Tag Archives: happiest toddler on the block

Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fast Food Rule is just step one.

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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

Tantrum Taming With Special Needs Toddlers

Toddler tantrums are difficult to handle in the first place. The screaming, throwing and hitting can come as a wave of emotion that overwhelms and frightens both the child and the parent. When you have a toddler that may be emotionally age-appropriate but has difficulty expressing thoughts or understanding language, and add trouble handling sensory information, and you have a real problem. These children need our best efforts to help them navigate these waters.

Some special needs children remain at the toddler stage beyond the 18-4 year range. Those children are especially prone to explosions, as some of their abilities race ahead of skill acquisition (language, movement, self-calming) that would help them cope with emotional turmoil.

If you cannot reason with a special needs child who is having a tantrum, what can you do? Although he did not create his techniques for this population, Dr. Harvey Karp’s toddler communication techniques have been very effective for me in my work. He emphasizes gestures/facial expression and use repeated short phrases. Solving the cause of the tantrum comes AFTER acknowledging the child’s feelings. I will not say that every tantrum has evaporated, but I have seen simply amazing results.

The hardest part for me was that his primary technique requires me to sound, well, like a toddler. Communicating with a child in such a simple, primitive way took some practice. But looking incompetent in front of his parents wasn’t so wonderful either.

Dr. Karp’s book “the Happiest Toddler on the Block” has been revised since I first read it, and the new and improved edition is even more user-friendly. If you parent a special needs child or work with one, it is worth learning this compassionate and effective program.

does this look familiar? read on!

does this look familiar? read on!