“‘Terrible twos’ are good news for parents”
—Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D.
In the supermarket checkout line, your three year old leans out of the grocery cart and grabs a candy bar. You say, “You’ve had enough candy today,” and then take the bar and put it back. He lunges for the rack, wailing, “I want candy now!” You try to get through the line before the tantrum escalates out of control. Too late. He’s banging his feet, flailing for candy, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
When you ask people how they deal with defiant behavior and tantrums, parents, teachers, or your pediatrician are likely to say this defiance is a sign of a “chemical imbalance.” They point to a host of drugs that “treat” these behaviors. But are drugs the answer? Whatever happened to the Terrible Twos? Wasn’t it a normal stage every parent expected their child to go through?
The good news is, it is a stage, but contrary to what all the professionals have told you, your child won’t outgrow it without your firm guidance and direction. In fact, defiance is a young child’s expression of something quite worthy: the desire to grow up. So what do you do when these behaviors start? Throwing a party may seem like the last thing you want to do, but this a new stage in your child’s development and in your life as a parent. It’s time to teach your child two essential life skills. How to:
Respect the needs of others, and
These are essential life skills all children need to learn in order to be successful at their jobs, to make and keep friends, and to find a life partner and raise families of their own. A life filled with friends, family, and prosperity are gifts every parent wants for their child. There is a tried and true method to help your child grow into a caring, responsible adult—a method that focuses on cultivating and nurturing not just good behaviors, but relationship skill (social skill) behaviors, the fourth “R.” After ‘reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, there is relationship.
Out-of-control behavior in children has become an epidemic and so have the medical “solutions.” When you share your frustration about your child’s behavior with your pediatrician, s/he is more likely to suggest your child may have ADD or ADHD rather than say he or she is showing a healthy desire for independence and that now it’s time to set limits and boundaries. Or you may have read about childhood bipolar, sensory integration disorder or sensory processing disorder and fear your child has one of those disorders! A Frontline documentary, “The Medicated Child,“ examined the scandal of medicating children as young as four with powerful psychotropic drugs untested on children. One frustrated parent says, “Nowhere we ever turned was there this therapeutic solution, nobody ever said we can work without this drug therapy. Everywhere we looked, it was ‘take meds, take meds, take meds.‘“ But there is a non-drug alternative—an approach that’s so simple, it’s radical:
A time-tested method that combines the goals of a therapeutic approach with the behavioral commonsense approach of our grandparents.
A method that understands a child’s healthy desire to grow up and their desire for attention, and nurtures qualities that will help a child grow up to be a caring, responsible adult.
Parents must redefine for their child what it truly means to be grownup. This redefinition is critically important! Children think defiance and demanding behaviors mean being grown-up. Being self-centered is not grown-up behavior, but respecting the needs of others is. Being demanding, yelling, or hitting is not grown-up, but learning how to wait your turn, sharing with friends and siblings, and exercising self-control is grown-up.
Before the 1960s, when a child entered their Terrible Twos, parents usually spanked the child who misbehaved. When the ‘60s counter-culture generation rejected authority, especially parental authority, they also rejected traditional childrearing methods. That dovetailed with the rise in a psychological approach to problem solving, an approach that encouraged methods urging parents to “understand” their child’s motives, telling them that “the biter needs the most comfort” or “don’t get furious, get curious.” The problem with cajoling and reasoning, or hugging a tantrum is it doesn’t work! Witness a generation of self-absorbed children and young people, still living in an extended state of toddlerhood!
Parents have been taught to focus their love and attention on the very behaviors that drive them crazy. They love their children into behaving badly, and then a doctor diagnoses them with a disorder and prescribes drugs! Children just want to grow up. At two and three years old, their defiant behavior says, “You are not the boss over me!” Being grownup is being caring towards others and taking disappointment calmly; it’s grownup to have self-control. And those are the behaviors you want to reward with your love and attention, because it is your attention and love that your child wants!
Parents need to learn three important parenting skills:
Notice caring and social skill behaviors, such as putting toys away without being asked, sharing with a friend or sibling, etc.
Praise that behavior. Not just “good job” but “You handled that like a big boy/girl. I’m so proud of you!”
Immediately follow the praise by doing something with your child that he or she enjoys.
Here is a concrete example of the method. Your three year old has a favorite pair of shoes. You’re in a hurry to get out the door and don’t have time to look for them. She says, “That’s OK, Mommy, I can wear them tomorrow.” In the moment, you praise her patience and later that day you do two things:
You say: “I know how disappointed you were when you couldn’t find your shoes. I was so proud of you. You said ‘That’s OK Mommy, I can wear them tomorrow.’ You handled that like such a big girl!”
Then spend five or ten minutes of special time with your child.
Of course, there are children who have serious problems that cannot be resolved without intensive intervention and psychiatric medication, but those cases are much rarer than parents think. What’s much more common is the perfectly normal child who has simply learned to misbehave because it’s an effective way for him/her to get what he or she wants. It’s obvious that if children can win attention by being patient, kind, and grown-up, they don’t need to have tantrums, throw things, or hit. Children have enough common sense to figure this out. Parents can also rely on their common sense to figure out the same things.
But what about serious and destructive behavioral issues? What should you do when your child hits, bites, throws food, or has a tantrum? Use time out. Many parents say, “I’m already using time out and it doesn’t work!” If you are “reasoning” with your child while they’re sitting in their time out corner, or if you’ve sent your child to their bedroom full of computer games, videos, and toys “to think about their misdeeds” then you are not using a real time out.
