There are many ways we can tackle this situation. Today we want to address two different ways, teaching the language “mad” and “no”.
Sometimes it is difficult for our children to say “NO!”, “NO that is my toy”, “mad” or “I feel mad” so in turn, they use what they can to show their feelings by pushing, hitting, screaming, crying and even biting! So it is our job to teach them what these words mean and how to use them. As always, use a visual picture symbol! Carry the pictures of “no” and “mad” with you everywhere you go: in the car, in your pants pocket, in your purse, in the kitchen, in the play room, etc. – have lots of copies and put them everywhere. Know that these pictures are not magic. Your child is not going to see the “mad” picture for the first time and calm down right away and say “mad” -- but that is the goal and it will work.
Start by setting up situations at home (your child’s familiar environment) where they can become mad. For instance, take that favorite toy away, give them the wrong juice cup, etc. When they become “mad”, place the “mad” picture symbol next to them, point to it and say “mad”. Your child may not even look at the picture the first time – that is okay. Continue doing this and they will slowly look at the picture, calm and even say “mad”. Remember, this will be different for each child. It may take your child days, weeks or even months to do this. But look for all progress, even the smallest progress: he looks at the picture more, she calms faster, he lets me hug him now when he is mad, she doesn’t throw herself on the floor anymore, etc. Once your child can look at the picture, calm and say “mad” after you show them the picture, point to it, and say mad…..then it is time to make it harder. Now show them the picture and point to it but pause and try to let them say “mad” first. At the same time you always want to be doing the same things in all other environments (school, therapies, out and about running errands, Grandma’s house, etc.). It is important to always be consistent. But remember that it will be harder for your child to calm and use mad outside of their familiar environment – this is why it is important to create “mad” opportunities so that you can work on it in every environment and work towards generalization.
While working on “NO”, you want to do the same thing as you did/do for “mad”. Start by setting up situations at home (their familiar environment) where they can use “no”: take the toy away, give them the wrong juice cup, etc. When they become “mad”, place the “no” picture symbol next to them, point to it and say “no” and then give them back the toy/object immediately. We want them to learn that their words and feelings count and that they can affect someone else’s’ actions. Remember, your child may not even look at the picture the first time – that is okay. Continue doing this and they will slowly look at the picture, calm and even say “no”. Once again this will be different for each child. It may take your child days, weeks or even months to do this….but look for all progress. Just like “mad”, it is important to work on “no” within all your environments, all at the same time.
You can work on “mad” and “no” one at a time or both at the same time. These words can even help your child understand the other. For example, if they have a better understanding of “mad” than “no”, then pair them together using visuals and words. So if you take the toy away and they become upset, you can place both pictures down, point to them both and say “No” pause “Mad” and then give the toy back. Now you are using one their strengths (their understanding of “mad”) to help them with a weakness (the difficulty in understanding “no”).
As always remember to go slow, use visuals, work on this skill in all of their environments and change up their routine once they understand!
Laura and Amanda