Simple Sunday-A Simple Toddler Calendar (for when you are away, or when you’re not)

A few weeks ago Dadda and I went on a little mini-break.  It was some highly prized alone time that we were really looking forward to.  It was not lost on us that our now two-year-old would be more aware of our absence than ever before.  This not something we do often and we wanted to make sure he was prepared for what was to come.  It was also important that he was able to feel some sense of control around our time away.

Being that children his age have a sense of time that is mostly limited to “yesterday” (as in that happened sometime before today) and “tomorrow” (that will happen sometime after today) our goal was to use his daily routine to help prepare him for what was to come.

To this end we made the following “calendar”.  I use that term loosely as it really is an amalgamation of his drawings, a few words and mostly large blocks of time before and after lunch and dinner.

Collin’s completed calendar

 

The process went as follows: As he watched I drew a skeleton of his time with his ‘Mimi’ and away from us.  I filled in the major parts of the day and he helped pick ‘icons’ that represented these parts of the day so he could ‘read’ them on his own.  Following that he and his Mimi went through their time together and they both drew pictures of what they would do during open blocks of time.  As you can see he took great pride in his depictions of things like swings at the park, grass, or a picnic.  Yes it looks to us like he just drew all over it but to him it was really his calendar.

Though we have nothing to measure against I feel confident that he was more comfortable with us a way since he had a visual image of when we would be coming home.  He was free to play and free from worry.  Sure he missed us, but he didn’t seem to have anxiety over it.

Finally the calendar served a second purpose.  Playing at the park the evening after we went home he said he “had feelings Mamma Dadda gone”.  We were able to talk about how we missed each other and then he was able to go to the calendar to show us the fun stuff he had done.  He loved talking all about his time with Mimi. The calendar was up for over a week after we got home, often discussed and revisited.

I would totally use it again, even if we are not separated, just to help him deal with the passing of time in other situations.

Happy Sunday all! Hope the beginning of summer is treating you all well!

Melissa

 

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Simple Sunday-How to Keep Your Toddler Busy (for a half-hour straight!)

In our classroom we use play dough with new accessories all of the time.  We use cookie cutters, pine cones, leaves, feathers, random parts to broken toys and sometimes just nothing at all.  Last week I was at a loss for what to do with a bunch of spirited two year olds and opened my cabinet to find some q-tips.  We also use these in many ways, for painting, in shaving cream, to mix paint etc.  For whatever reason it had never occurred to me to put these two together before.

What followed was pure magic.  The magic of toddlers completely engrossed in their work.  Working independently with out looking for guidance from an adult.  They worked with play dough, q-tips and their ‘training’ scissors for almost thirty-five minutes.  I urge to you give it a try if you haven’t already!

Tiny fingers grasp the q-tip with delicate precision.

Many discoveries came about organically like how to pull objects through the other side or how long the play dough will dangle on a q-tip before it falls off.

Porcupines, cakes and umbrellas all around!!

We tried all sorts of ways to insert and remove the q-tips including using the scissors as “tongs”.

They were lined up and counted.

Made into towers.

And proudly shown off (while blowing out the candles of course!)

A beautifully productive, child-led morning of play, learning and exploration.  Hope you all had a great weekend.  Here’s to another week of supporting the play and honoring the feelings of the littles in our lives!

Good Sunday night to you all!

Melissa

Actions Speak Louder than Words-Appreciating our Teachers

Alright, I admit it, I am burnt out.    Burnt out on spending at least nine hours every day with toddlers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but have you met a toddler? They have runny noses and they will actually run over to wipe on your pants (or shirt, hair, back…whatever is available) They need lots of physical affection and often go about accessing it in the most interesting ways (today for example a little girl put her finger in my ear!? Yep).  Also, they cry….a lot.  I’m comfortable with crying, showing emotion and even encourage it but…it is LOUD sometimes.

I’m burnt out on teaching.  Burnt out on working in a less than supportive environment.  All of the above wouldn’t matter if I was working in a situation where  I had proper support.  Staff development, meetings where we were able to discuss questions and concerns we have about particular children.  Paid time off and the ability to call in sick all would be helpful.  I wish I could say that my current center is out of the norm but unfortunately it is not.  There are far more centers like mine, with exhausted teachers out of time and money to continue professional development.  Frustrated with their lack of professional or personal fulfillment they take things out on the children.  Teachers who aren’t well supported don’t make good teachers.  They either leave the profession or they start to care less.

