Tag Archives: discipline and toddlers

Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule


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.





How Early Can You Use The Happiest Toddler Approach?

Something happens to babies between 12 and 18 months.  The adorable little child that could be easily distracted from grabbing your earrings, ate anything you offered, and smiled when you praised him is replaced by someone whose favorite word is “NO!!”, delivered at astonishing volume for a person who weighs in at only 23 pounds.

Welcome to toddlerhood.  Get ready, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

Dr Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler techniques are usually discovered by frustrated parents of two year-olds who are tearing around the house, taking hostages.  But these effective behavior management methods can be cherry-picked to be used with younger toddlers.  In fact, starting early with patience stretching and the Fast Food Rule Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing is a smart way to grow a toddler.  These techniques really do teach patience with kids Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and teach them that their complaints will be heard without always getting their way.  Dealing with bad habits later takes longer than instilling good ones any day.

You just have to be aware of which methods work for tiny minds and start planting the seeds before things get out of hand.  Some methods, like Giving It In Fantasy, will not work.  Young toddlers do not have the capacity to distinguish reality from fantasy.  Too many words, as well.  Same with Gossiping About Good Behavior.  They think that you are talking to them and don’t get the full effect of “overhearing” a compliment.

Not sure you want to “time-out” a 14 month-old?  Use Kind Ignoring, in which you momentarily turn away from the whining or defiance of a very young child.  Ignore the behavior briefly, even move 10-15 feet away without saying anything or making gestures or even a negative facial expression.  In fact, doing nothing at all but removing your self from the banging or throwing of toys sometimes works better than a statement or a look.  Your action coveys that this is not going to get your attention, it is going to remove you from their presence.  So much of the time, the littlest toddlers are doing these things to engage you when they don’t have the words to do so.  Don’t take that bait, and you have avoided what the Baby Whisperer would call “accidental parenting”.

She is a big believer in “start as you mean to go on”, and so am I.  Consistency gives all children a bedrock at home and at school.  They know what to expect, how to gain attention and how to successfully communicate even at an age where they have less than 20 words.  If you want more peace, don’t think that you have to wait until you can have a conversation about behavior with your child.  The door to communication is open way before that point!


Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!


I spent some time yesterday with the mother of a spirited toddler who pointed out that even though she saw that The Happiest Toddler on the Block technique of patience stretching works, she found it hard to be cheerful and upbeat after hours of her son’s whining and hanging on her legs.  At the end of the day, her toddler and her preschooler had worn her down.  She needed to fine-tune her approach and hear that her efforts would bear fruit sooner rather than later.

Good news!  Patience Stretching isn’t just a technique that works for the moment. It builds a child’s ability to wait.  A toddler that is used to waiting may not even start whining, he may just ask/gesture for what he wants.  You get a calmer house.  Done consistently for even a few days, combined with the Fast Food Rule (see my January 2015 Sympathetic Reframing post), and she should be able to stretch that calm waiting time at the dinner table up from 7 seconds (his current best time) to over a minute.  He showed me his potential; after a brief “top-off” reminder that his yogurt was indeed coming,  he waited another 7  seconds until she placed it on the table.  He needed a combo of patience stretching with fast food rule restatements so that he knew that I got what he was thinking: he wanted to know why there was a bowl of yogurt on the table but it wasn’t in front of him.  It was his brother’s bowl, and his brother was washing his hands. Tantrum averted, and this spirited toddler waited 14 seconds more than he did before we tried patience stretching.

Why even try it when you are totally exhausted?  Think about how all that whining is slowly draining the life energy out of you.  Some toddlers don’t just whine, they start to get a little aggressive to get your attention.  Think about the energy it takes to sweep up the cereal they throw on the floor in protest, and reconsider the benefits of patience stretching.  You will be expending your energy with toddlers one way or the other.  Might as well be building skills instead of sweeping up a mess made in protest.

