Thursday, July 3, 2008

Raising Chip

A while ago, I had written a post about the spirited child Chip is. I refuse to call him difficult and while it is vexing to get my point across to him at times, I admire his resolve and determination. He also tends to get frustrated easily and can fly into what I call nuclear tantrums. Change is hard on him. He is a slow adapter. Traditional child rearing advice is lost on him. Never works. He is only three and as he grows up, his temperament may change little or not at all, but I sure hope to teach him how to change the way he expresses his thoughts and emotions. A few weeks ago I bought a book- Raising your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka. While I have yet to read it, I thought it might be a good idea to put into writing my own strategies and later compare them to those in the book.

Be very specific
While this is true of most toddlers, for spirited children, this is a life saving technique. “Don’t touch that”, “Sit here” doesn’t quite cut it. Even if you tell Chip the dire consequences of his actions, his impulse doesn’t go away. For e.g. if I tell Chip to put the fork down when he is running around the kitchen with it, he won’t listen. He wants to do “something” with the fork, and running around with it is the only thing that comes to his mind. Instead I tell him to put it in the sink or put it back in the flatware drawer. That satisfies his urge, I get a chore done and he is out of trouble.

A few months ago Chip and I visited a friend and her new baby. Chip was very excited and in his excitement pulled the little baby’s hand. Instead of telling him to not touch the baby or play with other things which would have resulted in a tantrum, I channeled his urge. He wanted to connect to the baby. So I allowed him a gentle pat on the blanket by the foot and told him to sing songs and recite the alphabet. He does that to all babies he sees now. The parents are amused and the babies gurgle and laugh which delights him.

Let them know what to expect
Even if it is trip to the tot lot or a dinner with friends or a doctor’s visit, I always tell him what to expect of the place and event and of him. I tell him names of all the friends we are visiting and what we plan to do. I also tell him what I expect of him – he has to share, no whining, no fuss when its time to go home. Or if we are going to the doctor, what will happen (stethoscope, look in your ear etc). This way he is prepared and does not get caught with surprises. For the past few days, he has gotten into the habit of asking a grown up what their name is. I personally feel this is rude, so I have told him he has to ask me softly (or I have to tell him the name of the person we are meeting before hand). I have also told him I will remember to introduce him to people. He is a young boy now.

Stop the whine with shock and awe
Chip whines. And he is persistent. I need to stop the whine before it turns into a tantrum. And like most kids, Chip’s whine does not go away when you ignore it. It gets worse. So instead of telling him again that he cannot have jelly beans today, I sit down with him and tell him jelly beans have artificial colors and preservatives and that will make holes in his brain. Shock and awe. Since he has learnt something new here, his attention gets diverted to the artificial colors and preservatives instead of the jelly beans.

Give them something to do
I give mine chores. He sets the table every night. He helps himself to cereal and snacks from the pantry. He helps me unload the dishwasher. He puts his diaper in the bin every morning and his clothes in the hamper. It gives him a sense of importance and a comforting routine and giving him safe activities puts him out of trouble for at least 10-15 minutes a day.

Teach them to identify their emotions and triggers
This is very useful. Chip has a temper that can quickly get out of hand. A few months ago, I tried this trick. Every time he would get angry and thre a tantrum, I would tell him to tell me when he realized he was getting angry and that I would help him. It took a few months and he needs a reminder every now and then, but he does come and tell me to help him because he is angry or feels like a tantrum. We sit down and we “search and pluck” all the tantrums from his head. There are usually ten – so he has learnt to count till 10 when he gets angry. He also identifies when he is sad and tells me and we deal with it. Or when he is scared or happy.

Down time and quiet time
They need this more than the other kids, I suspect. I know kids who would cry way after midnight at their own 1st birthday parties. Chip cried in the first five minutes because he wanted everyone to go home and leave him alone. Even know, he needs some quiet and one-on-one time every day with me in the evening. Undivided attention. He is much better behaved that way. Many times, when we have company over, he tells me he wants to go to bed way before his expected bedtime. I take the cue. He is overwhelmed and 20 minutes by ourselves upstairs usually recharges him and he much better behaved when we come back down. On busy days when he tends to be a bit tantrummy, we have a quiet time. Where he can do what he wants without walking/running/climbing/not leaving the room. He can lie down, draw, read books.

Sugar and physical activity
Limiting sugar does help. He is less tantrummy, more even tempered. Juice is no more than 6oz a day or not at all. No sugar in milk. Sweet cereals in limited quantities. No sugary stuff when he is tired. Or sugar combined with protein only (like peanuts and jaggery). Increasing protein intake helps him manage his temper. He also needs a lot of physical activity. He walked a mile and half yesterday and played in the water for 30 mins. in the evening and only then was he tired.

I’ll post a review of the book as soon as I am done reading it. Until then, do share your tactics too if you have a spirited child.


Anonymous said...

Wow...These are real useful ones. I mean I could use the search and pluck ones because everytime I get angry, I cry :D

I think if you physically hold the hold the face between your hands and slowly tell them what you want, they tend to listen, becasue most times it is more about distractions than actually paying attention. I am jsut putting it out there.
It is one of those things that I think I will do when I have a kid, and he /she will just listen and I might end up with my tail inbetween my legs.

ddmom said...

Very well said Dottie. I'll collect my thoughts in this context and be back :)

mumbaigirl said...

Hmm, think some of this advice slightly modified is very good for adults as well.

Rohini said...

Dottie, thanks so much for this post. Loads of useful tips that I am going to try tomorrow!

