Thursday, March 7, 2013

Parenting A Toddler: Dealing with the Challenges and Enjoying the Rewards

My son loves Snoopy! This image is how I feel when my son goes into tantrums mode! 

Toddlers- they happen...At one year old my son is an amazing little person. I love watching his mind work when he discovers new things and when he figures out how to make something work. It is amazing to see how fast he is growing and changing. My son is very verbal and it is awesome to hear his language skills emerge and evolve. However, there is a downside to this wonderful phase...he is a toddler and the world around him is at times frustrating and the adults around him don't always understand what he is saying or what he needs. Tantrums and screaming all come with the territory.

I have worked with kids for over 15 years, teaching in some of the roughest secondary schools in Long Beach , but when my one year old threw himself to the ground screaming in a Barnes and Noble I realized that I was in new territory and needed to make sure I was handling the situation appropriately. Tantrums are one behavior that I personally do not what to get out of control!

Like most things I turned to books for advice. Here are a few of the books I picked up to help me understand my son's behavior and temperament better. Some of them I did not like, others I found very helpful....


1) The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One-to-Four Year Old by Dr. Harvey Karp

So the title sounds great. The book is highly promoted by The Pump Station in Santa Monica and you see it all over the book shelves. As a parent and as an educator I have serious reservations about the parenting techniques in this book. I started doing a little research on Dr. Karp and I can't find any evidence that he even has children of his own. He may use these techniques on the kids who visit him in his office or the kids of celebrities but he doesn't seem to have a day to day, long term experience on his own techniques. He also refers to toddlers as "cave men". He suggests limiting the language you speak to them and acting like them to "get their attention and feel understood" and demonstrate the behavior they are doing in an attempt to help them understand their feelings. This means I would have been throwing a fit in Barnes & Noble too.

He does a lot of parent blaming and threatens that if you do not respect your child's feelings they will grow up to be upset and dysfunctional adults. My son's God-mother who is a Behavioral Interventionist also thinks his ideas are a little off.

2) Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers by Melinda Blau.

I really liked this book. I thought it was a little wordy but I really like the quizzes it had. There was one quiz to help you understand your child's temperament and another to help you understand your parenting style. It gave you suggestions on how best to approach problem areas with your child based on their personality and how to help yourself be a better parent.

3) The Everything Guide for Parenting a One-Year Old: From Personality and Behavior to Nutrition and Health- An Everything Guide by Brian Orr

This was a quick and easy read. I read it during nap time. All the major areas of concern were covered but not in great detail. Overall, I liked it as a "touching base" book for what areas I should really be concerned with and what areas I shouldn't be as concerned.

My Personal Approach to Tantrums:

After reading several books, talking to by son's Godmother and listening to friends who have also been through this phase these are the tips that I have followed:

1) The more attention you give the bad behavior the more the child will do the behavior. Ignore- Ignore- Ignore! Only interfere if the child is about to hurt themselves or someone else.

What does this look like:

  • Tantrum: If my son throws himself to the ground I let him lay there and scream. If I am holding him I set him down. I stop and turn my back (so that I can only see him out of the corner of my eye) and wait until he is done. When he is quite, I help him stand up and we move on. If he is going through a cycle of tantrums it means that we need to leave or change our activity. Occasionally, when we are at home if he is having a hard time I will take him to his room and put him in his crib. This is what I call a "reset", a precursor to the time out if you will, and leave him there until he is calmer. Note: This works for my son because he really likes his bed and will spend time there in the morning quietly playing. I know my son likes alone time, kinda like his mom, so this works for him. If he cries for more than 10 minutes, which is rare, I will go get him. Usually for my son he quiets and often takes a nap. I think he sometimes sees his bed as a relief. 
  • Screaming: If he is screaming in the shopping cart my nerves are frayed... I can admit, I really hate when screams. It takes practice but I do not make eye contact with him or touch him until he quiets. I turn to and look at a product or pretend to be looking at something past him. When he quiets I make eye contact and talk to him. A technique I used to use in my classroom is to lower my voice to a whisper, which catches his attention because he has to really pay attention to hear me, he also has to lower his volume to hear me. It is awesome when he tries to whisper back.
  • Getting Dressed/Changing Diapers/Putting on Shoes/Waiting/Trimming Toe Nails:  Anytime my son has to wait when he wants to be playing is going to result in screaming or tantrum. I try to give him a toy to occupy him but sometimes he is wise to my ways and can see it coming...I have found that counting really helps him. I start to count, whispering through any screaming, and he quiets. After doing this for several months he now mimics counting with me. When we are all done I will say "See we are all done in 18! That wasn't very long." or " That took us until 25. It wouldn't have taken that long if you had not been so squirmy. Next time it won't take as long."  Sometimes I will change things up by reciting the A-B-C's. I hope that this will also eventually help him understand the passage of time. 
Always handle your child with LOVE!