Jimmy’s One Friend

July 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By: Joe Newman

One afternoon, I was watching a first-grader named Jimmy playing Legos with two other boys when I heard him say to his friend Ryan, “That’s a stupid way to build it. The wings are gonna fall off. Give me the ship.  You’re stupid!”

Ryan looked hurt, put the half-built spaceship down, crossed his arms and turned his back to Jimmy.

Jimmy was very impulsive and often said the first thing that popped into his mind without thinking. He was trying his best to make friends but most of the children still didn’t like him very much. He and Ryan had become friends about two months earlier and had even had a few play dates together after school.

I winced when I heard him call Ryan stupid, not only because he clearly hurt Ryan’s feelings, but also because I was afraid he might lose one of his precious few friends. So I called Jimmy over and said to him, “Jimmy, let me ask you a question. Do you want to have more friends?”

Jimmy looked at me suspiciously and gave a tentative “Yes.”

“Okay, and are you happy about how many play dates you have or do you want to have more?”

“I want to have more.” Jimmy said.

“So right now, after what you just said to him, do you think Ryan wants to be your friend?”

“But Ryan was being stupid. If you put the wings on like that they’ll never stay. You need to ….”

I broke in and said, “Hold on, hold on. I didn’t ask you if Ryan was being stupid, maybe he was. I’m just asking you if you think he wants to be your friend when you call him stupid.”

“I don’t know. Probably not,” he said.

“Well I just wanted to ask you because I know you want to have more friends and play dates, so I couldn’t figure out why you called Ryan stupid.”

Then after a pause I said, “Do you want to go back and play?”

“Yeah.” Jimmy said.

“Go on then.”

Jimmy had always been resistant to anyone telling him that something he did was wrong or a bad idea. I’d learned that if I asked him questions, and didn’t force him to admit he was wrong, he was more likely to talk with me honestly and change his behavior.

Guidance Without Manipulation

There are all kinds of subtle manipulations in the language we use when we talk with children. This new generation of children, children with more highly developed communication skills and a stronger sense of themselves, are highly sensitive to manipulation and they will resist it.  The use of manipulation is an attempt to shape and change them based in a fear that the child will not come to the correct conclusions on their own. The child’s resistance will start an antagonistic and oppositional dynamic. The most effective way to speak to these children is to speak to them in terms that acknowledge their independent will.

Recognize that children ultimately make the decisions in each circumstance and that we cannot make decisions for them. Also, the language that we use with children should communicate to them a belief that they are capable of making logical, healthy decisions that are respectful of themselves and others. The language commonly used to speak with children is filled with manipulation, moralizing, and innuendo about what they should and shouldn’t do. This kind of language communicates to them our lack of faith in both their ability to make decisions, and in their capacity as moral and ethical persons.

Learning or Realization?

There are two different ways to teach a child –through a process of learning or a process of realization. When trying to teach a child after a moment of conflict or difficulty it is much more effective to use a process of realization.

Learning happens when you take information, or the conclusion about something, from someone else. The adult gives the information or conclusion and the child takes it.

Realization happens when you gather your own information and come to the conclusion on your own. The adult can lead a child to realizations by asking questions rather than giving answers.

Using a series of questions to lead someone to certain realizations is commonly called the Socratic method. Wikipedia defines Socratic method as “a form of philosophical inquiry in which the questioner explores the implications of others’ positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas.”

Did That Work for You?

The key to having a Socratic dialogue with children is to base your discussion around asking them, in as many ways as possible, “Did the choices you made get you what you wanted?”

When you lead a child to examine the facts and ideas based on better understanding of what’s in her own self-interest, rather than telling her your conclusions about what she should and shouldn’t do, she will more easily embrace the realizations and conclusions she’s come to because she feels respected and not manipulated.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com..

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[Photo Credit: ianus]

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Q&A on Sleeping

June 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

My 3-month-old is a terrible sleeper and I’m not sure what to do. She wakes up every couple hours and the only thing that seems to get her back to sleep is nursing her before I put her back in her crib. I’m so exhausted from getting up so many times during the night. Is it too early to begin sleep training?

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

To be honest, this is not my area of expertise.  So I will make this brief and allow you to proceed to Julie and Holly’s answer.

Many parents I know who’ve had similar problems have raved about the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp, M.D. The methods he‘s developed seem compassionate and effective.

And I’ll leave you with some common wisdom from Babycenter.com:

“Typically, by age 3 months or so, babies have started to develop more of a regular sleep/wake pattern and have dropped most of their night feedings. And somewhere between 3 and 6 months, experts say, most babies are ready for sleep training and are capable of sleeping through the night. They’re not talking about eight hours, though — they generally mean a stretch of five or six hours.

Of course, every baby is different: Some may be ready earlier, others later. And some will sleep seven hours or longer at an early age while others won’t do so until they’re much older.

Before starting sleep training, make sure your baby doesn’t have any medical conditions that affect his sleep. Then be flexible about how you apply your chosen program and carefully observe how your baby reacts. If he’s very resistant or you see a change for the worse in his overall mood and behavior, stop and wait a few weeks before trying again.”

Good Luck.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

We sympathize. Sleepless nights with a newborn can sabotage our best intentions to be patient parents and leave us desperate for a few consecutive hours of shut-eye.

Yes, three months is too young to begin sleep training. Sleep training advocates recommend starting no earlier than six-months-old, and the risks of sleep training using “cry it out” (a.k.a. “CIO”) methods at any age are under investigation. Several studies cite the damage that this type of sleep training can do to infants, including one conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School: “The early stress resulting from separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives.” 

Researchers found that despite Americans’ fears that children will become dependent, physical contact and reassurance makes children more secure and better able to form adult relationships. Sleep training can exacerbate children’s fear of sleeping, and it can condition parents to ignore their baby’s pleas for help.

