Category Archives: Toddler

The Overly Negative Parent

Stop it! Why are you always fidgeting? Don’t climb on that! Can’t you be still for a moment? Leave your nose  alone! Can’t you occupy yourself for a minute? Must you  look into everything? Don’t you know that’s not safe? Sit  here! Keep your hands to yourself!

We all have used these phrases at one time or another.

It’s easy to fall into negative parenting patterns.  The fact is that children don’t mind negative parenting in  the short run. Sometimes they are thriving in the  attention they get from you even if it is in correcting  their behavior. Many times children enjoy controlling you  and “pushing your buttons”. However, in the long run  negative patterns of interaction have detrimental effects  on children’s egos. They start to embody the thought that  they are a “bad” child that always needs correction.  Meanwhile parents often sense the negativity in the  relations with their children and don’t like it.  Intellectually we know it isn’t good for our children.  Most parents plan on giving their children the best. So it  is usually upsetting for us to fall into negativity in  parenting. There is great value in being able to recognize  when you or your spouse are in one of these patterns.  Recognition is the first step in changing this pattern.

Once you recognize a negative mode of parenting there  are steps you can take to get out of it. Start by turning  off the word faucet. Ignore your child instead of  constantly correcting them. If you need to correct them,  use action instead of words. A touch on the shoulder or  turning them to the right direction often works better than  words. Take moments to compliment your child. Thank them  for following your correction or instruction. Praise and  compliments can help turn the tide on negativism. Employ  praise daily. Look up short phrases and words that kids  like to hear like “wow”, “way to go”, “I like it when you…”

Try to understand your child’s developmental level.  Many kids need to explore, jump and run. Give them a space  and time to play with their developing skills. Stop asking  silly questions like “Why do you have to…?” or “Can’t you  just be still for a moment?” Children are made to move and  be curious. It is up to parents to be creative to let them  use their curiosity and energy.

Don’t get frustrated with your child’s need for  constant vigilance. For certain ages, keeping one eye on  your child is a requirement in parenting. Parents must  accept this role. It takes a long time for children to  become self sufficient and trustworthy.

Children want to call attention to themselves and to  push our buttons. These desires often pull us into a  negative swirl. We can get out of these by taking  appropriate steps. Through these steps we can help our  kids feel positive about themselves and we can feel  positive about our relationships with our children.

The Emergence Of Permanence

Your nine month old wants an electric cord but you distract him with a stuffed animal and he takes the bait.  Even at one year of age distraction to another object  replaces a desired one. At fifteen months, your methods of  distraction to an object you favor over one your child  favors may take longer but still works. But by eighteen  months your child persists after the TV remote even though  you try to distract him with two or even three different  fun items. What has happened? Why was it easier to  distract your child to a new object at nine months to a  year of age but at fifteen to eighteen months your method  isn’t working?

The problem is not with your method. The problem is  with your child’s development. By eighteen months of age  your child has developed the idea of permanence.  Permanence is when your child knows the object you are  hiding behind your back is still in existence and is the  object they want. Before this age your child might  “forget” that the remote or the electric wire ever existed  once you hid it from them and introduced a new item. This  is an important piece of information for parents to  understand. Without knowledge of this many parents fall  into a trap.

The trap goes like this. We as parents are used to  using distraction for over a year to give a child something  else rather than something they want. But as a child  develops permanence and persists after the hidden remote,  parents often continue to try distracting them by offering  them bigger and better choices. The offers continue until  something that pleases the child is offered. If this  pattern continues then a child learns to persist and act  out and something good will come their way. Does this trap  sound familiar?

If parents of fifteen to eighteen month olds recognize  this risk of using distraction, they can avoid this trap  and avoid feeling like your child is ruling you by their  behavior. If your child starts persisting for an object  you don’t want him to have, get that object way out of  reach and out of sight. Your child will start acting out  in frustration and disappointment. You may try one or two  simple attempts at distraction but if they don’t work, stop  trying. Allow your child to experience disappointment  without a response from you. The child will learn to move  past this emotion in a very short time. They will learn  that you are in control and they can’t persist in behavior  to win something. This age is when children want what they  want but can’t have everything they want. Since they have  learned about permanence, it is time for them to learn  about disappointment.

