Monday, March 26, 2012

Toddler Talk

Any parent knows that raising toddlers takes a special kind of patience and can lead to parental exhaustion. There are challenges to all ages, but toddler moments tend to be memorable!  Tantrums can explode and totally change the look of your little angel.

Some kids are mild mannered and people pleasers by nature and are relatively easy to discipline.  Strong willed kids can be among the most challenging, but with proper guidance can grow up to be great leaders.  So how do you guide them?

The basics of discipline are similar regardless of a child's age or temperament.  Consistency among all caregivers is important. Consistency with routines, especially meal times and sleeping, is also very important.  Never underestimate how much damage being tired, sick, or hungry can do to any person's behavior~ especially toddlers!

Praising the positive is a great way to improve the odds that they will want to get that positive attention again.  Catch kids being good.  As they grow and mature, make the stakes higher, but early on praise every small good deed.  
Remember when your rambunctious toddler was a newborn and you were so proud when he simply peed or pooped? Slept 3 hours straight? Very little expectations from a newborn.  As they grow you expect more, but don't expect a toddler to sit still for an hour like you would a school aged child.  Set age appropriate goals and work on a few new behaviors at a time.  Praise when they do a good job with patience or make a good choice to use a quiet voice.  Find the good in things they do throughout the day.  Sometimes it's hard, but you have to find good things to praise!  This does not mean that all is rosy. You must still be firm when they are not being good. Let them know what they did wrong with a short phrase. Set a consequence as appropriate. 
Many parents worry that their child is out of control.  I disagree.  Kids always want control.  Parents simply (ha ha) have to remain in control of the important things and give kids the control they can own.  This enables the parent to be in charge of the important things but allows the child to make decisions about things that won't affect his health or safety, which helps him develop a sense of well being, confidence and decision making capabilities.  

When a parent wants to change a behavior of a child, do NOT show anger.  Raising your voice shows the child that you are losing control and a child feeds on that to elevate the situation to a battle. 

Try to repeat the SAME short phrase of what you want the child to do.  It is very important that you don't say what you DON'T want...give the child clear directions of what you DO want.  If the child argues or ignores, simply repeat the SAME instructions of what you want them to do.  
An example of a clear statement of what you want: 
  • I want you to pick up the bear and put him in the toy box.  
Examples of unclear statements or negative statements include:

  • You made such a mess! Can't this place ever be clean?
  •  Don't leave a mess on the floor.

If your instructions aren't followed the child will get a consequence.  Consequences depend on age.  Toddlers may have to sit on a step, towel or special chair for time out.  Sometimes putting the toys in time out helps... simply put them away for a time if the toy is causing problems, such as kids fighting over it or if it is not put away.

When choosing consequences remember not to take away things that in general HELP behavior (such as outdoor play, which overall releases energy so the child will act better indoors).  The consequences have to mean something to the child or else he won't care if they are taken away. (I've never heard a parent say, "No broccoli for dinner if you don't clean your room!")

The way we tend to phrase consequences is just like that unfortunately:
 no *special treat* if you don't *do desired behavior*
This sounds like a threat and many children (and adults) take it as such.  Rephrasing the sentence to a more positive expression usually gets better results:
you can have *special treat* if you *do desired behavior*

The intention is the same, but the feel of the sentence is much more positive, and people tend to react better to positive statements.

This would sound like, "We will go to the park if you clean your room," instead of "we won't go to the park unless you clean your room."  

The second sentence sounds like a challenge to the child.  Hmmm... how can I get to the park without cleaning my room?  Throw a fit?  Run out the door?  Throw around all my toys?

What if you lose your temper and you see the situation is elevating?  You are yelling, the child is screaming, nothing good is coming from the situation.  How do you get back in control?

Time outs work well.  It gives the toddler a consequence.  The most important part of time out in this situation is not being a consequence, it is the calming effect of time.  
Parents may need the time out as much as the child.  This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts and come up with a game plan of what to say and do.  For more on Time Out, click here.

Another way to turn this out of control situation around is humor.  Many parents think that when a child is in trouble, you shouldn't be "fun", but it can really help.

One night my daughter was throwing a fit about getting dressed.  I started yelling (yes, I'm human and make mistakes too!) but then realized it was (of course) feeding her anger.  She was unable to tell me what was wrong, she was so upset.  I picked up one of her dolls, made the doll "cry", and started talking to the doll to try to see what was wrong.  I said my thoughts out loud..."baby is too little to use words, maybe she is hurt"...moved all the arms and I had my daughter's attention..."no, no hurt spots"...."maybe she has a dirty diaper"... smelled the bottom..."pee yew, dirty diaper"... By now my daughter was laughing instead of crying. ..."I guess babies are too little to use words, that's why she had to cry, I'm so glad you're a big girl and can tell me what's wrong."  Once she was calmed down, things got much easier.  
The trick is thinking of something that helps the situation when you are frustrated.  The best plan is coming up with ideas for your most common arguments before the next argument starts.

  The arguments tend to be the same every day, whether it is brushing teeth, getting into the car seat, putting on sunscreen... whatever it is, you usually have an idea of what it will be.  Think of things ahead of time that you can use to help situations.

Always lead by example.  Children learn what they see, not what they are told.  If you say, "eat your veggies," but never eat your own, they won't like their veggies.  If you make them buckle up, but don't wear your seat belt, they will argue about wearing theirs.

Corporal punishment is not beneficial.  Studies show that kids who are spanked become more aggressive.  If a child bites, don't bite back.  If a child hits, don't hit back.  If you hit as a form of punishment, your child will learn to hit to get her way.

Keeping a routine helps children know what to expect next.  Be sure enough sleep is available because tired children (and adults) are testy.  Same with hungry and sick children.  If you think that a child's bad behavior stems from being tired or hungry, offer a nap or food.

If your child has major behavior problems, choose the few behaviors that bother you most and work on those.  You cannot expect a child to suddenly be perfect.  Reward the small steps toward good behavior.  When a child sees you noticing the good behavior, they often want to please more and give more good behaviors.

Children also like to be in control, so if you offer them choices (with either choice something that is ok with you), they feel in control and are more likely to do what you want.
A choice may be "do you want to get dressed or brush teeth first?"  The child then chooses one of the choices, so she is happy that she chose to brush teeth.  She doesn't realize that you have manipulated her.  If she says "watch TV", you say, "that wasn't a choice, the choices were getting dressed or brushing teeth first."  Give about 10 seconds for her to make a choice.  If she doesn't decide, then you decide for her.  
Kids will be upset if they don't get their un-offered choice, but try to limit discussion and let her think about it.  Most children are smart enough to figure out what to do.  They can learn from it.  If you try to rescue them by letting them chose their own option, they don't learn.  If you try to make sure they know what they did wrong and what they should have done, they get angry and don't learn.  Let them do the learning.  Don't keep harping on them... it will just make them angry and resentful!

Behavior is a challenge to most parents, but with love and guidance, consistency, and proper sleep and nutrition, you can improve the odds that kids will behave.

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