Category Archives: behavior issues

Sensitive Child? Be Careful How You Deliver Praise

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Sensitive kids need encouragement as much as the next child, but they can have a paradoxical reaction when you praise them.  What do I mean?  You compliment your child by saying “GREAT job!  I knew you could do it!”, and they react by becoming angry or even arguing with you.  They may even try to destroy what they had done.  This can include being mean to a sibling or pet, or breaking something that they created.

Why?  Weren’t you supposed to support them?  All the parenting books recommend giving children accurate and immediate feedback.  You could have done everything as suggested:  you were warm, you were specific about their success, and you used words that match their age and developmental stage.  You even avoided the pitfall of praising results and instead you praised effort.  It backfired on you.

What went so wrong?

Simply put, you didn’t expect that they would think that any future performance could be seen as a failure, and this burden was more than they could bear, or the sensory input overwhelmed them.  Or both.  This reaction is more common than you would think, and happens in very young children, as young  as two!  Some very sensitive kids cannot handle the physical intensity of some methods of praise.  Your change in vocal volume and even vocal pitch may send them into physiologic alarm mode.  The longer you go on, the more upset they become.  And they don’t have a good answer when you ask why they are so upset.  They are just as eager for true appreciation as any other child, but they know that they feel bad, not good.  You weren’t intending to create pressure on them.  Kids can place it on themselves.  These are often the kids that need things to go the way they expected, or to go perfectly or it isn’t acceptable.  They are very invested in being seen in a positive light.

What can you do differently?

If you think that your child is reacting this way, dial down your response and observe how your child takes it in.  Using a lower voice and shortening your response can help.  Making a general statement rather than elaborating might be easier to hear.  “Nice work” can be more acceptable than “You did an AMAZING job; I cannot wait to show everyone what you did!”  Dr. Karp’s “gossiping” technique, whether it is gossiping to a toy or to a person in the general vicinity might be more acceptable.  Waiting a few minutes, or even waiting until the next day to deliver praise can be helpful.  It sounds great to follow the strategies listed in the parenting blogs and in magazines, but if you have a sensitive child, you have already learned that things sometimes have to be altered to fit your child’s needs.  This is just another example!

Another suggestion is to put more effort into modeling how to handle slip-ups.  Kids need to know that we make mistakes and don’t always succeed.  We look so powerful and accomplished to young children.  We know that we have our limits and faults, but kids don’t always see it that way.  Explicitly tell your child when you make a mistake, and talk about your feelings and how you make yourself feel OK with not being perfect.  This can go a long way to helping a sensitive child handle praise.

Looking for more information on helping sensitive kids?  Read What Helps Sensitive Kids Handle Haircuts? and Holidays Hints For Sensitive Kids.  Sensitivity is common in gifted kids Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling and kids with sensory processing disorder Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child.

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How To Stop Your Toddler From Hitting You

 

patrick-fore-557736When your sweet little baby turns into a toddler that smacks you, you may be so shocked that you don’t know how to react.  The second time you get hit, or pinched, or even bitten in anger, you might feel a level of rage come up that is both surprising and horrifying.  Well, I am not going to shame you for any of that.  I want to help you get this under control and help your child handle what is (probably) a normal level of aggression.

Yes, this is likely a normal response for toddlers.  They have really limited language, hardly any understanding of their own feelings, and they live in the moment.  You probably have one of the 85% of kids who are not placidly calm most of the time.  If you have a very young child with a strongly spirited temperament (15-20% of the population) then you probably see this behavior at least a few times a week, if not daily.  It’s still normal. And you have to deal with it or you will have a bigger, stronger, and more aggressive child next year.

