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.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Biting From Excitement

Dear Miss Faith
I am currently daily striving to create a warm, loving home environment for my family, which is napping right now! I have a 5 month old son and an intense, energetic little boy who is almost 3. I just don't know what to do when we are playing with other children (at a park for example) and he pushes a child down repeatedly or bites or hits his cousin. It usually co-incides with being hungry, thirsty, tired or needing a diaper change, but I usually try to be pro-active about those things and am surprised when my first sign is him being rough with other children. I usually remove him from the situation, telling him that we have to be gentle with other children and I try to figure out what might have caused the situation and try to respond to that. I am usually also holding the baby in these kinds of situations, which makes it more difficult to intervene. After the physical need is taken care of, he usually wants to go give the child a "gentle hug". We live outside of the city and don't often go to public parks where we meet many people we don't know. We usually have visits with friends that we know who have older children but sometimes he bites them. In these cases, I think he is over-excited. (...hmmm am I making excuses or accurate observations...?)

I find it alarming, discouraging and embarassing that my child hurts other children. I am sure it is linked more to his age and stage of development than anything else, but I would really appreciate any guidance that you could give me.

I completely understand how discouraging and embarassing it is to have your child bite, especially if it leaves marks, and I want to emphasize: it's not a reflection of your parenting. Many children go through stages of biting at this age, and it is our spiritual task as caregivers and parents to be consistent and patient, especially with ourselves!

The first question that I ask myself with a biter is, what is the motivating feeling behind the action? Many children bite out of frustration, but it sounds like your son bites more out of excitement and/or over-stimulation. Does that sound accurate? If so, this is both good news and bad news: good because it's much nicer to have an excess of enthusiasm, but bad news because it's much harder to see it coming. Good for you for being on top of tiredness/hunger, etc. Here are some ideas I have:

Structure Breaks for Him
One way to help your son self-regulate and avoid becoming over-stimulated is to remove him from the action periodically, so that he can have regular out-breath time during the course of play. This can be especially helpful for children who are very intense, as they often won't do it on their own. One way to do this is to have him come over to you and sit on your lap (or next to you if you have the baby) and eat a little snack. Otherwise a little snuggling or massage can be nice (long, firm strokes down arms, body and legs can be very grounding), or have him come over to 'help' you with something, in the kitchen, getting something for the baby, etc. If he's having a great time he may resist, but once you guys get in the rhythm of doing it, it will be easier. Just remember: it's much better to remove him BEFORE he gets rough! One way you might do it: Have a song to call him over. Allow a moment for him to come over on his own, then walk over to him and take his hand. As you walk back to your spot, you're saying, "Wow! You're having such a fun time! What are you and Eric doing together?" then, "Really? That sounds really fun! What will you do after our break?" How often these breaks need to happen depends on your child and how stimulated he is, but I'd suggest every 15 minutes as a starting point. Going potty is also a great break, and a slightly larger one which can be very calming. Also, consider shorter play-dates so you can end things on a positive note.

Help Him Step Back
Another thing to do is to help him learn to regulate himself during play by stepping back a little bit. One way that I do this is: when I start getting that slightly nervous feeling that something might go wrong (or just periodically during the play) I'll go stand or squat next to the child and simply talk about what's going on. "Look! Justin is digging a big hole. It's sure deep, isn't it? Oh! Julie's putting some sand into his hole. Justin doesn't like that at all." This helps him take a mental step back from being IN the action, to watching the action, and he can calm down a little. This action sometimes feels awkward, but it can be really helpful for toddlers as they learn the ropes of social interaction.

Help Him Join In the Play
Sometimes children bite older kids because they want to join the play but they don't know how to incorporate themselves gracefully. I had one little boy in my classroom who did this regularly: he would play on his own, then he would notice the other children playing, he'd watch them for awhile, and then he'd jump in and hurt someone. With him, I found that putting words to what was going on was helpful. I'd see him watching and I'd say, "You're watching!" I'd wait a few minutes, then I'd suggest a way for him to incorporate himself into their play: "They're playing that they're a family. Why don't you bring them some milk for their kitty?" or, "Why don't you find a bucket and dig next to Michael?"

Re-Direct Excitement
Finally, you might have something that he can do when he gets really excited INSTEAD of biting. I've had mixed success with this one, as I think nothing can really be as satisfying as chomping down, but with a few children it's worked really well. This might be something else he could bite: "Wow, you're really excited! Here, bite this apple!" (a whole apple has a satisfying crunch). Or, it might be a special ball that you bring with you everywhere, and when he's excited, he throws it as hard as he can and runs after it. These activities can be useful if he's biting because he doesn't know what do with all of his excitement, rather than being over-stimulated.

Anyways, these are a few ideas to get you started. If he is biting more because of social frustration, I have some ideas around that as well, so let me know if that would be helpful. And most of all, good luck! The good news is, most children are done with biting by three and a half, although it can come back in spurts during times of stress or before developmental leaps. If you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to write back.


Monday, October 18, 2010


This is a response to a comment made in response to the blog entry on Whining, below. My response became so long, I decided to make it a separate etry.

Dear Kim,

Good for you for trying the new techniques! It takes a lot of effort to change habits, so don't give up that these new techniques don't come naturally; they will become easy with practice. And you're right-on that everything's easier when you've had enough sleep!

Here's an idea of what to do when your child asks you again and again for something. I like using this progession, because the conversation evolves and you don't just feel like a broken record. In this case, I'll use your example of the cookie she can't have till the next day. The first time she asks for it you tell her, “You can have the rest of the cookie tomorrow.” The second time, “You love cookies, don't you? Don't worry, you can have it tomorrow.” The third time, “Wow, you're really looking forward to having that cookie, aren't you? You can have it tomorrow.” The next time, “Hmm. When CAN you have it?” She answers, tomorrow. You respond enthusiastically. "That's right! You know the answer!" If she's disappointed, you can sympathize. “Yeah. It feels hard to wait, doesn't it?” The next time she asks, you have a question in reply, “Is it tomorrow yet?” She answers no. “It seems like a long time to wait till tomorrow, doesn't it? I know! Why don't we think of something to do while we wait. That will make the time fly by.” The two of you can brainstorm about activities you can do 'while you wait,' and then do one. After this, it turns into the skill of learning how to wait. The next day, when she finally gets the cookie, be sure to point out, “Look! You waited and waited, and now it's finally time.”

If your child has a long memory and is not easily distractable, then she will have to learn to wait. One thing that could help with this process is to tell a story about waiting. Don't tell it while you're telling her she has to wait; let it be completely separate. You can tell it many times, for example, every day at lunchtime or naptime for four or five days. If you're not comfortable telling your child long stories without reading, try making your own storybook, where you write or type it out and draw simple pictures to go along with it, then staple it together. Kids will love a book that's made by you! Here's a story about waiting that I just made up. It's appropriate for most kids ages 3 and older, but younger kids might need a more simple story:

Once upon a time there were two sisters, named Nan and Aga. These sisters lived with their mother in a little house, and loved one another very much. One summer, a carnival came to town! The sisters went together and they had a wonderful time, riding the rollercoasters, playing the games, and seeing the clowns. They came running home. “Mother, mother! Can we go again?” The sisters asked. “Yes,” said the mother, “you may go again next Saturday.” Nan was happy, but Aga began to wail and cry. “Next saturday!” She said, “That is so long from now! How will I wait?”
The next morning, the sisters woke up and the first thing they thought about was the carnival. Aga began to cry. “I don't want to wait! I want to go right now!” Nan replied, “I don't like waiting either. I'll find something to do to help the time go by.” She looked around, and decided that she would make a hat. She found some yarn, and some knitting needles, and before she knew it, it was time for bed.
The next morning, they woke up and Aga began to moan and cry. “I hate waiting! I want to go to the carnival today!” Nan replied, “I don't like waiting either. I'll find something to do to help the time go by.” She looked around, and decided to make a basket. She went to the willow tree and collected some soft branches, and took them home to weave together. Before she knew it, it was time for bed.
The next day came and it was just the same. Aga moaned and cried the entire day, while Nan decided to bake some bread.
Finally, Saturday morning came. Aga and Nan woke up and they were so excited! They could go to the carnival again! They got ready to go, and Nan made some sandwiches from the bread she had baked, and put them in the basket she had made. She put on the hat she had knitted, and they were ready to go. They went to the carnival together, and they both had a wonderful time. As they walked along, Aga thought to herself, “I'm glad to be at the carnival, but I wish I had made fun things while we were waiting, too.”
And from that day forward, whenever it felt hard to wait for something, she would say to Nan, “It feels so hard to wait. What should we to to help pass the time?” And the two girls lived happily till the end of their days.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Q: Hi Miss Faith! I’m loving your blog – really wonderful, practical advice, Thank You! One thing I would LOVE for you to address is whining. It’s driving me and my friends of toddlers (mostly girls...) nutty. I reaaaaaallllly waaaaaannnnnt that dresss....... I’m hunnnngrrrrrrryyyy what can I haaaaaave.... You know. What have you found to be the best way to handle this?

