Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"I want my dummy... I'm a big girl now": Time-Outs and Stars

Poor Phoebe has a serious case of split personality.

On the one hand she is growing so fast and is so very proud of all of her little achievements. Like now, at 32 months, she can go to the big toilet on her own without using her toddler seat. She can wash and dry her hands by herself although she still sometimes struggles to turn the tap on and off. And she often plays with the water, uses way too much soap and makes a total mess. She can dress herself. Unless it's something you want her to wear. She puts things away, takes dirty clothes to the laundry and is really good at taking her dishes to the sink and putting them onto the bench or into the dishwasher. Though they do tend to just get tossed into the top tray. And she's an amazing conversationalist, although she doesn't always make sense.

On the other hand she has a slight obsession with dummies and still can't quite control her emotions resulting in intense meltdowns over the slightest thing.

Toby thinks her oral fixation comes from seeing me feeding Ash, and apparently she pointed to his nipple and said something about milk the other day. But I've noticed the dummy thing for a while now and think it could be partly due to other kids at daycare having dummies (Phoebe never really had one as a baby) and partly just a phase kids of her age go through. She does a lot of mummy and baby roll play with her dolls and with her friends.

As for the tantrums, it often gets to the point where she can't listen or talk to you so we've introduced Time-Out. For example, today she went to the toilet whilst I was changing Ash. She shouted for my help and told her I'd come when I'd finished putting Ash's nappy on. Then I heard her whinging. I strapped Ash, who was due a feed, to the change table, wound up his mobile and went to see what the commotion was. There was a puddle of wee on the floor next to the toilet. I started to show her what to do when she has an accident. I.e. if her clothes are wet put them in the nappy bucket in the laundry. I realised she couldn't reach the bucket so I told her if that's the case she should throw them into the sink and tell me. But today she could just put them straight into the machine as I was about to put a wash on.

She couldn't reach the bucket.

Didn't matter. I'm putting a wash on.

She couldn't reach the bucket. She wanted to put her clothes in the bucket.

No point in moving the bucket as I wanted to show her what to do in future and in future she won't be able to reach the bucket.

But she wanted to put her clothes into the bucket. She really wanted to put her clothes into the bucket.

I tossed them into the machine. She lost it.

Needless to say I didn't get around to showing her how to wipe her wee up. I tried to get her to talk to me. I tried to get her to listen to me. No dos. She was inconsolable. We're trying to teach her a bit about emotions, about how sometimes you can feel really strong emotions and you don't feel in control and it's okay to feel like that. But when she's in the moment you just can't get through to her. So I told her I was giving her a time out. I put a dining chair in the corridor and shut the bedroom and bathroom doors. I told her to stay there until she'd calmed down then come and find me.

I actually think time out works quite well. At first we used it as a punishment but we've now moved onto a star system which I'll talk about in a minute. As a punishment it seems to be less effective as they fight it. As a time out it gives you both an opportunity to calm down and today she seemed to really appreciate that low-stimuli quiet alone time to come to terms with her feelings.

This took a while and poor Ash had been waiting on the change table for his feed the whole time. A few minutes later whilst I was feeding him Phoebe came in, still crying but much calmer.

"I'm sad," she told me.

She has two basic emotions that she can verbalise: sad and happy.

We had a cuddle and a little chat, decided to put on a Wiggles DVD and after a while she told me she was happy again.

As for the star system, so far it seems to be working. Toby introduced it a couple of weeks ago to deal with her night time misbehaviour and meltdowns. The stars are abstract. There's no chart or anything as the number fluctuates all day but maybe we will make one. And we've talked about making a chart to illustrate what the stars are worth.

So stars are currently reset at night - although I'm thinking of changing that to ensure that good behaviour continues after she's had her reward. Every day she's awarded three stars and if she still has three stars after dinner she gets to trade them in for treats. If she has a full three stars she can have a small amount of chocolate and she can then trade the stars for a TV show or extra story. She gets one story every night anyway - because I think books are important and refuse to remove them completely as punishment. But she can trade one star for a story and two stars for a TV show. So if she has three stars she can have a small amount of chocolate, plus either one extra story and one TV show, or three extra stories. If she has two stars at the end of the day then she can have one TV show or two extra stories.

The trading, awarding and removal of stars is a bit arbitrary at the moment and we're making it up as we go along. But she'll figure that out soon enough so we need to work out what we're doing. Throughout the day we talk about how many stars she's had and what she might be able to do to earn extra ones. It seems to be easier to lose them than to earn them.

For example, this morning we had a lovely morning and we were ready for swimming way ahead of time. Lunch was made, Phoebe had her swimsuit on. We'd even hung a load of washing out and Phoebe helped me bring a load in. Then it all went pear-shaped. She took her swimsuit off, whilst I was tied up with Ash, and refused to put it back on again. Then agreed but insisted she couldn't find it. She was difficult to deal with and deliberately insolent. And as were leaving I discovered she'd emptied all her clothes onto the bedroom floor. So she lost a star. But I told her she could earn it back by being good in her swim lesson, listening to the teacher and doing as she's asked, eating her lunch and leaving the park when I told her it was time to go. Then she had to go to sleep and help me tidy her clothes when she woke up in order to keep her star.

Well, she earned it back in half star increments but then lost it again in half star increments this afternoon, half for being difficult whilst I was tidying the mess she'd made and the other half for her tantrum. She then lost one with Toby at bedtime because she wouldn't brush her teeth when asked.

So no chocolate or TV show and just one extra story.

Twice today she asked for a lolly but I told her she hadn't been good enough. In my opinion as soon as you've lost a star you haven't been good enough for lollies unless perhaps you manage to earn an extra one and get up to four stars.

Anyway, we seem to have found a system of discipline, using positive reinforcement, that she can relate to and for now it seems to be working.

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