>Cursing

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

Earlier this week, my six year old son was playing Legos, and when the tower he wasworking on fell over, he said “Oh F—!” I fairly calmly called him over and said something like “What did you say?” and then “Where did you hear that?” Of course, he said “From you!” We reap what we sow, eh? Anyway, I proceeded to tell him that it’s about the worst word ever and that he must not ever say it again. He definitely understood my point.

So, this morning in the car with his dad and a classmate, out of nowhere he said “Oh F—.” I forgot to tell my husband about the earlier time, so he didn’t know our son already had been made aware of how unacceptable this is. My husband didn’t make a big deal but basically said what I did (it’s really bad; don’t use it). I’m guessing you’d advise not to make a big deal out of it too, but what do we say to him to hopefully keep him from saying it again?

Sincerely,
Heather
Mother of two, ages 4 and 6 years

Dear Heather,

I know this is not funny at all when it is your own child. I have heard both my girls say a quick curse under their breath with my intonation. With that said, the first and most important way to curb this is to stop saying it yourself. There is little way to undo on-going modeling. You can lecture every day and then say it once, and all the good talk is gone. I now say “Oh Flip!” a lot.

Consensus says to not make a big deal. If you make a big deal you reinforce the power of the word and likely reinforce it to happen again. A big deal can add to the intrigue. He is old enough for you to introduce other-oriented consequences. Calmly and out of the moment, you might say, “Other parents won’t like it if their children learn that word. They might not want you to play together.” You might wait to see if it happens again before you take this approach, so you are not bringing it up if he’s moved on. But, that is your call. Is he the type of child to move on? Other-oriented consequences highlight the impact for the child socially or the impact his behavior has on others. As children get to be five and six years old, the importance of social exchange should start to kick in.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Hitting at 22 months

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

I attended your Positive Discipline class. Every time Sean (22 months) goes to hit someone, I say, “Hands down: hitting hurts” while holding his hands down. He seems to find this funny and just laughs every time I do it. Once his hands are free; he hits again. I don’t feel like I am getting anywhere.

No matter how much I practice the “I” messages and empathy, he seems to overlook all that and go for the jugular. For example, he is transitioning to the two’s class at daycare. Today, he was very upset about this, and as soon as we got to the class room, he starting trying to hit a little girl that came over to play with him. I practiced the positive discipline technique described above to no avail. I am realizing that Sean is a very willful child, but I need to be able to rein in this aggressive behavior. Any other ideas would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Jennifer, mother of son age 22 months

Hi Jennifer,

The I messages and empathy at this little age are to build emotion language and to calm the caregiver. They don’t tend to have a big impact on behavior until a bit later (3s) when children better understand their impact on others and reflect a bit on behavior. With that said, keep using the language because eventually you want him to use the language rather than the hitting, so he benefits from the continued modeling.

Right now, it is curbing such as “hands down” in a firm tone. If you can get in front of the behavior so to curb before it happens each time all the better; this means, expect it rather than be surprised.

You could be coaching him as he approaches another to “be gentle.” The idea is to first coach and practice the better behaviors out of the moment when no one is hurting. So, tonight when you tuck him in, you might say, “I am touching you in a gentle way. Be gentle,” while you touch his arm softly. Then say, “Can you touch mommy gentle?” (Hopefully) “Yes, that’s gentle! I like when you are gentle.” You are actively teaching a gentle touch. Do this every few days with similar language, and then start to incorporate that language as you coach in the moment; as he approaches a new friend, you might say, “Be gentle, gentle touches,” and, hopefully, you are ready to say, “Hands down,” and curb before it actually occurs. But you can’t really start that and expect it to be effective until he gets the basic concept.

You might also add a bit of a consequence, such as when the hitting does happen to immediately move away from the activity at hand. Your language of consequence may be lost on him at that moment, but the actual follow through if it happens consistently may help to lessen the behavior. This means, if he hits someone in the block center, he is moved out and away from that center, sending the message “if you hit you must move to a different activity.”

