Browsing Tag

toddlers

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Emotional Memory – explaining a child’s and a parent’s raw reactions

9 June, 2014

A few months ago, one of our last days in UK, the four of us rocked up to a park, eager to get some air after being stuck in a bit of gnarly traffic. It was a crazy windy day, perfect for kite flying. As we unfolded our kite our three year old daughter began to scream. She threw herself on the floor, thrashing about, her face purple, her arms and legs crashing onto the muddy grass. “PUT THE KITE AWAY” she screamed. “PUT IT AWAY AWAY AWAY AWAY” through heaving sobs.

We were astonished! We were at the park, one of her favourite places. And I was really excited about flying the kite. I’d been belting out Mary Poppins’ “Let’s go fly a kite! Up to the highest heights! LALALALALALALAAAAA!” all the way through the London traffic, to my whole family’s obvious delight.

We validated her rage and distress and then we, a bit reluctantly, folded the kite back up and put it away.

She calmed down, crying quietly. Once the kite was back in the van she cheered up and we got back to the important task of chasing each other around trees.

As I ran through the wild winds contemplating Ramona’s meltdown I was struck by the fact that the very last time the kite had been played with Tim had broken his ankle. It had gotten caught in a tree and as Tim leapt from the branch after untangling it, he fractured his bone. One of the kids in the garden had come to get me and as I ran out I just saw Tim flat on his back with pain – a rare, rare sight. Ramona was just standing there, flummoxed by her indestructible dad on the ground.

For Ramona, the kite holds a memory of her dad being hurt, disappearing into A and E for several hours and then hobbling about in a cast for a few weeks. Of course she didn’t want the kite out! Of course her way to communicate the trauma she felt was through an epic meltdown!

It is not often that our children’s big emotions can be so directly traced to a past memory, but over the last week I have become convinced that this possibly explains quite a few of the most random tantrums. Emotional Memory - explaining a parent's and a child's raw emotions
(Photos from before the kitegate!)

Emotional Memory in Children

Robin Grille is an author and psychologist with over 25 years experience and he spoke convincingly last week of the power of emotional memory. Our bodies and minds can hold on to trauma from many years ago and, without us even being able to recall the incident, we can have a huge reaction when something stirs that body memory within us. Cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that we have body memories even from birth, and it is possible that some of the intense emotions children experience could be linked to their entry into the world.

Sometimes it seems as if “tantrums” (that word seems quite disrespectful in light of all of this, eh?) are triggered by the most trivial, insignificant thing (i.e the Reasons my Son Is Crying meme) when there is a good chance the trivial thing has triggered a body memory of something big.

Of course, I also reckon some children are simply pissed off a lot of the time because they have so little say over their lives.

Emotional Memory for Parents
Traumatic memories of childhood also stay with us and inform our parenting. Do you ever find your self having a quite irrational, emotional response to your child’s behaviour? You find yourself triggered by their meltdowns, or mess, or their lack of appreciation? It is possible that that is because of memories of your own childhood are brought to the surface by your child.

During one seminar last week – “When Parent’s were children” – Robin had us all close our eyes and focus on the behaviour in our child that “triggers” us. We then imagined ourselves at that age and dwelt on what was going on for us at that time. It was incredible how, with a bit of help, we were able to see how much our own childhood impacts our parenting.

If we want to support our children through their own emotions, without our own baggage getting in the way, we need to take a look inside and find some healing for any childhood trauma we are carrying.

As Robin put it, we need to look out with one eye and in with the other.

There is also a possibility that we can’t cope with our child’s emotions because we are unsupported.
If I was unsupported as a parent I could easily have looked at Ramona’s kite-triggered meltdown in the park and taken a picture and sent it into Reasons My Son is Crying with the tag “We got the kite out at the park.”

We need to try and find a small tribe of parents who understand and can hold our hand through tricky spots. (Perhaps that it what the people involved in that meme are trying to do – but I’d argue it is very much at the expense of their children’s dignity.)Emotional Memory and a child's tantrums

Responding to a possible emotional memory

So, the next time your child goes for the nuclear reaction, welcome it (they are possibly working through past pain) and validate it (“You feel so angry, it is okay to feel angry.”) and give some space for your own feelings (“Is this bringing anything up?”) and find some support (be it a whisper in your friend’s ear “Eeek, this is a bit embarrassing but my child really needs me right now!” or a respectful recount of the incidence in a private Facebook forum – do you have one of these? I think they are very useful.)

