As you may or may not know, the process we use, the structure we focus on, is really aimed at children 2 to 6 years old.
This is because we focus so much on skill-building, self-regulation, and critical thinking…and before the age of two children’s executive functions haven’t begun developing, they still really need to CO-regulate most of the time, and critical thinking isn’t really possible yet. They’re more at the cause and effect stage.
To be fair, most people don’t need Uncommon Sense Parenting before the age of two because kids before the age of two don’t generally have behavioral struggles!
However, I get a lot of questions from parents who recognize that basically every child will need to work on these skills, and they want to jump in and start working on them right away! At least once a week I get an email from a parent of a young child asking me when the earliest they can register for ParentAbility is, because they want that support, they want to build these skills from the ground up vs having to go back and remediate them in one or two-plus years.
I applaud that!
It is so much easier to raise strong children than to go back and fix what’s broken.
That said, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse.
In that space between one and two years there are so many developmental leaps and changes that happen, and just like academic creep meaning focusing on academics before children are developmentally ready for them. It’s possible to have skill creep too.
Here are some starting points for parents who have children under 2 years old who are chomping at the bit, and want to get started with Uncommon Sense Parenting now so that they’re ready to join ParentAbility and start skill building when their little one hits two.
1. GET A TIME TIMER
Get yourself a time timer and start using this as early as 8-9 months old. Get into the habit of using it with your child.
If you want a review on how to use it, check out this blog on the Time Timer.
I strongly feel that introducing a visual timer specifically, not just any old-timer, a visual one, as early as possible, is one of the best gifts you can give your children. If you don’t have a baby anymore and you’re looking for a great shower gift. It’s my go-to along with a pack of Depends.
I’m never the most popular gift-giver at the party, but the recipient always calls me later, generally crying, thanking me for my forethought. We want our kids to have an almost Pavlovic response to the time timer. We want the beep beep that it makes to mean something to them. We want them to understand that it indicates a transition.
When you introduce a time-timer to a 2+ year old, there’s always a bit of a “breaking in” period where you have to actively teach that child to trust the timer. There’s usually some resistance to it. However, when we introduce it to a baby- they have no resistance to it! This means that it’s a lot easier to teach them to trust it, and it’s a much more passive process. You can kind of just start to use it and refer to it without having to explain anything because babies just take new things at face value.
Everything is new to them.
You can set it you’re getting ready to go somewhere. Set it while you’re showering or doing your makeup so they can see how long it’ll take you. The bonus is that it keeps you on track.
I am chronically late…my friend’s joke that I am incapable of being on time. I’m either 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late. When I use a time timer for things like showering, doing my makeup, and getting out the door, I’m much better at staying on track. I often set one before the MudRoom on Tuesdays so that I don’t get caught up messing with my hair or something.
Any time you tell them “we can do that in 5 minutes”…set the timer.
If Grandma and Grandpa are coming over in an hour set the timer. It makes time so much more concrete for them. And then by the time they’re 2- this isn’t a new thing, it’s not something to rebel against, they inherently understand what it means and to pay attention to it, and therefore it’s a much easier tool to use. You should introduce a visual timer as early as possible.
2. Controlled Choices
Controlled Choices are when you give a child two options that are both equally acceptable and available to them. You might start this with babies by giving them choices of what shirt they’re wearing by holding two up they might not be able to say “I want that one”…but they can point, you can follow their eye gaze. If they’re looking at one vs the other.
Same with babies who are starting to eat solid foods give them an option of which spoon they get or which color bowl they use because EVERYBODY knows that once they turn 18 months they’re going to start having very active opinions on those things.
You might as well establish now, that they get two choices and can pick between those two things.
Again, it gets them used to the concept that there are two available choices and gives them agency over small aspects of their lives.
Then around 14 months, you’re going to transition to using the full Logical Consequence Process of which controlled choices are an aspect. You’re going to start engaging them in more active collaborative problem solving and seeking their input more actively. Again, they won’t be able to verbally participate in the process, but you can watch their actions, they can point, they can demonstrate what they want to do. Just because a child can’t talk doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating. Again, this eliminates the “breaking in” period that exists when we suddenly introduce this way of dealing with misbehavior at age 2.
