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Archive for June 2013


Q&A: Are ultimatums falling on deaf ears?

A Facebook Fan asked: How do I stop living in a world of ultimatums? 2 toddlers – 3.5 and 2 – and we will try to transition to something, or ask them to do something – once, twice…. we could ask a hundred times – and it seems the only time we get any action is when it comes with an ultimatum – “please do *x* or you’re going to your room”. “you can either do *x* or you can go sit in your room”. etc, etc…. I’m so tired of the threats and ultimatums, and I feel like we’re stuck in this negative loop, and we don’t know how to get out of it…. suggestions welcome!!

Few things to point out here. As soon as you find yourself asking more than 1-2 times (or more for a toddler who needs more prompting), you’re accidentally conditioning your kids to ignore you. Sounds crazy, but that’s what’s accidentally happening. In their minds, when they don’t get a consequence, or don’t get one until after several warnings, you have inadvertently trained them to wait it out… and ignore you… until you escalate your anger. It is best to look at every command or request as a teachable moment for them. Tell them you want their eyes on yours, tell them what you want, make them repeat it back, and tie a consequence it to it. If they’re looking at you, and can repeat back what you say, they’re more likely to follow through. This is true for toddlers and teens alike.

Another thing to ask yourself is how many transitions can we expect from a toddler? Our lives are busier and there’s more things squished into shorter time frames. This makes for more transitions than say twenty or thirty years ago. These days, we see more and more toddlers being referred for tantrums, meltdowns, anger outbursts (all of which are developmentally normal), but the numbers are climbing. That means we’re more stressed and hurried. We’re expecting too much from what these young kids can developmentally digest. So, whenever possible, cut transitions out. Do less. Stay in one place more. Also, there’s a strong contagion effect going on here. We’re very stressed. Toddlers pick it up from our faces, pressured speech, rushed actions. It builds and can lead to a toddler (for no apparent reason) having a meltdown as soon as you want to get them out the door or into the car. Keep calm. Breathe. Enjoy simpler, smaller moments. Stop worrying and take the long-term view. Things will work out great.

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Q & A: Taking Responsibility

A Facebook Fan asked: My son would like to spend his allowance to replace a school library book he has “lost.” He doesn’t get a large allowance so this would eat up most of it; in fact, he’d have to do some odd jobs to earn the money, but he prefers this to looking hard for the book, which I’m sure must be somewhere in the car or his room or even at school. I feel in my gut that buying his way out of this is not a good solution. He’s eight (almost nine) years old. Thoughts?

I think you’re on the right track. If it costs him most of his allowance money, and he has to do extra odd jobs too, then this should impress upon him (in the future), that being more responsible is important. I think you can also drive the point home when he’s out and about and wants you to buy something for him. Tell him, no… sorry, but you need to start using your own money for things like that… Then don’t say anything else… don’t tie it into the money he had to spend to replace the library book. When we make lessons of everything, point out obvious connections, it seems the impact of a child learning from real-life experiences is weakened.

You could also add a social component to this. He can bring in the money himself, with an apology note he writes – and/or a card he picks out and, with good eye contact, give it to the librarian saying he’ll try to be more respectful with books in the future.

Finally, practicing responsibility is key. Have him take out another book or two. Make certain he returns them on time. Set up a calendar in his room, and point to it if he forgets. “Hey, isn’t there something important coming up tomorrow? Check your calendar.”

Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.