January 29, 2019 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My two children, 2.5 and 3.5 year old boys, have sensory issues and we are in therapy but one thing that is making life VERY difficult is their need to touch EVERYHTING, ALL THE TIME. It doesn't matter if I tell them to stop. It doesn't matter if we discuss before going in to a shop or office reception- when we get in they are touching and grabbing everything. It's better but not good when they are separate. What to do!?

Sometimes this is probably normal, when they see something they want- but it goes for everything. Light switches, door handles, opening things, sticking their hands in a fish bowl, touching houseplants, punching buttons on the microwave, opening and shutting the fridge, opening drawers... ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. ALL THE TIME. Sometimes its particularly bad and by the end of a bad day I am so frazzled. I got access to a course online by a very nice mefite but at the moment I only have 7.5 gb a month internet so haven't felt confident to finish that. I am reading books and searching online but this particular problem I haven't found any good advice. I KNOW this is what young children do, but I don't feel I am making any headway on teaching them not to do it or teaching them what TO DO. I am exhausted.

I have made some positive changes since my last ask- we are now in a smaller suburban setting where life isn't so challenging and my older son is in a preschool he likes- and I am much happier... so the actual meltdown behavior is now much less often and we are able to live life quite nicely but it would be nice to be able to deal with paying a bill at reception without my child smashing the vertical blinds and pulling one out, and I would eventually like to let them out of the shopping cart.
posted by catspajammies to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh jeez, this sounds pretty overwhelming! It sounds like at home it's annoying but not dangerous or problematic for others. But in public, I wonder whether you could provide something interesting to keep their hands busy? Like a grab bag of sensory toys (link is to one store but there are many) for them to pull from? Or, alternatively, give them Important Things to hold for momma?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:33 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]

from what i've observed of friends kids, this is just how kids that age are. alas. perhaps get them some fidgets to occupy themselves with? have a stash on hand, so each time you give them one, it is like a brand! new! toy!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:35 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]

It doesn't matter if we discuss before going in to a shop or office reception

(father of an autistic teenager that still obsesses over touching things)

I was going to make the above point, so it's good that you've been thinking that way. I would suggest, though, that you actually double-down on pre- and post-gaming interactions and trying alternative strategies. It's not enough to say, "when we go inside, no touching!" I suggest making it a game with a reward, role-playing interactions at home, and reviewing positive experiences immediately after they occur (i.e. when you leave the shop). You could even try diversionary tactics with this, such as handing the kids a toy to carry throughout the store or in the office, and role-playing how they can hold the toy and keep their hands to themselves. Another idea is role-playing how to ask for permission to touch appropriate things.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:40 AM on January 29 [25 favorites]

One thing that we found to be so incredibly important at that age is to praise even partial successes. Like, your kid touched 999,999 things in the store but you saw him stop before he touched the millionth one? PRAISE IT.

Another thing we did (and still do a little) is try really hard to have Team Mom And Kid versus The Problem, rather than Mom vs kid, who is also pissed because the whole world is against him. So when he got mad about bedtime, we both scolded the clock. When he got mad because food kept falling off his spoon we both voiced our frustration with the spoon.

So here's an example script: try and make it you + kid vs THE HANDS. Before you go into the store, say, OK kid, THESE HANDS HERE, THESE SILLY HANDS keep touching things, and they don't listen. It's like they don't even have EARS. But today, we have a special mission. OUR MISSION is to keep these hands on this toy. (Hand them some kind of toy with lots of sensory input; a tangle or a Koosh or a multi textured stuffed animal). You think we can do that?

Then in the when the kid inevitably sticks his hand in a fishbowl, you gasp and say, "OH NO, KID, LOOK WHAT YOUR HAND IS DOING. Hand, you get out of that fishbowl right now! And look at your kid and say, conspiratorially, something like, "Hands, kid, sometimes they just don't listen. Now remember, when that hand starts to sneak off on you, you tell it to get back on the toy, ok??" And when he does succeed, praise his hands effusively but also with a little conspiratorial giggle that lets him know you're really praising him, we're just all pretending that it's directed at the hands.

This sounds kinda dumb and it's not for everybody. But reframing it so it's not adversarial between you and kid, it's you and kid working together to solve a problem, can make SO much difference in their willingness to cooperate. (Also finding humor in frustrating situations helps me cope, so that helps too.)

posted by telepanda at 12:09 PM on January 29 [104 favorites]

This may also be a scenario to employ incentives, which is not the same as bribes.

