Tag Archives: happiest toddler on the block

How Using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule Transforms Kids With Special Needs

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Yes, I said the word transform.  I know that hyperbole isn’t always appropriate when you are a therapist (we try to hedge our bets with predictions), but I am willing to go out on a limb in this instance and say that learning this single Happiest Toddler on the Block technique will make a difference with any child with special needs that functions with over a 12-15 month cognitive level.  Will it work with older children?  Absolutely.  Done right, it will also work on spouses and co-workers!

What is the Fast Food Rule?  You can read more about it here Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block but the simplest way to explain it is that when you have an upset person, they get to express themselves first, then the adult paraphrases the upset person’s expression with about 1/3 of the emotion that was used.  The paraphrasing is done at the level of comprehension of the upset person.  This means that someone who has a very low language level and is very upset may only hear “You say NO NO NO”.  Remember that any degree of agitation immediately lowers language comprehension IN EVERYONE.  Even you.

That’s it.  The phrase may have to be repeated a few times until the adult observes signs that the upset person’s agitation is decreasing (not necessarily over).  What are those signs?  A decrease in screaming volume or intensity, more eye contact, stillness of the body, turning to the adult rather than turning away, etc.  If the problem isn’t clear, altering the phrase is OK.  No harm done if you get it wrong; try again to state what their problem is.

ONLY WHEN THE UPSET PERSON HAS DECREASED THEIR AGITATION IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO OFFER A SOLUTION, OR EVEN CONSOLATION.

Why?  Because until the upset person REGISTERS that the adult understands the nature and the degree of stress, they will continue to protest to make their point.  It doesn’t matter if the point is pointless.  All the better.  Being understood is more important than being corrected.  Always.

Because young children’s brains are immature, their agitation may start up again after the problem is solved.  This is neurological, not psychological.  Rinse and repeat the FFR, and come out on the other side calmer.

Why does this transform the life of a special needs child?

Kids with special needs often need to be more regulated than the average child.  They can be unsteady, difficult to understand even when calm, have medical issues that get worse when they are agitated, and fatigue rapidly on a good day.  Being upset makes safety, endurance, sensitivity and sensory seeking worse.  Sometimes much worse.

If your child or your client has any of these issues (and I have yet to work with a child with special needs that doesn’t have ONE or more of them), then you need to learn the FFR today and use it consistently.

  • Kids with cerebral palsy can move with better safety awareness and expend less energy.
  • Kids with hyper mobility are also safer, less fatigued and can focus on movement quality.
  • Children with sensory processing issues are more modulated, less aversive or sensory seeking.
  • Kids with ASD do less self-stimulation and have less aggressive behaviors.

 

The biggest obstacle for me?  Fear of using Dr. Karp’s Toddler- Ese language strategy, which sounds infantile to the ears of an adult, because I thought that I sounded like an idiot in front of parents (who were paying me a lot of money to treat their child).  It turns out that not being able to calm a child makes me look much more like an idiot, and effectively getting a child calm and focused makes me look like a skilled professional.

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What To Say When Your Child Says “I Hate You!”

 

daiga-ellaby-699111-unsplashIt happens to almost every parent.  It could happen when your child is a fuming preschooler, or a haughty tween.  Doesn’t matter.  It still hurts.  A lot.  Even the sweetest child can hurl one of these statements out when they don’t get what they want or aren’t allowed to do something.

The biggest question isn’t “Why are they saying that?” but “How do I respond?”  There are a few choices I can think of that don’t involve nasty threats or violence.  Let’s drill down and see if there is one that rises above the crowd:

  • “But I love YOU!”  Hardly ever a winner.  Said with a warm smile or through gritted teeth, this rarely works well to alter a child’s attitude.  It seems that they work harder to explain why they are so annoyed/disgusted/irritated with you.
  • “Don’t you ever speak to me that way again!”  Well, you have drawn your line in the sand.  Let’s hope you have a consequence that you are willing to administer, because it is likely that you will be hearing this again.  Maybe soon.
  • “Wow, that hurts me”  OK, that sounds heartfelt and honest.  The problem is that at this moment, your child may be trying to hurt you.  You have just informed your child that success has been achieved.  In the long run they probably aren’t sociopaths, and they probably will regret hurting you.  But right now?  They aren’t in a place in which they care about your feelings as much as you’d like.

 

And the answer that might just work?

  • ” You are really, really mad at me right now”  Stating how they feel using a fraction of the energy and emotion that your child is spewing is, wait for it….The Happiest Toddler on the Block’s Fast Food Rule.  Yes, the same strategy you use when your two year-old’s cookie falls on the floor can help you with this situation as well.  Because making it clear to the upset person that you “get” them, even if you don’t agree with them, can dissipate some of the indignant venom fast.  You might have to repeat it again after you hear more words about what an idiot you are, or what a bad mommy you are.  Only after you see that they have dialed down some of the venom can you offer a solution, a trade, or a bit of commiseration.  Why?  Because jumping in too soon sends the message that what you’d truly like is to shut them up.  That will not be good.

Want more information on THTOTB strategies?  Read Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block and Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!.

