There’s a reason they call it the Terrible Twos, but Marijke Kershaw’s little girl Frieda was displaying some particularly boisterous behaviour that was gaining her a reputation as the toughest tot on the block at playdates. "Trouble starts to brew when she gets overexcited (which is often) or if a person does not want to do what she tells them or spurns her affections," explains Marijke. "She is then known to hit, bite, kick, pinch or sit on them. The last two playdates we went to ended with us leaving early because of Frieda’s behaviour."
While tricky behaviour and lack of impulse control is all part and parcel of being a toddler, we wanted to help Marijke find a way to parent her passionate and strong-willed little girl in a way that would limit her more aggressive actions, without breaking her spirit. We heard that South African parenting educator Andalene Salvesen (aka Supergranny) was in town, and asked if she thought she could help – she said she could.
While there are many schools of thought on how to handle tricky toddler behaviour, the Supergranny approach would probably best be described as "tough love", and it’s definitely not for every family. However, New Zealander trainer and facilitator Marijke thought that she and her daughter were up for the challenge – so we sent Supergranny over to their house on The Palm for a home visit and a bit of advice. Here’s what happened…
"My daughter is a very loving and rambunctious character. She certainly knows what she wants and quite often will not take no for an answer. She is quite friendly and affectionate, but can be a little too assertive sometimes.
"She is currently obsessed with the colour pink and needs to be dressed head to toe in it. She has worn the same pink princess tutu outfit for over two weeks now and when I insist it needs to be cleaned she refuses to wear any other clothes, opting to be naked instead.
"From the moment Frieda wakes up she is all action. She enjoys using her parents as climbing gyms, jumping off couches and climbing up on to benches. The going joke amongst friends is that her WWE wrestler name would be Frieda ‘The Hug’ Bell as she gives a lot of love aggressively, normally knocking over the recipient. I describe her as an ‘alpha toddler’. She plays well with other children – as long as they do what she tells them or is happy to receive her love. Trouble starts if a person does not want to do what she tells them – she will hit adults and children, especially when overexcited; it’s like the energy is too much for her.
"My biggest concern is definitely the overly assertive and aggressive behaviour, as she is getting a bit of a reputation. When I’m at a playdate with a lot of other children I struggle to relax due to worrying that every cry has been caused by Frieda.
"Although she has been this rambunctious and strong-willed from the beginning, I believe it has stepped up a gear since Nico was born. We can’t leave Nico to play in the rocker or mat by himself as Frieda will want to give him aggressive hugs. When we try to stop her she will often lash out and try to hit or pinch him. A few days ago she was playing peekaboo with him and giving him kisses – it was a really sweet moment. And then out of the blue she bit him on the face. I don’t believe she has any idea why she did it!"
The strategy so far…
"We have been trying to manage Frieda’s behaviour through time-outs. After the time-out she will need to apologise specifically for what she has done. She gets the concept and will actually role-play time-outs, pretending one of her dolls has hit another doll and putting them in a time-out. I find that it works on the short-term behaviour but has not changed her long-term behaviour. When at playdates or birthdays we will give her three warnings and then leave the party. I am not sure if she gets the three-warning thing!"
Hopes for the session
"I would like to learn some techniques and language that we can use with Frieda when she is over excited. Also some guidance on what we are doing as parents, as we have no clue and are making it up as we go along! I want ways to parent Frieda that don’t break her spirit."
AFTER THE SESSION
The home visit
"It was an amazing and emotional experience. Andalene (aka Supergranny) came to our house to observe Frieda in her home environment. She made Frieda feel at ease right from the very beginning. We spent a bit of time chatting about Frieda and observing how she interacted. Frieda was overexcited and showing off to Andalene and it wasn’t long before she was playing up to get attention. It was at this point Supergranny asked if we wanted to start the training. She told us exactly what was going to happen and the psychology behind it. We learnt how to do effective time outs that worked specifically for Frieda’s personality.
