Can you do DBT with toddlers? Well, Marsha Linehan probably would say no, but the Fast Food Rule and Patience Stretching come as close as you ever could!
Many child psychologists and psychotherapists are focusing on attachment theory and the problems of poor emotional regulation in children. The rise of self-harm behaviors in teens and aggression in children as young as 3 can be related to difficulties handling emotions and experiences that increase arousal levels but never get resolved.
Not every child who throws their book down in frustration or slams their bedroom door needs to see a therapist. But I do wonder how many of those teens that cut themselves, starve themselves or get suspended for putting their hands on a teacher or fellow student, actually needed Dr. Karp’s techniques when they were 3 or 4. Maybe, just maybe, if they had been helped with Patience Stretching when they wanted that toy, or if someone had used the Fast Food Rule with them when they had a tantrum Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child, maybe they would be in better shape at 13.
Because these techniques don’t just work on the child. They work on the adult using them as well. And adults who can self-regulate raise kids who learn to do it too.
When I use Patience Stretching( Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! ) with a toddler that wants one toy while I want them to work a bit longer on a therapy task, I am actually receiving the benefits of the technique as well. I am both teaching and experiencing the reduction in frustration and the decrease in agitation as this strategy calms down the whole situation. Oxytocin gets released when we calm down with a child, and adults need that hit as much as children do. If we “go there” with an agitated child, we feel worse, even if we think we won because we have the power to deny or punish. It doesn’t feel good to do either, but it also doesn’t feel good to give into a screaming child. Not really. Even the most permissive adult will say no to something dangerous, and then the child who is unfamiliar with hearing “no” will really explode.
The good news is that you don’t have to get an advanced degree to use Dr. Karp’s strategies. You have to practice them so that your delivery is flexible and confident, but anyone can do it, not just therapists. In fact, if these techniques don’t work well once you improve your delivery, that could be one way to decide that you need to consult a child specialist.