Our culture tends to expect babies to conform their behavior to meet their parents’ lifestyle, including ‘sleeping through the night’. Much of parenting requires shifting our expectations; waking every few hours to nurse is normal for the first year of life, and many children don’t sleep without interruption until after 2. Babies have small stomachs and they need regular calories – and perhaps more importantly, comfort – to thrive. An infant can be ‘trained’ to put aside her core needs (for food, comfort, a dry diaper, for example), but this can negatively affect her ability to grow into a confident, secure person. Infants are a bundle of needs – none of them separable from wants. It’s difficult to force anyone to sleep, and in general, it’s more effective to teach children to enjoy sleeping by creating positive sleep associations that will help them sleep soundly for their whole lives (or, until they have children!).

To minimize trips down the hall, we recommend sleeping near your baby. You can try sleeping in the same bed, attaching a ‘side-car’ (three walled) crib to your bed (such as the Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper), or bringing your baby’s crib into your room (encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics). The majority of the world ‘co-sleeps’; North America, Europe, and Australia are unique in insisting that babies sleep alone. Co-sleeping can also be a boon for working parents who can use the night time to catch up on snuggling. As one parent puts it, “How is it fair that the parents get to sleep together, but not the child?” Although there has been some controversy, studies indicate that if parents follow simple precautions (don’t smoke, drink, or take drugs before co-sleeping, keep infants away from bedding and close any cracks between your bed and the wall), co-sleeping protects against SIDS. [For more on co-sleeping safely, visit the site of Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame.] If you’re concerned about your baby rolling off your bed, consider a bumper. Also, some bed-sharing families find it easier to sleep in the children’s room, if it’s large enough, to maintain a private space for parents.

Nursing to sleep is also normal and developmentally appropriate. Don’t worry about establishing a bad habit; children can learn to wean and put themselves to sleep when they’re developmentally ready, just as children learn to walk and talk on their own. If you try nursing lying down, sleeping next to your baby, you’ll find you learn to respond to her stirs before she cries, and before either of you fully wakes. Nursing will help your baby learn that sleep is a natural, comfortable state to enter.

Regardless of whether you make changes to your sleeping arrangements, it’s important to take care of yourself. If you’re home with your baby, we cannot recommend strongly enough that you sleep when your baby sleeps, including during the day. Your baby is probably sleeping at least fourteen hours a day; rest for as many of those hours as you can and you may find the sleep interruptions are more tolerable. If you’re not home, consider sleeping when your baby does in the evening. You may need to make some adjustments, such as buying pre-made (or frozen) meals for dinner so that you can eat quickly and go right to bed.

Finally, if you have a partner, we recommend sharing night waking duties, which could include bottle feeding or simply trading off who wakes with baby in the morning. Alternatively, consider hiring a night nurse or early morning sitter for some temporary relief. Soon, your baby will be sleeping through the night, chattering merrily at you in the morning, and you’ll be grateful for the investment you made in her physical and emotional health. In other words, this too shall pass.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

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How Not To Be a Cause and Effect Parent

June 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By: Joe Newman

Imagine a young mother who tells her three-year-old son Nathan, “If you behave and listen to Mommy, then you can go to the movies with Daddy tonight.” But the boy keeps acting out, throwing things and not listening to his mother. Each time he misbehaves his mother tells him, “Nathan, unless you start behaving you’re not going to the movies with Daddy.” After the fifteenth time telling him she finally says, “That’s it, I’ve had enough. You are not going to the movies with Daddy tonight.” A three-year-old experiences a verbal warning as no real consequence so the series of events looks, to him, like this:

Action = no effect, …action = no effect, …action = no effect

…Until the 15th time = No going to the movies with Daddy!

The conclusion that three-year-old Nathan reaches is, “Most of the time there is no consequence for not listening to Mommy.” And, “Sometimes (one time in fifteen) Mommy gets mad and takes away something I like.”

Make Consequences Short and Immediate

Children are observing what’s happening around them and trying to draw conclusions about how things work and the meanings of words. If fourteen out of every fifteen times a parent says “No throwing your toys,” or “Hitting your brother is not okay,” there is no consequence paired with the rule. The child learns that most of the time the rule isn’t true. If your two-year-old drops the toy and goes away crying every time your four-year-old hits him and you give no other consequence than telling him that hitting his brother is “not okay,” what he’s learning is that your words are not true. Hitting his brother is okay because when he does it, his brother drops the toy and goes away which is what he wants.

Most parents like to give children the benefit of the doubt each time they have a problem behavior.  While this can be fine for behaviors that are sporadic, this well-intentioned approach can cause a breakdown in motivation and communication when done in response to problem behaviors that occur regularly.

Typically, a parent gives many chances before giving a consequence.  But each time an adult gives another chance instead of a consequence the adult’s feelings of goodwill slowly fade and resentment and disappointment start to take their place.  By the time the adult actually gives a consequence, it’s usually paired with all the negative emotions that come with feeling disregarded and taken advantage of.

In order to do this effectively parents and teachers need to become more comfortable with conflict.  Rather than avoiding conflict until the problem becomes so big they’re upset and likely to give a big consequence, parents would do better to step into conflict early when their heads are cool and the consequence can be small and reasonable.

For older children start thinking about giving consequences that are very short and easy for them to do instead of waiting and giving consequences that are big and will be more difficult to enforce.

For instance:

-       Instead of taking away the cell phone for an indefinite time, take the cell phone for 1, 2, 5 or 24 hours.

-       Instead of no more video/TV time today how about no video/TV for 10 minutes.

-       Instead of no going out with your friends after school, try letting them go out after they’ve finished an hour or two of homework or chores.

-       Ask them what they are willing to do in exchange for getting special privileges or resources.

The idea is to create consequences that allow your children to get a fresh start as often as possible.  This allows your children to feel more in control over the causes and effects instead of consequences that feel punitive and judgmental.

For younger children the most effective immediate consequence is the short time out. A short time out is a simple means of assuring that problem behaviors are not reinforced or rewarded. A short time out can be given in a classroom, the home, on a hike, or while out shopping.

When you stop a child and give her a short time out you’re assuring her that the most immediate effect the child experiences as a result of her behavior is boredom. You effectively stop any reward or stimulation that the child is getting from the inappropriate behavior and replace it with a short period of nothing to do.

