Sunday, August 22, 2010

Challenging Behavior #5

We have been talking about challenging behavior in young children. In the past two weeks we have covered biting and bedtime challenges. With both of those issues we have seen that what we do to shape children’s good behavior during infancy goes a long way to preventing challenging behavior in the toddler and preschool years. Another way of saying this is that by being pro-active one can avoid having to be re-active in the future.

I’d like to explore those two concepts in today’s column. Pro-active means all the things we do to prevent or further escalate any challenging behavior. Some of the pro-active responses were highlighted in the difference in bedtime routines for Sara and Sandy. Sara’s parents, though concerned with her comfort, were pro-active in meeting her needs and then expecting her to calm herself to sleep. Sandy’s parents, let their concern for Sandy’s comfort and well-being strongly influence their response to her crying. By picking her up and holding her as she fell asleep every night, they were teaching her that she could not do this on her own. Sandy’s parents set up a routine in which their behavior was continually reactive to Sandy’s cries.

Once a challenging behavior is part of a child’s pattern, we still can work with our own responses to de-escalate the seriousness of the behavior, maybe not at the moment, but over time. These responses are our pro-active responses where we anticipate how the child’s behavior is deteriorating and understand what are our best long-range goals for helping the child. Although we may have the impulse to react when the behavior occurs, we consciously choose a proactive stance.

However, parents and teachers often fall back to their reactive responses -- and with good reason. Reactive responses cause an immediate change in the child’s behavior. We think we have solved the problem. The crying stops when we pick Sandy up from her bed. Josh stops hitting a playmate when we yell (or worse—pull him away and spank him). Unfortunately, by reacting, the challenging behavior will escalate and come back to ‘bite’ us again and again.

Thank-you for sharing the website, with your friends who have small children. Next week we will explore some pro-active responses to Josh’s hitting.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Challenging Behavior #4

We ran out of space in last week’s column about bedtime challenges. If you recall we discussed two hypothetical infants, Sara and Sandy. Sara’s parents, after following a nice bedtime routine give Sara the responsibility of calming herself for sleep. Sandy’s parents are less sure that she will calm herself to sleep and they love the feeling of helping her fall asleep in their arms.

The question is, what will happen next? The two little girls, with similar loving, caring parents are heading on different trajectories.

Here’s what I think will happen: Sara will learn more quickly that the cuddle time with mom or dad is followed by sleep time in her bed by herself. She has learned that after a night time feeding, she is put back into her bed where it is again her responsibility to go to sleep. As Sara grows into a toddler, she will accept this routine as normal. She trusts that her parents will come and check on her if she is not feeling well, but if all is well, they have the expectation that she is responsible for falling asleep herself.

Sandy’s similar bedtime routine differs in one small but significant piece. Her parents are more alert to her crying and worry more that she cannot fall asleep without help. On particularly hard days, they have resorted to car rides to get her to sleep. Sandy is learning to work hard to stay awake. As she grows into toddlerhood, bedtime becomes more difficult. When her parents come to the conclusion that she must get to sleep by herself, she redoubles her efforts and cries louder and longer. When her parents come to check on the sobbing child and pick her up from her crib, she has learned something very, very important: “If I cry long enough, they will come and save me from being by myself in my bed. I need my parents to put me to sleep.”

Of course, we hope that it doesn’t get this difficult for Sandy. She has loving parents who are trying their best. We hope that they can trust their infant’s ability to learn to calm herself and go to sleep on her own, even if they’ve had a rocky start.

You can read and share this column online at Thank-you for sharing the website with your friends who have small children. If you have a specific challenging behavior you would like me to address, please email, or call 715-532-3209, or write.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Challenging Behavior #3

Last week we talked about biting as one challenging behavior parents and teachers see in the preschool years. This week we will tackle bedtime challenges.

