Friday, December 21, 2012

Extroverts and Introverts: Holiday Cheer

Growling, four-year old Matt backed away from his grandmother when she attempted to kiss him hello. This was actually progress.  Last year he had hit her.  Sara on the other hand, leapt into her grandma’s embrace almost knocking her on her heels.  Two hours later, off in a corner, Matt happily played a game of Memory with grandpa.  Sara was running through the living room shrieking, unable to contain her excitement over all the commotion around her.   Extroverts and introverts – what each type considers “fun” and “needs” is quite different during the holidays.  Plan for success, by taking the time to assess who in your family is an introvert and who is an extrovert. 

Introverts like to watch before joining in, so to insure that the greetings go smoothly show them photos of who will be there before you arrive.  Teach them to give a welcoming high five.  It is a socially acceptable way to say hello and still protect their space.  They can also choose to sit in chairs with arms– again to protect their space.  If they’re little keep them in your embrace until they have had time to observe and decide they are ready to respond. 

Know what’s fun to introverts is some one-on-one time with a favorite person and even though they love the relatives too, they are still going to need a quiet space or time outside for a break. Teach them to ask for it instead of growling, throwing a fit or crawling under the table and refusing to come out.  If they choose to take a break by focusing on the iPod instruct them to find an out if the way space instead of plopping on the couch where the extroverts will immediately rush to join them and drive them crazy by invading their space.   Most importantly recognize when a good time has been had by all and it’s time to leave. 

On the other hand, a holiday spent with others is nirvana for the extroverts who thrive on interaction and activity.  Trouble is they can get so wound up by all of the energy of the event that suddenly they are bumping into everyone and so loud that others are covering their ears in self-defense.  Like introverts, extroverts may also need a break from the action; the challenge is getting them out of there so plan on taking a ball or sleds for time outside.  The group can come too, but at least there is a little more space to slow things down.  Speaking of taking breaks it’s also important to teach the extroverts that when the introverts wish to stop playing games it’s not a personal insult, and when the introverts slip away for a little peace and quiet to avoid following them to “keep them company.”  Somewhere there is another extrovert they can find to continue playing.  If possible you might also want to take two cars so the introverts can leave when they are feeling drained and the extroverts can party til the wee hours.  Appreciate the gift of differences.  Happy holidays! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Keeping the "happy" instead of the "hollering" in the holidays: Getting things "done" with the kids

Darkness falls at 5:00 PM here in Minneapolis.  Long, cold nights make us want to curl up under a down comforter with a good book or to simply fall asleep.  But like the snow piling up outside, the “to do” list of the holidays dumps more on our schedules already filled to the brim.  So how do you keep the “happy” instead of the “hollering” in the holidays?  Let your children “help,” albeit with a degree of modification. 

  • If you plan on baking, put your little one up on a sturdy stool at the sink.  Fill the sink with a little water and suds, drop in a few non-breakables for them to wash and you have a budding sous chef.  If you are uncomfortable with the stool, or don’t have one, cover the floor with a few plastic garbage bags duct taped together and use a washtub full of water.  Be safe by picking up the plastic when they’re finished. 
  • If you are making cookie dough, before you begin and while the children are napping, mix up a quick batch of play dough.  Then while you’re making cookies you can put them to work with the play dough and a few cookie cutters of their own.  Here’s the favorite recipe from Paidea:

o   5 cups flour

o   1/2 cup salt

o   2 T vegetable oil

o   2 Pkg. unsweetened Kool-Aid

o   2 cups boiling water  *make sure it's boiling hot or it will fail

o   Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Spoon the dough into a large Ziploc bag and knead until smooth and warm to touch.

o   Do not try to double this recipe, it will fail.  The play dough will keep in the fridge for quite awhile.

  • If you are wrapping gifts give them their own boxes, scraps of paper, child-safe scissors, tape and ribbon and let them go to it.  
  • Writing cards?  Grab a few sheets of paper, stickers, markers and old envelopes for them to create their designs.  Add a “mail bag” for delivering their creations and they’ll be engaged for hours. 
  • Need to clean?  Little ones love a spray bottle with a little water in it, their own swifter, a whisk broom and dust pan, hand vac or even the real vacuum.  Teach them now and when they can really be of assistance they’ll have the skills.   
  • The older your children the more they can participate in the actual baking and other activities.  For the early reader turn the recipe into a “picture” card – 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt.  You get the point. Encourage them to “write” part of your holiday letter.  Stamps and address labels can easily be handled by a school-age child. 
  • Taking a little time to plan for how to engage your little ones will reduce your stress dramatically plus you’ll be teaching skills and creating traditions for a lifetime. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The holidays are coming – it’s time to plan to be kind to yourself

