Fostering Independence in Toddlers

Two year olds get a bad rap.  It is all too common to label this stage of development “the terrible twos”.  But after four years of teaching in a toddler classroom, I am convinced that much  of what we call ‘terrible twos’ is simply the growing baby’s frustration at the limits placed on him by the well-meaning adults in his life.

By the age of two, babies have figured out that they are both physically and neurologically separate from their primary caregivers.  They have learned to control the movements of their limbs, and have developed the ability to grasp and manipulate objects. They’ve learned enough language to begin to communicate their wants and needs with words and speech.

They still have a long way to go, but they are not the helpless infants they were a short while ago.  Caregivers, living day in and day out with this growing child, can sometimes stay stuck in an early stage of development, not always recognizing how capable the toddler has become.

Babies come into the world so very helpless.  We spend 365 days that first year helping, and then helping some more, as they learn to roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl and walk.  That’s a long time to form a habit. And it doesn’t stop there. They will need help with so many things for years to come. So naturally, when they seem suddenly ready to be independent in some aspects of caring for themselves or their environment, we don’t always notice. 

Their awareness of their growing abilities, coupled with our tendency to see them as the helpless infants they once were, creates an environment ripe for conflict.  

Giving our ‘terrible twos’ the opportunity to demonstrate their growing developmental skills invites their cooperation and reduces frustration – both theirs and yours.  We can foster independence in toddlers by making a few small changes in our daily routines.

Here are 5 easy ways to give your toddler more autonomy and invite them into the process of family life.

  1. Attach a coat hook (or two!) to the wall at toddler level, so they can hang their coat themselves.  Provide a small bench below it to sit on when removing shoes. Store shoes and boots under the stool where they are easy to reach and put on when needed.  
  2. Create a routine for coming and going that is consistent.  For example, “we always hang our coat and remove our shoes or boots when we walk in the door.  We always sit to put on our shoes before we walk out the door.” Here’s how to teach your toddler to independently put on a coat: Have them lay the coat on the ground with the inside facing up.  Have them stand at the neck facing the coat and reach down, inserting both hands into the sleeve openings. Once their arms are inserted into the sleeves, have them swing their arms over their head, bringing the coat up and over their head.  The coat will fall down their back and their arms can then be lowered. Voila! Coat is on. If the coat has a zipper, get it started for them, but let them pull the zipper pull up. (You may need to hold the bottom of the zipper to provide resistance.)
  3. Move the cutlery to a low drawer, and invite them to help set the table at mealtime by taking silverware to the table.  (If you are reluctant to set them loose on everyone’s place settings, store their utensils, plates, bowls, and cups in a low drawer and invite them to set their place at the table while you set the rest.)
  4. Have a small whisk broom and dustpan stored where it is accessible to them.  Hang it on a low hook, or store it in a cupboard that does not have a child lock on it.  Invite them to help with cleaning up spills, using their broom.
  5. Build in extra time.  Above all, give yourself and your toddler more time to accomplish tasks together.  Sometimes toddler frustration is the result of being hurried to complete a task at which they are not yet fully proficient.  When we are in a hurry we are less likely to wait patiently while our two year old practices a new skill. Building in an extra 10 minutes gives us time to be patient and wait, allowing them to try, to practice, and to get better at it. 

Consistent routines, operating at ‘toddler speed’, and helping them do it themselves can all work together to foster toddler independence and reduce frustration all around.

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Temperament and Self-regulation

A pouting young girl in pigtails peeks around from behind a door.Anyone who has more than one child will tell you it is nothing short of amazing how such very different people can be born of the same two parents.  But it’s true. Babies seem to come into this world each with their own unique attitude. Called ‘temperament’, that inborn personality has an effect on how they respond to their world.

Temperament, says Leigha MacNeill, of the Pennsylvania State University, is “a biologically rooted and relatively stable disposition that contributes to how infants and children experience, express, and regulate their emotions.”

A baby’s inborn disposition encompasses such things as cheerfulness (positive affect), busyness (level of activity), risk-taking, sensitivity, and their response to discomfort (negative affect).  Variations in all of these areas are what make us all uniquely us.

