Archive for August 16th, 2012

August 16th, 2012

on our best behavior

For the most part, David is a very well behaved little person, but we’ve had our share of rough days. As we inch closer and closer to the infamous “terrible twos,” I wanted to make a list of methods that have helped get us through toddler tantrums so far as a reminder to myself and as a shout-out to anyone else braving life with a toddler.

Things that work for David in public:

  • Pulling him onto my lap and whispering questions in his ear: “Where is the baby?” “How many lights are there?” “Do you see any other boys?” “Do you hear something?” “Where is your/mom’s nose?” etc. I keep asking questions until I find one that piques his interest and distracts him from his fit. Singing very, very quietly in his ear works too.
  • Distracting him: opening a book, handing him something to hold at the grocery store, playing peek-a-boo/making a silly face, drawing his attention to something big/loud/brightly colored in the area (he likes to go on piñata hunts at the grocery store).
  • Keeping track of when he last ate/drank. There isn’t a force on this earth less cooperative than a hungry toddler. I always have crackers or something with me in case errands or whatever we’re doing takes longer than expected.
  • Telling him I’m going to take him home and put him to bed, and follow through. He was being a real pill at the park — of all places — one afternoon and I asked him to stop or I was going to take him home (he was throwing things and dumping his milk all over me). He didn’t stop, so I hauled him and Lilly to the car and we came home. Now I just have to say it, and he’ll adjust his behavior pretty fast.
  • Removing him from wherever we are. Sometimes it’s just necessary. When I do “take him out” I always try and find a quiet place (not the foyer at the church full of playing toddlers and chatting parents), and he has to stay on my lap or in my arms until he’s done. I say things like, “If you want Mom to put you down you need to stop crying.” I basically try to make it even less fun than the meeting itself. Taking David out is an absolute last resort — at our local church, when you take your kid out of the meeting to avoid further disruption, you find all the other kids who were “acting up” during the meeting just playing in the hall and then your kid wants to play too, thus eventually they learn that if they throw a fit, they get to go run around in the hall.

Things that work for David at home:

  • Talking in a quiet voice. The calmer I am, the more likely he is to be calm.
  • Reminding him of other activities he can do. Sometimes all it takes is reminding him he has a box of toys to play with so he doesn’t need to be crying on the floor in my bedroom.
  • Leaving the room. Often the best thing to do is to stop fueling his tantrum with my attention. I calmly give him his options and if he keeps throwing a fit, I go to another room and do my own thing. This is one of the most effective methods; if there’s no one there to throw a fit for, the fit ends pretty fast and his fit isn’t ‘rewarded’ with attention or desperate bribery attempts.
  • Telling him to go sit on his bed until he’s ready to stop, and then having him tell me, “I’m all done crying/throwing, etc” before he can leave his room.
  • Putting his toys in “time out.” We adopted this form of time out from Matt’s sister. Putting David himself in time out hasn’t been very effective (maybe I do it wrong…). We have had more success with removing a treasured toy as a consequence for bad behavior. We put the toy on a high shelf in our front room where he can still see it and tell him he can have it back after (blank). It’s especially effective if that toy had a role in the bad behavior (ie he threw his truck, so his truck went to “time out” until David is ready to stop throwing). Before giving the toy back, we remind him why it was taken away to help him draw connections between behaviors and consequences.
  • Singing and dancing. It’s hard to throw a fit when your mom’s being crazy.
  • If the fit is the result of being frustrated because he can’t do something, I encourage him with, “It’s okay, just keep trying.” Or I ask him to stop crying and ask for help. Along the same lines, simply asking, “What happened?” is all I need to do.

Things that help with behavior in general:

  • No empty threats. It took some practice, but I’ve weaned myself from making empty threats, meaning threatening to do things that I won’t actually follow-through with. For example, saying that he can’t go to nursery at church if he doesn’t be quiet. That’s stupid, of course I’m going to send him to nursery, and then he doesn’t learn anything. They learn very, very fast when you do follow-through, so it’s only smart to give consequences that you’ll stick to from the beginning.
  • Limiting TV time and electronic devices. David is limited to an hour of TV a day (or a smidge longer if we watch a movie). If he needs a new distraction for a bit or to take a break from being too rowdy, an episode of Sesame Street can do the trick. On days when I’ve been working on a project or been tired or whatever and he’s watched more TV than usual, I notice a distinct difference in his behavior. He’s much more likely to be a little bratty at the end of a big TV day or a day he sat with my iPhone playing games for endless periods of time.
  • Giving him some one-on-one time. I try to set aside time every day to just play/interact with David. No TV, no texting, no computer, etc just David and me playing or talking or reading. Some days when he’s being a pill, I realize I haven’t given him any of my time so he’s finding ways to get it by making a mess or throwing a fit. On a similar note, I make sure that he has plenty of alone time to discover and play by himself without constant guidance and prompts from me.
  • If I want him to be polite and respectful to me, I have to be polite and respectful to him. I try not to be just a bossy mom (“Go do (blank).” “Pick that up.”), but use a pleasant tone and say, “please.” I apologize when it’s necessary. I try to be as pleasant as I possibly can. When it’s appropriate, I respect that he has his own opinions and preferences and let him choose his own food, activity, etc.
  • Empowering him with words. The more words he knows, the less time he spends just crying and whining because he can tell me what he needs or what the matter is. If he points at something, asks about something, hears something that makes his eyes go big–we tell him what it is. Not only do we help him label everything, but also help him understand emotional things: “Are you sad because that’s hard to do by yourself?” “Did seeing that airplane make you so happy?” “The baby is sad because she’s hungry, so she’s crying.” “Did falling hurt your leg?”
  • Teaching patience. I’ve worked very hard over the last little bit to help David become more respectful of my time and wait for things. A couple of months ago, in preparation for Lilly’s birth, I started saying things like, “It’s Mommy’s turn with the computer right now” and not let him interrupt me, or when he asks for something, “Okay, Mommy is finishing (blank) and then I’ll get (blank) or help.” I finish what I’m doing and then announce, “Okay, I’m coming.” He didn’t understand at first, but over time he did pick up on the pattern of “I’m coming”: Mom finishes what she’s doing and then she comes. I’m really pleased with how willing he is to wait for me, as long as I let him know that I heard him and ‘I’m coming.’
  • Different toys for different places. David has church activities that he sees ONLY at church, this makes them special and more interesting since he sees them only once a week. I also have a little book and cars that I keep in my bag for when we’re at a restaurant or somewhere else and he needs a distraction. This same strategy worked MARVELOUSLY on the two and half hour drive we took last weekend: I brought toys he’d never seen before and they held his attention the whole way there and the whole way back.
  • I am a firm believer in keeping a routine. Firm. It provides stability and structure to the day, and allows for exceptional time management because everything is predictable. By “routine” I mean that David wakes up about the same time every day, eats breakfast at about the same time, we have lunch at the same time, we start the bedtime routine at the same time and do the same thing every night, etc. We even go to the grocery store at the same time of day. Having a predictable routine makes it so his behavior is more predictable, and thus helps me plan because I know when he’ll be the most cooperative. I immediately started guiding Lilly to match the routine, and before long her schedule fit in with the routine David and I already have set up. I’m a *little* obsessive compulsive, so this really works for me.

I am by no means an expert and just getting started, so what works for you?