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Rushed Mornings

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

I have three children, and each morning, it is a struggle to get them off to school without losing my cool. We pick out clothes the night before, I wake them up with about 90 minutes before we have to leave, breakfast is finished and kids are usually dressed with at least 30 minutes before departure, teeth are brushed, no TV in the morning, which leaves them a little time to play. I give them a 5-10 minute warning before we have to head outside to the bus stop. After the five minutes, I have to ask them to put shoes on (repeatedly), coats (repeatedly), hats, gloves, etc. During this time, at least one is wanting a drink, the other very engrossed in a book, Legos, or simply not paying attention, or the little guy needs a diaper change. This is where my blood pressure starts to race and my voice rises, and no one is listening as I am rushing everyone out the door. What can I do to make the mornings easier aside from having them put their coats andshoes on at the 15 minute mark? Oh ,and during all this time, I have to get myself fed, dressed, and use the potty. I feel like my energy is already spent before my day has really begun. Any suggestions for managing my frustration and making morning more peaceful are truly appreciated.

Sincerely,
Patricia
Mother of three, ages 2, 4 and 6 years

Dear Patricia,

This is a case of “physician heal thyself.” As much as I know what to do, we all have rushed mornings at least occasionally.

There are several things that may be helpful in these moments. Not that you need less sleep, but you might get yourself dressed and fed before you wake them. This would free up your time to be with and to help them move along. You said they often have a full 30 minutes to play, so you could even just wake them a bit later to give yourself this time.

While it wouldn’t work for coats and hats, you could add shoes to the initial getting dressed routine. Every little bit helps.

At the 10 minute mark, I would ask, “Does anyone need to potty or have a drink? This is the time for going potty.” Or, you could have them each try the potty while in transition from pajamas to being dressed for the day.

If they are buried in Legos or eyes glazed over looking out the window, they may not even hear you, let alone know you are speaking to them directly. Before asking them to put on coats or shoes, be sure you have their attention. Say their name, touch their arm, get down on their level, gain eye contact, whisper, flick the lights or something to be sure you have their attention before you speak. If you don’t have their attention, of course, you are going to have to repeat yourself. The repetition itself is frustrating.

Along the same lines, stop repeating yourself. Every time you do, you are actively teaching them to not listen and instead to wait you out. If you say things five times over, you are teaching them you are willing to say things five times over. They are learning to wait you out at least that long, if not longer tomorrow. With that said, they are not going to magically listen the first time. This has been a habit shaped between you and your children for a long time; it takes real effort to fix. So, if tomorrow you decide to say things once “Please put on your shoes,” and they don’t listen, bite your tongue and take the shoes to the child or the child to the shoes and help them to listen. Over time, you are teaching them that you are only going to say things once, and you actually expect them to listen. This is a far better habit to be in than all the repetition, and it should be less frustrating. Be warned, while in the long run this will save you much time and energy, it is going to initially slow the process, so start early.

To get them moving, you might also offer choices in the process. “Would you like the red shoes or the blue?” “Do you want to put on your coat yourself or with help?” Choices encourage children to buy into the behavior.

As hard as it is, you might have success with making things more fun and more playful. You might say “Let’s see if you can get on your coats before mommy.” “Let’s sing ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ while we get ready.” Distraction can still work wonders at four and six years old, if it is a fun distraction.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Excuses for Sleep

>Hello Dr. Hackney,

I have a 3 ½ year old and a 2 ½ year who share a room. We have a bedtime routine of bath time and reading two to three books. My husband and I then try to put our kids to bed by 8:15. The problem we are having is once we put our kids in their beds, they try to come up with every excuse not to go to sleep. They cry, they ask us for milk, they want to tell us something, and then they repeatedly get out of their beds for about an hour. My husband I try to be firm and put them back in bed. We also will try to comfort them when they are upset. Do you have any suggestions they could help with our getting them to go to bed?

Thanks for your help,
Tricia Eckert, mother of two

Hi Tricia,

Consistency may be the key. Right now, you “try” to put them back in bed, and other times, you comfort when they are upset. They are likely finding ways to either keep you in the room or at least keep your attention.

Proactively, you might lay some ground rules, such as they can have one cup of water by the bed but no getting up or having milk. You might also do a bed check by asking, “Before we tuck in for the night, is there anything else you need?”

If you decide to repeatedly put them back to bed, you must do this in a consistent and low-key way to curb behavior. Being a broken record in these moments requires you to develop a mantra and maintain your cool. The broken record repeats itself with no changes in delivery. This is seen as being one of the better ways to break your child’s habit of getting out of bed over and over again. When we switched my daughter Alicen from the crib to a toddler bed, she got out over forty times before she fell asleep the first night. Each time, I said in the same tone, “You must stay in bed,” and guided her back in the same way. The second night, in took about twenty times, and the third night, it then took eight, and it was over. Occasionally, that behavior came back, but with a consistent response, it never seemed out of hand again. Be warned, if you are going to lose your cool at time seventeen, don’t even start. What happens if you get to time seventeen and then yell at the child, take them roughly back to bed or stop to comfort them? You reinforce the behavior because they got your attention. Seventeen is the new goal if not longer because they found your breaking point.

