Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sharing/Hoarding Toys


This is a letter I wrote to a parent at Rainbow Bridge who asked for advice for her toddler. There was a new baby in the family, and Lana, age 23 months, was hoarding toys, and generally making interactions with other children unpleasant. This was especially hard when other children came to their home. After our conversation I wrote this:

Dear Lana's Mom,

I was thinking about Lana and sharing, and thought I'd pass along a modified dialogue that I use around sharing all the time here at Rainbow Bridge. I like it because it gives children dialogue that they can use by themselves some day (in the fairly distant future) without your help. Here's what it looks like:

Lana: (seeing Miller playing with a toy): Mine!
You: YES. That is YOUR toy. You're sharing! It's Miller's turn!
Lana: Mine!
You: Yes. You love playing with that toy! Would you like a turn too?
Lana: (either nods or says:) Mine!
You: Let's ask Miller if you can have a turn when he's done. (Turn to Miller) Miller, can Lana play with that when you're done?
Miller: OK
You: (to Lana) He said yes! You can play with that when he's done! (wait a beat.) What will you play with while you wait? (Wait for a minute to see if Lana can move on to something else by herself. If not, pick up a toy and start playing with it, then say): Maybe this babydoll?
Lana: (Either is distracted, or can't be distracted and starts to cry) Wahhh!!!
You: I know. It's hard to wait! Come on over here and let's see what we can find (Carry her away).

That's the basic gist of it. After you've done it a few hundred times, you might be able to stop after acknowledging that it IS in fact her toy and that it's Miller's turn. When she says "Mine!" again, say, "Yes. You love playing with that toy. What's Miller doing with it? Is he driving it around the livingroom? What would YOU like to drive around the livingroom?" And help her find a similar toy. Or you could say, "Yes. You love playing with that toy. Were you playing with it before?" Lana nods. You go on, "What did you do with it?" Then the conversation proceeds apace and you gradually change the subject. I use this all the time and it's amazing how effective it can be.

**Sometimes, depending on Miller's age, you might ask if Lana can play with it when he's done, and he'll say "No!" Then you say, "Oh, we don't mean right now! We mean when you're ALL done. Can Lana play with it when you're ALL DONE?" Usually that's enough to get him to agree, but if he still says no, you can say, "Well, I think when you're ALL DONE it will be OK. (turn to Lana) Lana, you can play with it when he's all done." And, as an FYI, here at Rainbow Bridge we know that somebody is all done when we see the toy lying on the floor.

If Lana is already trying to pull the toy away from Miller before you get to her, the conversation won't be as smooth. Here's what I do at Rainbow Bridge:

Lana: (pulling at the toy): Mine!
You: Oh! Miller's using that right now! You can find a toy that NOBODY is using! (Take the toy and hand it back to Miller, then say): What will YOU find to play with? (If she won't give it up, say firmly): This is for Miller right now. (take the toy and give it back to Miller.)
Lana: Wahhh!!!
You: (sympathetically):I know. You wish you could have it RIGHT NOW! It's so hard to wait! (wait a beat): Let's go find something for you to play with. (or) What's so-and-so doing over there?

So, hopefully this will give you something to get started with.. The most important thing is to keep your cool, and to remember that 1) with this dialogue you're teaching her skills that she'll be able to use on her own some day, and 2) these things are in fact her toys, so be sympathetic at how hard it is to wait (while at the same time, being firm that it's so-and-so's turn).

I love Lana so much. She's sharp as a tack, and she doesn't miss a beat, and she's firm about what she wants. That makes your job much harder than that of parenting a tractable (or easily distractable) toddler, so don't feel like it's a reflection on your parenting that things are hard with her, and that she doesn't behave as easily as other children seem to. She's going to grow up to be an amazing person, so hang in there! I think you guys are going a great job.

Lana's Mom wrote back:
Faith, this is SO helpful, and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write this all out for me. I think I will print it up and keep it somewhere handy so I can always be remembering this dialogue to use! And I of course love your sweet words about Lana and our parenting - thank you.

