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

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

Foot Painting (A semi-wordless Wednesday)

 

 

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.

2011 Best ideas for kids (Linky party!)

Alright, this is my first attempt at joining into a ‘linky party’.  I really have no clue what I am doing but I love the idea of being able to learn, share and explore with other like minded playful people.

As I am just beginning in this world of blogging I don’t exactly have a plethora of posts to choose from.  For 2011 I feel like one of the most relevant things for me to reflect on was how, when or if we allow our children to take risks.  I’d love to hear how other mammas, daddas and teachers allow or scaffold their children’s risk taking.  Here is the post.

Falling can be great!

Now….as for this party, it seems I can’t use java in my wordpress format so here is a link to all of the wonderful links so you can hop around and find the best of 2011.  I loved hopping!


Happy 2011, may your days be filled with peace, patience and play!!

On eating (or not eating)

As a teacher B.C. (before Collin) the number one question I got from parents was regarding food. “Does he eat enough?”, “How do I get him to eat more vegetables?”, “She just won’t sit at the table at home, how do you get her to do it here?”
For many parents it seems to be a constant worry or at least a preoccupation. Well lets all just take a collective deep breath and relax. It’s not up to you. It is up to your child. As with many things now and in the future your child must develop his own likes, dislikes and I-will-eat-if-very-very-hungry-and-nothing-else-is-around’s.
For the most part there seem to be three camps of feeding styles:
1. The “they are small so as long as they’re eating I don’t care what goes into their body” camp
2. The “I know they like these three healthy things” so I feed them everyday…all day…a few times a day.
3. The “I know what is healthy and that is all I will fix my child regardless of their interests or developmental ability to chew such things”

When we had Collin I knew I wanted to find a healthy medium between all three. In the first few months of his life he suffered some major digestive issues (requiring surgery and hospitalization, more on that in another post).  Following this I had a heck of a time keeping up a decent supply of breastmilk and honestly by the time he was ready to eat I couldn’t wait to replace man-made-chemical-laden formula with whole, real, nutritious food.  I read a lot, basically ignored the advice of my doctor (start him on rice cereal at four months? ) and used my knowledge of development to structure his new world of food.

So just how did we build a toddler who will try anything, eats most things and prefers broccoli over pizza (most of the time anyway)?

In regards to what we fed Collin we decided early on we only wanted to feed him whole, real food.  We tried rice cereal once, he hated it, we never looked back.  His first foods were banana, avocado, and sweet potatoes.  I really loved the book Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. We basically followed her food introduction schedule when Collin was in infant.  I made all of his food and used this book as a guideline.  (I did this while working full time, it’s really easy and so much cheaper!)  Also helpful were the charts that showed vitamin contents of many fruits and veggies making it easy to combine for a well balanced diet.  We also started fairly early with plain, organic, whole milk yogurt.  Due to the trials his poor tummy had gone through so early, breastfeeding, not eating for two weeks, breastfeeding, switching to formula and loads and loads of antibiotics we felt the probiotics were important to repopulate his delicate system.

As far as the culture we are trying to build around food in our family we stuck to three basic rules and have remained (mostly) consistent from his first bite until now.
First, he will be invited to participate in cooking, mixing and making his meal.  During the process he can smoosh, chew, poke or otherwise investigate the food (as safety allows)
Second, we watched for “I’m done signals” we never pushed a last bite or even a first (even though it can be painfully difficult to throw away lovingly prepared food that you just know they’d like if they would only try! That was my issue not his) As he has grown we have encouraged self feeding.  On occasion he will take two bites and be done.  Oh well, there is another meal/snack around the bend right?
Third, What is on the table is the meal.  No bouncing from fridge to table trying to find things he will eat.  We offer a variety of choices at each meal and let him decide how much or even if he wants to eat.  Finally, we have always tried to make mealtimes fun, engaging and exploratory. Just as during cooking he make poke, chew, even spit out food.

Letting your child learn about and explore food the way they learn about everything else will help them come to be adventurous eaters.  Enjoyable low stress meal time with clear boundaries help keep kids clear about what we have control over and what they have control over.  Only a child has control of what they eat.  They are born with an intuitive understanding of what their body needs, all we need to do is step out of the way.  Trying too hard turns meals into a power struggle and can begin a lifetime of emotionally driven or otherwise out of balance eating.  Healthy eating for a baby

Simple Sunday-The KISS method

I feel as if we have fallen head-first into the holiday season. We had a great long Thanksgiving weekend with my side of the family, including a three-day stay with Collin’s Auntie Mandy and Soon-to-be Uncle Jon. This week has been filled with tree lightings, snow and santa sightings. Collin is excited, he feels the happy energy of love, family and music filling our house. Every year is more fun with him around. I enjoy the changing of the seasons more as we look forward to the exciting moments we will share as a family.
As any mom knows the holidays are not all laughter, singing and cookies. It takes a lot of work to prepare for each event, outing and gift exchange.  Many days I feel a pull to do more, plan more and spend more.  Then I am reminded that this is not what the holidays are about.  Particularly at his age what he needs is for us to slow down, enjoy the moments and celebrate the small, but joyous moments of the season.

When I get too consumed by commercialism I always have Daddy there to remind me to K.I.S.S. or keep it simple stupid! Simple is usually more memorable in the long run anyway.

In the last six years of teaching preschool every holiday season I see families who really enjoy the time and families literally on the edge of cracking…this is what I have learned from them.

Here are five ways to K.I.S.S. this holiday season if you have a toddler:

1) Don’t over schedule! With only four weekends in the month of December every single choice you make will affect the availability of your time, patience and self.  Only say yes to events that you think you truly will enjoy or that will have meaning to you and your kids.  I know, easier said than done, but it is worth a shot.

2) Keep your child’s development/age in mind when planning events.  Try to be sensitive to their sleep schedules.  Is it worth it to stay up to spend a few extra hours with a much-loved but little seen family member? Probably.  Is it worth it to miss a nap (with cuddles and a nice book) to stand in line for the mall santa? Probably not.

3) Plan events through the season that will only involve your immediate family.  Quite time for just Mom, Dad, and kiddos can be hard to come by these days but for most younger children this is really all they really want. Allow loads of extra time for these activities so your child can move at his/her own pace and explore what they want.

4) Allow your child to be involved on their level.  If they want to do something, let them, even if it isn’t the “right” way to do it.  Let them have ownership of the holiday.  Does that mean some cookies may end up headless? Ornaments may drag on the floor? Yep.  Will they be more engaged and proud of their participation? Yep.

5) Incorporate the season into your daily life.  Whatever is most joyous for you, singing, cooking, crafting, pick something and do a little bit each day.  It will help keep your heart in the right place 🙂

Merry Christmas!!

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