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Embracing the “terrible” twos

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Anyone interested in so-called positive parenting or gentle parenting is probably familiar with Dr. Laura Markham and her Aha! Parenting website. I find myself reading and re-reading many of her posts and tonight I came across this fantastic list of reminders for parents who, like me, are starting to see the first glimpses of those dreaded “terrible” twos in their until-now saintly toddler.

I won’t tell you more about it because the list is perfect and clear as it is. All I will say is: please, if you have a toddler, read this. Think about what it says, apply as much as you can, print it out and keep it close for when times get a little difficult, and go ahead and embrace that beautiful toddler of yours.

Happy read!

(Original post from Aha! Parenting can be found here).

Toddlers: Your Game Plan for the Terrific Twos

How to manage your toddler and stay a positive parent?

Most children become harder to manage at around fourteen months. That’s because they make a huge developmental leap at this point. They’re not so easily distracted. They realize that you’re a separate person, who can sometimes–but not nearly often enough–be influenced to do things their way. They realize they have some influence in the world, but not a lot of power, and they start experimenting to see how they can get their needs met and their desires fulfilled.

This can be a maddening time for parents, or it can be a Photo: Angela Sevinwonderful time, watching your child blossom into a person in her own right.  How difficult the phase from 15 to 36 months is depends mostly on the parent’s attitude. Your child’s rebellion will be inversely proportional to the freedom she’s given to do her developmental work.

How much is he allowed to explore? To set his own pace?  To feel in control of his world?  To discover that he is a competent person?

Much of this depends on the parent.  Are you sensitive to your child’s readiness for independence, supporting but not pushing? Can you appreciate your child’s bids for independence without taking them as personal insults?  Can you give up some control so your child can develop some sense of mastery over her world? Can you set whatever limits are necessary for her safety and your sanity, while empathizing with her disappointment when she doesn’t get what she wants?

Your Toddler’s Developmental Tasks:

Rapid physical and brain development.
Rapid acquisition of vocabulary and verbal rules.
Learning how to stay connected to you while he asserts his own needs and wants.
Development of Agency (sense of oneself as a powerful, competent person able to act upon the world).
Learning that other children are people too, and that he relate to them safely, so he doesn’t have to be aggressive with them.

Your Parenting Challenge:

Keeping your sanity while your baby increasingly expresses herself and engages with the world.

Your Parenting Priorities:

1. Keeping your child safe as she explores.
2. Giving up some control so he can develop some mastery over his world.
3. Enjoying her emerging independence and curiosity.
4. Staying positive!

“The first three years of life establishes the blueprints for all of our future relationships.” — John Bowlby

What toddlers need from their parents:

1. The validation of her own agency.  She needs to learn that there are things she is in charge of, such as her own body, and she needs to experience herself as competent and powerful.

2. Structure, Limits, Routines and Security:  Toddlers are beginning to grasp that it’s a big world out there.  Even their own  feelings seem overwhelming to them at times.  They need the reassurance that the parent is in charge and can keep them safe  — from the world, and from their own big feelings and lack of self control.

3. Help understanding and structuring time so he feels less out of control and pummeled by circumstance (“After lunch it’s nap time, and then we’ll drive to Grandma’s.”)  Toddlers need to know what to expect and do better with a definite routine.

4. Your empathy: Look at it from his point of view, and you’ll see it makes sense.  Even if you can’t do what he wants, it will help him to cooperate if you can understand and sympathize with his unhappiness.

Gameplan for a Fun Toddlerhood:

Photo: Crushed Red Pepper

1. Let your child be in charge of potty training.  They all get out of diapers sooner or later. Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will never win.  Toilet training can actually be empowering for your child, an important step in independence, but it depends how you handle it.  If your child shows zero interest in toilet training, find opportunities for him to be around other kids who are using the toilet, and he’ll quickly want to emulate them. For more on easy potty learning, click here.

2. Sidestep power struggles.  You don’t have to prove you’re right. Your child is trying to assert that he is a real person, with some real power in the world.  That’s totally appropriate.  Let him say no whenever you can do so without compromise to safety, health, or other peoples’ rights.  You’ll be glad to know that since tantrums are an expression of powerlessness, toddlers who feel some control over their lives have many fewer tantrums.

