Sunday, September 26

Toddler Bites, Hits, Screams, Can't Fall Asleep on His Own. Parents Struggling to Get Along

Question:  I am the proud grandparent of a 20 month old little boy who has been a biter since his first teeth arrived at the age of 4 months.  At first we thought it was due to teething, but then simple excitement triggered episodes too.  Hitting has also been going on for quite some time - Mommy, Daddy, me, Grandfather, other little ones ... absolutely no rhyme or reason.  The biting has subsided a bit but now we are dealing with screaming "wanting his way" & seemingly frustrated "don't touch me" episodes. His Mom & Dad have no other children. The baby is a very active little boy and thankfully his mother has a lot of patience.  The parents come from very different backgrounds with different values and are struggling to get along and going to marriage counseling, but both love the boy very dearly.  Mom stays home with the child and tries "time out" for behavior issues (3 minutes watching the clock).  And he can't fall asleep on his own at nap time or bedtime.  What suggestions can you give for how can we help this baby??   

Answer:  Wow.  Sounds like there's a lot going on here!  Overall, it seems to me like the little guy needs more consistency, balance (from caregivers), and guidance on what you want to see.  This starts with my Five Basics of Structure, Communication, Limits, Consistency, and Guidance.  Structure is a biggie - he needs the same consistent routine, everyday, especially for nap and bedtime.  When toddlers don't fall asleep on their own it's because they don't feel secure and the negative behavior is reinforced - for example, cuddling up with them to help them to sleep.  The intention of the parent is absolute love, but what it actually serves is to teach the child that we only get to sleep with Mommy cuddling.  We parents reinforce behavior we don't want to see all the time, and have NO idea we are doing it!

So - let's break this down:

Screaming, hitting, and wanting his way:  If the behavior is getting worse - or even staying consistent - then whatever it is that is being done to address this behavior is actually reinforcing it.  You have to step back and figure out WHY the child is acting that way.  What is he getting out of it?  Does he get attention?  Remember, to a toddler, negative attention is still attention.  You have to key in on their goal and deny them that.   If he is hitting to get a cookie, by golly, do NOT give him a cookie.  If he is hitting for attention, guess what?  He gets NO attention.  My books talk about how to address these behaviors without reinforcing. 

Time-Out:  It sounds like mom is doing her best to be patient and trying to address the negative behavior with time outs...but they are tricky.  If you don't do them correctly, it's a waste of time and just reinforces the behavior - or at best, does not give the child guidance on what you WANT to see - it only focuses on what you DON'T want.  Sometimes Time Out is a total problem solver, but most of the time you have to pair it with the proper guidance on what you want to see next time.  Time Out how-to's are in my books (there is too much information for a quick email) - but you have to take everything as a whole: the structure of their environment, WHY they are acting out, addressing it correctly, and above all, we have to stop reinforcing the behavior we don't want to see.

Sleep issues: As I said earlier, he needs serious structure and routine - the little babies just thrive on knowing what will come next and what to expect.  It's their job to push and push - just to make sure we haven't changed our minds!  But they get security from knowing we hold our ground and stick to the routine.  So, an example bedtime routine:
1.  7:00 bath
2.  7:20 brush teeth (again, strict routine on the steps) & put on pajamas
3.  7:30 two books with parent
4.  7:40 kiss, bedtime song, and lights out. 
You cannot muddy these waters - two books means two books.  Crying or hitting for one more book should NEVER result in one more book.  Routine screaming for Mommy to stay in the room should never result in Mommy caving in and staying...it only reinforces that "Hey, cool!  When I scream, she stays!"  I know it stinks, but unless they are taught how to comfort themselves to sleep from infancy, there will be a lot of screaming involved until they can re-learn how to get to sleep peacefully.  My books also talk about daytime behavior and routines...setting up the entire environment for trust, security, and control.  Kids that do well during the day sleep well at night.

As a Grandmother, you are put in a difficult position.  You can be the perfect provider and do everything right, and still run into problems.  The parents are the ones who must carry through with the strategies to decrease the behavior - and they must be on the same page.  Kids know when there is strain, stress, hurt, and frustration.  And they absolutely know when there is imbalance between mom and dad.  That can rock their world and set off a ton of behaviors strictly for attention.  Raising toddlers is insanely difficult even under the best of circumstances - so when mom and dad are not balanced, it compounds the issues.  It’s wonderful that they’re seeking help.