Luckily I am on the path to personal and professional renewal as I leave my time at this center.  What about everybody else? During this teacher appreciation week I couldn’t help but think about all of the other teachers out there.  Working moms, working students, caring people who probably should have had the pleasure of retiring years ago.   What do we really need to do to show our teachers we appreciate them? Do Starbucks cards and flowers really get the point across?  I admit this is better than nothing at least for a second we feel as if we are appreciated.  Day after day, year after year it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

In their book Professional Capital Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan argue that what we need is a fundamental change that allows for a community of educators to emerge.  This is as true in early childhood education as anywhere.  In some cases I would argue even more so.  Early childhood educators are in the unique position of laying the foundation of our children’s emotional and educational future.  Teachers don’t have the luxury of being able to just ‘phone it in’ ever.  Even if we don’t feel like it how we act and speak is constantly being absorbed by our littlest friends.

I know this question is bigger than this post.  I also know I am not alone in feeling overworked, underpaid and just plain exhausted.  As more and more children start ‘school’ before the age of one and private care/preschool programs move ahead in a largely privatized and practically unregulated manner what can we as teachers do to change the tide? What role, if any, should our society play?   What type of movement will it take to really place educators at the forefront of our country (as they do in Finland)? What are the consequences if we continue the way we are?

Thanks for reading as I vent! 🙂

Melissa

Fearful Fantasy Land (a toddler’s dream)

The stove was covered in hot pots and pans, bubbling and boiling away with the contents of what would soon turn into two meals for my sister-in-law (now a mother of two! Yay!) Glass of wine in hand I had just settled into the grove of a cooking marathon.

Then the peace was broken.  Through the monitor came the heart-broken cry of my boy.  This happens pretty rarely now (and as I type this I worry I am disturbing the gods of baby sleep by admitting how often I get to sleep right through the night).  When it does it is usually a sign that illness is creeping in, if we are lucky its just the call of a sweaty baby who needs the gentle breeze of his ceiling fan.  This cry most certainly didn’t sound like a sweaty baby cry.

On this night he was crying and screaming as if in pain.  He seemed to be grasping at straws hoping to find a way to get out of his room.

Our dialogue went a little something like this (my internal dialogue is in green):

“Iiiicieeee, ICY!” he cried.  Daddy, upon hearing this runs one up the stairs. Maybe he is hurting? Does he have a fever? An ear infection..oh great..could he have just scratched himself or something?

“Nooooo, MY get it!!” thwack the icy hits Daddy in the foot. “Sorry Bubs” I reply “We can’t go to the kitchen right now, it’s sleepy time.” He obviously doesn’t really hurt or he’d take the darn icy…or does he? Maybe it hurts so much he can’t think? Or he needs something else….what does he really need?

“Medicine!!” “Is something hurting Bubba?” I ask gently.  “Med. uh. sin. Mammaaaa!” Daddy brings in some meds.  Well if his ear is hurting maybe this will help? He’s never been like this befo-“No MY get it!” He screams at Daddy. He wants to get is own medicine? and go downstairs and..“Water, my fill it up!” and get his own water from the bathroom.  It seems like he just want to get out of his room.  

“Maybe he had a bad dream?” My husband proposes.  A bad dream? How could I know if he had? And how could I make it better…oh great, is this a new thing? My pasta is probably boiling over.  I have no idea how to fix this, much less quickly.  WAIT…its not my job to fix it.  I need to get back to what he needs.  Maybe he needs to just cry.  I’ll just listen.  

I held him for a few minutes as he sobbed, gurgled and occasionally struggled to get down and run for the door. I can’t change his feelings, I need to just be with him now, in this moment.  I can be his calm.  

As he continued I replayed what happened.  He really wants out of here.  He seems mad or frightened.  Maybe he did have a bad dream? 

Just say it out loud, it couldn’t make it worse.  Come on…You had a bad dream, you feel upset.  What if he never wants to sleep in his bed again…what if he just won’t sleep there tonight?!? What if speaking the truth allows him to recognize how scary dreams are and he never sleeps alone again!? (oh, inner dialouge…)

It usually helps him.  You know him.  He wants to connect, he needs your support, your calmness, your clarity.  He already KNOWS he’s scared and upset silly!! 

“Bubba? I whisper.  “Bubs did you see something scary in your dreams? While you were sleeping?” His crying instantly lessens and he snuggles a little deeper into me.  “Mamma and Dada are right here, we are always here to keep you safe.” I hold him tight.  “Dreams are pretend even though they make you feel lots of feelings. Mamma and Dada will always be here to help you.” By this point he had stopped crying completley .  He softly murrmured “yeah, yeah” as he fell back to sleep.  He barely opened his eyes, pointed to his bed and asked to be put back in his crib.  It was amazing.

