Tag Archives: parenting

What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers

myung-won-seo-675403-unsplashI can’t take it any longer.  If I hear one more professional on YouTube say that the difficulties begin when your child enters school, I am gonna cry.  Real tears.  For those younger kids.  And their parents.

CNN just ran a story in which a psychologist suggested not telling kids that they are “that special”.  To help them feel more like other kids.  Well, I can tell you straight up that a child who feels empathy for the rocks and the kids in far-off countries, or who cannot tolerate the intense lighting or sounds in his classroom, is WAITING to understand why this is happening.  Knowing that it is commonly a part of being gifted would be a relief, not a burden.  But this professional might not know the range of experiences that giftedness brings, only the scores on the test.

Ask a parent of a gifted toddler how easy their life is, or how easy their child’s life is, and you will very often hear a tale of frustration and sometimes even exhaustion.  The life of a super-quick mind at 1 and 2 isn’t all charming enrichment activities at the zoo and the museum.  Sure, it isn’t as difficult as when they are 7 and have no friends to discuss paleontology with, or no one to play soccer with at 5 because their skills so exceed everyone else, but it is still not that easy.

Here are a few situations that make raising (and being) a very young gifted child a struggle that can be misinterpreted as temperament or developmental issues:

  1. Gifted development is often extremely asynchronous at this age.  Translation: “all over the place”.  Gifted toddlers can be delayed in their motor skills and hugely advanced in their reasoning or language skills. Or the other way around. They can have sensory sensitivities that create tolerance issues to tags, lights, noise and more.  Either way, it can be hard to be in a body that doesn’t match your mind.  And hard to raise a child with asynchronous development.  A child’s seemingly never-ending frustration about what they can’t accomplish and their strong skills that cannot be acted on make things tough at home and school.  For example, a child that can read chapter books at 2.5 into the night, but needs to sleep for 10 hours so they aren’t angry and exhausted tomorrow is going to give you a real argument.  Like a Supreme Court-level argument.  Again and again, night after night.  Gifted toddlers often like circle time because they get to answer questions, but they might refuse to participate in activities that they find boring.  They are seen as oppositional or even assumed to be unable to participate, when if fact they find sticking cotton balls on paper silly.
  2. Toys for typical young children anticipate normal, evenly displayed development.  This means that the knobs on microscopes and the gears on building toys aren’t made for the toddler who can conceive of an amazing building.  The toys they want aren’t great for them and they toys they can manage are not exciting.  Unless….they take them apart or melt them down to make something else. OOPS!
  3. Very young gifted children who are supposed to be developing social skills like sharing and cooperating are distinctly not motivated to do so with peers that are still non-verbal or have limited imaginative abilities.   If they have access to older kids, they may be thrilled to have playmates a few years ahead of them, but if they don’t, they are more likely to avoid their peers.  Parents are tasked with finding children that their gifted toddler can enjoy in play, and handle the questions from other parents about why their child simply “doesn’t like playing with my kid?  That is beyond awkward.  It sounds like boasting to a lot of people, but when your child is bored with his peers, it’s a real social problem for everybody!
  4. Parents find the high energy level and interactional demands exhausting.  Not all young gifted kids are like the Sheldon Cooper character on Big Bang Theory.  Lots of gifted toddlers love to ask questions and discuss things, love to be active all day long.  They aren’t old enough to roam the web or go to the library.  They want your attention.  Short naps and even short sleep cycles without any fatigue or behavior problems are one way to spot a gifted toddler.  Those brains don’t always need as much sleep as typically developing kids.  That means a lot more demands on parents and caregivers.  If you have been dogged all day by a toddler that won’t let go of a discussion, you might wish (a bit) that your kid wasn’t so S-M-A-R-T!

Why don’t psychologists seem to get this?  I am going to go out on a limb and say that unless they have raised their own gifted kids, they don’t interact with very young gifted kids in their clinics or research facilities.  Until they can formally test them, they aren’t on the radar of these professionals.  But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Out here in the real world, I treat about 3 toddlers that appear to be highly gifted each year.  And I see what struggles they and their families go through.

 

Read more about gifted children and the challenges of being gifted in How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!) and How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen.

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Parents With Disabilities Need The Happiest Toddler on the Block Techniques

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I usually write about children with disabilities, but today’s post is about parents with challenges.  As an occupational therapist that sees children in their homes through the Early Intervention program, I meet all kinds of parents.  This includes parents with disabilities of their own.  Some parents have vision or hearing issues, some have orthopedic issues (try lifting a toddler all day with a bad back!}), and some have emotional or cognitive issues.  I have worked with parents with addictions and parents that were intellectually challenged.  I may have seen it all, with the exception of parents in wheelchairs and parents that are deaf.  But my career isn’t over yet; there is still time.

They all have had one thing in common:  parenting small children is even harder when you have a disability.  Not impossible, and no reason to think that they cannot do a good or even a great job.  But it is definitely harder to raise children when you have a disability.  Small children are demanding, in a 24/7, self-centered manner.  That is normal, that is the natural state of a young child.  It doesn’t make it any easier.  There are no coffee breaks, there is no weekend off.  Not unless you have willing relatives or friends that will come over or take care of them in their own homes.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block techniques are methods to teach children self-regulating skills and strategies to help children learn to communicate their needs and feelings without aggression or defiance.  They don’t require an advanced degree, and they could save you from going to a therapist yourself, just to complete a sentence that doesn’t start with “For goodness sake,….!”

Parents with disabilities often think that what they need most are the skills or the capacity that they lack.  And I am not going to tell you that being able to see well, hear well, move easily or have boundless energy wouldn’t be a good thing.  But if a child is able to calm down, wait for a snack or a toy, follow directions and even assist the parent in accomplishing something, life gets so, so much better.  Just the removal of stress from tantrums and whining makes everyone’s life better.  You are able to focus and work out how to get things done and feel good about yourself as a parent.  Children that can self-regulate are better able to handle the frustrations of life, and better able to empathize with others.

If you are a parent with a disability, or you know such a parent, please share this post with them.  Tell them to read Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead) , Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child for some useful strategies that start turning things around right away.

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Picking The Best Trikes, Scooters, Etc. For Kids With Low Tone and Hypermobility

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Welcome to the world of faster (and faster) movement!  After mastering walking and possibly even running, older toddlers and preschoolers are often eager to jump on a ride-on toy and get moving.  If a child has had motor delays and has had to wait to develop the strength and balance needed to use a trike or another ride-on toy, they may be a bit afraid or they may throw caution to the wind and try it all as soon as possible!

Selecting the best equipment for kids that have low tone or hypermobility doesn’t end with picking a color or a branded character ( Thanks, Frozen, for bringing up my Disney stock almost single-handedly!).  In order to find the right choice for your child, here are some simple guidelines that could make things both easier and safer:

  1. Fit matters. A lot.  Hypermobile children are by definition more flexible than their peers.  They stretch.  This doesn’t mean that they should be encouraged to use pedals so far away from their bodies that their legs are fully extended, or use handlebars that reach their chins.  In general, muscles have their greatest strength and joints have their greatest stability and control in mid-range.  Fit the device to the child, not the other way ’round. Choose equipment that fits them well now,  while they are learning, and ideally it can be adjusted as they grow.
  2. Seats, pedals and handlebars that have some texture and even some padding give your child more sensory information for control and safety.  These features provide more tactile and proprioceptive information about grip, body positions and body movements.  You may be able to find equipment with these features, or you can go the aftermarket route and do it yourself.  A quick hack would be using electrical tape for some extra texture and to secure padding.  Some equipment can handle mix-and-match additions as well.  Explore your local shops for expert advice (and shop local to support your local merchants in town!)
  3. Maintain your child’s equipment, and replace it when it no longer fits them or works well.  Although it is more affordable to receive second-hand items or pass things down through the family, hypermobile kids often find that when ball bearings or wheels wear down, the extra effort required to use a device makes it harder to have fun.  The additional effort can create fatigue, disinterest in using the equipment, or awkward/asymmetrical patterns of movement that aren’t ergonomically sound.  Repair or replace either than force your child to work harder or move poorly.

Looking for more information about low tone and hypermobility?  Read The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem and How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children.  My new e-book on living and thriving with hypermobility is coming soon on Amazon.com!

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Is Compulsive Gaming A Disorder…Or A Symptom?

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The WHO has recently classified compulsive gaming a mental illness.  I am not so sure.  What I do believe is that doing anything compulsively is a big problem for developing brains.  Is your child heading in the direction of using gaming or web surfing to deal with issues such as social anxiety or poor executive function skills?  Here is what you should be thinking about when you see your young child screaming because you have unplugged them from their tablet (or your phone, or your tablet):

  1. Have you (unintentionally) modeled this behavior for them?  I  don’t know any adult that isn’t tethered to their phone.  Whether for business or to keep track of where their spouse or children are/what they are doing, most of us have a phone that we look at repeatedly all day long.  When you are with your family, think carefully about how important it is to model the opposite and put it down as quickly as possible.  In effect, you are saying “You are more important to me than this device”.
  2. Be clear about what you are doing when you put down the phone in their presence and why.  In the spirit of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, which my readers know I adore, young children need to hear and see you explaining why you are doing what you do.  They don’t assume things the way we do.  Really.  The older they get, the more it appears that they are ignoring you, but don’t you believe it.  Parents are and always will be the most powerful models in a child’s life.  Forever.  Your teen may roll her eyes, but they are still open, and she is watching you.  So tell your child that you want to focus on them, and your phone is a distraction and you can always look at it later.  You want to be with them and pay attention to them.  I know this sounds a bit weird, even awkward and preach-y.  It isn’t if you do it with warmth and confidence.  Find your own wording, but the message is the same: I care more about you than I do about data.
  3. Look around.  Are your child’s activities, toys and games unsatisfying?  Don’t count the toys, look at them and what they offer your unique child.  An artsy child may need new paints, clay, yarn, etc.  A reader may need to go to the library or get a new book series.  Not a digital copy.  A young scientist might need a kit or a microscope.  A social kid may need more playdates or a creative class like cooking.  Their interests and needs may have changed since the last birthday or holiday.  If you want them to play instead of look at a screen, they need things that excite and inspire them, or the digital world will fill in the blanks.
  4. Does your child need help in building skills?  Shy kids, kids with ASD, or kids that don’t make friends easily can find the less-demanding digital world much easier to navigate.  Siblings sit quietly side-by-side, not fighting but also not learning how to solve interpersonal issues.  This isn’t preparing them to go out there and succeed.  The earlier you realize that your child is struggling, the faster you can stop bad habits and prevent rigid behaviors.
  5. I read a challenging piece this week on the origins of addiction to porn that might change your mind on dealing with gaming and digital devices.  The author’s suggestion was that early experiences have impressive power to wire the brain, to the diminishment of alternative methods of engagement and interaction.  I know, not exactly what you would expect me to discuss on my site.  But the problems of finding easy satisfaction through a non-challenging (and solitary) source of excitement fits this post.  Once a behavior is hard-wired into the brain’s system, it is going to be really difficult to change.   Not impossible, but really, really difficult.
  6. Should you ban all media?  You could, but you would be denying the reality that the world they live in is heavily digital.  I tell parents of the kids I treat that I use my tablet in sessions to teach kids that this is just one activity or toy, in the same way that I will eat cookies but not to the exclusion of everything else.  Putting the phone or the tablet away isn’t the end of the world, and using it is not a fabulous reward.

Looking for more on using technology with intent?  Read Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus .  To help kids engage and learn social and emotional skills, read Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule.  Yes, it really works!

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Career Planning for Teens with JRA, EDS, and Other Chronic Health Issues

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It is graduation time here in the U.S.  Kids (and parents) are thinking about the future.  But when your teen has chronic health conditions, the future can be uncertain and the decisions more complicated.  I know that the saying “Do what you love and you won’t have to work another day of your life” is very popular, but the truth is that career planning is much more than finding your passions.

