Read Life With Toddlers Online

Authors: Michelle Smith Ms Slp,Dr. Rita Chandler

Tags: #Parenting & Relationships, #Parenting, #Early Childhood, #Babies & Toddlers, #Child Rearing

Life With Toddlers (5 page)

BOOK: Life With Toddlers
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Spirited Natures
  These guys are feisty, smart and adorable – and won’t hesitate to let you know when they’re unhappy.  My second two kids have this very spirited nature - happy and sweet, but definitely live wires.  Spirited kids can be extremely whiny, demanding, and impatient, especially when sick or teething.  When behavior turns sour, you have to provide gobs of limits and guidance.  Those go-getting natures are a wonderful asset but can send you to Pluto.  They need: outlets for the need to be active, alternatives to whining, instruction on how to control emotions instead of being demanding, and daily work on that forever unreachable concept of patience. 

Generally Outrageous:
  Let’s say your child is really much more along the lines of average.  Does it mean you should have it easy?  No way.  Doling out just as much grief as a toddling tornado, these little critters torture the pet hamster and scream bloody murder when they get the pink frosted cookie instead of the white.  It’s also no biggie to wake up howling three times a night wanting water, then proceed to dump it all over their sheets and blankies…which leads to more howling. 

Oh, and let’s not forget the refusal to wear socks even if their tootsies are frozen, and the preoccupation with toilet paper.  (What
it with eating those squares, wrapping baby sister up like a miniature mummy or stuffing it in the toilet until it’s beyond repair?  Drives me crazy!)  The incessant whining, fussing, demanding, demolishing, and insistence on doing it “all by self!” along with the occasional punch in the face, kick in the stomach, or fleshy dental imprint from overactive chompers leaves no one in the clear.  Every day, every hour, these guys need the Five Basics.  Guidance on no-no’s, limits to demands, structure for security, consistency on consequences, and communication help.  Yep!  You’re not off the hook, so you can forget singing hosannas and praise, even with an “average” kid.  

Severe and Chronic Undesirable Behaviors

Physical Cause:
  With problems bordering on severe or chronic, or if your child’s behavior puts a hefty strain on your marriage and other relationships, my advice is to first rule out a physical cause such as illness, pain, or hearing loss.  Get their hearing checked!  I can’t tell you how many times I hear “My three-year-old isn’t talking yet and ignores me,” or “He just won’t listen to me,” or “He doesn’t seem to get what I’m saying.”  My first piece of advice is, maybe he can’t!  Make sure he can actually hear what you’re telling him.  Not three weeks ago, my friend Liz apologized to me after shouting at her toddler to stop running at the pool.  “Sorry, I have to scream at her because she doesn’t listen – literally can’t hear me.  We’re going in next week to get tonsils and adenoids removed as well as [ear] tubes.”  Yea Liz for figuring that out!  You rock!

When parents tell me speech is delayed or distorted, or the child yells when talking, or literally won’t turn around when you call his name…red flags!  Kids won’t
sounds if they don’t
them.  Or they’ll talk really loud if they can’t hear themselves clearly.  Or they’ll appear defiant when they seriously can’t hear what you want.  For an initial assessment, wait until your child’s back is turned.  Then pick some motivating item like his favorite string cheese or moon sand.  In a completely normal voice volume, ask if he’d like some.  See if he turns around.  NO visual cues, either – like holding it up for him to see what you’re talking about.  If you do that, he’ll put two and two together from the visual alone.       

It’s especially important to rule out a physical cause if the behavior is sudden in onset and you cannot link it to any emotional stress such as a new baby, new daycare, new house, or the like.  My neighbor Janet once raced out of her house with wild eyes when she saw me walking down the street.  She frantically begged for help because her child was acting completely out of character – screeching, attempting to climb walls, and breaking everything in sight.  I told her to take little Bella to the doctor asap.  Turned out she had Fifth disease and her joints were killing her.  There you go.  Pain!  

Issues such as teething, sleep deprivation, diet, abuse, anxiety, or any number of troubles can contribute to behavioral problems.  Sleep apnea or night terrors can make even the sweetest child psychotic.  If you have no idea such things are going on or could be a factor, then it may very well seem that your child is just being obstinate or ill-behaved when they really are giving you clues on what they need.  It may take a doctor’s eye to catch a physical cause you never knew existed.