Being a parent is hard work.  Being a parent during the holidays ramps up that responsibility exponentially, add to the mix a spirited child and it’s as though you are about to embark on a tough guy mudder obstacle course.  You’ve got to be ready for the electrical shocks of sugar and stimulation highs.  Like the mud crawling sections the disrupted schedules or the relative who insists the meal has to be smack in the middle of naptime or long past your child’s normal bedtime can send you slipping and sliding or just suck you down.  The only way to get through is to prepare ahead and to know whose going to lend you a hand when you hit the wall. 

So before you “take off” into the challenges of the holidays think about what the flight attendants tell you every time you board a plane – if the oxygen masks drop, put on your own first and then assist those around you.  They know that in order to help others you have to catch your breath first.  The same applies to you as a parent during the upcoming holidays.  That’s why it is so important to plan to be kind to yourself first so you can handle with grace the nurturing of your children and the obstacle course of holiday traditions. 

Schedule an afternoon or heck, why not a full day – you deserve it.  Okay, so maybe an hour, but whatever time you can grab, stop and ask yourself, what fills me up?  Your answer will be very personal and is likely to be different from those of your friends.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but it is important to stop and ask; what is it?  Who do you love spending time with?  What empowers your spirit, body and mind?  What do you need in your “support stations?” 

It is so easy to get caught up in the rush, plunging forward with no forethought as to where we are going or how we are using our time and resources.  Sometimes the weight of the “shoulds” gets so heavy we simply shut down, finding ourselves spending hours watching television or going on social sites.  Suddenly the deadlines loom in front of us and we swing from inaction into over drive spending more money than we want to or can and yelling at our kids to “hurry up” so we can “make merry.”  No one likes to lose their cool with the kids.  It feels even worse during the holidays when we are supposed to be having fun.  The race to nowhere leaves us feeling like a loser. 

So take that deep breath.  Get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and reflect on what makes you feel strong, confident and calm.  Who are your comrades in arms willing and able to pull you over the wall?  Write your answers down and plan for them.  Be kind to yourself.  Spend your time thoughtfully and joyfully without rushing or “shoulds” pressing on your shoulders.  Your children will thank you with their smiles and peals of laughter and you’ll feel like a true “winner” in the “tough guy/gal” obstacle course of the holidays.  Now that’s worth celebrating! 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Life Lessons

Conversing in Lynn’s office the topic landed on Halloween.  “There are so many life lessons in Halloween,” Lynn declared, and started off on a brainstorming marathon.  I couldn’t resist joining the fun. Here is our list. 

1.  Delayed gratification:  A common question we are asked is, how much candy do we let the kids have?  It reminded both of us of the famous “marshmallow experiment” in which a researcher brought 4 year- old children into a room by themselves, positioning a marshmallow right in front them.  He then explained that if they waited 15 minutes to eat it he would return and give them another one, so that they could have two instead of just one.  Only 1 out of 3 children successfully resisted.  Following up 14 years later the researchers discovered that the children who delayed withstood the challenge had the highest high school grades, clear life plans and healthy relationships with others.  So consider dumping out that candy, allowing your child to select 7 pieces to eat and then give him the choice – eat them all immediately – or parcel them out and have one piece every day for an entire week and earn a bonus of three more!

2.  Mathematical concepts:  Candy doesn’t just have to be for eating; it can also be a tool for learning mathematical concepts like sorting, by color, size and shape.   You can also classify by type, like chocolate or not chocolate. Then all you have to do is convince the kids that chocolate of any kind is really yucky and that you would be willing to take it off their hands. Being a magnanimous person, though, you will allow them to have all of the DELICIOUS non-chocolate treats.  They can also match pieces, count and group.  Graphs could be drawn.  And then of course there is the art of negotiation.  I’ll give you one Snicker for 2 KitKats.

3.  Creative thinking:  Costumes and masks can actually be frightening to young children, as well as expensive to buy.  So why not use this as an opportunity to be creative.  Go through your old clothing.  Pull out the unused cosmetics you were convinced to buy by that great salesperson and never used again.  Create your own costumes – heck this can go on for weeks and turn into writing a play. 

Teachable moments surround us.  Enjoy! 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Importance of Sleep

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

I am a child care provider who recently heard you speak about the importance of sleep.  Presently we are waking our preschoolers after one hour of nap at parents’ requests.  Should we be doing this? 


