Tag Archives: toddlers

How to Help Toddlers Prepare to Write

Ian, Lila, and Tom aren’t writing. They are drawing!

Contrary to the ideas of some preschool teachers, most three year olds don’t write their names.  In truth, most young fours don’t either.  I refuse to count the kids who “draw” their names like the photo above.  That isn’t writing.  That is drawing, the same as if I copied my name in Mandarin.  I would be drawing the characters, not writing.  Writing requires that I know the correct start and sequence of strokes.

So…What can you do to help late twos and the threes prepare to write?

The mom of a toddler brother of a private client asked me, and I know this child uses his fist to hold a crayon.  Improving his grasping skills should be one big goal, and there are a bunch of fun toys that can support this.  Read Water Wow: Summer Pre-writing Fun on the Road  and read LEGO Duplo My First Car Creations: Putting Together Cars, Building Hand Coordination for two great toys that kids in this age group will love.

 Another way to prepare a young child for handwriting is to build a child’s skilled use of spoons and forks for self-feeding.  I wrote a post on this  How Using Utensils To Eat Prepares Your Child To Write  , and I don’t think parents always fully understand that offering finger foods isn’t going to build hand skills after age 2, unless your child is very physically delayed.  Once they can pop a chicken nugget into their mouth, finger feeding isn’t building hand control.  It certainly isn’t enhancing grasp!  Getting a child the right utensils seems to be an issue in many homes.  Pre-pandemic, I did live EI sessions, and regularly asked parents to throw out those infant feeding spoons (they have a tiny bowl and a super-long handle) because they DO NOT HELP YOUR CHILD SELF-FEED.  THEY MAKE IT HARDER.  Read Which Spoon Is Best To Teach Grown-Up Grasp?  and Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child   to find good utensils that support hand control.

The use of a vertical easel, the kind found in any preschool classroom, can build hand control and prevent the development of an awkward crayon grasp.  Stabilize the paper with clips or tape, because young children will not hold loose paper while coloring.  Using a screen stylus builds finger strength and makes drag-and-drop screen time into a hand exercise.  

Crayola’s PipSqueak markers and their My First Crayons are great choices for pre-writing.  ColorWonder paper and markers will not make a mess.  They will save your MIL’s couch at the same time!

Enhancing bilateral assembly skills will prepare a child for the visual-perceptual and midline awareness needed for handwriting.  I love MagnaTiles and DUPLO blocks, but there are other ways to build.  A great variety of building materials will support a typically-developing child.  Sitting passively in front of a screen will not.  Safety scissors should be offered.  The kind that really work: Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler

Finally, young children need to see adults and older siblings drawing and writing.  If your older kids are addicted to screens, you will have to be the one coloring and drawing.  During stressful times, this might help you relax as well.

Young Children, Sensory Modulation, and the Automatic “NO!”

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Kids as young as 18 months can express their sensory processing issues with one word: “NO!!”  What appears to be a budding attitude issue or even oppositional defiant disorder can be a sensory modulation issue instead.

How could you possibly tell?

Well, if your child has already been diagnosed with sensory sensitivity or sensory modulation problems, you know that these issues won’t just make it harder to wear clothes with seams or touch Play-Doh.  These issues affect all aspects of daily living and create emotional regulation and biological over-activation issues as well.  Young children are learning how to express their opinions and separate physically and emotionally from their caregivers.  Saying “NO!” isn’t unusual for young kids (and a lot of older ones too!).  But refusals that make no sense can have a different origin.

So what is the giveaway?

When a child has an almost immediate “NO”, perhaps even before you have finished your sentence, and the reaction is to something you know they have liked or almost certainly would like, you have to suspect that sensory modulation is at play.  You usually sense when your child is trying to get your attention or get you activated.  This should feel different.

What do I do next?