I think awareness about the concept of “emotional memory” could be an incredible tool in enabling us to support our children through their emotional explosiveness and in stopping the baton of childhood trauma being passed from one generation to the next.

I’m fairly sure that experience with the kite in the park, as we held Ramona through her trauma, had a sort of healing effect on her. I hope so – we are going to a kite festival in a couple of weeks so we are going to find out! *nervous face*

(Mind you, me being unable to to refrain from skipping around the crowds singing Mary Poppins might set her up with another, altogether more traumatic, Emotional Memory.)

PS Come and connect with us on Facebook for more peaceful parenting and thrift blogging & discussion!

Attachment parenting, Parenting, Uncategorized

Attachment Parenting A Toddler: Beyond Breastfeeding and Babywearing

4 March, 2014

Last night Tim was out late so I had two little people on my hands at bed time- this is pretty rare for us. I hunkered down with them both, one on each side, breastfeeding to sleep, their guzzling and gulping the only sound in the treacly silence of a countryside evening.

Their eyes began closing as if on command, and they held hands across my belly. “What a perfect picture of attachment parenting!” I thought, ever so slightly wryly.

Truth is, this is rarely what mothering looks like for me. I find tandem breastfeeding uncomfortable and over the last year I’ve encouraged Ramona, who is three, down from a billion breastfeeds a day to just this one breastfeed at bed time.

Even last night, a second after I had that thought, baby Juno decided sleep is for suckers and instead burrowed under the duvet, popped back up with a fork (you know) and climbed atop my tummy, yodelling and waving her weapon about. (It is testament to the power of the boob that Ramona carried on drifting off to sleep regardless.) This peaceful, tandem breastfeeding and tandem babywearing thing just doesn’t seem to fit us with grace and ease!

Ramona rarely rides about in a sling these days – she prefers to run, scoot or sit upon her dad’s shoulders – clinging to his head and stealing his specs. We do cosleep – but her with her daddy in one double and Juno and I in another.20140304-134021.jpg

It’s funny, because when our children are babies attachment parenting seems to mainly be about those three behaviours.

Of course, babywearing, breastfeeding, and cosleeping is how attachment parenting often LOOKS but no official AP sergeant has ever demanded these things in order to make it on the AP team. Because attachment- based on a quite unwooly psychological / mental well being- theory- really mostly comes down to nurturing connection and responding quickly to a child’s needs, with respect.

But when the baby has been weaned, when they want to sleep in their own bed, when they opt for the scooter over the sling, what does attachment parenting look like? As they grow, and these things become a little less a part of their lives, many parents feel a bit lost.

I for one began burying my head into books again, searching for ideas about child development, communication and nurturing connection with this wild and wonderful toddler in my life. 20140304-133829.jpg

There are five main ways that our attachment parenting philosophy has influenced our parenting an older child:

Validate
I reckon this is the Big One, the crucial part of our communication with toddlers. If attachment parenting is about connection, trust and responsiveness then our toddler need to feel understood and they need to feel that their emotions are valid, loved through their big feelings. We need to knock on the head “You’re okay, honey!” and ” Don’t worry!” – replacing them with an acknowledgment of how they are feeling; “You lost your toy? And I can see you are really upset” and “You are frustrated about that!”

Get into the habit of repeating back to them what you hear. Don’t add to their emotion “OOH, YOU ARE SUPER, SWEARINGLY FURIOUS!” (hehehe) but do give them words if they can’t find them- “upset” is a nice word that covers lots of emotions.

Start with your baby. Even when they cry as a tiny one, instead of “Shhhh” as them “Were you worried that I had walked away?” (Or whatever) – of course, while offering your boob because that IS what they want, a lot of the time.

This validation is a communication habit for a lifetime, for children, for friends, and colleagues.

Standing back
Strangely, it feels as if so at a loss are attachment parents when their kids hit the toddler years that they become “helicopter parents” – hovering over their child’s every move, as if worried of severing the attachment.

This isn’t the way, dudes.

Attachment parenting is about responding to a child’s needs and as they grow one of a child’s most demanding needs is that of autonomy. They need to know they are in charge of some stuff, they need to know they have a say on the things that impact their lives. (They also – importantly- have a right to this.)

Has your child, through tantrums, been asking for more space to exercise their will and their choices? What areas will you let go control of? Their clothes? Their food? Their play?