Dear Chelsea:

We are so glad you wrote.  This is a very frequent question.  The parents’ concern of course is the fear that if the children nap longer they won’t fall asleep until late at night, which is a problem for everyone.  It is possible however to allow a full nap and still have an early bedtime. 

Preschoolers need on average 12 hours of sleep, so our recommendation is that you begin naptime at 12:30 PM that will allow them then to complete a full sleep cycle which is about 1.5 to 2 hours in length.  They’ll be awake at the latest by 3:30, alert and happy rather than groggy and cranky as we suspect they may be when woken after an hour which is in the middle of a sleep cycle.   Then help parents to identify their child’s “window” for nighttime sleep.  If the children awaken at 6:00 AM and nap for 1.5 hours, they still need 10.5 hours at night, which leads us to a sleep time of 7:30 PM. The bedtime routine would then begin by 7:00 PM so that they would be completely ready for sleep at 7:30. 

It’s easy to assume that if children have napped they won’t need to go to sleep until 8:00 or later and with busy schedules that’s what often ends up happening.  But by 8:00 their window for sleep has been missed and it is much more difficult for them to fall asleep.  Leading parents to assume the nap is causing the problem when the real culprit is a bedtime that is too late. 

It is really important to protect children’s sleep.  Research demonstrates that adequate sleep leads to:

¨  Higher grade point averages

¨  Better mathematical skills

¨  Higher reading scores

¨  Improved focus and attention

¨  Less conflict

¨  Fewer accidents

¨  Stronger immune systems and thus less illness

¨  Fewer cavities and gum disease

¨  Lower susceptibility to obesity

So we highly recommend letting them nap for a full sleep cycle.  Help the parents in your program understand how much sleep preschoolers really need and how important it is to maximize their growth and development.  Sleep is just as vital for our well-being as food.  We would never withhold food, let’s not withhold sleep. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jumping on the Couch

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

We have been using the "time out" discipline method for our spirited 27-month-old. An example is that he loves to jump on our couch, which is obviously dangerous. When I see that I tell him that I'm counting to three and then he's going to get a time out if he's still jumping when I get to three.  He'll laugh, count to three with me and then run into his bedroom shouting happily "TIME OUT!" and shut the door. Two minutes later when I open the door, he's sitting in the rocking chair happily reading "Pete the Cat" to himself. It doesn't seem like the time-out method is eliciting the reaction we were looking for and it doesn't seem like much of a punishment for him. Since we've been warned time and time again about not using corporal punishment, I'm just not sure what our other options are. Would love your help!

~ Susan

Dear Susan: 

We love your son’s spirit!  What’s important to remember about toddlers is that everything in their brain is telling them, “Do it!  Try it!  Find out what will happen!”  That’s why words alone will never stop them. 

Next time you see him jumping on the couch, go to him.  Let him know that you see he needs to jump. Understand that he likes that hard sensory input from jumping.  This is a good thing.  You just don’t want him jumping on the couch.  So instead of sending him to time-out re-direct him to a mini bouncer, a cushion on the floor or some other suitable place for him to jump.  Once you’ve established the acceptable place anytime he begins jumping somewhere else, redirect him to that mini bouncer or cushion.  You might also help him “remember” by downloading the image of stop sign from the internet, printing it out and putting it on your couch for him to see.  Visual reminders really make a difference.

The second thing to remember is that the purpose of a time out is to take a break and calm down. It’s a tool for helping a child move from the “red zone” of tense energy to the “green zone” of calm energy, rather than to punish or make him suffer.  We realize this is different from the idea of “go rot and be miserable in your room for a while.”  And that’s why for us, time out means take a break in a comfortable spot, look at a book and when you are calm come back to work this through.  He doesn’t have to be miserable.  Once he is calm then you can do a “redo” teaching him the words and actions you want him to use instead of those he did.  Learning doesn’t come from forced separation or punishment.  Learning comes from knowing what to say or do that would be more appropriate.  The “redo” is where the learning is not isolation or tears. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

What's the "Wild" Behavior All About?