Does Your Special Needs Child Have a “Two-tude”? Its Not Just the Age; Its Cumulative Frustration Minus Skills

 

patrick-fore-557736I spend a lot of my work week with toddlers, and they can be a challenge.  One minute sunny, the next screaming because their cookie broke.  Special needs toddlers can have a ‘tude as well, but many professionals sweep it under the rug.  They tell parents that this is normal, and that they should be grateful that their child is going through a completely normal stage of development.

Except that many parents who have already raised typically-developing kids KNOW that there is a difference with THIS child.  It could be the intensity of the ‘tude, or the frequency of the meltdowns, or the types of events that trigger the tantrums.  OR ALL OF THEM!  Parents know that this behavior doesn’t feel the same, but they often shut up when they are told that it is so normal.  Perhaps their eyes, and ears, and memory, aren’t telling them the truth.

They aren’t wrong.

Their perception that something is a bit different can be totally correct.  And the reason(s) are quite obvious to me.

Special needs kids come in an almost endless combination of needs.  Some are physical, some are communication needs, and some are cognitive or social skill needs.  Some kids have all of these.  Having challenges in moving, speaking, comprehending language and/or understanding concepts, or struggling to interact, will create more frustration in every single day of a child’s life.  That’s the reality of disability.

The image of the placid and sweet special needs child, patiently waiting to be assisted and supported is just that: an image.  Most kids bump into frustrating barriers every day.  The toddler that has just learned to walk but can’t run, the toddler that is talking or signing but still isn’t understood by their older brother, the toddler that cannot handle a change in routines…it goes on and on.

Typical toddlers spend less time frustrated that they are unable to accomplish simple skills.  The typical 14 month-old that can’t tell you what he wants becomes the 18-month old that can say “cakker, pease” for “cracker, please”.  A special needs child could be 2 1/2 years old and still struggling to explain that he wants another cracker.  That is a long time to be frustrated over getting another cracker.

The typical 26 month-old that can’t run after their big brother in the backyard becomes a runner at 30 months.  A special needs child may not run for years.  That is a long time to be left in the dust when everyone else is running.  Is there any wonder that parents see more frustration, more tears, more stubbornness?

My saddest story of failed inclusion is when a family placed their special needs child in a toddler development group with mobile kids.  Even though this child had a personal aide, he still watched as his peers got up from the snack table and ran outside.  They left him with the aide, who then carried him outside so he could WATCH his peers climb and run.  He became distraught at home when he was left alone in a room.  A puddle of tears.  It was so sad to see.  No one (that made the decision to mainstream him) had thought of the emotional cost of inclusion to this toddler, only the social and academic benefits.

What can be done?

I teach families the Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies as soon as they are appropriate.  Dr. Karp’s techniques build a child’s skills while enhancing interpersonal connections Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults?.  Yes, sometimes you have to provide consequences for physical aggression, but mostly you focus on building frustration tolerance and emotional intelligence.  For everyone.  I use these techniques all day long.  I could never handle so many toddlers for so many years without them!

Looking for more information on special needs toddlers?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.

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Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block

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Children start learning self-regulation early.  Most kids eventually become reasonably skilled at it, given some help from loving adults.  The problem is they don’t learn it quickly.  Self-regulation takes a long time to become established in the slowly-developing brain of a young child.  While you are scooping up the puddle of Jell-O that used to be your toddler before she dropped her ice cream cone, think about how you can use this moment to build her ability to come back to a calm state:

  1.   Reflect her emotions without denying them or taking them on.  After all, you know that it isn’t the end of the world.  But at that moment, she can’t see it.  She is sad and maybe even angry.  Use the Fast Food Rule Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child to state what happened and how you think she feels.  Remember to use lots of gestures and alter your vocal tone to convey empathy.  Don’t be placid; after all, she needs to know that you get how unhappy this has made her.  Kids tune into your expressions much more than your words at this age.  You may think you should be soothingly quiet, but she is thinking ” You don’t see my pain!!”
  2. Make sure she knows that you care about what happened, and use this moment to identify what she is feeling.  Even if you intend to get her another cone, allowed her to be upset for a very brief period, and let her know that we call that feeling “sad”.  Kids depend on us to explain what happened to the dinosaurs, how to eat with a fork, and also how to identify and manage emotions.  Take that moment to explain that there is a name for what she is feeling, and that it is normal and understandable, even if you intend to fix it with another ice cream.
  3. Ask her if she wants another ice cream cone, but not too soon.  Sometimes children aren’t ready for our solutions, even if they do want them, and presenting one too early gives a message that we never intended:  I can’t handle your pain, you can’t either, and I need to fix it right away.  Look for that shift in body language, eye contact or verbal connection that tells you she is starting to pull herself together before you jump in with a solution.

 

If you find yourself more upset than your child, their pain ripping through you, take a moment to look inside and see what experiences in your past are contributing to this feeling.  You may have been taught the same lesson early in your own childhood.  If you received the message that pain is unbearable and should be avoided at all costs, you are not alone.  Well, I am going to tell you that an important part of your life, and a part of your child’s life is all about learning to feel feelings without fear and come back to a good place after a difficult experience.

Bad things happen to us all, and the most important lesson you can teach your child at this moment is that she can handle this feeling and come through it.  With your support, and with the support of other people who love her, she will get through the loss of her ice cream and other losses in life as well.

