Archive of ‘Behavior’ category

Yes, we cried it out….and my daughter is still normal

cioI feel like I’ve seen a lot of blogs talking about how terrible the cry it out method is. From desensitizing you from your child’s cry to causing attachment issues. Everyone keeps talking about how bad it is. Here’s the thing: if it’s so bad, how come so many families have benefited from it so much? Well, we happen to be one of those families.

I think there are times when children do need sleep training. My daughter absolutely needed help. Bed time was horrible when Peanut turned about 6 months old. We had a great routine we did every night religiously: bath, nurse, PJs, book and cuddles, go to sleep. The problem was, going to sleep wasn’t happening. I would rock her, walk her, bounce her, pat her back hunched over the crib for an hour at a time…everything under the sun. If we did get her to sleep, the transition to get out of the chair, set her down in the crib or moving in any way would wake her back up no matter how long we waited once she fell asleep. When she woke back up after we moved, she pushed away, screamed, and fought us putting her back to sleep (in all the fantastic, back-breaking methods mentioned above) or screamed in her crib. Eventually, after months of this she just started fighting as soon as the book was over. Bed time was taking HOURS. The most dreaded hours of my day. Everyone was frustrated. My husband wouldn’t even try to put her to bed, I was getting to the point where I hated putting her to bed, and everyone was stressed out. We couldn’t do it anymore. It was affecting our parent-child relationship. Something HAD to be done.

My educational and behavioral background told me I had to pick a method I was going to stick with and be consistent. When I began researching things I could do, I hit a lot of dead-ends. I was already doing so many of these things and they weren’t working. I knew about CIO, but all I had heard was the bad things and thought I would be a terrible parent if I did CIO with my daughter. Then, I came across the Ferber Method of Modified CIO. It made absolute sense from a behavioral standpoint. You would fade out the behavior slowly by increasing the intervals of time you’re out of the room and not reinforce the unwanted behavior of crying and not sleeping. Then, Ferber reminds us that a behavior will get worse before it gets better; an extinction burst, usually happening a few days to a few weeks in.

I didn’t follow the method by the book. The first night we started CIO, I did our routine and put Peanut in her crib. I set the timer for ONE minute and left. Of course she was upset. But, it was one minute and then I was able to go back in and spend three minutes with her patting her back and calming her down. Then, I would go back out for ONE minute again. It took a long time the first night. It was almost two hours. But, she would get calmer when I went back in, not completely calm but calmer, and she knew I was there for her. The next night I would set the timer for two minutes and be in her room for 3 minutes. The second night it was around an hour before she was asleep–which was already less time than I was spending putting her to sleep when I was putting her to sleep the so-called “right” way. I continued to follow this routine every night adding one minute to my time out of her room.

I was amazed at how quickly it worked. By the fourth night, there was less than 15 minutes of crying and I only went into her room 3 times. It just improved from there. Before 10 nights were up, I could lay her down in her crib, walk out, and she’d fall asleep. I cried. I cried because I was so relieved. How on earth had I not done this earlier? We’d had months of her fighting sleep and frustrating nights where NO ONE was happy and all it took was a few nights of modified CIO to make bed time a calm, happy time in our house. I will confidently say, it changed our life.

Did I stick my child in her room and let her cry until she was in hysterics? Absolutely not. It would be awful for her and ME. No one can tell me that continuing the bedtime routine we had would be better than modified CIO. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, Peanut was distressed every night at bed time, I was mad at my husband for not knowing what to do to fix it (how would he know?!), and it was down right TERRIBLE. Since we’ve done MCIO, Peanut happily goes to bed and falls immediately back to sleep after she is nursed, get a bottle, or has a diaper change. So, don’t tell me CIO should never be done.

Please, consider all of your options when dealing with sleep problems. Understand that sometimes baby needs something and that’s why sleep is hard. But, don’t be afraid of CIO. Set up a method that will work for you and that you’ll stick with. If you can only stay out of the room 30 seconds the first night, than that’s where you need to start. But, I’ve been there and done it. I still respond when my daughter cries, I still have a great relationship with my daughter (probably BETTER now!), and she is one of the most well attached children I have met. Just remember: You’re the parent and if bed time is hell and you feel like something needs to be done, it probably does!