Generally, when my clients come into ParentAbility and we switch the focus to skill-building and they stop being so authoritarian, it produces an extinction burst. And then they have to weather that before they can really get down to skill-building.
Introducing this process really early, even if you have to do the whole process all the time really eliminates that transition period.
3. Facilitate Communication
Expressive communication is generally a year behind the development of receptive language. This means they can understand and think much more complex thoughts than they can necessarily make come out of their mouth verbally.
As someone who has taught my own sons to sign, and worked with a tonne of other young children who sign, it’s actually really amazing how complex the thoughts are that young children have. They just can’t communicate with them.
One of the biggest gifts you can give your child is a way to communicate with you that doesn’t rely on verbal words.
Whenever I talk about this, a lot of parents get kind of squirrelly because they think that giving their child a way to communicate non-verbally, that it’ll delay their verbal language. And there’s NO evidence that that’s the case. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite- children who know that they’ll be understood with or without verbal words are much more likely to try to talk earlier because there’s a lot less pressure.
How can we do this? With Sign Language and visuals.
Signing Time by Rachel Coleman is, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing in the whole wide world. My kids still love them even though they now refuse to sign. Watch them with your kids!
The Baby Signing Time series is fantastic for those basic signs you need for babies. Use them, hand over hand teach them.
At 15 months, my oldest was signing basic sentences. “Mommy, hungry.” “Mommy, go away, playing.” “Mama where Daddy?” “Mama, stay, me go outside.” It just made every day so much less of a struggle.
We also had visuals so he could- again- make those controlled choices about his food, or which park we were going to go to, or if he wanted me to get the car toys or the blocks out for him.
No development can be achieved without communication! Facilitate that!
It’ll make it so much easier once they turn 2 and suddenly they go through this massive developmental leap and suddenly executive functions are wiring up.
4. Independent Play
This shouldn’t be a surprise unless you are new around here.
From the moment they’re sitting unassisted, do not be in their face all the time entertaining them!
Start the process of setting them up in a safe environment with some toys and walking away doesn’t have to be far away but out of their line of sight.
Start getting them comfortable with exploring toys without you. Without always being able to see you. If they cry, pop your head back in and smile, reassure them, and then go back to what you were doing.
It’s a lot easier to establish this when everything is new and novel and they can get absorbed in watching how the light makes patterns on the ceiling when the blinds are closed than when they’re 2 and trying to use increasingly complex toys and tools. It’s also a lot easier to make them feel safe at 8 months than it is at 2 years.
If you can get 8-month-old comfortable with being by themselves when you’re around but not right beside them, then it’s a lot easier to maintain that and gradually lengthen it out as they get older.
By 2 we’re hoping that they can go 30 minutes to an hour of independent play. If we start that process at 10 minutes when they’re 8 months old, we’ve got a lot more lead time to work up to that.
The pressure is very much reduced.
Same with independent sleep, we want our children to feel safe sleeping in their own space from an early age because that means there’s basically no pushback when they’re a bit older. It gives us a lot more lead time so that it’s not suddenly that they’re 3 and we’re so past sleep deprived that we snap and have to impose some firm boundaries suddenly. It can be a much more gradual process and even then often they don’t need that process because they feel secure and safe without someone beside them all the time. Start that process when they’re babies.
If you can do those 4 things: introduce the timer, use controlled choices, facilitate communication, and teach them that they’re safe by themselves by the time they turn 2 and we’re ready to start working on skill-building and self-regulation, and critical thinking. There’s literally no remedial work to do. You’re not trying to teach self-monitoring and teaching them to trust the timer.
You can’t try to teach emotional control and verbal communication. You’re not trying to teach organization and controlled choices. You’re not trying to teach independent play and self-regulation. It spreads all that over the first two years of their life so that all they need to focus on once they turn two is building those skills and honing them.
If you have a child under the age of 2 I’d love to know which of these you’re going to be focusing on more in your day-to-day life. Can you see where you can make some tweaks that will really set your little one up for success and make sure that you’re ready to join us in ParentAbility once they hit that 2nd birthday mark?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and continue the conversation in the Parenting Posse. If you aren’t a member yet- the link is in the description and we’d be thrilled to have you! We have over 7 thousand members who are all working towards the same goal of well-behaved kids.