3. Pre-empt tantrums.  First, know that tantrums are normal for kids this age.  Second, since most tantrums happen when kids are hungry or tired, think ahead.  Preemptive feeding and napping, firm bedtimes, re-connection with you,  cozy times, peaceful quiet time without media stimulation —  whatever  it takes to calm down and rest —  prevent most tantrums, and reground kids who are getting whiny. Learn to just say no  — to yourself!  Don’t squeeze in that last errand.  Don’t drag a hungry or tired kid to the store. Make do and do it tomorrow.  For more on taming toddler tantrums, click here.

4. Use play to “manage” your toddler.  Toddlers don’t like to be ordered around any more than you do.  What they do love is to play.  Want cooperation? Fly your toddler up to her bath.  Get him to finish his milk by pretending to be a puppy who loves milk.  Get her into her carseat by pretending to be the flight attendant preparing for takeoff.  Race him to the car.

5. Don’t take it personally.  Your toddler will at times reject you or be hurtful in some way.  Don’t take it personally.  She’s learning from you how to modulate her anger.  This is your opportunity to grow, and teach her at the same time.

6. Allow time in your schedule for your toddler’s need to explore the world.  That’s his job, after all — exploring, experimenting, learning.  That’s how his brain develops.  Rushing toddlers is one of the common triggers of avoidable tantrums.

7. Cultivate empathy for your child.  Social skills start with your empathy.  Kids begin to develop empathy for others (and therefore, the ability to share, not hit, etc.) as they themselves feel understood. Click here for more on what empathy is and how to use it to raise great kids.

8. Don’t force her to share.  That actually delays the development of sharing skills!  Kids need to feel secure in their ownership before they can share. Instead, introduce the concept of taking turns. (“It’s Crystal’s turn to use the bucket.  Then it will be your turn.”)  Help him wait for his turn with empathy. Help him put his favorite toys away before another child visits.  When he does share, out of the goodness of his own heart, empower him to make that choice again by observing, aloud, the effect of his choice: “Look how happy Michael is that he gets a turn with your truck.”

9. Use age-appropriate “discipline.”  For toddlers, that means empathic limits, information, redirection, and help with emotions.  Researchers compared two groups of toddlers who were rated as behaving about the same. They watched what happened when parents spanked them.  The children who were spanked behaved worse a year later than the kids who weren’t.  Even yelling at toddlers has a negative effect, causing them to harden their hearts to you and become defiant.  Toddlerhood is where violence starts: Are you unwittingly teaching your kids that might makes right? (See Positive Discipline, for help in managing your toddler.)

10. Be the person you want your child to be. Children learn to interact with others by experiencing relationships, and then they recreate them.  Remember that your toddler is learning both sides of any relationship she’s in.  If you don’t want her to tantrum, don’t lose your temper at her. If you yell at her, you’re teaching her by example that tantrums are ok.

11. Eliminate visual electronic media.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two not watch TV or videos at all because they have other important developmental work to do and because it impacts brain development.  The AAP recommends that older children watch AT MOST an hour or two per day of nonviolent, educational TV.  I recommend TV and movies only for special occasions. I know we’re told that Sesame Street is good for our children, but research shows that it influences brain development and shortens the attention span. It starts an addiction in kids who are prone to it. When they’re a little older, they’ll want to watch other TV. And before they’re much older, you’ll wonder why they flip on the TV instead of reading a book. Not to mention that you will have stopped being able to monitor what they watch by the time they’re eight.  For more on TV, see Why Your Toddler Shouldn’t Watch TV — and What to Do Instead.

12.  Feeding is the toddler’s job.  You provide the healthy food.  She feeds it to herself.  Put a mat under the high chair.   Don’t obsess about how much she eats. Kids don’t starve themselves. Many toddlers are too busy during the day to eat enough and ask for food at bedtime.  This can drive a parent around the bend, unless you build a bedtime snack into the schedule – which also often helps kids settle down and sleep better.  If you make sure the snack is healthy, you take the pressure off dinner so you can enjoy your child more at dinner without prodding them to eat. You can combine it with the bedtime story if you’re short on time.  Click here for more on feeding your toddler.