LifeWays Principles for Caring for Young Children

My early-childhood program in Boulder, Colorado, is based on the LifeWays philosophy. More can be found about LifeWays on the website http://www.lifewaysnorthamerica.org/ Here are the ten principles that guide our practice:


1. Young children thrive in the presence of parents and other devoted caregivers who enjoy life and caring for children. They learn primarily through imitation/empathy and, therefore, need to be cared for by people with integrity and warmth who are worthy of being imitated. This is the foundation for learning and healthy development.

2. Having consistent caregivers, especially from birth to three years old and, preferably, up to primary school age, is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being.

3. Children need relationship with people of all ages. Infants and toddlers thrive in family-style blended-age care, while older children see nurturing modeled by the adults and experience their own place in the continuum of growing up. Children of all ages can both give and receive special blessing when in the company of elders and youth who enjoy children.

4. Each person is uniquely valuable, gifted with purpose and worthy of respect throughout all phases of his or her life’s journey.

5. Human relationship and activity are the essential tools for teaching the young child all foundational skills for life. Infants and toddlers develop most healthily when allowed to have freedom of movement in a safe environment. For three- to six-year-olds, creative play, not technology or early academics, forms the best foundation for school work and for life-long learning.

6. In infancy and early childhood, daily life experience is the “curriculum.” The child’s relationships to the caregivers and to the environment are the two most important aspects through which the child can experience healthy life rhythms/routines. These include the “nurturing arts” of rest and play, regular meal times, exploring nature, practical/domestic activities, social creativity, music and simple artistic activities.

7. Young children thrive in a home or home-like environment that offers beauty, comfort and security, and connection to the living world of nature. Healthy sense development is fostered when most of their clothing and playthings are of non-synthetic materials and their toys allow for open-ended, imaginative play.

8. Childhood is a valid and authentic time unto itself and not just a preparation for schooling. Skipping or hurrying developmental phases can undermine a child’s healthy and balanced development.

9. Parents of young children need and deserve support in their path of parenting—from
professionals, family, and one another. They thrive in a setting where they are loved, respected and helped to feel love and understanding for their children.

10. Caregivers also have an intrinsic purpose and need to be recognized and appropriately compensated for the value of their work. They need an environment where they can create an atmosphere of “home,” build true relationship to the children, and feel autonomous and appreciated.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Art of Re-direction (More Thoughts on Positive Dicipline)


Taming the Wild Beasts
What I want to talk about here is the art of re-direction. That’s a large part of what positive discipline is: instead of saying what NOT to do, say what you DO want your child to do. This can be very straightforward (“Please talk in a quiet voice”), but it can also be creative, and here is where you can really learn to enjoy being with young children in a whole new way. My first exposure to this was when I was first considering working in early childhood, and I was observing a kindergarten class at a Waldorf school in Colorado. It was a class of 18 children, and during the free-play time there was a group of four 5-year-old boys who were playing that they were a pack of wild dogs. They roamed wildly around the classroom, growling and barking and wreaking havoc on the games others were playing. The teacher called them over to her, and they came running over. “We’re a pack of wild dogs!” they proudly announced. The teacher looked at them thoughtfully. “Wild dogs!” She said, finally. “Wild dogs don’t come inside. If you’re inside, you must be tame. Where are your owners? Each dog MUST have an owner, you know.” The four boys looked at each other, and an animated discussion immediately broke out amongst them about who would be the dogs, who would be the owners, where they could find leashes, etc. I was impressed. She didn’t try to get the boys to “stop” being loud, or “stop” being wild, or “stop” interrupting the other children’s play. She simply re-directed their play into something more appropriate. These boys came out with absolutely no sense of being wrong; in fact, they never came out of their fantasy at all. It merely changed its form. I remember thinking, “Wow.”

