Tag Archives: discipline and toddlers

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……

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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

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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.