The most important aspect of creating positive behavior is setting up the entire environment so the child feels secure and safe. 

It sounds like you are a wonderful Grandma – that little guy is quite the lucky fellow to have you around!!

Best of luck -    

Yours Truly,

Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP
Author of Life With Toddlers and The Toddler ABC Guide

Toddler Wakes up Crying; Also Doesn't Understand When We Tell Her Not to Do Something

Q:  My daughter just turned 3 and she is a middle child.  We have a couple of problems. Number 1, when she wakes up from a nap or during the night, she cries like she doesn’t know where she is and it’s hard to "wake her" to tell her she’s ok.  Second, she doesn’t seem to understand when we tell her not to do something and put her in time out.  And the time out thing doesn’t work anymore because when she’s done, she does the same things again.  Please help - I’m at my wits end and don’t know what to do anymore!


A:  If she is truly asleep when she cries, it could be night terrors.  But if she is just waking up crying, it's possible she isn't getting enough sleep.  

1.  Make sure she isn't exposed to scary images or T.V. during the day.

2.  Make sure she is getting a good nap (I mean actually sleeping well).

3.  Have a very strict, regimented bedtime routine.  For example, 7:00 bath, 7:20 out of bath, get dressed, brush teeth, 7:30 in bed and read two books...etc.  She needs to feel secure and loved and a routine gives those comforting boundaries and lets her know what comes next and what to expect.  She needs to go to bed feeling secure and happy to maximize good sleep and decrease the waking up crying.  However, when she does, just hold and comfort her with reassuring, CALM words and energy.  When you are tense or frustrated, she feels it, so to help her out of it, project that love and calm.  I know it's so hard with two other children to care for, but she needs you right now!

As far as the time outs - if they are not working, the approach is probably wrong.  When they continue to act out, the negative behavior is being reinforced somehow - we do it all the time without even knowing it!  My books detail the TAG method - how to figure out why they are acting out, how to use time-outs correctly, and how to stop reinforcing the behavior we don't want to see.  You have to give her the opposite of what she is shooting for.  For example, if it's your attention, the time out has to serve to give her NO attention.  It's easy once you figure it out, but "getting" the concept takes some thought and guidance - which the books give.  Life with Toddlers is a long book with plenty of advice.  Toddler ABC Guide is like the cliff notes to Life with Toddlers – the quick read.  So you can choose which will suit you best, depending on how much you like to read - or how much time you have!

Best of luck - and hang in there!  Having three kids (especially when two of them are so young) is ....gosh, just…overwhelming - but you DO make it through somehow.  Just take it one day at a time and remember to breathe!!  You are awesome and I know you can do it!     

Toddler Throws a Fit When it's Time to Leave

Hey guys!  Here's another toddler-mom question:
Q:  I’m a single mom, age 31.  My son will be 2 soon.  Every time I try to leave or tell my son it’s time to go he starts throwing a fit.  I usually end up picking him up and having to carry him out of where ever we are at.  How can I get this under control?

A:  Give him a two minute warning to let him know a transition is coming up.  Simply say, "Two minutes, and we have to leave."  Then at one minute, give him a one minute warning.  When time is up, it's up.  You will still have to carry him out sometimes - it's just difficult for toddlers to transition.  But be absolutely consistent - always leave when you say.  And do not go more than two minutes, or he'll get the wrong idea of what "two minutes" actually is.  Eventually, all you have to say is "two minutes" and he'll know exactly what you mean and be cooperative.  My kids are older now, and I still give them a two to five minute heads up - it just creates an environment of respect and lets kids know what to expect and how to behave.

Chapter Four of Life with Toddlers is devoted to things you can do to promote positive behavior and increase cooperation with those daily difficulties - and transition is one of them!

Stay consistent!  It is so hard with the little guys, but they need it - it gives them security and control.

Best of luck to you! 