Re-directing play sometimes comes in the form of entering into a child’s fantasy-play and changing its direction: if the “monkeys” on the bed are getting a little too rambunctious, you might suggest that it’s time for them to start making a monkey-home because a baby monkey is on its way. If two boys desperately want to play with the same truck, you might suggest that one boy is the owner, and the other is the mechanic. Once the mechanic finishes fixing it, he gives it back to the owner again. If two children are upset that a littler child keeps ruining the house they’re building, suggest that the littler child can be a kittycat, and if he crawls up to them, they might give him a bowl full of milk. In these ways, children don’t have to “stop” whatever it is they’re doing that is unacceptable; they simply do something different. This method of re-directing boosts our enjoyment of the children we care for in a very immediate way, as we transform behaviors that are annoying or inappropriate into more appropriate behavior, without using the word "stop" at all.

In addition to dipping into a child's fantasy, re-direction can also be used to introduce fantasy, either to make a suggested action more attractive, or to transform a situation in which no fantasy had been previously. This is especially effective with toddlers.

Re-direction for Toddlers
Using imagination to change behavior can still work when children aren’t consciously playing a game, or when they’re still too young to be fully in the throes of fantasy-play. The example I used in the last article, about a child banging his spoon on the table during a meal, might have been just as easily (or more easily) diverted by saying, “Look, my spoon is a bulldozer. It’s scooping up some rice: Zzzzzzz” (sound effect as you scoop some rice laboriously towards your mouth). Chances are good that little Luke, who loves bulldozers, would immediately realize that his spoon is a bulldozer also. This technique of introducing fantasy is very useful when doing things that need to be done, when your child doesn't want to do them. When a two-year-old doesn't want to get her shoes on, her attention might be re-directed away from the power struggle if her shoe magically changed into a bunny. "This little bunny is trying to find a home. Hip-hop! Hip-hop!" If she has been protesting the shoe going on, she might need some time to enter into the fantasy with you. So don't go directly to the foot: "Is this my home?" The shoe hops onto the child's ear. "No! That's no home for a bunny!" (pause) "Is this my home?" The shoe hops onto the child's hand. "No! That's no home for a bunny!" "Is this my home?"Finally the shoe hops to the child's foot. "Hooray! The bunny has found a home. This is a good home for a bunny."

Sometimes re-direction can be accomplished with just a word or a phrase, but on some occasions, more effort is required. After working with toddlers for three years, I finally discovered what I could do with toddlers who just NEED to run while we’re inside, especially during our snowy Colorado winters. One child would start running, and this would excite another child to start running, and soon there’d be a pack of them, running and yelling. It was so fun for them, my re-direction efforts fell on deaf ears. It always seemed to be twenty minutes till lunch, too short to dress everyone to go outside. What could I do? Well, after three years, I finally came up with this perfectly simple game: I would see children running, and I would start singing a little song that I made up: “You’re running, you’re running, you’re running ‘round the room.” Then came the key part. I’d continue the song: “You’re running, you’re running, fall—down—boom!” And down they’d all go. From that down-position, I could start another action. “You’re crawling, you’re crawling, you’re crawling ‘round the room. You’re crawling, you’re crawling, fall—down—boom!” When I was first establishing the game, I did it with them to reinforce the actions, especially the falling part, which is vital. Soon they would do it on their own. As I got more savvy, I’d start with lots of big-motor movements: running, jumping, giant steps, spinning. After spinning I’d move on to lower movements: crawling, bear-walking, rolling. And sometimes, depending on the mood, I’d end with a very soft, “You’re sleeping, you’re sleeping, you’re sleeping round the room. You’re sleeping, you’re sleeping, shhh---shhh---shhhhh.” And I’d tiptoe over and cover each one with a soft cloth, then tiptoe away. They didn’t stay down very long, but when they got up, the energy was completely different from the running energy before the game. This is a fairly involved re-direction effort, but compared to groups of toddlers running and yelling, and me tearing my hair out, it was well worth it. The children loved that game, and would often request it. And I enjoyed my time with them through the long winters.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Positive Discipline: Transforming "No" into "Yes"


