Sunday, September 26, 2010

Challenging Behavior #10

Last week we wondered about how to best react when a toddler bites a preschooler. If you would like to read last week’s column again, you can put the following address into your browser:

Our scenario is a living room floor. The toddler sees a car and the preschooler, having finished his garage, reaches for the same car to put inside the garage. The toddler grabs also, but falls short of the mark. He has no words to express his frustration, but he does have a set of teeth and he sinks them into his brother’s arm. Here are some possible parent reactions:
Reach for the toddler and tell him in a loud angry voice, “NO, Don’t you ever bite your brother again! Shame on you! Bad Boy!”
Physically and emotionally comfort the preschooler with your empathy for the preschooler’s distress, “Oh ouchie, that hurt! You both wanted the same car and your brother didn’t do a good job of telling you that he wanted it.”
Ignore the crying preschooler and punish the toddler by taking away his toys (or worse).
Tell the preschooler that he should have let his brother have the car.
Take away all the offending toys and hope that will fix the problem.
No parent will come out with an A-plus grade in this highly charged emotional episode. Because it is so emotional for us (seeing our children hurt one another), we may not react as we would like. However, thinking and talking about it will help us be better prepared for other similar challenges. Being better prepared is important because something like this will happen again. Try to think about what you are teaching both children by your own behavior and know that you are modeling the behavior that your own children will probably resort to when they are parents. Do you really want to model power and punishment?

In the meantime, be proactive. Hedge your bets for better outcomes in the future by modeling love, kindness, and caring in your relationships with your spouse and your children.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Challenging Behavior #9

Some new questions have come from readers concerning biting. For those of you who would like to see what was said about biting during infancy, please revisit and review the August archive, Challenging Behavior #2.

Let’s think about a scenario with a younger and older sibling, a toddler and a preschooler. First, let’s look at life from the toddler’s point of view. With not a lot of verbal skills to describe what is on his mind, a toddler relies on a few of his tried and true behaviors that get what he needs. Developmentally, a toddler is at the stage of “If I have it, it’s mine; if I see it, it’s mine; if you have it and I want it, …” I think you get the picture. They are trying their best to figure out how to get what they want—immediately.

Now let’s look at life from a preschooler’s viewpoint. With lots a verbal skills in place the preschooler has learned that he can verbalize what he needs. He can use his verbal skills to negotiate with parents who understand him. He also has a longer attention span and he uses his thinking skills to build wonderfully imaginative structures that require lots of parts. However, he is still a child and unable to take another person’s point of view.

Imagine now a living room floor in the home of a toddler and preschooler. For a brief moment, we have a scene of blissful sibling parallel play. The blocks are randomly scattered with toy figures and vehicles. The preschooler is creating a garage and the toddler is scuttling about picking up one block and then another.

However, in the next moment the toddler sees a car and the preschooler, having finished his garage, reaches for the same car to put inside. The toddler grabs also, but falls short of the mark. He has no words to express his frustration, but he does have a set of teeth and he sinks them into his brother’s arm.

There is no option for a parent but to react. The screaming preschooler is hurt, the toddler is startled. How we react to this and the many similar episodes that are certain to follow will teach both children a great deal about the concepts of love, kindness, caring, power and punishment. The big question is what do we want to teach our children?

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Challenging Behavior #8

Some challenging behaviors can be prevented by understanding and working with the child’s needs at various developmental levels. For instance, as babies grow into the toddler stage they have a need to be in control. Our role is to give them the control that they can handle and is safe and appropriate for their age. By doing this, you foster the long range growth of independence (and what parent wishes to have a 25 year old child still dependent upon them!)

Here is today’s example: Billy’s parents and Joey’s parents are both concerned about good nutrition. They have been careful about offering new foods and expanding their children’s diet. However, now that the little boys are 2 ½ Joey’s parents are running into difficulty. When Joey balks at trying a food that is offered, his parents first try to offer healthy substitutes.

“Joey, would you like green beans instead of broccoli?”

We all know the toddler’s response to a yes-no question—“NO!”

So Joey’s parents offer other foods, even going so far as to fix different foods at a meal. By the end of suppertime, they are exhausted and discouraged. Sometimes, they try other tactics with equally poor results. “No dessert for Joey until he eats his broccoli.”

