2 Minutes to Cookies

In case you were wondering, yes, the title of this post was inspired by “10 Minutes to Wopner” from Rainman. So say it in his voice, it makes it so much better.

Today was a rough day. Nothing was going right, and we were all on each other’s nerves. Chicka Chicka had watched enough TV, which meant she was starting to get rowdy and I felt major mama guilt.

When I get overwhelmed like this, I grab Chicka Chicka and we bake. I usually don’t share these stress-induced treats with friends because I can’t guarantee neither of us didn’t lick the bowl. Wow, quadruple-negative.

Today we baked chocolate chip cookies. Nothing fancy. But I always set my timer to go off a few minutes before the cookies are done. Burnt cookies are the worst. So when I first check them, they look like this:

Almost done. But see that one in the middle? You can tell it’s still pretty gooey and not quite ready.

But you give them two minutes and you get this:

And people, they taste as good as they look. Everybody in my family had one, and we are only about an hour out from dinner.

So I lured you with pictures of cookies, but the point I’m trying to make is that sometimes you are so close, but you don’t know it. Your child may be so close to making a breakthrough, or a small victory might be right around the corner. And while you feel like your child should be farther along, or some developmental chart at your pediatrician’s office says they should be doing xyz, the fact remains you never know what the next few hours, days, or weeks will bring.

Keep up the good work. Everything you do matters. Even on the bad days that you feel like you’re not making any difference, you are.

You’re only two minutes from cookies.

The Cha-Cha-Cha

The cha-cha-cha

Can you tell I’ve got a thing about abbreviations? I’ve also got a thing for puns, but I don’t show that side of me until people show me their weirdness first. Or if Christmas comes along and you make my gift list.

But I digress. Today I want to share a toolbox strategy for helping a child work through big feelings or stop a behavior. I call it the Cha-Cha-Cha. And no, flamenco dresses are not required for it to work (although I don’t judge).

I would like to add this this strategy is intended to start after you have corrected the behavior. Whether this means after a timeout, or just saying “not okay!” , and/or apologizing is up to you.

The first step in this strategy is Chance. When a child has done something wrong or something that needs to be addressed, give them a chance to express their feelings or explain themselves. If they are nonverbal, they still need to express these feelings. There’s a good chance they did something naughty as a way to express frustration or sadness or some other form of wanting attention. Work through these feelings in a positive, progressing manner. See (LINK to come) for both verbal and nonverbal ways of working through big feelings.

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to skip this step, for both adult and child. But both of you need to be calm and rational before progress can be made.

The next step is Choice. Choices are awesome. Everybody loves choices. But I want you to think of eating at the Cheesecake Factory versus eating at In N Out. At the Cheesecake Factory, you can eat just about anything you want. However, unless you have a favorite, it also means you have to scroll through several pages of vastly different dishes until one speaks to you. At In N Out, there are less choices, but man, ordering those onions on my Double Double makes me stand a little taller.

My point? Too many choices are overwhelming, and having a choice between two or three options makes independent decision-making that much easier. It’s the same with children. If you give them two simple options of what they can do, as opposed to saying, “Just do something else!”, you are more likely to foster independence. Every choice your child can make without your direct support is a victory.

The other important thing about a choice is that you as the adult must be okay with the child choosing either option. Don’t say, “You can keep squashing your brother or go read your new book.” Extreme example, but you catch my drift. Remember, the point is not that your child makes the RIGHT choice, but that your child makes A choice.

The final step is Cheer. Children love praise, but not hollow or distracted praise. You want your praise to be specific to the current situation, as in, “I am happy you stopped throwing your toys.” Then, lots of hugs, cuddles, high-fives, whatever you do in your family. Go (HERE) to read my post on ways to say good job without actually saying good job.

I would like to throw in that it is also important to not make the situation up for discussion in the future. I don’t think Chicka Chicka is the only child that will bring something up days or even weeks later. I try to shut that down as fast as possible by acknowledging what she said, but also adding, “We fixed that problem. We don’t need to talk about it.” It’s better to focus on working through problems and letting the feelings go.

I hope that this has been helpful. As I’ve said before, this is not the end-all, be-all to solving problems with a child. It is a strategy that you can pull out of your toolbox and adapt/modify as needed to fit your child and the current situation.

Rapport

The first tool in my toolbox is rapport. Even with your own children, it takes time to get to know them and have them trust you. As they get older, that trust moves from a purely biologically-based trust (as in, they trust you to feed them and change them and protect them), to a more communication- and emotion-based trust.

This first tool is a bit abstract, but bear with me. In college, I learned about a relationship pyramid. The base of the pyramid was your self-perception, or how much you trust and believe in yourself. The next level up was your relationship with your significant other. Do you communicate, do you validate each other, do you solve problems in a healthy and loving way? Moving up the pyramid, the next was your relationship with your kids. Do you get enough quality and quantity of time with your children? Do they trust you? The smallest part of the pyramid was discipline. The idea was that if there was a problem in one area, there was most likely an issue in the lower levels of the pyramid.

I know what you’re thinking- what in the world does this have to do with speech? But it totally does because a child won’t talk if they don’t feel the need to connect. Ditto for if they feel their attempts at communication are ignored. Every interaction with children is an opportunity to teach them that their thoughts, feelings, and intentions are valued.

So next time you are feeling completely overwhelmed or out of balance, try to remember the pyramid. The beautiful thing about it is it can always be rebuilt. From the ground up.

Earn Your CCCs!

 

Earn Your CCC's Checklist FinalIn the speech therapy world, CCCs stands for Certificate of Clinical Competence. That’s the fancy-pants version of Congratulations you did it now here’s your license! But here on this blog, I want them to refer to a toolbox strategy for communicating with young children. So from here on out, they will stand for Clear, Consistent, and Calm.

Clear- When talking to a child, you need to make your language simple and direct. Try to keep each sentence to 5 words or less, with a max of 10. And don’t toss around words like “responsibility” or “disappointed”- believe me, I’ve tried. Nothing loses your child’s attention like a word they don’t understand.

Part of being clear is also being specific. You need to specify what you are addressing; saying ” That is bad” is much less effective than “Hitting is not okay.” It’s amazing how difficult it is to be specific, especially when big feelings are swelling up in you too! But it really goes so, so far in teaching your child.

Consistent- Consistency teaches children what to expect and what is expected of them. It works on so many levels, from simple family rules to discipline to schedules. Think about this: Imagine you wake up each morning and you don’t know when breakfast will be or how you will get it. Wouldn’t you have a bit of panic, maybe start to take things into your own hands? I definitely would because I wake up hangry with a capital H.

Find phrases that work in your family that can be repeated in various situations. As Chicka Chicka is getting older and going to things like preschool and swim lessons and primary classes at church, we have found 3 rules that apply to all of them: Listen to teacher, try hard, and have fun! We repeat them before I drop her off, and sometimes talk about them on the way to whatever activity. This reinforces my expectations of her, and in turn, gives her a schema for how to behave.

Calm- I definitely struggle with calm. I want to be a calm person, I really do. But more often than I like to admit, I lose my cool on the 4th potty training accident of the day or the 7th time Boom Boom pulls ALL the books off the bookshelf. And I usually feel terrible instantly. My point? Sometimes we as the adult have to step away from the situation and regain control before we can appropriately handle the madess.

Once you are calm, get on the child’s eye level. I always imagine myself as Miss Trunchbull towering over her pupils when I’m yelling. As much as I don’t want to admit it, that’s probably how it looks to very small children. So getting on their eye level goes a long way towards removing the flight-or-fight response we have when agitated.

Speak in a quiet but firm voice. I try to channel Professor McGonagall (sorry I’m not sorry I’m a total Potterhead). You can command your child’s attention much better by speaking clearly and quietly as opposed to incoherent angry rants.

The most important thing with the CCCs is to keep with it! I know it’s hard to be consistent if you haven’t been in the past, but seeing small positive changes in your child is so encouraging!

P is for Rocks

P is for Rocks final copy

Tonight, Boom Boom and I went walking around our neighborhood. He had some definite wiggles and grumpies and that means we go outside if at all possible. We found (of course) the ONE house that has some pebbled rocks right next to the sidewalk. And Boom Boom plunked himself down and played with them. When I tried to move on, he wriggled out of my arms and just marched himself right back to the Rock House. As in, he walked a block and a half. My kid has a better sense of direction than I will ever have. What is it about rocks that all kids love? I’m not sure- but I’m fairly certain it has something to do with the fact that they are almost always dirty. Kids and dirt go together like…kids and dirt.

Anyway, it got me thinking about a behavior often seen in children with disabilities, especially autism: perseveration. That’s the fancy term for when a child obsesses over something; it can be a motion or an item, and can be caused by several things or for no reason at all. This isn’t typical child obsession; it is usually a repetitive motion (like opening and closing a door), or talking about a subject for an inappropriately long amount of time. Depending on the severity of the perseveration (try saying that 3 times fast!), this can greatly hinder social interactions or the ability to process big feelings.

So how do you work through perseverations with young children? For this, we have to dig into the toolbox and try to stretch the boundaries of that perseveration. First, try distraction. The distraction has to be a serious gamechanger, like a favorite game or toy. Try to include physical space between the distraction and the perseveration. For example, if the child is turning the light switch on and off, put Mr. Greatest Toy Ever in the middle of the room so the child has to leave the light switch.

If distraction doesn’t work, the next thing I pull out of my toolbox is my CCCs. For me, these stand for Clear, Consistent, and Calm. See HERE for more information on this. I get down on the child’s level, and make sure I have the child’s (somewhat) attention. For me, this means they are making eye contact, with the behavior paused. I use a quiet but firm voice, and tell them it is not okay to be doing this. It is crucial that you find a phrase that is used in several disciplinary situations. In my family, we say “___________ is not okay.” This lets the child know exactly what is not okay, and they know mom (or teacher) means business. As parents, it is SO easy to try to explain ourselves, to get too wordy in an attempt to get our point across. But kids of all abilities respond much better to simple, black-and-white communication.

From here, I like to move into the Cha-cha-cha. It means you give the child a chance, a choice, and then a cheer! In this case, I would first give the child a chance to express any feelings they may be having. Perseverations can be triggered by overstimulation, so it is important to work through those feelings in a positive way (instead of the perseveration). Then, you give the child a choice.

Now, repeat after me: Do not make the perseveration a choice! The choice may be between a new toy or a new activity, a new game or a new book, etc. The choices need to physically and emotionally move the child away from the perseveration. Once your child makes a choice, go with it! Give them a cheer (see here for my thoughts on positive reinforcement) and move forward with your day. You can also treat yourself to a Dr. Pepper because, well, good job to you too!

So in conclusion, I have a feeling that rocks will be a big part of my life for the next few years. And for those struggling with perseverations, they will most likely be a part of life, though they may transform over the years. I hope that this post gives you some positive strategies to work through a difficult and tricky situation.

Ways to Say Good Job!

praise final

So I’m sure if I were to do a scan of my posts, the number one word used would be “specific.” At least I feel like I’ve typed it several, several times. But it’s my hill to die on. Specificity makes a huge difference for children of all abilities because it gives them a concrete framework for learning; as we should all know by now, young children live in the concrete, tangible, here-and-now world.

Confession time: I am totally, 100% guilty of hollow or distracted praise. Giving a half-hearted “good job” to Chicka Chicka over the rim of my phone is not something I’m proud of, but I know I’m not the only one.

So let’s make a parent pact to give sincere, specific, constructive praise.

But how do you do that?

Well, here’s a formula for avoiding the GJ word: (Hmmmm… somehow I don’t think that abbreviation will catch on. Shame.)

1) Start with the reaction the good behavior caused. Something like, “I like how you…” or “It makes me happy when….”

2) Focus on what the child did rather than an abstract concept. Saying “you worked so hard!” reinforces what the child did as opposed to saying “You’re so smart!”

3) Bring it back around to the current situation. This could mean referring to something specific (see, there I go again!) on their picture, building, etc. I also think this is a perfect segway into getting more communication out of your child. See LINK about NOT asking questions to facilitate communication.

Here’s an example of using this formula. Say your child brings you a picture of…well…. you’re not entirely sure what. But you can see by the light in their eyes that they are so excited about it, and they’ve been working on it for ten minutes. You put down what you’re doing, look at it, make eye contact with your child, and say,
” It makes me happy when you work so hard on a picture. Tell me about what your picture is about!”