Here are my suggestions to deal with aggression:

  1. You are going to have to use Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule.  The first simple step is to state what you think your child is thinking, such as ” You say “No go inside”, in as short and simple a phrase as you can, based on age and level of emotion.  The younger and more angry your child is, the simpler the message.  Match your expression and gestures to the emotion you are stating.
  2. Wait for a shift in body language or level of screaming.  Repeat the phrase if needed, may be more than once.  Then state “No (biting, hitting, throwing)” and you say  “I don’t like it” or a “We don’t hit” if your child isn’t totally out of control.  If they are out of control, you have to wait until they can hear you.
  3. You must make it clear that YOU don’t like this behavior, not simply that it isn’t “nice”.  Why?  Because a personal message is more powerful to a toddler than stating that they broke the rules.  I even throw in “That scared me and I don’t like it” to slightly older toddlers, to come down to their level.  They might be a little surprised, but they know all about being scared.  You aren’t admitting weakness, you are telling them how they crossed a line.  As long as you are using body language that tells them you are still the adult in control, this helps them understand the seriousness of what they did.  But the 12-18 month olds don’t get that, so wait until they are older to add that one in.
  4. If you were holding your child when this happened, put him down. Nothing says confuse me like saying these phrases while cuddling.  If you were sitting next to them, move away a bit.  The message is that they have crossed a line, because they have.  They may cry about this, but that is OK.  For now.  Once they shift out of aggression, you can be more welcoming.  Get it?  Good behavior we welcome, aggression we do not.  Simple.
  5. If you see the clouds building and you can anticipate your child will hit, bit, kick or throw, you are allowed to intervene.  Pull your arm away, put them down, reach for the toy you think she will throw, or move away.  You could say “I don’t want you to kick” and then offer a solution.  This solution could be what you think your child needs, like a nap or a snack, or it could be something amusing, like looking in your purse for your keys.  Young toddlers can switch things easily.  Older toddlers sometimes commit to aggression and they won’t take the bait.  But sometimes they will.
  6. Don’t be afraid to issue consequences.  I don’t believe in physical punishment, but I have no problem with removing toys that got thrown or issuing kind time-outs.  Losing the opportunity to go do something fun because you tossed your boots at my head is just fine for me.  I never reward bad behavior.  Ever.  I have too much to lose if a child thinks that aggression will work to avoid something or receive something.  Kids can hurt themselves in the process of being aggressive, and that is always going to be my fault.  Not a chance.
  7. I always give children a chance to come back into the fold.  Maybe not to get the same thing they were being aggressive about, but a new fun thing.  You have to wait until they are calm to do this.  This isn’t coddling.  This is teaching them how I want them to behave, and that there is always a chance to do things better.

Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness?

david-clode-635942-unsplashAre you hearing that your child is a management problem at school, but is a joy at home?  Do you see them thrive when your older child’s friends include them in play?  Does your child sustain their attention and manage their behavior well when the class goes on field trips or has speakers come in, but dissolves into troubling behavior on a “regular” school schedule?  Your child may have a dual diagnosis of giftedness and ADHD, or have been misdiagnosed completely.

I know, I am not a psychologist.  But I am aware of the many kids I have treated that blossom when, instead of simplifying the environment or the activity, I expand it.  This goes against the standard treatment protocols for kids with sensory processing disorders and ADHD.  But it is exactly what gifted kids love and need.  Give a gifted kid more complex work, leave them alone to solve a challenging problem, or ask them to mine their passion more completely, and you often see better performance, not worse performance.  The kids with ADHD without giftedness often struggle more and need more help under a more complex environment.  The misdiagnosed gifted kids shine like little pennies when challenged.  Gifted kids will show ADHD behaviors in situations that restrict or frustrate their tendencies to dive deep into a subject (intensity ) and look terrific in a setting where they are stimulated and engaged.  Kids with ADHD might be happier out of school, but they struggle with the same issues of distractibility, disorganization and they show a lack of focus, not a deep absorption.

As an aside, many of the kids I treat that look like they have Asperger’s (or now high-functioning autism) are gifted, and their delays in speech or motor skills mask their gifted performance when they are between 1 and 5 years of age.  What gives them away as gifted instead of disordered?  They light up when someone wants to talk about their deep interests, and they would seek that interaction out.  Their interests may seem quirky, but they aren’t incredibly obtuse.  For example, a gifted child could be interested in ocean life, with a strong interest in squids.  If you like squids, they will talk your ear off and enjoy it tremendously if you do.  A child with Asperger’s will be interested in something so unique that they couldn’t find someone to share it with, like threshing machines, and they couldn’t care less if you share their interest.  They won’t want to convince you of the many useful things they do, they won’t want to discuss it.  Will they want to talk?  Sure, but talking to you isn’t the same as discussing it.  They may find your input annoying, in fact.

