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.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hard Mornings


Q: My four and a half year old has suddenly turned into a raging grouch in the mornings: won't do anything I say, screams at us, sometimes throws full-blown fits. He often calms down after he has breakfast, but not always. What can we do to calm things down?

A: My first question would be, is he getting enough sleep? 4-5 year olds still need at least 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. If he has recently stopped napping, you'll need to compensate with an earlier bedtime. Also, children who are sleep-deprived often have a hard time falling asleep, and wake up early. Remember, sleep begets sleep, so try moving his bedtime half an hour earlier, and see if that helps.

My second thought is that he might be going through a growth spurt, so he has low blood sugar when he wakes up. The fact that he often calms down after breakfast supports this idea. A couple ideas here: first, try to give him a substantial snack before bed. Something like oatmeal can be warm and calming as a bedtime snack. Or a cup of warm milk, or a banana. Next, try having some food ready for him as soon as he wakes up, already set up at the table on a pretty placemat.

Third, if you've fallen into a pattern of negative interactions in the morning, you'll need to shift things around in order to change the energy of the situation. Does he wake up on his own? If so, when he comes out of his room, you might try saying gently: “Oh, I'm glad to see that you're awake! Come sit on my lap and eat this banana while I read you this story.” Being warm and snuggly on your lap without having to interact much directly is a nice way to wake up. When I have children in my care waking up, I will bring them onto my lap and brush their hair gently. I often spray the brush with Rosemary-water, which is gently invigorating. As I do this, I will talk about what I was doing while they were asleep, and what we'll be doing for the rest of the afternoon. This is a very gentle description, using lots of imagery and not expecting any answers until they're ready.

If he starts to fall into the belligerent behavior, your can tell him, firmly but still lovingly: “Please ask me again, in a respectful tone of voice.” If he's unable to do that yet, you might say, “I can see you're really hungry. I bet after you eat your breakfast, you'll be ready to speak respectfully.” If he's falling apart because he's having a hard time waking up and has low blood sugar, then walking away from bad behavior won't be very effective, as he'll be unable to self-regulate until he's had some food. So something I use in situations like that is this: I'll say, “Wow, you're having a tough time. I'm going to give you a big hug, and when I'm done, you can sit down quietly and eat your breakfast.” Then I'll give the child a big, soft, enveloping hug, pouring as much love into him as possible. I might even whisper “I love you so much.” Getting a hug and love at a time when they're acting unlovable is often just what a child needs in order to calm himself if they're tired or overwhelmed. Then I'll pull back a little, look at him, and say lovingly, “Are you ready to sit down at the table now?” Usually I'll get a quiet nod.

Monday, September 27, 2010



In my LifeWays early childhood training, my instructor Cynthia Aldinger talked about framing: that is, thinking about what comes before and after each experience in order to help the day to flow smoothly. For example, we know we shouldn't rough-house with the kids right before bedtime, or it will be hard for them to settle down. And who can forget the the age-old, “Don't have a snack now! You'll ruin your appetite for dinner!” If you have a time of day that's often hard, and you've tried making changes but it doesn't seem to be working, try changing what comes before or after that time, instead. I experienced this myself one late spring, when I was having trouble at lunchtime with my group at Rainbow Bridge. The children just always seemed to be “fully of beans” (as my mother used to say): giggly and rowdy. Mealtimes are generally one of my favorite times of the day, but I had stopped enjoying lunchtimes at all. It seemed like I spent the entire meal reminding children to speak quietly, and sit up straight, and eat with their spoons, and only use their water for drinking, etc. etc.

Finally, I remembered the idea of framing, and I thought about how the meal was framed. The weather was quite nice, so we were playing outside before lunch, then coming in for lunch and going right back outside again until the end of the morning. There was lots of big movement outside: running and digging and bike-riding. The children knew they would be right back at it as soon as the meal was done, so there was no impetus to reign their energy in.

I knew I needed to do something to help change the energy for lunch. The next day I prepared the lunch and got everything ready to go, then I put a lid on the bowl and a towel over top. I called the children to the door, but instead of piling inside for lunch, I let them in one at a time. As each one came in, I whispered in his ear: “Tiptoe to the couch and sit down sooo quietly.” Surprised and intrigued, they did exactly what I said. When the children were all sitting down, I took a quilt and put it over all of their laps, then I sat down in a rocking chair in front of them, and did a little “puppet show” in my lap. It was a very simply two little dolls who acted out nursery rhymes as I said them, repeating each rhyme two or three times. Then the dolls went back on their shelf, and I picked up a little harp and strummed my finger across it. I took it to the couch, and I let each child play the harp, then walk to his or her seat at the table. When they were all seated, we started our lunch as usual. Wow! What a difference! The children were all calm and content, and talked and ate quietly throughout the meal. From that day forward, we did puppet shows before lunch until the end of the school-year.

Discussion Questions:
How do you see framing at work in how you put your child's day together? What changes to your routine have you made in order to affect another part of the day? What part of the day might need some tweaking right now? What ideas do you have?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Discussion: Bedtimes


Hi All,

This will be a first stab at a discussion forum. I'm not sure how it will work, but lets try by adding "comments" below:

What experiences, both positive and negative, have you had with your child around bedtimes and/or naptimes? What "tricks" have you tried that have worked really well? Are there things going on now that you'd love to hear input from other parents? What else?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review: Simplicity Parenting


Book Review

I really like the book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne, M.Ed., with Lisa M. Ross. Australian-born Payne has worked in Waldorf schools around the world as a school counselor. He has also worked as a private family counselor-therapist for the past fifteen years, and has worked with families in settings from the U.S., to London, to refugee camps in Jakarta and Cambodia.