You see that? Easy peasy, and your child knows you will respond when they share something with you. Bonus points in that your child also doesn’t know that you don’t have a clue what you’re looking at.

If you need more ideas for what to say beyond “good job!” check out this pdf over on east.aurorak12.org (HERE) with 100 Ways to say Good Job!

Good luck! It is so engrained in us to say good job, so don’t beat yourself up if it still slips out. The point is to use praise in a constructive way that builds a relationship with your child.

Toy Angst: Passive vs. Active Toys

Toy Angst Graphic

As a parent, I feel like we have all had the experience of toy angst. Whether it be for Christmas or a birthday, we obsess over finding exactly the right toy. The one that will trigger the squeal of delight upon opening, the one that makes all the long days, untouched food, and multiple daily outfit changes worth it just to see that smile. So it usually makes our hearts a little sad to see that same toy buried in the bottom of the toy box just a week or two later.

So what gives? Why are some toys perennial favorites while others are just flashing lights that you stub your toe on in the middle of the night looking for THE stuffed animal? (sorry, got too close to my reality on that one)

The secret may be in passive vs. active toys. This concept is not new- I learned this from my mother long before my child-raising years. In this instance, you actually want to purchase passive toys. Passive toys have the amazing ability to become a tool for child-directed play; a passive toy places no restrictions on what the child can and cannot do with it.

On the other hand, an active toy DOES dictate the type of play that a child can do with it. Think of those “my size” dolls that come out every year around Christmastime. That is the perfect example of an active toy. The toy is already associated with a character, a storyline, and limits as to what it can become or do. Even Chicka Chicka, who inherited my vivid childhood imagination, would struggle to have a life-size Elsa doll that does not have ice powers, or have Anna as a sister, or builds an ice castle. And you know what? There’s only so many things you can do with that doll before it becomes boring and scares the you-know-what out of mom one night when it falls out of the toy closet on top of her.

Let’s compare that to a passive toy like play-dough or Duplos. These toys can become whatever your child’s whim is at the moment. Your son is in a Batman phase? Boom- Bat Cave, with accompanying Alfred. Your daughter just saw Tangled for the first time? Instant tower in the woo-hoods. Bonus points if you have yellow play-dough for her hair.

From a speech therapist perspective, the advantages for a passive toy are obvious. That toy can also become anything you want it to. See my posts on sabotage (LINK to come) and dramatic play (LINK to come) to see how you can use toys to improve your child’s language abilities.

So the next time you are standing in the toy aisle at Target, sipping your second refill of soda and munching on popcorn (and hopefully not sharing with anyone else), and about to do eenie-meenie-miney-mo, I hope you remember this post and not give in to the life-size Disney doll.

My Inspiration for Speak Up Little Buttercup

Hello and welcome! This is my foray into the official blogging world. I’ve tried to do little family blogs in the past, but I never stuck with them because life, as it always does, gets crazy and then it gets crazier.

I was inspired to start this blog because I am currently a stay-at-home mom to my two children, Chicka Chicka, who is 4, and Boom Boom, who is 18 months old. I am also a licensed speech therapist, and I worked with the special needs preschool and kindergarten population while I worked. I loved my job (well, maybe not all the paperwork), and I learned so much working with that demographic. I know being a stay-at-home mom is where I need to be right now, but I also feel a pull to stay connected to the speech therapy community.

So, I want to combine my two worlds. While working, I saw a great need for speech therapy techniques and principles that parents could use at home. Easy, simple, and integrated into their day. Working with very small children, I saw several parents who just honestly had no idea how to connect and teach their children. It wasn’t their fault in any way- so many of them were blindsided by an autism diagnosis or, even more difficult, no answers at all.

My goal with Speak Up Buttercup is to provide real-life strategies and techniques that parents can adapt to use through the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenting children of any and all abilities. I also want to share what is going on in my life at home with my children, and ways that I incorporate language development into our everyday life. I am not perfect, by any means, nor do I intend to portray myself as such.

So whether you are concerned about your toddler, or you are looking for solutions and support for dealing with your preschooler, come and join me in this crazy roller coaster of raising children!