The attachment parents is the one that stands back when their child strikes out for independence, knowing that sometimes meeting the need of an older child can sometimes look like the EXACT OPPOSITE of meeting the needs of a baby.

Touch
And yet. Children still need touch. A parent’s hug can still fill the cup of an older child who has emptied themselves emotionally. A cuddle can change direction of an afternoon of play between kids that has become quite wrestle-based! Sometimes I wonder if a toddler’s physical (by physical I mean a lot of pushing) play is a plea for more touch.

Touch activates important chemicals in our bodies, and sometimes toddlers, and parents, can be so busy that we don’t activate them enough. It may be a cuddle, joining in with the wrestle, or even a massage that can restore a connection lost in mayhem.

The other day Ramona was struggling a bit and we kind of invented a game. She lies on her back and I just do the motions for different things over her body. So I say “spiders creeping up” and tap my fingers all over her from feet to head and “sun shining down” and whoosh my fingers back down from her head to her toes- like the whooshing sun, you know?!? I did different animals and weathers for about five minutes and it was almost like a meditation. There have a been a couple of times since when she has been really sad that she has asked me for the creepy spider game again.

It reminded me how substantial good healthy physical contact is with our busy toddlers and how it can meet needs that are hidden amongst rambunctiousness.

Empathy
The most helpful tool I have found in my parenting kit (what, you didn’t get a nice bumbag filled with gadgets? It comes out just before the placenta) has been an ability to empathise. And I don’t really know where it came from. I struggled for about a year feeling overwhelmed by the strength of a two year old’s feelings, almost annoyed and frustrated – primarily I imagine because I couldn’t FIX it. I felt almost redundant.

I wish I could remember what triggered the change. (It was quite possibly finding out about play urges- a child’s instinct to play/throw/climb/burrow is as strong for them as BREATHING!) But somehow I just began seeing things from our daughter’s perspective- and I got a bit of a glimpse into how annoying and frustrating HER day must get! Being so curious, but not being given the space to follow up discoveries. Being so excited but finding that shouts of glee aren’t welcome. Being so opinionated but not being heard.

20140304-133642.jpg

I’m no parenting saint AT ALL and I do feel infuriated sometimes but stepping back from my feelings and attempting to see things through her eyes REALLY helps.

Play
Play is a form of communication for children, so if we want to nurture a strong connection with them we need to play hard too! Play has also rescued many a moment for us that was spiralling into disconnection.

If Ramona is doing something that breaks our one rule (No harming people or people’s stuff) then I will often use play as a way of recovering any shaken connection. So a couple of days ago Ramona was enjoying pulling apart a friend’s house plant. I explained to her why house plants need to not have their leaves ripped, but she continued. I was picking up that Ramona was running on empty a bit so I firmly said “I’m not going to let you pull apart that plant” and then I began to cry big, ridiculous sobs and pretended to be the plant “Noooooo, don’t pull meeeeeeeee!!!” And we had a silly old game of plant chasing kid and kid pulling plant. (A classic.) Later on, when Ramona was full up and connected again, we had a conversation about keeping people’s stuff safe.

Attachment parenting is not about avoiding all tension and healthy boundaries/ guidelines, but IS about creating a good, receptive environment in which to discuss these things in a respectful way. Play is often a bridge between inappropriate behaviour and necessary discussion for us.

One of the best books I have read on the whole of childhood based on attachment theory is “Letting Go As Children Grow” by author of cosleeping bible, Three In A Bed, Deborah Jackson.

“The letting go process does not have to wait until the rebellious teenager explodes with anger and frustration. It does not even have to wait for a two yea old to become ‘terrible’. We can let our children go from the moment they are born by trusting in the process of nature and responding to their needs as they become apparent.”

How does attachment look in your family these days? I’d love to hear from families with different ages.

Parenting

Children thrive when they are set free from rules

28 January, 2014

A piece of academic research ignited our collective imaginations this week. The study, carried out in New Zealand, revealed that several primary schools abandoned their playground rules to great success, with one head teacher vowing never to return to rules. Instead of descending into mayhem the children simply got on with playing, and they were happier and calmer and better behaved throughout the rest of their school day.

I have never seen one news article spread so fast- people from every walk of life were sharing this study on social media. Why were people so excited by it?20140128-141709.jpg

I think it is because it confirms what we all want to believe- children are much more capable than we give them credit for and they blossom when they are given freedom.

