Friday, 18 December 2009

Can Dr Green Tame my Toddlers? Part 1: Attention Seeking.

As you know from my recent blog “Can Supernanny really help me get the best from my children?”, I’ve been on a mission to understand my toddlers and how to manage their behaviour.

Supernanny’s book was an interesting read, but I was quite surprised that it lacked detail, clear guidance on discipline, or case studies. I then moved on to Toddler Taming, a very highly recommended book by parents and nannies alike, in the hopes that Dr Christopher Green would have the answer.

Dr Green’s book has been around for 20 years or so, and is based on his experience both as a paediatrician and as a father. His style is much more informal and humourous – that might not appeal to everyone, but it certainly makes it easier to read and understand all of the information in his book.

Seeing that he doesn’t even touch on the subject of discipline until Chapter 8, I was very frustrated at first – I am a desperate mum in need of some answers and I certainly don’t have time to read 80 pages of background before getting to the nitty gritty! Having started at the beginning with a scowl on my face, I actually started to enjoy myself. I turned down the corners of pages I thought contained real gems, or little words of wisdom that really resonated with me. I realised I was turning down every second page. I’ve pulled out a few of the passages that really struck a chord with me. There are too many to discuss in one blog post, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to split it up a little bit. Here’s the first

The five triggers of toddler behaviour:
When we parents are having a bad day, our toddlers’ repertoire of behaviour may seem extensive, but in fact almost every performance comes from one of five very predictable origins. These are:
1. Attention seeking
2. Jealousy and competition
3. Frustration
4. Fear of separation
5. Upset and illness

When a little child performs some particularly antisocial act, stand back and ask yourself why.

The section on Attention Seeking is particularly interesting and I think it is something that each and every parent should read. Green’s Attention Spectrum starts with Grade A attention – this is undivided, positive attention, like when you read a book to your child at bedtime. Children receiving lots of Grade A attention generally behave very well.

When you aren’t able to give Grade A, toddlers tend to slip down the scale. They might start with the endless questions, then down towards endless questions or little arguments. Still ignoring them? This is the point where you might find the little one drawing on the wall, hanging up your phone, emptying out your handbag, or leaning dangerously over your delicate newborn baby. As we slip further down the scale we’ve got verbal abuse (You’re not my friend!), tantrums, breath holding, and so on.
“By the time we get to Grades Y and Z, attention is of the very poorest quality. Parents shout angrily at their child and some may even a few well aimed smacks. While it may be difficult to understand why toddlers would actively seek pain and punishment, bear in mind that even a smack can hurt a child less than being ignored altogether.”

What really struck me about the section on Attention Seeking was that M follows this pattern pretty much to the letter. When I spend quality time with her on her own, she is as good as gold. As the quality of the attention deteriorates, so does her behaviour. As I mentioned in the Supernanny blog, it isn’t really her behaviour I should be trying to change, but mine.

When I am able to sit on the floor and play with both M and E, it’s lovely, and M is genuinely a sweet little girl. As soon as I start chatting on the phone to a friend or checking Twitter, some very annoying behaviour starts to bubble to the top. If I need to spend one-to-one time with E, even if it’s just to change his nappy and I haven’t involved her in some way, then it gets worse. If (heaven forbid) I try and do something for myself and don’t pay attention to her for 5 minutes, it all kicks off.

I’m not really so thick that I didn’t understand the connection before, but I didn’t really get how strongly M feels what I consider to be very subtle changes in attention-giving.

Worse still, many of the things that I do to preserve my own sanity actually may be making matters worse. If I need to cool off and not get angry with her, I need space… but if I try and put space between us, she sees this as a rejection or abandonment and ramps her attention-seeking behaviour up a gear. When I need to talk through the issues with a friend who can commiserate and reassure me that I am not actually a rubbish mum, all she sees is me completely ignoring her in favour of a grown-up, and again her behaviour reflects that.

Having read this section I am now acutely aware of M’s reactions every time I check Twitter, chat with a friend, or try and prepare dinner. In response I have really brought all of that down to a minimum – I’ve been neglecting Twitter (sorry!), try to save my conversations with friends for nap-times, evening, and when M is busy playing with her friends. For dinner, I’m doing quick and easy recipes from Jamie’s Ministry of Food that I can prepare while they're having a rest and then just leave to slow-cook all afternoon.

