Authors: Michelle Smith Ms Slp,Dr. Rita Chandler
Tags: #Parenting & Relationships, #Parenting, #Early Childhood, #Babies & Toddlers, #Child Rearing
Here are some basic needs kids have and reasons for acting out:
Once you figure out why a behavior is present, make the effort to change your approach to the problem. Really think about what your toddler is trying to express. Other than the above examples, it will likely be one of
The Five Basics
structure, communication, limits, consistency, or guidance
. Emotional needs must also be met. Children need to feel loved and cared for. You must give them your time and attention!
Looking at the list above, let’s translate into daily wants/needs.
1. Attention – the #1 biggie:
Listen up! Toddlers MUST feel loved! They have to know you’re paying attention and care. We do absolutely no good for a child when we sit them in front of a T.V. so they’ll leave us alone. Pay attention to them. Play with them. Talk to them. Give hugs and kisses. Forget about “stuff” or buying them gifts. They could care less. They want your eye contact, love, time, and genuine affection. Give it to them.
2. Wants to be Left Alone:
Now, on the other side, hello! Sometimes they want to be left alone. The poor kid could be desperate for slumber, but nooooo! We still feel the need to pass Jr. around the family reunion like he’s a pet kitten. Or, he’s playing quite nicely with a stuffed dog, yet we keep shoving a new toy truck in his face – because by golly, Grandma just bought it! She’ll be crushed if he doesn’t like it. Heavens alive, girlfriend, cut that out! Leave him alone!
Toddlers need to share what they’re thinking. They have to be able to communicate pain (emotional and physical), hunger, sadness, questions, joys, etc. This doesn’t have to be with words. They communicate with facial expressions, pointing, grunts, vocalizations, simple eye contact, and behavior. They communicate what they want with their actions.
4. Want Object/Action/Person/Activity:
They do this daily and nonstop. And again, if they cannot communicate these wants, you’re up a creek.
5. Don’t Want Object/Action/Person/Activity:
They’ll express this quite obviously by turning away, swatting the object away, crying, pitching a fit, or ignoring. LISTEN to them. Do not keep shoving a bottle, binky, or sandwich in their mouth if they clearly don’t want it!
6. Tired, Hungry, Over-stimulated:
Toddlers are cranky when tired or hungry. So keep a ROUTINE of meals, snacks, and sleep. Same time, everyday! And as far as stimulation…honey, we need a heart to heart between us gals. Toddlers cannot handle malls, state fairs, concerts, trips out of town, weddings, etc. – at least not on a consistent basis. It’s no big deal to adults, but to toddlers, it’s way too much. People talking, loud music, visual bombardment, a wrecked routine (most of the time we’re skipping a nap to attend these functions)…it’s simply overwhelming to little brains.
Give the kid a break!! Keep a schedule, and do not drag the poor child all over creation. They’ll act like a monkey and you’ll wonder why.
Keep stimulation (visual and verbal) to a minimum at all times!!!
That means no loud T.V., blaring music, motorcycles, tons of kids, parties, dogs barking, family fights, and whatever else.
7. Sensory Stimulation:
Toddlers get a sense of texture by biting and chewing. It’s actually part of their brain development. So it’s not always vicious when they bite your arm – they just like the squishy aspect!
8. Big Changes in Life:
Consistency - remember that one? Change rocks their world. They like
simple and same
. Routine, routine, routine! Changes, especially big ones, make them feel very insecure.
9. Insecure/Out of Control (Emotional Needs):
Emotional needs are huge!! Children need to feel loved and cared for. You must give them your time and attention. They get a sense of security with structure, routine, limits, and consistency. The world is too big to process, so narrow it down for them. Give them security.
10. Uncomfortable, Sick, Hurting:
You know this one. Don’t feel good = cranky. Sometimes, though, we don’t know pain is the problem. Teeth don’t always advertise, and stomach viruses sneak up on you. Pay attention and make sure they’re not in physical pain.
Another biggie. Some kids do better than others, but for the most part, it’s difficult to leave one activity for another unless they’re ready. More on this later…
Let’s look at another example: Little Emma has a melt down every time you ask her to get out of the bathtub. Think about what the behavior tells you. Is bath time consistent every night? If not, she may be feeling insecure and needs more consistency. Or, could it be a problem transitioning from one task to another (playing in the tub to getting dressed)? If that’s the case, she needs more guidance on transitions. Could it be she’s exceedingly tired? Or wants to continue playing in the tub and you generally give in when the howling starts? Maybe she’s asking for firm limits; bath is over and it’s time for bed. Limits are especially tough for us wimpy parents to enforce. It’s easy to think restricting playtime and choices or saying “no” to requests will make us the bad guy. The opposite is true. Kids feel very secure when their boundaries are clear and they’re not forced to make constant mind-boggling decisions.
Look for the red flags and flares. It’s your toddler’s attempt at communication. Needs are not being met. Sometimes we can figure out what they want, and sometimes we can’t. But don’t get caught up in quick reactions to the behavior. Step back and give yourself a few seconds to assess the real problem. Once you figure it out, FIX IT. Do your part and change the way you react to the behavior.
If what you’re doing isn’t working, then holy cow, CHANGE it!
As much as I preach about meeting needs and reading the clues kids give, any conscious Mommy would assume I’ve got this detective business down pat. Not so. It’s a continual learning process. Each day brings new challenges and insights. For example, one day Poppy (my oldest daughter) wanted to get on the computer to play a game, and I wanted to take a shower. I told her several times, “It’s not time to play on the computer. Please come with Mommy and let’s take a shower.” Wanting no part of my cleaning ritual, she immediately went limp and started howling. Five minutes of time-out had her sniffling, but recovered and in control. Later in the day, thinking about what went wrong, it dawned on me that we didn’t actually
a specific time of day designated to let her play on the computer. So when I told her it wasn’t time to play, she didn’t have a frame of reference as to when it
time. Prior to this incident, I’d been randomly letting her work on the computer whenever she wanted to.