Every baby is different

A child’s temperament affects how they respond to caregivers, how they navigate their environment and their receptiveness to new experiences. It also affects the development of self-regulation, a key component of executive function.

Executive function is important in helping us control and regulate our thoughts, emotions, and actions.  It includes things such as self-control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility – skills necessary for success at school and in the work force. 

“Self -regulation,” says Amanda Morin at Understood.org, “allows kids to manage their emotions, behavior and body movement when they’re faced with a situation that’s tough to handle. And it allows them to do that while still staying focused and paying attention.”

These differences impact the development of self-regulation

Differences in temperament can mean that some children struggle with self-regulation.  Says Dr. Matthew Rouse, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “Problems with self-regulation manifest in different ways depending on the child. Some kids are instantaneous — they have a huge, strong reaction and there’s no lead-in or build-up. They can’t inhibit that immediate behavior response.

A child’s innate capacities for self-regulation are temperament and personality-based,” he explains. “Some babies have trouble self-soothing and get very distressed when you’re trying to bathe them or put on clothes. Those kids may be more likely to experience trouble with emotional self-regulation when they’re older.”

Tailoring parenting styles to the child’s temperament can help the child in their self-regulation journey

What does this mean for parents?  What if you have one child who is easy to calm, cheerfully embracing new experiences, waiting patiently for their turn, or accepting that their hoped-for result is not in the cards.  While another is reluctant to try the new activity, has difficulty not grabbing the toy they want to play with, and devolves into hysterics when they don’t get their way. 

Adapting your parenting style to the unique temperament of each child can support them as they work to develop greater self-control and self-regulation. 

For the child who has trouble controlling their impulses, helping them build their awareness of the emotions they are feeling can help them develop self-regulation.  Talking ahead of time about possible scenarios can help them work through the ‘what ifs’ before their emotions are affecting their thinking and reactions.

Practicing in a low-stress environment can also help children build their self-regulation skills.  Childmind.org offers this helpful advice: “Dry runs are another way to scaffold self-regulation. For instance, if you’ve had trouble with a child reacting impulsively or having a tantrum in a store, make a short visit when you don’t need to do serious shopping. Have her practice walking with you, keeping her hands to herself. She gets points towards some goal every time she is successful.”

A happy girl rides in a shopping cart at the grocery storeBut don’t give up if it takes time.  Says Dr. Rouse, “Parents get discouraged when things don’t go well the first time they try skill-building, but consistency and starting at a level that is appropriate for your child are key. Rather than giving up, try paring down the activity so it is more doable, and slowly give your child more and more independence to handle it. Breaking things into small steps allows them to build self-regulation skills in manageable increments.”

For more tips on helping kids develop self-regulation and coping skills, visit Understood.org.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Language development in early childhood: get reading

Babies begin language development from birth.  As they are exposed to the language of their parents and environment, their brain works to make sense of what they are hearing.  During the first three years of life, a baby’s brain grows and develops faster than any other period of development.  

It is during these early years that children are most intensively focused on speech and language development. During these critical years, babies and young children are most able to absorb language.

Even before they learn to talk, babies are learning to associate sounds and their meaning thanks to repetition of words in their environment. 

Stages of language development

Early on, babies start to make sounds on their own.  Soon they begin to mimic the sounds they hear around them.   Most children say their first word between 9 and 18 months. By the time they are two, a toddler will be able to say between 50 and 150 words and will understand many more than that.  

Toddlers move from one-word speech to two words.  Ultimately developing the ability to put words together to form a primitive sentence, such as ‘Up Daddy.’

By the time they are 3, children are using language to ask for things, to comment on what they are observing, to talk about past experiences, and even to describe what they are imagining.

One of the very best things parents can do to support language development in their children is to talk to them –  and read to them – frequently. When I started raising a visually impaired son I discovered the benefits of narrating.  

For blind babies, talking about everything helps orient them to their environment, preparing them for mobility as well as language development.  Naming the objects that they touch and feel provides context as they learn about the world through their other senses.

