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. 

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Dear Mamma (an open letter to those who spank)

Dear Mamma who spanks (or swats, or hits),

I know we sit on different sides of the same coin.  The slightly tarnished, well-worn coin of parental discipline.  Chances are one, or both of us, sit on the same side as our parent and even their parents parents.  It is hard to flip to a new side.  We both love our children deeply.  I don’t deny that the sun rises and sets in your baby’s eyes as it does mine.

You worry about the future.  What will this crazy world hold for them in five, ten, or twenty years?   We hold the responsiblity for all of their triumphs and failures.  They are burned inside our hearts forever, even if they don’t truly belong to us, they will live there.

I agree with you that our babes need boundaries.  They need parents, not friends.  Someone who is firm and clear about what is safe and acceptable behavior.  Out of respect to them we must show them that we are the calm, loving and leading adult in charge.  Out of respect for them we must give them freedom within clear limits.

I agree they need to know who the ‘adult’ is.  But…what is an ‘adult’?  If we want them to grow to be a certain type of ‘adult’ then we must model this for them now.  Our hopes for their future must be reflected in the actions we take today.

I hope that when my boy is grown he will be full with the intrinsic understanding of his own value.  As an adult in his life I grow this by showing unconditional love and understanding, I love him now so he can love himself later.

I hope that my boy will be able to navigate the world using reasoning and critical thinking skills that guide him into making good choices.  My job as an adult is to allow him to explore things safely, have some control over his world and let natural consequences teach him as they may.  As he gets older I will be able to discuss more and will allow him to join in the analysis of his own trials of life.

I hope he will be deeply emotionally intelligent, with an ability to express his own feelings and needs.  I hope he will receive others with empathy, love and understanding.  I teach this now by giving him words to express what he feels and listening for the need/emotion behind his behavior.  I do my best to express my self and my feelings clearly to him.  I apologize if I am wrong.

I hope he will respect others so I respect him now.

I hope he will be gentle and kind so I am gentle now.

I am far from perfect.  Everyday I work toward being a better Mamma.  I know you do too.  I have bad days, I get too angry.  I lose my way and expect developmentally inappropriate things. I don’t always say the right thing and some nights I go to bed wishing I could do the whole day over. This, for me, is why I choose not to spank.  I can’t give myself an option that I don’t feel comfortable modeling.  I can’t do something I wouldn’t want him to do to others.

So you see I am worried too.  I hear you saying you are scared about what will happen if you don’t use firm enough discipline.  I hear you saying you are wonder how anything else might work.  I understand that you were raised with spanking and you love your parents.

Everyday is new with our child.  We have every opportunity to do what is best, to build the best relationships possible.  This is why I practice (and believe me everyday I am just practicing!) compassionate parenting. We can let go of the stress of punishing and controlling our babes and move towards the teaching of life lessons and compassion that will truly make a difference.

Our parenting today will simply be a shadow of the adult they become.  A soft whisper that speaks only to the deeply quiet parts of their souls.  A script they can barely hear that will color everything they do.  I hope I can leave my boy with a heart full of love.
With respect for all Mammas out there,
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!

On toddler time

Yesterday was a very different day than usually for my little man and me. We are used to routine. Every weekday we get up and get dressed with the help of Dada. We climb haphazardly into ‘mamma car’ and drive off to school. There we share the majority of the day with our little toddler buddies, from breakfast to diaper changes and every adventure in between.

Today however, he and I were alone at home while Mamma had to run loads of errands, some of which included *gasp* using the computer without the help of the bunz. We were on a strict time schedule as I had to be at school/work by the early afternoon. Collin was on toddler time.

I felt the pressure of accomplishing all of this with him before I got out of bed. He was a great help, and for the most part I kept a calm exterior, anxiety taking route in the pit of my stomach. However, as I watched the minutes tick by and felt less getting accomplished I started to feel the anxiety rise within me. I started to rush him slightly. Started to push him past what should be developmentally expected for a toddler. Maybe I even rolled my eyes at him once or twice.

“Come on, just come up the stairs…yes, yes, I see the wall, hold the wall if you want, just come up the stairs!”

Collin bunz looked quizzically into my eyes as if to say “Alright Mamma, I was just discussing it with you, geeze!”

Things got done, I continued to get more tense, and we made it to the door. I asked him to go get his shoes and turned to print something off the computer.

This is what I found

My baby’s big brown eyes staring up at me, in MY black flats, holding a water bottle bigger than his head. Water dribbling down his Elmo shirt. He said “come on Mamma!” As he walked to the door in MY shoes with his huge water bottle.

I felt the question rise in me. Do I wrestle with him to put on his shoes, socks, leave the water bottle behind etc? Lay down the law, show him who was in charge here? Or just LET. IT. GO.

And so I did.

It may not seem like much, moms everyday run around busy, busy, busy. Toddlers push buttons and are not the most cooperative sort.

But on that morning, as he toddled out the door in MY shoes. Climbing into his car seat, with shoes in had and a beaming smile. I knew I chose humor, joy, and maybe a time delay.

I chose gentle, compassionate parenting and I felt at peace for the first time that day.