My daughter was simply going along with what I had established as a pattern and was upset because I said no. Resolving the matter was as easy as setting up two specific times during the day when she could play her computer games. The increase in cooperation was immediate. I set up the times, repeated the new rule every time she asked to play her games, and consistently let her play during the designated periods. If it wasn’t possible for her to play during her designated time, I promised she could get on the computer after we completed the conflicting task. Come hell or high water, I kept that promise. All it takes is stepping back and looking at a situation, then changing
approach to produce a positive outcome.
Stop Being Such a TOOT!!!
At the risk of sounding harsh, I’ll make this point loud and clear because it’s too important to miss.
If your child consistently acts like a toot, it means the negative behavior is consistently being rewarded.
Oh yes, baby doll. You are the one responsible. As a consequence to the undesired behavior, time and again you’re choosing
in the Toddler ABC Guide and
the unwanted behavior.
If little Emily unfailingly gets a piece of candy to quiet her down every time she howls in church or when you’re on the phone, you’re rewarding the behavior and teaching her that she gets what she wants when she howls. If Emily gets your undivided (albeit angry) attention when she throws a tantrum, then she’s being rewarded with your presence. When fits of defiance are the only way she’ll get your interest, that’s what she’ll do. Angry Mommy attention is better than no Mommy attention.
You have to analyze “
” your toddler is acting unfavorably and customize the consequence. Here’s an example: You unfailingly give a time-out for any and all hitting, yet the time-out only works sporadically. Confusing? Not really. Look at the motivating factors. If your child stops hitting when you give a time-out, you’re pinning the tail on the donkey because you’ve tuned into what your child wants and you deny it. The time-out acts as a true deterrent (
) because it encourages cooperation and stops the behavior. However, if the hitting continues, your consequence of a time-out may not deny your child what he wants, and could actually be reinforcing the hitting. Even though the behavior (hitting) is the same, the time-out will fail if your child’s motivating factors have changed.
Let’s do a TAG:
= Little Tony wants Homer’s toy car
= Tony hits Homer and takes the car
= You can:
= Take the car and put Tony in time-out
= scold Tony for hitting, then let him continue playing
Now let’s change the motivating factors:
= You say to Tony, “It’s time to go home.”
= Tony cries and hits you twice
= You can:
= Take his arm and say, “No hitting,” then leave; take Tony home as you said
= Stay at Homer’s house; put Tony in time-out
Do you see how the consequence of time-out will work in scenario #1 and not in #2? In Scenario #2, putting Tony in time-out at Homer’s house achieves Tony’s goal. He gets to stay. Chances are, you’ll start yammering with Homer’s mom and bingo! He’s gotten another thirty minutes of play out of you.
Looking at the ‘why’ behind behavior tells you how to proceed with your punishment (
) and stop reinforcing the unwanted behavior. Sometimes putting your boxing champ in a time-out does not solve the entire problem and pins the tail on the donkey’s ear. If little Tony is hitting out of frustration rather than attention, separation is still appropriate, but it’s not the entire answer to the problem.
He may also have a
that should be addressed. It’s possible he needs more modeling and guidance on how to act appropriately in that particular situation in addition
to a short time-out to diffuse the anger and aggravation. Sticking him in a time-out and expecting that alone to nix the problem is like cooking only one side of a pancake and expecting it to taste good.
My friend Jennifer gave me a great example with her son Dean. At daycare, he consistently acted up during snack time. The consequence – taking away his snack – only worked half the time. He would always stand or dance on his chair and be uncooperative when his caregivers attempted to get him seated for snack. When they took the snack away, sometimes he’d cooperate and sit down, and sometimes he wouldn’t.
So the consequence of taking away the snack doesn’t always work even though the behavior is the same. Denying him food until he straightens up will only be successful if he’s hungry.
If his caregivers want him to stop acting inappropriately when he’s not hungry, they need to look at why he’s standing on the chair. If attention is the goal, they need to put him in a time‐out, giving him absolutely no attention. Then his caregivers need to work with him on a more appropriate way of getting what he wants, such as verbally asking someone to read a story or play with him.
: Greg acted completely out of character at preschool and got into trouble by refusing to sit in the song circle and sing, “Frosty the Snowman.” Very loudly demonstrating the words to
songs, he was getting up, dancing around, and would not cooperate with his teacher’s requests to stop. Feeling like she had no other option, his teacher put him in a time-out. Upon hearing this at the end of the day, his mom took him aside and said, “Greg, you look upset. What’s wrong honey?” He sadly replied, “Mom, I can’t remember the words to Frosty the Snowman.”
Dr. Chandler had another heart-wrenching story about the need to analyze and customize. She’d been working with a child who just wasn’t responding to any technique she tried. Despite several different approaches, Haley wasn’t making a shred of progress. Dr. Chandler decided to step back and look at the big picture. She knew she wasn’t approaching the situation correctly because Haley wasn’t reacting positively to any method she attempted. She determined further testing was needed, and it turned out Haley had a massive ear infection and hearing loss. It was no wonder she wasn’t cooperating - she couldn’t hear a word Dr. Chandler said! She covered up any symptoms of ear pain, so her caregiver didn’t even realize the infection existed, let alone how much damage it caused. Haley was treated, fitted for hearing aids, and made immediate progress with Dr. Chandler’s techniques.