Sit and Watch

Sit and WatchWhew. Toddlerhood is starting to show it’s (sometimes ugly) face around our house. Miss K seems to be more toddler-like every day, which is causing me to remind myself of some of the behavior management techniques I haven’t used since I worked in preschool. The one I’m using the most these days is called a Sit & Watch. When I was in college at the University of Kansas we used this in my practicum. They would swear up and down that this is NOT a time out. But, that’s the fastest way to describe it to you is a mini-time out. I love them. They’re fast, they’re effective, and you don’t have to move from the downstairs playroom to the timeout chair that’s in your kitchen because someone is being naughty.

Here’s how it works. When Miss K does something on our no-no list, and she has been redirected (Miss K, play with your toys instead of Bella’s bowls.) once already, I immediately sit her down right there on the spot, making sure she isn’t within reach of any fun stuff. She has to sit there for 1 minute (no matter her age). When she’s sat for a minute, I just pick her up and put her back on her way.

The why behind this method? The most important part is that they’re not getting attention for undesired behaviors. It’s something they know they shouldn’t be doing, they’ve been told it’s not appropriate before, but they’re continuing to do it. So, this sends a message to stop without saying a word. Problem behaviors can become even more of an issue when a kiddo gets attention for a bad behavior, because sometimes even negative attention (a punishment, or getting yelled at) can be enough to reinforce a behavior.

There are some things to be careful of when you use a sit and watch:

  • Be consistent. If you use a sit and watch once for hitting the dog, you need to use it EVERY time they hit the dog from then on.
  • Try to redirect once, for non-violent behaviors. Kids have to learn what they are supposed to be doing. If we never tell them what’s okay, how are they supposed to know? Tell them a good alternative to what they’re doing. 
  • Violent behaviors don’t get a reminder. Hitting, biting, scratching, throwing things, or any other violent behaviors don’t deserve a redirection. It’s an immediate sit and watch. 
  • Be persistent. I cannot express how important it is to stick with this. If you don’t, you’re telling them you’re not going to follow through. If you try to get them to sit still in one spot for 30 seconds and then decide, “Miss K. is never going to sit here for a full minute, I give up!” you’ve just reinforced that a fit can get them out of the sit and watch. So, next time they’ll fight harder and longer to try to get you to give up.
  • Be prepared when you first start to put up a fight. They’re not going to sit there and not fight what you’re doing the first few times (and later when they feel like testing you to see if you’re still going to follow through). This explosion of behavior is called an extinction burst. They’re going to act out when you try to correct the behavior. But, I urge you, stick with it these first few difficult times. It’s always easier to put in the work on the front end, then to let this go on and on. The longer you wait to correct a behavior, the harder it is to correct. And, as I said before, if you give up half way through a fight, they’ll learn the more the fight the more likely you are to give up. If you need to, gently hold little one there until their time is up. However, do not let them up if they’re still fighting! Wait until they’re sitting calmly, even if at first you still have to have your hands on them for them to be sitting calmly in one place. They don’t need to be sitting calmly for a long time either, if they do it for a second, let them up. Then, progressively increase the amount of time they have to be sitting calmly before they can get up to one minute. Take it in baby steps and everyone’s life will be easier!
  • It’s going to be frustrating! But, then when it works, it’s awesome! I’ll be honest, teaching “time out” of any sort is frustrating at first. Kids don’t like it! But, remember, it’s easier now than later! It still takes me several minutes to get Miss K to sit, stay away from what she was doing, and move on. But, she eventually does it and I know I’m setting us up for success later!
  • Sit and watches are not for noncompliance.  If you have asked your child to do something and they’re not doing it, don’t use a sit and watch. I’ll cover the technique for noncompliance soon (called three step prompting), but for now know that if you use a sit and watch for noncompliance your child can learn that if they do something violent or hurtful they can get out of having to do what you’ve asked them to do. For example, you ask your kiddo to put their dish in the sink. They don’t want to do it, so they bop sister in the head so they don’t have to put their dish in the sink. But, I’ll cover what to do in that case later. 

