Tag Archives: defiance

Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule

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Whining is a “fingernails on a chalkboard” experience for most adults.  We often give in to a whining child, just to avoid hearing that noise.  Or we explode and scare them (and ourselves) with the anger that whining can trigger.  What can you do?

What would you say if I told you that I use a technique that works more than 50% of the time, and it can work in mere seconds to halt a child in mid-whine? Well, read on and let me tell you the secrets that I learned from Dr. Harvey Karp and his Happiest Toddler on the Block book!

I spend more than 75% of my treatment day as an occupational therapist with children under the age of 6.  That can add up to a lot of whining!  Why?  Not because I am inexperienced, or because I am a pushover.  Anyone that knows me knows that neither statement is true.  It’s because young children may be able to talk, but they aren’t very good communicators.  Being able to express their feelings effectively and negotiate their desires is just beyond their pay grade at this age.  Their default is whining.

Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule has made my job so much easier. It makes young children see me as a friend, not just another adult telling them what to do.  This one simple strategy lets kids know that I care about how they feel, but doesn’t suggest that they will get their way with me every time.  In fact, they often find themselves following my directions without fully knowing why they have stopped crying, begging, or pleading with me.

Here is what the FFR entails:

Part 1:  Repeating what you believe is your child’s complaint or desire, using simple words, short phrases and more emotional tone and gestures/facial expression than usual.  You may not know for sure what a very young child wants, but take your best guess.  If you are wrong, you can always give it another try.  The more upset or younger the child, the simpler the wording and the more expressive the tone and gestures.  Why?  Because emotional people don’t hear you well, but they will pick up on your non-verbal cues effectively.  You are trying to convey a simple message:  I understand you.

Part 2:  Only after you see that your child has calmed a bit with the knowledge that they are understood can you then begin to comfort, negotiate, or solve their problem.  Not before. We jump in very early in the interaction to tell them “It’s OK, honey” or “I can’t hear you when you speak to me like that”.  It’s only when they know you have heard THEM that they can listen to YOU.

The importance of being understood by another when you are upset cannot be overstated.  Children need this from us more than we know.  Even young toddlers are aware that they won’t always get what they want, but they need to know that we understand their point of view.  If you do not convey this message, a child will whine, wail or scream to make it clearer to you that they are upset.  That is why telling them that things are fine seems to throw oil on the fire.  They think you don’t get it.

So, help them pull it together by stating their situation (as you perceive it) out loud and using some non-verbal messaging:  I got it.  You want more cookies.  You don’t want to leave the park.  You want Logan’s truck.  Whatever it is, tell them that you understand before you offer a solution, an alternative, or explain why they aren’t getting what they want.  I promise you, it will work more often than it does not, and sometimes it will work so well that you almost cannot believe how simple it was to calm things down.

There is a secret benefit from using the FFR:  your child will gradually become less likely to break out in a whine even when things have gone badly.  After repeated experiences of being understood and treated with respect and firmness, a child will expect that you are the source of solutions instead of a dumping ground for agitation and anger.

 

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Address A Child’s Defiance Without Crushing Their Spirit

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Kids that defy adult instructions, even instructions that are ultimately for their benefit, often get begged or threatened into compliance.  Pleading with your child to pick up their mess, or threatening your child that those toys on the floor will be given to a charity shop isn’t always going to work.

Why? Probably because your child is waiting you out.  Children are wise observers of what works and what doesn’t, so they know you will eventually clean things up and they are fully aware that toys never disappear after a threat.

If you are tired of pleading and threatening, I have a strategy that could make you less aggravated and even ultimately boost your child’s self-esteem.  It works best with children that have at least a 30-month cognitive and language level.  This means that if you have an older developmentally delayed child that is unable to comprehend a request with a reward attached (“If you give me the shoe, I will get your milk”) then you should try a less complex strategy until they can understand this concept.