Your delivery is key to a little person who hears how you say it more clearly than what it was that you said.  This mom admitted that she delivered her patience stretching lines without a lot of warmth; she was truly tired of all the whining.  It was time to bring on her academy award-winning performance skills.  Hint: toddlers can’t tell that you are faking it.  No one is cheerful all the time, but toddlers are very literal. They are reading your tone and gestures more than your words, so pleasant words delivered in a frustrated tone don’t work.

If you say something good (“Let me go look for your cookies”) with a note of sarcasm or annoyance, guess what they hear?  “I am not happy with you”.  If you want a smile back from a toddler with a spirited temperament( the child that can go full-ninja on you in seconds) you want to tell them that their cookie is coming with a big grin on your face and a lilt in your voice.  They will be smiling back at you without knowing what hit them!

Toddlers who experience many interactions throughout their day in which they feel listened to, felt that they were respected and occasionally got what they wanted (eventually) are more likely to be able to hear a firm “no” as well.  They have this bank of positive interactions with you, and a sense that you are not a pushover but that you are on their side.  Again, their perception of you is as important as what you actually feel about them.  An adult that loves them dearly but comes down hard with frustrating tones and annoyance is not going to be perceived warmly by a toddler.

Strangely enough, if you rush lovingly to provide things for a toddler most of the time, they can still whine.  Why?  Because there will be about 10% of requests that you cannot or will not grant due to safety or lack of resources.  They must get in the car seat since you have to go pick up their sister.  You don’t have any more goldfish crackers, etc.  At that point, their expectation that you grant every single wish has been shattered, and they do not know what to do.  They get very angry at you!  By giving them what they want most of the time except in very rare circumstances, their anger when you cannot deliver is much worse than if they had been turned down a few more times in the past.  Let that one sink in…your past generosity is not appreciated, it is hugely resented when you absolutely must buckle them in to the carseat, or when you really have to leave right now.

The wish-granter that requires them to wait using the patience stretching model is more likely to get a pass when the crackers run out or time at the playground is over.  The child who has experienced calm waiting will be more capable of hearing alternatives and accepting them.

Want more support?  Visit my website tranquilbabies.com and purchase a video/phone session.  If you are in the NY metro area, you can contact me for a direct consultation session.

Teach Toddlers Not to Hit Without Saying A Word

Toddlers hit.  Some toddlers hit out of anger, some out of frustration, and some to get your attention. I never allow an out-of-control toddler to intentionally try to injure me and not say something.  But some toddlers hit me and I don’t say a word…but I immediately DO something. Adults can make it very clear that hitting is not acceptable without saying a word.  Really.

  • Step 1 in preventing a child from hitting is never to hit a child in anger or in any other situation.  Children who have been hit learn very quickly that hitting is allowed if you are bigger and stronger.  Make sure before you spank or tap them on the arm that this is the lesson you intend to teach them.
  • Step 2 is to have clear limits on aggressive behavior every day.  Young children do not have full control of their impulses, and will work on that skill for years to come.  This is not an excuse not to impose consequences, but it might mitigate the intensity of your response.  And it means that the limits have to be MORE consistent for toddlers to help them remember what will happen if they are unable to control their behavior.  If your child knows that you will always impose the same consequence for pushing a sibling, for example, then when they do shove their sister, they should not be surprised that they will experience the consequence.  It might be a time-out, loss of a privilege, or whatever your family has decided is the consistent consequence.  If your child hits, then they will gradually expect the consequence to that act.  Feel free to state house rules, such as “We don’t hit in this house”.  It sends the additional message that the child is an integral part of something important: a family.
  • Step 3; now to the part about not saying a word.  You can use Kind Ignoring from the Happiest Toddler (see earlier post on my blog) or just a quizzical look that says “Really?  You think that is going to be successful in getting what you want?” Look at them with aggression and you will get more of what they just dished out.   If you have clear limits and the child knows them, they know what you are thinking. If their intent was to get a rise out of you, Kind Ignoring makes it clear that you are not going to be a party to this behavior.  Dangerous aggression is no time for Kind Ignoring, but then, the minor aggressions that benefit from Kind Ignoring happen so much more often in daily life than dangerous aggression for almost all children.
  • Step 4 is to teach toddlers how to manage aggressive impulses.  It comes as a shock to many first-time parents that their adorable baby has turned into a toddler with aggressive impulses.  This is the human condition, and some children seem to have a harder time managing their impulses.  Aggression is normal.  It really is.  Learning what to do instead of lashing out is so important, and not easy for any toddler.  This is where it gets tricky.  My favorite strategy is to use the Fast Food Rule from Happiest Toddler on the Block (see previous blog posts) to make it clear that I understand their message of anger, frustration or desire, and then explain what is going to happen, or how the child can achieve the goal.  If they wanted a turn with a toy, giving them the words for a request or commiserating that it is sad that the other child is not willing to share is more instructive.  Older children can absorb empathetic statements like “You don’t like it when your brother hits you, do you?” but younger toddlers really do not have the ability to fully empathize, and certainly not when upset.  Make it all about them and their needs, and you will get further.  When they reach the cognitive stage to experience full empathy, they will be so much more able to wrap their heads around that concept.