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

I just read your blog about the child who becomes very quiet the first few weeks of school.   I have the opposite problem.  My spirited son becomes very hyperactive on the lead up to school and in the first weeks back too. All his emotions become extreme. If he is happy or excited he runs around making noise, becomes reckless with toys so that often they are broken. If he is sad, or angry about something it’s all screaming, yelling, stomping and trying to argue the point at the top of his voice.  This sort of behavior is always common just in that 2-3 week period on returning back to school.  Can it be explained and how can we manage it?  ~Amanda

Dear Amanda:

This is a perfect example of needing to look behind the behavior to discover the “real” fuel source.  When your son is whirling around the room unable to focus, it is an indication he is in the “red zone.”  The challenge is that children do not always demonstrate the same behavior in the “red zone.”  Some go into the “shut down” mode, which is what we described in our last blog post.  But this is not the only response.  Other children instead of “shutting down” go into,   “I’m ready to fight mode.”  This is what you’re seeing. The blood is in his muscles.  He needs to move. He’s prepared to dispute any point.  But underlying both of these frustrating and puzzling reactions is the SAME emotion – anxiety. 

So how do you make it better?  The strategies are the same.  Recognize he is feeling uncomfortable and will feel much better if he knows what to expect.  Whether it’s a school, child care center or any other new place or event take these steps to help him stay in the “green zone” of calm energy. 
  • Visit the building before the first day.
  • Meet the adult in charge
  • Find the bathrooms, cafeteria, lockers and where he will go when he first enters
  • Ask who else will be there so he can look for a friend
But don’t stop there:

  • Then create a plan of how, you will drop him off, or he’ll walk into the building or board the bus.  Include a clock depicting what time you’ll pick him up. 
  • Invite him to draw out the plan like a 4-6 frame cartoon so he can “see it”
  • Tuck the drawing into his pocket so he can carry it with him. 
The better prepared he is, the more confident he will feel thus, allowing his body to relax and his brain to say, “I’m safe.  I can stop and focus now.” 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Planning for Success: Reducing the “Back-to-School” Jitters

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

Every year I dread the beginning of school.  My daughter begins worrying about it weeks before it starts.  How do I help her feel comfortable?  During the summer she has a few special friends she plays with regularly, but school always seems a bit overwhelming to her.  ~Emma

Dear Emma:

By your description we suspect your daughter may be an introvert who prefers to observe before acting and may find moving into a room filled with new people a bit overwhelming.  If you haven’t read the book Quiet by Susan Cain grab a copy.  It’s a wonderful celebration of introverts.  Unfortunately in our culture introverts are often “pushed” to be more outgoing or bold, but Susan reminds us that your daughter shares this trait with greats like filmmaker Steven Spielberg, writer R J Rowling, scientist Isaac Newton and change agents Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.  This is a quality to treasure!  But that still leaves us with getting in that room.  Here are some skills you can teach her that allow her to work well in a group and feel comfortable.  Being an introvert is NOT synonymous with shy. 

Teach your daughter to stand straight, smile and look people in the eye when she first meets them.  You can practice this at home.  Help her understand that she’s a planner and likes to be certain before she makes a move.  That means she is more comfortable when she knows what is going to happen and what is expected of her.  You can obtain this information by e-mailing the teacher ahead of time to find out the agenda for the first day or preferably stopping by school before then to meet the teacher, find her room, the bathrooms, her locker, seat and the cafeteria.  You can also discover who else will be in her class so she can look for a “friendly face.”  Explain to your daughter that when she first enters a new situation all of the noise, emotions, colors and sounds can seem overwhelming, so teach her to say hello, then find a place to step back and observe.  It might be by the drinking fountain or by her locker while she puts things away.  If someone “crowds” her she can put her hand out for a high five, or she can move around a table or chair to get the space that feels more comfortable to her.  Before that first day you can also talk about the things she has loved most about school in the past.  Often introverts like to go “deep” into a subject and are so passionate about it that it makes those new situations much more comfortable.  Finally expect that after that first day she may be too drained to immediately talk about what happened.  Give her space and time.  Start bedtime early because that’s when she’ll probably be ready to tell you all about her day. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Keeping Your Cool

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn: 

It's hard to give my spirited daughter time to process emotions, because her actions push me away, when really, I think she wants me close.  It's so hard to be near her at those moments. I need time to process at that point... Tatum

Dear Tatum: 

Whenever Lynn and I are working together I’m always amazed at how quickly she notices a child is upset.  Once on a playground she stopped as we passed a little girl on a swing and asked her, “What’s up?”  “They won’t play with me.” The child whimpered, pointing to a group of girls near the fence.  Incredulous I asked Lynn, “How did you know she was distressed?”   “There was a little line between her brows,” she replied.  Then laughing, she explained, “I can ‘feel’ the intensity of others and knew to look.” 