13. Forget about stimulating your child’s brain by teaching her the alphabet.  The intellectual work of toddlers is about exploring, observing the world, talking and being listened to, being accepted, validated and acknowledged. Emotional self-management lays the foundation for intellectual development. It’s never too early to develop a love of books, but that doesn’t happen by learning the alphabet.  If you want your child to love reading, then read to her and tell her stories.

14. Pre-empt whining.  Whining is an expression of the child’s feeling of powerlessness.  It can become a habit.  To nip whining in the bud, avoid letting your child have opportunities to learn that whining gets her what she wants.  In other words, try to avoid making whining necessary, and if it does happen, try to avoid rewarding it. Instead, help your child with those helpless feelings.  Click here for more on how to stop your toddler’s whining.

15. Use routines.  Kids develop self discipline partly by living in a safe, predictable structured routine where they know what to expect.  When you disrupt routines with travel,  Grandma’s visit, or simply exceptions for your own convenience, you can expect tantrums, difficulty falling asleep, and other challenges. Grandma, of course, is worth it, but choosing disruptions wisely is part of protective parenting. Click here for more on schedules and routines that toddlers can understand.

16.  Give her the opportunity to experience competence. Toddlers tantrum less and cooperate more when they feel more powerful.  How can you help your toddler feel more powerful?  Three key ways: Listen to her, Let her make decisions whenever possible, and give her the opportunity to experience competence.

Toddlers need daily experience with work to gain confidence in their own capabilities and begin to think of themselves as competent people.  I don’t mean burdensome work, I mean work in the spirit of Maria Montessori, and Tom Sawyer making the other kids think that white-washing the fence was the world’s best game.   In other words, toddlers LOVE to understand how the household functions, and to participate.  They LOVE to contribute.  They LOVE to learn.

Invite your toddler to be involved with whatever you’re doing.  Ok, so the help will make your job harder, but he’s learning and gaining skills for the future, and you’re bonding.

What kinds of household tasks?   They can stand on a stool or bench in the kitchen to help.  They can help you as you run errands.  They can help in the yard.  Specifically,

Make themselves a snack, such as peeling fruit or an egg, or slicing soft cheese and making sandwiches with crackers.
Help wash pots and pans or other unbreakable dishes.
Wash vegetables in the sink
Wipe the counter off
Help you clean the refrigerator
Help set the table
Help clear the table
Help you by turning lights on and off.
Dust
Scrub the tub (from inside, barefoot!)
Pair the socks as you fold clothes.
Sort clothes (which clean clothes belong to which family member?)
Help you transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer, pull clothes out of the dryer, or hang them on a line.
Pick out fruit at the grocery store.
Wash the table or floor.

These activities are ultimately more educational and satisfying than TV, and most young children love them.  After completing such a task, the toddler says “I did it!”  and feels like a more capable, powerful person. (Compare that to how they feel after they watch a TV show.)  Sure, it’s more work for the parent than just doing it yourself.  That’s not the point.  Toddlers and preschoolers who feel competent and powerful don’t need to assert their power by being contrary.  They’re more confident.  And they’re more helpful! That’s what I call win-win.

Click here for more on helping your child develop Competence.

 

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Positive parenting: dealing with “big feelings”

Sandmom

So I had a challenging day yesterday. D and I went to pick up S from her daycare and she was happy, being her normal self just after waking up from her nap. When we started dressing her to leave, however, something happened and she just snapped. Out of the blue, just like that, she had a major meltdown. Tears, screaming, biting (she bit her shoe!).

Long story short, D stayed in school and I brought home a hysterical toddler that just would not settle down. I was shocked. I had no clue what to do. I stayed with her, trying to hold her but she would literally jump out of my arms. Her pain became my pain, and I began to cry too. After 35 minutes of her intense crying, S accepted my offer for boob. She slowly calmed down, as I held her tightly close to me. She nursed and nursed, while she sighed and I cried. We both fell asleep for about five minutes. We cuddled for a long time. Then she was fine.

Throughout the whole crisis, so many things went through my mind. Is she crazy? Is she sick with anxiety? Is there something wrong with her? S has her temper but I had never seen her like that. She’s had meltdowns when she’s tired, but this was the middle of the afternoon and right after a two hour nap. I had no clues as to what could have triggered her meltdown.