Sighted babies also benefit from listening to their caregivers talk about the world around them.  Narrating provides exposure to the language, builds vocabulary, and contributes to brain development.

Narrating is simply saying what you are doing and making eye contact as you are speaking.  Invite engagement and attention during the interaction. Even a newborn can be introduced to language as they experience their first diaper and clothing changes.

The conversation during a diaper change might go something like this:

“Ok, it’s time for a clean diaper.  You will feel so much better when we get this wet diaper off.”

“Let’s get these snaps undone.  There, now we can take off your diaper.”

 “Oh, this wipe is cold!  I will be quick so we can get you wrapped up and cozy again.”

“Here comes the clean diaper.  I will need to lift you up to put it under you.”

“Ok, we are almost done.  Let’s put these snaps together again.  Are you warmer now?”

“There, we are all finished.  Doesn’t that feel better?”

Using language to describe the process and following a routine that repeats the same motions each time they are changed or dressed supports language development and their participation in the process.  

When caregivers narrate regularly, by the time a child is walking they will have heard the names for all the parts of the process a multitude of times.  Whether changing, dressing, preparing for a meal, or heading out the door, they will understand and be able to follow simple requests, such as “hold my keys, please”, even before they are able to speak.

Talking to your baby, making eye contact, naming the things you see and do together all establish the foundation of language development.  

Language development and Reading

Reading to your baby from the very beginning of life also introduces them to language, words, and the images that represent the things described by the words.  These important concepts support written language development in the school-aged child.

Experts recommend that you begin reading to your baby early and continue throughout their elementary years.  

A study done by the New York University School of Medicine shows that reading books with a child beginning in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later, before the start of elementary school.  

A great place to start is at the public library.  Most libraries offer Baby and Me reading time to help inspire reading with young children.  Children’s librarians can guide you to board books for infants and toddlers, and picture books for preschoolers.

 

Another great resource is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.  The Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program provides free books to participants each month.  The United Way of Benton Co provides support for this program to local rural residents. If you live in Monroe, Philomath, Alsea, or Blodgett, you can sign up to receive free books here:  https://imaginationlibrary.com/usa/find-my-program/

Reading regularly to your baby, toddler and preschooler is the very best way to facilitate language development and early literacy.  A sound foundation in language supports early literacy and sets children on a path for success in their school years.

more information on speech and language development, check out the Communicative Language checklist here:

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/speech-and-language

JOIN US November 6th for the next installment of our Protective Factors series: Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development.  Dr. Aoife Magee, Director of the Parenting Success Network and a family and teacher supporter for over 30 years, leads this dynamic workshop that will help parents and educators alike learn how to provide children with respectful communication, consistent expectations, and promote independence. Free to parents; $20 for educators (Set 2 credit available) Call 917-541-4884 for more information and to register.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Helping Kids Cope

Disappointments and difficulties are a part of life. Economic circumstance, political upheaval, and family dynamics can create hardship and adverse life circumstances for children and their families. Sometimes children and families also experience truly traumatic events.

How do we – and our children – cope with both everyday difficulties and larger life trauma?  How can we help our children learn coping skills? Research examines resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties – in an effort to answer those questions.  

Over the last two decades numerous research studies have examined psychological resilience in children, looking to identify the special traits or skills that help children navigate difficult circumstances and overcome adversity.  Surprisingly, what they found is that it is not special traits or skills that help people who cope well with adversity. Instead, people who develop resilience call on the normal coping mechanisms available to us all.

What studies have found is that the key to helping kids learn how to cope turns out to be many of the same things that help kids grow up well: effective parenting, connections with competent and caring adults, self-regulation skills, a positive view of themselves, and the motivation to succeed.

Thus, everyone has the capacity for resilience.  Parents help support their children’s development – including developing their ability to cope – right from the beginning. Young children begin developing resilience as they learn from the responses of their caregivers.

Parents, with the support of other caring family members and community members, can help their children become more resilient through everyday interaction and role modeling. Parents who model resilience – demonstrating self-regulation in the face of disappointment or talking about how they “bounced back” from a setback – help children learn how to cope with disappointments in their own lives.  