The best thing we can do to make our discipline more effective, and to make our time with the children in our care more enjoyable, is to eliminate the word “stop” from our vocabularies. This seems counter-intuitive: children are constantly doing things we don’t want them to, so how will we enjoy them MORE if we can’t tell them to stop doing something? But let me assure you, this is the case with positive discipline. In my experience, children are unable to “stop.” The only times they ever “stop” is when they are sleeping. As long as they are awake, they are in constant motion, constantly “doing.” So telling a child “stop” is like telling them “grow up.” They can’t. But what children CAN do, is they can do something other than what they’re doing that’s inappropriate or annoying. And that’s where we get to the crux of positive discipline. Instead of telling children what we DON’T want them to do, tell them what we DO want them to do. If your child is banging his spoon on the table, you can say, “Stop banging your spoon” till you’re blue in the face. Little is likely to change. But if instead, you say, “Please use your spoon to take a bite,” chances are much more likely that the banging will stop. If a child is leaning on a gate that can’t take the weight, instead of saying, “Stop leaning on the gate,” try saying “please stand up straight and tall.” You might then add how they CAN touch the gate: “I’d like you just to touch that gate softly.”
This method of positive discipline is fantastic for several reasons: first, because it’s nicer for children to go through life not feeling like they’re “bad” or doing things wrong. Second, it’s nicer for us as caregivers to be able to concentrate on positive things the children are doing (or could be doing), which increases our enjoyment of them. But the main reason that positive discipline is so great is that it is so much more effective than traditional methods of discipline. I had a mentor when I first started working in early childhood who explains. She said that the reason it’s so much more effective is because we think in pictures. We all think in pictures, and children much more so than adults. So she gave this example:
If I say to you, “Don’t run out in the street," what’s the image that comes into your head? (Stop: what’s the image that came into your head? Of someone running out into the street, right?) But how about if I say, “Please walk straight along the sidewalk.” What image comes into your head this time? Someone walking straight along the sidewalk, right? Now if the images are that strong to us as adults, imagine how strong it is for children.

That’s why, when we say to a child, “Don’t jump in the puddle,” she is likely to immediately go over and jump in the puddle. Then we get angry: “What did I just say?!” And she looks up at us with a sweet, puzzled face and says, “Don’t jump in the puddle.” “Yes! So why did you jump in the puddle?” And she can’t answer. Well, the answer is that we put that image in her head. The modifier “don’t” doesn’t mean much to young children. But if we had seen the puddle and instead said, “Please walk carefully around the puddle,” we’re much more likely to get the result we want, and enjoy our child’s company that much more.

Positive Discipline for How to Use Things
When it comes to how we treat things in our environment, we never realize how many rules there are about things until we have a toddler in our care. The floor lamp should stay upright. The toilet paper should stay rolled up. The trash should stay in the trash can. Almost everything has rules attached to it. Even toys that we get for the children have many more rules than we realize: just wait till a child throws a block at you instead of stacking it. So, if a 24-month-old child throws a block, there are two things you could say: first, you could say what you DO want them to do with the block: “Those blocks are for stacking." You can follow this up with a physical prompt: "Let's stack them together.” Move in and start stacking blocks. Or second, you could talk about what they CAN throw: “You can throw soft balls. Where IS a ball?” I always keep a basket of soft balls in my play room for children to throw. As children begin to mature, you can allow the child to show his mastery of the rules: “Blocks are for stacking. But what can you throw?” A two-year-old will happily exclaim, “Soft balls!” And with very little prompting, he will then run happily over to the ball basket. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of times, toddlers are not “breaking the rules.” They are simply in the process of learning impulse control. They know what they’re allowed throw when you ask them, but they can’t think of it before they throw something else. Only through practice and maturity will they be able to move to that level. If we remember that we are helping them learn this important skill as we “practice” it with them over and over, we can work on transforming annoyance into compassionate understanding as toddlers learn the rules about how we handle different objects.

Children have natural urges to throw, climb, run, and yell. It’s important to have areas where each of these things is appropriate. I am very sensitive to loud noises, so for me, yelling is allowed by the fence at the back of my property. If a child yells inside, I’ll remind them, “You can yell out by the gate. Inside, please speak in a soft voice.” If they have trouble speaking in a soft voice, you might give them a more attractive option (distraction) by singing a song or reciting a nursery rhyme that goes along with their activity: “To market to market to buy a fat pig. Home again home again, jiggity jig. To market to market to buy a fat hog. Home again home, again jiggety jog. To market to market to buy a plum bun. Home again home again, market is done.”