You also need to respond in a specific way to test your theory that sensory issues are the root of the ‘tude.  Your response should be as vocally neutral and emotionally curious as you can manage.   “Oh, really….you said no…” is a good template.  Whether it is “no” to their fave food, show, toy or an activity.  You remove all criticism and encouragement from your voice.  You don’t want to fuel the refusal fire; you want to shut it off and see what is left in the embers of “NO”.

Now you need to wait for them to neurologically calm down.  Little brains are like old computers.  They take a while to reboot.  Look at the floor, wipe your hands, etc and wait a minimum of 15 seconds, probably 30, then ask again if they want a cookie, want to go out, want to play, to eat, or whatever.  The child who needed the primitive defensive part of their brain to go offline to allow them to use their budding frontal lobes may sweetly ask for what they just refused, or respond to your exactly identical request with a cheery “YES”.

Please try to have compassion for them.

It can seem maddening to do this all day long, and in truth, if you are, you need to learn how to work with an occupational therapist in order to learn powerful sensory treatment strategies that can get your child out of this pattern.  But your child isn’t jerking your chain when their behavior fits this pattern.  They are more likely a captive of their brain wiring.   Don’t let yourself react as if they are intentionally being difficult.  That day will come…..13 is just around the corner!

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Secrets to Teaching Young Children to Share

 

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It is the rare toddler that eagerly gives up a desired toy or snack to share with another child.  Yup; your child isn’t any different from the great majority of kids out there.

You may even have witnessed the “grab-and-go” move, where they take a toy from another child and then quickly escape to a corner of the room.  I know it doesn’t feel great when the thief is your child, but it also doesn’t mean they are destined to be selfish or live a life of crime.  It is normal for young children to behave selfishly; they haven’t fully developed the cognitive abilities that provide them with awareness of another’s perspective, nor do they fully appreciate social norms.

So, what can you do to teach your child to share?

Well, here are a few things that don’t work:

  1. Shaming.  Telling your child that they are selfish and bad because they don’t want to share isn’t going to build empathy.  It may have the exact opposite effect.   And they may try to hide or deny their behavior from you.
  2. Bribing.  Paying off for good behavior has been scientifically proven to backfire.  Paying kids for good grades, paying employees to exercise or lose weight, etc.  It won’t create a more empathetic child, but it could create a scheming child who parlays their desire for something else into a little show for you.
  3. Begging.  Pleading with your child makes you look powerless and puts your child in an awkward-but-intoxicating position.  It won’t make you more credible when you deny them something or try to teach another civic lesson.
  4. Playing the “Your behavior makes Mommy sad” card.  Children desire love and will do almost anything for it, but making it appear that they have crushed your heart because they followed theirs?  This is a slippery slope, and shouldn’t be taken unless you think long and hard about what you are teaching.

So what ELSE could you do or say that might elicit sharing?

  • You can demonstrate sharing YOUR items, and be very clear about how you made the decision and how you feel.  Make sure that you admit that sometimes you want all of your snack for yourself, but then you remember how good it makes you feel when you share and see how happy the other person is.
  • You can also have another person say how they feel when you share with them.  Children really don’t always pick up on the subtle feelings of others, and they need to hear it out loud.
  • When your child does share, be crystal clear about how good it makes you feel when they do.  This is different from telling them how bad you feel when they don’t, and different from bribing them to share.
  • Read some age-appropriate books on sharing, and try to discuss how the characters felt in the story.  Some kids prefer to talk about characters and not about their own feelings.

Your child may still shrug and refuse to share, or they may want to try sharing, now that they know so much more about it!

How To Stop Your Toddler From Hitting You and Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child are two of my popular posts that also help you help your child manage their feelings without crushing their spirit!

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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.  Being misdiagnosed isn’t without it’s costs.  I wrote a bit about how to sense that your child might be misdiagnosed in Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness?

 

Read more about gifted children and the challenges of being gifted in  Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies  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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Boost Pincer Grasp With Tiny Containers

These days I am getting pretty…lazy.  My go-to items are designed so that children automatically  improve their grasp or their posture without my intervention.  I am  always searching for easy carryover strategies to share with parents too.  As with most things in life, easy is almost always better than complicated.

