Raising kids is a lot like riding on a monster roller coaster. Half the time you’re going up the hill, anticipating the drop on the other side.
The other half of the time you spend screaming your head off and wishing you could get the heck off – and whoever said this was fun anyway?
Sometimes trying to figure out what went wrong feels like Mission Impossible.
Sometimes it’s something that’s popped its ugly head out in the space of a day or so, kind of like the time I woke up and found a massive colony of army ants had invaded the girls’ bedroom. Other times it’s something that sort of crept up on you slowly, like mold in the bathroom shower. One day you wake up and decide that behavior has got to go.
Either way, parents are often at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to get their child’s behavior back on a (relatively) even keel.
In order to help you out, I’ve compiled a series of posts that will help you determine why your child is acting out, what to do about it, and more importantly, how to make sure that behavior doesn’t come back.
It's downright frustrating dealing with a child who gives up easily.
It can be frustrating dealing with a child who gives up easily.
Whether your child melts down at the first sign of trouble, or does a quite fade into the background, your child needs to learn how to be persistent until they get what they need.
Children who give up easily have trouble handling frustration.
One reason some children give up easily is because they can't handle it when things don't go they way they want or expect them to.
That doesn't mean that they're spoiled or unrealistic, however. Often, children with learning disabilities simply don't know what to do. Difficulty with sequencing skills, for example, could mean that if never occurs to your child to ask you for help when things go awry.
At the same time, children with weak language skills might not know how to ask for help effectively: they may not know exactly what to say, or might say it in a manner not appropriate for their age.
Try these 3 tips in order to help your child learn how to stick to his guns:
It’s showdown time, and it ain’t a pretty sight: on one side, stands J. Unior, an expert fighter who can whip out a full-scale tantrum in ten seconds flat. And on the other side, trying to look as if everything’s cool and completely under control (but failing miserably) is…J.Unior’s mom.
Ugghh. I know what that’s like.
I used to think that nuclear meltdowns were for “other people’s kids.” Passing a mom trying to handle her own little nuclear reactor aroused feelings of pity – and perhaps a bit of superiority- that I would never tolerate such abominable behavior. Didn’t they know how to train their kids?
And then our foster girls came.
Suddenly, I had children that wanted everything they saw, didn’t know how to handle a no, and were quite vocal about making their opinions known. And while the older one learned fairly quickly how to handle herself, her younger 2 ½ year old sister took a bit…longer.
So there I stood at my local superstore, holding a child who screamed so hard that not only did she have to be taken out of the store (well, to be honest we’d fled the store long ago) but had people stopping to stare, convinced I must be doing something, even though absolutely nothing was going on. It’s a wonder people didn’t think we kidnapped her.
The truth is, we tried everything , but nothing seemed to work – until I hit on these 3 tips that stop those meltdowns before they hit full tilt:
Some children abhor change.
It took time for me to realize that S. was easily overwhelmed when in public places. Initially I thought her reactions were due to a specific place (that grocery store’s lines are too long, this one has really bright lights, etc.). But after examining each incident, I realized that she used a lot of energy just trying to keep herself together when she left home base.
It didn’t matter how exciting the place was (that just made it worse, actually) or how calm the surroundings were (then we all stood around watching her cry, thankful the place was empty, and wishing we could get home). It was simply the act of leaving a place where she felt safe and knew what to expect that threw her a loop.
Watch out for sensory overload.
There were times, when, surprisingly, our trips in the Great Outdoors fared well – for a little while. Then suddenly everything caved in, and from nowhere-stage 7, red alert. That’s when I realized that while most children could handle a decent amount of sensory overload, S. couldn’t handle very much at all.
I originally thought I could sweep in and out in a half-hour, a reasonable period of time even for a child with special needs. But for her, 10 or 15 minutes was about all she could take. So we lured her outside while the going was good with offers of bubbles, going to a nearby playground, or a healthy snack. Then we took her to the side where she could have some down time.
Preparation is the key to success
The secret here is not your regular “remember what to do if you feel upset sweetie,” game plan. Because of her history, she was literally unable to remember consequences: she made absolutely no connection between what she did and any reward or negative consequence that came with it.
So instead, I tried a different tactic: backwards chaining. Backwards chaining is what you use when you teach your children to put on their clothing. So the first thing you teach them is how to put on the last item of clothing – usually shoes. Then you might try socks or pants, and then a shirt.
Most parents do it naturally, without realizing how powerful a technique it is.
