Tag Archives: toddler behavior

Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule

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Whining is a “fingernails on a chalkboard” experience for most adults.  We often give in to a whining child, just to avoid hearing that noise.  Or we explode and scare them (and ourselves) with the anger that whining can trigger.  What can you do?

What would you say if I told you that I use a technique that works more than 50% of the time, and it can work in mere seconds to halt a child in mid-whine? Well, read on and let me tell you the secrets that I learned from Dr. Harvey Karp and his Happiest Toddler on the Block book!

I spend more than 75% of my treatment day as an occupational therapist with children under the age of 6.  That can add up to a lot of whining!  Why?  Not because I am inexperienced, or because I am a pushover.  Anyone that knows me knows that neither statement is true.  It’s because young children may be able to talk, but they aren’t very good communicators.  Being able to express their feelings effectively and negotiate their desires is just beyond their pay grade at this age.  Their default is whining.

Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule has made my job so much easier. It makes young children see me as a friend, not just another adult telling them what to do.  This one simple strategy lets kids know that I care about how they feel, but doesn’t suggest that they will get their way with me every time.  In fact, they often find themselves following my directions without fully knowing why they have stopped crying, begging, or pleading with me.

Here is what the FFR entails:

Part 1:  Repeating what you believe is your child’s complaint or desire, using simple words, short phrases and more emotional tone and gestures/facial expression than usual.  You may not know for sure what a very young child wants, but take your best guess.  If you are wrong, you can always give it another try.  The more upset or younger the child, the simpler the wording and the more expressive the tone and gestures.  Why?  Because emotional people don’t hear you well, but they will pick up on your non-verbal cues effectively.  You are trying to convey a simple message:  I understand you.

Part 2:  Only after you see that your child has calmed a bit with the knowledge that they are understood can you then begin to comfort, negotiate, or solve their problem.  Not before. We jump in very early in the interaction to tell them “It’s OK, honey” or “I can’t hear you when you speak to me like that”.  It’s only when they know you have heard THEM that they can listen to YOU.

The importance of being understood by another when you are upset cannot be overstated.  Children need this from us more than we know.  Even young toddlers are aware that they won’t always get what they want, but they need to know that we understand their point of view.  If you do not convey this message, a child will whine, wail or scream to make it clearer to you that they are upset.  That is why telling them that things are fine seems to throw oil on the fire.  They think you don’t get it.

So, help them pull it together by stating their situation (as you perceive it) out loud and using some non-verbal messaging:  I got it.  You want more cookies.  You don’t want to leave the park.  You want Logan’s truck.  Whatever it is, tell them that you understand before you offer a solution, an alternative, or explain why they aren’t getting what they want.  I promise you, it will work more often than it does not, and sometimes it will work so well that you almost cannot believe how simple it was to calm things down.

There is a secret benefit from using the FFR:  your child will gradually become less likely to break out in a whine even when things have gone badly.  After repeated experiences of being understood and treated with respect and firmness, a child will expect that you are the source of solutions instead of a dumping ground for agitation and anger.

 

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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!

 

When Sensory Seeking Becomes Attention Seeking

As an occupational therapist, I see sensory-seeking kids every week who crash, jump, wiggle and hug their way through their days.  If a couch is available, it is either a launching pad or a landing pad.  Adults are for hanging on, landing on, or giving full-body hugs.  Seeking unsafe or inappropriate movement and touch for sensory seeking can be worked on in therapy and with a sensory diet, but there is another aspect of these behaviors that often needs to be addressed.

Once a child recognizes that adults will give him more attention but not meaningful consequences for sensory-based behavior, it can be his choice to use these behaviors to engage with them socially, to divert an adult’s attention from a sibling or a phone call, or to avoid participation in something less desirable, like cleaning up the mess he made earlier that day.

Don’t get me wrong:  many sensory-actions-that-are-really-attention-seeking behaviors start out as a child’s way to calm down and get more proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile input.  Kids can also do the same actions for either reason all in the same day.  Crashing in the morning to calm down, crashing at night because an older sibling is getting all the attention.

All kids like to experiment with how far, how loud and how hard they can move their bodies.  Sensory seekers have greater frequency, variety and endurance of these behaviors, and can look more unstable, unfocused and uncoordinated without some movement input Good Posture: Is it Vestibular or Proprioceptive?.  An example that adults can connect with would be the guy in the meeting who taps his pen on his teeth as he thinks about a solution to a problem.  He isn’t doing it to annoy you (probably); he is getting some sensory input to rev up his system and focus harder.  Really.  Once you can look at his actions through a sensory lens, it’s still annoying behavior, but you know it isn’t a plot to irritate you at work.

