Friday, January 28

Mama Can't Dance

This has nothing to do with toddler anything, so forgive.  This is a 'getting old stinks' moment.

So we got Dance Central for the XBox this Christmas.  Quite exciting since I was a bebopping, grooving cheerleader a hundred years ago.  Sure, I can still bust a move, sista!  Pop it in and let me at it! 

At first my kids were uber impressed at my wiggle ability, but as we play it more and more, the songs get harder, and the moves get baffling.  Arm what?  Leg kick huh?  Jump over here, jump over there...I can't freaking keep up.  Then it takes pictures of you.  And what shows up on the screen is some lumpy old fart wearing my clothes.

I guess the short road to forty can't dance after all.

Chocolate!  I need chocolate... 

Thursday, January 27

Enough With the Crappy Food, Already! Behavior Problems Related to Food

Okay, so I have a beef.  A T-Bone kind of beef. 

Let's start with a little background.  I'm a speech therapist, and at present, I cover maternity leaves.  A speech therapist has a baby and I say, "See ya!  Got your caseload covered!" 

I'm covering an elementary school right now that has several Autistic little cuties around 5-6 years old.  And current wisdom teaches reinforcements for good behavior.  So if you have a completely out-of-control child with Autism, as soon as they sit still for 3 seconds, you give them a reinforcer.  Nice job, buddy!  Now sit still for another 5 seconds and you'll get another reinforcer.  Woohoo!  Kinda trains them that good things happen with they cooperate.  You eventually extend the time it takes to get a reinforcer, and you've got a kid that can participate in an activity for a normal length of time.  Easy enough, right?

Now, don't get me wrong because these teachers are beautiful, wonderful people and they've been at this a lot longer than me, so I have to assume they know what they're doing.  However, as a mom, I can't quite wrap my brain around all the food for reinforcers.  Because it's not really food.  It's crap.  Sugar-infested, hurt your teeth kind of crap.  Pretzels would be okay.  I could live with pretzels.  But that's as healthy as it gets.  Cuz we're talking chocolate chips, french fries, Cheetos (no knocking the Cheetos, b/c I love those things), chocolate granola-bite-things, gummies, smarties, oreos, m&m' get the picture.

I'm sitting next to a kid the other day that's getting Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal as a reinforcer.  This is a kid that won't participate in diddly, won't talk, and has tantrums about every 30 minutes.  So I get the need for a reinforcer to participate in music class.  No prob.  But trying to keep a straight face was hard.  My eyes got bigger and bigger as this kid got a new piece of cereal every 5 seconds.  He ends up COVERED in sugar - hands and face are buried in white.  After music, he goes and jumps on the mini-tramp like a monkey and one of the teachers says, "He won't stop jumping...don't know why."  The other replied, "Does he want an Oreo...what's the matter with him?"

Time for a moment of pause.

They seriously want to know why he's acting like a happy kangaroo?  Really?  I mean, no April Fools, no "ha-ha you're on candid camera"?  Did they really and truly miss the fact that they just gave him about a cup of sugar?

I pondered this as I moved on to my next kid.  So I sat down to work with him and he starts to fuss.  The teacher threatens, "Do you want your cupcake?"  "Yes!" he blurts.  "Then finish your speech" she says.  Meanwhile, I'm thinking, cupcake sticker, cupcake squishy toy...whatever.  It's all good.  We finish working and no sooner do I get my books and toys out of his sight than his teacher pops over with a half-eaten cupcake.  A real, honest to goodness you-eat-it cupcake.  She plops it down in front of him as he digs in to the 2 inch icing with glee.  I managed to keep from yelling something inappropriate by averting my gaze to the clock, but had to stifle an impending screech.  It was 10:15 in the morning.  A CUPCAKE at 10:15 a.m.  What...what???  And he'd obviously had the first half of it earlier in the morning!

Clearly frustrated, I go next door and work with the next kid.  His teacher is giving him a test of sorts, asking him to repeat words to see what sounds he needs work on.  Right up my alley!  Lemme at it, sister!  I'll take over.  So she forks over the test with a good-luck face and pipes, "This involves lots and lots of pancake."

Oh brother.  Really?

Yes, really.  Sure enough, I have to toss a little triangle of pancake at him every five words so he'll sit still and work with me.  And plain jane pancake isn't good enough.  He's got a container of syrup that he dips it in before popping it in the kisser.

By this time I've given up, but curiosity gave way and I asked the teacher whether pancakes are the best reinforcer for him or not.  She shook her head and lamented, "Oh, it's actually good that he eats those.  He generally won't eat anything.  Most of the time he has ketchup sandwiches for lunch.  He won't eat meat, cheese...nothing."

Hmm.  Okay.

On my way back to the speech room, I pass a basket of snacks that 1st graders brought from home.  Donuts, chips, cheese cracker squares, cookies, and snack cakes.  RE-ALLY????

Holy cow, people.  We feed our kids this nonsense and then wonder why they act like toots?

Now, I certainly don't claim to be a know-it-all with Autism.  These awesome teachers have run the gamut of what works and what doesn't, so I'm not about to tell them what to do.  But it gets you thinking.  Your average Joe-kid getting fueled with junk food??  Eye yie yie!

Sunday, January 23

Toddler Hits, Bites, Screams, Throws Everything, Pulls Hair, Won't Sleep. Help!

Q:  I don't know where to begin. My son will be 2 in May.  He hits everyone, including me.  He pulls hair, bites, and screams at the top of his lungs if he does not get his own way.  He pinches, and rips toys out of other kids hands.  He has a little brother who will be one in April.  He is mean to his brother.  I can't go to the store or a restaurant.  At stores he refuses to sit in a cart and trys to pull everything off the racks and tags off of clothing. During eating time he throws his food on the ground and will not eat.  If he is upset about something he throws what ever he can get his hands on.  Also, naps are impossible.  I feel like I have to hold him down to get him to take a nap.  It is a struggle to get him to sleep, even at night.  He will not sleep in his own bed and refuses to go to sleep with out a struggle.  I am exhausted and feel like everyone is looking at me.  He is exhausting and acts this way 24/7.

A:  Good gravy, you've got one angry little critter!!
I am SO so sorry that you are so exhausted...I feel your pain through your writing.  And it's no wonder - having two so close together - that is tough!
Well, he's definitely angry.  And here's what I want you to do.  Step back and really think about your interactions with him.  I'm guessing they are 90% exasperated or angry...with reason.  He acts like a toot, does NOT act lovable, so it's incredibly difficult to feel loving toward him, then he's dying for your attention...  See a pattern here?  On goes the cycle of doing whatever he can to get your attention - throwing, biting, etc.  He's not even two, yet you've had a baby for nearly a year now - and babies demand our attention.  That's just the way it is.  And here he is, wondering how the heck he can get your love and attention away from the little one.
You are truly in a tough spot.  Your baby needs you, but your big guy needs you as well.  And the first thing he needs to feel secure is a strict schedule.  And honey - you may as well forget restaurants and shopping unless you have a sitter - because that battle will be agonizing every time.  Take a deep breath and roll with the fact that you are stuck without much of a life for a while.  I promise it will get better - they get older and more independent, and one day you can actually go to the bathroom without wailing at the door.  I swear, it happens!! 
1.  Get a routine.  Strict schedule.  Wake up, eat, play, eat, nap...same routine, same time, every day.  Toddlers feel secure when they know what will come next and what to expect.  Part of his problem may be the sleep issues - if you can get a routine down, sleeping should come easier.  Toddlers that sleep well at night are set up to have better daytime behavior.  So have a strict bedtime routine as well.  Bath, two books ('two books' means two books!! - not three or four!), kiss, lights out.  No deviations.  He'll scream for water and heaven knows what else, but if you give in, you are training him that it works to scream.  It has to stop.  Do your best to make him feel loved and secure, but be firm with the bedtime routine.
2.  You have GOT to find some consistent time to spend with him.  Even thirty minutes a day.  Color together, play with trucks, whatever.  I know the baby will get sick, or not nap - things happen that muck up our day and your time with him will constantly be challenged, but make a serious effort.  He is dying for your attention.
3.  He CANNOT continue to get away with negative behavior.  And here's where you are earning your medal in Mommy-ing.  You have to have consistent, firm consequences that are the opposite of what he actually wants.  You have to step back and figure out why he's throwing a fit, and give him the opposite.  And girl, I know how hard this is when you've got a baby in tow - but until you can step back and be objective, your emotions will continue to monkey with effective discipline.  If he (ie) throws his food, he must leave the table (and your attention) for a time out.  And doing that darn time out dance with a baby in the wings will be a serious trick, but you've got to figure something out.  He has to stay in time out - withOUT your attention - until he calms down.  That means you have to make him stay put.  Do what you must physically (pick him up, take him back to time out spot, or stand behind him to make him stay put, etc.,) but DO NOT look at him or talk - that is attention.
If you have any resources for help, use them.  Having two that young is going to turn your hair gray, no matter how well behaved they are.  Utilize help so that you can give them the individual attention that they need and keep some semblance of energy to keep up with the discipline.
My book would be a good resource for you (Toddler ABC Guide because it's a quick read), but finding the time to read it would be a bear.  However, if you could, and you can change your thinking, utilize the strategies, and get yourself and the kids on a schedule, your life should be easier.  It's just the mountain of getting there...and I get that. 
In the meantime, 1) SCHEDULE, 2) time alone w/ him, 3) firm, consistent consequences (my book details this), and 4) keep your emotions in check.  He cannot be reinforced for the negative behavior - and the more tired you are, the more likely you will give in.  Just remember that giving in will make the future that much harder.  You're not doing yourself any favors.  And you certainly aren't doing him any favors, either.  When he acts up, yet still gets what he wants, he is being trained that the behavior works.  And 'getting what he wants' could mean you yelling or giving him any kind of attention at all.  Remember, try to step back and be objective about the reason for the behavior.
Best of luck to you - you are in the middle of the marathon and just have to keep going.  Wake up each day, do your best, and keep going.  Crying is good sometimes - so is chocolate and hot tea.  :)  Talk with friends and remember to laugh.  And don't worry about people looking at you.  They aren't living your life and walking in your shoes, so they can just go fly a kite!