Lizzy Francis offers a number of parenting strategies that support the development of resilience with these tips from Amy Morin, author of the book 10 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do:

“Supporting struggling children is important, but the best way parents can teach resilience is by modeling it. Acting cool-headed in the face of stress and acknowledging mistakes provides children with a rubric for failure. Failing, they learn, is not the end of the world. It’s just part of being alive.

Here are the specific suggestions that Morin gives parents looking to teach by doing….

  • Don’t Intervene All The Time
    “When your child is struggling — if, say, his blocks keep tipping over and he’s getting angry, don’t swoop in and do it for them,” says Morin. In other words, practice restraint. It’s easy to step in and help soothe your kid. But letting them struggle helps them learn that they can solve their own problems.
  • Own Up To Your Mistakes
    Parents, per Morin, should actively apologize to their children when they make mistakes, like if they snap at them, or are late to pick them up. “Pointing out what you did wrong — if you didn’t handle your anger very well, or said something that wasn’t very nice — explain what happened, without making an excuse. And then you explain how you will learn from the problem and fix it,” suggests Morin. This, she says, teaches kids that making a mistake is fine, as long as you apologize and learn from them.
  • Examine Their Feelings
    You want to acknowledge a child’s feelings and tell them that their feelings matter,” says Morin. “That makes a big difference in whether they perceive if their feelings are okay, that it’s okay to be scared and still do something anyway.” Letting your kid know that their feelings are legitimate — but that they don’t have to inform their behavior at all times, like, say, when a playground scuffle breaks out — is essential.
  • Audit Your Behavior
    Kids are always watching. Per Morin, it’s essential for parents to think about how they act in moments of daily stress and try to do better. “When you’re dealing with an annoying situation, like the long line at the grocery store, and you’re tired, and you’re hungry, how do you handle it? Are you complaining? Are you staring at your phone? Your kids are watching how you cope with your emotions,” says Morin.

In other words: by being a resilient adult, you teach your kids how to react to moments of stress.”

Parents can also help build resilience by taking care of themselves.  Self-care makes you better equipped to parent and better able to meet everyday challenges.

And good parenting has protective power for children in difficult circumstances.  As does strong, supportive connections with other adults – teachers, mentors, neighbors, and family friends.  For children and teens, relationships with other adults help foster a positive view of themselves and encourages motivation to succeed.

A resilient child has:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of themself and confidence in their strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

(https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience)

Luckily these are all skills that can be developed at any stage of life.  As parents, we can help our children learn these skills and behaviors. As community members, neighbors, scout leaders, and sports coaches, we can mentor and support the children in our community as they develop their own resilience.

For more tips on helping your children develop the ability to cope with adversity, join us at the 6th annual PSN Speaker event on Monday, May 20th.  Dr. Ann Masten will be presenting “Ordinary Magic”, a look at building resilience in children.

The event will be held at the Linn Benton Community College, Tripp Theatre, LBCC Albany Campus, 6500 Pacific Blvd. SW, Albany.  Doors open at 6:30. Free childcare is provided by reservation – call 541-917-4884 to reserve your spot.

Supporting Differences: When a Child Needs Extra Help

In our last post we looked at developmental milestones and resisted rushing to conclusions about development that doesn’t fit our picture of “normal.”  We also looked at developmental screening tools that help identify situations that might benefit from further assessment. Today, we look assessment and support for children with special needs.

Special needs are often categorized into 4 major types:

  1. Physical, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy
  2. Developmental, like down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders
  3. Behavioral/Emotional, such as ADD, bi-polar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder
  4. Sensory Impaired, such as blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing

For young children not yet in Kindergarten, after screening a preschool teacher or doctor can refer a family to Early Intervention for further assessment.  But you don’t need to wait for a referral. Parents can also “self refer”. This means that you do not need a doctor or daycare provider to begin the assessment process.  You can simply call them up and request an appointment.

They will schedule a time for you and your child to visit their offices.  During the visit they will do an assessment and determine if your child would benefit from services.