It is so much easier to set up limits and teach appropriate behavior rather than constantly correcting a child and having to use things like time-outs.  Life with toddlers is always a roller coaster but it doesn’t have to be a fight.

Toddler Cooperation Blossoms When You Give Things Away for Free

Toddlers are tough negotiators.  They also remember the feeling they got during their last negotiation with you.  Here is one way to improve a toddler’s attitude: make easy trades that they will fondly remember.

Most toddlers balk at simple requests.  Sometimes they resist the specific request, sometimes it is just that their default setting is “no!”.  Achieving agreement isn’t always easy, but the child that can understand “if-then” situations is going to be able to move off of a negative response much more quickly. Not all situations are “if-then” possibilities either.  But these are a great place to start.

In the “if-then” deal, they want something from you, and you state that there is an action that they need to take in order to get what they want.

It looks like this:  “If you want to go outside, you need to pick up these toys and put them in the bins. Then we all get our coats on and go play.”

Here’s the twist to get things started in your household: make a negotiation that they can accomplish almost without any effort. It reaps immediate rewards as soon as your child develops an understanding of the deal, and a positive memory of the dealmaking process.

It now looks like this: ” If you want to go outside, please give me the [toy you were clearly going to throw on the floor] and I will put it away.  Wow, great listening.  Now we can get coats on and go outside”.

I know, there was nothing of substance there.  Well, that would be true if you weren’t two years old.  A two year-old sees that as active participation and cooperation, with simple praise and a good outcome for him.  Do this over and over, and you have someone who should start to comprehend the negotiation of “if-then”.  After understanding has been achieved, then you can raise the stakes to something meaningful to you.

Don’t be surprised if your toddler decides to turn the tables and start an “if-then” negotiation with you!  After all, he has seen the power of this method in his own life.  A word of advice when the negotiations seem unfair ( you get 10%, her gets 90%):  that is not a “loss” for you and your views.  I know, you wouldn’t tolerate it with an adult, but toddlers aren’t adults.  Giving in even 1% is a big deal to someone who has heretofore thought that it is “my way or the highway”.  If you get a 10% concession from someone like that, it is a win for you!  And the next negotiation can be 15/85, right? Always keep in mind that this is a process and you are teaching a skill, not getting a mortgage.

Next: the amazing power of children taking ownership for their actions……

Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing

The most challenging aspect of using The Happiest Toddler on the Block might be the need to use just enough emotion and emphasis when stating their issues back to them (the Fast Food Rule), but then modeling a cool, calm and rational state in your reply when you are tired and frustrated by a full day of toddler drama.  This is a very Zen concept, the “cloak” of calmness that you wrap around your interaction with a whiny or defiant child.  It is absolutely essential to the success of this approach.

This is not easy.  Toddlers have staying power.  Here is what it looks like:

Adult:  “It’s lunch time.  Come on over and sit in your seat.”