A bribe is: If you stop screaming I will give you a cookie.
An incentive is: If you can go the whole supermarket trip without screaming, you may have a cookie when we get home.

An incentive is an extra boost for a kid to engage in a good behavior; it doesn't give them any reason to engage in a bad behavior (whereas with the bribe they learn that screaming -> cookie)

Set the bar low to start with, really really low (you kept your hands on the toy for a whole minute! You earned a skittle!), and if they start to develop the skill then you can gradually raise it up.
posted by telepanda at 12:14 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]

If the function of the behavior is sensory seeking, talking about it with them beforehand won’t do much, especially at this age. You have to remove access, and give them some of the sensory input they are craving. So shopping cart and stroller, along with something they can each hold and play with. It’s not perfect because it won’t replace all of the novel things they can see out and about but it will help. My six year old is still in a cart frequently, I feel your pain. If you haven’t already get the book Out of Sync Child. Feel free to memail me for venting, ideas, etc. This is so hard and no, it’s not what every child does. I mean yes, but much much more extreme.
posted by JenMarie at 12:22 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

Could it help to give them something to hold in their hands? It might be challenging to find something that doesn't make annoying noise... a string of interesting beads? Something fuzzy?
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:42 PM on January 29

There are some good ideas above. Here is a brief example of another behavior strategy (DRL):

What you need:

One kid (both kids can be there, but do this with only one kid to start.)

Cheap kid stickers you can put on the kid's forearm sleeve.

A highly-desired kid item that you can give immediately give to the kid and that only you have access to (new small toy. favorite food item, chance to play a game on your phone, etc.)

Do this: (starting at home first to practice)

Watch The Kid for three minutes during free time and count how many things they touch.

Call the The Kid over and say, "We're going to play a game." Put a sticker on their forearm, sleeve or chest (where they can see it) for each touch The Kid did in the three minutes. Then add three stickers.

Tell them, "I am going to set a timer for three minutes. Each time you touch something I will take a sticker off of you. If you have any stickers at the end of three minutes, you can have this (show highly desired item.)" Ask them to tell you the rules you just said (as best they can.)

Start the timer and see if they have any stickers left at the end of three minutes. If they have even one sticker, they get THE THING THEY WANT!

Once The Kid can do less than X number of touches per time period or activity (a short shop visit) reduce the number of stickers by one for the next time. The idea is that instead of trying to completely stop the behavior, you are trying to lower the rate of the behavior (stopping it can come over time) They still get to do some touching but not EVERYTHING.

If The Kid resists taking the stickers off of them, put the stickers on your arm. Or put coins on table, or sticky notes on a wall. Over time you can fade the stickers to a countdown, "When we go in this shop you get six touches and if you have one touch left when we leave you can have (THING YOU HAVE IN YOUR POCKET NOW THAT THE KID REALLY WANTS.)"

Always do the count or sticker/coin removal with no emotion. You can say, "That is a touch, look at how many you have left." or state, "Remember, if you have any stickers left, you get THE THING when the timer goes off/we go outside the shop door." But in the calmest voice you can - it's just business.

The reasons for doing just one kid to start is, 1. one kid is easier than two; 2. the other kid can observe and learn; 3. Sibling rivalry to get THE THING can be your very good teaching friend (down the line you could do ONE THING for TWO KIDS - most stickers left gets THE THING or do THE REALLY GOOD THING and THE OK THING based on who has the most stickers left.

So that's a thing.

DRL = Differential Reinforcement of Low/Lesser Rates of Behavior.
posted by ITravelMontana at 1:11 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]

We would put ours in their stroller strapped in so they could not be too mobile in these sorts of situations. Also, to the extent you can hold one or both on your lap and physically restrain them from getting up to go touch things, it might relieve you of some stress.
posted by AugustWest at 1:13 PM on January 29

My One Weird Parenting Trick for this is probably counterintuitive but I swear it worked like a charm for my particular toddler: the One Finger Rule. Instead of NO TOUCHING THE [ORNAMENT/DISPLAY/BLINDS/WHATEVER], he was allowed to touch gently with one finger only.* Sounds insane, but even at age 2 he was surprisingly receptive to this nuance/boundary with minimal reminders, and something about being able to touch a thing a little bit seemed to short circuit the MUST GRAB ALL THE THINGS process in his brain.

