Friday, October 2, 2009

Inside the Minds of Children

As many of you have read my latest post "No Means No", you probably picked up on a bit of my dismay. I am happy to receive so much good feedback from the many of you who have been there before. This mothering thing came pretty natural to me, but this parenting thing is a whole new cup of soup! My son has lately been testing his boundaries (or my boundaries). He is now 11.5 months old. Last month, anytime I would say "Jackson, please don't play with that. Come here, sweetie" he would slowly turn away from the non toy and crawl to me. He listened SO well. That short period of time was over before I knew how good I had it!

Discipline in any sense of the word, does not come naturally to me. This is my first child, I have so much to learn. I don't have confidence when I am trying to stop Jackson from doing something. Everyone in their comments said something to effect of "Say what you mean and Stand by it! Don't back down". I know, I know - even Dr. Phil says "As a parent, pick your battles. But when you get into it, don't EVER lose!"

Most of the things I spoke about in my last post, were incidents where Jackson could not resist exploring that which are NOT toys. I was saying "No no Jackson. That's owies!" or "Jackson, please don't play with that. That is not a toy". After having a lengthy discussion with my brother, I found that these two phrases were likely to get me no where. If you read my "Kreativ Blogger" post, you were introduced to my brother, Brian.

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Brian helped me to understand exactly what a child of Jackson's age is capable of understanding. Why do I feel that Jackson does understand my commands and just chooses to defy them? His facial expressions and the fact that when I come over to stop him, he proceeds to become more aggressive with his actions. Turns out there is a reason for that.

Although my brother and his wife are not yet parents, Brian has a very deep understanding about what is going on in a child's head. This information has helped me change my approach with Jackson. Now that I know what HE is thinking, it will allow me to help him achieve his desires in a safe, successful, (hopefully) less confusing manner.

Here is the outline of the information that my brother provided me with and I want to invite everyone to take a look at it. I believe you will find it interesting, and hopefully find useful suggestions. I did a little extra comments in (in italics) to through in my two cents.

A) Exhibiting undesired behaviors
B) The concept of a toy
C) Concept of NO and negative reinforcement
D) Development of self-initiated social engagements
E) Repetition of values/rules/expectations
F) Understanding the infant perspective

A) Exhibiting undesired behaviors
It appears that Jackson is frustrating you in some of his choices. It sounds like you are diligently trying to get him to understand that certain things are toys and and certain things are not. It is important to remember that Jackson is rapidly acquiring skills: socially, emotionally, and cognitively. Much of how he acquires these skills is through the exploration of the environment around him. For example, Jackson-sitting in his high chair playing (keyword: playing) with his food and dropping/throwing it on the floor, essentially is Jackson exploring various textures and the cause and effect of what happens when he drops or throws items. Considering this, at his age, he is not doing this to defy you. It sounds like some of the looks/grimaces/facial expressions that he gives you may tell you otherwise, I will address that later....

B) The concept of a toy
It is important for Jackson to eventually learn what is okay to play with and what it not. At his age, and until the age of 2-3, these concepts will continue to develop. At this point, Jackson does not understand the concept of a toy: an item that you play with. Considering this, Jackson also does not understand the concept of what play is. --He may do it very well, but he does not "know" his is playing per se. When you find him playing with things that are not toys..... (move to C)

C) Concept of NO and negative reinforcement
Jackson may better understand the concept of "NO", if you firmly use the word "Stop" with the sign language signal to accompany it. You may provide a simple explanation to help him become familiar with reasons why we don't play/touch things ..but remember those extended concepts will not completely resonate for some time. More on the use of the word "NO".. The cognitive capacities of very young children make it difficult to understand the word no (negative) and attaching it to an action, often times they ignore the word completely. For example, if you shout to Jackson, "NO biting!" He may only hear the word biting. Knowing this, when I speak to my students, I always frame rules or redirection statements to what they can do--for example: instead of "no hitting"!, I would say, "We use safe (or gentle hands), our hands can hurt others when we do that."
Brian and I later discussed (as said up above), that an explanation like this would not be appropriate for a child Jackson's age. Rather, using a word like "Hot" to explain the reason why the actions are unsafe.

