I vividly remember Judd Apatow's Slate diary from two years ago in which he described his 2-year-old daughter Iris's meltdown at a mall, because it so epitomizes what it's like to be around a toddler. "Iris had such a knipshit (as we used to say) — a total meltdown — that I thought I was going to get arrested by cops who thought that I had kidnapped her. All I did was tell her that we already owned Shrek when she asked if we could buy it. Sometimes that is all it takes. She sat down in the video store and screamed at me, 'Get out of the store!' about 50 times." It goes on from there, but Apatow's vignette proves what any toddler-wrangler already knows: they're all little stinkers.
A new study from Lehigh University, which shows that mothers argue with their toddlers an average of 20-25 times per hour, proves the stinkerness of toddlers beyond a shadow of a doubt. But toddler moms should not despair, according to CBS News. "Those conflicts were more likely to get resolved without major drama if the kids had a good relationship with their mother and weren't especially temperamental, active, or impulsive, according to surveys completed by the moms," it reports. "Such conflicts are normal and frequent during the toddler and early preschool years," Laible's team writes.
But what if your child remains difficult beyond the terrible twos? Today's Washington Post summarizes two books about dealing with tantrum prone offspring, Effective Parenting for the Hard-to-Manage Child by D.C. area psychologists Georgia DeGangi and Anne Kendall, and The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child With No Pills, No Therapy and No Contest of Wills, by Yale professor Alan Kazdin (with Carlo Rotella). Both books essentially suggest using behavioral modification techniques on children to calm them down. (P.S., behavioral modification is what animal trainers use on their charges, and also what "Shamu" writer Amy Sutherland advocates use of on husbands.)
Kazdin recommends "ABCs of behaviorism: antecedent, behavior and consequence," to parents, and here's the example he gives of the ABC's:
At home during a calm period, tell the child you're going to play a game. "You say, 'I'm going to pretend to say no and you're going to have a tantrum, but you're not going to hit or throw things. If you can do that, we're going to walk over to the refrigerator and put a star up on your chart,' " which can be turned in for a reward, such as a favorite food or TV time. You remind the child it's pretend and then do it. If a child complies, you say, 'I can't believe it, you just stood there when I said no and didn't throw things.' Then you say, 'I bet you can't do it again.' And when the child does, you praise and give another star. If the child fails, you say calmly, 'Okay, no star this time because you threw things. We'll try again later.' "
That sounds complicated! The other thing that the collected shrinks talked about was modeling behavior. According to Kendall and DeGangi, if you're always disorganized, that might be part of the reason why your child always hands his or her homework in late, Or you know, instead of being a good role model or doing this complicated behavioral stuff, you could bury yourself under an avalanche of Scotch until the kid turns 18. That sounds much, much easier.