A: In my experience, children whine because they are tired, or because they need more attention (or a different type of attention) than they're getting. I'll look first at ways to minimize whining, then I'll look at what to do once the whining starts.

Provide Rest During the Day
If your child is whining, they may well need more sleep than they're getting; the American Academy of Pediatrics says that 3-year-olds should sleep 10-13 hours out of each 24. In addition to this, children need significant portions of “down-time” throughout the day, where they can rest and re-charge. These are especially important to schedule in if your child is no longer napping, and might involve reading books in a quiet space, snuggling together and singing softly or telling soft stories, or children coloring pictures while you do something quiet nearby. Let your energy levels drop, darken the space a little, and avoid eye contact so your child can really be restful during this time. I recommend scheduling several of these into the day, 20 minutes at a time if your child still naps, with a longer one (40 minutes) in place of naptime if your child no longer naps. If your child is in a morning play-program, try not to schedule much activity in the afternoon, to give them time to come down from that high-energy environment. If your child is well-rested, you may see the whining drop off significantly.
Note: watching videos or TV does not not work for down-time, as the medium itself is not actually restful: among other things, watching screens (TV or computer) suppresses the body's production of melatonin, and makes it hard to fall asleep, which is why we can watch TV all night long even though our eyes are scratchy and we know we're exhausted.

Once the Whining Starts

Show Them How
Once a child starts whining, there are a few tricks you can have in your bag. The first question is whether they are asking for something that you would give them if they weren't whining. If it is, you can cue them to ask in a more appropriate voice. Don't just tell them to ask you differently; model what you'd like them to say, and how to say it. For example, if your child whines, “I waaant you to carrrrry meeeeee,” you can simply say, “Mom, will you carry me please?” Chances are good that your child will repeat your words and tone exactly. Then you can respond to her request: “Yes. I will carry you when I've put the baby into her stroller.” Or, “My hands are full right now. I'll stop for a moment and give you a snuggle, then we can walk together to that bench at the corner.” If your child doesn't repeat what you say when you cue her, wait for a moment, then repeat it again. Usually that will do the trick, unless your child is too tired. If she's too tired to say it, you might say, “I can tell you're thinking it. I bet next time you'll be able to say it yourself,” and respond as if she had asked nicely.

I'm not an advocate of time-outs for whining; I'm an advocate of time-in. This is because whining is usually a result of kids needing something (rest, attention) that they're not getting. So having some love poured into them for a few minutes is often just what they need “Wow, it looks like you could really used a snuggle. Let's go sit in the armchair together for a few minutes.” Sit together and pour love into her until you can feel her relax. Then she'll probably be ready to ask you in a normal voice, and respond when you cue her.

I had a little boy at Rainbow Bridge who was almost four. Several times a week he would get whinier and whinier as the morning progressed, until he was ready to fall apart. As it got bad, I'd say, “Let's go to the nap-room and snuggle in the rocking chair for a few minutes.” It would only take a minute away from the other children for me to be able to transform my annoyance into compassion for this little guy, and for him to soak in the quiet and the love, and relax. After a few times of doing this, I started saying to him, “You know, we can do this anytime. You can just ask. You can say, 'Miss Faith, I need a snuggle,' and I'll bring you right down here.” After a few more times, he asked me for a snuggle. He asked two or three more times, and then he never had to do it again.

I'm not saying this will happen for your child, but this technique is a little magic. Some parents have asked me if this isn't rewarding bad behavior instead of punishing it, but I disagree. Children fall apart because they're not getting something they need, and they don't have the vocabulary to tell you what. We get good behavior from our children by seeing them as their highest selves, setting them up to achieve living into that self, then unwaveringly expecting it. Children want to live into it too; if they are unable to, it's either because they need some sort of support (more rest, more consistency in their lives), or because our expectations are not age-appropriate.