You might also try to reinforce the behavior you are looking for. At the end of the bedtime routine, as you tuck them in bed and say, “If you are laying down and quiet, I will come in and pat your back.” Leave the room, but if they are laying down and quiet, go back in within a minute or two, and pat their back. Do this with little language, and stay less than 30 seconds, and then state, “If you are laying down and quiet, I’ll be back to pat again.” Each time, stay gone a bit longer. We did this years ago, and I still check on the girls every 15 minutes or so to pat. It doesn’t have to be patting, it can be to “sit with you, rub your back,” or whatever you think would work best.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Teach Sharing

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

What are the best ways to foster sharing among toddlers? There is “taking turns” and there is taking the toy away if they can’t share it, but I’m wondering if there are other techniques as well.

Thank you!
Blog Reader, February 2008

Dear Reader,

Under three years-old, your best bet is to focus on turn-taking. Sharing is an abstract thing. No one really has full ownership, and everyone might all touch at the same time. This can be hard for toddlers to manage. Turn-taking is much more concrete – I have it to myself for a while, then you have it to yourself. If I am patient, I can have another turn when you are done.

If your child is having difficulty with turn-taking, you might more actively practice. If he is playing at the train table when you come in the playroom, you could pick up an unused train and say out loud, “Wow! The green engine. I am going to take a turn with this train.” If he wants the green one immediately, you can say, “Oh, you would like a turn? I am taking a turn but will be done in just a minute, and you can have the next turn.” Role the train for just a bit longer, and then say, “I am done; you can have a turn now.” You might add, “When you are done, can I have another turn?” Then when he is done, if he remembers to give it back you, say, “You remembered I wanted a turn; that was thoughtful!” If he forgets, you say, “Oh, remember I want the next turn,” and prompt him to hand it to you. Again, this can take some time.

Whenever you find yourself sharing something with your child, describe to them what you are doing. “Look at mommy! I am sharing my yogurt with you. I was eating yogurt, and you want some, so I am sharing!”

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Bossy Children

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

How does one curb in a child who always is trying to boss around other children and is telling them what to do, how to do it, when to do it and so on?

Thank You!
Blog Reader, February 2008

Dear Reader,

You might try to give her more productive ways to be a leader, such as putting her in charge of clean-up or letting her decide who sits where at the dinner table. Other times during the day, you can say, “Thank you, but this is not your job. Your job today was seat-assigner. You were really helpful at that.”

You also might try to implement Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime which is a specific type of parent-child play that is to be practiced 20 minutes per day. Floortime gives children a chance to be the leaders in play. When playing this game, it may give her leadership voice an outlet that you can live with better.

In other moments of bossiness, you might model the language you would prefer she use. This means if she tells another child, “Chrissy, you need to move over here and play with this doll!” You might say, “Well, let’s ask Chrissy. Chrissy, do you want to sit here and play with this doll?” Then turn to your child and suggest, “That would be a nice way to ask Chrissy.” As you are going to review this often over time, it is best to go at it in a light way not heavy, meaning this is not a time for consequences. If you intervene often when she is being bossy and redirect her to asking from telling, hopefully, she will pick up on the preferred approach.

You might also have a related discussion later in the day to reinforce the new language. As you tuck her in bed, you might say, “Today, when Chrissy was here to play, did you hear mommy ask her if she wanted to move and play with another doll? I think Chrissy likes being asked to move rather than being told to move. What do you think?”

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Second Snack at School

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

My daughter Maggie brings a snack to school for half-day Kindergarten. She usually brings water and a granola bar. She has discovered that her teacher has snacks for kids who forget their snack. These are sometimes more inviting than hers (chocolate Teddy Grams today). Occasionally, Maggie is eating her snack and then telling the teacher she doesn’t have one or doesn’t like the one she brought and gets another one.

I’m concerned because Maggie and I are in the midst of an ongoing dialogue, argument, about food, which I know is not a good dynamic. When I approached the teacher, she just laughed about it and said she knew Maggie just wanted the other snack. I don’t want to set up a dynamic where she is eating two snacks or a power issue around food between Maggie and me.

Sincerely,
Karen
Mother of two, ages 3 and 5 years

Dear Karen,
My first comment is you are right; you don’t want to be arguing about food intake with Maggie. It is not a good pattern and can easily send a wide variety of wrong messages about foods. It also opens the door to food as a battle ground in general.

I also think it is fine that you want her to have just one snack and you want it to be the snack you provide. It seems your issue here should be more with the teacher and less with Maggie. You are well within your rights to ask the teacher to give Maggie a snack only on the days you actually forget. Otherwise, I would make it clear (nicely and out of Maggie’s earshot) that you want her to be offered what you provide and not a second choice or snack. You can blame it easily on that she’s not eating as much of her lunch (or dinner) because she is filling up on the snacks. You can also assert that you are trying to focus on healthy choices without making it a big issue with Maggie and the extra or replacement snacks are undermining your efforts. Again, this is with the teacher not Maggie. It is best if Maggie is not a part of this process. Hopefully, the teacher will just remind her by saying, “Oh, you already have your snack today” or “If you have something from home that is your snack.”

To help your cause, shake up things by providing a variety of snacks from day to day. Try to be fun, and ask Maggie to make some choices about what snack should be.

If the teacher laughs again when you bring it up, you can say, “No, really…” And ask for her to support you and, hopefully, not to blame you when she is not sharing those snacks as often.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Bribes to Eat Vegis

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

My six year old daughter is a very picky eater. We bribe her to eat vegetables and end up negotiating over food at every meal. This doesn’t feel right, but it seems the only way to get her to eat. Please help!

Sincerely,
Janice
Mother of three, ages six, three and one years old

Dear Janice,

Wow, this sounds frustrating! I can imagine that dinner is not an enjoyable time in your house. While I know there can be a great push to encourage children to eat, the pressure likely will backfire. The more pressure, the less likely they are to eat those foods willingly the next go around. When you bribe a child by saying, “If you eat your broccoli, you can have some applesauce,” you are agreeing with her. Your bribe sends the message, “Broccoli stinks! You should be rewarded for eating it.” The next time broccoli is presented, she is LESS likely to eat it because it was an obstacle in the way of applesauce. Applesauce is a more sought after food because it was preferred and is now a reward.

The answer is to avoid bribery all together. As a general guideline, parents are in charge of what is offered, and children are in charge of what and how much of that they eat. Following this, parents offer a wide range of healthy choices for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Once it is on their plate, children get to pick and choose. If you find your child still isn’t eating vegetables, you still don’t force her. You are in charge of what is offered, so you offer more vegetables in a wider range of ways. You might offer a vegetable omelet for breakfast, vegetables with dip for snack, or grilled vegetable sandwich for lunch, etc.

I think it is fine to hide ingredients. Make zucchini bread, and call it magic bread. Shred broccoli under the cheese on pizza. This is also a fine time to practice contribution. The more children are choosing the vegetables at the store, washing them in the sink and scooping them to the plate, the more likely they are to eat them.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

Refuses to Poop on the Potty

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

My 3 ½ year-old son is consistently potty-trained for pee but continues to want diapers for poop. If we refuse diapers, he soils his underwear. What do we do to help him along?

Sincerely,
Maya
Mother of one, three years old

Dear Maya,

First, realize this is NOT an uncommon problem.

Second, relax a little. The “potties without pressure” approach, which is currently supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests that potty-training progress at the child’s pace. This means if the child expresses he is not ready to move forward, then the parent slows the process.

Following this approach, the average age for successful potty-training is three years old. Three years old is described as “average” as girls tend to be ready earlier (two and a half to three), boys often later (three to three and a half). It is within normal limits to have a just turned two year old or an almost four year old.  It is not about the age but rather signs of readiness.  In this particular case, the child is well within normal limits for potty-training.

It is suggested that children who are otherwise potty-trained but continue to want a diaper or pull-up for bowel movements be given one and then cleaned and changed as usual.   Keep the stack of diapers or pull-ups in the bathroom.  Encourage him to be in a bathroom when he poops and clean and change him in the bathroom as well.  Talk about how when people need to poop, they should be in a bathroom.  By all means, applaud the successes of the child peeing in the potty but allow for diapers when they are specifically requested with as little negative emotion as possible. If you must comment, say something as mild as, “I am glad you let me know you need a diaper. I know when you are ready, you’ll poop in the potty as well.”  Once they are regularly in the bathroom, encourage them to sit for pooping, even if it is with their diaper or pull-up on.  It can be a different or uncomfortable sensation to sit but this is the next step.