As with biting, let’s start at the very beginning. A newborn’s schedule of waking, eating, and sleeping is not dependent on wind-up or battery operated clocks. His schedule is based upon the internal rhythms of his own body for alertness, hunger, and rest. His parents and older siblings, however, have needs that have been molded by the culture they live. Getting to school or work in the morning on time, eating when meals are ready, and going to bed after a reading a book or listening to the news is a typical western culture schedule.

Our new parents, after the honeymoon of falling in love with their baby, are faced with trying to shape baby’s schedule to their own. The infant may have napped or cat napped many times in the day whereas the parent may have needed to keep an active schedule. Babies tend to eat every few hours and sometimes fall asleep during feedings only to wake up hungry after only an hour.

Some of the more successful bedtime routines help the child settle down for sleep by having a warm bath, cuddling with a few stories or songs, and then—the hard part—saying good-night and closing the bedroom door. Let’s follow two different children to see how bedtime can develop into a challenging behavior.

After a nice bath, some cuddle time with reading or singing, and some nursing time, little Sara gets good night kisses and is put into her bed with her night time blanket and pacifier (if she uses one). Mom closes the door and Sara whimpers and begins to cry. After a few moments, dad goes in to adjust the bedding. He thinks maybe Sara is still hungry so he brings her out to mom to nurse her a little more. Sara initially sucks but doesn’t take much milk. Mom puts Sara back to bed and kisses her good night. Sara cries for 10 or 15 minutes. Mom and dad keep a listening ear but refrain from going back into the room.

Sandy has a very similar bedtime routine however Sandy’s mom and dad are less sure that she will be able to fall asleep on her own. After three or four repeat trips to her bedroom, dad brings Sandy into the living room where she falls asleep comfortably upon his chest.

We’ve run out of space in today’s column so we will follow Sandy and Sara next week. You can read and share this column online at Thank-you for sharing the website with your friends who have small children. If you have some ideas for the parents of Sandy or Sara, please email, or call 715-532-3209.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Challenging Behavior #2

There are behaviors that begin to appear in the preschool stage that are truly a challenge and not the result of our own unrealistic expectations. Volumes of books have been written by professionals to help parents cope with these challenges and it does feel a bit overwhelming to me to take on this topic in a newspaper column. However it is the number one topic that comes up when I visit families or preschools. So, with your help, I will try to tackle the challenges that you, readers in our community, would like to hear more about. Please call or email me with questions you have, to help focus the next series of columns on challenging behavior.

Let’s start with biting. For the baby or toddler who is teething, biting is a way to sooth the irritation felt in the mouth by teeth pushing up under the gums. It would be unrealistic to expect a child in this developmental stage to stop biting or mouthing just because the behavior is bothering us. However it is especially difficult for the mother who is breastfeeding her teething baby.

To help prevent this normal behavior from becoming a challenge, there are a few things a mother can do. One is to protect herself by gently slipping her finger into the mouth of her baby to loosen the bite without giving attention to the baby’s behavior. In other words, we want to refrain from giving an ‘effect’ to ‘cause’ of biting.

Try to imagine the mother doing this. Now imagine the mother yelping in pain and pulling away from the baby. In the second scenario, the baby will be startled, maybe frightened. In the second example the experience will be emotional for the child. Guess what, emotional experiences are ones that are remembered. The baby is more likely to repeat the biting, maybe just to test out the theory—I bite, mom yells. A key component to behavior reoccurring is to pay attention to the behavior, ignoring a behavior provides no reinforcement for it to reoccur.

As the toddler moves into the preschool stage, you can begin to attach meaning to the behavior. If the child bites the parent or a sibling, you can calmly but seriously state, “Biting hurts. Don’t hurt daddy. At this stage of development you will do more damage than good by adding ‘time-out’ or other ‘taking away of privileges’ to your words.

Your preschooler wants your approval. He or she is modeling your behavior. By seriously and calmly addressing the biting and showing patience with your child as he or she becomes socialized into the world of preschoolers you will be building the foundation for good behavior.

To read this column online go to To request a discussion on a specific challenging behavior please email, or call 715-532-3209.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print