Payne talks in his first chapter about how the children he was seeing in his family practice were exhitbiting many of the same symptoms as the children with post-traumatic stress disorder in the refugee camps. He attributes this (quite convincingly) to the pace of our daily lives that has increasingly gotten out of synch with the pace of childhood. He looks at three areas that children tend to get over-loaded: too much stuff (including food choices), too many scheduled activities, and too much information (both from media and from parents). He goes on in subsequent chapters to look at each of these areas and give practical, step-by-step advice on how we can make them more nuturing for our children.

One story that particularly interested me was when Payne described being involved in a research project looking into the efficacy of 'simplification' as a drug-free approach to ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. The group did two studies: the first involved fifty-five children from thirty-two Waldorf schools in America and Canada who scored above the 92nd percentile on the Barclay scale (the commonly accepted test for hyperactivity and inattentiveness). For these families they devised a simplification regime much like the one he outlines in his book. After four months, 68% of the children in the study went from clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional. They did the study again with different families, and got exactly the same results: 68% of the children went from above the 92nd percentile on the Barclay scale to below he 72nd percentile (within the 'normal' range). He says: "Our study counters the view that the brain's "hormonal cocktail" is entirely predetermined and fixed...What our study shows is that these chemical landscapes and drivers (homones and tendencies) can be affected by changes in a child's environment, and their lives." (p. 29). In comparing their results to drug usage, he adds what I consider to be the zinger: "...one thing that was achieved by our methods that is not measurably achieved through drugs is this: The children in our study also experienced a 36.8 percent increase in academic and cognitive ability. Such indicators are flat with the psychotoropic drugs; with Ritalin use you do not see any noticeable trough or peak in academic perfomrance." (p. 30).

Anyhow, this is a very interesting book, and well worth reading. It gives lots of good ideas, and if you only implement one or two of them, it will be well worth the purchase price.

Thursday, September 16, 2010



The Importance of Manners

The biggest single thing you can do to increase your enjoyment of the children you care for: teach them manners. I never realized how important manners were to me, until I suddenly started working in a room with nine two-year-olds. It was completely clear to me: the children who were polite were enjoyable to be around, and the children who were not polite grated on my nerves.

Not only do manners make our children more enjoyable to us, but having manners is an important skill for them to get along successfully in the world. Pleases, Thank Yous, and Excuses Me's are the lubricants that help social interactions run smoothly. Stopping to ask someone who's crying if they're alright is not only polite, but it helps develop empathy. Learning how to ask for help in ways that people want to say “Yes” to, is a skill that will serve the children in your care for the rest of their lives. Many people are lax with teaching young children and manners, especially with two-year-olds. I'm not sure why this is; perhaps they think they're “too young”? But manners are a way of talking and a way of being, and after spending time with lots of toddlers, I believe that they should be taught as children learn to talk. There is no tyrant worse than a two-year-old tyrant, unless it is a three- or four-year-old tyrant!

One of the stumbling blocks is that parents often think that manners are something that children will just “pick up” on their own. While many children do eventually pick them up (if they see manners around them and manners are expected from them in return), the process can go much more smoothly and enjoyably if manners are taught as a skill. They are a social skill, and teaching our children this skill will help us all.

How to teach manners

-Children learn primarily through imitation, and through action. Therefore:
Through Imitation:
-Be sure that you use the manners that you'd like to see, both with your child and with other adults and children you interact with (for instance, saying “excuse me” is much more polite than saying “watch out” if a child is in your way).
Through Activity:
-Expect your child to use manners.
-When a child fails to ask for something politely, simply say the words you wish they were using: “May I have some more, please?” Chances are they will repeat them after you, in the exact tone of voice. There doesn't need to be any discussion about it. For two-year-olds, I make the phrases very simple: “More, please!” For three- and four-year-olds, I use the “very-polite-way” of asking: “May I have some more, please?”
-When they do ask for something politely, you can let them know the effect:
Child: “May I have some more, please?”
Adult: “Yes! When you ask so politely, I'm happy to give you more.”
-When a child gets to the point where he remembers to ask politely much of the time, you can make a game out of remembering. I have a boy in my class, Devin, who is almost 4. About half the time he remembers to say “More please!” but the other half, it comes out as a demand: “More!” I'll look at him, and gasp. This usually elicits a laugh, and is often enough to remind him to quickly squeeze out a “Please!” If it's not, I'll gasp again and pull on my ear, looking at him expectantly. If he STILL doesn't remember, I'll say, “I hear you asking, but I'd prefer to hear you ask the VERY polite way.” If he STILL can't get it out, which sometimes he can't, especially if we're being silly, then I'll cue him: “May I have some more, please?” Usually at this point he'll sit up and say it, but sometimes, if we're very silly or very grumpy, he still won't say it. At that point, I'll say, “I can tell you're thinking it.” As I serve him some more, I'll say, “I bet next time you'll remember to say it, maybe even all on your own.”

NOTE: It's important not to make it into a power struggle where a child has to do it because you want him to; rather, it should just be something that is generally expected. When they fail to do it, simply set up the vision of them being successful at it the next time, and move on.

I'll talk more about other types of manners later: Helping children ask for help is a big one, and what to do with a whiny child, and child-to-child manners (sharing, etc.).