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Every teen needs to learn about their interests and their skills.  Regardless of medical concerns or limitations, picking a career path that doesn’t match any strong interests is a plan almost certain to fail.  It’s not just that doing what you are drawn to feels good.  There is a medical reason to pick a career that they don’t hate;  if the greatest part of the day or week will require them to do tasks they dislike or find boring, they are at risk for stress-related flares in their condition. Similar concerns exist when a career choice doesn’t match their skills.  Loving what you do but not having the right skills or talents is very frustrating.  It could be harder to get and keep a job without good skills.  Help your teen identify what interests them about life and school, and where they truly shine.  If your teen hasn’t had a chance to observe people working in the profession(s) they find interesting, make sure that they do so before they invest time and money in training.
  2. Look at potential careers with an eye to benefits, job demands and scheduling flexibility.  Most adults with chronic health conditions want to be employed, and every one of them will need health insurance.  In the U.S., that means finding a job that provides insurance or purchasing individual coverage after aging out of family policy coverage options at age 26.  Generous sick days and personal days are perks every employee desires, but for people with a chronic illness, those benefits allow for medical treatments and rest during periods of symptom flares.  The NYT has written about the fact that insurance isn’t total assurance that chronic illness won’t create major stress ,but insurance is essential.  Think carefully about the working environments common to a particular career path.  Some careers will have a high-stress pathway (i.e. trial attorney) but also less demanding types of work within the profession.  Other careers require a high degree of physical stamina and skill.  These may not be the jobs you would think of right away as physically demanding.  For example, preschool teachers and hairdressers are on their feet most of the day, every day!
  3. Career planning and completing required training while living with a chronic and possibly progressive condition may require outside support.  Teens that have been able to perform in high school without any compensations such as 504 plans may need more help in college.  Higher education often expects more independence and more mobility (think large campuses and internships) from students.  Most universities have an office for disabled students. Their staff will work with students with disabilities to create a plan, but it is the student’s responsibility to inform the office of specific needs and to develop strategies with the staff and faculty.  If your teen doesn’t want to be “identified” as disabled, this is the time to talk about being proactive and positive.  Finding assistance and receiving effective support could make all the difference.
  4. Explore local and online support groups.   Adults with your teen’s medical issues may have useful strategies or tales of caution that will help you develop a plan or expose problems that you haven’t anticipated.  Remember that personal stories are just that: personal.  Experiences are quite variable and it is difficult or impossible to  predict another person’s path.

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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!

Low Tone and Toilet Training: What You Can Learn From Elimination Communication Theory

Yes, those folks who hold a 6 month-old over the toilet and let her defecate directly into the potty, not into a Pamper.  Elimination Communication (EC) has committed fans, as well as people who think it is both useless and even punishing to kids.  I am not taking sides here, but there is one thing that should get even the skeptics thinking:  a large portion of the developing world deals with babies and elimination this way.  It is very hard to buy a disposable diaper in Nepal, and it is a problem finding water to wash cloth diapers in the Sahara.  I know there are a bunch of parents who roll their eyes whenever EC comes up, but some aspects of the process could help you train your child to use the toilet.  Why not consider what you could learn from EC that will help your child?

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First, parents who practice EC become very very good at anticipating when their kids are going to need the toilet.  Signs such as grunting, flexing the trunk forward, even facial expressions are quickly noted.  If you spend a lot of time watching your child then you probably know some of the signs.  This makes it easier to tell them to sit on the potty when their attempts will actually be successful.  You can also help them connect the physical feelings they are reacting to with language.  Telling them that when they get that feeling in their belly, they need to go use the toilet sounds so obvious to us.  But if you are little, you need help connecting the dots.  If you are little and have learning issues, you need to hear it more often and stated clearly.

Secondly, EC counts on knowing that reflexive intestinal movement happens about 30 minutes after food enters the stomach, and kidneys dump urine into the bladder about 30-45 minutes after a big drink.  Unless your child has digestive issues, this is a good start to create your initial potty schedule plan.  Kids with constipation or slow stomach emptying may take longer, but you already know that you have to work on those issues as well to be successful in toilet training.  Remember, if your child is roaming the house with a sippy cup, it is going to be a lot harder to time a pee break so that they have a full bladder (remember the issue with poor proprioception of pressure in low tone?).  If not, check out  Why Low Muscle Tone Creates More Toilet Training Struggles for Toddlers (and Parents!)  Toilet training is a good time to limit drinking to larger amounts at meals and snacks.  This will work for preschool preparation as well.  Most programs would not allow your child to wander with a cup for hygiene reasons, and you are helping them get off the “sippy cup syndrome”, in which children trade bottle chewing for sippy cup slurping.

Think that embracing EC fully will fast-track your kid?  Not necessarily.  In fact, some EC kids struggle to become more separated from a parent as they are not cradled any longer while “making”.  Taking responsibility for their own hygiene and awareness can be harder for some very attached children than if they were using diapers and used them independently.  But EC concepts are something to think about carefully when you are making your plan to help your child with low muscle tone.