The “red zone” of intensity is catchy and that’s what is happening to you, Tatum.  It’s a natural reaction.  We’re mammals and if someone in the “herd” is sending out vibes that something is “up,” our system automatically gets ready to fight or flee too.  But we don’t have to go there.  This is where we, the adult take the deep breath, recognize the child is struggling to bring her arousal system back into balance and know we can help.  It is not easy, because all too frequently the messages we are hearing in our head are things like, “Here we go again.”  Or, “I have no idea what to do.” Or, “This is so embarrassing, everyone is watching.”  Or, “I can’t believe she is treating me this way.”  These messages can leave us feeling powerless and angry and as a result just increase our own intensity. 

We can teach ourselves to screen that self-talk and change it to messages like, “This is inappropriate behavior and I am going to deal with it – but right now is not a teachable moment.  First I have to calm her.”  We can also remind ourselves that listening does not mean giving in – it’s seeking understanding.  Trying to figure out what is she feeling or needing so we can determine what words and actions we’ll need to teach her to express them more appropriately next time. 

So in the future try your best to stay “tuned –in.”  When you first feel that “twinge” in your gut, don’t ignore it.  Check out that “line between the brows.”  The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to calm your child.  If you innocently miss it and she’s upset, remind yourself, just like when she was a baby and needed help calming, she needs it now.  Let her know you’ll stay nearby, but you can see she needs space.  Remind yourself she doesn’t like to feel this way.  It’s very uncomfortable to her too.  If she’s hitting at you, hold her hands and stop her.  Keep your voice calm.  “I’m listening.  I will help you.”  Let go when you feel her body relax.  Be silent.  Know that like you, talking or too much stimulation makes it harder for her to calm. 

When she’s back in balance and her body is relaxed, that’s when you will do a “re-do” helping her to understand what she was feeling in that situation, then teaching her the words and actions that would be more appropriate next time she feels that way and finally actually practicing with her. 

By doing this, you will be modeling and directly teaching how to keep your cool – even in the “heat of the moment.”  And then don’t forget – get yourself to bed.  This is so much easier if you’re well rested! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Misbehavior or Developmental Task?

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

Yesterday, I told my toddler not to touch the entertainment center. She looked right at me, laughed and then did it again. Lately this has been happening every day. She knows better. Isn't this blatant misbehavior? How should I respond?  Becca

Dear Becca:

It really can feel that way, and may even be frightening too if you project forward and wonder if she is like this at 2 what will she be doing at 14! Fortunately you can take a deep breath, relax and even celebrate that your daughter has reached a new stage of development that you'll be guiding her through. She really is not “out to get you."

Everything in a toddler's brain is screaming, "Do it. Find out what will happen!" That's her developmental task, which is why words alone will never stop her. Your toddler is trying to figure out what the rules are around here. She doesn't learn this from trying something one time. Instead she will try it over and over again to make certain your response is always the same. It doesn't matter who is there, mom, dad, grandma, or the childcare provider, nor the time of day, she'll keep testing to figure out what the rule is.  So your job as the adult in her life is to always be sure the rule is the same. If you say, "Stop,” not only do you need to say it, but get up, go to her and help her stop. In the process you are going to be telling yourself, "She is learning what is okay and what is not. She has to practice to learn. This is a lot of work but not a plot against me. By following through I'm teaching her she can count on me to do what I said I would do. In the long run this is really going to be worth it."

The real magic is as soon as you say, "Stop," give her the "do." "Stop, here's your button." Then show her the toy remote or cell phone you have for her. If she resists - which is likely because she's really smart - follow through with empathy, "I know you really like those buttons, but here are your buttons.”  You'll notice we are not advising you to say, "Stop, do not touch the entertainment center." We're not even mentioning it, we're simply focusing on stop and do.

Question: When a toddler smiles at us and then does what we asked her not to do, it really can feel like she is intentionally trying to antagonize us. Do you believe a toddler has the ability to consciously think, "This is going to drive them crazy?" How do you keep yourself calm so you can follow through?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weaning from the pacifier

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

My three-year-old daughter’s pacifier is constantly dangling in her mouth no matter what she’s doing, but we just saw our dentist and he is insistent it has to go.  I’m getting lots of pressure from other relatives too, but she falls asleep sucking it and seems to really need it.   Should we go “cold turkey” and “get it over with” like the dentist recommends?    Sara

Dear Sara:

Going cold turkey is like someone suddenly taking away your car keys.  You don’t know how you’re getting home.  Nor will your daughter know how to calm herself or fall asleep without her pacifier. So instead of stopping abruptly, set limits and teach her other ways to soothe and calm herself.   For example, allow her to have it anytime she wants, as long as she is either lying down, or sitting on your lap.  Soon she’ll get tired of stopping to do this.  In the meantime, teach her to take deep breaths, drink fluids with a straw or sit quietly looking at books.  And gently “nudge” asking her, “Is tonight a night you want to try falling asleep without your pacifier?”  If she says, “No” then allow her to have it to fall asleep but “nudge” by saying, “Maybe tomorrow you’ll be ready to try.”  And one day soon, she’ll surprise you and let you know that today is the day! 