  Sleep deprivation is a biggie.  That’s why it's so important to treat any physical cause (give them Tylenol if their teeth hurt, people!).  Or if the kid’s running the show, it’s imperative you change your behavior patterns and insist your child get proper sleep.  When the day runs horrible and the only attention the child gets is at night, you’ll
be kept up with pleas for snuggles, fighting, desperate wails for your presence, insistence on night lights, water, more books – you name it.  Toddlers need about 12-13 hours of sleep each and every night.  Surprised?  Those are the statistics. 

  Call me The Food-Nazi, but I must venture forth with my opinion.  I mentioned diet earlier, really referring to allergic reactions to food, dyes, etc.  However, when dealing with chronic behavior problems, take a look at the amount of sugar and processed food your kid gets.  Candy, cookies, ice cream, and soda are obvious sources of ghastly behavior, but you have to look further.  Cereal, juice, snacks (i.e., crackers, “fruit” chews, chips, cereal bars, etc.) are loaded with sugar.  All those processed foods…ho-ly schmoly.  SO bad for your kids! 
Check food labels!
  If the item has more than 5-10 grams of sugar per serving, pass it up.  Plus, “partially hydrogenated” anything and “high fructose corn syrup” is crap-ola!  Just plain bad.    

You might be shocked and amazed how much sugar and
you’ve been giving your kid without even knowing it.  Go through your pantry and fridge and THROW AWAY the garbage.  That rubbish is nothing but boxes of behavior problems, girly!  Try cutting back the sugar and processed junk by half and see if you notice a change in behavior.  Then gradually cut it back even more. 

You can certainly try to cut it cold turkey, but sugar is highly addictive, so be prepared for some fights.  Nixing sugar completely can set off subsequent intense cravings and lead to some mighty big tantrums.  You can use the sweeter fruits like oranges to substitute for the processed sugars.  That might be enough to transition away without your kid needing rehab for withdrawal. 

Go to the store and load up on foods that are
as close to their natural state as possible
.  That means fruits and veggies.  Organic stuff.  And honey, I love ya, but you’re a fool if you think you can keep eating gobbledygook, too.  You are the role model.  Clean up your act.  Get a book by Dr. Oz or Dr. Andrew Weil; figure out what foods are most beneficial and healthy.  Eat them.  Make your kid eat them.         

Now, it’s my professional Mommy duty to throw in a bit of reality here and caution you not to jump on a physical cause as an automatic excuse for deplorable behavior.  Once a doctor pronounces your little darling in perfect health, do your best to accept the advice and change your approach to the behavior to see if it will help.  See a sleep specialist and nutritionist if needed.  But after that, give it up.  Your child isn’t suffering an allergic reaction to mystical pollens, my dear.  And listen, as a charter member of the Lame Excuse Club, I feel your pain.  I once tried to justify horrific behavior on yogurt and cheap lemonade (although the crappy lemonade thing…I may have had a point).  Anyway, rule out a physical cause.  Beyond that, don’t make crazy excuses for your kid’s behavior.

  Ah, here it is. 
“But my child has ADD!!”
  Yeah, well, so do most of us adults.  Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder is, in my humble opinion, WAY over diagnosed.  Does it exist?  Of course.  Absolutely, without question, a very real problem.  But I would also submit that when you pair uneducated parenting with stupid food, you’ll see some awfully similar symptoms.  Let’s see what all these ‘ADD kids’ have in their lunchbox, eh?  And take a gander at how the parents reinforce the behaviors.  My guess is that a good chunk of these kids would have a significant decrease in symptoms if those two factors were turned upside down.   

ADD has very specific, neurological components.  True ADD kids exhibit symptoms way out of the norm of age-appropriate behaviors.  Their poor brains are on overload
.  The impossibility of organizing and categorizing all that information and input is heartbreaking.  These kids do the best they can to function in society, with no idea that what they see, hear, and process is entirely different from the rest of us.  ADD does exist and it’s devastating.  My point is (a) don’t compound the problem by ineffectual nutrition and parenting or (b) label the behavior ‘ADD’ simply because we can’t change our habits and face up to the behavior
created.  Harsh, I know, but that’s me.  Sorry Charlie!  It’d be a waste of time and cowardly to reinforce detrimental habits simply because it’s what you want to hear.                    