D) Development of self-initiated social engagements
Jackson has recently learned that YOU are not the only one who can initiate a social interaction, for example "SO big!" or "Give me a kissie!" He has learned that he can initiate interactions with you--and this may be him biting on the side of his crib--he has learned that he will illicit a reaction from you if he does this (whether it's positive or negative, it doesn't matter to him--he doesn't understand the difference). Additionally, as he begins to experience a bit of control of these social interactions, he will quickly become frustrated when his abilities do not allow him to convey this a result, a temper tantrum, fit, etc. I know that the easiest thing is to give in to these tantrums (which I of course understand you have no choice but to give in), but the best thing to do is to allow them to occur and wait them out. When you give in to them, he begins to learn that this form of interaction will satisfy his wants --instead of learning more appropriate strategies: pointing, speaking, etc
Situations like these in the house are much easier to deal with than when in public. That is more my concerns. Being a new mom and having an unhappy child in public is a whole NEW concept. I used more common sense the next I went to the store to prevent a checkout tantrum. I didn't pull my wallet (obsession #1) out on my purse, I grabbed my credit card from within my purse and the wallet never needed to be seen. Same with the keys (obsession #2), I just unlocked the car from inside my purse and never pulled them out where Jackson could see them. A fit never occurred! Easy enough... do I get the Mom of the Year award yet? :P

E) Repetition of values/rules/expectations
It is important to remember that all children very young through age 8 will need to be told to do things more than once--especially when they are under the age of 5. They do not have the capacity to delay gratification or control their impulses, so--telling a child "I've told you three times now,...!" or "I've already told you..."--does not do much for the child except disrespect their development. SO, continue to repeat your expectations to him over and over again, knowing that it's what he needs--eventually they will resonate and he will begin to abide by them.

F) Understanding the infant perspective
Hopefully the above info has helped you understand Jackson's perspective a bit. Within parenting, there are several "Parent agendas" and several "Infant Agendas" It is important to understand both of them and to find ways to match them up to help the both of you. The more you understand what is going on in his head (lol), the more you can help facilitate his development socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically.

This a chart that describes said Infant/Parent Agendas for child 7-18 months of age. I also have charts available for 18-36 mos. & 3-6 yrs. If anyone is interested in obtaining a copy of this, please just let me know and I will certainly get you a copy! I realize this is a little hard to read, being so small.

I hope this was useful for everyone. I wanted to thank my brother for taking the time to help a sista out! :)

Jackson's latest - grabbing the clothes of other children, stretch his neck long, staring them in the eyes and yelling at the top of his lungs. Charming! Uncle Brian - gotta anecdote for that one? ;)



chadandnikki said...

This is great. It seems so common sense, the way that your brother says it. Thanks.

HeatherOz said...

Hi April
That was such GREAT information. Now I know why Daisy laughs at me when I tell her "NO! NO!" when she is standing on the humidifier. You'd think after 4 kids I would have figured some of this stuff out! Do you think you could maybe email me that list? (it is a little hard to read. LOL) I would also be very interested in the 18-36 month list as well. My email is Thanks April!

Allison said...

What an excellent post! It was so helpful! I can take that information and use it for both Nathan AND Ella. Nice work.

Holly said...

Thanks for all the great info!! When Kyndra is doing something she's not supposed to or that is dangerous I do use the word no but I also try to explain why she shouldn't be doing those things. I hope that helps her understand!!

Kari @ p.s. said...

Completely want this information! It's hard figuring out how to relate to a child as they grow and figuring out what they can or cannot comprehend yet! Kudos to your bro!

Kyle and Jennie said...


Thank you so much for your sweet comment on my blog! Your blog is so sweet. It it nice to know who is reading your blog.

Nice to meet you too!!


Marsha said...

My sister just sent me to your website...mostly because our websites are very similar ( has been good to both of us, giving us the desires of our hearts :) I would LOVE to have a copy of the 18-36 mo and 3-6 yr charts! I definitely understand completely the difficulty with discipline in parenting. You could email it to me eat Thanks!!