*Obviously this doesn't work for power outlets and hot stoves, but also the fact that he was able to touch other, safer things via the One Finger Rule seemed to make these things less seductive as well.
posted by somanyamys at 1:49 PM on January 29 [23 favorites]

I hold both her hands directly in places like the glass display at Ikea. It's just too much temptation for her self control even at 7. Those awful squishy toys are a godsend for this as an alternative. With two kids, I would have them hold onto your clothes and each other, chain style. Think about a child leash. I got dirty looks, but I also didn't have to constantly chase a curious child through a mall and pay for damaged items like the giant mirror she smashed in a window display when my back was turned for two damn minutes. You have my total sympathy, two is just thoroughly staggering. Keep them in a stroller with toys and an iPad for short trips if you can to survive this.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:14 PM on January 29

I only have one kid. But he’s almost three and yes, very high energy and curious about everything. I put him in a toddler-sized baby carrier on my back. This keeps me vaguely sane.
He’s getting heavier these days and it is getting harder. But he doesn’t hate the carrier and I can do things like go grocery shopping without having to pick up the million things that would end up on the floor or chase him down aisles or wrestle him constantly back into the cart.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:17 PM on January 29

Thank you for all your answers so far :-) I’ve bought some fidget toys on amazon! Will practice the different techniques from travelmontana and Telepanda!

Unfortunately my older boy doesn’t fit into any stroller now- he’s very tall and 45 pounds. And if he’s not in one then the littler one won’t want to be either :-(
posted by catspajammies at 2:46 PM on January 29

First of all: THIS IS NORMAL -- kids do that at that age, its part of their natural development and the most important thing for you to do is accept it is like that.
But, you also need to teach them to stop doing it. That is what parenting is about. Accepting that something is normal and age-appropriate is not the same as accepting that behaviour for ever. I didn't realize this with my no. 1 but I had a bit more age difference than you between my two, and a lot more before I became a relief parent for two great kids.
I usually chant: see with your eyes, not with your hands. It becomes a bit of a joke, but a serious joke. And I repeat it in a lot of different contexts. We can go there, but you need to see with your eyes, not with your hands. We can go and eat this food, but at the restaurant, you need to see with your eyes, not with your hands, it goes on and on...
What surprised me as a young parent, and actually also as a young teacher, is how many times you need to repeat something for it to enter the mind of the person you are teaching. It's closer to a thousand times than a hundred times. A theologist taught me there is even a term for it: didactic redundancy. I like repeating that to myself when I am tearing out my last grey hairs.
Joke aside, it really helps to stay on message and keep it simple. Little kids love a chant, they get it and they can chant it to themselves when they approach something that is tough for them.
Other chants in our family (some of which I learnt from my sister in law, the exemplary pedagogue). They are literally chanted, rather than spoken:
Speak with your normal voice (against whining or screaming)
Do you want to hear my serious voice (when I am about to get really angry)
Eat one tiny bit before saying you won't eat it (We don't do children's menus, I don't judge people who do)
If you want to fight, go into your room (for when siblings fight and its impossible to figure out who is right)
There will be no food after dinner (I'm really strict about mealtimes, 3 meals and 2 snacks, + a before dinner appetizer thing, YMMV)
No violence, repeated three times. (This wasn't an issue with my bio kids, but can be sometimes with the relief kids because of their circumstances. It needs to be a no discussion thing IMO)

Obviously, you need to be rather strict with these. Sometimes I let kids have a drink of water and a slice of apple after dinner, if they ate nothing at all. And sometimes I'll admit that I became angry without real reason, because I misunderstood a situation. But this only makes the general rules seem more fair to the little sweeties.
posted by mumimor at 4:44 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

I had good luck with somanyamy’s one-finger rule when it came to my toddler and Christmas tree ornaments. A variation could be “you can touch anything you want...with this feather.”
posted by lakeroon at 5:15 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

People here are so smart. I would add to the fidget widget idea to make wrist straps for them (string, whatever) so they ALWAYS have them while you’re out and they’re harder to ignore or forget.
posted by clseace at 5:42 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

My son also has sensory issues from other complex medical issues. He has been to multiple OTs and gets regular intervention services and goes to a preschool that specifically targets helping kids with special needs. We've been working on the for a few years now.