My recent fave piece of equipment to develop pincer grasp in toddlers and preschoolers is something you can pick up in your grocery store, but you are gonna use it quite differently from the manufacturer’s marketing plan….

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Remember these?

Enter the tiny party cup, AKA the disposable shot glass!  Yes, the one you used when you played “quarters” in school.  The very same.  These little cups work really well to teach toddlers to drink from an open cup, but they are also terrific containers to promote pincer grasp in young children.  Drop a few small snacks into these little cups and discourage them from dumping their snack onto the table instead of reaching inside with their fingers.

No matter how small your child’s fingers are, they will automatically attempt a tripod or pincer grasp to retrieve their treat.  You should’t have to say much of anything, but it never hurts to demonstrate how easy it is.  Make sure you eat your snack once you take it out of your cup.  After all, grownups deserve snacks too!

These little containers are much sturdier than paper cups.  This means that they can survive the grasp of a toddler who cannot grade their force well.  The cylindrical shape, with a slightly smaller base than top, naturally demands a refined grasp.  The cups have a bit of texture around the middle of the cup (at least mine do)  which gives some helpful tactile input to assist the non-dominant hand to maintain control during use.  They are top-shelf dishwasher safe and hand-washable, in case you feel strongly that disposables aren’t part of your scene.

Has your child mastered pincer grasp?  These little cups are fun to use in water and sand tables as well.  Mastery of pouring and scooping develops strong wrist and forearm control for utensil use and pre-writing with crayons.

For more ideas on developing grasp, take a look at Want Pincer Grasp Before Her First Birthday? Bet You’ll Be Surprised At What Moves (Hint) Build Hand Control! and Develop Pincer Grasp With Ziploc Bags.

 

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.

 

 

Is My Child Ambidextrous?

I answer this question from parents about once a month, on average.  Here is the better question: Is my child developing age-appropriate grasp?

The statistics are against your child being ambidextrous:  only about 1% of people are truly ambidextrous.  Being able to hit a ball equally well with either arm is valued on a team, but when they sit down for supper, switch hitters probably don’t use both hands equally to twirl their spaghetti.  But….children who have poor core stability often do not reach across the center of their body and switch hands to reach what they need.  Children who have motor planning or strength/stability issues will switch hands if the become fatigued or frustrated. None of these children are truly ambidextrous. They are compensating for delays and deficits.

Studies I have read on the development of normal hand dominance suggests that some children are seen as having emerging hand dominance (consistent and skilled use of one hand rather than the other) as early as 12 months.  You know those kids; they pick up cereal bits with their thumb and index finger at 9 months and pop them into their mouths individually as if they were sitting at a bar with a bowl of peanuts and a beer!  They delicately hand you the bit of string they found while crawling, and are already trying to unzip your purse.  Those kids.  It is more common to see emerging hand dominance in the 18-24 month range.  Developmental issues often delay this progression, and issues such as cerebral palsy can result in a child whose neurology would be expressed as right-dominant requiring more left-dominance due to hemiplegia.  That’s right:  hand dominance is biological, not learned, and very likely inherited to some degree.

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terrific safe scissors for little hands!

In my professional career, the greatest predictor of age-appropriate grasping skills has been not core stability or even muscle tone, but exposure and interest.  I work with a child that is legally blind since birth, and his grasping skills are very delayed.  His exposure is biologically limited.  He cannot see what his fingertips are doing, and since he has some vision, he is not doing what totally blind children usually do. They increase their tactile exploration of objects because they don’t have any visual information, and in doing so, end up with generally good refined grasp and control.  This child has slowly developed his skills with carefully chosen and strongly emphasized activities in therapy.

Low muscle tone makes it difficult for infants to develop effective opposition, the rotation and bending of the tip of the thumb opposite to the tip of the index finger.  It is common to see opposition to the tip of the middle finger.  The stability offered by that finger’s placement between two fingers at knuckle-level, plus less rotation needed, explain that quite clearly.  Sadly, the middle finger doesn’t have the refined movement of the index finger, so control is lacking.  They tend to use a fist for gripping toys, and often end up dropping or breaking their goldfish crackers.  These kids often actively dislike using their hands in a skilled manner.  “Read me a book or let me run around” rather than “Give me tiny snacks and beads to string”.  If it is true pattern of avoidance and frustration, it isn’t simply a preference.  It’s an issue.

Wok and Roll!

Playing Wok ‘n Roll with Edison Chopsticks!

How can parents support the development of hand skills at all ages?

  • Infants under 12 months:  Provide safe and desirable things to pick up.  Bits of food that aren’t choking hazards.  Toys with tags firmly sewn on.  Toys with parts that spin and have textures to explore.  Show your interest and delight in this exploration.
  • Toddlers:  Even more opportunities and enthusiasm.  Let them scribble on magnetic boards, use food as fingerpaint, and introduce utensils as early as safe.  Us lots of containers that need to be opened, closed and held for filling and emptying.  Check out Easy Ways To Build Bilateral Hand Coordination for Writing for more ideas.
  • Preschoolers:  Don’t tape down that paper!  Teach the  use of the “helper hand” Better Posture and More Legible Writing With A “Helper Hand” if it isn’t being used, and double-down on toys that require both hands.

What are your best methods for refining grasp and dominance?  All you teachers, therapists and parents out there, please comment and add your ideas!

 

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!

 

Low Tone and Toilet Training: Transition to Using The Adult Toilet

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Once the potty seat has been mastered, the question soon becomes: How is she going to use a regular toilet?  Most younger children use a step stool and an insert to sit securely on an adult toilet.  Kids with low tone often need a little more assistance to get up there and stay stable.

Here is what your child needs to be able to do in order for her to climb up and use a regular toilet with an insert:

  1. Have enough sphincter control to “hold it” while getting clothing and positioning right.
  2. Be able to manage easy clothing independently and have awareness of their needs for clothing management.  This means that if you have to tell them what to do or how to fix their clothes, they are not that independent yet.  Will you still help them?  Maybe, but if your child is able to know when her panties are down low enough, and a boy knows that he picked up his shirt before he pees, then your child can be a responsive participant if they find themselves unstable and need to think on their feet ( pun intended).
  3. Be stable while momentarily standing, either to manage clothing, while turning around, or for boys, to pee standing up.  Some little boys will pee in sitting for a long time, others (usually the ones with big brothers) demand the right to stand.  Aim is a lot harder if you are not standing in a stable position.  The handles on the following item give young children something to hold onto.  Just like seniors, grabbing a towel bar or the paper holder is a risk.  Every time they reach too far, their balance is altered.  That can be a huge help, compared to just a step stool.

41lLLbRbbkL._AC_US160_The best support with a step that I could find anywhere is the Mommy’s Helper Cushie Step Up Potty Seat.  There are a few available models with this basic design, but this one gets the best reviews for stability and ease of use.  If a set-up is wobbly with a typically-developing child, a child that has issues with safety and control in other situations is going to be in trouble as they climb up to use the toilet.  It doesn’t do as well with an elongated seat as a rounder one.  The contoured seat grips that tushie a bit more, and the texture and softness of the seat prevents accidental sliding as well.  This is not permission not to supervise for a while.  Kids are unpredictable, so a wobbly child might need your eyes just to see what will throw them off their focus and put them at risk of falling.