What is amazing isn’t that my husband (though I’ll take the credit) figured out he was having a bad dream. It was that what he needed was to feel, to be with me and have me be calm for him while he was not.  Essentially what he was asking for was for us not to fix it.  Holding him, feeling him and listening to him I didn’t take on any of his emotion.  I was his rock in that moment.  I let him feel what he needed even though I didn’t understand it.  I was able to manage my own confusion and emotion calmly.  Then finally I was able to put words to what he was going through.  Finally he was able to offload it all and fall peacefully back to sleep.

Three cheers for recognizing your child’s truth, staying calm and speaking it out loud (even if your inner voice is unsure).

Thanks for reading!

Melissa

Lost iPhone, Renewed Commitment

My husband misplaced my phone this weekend.  He was juggling a toddler, a bag full of what-toddlers-need and trying to get to an Easter party with his dad’s group.  My first reaction when I heard that it was gone was to blame, yell or ‘teach’ him how to stay more organized so this never happens again.  Never mind the fact that a few weeks earlier I put a library book on the roof and drove off, only to remember when my two-year-old asked what happened to said book.

Then, while staying silent and breathing I started to use the work I have been doing in regards to Nonviolent Communication and taking responsibility for my emotions.  There was nothing helpful I had to offer.  No way I could make it better or make him feel less upset.  What I needed to do was let him feel how he felt (this is pretty novel for me, in the past I probably would have wanted him to get over it while simultaneously growing more irritated at him for letting it happen). My job was to figure out how I was really feeling and then manage myself appropriately.

As minutes passed and I kept breathing and thinking I realized that maybe this was not the tragedy it seemed. In some ways I felt relieved.  It was a reminder that I use my phone WAY TOO MUCH, despite the fact that I don’t want my son to be over exposed to technology.  I am modeling a “one hand on the phone, one eye on the person I am speaking to” mentality that is completely opposite from what I believe in. I was sad about the loss of un-uploaded photos and video but other than that perhaps this was a time for me to reflect.  Re-prioritize.

If I had acted on my initial frustration and anger I never would have felt anything more.  Or if I did it probably would have taken hours or days to come to it and only after causing unnecessary hurt. Instead I was able to really look at why I was so upset (because “What would I DO without my phone?!” ) and what that really meant.

I have a new phone now…I am a small bit poorer for it.  I was able to save ALL of the un-uploaded photos and video! (Here’s to syncing your iPhone regularly!) With it I have a new plan for its use: While at school I will only use it when I am not with Collin.  At home I will check it every few hours or so and then put it away.  I will only respond to calls or texts, not sit around facebooking or google searching for no reason.  That’s the plan, now lets hope this lesson stays downloaded long after the memory of losing it is gone.

Cheers to a bit less technology and a lot more interaction in our lives,

Melissa

Toddler Tug-of-War; Why the toy is only half the battle

Two tiny toddlers make circles around the table, clomping in their oversized heels.  Around and around they go until one’s heel slips off.  The other one curiously leans over and picks it up, clomping on.  Upon noticing the loss of their shoe the other one throws her self on to the floor in tears. Out of curiosity the clomping buddy returns only to inadvertently begin a loud, tear filled shoe tug of war.

What exactly are toddlers looking for in this situation? What do they need from us as caretakers?

Many of us have been in the middle of a toddler tug of war.  More often than not we operate on instinct doing what is ‘right’ in an effort to keep everyone happy.   We often become right fighters, taking toys away or labeling children with abstract words like nice, friendly, mean etc.  Particularly with toddlers these attempts to impose what we see as socially accpetable behavior leave them confused.  The actions we hope will teach them confuse them often leaving them feeling deeply misunderstood.

So what are toddlers looking for from us when they are embroiled in an emotional tug-of-war?   They need us to stay calm first and foremost.  This can be really difficult if you see what seems like an egregious act of toy stealing.  We have to remember that toddlers are always examining the world and with it all manners of cause and effect.  What we see as “mean” or “aggressive” is simply a toddlers expression of their curiosity.  It may also be an outward manifestation of a difficult to manage emotion.  In any case all toddlers involved in the situation deserve to be heard and respected.  Our job isn’t to fix the situation but rather to help both children get back to a state of emotional equilibrium.

In a broader sense we have the responsibility to use these opportunities as teaching moments.  We can do this by talking through what we see.  By avoiding judgements and narrating the scene in front of us.  In the moment it can be hard to let the judgements go especially if one of the children is your own.  Everything inside of you screams “That was so mean! He was playing so nicely with that! How COULD you?!?” But if cooler heads prevail you will be able to give your child, as well as the other child, a better sense of how to properly handle themselves in future situations.

You will find that what toddlers really crave is to be understood.  If you can reflect back what happened to them and how you think they may be feeling this can calm the storm faster than grabbing a toy and handing it back.  When they are on either side of the emotional turmoil what they really want is for you to speak what they are feeling.  Not give them a toy. 

Simple Sunday-Staying Present, Moving Forward

The main goal of the ‘Simple Sunday’ post is to chronicle my journey to a more simplified, honest and intentional family life.  In all honesty sometimes this isn’t very simple at all.

In my last ‘Simple Sunday‘ post I wrote about how taking control of my own emotions and giving them a voice is beginning to lead me to a more peaceful, synchronized home life.  And it is, really and truly.  Learning about my own emotional landscape is quite a journey but one that seems to go hand in hand with parenting. I am up for the challenge. Every day uncover new and interesting things about myself or the way I respond to situations with my son or other children in my care.

All of this uncovering can come at a price though.  It is hard for me to ease up on myself sometimes.  Hard to remember that I am thinking in a new pattern.  There is a fine line balancing self-reflection with self-degradation. Sometimes things get busy or I get to stressed.  I am less than patient with Collin or I am not as organized as I should be.  As I learn to be more accepting of others around me (particularly my sweet boy and wonderful husband) I also need to work on being accepting of myself.

Part of being truly honest with yourself is accepting yourself.  We can all grow, read, and learn from each other.  Parenting done well demands this.  To stay healthy as a family I think it is important that we are always learning and growing.  Moving forward.  However we must make sure to appreciate where we stand, flaws and all.  In the here and now.  Simplicity is being truly happy without a rush to move on to something else.

To truly live a simple life there must be mistakes, allowances for real life.  Time spent giggling while in the midst of a mess. Time honestly apologizing for mistakes.  Maybe a few weeks with too many toys, disorganized still after a birthday party or Christmas gift bonanza.  Blog posts left unwritten and some books left unfinished.

As growing Mammas and Daddas what we need most is love.  For ourselves and our littles.  We need to give them the benefit of the doubt  and we need to do the same for ourselves.  Just being here, now, doing our best is simply the most wonderful part of our job.

Happy Sunday,

Melissa

Simple Sunday- The Rhythm of Family

Some weeks we’ve got it, and some weeks we don’t.  By “it” I mean a rhythm to our family life.  I don’t just mean our routine because by necessity we follow a similar routine every weekday.  Get up, make lunches, get dressed, get out the door to school (me and Collin) or work (Dadda).  Then get home, cook, eat, bath and bed.

Our rhythm is that intangible synchronicity where we are all moving together comfortably.  We are working together to keep the house clean, food on the table and laundry folded.  It is when we all feel like we are able to get what we need and give what others are asking for.

Not that we expect perfection (okay, maybe I do sometimes but I am WORKING ON IT!) It doesn’t mean we don’t have goals or issues to work through.  It means that at the end of the day we are okay with what was left undone and happy with what was accomplished. It’s the steady drum beat of family life, calm and welcoming.  When the rhythm is missing its more like an alternative band at practice, you never know if you’re about to hear a lilting ballad or an all-out screaming anthem.  In short, without our rhythm life seems more stressful and less fulfilling.

As mothers we come to learn early on that “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”.  Whether we like it or not how we feel, act and participate in our family has a large effect on the family ‘vibe’.  Through my beginning study on Nonviolent Communication I have come to realize that when I am disconnected from the rhythm of my family it is because I am not getting my needs met.  In truth this is often because I have no clue what my *real* needs are.  If I am overcome by disorder in the house I don’t always recognize that, instead it may come out as frustration with my husband for not picking up enough.  If I need a break for some me time, I may instead lose my patience with Collin.

I can’t force my husband to do anything he doesn’t want to do (and really he does so, so much already) and I can’t control the fact that my two-year-old is, in fact, acting like a two-year-old.  What I do have control over is how I speak to them and if I take enough time to center myself and feel what my true needs really are.  As mammas we all will have moments when we let things go for too long without checking in with ourselves.  We need to take inventory of where our emotions are coming from in order to give ourselves back the power to control how we react to our feelings.

I know I can help our family’s rhythm to keep humming along by recognizing what is bothering me and doing something about it.  I have found it freeing to say to my self, “Self, you feel like you want more order in the house right now, how can we accomplish this? By organizing that pile of papers?” Then I can choose if I really want to organize those papers right now, put it on a list or let it go.  I can let go of trying to control others as I may have done in the past (“Babe will you puh-leeze organize those papers? and um..do it now?”)