This, until two hours later, when I saw it: S had a huge, red bee sting on her wrist. A stupid bee had stung her, probably as we were getting ready to leave the daycare. That was all!! While I was going mad with speculation, S was in pain, and she kept biting her wrist because it probably hurt like hell, not because she had some weird anxiety disorder like my crazy mom brain was suggesting.

Which brings me to the heart of this post: Big Feelings. Reading about positive parenting, I’ve come across a few articles about Big Feelings. About how toddlerhood is the time when children can feel overwhelmed with new and big emotions because they simply don’t know what they are, or whether they are fleeting or permanent. I did what the articles had suggested, which is to stay close to your child while they sort through the big feelings, even if they are trying to push you away. And I’m happy I had read that, because it did feel right as I did it.

Though yesterday’s crisis was a lot less about S’s big feelings and a lot more about mine —I will have to learn not to follow S’s meltdowns with another meltdown of my own—I still think it’s immensely useful to know how to approach any show of big feelings from our children. Even if that feeling is simply pain from a damn bee sting.

Here are a couple of quotes I like about positive parenting and dealing with big emotions:

  • Children need to be able to “self-soothe” to manage their behavior; and they only learn to self-soothe by being soothed by parents. That’s because the neural pathways that release soothing biochemicals are formed when the baby is soothed by the parent.  Leaving little ones alone with their big emotions does NOT teach them to self-soothe; it undermines their neural development so it’s harder for them to calm themselves throughout their lives. Self-soothing is essential for children to manage their anxiety, emotions and behavior.  Children who are explosive, anxious, or “dramatic” need extra support in the form of parental calming. (Original post here).
  • Children can only manage their behavior when they can manage their emotions, and they learn to manage their emotions by having parents who accept their emotions, even while limiting actions as necessary.  Human emotions need to be felt so they dissipate and leave us; feelings that are repressed pop out uncontrolled and cause “bad” behavior.  But children need to feel safe to experience their big upsets and let them go.  Kids who are uncooperative, angry or fearful are signaling that they need us to “witness” their feelings by letting them cry or rage in our loving presence.  Children who know their feelings are “allowed” don’t store them up, so they’re better able to manage their emotions and behavior. (Original post here).

Positive parenting encourages parents to try “time ins” instead of “time outs.” I don’t think S is quite old enough to experience a time out anyway, but I bring this up because this deals exactly with what I’m talking about: staying with your child while she’s experiencing a big emotion. These two articles explain it really well:

How To Transform Your Time-Outs To Time-Ins

Positive Parenting Tools: Time In vs. Time Out

I hope you find all this info useful. I definitely will try the time ins when the time comes… I know soon enough I’ll be writing about it.

Have a great week everyone. Do share your thoughts here or on the FB page anytime. xoxo

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Positive parenting: respect and understanding

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Hello and thanks for checking in!

I was very glad to see that the topic of positive parenting got lots of attention from you. As I mentioned in my first post about it, Diving into positive parenting, I have started a learning journey about this approach to parenting, hoping that it will serve as a guide for D and I as we raise our daughter.

I have been reading a lot about positive parenting and two of its most basic principles seem especially powerful to me: Respect and Understanding. Here is how I would summarize them:

  • Respect your child – Your child is a person, capable of understanding and communicating with you. Don’t try to “trick” your child (however fun this is!) into doing things. Rather, try explaining why things are done, or not done, in a certain way.

For instance: I was eating a piece of chocolate the other day, and S wanted to have some. I tried to distract her and put the whole thing in my mouth, and then she wasn’t too happy about it —obviously. So the next time I wanted to have a piece of chocolate in front of my toddler, I didn’t act all weird about it. I just held it in my hand, ate it normally, and when S approached me to get some, I told her: “I’m having a chocolate. Do you want to see it?” She looked at it and touched it. I told her, “You can taste it but this one is just for mommy, ok? This has too much sugar for you.” I let her put a small corner of the chocolate in her mouth, just enough to satisfy her curiosity. Then I ate it in front of her, and she didn’t react at all. We just kept playing normally, without making a big deal of it.