Also good to give the “language of ownership,” this means once a day or so and out of the moment of potty training or accidents say something like, “Do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to poop.  It’s your job to let me know when you need to go.” or “You take good care of yourself when you listen to your body and go to the bathroom when you need to poop.”  When he does go into the bathroom or sit to poop or go on the potty, give descriptive feedback.  Praise by saying something like “You knew you had to poop!  You were listening to your body.” or “You got to the bathroom so fast!  That is helpful.”

You can gently encourage progress by allowing children to observe you or willing siblings in the bathroom, talking them through the process and mixing in potty oriented storybooks and videos with your other media. You can also take a wet or soiled diaper, with the child in tow, and empty the poop or place the wet diaper into their little potty while saying, “See, this goes in here.” Then empty and clean the potty as you usually would. For some children, this provides a beneficial cognitive connection between their bodily functions and the expectations of potty-training.

The potties without pressure approach defines the parent’s role as recognizing signs of readiness and offering lots of support and encouragement along the way. Signs of readiness include potty talk (“I peed,” or “I go poop.”), potty play (dolls going potty or trucks getting diapers), an awareness of body parts and functions, longer dry times or more predictable bowel movements, increased imitation in play, ability to follow three-step directions (“Go to the kitchen, get your shoes and meet me by the door.”) and an interest in learning the new set of skills.

This approach identifies several signs that children are NOT ready for potty-training. Children who resist the process and protest the practice loudly are likely not ready to proceed. Children who hide to potty are likely not quite ready. It seems to many parents that children must be ready as they are able to recognize they need to go and actually get somewhere to do it. This is seen as a sign that they are physically ready, just not emotionally ready. Children who sit for a while and then stand nearby to poop or pee on the floor may be feeling too tense while sitting on the potty. If this is the case, it is suggested that parents encourage children to “sit and relax” rather than “sit and try.” The language of “sit and try” may make children nervous and when one is nervous and has tight muscles, it is hard to go potty. Once these children get off the potty, they relax and then, unfortunately, void nearby.

Overall, recognize the signs of readiness and provide lots of support and opportunities for success at the child’s pace.
Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

>Learn Thru Play

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

Our four year-old is scheduled to start Kindergarten in the fall of 2008. We want her to be ready. Should we encourage her to “learn through play” or introduce academics?

Sincerely,
Rina, Mother of one
Four years-old

Dear Rina,

You can and should be doing both. The idea of “learning through play” is the most appropriate approach to teaching young children prior to school entry. This approach is likely to capture their interest and keep them involved in the learning process. Unfortunately though, many parents assume this means just letting their children go play and, as a result, their children will learn what they need for later school success. By all means, learning through play should be more structured and incorporate academic ideas.

In the years before Kindergarten, learning through play might include activities to teach the alphabet shapes and sounds. The focus is just on keeping the process fun. You can name a ‘Letter of the Week.’ It’s often best to start with the first letter of your child’s name, and then, plan lots of fun activities around that letter. For example, if your child’s name begins with the letter “A” you could have an A-hunt in the grocery store, finding all the upper and/or lower case letters you can. You could make a jar collection of all the small things you can find that start with that letter. You could plan an A-meal day, offering at least one food that starts with A at each meal. You can trace, cut and paint the letter. Then pick another letter the next week.

I would not expect many four year-olds to want to sit and listen to how to write a letter and then repeatedly practice in the same way. Likely, they would be bored or easily frustrated by this approach, and you are sure to lose them before you are half-way through the alphabet. This is the same with the rote use of flashcards or over-reliance on workbook pages.

Teaching numbers and early math concepts can be equally successful using the more playful approach. You can count fun things; then, write the number next to the fun things you just counted. You can introduce money and count change together. You can teach one to one correspondence through setting the table or matching pairs of socks. It is helpful to remember that math is far more than numbers at this young age. Preschool math concepts also include measuring time, space and weight, sorting, categorizing, grouping, seeing and creating patterns, recognizing shapes and matching.

And relax! Most children are more than ready for Kindergarten. Our public schools open their doors to children with a very wide range of life experience and academic learning. On the first day of school, there will be a few Kindergarteners who are just learning their letters and a few others who can already read independently, but most of the children will fall somewhere in between. Of course, the more ready they are the better, but keep it fun. The learning through play approach helps insure that children will be interested in the learning process far past their year in Kindergarten.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parneting Playgroups, Inc.

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