The Attention Control Game

It often seems that as I grow as a parent that I move from one trap to another. Things may be smooth for a while but then with one child or another I find myself involved with  a behavior that I don’t want but repeatedly seem to get into with my child. This behavior  might be something that only I get. Or when I bring it up to my spouse I may find that  she is dealing with it too. At some point I realize that this behavior is driving me crazy. I  realize my child knows “how to push my buttons” again. It could be tantrums, whining,  arguing, or other noxious behaviors that I don’t want. Yet, the more I respond to it the  more often I seem to yield that behavior from my child. How do I fall into these traps?

All parents fall into traps through what I call the “Attention – Control Game”. Other  parents tell me how their children know “how to push their buttons” too. Almost  all behaviors that “push our buttons” fall within this attention – control game. To  understand this game I divide children’s behaviors into four categories.

The first behavior category is one done just for attention. We all know how children seek  and need this vital resource. In fact it is important for children to get a lot of attention to  support the positive attributes they have. We need to give our children attention in order  to demonstrate their importance to us and to build their ego so they gain knowledge about  the good things they are able to do. Giving positive attention to our children is as vital a  role for us as it is a vital need for them.

The second category of behavior is one done just for control. These are behaviors that  kids do to control us or our response. It may be as simple as a long “please” and sappy  eyes just to get something at a store. But if it works to control us it provides them a  benefit beyond getting a candy. Kids need to have more control over time. They need  the sense of power to help support their budding egos. They need to know that they have  the power to control things for themselves in order to build confidence for encountering  the world outside our family.

A third set of behaviors that are important to children are ones that yield no attention or  control from a parent. Why are these important? These are self-sufficient behaviors.  These are things such as a child who spends hours on a drawing or a child who builds  with legos for a whole morning. These are behaviors that the child is drawn to from their  inner being. These flow from talents, skills, and areas of interest the child has and for a  large part doesn’t need the reinforcement that a parent’s attention can bring. We want  our children to discover these talents and skills. They need the opportunity to use them.  The self-fulfillment becomes reinforcement enough. And the child comes to value the  part of them that has that particular skill.

The last category of behavior is the one that traps us. All behavior that drives us crazy  falls into the category that gives the child attention and controls us. These behaviors are  often negative. They serve no logical use for the child. But regardless these negative  behaviors never change so long as the child gets attention for the behavior and controls  the parent’s response. It is this category that I emphasize whenever parents talk to me  about behaviors that are bothering them. Understanding this phenomenon of attention  and control is crucial in order to change our response and get out of negative behavior  traps.

Whether it is temper tantrums, refusal to go to bed, whining, or any other negative  behavior, if a parent can understand their response and how it reinforces the child’s  behavior, parents can then change their response and modify the child’s behavior  overtime.

In order to rid your house of negative behavior, three steps need to be taken.

1) The parent needs to ask how he (she) gives the behavior (such as temper  tantrums) attention.

2) The parent needs to understand how this behavior controls the parent’s  response. How does the behavior control you?

3) And finally the parent needs to make a conscious decision to control their  own reaction to a behavior and not give the child any attention for the negative  behavior.

If done correctly the parent can watch that behavior slowly disappear. And they will  be prepared for the next behavior that will drive them nuts when it inevitably appears.  Because our kids know how to push our buttons, it won’t be long before we fall into the  trap once again.

Taming The Tantrums

So you are in the checkout line at the supermarket and your toddler wants one of those colorful candies. You’ve been out doing errands and the supermarket is your last stop. Your son has been great up to now. He’s been a trooper as you dragged him from errand to errand. But now, as dinnertime approaches, he has reached his limit. You say no to the candy and here comes his full fledged fit. He wheels back his head, screeches out and starts flailing his arms and legs. He’s thrown himself into one of his best tantrums. Oh how you wish this behavior would go away. It is just so embarrassing, especially in public. How are you supposed to deal with a tantruming child in a supermarket as (it seems) half the world looks on? Should you give him the candy? Offer something else? Just ignore him? If I ignore him, won’t other people think I am a bad parent?