52733343312610pThe Baby Bjorn footstool is an amazingly stable choice.  The legs have rubber grips all the way around, and the top is super-grippy.  Even when wet!  It is hard to tip, and it is so sturdy that adults can stand on it without any problems at all.  Easy to clean too!  If your child can use a step stool instead of a ladder, this is the one.  Little boys that pee standing up will stand on this and hold the top of the tank or the back of the adult seat to steady themselves to aim.  The biggest problem for some kids is that sometimes it isn’t wide enough for the kids that normally stand with their feet very far apart (your OT or PT will call that a wide base of support in their progress note).  Their feet might go to the edges, seeking that same wide stance.  Not safe.  Practice having them standing on it without using the toilet, so that there are no surprises about how to climb and turn in a small space.

Remember, they have to get up there first, then pull down underwear and clothes.  Trying to climb stairs with pants around your ankles is asking for trouble.  Just try it yourself some day!  That means that clothing choice still matters.  Nothing with belts, long tunics or long skirts, tight leggings or skinny jeans.  Unless you want to do all the work and slow down their learning curve.

Hint:  Having kids develop independent dressing skills when they are off the potty, i.e. getting ready for bed, dressing to go to daycare, etc. is essential.  I started writing “important”, but that is not accurate.  It is essential.

These kids need chances to build smooth and fast movements under pressure.  The only way to get there is practice and learning from repeated opportunities.  Good teaching is nice, experience is better.  The more automatic and controlled a skill is, the less difficult it will be to execute it when rushing to make it to the potty.  Being able to manage clothing without even trying to toilet train is important.  If your low-toned child is miles away from getting on the big toilet, and you are reading this for future reference, then today’s goal might be for her to to help more with getting dressed.

If your child is still struggling, you may want to install a child-height potty temporarily.  they are available online through big box stores and easy to swap out when your child grows.  Read more about how using the right height potty can help your child in Should You Install a Child-Sized Potty for Your Special Needs Child?.

Looking for more information on low tone and daily life skills?  Check out Low Tone and Toilet Training: Teaching Toddlers to Wipe , Is Your Child With Low Tone “Too Busy” to Make it to the Potty?and Low Muscle Tone and Dressing: Easy Solutions to Teach Independence.

My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, is finally done!  You can buy it at Your Therapy Source (a great site for parents and therapists), Amazon or on my website, tranquil babies.  I cover all the prep you need to do for success, help you address issues like constipation and language delays, and even deal with the inevitable setbacks that arise along the path to independence.  Read more about this unique book at The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

Wish you had someone to ask about toilet training a child with low muscle tone?  You do now!  Visit my website,  tranquil babies , and purchase a phone consultation to get personalized attention, and a chance to ask all your questions!

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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!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

End Toddler Biting Using Clear But Compassionate Messaging

I couldn’t resist it.  Nip. Biting. Bud.  But toddler biting is no joke.  According to one of my clients, a child can be asked to leave preschool or daycare if they are a repeat offender.  The problems that lead to biting are easy to see, the solutions are not.  Here are my explanations for why toddlers bite, and what you can do to turn this around before your child is asked to leave preschool or shunned from play dates.

I categorize toddler biting into two distinct behaviors:  biting with aggression, and biting as communication.  The first will happen with adults and peers, the second happens almost exclusively with caregivers.  Your reactions are almost the same with both, so let’s deal with the most common variation first: biting with aggression.

Children become frustrated, don’t get what they want or can’t say what they want, and they bite.  The long answer:  address their ability to manage frustration with language and build their patience.  Not easy, not immediate, but totally possible. Use Dr. Karp’s Patience Stretching and Toddler-Ese style of communication to build these skills.  My posts on both subjects will give you some tools you can use right away.

Adults have to be present when the majority of biting episodes happening order to manage them, and willing to intercede with both limits (“No biting.  Biting hurts” ) and consequences for the biter.  The victim needs to get the majority of the attention, no matter how upset the adult is with the attacker.  If the biter is old enough, it is a time-out.  If not, it is a junior time out.  At the very least, it is removal from whatever activity they were engaged in.  You put them down off your lap after they bite you.  You are sending the clear message that this is big, really big.  We don’t want this to happen.  Ever.  