And it can start with how to handle the loss of an ice cream cone….!

 

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Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead)

 

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In a few months I will be doing another lecture on managing difficult toddler behaviors, and I can’t wait.  I love teaching parents, therapists and caregivers how to help young children manage their most difficult behaviors.   The responses that most therapists dread (crying, whining, tantrums, etc.) are the ones I hope will happen in a session with a parent.  Why?  So I can demonstrate and explain how to handle these tricky moments.  How you respond to your child can do more than help you get them into the car and back home.  It can teach them how to deal with their feelings and how to communicate them to other people.

When faced with a crying child, telling them “It’s O.K.” right away seems to be the most natural response in the world.  For one thing, it is usually the truth; you can clean up the broken cookie and get another, their bump is a minor scratch, and they have another blue crayon to replace the one that rolled under the couch.  And we want to help them feel better; comforting an upset child is what we do as caring adults.

But for many kids, telling them “It’s OK”  elicits more crying, if not some wailing and even physical responses like throwing things or hitting.  You go over to console them, and they might even push you away.  The baby that used to melt into your arms is now a toddler, rejecting your best efforts at comfort!

Why?  Very likely because your response did not show them that you understand the gravity of the situation and the pain they are experiencing.  I know, pain from a broken cookie? Really? Well, when you are 18 months old, you can’t always comprehend that there could be more cookies in the cupboard.  The horror of seeing your favorite treat destroyed in front of you is just too great.  And the feelings inside of you really do hurt.  Young children need two things to recover:  someone to say that they know what your problem is and for that person to say that they are aware that you feel this way.

Note that I did not say that the other person has to agree that it is the end of your toddler world.  The adult is only agreeing that something has happened and that you feel badly about it.  As adults, we don’t always remember a toddler’s perspective, and we invalidate it more than we think we do.  This is why telling your child “It’s OK” is heard as “Your complain is without merit, sir, and you have no right to feel angry or sad about it”.

You would never intend to say that to your child, and yet that is the message many children get when you rush in too soon with this response.  

What could you say instead?  I first use Dr. Harvey Karp’s Fast Food Rule combined with his Toddler-Use communication style to respond to an upset child.  It is fairly simple:  State what you believe your child is thinking in simple phrases that match their comprehension level when upset (which is always less than when they are calm) and matches their emotional tone by 1/3.  So if your child is screaming  “COOKIE, COOKIE, COOKIE!!!” and you know that her cookie fell on the sidewalk into the mud, your response has to be similarly short and heartfelt.  Something like “COOKIE BROKEN!  You want cookie!” tells the sad story of what has happened to her snack.

This can be enough validation to calm her down a bit, as seen by a decrease in the volume of her screaming, more eye contact with you, and even a sad nod.  NOW it is time for consolation, and perhaps the offer of an alternate snack.  You have shown that you know her problem and her pain.  She has felt understood and her feelings accepted, and may now be ready for a resolution to this crisis.  If she continues to scream, repeat your statement once or twice while further shortening your words and slightly increasing the emotion in your voice/the emphasis of your gestures.  Sometimes it takes the toddler brain a moment to process.  Give her that time.

Good luck trying out this approach with the next upset toddler or preschooler you encounter.  I promise you, communicating your empathy and modeling acceptance of feelings delivers more than a calmer child.  It teaches important emotional skills and deepens the connection between you.

And it all started with a broken cookie….

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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!

Is is Sensory Or Is It Behavior? Before 3, The Answer Is Usually “Yes!”

If I had a dollar for every parent that asked me if head banging when frustrated means their child has a sensory processing disorder...well, I would be writing this post from a suite in Tahiti!  Modulation of arousal is the most common sensory processing concern for the parents that I see as a pediatric occupational therapist.  Their children struggle to transition, don’t handle change well, and can’t shift gears easily.  But hold on.  A lot of this behavior in children  under 3 is developmental in nature.  Not all, but a lot.  Parsing it out and addressing it takes a paradigm shift.  Not every annoying or difficult behavior is atypical for age and temperament.

Everyone knows that you can’t expect your infant to self-regulate.  Nobody tells their baby “Just wait a little; why can’t you be like your brother and sit quietly for a minute?”  But why do adults assume that once a child can speak and walk a bit that they can handle frustration, wait patiently, and calm down quickly?

I know parents WANT that to be the case.  Toddlers are a handful on a good day.  Adorable silliness can melt your heart, but getting smacked by an angry child that was just given a consequence for trying to put your cell phone in the toilet to see if it would float?  Nah, that isn’t going to put a smile on your face.  Parents tell me “If they could only understand that when I say “wait”, I mean that you will get what you want, just not immediately.”  But no.  The toddler brain grows very slowly, and even the super-bright children who read at 3 cannot make their emotional brain grow any faster.  Sorry.  Really.   This brain thing means years of developing communication and regulation skills.

Here is the good news:  Even young children with clear sensory-based behaviors do better when your responses to their behaviors help them self-calm.  The recipe is simple to describe.  You give limits based on age, use familiar routines, teach emotional language and responses by modeling, and communicate effectively.  The Happiest Toddler strategies have transformed my work because children feel listened to but I don’t give in to toddler terrorists.  Everybody wins.