Grades, and even cognitive testing, sometimes aren’t enough to identify gifted kids.  Some of them aren’t going to try very hard.   Some will mess with the evaluator’s mind.  I have heard at least one parent report that their child deliberately gave the wrong answers to see what would happen.  This child is reading chapter books at 3.5 years old.  He really doesn’t understand that getting a low intelligence score is going to send him to special ed instead of advancing him to a higher grade or an enriched program.  Emotional maturity is one of the skills that are often not advanced in gifted kids.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “A Few Good Men“, these kids want the truth (or the facts, or the experiences) but sometimes they can’t handle them.  Young gifted kids can fall apart when their imagination doesn’t match their execution.  Whether it is writing, building, drawing or another skill, they can display anxiety and anger when things don’t match their amazing thoughts.  This isn’t oppositional defiant disorder or an anxiety disorder, it is an asynchronous development problem.

I can’t ignore the strong bias against giftedness in our culture.  Sure, there are cultures that applaud accomplishments, especially intellectual accomplishment, but not when it is accompanied by impatience, a tendency to dominate the conversation, perfectionism and frustration with others and themselves.  Gifted people of all ages become aware that it could be easier to speak about being on the left side of the Bell curve than on the right side.  Whether you share your suspicions or your testing results is up to you, but know that you may get pushback from some unlikely sources, especially at school.

If your child is gifted, seek out support wherever you can find it, and learn how to discuss your child’s gifts with them.  There are online sites like SENG that can offer you some strategies and some resources.  You may want or need outside help to learn how to harness their overexcitabilities OT and Non-Disabled Gifted Children and handle their feelings, but a child that understands their gifts will not consider themselves impaired and will learn to accept their atypical nature with confidence.

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A Great Toilet Training Book for Neurotypical Kids: Oh Crap Potty Training!

sean-wells-471209My readers know that I wrote an e-book on potty training kids with low tone ( The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! ) but I have to admit, I learn a lot from other authors.  Jamie Glowacki  has written a terrific book that speaks clearly and directly to parents who aren’t sure they are up to the challenge of toilet training.  Oh Crap Potty Training is a funny title, but it is filled with useful ideas that help parents understand their toddler better and understand training needs so they can tackle this major life skill with humor and love.  I have to admit, I am really happy that she suggests parents of kids with developmental issues ask their OT for advice.  So few parents actually do!

Here are a few of her concepts that illustrate why I like her book so much:

  1. She gets the situation toddlers find themselves in:  using the potty is a total change in a comforting daily routine.  Jamie points out that since birth, your child has only known elimination into a diaper.  The older they are when you start training, the longer they have been using diapers.  WE are excited to move them on, but they can be afraid to sit, afraid to fail, and afraid of the certainty of the diaper always being there.  You can’t NOT get it in the diaper!  She also gets the power struggle that can be more enticing to an emerging personality after about 30 months of age.  Just saying, she gets it.
  2. Potty training success opens meaningful doors for kids, diapers keep them back.  Some great activities and some wonderful schools demand continence to attend.  By the time your child is around 3, they can feel inferior if they aren’t trained, but not be able to tell you.  They express it with anxiety or anger.  If you interpret it as not being ready, you aren’t helping them.
  3. Some kids will NEVER be ready on their own.  I know I am going to get some pushback on this one, and she already says she gets hate mail for saying it.  But there is a small subset of kids who will need your firm and loving direction to get started.   Waiting for readiness isn’t who they are.  If you are the parent of one of these kids, you know she’s right.  Your kid hasn’t been ready for any transition or change.  You have had to help them and then they were fine.  But this is who they are, and instead of waiting until the school makes you train her or your in-laws say something critical to your child, it might be OK to make things happen rather than waiting.
  4. You must believe that you are doing the right thing by training your child.  They can smell your uncertainty, and it will sink your ship.  She really sold me on her book with this one.  As a pediatric therapist, I know that my confidence is key when instructing parents in treatment techniques for a home program.  If I don’t know that I am recommending the right strategy, I know my doubt will show and nothing will go right.