Having space to make our own choices and recognize what we all need  helps us all work better as a team.  In the hopes of helping us all (even the littlest among us) to recognize, verbalize and learn about our feelings and needs I have posted the following two lists on our refrigerator.

 Thanks to the Center for Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication Needs List 

NVC Feelings list

I know we’ll continue to come in and out of rhythm, have good weeks and bad weeks.  Part of getting back into the rhythm is just allowing yourself to be a little off sometimes and then jumping back in.

Thanks for reading! Heres to a great week 🙂

 Melissa

Truth be told..

I have a hard time telling the truth. To my son. In my heart I want to be honest and clear with him. I want to help him to prepare for what is to come or to honestly express the emotions he is handling. When the going gets tough though I always find myself in an internal battle. The logical side of me trying to smack some sense into the emotional side.

You see my emotional side still believes that I can protect him from all hurt. Isn’t that what we really all want to do anyway? Deep down every parent would love to make their child’s life an easy ride full of excitement, fulfilled promises and friendly interactions. We all know this isn’t life though. From the very beginning our tiny ones have to deal with life. They get shots, they must sit in that god awful contraption we call a car seat and they sometimes (gasp!) even have to wait to get their needs met while their mothers use the restroom!

No matter what my convictions are or how I may act to the contrary I promise you there is always a little voice inside my head begging me to sugar-coat a sad good-bye or other such childhood disappointment. For the most part I feel I am honest but today was a big test for me as a Mamma.

Today we went for Collin’s two-year-old check up. I knew for weeks now that this meant he needed one more vaccination. I also was keenly aware that our last appointment for a nasty cough had been a less than warm visit. With these two things in mind I decided that I would be honest and clear about what would happen. However, up until the moment we walked into the office I was trying to talk myself out of actually telling him he would get a shot before he got it.

I mean really who wants to know they are getting a shot before they get it, right? The anticipation is the worst part anyway isn’t it? (This is where I almost had myself convinced) BUT….and this is a BIG BUT….we ALWAYS know that a shot it coming. Yes thinking about it can be worrisome and produce anxiety, but what if someone took you into a room (someone you trusted) and out of NOWHERE someone just poked you with a needle? I would feel so betrayed and to be honest I wouldn’t be going anywhere with that person anywhere soon.

I had to look more closely at my motives. Why did I feel like sugar-coating the truth (and btw sugar-coating is a lovely word for lying isn’t it…)? Truth be told I was worried that telling him he was going to get a shot might make him freak out a bit. I was worried about having to deal with a full-blown toddler meltdown. Stating it out loud might make him more difficult to deal with. An oblivious toddler would surely be easier to ‘fake-out’ and get to cooperate than one who was in the know.

These were MY reasons for lying though and none of them benefited him in any way. He deserved to be prepared for all of it. He deserved to know what the nurse and the doctor were going to do. He deserved to know that he would get a shot and that it would hurt.

So I told him. Everything. (I did wait to talk about the shot until right before the injection nurse was due to come to the room though, in the hopes of reducing anxiety about the whole experience)

The other piece to this is the respect one must have to treat a child so young this way. There is an underlying belief that your child understands and internalizes what you say that must be present when speaking the truth. I can’t say I have always been completely honest or respectful during our short relationship but each day I am more conscious and I try harder. I am very aware that the words I use do matter. They matter very much. Sometimes I worry that when I speak the truth of what may be bothering him out loud I will cause a commotion. I will make things worse or bring on louder screams. But do you know what happens? Each and every time that I break through my own barriers and MAKE myself state what the real truth of his emotions are? He releases those feelings, moves through them and handles it. He may need to cry more or harder to do this. He may simply be thankful for the recognition and be able to move on. This truth telling is always cathartic and always moves us closer to a true resolution.

It was the same way in the Dr.’s office today. As we went through the steps that I had prepared him for he (and his Pooh bear) got weighed, measured and checked for any number of issues. He clung on to me a few times but easily relaxed as we discussed what was about to happen. He laid down for his shot, knowing he would feel a poke or a pinch. Of course he cried but he was done in less than a minute. He wiped his eyes, we talked about how he body was stronger now. I asked if he wanted to go and he smiled “Yes!” and we walked off talking about what happened.

Both of us full of love and trust in each other and our ability to face the world as a team.

How do you grow mutual respect? How do we stay honest yet speak in a developmentally appropriate way?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As always, thanks for reading and T.G.I.F.!

Melissa

Foot Painting (A semi-wordless Wednesday)

 

 

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