  • The second concept is understanding your child: our brains are not developed in full until we reach our early twenties. Children do what they can with the tools they have. Sometimes that means that screaming is a tool to call your attention, not an evil ploy to destroy your nervous system. Always try to see a situation from your child’s perspective, and respect that they are experiencing real emotions, even if they seem silly to you.

This one is a work in progress: Sophie is terrified of my gloves. They are red and kind of furry, so I can understand why she’s a bit apprehensive about them. It is getting very cold in Ottawa and I need to wear my gloves. More importantly, S needs to wear her mitts. But she hates them, too. She looks at their purple fuzziness with contempt and screams if I get them anywhere near her.

So I could do one thing: ignore her apprehension towards my gloves, and impose the mitts on her even if she cries. Or, I can acknowledge that S has a point in being scared of gloves. And then I will explain to her every time I can that, you know, gloves and mitts are inanimate objects that might look like crazy hairy monsters but are totally friendly and keep your fingers warm.

This morning I put on my gloves and they talked to S in a nice, funny voice. I put them on and off several times so that she could see that I control the gloves. She wasn’t too impressed but she wasn’t entirely hating them. So I call that progress. She still didn’t let me put her mitts on.

So, respect and understanding. I know I will be coming back to these two concepts as my parenting challenges become greater than chocolate and mitts!

Meanwhile, I’m reading The Whole Brain Child, a good book about positive parenting. I’ll post a review on it soon!

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Breastfeeding my toddler

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As my daughter looks more and more like a toddler and less like a baby (she’s 15-months-old), I’ve been hearing this question more often: “So… when are you going to wean her?” There is probably an element of genuine curiosity here but, mostly, I think, this question is popping up because for some people it is starting to get a little weird that I am still nursing my daughter.

So yes, the time has come for me to talk about breastfeeding.

I have no patience for the media-fuelled “mommy wars” so no, this is not a post to judge or sway anyone’s opinions about breastfeeding. I only want to share my experience because my own opinions about this have changed. A lot.

When I was pregnant last year, there was no question for me that I wanted to breastfeed. Whenever I had a conversation about how long that would last, I used to say, “a year.” I had met, many years ago, a mom who breastfed her three-year-old. I remember my look of shock when I saw this little guy asking mommy for her boob–and getting it! I talked about it with lots of other people. I made fun of this mom. I thought it was ridiculous. I thought (and this opinion I held until last year), “I would never breastfeed a talking toddler, let alone one that can remember the boob when he grows up!”.

When Time magazine issued that famous front page article titled “Are you mom enough?” with the woman breastfeeding a kid standing on a stool, I laughed about it with other pregnant women. We thought it was gross. We thought that would never be us.

Fast forward a few months and I’m nursing my 15-month-old daughter a few times a day. When she turned one I weaned her to two feedings a day, first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Those two feedings would be the last to go, sometime soon. That’s what I thought. Then she started waking at night a bit more and I resorted to nursing her occasionally. Then she had a cold and I nursed her occasionally to help her get better. Then she was teething badly and then she got quite sick, and now I’m pretty much nursing her once or twice during the night (day feedings are still just morning and evening, with very rare exceptions).

You would think I’m complaining, but it’s actually the opposite. Over the last few weeks, S has gone through lots of changes. We moved cities; she has been teething; she had roseola; and she started daycare. And I’ve been so grateful that I can still offer her the comfort of the boob through all these challenges. Sure, it’s not always fun at night. And I do want to eventually wean her of the overnight feedings again. But I’ve been happy, not annoyed, at the fact that I still have the best tool to help S when she really needs it. It has helped that my amazing husband has been encouraging me all along.

What I’m trying to say is this: I have done what has felt right, both for my daughter and for me, and it has worked for us. I haven’t been fretting about what others would do. I haven’t been thinking, “is this gross? should she be off the boob by now”? I honestly have not.

What has changed is how I see other moms’ breastfeeding relationships with their own kids. I don’t judge them anymore. I celebrate that they are doing what is best for them. I feel bad for what I thought about them before, and I am happy that my own experience has made me approach this with a lot more kindness and humility.

I still love nursing S and I don’t plan on weaning her anymore. It will happen when she is ready, when I am ready.