Short, immediate consequences also make it easier for your child to begin to manage his own behaviors. It’s easier for children to control themselves when dealing with a one or two-minute time out than it is for them to deal with a long time out or a big consequence. Additionally, it gives your child a better opportunity to exercise control over those actions that are leading to larger consequences.

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Getting Choices to Work

June 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

I’m trying to be a good parent by giving choices to my daughter (age 4), but it’s not working at all and I’m at my wit’s end. What should I do when she refuses to go along with the “giving choices” plan?

 

Answer by Julie Gamberg & Holly Kretschmar (Parents and Educators)

Giving a choice can be an effective tool if it’s done respectfully and gives control to a child who wants to feel powerful. During transitions, such as when you’re headed out the door, leaving the playground, or getting ready for bed, offering a choice to a child can help to diffuse tension by focusing your child’s attention and giving her control over a situation. The key is to communicate the options calmly and kindly, and to remember that offering a choice is not a strategy by itself, but one tool in a toolbox that includes empathy, problem-solving, and maintaining healthy limits.

Below are some tips on using choices:

*Only offer options that you’re comfortable with, such as, “We need to leave the house. Would you like to walk or go in your push car?” If bare feet aren’t an option, don’t ask, “Would you like to wear your sandals or no shoes?”

*Communicate respectfully and allow her to exercise her skills: “We had a fun time playing, but now it’s time to clean up. Which should we do first – pick up the yellow blocks or the green blocks?”

*Describe the choice in terms your child can understand. Use simple language and concepts. Don’t say “Would you like to go up to bed now, or in 5 minutes?” if your child isn’t familiar with a sense of time. You could try: “We need to go to bed soon. Before we go upstairs, would you like to read a story or play ‘put your elephant to sleep’?”

*If necessary, present the less-preferred reality and then offer a choice that makes the request more desirable. For example, “I know you want to stay up and play – you’re having so much fun and it’s hard to stop. But it’s time for bed, so we’re going upstairs now. Would you like to have a piggy back ride or be carried like a sack of potatoes?”

*Avoid framing choices such that your child is punishing herself, such as, “You can choose to finish your dinner now or go to bed right now.”

*Before key transitions, give your daughter plenty of warning. Before leaving the playground, for example, give her warnings at five, three, and one minutes before leaving (if appropriate).  Then, let her know it’s time to go but give her a choice that engages her imagination: “While we’re walking to the car, should we walk like penguins or hippos?”

*Transparency can be a powerful parenting tool; engage your daughter in designing the choice. “It’s so hard to leave. What can we do to make walking to the car more fun?”

*Engage her with empathy: “You love playing with that ukulele! It’s really hard to stop playing. But we have to get ready now. Do you want to put your shoes on by yourself, or would you like me to help you?”

*Be patient. If your child initially balks at the choice, repeat her options calmly.

Giving choices isn’t a panacea, and may not work if your daughter is, say, exhausted and over-stimulated and her core needs aren’t met. Don’t force your child to choose something she doesn’t want to do. You can always say, “Wow, we’re in a tough situation. I’m going to help you put on your shoes and I know that’s not your choice and you’re upset. You want to stay and play. We’ll make sure to find some time to play when we get home. Now we’re going to do shoes.” And then gently and lovingly put on the shoes.

Let us know how it goes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.


Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

It may be you’ve created a monster by giving your daughter too many open-ended choices (or too many choices at all), and even the impression that she’s entitled to choices. It is also possible that your daughter is challenging the choices you offer in order to see what she can get when she fully asserts her power.

The simplest way to stop this behavior is to make her grateful that she is given any choice at all. The next time you offer her a choice and she refuses to take one, tell her, “In 10 seconds if you haven’t made a choice I’ll make the choice for you…10, 9, 8, 7…” Then make sure you follow through and don’t relent about her having any other option than the one you’ve chosen. She will likely throw a fit and you’ll need to make sure that nothing fun or interesting happens until she has complied with the choice you needed to make for her.

When you’re talking to her about the single option she is now left with, point out that this is a result of her decision, not yours. “I gave you an opportunity to choose and you decided not to choose, so you made the decision to let me choose. Next time you can make a different decision and choose the one you prefer.” If you do this a few times she will quickly realize that choices can quickly disappear if she refuses to cooperate.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you start to have regular times throughout the day when there are no choices at all and times when choices are very limited. There should be consequences for refusing to go along with the rules you set or the choices you offer.

In many cases the choices you offer aren’t really choices so much as ways to clearly communicate to your child what each of you has control and autonomy over. For instance, your child wants to play in the yard with her friend after they’ve come home from another’s birthday party. You’re happy to let her do this, but she’s still wearing her favorite outfit and you need her to change first.

You say to her, “You can play in the yard, but only after you’ve changed out of your dress.”

Your daughter loves wearing the dress and insists she be able to wear it to play in the yard, “No, I want to wear my dress! I’m not taking it off! I’m wearing it!”

You point out what you control and what she controls, “You don’t have to take off the dress if you don’t want to.” (What she controls) “But if you want to go outside, you need to change out of the dress.” (You control the rules) “So you can choose to change and go outside or wear the dress and play inside.” (She controls her choices).

Choices and limits aren’t important simply because other options can’t be accommodated; rather, children need to experience the frustration of not getting what they want and yielding to the needs of others because these experiences are essential to psychological development.

There is a natural tendency to feel like the more we can give our children, and the easier and more comfortable we can make things for them, the better. Parents who have the luxury of giving their children most of what they want and asking for little in return believe doing this is doing the best thing for their child. But children who are raised this way end up becoming children with very little experience using the psychological muscles of deferred gratification, emotional regulation, and self-discipline. There is a myth that children develop these essential character skills through being talked to and reasoned with – they don’t! They learn them through being required to use them, by exercising and building them.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.


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Love Is Never Asking Them To Say “I’m Sorry”

June 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By: Joe Newman

Most parents and teachers regularly ask children to apologize for things they’ve done.  When one child hits another I’ll commonly hear, “Apologize to your brother!  There’s no hitting allowed.  Now say you’re sorry.”  Then the one will sheepishly say to the other “I’m sorry.”  Children quickly learn that apologies are a cheap currency with which they can pay for their inappropriate, impulsive, or bad behavior.