If you are looking for some ideas on training kids of all stripes and needs, check out my posts  For Kids Who Don’t Know They Need to “Go”? Tell Them to Stand Up and Toilet Training For Preschool And Stuck in Neutral? Here’s Why…...  Of course, if your child has low muscle tone or hypermobility, my e-book will help you understand why things seem so much harder, and what you can do to make potty training a success!

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Toilet Training For Preschool And Stuck in Neutral? Here’s Why…..

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Many of my clients are in a rush to get their kid trained in the next few weeks for school. They have been making some headway over the summer, but things can stall out half-way through.  Here are some common reasons (but probably not all of them) why kids hit a plateau:

  1. They lose that initial boost of excitement in achieving a “big kid” milestone.  Using the potty isn’t an accomplishment now, it is just a chore.
  2. Parents and caregivers aren’t able to keep up the emotional rewards they need.  It is hard to be as excited about the 10th poop in the potty as the first time.
  3. The rewards used aren’t rewarding anymore.  A sticker or a candy might not be enough to pull someone away from Paw Patrol.
  4. An episode of constipation or any other negative physical experience has them worried.  Even a little bit of difficulty can discourage a toddler.
  5. Too many accidents or not enough of a result when they are really trying can also discourage a child.
  6. Using the potty is now a power play.  Some kids need to feel in control, and foiling a parent’s goal of toileting gives them the feeling that they are the ones running the show.  “I won’t” feels so much better than “I did it” for these kids.
  7. Their clothes are a barrier.  When some families start training, it is in the buff or with just underwear.  Easy to make it to the potty in time.  With clothes on, especially with button-top pants or long shirts, it can be a race to get undressed before things “happen”.
  8. They haven’t been taught the whole process.  “Making” is so much more than eliminating.  Check out How To Teach Your Child To Wipe “Back There” and The Ten Most Common Mistakes Parents Make During Toilet Training for some ideas on how to teach the whole enchilada.  And if you need a great book for kids without developmental or motor delays, look at my review A Great Toilet Training Book for Neurotypical Kids: Oh Crap Potty Training!.

Should you pause training? The answer is not always to take a break.  I know it sounds appealing to both adults and kids, but saying that this isn’t important any longer has a serious downside.  If your child has had some success, you can keep going but change some of your approaches so that they don’t get discouraged or disinterested.  If your child really wasn’t physically or cognitively ready, those are good reasons to regroup.  But most typically-developing kids over 2 are neurologically OK for training.  They may need to develop some other skills to deal with the bumps in the road that come along for just about every child.

Sometimes addressing each one of these issues will move training to the next level quickly!  Take a look at this list and see if you can pick out a few that look like the biggest barriers, and hack away at them today!

For kids with low muscle tone, including kids with ASD and SPD, take a look at my e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone.  Read Why Low Muscle Tone Creates More Toilet Training Struggles for Toddlers (and Parents!) to understand why I wrote this book just for you!   

I give parents clear readiness guidelines and tips on everything from the best equipment, the best way to handle fading rewards, to using the potty outside of your home.  It also includes an entire chapter on overcoming these bumps in the road! To learn more about what my e-book can do for you, read The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

Calm Your Toddler By Using “Tummy Time” for Emotional Modulation

 

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You don’t have to offer your child a tablet.  Try a book or a sticker activity instead!

Yes, tummy time.  It isn’t just for babies anymore.

Why?  Because occupational therapists know that the physical effects of working against gravity to push one’s head and shoulders up, and the firmness and warmth of contact with the floor are also sensory-based modulation strategies.  What helps babies build core control can also calm upset or disorganized toddlers and older kids.

The decrease in visual input can improve calmness and attention for those kids whose eyes dart everywhere.  Not everyone can handle a visual stimulating room.  Some children need more vestibular input to reorganize, but some do better with the stillness of “tummy time”.

