Tag Archives: toddlers

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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!