‘No!’ therapy helps parents understand toddlers, no fooling

    Tantrums, tears and torn up living rooms — toddlers can test their parents’ patience to the limit. A Philadelphia therapist has a different approach to getting families through the toddler years. At the receiving end of her therapy? Not the toddlers; it’s the parents!

    What’s your life like when you are a toddler? Well, mostly, it’s a series of “NO’s” explains therapist Stephanie Q. Adler, who specializes in counseling families with young children.

    “They are trying to explore the world around them, and figure out who they are and what they want to do,” said Adler. “And all they hear is no, don’t do that, don’t do that, that’s not okay.”

    She says it’s no wonder toddlers have a short fuse.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    “It’s so difficult, they are trying to do so many different things, they are trying to communicate things we don’t understand, and quite frankly the parents are often standing in their way.”

    Enter “Toddler Translational Therapy”; that’s Adler’s approach to help parents understand what it’s like to be a toddler, and to develop a better relationship with their kids.

    On a recent Wednesday night, Adler worked with clients Christopher and Debra Muhllen in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia.

    Debra and Christopher have been married for 5 years.

    “We have two beautiful children,” beamed Debra, “Grayson is 4 and Olivia is 2. They are just joyful, and expressive and adventuresome. They have this spirit that I would never want to crush, and I think that’s where Christopher and I bump heads a little.

    As Debra talked, Olivia and Grayson got into a tug of war over a puzzle. Olivia ran off into the kitchen; Grayson screamed on top of his lungs.

    Christopher admitted the kids fight non-stop.

    “There’s nothing I can do other than yell and that doesn’t seem to help either,” he said.

    Adler believes that for Christopher to be a more effective dad, he has to learn what his kids’ experience is like.

    “Christopher has agreed to let me be the parent and he will be the toddler, and we’re going to give him the experience that his children feel, so that he can see it from their point of view,” she said.

    Not a piece of cake

    About 10 minutes into the experiment, Muhllen went to grab his iPad.

    Adler immediately stepped in.

    “Christopher, it’s actually not screen time right now,” she reminded a slightly grumpy Muhllen.

    “I know, I have an idea I’m just going to go on Twitter real quick,” explained Muhllen.

    Adler got more serious: “You know what, I completely understand that, but I’m going to count til five, and you can give it to me, or I will take it from you.”

    Muhllen handed over the iPad, but was clearly not happy about it.

    A few minutes later, more trouble erupted when Muhllen asked his wife whether there was any cake left from the night before.

    Adler again intervened. “Hold on a minute. I know cake is yum,” she said, “but we haven’t had dinner yet so we can’t have cake now.”

    After about an hour, Muhllen appeared very rattled. He had been denied access to the fridge, had been asked to lower his voice, and even spent a few minutes in time out.

    “I was upset at first, it got really annoying,” he admitted. “She suggested I should read a book instead of going on twitter, she gave me Tom Clancy, I don’t even like Tom Clancy.”

    But – Muhllen admits it was a valuable lesson: “I started to realize how difficult it is when somebody follows you around and tells you you can’t do things, everything you want to do you can’t do it.”

    Adler says Muhllen is now ready to learn about more effective ways of interacting with the kids:”Sometimes you just need to see things from the other person’s point of view.”

    The next step is to teach Muhllen how to offer his children more choices, how to discipline them in a positive fashion, and how to empower them.

    Adler has written a book on her approach, called “Too Small for Småland” which comes out today, on April 1st. This special April 1st release is available only from Snopes press.


     Reporter’s note:

    “Too Small for Småland” and “Toddler Translational Therapy” are not real. They don’t exist.  Neither does the Muhllen family.  I made them up with plenty of inspiration from my life as a mother of two toddlers.   Actually, in the photograph above, those are my two kids, and my husband, Graham.  Just a little April Fool’s Day gift to you. Special thanks to Brandi Davis, who is a parenting coach and preschool teacher in real life, and played the therapist.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal