Monday, January 3, 2011

Curious two year old behavior

Questioner: Carolyn

Subject: Curious two-year-old behavior

Question: For reasons I won't go into, I've not been involved much in the lives of my one- and two-year-old grandsons until fairly recently (three months ago, maybe).

Since that time, however, I've tended my two-year-old grandson very regularly (as in at least five days a week, including overnights) and watched them both on a number of occasions. I have grown very concerned about the well-being of both of them, but especially the two-year-old. He exhibits behavior that I fear may indicate neglect or issues of abandonment.

The first time I had him, I took him to a park with slides. He was so out-of-this-world happy that his whole body was shaking (literally!). The next day, we returned to the park. There were other youngsters playing on the slides this time. My grandson ran up to each of them and just grabbed on to them. He was so happy to see other children. It was as though he wanted them to stay and never go away. If an adult spoke to him in a kind voice, he would grab on to their leg and not let go. This behavior has slowed a bit, but it still happens often enough that I sort of have to grit my teeth when I take him out in public.

Is there anything I can do to stop it or to at least know when it's coming or to know what it's about? It is quite embarrassing for me. The other thing I worry about is that he hits his head really hard and repeatedly (for three or four minutes) on the chair. It looks like it hurts, although the chair is padded. When he was younger, he hit his head this way, but it was on the wall. (I begged my daughter to have him seen and evaluated for this, but she refuses.) There are a good many other concerns I have (the older one is below the 10th percentile in weight and he has severe eczema that has gone untreated, for example), but I don't think they can be asked about here.

I so worry about the little guys. Anyway, if you can offer any thoughts or suggestions, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Answer: Dear Carolyn:

Strained relationships with the parents always cause severe problems when it comes to doing what is best for the children. I am sorry the communication is not better. I cannot understand a parent not being concerned enough to have a child evaluated. Sometimes parents feel embarrassed, shamed or fearful of professionals.

Hopefully it is not because there is something to hide.

As for what you can do. Sounds like he needs to be hugged, touched and reassured quite abit beforehand and even during. Do not be embarrassed about displaying emotions his or yours. He is better off being real with you and with others.

Have you considered doing massage with him before you take him out into public? Sometimes we all crave touch and it certainly feels good!

I also suggest going to the bookstore and finding children's books on appropriate behaviors to read to him. It will help to socialize him. As well as finding "feeling" books and charts to support him in identifying his feelings. There are even children's games you can find to play.

As for setting boundaries. Explain to them that you have 3 rules they must abide by when they are with grandma. They may not hurt themselves, they may not hurt others and they may not destroy things. (Children do best when there are fewer rules and these 3 cover most all inappropriate behavior).

When your grandson tries to head bang you need to tell him to stop it immediately. He may not hurt himself. When they are acting out (unless they are being harmful to themselves or someone else) choose to disengage. No eye contact, no responding, no acknowledging. Ignore bad behavior and respond to them when that behavior has stopped. When they are behaving appropriately, give them plenty of eye contact, smiles and approval. Realize it takes a while for this to work and the behavior may get worse before it gets better.

Also, work on yourself. Figure out why public displays of affection bother you. If the people he hugs do not mind why do you find this behavior embarrassing. Most adults are perfectly happy to be hugged by a child and those who are not will let him know.

In strained situations I often advise grandparents to focus on what they can do in the time they spend with the grandchildren. Research shows grandparents do make a difference and sometimes children realize what reality is by the standards and experiences they have when they are with their grandparents.

Every child is fortunate to have as many people as they can to love them and care about them. They are fortunate that you are so concerned about them and asking questions on what is best for them!

Best Wishes!

M Kay Keller

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