I was in a third grade classroom the other day and saw six girls in two groups playing a math game when suddenly I heard a girl say to another, “You are so stupid!  Why did you join my team?”  The teacher overheard the exchange and said, “Abi, we do not allow that kind of talk in here!  Do you want to sit on the bench for recess again?”  Abi shakes her head ‘no’ and the teacher continues, “How would you feel if someone called you stupid?  You owe Sophie and me an apology.  I don’t allow those words in my class.”  Abi then says, “I’m sorry Mrs. Johnston.  Sorry Sophie.”  When the teacher walks away Abi turns to the other girls in the group, gives them a little smirk, then resumes playing the game.

In the above interaction it’s as if the teacher had said to Abi, “Because you behaved in a way I find inappropriate you’ll need to do two things.  First, lie to me.  Second, lie to the girl you’ve insulted.  Okay, now continue playing.”

We need to understand that children operate from a perspective that is based on cause and effect.  What children find most important is social power –not right or wrong, or good and bad.  When Abi insulted Sophie she was throwing around her social power, not acting out of some misunderstanding of the rules of the class.  Abi knew the rules of the class better than the teacher.

See, Mrs. Johnston did “allow those words”; she just required a small payment in the form of the lie “I’m sorry”.

Model sincere apology but never solicit it or force it.

We feel compelled to get apologies, yell, prove the child wrong and us right because we suffer from the delusion that the world operates by the laws of right and wrong rather than the laws of cause and effect.

We see our children as a projection of ourselves.  When we see them do something bad it is a personal reflection on us.

Don’t Require an Apology

Asking a child to apologize as a consequence is another form of moralizing and manipulation. Action consequences should not include requiring the student apologize or say they won’t do it again. Whether a child is actually sorry has to do with whether they were motivated to do the behavior and if they will be motivated to do the same behavior again in the future. Children take actions based on self-interest. It is up to the adults to ensure that problem behaviors do not serve the interests of the child. When the adult has done their job of making sure inappropriate behaviors have no reward, then the child will naturally stop doing them.

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Q&A: Getting Him to Brush is a Nightly Battle

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

We recently brought my toddler son to the dentist for the first time, and she told us that he needed to start brushing at least once a day. Unfortunately, it’s turned our bedtime routine into a battle of wills. My son refuses to open his mouth, and when I insist on sticking the toothbrush in his mouth, he ends up kicking and screaming. I’ve tried using different brushes and toothpastes, but he just flat-out refuses. Bedtime with my son used to be my favorite part of the day, but now it’s a nightmare because the tooth brushing struggle ruins everything else. Can you help?

Answer by Julie Gamberg & Holly Kretschmar (Parents and Educators)

There’s no magic bullet, but there are many tips and tricks that you can choose from to see what works. The start of the tooth brushing routine often coincides with a the beginning of a child’s desire to be autonomous and have more control over his body, so from a developmental standpoint, it’s normal that your son is fighting against your insistence that he clean his teeth. He’s experimenting with asserting independence, which includes what he eats, when and where he pees/poops, and whether he’ll let a foreign object (like a toothbrush) into his mouth. Most likely, your toddler is either still teething or has just endured a painful teething process, so it makes sense that he’s reluctant to let anyone poke and pry in this tender area. Overall, focus on good nutrition, avoid turning the dispute into a power struggle, give your child some control, and use play to make the interaction fun.

Below are some specific ideas to try:

* Give him some control. Let him choose the toothbrush and put on the toothpaste. Let him brush his teeth first – then give you a turn at it, or let him brush your teeth, and then switch.

* Lean on the “cool” factor. Try an electric toothbrush or a lightup timer toothbrush, which flashes for one minute so kids know when they’re done. If you try an electric brush, let your son play with it before putting it in his mouth so he won’t be afraid.

* Use distractions. Show your son movies or photos, letting him hold the camera (or phone).

* Make it playful: Invent a game by going “on safari” – pretend to hunt for animals hiding in your son’s mouth. Or, listen to / make up silly tooth brushing songs. (Raffi has one.)

* Engage him in problem solving with role-play. Encourage your son to brush his toy animals’ teeth, and as you pretend to be his toy, provide some resistance so that your son has to coach his animal through the experience.

* Create social pressure. Watch movies of kids brushing on YouTube. Or, create movies of kids your son knows. Find pictures (online) of kids brushing and tape them to the bathroom mirror. As you brush with your son, make up stories about the kids.

* De-emphasize tooth brushing. Create a poster showing each step in the bedtime routine. Then, during the bedtime routine, ask him to tell you which step comes next.

* Outsource the job. Have a favorite, trusted puppet hold the toothbrush, talk in a silly voice, and brush his teeth. Also, consider bringing your son to a dentist who can talk to him about the importance of brushing.

* Take a shortcut until this phase passes. Consider letting your son take complete control of brushing; if he chomps on a brush for a few minutes, even if it’s during story time, he’ll do some good, and giving him independence should buy you permission to take over when story time is through. Establishing the habit of brushing is the most important element of the routine. You can also try “brushing” with a washcloth until your son is more comfortable with a toothbrush. When you wipe his face after meals, swipe the inside of his mouth too. As a last resort, you can try wiping them while he’s asleep.

Good nutrition is extremely important to dental health, so if you have to press the pause button on brushing for a month, focus your energy on limiting your son’s sugar intake. Then, come back to some of these strategies after a break. It’s important to avoid using physical force during the tooth brushing process, because this will prolong the difficult period. If you keep a positive attitude and communicate firm expectations without engaging in a power struggle, your son will maintain trust in you and pass through this phase more quickly. Toddlers cycle through strong autonomy phases; if you can defuse the tension and help your son feel powerful, he’ll learn to enjoy brushing his teeth.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

The first thing to understand is that the struggle you’re having around your toddler refusing to brush his teeth is ultimately about much more than his teeth.  The psychological transition he’s going through at this stage requires him to challenge you to a test of wills.  If he is to successfully make this transition it is also required that you win this struggle.

