid!) he goes into the dreaded deativation mode. What this entails is him quite literally, collapsing onto the floor and failing to function for an unspecified period of time.

When Son is in deactivation mode he refuses to communicate, he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t make eye contact, he pretty much refuses to even acknowledge that you exist. Often he can be walking along – happy as anything and suddenly he falls (as if hit by a sniper) onto the ground and ‘Deactivates’.

Sometimes when he is in Deactivation Mode he is completely silent. Other times he cries and completely inconsolable – if you try to go anywhere near him to comfort him, he scoots away from you (many a time he has ended up under the bed where I can’t reach him). But he never has the full out screaming tantrums that you see on You Tube and most of the time Deactivation Mode occurs at home (I can only think of a handful of times where this has occurred in public). Still it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

My biggest problem is that because of this he is really difficult to disipline. With Daughter whenever she was out of line she was placed in time-out. Five minutes in the time-out corner and she was blubbering mess, voluntarily apologising and promising to never to it again (and for the most part she was good on that promise). But with Son, if you even try and place him in time-out he goes into Deactivation Mode (which you might think is great as effectively he puts himself in a time-out) but when the deactivation can go on for up to 2 hrs (yes that is right 2 hours!) I often end up apologising to him and comforting him because by that time we are half an hour late for dropping off Daughter at preschool!

Everything with Son is a negotiation, he just plain doesn’t cope with things not going his way. If he wants a piece of cheese before dinner but I say no, somehow he ends up with the piece of cheese sitting next to him on the table so he can eat it after dinner (he wins the small battle but I win the war). If I put on his undies only to find out that he wanted to do it – I take them back off and let him do it himself (is it really worth a 2 hr tantrum over who put his pants on?) I know I shouldn’t give in – but somedays it is just too difficult.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, I am wondering if this is normal for a two year old to be so stubborn, or do I need to go and get an appointment to see a behaviour specialist?

Would love to hear from you – maybe you could tell me stories of your toddlers chucking tantrums – it might just make me feel a bit better!

Jody Moller

[By the way – Son is now placing a plastic container over my head and telling me I am a robot – I guess I better go!]

9 responses to “Free-For-All Friday – When Toddlers Go Into Deactivation Mode

  1. I think it’s a perfectly normal phase. No reason to seek help. 🙂

    My son never threw tantrums either, but he went through a phase just after he turned 2 where he would bang hs head on things if he didn’t get his own way. “No, you can’t have a chocolate” would result in him running to a door or dropping to the floor and hitting his head hard enough to (sometimes) leave bruises or bumps.

    When you see your son banging his head against a concrete floor, the first thing you want to do is run over and stop him doing it, comfort him because he’s crying. By that time whether or not he gets the chocolate bar is moot. He’s already won the moment his parents drop everything to attend to him. So I had to just ignore it.

    Yes, I sat and ignored him beating his head on things. It sounds like I’m a bad parent, I know. And let me assure you that I kept a VERY close eye on him and fretted every time. But I didn’t go to him, I didn’t tell him to stop, I didn’t talk to him about it, I just pretended that it wasn’t happening. And if he came to me in tears, I’d cuddle him until he stopped, but not talk to him about why he was hurt. (And then I’d go and alternately cry and berate myself in the other room!). After about 3 weeks of him NEVER getting a reaction, the behaviour dwindled and then stopped completely.

    I’d suggest that this is all you need to do. If he falls on the floor, ignore him. Don’t talk to him. Don’t tell him to get up. Don’t ask him if he’s okay. Supervise, but don’t get involved. And yes, I know it’s hard if you have to go somewhere and he’s not cooperating. But rather than letting him win, just pick him up off the floor without talking to him, buckle him into the car without eye contact or speech, and keep going. Don’t talk to him until he talks to you first. That way you’re still the one in control.

    (Oh, and as an aside, I think the cheese and undies thing is fine. Kids need to learn how to negotiate and compromise, and letting them win a negotiation & learn some independenc =e is good for them. Letting them win by throwin a non-conventional tantrum, on the other hand, is something compeltely different.)