Question:  We always wonder why it is parents seem so proud to get their child off the bottle or pacifier as young as possible?  What’s the rush?   Okay, so it’s the dentist.  Do physical needs always trump emotional ones? 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fire and Fuel – Behavior and Cause

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn,

My son just turned two on Sunday. He's been spirited since he stopped having reflux pain when he was about 10 weeks old. He fits all nine traits of the spirited child that you write about in your book, Mary. He's ALWAYS been prone to tantrums, but we've worked on trying to navigate them by giving him lots of warning about changes coming (i.e. "in a few minutes we're going to change your diaper, or get in the car, or get in the highchair"). Recently, though, he's gone from bad to worse with the tantrums and these are usually caused when he doesn't get what he wants. Here's an example from yesterday: He wants a specific type of cracker in the car which I simply don't have, so I offer him another... this makes him go OFF THE WALL with screaming, so much so that he starts shaking and can't breathe. I have spoken with my therapist, who's very helpful with raising a spirited child and she tells me that I should say, "This must be very frustrating for you" and then just let him continue to "express himself". But when that crazy type of screaming goes on for another 10 minutes, it's really difficult for me to a) not snap and b) not try to just placate him by literally turning the car around to go to a grocery store and buy him the crackers that he wants.

What would your suggestions for us when the crazy tantrums happen with a 2-year old who's seemingly too young to reason and communicate with easily?

Thanks in advance! ~ Susan

Dear Susan,

When we start thinking about children’s behavior the actions that we see are what we call the “fire.”  Behind every “fire” or behavior there is a fuel source or a reason.  In order to extinguish the “fire” behavior we have to be certain we are addressing the right fuel source, specifically what the child is feeling or needing.  Obviously there could many potential fuel sources and the possibilities may seem overwhelming which is why we use a framework that includes four key areas to consider.  They are temperament, development, stress and medical issues. 

If a behavior is fueled by temperament you will say, “It has always been this way and others see it in different situations and environments too.”    If it’s development it’s a new behavior tied to a developmental stage or growth spurt.  So the first question related to development is to ask, “Is this child within six weeks of his birthday or half birthday when growth spurts commonly occur?”  Or, secondly, is the behavior typical for this age - like a two-year-old saying “no” even when he wants something.  Behaviors tied to stress often occur out the of blue, but when you think back to when they started you can identify a particular event or situation or change in routine that occurred, such as an illness, a grandparents’ visit, new baby, switch to a new classroom etc.  Behaviors fueled by stress also often fall into what we call “shut down” and the child who could dress himself, suddenly can’t.  Or the child who would go upstairs by himself refuses.  Changes in sleeping, eating and toileting also occur when the fuel sources is stress.  So you will see more middle of the night wake-ups, meltdowns, changes in eating, toileting accidents and difficulty listening.  Often in our work we’ll address behaviors first from temperament, development or stress and see what’s still occurring after we do so. 

If the child is not successful despite these efforts to address the needs, then we’ll move to the fourth framework which is medical.  In this case the behaviors are not responding to strategies that usually work and the intensity of them is more than typical.

Going back to your question, you are preparing him.  From the developmental point of view you are setting a limit.  We can expect a two year old to protest, but to also get over it reasonably quickly.  If no significant stressors have occurred in his life, then in this situation due to the intensity of his reaction, we would encourage you to explore potential medical factors.  Medical factors could be minor like an ear infection, to more significant issues such as allergies or developmental issues.   We hope this framework can be helpful as you step into the detective role identifying the true fuel source so you can support your child. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Emotional Coaching

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

Our family recently visited an arcade.  The first time our son tried one of the games he won so of course he then expected to win every time.  When he didn’t, he got really sad and then ran away.  I tried to talk to him about feeling disappointed but he growled at me and then started flailing at me.  Where did I go wrong?   Tonya

Dear Tonya:

You were on the right path, showing concern and attempting to address the “real” fuel source.  A challenge as an emotion coach is to know who you are working with because the approach changes depending on the child’s “type.”  Fortunately you don’t have to be a specialist to identify your child’s “type” he will show you with his behavior.  A child who runs or hides when upset is one who needs space and quiet to calm.  The child who covers his ears or looks away is also telling you he needs silence in order to be able to think and process his emotions.  He is not ready to talk.  The one who growls when you ask about emotions prefers to discuss the facts. 