I do the down time and seriously find that a better way to calm him down than to tire him out with physical activity, which I find often only makes him more hyperactive)

Also do the 'telling him what to expect' and 'preempting the whine' strategies but the rest sound really good too... especially like the one where you re-direct his energy (the fork one) - am so trying that one first

Now if only I had your patience

Mona said...

great post dottie. filing it away for future references!

Mama - Mia said...


someday i too will this patient!


lovely lovely post!



Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Having a second kid helps too :)
That's prolly what the magical switch was for T1!
Most times the "Be specific" works like a charm. Distraction, as they say is the best.
The "heads-up" for rules is great! T2 repeats the whole thing, seldom follows it, but I know eventually it'll come to her like it has for T1.
The shock and awe is nice! Gotta try it on T2.
I really suck at giving them chores. T1 is ok, but T2 has it so easy! There was a time when T1 used to fold her laundry with me - easy ones like pants and towels...wonder what happened to that!! Gotta try that!

Totally on par with the sugar!

One more thing that worked very well with T1 was charts - frowny and smiley faces. I made her draw them and she would be very upset if she had to draw a frowny face and tried hard to get rid of them (we had something like 5 smiley faces can make a frowny face go away).
In the same lines appreciation works wonders! I applaud them and genuinely tell them how proud I am that they used words and not screams to ask/get something.

(Now, you'll be surprised how little you've missed from the expert's book :)

Preethi said...

wow great post... routine and wknowing what to expect does settle children so much!!

DotThoughts said...

binary://like hold the face between your hands and slowly tell them what you want, they tend to listen// good idea!

ddmom: pliss do :)

mumbai girl: lol. never throught of it this way

Ro: I am with you on the more physical activity getting out of hand. hope some of this works for Aayan. do share your tips too! and I overrate my own patirnce (remember, its my blog? :P)

Mona: hope you never need it :)

Mama-Mia: Welcome! thanks for stopping by the the comment. I am not that patient. I do loose it sometimes.

GND: trust you to say that about the second kid:) hope you had a nice trip? I should try the charts. thanks for that idea! stickers, here i come :)

preethi: It does.. there is comfort in routine!

K 3 said...

Thanks Dottie!!! Dont knw if a 2 year will go for these, but worth a shot right - since mine is really going the spirited route ....

Mira's mom said...

Hey, very thoughful tips. Loved the point on emotions - probably should try on adults too :-)

choxbox said...

wow! have you considered writing a book?!

btw why is it rude to ask grown-ups their names?

karmickids said...

With you all the way Dottie, and what has worked with me for brat:
Have the day structured out as much as possible.
Get down to his level and talk to him eye to eye when he's getting into tantrum mode.
If the tantrum escalates hold him and rock him gently, and remove him to a empty place if in a public zone.
Distract him as much as possible.
Give him high energy tasks to do to wear him out completely by the end of the day.
Of course, cutting out the sugar is a given.
Reinforcements for good behaviour work. Smileys, stars, etc, or even points pasted on a chart for the week, resulting in a treat.
Am slowly getting him to play by himself in a room with his basket of toys. That seems to be making him calmer. He's learning to amuse himself without being distructive, and he really has calmed down a hell of lot over the past couple of months.
If he is well fed, and well rested I find he is much more manageable.
God bless our typhoons!

Neera said...


Great points u have listed down. Try to do a of these myself. If I was to find the common factor, i would say its patience. I lose that and everything else gets lost - all strategies, rationality and of course my son from my hands.

Didn't know about protein helping to manage emotions.
Somehow telling Vansh what to expect doesn't help too much either - he is way too wary of new places and people and rude and shouty when they try to talk to him ..pls tell me if u have any ideas.

Am reading the very same book in bits and pieces. It breaks down the kind of spiritedness into concrete blocks - intensity, persistence, sensitivity, perceptiveness, adaptability and the likes giving you examples of behavior of each of those and pretty good ideas to tackle each of them.

I am sure you do it and have just forgotten to mention about giving them a sense of control by offering them a lot of choices throut the day. Blue glass or red, steel plate or corning, orange shirt or green, apple or grapes, square pieces of toast or triangle ..wherever I can, I think and offer a choice. Helps immensely when I actually can give him no choice and ask him to comply. Now he himself keeps saying choice no 1 and choice no. 2 and which one he likes.

Humor is a life saver many many times. Just acting silly, tickling him on the way to the bathroom to brush his teeth ..thats again a form of distraction.

Shall watch this space for more ideas ..loved gnd's idea of smiley and frowny faces ..though have done stars and stickers but novelty is the name of the game.

DotThoughts said...

K3: good luck!

mira's mom: lol. glad you found some useful.

choxbox: now now...

karmic: liked the idea oh holding and rocking. will implement.

neera: don't know if there are studies carried about about protein and emotions. i think with a carb heavy diet your blood sugar might plummet making you cranky. I do give him some options, but I liked the way of giving options for almost evrything. thanks for that tip!

Squiggles Mom said...

This is why I keep coming back :). You make so much sense. I loved the examples you quoted of how you found ways of channeling his behaviour instead of saying no. I know I will be coming back to read this again soon. All of it made so much sense to me. I particularly loved the way you're helping him channel his anger. Simply amazing.

DotThoughts said...

squigles mom: it is exhausting. I am not going to lie. But I am reading this book I mentioned in my post and it is sooo amazing. My strategies are so rough hewn. I am doing a review hopefully this week about it.

the mad momma said...

hey dottie - i identify with a lot of these...

the downtime is one he doesnt really need. he's fine with lots of people and actually gets upset when they go away.

and yes - the activity really helps too. but i need to monitor it. we have a nice drive and garden and balcony space etc.. and also two hours or so in the park. if he gets too tired running around, he gets even worse...