4 Year Old Throws Fits, Yells, Screams, Kicks - Mommy Can't Get Through to Her

Q:  I have a 2 yr old and a 4 yr old.  My 4 yr old will not listen.  She gets her brother to do things that is not allowed.  She throws fits, yells and screams at the top of her lungs, and kicks.  I just can't seem to get through to her.  I'm at my wits end and don't know what to do!

A:  It sounds like the 4 year old has been reinforced for the negative behavior at some point - otherwise she wouldn't do it and expect it to get her what she wants.  She may also be jealous of the younger one.  Just by nature of being two, they will demand more of Mommy's attention, and that is hard on older siblings. 

My books have a ton of strategies (Toddler ABC Guide is a quick read, Life with Toddlers much longer), but overall, you have to start changing your thinking.  Look at WHY she's acting that way and make the consequence the opposite of what she's trying to get.  More importantly, you have to start guiding her on what you want to see instead.  She is trying to get your attention, or get her way, etc. and she doesn't know another way to go about it until you SHOW her.  Tell her and show her how to ask and act appropriately to get what she wants.  The behavior has to stop - absolutely.  But if you aren't getting through to her, you have got to try a different approach to your consequence or "punishment".  You have to make sure you are not unknowingly reinforcing what you don't want to see.  Yelling at her for the behavior is actually a reinforcer if the goal is attention...see what I mean?  And if your attention is often tied to the 2 year old, she'll try to get him into trouble so that you'll "see" her. 
I know it is SO difficult with a toddler in tow, but you also need to make sure that the older child is getting enough positive attention.  This negative behavior is generally a result of wanting mom's attention, and not knowing how to act and what to do instead to get it.  Make sure that your interactions with her are not turning into exasperation most of the time.  She will sense it and get more and more out of control.  You have to step back, look at the big picture of what she is trying to gain with the behavior, and address it objectively.  That is nearly impossible (Life with Toddlers is ALL about it), but it has to be the goal if you want to change the behavior.  It starts and stops with the caregiver. 
So.  Step back, be objective, change your approach to discipline/consequences/punishment, and make sure she is getting positive attention for the good that she does.
You can do it!  Hang in there!

Toddler Going Into Attack Mode. Also Wakes Up Screaming/Thrashing. Why?

Q:  Hopefully a simple question. My 2 year old son goes into some sort of attack mode for no reason, no triggers. He starts hiting, biting, kicking, pulling hair, and screaming.  He was 4 weeks premature, has a speech delay and seems to get very frustrated very easily.  What can I do to help him?  He seems to target my older daughter (12). When she is not around, he'll go after me or my 1 year old.  When he sleeps, he'll sometimes wake up screaming and thrashing.  We can't hold him when this happens because of the thrashing.  We just set him down away from anything harmful.  In the other attack mode, we set him down for time out or stand him in a corner.  When he calms down, he has to appologize to whoever he hurt. We try to talk in a soft tone to see what's wrong but he can't talk enough to tell us.  Its like he gets so frustrated but confused at the same time. What can I do?

