Tag Archives: happiest toddler on the block

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!

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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.  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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