The idea is simple:  you make a request and if no response is elicited, you explain that they have a choice.  Not complying will result in a consequence they can see.  After the consequence is imposed, you offer the child another chance to make things right by following a slightly different direction or offering a “re-do”.  There is no “1-2-3” counting, because if you are certain that your child has understood your initial request and the explanation of the consequence, those were already the “one” and the two” of the countdown.  Your execution of the consequence is the “three”.  Good enough for me!

The trickiest parts of this strategy are the maintenance of a warm tone while your beloved child is defying you, and your quick thinking to identify a later task that allows them to save face while complying with your second request.  Do not think I haven’t had to act warm and friendly when inviting a difficult child to give participation another try.  I remind myself that I am the adult in the situation, and my job is to model calmness and teach skills, not get the upper hand on a 4 year-old.

I have also made up some pointless tasks such as rearranging boxes on a shelf, just to have an easy and successful task to offer them after the first consequence is delivered.  The younger the child, the less they will realize that Job #2 was only a chance for them to know that I am not rejecting them in any way.   I could say it, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is what this strategy looks like with a young child:

Adult:  “Please pick up all the cars, and then we can go have our yummy lunch.”

Child:   Looks at you, shakes her head and runs to the fridge. 

Adult:  ” Here is your choice:  pick up your cars and put them in the bin, or they will sit in their bin on top of the fridge until after dinner.”  Adult points to the fridge and/or taps the top to clarify what that means.

Child:   Gets a spoon from a drawer and stands by the fridge, no acknowledgment of your  directions.

Adult:  Uses The Happiest Toddler Kind Ignoring strategy and turns away from the child and waits next to the car pile for about 15 seconds for a positive response.  If the child doesn’t return, the adult puts the cars into the bin without more discussion, and places the bin on top of the fridge.

Child:  Cries, recognizing that a consequence has been delivered.

Adult:  Uses a disappointed but calm tone :  “I am sad too, because now we have to wait to play cars.” Adult’s body language and tone brightens. “Would you like to try listening again?  Please give me the blocks and I will stack them.”  Adult begins to stack very slowly to allow the child to consider her choice, and warmly welcomes the child’s help.

Child:   Begins to hand blocks to the adult.

Adult:  “You did a great job helping me!  Thank you!  Let’s go have our lunch!”

This can go south with strong-willed children, tired children and even some hungry children. I don’t recommend letting kids get super-tired or starving and then setting them up to lose.   Some kids are feeling great, but they draw a line in the sand and decide that they aren’t budging.  They won’t back down.  I express my disappointment in the outcome (no car play) but not in the child.  I don’t tell them I am disappointed in their behavior, because for a young child, they may not always be able to distinguish themselves from their behavior.  They will always be able to see the result: no cars.

I keep calm and impose consequences unless things go from defiance to aggression.  Then I consider a time-out strategy.  Aggression should never be ignored, because that is as good as approving of aggression.  In this age of zero-tolerance in schools, no one is doing any favors to a child by inadvertently teaching them that aggressive behavior is inconsequential.  They will find out soon enough that other people feel very differently about it.

Young kids will defy you.  I guarantee it.  Responding to defiance with limit setting doesn’t have to damage them or your connection with them.   Addressing defiance in this way can build a more positive relationship while making it very clear that there are consequences to not listening to you.

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Negotiating With Toddlers? Why They Think That 90/10 Is A Good Deal

 

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Toddlers can make you doubt your sanity.  They really can.  How can a crushed cookie be the end of the universe as they know it?  Why do they think you can make more cookies appear on demand?  And how to explain to this person that thinks you hung the moon that you simply cannot erase crayon marks?

This post is an effort to explain how to successfully negotiate (most of the time) with children 18 months to 5 years old.  It is based on The Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies by Dr. Harvey Karp.  Once I learned his techniques, I never looked back and became a toddler whisperer.  Really.  You need to embrace his two most important ideas and then you are ready to hit the negotiating table with your toddler.