    My 2 cents and all of that…

    • We had the head banging with my son too (thankfully he worked his way out of that one!) I did the ignore him thing with that one (got some great looks when he was banging his head on the ground at the park) but it didn’t last. The problem with the deactivation stuff is that it has been happening for about 8 months now – we have tried everything ignoring, distraction – nothing seems to work. Hopefully just a phase and he will work his way out of it soon. [did see a good one from him last week – his sister was playing with something he wanted so he lashed out at his own head with his fist – apparently it hurt and he hasn’t tried that one again :)]

  2. My son did the hite-myself-in-the-face thing, too. They must be boy things, I think.

    Eight months is a really long time — I feel for you. I really do. Not sure what else to suggest other than just try to go for a few weeks completely ignoring him doing it, though. Maybe someone else has some other ideas. 🙂

  3. I’m finding this a frustrating thing too. While we don’t get deactivation or head banging – time out doesn’t seem to work either. My days are full of the sort of negotiations you describe and it can be exhausting.
    My cousin’s son went through a period of ignoring everybody, which I thought was fine, but I was a little bothered the day I noticed he was muttering to himself “don’t talk to them”, he’s a perfectly normal highschooler now though!

  4. Jody, I am hearing you! My Cooper is one of the most temperamental toddlers I know- I just never know how he’s going to react to any given situation! He could throw himself on the floor, cry, yell “no!” repeatedly at the top of his voice, start slapping me… Or all of the above! I’m not sure what the answer is. At the wiggles concert over 12 months ago now cooper just lost it & didn’t want to be there so in the end gave up & took him out- waste of money! Same at Disney on ice- even though over 12 months later.
    I can’t say I always discipline him in my first choice of methods either, but like you said, sometimes you have to do what’s easy. I think maybe give a GP or even Karitane a go. They have toddler clinics & work with you on how to be with them. (sounds silly I know, but sometimes they come up with that alternative method that does the trick!)
    Good luck & keep us posted!

  5. I had a very active son, also, but he went the tantrum route. It wouldn’t hurt to have a specialist consult on your son’s behavior issues, but I only say that since being stubborn enough to stay silent 2 hours seems very out of the norm for that age. Remember, I am no doctor so it is just a gut feeling. If you do see someone, get a second or third opinion. Our son was “diagnosed” with ADD and they wanted to put him on drugs. We decided against it and he turned out fine. He was just a very very active child with an IQ higher than the specialist, as it turned out. (He did not get that from me…)
    Best of luck. Keep us posted.

  6. I have some similar traits with my (nearly) 3 year old. He has taken to throwing a temper tantrum if he doesn’t get his own way. Generally, I have taken to asking what he wants first. I give him two options (both of which I am happy with) and let him choose between them. This has put an end to some of the tantrums, but not all. Unfortunately, the temper tantrums are the ones you tend to see on UTube. He is quite happy to throw himself on the ground in the middle of the shops.
    However, I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am told, that I was exactly the same as a child, and fortunately, I grew out of it. Perhaps, not until my twenties, but I got there eventually!!
    Stick with it, hopefully once his vocabulary and comprehension increase, he will be able to articulate what he wants without having the temper tantrum.

  7. I have a 4 year old boy who sounds like a similar personality to your son. We have had to get creative. What I realized was that my son was wanting more choices. So when he started to balk at things I’d ask him to do (or even before that), I’d give him a choice – “No, you can’t have cheese but you can have a cracker or a piece of fruit. What would you like?” or “It’s time to get dressed. Would you like to put on your undies or would you like mommy to do it?” That seemed to help a lot. At the same time, my son is just a kid and needs to be trained that things can’t always go his way or can you imagine what kind of adult he’d be? He probably wouldn’t have many friends. It’s so hard for me when he cries, etc, but I know in the long run I am loving him by doing him a favor and helping him learn that the world will not always revolve around him. 🙂
    ps-Toothbrushing was a big battle for a while. He wanted to do it himself but of course doesn’t do a good enough job. This Mom’s Guide ( offered some practical tips on how to help him enjoy it more. It’s really worked!

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