Many of the people who posted it shared that it reflected their own childhoods. It seems as if the “Seen and Not Heard” of adult-child interactions had benefits for children – kids were expected to get out of the way and therefore were granted a lot of autonomy, gathering in small tribes away from the adults.

In recent years, as parenting has become a lot more hands on, children are spending much more time under the gaze of loving adults. And, perhaps with the disintegration of community life, there is less opportunity for children to gather together for child-only play. And it seems, in order to help children along adults have inputted more and more guidelines for safe, healthy play.

I think this study has made people reconsider all of this. If children are truly thriving without rules, organising themselves and quelling bullying behaviour, let’s encourage more of this. Let’s allow this study to impact our everyday interactions with children. Let’s aim for more freedom and more autonomy for kids.

Here are a few suggestions:

Assess your rules
Do you have a lot of rules in your household? What are they, do you need them? Can you strip them back to the things that you really value? We have one general principle; No harming people or things.* All other stuff is up for negotiation and on the spot responding.

There are many, many families who have no rules and find their children act responsibly and with respect when given this freedom. Some families opt for conversation, rather than rules.

“Children who live surrounded by rules, instead of learning about principles, end up becoming adept at getting around rules, finding the loopholes in rules, disguising non-compliance, or deflecting blame for non-compliance (i.e. lying about what they did). These are the skills that they then bring into adult life.” ~ Robyn Coburn

* We don’t discipline around this though. If Ramona pushes or hits while I am around I will get down on her level and say “I’m not going to let you hit Joseph” and I immediately distract so there isn’t another opportunity to do it and then later on, when we are both calm we have a talk about how she was feeling, what went on and how we might respond another time she gets frustrated.

 

Give them space
Give your kids as much space away from adults as possible. The happiest I’ve ever seen Ramona is over the course of a week that we spend once a year with all our friends and their children camping in a big field. The adults laze around eating and we hardly see the kids at all. The 15 of them just look after each other.

Can you find ways to create this kind of environment for your children? Talk to other parents and begin “Idle Saturdays” in a park where the kids begin to look after each other as a little tribe. (The more the merrier, for happiness I think. And it may take a few days of this to really see the benefits.)

Trust them
An overwhelmingly loud theme from this study is TRUST. We can trust even small children to make good decisions – especially so when guided by other slightly older kids. It is entirely possible that if children make bad decisions it is BECAUSE of our mistrust and our lack of empowerment! If a child is used to being guided and helped they will learn to not trust their instinct and abilities. If left to it they will discover, learn and upskill all by themselves. They will learn how to negotiate sharing a toy with a peer because they REALLY WANT TO PLAY WITH THE TOY, and if we constantly get involved with our pleas to share, honey, SHARE, they won’t discover the tricky, essential art of negotiating with other equally eager children. If we jump on them every time they try and pour themselves a drink they will never believe they are able to have a drink of juice without spilling it… so they keep on spilling it.

Trust children. It is better for them and easier for you.

Watch with your ears
We saw a beautiful and empowering way of interacting with children whilst visiting the Forest Kindergarten in the Black Forest. They had a phrase “Watch with your ears” which meant that the adults rarely got involved in children’s activities and debates, instead they were present as busy bystanders – listening out for any signs of crisis that might need help. The workers there found that when an adult is close by kids act differently- they are less likely to work things out with each other and less likely to overcome a challenge.

Can you step back a little? Spend less time hovering and more time watching with your ears? Give your children and their friends more time and space to organise themselves.

Share the study
Would you consider sending the news article to your child’s school or kindergarten? Although they might not go the whole hog they might consider granting more autonomy to the children in their classrooms and playground.

You might have guessed that I think autonomy and self-direciton is absolutely crucial for a child’s happiness and a family’s well being! Here are 23 Ways to Nurture Autonomy in our children. 

I’d love to hear how you felt about this study. Did you find it inspiring? Why? Are there any other ways you think we can give children more freedom in order to see them flourish?

Parenting

23 steps to nurturing autonomy in our toddlers

25 June, 2013

We went to a pyjama party at the Science Museum last week. It was a VIP party, with just the one guest; Ramona. Obviously the thousands of other children and adults looking around the rockets didn’t get the invite- they were in school uniforms and daytime wear- ha! Suckers!