How can you tell whether a child is seeking movement input more for communication/behavioral reasons than for sensory satisfaction?  This one is more of an art than a science, but here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Can he ask for attention effectively when you are otherwise occupied?  If your child is great at interrupting you on the phone politely, and expects a consequence for rudeness, but he still demands a full-body hug, then he may really want that deep pressure and not see another source of calming input.  Have you given him clear instruction about how to request deep pressure?  It might be time to clarify it.  Even kids around 2 can say “Big hug please” or sign it to you.
  • Does your child get a reasonable amount of physical play every day?  Small children need to stretch it out and move.  A lot.  Any child that doesn’t get enough movement will seek it out.  It isn’t sensory or behavior; it is satisfaction of a natural physical need.
  • Have you created clear expectations about tasks like cleaning up, and developed methods for going from one activity/location to another?  Self-Regulation in Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: Boost Skills By Creating Routines and Limits  Kids that either don’t want to end a game, don’t want to put toys away, get dressed, or go on to the next event can stall by using fun crashing and jumping instead.  If you have no problem getting them to clean up in order to go out for pizza, then you might have a stalling child, not a sensory seeking one, right now.
  • Is your child more interested in your reaction to his jumping or crashing?  Could you give him deep pressure while talking to someone else, and he is totally fine with that?  Does he ask for deep pressure when he already has your undivided attention, or just when you are on the phone or speaking with his dad?  Sensory seekers primarily want that physical input, and having an audience is secondary.  If a child is more interested in you seeing him launch off the couch and won’t switch to the available outdoor trampoline that he usually craves, it may be because he will be losing your attention once he goes outside.  And that was what he was really seeking.

Teach ASD and Sensory Kids How to Manage Aggression

Little boys as young as 2 use play fighting, crashing, and even pretend killing in their play, without anger or intentional destruction or injury. Is this a very bad thing?   I was challenged this week three separate times to explain why I would initiate physical play that can look aggressive (think crashing cars or our ninja pictures fighting each other) with younger boys that struggle with behavior issues in daily life.  These little boys aren’t good at managing aggressive impulses, at using words to express thoughts, or handling all the excitement that physical play brings out in them.  Their teachers often have to stop all aggressive play at school if the administration has a zero-tolerance policy.  But someone has to help all the little guys figure out how to express their desire to get physical without getting into trouble or injuring someone.

I told the parents of the boys I treat that I want to provide a safe space for them to learn how to express their aggressive tendencies, and to witness an adult modeling how to be physical, have fun, and do it all with respect and affection.  To learn all that, they needed an adult who was not automatically forbidding aggressive physical play.

If I forbid all pushing, grabbing, growling, shouting in fun, then those aggressive behaviors are almost certainly going to come out as defiance and even destructive behaviors that will require a loss of a privilege or even a time out.  Feelings and impulses don’t evaporate.  They go somewhere, and they can go to places that are much less constructive than crashing cars together on a warm spring day.

For little boys who have issues like sensory processing disorder or autism, it is absolutely essential to teach them how to manage aggressive play in order for them to succeed in the wider world.  That is everyone’s goal, to be able to play happily in a mainstreamed environment and without adults controlling the events.  These kids often don’t manage any of their emotions well, becoming overwhelmed very quickly.    They can have difficulty following what other kids are doing once the wilder play gets going.  They can’t stop their actions when another child says “stop” or change to another game.  And they don’t read subtle cues that the game is changing or that their behavior is not appropriate for the current game.

Teaching specific strategies and practicing them with trusted adults can go a long way to building success on the playground.  Pediatric occupational therapists who trained with the amazing occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger and her crew of therapists that pioneered sensory diets know about “play wrestling” for deep pressure input.  That is the kind of physical activity that calms kids down and helps them gain positional awareness.  Modeling specific safe ways to engage someone else physically, what to say when you have had enough, what to do when the other guy is saying “STOP”, and demonstrating how to be silly without being physically intrusive are all important.  Simply instructing a child without modeling the behaviors and playing with them isn’t as effective.  Adults have to get in there and communicate using kid’s play, speak about emotions and interests, and have fun!

 

 

 

Working Parents, Weekends, and Toddlers: Have a Better Weekend With These Strategies

I have been asking my colleagues about why so many working couples seem to be struggling with toddler behavior issues.  Initially, I was thinking that the shift between nanny/daycare routines and parent routines was creating inconsistencies.  But I found too many situations where that wasn’t the case.  There is a common speed bump for dual-career parents, for whom the evenings and weekends are both desirable and stressful.  It is the same issue for long-distance dating couples.  No one wants to have conflict when they are together, and yet giving in to whining and demanding inevitably sets up greater conflict.  I would like to share a solution that is not a quick fix, but it is an easy fix.  You just have to accept that juggling work and family means that how you react to toddler demands will determine how much fun you have at night and on the weekends.

Toddlers are 100% reliable in that their ability to self-calm and change routines is limited by their brain development.  Just like you can’t toilet train a 6 month-old (you get trained instead), disrupting a toddlers nap routine to go have a full weekend of fun will give you a brain that cannot and will not go easily to sleep.