Correcting behaviors is never an easy task. If it was, all the children in the world would be walking around like perfect little angels. The biggest part of having a kiddo who listens and behaves isn’t about the kid: it’s about the parent and the effort the parent is willing to put in. What questions do you have about sit and watches? Do you feel like it could be an effective “time out” for your family?

Think Aloud

thinkaloudThis morning as I was getting ready for the day I found myself laughing at how insane I must sound to someone who happened to be walking by my house and could hear me. I was describing everything I was doing, everything I was thinking, and seemingly talking to myself like a crazy person…if they didn’t know I was talking to Kennedy. As she sat there watching me in amazement as I tamed my crazy head of curly hair I could see the wheels turning and knew how important my babbling was.

A lot of parents do this as second nature: they describe anything and everything they do/see as they go about their day. They’re constantly talking to their child, no matter how young. This really is a great way for kids to learn. Not only does it increase their language skills and understanding of the world, it literally teaches them how to think.

When you describe exactly what you’re thinking, particularly when problem solving, this is a teaching strategy called a Think Aloud. Teachers in a classroom use it a lot when solving a problem. For example, if I were to teach my students how to add 2+2 I might say something like this: “Okay, I see the math problem 2+2. I know that means I’m going to put two groups of two together. So, if I had two apples and two more apples that would be 1,2,3,4 apples. So, the answer to 2+2 is 4.”  I say everything I’m thinking out loud so the student can learn how to think through the problem themselves. Are they going to always do it exactly the same way? No, and they shouldn’t. But, the student needs to be taught HOW to THINK, aside form simply doing the math problem.

So, how does this fit in to my morning routine? As I talk through my day, I’m doing the same thing for Kennedy. For instance, this is what I was saying to her this morning as I did my hair. “It’s time to do my hair before it gets too dry. Where is my comb? I’m going to look for it in the drawer. Not in there. I wonder if it’s in my hair basket? Oh, there it is! See, here’s my comb. I’m going to carefully comb my hair, it seems tangled today. There, that’s better. I’ve got to get my curl cream out of the medicine cabinet. 1, 2, 3 squirts. Rub, rub, rub it between my hands. Upside down I go. Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch.” And so on. Take a close look at what I actually was doing there. I was putting names to concepts (combing, rubbing, tangled, etc.), as well as teaching problem solving skills (while I explained that I was looking for my comb).

I try to do this all the time: when I’m getting ready, cleaning, shopping (yes, you get strange looks!), playing with her, driving, everything! Be real though, do I think out loud every moment of every day? No. Sometimes silence is golden as well. Start by at least trying to do this with new experiences for your little one. The holidays are a great time to start this: think of all the new experiences they’re going to have if this is their first holiday season!

The lesson for parents? Just think out loud when you’re with your little one, in everything you do! While it might feel a little strange at first, honestly, it’s teaching a lot of valuable skills to your little one!

Infant Sign Language 101

One of the coolest things I learned while I was earning my bachelor’s degree was the power of infant sign language. When I saw it in action, I knew I had to teach my baby to use signs. The infant classroom where I taught it was such a happy, cheerful, tear-free place, and it all centered around the use of sign language. Instead of having babies cry at us or throw a fit to tell us what they wanted, they simply TOLD us what they needed. It blew me away how quickly they caught on, how empowered they felt, and how easy it was for the teachers to care for the babies.

So, here’s what to do. Don’t worry, I’ll go over it in detail to help you understand, but then I’ll give you the quick start guide. As I’ve refreshed my memory on the signs to use, I’ve noticed a lack of information on HOW to teach signs to the babies. So, I thought I’d share how I learned to teach sign language to infants. Let me preface this lesson with a little warning: this is the intensive training for sign language. It’s quick, babies pick up on the signs rather quickly, and you should be aware of what your baby is doing. That being said, you’ll never be happier than the first time your baby signs sleep instead of throwing a gigantic fit when they are tired.

Step One. Sign, sign, sign! This is the modeling step. Use the signs you’d like your baby to use constantly. If you have an opportunity to sign, do it! If you’re reading this as a big-old preggo lady or the mother of a 2 week old, fantastic! You have a fabulous chance to teach your baby because you can start using signs with them from the beginning. Don’t expect them to turn around and sign by the time they’re a month old, but do expect it to be a lot easier when they get to be the age where they can control those cute, chubby hands of theirs.

Step Two. Help your baby do the sign. You’ve seen that frustrated face before, the one where they are trying so hard to figure out how to stick their tongue out at you while you raspberry away at them. They desperately want to get that tongue out of their mouth, but just don’t know how. The same thing can go for signing. Your child can be desperate to tell you they want more of that yummy food, but they just can’t figure out how to put their hands together to say it. However, if you help them to sign “more”, their muscles start to learn what that feels like and they’re able to figure it out more quickly.

Step Three. Deliver the goods immediately. If you give your child the sign for eat, for goodness sakes, give them something to eat then and there! They have to learn to associate these signs with what they’re meant for. So, if you give the sign for eat, then go change their diaper before you take them to get some food, they’re going to associate the sign for eat with changing their diaper. Makes sense, right? Don’t put anything between the sign and the action or idea it represents.

This video is an example of the first three steps. This is our 2nd day of learning more. The second time around, she starts moving her hands and you can see I pause to see if she’s going to try the sign on her own.

Step Four. Reinforce all proximations. That’s behaviorist speak for, if it looks anything like the sign you’re looking for, give them what they asked for. If you’re working on the sign for “more” and your baby claps their hands together, give them more. If they’re particularly having a difficult time with the sign, and they even slightly move their hands towards making the sign, give them what they ask for. Continue to reinforce all the baby steps as they get better and better. Although this can take time, they’ll figure it out eventually and perfect the sign. Let me stop to give you fair warning here: this is the piece that requires you to actually pay attention to what your little one is doing. Sometimes they can be signing something long before you realize what it is they’re doing…it just isn’t the perfect form of the sign. So, if your baby is sitting in their Exersaucer flailing their arms back and forth crying, what does it resemble? Look closely….think maybe they’re trying to tell you they’re all done? Just watch their hands a bit more closely once you’ve started sign language training.

This video is an example of the following day (day 3 of training) when I am reinforcing proximations of “more”. As you can see, she’s not touching her hands together in front of her, but touches her hands together only moving one hand to the other. I stress again, THIS IS THE VERY NEXT DAY!

Step Five. Work on generalizing the sign. So, the sign for more is most easily started at the dinner table. Kids love food, so they naturally want to ask for more. Once they have it down at the dinner table, then start moving the sign to other parts of their day. When they giggle like crazy at your tickles, get your baby to ask you for more. Remember, help them to make the sign!!

Step Six. Make them sign BEFORE you give them the goods, every time!! This is the most intense part of the process. Most people would say just sign and show them how to do it and they’ll learn to do them signs just like they learn to talk, or that you can work on it at some times and not others. Both are true. However, they’re going to zip through learning the signs if you add this step. This is the finished product of teaching signs. If your baby is all done with something, help their little hands say “all done” before you pick them up, take their food away, etc. and DO IT EVERY TIME. If they learn they can’t have more unless they sign it, they’re much more likely to actually start using the sign. Once they have the sign down and there is no question about if they know it or not, then you can back off.

 Quick Start Guide to Teaching Signs

(Example given for teaching “more”.)

1. Sit down with your baby at meal time. Give them their first bite.

2. Load the spoon with the second bite. When baby’s mouth is empty, ask the baby, “Do you want more?” and model the sign.

3. Wait a few seconds (unless this is your first or second time trying it) to see if they make any sort of proximation of the sign “more”. If they don’t, take their little hands and make the sign more. Say, “more”.

4. Feed them the food.

5. Repeat with every bite. (Yes, I said every bite….I told you it was intense!)

6. Be amazed at how quickly they learn to say more.

7. Once baby has learned more, it doesn’t need to be said every time, just once their plate is empty and they’re still hungry, etc.

These general steps should be used for ALL signs!