If they determine that support services will benefit your child, Early Intervention will design an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).  The IFSP outlines the scope of services EI will provide – what they will do and how often they will do it. The IFSP can include transportation to and from the service provider, if needed.  As your child gets older the IFSP will convert to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that can carry them through public school to high school graduation.

An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a legally binding document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  The IEP classifies the disability, documents the accommodations needed, and outlines learning environment modifications that will be made by the school.

Each year an IEP meeting is held to assure that parents, teachers, and support specialists review the goals in the IEP, review how the student has progressed toward the goals, and update the goals and supports for the coming year.  Parents have a strong voice in helping craft an individualized plan that assures their child receives the equal education that the law provides.

What exactly is a child with special needs entitled to?  Federal law includes the following:

  1. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
    1. Students with disabilities must be prepared for further education, employment and independent living
    2. If a child’s strengths, endurance, or stamina cannot keep up with school activities, they qualify for “other health impaired” special education status
  1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    1. Prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities
    2. Requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students
    3. Students with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity can qualify as disabled (including learning and social deficits)
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    1. Schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems
  3. No Child Left Behind
    1. Schools must uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities

(From:  https://pbwslaw.com/special_needs_children_rights/)

With the supports documented in the IFSP or IEP, the child with special needs is assured a learning environment that is optimized for success.

Parents of special needs children play an important role in the education process – as advocates, watchdog, and cheerleader.

If your child is newly diagnosed, getting involved in online forums and local support groups with other parents can help.  There you can learn what others have found helpful and get input into situations you are experiencing. Support from others can provide encouragement and information as you work with schools and doctors to support your child’s growth and development.

When a child needs extra help, it is important to work together with the school and support specialists, but it is also important to note that parents have a voice in the IEP process.  Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to go to IEP meetings prepared to ask for what you want. You know your child best and are their best advocate.

What’s “Normal”? Tracking Developmental Milestones

When every baby is different, how do you know if your baby is meeting developmental milestones?   As parents, we observe, compare, and worry when we see other children doing things our child isn’t yet attempting.  How do we know what is normal?

As we watch and wonder, descriptions of typical child development can help.  But lists and charts provide only a framework for understanding. Not all children will meet all milestones at the ‘typical’ age‘.  You know your child best.

My son was born with a condition that limits his vision. We adopted him when he was 13 months old.  Since we knew babies typically start to walk around 12 months, we worried when he didn’t walk until he was well over 18 months old.  Was it his vision keeping him from this milestone? Was it adoption trauma? Was there something we should be doing?

Pediatricians and daycare centers routinely ask parents to complete developmental screening questionnaires to help monitor a child’s developmental progress.  Done regularly, these tools provide a picture of your unique child’s development over time.

If you have concerns consulting your pediatrician or preschool teacher is a great way to begin the conversation about normal development and your child’s individual personality.  They will likely invite you to complete one of the many different tools that screen for growth and development.

These are typically not assessment tools, but rather help screen for indicators that suggest the child would benefit from closer monitoring or early intervention services.

There are a number of different screening tools available:

ASQ (Ages & Stages Questionnaire): Many doctors and pre-schools use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) to screen children between the ages of 15 months and 48 months.  ASQ is not an assessment tool but it can help determine if a child needs further assessment or support. https://agesandstages.com/about-asq/for-parents/

CDC checklist:  The CDC checklist provides lists of typical behaviors from birth through kindergarten.  In addition, they offer parenting tips for interacting with your child at each stage of development.  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf

M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers): The M-CHAT, like the ASQ, is a screening tool and not an assessment.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months. It cannot diagnose but it helps identify children who should be evaluated further. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/How-Doctors-Screen-for-Autism.aspx

Completed questionnaires document your child’s growth and development, helping you and your support team of doctors and caregivers know what is normal for your child.  They also provide indicators when further assessment and support would be helpful to you and your child.

My son did eventually move from crawling to walking.  The delay was normal for him. But his unique circumstances meant that we also sought help from early intervention to equip him with the tools he would need to help him walk safely with limited vision.

Screening tools help us answer the question “Is this normal?”.  But they also provide a path toward further support when warranted.