Here is the bad news:  You have to change your behavior in order to help them.  And you have to do it consistently and with loving acceptance of their limitations.  “Behavior” isn’t just their problem.  It is both of yours.  Take a look at my posts on Happiest Toddler techniques that really work for the little ones, and see if your suspicions of a sensory processing disorder wane or even evaporate as you and your child learn some valuable communication and self-calming skills.  The posts that can alter things today might be Nip Toddler Biting in the BudToddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring, and How To Get Your Toddler To Wait For Anything (Hint: They hear “Wait” as “No”)

Good luck, and let me know what works for you!

 

Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child

Sensory sensitivity and aversive behaviors are among the most common reasons families seek occupational therapy in Early Intervention.  Their kids are crying and clinging through meals, dressing, bathing and more.  What parents often don’t see is that they can help their child by being both empathic and educating them throughout the course of the day.

My clinical approach has matured over the years from the standard OT treatments to a whole-child and whole-family strategy.  One important part of my approach is to alter how adults react to their children.  It isn’t complex, but it is a shift away from thinking about the problem as being exclusively “my child’s issues with sensory processing”.  Once adults understand the experience a child is having from the child’s point of view, they can learn to respond more effectively to a child, and get results right away.

I recently did a therapy session with a toddler and her mom.  When the child became overwhelmed by her dog barking and rushed to her mom to be picked up, I warmly and clearly said “You want up?” twice while using explicit body language to convey calmness, while the mom looked at her child but didn’t scoop her up right away.  The child turned to look at me, stopped whining and dropped her shoulders.   She relaxed at least 50%, stuck her thumb in her mouth for about 30 seconds, then started to play quite happily.  What I know is that this short interaction affected her body’s level of neuro-hormonal arousal, her thinking about how adults handle sensory events, and her memory of how she feels when she is overstimulated changed. I believe that those differences physically change the wiring of her brain in a small but meaningful way.

I cannot take full credit for this strategy; I used the Fast Food Rule from Dr. Harvey Karp  Use The Fast Food Rule to Help ASD Toddlers Handle Change.  I am using it for therapeutic means, but it the same tantrum-defusing method he developed.   I responded with loving calmness to her over-the-top reaction, acknowledging her request while not granting it. She was “heard” and accepted.   I gave her a moment to come up with an alternate response (quick thumb-suck and then search for fun a fun toy).

This little girl has a habitual reaction to sensory input that puts her into a fear-flight pattern on a regular basis.  Cuddling her works for the short-term, but it leaves her seeking adult assistance for any fears, and it doesn’t give her any skills to handle things or suggest that she could handle situations differently.  Shifting her habitual reactions to  these benign events is essential to make progress, and telling her that it was “just the dog barking” doesn’t work.

Why?  Because Dr. Karp will tell you himself that toddlers hear you saying”just” as if you were telling them “you are wrong”.   They protest more to make you exactly see how upset they are.  Explaining things rationally doesn’t help a little person in the throes of emotion.  Modeling calmness while acknowledging their feelings is what helps them learn and grow.

Your child is wiring his brain every moment of every day. Your sensitive child is assessing all of your reactions to learn about what is a danger and what is not.  His brain, not his hands, are interpreting the world as irritating or frightening.  Your reactions to events and to his responses will help to hardwire his brain to believe something is scary, or challenge him to adapt and change that automatic pattern of response.  It isn’t all psychological, it is neurobiological as well.  Most researchers don’t differentiate between the two any longer.  They know that biology drives thought and that thought can alter biology.  The rubber meets the road right here, right now, in your own home!

OTs working with sensory processing disorders generally believe that an aversive response to a benign stimulus (hysteria when touching lotion or oatmeal) is not a skin issue or a mental health issue, but a brain interpretation gone wrong.  There are many reasons why this would happen, but most of us believe that experience and exposure, done well, can change the brain.  Some exposure is done with programs like the Wilbarger Protocol, the use of weighted or pressure garments, and many other great therapeutic techniques.  Changing adults’ responses hasn’t been researched nearly as much, but my clinical experience tells me it probably should be.  I know that teaching parents how to shift their behavior has made a difference for my clients almost immediately.

Good therapy can diminish a child’s aversions substantially, and even create exploration and excitement.  It is wonderful to see a formerly anxious child move through her day exploring and enjoying the world around her!

Does your sensitive toddler struggle with toilet training?

 The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is my new e-book (hard copies can be obtained by contacting me directly) that may help you tonight!  Sensory-based strategies can really help children with sensitivity, and good instruction minimizes all the multi-sensory mess that training can become when you don’t know what to do.  Your child doesn’t need to have severe issues with low tone.  Many children have both sensory sensitivity and low muscle tone.

Visit my website tranquil babies, and click “e-book” on the top ribbon to learn more about this unique book!

Overwhelmed With Your Toddler’s Demands? How To Cut Tantrums in Half!

 

Do I have your attention?  Good, because to achieve this amazing feat you will need to learn some new techniques, and understand your toddler’s perspective more clearly.  Take a look at two of my popular posts on toddler behavior, then practice a bit until your new communication skills shine.  The posts that will teach you some new ways of responding are Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  and  Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing.  They give you easy strategies to use two of the best Happiest Toddler on the Block techniques.  These moves build listening skills and enhance cooperation in little people who are prone to big reactions.  Tantrums happen less often when toddlers feel heard and feel powerful.  You still are the parent.  Set limits and create consequences, but start here to get your toddler calm first.