He is emerging into an awareness of his independence and separation from you and the anxiety this creates drives him to test his power against yours.  So while there are many approaches that may smooth over, avoid, or negotiate a way around this test of wills, all of these will not only postpone dealing with, but will also exacerbate, the root issue.  Click here to go to my blog that details the psychology of toddlers.

The key is to assert your will in the area you do control while acknowledging his ability to make his own choices.

When it’s time for him to brush his teeth, bring him to the bathroom and let him know that neither of you will leave until he has finished brushing his teeth.

Don’t try to force him to brush.  Rather, let him know he’s in control of certain decisions while you are in control of others.

“I can’t force you to brush your teeth (his control).  But we’re not going to leave the bathroom until you’ve decided to brush (your control).”

“I can help you if you want or you can do it by yourself, but you need to brush your teeth for one-minute (or whatever time your dentist recommends) before we leave the bathroom.”

Then wait and allow boredom to do its work.  There should be no toys available in the bathroom and absolutely nothing to do.  Additionally, you need to be boring as well.  Don’t engage him in conversation or cuddling; rather, allow him to be bored.

You can allow him to have a tantrum so long as he isn’t hitting you or destroying anything. (If he is hitting or destroying you should hold him until he has become calm enough to control himself.)

No matter how upset he becomes, keep your tone as amicable, empathetic, and friendly as possible.

“If you need to have a tantrum, that’s okay, I’ll wait till you’re finished.”

Don’t use yelling, anger, threats, or negotiating to motivate him.  Allow the boredom to motivate.

Resist the urge to try and cajole or convince him to brush his teeth.  Instead wait until he wants to leave and tell him, “I’d love to let you leave, but I can’t let you leave until you’ve finished brushing your teeth.”

Every time your son directs his anger or frustration at you, redirect it to the choice he’s making.

“I can’t make you brush your teeth, but you can’t leave the bathroom until you do.”

In this way you avoid a situation were he feels negated in order for your need to be recognized.

However long this takes, it will take half as long the next night, half of that on the third, and soon he’ll be brushing his teeth without a struggle. Even if this takes an hour or more the first time you will be setting a precedent that will make all your boundary setting easier.  Furthermore, you’ll be relieving the anxiety that lies at the root of these tantrums, helping him to develop self-regulation skills, and facilitating his growth into someone who has the capacity to fully recognize the needs of himself and others.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

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[Photo Credit: Ernst Vikne]

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Our Silent Holocaust

May 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By: Joe Newman

According to IMS Health (one of the leading consultants for pharmaceutical companies), 24 million U.S. children were taking ADHD medications in 2009.  Additionally, 10 million children were taking anti-depressants, and 6 million were taking anti-psychotics.  The total number of children in the U.S. is approximately 75 million.

The only thing I find more shocking than these statistics is the fact that there is very little public outrage or substantive discussion about this.  Why isn’t this the number one topic of conversation among parents, educators and professionals?

In 1970 when I was diagnosed as “Hyperactive” and put on Ritalin I was one of only 50,000 children in the U.S. being medicated for behavior or attention problems.  Twenty years ago when I started working with behavior problem and special needs children there were approximately 4 – 5 million children taking ADD/ADHD medications and prescribing antidepressants or antipsychotics for children was extremely rare.

Do we as a culture really believe that between a third and a half * of all children suffer from psychological disorders severe enough to warrant being medicated?   And if we do, is anyone asking why?  Or do we lack the time and attention span to consider what is happening to our children?  Are we a country of frogs in a pot of water that is gradually getting hotter without our noticing?

What percentage of our children needs to be diagnosed as disordered before we’re willing to turn the microscope onto ourselves, our culture, and our medical paradigm?  Do we wait until viewing children as disordered is the norm and psychiatric medication is just part of what is required to grow up?  Perhaps we should call a spade a spade and admit that in this country – childhood is a disorder.

Unless we believe this epidemic is the result of some great conspiracy to drug our children and line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies (which I do not believe) then one or more of the following three facts must be true:  First, our children have changed.  If this were true then the next step would be to ask “why?”.  Second, we as parents and teachers have changed.  Perhaps we are less tolerant, too tolerant, or our schools are more demanding and rigid.  Or third, our children have always had these problems and it is only because of recent advances in psychiatry and psychopharmacology that we are now able to recognize, diagnose, and medicate them properly.

Experts in Adolescent Psychopharmacology will tell you it’s this third option.  But they’ll also admit that doctors without any psychiatric training are making the majority of diagnoses and prescriptions.  The journalPediatrics recently revealed that 8% of pediatricians felt they had adequate training in prescribing antidepressants, 16% felt comfortable prescribing them, but 72% actually did.  And a recent study by the AAP predicts that treatment of mental illness and mood disorders will soon makeup 30-40% of a pediatrician’s office practice.

So we clearly have some serious problems with the way our medical system is diagnosing and prescribing psychiatric medications to children.  But even if we didn’t, are we ready to believe that this many children are neurologically disordered?  Or do we need to question some of the underlying assumptions and paradigms on which psychiatry and psychopharmacology are based?

Here’s a broken paradigm we can start with.  Our current medical model treats the connection between one’s neurology and one’s behavior as a one-way street when we have a wealth of evidence that it is at least a two-way street.  The one-way street model goes like this: bad behavior is caused by bad brain chemistry. Make a diagnosis (a theory about what kind of chemical dysfunction is present), and then prescribe chemicals to correct or counter the effects of the bad chemistry. Bad chemistry plus corrective chemistry equals good chemistry and good behavior.

This seems reasonable enough—until you consider that, while brain chemistry causes behavior, it is also the case that behavior causes brain chemistry (two-way street). We know that if we send a soldier to the war zone in Iraq for a year, that when he comes back he may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exposure to a set of behaviors and experiences altered his brain chemistry. If this can happen to an adult’s brain, how much more sensitive to behaviors and experiences is the very malleable brain of a child?