 

Sidebar

10 Physical, Social, Emotional & Cognitive Milestones from healthychildren.org:

  • By 2 months: Tries to look at his or her parent and pays attention to faces.
  • By 4 months: Copies facial movements, such as smiling or frowning, and responds to affection.
  • By 6 months: Likes to look at himself or herself in the mirror and brings objects to mouth.
  • By 9 months: Has favorite toys and picks up small items between the thumb and forefinger.
  • Around 12 months: Puts out arm or leg to help with dressing and follows simple directions.
  • At 18 months: Explores alone if a parent is nearby and points to a body part when asked.
  • By 2 years: Gets excited to see other children and begins sorting shapes and colors.
  • By 3 years: Is able to dress himself or herself and completes puzzles with three or four pieces.
  • By 4 years: Is able to tell the difference between real and make-believe and predicts what is going to happen next in a book.
  • By 5 years: Wants to be like his or her friends and is able to draw a person with six body parts.

(https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/health-management/Pages/Milestones-Matter.aspx)

 

Got “No!”? Two Doesn’t Have to be Terrible

Have you ever been in a situation where you were completely bewildered by what was happening – and then someone explained why?  And then the behavior  made a little more sense?

Last Fall I had just such an experience.  My middle school son showed up ready to head out the door to school in shorts.  He’d been wearing shorts since September. But lately the overnight temperatures had been consistently low.  On this particular morning, it was 42 degrees outside.

I told him it was cold and he needed long pants.  He insisted he would be fine. I insisted he needed to change.  As he dug in his heels, I responded with consequences if he didn’t go put on long pants.  Finally, relenting, I offered to let it go if he’d explain why he thought shorts were fine on this cold morning.

He sat sullenly on the couch, neither moving nor explaining.  After a few more motherly hysterics (yet maddenly powerless), he finally said quietly, “I can’t wear long pants to gym.”  “You can change into shorts in the locker room,” I replied. Even more quietly he responded, “I don’t want to have to change.”

My eyes were opened.  Here sat a newly minted adolescent – reluctant to undress in front of his peers.  It was suddenly crystal clear why he would rather be cold at the bus stop than change into long pants.  My heart swelled for him and the new territory he was navigating as he moved from child to young adult. (A topic for another blog post. Hint: 12 is 2 all over again.)

“Thank you for explaining,” I answered.  “Now that I understand where you are coming from, I won’t insist you change.”  I finished up with an apology. “I’m sorry – hope your day at school is better than the last 10 minutes have been.”  I hugged him and he trooped out the door. In shorts.

The bewilderment I experienced that morning will be familiar to parents of toddlers in the age of ‘No!”.  Where does this sudden refusal to cooperate come from?

A baby’s brain is one quarter of the size of an adult brain.  But in the first year of life it will double in size. By the time the child is three, their brain will be 80% of its adult size.  During that journey from birth to age three, the helpless, completely dependent newborn will transform into an autonomous young child.

Right in the middle of that transformation is the “terrible twos”.  That period of time when ‘no’ is their favorite word. Dr. Maria Montessori, a pioneer of experience-based early childhood education, called this stage of development a progression from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind.  “Unconscious” because they begin unaware of their own participation in the learning process, but as they become “conscious”, they arrive fully aware of themselves as independent, thinking, learning beings.

They discover they can have a thought about something that is different from their caregiver’s thoughts.  They can even have their own opinion – one that might be contrary to the adult’s opinion. They test their new understanding with practice.  Lots and lots of practice. Which means lots of “No!”.

Adults have been frustrated by this phase of child development for so long it bears the label “Terrible Twos”.  But understanding that the “No!” is coming from a new awareness of their own ability to choose can help. When parenting a child in this phase of development, encouraging the choosing can help encourage cooperation.

Maintain calm authority.  Children growing in awareness can also be uncertain.  Caregivers reassure them that they are safe and will be cared for by using a tone of voice that is confident and supportive.  Try to avoid sounding angry, even as they try your patience. Use your words to help them understand what you need them to do.  “Oh I see you are not happy about having to put your boots on now. We can’t leave until the boots are on.”