The greatest mistake that a caregiver can make when dealing directly with biting?  Quickly comforting the biter after they start to cry in realization that they did something wrong.  They are so little, and they are not in full control of their behavior.  But they do have some control! Even a seven-month-old that nips on your breast during nursing can learn that they will be taken off the breast if they continue to do that, so why would you assume that a toddler has no control at all?  Because they are better at wailing with emotion, and tug at your heartstrings.  If you scoop up the biter and comfort them right away, they do not get to have the very emotion that you want them to develop: regret and remorse.

It is hard for loving parents to see their child sad.  I appreciate that.   But their child has committed a behavioral felony, and for a few moments a toddler needs to experience a negative consequence in order to understand that biting is not OK. They are concrete, literal thinkers at this age.  If all you do is tell them, in a sweet tone, not to bite, then they will do it again.  And again.  Developing the ability to use their words is going to take some time, maybe months.  Developing impulse control is going to take even longer.  There are four year-olds that struggle with impulse control, but they don’t bite even when they are upset.  They have learned that this is simply not done.

It is also hard not to be angry with the biter.  That takes some self-control as well.  Yelling, threatening, and spanking really don’t change this behavior as much as you would think.   Showing your displeasure but keeping your cool is hard for some parents.  Truthfully, one mom said she is just so tired at the end of the day that she knows she is yelling and can’t stop herself.  I get it.  But this is the reason to take care of yourself every day, and dig deep into your inner strength for these moments.  This is “showtime” as a parent.

The moment when you can warmly talk with your child is after the time-out is completely done.  For young toddlers, it is only a minute or two, but it was the most important minute of their day.  It can be less.  I watched a mom put down her 18 month-old after he nipped at her neck for attention.   She didn’t yell, she just said “no biting” firmly and put him on the floor.  He cried, and then recovered in about 15 seconds.  He walked upstairs quietly to see what Daddy was doing.  He got the message and wasn’t scarred for life.  He already knows that biting is not OK, he just didn’t know that he couldn’t bite HER.  Until that moment.  All she did was stop holding him, but he got it.  To get biting-as-communication to end, develop a toddler’s skills at positive interactions.  These biting behaviors usually happen when a child sees no difference between the consequences for positive and negative attention.  It is all attention to them.  Make them reconsider their choices by creating negative consequences for negative behaviors, and teach them how you’d like them to get your attention.  Words, laughter, and positive play.

Good luck with this one.  The magic is in the swift and firm reaction, and managing your own emotions in order to teach toddlers how to deal with theirs!

Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: Book Review

Ever wonder if all the recommendations and “new” ways to raise your children are based on anything scientific? Well, “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain” will explain the current research behind popular recommendations such as eating fish during pregnancy and teaching your child another language while still in diapers.

Authors Sam Wang, PhD. and Sandra Aamodt, PhD. have written a book that is filled with useful information about brain development from the fetal stage all the way through the teenage years. Ever wonder what your 3-month old really sees? It’s in here. Why does your toddler son enjoy block play so much more than your neighbor’s toddler daughter? It’s in here. If you love science, you will love this book. if you just want to know how to get your toddler to eat spinach or whether watching baby videos will harm your child, you will love this book.

Issues like autism and ADHD are covered, as well as current research on language and math education. This book includes plenty of detail about regions of the brain understood to support all manner of thought, action and emotion. But just when you have had enough of the brain science, they give you a “Practical Tip” section that distills down the research into some information that you can really use today.

“Welcome to Your Child’s Brain” is worth the reading time. You will be amazed at what current neuroscience knows about your child!

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Toddlers and Ritalin: When Does Behavior Warrant Medication? Toddlers are known for being impulsive, inattentive, and even aggressive at times.  But is that ADHD?  The NYT has written an article suggesting that the frequency of medication prescription to toddlers and a family’s financial status/insurance coverage are connected.   Take a look at the article   http//nyti.ms/1gQdd4M