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

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