Tag Archives: tantrums

The Real Deal on Toddler Behavior

Do you know any toddlers? You know, those little humans full of curiosity and energy who teeter around sharp corners, draw on anything but paper, make bizarre fashion choices, and exert a will that could stop a hurricane? If you do, you also know that toddlers can put the “No!” in “Yes” and the spaghetti in couch cushions. It’s difficult to know what they might be thinking and their budding language skills can definitely leave us guessing. Although parents often feel frustrated and even worried by typical toddler behavior, it may actually be a good sign that they are on target for developing some very important skills. Here are some facts to give you a fresh perspective on what to expect and how to deal with developmental changes during toddlerhood:

Wütendes Kind in der TrotzphaseFact #1: Independence is a major motivation for toddler behavior, don’t fight it!

• Give choices whenever possible during daily routines. For example, since your toddler must wear a coat during winter, give him or her choices about the act of wearing it. He or she can decide whether to put the coat on before or after putting on shoes or whether to zip up by him or herself after you start it. Or, your little one can pick out your gloves for you and help you get ready to go outside.

• Pick your battles. Figure out what your ultimate goal is in a situation with your toddler. Your little one may not make it pretty or do things efficiently, but when toddlers are given the flexibility to do things on their own they are more engaged.

• When your toddler does not have a choice, be clear and firm in your expectations. Do not get trapped by asking your toddler if he or she wants to do something because the answer can always be, “No!” For example, “You have to lie down for your nap now,” not “Are you ready for your nap?” Follow up with a choice they do have and what to expect or look forward to when naptime is over.

Fact #2: Emotional control is another toddler developmental milestone, help them achieve it!

• Go with your child’s temperament and provide more opportunities to test out his or her independence and emotional control.

• Label feelings out loud in a variety of situations, whether for yourself, a character in a book or TV show, or those observed in your toddler. Encourage the use of words to express emotional states and validate when he or she is having a tough time (or a great time) with mirrored facial expressions or level of enthusiasm.

• Don’t overload your toddler with long explanations or multi-step directions.

• Tell your toddler the appropriate thing to do instead of “No!” or what NOT to do. It is much easier to process positive instructions and then choose the appropriate behavior response.

• With all of the mental energy that goes into learning independence and emotional control, remembering how to behave all the time is tricky. As with people of any age, pay attention to the behavior you want to see more of and praise it—your toddler loves your attention more than anything else and will continue to do things that succeed in getting it!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Lauren Knickerbocker, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.

5 Strategies for Improving Your Child’s Behavior

Parents often struggle to manage their children’s difficult behaviors. Disobedience, back-talking, temper tantrums, fighting with siblings and refusing to go to school are common problems that can lead to frustration, aggravation, and feelings of disempowerment among parents. These behaviors can also cause serious distress in your home and negatively impact your family’s ability to function. Fortunately, decades of research on behavior management have identified a number of core principles and techniques that have proven to be effective in addressing a child’s behavioral difficulties. I have synthesized these strategies into an easy to remember acronym I call Parent POWER:

Put Structure in Place. Children tend to struggle when there is a lack of structure in the home. Chaos and disorganization work against parents’ efforts to reduce disruptive behaviors. A consistent, structured home environment communicates predictability, regularity, and safety to children and may help alleviate anxiety and distress. As such, you should establish consistent behavioral expectations, healthy daily routines, and planned family activities in the home. It may also be helpful to establish house rules to clearly communicate what behaviors are expected. These rules should be broad-based, framed in the positive, and presented as goals. In my practice, I routinely encourage parents to use these rules: follow directions, control your body, and be polite.

Offer Incentives. Behavior change requires motivation, so consider offering incentives, starting with privileges. Since children often have easy access to television, internet, electronic devices, and video games, try making access to these privileges contingent on desirable behavior. You can use a point system for determining whether your child earned their privilege. For instance, when you see your child doing what he/she is supposed to do, point it out and say, “You’re doing a great job following directions! You just earned a point.” These points can then be tallied, and at various times during the day your child can “cash the points in” for various privileges. This strategy can help you to focus on the positives by literally “catching your child being good.”