Why change yourself in order to change your toddler?  Because they are waiting for you to show them how to behave, and waiting for you to reward them for their great progress.  You are teaching them skills, and so you have to model them.  Trust me, this isn’t that hard to learn.  Once you see a potential tantrum dissipate into the air, you will want to practice these techniques all the time!

You need to know a few things about the toddler mind.  It isn’t the same as the kindergartner mind, and certainly not the elementary school mind.  It’s an immature brain, running on very little frontal lobe power and a lot of amygdala and hippocampus use, all in a frenzy.  Add sugar, some taunting from an older brother, shake gently, and watch the “fun” erupt!  But that is life, so accept that your toddler is who he is, and teach him some skills to manage his reactions.

I will mention that these techniques will come in handy in about 10 years, when you have an emotional teen standing in front of you!

Here are some highlights that you should know about the toddler mind while you practice:

  • They haven’t mastered language, so talking more isn’t helpful.  Pare down the amount of words you use, and use more expressions/ gestures to express yourself.
  • They always react emotionally, not logically.  Your responses have to acknowledge their feelings, rational or not, or you are going to increase tantrums, not stop them.
  • Brains grow slowly, like trees.  Don’t expect that success once or twice means you can stop using these techniques.

Yes, I am really promising you an actual 50% reduction in tantrums .  Maybe not today, since it does take some time to become really good at the Fast Food Rule and Patience Stretching.  And maybe not when you are in the nightmare trifecta of a very tired child who is also feeling ill and is changing schools or caregivers.  That is a super-stressed child!  All bets are off then, but I think you will be able to diminish even these tantrums.  But all those other tantrums over broken cookies and not being allowed to stand on the table?  The Happiest Toddler methods can help you stop those before they even start.

The other great Happiest Toddler on the Block techniques such as Gossiping and Playing the Boob ( Dr. Karp, I wish you would rename that one!) support a warm and loving relationship with your toddler, and they will give you another 10-15% reduction in tantrum severity, depending on how much your toddler needs a more positive connection with you right now.  But just these two techniques from Dr. Harvey Karp will give you more smiles and less whining, all day long!

Low Tone and Toilet Training: Parents And Children Need To Work Together

This one is simple to explain, but not so easy to achieve with some kids.  Children whose interactional pattern is defiance or whining are going to be much harder to train, regardless of whether or not they have significant issues with low muscle tone.  In fact,  I would rather coach a very physically unstable but cooperative child than a toddler with mildly low tone but a firm commitment to resist any adult request.   If both parties aren’t able to work together, things may not go well.  At all.

Toddlers and preschoolers are known for their tendency to love the word “no”.  Did you know that, developmentally, the high-water mark for hysteria and the reflexive “no” is between 18 and 24 months?  Yup, that’s when language skills haven’t emerged to support expressing feelings and comprehending adult reasons. It is when emotional fuses are neurologically short, as in that forebrain is still sooo immature.   They really can’t handle their emotions at all on a brain level.  They have just left that sweet-baby phase where they want to please you more than anything, and they can’t be quite as easily distracted from bad behavior now.  This is a generalization, and there are some parents reading this that are thinking “We never got that lovely baby phase.  He went from crabby infant to bossy toddler!”  Well, I sympathize,  and I still invite you to read on.  All is not lost.  As language, emotional and reasoning skills slowly grow, a child who still falls apart easily and rages constantly isn’t always at the mercy of neurology as much as not having some basic coping skills.  It’s time to work on them before you jump into potty training.

Toddlerhood is long, all the way up to 5 years-old, and I won’t minimize the tantrums and agitation that can emerge.  This extended path to greater maturity is why I bought, devoured and constantly use The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp’s great book on building toddler coping skills. Half of the benefit is learning to both listen to and talk to toddlers in a way that calms things down.  I could not do my work as a pediatric occupational therapist with as much joy and enthusiasm as I have without these strategies.  Thanks, Dr. Karp!

For parents of children with language, communication or cognitive issues that result in developmental delays, your child may be 4 years-old but their other skills that are closer to 18 months old.  You can still toilet train.  Has your child been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum?  You can still train them.  Really.  The process may take longer and you may have to be both very creative and very consistent, but it can be done.  Job #1 is still the same: building a cooperative and warm relationship.

If your days are defined by defiance and whining, you need to learn all of the Happiest Toddler techniques that reduce frustration, including Patience Stretching and the Fast Food Rule.  Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! You need to use “time-ins” for shared fun and warmth without a goal in mind.  You could try some of the more language-based techniques such as Give It In Fantasy and Gossiping.  And of course, you need to look at your approach to setting limits. All that love is great, but if your child knows that there are no consequences to breaking family rules or aggression,  your plan is in trouble.  Dr. Karp’s techniques aren’t intended to be a toilet training plan, but they set the stage for learning and independence.  Those are the ultimate goals of toilet training!

If you would like a more detailed or more personal level of support, visit my website tranquil babies  and purchase a consultation (in the NY metro area) or a phone/video consult!