Positive Dicipline for Interacting with Others
So how does this work in terms of what we often think of as “discipline?” If a child in your care is hitting another child, for example, how do you use positive discipline? Well, it’s largely the same. (more here.)

When Our First Try Doesn't Work
And what if it “doesn’t work?” What if your child is banging his spoon on the table, and you ask him to use it to take a bite, and this has no effect? What then? Well, in that case there are two things to do: first, distraction, and second, consequences. Which comes when? In general, distraction is preferable for young children, but it depends on the situation, and on the age of the child, and how often the behavior occurs. If 14-month-old Gregory is banging his spoon, you would start with, “You can use your spoon to take a bite!” Wait a beat. “Where IS a bite for your spoon?” Wait another beat. “Is there a piece of carrot in your bowl?” Then we simply take the spoon away and hand him his sippy cup to distract him. We know he's a baby and has very little impulse control. It doesn't annoy us in the same way that it would if a two-and-a-half year-old were doing it, for example. So here’s how the situation looked the other day at Rainbow Bridge with 28-month-old Jude. He loves to bang his spoon, and we’ve been through this many times. I know he’s not easily distracted, so I move on to consequences much more quickly:
Jude bangs his spoon on the table. I say, “Please use your spoon to take a bite!” The banging continues. “That spoon is just for eating,” I say. “ If you can’t use it to take a bite, I will hold it until you’re ready.” The banging continues. “Ok, I’ll take it.” I take the spoon. Jude puts up a howl. I say, “This spoon is just for taking bites. Are you ready to take a bite with it?” He quickly says yes, and I give him back the spoon. He takes a bite with it, and I give him some positive feedback. “That’s right! You’re using your spoon to take a bite!” A few minutes later, he has forgotten, and the urge to bang comes over him again. I feel a flash of annoyance. I transform my annoyance into compassion: “You love banging that spoon on the table." But the compassion doesn't change the expectation, so I follow it up with, "But, it’s just for taking bites.” Banging continues. I calmly take it away. Jude howls: “No! I take bites!” I say, compassionately, “This time you’ll have to wait for a little bit. It’s hard for you to remember today, huh?” I take two or maybe three bites of my food, then turn to Jude and say, “Are you ready to use your spoon just for taking bites?” He agrees. Since he’s two-and-a-half, I know he’s old enough for an additional consequence, so I tell him (before giving the spoon back to him), “If you bang your spoon on the table again, I will take your spoon away for the rest of the meal. Do you understand?” He looks me in the eye and says yes. I give him back his spoon. A few minutes later, the banging starts again. I calmly state, “It looks like you’re done with your spoon,” and I take it away. Jude sets up a real howl. I work again to turn my annoyance into compassion: “That's a real disappointment, huh.” Then I try for distraction: “I’m thirsty. I think I’ll take a drink of water.” On another day, he might take a drink of water, but today he won’t be distracted. “I want my spoon. I take bites. I take bites,” he tells me earnestly. “You’ll have to use your spoon to take bites next time,” I tell him compassionately. “This time, the spoon is all done.” After waiting for a minute to let this sink in, I pour on the distraction: “Listen! Do you hear a bus?” And with that, I start singing: “The wheels on the bus go up and down, up and down…”

Now, it occurs to me that if I had been more on top of things, or gotten more sleep the night before, or been in a better mood, I might have been savvy enough to bring out The Wheels On the Bus much earlier, and we might have avoided the scene altogether. Then again, Jude really loves banging his spoon, so it might have only put it off for a few minutes. I turn my compassion on myself for a minute. What could we do that would distract Jude, but be more enjoyable for me than the 1,000th rendition of The Wheels on the Bus? "Do you want to hear a story about when I was a little girl?" I ask Jude. He nods enthusiastically. "Yes!" he says.