Was it embarrassing wandering around this crowded place with a toddler in her Number One Favourite and Best outfit of mismatched PJs, barefeet and carrying a cuddly toy? Not really. I have an incredibly high tolerance for public humiliation- I was just happy that they were clean on and that it wasn’t her second favourite outfit which is her birthday suit/ in the altogether/ au natural/ stark raving naked.

pjs

Ramona wears alot of peculiar things- a Spiderman top with a tutu, a princess dress with a Bob the Builder hard hat, wooly tights and a Hawaiian shirt. Our hand-me-downs come from a variety of places and it makes her fit right in with the local hipsters rocking their charity-shop chic. And I just don’t get involved. Since as long as she has wanted to we have been happy to let Ramona choose her clothes- for me it is just one of the steps we can do to nurture her autonomy.

A few weeks back a Guardian article Leave Our Kids Alone did the rounds. It was a snippet from Jay Griffiths’ book “The riddle of the Childscape” in which she describes the wild, uninhibited childhood of more primitive societies in a way that possibly made every parent in the UK want that for their children! Gangs of rambunctious children running together free through jungles pitted against our over cautious, often quite isolated experience where the metal confines of the playground provide our kids with their only taste of freedom.

We had a good discussion on my Facebook page (come and find us!) about it and concluded that nurturing this sense of freedom comes down to generating autonomy in everyday life. Perhaps this is especially important for us urban dwellers for whom letting our kids roam alone in fields is a pretty remote ideal.

I am fairly sure that the more autonomous a child is be the more likely that together the space you occupy will be a cooperative one. The more in control of some aspects of their lives they are, the less defiant in other areas toddlers will be.

Nurturing autonomy in toddlers

Here are the things we do to nurture autonomy for Ramona:

Ramona sets the pace for her own independence. The worst thing for our kid’s autonomy would be to force them in to it! We wait for cues from Ramona that tell us she is ready for something and then figure out how to help her work it out.

She wears the clothes she chooses. Once it became obvious she wanted to get involved in this area we gave her an option of two outfits but now she asks for specific things (mostly her Pirate pyjamas.) And most of the time she just chooses to be completely in the buff. We accept that completely just not outside the house.

We are stripping back the help we give her getting dressed. So far we are up to just putting her head through the hole in the tee shirt- she finds the arms. She can also put shorts, skirts and pants on herself- even if it does mean a few minutes of hopping about with two legs in one hole first!

We keep food in accessible places for her- either snacks on plates on coffee tables so she can help herself, or cereal in a cupboard she can reach, along with a bowl. Early on this did result in a few branflakes on the floor but we got there in the end. (And there would be a tidier way of doing this I am sure!) This not only allows her to be in charge of her hunger but also helps us avoid the massive blood sugar lows that generate tantrums.

We let her be the judge of what she likes to eat and doesn’t, and when she is full or not. We like her to try things that we are fairly sure she likes but we don’t make a big deal about it and we let her refuse to eat things (onions are the only thing i can think of!) We also really trust her decision to stop eating her meal. Sometimes she eats every scrap and has seconds and other times she’ll only eat a mouthful or so. There is a whole blog post I could write on this but I just don’t believe in mealtime battles or coercing food into our kids. I want our meal times to be a pleasure together, and for the rest of our children’s lives. And I’d be mad if another person tried telling me I wasn’t finished yet when I was!

We have organised our home so that Ramona can do or be wherever she wants. We keep laptops and things we don’t want her touching out of the way. This way we limit any interference with her movements. I just don’t agree with keeping precious things within reach in order to teach them “rules”- it is totally natural and instinctive thing for them to explore so we mustn’t set things up in order for them to fulfill a “naughty toddler” role!

Find a wild place! Make it your mission, search high and low, for somewhere you can get to where your toddler can just be herself and explore without any interruptions. It might be a fenced dog free area at a park, or a huge sand pit within the grounds of a child care centre, or a huge garden of a friend (these are our own wild places) – somewhere that you can sit and zone out while she enters “Flow”. Read this excellent piece by Nature Play on becoming an expert at this!

We don’t interrupt. This is quite a hard one as our default as adults is to give an opinion on our children’s activities! “OOh look, you are reading a book!” “Hey, great dancing!” If they are happy and engaged in something, just leave them to it, to be the boss of that activity and the feelings they are having while doing it.