So What’s Normal?
  Excluding those behaviors attributed to physical triggers (or mystical, magical, or supernatural, just to cover all the bases) defining normalcy eludes those of us constantly engulfed in toddler craziness.  Do normal toddlers go for days on end eating nothing but bananas or peanut butter sandwiches?  Or let loose a river of pee all over the floor of Borders Books and Chili’s?       

Normalcy itself is redefined in the dwelling place of a toddler.  Who, other than the Mommy of a two-foot tall poop machine, would consider it normal to fish out floating feces from the bathtub every other day?  I do recall the days when I could not begin to fathom the logistics of that particularly disgusting chore, but since one of my daughters tends to make it a habit (no names since she’ll eventually grow up and hate me for it), it’s no big deal now. 
(“Where’s the box of gloves, honey?!”

At times our kids are so demanding that we can’t take five minutes to shovel down a bowl of oatmeal without little people hanging on our legs, throwing a crying convention.  Don’t you swear there are days when your kids spend half their waking hours with tears streaming down their face and mouths cranked open, pathetically wailing for one reason or another?  Is all this normal?  Who knows?  Just don’t let your toddler take over your household because you don’t want to interfere with “the norm”.  “Normal” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “acceptable”.  You decide what’s tolerable for you and your family.    

Chapter Two Review:  What Did We Learn?

YOU have the power to turn negative behavior around.

Definition of Undesirable Behaviors.

Why parents give in so much.

Personality types:

  • Active/Energetic
  • Active/Curious
  • Spirited natures

Four causes of severe and chronic behavior problems in normally developing children.

* * *
Chapter Three
Changing Our Communication

Oooo, how we cringe hearing the word
.  The word itself has a horribly bad rap.  But in actuality, it’s not so dreadful.  The word “discipline” means to learn or teach.  For our purposes, we’ll add on “development of self control” and we have a fairly dog-gone accurate description of what we’re talking about: Discipline as a means
to teach development of self-control. 
And rest easy; this does not include aversive (another of Dr. Chandler’s favorite words) punishment or responses.      

True and loving discipline is far removed from cruelty or barbaric forms of punishment.  In fact, spanking, swatting, pinching, hitting, slapping, flicking your fingers on your child’s head, or anything involving physical punishment is absolutely not necessary!  Besides, how would you feel if someone bopped you on the butt for putting too much salt in the meatloaf or letting the car run out of gas?  Kids are innocent, vulnerable, and impressionable.  All loving Mommies know that using harsh physical means to punish or correct a child’s behavior leave us feeling so guilty that it overrides any luck we might have had with the method.   

Good news.  You don’t have to use physical punishment anymore

Yea!  No spanking necessary!  Our positive approaches yield the results you seek and stop the cycle of reinforcing attention for undesirable behaviors. 


Here’s the truth:  When toddlers get everything they want and run the household, they’re out of control.  Toddlers need YOU to hold the reigns of freedom and set parameters.   As much as they protest to the contrary, toddlers cannot deal with getting everything they want.  There are too many choices and too much freedom.  Their little baby brains cannot handle the lack of restrictions and they’ll go into overload.  Mommies often try and appease their little ones by giving in to every whine and cry thinking this will make the kiddo happy.  Here’s the thing:
toddlers don’t know what they need
.  They certainly know what they
, but this is altogether different than needs.  Giving in to demands will not make your child happy.  It will make him out of control. 

The reason toddlers continually ask for more is to
secure limits.
  Read that sentence again and highlight it!!  Dog-ear this page!  You set yourself up for undesirable behavior if you give your child six toothbrushes, four cereals, and nine shirts to choose from each morning, because it’s
too much
for him.  Toddlers need limited choices.  It makes them feel safe.

Honoring the Gift

To discipline your child is to love her and accept the gift of life you’ve been given.  An old priest of mine once told a story about a guitar he received as a gift from a church member.  Father Henry thanked the person for being so nice and thoughtful, then proceeded to watch the instrument collect dust in the corner of his office.  The problem was, he didn’t actually know how to play the guitar.  Another priest eventually asked him about it.  Father Henry said he wasn’t sure why that church member gave him the guitar, but he didn’t want to be rude and say, “No thank you, I don’t play.”  The enlightening response from the other priest was, “Then you haven’t truly accepted the gift.”  If Father Henry had truly accepted the guitar, he would have learned how to play the instrument and honored the true meaning of the gift.  The same goes for our toddlers. 
To truly accept the gift of our children, we must honor what it takes to raise them

I remember a distraught Mommy tearfully telling me she didn’t discipline enough because she didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the precious gift she’d been given.  Although her child’s behavior was overwhelming, the Mommy felt cruel when using any discipline.  She understood her daughter was a gift, but
understood what it meant to accept the gift.  In order to truly accept the treasure of a baby’s life, one must honor what it takes to raise the child.  Honor means respect and love.  Love means guidance on issues such as self-control.  Self-control requires discipline.  Accepting the gift means saying ‘no’ sometimes and instructing your child on how to successfully negotiate through life. 