A:  Well, actually...not so simple!  You sound very intuitive - and yes, he does sound frustrated and confused.  It seems like you've hit right on the emotion. 
Yes, this could be a normal two-year-old frustration topped with the delayed development...we see a lot of behavior issues in speech therapy.  Speaking of, is he IN speech therapy?  There may be something to the communication aspect that an SLP could address.  At the very least, if you have him evaluated and they don't find anything, a good therapist should at least be able to give you some pointers on developing his communication at home.  Also, if his hearing hasn't been checked, do that.  If he can't hear, then he can't understand you, he will get confused, and he can't develop sounds and talk.  Look into those two things first, and in the meantime, teach him sign language if you haven't already.  He HAS to have some way to communicate with you or the poor little guy will continue to be extremely frustrated.  He needs to know the basics: eat, more, help, milk, hurt, bath, etc.  From there you can expand - and it's amazing what these little guys actually know but can't tell you for lack of communication.  
Did you see the video on my website of the child using sign?  She was about 18 months old at the time - and knew SO many signs.  That was my daughter, and she was delayed in her language development (ended up in speech therapy!) but we cut out a ton of frustration by using signs.  I remember her being in the car, trying to talk and I just couldn't understand her - and she'd get so upset and angry.  As a speech therapist/mommy, that was heartbreaking.  BUT, through the sign language, she was able to communicate so much with me, thus cutting down the frustration level.  She was in speech therapy for a year when she was four, and now she's problems whatsoever.
As far as your consequences, it sounds like you are doing the right thing, talking softly, but making him calm down, then apologize.  But the root of it is the outbursts.  It may seem like there is no trigger, but for outbursts like that, there has to be something.  You are just going to have to try and step back and figure out what it is.  Is it possible that he is in physical pain?  Even something as simple as teeth?  Could it be an allergic or negative reaction to any foods?  When/if you rule that out, look at what he is trying to gain by the outbursts...and make sure he does not get it.  THEN, and most importantly, you have to TELL and SHOW him how to act next time.  Model the words and actions for him so he will know what he is supposed to do instead.  And listen - he's young, so you will have to do this eight million times, but he will catch on.  As long as he actually hears you (remember to check his hearing), this will help him tremendously.  He is obviously very frustrated and doesn't know how to act or what to do.
Now, the waking up at night and thrashing/screaming...that's something you need to get to the bottom of quickly.  I suppose it's possible that he's just overtired from the stimulus of the day.  If so, the first thing you do is get him on a very regimented schedule.  Same activities at the same time everyday.  Make sure he is napping and getting enough sleep.  Once you've got him on a strict schedule (toddlers love the security of knowing what comes next and what to expect) - and you are two weeks into it and he's still waking up screaming...then you need to dig deeper.  Secure and happy toddlers are ones that get enough sleep at night, and if he's not, then you are spinning your wheels.  Is he having night terrors?  Is it phyiscal pain?  Does he just want your attention, or is he truly asleep when he starts up?
So there are your starting points: check his hearing, look into speech therapy, teach him some signs, rule out physical pain, get him on a strict schedule, and figure out the triggers of the outbursts.
Good luck - you are an awesome Mommy, and I know you can do it!     

Grandma Raising Toddler; Spanks, Yells, Hits for Discipline. How to Stop This?

Q:  My 60 year old sister is raising her 2 and a half year old granddaughter by herself.  We help often, having the little girl over for a day or 2 at a time.  I have noticed that Cassie acts up quite a bit in front of her grandmother, but the worst thing is that my sister yells at her alot, spanks, and hits her often.  What should I say to get her to communicate with Cassie without such aggression?

A:  Oh, yowza.  That is always so tough.  You see something so clearly because you aren't living in the box, but to say something to your sister...what a pickle.  But one thing is clear.  You CANNOT continually hit and spank a child - that is not fair to Cassie, and it will do absolutely no good to change her behavior.

First off, keep in mind your sister's point of view.  She is 60, and by golly, you shouldn't have to be raising your grandchild.  She is taking this on in the best interest of Cassie, so she deserves some slack.  However, she IS making life harder on everyone by yelling and spanking.  If the acting up doesn't stop when she yells and spanks, then guess what?  It's not working.  My guess is that Cassie is getting attention in the only way she knows how - by acting up.  Kids will do whatever it takes to get some attention, and if negative attention happens to be the only thing they get, that's what they'll shoot for.  Plus, you absolutely cannot yell and spank all the time and expect it to work.  You have to SHOW the child what you want to see instead.  If you don't show them and tell them, how will they know??  Yes, they know that certain behavior is "bad" because they get a spanking or get hit, but how do they know how to act instead if no one ever shows them in a loving way?