In order to deal with tantrums, parents need to understand why children have tantrums in the first place. Most children go through periods of “trial and error” behavior. They try a behavior because they didn’t get their way. Many different behaviors develop in this way; for example, temper tantrums, breath holding spells, head banging, pulling their own hair, and even whining. There really isn’t a rational reason for their behavior except that they are frustrated and act out for attention because of that frustration.

So if tantrums are due to “trial and error” behavior why do they repeatedly occur? First of all, children have short memories. They may not get anything from one tantrum but because of a short memory they try it again another time. It takes a child a long time to really remember that a behavior doesn’t yield him anything. The other reason why the behavior comes back is that the child gains something from the behavior. Children can become the center of attention during a temper tantrum. At the same time they can be in control of the responses they are getting from people. The attention they get and the control they have can make a tantrum a powerful tool for a young child.

So how should parents response to a tantrum? Here are some rules to follow:

1. Remember that this behavior is just “trial and error” behavior. In your child’s mind they are saying – “if I try this fit what happens?” That is why if they get no real response from their action, they will try some other behavior instead – eventually!

2. Remember the struggle for attention and control. Getting attention for a behavior and being able to control other people’s responses are rewarding actions for children. Don’t reward tantrums by giving them attention or letting them control you by getting under your skin.

3. Children have short memories. If you don’t give attention to a tantrum and another tantrum occurs within the same week, don’t be discouraged. For most families it takes months for tantrums to decrease in frequency. Children continue with their “trial and error” behavior for a while to be sure they aren’t getting a result. This is especially true when a parent is changing their approach from one of giving attention to a tantrum to taking attention away.

4. Remember that a child’s behavior is theirs – not yours. Many parents in public places feel like their child’s behavior is the parent’s responsibility. But that is absolutely false. Only the response to the child’s behavior is the parent’s responsibility. The behavior should be owned by the child not by the parent.

5. Safety first. Your child won’t look out for his/her safety while having a fit. Make sure they are in a safe place to have their fit before you decrease your attention to them.

6. Finally, everyone who cares for your child needs to treat tantrums the same way. If children receive benefits from tantrums anywhere you are more likely to see the behavior again.

So back at the supermarket, the poor parent with the tantruming toddler needs to ignore her child and finish the task at hand. The parent needs to get out of the store as quickly and calmly as possible. And during the ride home the tantrum will go away. And that parent will be ready to succeed when the next tantrum blossoms from their child again. Hopefully others who witness scenes like these will have greater understanding and empathy towards the parents who are trying to tame their toddler’s tantrums.

Stop Whining

So the kids are home from school. You got them a  snack. And after a moments peace, the whining starts.  “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do. Can I watch TV? But I  don’t want to do my homework.” It isn’t the phrases used  that bother us as much as the squeaky, whiny voices that  say them. Why is it that kids whine so much? And how can  we stop it?

There is a funny thing about kids’ voices. Some  voices used at home are never used with teachers or  coaches. But those irritating voices are saved by children  to use for their parents only.

How do kids know to do that? Do children know that  their teachers and coaches wouldn’t respond to those voices?

Children get a lot of things from whining. They get  their parent’s attention. They get to control the  situation and their parent’s response. And most of all,  they get what they want – at least half of the time.

So even though it isn’t easy to listen to, you can get  rid of whining pretty easily. First, a child should never,  ever get anything they want by whining. Second, parents  should treat whining like a foreign language they don’t  understand. Third ignore your child for a time for every  instance of whining. One could simply say “I don’t  understand that voice” and turn away. Only deal with  children who are talking normally. Those whiners will  catch on. Make it clear to them that you can’t understand  whining voices, inform them that they need to use normal  voices, ignore them a while when they whine, and you will  see whining disappear in your house.

Whining can be viewed as similar to a temper tantrum.  Just like a temper tantrum, we can see whining more  frequently in times of stress, hunger, or fatigue.  Nevertheless, just like a temper tantrum, whining should  not be responded to and should be absolutely ignored. With  those tantrums and whining gone, you’ll be on your way to  having a more pleasant household.