Monday, September 20

Toddler grandson totally out of control after divorce

Thoughts:  This was in  my first post, but I'm re-posting this question and answer because I didn't put a good title on the post, and it doesn't do anyone any good if they can't scroll down the post topics and see what I'm writing about!  Plus, this was a heartbreaker question - one that really moved me. 
Q:  “I need some serious help.  My son and his three children live with me (3, 5, and 7 years old) along with my daughter who is 11.  My son has just gotten custody and the adjustment has been so hard.  It’s to the point where I don’t want to be in my own home.  The 3-year-old screams daily when he doesn’t get what he wants.  He’ll keep at it for 20-45 minutes and I can’t take it anymore!  It’s so loud that you can hear him outside of the house and I have to just leave.  He doesn’t sleep either.  He’ll calm down while his dad reads him books before bed, but he’ll start the screaming again just as soon as the light goes off and it’s time to sleep.  Please help!”
A:  I'm SO sorry to hear about your difficulties.  Off the top of my head, here are a few thoughts:
Extreme behaviors like screaming can happen for a few reasons:
1.  Stress - divorce, move, etc.
2.  Disorders (autism, etc.) or illness (pain)
3.  Past screaming has been consistently reinforced (screaming is habitual to get what he wants)

If this behavior is new, I would think about #1.  However, if it is par for this child, I would consider #3.  But no matter which one it is, you still need to start by creating an environment of trust, security, and control.  Here's how to begin:

1.  He needs a STRICT, REGIMENTED ROUTINE.  No way around this one.  When toddlers have a basic idea of what comes "next" during the day, they are secure.  With a routine, they know what is expected and how to behave.  

2.  Proper rest.  If he's tired all the time, you will never get anywhere.  Tying this in with a routine, that means a strict nap or rest time every day.  Same time, same routine. 

3.  Feed him healthy foods.  In my humble opinion, sugar and processed foods are just behavior problems waiting to happen.  Check labels and make sure he’s not eating crap.

4.  NO reinforcement for the screaming.  Period.  If he starts up when others are around, put him in time out and let him finish.  Do not get mad, do not yell at him to stop.  Just put him away from everyone else and let him howl.  Say (only once), "When you have a quiet voice, you can get up."  If it's at night, make him stay put in bed, and you wait out the howling.  If he gets up, put him back.  The only reason he's doing this is because it has always worked.  He gets his way when he screams, so he'll keep it up until you're on the porch in tears and can't take it anymore.  Do not give in.  HOWEVER - he MUST feel safe and secure in his love from caregivers.  During the day, make sure he gets positive reinforcement for good behavior, and hugs and kisses when appropriate.   (And keep an eye out to make sure he doesn't scream so much that he throws up.)  This whole waiting-out-the-screaming business simply stinks - and can drag out forever.  I've got a section of my book dedicated to bedtime issues, but I don't lie about the effort and anguish.

5.  ALL caregivers must be on board with the same method, or it simply will not work.  If he's getting conflicting messages from you, dad, mom, teachers...it is too confusing.  He needs CONSISTENT structure, a routine, and all caregivers have to STOP reinforcing the screaming.

There are no quick fixes for this.  He has clearly learned what works.  You have to teach him "no, this doesn't work anymore".  And if daddy isn't on board, you are out of luck.  Daddy must know how to stop the reinforcing as well.

There are so many factors in child behavior that it is simply impossible to give you a NOW answer - especially in an email.  My book does give many, many strategies to create this environment of trust, security, and control, and it's a great starting place.  However, I can't do this for you - caregivers are the ones who must assess the reason for the behavior, and change their reactions to stop the negative nonsense.  My book can give you the tools to start with, but it all depends on caregivers.  It’s up to you to figure out WHY he’s screaming and give him the opposite of the demand.   I know that's a crappy answer, but I'm never one to sugar-coat!  And believe me, I still feel your pain! 

Also remember that kids easily pick up on your vibes...if you are constantly irritated, he'll know - and it will make him feel insecure...which means out of control...and then everyone is spinning again.

I hope this helps a bit.  I'm sorry there are no quick fixes, but toddler behavior is complex - there are so many emotions and external factors.  You have to look at the entire picture.

I do not normally have time to give such lengthy emails, but I wanted to give you some feedback so you can get a head start.

Best of luck!  Hang in there...the other kids need you, too.

Sincerely,
Michelle Smith, Life with Toddlers 

Fighting, whining siblings; Toddler screams,yells, hits, won't sit still

Q:  I am a mother of 3 children, 9, 7, and 3.  My concerns are that my 9 yr old and 7 yr old fight constantly! Neither of them know how to communicate with me or each other without whining. My second concern is with my 3 yr old.  I can't take him anywhere.  He does not listen at all!  He screams, yells, hits, and won't sit still, not even to eat a meal.  And eating is another issue.  He doesn't like to eat anything! I am feeling like I lost all control with my children and I have no idea how to bring peace and order to my home. I am frustrated and clueless at this point.  I would love some useful advise!

