Yes, even Anthony has his moments of "challenging behavior". So what's a parent to do? We have no idea.
At last weekend's Inclusion Conference, I attended a workshop called Behavior and Social Learning in the Early Years. Most of the information in the workshop came from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning, or CSEFEL, at Vanderbilt University. CSEFEL's website has a lot of good info and handouts for parents and teachers. The workshop wasn't specifically geared toward behavior in kids with Down syndrome, but I think the strategies are relevant to any toddler. The presenter, Teacher Tim from Multnomah County Early Intervention, did a great job of conveying the information in a way that was immediately practical.
Here are a some things that stood out for me (and which I took notes on):
Having friends in preschool is a good thing. It is a predictor of success in many areas (and who doesn't want their kid to have friends?). There are ways you can help your child to make friends at this stage.
- Preschool kids who have friends are "play organizers"-- the kid who says, "Lets..."
- Boy example: "Let's play trains." "Okay."
- Girl example: "Let's play train station. You take the tickets and you tell people where to sit. You are the conductor and you have to announce where the stop is. We have to put our suitcase over here. When we get to the station yadda yadda yadda.........................."
- Ideally, a kid should initiate play about 30% of the time. Otherwise, the other kid feels like he has to do all the work in the friendship (Hmmmmm, this doesn't change when we grow up, does it?). You can help your child to learn to initiate play by giving him the words to do so, showing him how, and practicing with him. I see this with Anthony- he really does have to be urged to join in the fun. It's hard since he's not talking yet, but I can think of ways we can encourage him to intitiate play with other kids even without talking.
- Kids who have friends are helpful. Teacher Tim recommended providing opportunities for your child to be helpful. For example, when Mommy comes home from work, Daddy could urge Anthony to help her take her jacket off. You can also role play being by helpful using puppets, etc.
- Kids who have friends also know how to give compliments, understand how and when to give an apology, and are beginning to empathize. These are all things you can model.
- Time outs have become like a punishment-- "Stop [insert undesirable behavior] or you're gonna get a time out!" [direct quote from our neighbors]
- But time outs do not teach or change behavior. They are a tool to be used in the moment to help a child calm down (another word for it can be the "calm down area" or "calm down spot").
- Prevention and anticipation is more effective. We know Anthony is probably going to throw his food off his tray at dinnertime, so instead of giving him a "Time Out" when he does it, we come up with strategies to prevent the behavior before it happens. (Good luck with that!)
- Remain calm when addressing a challenging behavior. Kids (and adults) model others' emotional states. So if we remain calm when Anthony is screaming because he doesn't want his diaper changed, he is more likely to calm down quickly.
- Teaching the concept of "First/Then" is important. For example, "First we will get dressed and then we will listen to music. " Teacher Tim showed how you can use pictures to illustrate the concept. I have started to do this with Anthony: "First we put our shoes on, and then we will go outside"; "First we put our PJs on, and then we will have milk." (But simplify the language for a very young person: "First shoes, then outside." "First PJs, then milk.")
- Very young children do not understand contractions! So when you say, "Don't run." They may hear "Run". Instead, say "Walk."
- Or talk like Data.
- Make sure to acknowledge when your child does follow directions. Many times during the day your child doesn't do what you ask, but when he does, it's important to recognize and praise it: "I said we were going to put our pajamas on and you came into your room! I really liked how you listened to Mommy! Mommy is so proud of you!" Or some such.
- Be specific in your praise: The ubiquitous "Good job!" that we all overuse is inadequate and confusing. Make sure the kids knows what it was that he did well.
Follow these tips and you might get less of this:
Or maybe not.