The result? Suddenly I have more time to spend with my little ones doing puzzles, drawing, stories, and just being silly. Obviously there is still the issue of having a 15 month old boy running around the house demanding attention as well, but that's one thing I can't change!

Has her behaviour improved? Well, sort of…. I find that if I put a slightly ridiculous amount of effort into paying attention to her, and if we get Daddy to distract E for a while, she is a little star. But I’m not sure it’s sustainable! I guess I’d better turn to Chapter 8 and see what else Green has to offer.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Undesirable Behaviour

I’ve just finished reading Toddler Taming by Dr Christopher Green, and am still trying to digest all the information and decide how best to put it into practice. While I finish collecting my thoughts about Toddler Taming, here is a bit of a snapshot of the “undesirable behaviour” I am hoping we can understand, tone down, or resolve in some way:
- dawdling over meals, refusing to eat, demanding to be spoon-fed like a baby
- hitting me or throwing things at me when she really isn’t getting her way
- hitting or pushing E
- shouting
- whining
- drawing out bedtime with one thing after another – usually using “I need a wee” as an excuse since she knows we really won’t ignore it
- throwing uncontrollable and lengthy tantrums over minor incidents
- throwing tantrums when I need to focus on E instead (for example while changing his nappy)
- telling me / E “you are not my friend”

E is also entering toddlerhood with a very fiery temper and an incredible ability to physically resist getting dressed, getting into the buggy, having his nappy changed or being made to sit down at mealtimes. I don’t know how much of it is learned behaviour from his sister, and how much is just natural for his age, but either way I’d really like it to be just a little bit easier!! Let’s hope these books say something constructive...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Debenham's Christmas Sale - Toys & Gifts

Oh dear, suddenly Christmas is approaching at an alarming rate. You can get the best prices by far online, but for most stores you only have another week or so to order if you want to receive everything on time. 

Here's a small selection of toys and gifts from the Debenham's sale. Don't forget to use code SHG2 for free delivery (valid until this Friday only).

Children Under 5:
Older children:   

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Can Supernanny really help me get the best from my children?

Over the past couple of weeks, the terrible twos have grown to such a crescendo that we just couldn’t pretend any longer that we were doing everything right. Obviously we’ve been trying to get it right, but being a parent is all about learning the hard way that you don’t know as much as you think you do.

M has always been an independent little girl and very strong willed, but never really badly behaved. What started off as a bit of whining suddenly escalated into full blown aggression and completely irrational and unpredictable behaviour for an alarming proportion of the time. I should clarify that she still behaves nicely with everyone else – like most daughters she saves all her tantrums for mummy!

In any case, when it got to the point where I considered shaving her head to check for the number of the beast, I thought perhaps it was time to hit the books.

I’m still a scientist at heart, so rather than just diving straight in and following one style or solution, I thought I’d compare and contrast a few well known books (Supernanny, Toddler Taming, and the Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers) offering guidance on dealing with unruly toddlers.

First up is Supernanny: How to get the best from your children, by Jo Frost

Supernanny Jo Frost comes across as a very sensible, experienced and caring person. She has had many years of experience caring for children of all ages and temperaments, and this comes across in her book. What worked for your mother-in-law or your best friend might not necessarily work for you, but Supernanny’s methods are tried and tested on plenty of unruly little things and stand a very good chance of working.

Watching the show, I thought her book would be based more around disciplinary strategies, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the focus was more around encouraging good behaviour and nipping potential tantrums in the bud rather than discipline. In a sense, it’s much more about the parents’ behaviour than the children’s.

What really stood out for me were

1) Rewarding good behaviour isn’t about stickers and sweets, it’s about the one thing your child needs and wants the most – you. The best reward is one-to-one time with you, an extra story, your undivided attention and involvement in their mad little make believe schemes, or being able to help you peel the carrots.