Trouble can occur when, what your child’s behavior is showing you he needs, is directly opposite from what you prefer when you are upset.  So if you are more extroverted, your desire is to talk things through.  When disappointed, you’d want a hug and someone to listen while you poured out your woes.  

This is where you have to stop yourself, switch out of your preferred or most natural response to one that “fits” your child better.  Step back to give him space so he doesn’t need to run away.  In a quiet, calm voice say to him, “I’m here.  I will help you.”  Then stop talking.  Wait.  When he turns to look at you, or moves toward you then you can begin seeking understanding.  But if this is a child who rejects the “feeling” questions skip them and switch to seeking the “facts.”  Ask questions such as:  “What’s up?”  “Tell me what happened?” “Did someone say/do something mean?”  “Did you have a plan?”  The introverted thinker will calm and work with you. 

Question:  What makes it hard to give a child time to process his/her emotions?  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

My spirited son has just turned eight.  We had a party, a small gathering of friends which works well for him.  He had a great day. Today his behavior is horrid.  He is very easily frustrated, yelling and rude.  I just talked with him and he told me he is upset that his birthday is over.  Any suggestions of how to help him , and what we could do next year to avoid this again?  Cassidy

Dear Cassidy:

You are not alone.  Requests for private consultations surge after major holidays.  So let’s do a little digging.  We always want to look for the fuel source – the real feeling or need behind the behavior.  Could he be exhausted? His preference for small groups makes us wonder if he might be an introvert who enjoys the celebration but finds it draining.  Or was he so excited he didn’t sleep well?  Did he eat more sugar than is typical?  A change in diet can have a dramatic influence on behavior.  Did he have expectations for the day that were not met?  Or is he experiencing a very common “let down” after a big event? 

Let’s assume it may be the latter so respond as an emotion coach teaching him that what he is experiencing is called a “let down.”  Other people experience this feeling too.  You might even share a “let down” you remember.  By giving it a name and describing it you empower him to verbalize the sensations he is encountering so that he can clearly communicate it in the future and work with you to plan for success.  If he is more introverted he may wish to plan a quiet, low-key day following a big event in order to recharge.  If he prefers extroversion he may wish to plan a play date to ease the transition. 

If the “real fuel source” is fatigue, overstimulation or dietary – you would do the same thing.  Name it, describe it, let him know he is not the only person who experiences those feelings and then together plan for success. 

Question:  Think about your child’s temperament and your own.  What do you need to ease a “let down”?  Is your need similar or different from your child’s? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to our blog.  We’ve created it in response to your “gentle nudges.”  We want it to be interactive so we hope you’ll use the comment box to let us know what you are thinking and to ask your questions. 

You can expect from us information based on the latest research and practical strategies we’ve learned from decades of working with parents and children.  Our philosophy is that each child is a unique bundle of temperament, development and possibilities.   You can count on us to help you discover more about who has come to be with you.  And just as you’ve “nudged” us to start blogging, we’ll nudge you to gain insights into your child, their cues and behavior as well as your own. 

Our research-based strategies will help you to build strong, healthy relationships that will keep you emotionally connected with your children for a lifetime.  We take a family approach knowing that any strategies have to work not only for your child but your entire family as well.  You’ll find them positive, supportive and respectful.  Truly they will help you to get out of the power struggles and win together for a lifetime. 

So help “nudge” us forward by sending your questions and we’ll gently encourage and assist you in becoming the competent and confident emotion coach your child needs to fully develop the gifts he/she has been given.    

Friday, May 11, 2012

Car Seat Wars

Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn:

My three-year-old son Nate never simply gets into his car seat.  First he has to climb into the front seat and “drive.”  Then a toy on the floor will catch his attention and he will insist on checking it out.  Of course the book he wants has been left in the house.  The simple act of getting into the car is now taking a minimum of 15 minutes.  But if I try to hurry him or refuse to let him climb into the front seat he screams and arches his back making it impossible to strap him into the car seat.  I can’t be late for work every morning.  Help!  Kim

Dear Kim: 

You might be feeling like you are the only parent who can’t get your child into his car seat, but you are not alone.  There are many little dawdling protestors out there making getting to work a real challenge.  So let’s get out of those car seat wars.

