Sunday, September 22, 2013

Five Helpful Toddler Terms

In our house, the first line of defense towards toddler tantruming is prevention. Over time, we have observed Ayden's behaviors and have been able to pinpoint certain tantrum triggers. Once we find a trigger, we et together and plan a way to avoid them. This is usually done by teaching Ayden a phrase that will warn him of an upcoming trigger so that he doesn't misunderstand our intentions. For example, say we need to put a new shirt on him and he is holding a toy. If we take the toy with full intentions of giving it back once his shirt is on, he thinks we are just taking it, throws a fit about it and then we can't give it back because we don't want him to think his fit was the reason we did. Then it really escalates from there. This brings us to the first helpful concept/phrase that we taught Ayden.

1) "Switch hands" - he'll he holding a toy in one hand, we put the other hand through his sleeve then say, "Switch hands."  He does and we are able to get his second hand through without ever taking the toy, thus avoiding his thinking we are stealing his prized possession. 

2) "First _____, then _____." - This one took the longest for him to understand because it is a tricky concept for a toddler who is egocentric and lives in the moment. It was inspired by the first speech and language pathologist I worked with while I was a teacher. I had a student with autism who had difficulty transitioning from one part of our day to the next. She made a simple "if, then" picture board for him and before each activity we would use it to show it to him to help him prepare for an upcoming transition. We don't use pictures with Ayden but we do use the first/then concept with him very often. If he is wanting to go onside while we are cooking dinner we say, "first eat, then outside."  If he is wanting to read a book before he's gotten ready for bed we'll say, "First brush teeth, then book."  We keep the phrases very short, simple and direct and after a few days it really began to help him understand and be more patient. 

3) "Or I'll take it..." - This one has been amazing! When he is climbing on his table and chair set so he can reach the kitchen island we'll say, "Ayden, the chair is for sitting. If you climb on the chair again I'm going to take it."  If he is pouring water out of the bathtub we'll warn,"If you spill the water out, I'm going to take it."  Sometimes he does it anyway and we then we consistently follow through. There are instances where this doesn't phase him much but other instances where he dislikes it very much and cries to have the item back. We say, "I know you really like playing with the [insert item], but you [insert undesired behavior]ed with it so I had to take it."  We do not return it at that time, let him cry until he is ready to move on and 9 times out of 10, he believes us the next time we give him this warning.

4) "Tell me what you want" (can also say, "Use your words") - There are plenty of times when Ayden requests something and we misunderstand what he wants. Sometimes he has patience with us and we eventually figure it all out without him melting down. There are also times when we offer him something thinking it was what he was asking for and he immediately begins to wail as if his world is crumbling down around him. This is when we get down on his level and gently say, "Ayden, tell me what you want." After a few moments he will usually regroup and try to request the item again and we eventually figure it out. These kinds of tantrums are different in my opinion because they are purely frustration.  He understands SO MUCH and is developing new words all the time but that doesn't mean he can fully communicate easily. He asked for one thing and was offered another. He spoke and was not understood. We do not give him whatever he is wanting until he is calm and has asked for it nicely, but we do not just walk away to let him cry this kind of fit out. We want him to know that we want to listen and more importantly, that we want to understand. And this brings us to our last helpful concept for Ayden.. 

5) "Ask nicely" - A lot of times Ayden will just say the name of what he wants over and over or he will yell and kind of demand that we give him something. Again, toddlers are very egocentric. He has no idea that rudely asking for something can offend someone or hurt their feelings. He is just beginning to understand that his actions can have an effect on those around him. When he gets caught up in his own desires and demands that they be met, we just say, "Ask nicely, please." and when he does, we give it to him (within reason, of course). We also make sure that we ask him nicely for or to do things in hopes to provide a model for him to follow. The only time this one gets us into trouble is when he wants something he can't have and, all on his own, kindly asks, "Teeeese?" In the sweetest voice ever. It is so hard not to give in when he coats his request in so much sugar. 

There may be a few more helpful concepts/phrases that we use to make toddler land run a bit smoother but this gives a good idea of how we prevent *some* of his meltdowns. We would love to hear about ways you prevent toddler meltdowns before they happen. We have truly found prevention to be our best defense against them and would love more tools for our toolbox!


Flashback!  Here's what we were up to one year ago today: "Play Date"

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  1. Great post! I know that you all chose not to do CIO sleep training with Ayden, which is what we also chose for our 14.5 month old frequent night waker. I have a hard time adjusting from my-baby-should-never-cry to disciplining my toddler, even if it means tears. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! How do you reconcile those two ideas? Maybe that would deserve its own blog post, haha.

    1. We also don't use CIO for my 17 month old "frequent night waker" ☺ I've found that although disciplining leads to tears sometimes, I have to be consistent and strong, but also respectful and loving. I do not leave him when he's having a tantrum and sit down with him and even offer a hug, but not the object he had taken away or let him climb back on the table, etc. We are right in the middle of the "throwing himself on the floor" tantrum phase and I'll sit by him or squat so he knows that I'm there for him and not being mean on purpose. It still almost hurts to hear him cry but there are a few things that are not okay for him to do or have, which may make him cry, which is okay. He doesn't understand right now, but he will soon, and he'll continue to feel loved through it all.

    2. You are right, it might deserve its own post :). The short answer is that if he is crying because he is sad, or hurt, or needs us in some way we make ourselves available in every way we can. If he is crying because of discipline, we patiently wait for him to work his way through it and are available for when he is ready. It's never easy to hear them cry but being consistent and following through with disciplinary decisions you have made is so important if you want them to continue to take you seriously throughout their childhood and into the teenage years. I will work on putting a post together regarding this topic. Thanks for the idea :)