Teaching children that you get whatever you want if you throw enough fits is not being honest with them.  It doesn’t teach them what life is really about.  As an adult in this society, honor and respect are revered.  It’s not honorable or respectful to mow down other adults or cuss them out in our attempt to make a point or get what we want.  If we give our children what they want whenever they throw a fit, it sends the wrong message and teaches them that whining, badgering, and yelling is okay and acceptable – which is not true.  If we are not honest with our children, we are not
the gift we have been given.

Discipline Starts With Time Management

It’s absolutely amazing how much time children need.  Even the little bitties!  You’d think being able to put an infant down somewhere and have them stay put would be a blessing.  But even those tiny creatures require constant hands on care.  My sweet veterinarian once told me that after the birth of her son, she couldn’t wait for her maternity leave to end so she could get back to work and “rest.”  

Bladder howling, one time my friend Julie tried “telling” her five-week-old (oh, that cracks me up!) that she needed to go, but little Meagan wouldn’t hear of it.  (Really?  How strange.)  Asking and begging was unsuccessful (duh), so she finally put woefully-unhappy-Meagan in her swing where she knew the baby would be safe, and ran off to the bathroom yelling, “You need to stay there and entertain yourself because I HAVE GOT TO GO!”  But Julie’s husband Steve wasn’t brave enough to leave their little princess alone when he needed to go.  No sir-ee.  Putting Meagan in her carrier, he’d plop her down in the open bathroom doorway, tending to his potty business as he and babydoll exchanged silent, solemn stares.

The most essential aspect of time management is learning how to read toddler needs and use your time most efficiently to meet those needs.  When a Mommy spends loads of time and effort getting her child to do the most basic daily rituals, it means that needs are not being met and time is being wasted.  Forget using the potty, love.  Might as well pee your pants.  Toddlers have their own timetable and mission of discovery, but the struggle for independence should not involve making your life miserable and forcing you to use Depends. 

Spending all free time skirmishing with your toddler just sucks.  Then you start letting undesirable behavior slide because you’re too tired to fight, right?  It may seem like a monumental task to take the time now and put in the effort to change, but really, what are you doing anyway?  Aren’t you already spending most of your time dealing with your child?  Make the most of the time you already spend. 
Put it toward The Five Basics of
structure, communication, limits, consistency, and guidance. 
Make your child
secure and happy.
  This means you will have
time in the future because you won’t be spending every other minute in warfare with your toddler.

Let’s say, for instance, little Bobby takes fifteen minutes to brush his teeth.  Why so long?  Does he fiddle around for five minutes trying to decide which of the twelve fascinating brushes to choose from?  If so, he’s overloaded and needs some
.  Eliminate the fiddle time by donating eleven toothbrushes to your local garbage can and give him ONE to pick.  Simplicity in choice makes it darn easy.  Then, give him some
and set a routine for brushing his teeth. 

First, decide who puts paste on the brush (I vote for the adult).  Determine who turns on the water and wets the brush.  Then, give the actual brushing task a sequence.  My husband, Chris, gives our daughters four steps – “up, down, eee (cleaning the front teeth), and aaah (cleaning the tongue)”.  Each and every time our children brush their teeth, Chris says, “up…down…eee…ah” and helps with the four steps.  We provide this guidance and structure so our children know what to expect and what they’re supposed to do. 

The key to increasing cooperation and making time work for you is to get a routine, provide guidance and limits, and BE CONSISTENT.  And part of being consistent is making sure every caregiver follows the exact same steps.  My husband made sure I was on board with his tooth-brushing system when he started it.  He knew that if I did it differently, it would ruin the consistency and make the task confusing.  Using the tooth-brushing example, let’s set up a working TAG; the kind that consistently promotes positive behavior: 

A: You say, “Time to brush your teeth.”