Child:  Want cookies!!!!! [whiny shout, banging on cabinet storing said cookies]

Adult:  “You want cookies now, no lunch, just cookies!!” Remember the 1/3 level of mirroring their delivery.  Rinse and repeat until you see him take a breath, shoulders drop, etc.  This is the start of the “Fast Food Rule” of Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Child:  “Yeah” [ quieter whine, lots of eye contact, head nodding]

Adult:  “Oh, wow.[insert pause with disappointed look]  But it is lunch time. [another pause and sympathetic look] You have a yummy ______all ready, and then it will be time for ( # ) cookies after you finish your _______.”  [insert optimistic smile, as if you get the cookies too!]  Rinse and repeat if needed, but many if not most kids will be able to come to the table.  They may not be cheerful, but they know that you have limits, and they know you will deliver the cookies.  If they are eating and interacting with you, reward them with your pleasant conversation and plans of fun to come.

Why would anyone go to so much effort to stay calm, instead of just saying “Cut that out right now!”?  Because we are in this for the long haul.  Because the job of adults is not just to keep kids alive and safe all day, but to teach them how to manage their emotions and their behavior.  Because we are supposed to be the adults, capable of managing our emotions and planning our responses, not just lashing out.  And because we are investing in the relationship, knowing that a child that has seen you set consistent limits but also knows you do not shame, threaten, insult, or beg them to behave is more likely to listen to what you have to say.  When the conflict comes, as it always will, calmly stating the limits and acknowledging their viewpoint is like withdrawing money from a bank account.

The Fast Food Rule is just step one.

Discipline and Toddlers 2.0: Using Kind Ignoring with Defiance and Mild Aggression


I have had a lot of interest in my first blog post on “What to say if you don’t say “no?”.   Parents have  tried my suggestion, and sometimes their child responds by following the directions.  And sometimes their child smiles and hits them.  What do you do next?  Most parents would try out my first suggestion again.  They could also be offended or angry.  But they might have more luck with some kind ignoring and then some time-ins.

“Kind ignoring” is Dr. Karp’s term for choosing your battles and deciding to verbally, visually and physically remove yourself from the situation.  After all, it is very common for a young toddler to gently hit to get attention, once they have noticed the strong reaction it gets from you.  Most toddlers do not have the language or social skills to engage you easily, but they want your focused attention.  The smart ones quickly learn that they become the center of your attention once they hit you.  Try teaching them that the opposite is true.

Just turn away, walk away, or put them down.  As in off your lap, out of your arms.  But no drama.  Be as calm as a millpond.  That alone should get their attention.  They are expecting a big to-do.  Don’t go there.  Hint: one of your most powerful tools in the parenting toolbox is your tone.  Quieter-than-normal tones really get their attention, in a way that yelling never will.

Should you say something?  My guess is usually yes, and it should be developmentally appropriate.  A short: “We don’t hit.  Hitting hurts” can be more than enough for most toddlers.  The older ones might hear: “In this family we don’t hit.  I go away from people who hit me”  but that is too much information for an 18-month old.  The big message, like all HTOTB techniques, is in your actions.

For a young child or a milder temperament, they may have forgotten what they were doing, and come back and engage you warmly.  Receive them lovingly and start playing with something you know they like.  You are rewarding their better choice of behavior with your attention and conversation.  If they haven’t come over, you can smile and indicate openness, but having the child seek you out appropriately affords more learning for them.  Their new strategy worked.  For an older child, you may decide to mention the hitting, but maybe not.  I know that is controversial, but you cannot make a federal case out of every misdeed.  You can compliment the new strategy, maybe saying “I really like it when you ask me to play LEGOS with you”.  Pick your battles.

What do you do if he escalates the situation, and goes to hit the cat or throw the lamp?  It is time for a fine, some consequence that he can relate to.  That may mean moving him to another room, a brief time-out, removal of the toy that was thrown. You will know what sends home the message to your child that he has gone too far.  Then you have to think about his day, and why things escalated.  Is he hungry, tired, ill, under or over-stimulated?  Cabin fever from the winter that seems never to end (at least here in NY)?  Follow up by using your time-ins like gossiping (an earlier blog post ) and patience-stretching to build your child’s self-esteem and self-control skills.