Work Hard. Improving your child’s behavior is a marathon and not a sprint. This takes hard work and consistency. Practice (and then practice some more) techniques such as establishing house rules and using reward systems. If you don’t see immediate improvements, do not be discouraged. In order to make lasting changes you need to stick to your structure, reinforce the rules, and reward positive behavior day in and day out. It can feel exhausting at times, but keep reminding yourself that in the end it will all be worth it.

Emotional Regulation. It’s easy to become frustrated and impatient when your child misbehaves. A preschool aged child having a temper tantrums in the middle of a grocery store is enough to make anyone want to run and hide. However, when we allow these challenges to get us frazzled, our power and effectiveness may be compromised. As such, it is crucial for you to develop emotional regulation/self-control skills. This can be accomplished by incorporating regular self-care activities into your day. Deep breathing, exercise, yoga, going for a walk, talking to your friends, engaging in religious/spiritual practices, reading a book, and many other activities can all serve to enhance your mental health, bring balance into your life, and put you in a better position to interact with your children.

Role-Modeling. Children learn by watching their parents and imitating their behaviors, so it’s important to be a role model and embody the kind of behavior you hope to see in your child. When you fee upset or frustrated, demonstrate how you can calm down by taking deep breaths or going for a walk. Refrain from yelling, nagging, and hitting, lest you want your children to adopt these practices. Use a calm, assertive, and respectful voice when addressing behavioral infractions. Always use positive methods first, such as using positive praise and points for desired behaviors prior to using negative methods of discipline such as taking away privileges and giving a time out. This communicates that you value positive behavior and are rooting for your child’s success. A role-model is someone that you look up to. Be that person for your child.

By using these Parent POWER strategies, your child’s behavior will gradually improve and over time you will notice a huge difference.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Justin R. Misurell, Ph.D., is a recognized expert on the evaluation and treatment of child sexual abuse and trauma. Currently, he serves as the clinical director of New York University’s Child Study Center – New Jersey Campus and is a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU Langone School of Medicine. He has co-authored a book entitled, Game-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Child Sexual Abuse: An Innovative Treatment Approach, which is scheduled to be published in February 2015. Dr. Misurell received an Early Career Scholarship from the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. He is a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey, and is credentialed by the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology.

Why Tantrums Are Okay

What’s that you say? Tantrums are okay? The simple answer is that yes, tantrums are sometimes okay! Here’s why.

Every experience is a learning experience. We are constantly taking in information from our environments, emitting behaviors, and learning from the consequences of those behaviors. So how does this relate to tantrums? Well, tantrums are also learning experiences.

If a child is engaging in a tantrum, it has likely originated from an event in his/her environment. For example, Ava’s mom said “no” to the candy in the check out line, Jack’s teacher told him to share his markers, or Billy’s dad told him it was time for bed. Do these situations sound familiar?

Anyway, something occurred and your child is now engaging in a tantrum. Here’s the good news: a tantrum is a teaching opportunity for you and a learning opportunity for your child! Tantrums most often occur because in some way or another, your child is not getting what he wants. If he was getting exactly what he wanted, why would he engage in a tantrum, right? That’s why the occasional tantrum is okay. It is also totally okay for you, as a parent, to maintain the boundaries you have set, stay strong, and not give in to a tantrum. It is simply an exercise in limit setting and learning.

Right about now you may be thinking something along the lines of: okay, that sounds really great, but it doesn’t look or feel so great when my little one is having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store. Fair enough. Just because the occasional tantrum is okay and to be expected, that does not mean it’s easy. Here are a few pointers for navigating those difficult moments:Pretty baby girl crying while her mom tries to calm her

Take a deep breath. When your child is mid-tantrum and about as far away from calm as possible, that’s when it’s the most important for us to be calm.  After all, someone has to be!  Whatever emotions you feel in these moments are perfectly valid—acknowledge them—then take a deep breath and try to release them.