We don’t spank our children anymore, and that’s a good thing! But children need discipline and consequences. Time out is a short-hand term for time-out from reinforcement. It is not a time to calm the child or for him or her to reflect on misdeeds, but rather, it is time away from mom and dad’s attention, away from the wonderful world of play and stimulation—nothing to look at, nothing to do, nothing to listen to, and no one to talk to.
Children need discipline and consequences for out-of-control or harmful behavior. Time out is often recommended, but people rarely use it properly, which is why many people say it doesn’t work. Time-out is extremely effective when used properly.
A real time out is total nothingness for three to four minutes, regardless of age. Nothing to look at, nothing to do, and most importantly—no parental involvement. No talking, discussing, explaining, or lecturing. Remember that your child craves your attention, so even yelling is preferable to no interaction at all.
When a child hits or bites, immediately name it and say, “We do not bite our sister.” “We do not hit.” And put them in time out where there’s no stimulus. Soon the child will pair those words with the time out experience.
Parents can guide children to be helpful, kind, and caring adults. That’s their job. It isn’t the job of doctors, pills, or the pharmaceutical industry. It’s up to parents to “say no to drugs” and teach their children that life is meant to be learned and experienced—it’s not just a pill to be swallowed.
Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is the author of From Difficult to Delightful in Just Thirty Days (McGraw Hill) and AnyoneCan Have a Happy Child (Warner Books). Visit him online at www.jacobazerrad.com.
Library honors five-year volunteers
—Anne Grey Frost
This year the Co-Directors of the Placitas Community Library honored several long time volunteers. Each one has volunteered at least once a week for the last five years, since the Library first opened. Suanne Bryden, Pat Eagan, Patty Anderson, Mary Morell, Judy Gajkowski, Nancy Guist, Sheron Kravitz, and Nancy Skeens each received a Nambe candle holder as well as our gratitude and that of the entire community. These women clearly are the backbone of this Library, we are indebted to them. This year’s Volunteer Appreciation Brunch also honored our amazing Children’s Committee. With very little space and no infrastructure these women continue to provide some of the most educational and creative programs for children in Sandoval County. Many thanks and much appreciation go to Nancy Guist, Nora Timmons, Pat Vogt, Karin Urban, Judy Gajkowski, Joan Lucero, and Sally Gosnell.
This year’s Holiday Celebration was smashing. Over 26 children came to visit Santa and participate in the other activities. Many thanks go out to Santa and the Children’s Committee. The Library Board would also like to offer special recognition to Kendra Lucero Matteucci, who volunteered her services as our photographer. Her warm personality and artistic skills created an especially wonderful group of “Photos on Santa’s Lap” this year. If your child had their photo taken and you have not yet received a copy, please check with the Circ Desk: 867-3355.
Ready to celebrate another new year in January? Lunar New Year will be celebrated on January 24, from 10:00 - 11:30 am at the Library. There will be games, food, prizes, and surprises. Children will enjoy a story time at 10:30 and will make a special decoration to help them learn and celebrate this major international holiday. We need everyone’s help in creating “Placi II”, this year’s dragon made with handprints from Placiteños of every age. Last year’s “Placi I” was 20 feet long – but we’re looking for an even bigger dragon this year. Come into the Library anytime after January 16 and add your handprint to this fun project, then join us on the 24th for the big celebration.
The Placitas Library Book Group I is now full, so we are starting PCL Book Group II in January. The first meeting will be Jan 19 at 1:30 at the Library. All are welcome to bring with their ideas for titles to read in the coming year. Decisions about meeting time and place will also be made. Sandy Salamon has graciously offered to coordinate this new group. For more info leave a message for Sandy at the Library: 867-3355.
Upcoming Library Happenings:
Lunar New Year Celebration: Saturday January 24 10:00-11:30
Pre-school story time: January 8 & 22 at 10:30am
Bilingual story time January 13 at 3pm
Children’s Book Club: January 20 at 3pm
PCL Book Group I meets the first Monday of each month at 4pm. This group is now closed to new members.
January 5: Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
PCL Book Group II: Monday January 19 1:30. This group is just forming. Please bring your ideas for titles to read in 2009.
Library Hours: Now open Tuesday until 7pm and Thursday 10-4!
Tuesday 10-7 Wednesday, 10-4, Thursday 10-4, Saturday 10-4 and when the flag is flying.
Visit us at 1 Tierra Madre or call 867-3355, website: www.placitaslibrary.com.
For more information on any Library Happenings call: 867-3355
Calling all collectors
Have a special collection of teddy bears, cars, rocks, dolls, horses, books, hats, or something else that you’d like to display and talk about?
Children in grades one through five are invited to show their collections at Tale Spin, a story/activity program at the Esther Bone Memorial Library. “Collection Craze” will be held on Wednesday, January 7 from 3:00 to 3:45 p.m.
Those who do not have collections to share are encouraged to come and listen. In addition to the show-and-tell portion of the program, participants will hear stories about collecting things.
Although registration is not required for attendance, children who wish to display their collections should contact Vaunda Nelson or Lori Snyder at the Esther Bone Library, 950 Pinetree Road SE, Rio Rancho, or call 891-5012. All children’s programs at Rio Rancho public libraries are free.