Saying No To Our Kids

Our children are facing an unprecedented number of  choices, most of which are for things they don’t need.  Billions of dollars are spent to appeal to your children  and make them want something that you have to buy. It  makes me think of two questions for parents today. Are you  able to go to the store with your children and not get them  anything they say they want? Do you have unused toys  stuffed into containers at home but your kids still want  more? The answers shouldn’t come as any surprise to us  when we realize how many things are thrust upon our  children through various forms of advertising. You can see  the results of this in our communities where scooters that  were a must for all kids years ago lay dormant in garages.  Why can’t we say no to our kids? Why do our kids need to  have “what everyone else has”?

I have heard explanations from parents such as “well I  don’t want to disappoint him”. Or, “I didn’t have stuff  when I was a kid and I want it to be better for them”. But  if we don’t disappoint our children, when do they learn  disappointment? When do they learn to deal with emotions  around disappointment? When will we learn to face their  feelings of disappointment and not need to “make it up to  them”? If we step back for a moment and look at the  process of saying “no” to our kids we may learn a new  approach to this issue.

The first part of the process is the request. Your  child will ask you for something he or she wants. The  second part is a time of thought – you have to decide yes  or no. Take a moment at this point in the process because  once you decide, there is no going back! “Yes” is always  easier and is certainly ok at times. “No” is harder  because when we say “no” we can expect argument, emotion  and behavior. It is dealing with these three factors in  the process that makes it hard for parents to say “no”. Here’s how to deal with these three factors.

If you think about your decision well enough then  don’t get into an argument. No, means no! Just keep  saying no. Then comes the emotion and the behavior.  Emotion needs understanding. (I know that disappoints you,  I’m sorry about that) and behavior (that means acting out,  crying, tantrums or other kinds of fits) deserve a cold  shoulder no matter how embarrassing!

Using this system our kids learn over time to deal  with disappointment. They ask for less and they turn out  fine – perhaps better than kids who expect to get  everything.

I have seen kids in third world countries such as  Honduras play and interact with a lot less than our kids  have. In our country where we have so much, perhaps all  parents should work on disappointing their kids more. At  the same time if we give our time or resources to good  causes, our kids can learn that it isn’t all about them and  what they get. It is about all of us getting and learning  what we need.

Raising A Wonderful Child

Much of the parenting advice that comes from  pediatricians and psychologists is directed towards fixing  negative behaviors. But what about those parents who have  a wonderful child. They do exist. Those kids are self  motivated, do well in school and rarely need correction.  Those parents deserve advice too. Wonderful children are a  blessing but they need their parents’ guidance too.

There are challenges in raising wonderful children. It is easy to become complacent about them while  we are busy with other concerns. They are usually self  sufficient so it is easy to forget about them. You still  have responsibility in raising your wonderfully easy child.

When a friend pays a compliment about them, make sure they hear it. It is their compliment not yours. Don’t  over correct them just to keep them from being “too big for  their britches”. Wonderful children take little corrections  to heart. You can trust in the fact that they want to  please.

Instead, challenge your achiever. Show them the struggles we face in our society and our world. You  shouldn’t let them grow up believing everything will come  easy to them. There are always more things to achieve for  children, adolescents and adults.

Work towards continuous improvement in yourself. Our achieving youth need good role models and that starts  at home. If they see you working to improve yourself, they  will see value in improving themselves.

Many good people have gone before us. Read to them or  have them read about great people and their achievements.  They need idols like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson  Mandela, Anne Sullivan and Mother Theresa.

Pose questions to them; let them come up with  solutions. This keeps them thinking and develops their  creativity. Show them ways to contribute through  volunteering. Let them come up with ways to help out  others. Our wonderful children may be able to make our  world better in the future if they are made aware of  challenges we face today.

Expand their skills. Have your young wonder child try  things that don’t come easy – a musical instrument or a  team sport. Some great kids take the easy route by staying  in their comfort zone. But with new challenges, new skills  may be discovered.

Whatever you do with your wonderful child, don’t take  them for granted. Praise them. Show them you are proud of  them. Recognize their skills and talents. Let them hear  you brag about them even if they moan “oh mom”. They need  to know how you feel about them and that you value who they  are. Through your appreciation of them they will learn how  to appreciate themselves and others.

Wonderful children are easy. They are blessings. But  we need to remember they need parenting as well.