Dr. Karp’s most basic concept is that you need to understand that the toddler brain isn’t capable of much logical thinking due to immaturity.  This means that they cannot negotiate well, even when calm.  It gets better as they get older, so a 4 year-old will have flashes of rational negotiation, and an 18 month-old may never get it.  She can’t.  Her brain simply doesn’t “do” rational well at all until that frontal cortex is mature.  The other concept is true for negotiation with anyone, including your partner and your boss.  You have to see their side of the story and communicate to them that you are aware of their feelings….whether or not you agree with them!

Agreeing that they get 2 more bedtime stories but not a snack as well, agreeing that they get the giraffe cup but can’t spill half of it on the new carpet to make a pattern, agreeing that they can wear pajamas to the park but only with shoes are all successes.  Tell them that you understand that wearing Spiderman jammies is indeed cooler with Spiderman sneakers helps them negotiate the deal.  Honestly saying that you are too tired to read 6 more books using an exaggerated yawn and a sad look helps.  You need to go night-night too.  They may be able to see your perspective since they are tired as well (but may never admit it to you).

So here is where your paradigm shift happens.  You have to be OK with deals that seem unfair to you.   Adults want a 50/50 split at the very least.  But you aren’t negotiating with another adult.  Be prepared to leave your ego at the door.  If you are the kind of person that needs to be right, you are going to fail at toddler negotiation.  Toddlers negotiate from the heart and with heart.  A mature sense of fairness isn’t going to be helpful with an irrational mind.  Hint:  if you have ever had a totally irrational boss that you actually liked when things weren’t exploding all over the office, you will have had some experience with the toddler mind.

Successful initial negotiations with a toddler often yield a 90/10 split.  90% for them, and 10% for you.  If they walk away happy,  you should too.  This is why this is not only a good deal for you, it is the only way to teach fairness in negotiation: toddlers start out expecting 100%.  A 90% deal is, in their mind, having given in big-time. But if they feel OK about it and life goes on, you won.  If you can manage that, the next negotiation could be 80/20.

Many toddlers cannot manage this when tired, overwhelmed, hungry, etc.  So negotiations can start over something simple, something that doesn’t matter very much to either party, and when things are calm.  You are teaching a skill, not making a business deal.  But the results could make everyone’s life a lot calmer in the end!

Why Do Some Kids With ASD and SPD Refuse Toilet Training?

Toilet training is one of the few self-care skills that fall primarily on special needs parents.  Speech therapists, feeding therapists, occupational therapists and ABA instructors all do assessments and create plans.  Hints on toilet training from your therapy team are often very helpful, but “the boots on the ground” are yours as a parent.  You are the one that deals with it when *&%$ happens, as it most certainly will!

Many parents find themselves with children that do not cooperate or become defiant to the entire process of training, regardless of their level of cognitive, sensory or motor involvement.  A child with profound issues can cooperate well, and a child that is in a integrated class can be steadfast in not participating.  What gives?

