Okay, I am not able to promise 100% full proof methods for gaining toddler compliance with nonnegotiable tasks. I do, however, have some ideas on the topic, gleaned from 19.5 years of parenting experience, along with the weekly observance of Josh’s speech and occupational therapy sessions. That said, I couldn’t get Josh to drink an electrolyte solution when he had the stomach flu last month. But well, that’s just Josh and food. Hence, the OT sessions. And why food-based rewards don’t work so well (although a M&M for voluntarily getting into his car seat is often a fair trade–only place where M&Ms are allowed). So, avoiding food-based reward systems, here is where I’ve had success in negotiating with a toddler.
1. As a part of Josh’s OT treatment, we’ve had to “brush” Josh (it’s sort of like massage therapy) and compress his joints twice per day for almost a month now (and going forth into the future for a yet-undetermined length of time) Josh began resisting this past week and squirming like crazy to get out of the treatments. To get his willing compliance, I placed some dry beans (as in the legume kind of beans) in a larger plastic Ikea bowl with a cover. I hide a sticker in the beans for him to dig through and find at the completion of each brushing session. So far, this seems to be just the motivation he needs to sit still and allow the brushing and compression. Running one’s hands through dried beans also provides good sensory input to the tips of the fingers.
2. For some reason, Toddler’s often enjoy helping with household chores (trust me, this enthusiasm typically dies by age six or seven). While it may slow parents down to allow them to help, it is still a good thing to do when you can spare the time. And it is amazing how it can even serve as a reward. I often can get Josh to lay still for me while I change his diaper (or some other task that momentarily restricts his freedom), if I tell him that he can help me get the laundry going or help put away the dishes (or “put up” the dishes as Chris says).
3. Hearing aids. People are always amazed that Josh leaves his hearing aids in. It amazes us too but it wasn’t always so. Josh used to pull his hearing aids out as fast as we could put them in. I think it really helped once we decided it was a nonnegotiable, like wearing a hat and mittens in the winter. (Getting ear molds that fit well really helped too). Now the only resistance we sometimes hit is Josh not wanting to put on his hearing aids in the morning or, more common, after a nap. As a solution, I found something he really liked that he couldn’t look at without a parent present. At present, this item consists of some small tools that came with an antique sewing machine that has been in my husband’s family for multiple generations. I keep this box of tools next to Josh’s hearing aids (along with all of the accompanying hearing aid paraphernalia — dry case, ear wax cleaning tools, blower thing, stethoscope-like apparatus for testing the aids etc.). I then allow Josh to look at the tools while I clean and test his aids and put them in. It really helps. And when his aids are in, we have to put the box away until the next time.
4. Sort of the same idea as number three, but I like to keep special art supplies on hand for rare usage. Something other than the run-of-the-mill crayons and markers that are always available for use. For example, I keep some non-toxic, washable stamp pads and alphabet stamps available for negotiating toddler transactions. And so, if I really need Josh to, for example, change his shirt after wearing it for two days straight, I maybe promise the playing of stamps for a while after the clothing change. Please don’t think I am an awful parent. This is what happens with kids with Sensory Processing Disorder–each transition to a new outfit is faced with major opposition. This is why Josh never wears pajamas and just wears the shirt from that day to bed or the shirt for the next day to bed, depending on his bath schedule. And don’t get me started on the bath and hair washing. I am still working on strategies for hair washing and am open to suggestions if you have any.
5. Finally, when all else is failing, I may ask Josh to help me accomplish the same task, with respect to myself, that I am asking him to do. Even if he is already well into a full-blown tantrum demonstrating his opposition to the task at hand, I can often diffuse some of the anxiety energy in him by bringing his attention away from his resistance towards the requested action and onto my own needs. Yes, this is indeed a move from his own ego-based aversion to an outward-focused empathic action. A skill that will serve him well in later life. So, if he is refusing to brush his teeth, I may ask him to help me make my teeth shiny and white. Or on those mornings where he is refusing his coat and jacket (happened at OT’s reception area last week–yes, I was the mom with the two-year old writhing and screaming on the floor), I might tell him I am having trouble getting my own hat on and ask if he can help me. By the time I’ve thanked him profusely for helping me out, he is usually in a much better mood and much more willing to put his own hat on. Amazing how helping others makes one feel better!
By the way, here is Josh’s first photography exhibit. Showing some talent with the camera (iPhone actually), I think.