How long do they need to be on their stomachs for this to work?  It depends.  Probably more than a few minutes, but if you haven’t seen signs of better modulation (better eye contact, slower breathing, more communication, less agitation) then you might need to layer on another technique  Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block or the Wilbarger Protocol Can You Use The Wilbarger Protocol With Kids That Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?.

Having trouble convincing your child to lie on their belly?  Join them, or get a sibling to model it.  Make a special new book collection for tummy time, and only have it available at that time.  Get a tent, and add the effects of an enclosed space to tummy time to make it more deeply calming.

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Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”?

 

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When you hear hoofbeats, maybe you SHOULD think zebras and not horses!

Gifted and talented children are frequently leaders in their schools and communities.  They often have advanced language skills and display an early and intense sense of humor. Gifted children can be the funny, outgoing, energetic kids who have deep empathy and abundant warmth.  Wondering if your young child might be gifted?  Read How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!).

But being gifted isn’t all rainbows and first place ribbons.  Some aspects of being gifted contribute to styles of interaction with authorities and peers that are not a cause for celebration. Gifted kids can be perceived as causing trouble, creating conflict and disrupting things wherever they go.  Super-bright children might end up with this label for the following common behaviors and characteristics:

  • They resist many rules as limiting and irrelevant.  “Because that’s the way it’s done” is not accepted when a gifted child sees the rule as useless or worse: illogical.
  • Boredom with class material they have already mastered gets expressed as anger or  criticism.
  • Their unique interests mean that they may reject their peer’s play schemes and try to convince their friends to play games their way or else.
  • They talk.  A lot.  At times, they may take over a discussion or attempt to alter a teacher’s presentation to address related issues or get more in-depth about a topic.  They may not be able to let a topic go until they have asked every question and made every point that they find important.
  • The frequent sensitivity of gifted children might make a normal level of noise, light or interaction too stimulating, and younger children especially will react in frustration or even tantrums.
  • Your gifted child may be having difficulty with an area of development that has been masked by their talents.  Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help A common example would be the gifted child who is struggling with dyslexia, but has been able to use powerful memory and logic to fill in the blanks in a story.  They may not have read the book, but they are able to recall enough of the teacher’s description or the cover’s blurb to “fake it”.  The resulting failure and frustration, even with high overall test scores, builds their resentment and avoidance.

What can you do to transform a gifted troublemaker into your family’s champion or star?

  • The first step is to recognize where the ‘trouble” is coming from.  Your child’s early developmental skills and rapid acquisition of new information could be fueling their behavior.  Seen through this lens, many of the frustrating reactions and interactions with gifted children become understandable.
  • Explore ways to create a more enriched environment for your child.  It doesn’t have to be classes and microscope sets.  It could be more trips to the library or more craft materials to allow all that creativity to be expressed.  Children that are fulfilled are less crabby, less demanding and less resistant.
  • Be willing to take the time to answer questions and discuss the origins of rules.  A rule that is in place for safety can be accepted if it is explained.  A rule about social behavior, such as allowing everyone to have a turn in order, is an important lesson in navigating a world in which the kids with the fastest brains aren’t always the ones who get the first turn.
  • Consider the possibility that your gifted troublemaker is “twice exceptional”.  There may be issues like dyslexia or sensory processing disorder that need to be addressed.  Other issues don’t have to be cognitive.  Your child may be struggling with anxiety or coordination.  Giftedness doesn’t discriminate or remove all challenges to learning.  But remember that these do not minimize their profound gifts in other areas.  They complicate them.
  • Share your awareness of their gifts with them.  Kids who know that their frustrations and responses have a source other than being a difficult person have higher self esteem.  A gifted kid who thinks badly about themselves?  Yes, it does happen.  Feeling different from their friends, knowing that their ideas aren’t always welcomed, being told to be quiet and go along with the flow.  All of these can make a gifted child question themselves.  When you explain that their brain works differently, and that you will help them navigate situations successfully, your support can make a tremendous difference!
  • If you engage a psychologist, be aware that they may not see what you see.  I wrote What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers out of my frustration with professionals who don’t see beyond a standardized test to the full effects of giftedness on toddlers.

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