Billy’s family tries a different strategy. They show Billy two bowls. “Would you like broccoli or green beans today?” What they have given Billy is control. He is in charge of making the decision, whatever Billy’s choice, his parents follow through and offer the food he has chosen.

Being in control is all-important for toddlers. When we give them the power to make the choice and when we abide by their choice, we will be fostering a positive outcome.

Now some of you observant readers will notice that I did not go into whether Billy actually eats the food he has chosen! That, of course, is another story. However, if Billy’s parents trust that if they offer Billy healthy food choices and monitor when he snacks and what he snacks on, Billy will grow to learn to make good choices at mealtimes.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Challenging Behavior #7

Adjusting the family routines can prevent some challenging behaviors. Here is an example:

Sara is the youngest child in our imaginary family. She has just started preschool and goes half days in the afternoon. She is developing some unhealthy eating habits. It’s cookies or chips or nothing for supper. Her parents think it may be the influence of the other children in school. She was never like this as a three year old! When the family sits down to eat together, she misbehaves, whines, and eventually makes a mess and is sent away from the table. However, when everyone is having a snack while watching TV, Sara is right there eating her fair share. She is also hungry right away after school and helps herself to the cookie jar a number of times even before supper is cooking.

After trying all the things that don’t work (sending her away from the table, fight with her about trying a bite of supper, scolding her for her misbehavior), her parents notice the snacking that is going on the hour prior to supper. They change their own behavior. The cookie jar disappears and when Sara gets home, some apple slices and milk are on the table for her. The first few days, her behavior is worse and Sara has no snack. She still doesn’t eat supper. On day three her mother changes her own behavior again. She sits down with the apples and milk and invites Sara to join her. “I’m thinking about what to cook for supper. Sara, do you have any ideas?” Together they eat the apples, talk about Sara’s day at school and mom gives Sara a task to do to help prepare the potatoes for supper. That night Sara seems to forget to misbehave, chatting away about her role in helping prepare the potatoes.

This approach to preventing a challenging behavior is one of the seven principles of good discipline. Change the environment, not the child. The environment in Sara’s home was changed by the removal of the very accessible cookie jar. The apples and the milk on the table replaced the cookies and Sara’s parents took a proactive approach by sitting with her after school as she ate a ‘controlled’ portion snack and they enlisted her help in cooking supper.

Did they change her behavior? No, they changed their own behavior and the outcome was a change in Sara’s behavior.

Challenging Behavior #6

Here he is, our once sweet little three year old, just turning four. His parents are enrolling him in preschool and with some trepidation. Josh has been caught hitting his younger sister, more than once. Josh’s parents have tried yelling, spanking, time-out, and taking away privileges. Yesterday he sneakily hit her again.

We could spend some time backtracking with Josh and his family. The sweet 2 year old kissing his newborn sister is just a faded memory. The three year old in tears, telling mommy that Carlie broke his block tower is a long way from the four-year-old terror who takes matters into his own hands when two year old Carlie runs off with a favorite car. Carlie seems to get the brunt of Josh’s anger, yet she continues to challenge him—and do you think she might be enjoying the combat?

Their parents are functioning in a purely reactive mode. They are catching Josh as much as possible when he is naughty in their effort to protect Carlie. When Carlie screams, they come running.

What could they do instead, right now about this challenging behavior that would be proactive? First and foremost, they need to understand and trust in the truth of the matter. They cannot change Josh’s or Carlie’s behavior without changing their own behavior first. We can all change our own behavior. It is very difficult and we may find all sorts of excuses, but unless we are proactive in changing our own behavior, we will have no positive effect upon changing the behavior of our children.

Here is what this mom and dad need to change: they need to sit down with their children and play with them. Previously they have hoped that good behavior would occur magically by providing nice toys. Josh isn’t a bad little kid but he needs a role model, a way to behave with Carlie even when he is frustrated. He needs to experience mom and dad saying, “Oh well, I guess Carlie made off with that car. I think I can find another one.” And for her part, Carlie needs to see that she does not instigate a game of chase when she makes off with the infamous car.

This proactive approach is very different from sitting with the children and telling them what they should or should not do. This approach is about one of the major principles of good discipline, -- speak and act only in ways you would like your children to speak and act.

Toad House Publishing

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