Parents Role In Reading

There has been a growth of programs to increase reading. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a program  to increase reading at home. Libraries have always  emphasized reading. Radio programs are plugging reading  programs. A recent study showed that when adults have  books at home the more literate the household becomes. It  has been suggested that Pediatricians ask mothers during  office visits “How many books do you have at home?” as part  of an effort to increase reading. Certainly, reading is  important. But why all the effort to increase reading?

Some troubling statistics answer the question. Today  many college graduates in America cannot read and write  well. Many high school graduates fail reading and writing.  Americans, in general, are reading less. Book sales in the  U.S. have decreased. Books are losing to computers and  T.V. and as a result 30 percent of our high schoolers are  dropping out nationwide. It is a shame that it has to be  emphasized anew. Many years ago it was assumed that  Americans had high literacy and high education levels. But  today we are dropping. This is a cause for every parent to  take up. What can parents do?

Reading must be a factor in your parenting today.  Children need to see books. They need to hear words. They  need to see parents reading. It doesn’t have to be a chore.  Parents do not need to tediously teach their kids to read.  That is a role for teachers and schools. And not all  children learn to read at the same rate. Don’t panic if  you have a late reader. But kids need to see the  importance of books and reading everyday in their home.

Books on tape are a great alternative. It allows  children to use more imagination than videos. They can  play or draw while listening. During a long drive, books  on tape make the ride shorter. If the book isn’t over they  may not want the ride to end.

Keep reading and listening. Take trips to the  library. Use libraries as a resource for books for your  child. Always read a little above your child’s level so  they yearn to read bigger more interesting books. If you are worried about your child’s reading, talk to  your school. There is always extra help available. But  don’t give up at home – keep reading.

Lessons from books are in no short supply. From Greek  myths, to comedies, to English literature, our kids learn  more than words. Life’s lessons are taught through the  experience of centuries. Exposure to books is valuable to  kids and to families – for the lessons and the togetherness  they provide. But in the long run, reading provides an  added value to your child’s education that cannot be  provided in any other way then in their homes.

Our Brand-Name Children

Does your two year old recognize McDonald’s? Does your three year old want Sponge Bob underpants? Does your  six year old insist on Nike sneakers? Does your teen  refuse to wear anything but Abercrombie and Fitch clothing?

There is a disturbing truth at the heart of these  questions. By as young as two years old, many of our kids  are asking for specific brands. Many kids know the name  “Macdonald’s” before they know a name for a vegetable! The  marketing world loves it. They continue to reach farther  and farther into our kids’ world for every marketing angle  they can get, with new ones being invented all the time.  Even video games, for example, now come with products  marketed within the game. In Madden 2005, a football game,  fans drop bags of Doritos as they reach for a ball thrown  into the stands – a not-so-subtle advertisement for a not-so-healthy food.

But our kids live in this culture of buy, get and  receive. What’s the harm? Unfortunately, there is clear  harm. In this era of childhood obesity, literally billions  of dollars are being spent on hooking our kids on unhealthy  foods. Moreover, there is persuasive evidence that the more  children are tied into brand names and our consumer culture  the more likely they are to experience anxiety and  depression during and after their teen years.

I once saw Juliet Schor, an acclaimed sociologist from  Boston College who has researched what she calls “the  commercialized child and the new consumer culture,” speak  to a group of parents. In her most recent book, Born to  Buy, Schor examines the nature of the marketing world and  illustrates how advertisers will accept no limits when it  comes to coercing our children. In her talk she focused on  the negative effects over-commercialization on our  children’s mental health. Dr. Schor is the professor who  found from her research that our children are more likely  to become depressed the more tied in with the consumer  culture they are.

Dr. Schor went to great lengths to show us how the  marketers are using our children to affect all family  purchases from food to cars. It is not enough for marketers  to convince children to buy toys, now companies use  children to influence adult purchases as well.

The advertising industry has created a culture for our  youth that is not terribly healthy even viewed on the macro  scale. “Urban Cool” was chosen by marketers as the theme to  market to kids. Some products such as make-up and sexy  underwear are purchased and used at younger ages today  because marketing groups pushed down the age to which they  were cool and accepted. Some marketing is aligned with an  anti-adult theme. And “nag factor” and “pester power” are  now entwined in advertising lingo referring to how they can  use children to get to the parents. Is this scary to you?  It is to me.