Now combine that with the difficulties that toddlers have with limits and patience.  They don’t have to greatest ability to wait or to handle “no” unless they have been taught to do so, and practiced this skill frequently.  Setting limits or building a toddler’s patience is possible, but it isn’t usually fun, and it definitely is work for a parent.  Just at the moment that you wanted some hugs and smiles, you are doing the hard work of parenting, not getting the good stuff.  It is sooooo easy to just give in and hand over the phone so your child can play on it.

You can choose to use your long game at that moment to teach patience stretching  Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! , self-control, and communication skills Turn Around Toddler Defiance Using “Feed the Meter” Strategies. Or play your short game, and give in to avoid conflict.  When you can no longer give in, because the pool is closed or it is time to leave the park, you may witness the mother of all tantrums.

Here is the good news:  what your child wants more than anything is your entire attention when you are home.  All that 90’s stuff about quality time is true up to a point.  If you aren’t around for the “pick-up game” opportunities during the day that allow you to share a laugh or a sweet moment, that means you have to engineer then from 6-8pm and weekends.  Yes, you engage with your child doing fun things that also intentionally build patience, empathy, and mutual respect.  It isn’t agony, it is fun!!  But it is something that you have put a little planning and creativity into.  I promise you, this is an investment that will pay off before your child gets to college!  It means that next weekend will have less whining and more smiles.  For both of you!

It also doesn’t mean you have to spend every one of those hours together, but it does mean that you have to be really present and really work to weave your connections together at that time.  Those “Feed The Meter” strategies have to be in there, because they give you the biggest bang for your buck.  How do I know?  I use no less than five relationship-enriching mini exchanges in any session with every challenging toddler I treat, every session.  I have 45 minutes to get a toddler to do therapy with me, and I cannot waste a minute of it on defiance or testing.  I won’t be back for another therapy session for a few days.  Once you understand what these relationship-building interactions are, you hand them out like candy.

Many toddlers can handle limit-setting and even consequences for defiance without a tantrum if they have had enough “Feed the Meter” enrichment in a day.  Setting those limits and handing out consequences is essential to build skills too.  Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic ReframingToddlers Too Young For Time Out Can Get Simple Consequences and Kind Ignoring .Toddlers need to know what not to do, and when not to do it.

If you are a working couple and you have tried these strategies, please comment and tell other families what worked for you!

 

 

 

 

Elf on the Shelf Controversy: Let’s Try Positive Gossiping to Santa

The recent discussion surrounding the popular toy “Elf on the Shelf” has been more heated than one might expect for a holiday tradition.  For every family that finds him charming and motivating, there is another family that sees him as a creepy little elf, holding the threat of tattling to Santa over toddlers’ heads.

I suggest that if you think he is cute, and your children like the magical elements to the story,  you could alter the “backstory’ as they say in Hollywood.  What about giving the elf the responsibility of only sharing a child’s positive behavior with Santa?  He might watch for sharing, cooperation, and patience.  Just like the Gossiping technique in Happiest Toddler on the Block, you can tell the elf (well within your child’s hearing) what wonderful things he has done each day.

If a child has already heard the standard version, simply explain that the elf’s job description has been changed due to your child’s maturity.  New holiday season, new plan.

Let Your Toddler Hear You Gossiping (About Him!)

Dr. Harvey Karp has many great ideas to inspire toddlers and their parents. One of my favorite strategies is Gossiping. Toddlers love to hear about their effects on others. Tell his stuffed animals or his “lovey” what a great listener he was, or how he ate a new food, and you will have an audience that can’t wait to show you what to talk about next.

It goes something like this: notice some progress your toddler made toward a goal ( toilet training, sharing, etc.) and find a moment to use a louder voice and some over-the-top acting to tell the teddy bear what you saw and how amazing/terrific/grown-up that was. Lay it on pretty thickly, and never acknowledge that you know your child heard every word. You can even mention to teddy that you hope it happens again soon, or that you plan to tell other family members later.

Children at this age are not always tolerant of criticism, and they sometimes even feel pressured when they receive direct praise. A young child can think that if they don’t perform the same way next time, they might have “failed’. But hearing gossiped praise is often a double bonus. Toddlers hear you say something positive about them, and know someone else has heard it too!

Gossiping Variation: Gossip to another person about another sibling or even a toy, mentioning an action or skill that you want to encourage in your toddler. You might tell your mother that you saw your older child cleaning up, and how grown-up you think they are. Or how happy you were when they shared a toy or a snack. If your toddler was present when it occurred, all the better. Again, do not directly acknowledge that your child is listening to this gossip.

Think you child is too young to absorb it all? Even the younger toddlers will get the general idea that you are saying something positive about them. Your tone and your gestures or facial expression will convey more than you might think. It is never too early to feel good about yourself!