For many kids with sensory issues, they need to get their sensory needs met to self regulate and stop running around touching and doing stuff in a noncontrolled fashion. Until they get their needs met, they are in a state where they need to gogogo. To calm and fill those needs, you have to add in stuff. Building things actually works well for my kid like legos, magna tiles, melt beads. I still hold/rub his back for like am hour a day. His behavior is like night and day different with our current (plus school) routines. We tried a ridiculous number of things, and even now if my kids is tired or overstimulated he goes back to a totally uncontrolled state.

So, probably, sensory diet. And like multiple years of lots of help from multiple specialists. And just keep trying. I'm sure we'll phase out of these things and I'll be back there with you with a large, uncontrollable grade schooler touching Everything.
posted by Kalmya at 5:59 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

Seconding sensory diet. For my sensory seeker, doubling down on sensory activities beforehand is the only way we get through trips to the grocery store. For mine it's deep pressure that calms him so we will do a lot of crashing, jumping, squishing beforehand and offer shoulder and hand squeezes while we are shopping. Good luck!
posted by bluebelle at 8:06 PM on January 29

oh wow, my husband's mother has a story about trying to pay a court fine (speeding ticket I think) when my 3 year old future husband destroyed the office's venetian blinds in the space of 3 seconds. In the end the clerk actually waived her fine to get her out of there, but usually these situations don't end quite so well.

As the mother of three boys I've had many a horrible office counter experience. Now they're all older and I can pay for something without disaster (now they're all teenagers, so we have different problems, pray for me).

There are lots of great suggestions above that I wish I'd heard back in those days. Work those!

I just wanted to add that sometimes you just have to strategize for the life and kids you have. So even though you see other parents check out peacefully and think...."that's possible! We should be able to do that!" it's fine to do something like call ahead and pay the copay over the phone. Or say....."you know what, I'm going to take these forms and kids out to the car and bring them back in a few minutes" and fill them out with everyone strapped into a carseat.

There were a number of years there where all our grocery shopping was done by my husband on the way home from work or by me after everyone had gone to bed.

It's fine to just try to skip as many of these moments as possible. For learning the skills, you can even plan outings that are actually only about learning the skills, so you are not teaching the skills while also trying to accomplish something that needs to get accomplished.

You are doing a great job in a difficult time, I salute you!
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:49 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]

I want to triple-emphasize somanyamys's idea of telling them they can touch things with one finger. It made a huge difference in both our lives when I had an autistic toddler/preschooler. If they are at all receptive to it, it's a gamechanger.
posted by metasarah at 9:58 AM on January 30

The way my mother dealt with inappropriate public behavior was incredibly effective. She would say that if we didn't stop it we were leaving and that we wouldn't be allowed to come with her the next time. Then, if we didn't listen, she'd make sure to go without us the very next day so that it would still be fresh in our minds.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:15 AM on January 30

We also used the one finger rule. I made a big deal out of it before we went into the store. "Okay everybody, show me your touching finger. Good! Now when you see something you want to touch, what do you do? That's right, use your touching finger! " And there was a lot of repeating when they slipped. - "Whoa - where's your touching finger? Let's try that again! "

Not only did it keep them from picking up, moving, opening, throwing (one kid's immediate when caught with something he shouldn't have was to throw it down hard. That was fun. ), etc., but just having permission to touch anything they wanted satisfied some of the need, and they didn't actually touch as much or as aggressively. It also made for a more positive experience because I wasn't telling them no over and over again.
posted by Dojie at 6:05 AM on January 31 [2 favorites]

Don't Run vs. Please walk
When you say to a kid Don't touch that they hear the words touch that and kids' brains are not all wired yet, they have to work harder to parse meaning. It's also just plain harder to not do the thing because its not-doing and that's a skill. Give them a thing they can do. Okay, we're going in the store. Hands in pockets, and who remembers the words to %Annoying Song Kids Love? When you catch them with hands in pockets it's Look what a good job you did of keeping your hands in your pockets! Let's have gum! Rewarding and promoting behavior is usually easier than stopping behavior, esp. when there are so many lovely things, and touch is such a nice way to experience them.
posted by theora55 at 5:10 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]

« Older Help me title a story!   |   How do I let go of my need for my family's... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments