Tag Archives: toddlers

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 should know 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.

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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!