Now, you might be wondering, “What signs should I teach my baby?” Here’s my list of MUST know signs: (The ones to start with!) Each sign is linked to a short video of how to do the sign from two great websites, Baby Sign Language and the ASL Browser from Michigan State.

Here are some that are really, really good to know:

These are even good to use once your baby has oral language developed. I used these in my 2nd and 4th grade classrooms for times when I was unable to speak to the children. It helps a bit with behavior problems during times when it needs to be silent. I think it may be just as useful as a mommy!

Are you limited to just these signs? Absolutely not! There are so many fun signs to learn, so check out BabySignLanguage.com, get some picture books or DVDs and learn away! These are just a starting point. For instance, my daughter’s favorite sign is puppy…which I only taught her because she’s completely in love with our family dog.

 Finally, some people worry about oral language development with infants who use signs. They say they become dependent on the sign and don’t learn to say the word as quickly. Let me debunk that statement. In the room I was working in, most of these babies could SAY the word for the sign before they moved to the 1 year old classroom. How? Once the sign is mastered and the child is showing signs of oral language (saying “da” “ma” “ga”, etc.), start working on your child saying that word WITH the sign. So, when they ask more, make the baby say “Mm”. Follow the same method as above. The child signs more, you say “Say more.”, baby says “Mm”, give them more. Continue to build sounds as they create them consistently, so the next step would be “mo”, etc. And, before you know it, they’re actually saying the words.

 So, there you have it: My crash course in teaching sign language to infants. Please, let me know if you have any questions, would like to see more videos, or have any comments!

Why We (Usually) Don’t Say No in Our House

Now, before you laugh and say, “I bet you have one spoiled brat on your hands!”, let me explain. It’s not that we don’t make our daughter stop doing something or that we give her everything under the sun. We just simply leave the word “no” out of our vocabulary as often as possible.

It fits with rule #4 in my basic rules of behavior management, being specific. Simply telling a child “No! Don’t do that!” or “Stop it now!” doesn’t tell them very much, does it? Your child is left wondering what they’re doing wrong, if they even understand that they’re doing something wrong. Instead, I redirect Kennedy. One of Kennedy’s so-called “no-nos” she loves to get into trouble with is playing in our dog’s dishes. So, when I see her b-lining for the kibble, I tell her, “Kennedy, leave Bella’s food alone, that’s yucky. It’s for Bella, not for you to play with.” Then, I pick her up, bring her to her toys and tell her, “These are for you to play with.”

The general formula for taking “no” out of your vocabulary is this:
1. Explain what they’re doing that you don’t like. (Playing with it, jumping on the bed, etc.)
2. Explain why you don’t want them doing that. (It’s yucky, you might get hurt, you might break something, etc.)
3. Give them an alternative behavior. (Move them to a new place or activity, tell them how to do something appropriately.)

It does take thought and effort to not simply shout out, “No!”, because it’s our gut reaction when they’re doing something wrong. No one is perfect at this…even the most skilled person. And, sometimes, you just aren’t sure what to say besides no. So, don’t go slapping yourself every time you say no. Instead, follow-up with the specific feedback to let them know why you’re telling them no.

Aside from specific feedback being much more effective at actually stopping an unwanted behavior and giving them a desired behavior to replace it, “No.” will be a very powerful tool to keep in your back pocket. If you only use “no” when there is danger or it’s very important, it will have more impact. Instead of their little mind going, “Oh, gosh, Mom is telling me no, AGAIN! Whatever, I’m going to do it anyway.” they’ll think, “Oh, Mom said no. She is serious, I better stop.” A professor gave this example in class: He was visiting with a neighbor across the street when his three-year old son came outside and saw him across the way. He immediately took off running towards his dad, across the street. The professor saw a car coming, that would have hit his son. He shouted at him, “No! Stop!” and his son stopped dead in his tracks. He knew his dad was serious because he didn’t use “no” or “stop” on a regular basis, he only used it when he HAD to stop.

See how important it is for “no” or “stop” have an impact? There are even more every day situations which it could be helpful: touching the stove, touching an outlet, running away in a public place, the list could go on and on.

Start with this challenge, can you replace 3 times you were going to say no with specific feedback today? Then, make it 5 tomorrow!

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