Teaching Coping Skills To My Toddler

17 months.

I’ve heard several fellow critics of medicating kids for ADHD say that those children never really learn to cope with their problems; therefore explaining why 23% of the 6 million plus children currently on these untested-yet-FDA-approved psychiatric drugs go on to test positive as bipolar.

Actually, I never really thought of it before, but yes, at some point a child needs to learn coping skills. But how and when?

Leave it to me, Mr. Overkill, but for the past couple of weeks now, I’ve been deliberately teaching “coping skills” to my 17 month-old toddler.

My son Jack is in a stage now where he is testing me on whether I will help him when he doesn’t actually need my help.

For example, he will roll his Hot Wheels car underneath the couch where he can still reach it, but he will whine and look at me, as if I should save the day. He hears the same thing from me each time:

“Son, use your coping skills. You can reach it.”

Similarly, I recently helped Jack harness his bravest coping skills to learn how to pull himself up on our coffee table. It’s now a new hang-out spot; along with the fridge.

Other times, he whines about something neither he nor I can control. Like when I’m driving him home and he drops his book on the floor.

“Son, use your coping skills. There is nothing we can do about your toy until we get home.”

The simplicity of what I am hoping to teach him is this: I will help you unless A) you can figure out a way to deal with it yourself or B) it’s something no one can control.

I guess ultimately, my “coping skills” concept is a blatant rip-off of the famous Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

If you are familiar with The Dadabase, then you know I am a huge advocate of letting your infant “cry it out” in order to sleep through the night. While Jack has been sleeping through the night for the past 10 months of his 17 month long life, he still tests me during his weekend naps.

You guessed it: I say it all comes down to coping skills.

“Son, use your coping skills. I’ve wrapped you up in this blanket and held you for a minute. You’re very tired and you know you need sleep. I’m setting you down in your bed now and you’re going to learn to fall asleep on your own.”

He “copes” for about 5 minutes then he’s asleep.

My son will experience a life full of “no’s.” Whether it’s me, his friends, his teachers, future employers, and even God Himself.

I know this because at age 31, I’m still struggling with my own coping skills.

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  1. by Jenny

    On April 25, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Well written Nick. We need to encourage our children early in their development that they CAN problem solve and we will cheer them on. These early years, when they are sponges for learning, is what sets them up for life. Dr. David Walsh has written some great books, I highly recommend, ‘Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids.’ and his books about media wise kids are good as well.

  2. by Nick Shell

    On April 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks Jenny! I want to read that book now!

  3. by Joe

    On April 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Hi Nick,

    Not to once again be a thorn in your side, but I’m curious as to why you’re an advocate of the ‘cry it out’ method. Also, what age did you start training him?

  4. by Nick Shell

    On April 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Joe,

    Seven months, but I wish I would have started by three months. I’m hard-core “cry it out.” It’s funny you ask because I have already been planning a Dadvice post on this. -Nick

  5. by Joe

    On April 27, 2012 at 11:49 pm

  6. by Nick Shell

    On April 27, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    I think it’s good reading material for parents out there who feel more comfortable not letting their kid cry it out. However, I personally completely disagree with it; in particular because I think it keeps a kid from the structure and early discipline they crave. I am interested to know your thoughts on medicating young children for ADHD.

  7. by Joe

    On April 28, 2012 at 8:16 am

    As my wife just said after reading you last comment, “there’s a difference between consistency and discipline and just letting your kid cry it out.” We practice what is commonly called ‘attachment parenting’, and our son is not a structureless, undisciplined kid.

    Sleep is something that should be restful and comforting, and not a stressful power struggle. The bottom line is that we’re just beginning to uncover the psychology between stress in early life and psychological problems down the line.

    For example: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out


    When my wife was a nanny, she was asked to practice the cry-it-out method outlined in “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Children”, and we were horrified to see in the FAQ section a question about whether or not to wake up a sleeping child who had ‘cried it out’ to the point of passing out in their own vomit from stress. The author’s advice was to let the child sleep in it. It’s that important to the author to not let your child ‘win’. I can’t get behind that.

    In response to your second question, I’ve always been skeptical of overmedicating kids for ADHD, especially young kids. I’m under the opinion that if we reduce the amount unnatural stuff we subject our children to, the factors that lead to ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms would decrease as well. Aside from that, I think kids are designed to be little dynamos of energy, and that we try to put too much ‘structure and early discipline’ on our kids instead of letting them just be themselves.

  8. by Nick Shell

    On April 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I have yet to be convinced that crying it out leads to psychological problems later in life; as opposed to another method. Prisons will be full either way. People will make destructive decisions either way. But still, I think it comes down to learning to cope. But interestingly, I personally plan not to spank my child if I don’t have to. I don’t know if you’ve read my post on spanking. After you read it, I’m curious to know your thoughts on it. I figured we’d agree on the ADHD medication issue. At least we have that.

  9. by Joe

    On April 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Indeed we do. My worry, though, is that you seem to keep using words like ‘i think’ and ‘i feel’…not just with this discussion but with our previous discussions as well. Did you get a chance to read any of the studies that I posted? What do you think about them? My viewpoints come from personal convictions backed up by evidence-based science. It’s ok to feel something or to believe something, but just as it is in Christianity, we have to be able to back up what we believe with informed, accurate, verifiable reasoning. Do you have hard evidence that ‘crying it out’ is not harmful? If so, please share it with me.

    Once again, I’m challenging your viewpoints not to be a pain in your butt, but I feel that I have been really, truly convicted to share what I’ve learned to others, in particular, with other Christian dads. I feel called to change our culture, one person at a time. I appreciate your willingness to discuss this stuff with me.

    …oh, and we don’t *just* have the viewpoint on ADD in common…I don’t believe in spanking either. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll recognize even more common ground. ;-)