Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tantrum Avoidance: Seven Simple Scripts for Real Life Moments with Babies and Toddlers

Adapted from SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years
by Dr. Jenn Berman

The way we communicate with our children is profound. Simple word choices completely change our children’s perception and the behavioral outcome. The following are some effective methods for reflecting children’s feelings, maintaining boundaries, and communicating respectfully. These easy-to-use scripts can be used over and over again in all kinds of situations that typically arise in the first three years.

Situation: Your baby cries as you are changing her diaper.
Instead of saying: “You’re okay.”
Try this: Narrate what you see. “I hear you crying. You sound really upset. I get the feeling you don’t want me to change your diaper. I will try to change it as fast as I can so you are not uncomfortable for long.”
Why: In that moment your child isn’t okay. If you were upset and your friend told you “You’re okay,” you would not feel heard. Narrating the experience your child is having allows her to know that you hear and respect her feelings. You are still holding the boundary (i.e., she is still having her diaper changed), but you are doing it with compassion. By reflecting her feelings, you also teach her how to be empathic, which helps in the development of emotional intelligence.

Situation: Your child drops a toy on the ground and has a meltdown.
Instead of saying: “Get over it! It’s just a toy!”
Try this: “I see you dropped your toy. You seem really upset! You look like you weren’t done playing with it.”
Why: Sure, to you or me, it is just a toy that fell on the ground, but to your child, this is genuinely upsetting. Demonstrating empathy is far more likely to help her calm down and to feel heard. By responding to her in this way, you become a safe and understanding source of comfort to her.

Situation: Your toddler does not want to climb into her booster chair.
Instead of saying: “Get in your chair, now!”
Try this: “Do you want to climb in or do you want Mom to put you in?”
Why: This gives the power back to your child while still setting the limit. Now there is less reason for her to resist. If she still refuses to get in the booster chair, you might say, “It looks like you are not hungry. Maybe you are too tired to eat. Your choices are chair or crib. You choose.” If she cannot choose, let her know that if she is unable to reach a decision on her own, Mommy will decide for her. be too tired to make a decision.

Situation: You’ve asked your toddler to come to bed and she is running around her bedroom like a wild child.
Instead of saying: “Settle down! I told you to get in bed!”
Try this: “I see you are having trouble stopping your body. It looks like you need me to help you.”
Why: Toddlers are not always able to stop their bodies. Their impulses and need to move are greater than their ability to stop themselves. Sometimes they need some gentle help. It is not fair to get angry with a young child who is not yet equipped with the development skills you’re asking her to use.

Situation: On a playdate at Sally’s house, your child takes a toy out of Sally’s hands.
Instead of saying: “Be nice!”
Try this: “You took that toy from Sally. I don’t think she was done with it. Let’s give it back and ask Sally if we can play with it when she is done.” If your child resists giving the toy back, give her two acceptable options: “Do you want to give the toy back to Sally yourself or do you need my help doing that?”
Why: While some children as young as eighteen months understand the concept of ownership, children don’t fully grasp the idea of sharing until they are closer to three years old. To a child, property is an extension of herself. Would you want to share your arm? Shaming your child into sharing only creates negative feelings. Explain that the toy belongs to Sally and that your child needs to ask before taking it.

Situation: Your child hits another kid over the head with a toy, resulting in tears.
Instead of saying: “Say you’re sorry!”
Try this: “You hit Carley over the head with that toy. She looks really upset. What can you do to help her feel better? Let’s ask her what we can do to help her.”
Why: Forcing a child to say “I’m sorry” does not magically make her feel sorry. Making children say they are sorry when they don’t really feel sorry teaches them to be insincere. It teaches them that what matters is saying something that will make people shut up, even if it is a lie. Encouraging your child to help the injured party teaches him about making amends and helping others.

Situation: Your child throws her food on the floor.
Instead of saying: “Stop it!”
Try this: “When you throw food on the floor, it makes me think that you are done eating. It you do it again, the meal will be over.”
Why: When children first get to sit in a high chair, they are curious to see what happens when they drop food. By following the recommended script, you let your child know the consequences of the action, you set up a rule, and you put the power back in her court. She can choose to end the meal by throwing food on the floor, but it is her choice. If she has a meltdown after you remove her from the high chair, your job is to hold your ground, but reflect her feelings (“I know you weren’t done and you wanted to stay in your chair. We can try again at lunch”). If you follow through with the stated consequence, the odds are that the situation won’t happen again for quite some time.