Here’s what I did:
I cut down on the amount of time spent outside to about 5 minutes. This was the amount of time I knew for sure she was able to keep herself together. I also hoped the short span of time would help her learn to connect her actions to the consequences (not necessarily negative).
Right before time was up, I told her, “Look how calm you are! No crying!” Then I gave her a small treat after we left the store. I then asked her, “Are you calm? You’re not crying, right?” When she answered me in the affirmative then I told her that because she was calm, she could have a treat( a chocolate chip- you can buy ‘em off cheap at this age if you’re smart J). I then let her take the treat on her own.
From then on, I gradually moved back the time I waited until I mentioned the reward. Instead of asking her when we’d already been in the store for 5 minutes, I waited until we were there for 7 minutes. At that point, I only reminded her about the treat, explaining that since she is so calm she will get to have a treat as soon as we leave the store and sit on the bench.
We continued this way until I was able to remind her at the beginning of the trip. Then I gradually extended the amount of time we spent at the store and – voila!
A happy, calm child.
Did your toddler or preschooler ever pull a truly epic tantrum on you? What did you do? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Tantrums are par for the course for children, especially those with weak language development. Worse than dealing with a tantrum, however, is dealing with a child who just can't seem to calm down on their own.
Whether they are angry, tired, frustrated, or just plain having a bad day, children who have trouble calming themselves on their own get upset more easily - and unfortunately- stay upset for longer.
Some parenting experts suggest "letting them crying it out." But perhaps you tried that, with this disturbing result: a child who instead of settling down, ends up looking a lot like the Energizer bunny on an illegal substance.
Or perhaps you've tried running at the first moment your child shows signs of a tantrum, in hopes of heading her off at the pass. This may work, but after a little while your child seems to need you to comfort her for every little upset.
It’s actually not uncommon for children with delayed language development to have trouble calming down on their own. They don’t become attached to the traditional childhood “loveys,” and seem to be completely reliant on an adult to help pull them out of their hysteria.
In reality, what you need to do is help your child learn to calm themselves down on their own. This doesn't mean, of course, that you leave them to suffer on their own. Instead, it means helping your child learn how to draw from her own resources when she's upset.
That will give you a child who can help herself go to bed more easily in the middle of the night, who will handle separations more easily, and who will handle conflicts with other children more effectively.
The reason that children with language delays have trouble calming down on their own is because they have trouble visualizing things in their mind. When you say you're just going to the store, they have a hard time connecting the word "grocery store" with an image of the supermarket down the road.
So when you leave, they feel bewildered and upset; they can't imagine where your going, or when you'll be back.
Children with language delays also have trouble connecting two unrelated things together. You may find yourself telling your child dozens of times not to walk away from you at the mall, but they just don't get it - even when you tell them all the horrid things that could happen to them.
That's because they can't form a picture in their minds of being kidnapped or lost, nor can they connect that to their action of walking away from Mommy.
So what can you do to help your child –despite these difficulties- learn to calm themselves on their own? Here are 3 tips you can use to help decrease your child's tantrums and learn to calm down on their own:
1) Engage in pretend play with your child.
Pretend play gives your child plenty of practice in visualizing something that isn't right there in front of them. If your child is thirsty, offer him a play cup full of “juice.” When your child slides down a slide, pretend it’s a mountain. When your child is unhappy, have a puppet or a doll speak to him and ask him why he’s sad.
2) Give your child a lovey.
Give your child a doll or a stuffed animal. Choose one that isn’t hard to replace, just in case it gets lost. Pretend the doll is real: when your child eats, ask her if her doll is hungry too. Then pretend to feed the doll food.
When your child cries, go over to the doll and remark, “Oh, your doll (give it a name) is sad too! Is she sad because she hurt herself?” Then let your child help you put on a pretend band-aid.
Once your child begins to play with the doll on her own, you can start offering it to her when she needs comforting. Eventually she will choose the doll on her own.
3) Help your child express her feelings.
Next time your child starts to throw a fit because he can’t button his shirt, help him verbalize how he feels: “Can’t do it? Makes you mad?” Be sure to use very simple language. If your child speaks in 2-3 word sentences, then so should you.
If you regularly engage in pretend play with your child, you’ll soon find that not only will your child's imagination be stronger, but they'll be more successful in calming down on their own as well.
Hi! I’m a parent of 8 children, 3 of whom have learning disabilities. I have over 20 years experience working with kids and adults of all ages. My specialty is disabilities on the autistic spectrum, and language delays.