  1. Sensitivity to multi-sensory input:  The noises, smells, even the lights in a bathroom can be mildly to very irritating to sensitive children.  They may not verbalize it, even if they have lots of language; they just want out.  Try to minimize what you can, and use the sensory calming techniques your OT has shared.  Ask for all her good ideas!
  2. Sensory seekers that aren’t motivated to remove wet or smelly diapers, don’t register the experience, or actually want to explore what is in that diaper.  Some children are at the other end of the sensory spectrum, and may not find the odor and feeling of a soiled diaper offensive or even that noticeable.   See Pull-ups do a wonderful job of reducing the sensory input, so try training pants with a leak-resistant cover. Just like a younger typically-developing toddler, some ASD and SPD kids “smear”, which is exactly what it sounds like: decorating the room and/or themselves with their feces.  This is a behavioral issue with older children, but it also suggests that the motivation to get trained isn’t going to include wanting to be rid of the diaper and it’s contents.
  3. They dislike being exposed to room-temperature air, and wiping/being wiped.  These kids probably have always dislike diapering.  They might avoid you after they have had a bowel movement to avoid being changed.  You may have had to become an expert in the “fast change” so that they are not totally hysterical.  Well, sitting on the pot with their pants off for a while and learning to wipe might be even harder than being diapered.  Try warming the room, get a warmer for the wipes (these exist) and make sure that you communicate that this doesn’t mean they have to sit there for a long, long time.
  4. They hate the feeling of the clothing sliding over their legs.  Time to work on reducing their tactile sensitivity.  It can be done; ask your OT.  And find some super-soft clothes for the toilet-training period.  Fleece shorts, anyone?
  5. Sitting on the toilet seat feels like they are perched over a big scary hole.  Children with poor spatial awareness or poor proprioception aren’t good at judging how large the opening is or how deep.  Add some instability with low tone, and you have a recipe for fear.  Then flush the toilet while they are still sitting, or standing nearby, and that potty seems like it could suck them down!  Try a potty seat and gradually move them over to a toilet once they are confident and independent there. Do more homework exercises on core stability and postural control, and don’t forget vestibular activities from OT.
  6. Without a clear sense of time, sitting there seems like it takes forever.  Kids can have no sense of how long something they don’t enjoy will take.  Use a visual timer, the microwave timer, or your smartphone timer.  My iPad has a visual countdown clock to see when time is up.

These are the most common that I have encountered.  Some of my posts on toilet training children with low muscle tone will also apply to kids with ASD and SPD, so check out  Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Your Child’s Therapists Can Help You  and Low Tone and Toilet Training: The 4 Types of Training Readiness.

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is finally available! My 50-page e-book is for sale on my website  tranquil babies  (or buy a clothbound hard copy if you live in the U.S.) to help you with training.  Check out  The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Help Has Arrived!  to learn more about my book and how I can help you navigate potty training without tears!

 

 

Low Tone and Toilet Training: The 4 Types of Training Readiness

When clients ask me if I think their child is ready to potty train, my answer is usually “Maybe”.  There are numerous factors to consider when assessing toilet training readiness if a child has low muscle tone.

Physical Readiness

After about 18 months, most children can keep a diaper dry for an hour or more.  Their sphincter control increases, and their bladder size does too.  Kids with low tone can take a little longer, but without additional neurological issues, by 24 months many of them will be able to achieve this goal to accomplish daytime urinary continence.  Bowel control is usually later, and nighttime control is later still.  Achievement of the OTHER physical readiness skills are less predictable.  These skills include:

  • Sufficient postural control to stay stable on a potty seat or toilet, and when standing to wipe.  Read How To Teach Your Toddler To Wipe “Back There” for more details on learning to wipe.
  • Enough mobility to get to the toilet on time, turn around to flush, and bend to pull up/slide down pants.
  • Adequate strength and coordination to manage clothing and toilet paper/wipes
  • Sensory processing to perceive a full colon or bladder, tolerate clothing movement on the body and tolerating the “sensory surround” of bathroom use.  Yes, the smells, lights and space of a tiny room can be a “thing” for some kids!

You will notice that children need enough skill, not amazing or even good skills.  They just need enough ability to get the job done.

I need to mention that issues such as constipation can derail the best plans.  Kids with low tone are more likely to have this problem than not.   Read my post Constipation and Toilet Training  for some ideas on how to manage this issue and who can help you.  The best time to manage constipation is before you start training.

Cognitive/Communication/Social Readiness

The trifecta for toilet training readiness in typical children is a child who is at the 16-20 month cognitive/communication/social level.  This child has the ability to follow simple routines and directions, can understand and communicate the need to use the toilet and their basic concerns, and is interested in learning a skill that adults are guiding and praising.