 

How Young Can You Teach The Skills That Develop Grit?

I love the concept of “grit”, probably because I see it in so many of the special needs kids that I treat.  Meeting major challenges of living either crushes you or makes you stronger.  Researcher and author Angela Duckworth has championed the study of grit, and schools are even adjusting their teaching curricula to try to encourage a combination of perseverance and conscientiousness.  As an occupational therapist, there is nothing like the triumphant grin from a child that accomplished something difficult through their perseverance, patience and focus.  But how early can you see grit, and how early can you support the development of grit in children that do not seem to have it naturally?

I think grit is present earlier than the kindergarten stage, but it has to be viewed through a lens that corresponds to an earlier developmental stage than originally thought.  The famous “marshmallow test” study by Walter Mischel in the 60’s looked at 4-to-6 year-olds.  Spoiler Alert:  the kids that could use suggested strategies or come up with their own to avoid eating a marshmallow while alone for 15 minutes (in order to be rewarded with a second one) had better self-control later in life.  They got better grades as a group, completed more advanced educational levels, were more financially successful, and had fewer relationship and workplace difficulties.

One of the general conclusions of professionals since then has been that you really don’t see that kind of ability in kids younger than those in that original study.  I believe that they haven’t recognized the earliest stirrings of grit.  Just like a flower and it’s bud, it doesn’t look the same as full-blown grit.  Being able to avoid eating the marshmallow until the examiner gets back isn’t the appropriate test for grit in a 2 year-old.  Being able to wait for even a minute or two for goldfish crackers might be.  So would calmly picking up toys before bedtime.

Toddlers who have mastered Patience Stretching, Dr. Harvey Karp’s simple method for building patience in children as young as 12 months old, are showing some grit. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  I also think that kids that have learned alternative expressions of emotion instead of resorting to defiance have sown seeds for grit.   Kind ignoring, in which defiance and negative attention-seeking is responded to with a brief withdrawal of interaction only, makes it more likely for toddlers and preschoolers to generate positive strategies for attention.  Toddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring  Using those methods requires them to have more focused attention than throwing a fit.

Grit alone is not going to guarantee a happy and successful life.  But grit can support kids when life throws them a curve ball.  Dr. Karp didn’t create The Happiest Toddler techniques to develop grit, but I think it can help create a solid foundation for it to flourish!

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!

 

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.

 

 

Defiant Kids Can Change With Dr. Kazdin’s Simple Plans

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Dr. Alan Kazdin wrote “The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child” in 2008. His follow-up book, “The Everyday Parent Toolkit” came later.   He is the director of the Yale Parenting Center, and he has seen some hardcore kids.  You do not get the feeling that he has treated a lot of children younger than 2, and based on the techniques he uses, it seems like a child would need more cognition and language than a young toddler to respond well without adaptations.   Not a problem: Dr. Karp created the Happiest Toddler on the Block, and he has done a great job dealing with defiant 18-month-olds.   Read Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead) and  Toddler Demands? Give it in Fantasy! for some good strategies that work.  if you r preschool child has already lobbed some hateful statements at you, read What To Say When Your Child Says “I Hate You!” .  But if your kindergartener refuses to go to bed or your teenager won’t do her homework, this Kazdin guy has really helpful ideas for you!

Dr. Alan Kazdin’s books can change the dynamic for families that feel their life is one battle after another.  If you have embraced the idea that you can target defiance through behavioral science, then he is already preaching to your choir. If not, you might be wary. The funny thing is, when you are using the program, it doesn’t feel that much like science.  You feel like you are connecting with your child’s better nature.  He has crafted strategies that really work.  The biggest drawback is that if you make too many beginner mistakes it will seem as if it is never going to work.  I recommend that parents actually read the books and understand the principles he is using to change a child’s behavior.  This is one of those techniques that you can’t learn in a 900-word article in a magazine.  You might be inspired in a short article, but you won’t learn enough to “take it on the road” and really use it.

Bonus:  understanding a child’s behavior helps us understand the impact of rewards and consequences on our bosses, our mates and on ourselves!

I liked his first book, but I don’t think it took off in parenting circles.   I am going to guess that his first book was a little intimidating for some parents, as it does a very thorough job of explaining how behavioral plans work.  Not every parent wants to think of their star chart in terms like “positive reinforcers” and letting go of the chart as “extinction of reinforcers with intermittent rewards”.  His second book, “The Everyday Parent Toolkit” is a little more user-friendly, but still gets his message across.  The truth is that all of our interactions can be viewed through a behavioral lens.  When a child is refusing to do their homework, telling you that you are the worst parent ever, and then breaking the lamp, it might be time to explore a strategy that takes out some of the drama and focuses on how you really want your evening to go.

Dr. Kazdin is very focused on positive interactions and warm exchanges. He is aware that adult stressors make reacting calmly to a screaming child harder, and screaming children create stress for adults.  He has sympathy for everyone, but sees parents as the agent of change in this situation.  He is like the white-coated scientist with a “Mr. Rogers” sweater on underneath!

