Performance Improvement Ideas

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"How to use stuffed animals to get to root of child behavior problems."

October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge

Communication with toddlers is sometimes a challenging task. With minimal verbal and cognitive skills, they sometimes seem to be speaking a completely different language.

Toddlers tend to express themselves with body language and vocal tone more than the words themselves. Sometime the words may even just sound like gibberish.

But watch the toddlers playing with other children their own age and your will see that they understand each other perfectly. All that gibberish makes sense to the other two-year-olds.

So if as a parent or a child care provider who is faced with the task of handling a behavior or socialization problem with a toddler, how do you know what they are talking about? How do your learn what is bothering them?

One very effective method we have found in our potty training research is to use a stuffed animal or other simple toy. They toy should be as simple as possible with no moving parts or animation.

I like to use a toy that has no given personality. Don’t use a TV character or one from a book. Use something that will allow full expression of the child’s imagination.

Stuffed animals and bean bag toys are usually best. I prefer soft and cuddly animals, but toy cars and trucks work just as well.

Begin by teaching the desired behavior to the child. Then ask the child to teach the same lesson to the toy.

Observe the style of teaching that the child uses with his toy. You will gain insight into how the child is thinking about the lesson.

Have the child pretend that the toy has just behaved in an unacceptable manner. Notice how the child responds. What corrective action if any does the child take with the toy? How does the child communicate to the toy that the action was inappropriate?

You may observe some uncomfortable interactions between the child and the toy. Don’t stop them immediately, but let them play out to see what may be troubling the child.

Gently lead the child in a positive manner to teach his toy the proper way to act. Let the child show you how he would train his toy to act in the desired manner.

Get feedback from your child about how well the toy is learning the desired behavior. Ask your child what he can do to get his toy to behave better. Follow up on this suggestion with the toy.

Once you have successfully taught the desired behavior to the toy, then use the techniques that worked with the toy on the child. You can even use the toy now as an example of good behavior for the child to model.

There are many variations of this trick that can be used to get insight into the mind of a two-year-old. Use your own imagination to develop new ways of encouraging their imagination. You can get their complete assistance in learning any new behavior pattern by learning how the child thinks.

This communication trick can be used while potty training, solving social interaction problems like biting or hitting or simply teaching toddlers how to wash their hands or share their toys. This tip is one of the tricks taught in our potty training course that you can use in other child development areas.

Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009

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