Analyze why the tantrum is occurring and avoid reinforcing it. All behavior occurs for a reason.  Whether or not you fully understand your child’s tantrum, rest assured that there is a function behind it. Think about what happened right before your child’s tantrum: were you talking on the phone instead of paying attention to her?  Did he have to share a favorite toy with another child?  Looking at what happened right before will probably give you some information about why the tantrum is happening. Thinking about (and potentially reconsidering) how you typically respond in these situations may also help. Once you determine why the tantrum is occurring, the next step is to not give into it or reinforce the behavior—or else you may see it again in the future. So do your best to stay strong!

Neutral tone and affect. We’re all human and it’s natural to lose our cool from time to time under stressful circumstances. When a tantrum occurs, remind yourself to use a neutral tone and affect. Let your face and your voice send the message that you are not fazed by the tantrum. Put on your game face!

Tune out the bystanders. Let’s be honest, a tantrum that occurs in your home feels very different than a tantrum that occurs in public. When you are out, there may be additional safety concerns, worries about disturbing others, and perhaps the worst of them all, judgmental bystanders! In these moments, do your best to turn off your listening ears and do what you know is right for your child.

Remember the big picture. Caving in the middle of a tantrum may stop it in the moment, but ultimately it will teach your child that throwing a tantrum is an effective way to get what he wants.  The goal is not to stop that particular tantrum in that particular moment—the goal is to reduce tantrums from happening in the long run. It’s easier said than done, but try to remember the big picture—you’ll thank yourself later!

Understand that this is a learning moment for your child. Believe it or not, your child is actually learning during tantrums—if mommy really means what she says, about rules and limits, which behaviors are effective (and which ones are not), and how to respond to undesired situations. So when your child is having a tantrum, focus on teaching the lessons you want him/her to learn!

Make objective decisions rather than emotional ones. To the best of your ability, set your emotions aside and try not to take it personally. Your child’s tantrum is happening for a reason and that reason is most likely not about trying to hurt your feelings.

Stop beating yourself up! You are not a bad parent. Your child is not a bad kid. You are not the only parent whose child has tantrums (despite those ridiculous people who make you feel like you are!). This is a part of the process. Chin up, thumbs up, you got this!

Note: The occasional tantrum is not uncommon, however, if your child engages in frequent tantrums that interfere with daily life or are dangerous to himself or others, we suggest that you consult an appropriate medical professional as well a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) immediately. Safety should always be the first priority. Feel free to reach out to our behavior team and/or attend one of our Tackling Tantrums workshops for more information on understanding and changing behavior!

3 Ways to Kick Toddler Tantrums (and Save Your Sanity)

Pretty baby girl crying while her mom tries to calm herToddler tantrums are the worst. Little did I know, the so-called “terrible twos” start way earlier than advertised. Lately, pretty much anything can set off my usually cheerful and giggly 18-month-old son. Can’t hold my iPhone? Check. Wants his milk, then throws his milk, then gets mad when I won’t give it back to him? Check. Pretty much when I say no, he says yes, and then a tantrum ensues. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a perfectly happy kid, but at this age, his inability to fully communicate what he wants gets in the way. So when tantrums start, what is a mom to do? Here are a few ways I’m coping with the terrible tantrum phase.

Ignore them. I really think this is the number one rule. The more attention you pay to the yelling and screaming (as unbearable as it can be) the more the tantrums seem to escalate. As soon as I ignore my son’s yelling and screaming, he pauses and looks at me like “wait, why isn’t she paying attention to me?”

Distract them. When ignoring your little one doesn’t work—since every child and situation is different—distraction is key. My son is in LOVE with our dog, so as soon as a tantrum starts, I find her and put her to work! Often times, my son forgets what all the fuss is about and starts happily playing fetch and petting my (superhero) dog.

Give in. While I wouldn’t necessarily start with this tactic, sometimes you have to pick your battles. When we’re running late, about to walk out the door, and my son starts screaming about sitting in his stroller, there are times when I’ll give in and let him walk so we can go on our way. Sure the stroller would have been easier, but sometimes I just don’t have it in me to fight.

And sometimes the best solution—and my favorite—is to simply give a big understanding hug. Sometimes all my son needs is a little empathy and affection in order to stop, take a deep breath, and go back to being the sweet, silly little toddler I know and love.