My suggestion:  read both books and think about how to start out small.  Attack a small problem behavior first, then refine your approach as you address some of the bigger defiant behaviors.  And consider reading “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” if your child has a cognitive age of less than 6.  Many of those techniques will be even easier to implement and work very well to smooth out the waters so that Kazdin’s techniques work better and faster!

Not sure you want to do this alone?  Visit my website tranquil babies and purchase a consultation session.  I do phone sessions with parents to help them craft a plan and provide support along the way.  Being able to ask questions and tell your story can make such a difference in how you see your child and yourself!

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Transition Your Toddler Without Tears

Transitioning is a huge concern for parents and educators of toddlers, both for the typically developing and special needs kids.  Struggling to get their child to leave the playground, come to the dinner table, or enter/leave the tub are very high priority concerns for a lot of the parents I meet as an occupational therapist.  Educators and therapists refer to these struggles as difficulties with transitioning.  Dr. Harvey Karp’s fabulous Happiest Toddler on the Block program has a unique perspective on the experience of transitioning, and some equally unique strategies.

Toddlers’ brains aren’t wired to switch focus quickly once they are fully engaged in something, especially something that they enjoy.  They have no real sense of time, so saying that you need time to run to the store or library has no meaning to them.  There is always more time in toddler land.  Toddlers with spirited temperaments may see 5 trucks in the sandbox, and decide that they will be playing with all of them.  Leaving after only playing with 3 is going to seem like leaving before the main course is served; he’s been cheated!  Sometimes imagining having fun at home while at the playground is impossible for the concrete toddler brain; toddlers need an actual toy in your hand that is his “transition object” to hold while leaving the playground and getting into the car.

One of the most common transitioning techniques suggested in behavior management books is to give 5-minute and 1-minute warnings.  This can work well with an easy child with good language skills, a child who simply needs a bit of advance notice.  If your child really struggles with ending something fun and moving on, this suggestion is often pointless advice.  Your child still cries.  Sometimes they cry more because they don’t understand that you are giving a warning, not making an announcement of immediate departure.  Sometimes they cry because they feel the need to protest what is clearly your choice, not theirs.  They haven’t been consulted.

The Happiest Toddler techniques of “win-win compromise”, “kind ignoring”, “toddler-ese communication”  and “The Fast Food Rule” can really help you here.  Announce firmly and warmly that you will be leaving the playground soon.  Ask if your child wants to leave in one minute or two minutes.  If your child isn’t capable of understanding that two is more than one, you need a different approach.  That could be ” Go now or more play?”.  Your child may respond “more!!!” and keep digging in the sandbox.  Your response is something like “OK, you win! A teeny tiny bit more play then home”.  This may be enough communication and negotiation for your child; he can comprehend that you know he wants to stay.

If you can, start clearing away all the fun toys, maybe putting them in a box or behind you.  Your child will see less fun available and see you cleaning up.  All these are signals that the fun is ending and that you mean business.  If you receive a bit of whining or throwing of a toy in protest, rephrase your original statement, “teeny bit more play then home” and even use a little of the kind ignoring technique (where you briefly don’t make eye contact and turn slightly away from the protestor while you tidy up).  You aren’t rejecting him, but you are sending the message that minor defiance is not impressing you or changing your mind.

If whining or tantrums begin after you announce that it is time to leave, you can pull out the Fast Food Rule.  Remember, from my January 2015 blog post on Tantrums and Sympathetic Reframing?  The biggest problem with using the 1 and 5-minute warning technique with temperamental toddlers is that it presents a plan to your rigid or touchy toddler before laying the communication groundwork.  Such a child might even complain or explode a bit more with those warnings, because laying out a plan before acknowledging his point of view seems like being mis-understood and dis-respected!   Telling him how much fun he will have at home, how tired you are of all this whining, how he did everything he likes already, or threatening consequences isn’t going to work until your child is certain that you know what he wants.  Which is to stay at the sandbox!!

To use the Fast Food Rule here, you are going to use the toddler-ese language format of short phrases, repetition, and reflect 1/3rd of his emotional tone/gestures/facial expressions .  Tell him what you think he is saying to you by repeating:  “you say “No GO, stay and PLAY!!!”a few times.   Your child will probably make some eye contact, maybe even stop crying and nod.  He gets it that YOU get it.  You are not agreeing with him, just confirming his message.  Now you can commiserate, offer that transition toy, remind him what fun comes next, etc.  This can dial down or eliminate a tantrum in most cases.  Better yet, it teaches a bit of negotiation, mutual respect, and uses emotional warmth, firm limits and understanding of the language and emotional needs of toddlers.

When won’t it work like a charm?  Complete over-exhaustion, hunger, illness, or a major life change like a new sibling.  Sometimes toddlers are at the ends of their ropes too.  But the garden-variety whining and dawdling can be completely evaporated by this approach, and many erupting tantrums can be nipped before they get going.

If you think this is way more work than just dragging a screaming child to the car, try this.  Close your eyes and imagine the draining feeling inside you as you fight him into the carseat and dodge the sandy sneakers being thrown at your head.  Everybody loses, everybody feels oppressed.  Some toddlers can bring this fight into the house and not even nap, totally disrupting the rest of the day and the night.  Just envisioning this scenario may make you motivated to try this new strategy.

