Thursday, March 6, 2014

Five Ways to Get the Upperhand with your Power-Hungry Kiddo

Here's a little something I have learned about serving the 0-3 population and their sweet families: often times, I am managing behaviors as much as I am managing their communication. I truly think that at the ripe young age of 2, behavior and communication are completely intertwined.

Think about it. If you are a little cherub angel baby, there are few things under your control. You might be finding your voice and not yet figured out the enormous power behind the word "no." You might not have figured out yet that simply closing your mouth and deciding not to eat whatever mom and dad are giving you will make everyone go crazy. But as you figure out that your actions (or lackthereof) warrants a reaction (good or bad) from your surrounding people, most kids' little wheels... they start a-turning. POWER.

Power in social terms is defined as "the ability to influence the behavior of people."

Now, think about the different things that toddlers sometimes do.

Cram a crayon in their mouth and then look at mom with a rainbow-colored smile.
Refuse to eat anything but peanut butter and jelly.
Insist on kissing every. single. stuffed animal. TWICE. before. bed. :)
Saying "no".... to everything. Even things they mean to say "yes" to.
Throwing a cup full of juice on the floor. Hell, throwing anything on the floor. Repeatedly.

The *speech therapy* version of this looks like this:

Not wanting to finish an activity.
Not wanting to hand over a book.
Not wanting to end a preferred activity (like bubbles).
Throwing toys on the ground.

All of this is done, at some level, to see what kind of response they will get from whatever adult presence is around.

Now, depending on the kiddo, things can get sticky. Sometimes, kiddos are unable to communicate and therefore, behavior is inevitable. But regardless, most of the time, families are looking for relief in the everlasting battle of WHO is in control, WHO has the power?

The answer should ALWAYS be: the adult. The adult is in control; the adult has the power.

(Editor's note: This is speech therapist Tara, not mom Tara.)

So, what to do about that? How do we prepare ourselves for this battle over power?

Five Different Ways to Get the Upper Hand with your Power-Hungry Kiddo

Not all of these can be applied at once, and not all will work. These are just suggestions that are tried and true during my therapy sessions and that have been applied by my families and seem to work.

1. Ignore the bad, and celebrate the good. What this looks like: Kid throws toys on the floor, or puts 5 trillion stickers on the wall. You keep your cool and IGNORE. As soon as the kid picks up the toy or stops putting stickers everywhere, you PRAISE. "Wow, I LOVE how you are picking up those toys, you are such a good boy." In the instance of the stickers, praise whatever they do afterwards that is NOT the sticker situation. So, if he loses interest and starts playing with the cars... "Isn't it fun to play with cars? Those cars are so awesome!" If you stop reacting, the bad behaviors might escalate, but they should eventually go away.

2. Set guidelines, and stick to them. If your rule is not to throw toys, and he has thrown every toy on the floor of the kitchen in protest of something, then you calmly go with him, hand-over-hand, and have him pick up every. single. toy. Every. single. time. He will hate it. You will hate it too, but you will be cheery about it. Sing the dang clean up song the whole time if you have to.

3. Be consistent with all caregivers. Guess what? If mom does it one way, and dad does it another way, your smart little power monger will figure that out in 2 seconds flat, and everyone will lose. So, try try try your hardest to be on the same with all caregivers, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, nannies, anyone who is ever supposedly "in charge."

4. First, then strategy. This is the technical term for bribery. You pair a preferred item or task with a non-preferred item or task. The non-preferred task is reading a book. The preferred task is trains. It goes like this: "Ok you little angel you. FIRST we are going to do book. THEN we are going to do trains, ok?" Kid fusses. "Oh that makes me so sad. Do you want to play with the trains?" (Parent dangles train to remind the kid how much he loves said train.) (Kid indicates that train is still what he wants to do.) "Ok GREAT, then let's do book first. THEN train." If book does not happen, train does not happen. The end.

5. Give choices. This is my favorite. It gives the facade of control to the kiddo when really you are the one controlling the choices. For example. All your kid wants to drink is chocolate milk. But that isn't a choice, sorry. "You can have juice or regular milk. Those are your choices but YOU get to choose!" They think they have control but you have controlled the choices. Win/win.

Here's your cheat sheet. You're welcome!

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