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.”