This leads us back to the first and second facts we must consider.  Yes, our children have changed; just ask your mother or a teacher who’s been around for twenty or thirty years.  Today’s children are more willful, more comfortable challenging authority, and less able –or willing –to focus on classroom activities.  And more children exhibit behaviors that parents and teachers aren’t equipped to effectively handle without the use of medications.

Parenting and teaching have changed as well.  The question we must now ask is how have they changed and is this change in some way responsible for the changes we’re seeing in our children?  Whatever we’re doing, we must first admit that we’re not getting a very good result.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

This is a call to arms, a call to sanity.  It’s time to demand that any conversation about parenting or teaching begin with an honest look at, and discussion about, the diagnosing and medicating of the children in our country.

Diagnosing and medicating this many children is unacceptable.  We need to begin by moving the responsibility off the shoulders of our children and placing it squarely on our own.

“If you try to treat someone’s illness without knowing its cause you will only make the person sicker than before.” - Nichiren Daishonin

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[Photo Credit: arenamontanus]

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Q&A: Tips for Flying with a Toddler

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Question:

My wife’s family lives far away; mine lives local. Since our two-year-old was born we’ve flown five times and it’s getting to be a nightmare. I don’t know if any of you have travelled with a toddler but we could really use some tips and advice because between the whining and the tantrums and the squirming on the plane I swear that I never want to leave my state again. I’m normally a very nice person. But not when we fly. Help!

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

Sometimes, no matter what you do, or how well you do it, flying with two-year-olds can drive you crazy.  At two years old, children are in the middle of redefining their relationship with their parents; they are in a developmental stage that is characterized by conflict and testing boundaries.  Add to this the inability to move around a plane, the cabin pressure’s effect on their ears, and the strange and unfamiliar environment and it can quickly become an overwhelming experience for a toddler.  And when this happens it’s natural to feel like they’re holding you hostage.  When flying, I’m often more annoyed with the irate passenger who’s complaining to the flight attendant than I am with the parent trying their best to deal with a screaming child.

Having said that, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of a good flying experience with your toddler:

“Never do on Game Day what you haven’t done in practice.”

Flying with children is Game Day.  In order to have a chance of controlling your toddler on an airplane you must have first successfully handled those same behaviors at home, in restaurants, and in the car.  Having a toddler you can successfully fly with has more to do with what you do when you’re not flying than what you do when you are flying.

Although you might find certain behaviors and demands acceptable when you’re driving or eating out with your toddler, try to hold them to a standard of behavior that would be acceptable when flying.  This is the practice time and should give you an indication about what you can expect from them when flying.

Use a trip to the restaurant to teach them to stay in a seat for gradually longer periods of time.  Bring toys and games that they can play with without disturbing the other patrons.  Get a sense of how long they can sit and be quietly entertained without needing to get up from the table, then use different strategies to gradually increase this time until they can sit for an entire hour.  This will also give you an idea of what and how much to pack for a long flight.

Prepare them for the flight by talking about it and explaining what’s going to happen and what they should expect.  Have car rides where you pretend that you’re on the plane.  Teach them about each step of the trip then ask them to tell you while they imagine it.  Build anticipation about the trip.

Prepare special items for the trip.

  • Have them choose some special travel games, books or toys that can’t be opened until the plane takes off, then another for after the meal, and perhaps a third for after the movie.  Or if you prefer, you can have surprises that you give them at crucial moments on the flight when they’re especially bored.  Over-prepare! It’s better to have more than you need to keep your toddler engaged than not enough.
  • Bring your toddler’s favorite foods and snacks.  Don’t count on finding foods they’ll like at the airport or on the plane.
  • If you like to limit the time your child spends watching videos or playing games on your laptop, in-flight might be the best time to indulge them with these.

Lastly, consider booking flights that are during your toddler’s normal sleep times.  The easiest flights with a toddler will be the ones they sleep through.

If all this fails and your toddler is still driving you and everyone around a little crazy, consider offering to buy the person next to you a cocktail or a sandwich and tell them how much you appreciate their good-natured tolerance (even if they look irate and not very tolerant).

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

Answer by Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

Kids pick up on parents’ stress and react with big, loud emotions, so changing your overall attitude from anxious to relaxed is the most important way to prevent your child’s in-flight melt down. Here are some other, more tactical suggestions:

●      Before travel day, play “plane” with your child. Look at pictures of people in (cramped) planes and then pack a bag, walk onto a pretend airplane, sit close together, wear pretend seat belts, order a beverage, practice being close, read books, and play with small toys.

●      For the real trip, pack a carry-on with extra diapers, extra clothes for your toddler and for yourself (in case she vomits or has a leaky diaper explosion), and a child’s medical kit.

●      On the day of the flight, give your child plenty of exercise. Let him walk to the gate if possible, find the play area in the airport, or jump up and down near the gate. He’ll be calmer if he’s had a chance to use his gross motor skills.

●      Bring new or rarely-played-with toys for novelty. You don’t have to buy toys (though a magnet doodle board is an airplane favorite) – a roll of tape and a tape measure will do; You might also wrap favorites before the trip so your child can burn time unwrapping (although their could be airport check-in regulations preventing this), make puppets from air sick bags, read books together, play peekaboo, play with cups, straws and ice, explore the music stations, or watch movies and play iPad games (if that’s something your family does).

●      Pack plenty of snacks / finger food to keep little fingers busy and energy levels steady. Cooked pasta, small pieces of cheese and crackers and cereal work well.

●      Offer your child fluids or a pacifier on the plane’s ascent and descent to ease ear pressure.

●      Don’t worry if your child doesn’t sleep during the flight. Some children respond to white noise and over-stimulation and conk out. Others can’t relax and are awake through their typical nap time.

●      Make friends with your in-flight neighbors by handing out ear plugs before take off. They’ll appreciate the gesture and will be less likely to roll their eyes if your little one starts to fuss. (But keep the ear plugs away from your child – they’re a choking hazard.)

If your child turns unhappy and starts whining:

●      Is he hungry, tired, or uncomfortable? Can you change the scene (and distract him) by taking him for a walk up the aisle? Giving him a chance to stretch his legs will stave off big feelings that bubble up from feeling powerless.

●      If she’s whining, try not to get frustrated, which can further exacerbate her anxiety. Instead, stay relaxed and compassionate: interpret her need, express empathy, and redirect her attention. For example: “It sounds like you want another straw. It’s fun to play with the straws! We’ll get one as soon as the seat-belt light is off. Do you see the seat-belt light?”

●      Lean on distraction: “Let’s have a treasure hunt. Can you find where I put your baby bear?”

●      Be playful and try to make a game out of every possible moment of stress.

If your child begins crying, screaming, kicking, pounding fists, etc.:

●      Stay relaxed and shower him with compassion. He’s in a foreign, cramped environment – he has plenty to be upset about, and he probably can’t express it verbally, so a small thing may trigger a pent-up response.

●      Don’t expect to reason with your child when she’s upset because she won’t be able to process logic.

●      If he’s open to it, or endangering others or himself, hold your child firmly – arms wrapped from behind can work well.

●      As she cries, mirror her emotions with words: “You’re so mad! You’re so upset! You want to run right now!” Calmly articulating her emotions will help her digest them more quickly and return to herself again.

●      Wait until your child begins to calm down and then stroke his hair, give him a special lovey, soothe him, and find a distraction.

Most kids relish the interaction and special one-on-one attention that a flight allows. Do some pretend flying with your child beforehand, arrive early to set yourselves up for a relaxed flight, and be prepared to let your child surprise you.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools

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[Photo Credit: Meer]

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Gavin’s Posse

May 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Parenting Coach

By: Joe Newman

One afternoon I was at the recreation field of a large middle school (3,000 students) visiting one of the behaviorists I was training, when I saw a student bullying other students. He walked into the middle of a group playing basketball, followed by his two friends, and grabbed the ball and kicked it away. When someone said something, he pushed his chest out and got in the face of the kid who’d spoken up. Then he gave the kid a threatening push and walked on to another group where he smacked an unsuspecting kid in the back of the head. When the kid turned around he challenged him to a fight, at which point the kid threw up his hands and walked away.  As he continued his rounds in this way I asked the behaviorist if he knew this kid. He told me the boy’s name was Gavin and explained that all the kids were afraid of him and he was constantly bullying them.

So I walked up to Gavin and said, “You need to have a seat over there for five minutes.”  He looked at me dismissively and said, “S**t, I don’t know you.” And he started to walk away.

I said to him, “Right now you’ve only got a five-minute problem. But if you don’t have a seat you’re going to have a much bigger problem.”

He turned and started walking slowly toward the bench I’d indicated and said, “What did I do! Man! At least tell me what I did.”

So I told him, “OK, I’ll tell you what you did, but it’ll cost you another fifteen minutes because I don’t like wasting my time. So I can tell you what you did and you can sit for twenty minutes or you can sit for five minutes then you tell me what you did.”

He said, “Fine, I’ll sit for five minutes,” and walked over and sat on the bench.

“I’ll come let you know when you can get up.” I told him.

Five minutes later I went up to him and said, “So tell me why I asked you to sit down.”

He looked at me and said, “Because I hit that kid in the back of the head.”

“What else?” I asked.

He thought for a moment and said, “I kicked that basketball.”

“What else?” I said.

“Um… I don’t know… I can’t think of anything else.”

“I guess that’s enough. You can go.”

When he got up, Gavin and his friends went to the opposite side of the recreation fields.

The point of the five-minute time out was not punitive but rather a deterrent. I wasn’t interested in punishing him for what he did. I was interested in him not doing it again. If I’d seen it happen again I would have had him sit for considerably longer. If the behavior had not stopped completely I would have continued to increase the consequence until it was sufficient to stop his behavior. If Gavin hadn’t sat down or had walked away from me I would have gone to the dean and arranged a one-hour detention. That way, the next time I asked him to sit for five minutes he’d do it.

A boy like Gavin is an expert at manipulating the adults around him.  Typically adults would react to him with either too much communication or with consequences that were paired with a lot of anger and judgment.  Those who tried reasoning with him and explaining to him the reasons it’s not okay to do what he’s doing are ultimately condescending and permissive.  Gavin would meet this approach with excuses and bargaining.  When adults confronted him with anger and judgment or a long lecture Gavin could become the victim and feel justified in his anger and isolation.  In the first approach he effectively negates the adult in the second he feels negated.  In both cases the adults are condescending in that they assume he lacks understanding or virtue.

Ironically, the anger that drives Gavin to bully others is in part the result of the isolation he feels at not having his will firmly met by the will of another.  He needed someone who would set a reasonable boundary, firmly, and without any condescending or insulting interaction.

I like to set up a dynamic where children have to be on their toes. Where they understand that they’re expected to figure out what the rules are. If sometimes this frustrates them, it’s an opportunity for me to calmly and kindly coach them through difficulty, to let them know I have faith in them and it’s okay to struggle and to fail. In a world where children are constantly condescended to, students quickly adjust and find my interactions with them mature and respectful.

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Q&A: Toddlers and Hitting: My Son Hits and Pushes Other Kids!

April 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

My two-year-old son Jack is a hitter, and an occasional pusher. He usually gets physical when he’s fighting with another toddler over a toy, but sometimes it will come out of nowhere. I understand that this is normal behavior for a two-year-old, but it’s still embarrassing, not to mention traumatic for the child who gets hurt. My question is, what is the right way to respond when Jack hits or pushes another child? And is there anything I can do to reduce this impulse in him, or do I just need to wait for him to grow out of it? (You can assume that he’s well-rested and well-fed when these outbursts occur; I know kids are more likely to lash out when they’re tired or hungry.)

Answer by Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

A hitting/pushing phase is normal for toddlers (particularly preverbal ones), but some strategies -all rooted in thoughtful connection- are more effective than others for keeping the phase as short as possible. Issuing a “time out” is often parents’ first line of defense, but this type of punishment can backfire by increasing a child’s frustration and sense of isolation. Even if time outs appear successful in the short term, they encourage children to disconnect and hide their behavior over time. Furthermore, they don’t help children understand the cause of their behavior, nor do they help them build skills to negotiate social situations. It’s critical to uphold a no-hitting boundary maintained by communicating your expectations and meeting Jack’s emotional needs.

Before social situations:

●      Provide focused, positive attention so he’s grounded.

●      Avoid saying “Don’t cry” or “You’re okay” when Jack is upset, because blocking the emotional release of crying can cause repressed feelings to surface later in physically aggressive acts.

●      Communicate expectations before group play – “We’re going to paint and take turns. Hands are only for gentle touching.”

●      Practice “Hands on your head!” Calling this can refocus Jack if he’s aggressive and give you time to intervene. Practice this at home so he learns to respond instantly.

●      Practice “gentle hands”, which is how Jack would have to touch a small pet, a baby, or a flower. If Jack doesn’t know how to control his touch, then stroke Jack gently and say “gentle, like this.” Coach him to do the same.

●      Encourage daily exercise, and engage Jack in contact play- wrestling, pillow fights, etc. A growing body of research supports the importance of playful physical contact with our children. While wrestling, allow your child to take the lead and “overpower” you. Some children hit in order to feel empowered and see another person’s strong reaction, so react dramatically during delineated playtime.This is especially important if your child is the youngest of his siblings (or is a girl).

If you catch him poised to hit:

●      Be Jack’s linguistic and emotional coach. “You’re feeling so frustrated right now! You really want to play with that and you want to ask for it.”

●      Intervene verbally. Say, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.”

●      Intervene physically. Hold Jack’s hands.

●      Provide an outlet for his impulse, such as: “Clap your hands 1-2-3! Now gentle hands.” Hugging and drumming the floor can also keep hands busy.

If he hits another child and there are tears, etc.:

●      Verbally empathize with both children. Hold Jack firmly and be an interpreter, giving voice to Jack’s frustration and to the other child’s hurt. Model how to comfort and apologize but avoid asking Jack to say he’s sorry – it won’t be genuine. “Wow, Jack was so frustrated! Jack wanted the toy. Jack hit his friend. But hands are for gentle touching.” Then to the friend: “Ow! Jack hit you. It really hurts! We’re so sorry.”

●      Consider a symbolic gesture for the hurt child, such as getting water. Involve Jack in getting it while giving him the attention he needs to recalibrate.

●      Hold Jack firmly and rock or hum to him if he’s crying or trying to get away. After he’s calm, decide if it makes sense to continue playing – with increased supervision – or whether to leave the play date/group.

●      If you do leave, don’t say, “We’re leaving because you hit,” which emphasizes the undesired behavior, but rather, “We need to be gentle with our friends. You feel frustrated and your hands aren’t gentle right now. We’ll play with our friends on a day when we can use gentle hands.” This will help reinforce your expectations of Jack and the limits around play, while avoiding language that tempts him to try it again.

Always stay next to a toddler who’s in a hitting stage and respond to every aggressive incident. Responding inconsistently is a hallmark of “permissive parenting”, a style that doesn’t set and maintain clear expectations for a child’s behavior. Investing in Jack’s need for connection and healthy limits will be rewarded as he grows into a self-possessed and emotionally intelligent child.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

First, the solution:

When Jack hits or pushes another child (or adult) you should immediately remove him from the situation and guide him to a nearby spot where you can have him sit quietly next to you for one or two minutes.

While removing him from the situation you should say, “We don’t hit other people” and “When you hit someone you need a timeout.” You can phrase this in a way that’s most natural for you so long as you avoid adding judgment, anger, or yelling (so don’t use “wrong”, “bad”, “naughty” or any other pejorative comment). Then sit next to him and insist that he get quiet before you start his time out. “If you need to cry that’s okay. But I can’t start your time out until you can sit quietly.” So the first time you do this a one-minute time out can take 10 minutes (9 minutes of crying or tantrums and then the one or two quiet minutes).

It’s important that during the time out, or waiting for him to become quiet, you are neither talking nor cuddling with Jack. Otherwise, the time out time can become a reinforcer for the hitting you’re trying to stop. The time out is meant to be boring and frustrating, and conversation and cuddling remove this necessary frustration.

After the time out is over you should ask Jack “Why did you need to take a time out?” or “What did you do to ______ that made you have a time out?” And give him some time to come to the answer himself. This way he becomes a more proactive problem solver.

Now, the explanation:

There are two primary motivations driving a two-year-old’s pushing and hitting. First, emotionally he is trying to understand his own power and his emerging identity in relation to others. Second, intellectually his actions are exploring his environment in a quest to understand what the rules are and how things work.

Emotionally, two-year-old Jack is aware of his own power and needs but not yet aware of the power and needs of others. He enjoys asserting his power but feels anxiety at not fully understanding who’s in control. So while pushing and hitting are natural, they are also a cry for boundaries. He is trying to find out where he and his power end and you and your power begin. Only by coming up against the expressed will of another (mostly you), does he begin to understand others as like himself. Your giving him firm, consistent action consequences will enable him to develop capacities for intimacy (a real awareness of others as equal to himself), will relieve the anxiety he feels because he will feel you’re in control, and will allow him to slowly develop the capacity for self-control and emotional regulation. (For a more in-depth explanation of this stage of development go to my blog A Seismic Shift In Parenting and the succeeding three blogs.)

Intellectually, Jack wants to know what happens when he hits and pushes. Does he get what he wants? Does he get to talk to mom for a few minutes? Does he have to say the words “I’m sorry”? So it’s important that your response sends a clear message to Jack: “Hitting and pushing will not get you what you want. Rather, they will result in you feeling frustrated.” Let the consequence create frustration around his choice as opposed to having your anger, judgment or moralizing create shame or guilt in his assertion of his power. In this way you can coach him into an understanding of the cause and effect nature of his choices and interdependent autonomy.

Lastly, avoid the common mistake of trying to substitute reasoned discussion for real consequences. Your two-year-old is trying to learn the meaning of his actions and your words. If your words aren’t rooted firmly in action then your son will learn that your words aren’t dependable and that he can use them for manipulation. Discussions are fine after the consequence is finished.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

[Photo credit: aarongilson]

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