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

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. 

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

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.