What about children with global developmental delays?  They absolutely can be toilet trained.  I have worked with children who have no verbal skills and perform tasks like dressing and self-feeding only by being prompted, but they can use the toilet.  Do they always know when to “go”, or do they simply follow a schedule?  Well, to be honest, sometimes they toilet on a schedule for quite a while before they connect the physical impulse with the action by themselves.  But they are dry all day.  The essential abilities are these:  they know what they need to do when they sit on the potty, and they know that they are being praised or rewarded in some other way for that action.  That’s it.  Have faith; children with developmental delays can do this!!

Some children with low tone have no delays in any of these areas, but many have delays in one or more.  The most difficult situation with cognitive/communication or social readiness?  A child who has developed a pattern of defiance or avoidance, and is more committed to resisting parental directions than working together.  Toddlers are notoriously defiant at times, but some will spend all their energy defying any directive, must have everything their way or else, and can even enjoy being dependent.

If this is your child, job #1 is to turn this ship around.  Toilet training will never succeed if it is a battle of wills.  And no adult wants it that way.  Repair this relationship before you train, and both of you will be happier.  Read my posts on the Happiest Toddler on the Block methods for ideas on how to use “Gossiping” Let Your Toddler Hear You Gossiping (About Him!)and  Turn Around Toddler Defiance Using “Feed the Meter” Strategies to build a more cooperative relationship with your child.

Family Readiness

Research suggests to me that the number one indicator for training is when the parents are ready.  Sounds off, right?  But if the family isn’t really ready, it isn’t likely to work.  I worked with a family that had their first 3 children in rural Russia.  Boiling dirty diapers on a wood stove makes you ready ASAP!  Families need the time to train, time to observe voiding/elimination patterns and to identify rewards that work for their child.  They need to be prepared to be calm, not angry, when accidents happen and to avoid harsh punishments when a child’s intentional avoidance creates an accident.  They have to be ready to respond to fears and defiance, and then handle the new independence that could bring a child freedom from diapers but more insistence on control in other areas.  Many of my clients have nannies, and most parents have partners. Every adult that is part of the training process has to be in agreement about how to train.  Even if they are more cheerleader than “chief potty coach”, it is either a team effort or it is going to be a confusing and slower process.  Check out Toilet Training Has It’s (Seen and Unseen) Costs for more information about how the process of training has  demands on you that are not always obvious.

Equipment Readiness

Do you have a stable and comfortable potty seat or toilet insert?  How will your child get on and off safely?  Do you need a bench or a stair-like device?  Grab bars?  Do you have wipes or thick TP? Enough clothing that is easy to manage?  Underwear or pull-ups that also do the job?  One of my clients just texted me that having a mirror in front of her daughter seemed to help her manage her clothing more independently.   A few weeks ago we placed the potty seat against a wall and in the corner of the room so that if she sat down too fast or hit the edge of the seat with her legs while backing up or standing, it wouldn’t tip and scare her.  No rugs or mats around, so she won’t have to deal with uneven or changing surfaces as she gets to the potty.  Really think out the whole experience for safety, simplicity, and focus.  If you want to learn what your occupational and physical therapists know about these things, ask them Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Can Your Child’s Therapists Help You ?

You can see why parents rarely get a simple answer when they ask me if their child is ready to train.  I will say that since they are asking the question, they may be ready, and that is one of the four types of readiness!

Do you want more details on toilet training readiness?  

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, is available as an e-book on my website, tranquil babies, on Amazon.com,  or at Your Therapy Source ( a terrific site for parents and therapists!).  If you want more guidance to evaluate your child’s toilet training readiness and learn how to prepare them well, this is your book!  It includes readiness checklists and very specific strategies to build readiness.  Think you are ready to jump in and start training?  My book will guide you to choose between the gradual and the “boot camp” approach, and it addresses the most common stumbling blocks children experience on the road to independence.

Read my post The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Help Has Arrived! , to learn more about this unique book and see what it can do for you today!

Give (Some of) Your Power Away To Your Defiant Toddler And Create Calmness

One of my favorite strategies to develop a warm but equitable relationship with toddlers is to share the power.  Yes, I said it.  Adults have power in the relationship and toddlers know it.  In order for you to succeed in using this strategy with your toddler, you have to accept the fact that children long to be the powerful ones in a relationship. but they know the reality:  we make most of the decisions.

This is true even if you are a committed push-over.  Even if you subscribe to free-parenting and allowing the child to lead, you are still the one deciding when the last book is read at bedtime and when to leave the park in time for grade-school pick -up.  In fact, I will guess that children who have the power to turn the kitchen into a diner that cooks to order have the larger tantrum when they hit a situation they cannot control.  Say…there are no more goldfish crackers in the house right now.  It is raining and the pool at the club is closed.  Kids that cannot believe that this time they will not get what they want are often inconsolate.  They have no regular experience of it.  Remember, they cannot be expected to understand that there are circumstances beyond our control.  They think magically.  That is normal for toddlers, and if you think that they can comprehend the difference, you are in for some major meltdowns when events take their course.

The other extreme will also get you some award-winning tantrums.   Expecting immediate and full compliance with all your instructions will put you at odds with the natural limit-pressing that children must do, all the way into the teen years.  If toddlers do not feel that they have any power ever, they are more likely to demand it by taking hostages in the check-out line at the grocery store or in the lobby at daycare.  If you have ever been that parent with a wigged-out toddler in the grocery store, looking right at you as he twirls and kicks, you know what I mean.

I work with a child privately whose mom really argued this point with me.  She was doing a good job convincing me that her kids had equal power until she told them at the end of my session that they had to get their coats on NOW, and they would be leaving for haircuts shortly.  Who decided on haircuts today?  At that exact time?  Did they have a choice whether to go or where to go to get their hair cut?  Of course not!  Her kids knew that they were going to get haircuts then, even if they didn’t want to, and not complying would be met with consequences.  So much for “equal power”.

Adults are the managers of kid’s lives,  and most kids really want and need adults to give them confidence that the “big people” know what to do and can take care of them.  Adults being powerful doesn’t automatically crush their spirit or destroy their confidence.  Kids just want to be considered and respected.  I think ceding some power over minor situations  can show them that respect, and give them a chance to feel powerful without using whining or aggression to get there.

You may think of yourself as a very democratic parent, always offering your child freedom and choice.  I cannot argue with that, but it might not even matter that you are right.  Dr. Karp (of the Happiest Toddler on the Block) taught me that all that matters to toddlers is how they see a situation.  I am suggesting that by inserting many, many daily opportunities for tiny power moves, you create the sense in a toddler that they are respected and have enough power.  It creates easier transitions when adults have to step in and take charge, and it gives toddlers opportunities to experience what happens when they make the choices.

The low-hanging fruit of this strategy are the decisions children make for themselves that do not affect any significant outcomes.  These are the ones that all the parenting articles mention.  Give your child two choices on which shirt to wear.  Let him choose the blue or green bowl for cereal.  Well, that does works a little bit, and works better with the youngest or most compliant toddlers.  No 2.5 year old is empowered by a choice that he knows has no teeth.  You could use those magazine’s techniques all day long and still not make a dent in your defiant toddler’s demands.  Your more impact-ful power sharing technique with a controlling or older toddler?  controlling YOU!  

Which puzzle do you want US to do now?  Do you want me to sit here or there?  Can I color on your ninja picture or do you want me to stay on my own picture?  Can I go first or do you want to?  Now we are talking!  Telling you “no”,  or at least having the opportunity to do so, and then seeing you comply, this is real power!  

I weave no less than 5 little opportunities to tell me “no” into a 45-minute therapy session with a defiant toddler.  At first, they are all about shutting me down.  They love it.  This can go on for a while if a child really has perceived themselves as less powerful than siblings or has had a major life changes such as a new school or sibling.  Gradually, and sometimes it happens over many sessions, they get it:  I will give them power and respect them.  Then the magic happens.  Easier transitions, fewer defiant moments.  Life has become better.