Offer them a choice between two things – but only 2 things.  More than two can overwhelm the child.  My favorite choice is: “Would you like to put the boots on all by yourself, or would you like me to help?”  Countless times I found that when offering the choice between doing it themselves or having my help, their desire to be independent spurred them to action.  They much preferred doing it themselves than having help. But be prepared to be patient and take the time to wait when they choose to do it themselves. Help with any hard part, but don’t rob them of the satisfaction of accomplishing the task independently.

Another option is the choice between first and next.   “Do you want your coat before your boots – or boots first?” also changes the request by providing the child the opportunity to decide.

Notice that we can give them an alternative to their assumption that the choice is “do it” or “don’t do it”.

Change the subject as you proceed to help them cooperate.  “Oh look, I found a fuzzy scarf in the closet.”  Handing them the scarf, begin putting boots on to their feet.  Calling their attention to something else helps them move past the defiance and onto a new emotion.

And finally, mission accomplished, be sure to begin a new conversation as you move onto the next activity.  “Now that we have our boots on, let’s go!  We are going to walk around the block – let’s look for birds as we walk.”

Sometimes you can choose from among these strategies.  Sometimes you will work your way through all of them in succession –  and still face opposition from your toddler. Once you’ve exhausted all efforts at cooperation, just remember you’re the parent.  Lovingly, but firmly, complete the task and move on.

In moments where no amount of encouragement succeeds, doing it for them without further comment on the matter helps the child disengage from the struggle.  With the child in my lap, and boot in hand, I would begin a conversation about something entirely unrelated to the boots. “Look, you have your green sweater on.  It matches your green raincoat.” More often than not, their attention is drawn onto the next thing by a change of subject. And the protest is forgotten.

Yes, they are now old enough to have their own opinion, but the ‘terrible two’ is also amazingly more verbal.  Listening, answering, and participating in a conversation will very often draw their attention away from the ‘no’.

And rest assured, this stage will not last forever.

 

Sidebar:

 

What if She Isn’t Like Me?

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I wrote a while ago about parenting a child who shared some of my characteristics that I wish were different. She’s Not Me  https://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2018/shes-not-me/

This is the flip side of that concern.

I worried from time to time, as many parents do, about my children’s behavior—comparing them with other children their age, wondering if they could meet the expectations of school, and of society in general. Unlike some children I knew, my middle daughter was cautious and reserved around most people, children and adults alike. This was especially true when these were people she did not know. And included relatives she saw only occasionally—which, since we did not live near family, was all of them. We used to joke that she wanted to see your resume and three references before talking to you.

And she and I had different ways of learning—my attempts at teaching her something often ended in frustration on both our parts. Fortunately, while discussing these concerns with my husband, we both realized that she is a lot like him. Those similarities did not always contribute positively to their relationship, but once he recognized them, it helped a lot.

Now I love and respect my husband and he is a competent adult. But what if he wasn’t? What if I didn’t like him?

What happens when a parent sees a behavior in their child which is like that of a relative who has problems functioning successfully? Or their relationship with that relative is not a positive one?

The relative might be the other parent, or might be a sibling, grandparent, or other relation. In such cases a parent might over-react to that behavior. Which does NOT help.

What does help?

* Identifying what our reaction is based on. Sometimes we react without knowing why. We may have simply forgotten or we may have repressed traumatic memories. It might take serious self-examination or the help of a therapist to recognize why we have a strong response to some behaviors.

* Increasing our awareness of temperamental traits. A trait is not a behavior but a reason behind a behavior. In my daughter’s case, the trait is termed First Reaction; it describes whether a child approaches or withdraws from a new situation. It’s also referred to as Leaper or Watchful. Neither of these reactions to new situations or people is good or bad, but each can lead to behaviors which could cause problems. When we understand temperament we can help a child learn to behave in socially acceptable and safe ways. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is a helpful resource for parents

* Paying attention to the whole child. Making an issue out of one trait or behavior exaggerates its importance and can make things worse. Your relationship with the child is more important.

* Reminding ourselves that similarities to another person do not indicate that a child will grow up to be just like that person. Many, many things contribute to children’s and adult’s personalities, abilities, and behavior.

