Yes, I said the word transform. I know that hyperbole isn’t always appropriate when you are a therapist (we try to hedge our bets with predictions), but I am willing to go out on a limb in this instance and say that learning this single Happiest Toddler on the Block technique will make a difference with any child with special needs that functions with over a 12-15 month cognitive level. Will it work with older children? Absolutely. Done right, it will also work on spouses and co-workers!
What is the Fast Food Rule? You can read more about it here Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block but the simplest way to explain it is that when you have an upset person, they get to express themselves first, then the adult paraphrases the upset person’s expression with about 1/3 of the emotion that was used. The paraphrasing is done at the level of comprehension of the upset person. This means that someone who has a very low language level and is very upset may only hear “You say NO NO NO”. Remember that any degree of agitation immediately lowers language comprehension IN EVERYONE. Even you.
That’s it. The phrase may have to be repeated a few times until the adult observes signs that the upset person’s agitation is decreasing (not necessarily over). What are those signs? A decrease in screaming volume or intensity, more eye contact, stillness of the body, turning to the adult rather than turning away, etc. If the problem isn’t clear, altering the phrase is OK. No harm done if you get it wrong; try again to state what their problem is.
ONLY WHEN THE UPSET PERSON HAS DECREASED THEIR AGITATION IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO OFFER A SOLUTION, OR EVEN CONSOLATION.
Why? Because until the upset person REGISTERS that the adult understands the nature and the degree of stress, they will continue to protest to make their point. It doesn’t matter if the point is pointless. All the better. Being understood is more important than being corrected. Always.
Because young children’s brains are immature, their agitation may start up again after the problem is solved. This is neurological, not psychological. Rinse and repeat the FFR, and come out on the other side calmer.
Why does this transform the life of a special needs child?
Kids with special needs often need to be more regulated than the average child. They can be unsteady, difficult to understand even when calm, have medical issues that get worse when they are agitated, and fatigue rapidly on a good day. Being upset makes safety, endurance, sensitivity and sensory seeking worse. Sometimes much worse.
If your child or your client has any of these issues (and I have yet to work with a child with special needs that doesn’t have ONE or more of them), then you need to learn the FFR today and use it consistently.
- Kids with cerebral palsy can move with better safety awareness and expend less energy.
- Kids with hyper mobility are also safer, less fatigued and can focus on movement quality.
- Children with sensory processing issues are more modulated, less aversive or sensory seeking.
- Kids with ASD do less self-stimulation and have less aggressive behaviors.
The biggest obstacle for me? Using Dr. Karp’s Toddler-See language strategy and fearing that I sounded like an idiot in front of parents who were paying me a lot of money to treat their child. It turns out that not being able to calm a child makes me look like an idiot, and effectively getting a child calm and focused makes me look like a skilled professional.