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-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

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

Simple Sunday-Simply looking beyond the “seen”

Last week at nap time, admitedly the roughest part of my school day with Collin, we lost connection.  He was yelling at the top of his lungs, other children were trying to sleep, my co-teacher and I had things to do (wash dishes, take lunch breaks) and he just. would. not. stop.  In anger I walked out of the classroom leaving him with another teacher to help him fall asleep.  I am sure this may seem fairly benign to some, but I have NEVER left him without a proper ‘bye-bye’ I always let him know where I’ll be even if it means a few tears and he is usually fine with this arrangement.  On this day however I said “Fine! If you don’t want mommy to put you to sleep then Sandra can” I grabbed the dishes and left the room as he began to scream and sob for me.

I wasn’t gone long, I did my dishes and came back to the room to my boy sweating, sobbing, and gagging.  He wasn’t just angry that I left he was heartbroken because in essence I had said “Fine, if you won’t listen to me you don’t get my love right now” He was confused, sad and disconnected from his Mamma.  It hurt us both.

The beauty of something like this though is that we can grow as parents.  Our relationship can grow as Mamma and son.  We can reconginze our selves as fallible human beings with emotions that pass through us.  As the emotioal cloud lifted I looked to others for support and discussion.  My husband is always great at talking me down and reminding me that it is no good for a child to have a mother who never feels, mistakes happen and you will work through this.  I checked my phone and found this wonderful writing from Lu at Parent2ParentU

Imagine that, instead of LOOKING at our child’s BEHAVIOR, we thought of what is happening behind the scene…BEHIND THE SEEN. 🙂

So, our child is screaming and writhing on the floor, and we think immediately about the state of her BRAIN in that moment. 

Or our child is sullen, anxious, withdrawn, and we think immediately about the state of his brain and what’s weighing on his HEART.

Our child is agitated, hiding, dangerously impulsive, quick to blame, and we think immediately about his learned STORY, his internal TURMOIL.

Behavior is NOT automatically a story of (im)morality, future trouble, failure, or deficiency. But, if we don’t practice “parenting BEHIND THE SEEN”…we can unwittingly co-create this story! ♥ Lu Parent2ParentU

Aha! That is exactly what I was doing! I was focusing on just what I saw, just the immediate moment of him not being quiet.  I was already worked up and ready for a break.  This was a beautiful reminder to look beyond what is going on right in front of us and look deeply into our children’s emotional lives.

I don’t know about you but it can be hard for me to ‘take a deep breath’ or just calm down when I have anger coursing through my veins.  My mind knows I am not reacting in the most compassionate or considerate way but I need a tool to get me back to ‘home’.  After reading this I jotted down three simple questions to ask myself next time I was in a similar situation (read: a situation where a power struggle was brewing and a behavior was escalating)

So for next time, my “Three questions to see behind the seen” :

  1. What need of mine am I expecting him to meet? My need to not have people or property harmed? Alright…but my need to have calm and quiet? How can I reasonably expect that from a 23 month old? In many cases where a power struggle is brewing we see a parent expecting some need to be fulfilled by a child.  A need for order, a need for quiet, a need for them to eat ‘healty’ food.  This reflection allows me to look more deeply into what may be causing him to behave in a certain manner instead of continuing down a path of control.
  2. Have I stopped to think about the his need behind the action? If I have yet to stop and think about why (in this case Collin is rarely if ever tired at the time I was trying to lay him down for nap) If I neglect to take this step I will be fighting a losing battle from the beginning.
  3. Who has the ‘burden’ of solving this problem? If Collin reaches out to hit someone I hope to be able to hold his arm and say “I can’t let you hit him” The burden of solving the issue should be on me as I am the adult in any situation (even if I forget to act like it on occasion) As he grows he will be able to take more responsibility for himself and his problem solving but I will always be there to offer support and suggestions.  I never plan on leaving the entire burden of solving any major problem on him if he is making it clear (with behavior or otherwise) that he needs the help.

There you have it…here’s hoping I’ll just do better next time!

Thanks for reading!

What the Mamma Taught the Teacher (2 of 2)

A little while back I wrote a post on how my expertise in early childhood education has been able to help me as my mother-self begins to emerge.  While it is true that there are many advantages to having such a history with children every mom knows there is nothing like being someone’s mom.  I had never before been so connected to another.  Never had I see the world so clearly through someone else’s eyes.  I can feel my own childhood through my son and I can feel everything he feels as he grows.

Yes, teaching informed my mothering but becoming a Mamma shifted my internal compass.  When I first starting teaching I had little to go on except my intuition.  I used a combination of culturally accepted ways of viewing children, ingrained models of parenting practices and what remained of my early childhood education (which I hardly remember but strongly feel affects me to this day).  I was gentle, I was kind but I was also overly set on order and control.

Here is what I have leared (so far!) :

  1. Control is only an illusion (and power struggles aren’t worth your time)  Very quickly after my son was born I was hit with the realization that he was his own person.  Complete even in his soft, floppy, newborn-ness.  Never would I be able to make him sleep, make him eat or make him stop crying.  I could do my best to set the environment most conducive to calming and sleep but the task was up to him.  As he has grown I have been shown that team work is what works.  In my classroom the children (remember they are only all of 18-20 months old) are my partners.  We work together to clean up, help our friends, calm our bodies for nap.  Raising my voice backfires every time, and even when it works it is so very short lived.  Letting go of control is difficult for me but I am not in this profession to be ‘in charge’. I am here to supplement the lives of the little ones in my care, here to help them be them.
  2. Crying is okay! Yep, I said it.  Children were not born with the ability to express themselves.  They were born with one tool of communication and it is crying.  When I was a teacher (pre-Mammadom) I felt it to be my job to “Shhh”, quiet or otherwise ‘fix’ every child in my care.  This is simply unfair to children, plugging emotions up only cause them to leak out elsewhere.  Instead, now I offer empathetic touch and verbalization.  Perhaps a child may cry harder when I comment on how difficult it is to see a parent leave but more than likely the rest of their day will be free of such distress.  Overstimulated babies often need to be gently held while they diffuse all of the goings on of the day.  I’d like to clearly state that I am not an advocate of cry-it-out or leaving babies to cry alone.  Now I see crying as communication and expression that deserves to be listened to.  You can not really know a child until you can sit with them in their most difficult moments and come out the other side.
  3. Children are who they are (despite their parents efforts)  This relates back to what I said in number one.  Your child is not a possession to be controlled.  They are individual human beings with thoughts, feelings and intrinsic motivation from the very beginning. I know we are all guilty of holding specific wishes for what our child will be, how they will behave or what type of temperament they will show us as they grow.  As teachers and parents our aim must be to know the child we are working with and adjust to the paradigm he sets before us.  Let your child guide you to where they need to be.  In the classroom this is reflected by rules that are flexible depending on the needs of the child. Contrary to what one might think, all the other children do not expect rules to change for them.  If they feel their needs are met they have no problems with other children getting their needs met, in fact they encourage it.
  4. Punishment is of no value  In the classroom it is my job to teach.  To guide children to where they desire to be.  Help them to understand society’s rules and structure while they learn to operate in it.  As a Mamma I have the same goal.  I do not desire to frighten my child into submission.  Punitive measures like time-out or yelling are frustrating and unhelpful to all parties invoved. In our home we have a harmonious environment where clear boundaries give Collin the ability to explore the world without fear.  In the classroom I attempt to build the same feeling.  Children know what is expected and they rise to the occasion.  Acting out (hitting, biting, etc) is treated as a learning experience.  In the case of significant behavioral issues there is always an underlying cause, always.  Children are not born bad, we just haven’t figured them out yet.
  5. Everything is a phase  Sometimes children go through phases that we won’t ever understand.  There may be a bout of biting, a period of time where someone doesn’t want to eat lima beans or wakes up every hour of the night.  As a parent it has been helpful for me to remind myself (often) that this too shall pass.  They will continue to grow and change.  This reminder makes it easier for me to support my son through any developmental phase he (we?) may encounter.  Maybe I will never know the why but I know the how and I can support him in this moment.  In the classroom I am significantly more aware of children’s phases.  It is easier for me to be supportive of a child who may suddenly become excessively whiney when I can put it in the context of a phase.  Sometimes I can narrow down the reasons (mom out of town? nearing a develpmental milestone?) other times I can’t.  It just helpt to know that what they need is support, not puishment.

I realize many of these theories overlap.  The major change for me has been my view of the child.  My respect for what a baby, toddler and preschooler can accomplish if given the proper support has multiplied daily as I watch my son grow.  The gift of parenting drives me to know all children like I know my son.  I know it is not possible to know their hearts as deeply as I know Collin’s but I also know that they deserve a teacher who tries her hardest to understand them. All children deserve the love and respect of someone who accepts them for who they are and while I would hope most children get this at home I will do my best to offer it at school.

As always thanks for reading! Teachers, Mammas please share your knowledge below.

The storm within-Dealing with a toddler’s emotional self

In an earlier post I spoke of being honest with my own emotions. I think that it is deeply important we are honest about our feelings in a simple and age appropriate way with the children that inhabit our lives.  They deserve to see that we have bad days too.  They have much to gain from watching those they love in their lives grow and recover from minor or major emotional issues in life.

Sometimes I have found that it is far easier for me to be honest about my emotions than to let the children around me express theirs freely.  This can be for many reasons.  Sometimes I see myself prejudging their experience, “Oh you’re okay!”, even though I should know better.  Other times I just find myself trying to fix things in order to help keep my toddler happy or calm, again…I should know better.  Finally, at the end of a long week when the kids around me are worn out, sick of being away from home and need more than I can give (I know every preschool teacher has been there) I just lose the patience to tune into each individual emotion.  In those cases I just want to do ANYTHING to get them to be quiet.

An article by Janet Lansbury that describes a small girl’s emotional expression of grief as she comes upon a squished snail got me thinking about how frequently we cut children’s emotions off at the core.  Especially with toddlers.  With their less than stellar language ability, lack of self-control and healthy lungs it can be difficult to let a toddler’s emotions run the gamut on a daily basis.  For those of us that work with toddlers we often mistakenly use tools like distraction to halt emotions in their tracks.  In many ways it is what we have been taught to do. Keep our babies ‘happy’.  There must be something wrong with a crying baby.  With the best of intentions we try to quiet the emotional storm that is attempting to work itself out inside the mind of a toddler.  This work is born of love but is it the best we can do for our babies?

I would argue that it is not.  In this article on toddler’s grief the toddler is allowed to go through their own process of feeling for the snail (who probably seemed like a friend to them).  This included an obvious period of cathartic toddler tears.  Then the toddler, allowed to work though things on their own, helped heal herself and move on. This toddler must have had many chances to feel through the issues and struggles that weave their way through her daily life.  If she can do this now (and I know many of us still have issues with processing pain, loss and grief in an effective way) how much easier will her path be as an adult? What then does this mean for children who aren’t as lucky?

In our ever changing society we need increased resilience to life’s many challenges.  As parents and caregivers it is our responsibility to trust children from the very beginning in the knowledge of their emotions.  The phrase ‘You’re okay!’ should be wiped from our collective memory.  Instead I would like to replace it with a sensitive adult who will sit by with quiet empathy as they go through what they will.  I don’t want to confuse the issue by in any way implying that children should be left alone with their emotions.  To the contrary I feel that children, especially young toddlers and preschoolers, should be well supported during emotional stresses.  We just need to be careful we aren’t stopping them in their tracks.

I aim to sit on my hands, bite my tongue and take deep breaths as I let Collin (and our daily troupe of buddies) reach into the deepest parts of their emotional selves.  Even as every bone in my body might tell me to just get that baby quiet, or as strangers stare in a public place.  I WILL give him the freedom of emotion he deserves because he deserves it now, and because he will better handle emotions on his own one day if he knows freedom now.

Patience is a virtue

Yesterday was rough. It was rough for me mostly. Collin was getting over a cold but mostly happy. For whatever reason I just couldn’t get myself into my ‘happy teaching’ place. Most days I feel I am calm, like a ship smoothly sailing in a sea of toddler emotion. Just gently guiding them along. Not yesterday. It was rough sailing all day.
I’d like to say the kids didn’t notice but I believe that they are deeply sensitive to our moods, body language and demeanor. I’m sure they could feel it. I’m sure it played a part in their extra neediness (as in “oh oh…something is upsetting her, better make sure I’m nearby lest something really weird happen”).
My brain tries to tell me all of the proper things. It tries to remind me where they are developmentally. It tries to get me to model the right behavior instead of snapping at them to stop. Usually the brains win but let me tell you my emotional side was putting up a good fight.
For my part I tried to be respectful of myself and the kids. I simply told them I wasn’t feeling well today. I needed some extra hugs and cuddles like they do sometimes. I don’t feel trying to ‘fake’ it through the day is fair to them. How can I expect my son to grow in his
emotional intelligence if he has a mother who always pretends everything is okay? Or worse snaps at him out of the blue as a way to relieve her own stress.
I have worked in enough classrooms to know I am not alone. Teachers are human too. We have busy lives, families and stresses like the rest of the world. When you think of the amount of time some of our youngest citizens spend in full time care by the time they are even in Kindergarten, that amounts to lots of confusing adult behavior. Especially in less-than-quality care situations.
Most reputable schools will talk about how they help a child grow socially and emotionally. They talk about how modeling is the best way to teach. Yet at the end of the day I bet many moms and teachers alike feel like we did a better job of modeling manners than emotional expression.
Isn’t it just as important to teach a child how to deal with stress as to be a good friend? How to verbalize when they are disappointed?
How do you guide your little ones through your rougher waters safely?