Parenting classes can provide more information and perspective on child development and temperament. They offer lots of techniques for dealing with behaviors.

And by the way, my cautious daughter is still cautious. She’s also a competent and wonderful adult.

What’s So Funny?

I remember the first time one of my children made a joke. My eldest daughter was barely a year old. She placed an empty bowl, with firm deliberation, upside down on her head, and said, “Hat?”

Now they all groan at what they have identified as “dad jokes.” Or as the youngest one syllogises, “Dad jokes are bad jokes. Are all bad jokes dad jokes?”

I love that they want to talk about comedy, about how it’s made. The middle one asked me, “What makes a joke a joke?” We worked it through together:

 

A joke is a joke if:

a. You meant it to be funny; AND

b. Someone else takes it to be funny.

If b. but not a., it’s probably not nice to laugh.

Corollary: if b. but not a., you as the (non)joker reserves the right to later use it as a joke, on purpose.

If a. and not b., it is probably not a good joke (unless your Dad tells it, in which case his judgement is gold).

If a. AND b., it’s officially a joke.

 

Humor and child development are like this. Sorry, you can’t see my fingers stuck together.

When your child suddenly finds peek-a-boo hilarious, you know that they’ve crossed a cognitive threshold: object permanence has moved into place. The child understands that it’s you, still existing, behind your hand, and finds your futile attempt to hide hilariously pathetic.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

 

Later, as verbal and logical functioning revs up to higher levels, more sophisticated jokes, based on discrepancies between facts and perceptions, come into play.

I knew a 10 year-old who found this joke so brilliant she repeated it with maddening regularity: “Two muffins were sitting in an oven. One said, ‘Is it getting hot in here?’ The other said, ‘Oh my god! It’s a talking muffin!'” That one stayed funny for a while.

 

Now in my house we’re going meta, discussing joke mechanics.

And just last week my oldest, now 13, left a note for my on top of the dinner dishes:

Hurrgh rurg arrook (Wookie for “I love you”).

 

Not as good as the one about the hat, but how could you top that?

 

A Chance Eating

Here’s another question that’s been coming up in my work with families:

Wh do you do if a kid just doesn’t want to eat?

I wish I had a ready answer, because it’s happening at home too. The seven year-old, now that she has (finally) been sleeping through the night again, has decided to eat only fruit (possibly from now on). And today, I hear, the 11 year-old has simply refused everything on offer. This from the girl who lists “eating” as both a personal and future professional pursuit. She just…ain’t havin’ it.

How do we deal with this as parents?

  • As usual, the first step is to ask some questions. Are they feeling okay? Any pains in the tummy or anywhere else? Do they just not like what’s on the menu, or are they not into food of any kind (watch at this step for the “only candy” loophole)?

You may not particularly want to hear their answers, but the point is that they’ll probably tell you something useful, even if by accident.  If they just don’t like your meatloaf, you can decide, ‘cuz you’re the grownup, whether to give them another option. Our newly minted fruitarian child recently went through a period of only wanting peanut butter and jelly. And I’m pretty sure you can live on that for a while, so we let it be an option at every meal. Now it’s fruit. As long as we have it, she can eat it, though we’ve pointed out she’ll need to eat a lot of it to get what she needs.

  • Ask yourself, how long has it been since they last ate? What was it?

I’m about to tell you something. It is this: if they ate at least some of their last meal, and they’re likely to eat at least some of their next, you can just…let it go. That’s right. As long as you are offering food every couple of hours, which is kind of your job, if they choose not to eat it they will be okay. Really. Because there will be food at the next meal, and they’ll probably be hungry.

  • Golly, what if they haven’t eaten in a while?

Then something is probably wrong and you need to take that kid to the doctor.

Also, what’s going on with them in general?

  • Like, are they gearing up for a growth spurt, or done with one? Are they gaining or losing teeth? What’s going on at school? What’s bothering them?

The natural default for children of all ages is to want to eat. If there is some interruption in that urge, it could be due to a variety of factors. This could be a good opportunity to problem-solve together.

Who knows? Maybe the answer is that you need to buy a new cookbook.