It takes a long time for the toddler brain to become good at advance warnings, shift emotional and attentional gears, and communicate well.  Using the Happiest Toddler techniques can build those skills and get you out of the playground faster and with fewer tears!

Children with Autism Stop Screaming When You Use The Fast Food Rule to Communicate

Children on the spectrum who scream instead of “using their words” are often perceived as manipulative, on sensory overload, or incapable of better behavior until they learn more language.  Try using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule and watch your screaming toddler miraculously find his words.  In minutes… or less.

This isn’t a guarantee, but it really can work that fast if your child has learned that when frustrated, his best approach is to scream until he gets what he wants.  The “scream-’til-I-triumph” phenomenon happens to typically-developing toddlers too.  Anyone learning language, frustration tolerance, social skills, and emotional state control at a the same time is bound to go there.  Special needs toddlers and preschoolers just stay in that situation longer than a typically-developing child, and they can scream louder and longer and in more situations.  It can become their go-to strategy.  They have a harder time understanding your non-verbal cues that indicate your attention and appreciation for their distress.  Reading social cues is often nearly impossible for them when calm.  It is almost impossible for them when upset.  Children on the spectrum or with multiple developmental delays can benefit from using the Fast Food Rule during stressful times for years and years after toddlerhood has officially ended.

My March 2015 post “Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing” reviews Dr. Harvey Karp’s fabulous Fast Food Rule from his Happiest Toddler on the Block book/DVD.  Take a look at that post Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing for an example of how to navigate the screams, how to deal with your emotions about being screamed at by your child, and what it looks like to implement it in real life.  Dr. Karp did not develop his approach for children with ASD, but it sure works extremely well for all that screaming.

Adaptations that you might have to make to use it effectively with developmentally-different kids:  use it very consistently, repeat the experience frequently until your response is familiar to them, and remember that sometimes the screams are real distress based on sensory, language or habitual behaviors that they use to self-calm.  Respect their comfort level with direct gaze, sound and touch as you interact while using this approach.  That means that you may have to avoid as much eye contact and perhaps not touch them while using the Fast Food Rule.  You may also have to dial your communication down to a level that is much, much lower than their chronological age or even lower than their usual receptive language level (what they can understand, not how they speak) when they are this upset.  Kids with ASD sometimes live on the edge all the time.  They need fewer words and more gestures/facial expressions to follow what is going on when times are good.  When angry or frustrated, they need even more non-verbal communication and more targeted short verbal communication so that they can follow what you say.

Children with ASD can definitely benefit from The Fast Food Rule and all of Dr. Karp’s other great Happiest Toddler tools for communication and self-control. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  A diagnosis of ASD usually includes some type of sensory processing difficulty and frequently issues with rigidity/routines.  Kids who scream can be experiencing sensory aversion/sensitivity, become overwhelmed by multi sensory input, and will need your help to parse out all the reasons that they are upset.   Carefully watching your child’s build-up to a scream will tell you if you also need to make changes to the sensory environment or give him assistance with transitions in addition to changing your communication style.

Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing

 

nandhu-kumar-8fnQoR-2xv4-unsplashThe 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.

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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.

Autism and the Happiest Toddler Approach: Why Does It Work?

All children on the autism spectrum have two things in common:  they have difficulty with communication and less social skills than would be expected for their age.  Many, but not all, children with ASD struggle with sensory processing.  The level of struggle is so unique that these kids look very different from one another most of the time.  But when they get frustrated, they all can break down into aggression, avoidance and tantrums that last and last.  I recently attended a professional training where the presenter remarked that those meltdowns were not only a sign of autism but inevitable, and “you just let the child have his tantrum”.   I think that abandons the child when he needs the most support, but is the least available for traditional talk-based or token strategies.  I have also spoken with behavioral-managment clinicians who go straight through to a time-out warning when a child begins to resist or complain.

So why does The Happiest Toddler (THT) strategy work well for children on the ASD spectrum?

At first glance, it seems that it would be less successful than standard behavioral approaches, as it relies on reflecting back feelings and supporting social and self-control skills.  Initiating and sustaining direct verbal give-and-take is often the greatest limitation of these children.  Kids on the spectrum really benefit from the emphasis on non-verbal messages, the repetition, and the indirect teaching that occurs using Dr. Karp’s techniques.  The adult matches the child’s language level at the time of the tantrum, and social interaction matches a child’s skill level as well.  If a child with ASD is able to function above an 18-month level, at any chronological age, then this approach can be very effective in helping him achieve a calmer state and learn self-control skills.

I modify the program to assume that a child will need more opportunities to practice and fewer distractions to use techniques such as Gossiping and Patience-stretching. My target level of repetition, voice volume and language complexity may have to be very fine-tuned for each child.  I may need to select words that he commonly uses, or words that have previously shown a positive response.  I will strive for consistency in my delivery once I have created a plan, and accept that generalization of using THT (expanding this to other situations, or even to the parents and nannies) is going to take longer.

This strategy works more effectively with a “floor-time” model than with an ABA model, but it can be used with any program.  The definitive measure of whether this approach will work is the willingness of adults to adapt their response to a child’s unique emotional and communication needs.

Take a look at the technique demonstrated on a “Good Morning America” segment to give you an idea of what it looks like in action. http://youtu.be/lrxBKvV1p-A