B: Child gets his one toothbrush; you put on paste and give consistent cues; child completes task appropriately

C: You tell child “Great job brushing!”

When you keep the task simple, give clear instructions on what you want, be consistent with your prompts/cues, and praise your child for a job well done, you’ve just reinforced the behavior you want.  Woohoo!  

Task Analysis

All this breaking down of activities and giving steps is what Dr. Chandler defines as
Task Analysis.
  It’s a way to break down tasks into individual parts so the overall activity isn’t so overwhelming.  When the task is overwhelming, overload kicks in.  Makes sense, right?  So really think about the activity; list all components of the task in the order in which they must be performed.  If need be, go through a simple task yourself such as putting on shoes and socks.  Break down the activity into steps:  Get socks.  Get shoes.  Sit down.  Weave fingers through first sock.  Put toes into sock.  Pull sock on.  Straighten sock.  And so forth.  See how many steps are actually taken?  Sit back and figure out which of these steps your child can actually do and which ones he needs work on.  If he can’t physically perform step 4, then the entire task falls apart.  So work on step 4 outside of the task itself.   

Example: Junior balks at washing his hands.  Every time you stick his hands in the sink, he goes limp, cries and kicks.  What’s going on?  Step back and take a look at the big picture.  Can he reach the sink without your help?  Can he turn on the water?  Use the soap pump?  Do you nag him about his nails every time you see dirt?  All these steps can be overwhelming.  So break it down.  Cut out the nonessentials like nagging or insisting he hang the towel back up.  You can work on that later.  Of the essential steps, see what he has the most trouble with – then help him master the step.  Once mastered, put the rest of the steps together in a consistent and structured manner.  Go through each step with him and
the same things every time. 
the same things every time. 

You cannot teach independence with complex sequences until you figure out what you want to teach and break it down into component parts.  After that, you can begin to see what areas need work, and figure out which cues and prompts will best help your child learn.  Cues and prompts are essential to training kids how to perform tasks and behave appropriately.     


Prompting is any assistance given by a caregiver to promote correct responding.  It’s all about eliciting behavior without mistakes or frustration.  When done the right way,
prompting increases the likelihood that a child will do what you want or ask
.  We do it every day without even thinking: 

  • Holding our hand out wanting our child to take it.
  • Saying, “put your arm in here” while helping them get dressed.
  • Touching their back to prompt them forward. 
  • Patting a surface indicating ‘sit’.

Prompts are instructions, gestures, demonstrations, touches, or other things we do to help children make correct responses. 
There are five types of prompts: Verbal, Modeling, Gesture, Physical, and Visual.

Verbal prompts are words, instructions, or questions meant to direct a child to do something particular.  Important:
verbal prompts are the least effective!
  This is why parents get so frustrated with their toddlers; there are too many verbal prompts given the wrong way.  We talk too much!  Too many steps, too much direction, or constant yammering only confuses the poor kid. 

For example, when getting dressed, the parent will yak, yak: “Put on your shirt.  Take those pants off, they don’t match.  Put the blue ones on instead.  Put on these socks.” …and so forth.  Then the parent wonders why the heck the kid can’t dress himself when the task has been reiterated four hundred times.  It’s too much information to process, and the instructions are inconsistent. 

Here are some examples of verbal prompts:  

  • “Do you want to eat?”
  • “Let go of the book.”
  • “Hold still.”
  • “I told you to stop that!”  (This prompt is nonspecific and ineffectual.  Unfortunately, we do it all the time!)

 Modeling demonstrates a response and it’s generally used in conjunction with other prompts. 

  • Caregiver says, “Do you want to eat?” as she acts out eating. (model + verbal)
  • Caregiver says, “Open the door” as she opens the door for the child.  (model + verbal)

  Gestural prompts consist of pointing, motioning, or nodding toward the child, objects, materials, or activities indicating an action to be performed.  These are also used with other prompts.  Examples:

  • “Do you want to eat?”  Point to bottle or cracker.  (gestural + verbal)
  • “Open the door.”  Point to door.  (gestural + verbal)

  Physical prompts are physical contact from a caregiver that demonstrates what you want (something functional like showing them how to tie a shoe).  This includes hand over hand, escorting, hand on shoulder, hand on elbow, hand on wrist, or any other touch.  Physical prompts require the most hands-on help, but research indicates
these prompts work the best.
  When you give physical prompts, you walk the child through the activity.

BOOK: Life With Toddlers
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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