What can parents do? We cannot possibly disassociate  ourselves from all consumer activity. Let’s face it we will  always need to buy food and supplies for our household.  However, I think there is a way to shelter our children  from the pressures advertising firms bear onto our family  life. My wife and I rarely bring our children shopping. We  throw away all store flyers that arrive at the house. We  recycle mail order catalogs before a page is turned. And,  of course, we minimize the exposure to the barrage of  advertising, we receive through electronic media and TV. It  is amazing how this reduces the calls of “mom, I need  this!”.

Part of the message from Juliet Schor is that our culture is being taken away and replaced by a consumer  culture. We can fight this culture war in other ways  according to Dr. Schor. Bring back family dinners. Take  back the outdoors. Discredit brand names. They are made by  underpaid laborers and overpriced for what they are. Be a  non-brand name family. Communicate with and enjoy the  company of like-minded families. Cook great meals and enjoy  good conversation. Have healthy hobbies and habits. All  these actions take culture back into your hands. You are  doing what you want rather than living a life being coaxed  into buying things you really don’t want or need. And by  all means possible, volunteer and help those who are less  fortunate then you are. Do this in all seasons- not just at Christmas and involve your children. You will be amazed at  the perspective this builds in them. Battling this culture  is a lifelong fight. But it may be a worthy one for you and  your family.

No Need To Fear Vaccines

What a terrible injustice to vaccine makers, and to doctors and nurses who give vaccines. The injustice was that of Wakefield  and his associates when they published a report in 1998 that  linked MMR vaccines with autism. That created a worldwide  furor (yes worldwide through internet scuttlebutt) over the MMR  vaccine and autism. Why do I call it an injustice?

The little told story of this incendiary conclusion of Wakefield  and friends is that their conclusion was false. In 2006,  seven out of ten investigators retracted their support for  Wakefield’s conclusions. Furthermore it was revealed that  Wakefield was funded by lawyers who brought cases against  vaccine companies. This fact has lead Wakefield to court to  defend his falsification of his data. So in fact, there has  never been a verifiable research study supporting an autism-vaccine link. Yet, the rumors and bad mouthing of vaccines  continue.  Many medical groups from different countries have  looked at vaccine data and have concluded just the opposite –  that there is no link between vaccines and autism. There is no  link between MMR vaccine and autism and there is no link between  mercury in vaccines and autism. So why do people still fear  vaccines?

It is easy for a family with an autistic child to conclude that  the autism diagnoses coincided with the end of the primary  vaccine series. That is a coincidence of timing – but not cause  and effect. Yet this makes it easy to perpetuate the vaccine  fear that vaccines cause autism. They do not. There is no  reason to fear vaccines. In fact, there is good reason to fear  not being vaccinated.

In my twenty-five year career in pediatrics I have seen cases  of measles, mumps, meningitis, chicken pox and polio – all  preventable through vaccines. We see dramatically less of these  harmful illnesses through the vaccines we give. Pediatricians  use to do spinal taps weekly on babies looking for meningitis.  Now spinal taps are a rare medical procedure in pediatrics.   Some people think that we don’t need to give these vaccines  as often since these diseases are more rare. Nothing can be  further from the truth. Last year, measles and mumps swept  across part of our country from the Midwest to the Northeast.  Other bacteria that cause ear infections, pneumonias, and  meningitis are still alive and well. Whooping cough still  troubles communities. Even polio is not eliminated worldwide.  The risks of vaccines are minimal compared to one death caused  by one of these nasty illnesses.

If you are worried about vaccines, you need not be.   Nonetheless, talk to your doctor. Bring this article to him  or her. See if your doctor can verify the truths in this  article. The fact of the matter is this, the worldwide rumor  mongering about vaccines has been a great force to battle. We,  in medicine, have not been very good at battling the vaccine  naysayers. But the evidence is clear and more confident  conversations about the great benefits of vaccines have to  occur. In reality, there is little fear. Vaccines save  lives and your child is safer in this world when he or she is  vaccinated.