"The tough part was teaching Frieda that we were serious about time-outs. If Frieda did not follow our instructions to stand up, stop crying and go play in her play area, we told her she was not listening and she went straight back to time-out. It took around 40 minutes for Frieda to follow the instructions and there were a lot of tears from Frieda and a few from me! However, Supergranny was beside us the whole time, letting us know that it was normal and it was going to be OK.
"You have to be ready for some tough emotions – it was very hard to see my child crying for 40 minutes, but after Frieda followed the instructions and was allowed out of her time-out the difference was truly amazing! She happily played in her play area as if the last 40 minutes of crying and discipline had never happened. She then played happily by herself while we made dinner, which she had never done before. We all ate dinner together and Frieda was an absolute joy. She ate all her food and happily tried new vegetables that we thought she did not like. Supergranny gave us advice about getting Frieda to try new foods and making sure we eat as a family. Before this we used to feed Frieda, get her to bed, and then eat a different meal together as a couple. Putting Frieda to bed used to be a struggle as she’d refuse to brush her teeth, cry out and make us come in multiple times before settling. Post our training session, Frieda allowed us to brush her teeth, we then read one story, kissed her good night and she went to sleep. It really was amazing!"
"Supergranny’s advice was all very logical, and it made us feel more confident as parents. We were doing a lot of things right, which was nice to know. The actual training was hard emotionally, but seeing how Frieda bounced back and was unaffected by it helped to alleviate our anguish.
"The biggest take away for us was the need to tell Frieda what to do instead of asking her. We used to ask: ‘Do you want to have a bath?’; ‘Do you want to have lunch?’ If she said no, then we would make her bath or eat anyway. These questions needed to be rephrased into instructions rather than questions. It was amazing to notice how many questions we asked Frieda, which can be quite overwhelming for a two year old.
"Another takeaway was to always show a united front as parents. Even if you believe your partner is parenting in the wrong way, you need to back them up in front of the children and then discuss it later."
"We have put a lot of Supergranny’s advice into practice. Time-outs have changed Frieda’s behaviour for the better and mean that we don’t get to breaking point and yell nearly as often. She is still her sassy confident self, however now we have the tools to manage her behaviour if it gets out of hand. Following our session Frieda is just a lot more manageable. We would definitely do a session again as there will be new development milestones that will mean a new discipline approach is needed."
What Supergranny says...
Handling boisterous behaviour
Andalene Salvesen, aka Supergranny says: "Marijke and her family are what I tend to find in most homes – good parents who do not have enough tools in their toolbox to deal with parenting. As Maslow said, if you only have a hammer in your toolbox you treat everything as a nail...
"Boisterous children can be controlled so that their more lively behaviour is at appropriate times and places, when there are boundaries in place. Sometimes boisterous behaviour is because of their diet, often too much sugar – especially hidden sugars, like flavoured yoghurt and fruit juices or too much fruit. Often extroverts are more boisterous than introverts, although your more expressive introverts can also be boisterous in their own environments.
"Boisterous behaviour is only OK if it happens with the parents’ permission. However, often parents do not know how to curb the behaviour age-appropriately and therefore try ineffective methods like ignoring, shaming, shouting, bribing, and threatening. But although these methods sometimes have short-term effect, they do not contribute to long-term behaviour change.
"It’s important to note that boisterousness and aggression are two different things. Aggression is usually because of four main elements:
1. A bad example (parents losing control and hitting a child in anger)
2. A sensory processing disorder, so they are seeking sensory input and tend to bump into or push other children to get that input
3. Too much sugar in their diet
4. No consistent consequences
"Children cannot be controlled or ‘told what to do’ in public if they are not taught how to handle themselves at home first. I believe it all starts with good listening skills at home, and that is where we started on this home visit as well. These basic listening skills are important for and will feed into most most other areas of behaviour, like eating, sleep, aggression, tantrums and so on.
and if you have an 'alpha toddler', here's what to do
• Try to be as consistent as possible. Work out what are time-out offences for you as a family and don’t let them slide. If you say you are going to do something then follow through; no hollow threats
• Eat evening meals together as a family
• Don’t ask questions if you know you want your child to do something
• It’s important to focus on your child’s listening and praise them when they listen well