We do this at the play ground too. It requires a determined shrug of the shoulders towards other parents who give off a “Why don’t you help her?!” kind of a vibe. But, unless she asks for it, and even then we sometimes just encourage  with a “Maybe try it this way”, we stay out of her way. If it is something high or tricky that Ramona hasn’t done before I stay within catchable distance but mostly I let her attack the ladders and nets with abandon. I’m fairly confident that unless the bad luck pixies attack (and they can attack in the most tame of circumstances; Ramona broke her leg falling half a metre!) kids are pretty good at working within their capabilities.

We give Ramona a say in what we are going to do during the day. “Park or garden?” “Hanging out with Ivy or Esme?” We are only just on the cusp of doing this but I hope it will become a habit for us, so that eventually the girls understand that they are a key part in our family decision making process.

Before people come over to play we give Ramona a chance to put some toys away that she doesn’t want to be played with. This gives her the sense that she has chosen the toys that we do all play with and avoids a bit of angst. We also allow her to choose when she is ready to share. If kids are tussling over a toy I ask the one who has it to say when it is the other kid’s turn. It sounds like a gamble, but 30 seconds in they will nearly always yell “Annie! Your turn!”

We create opportunities to help around the house and in the kitchen. She cut up the mushrooms the other day (they were a bit wonky but hey!) and stirs the rice. When we go off on our European trip I’m gonna get her doing the dishes *high fives* – our ceramic sink (HELLO? Who’s idea was THAT? Looks beaut but even Tim and I break one piece of crockery a day on it.) doesn’t really give her chance to do real washing up.

The authors of How To Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (the greatest book by the way, every parent should read it!) have some brilliant suggestions too, some of which might work for older kiddos:

Let them make choices.  Turn everything into a presentation of choice. Rather than “Please take your medicine” make it “Would you like to takes your tablets with water or ginger ale?” Alternatively, if you think a forced choice isn’t much of a choice at all, present the problem and allow them to come up with the solution.

Show respect for a child’s struggle. Don’t help them out of it but verbalise the frustration. “That is quite tricky, it can be hard to do it by yourself.” Add some helpful information too “Sometimes it helps to come down the ladder backwards.”

Don’t ask too many questions. Sometimes being bombarded with questions is a parents way to connect but ends up with the opposite result. The often asked “Did you have fun today?” is loaded too – a child can feel the pressure to experience an activity a certain way.

Don’t rush to answer questions.  Usually when a child asks a question she has already done some thinking about the answer. Sometimes just encouraging the conversation is enough “Hmm, you wonder about that.”  Or asking them what they think, or repeating it back to them. The process of searching for the answer is as valuable as the answer itself.

Encourage them to use resources outside of the home. This allows them to be free from dependence on you and that there is a whole community of resources that can be tapped into. Have them ask the petshop owner their questions about animals.

Don’t take away hope. It can be too easy to say in response to a child’s yearning for, say, a horse “That’s ever gonna happen!” Allow them to dream and fantasize, trying to prepare children for the possibility of disappointment can deprive them of important experiences.

Let her own her own body. Avoid tucking in their shirt, rearranging their hair band, brushing dirt off. It is an invasion of their physical privacy.

Stay out of the minutiae of a child’s life.  “Sit up when you do your homework.” “Get your hair out of your eyes!” “Why are you doing that?” Just let them get on with it!

Don’t talk about a child in front of him, no matter how young he is. When a child hear themselves discussed this way it can make them feel like an object, a possession of their parents.

Let a child answer for herself. “Does she like having a baby sister?” A real mark of respect for the child’s autonomy is is to say to the inquiring adult “Ramona can tell you, she’s the one who knows.”

Show respect for your child’s readiness.  Express confidence in her ultimate readiness. “I’m not concerned. When you’re ready you’ll get into the water.”

Watch out for too many No’s. Some children experience NO as a call to arms and they mobilise their energy for a counter attack.  Alternatives to No include:  Giving information, accepting their feelings, describing the problem and giving yourself time to think.

Phew. What a list! I hope it might help you feel okay about living in a Western, urban society where our tots can’t run free with machetes. Your child can still experience the beauty of self-governance and the liberation of wearing PJ’s in inappropriate settings.

In what ways do you encourage independence in your child?

 

 

 

Parenting

Walking Toddlers – Nurturing curiosity VS getting somewhere

5 June, 2013

We were walking home from the bus stop, only a 100 metre walk but I was already whipping out the “Should we march? Skip? Jump?” in order to cajole my two year old tot  along. After a bit of very slow marching, skipping and jumping she suggested “Let’s breakdance!” and proceeded to bust out an almost perfect Babyfreeze – that classic head-on-floor-pose youngsters do whenst having some hip-hoppity merriment.  I was agape, impressed with her street cred (Crumbs! She’ll be tagging the playground next!) “Who taught you that, Ramona?!”-expecting to hear the name of one of our cool chums- Ramona replied “Nana.”

Breakdancing the rest of the way home, with this one single freeze, was, er, quite slow.

I’ve always been fairly happy with our “walks”- although they are less “one foot in front of the other” and more “OMG check out this cigarette butt! And let’s run up these steps! And swing this gate! And poke this crack! And stare at this dog poo for yonks! Dude, seriously LOOK AT IT!!!” We also always sniff every flower, trace every aeroplane trail and admire every shop window.

(The window of the betting shop at the end of the road, the one next to the drug-dealing pasty shop, has the BEST displays full of pictures of cartoony people and animals. So good are they that each character gets their own song, on Ramona’s insistence. If you have a local Coral you might recognise the likes of DJ Bob who likes corn on the cob and Leprechaun Bill who loves to dance on the window sill. We spend a long time admiring these folk on our way to the post box, warbling away down on the corner with the crackheads.)

We haven’t ever gotten anywhere fast, but I have been okay with that. In fact, for Ramona’s whole walking life I have cherished these singing, skippy, pokey dawdles. I have very purposefully chosen to help Ramona see that the journey is as important as the destination. In fact, my mum (the aforementioned break dancing Nana) on one such walk to the bus praised my patience and attitude. I explained that I always intentionally allow an extra half an hour to get to places, so that we can prioritise curiosity and explore our surroundings at Ramona’s pace. If we needed to go somewhere quickly we used a sling or a buggy happily.

Helping toddlers walk

This shot is nicer than the one outside the betting shop

But now… now I would like to be able to get to places. The shift is probably to do with having baby Juno on my front in a wrap and feeling like it would be easier to hold Ramona’s hand than push a buggy or wrap her on my back too. I also feel like she is reaching an age where it is good and appropriate for her to walk most places, both for her physical needs and autonomy. I really love the philosophy of Montessori who, amongst other things, was a firm believer in getting kids walking everywhere as soon as they are able.

Ramona IS able to walk everywhere, it would just take us one billion years to get anywhere.

So although I am not a fan of adults arbitrarily deciding something needs to change and then making children do something (parents do this alot and I think it is a bit unfair and quite possibly impacts the trust relationship, don’t you think?) I feel I need to help Ramona WALK- one foot in front of the other styles. And I want to do it without bribing or rewarding (I don’t think these are good for kids) and with as little cajoling/skipping/marching/breakdancing as possible. And also, high hopes I know, while still keeping the philosophy of curiosity and journeying alive.Keep your curiosity sacred

I am wondering if having two different labels for our walks might work – explaining to Ramona before we set out that this is an “A-B walk” and that we just need to get there, or this is a “Dawdle walk” and we can take as many curiosity stops as we want.
Have you found a way to walk with your toddler without standing outside betting shops singing for too long? Have you read of any creative solutions to this? Would love to hear your sugestions. I will keep you posted on our two types of walk experiment…

Parenting

Validate bad times, c’mon!

6 September, 2012

(sung to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, obviously. You totally got that, eh.)

On one of our trips away this summer we were rushing to get our train back. I jumped on before Ramona and Tim, determined to get us a table seat. We had so much luggage – all our camping gear- and there were three of us so I was feeling pretty deserving. As I entered the carriage I saw an empty one and honed in on it – unfortunately a businessman had spotted it too- entering from the other door. He pipped me to the post by about 0.7 seconds and with a triumphant flourish sat his un-heavy-laden solo self down. Fortunately there was another! It wasn’t over! I shuttled forward to the next table- and exactly the same thing happened again, this time with a women, arms full of shopping bags.  There was no eye contact, just that same  flourish.

OOF! I WAS MAD!

I carried on up the train in, yeah, what was  bit of a rage, and came upon Tim and Ramona who had found a perfectly fine seating arrangement with bags of room. “You will not BELIEVE what just happened!” And I relayed the story, indignantly… “and the way they sat down… with such a triumphant flourish!!!” I was genuinely feeling a bit bruised by it.

Tim, kindly and very rationally,  responded to my woeful tale with “Never mind. These seats are really perfect.”

I was tired. And feeling a bit harassed. And grumpy and bruised. I, er, didn’t appreciate his comment.

I huffed and puffed and sunk into myself. I might have even whispered something a bit mean.

You see, what I wanted was someone to understand my -albeit irrationally upset- feelings. I wanted Tim to agree “What?! That is WELL out of order! No wonder you feel cross!”

And as our train jolted forward it hit me – we deal with toddlers in this way all the time.

Carboot puppy -The best 20p Ramona ever spent

At least once a day I’ll hear a variation of the following -and yep, sometimes out of my own mouth;

“Oh, don’t be silly, we’ve been at the park for hours, it’s time to go home”

“You just can’t scatter cereal all over the floor, that’s the way it is.”

“C’mon, that’s not for you to play with – look! Have a ball instead.”

“Don’t cry about it-  we can do it again later”

We discount our children’s feelings, sometimes outright by saying it is ridiculous, and sometimes more subtly and in a kinder way,  by trying to explain why they don’t need to worry about it.

I have been trying to validate Ramona’s feelings since she was really small – but only in this moment of immaturity on the train did I feel like I was trapped in a toddler’s body – having my feelings kindly, but subtly, invalidated. (By the way. I honestly think I was being unreasonable on the train. I am an adult, with all the right wiring – I hope- and a -fairly- developed brain and my husband has a really good balance in understanding my feelings but also calling me out when I am being a bit out of order myself!)

Another one of our trips was to a farm with a friend and her two toddlers. She parented so gently and playfully, always validating her children’s huge feelings, even when they seemed unreasonable. It was such a delight to see her sitting on the floor next to her wailing child and, in a undramatic and calm way, letting her know that she understands how hard it is.

“I can see that has made you really upset. ”

“It  is really frustrating when you can’t play with the things you want to, isn’t it?”

“You feel as if you should have longer in the haybales, don’t you?”

“It makes you upset when you can’t help me make dinner. Perhaps you could help me make the pudding?”

It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t come naturally either. I think it takes a lot of practice to make empathy and validation the first response, particularly when it is over something so blatantly trivial. I am constantly trying to understand that for Ramona the sense of the feeling is often huge, even if the cause of the feeling seems tiny and minor to me.

I think validating our toddler’s feelings often does avert full blown tantrums, and can often save time in the long run. But mostly I think I want to nurture a relationship based on understanding, to take every opportunity to connect with my toddler.  I want Ramona to get that there is a place for her big feelings, and it is right to sometimes feel sad and cross and frustrated. She doesn’t have to bury these feelings, to distract herself by the next thing.

So, isn’t it great when we can learn something from a particularly low ebb in our adult emotional maturity?  Really great. I just probably shouldn’t have slipped a special little revenge parcel in their bags to discover later. (JOKES)

*Sings*

Let’s all validate and have a good time!

PS- If you are interested in this I do recommend reading some of Naomi Aldort’s stuff. I am currently battling through her book, Raising our children, Raising ourselves-  but her articles are a million times easier to read!

Breastfeeding, Parenting

The Ominous Silence of babies and toddlers

5 August, 2011

Ramona has already begun doing things I associate with parenting toddlers- drinking bath water? I have three more years of this? She literally bends double in the bath to slurp up that murky, soapy goodness. The other thing is going deathly quiet when doing something bad. When my sister hears that silence she is guaranteed to find little Jude having unravelled every toilet roll in the house.

Today I was busy backcombing my quiff and heard that silence (in some ways as loud as a siren – who would have thought the absence of a nine month old baby’s babbling, gurgling and shuffling could be so piercing?!) to find her having a grand old chomp on my ipod cable with her two gnarly teeth. Yesterday I busted her tearing up tissue and stuffing it in her mouth.

20110805-095450.jpg

What’s with this??

How could she possibly know that she shouldn’t be doing that?

But she knows, otherwise she would be carrying on with her sweet little babysong, innocently destroying all the important wires in our house. (You say it is because these things involve her mouth being industrious? But no, it it isn’t because I am telling you, when she breastfeeds she makes THE LOUDEST NOISE YOU HAVE EVER HEARD. It is the muffled growl of a clan of starving lion cubs setting upon the tender flesh of a big eyed gazelle. It increases several decibels when in peaceful, public places.)

I am on to you Ramona with your silent, sneaky ways. I’m on to you…