So what do you say to her...??  Well, Life with Toddlers would be great guidance, if she's a book reader.  It's also broken down in such a way that you can read a little here, read a little there - and still get some great suggestions.  I know a lot of people just don't have the time or inclination to sit down with a book, so Toddler ABC Guide to Discipline is also an option.  It's the boiled down, fast version of Life with Toddlers, so that might work if she needs a quicker reference.  It would help so much for her to read one of these!  You have to change your thinking in approaching children.  When you always yell and spank and it doesn't work, you have to step back and say, "Okay, what can I do differently?" - THEN you will start to see a change in the child's behavior.   

Just keep in mind your sister's life - I'm sure she doesn't want to raise a child at her age.  And 2 1/2 is the toughest part.  She is probably exhausted, unhappy, and fighting just to get through each day - we all are.  You know your sister best...what approach works with her?  Can you make a suggestion or will she get defensive?  Make sure you sympathize.  Then empower her - because nobody likes to be told that they are "doing it wrong".  Turn it around so that she understands that she is in charge, and SHE can get Cassie to behave better by simply tuning in to what Cassie is trying to communicate.  She can make a huge change in her life by simply trying a different approach to discipline.  Try to get across (in your loving, sisterly way) that she is hurting Cassie (emotionally and physically) by hitting, yelling and spanking.  If need be, turn it around so that it's all about HER life...she can be so much happier and Cassie will act better if SHE takes charge and learns how to approach Cassie differently.

You are in a really, really tough spot.  You know that hitting, yelling, and spanking are only going to create a bitter, unhappy child.  How can you feel love when you are admonished so much?  Yes, caregivers need to be firm, but at two and a half...they can't reason.  You have to provide tons of guidance and boundaries, but it IS possible to do it in a loving way.  Your sister just doesn't know how - she doesn't have the tools in her toolbox.  And how do you change that?  Well, go get the tools and learn how to use them.  Once your sister has them and "gets it" - life will be so much easier.  Your sister needs some guidance so that she can turn around and give that to Cassie. 

Best of luck to you - and bless you for being an advocate for your family!!

3 Year Old Only Child, Mean and Won't Share

Q:  My daughter is mean! She's caring and mean at the same is that possible? Yes, she's an only child and 3 years old, but she's mean to other kids around her and doesn't like to share until she's ready. I would really like to break this before she starts pre-school. Thank you.

A:  Well, the bottom line is that she is getting reinforced for being mean...somewhere, somehow, someONE is letting her get by with it.  It can be subtle at first, and a caregiver will let it slide, then it escalates - and by then, a caregiver is too tired to fight it.  So here's how to stop it: Make sure she does NOT get what she wants when she is mean.  Period.  Figure out what she is trying to gain by being mean, then give her the opposite.  That could mean no doll, no attention, no friend...whatever.  (Expect some tantrums if she is used to getting her way.)  After that, you must guide her on what she needs to do and say instead.  She won't know until you tell her!  Model, model, model.  Tell her, "when that happens you need to [use nice words] and tell mommy [no thank you]"...or whatever it is you want to see instead.
The key is to stay firm and consistent.  Yes, our sweeties can be so darn cute, but DON'T let that turn you into a pile of mush and let her get by with behavior you don't like.  Remember, you have to teach her now, or she will grow up and treat you and others with incredible disrespect...and where's the joy in that??  And sometimes it is hard (especially with an only child or the "baby" of the family) to keep from spoiling them (mine went through a phase..whew!..I was rather worried!).  We tend to buy them everything on the planet and tell them how pretty they are every minute of the day - and yes, it's nearly impossible NOT to, but when we over-do, it has a negative affect.    No joke, I know a kid who, in her heart of hearts, thinks she is better than everyone else, prettier than everyone else, and more special than everyone else.  All because Mommy couldn't stop with the compliments.  Yes, we love our kids more than life itself, but this has detrimented this child to the point where she has no humility, compassion, or empathy for anyone or anything.  THAT will not get her far in life.  She is unkind to others (rude, snotty, etc.) and mom still lets her get away with it.  Friends are scarce and she wonders why! 
I'm sure you're an awesome Mommy - just hold your ground and command some respect for yourself and others.  She needs to learn a new way to get what she teach her!  Tell her exactly what to say and how to act.  My book also has a section on sharing (that dreaded word!). 
Good luck!