Settling into a car seat is very important from a safety perspective.  When a behavior is unsafe, it is a time for us to be predictable and firm so the child learns this is not a time for negotiation.  Traveling by car also happens frequently so it’s critical to make the entry and exit a smooth transition.  

Begin by talking with Nate about the importance of getting into his car seat cooperatively.   Together make a visual plan, using drawings and photos to show each step.  The steps might include, walking to the car, opening the door (adult’s job), climbing in the seat, sitting down and buckling up.  Include as the last step something fun,  such as discussing what topic you’ll talk about while driving, or what song he would like to hear.  By doing this you clearly let him know what is expected.  Without this information, he can’t cooperate because he doesn’t know what the expectations are.  Our experience has shown us that  a conversation and a simple visual plan can truly set you both up for success.

Question:  Share your experiences.  What problems have you faced and how have you taught your child what behavior is expected? 


Dear Dr. Mary and Lynn: 

Help!  My four-year-old son starts screaming the minute something doesn’t go his way. There is no “wind-up” he just lets loose and within seconds he’s screaming and flailing, trying to kick and hit me.  Yesterday I told him he couldn’t have chips and he totally lost it.  I feel so helpless.  Nothing seems to work.  He screams so loudly that I usually end up giving him what he wants just to stop him. But then I feel awful for “giving in.”  Rachel
Dear Rachel:

You can trust your gut.  You feel awful afterward because you know your son is not treating you respectfully.  You can expect respect, but in order to teach him how to ask for what he needs appropriately you have to calm him down first.  Instead of giving him what he wants draw him to you by saying, “I’m listening.  I will help you.”  Describe what you think he wants or needs.  “You really want chips.”  Or, “You are really hungry.”  You’re not giving in you are just empathizing.  You can continue by saying, “I will help you, but we can’t do anything until your body is calm.  I will know you are calm when your voice is soft and your body is still.”  If needed, hold his arm so he can’t hit you, or hold him with his back against your chest so he cannot kick or bite you.  If he screams, “let go” tell him you will as soon as his body is calm.  When you feel his body quiet teach him the words you want him to use.  “You can say, ‘Mom, may I please have some chips?’”  Then ask him, “Do you want to say it, or do you want to listen while I say it?” If he wants to listen while you say it, let him know that next time you will expect him to use those words.  Once he repeats the question politely, or listens while you say it, go ahead and give him some chips– the lesson today is about working together.  On another day we’ll work on more nutritious snacks. 

Question:  Do you think this is how children learn, or do they need to “suffer” some consequence? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tantruming in Public

Dear Mary and Lynn:
I just needed a few things and didn’t want to have to take all the kids to the store after school, so I fed my youngest lunch then hopped in the car.  We didn’t even get through the door before she threw herself down on the ground screaming because I tried to put her in the cart.  I almost died of embarrassment.  There were at least five other people waiting to get in the store, and there she was gyrating on the pavement like a little maniac.  I tried to talk to her, but I finally just scooped her up and drove home.   What should I do when she melts down in public?  Jennifer
Dear Jennifer:

We hear you.  There’s nothing worse than sensing those piercing eyes of judgment on you when your little one is losing it.  But it sounds like you really kept your head.  Good for you! 
So let’s take a look at this from a two-pronged approach.  First if you get “caught” by surprise as you did, sometimes the only thing to do is exactly what you did.  Pick her up and take her out of the situation so you don’t feel like you have an audience.    If possible though – don’t stop there.  Take her back to the car, calm her down and see if you can figure out what she was feeling or needing.  Ask questions, such as, “Did you want to walk?”   “Did you want to climb in the cart yourself?” Once you discover what she was feeling or needing, then go back and do a re-do.  Actually walk to the door, pull out a cart, have her practice asking, “May I walk please?” and then go ahead and do your shopping.

The second approach is a proactive one – that is stopping before you even leave for the store and asking yourself  “Can my child be successful in this situation or is she too tired or too hungry?”   If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not your child will “make it through a store,” stop in the parking lot and ask yourself, “Would I bet Mary and Lynn $100.00 she’ll make it through?”  If you’re not willing to bet us, listen to your gut.   Trust it – there’s a reason – don’t go.   Figure out another way to get the items you need. 
Dr. Mary and Lynn
Question:  We’re suggesting making decisions about participating in activities based on the needs of your child.  What do you think about it?