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Tools to Help Toddlers with RAD

infants and toddlers parenting Oct 25, 2022

Toddlers have meltdowns. Toddler’s with RAD ,Reactive Attachment Disorder, having major meltdowns rather than mini meltdowns. Having some tools to help them to calm makes all the difference. When a toddler gets frustrated and has not yet built frustration tolerance they will express their feelings very loudly with your basic flop and yodel.


How do we help them?

When we have a little one (under 6 years old), with a flop and yodel going on, I like to have them do what we call a “penguin sit”. A penguin sit is when they sit on your feet whether you are standing or sitting.  They face out with their legs folded. If they’re yodeling quite loudly I help them calm by tapping on their shoulders  left-right, left-right, slowly. This helps slow the heart rate that’s obviously racing. Once they calm down, I then reach forward lift their arms and cross them so that their hands are now on their upper arms and have them tap themselves there. This is very calming for the little ones and soon they learn to do it for themselves when they’re upset. It is called butterfly taps.


Another simple but powerful tool

Another tool that we found very helpful is called a “ham sandwich”. We used to call it a hand sandwich but, that was too difficult to say so I shortened it to ham sandwich. When a young child needs to calm just a little (not a full flop and yodel) a parent puts their own left hand, palm up. The little one puts their hands palm down on top of each other in the adult’s hands and then the adult put another hand over the top. This is not a wrestling match! It’s to be supportive. Eye contact can be maintained easier and less fidgeting usually occurs while we’re asking them “What happened?” or what they need or what is making them upset or… We can open up a little bit of dialogue.  We ask, listen, then validate. A big hug is always a part of the process.


More powerful tools for toddlers

Changing their breathing can change their stress level, so getting them to take a big deep breath a playful way works to pop them out of a meltdown ifwe catch it early enough. We can have them hold their pointer finger up and smell it like it’s a rose so they’re inhaling through their nose. Then blow out the candle so they’re exhaling through their mouth.  Sometimes we use “bunny breaths” where they wrinkle their nose up as they sniff in three times with that wrinkled up nose each time and then blow the air out through their mouth. Another fun breathing tool we use is “hot soup”. For this one we put our hand up pretending we have a cup of soup in it and we take a big sniff to discern what kind of soup each of us has. Such as, “I have chicken noodle soup!” and they get to choose what kind of soup they have.  Then I say, “The soup is too hot! We have to blow on it to cool it off!” They began by sniffing in to smell the kind of soup and end by blowing out to cool the soup off.  This can also be done with a plate of imaginary cookies.  “What kind of cookies do you have?  Too hot! Let’s blow them cool! Playful ways to get them to change their breathing and calm down can be so helpful for a little ones.


How do I calm myself?

I found a really great way for me to stay calm when the yodeling is echoing loudly around the room. I watched a movie called March of the Penguins. I highly recommend it! Every time I feel sorry for myself, because I have a screaming child that’s embarrassing me or wearing me out, I think of that movie. Instead of the negative thoughts that I can load myself down with I remember those penguins!  I thank God I am not a penguin that has to march to the sea for six months with no food and if they move their big toe their baby dies! It’s a horrible, horrible life and I don’t have to live it. I have a great life filled with excitement and opportunities for problem-solving because I have a challenging child. Other parents have boring children that comply and are sweet and wonderful all the time. I have a child who gives me challenges and opportunities to advance my parenting skills to help them to become the superstar they were born to be. My life is exciting! I love it!

Keep your sunny side up, Nancy Thomas

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