Tag Archives: happiest toddler on the block

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!

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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.

 

 

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.