A:  Well, good gravy - it sounds like you're in one heck of a spotl!!  I'm so sorry about the difficulties - and I totally understand.  My children are spaced out in age almost exactly the same and it is so hard to juggle all their needs.

Okay, here's the deal.  The buck stops and starts with you, so whatever it is you are doing to handle things, let's step back and reset.  I'm sure you're about to pull all of your hair out, but until YOU start changing, they won't!  So - here's what you need to do to start turning things around:

1.  Stay calm.  No yelling, no threatening, no spanking...don't do anything that gives them negative attention.

2.  Make sure they are each getting positive attention - if they are not, they will do anything and everything to get your attention - even if it means you yelling.

3.  Do not tolerate any whining.  When they whine, stop them immediately.  Calmly say, "We do not whine.  You may ask/say..." then procede to SHOW them exactly what you want.  Say the exact words in the exact tone you are looking for.  Model for them!!  They do not know until you show them.  Just saying "no whining" gives them no guidance on what you DO want.  Calmly show them.  When they fight, always give guidance on how to handle the situation and what they should say to each other.  Act it out if you have to - "Kara, I want you to say to your brother, 'I don't like it when you take my books.'  And John, you say, 'Alright, I'm sorry.'"  It's daily, nonstop, and horribly tiresome, but they have to have constant guidance and modeling on what you want to see.

4.  They must learn to respect each other and you.  Model, show, guide!  All the time.
 
5.  Everyone needs a good dose of my Five Basics: Structure, Communication, Limits, Consistency, and Guidance.  It is detailed in my book and creates an environment of trust, security and control.  You, as mom, have to provide them with these Five Basics to set up a complete positive environment.

For your 3 year old:

First of all...the Five Basics again.  He absolutely needs a structured environment (a set schedule so he knows what comes next and what to expect), an appropriate method of communication so he can let you know how he feels, limits so he feels secure, consistency so he feels safe and in control, and guidance on how to do ALL this.  Guidance on how to act, what you want, what he is supposed to say and do.  It sounds like he does not have this structure and he is begging for your attention.  It can easily spiral into "Don't do this!, Don't do that!, Stop it!, Cut it out!..." and so on.  This gives him A) negative attention - which we absolutely do NOT want and B) no idea how you DO want him to act.  You need to show him...eighty million times a day.  And he has to have consequences to his negative behavior that DENY him what he is looking for (your negative attention).  That means time outs (the how-to's are in my book - it needs to be done correctly or it won't work).  Time outs simply let him know that he can't act that way, and if he does, it doesn't work to get him what he wants.  Once you start changing YOUR reaction to his behavior, the behavior will change.  He is doing it based on what he knows you will do, and based on the simple fact that he doesn't know how else to act.  He is constantly being reinforced for this behavior, so he keeps it up.  So if you stop reinforcing, and CONSISTENTLY show him a different way to go about getting what he wants, the behavior will change for the better.  All of this is detailed in the book, following the TAG method (Toddler ABC Guide).  It teaches you how to stop reinforcing the behavior.  We do it all the time and don't even realize it!! 

Girl, I know you are hurting, angry, and confused and I am so, so sorry.  But you CAN do this - absolutely, without a doubt, I'm sure you can.  You just need some guidance on how.  And you have to stay consistent, firm, and loving.  It is SO hard with all the other nonsense we have to deal with just living life, but your kids need you - and we have to honor that gift we've been given!!

You hang in there and do your best to turn things around in your house.  Start showing everyone how they SHOULD act - remember: model, show, guide.  All the time! 

Good luck! 

Yours Truly,

Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP

How to address toddler fears

Q:  Seeking insight for my daughter whose 25 month old girl has some fears and we’re not sure how to address them. She was with cousins her age who went sledding.  She wasn’t afraid of the snow but freaked out when she went down a hill in a sled. She enjoys playing with her cousins but kept saying she wanted to be inside. Also, we farm and she is afraid of the tractors and combines even though her Papa and Grandma are riding in them. We do hope that she will out-grow them, but any advice on how to address these fears?  Thank you so much.

A:  Well, good news.  This all sounds normal!  Sometimes they have strong fears.  The sled is going to be fast - and if she feels out of control in it, then it's okay to let her pass on the ride.  And the tractor is BIG - think about how big and scary that is to a little person!  Just sit down on the ground and get a good look at it; from her perspective, it's a monster of a thing.  The only thing I can suggest is to try and desensitize her to them.  As far as the sled, just let her watch for now.  If she feels like it, let her ride with an adult.  Otherwise, as long as she sees the fun others are having, she'll come around when she's ready.  Until then, if she wants to go inside, let her.  She may feel safer watching from inside.

With the tractor and combine, just let her watch as well.  You can possibly tie some balloons to it - or if she is COMPLETELY okay with it, let a stuffed animal or doll "ride" with an adult.  (Make sure she is okay, though - if she starts to cry when the toy goes riding off, stop and give it back or it will do more damage than good.)  Start with the toy just sitting or "playing" on it but make sure the engine is OFF - it is loud and scary!!  You can have her pat the wheel, or lift her up to put the toy on it - just for a few minutes.  Let her see that her doll is okay.  From there, just play around it here and there, and work up to being around it with the engine on.  Make sure you don't make a big deal out of her getting over the fear - just act like you could care less if she likes it or not.  When she starts to act okay with it, THEN you can ask if the doll/animal "wants" a ride.  But make sure and stop/give it back if she gets upset, and don't let someone take off with the toy for an hour!  (not good!)

She is still very young and just learning how to venture into the big, bad world.  Let her gain some confidence and she will be just fine!  She needs to start associating the equipment with good/happy/fun - once she gets enough of that association, she should overcome the fear.   
Yours Truly,

Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP

Todder bites, hits, yells - and doesn't get why she's in trouble!

Q:  My 18 month old daughter hits, bites, yells and challenges me.  Sometimes I feel as though it doesn’t even sink in to her why she is getting in trouble.  Help!
A:  Make sure the discipline technique you are using curbs the behavior.  If it's getting worse, you may be unknowingly reinforcing what you don't want to see.  Stay consistent, firm, and loving with the correct discipline and guidance, and she will understand why she's in trouble.  She is old enough now that she will test and test to make certain you mean and do what you say.  Just make sure you are not reinforcing negative behavior - that is key.  Life with Toddlers talks about connecting the 'crime and punishment' and what it takes for them to understand - in a way that promotes what you WANT to see, not what you DON'T.  As parents, it is so hard for us to be consistent and loving...gosh, it's so tiring!  But, if you keep running the marathon and educate yourself on the best discipline that works for you, one day you will wake up and have this amazing, smart, caring, and secure human being standing in front of you and you'll think - "oh my gosh...I raised her!!"

You are awesome - I know you can do it!
 
Yours Truly,

Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP

Sunday, September 19

Toddler Completely Out of Control

Thoughts for the day: I can type!  Woohoo!  My burned thumb is nearly completely healed (I'm a big fan of silver to aid healing and ward off bugs) so I'm typing away, two hands and everything!  And today is Cowboy game day (I live in Texas and actually like pro football) so we've got our flag flying out front, nacho cheese sauce in the works, and gearing to get our butts kicked.  (Sorry, I'm a realist.) 
OH, and yesterday, I went to get a bridal shower gift for one of my speech therapy buds.  I cheerily ask the sales clerk to print me up the registry list and she cheerily agrees.  So out pops the first three sheets.  No problem.  But they keep coming...and keep coming...and my eyes are getting bigger and bigger as my brow furrows and chin drops.  Fifteen pages later, I'm good to go.  FIFTEEN.  Is that normal?  I've never registered for anything, ever, so I have no idea.  Do you get that nifty scanner in your hot little hands and just go beserk?  Hmmm...  So anyway, I end up with a thirty dollar stainless steel colander and a set of measuring cups.  (Along with being a realist, I'm also incredibly boring and practical.  No fun stuff from me!)  Are stainless steel colanders supposed to cost 30 bones???  I mean, really??  This girl better be able to make pasta every day and not EV-ER have to buy another colander as long as she lives.   
Q & A
So on to our question of the day.  This is heartbreaking - from single mom with a toddler who is completely out of control.  I never get any more info than the original question, but it's easy to read into it and see that this child is severly lacking positive attention and guidance.  And being a single mom makes it twice as difficult to find the energy and provide what your child needs.  Again, I wish I could hug you all...   
Q:  My 2 ½ year old has become a totally different child. When we go to the mall, he won’t stay with me, he just runs around like a crazy person.  If I try to get him he screams bloody murder. When I spank him it doesn’t even phase him. At home, he goes around breaking things and tearing things up for no reason. When I put him in time out (he has a time out chair) he gets up repetitively. I just try to stick with it. He won’t go to bed, and even screams in his sleep. There's so many problems, it would take up an entire page. I’m a single mom and at my wits end. Crying has become my only out here lately. Help! I want to be a good mom but I’ve just gotten to the point where I don’t know what else to do.
A:  Oh, honey.  I'm so, so sorry you're having such a hard time.

It sounds to me like the first thing your child needs is some consistency and stability.  You have your work cut out for you being a single mom.  If you work, try to get a consistent, loving, trustworthy caregiver.  Toddlers need security, trust and control.  He needs YOU to be totally in control so that when he flips out (as they always do) you show him how to get control of his emotions.  He also needs you to set up a loving, firm, KIND, and absolutely consistent environment.  Your routine and schedule needs to be the same every day.  Wake up, eat, daycare, pick up, dinner, bedtime routine...the whole shabang.  When you set up this structure, it gives him security, boundaries, and teaches him to trust you.  If you have a consistent, loving, but absolutely structured bedtime routine, he will stop the bedtime nonsense.  He's only doing it to get ANY sort of attention from you - and he's just begging for limits, loving guidance, and control.  So turn things around.  Write down a schedule if you have to: 6:00 eat dinner (with your TOTAL focus and positive attention), 6:30 bath, 6:50 out of bath (no exceptions - set a timer if you need to and give him a "two more minutes" alert), 7:00 two books while sitting on your lap (again, only two books, no exceptions), 7:20 in bed with a nighttime song...etc.  Set it up however you want, but make darn sure you stick to it - LOVINGLY redirect when he tries to test boundaries.

He's running in the mall and tearing up the house because A) it's a darn sure way to get your attention and B) you are reinforcing that he DOES get your attention when he does this.  But it's all NEGATIVE attention.  He gets yelled at, spanked, chased...and if that's the only thing he's figured out to do to get you to notice him, that's what he'll do.  So.  He needs some positive attention from you during the day.  I know you are worn totally flat, but you have GOT to give him this - otherwise he will do everything he can to get your negative attention.  When he does something good, TELL HIM.  Hug him and tell him specifically what you liked: "I like how you put your toys away when I asked" or "I like it when you eat your food so nicely" or "Oooh, I love it when you stay with Mommy!"  This reinforces the positive - what you WANT to see.  He'll eventually catch on that this is attention too, and it's happy attention - way better! 

When he acts up:

1) Do not yell, spank, or grab - that reinforces negative attention from you.

INSTEAD

2) Stay calm.
3) Give him the opposite of what he wants (my TAG guide).  Is it attention?  Calmly put him in time out - don't say A WORD - don't even look at him.  Make him stay put.  That means planting yourself next to him to put him back in when he runs - eight times or eighty times, if necessary.  Just keep your body turned so he is not getting your direct attention.  Do not talk, do not lecure, do not yell, do not hit.  If you have to physically keep him in time out, I have actually put a kid in my lap before and gently but firmly keep my arms around them and made them stay.  I don't say anything, and I turn my head away.  That lets them know that (1) they are going to stay put, by golly, (2) they aren't going to get me worked up about it, and (3) they are most certainly NOT going to get my attention with the nonsense and kicking and screaming.  Once he calms down, you may say, "we do not hit mommy" or "we do not throw toys"...whatever the crime was.  Just ONE SHORT sentence, then let him go. 

You will have to do this over and over at first, because he is used to you acting a certain way and getting certain reactions from you.  He will test over and over to make sure you haven't changed your mind and want to give him a little more negative attention.  You have to totally change your approach and reactions to him, girlfriend.

Hang in there.  Once you get some guidance and direction and figure out the TAG method, your life will be a whole lot easier!        

Yours Truly,

Michelle Smith, M.S., SLP

Friday, September 17

Toddler won't stay out of entertainment center! Help!!

Hey guys!  So I just burned the shinola out of my thumb taking brownies out of the oven.  I’ve got a humongous ice bandage on my left hand and look like a freaking monkey, finger-typing with my right – so this will be brief.  Plus, my family is having a “Star Wars: Clone Wars” season-premiere-party in the other room, eating all my brownies!!  Dang-IT.
This question is from a mom with a toddler who won’t stay out of the entertainment center – nothing any of us could relate to or anything…
Q:  My daughter is almost 11 months. She is walking and exploring everything. She likes to go to the entertainment center and touches all the equipment and opens the drawers and pulls out wires and discs. Right now I physically move her and tell her, "No" but she goes right back to it. What can I do to have her learn not to touch the entertainment center?
A:  Good question, and good news...totally normal behavior!  My own daughter did the same thing.  Geez, I got so tired of saying, "We don't dump Mommy's CD's on the floor..."  The only bad news (I say, "only"...yikes!) is that you have to repeat yourself and repeat yourself until you're blue in the face.  You are doing the right thing - physically remove her and keep your comment very short (ie, "no touching") or even some sound associated with "no" - like "ah" or "mm mm" (as in 'no no').  Whatever you do, don't freak out, yell, or otherwise start making her think it's cool to get your attention by heading toward the entertainment center.  You can even physically block her.  Don't talk; just stand in her way and as she tries to move forward, and keep moving your legs to block her as she tries to go around.  She might get ticked, but let her fuss - just her way of saying, "what gives?!"  If she starts to tantrum, move her to a time out (how-to's are in my book...and it's only to diffuse the crying and let a child know that they don't get their way when they tantrum...otherwise they learn quickly that tantrums work!)

She's at an age where she's so curious and 'wow, I can move!!' - so she needs to be able to get into some stuff.  Maybe have one cabinet in the kitchen - or even the entertainment center - that is 'hers' - with cool "mommy" stuff in it: old remote controls or phones, real keys on a chain, Tupperware with fun stuff in it, or even some of those markers that only draw on certain paper (although at 11 months...serious supervision is needed - she's liable to start munching on them).  When she heads for the wires, you can either do the "block-her dance", or redirect to what IS hers.  I find that toddlers do much better when they're given a "yes" or choice in what they CAN do instead of being told 'no' all the time with no redirection.  So something like, "No ma'am.  You may play in your drawer instead."  Or (if you are freaking tired of repeating yourself) just that "ah" ("no") noise with a physical cue (pick her up or point) to go to 'her drawer' would be fine. 

Stay consistent.  She needs that desperately right now.  You are defining a world of comfort and security for her and you must stick with it.  Repeat, redo, repeat, redo.  It's enough to make your head spin, but keep at it!  That is the only way she learns that you are trustworthy with what you say and do.  She may get irked (or even furious sometimes), but in the end, it will give her an awesome sense of control, boundaries, and security, which keeps her from going into overload.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 14

Welcome to my new blog!

Hey guys!  Yeaaa!  I’m finally blogging!  So okay, it took long enough, and yes, I’m way behind the times, but what can I say?  I’ve been too frightened to start something like this, thinking I’ll spend way too much time on it – then I’ll get behind on everything else.  And I’m very cranky when I get too busy.  Plus, shamefully, I'm kind of old and farty (even though I'm not that old) and not into the whole facebook, blogging, iphones, etc.  I’ve still got a brick of a caveman phone and it takes me 8 minutes to text 12 words.  My kids in therapy often comment, “Hey, my grandma has that same phone!”  Well, woohoo…that’s just… great.  You would think my IT, tech-y husband would keep us in the loop of the latest and greatest gadgets, but we’re a bit nostalgic.  I’ve also still got a butcher block kitchen table with those white matching chairs (so very 90’s) - which I’m dying to toss out the window but hubby would have a stroke.  I told him if he ever dies, that’s what I’m doing first.  Forget life insurance.  That table will be removed from my sight at once. 
So I thought that, in addition to giving you some boring aspect of “what I’m thinking today” (sometimes I have funny stories – like last week when a sweet little 6 year old informed me in no uncertain terms that her father made “a billion dollars a year”) I’d share some of my Q&A’s that I get from my website when people write me about their toddler woes.  Most of the time the submissions are quite heart-wrenching and I wish I could reach out and hug each and every one of these people.  Just the act of sharing your pain and seeking help tells me oodles about your dedication and commitment to being a good caregiver. 
So onward ho!  Our first question is from a Grandma dealing with endless screaming.  My answer is a bit long-winded, but this story really grabbed me. 
Q:  “I need some serious help.  My son and his three children live with me (3, 5, and 7 years old) along with my daughter who is 11.  My son has just gotten custody and the adjustment has been so hard.  It’s to the point where I don’t want to be in my own home.  The 3-year-old screams daily when he doesn’t get what he wants.  He’ll keep at it for 20-45 minutes and I can’t take it anymore!  It’s so loud that you can hear him outside of the house and I have to just leave.  He doesn’t sleep either.  He’ll calm down while his dad reads him books before bed, but he’ll start the screaming again just as soon as the light goes off and it’s time to sleep.  Please help!”
A:  I'm SO sorry to hear about your difficulties.  Off the top of my head, here are a few thoughts:
Extreme behaviors like screaming can happen for a few reasons:
1.  Stress - divorce, move, etc.
2.  Disorders (autism, etc.) or illness (pain)
3.  Past screaming has been consistently reinforced (screaming is habitual to get what he wants)

If this behavior is new, I would think about #1.  However, if it is par for this child, I would consider #3.  But no matter which one it is, you still need to start by creating an environment of trust, security, and control.  Here's how to begin:

1.  He needs a STRICT, REGIMENTED ROUTINE.  No way around this one.  When toddlers have a basic idea of what comes "next" during the day, they are secure.  With a routine, they know what is expected and how to behave.  

2.  Proper rest.  If he's tired all the time, you will never get anywhere.  Tying this in with a routine, that means a strict nap or rest time every day.  Same time, same routine. 

3.  Feed him healthy foods.  In my humble opinion, sugar and processed foods are just behavior problems waiting to happen.  Check labels and make sure he’s not eating crap.

4.  NO reinforcement for the screaming.  Period.  If he starts up when others are around, put him in time out and let him finish.  Do not get mad, do not yell at him to stop.  Just put him away from everyone else and let him howl.  Say (only once), "When you have a quiet voice, you can get up."  If it's at night, make him stay put in bed, and you wait out the howling.  If he gets up, put him back.  The only reason he's doing this is because it has always worked.  He gets his way when he screams, so he'll keep it up until you're on the porch in tears and can't take it anymore.  Do not give in.  HOWEVER - he MUST feel safe and secure in his love from caregivers.  During the day, make sure he gets positive reinforcement for good behavior, and hugs and kisses when appropriate.   (And keep an eye out to make sure he doesn't scream so much that he throws up.)  This whole waiting-out-the-screaming business simply stinks - and can drag out forever.  I've got a section of my book dedicated to bedtime issues, but I don't lie about the effort and anguish.

5.  ALL caregivers must be on board with the same method, or it simply will not work.  If he's getting conflicting messages from you, dad, mom, teachers...it is too confusing.  He needs CONSISTENT structure, a routine, and all caregivers have to STOP reinforcing the screaming.

There are no quick fixes for this.  He has clearly learned what works.  You have to teach him "no, this doesn't work anymore".  And if daddy isn't on board, you are out of luck.  Daddy must know how to stop the reinforcing as well.

There are so many factors in child behavior that it is simply impossible to give you a NOW answer - especially in an email.  My book does give many, many strategies to create this environment of trust, security, and control, and it's a great starting place.  However, I can't do this for you - caregivers are the ones who must assess the reason for the behavior, and change their reactions to stop the negative nonsense.  My book can give you the tools to start with, but it all depends on caregivers.  It’s up to you to figure out WHY he’s screaming and give him the opposite of the demand.   I know that's a crappy answer, but I'm never one to sugar-coat!  And believe me, I still feel your pain! 

Also remember that kids easily pick up on your vibes...if you are constantly irritated, he'll know - and it will make him feel insecure...which means out of control...and then everyone is spinning again.

I hope this helps a bit.  I'm sorry there are no quick fixes, but toddler behavior is complex - there are so many emotions and external factors.  You have to look at the entire picture.

I do not normally have time to give such lengthy emails, but I wanted to give you some feedback so you can get a head start.

Best of luck!  Hang in there...the other kids need you, too.

Sincerely,
Michelle Smith, Life with Toddlers