2) Preventing the tantrums from happening in the first place means taking the time and effort to understand your child and how he or she is feeling. We’re pretty careful about offering healthy snacks regularly so she doesn’t suffer from those horrible sugar crashes, but what about all the other things that can affect her mood and behaviour? Having too many options laid in front of her, or being surrounded by an overwhelming number of toys or books can be stressful for a toddler and can therefore affect their behaviour. Supernanny suggests rotating the toys and only having a select number out at a time. Getting dressed, she suggests having 2 or possibly 3 suitable options to choose from rather than an overwhelming question like “What shall we wear today?”. Similarly, if she feels she is being ignored or if you are giving all your attention to someone else, you’re pretty likely to see a change in her behaviour. Much of the book is devoted to methods of keeping your toddler engaged and happy, and feeling secure.

3) Playing with the children and giving them your love and attention is the most important thing you can do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring the running of the house and just playing with a pink fairy castle all day. Her Involvement technique is all about getting on with running the house while your kids feel like they’re having fun and playing with you. Grocery shopping, you give them a mini shopping list and put them in charge of finding the things on their list. While you’re preparing dinner, you can set up a little potato-washing station and get them to wash a few spuds. When you’re feeding the new baby, you can put them in charge of stroking the baby’s tummy, or folding up some muslins. The idea is to look for ways to involve them in everything you’re doing. It may seem like everything is going to take about 5 times as long, but just consider how long it would take if you were constantly being interrupted by tantrums and fighting children. Also, Involvement can transform an otherwise stressful part of the day into something really nice for both/all of you.

Jo Frost does come across as very level-headed, and the book made for an interesting read. More importantly, it made me re-evaluate my own behaviour towards the children. However it does have its shortcomings. I had hoped for some clear guidelines, solutions and case studies, but instead found myself reading about general concepts without the level of detail I needed in order to put her methods into practice.

There are some methods, such as her famous Naughty Step Technique, which she outlines more clearly. Even with that, however, I felt I really needed some case studies or some clearer instructions. Many toddlers have a younger sibling or even a twin, but there is nothing in the book to tell us what to do when the other one interferes with our careful execution of the Naughty Step Technique. When E wanders over to the step and sits down beside M with some books, what do I do? When I pull him away, he cries and keeps running back to sit with his big sister, so by keeping him away I am in effect punishing them both. How do you discipline one while praising the other for their good behaviour?

She also glosses over the “regression” stage that most of us face when we have a second child, even though this has perhaps been the most difficult issue for many of us. If M was previously able to eat perfectly well by herself (and still does at nursery and at Nana’s), but with Mummy she wants to be fed, I can understand the emotional importance of letting M feel like she is my baby again, but I want some clear guidance on what to do at mealtimes. Does refusing to feed herself count as unacceptable behaviour, or do I just roll with it and hope that one day she’s want to be independent again? At what point does it stop being an emotional need and start being her way of manipulating me at mealtimes?

Looking at how I interact with M and E in light of Supernanny’s book, there was one thing that really struck me. When their behaviour isn’t quite what I’d like it to be (that’s a pretty mild way of putting it!), I’m 100% involved with the children, trying to break up fights, make M stay in her Time Out, or bargain with her about eating her dinner. As soon as they are playing nicely, I think “Oh great, they’re playing nicely – I’ll just do a few things while I can…”, and off I go to get the dinner ready, or make a phone call, or check my email. I’ve inadvertently rewarded their bad behaviour with lots of attention, and rewarded their good behaviour with… well, a complete and utter lack of attention. Oops!

Today I started my day with a very different perspective, and tried to look at everything through a Supernanny Top 10 filter, and I think it actually worked. I put my phone away for the whole morning and we just played and sang songs, and I acted out some completely far fetched and silly stories. The children were completely hooked and had a great time. I gave them so many “heads-up” warnings about everything that I felt slightly ridiculous, but for the first time in a very long time, M didn’t whine at all when I said it was time to leave the playground, or time for her nap. We didn’t have a single outburst – not one. The surprising thing was that I didn’t feel like I was exerting loads of effort trying to follow all these rules or constraints – I was actually having a really nice time and so did the children. In fact, Madeleine said to me before going down for her nap, “Mummy, we’ve had a really nice morning, haven’t we?”.

Have you followed Supernanny’s techniques? What did you make of them? What really stood out for you?

Where can I find some guidance about Regression and the issues that come with having more than one child?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, tried and tested techniques, and whatever other advice you'd offer a mum of a 2.5 year old and 15 month old! (If your advice is "Don't have them so close together", it's too late for that!!)