How to Say “No”
If your child is whining for something that you are not going to give in to (they want a candy bar at the store, they want to eat cereal for every meal, they want to rollerskate in the house), then your tactics may be a bit different.

The first tip is, never use the word “No” to say “No”! Try one of these, instead:
1) Tell them when they CAN do what they want. If they want cereal for lunch, but they already had it for breakfast, you might say, “You can have cereal again tomorrow.” If it's raining and they want to rollerskate in the house, you might say, “You can rollerskate outside when the rain stops.”
2) Give them an alternate set of choices. “You can have cereal again tomorrow. Right now, you can have noodles, or stir-fry.” Or, “You can rollerskate outside when the rain stops. For now, you can color with crayons, or make a fort.” In this last case, it may seem like you're setting up a false dichotomy, and in some ways you are, but the object is to move their minds away from the rollerskates and get their creative juices flowing. They may well come up with some third option at this point that you both can be satisfied with.
3) If they continue to insist on their first, inappropriate choice, continue to avoid the word “no”, as that just causes them to dig in their heels. Instead, acknowledge their love for the thing that they want, or the desire, and then circle back to when they can do it later. “You really love that cereal, don't you. You can have it tomorrow, don't worry,” Or, “You really wish you could ride those rollerskates RIGHT NOW. I hear that. You can ride them when the rain stops. Right now I'm going to build a fort in the dining room. Did you know that when I was little, I always used to build forts when it was raining?” Walk to the linen closet to get the sheets.
4) And if THAT doesn't work, pull out your trump card, and take them on an imaginative journey. In fact, depending on the situation, you might move into the imaginative journey straight away.

The Imaginative Journey
Taking a child ourneyon an imaginative journey when they're whining for something might look something like this:
Child: I reeeally waaaant that dreeeeessss!
Adult: That really is a beautiful, dress, isn't it! Look at all the ruffles. If you wore a dress like that, you would look like a princess! Where would you live if you were a princess in that dress? (If they don't know, you can continue) I bet you would live in a castle where everything was made of gold and silver, and where you would have a bed made of feathers and tiny little dogs who loved you and followed you around wherever you went (etc. etc).

Taking a child on an imaginative journey like this changes the dynamic from them wanting something and you saying no, into a situation where both of you are on the same imaginative page, creating something together. It can work for something as prosaic as a candy bar:

Child: I reeeeally waaaant that cannnndy baaaarrrrr!
Adult: That candy bar sure looks delicious, doesn't it? If you had that candy bar, what would you do with it? What if you had a hundred candy bars like that? Who would you give one to? (wait for answers, and respond). To Sam? That's a good idea, I bet he would love that! I would give one to Grandma. Do you think she'd like that? (etc. etc.).

You can continue this conversation as long as you'd like, and slowly drift away from the actual object that started the conversation. This tactic is especially useful if you're out shopping, when kids often get over-stimulated and don't get enough of the “right” kind of attention from their adults.

And finally, having a consistent schedule where children know when things are going to happen, and how, will help cut down the whining.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Picky Eaters

I have had quite a few parents ask what to do about picky eaters. Mealtimes can turn into seemingly-endless sessions of coaxing and cajoling each bite into a child's mouth, trying this and that, and ending up with pasta and bagels being 80% of your child's diet. Parents of children who are tiny or under their ideal weight are especially susceptible, but even the parents of big, strapping children can fall into these patterns.

The crux of converting a child away from being a picky eater is to change your viewpoint: your goal is not to get calories into your child's body by whatever means necessary; your goal is to help your child develop a healthy relationship to food. With this goal in mind, your responsibilities, and your attitude, can change. Your responsibility, as the parent, is to provide your child with healthy food. Their responsibility, as the child, is to eat the food. You cannot do this for them, nor can you force them to do it. You can simply do your job effectively, and know that they are capable of doing theirs. Being anxious about a child eating (or not eating) does nothing except to make the child feel anxiety around food. So what CAN you do? There are several concrete actions that can set the stage for healthy eating.

Let Children Help
One of the best ways to help children develop a healthy relationship to food is to involve them in the food preparations. Children are far less likely to be critical of food that they have helped create. I have been amazed time and again at what so-called “picky” eaters will eat out of the garden if they can help pick it. And in the kitchen, cooking is always an interactive experience at my house: children can help chop veggies or fruit (even a two-year-old can chop mushrooms or hack at zucchini slices with a table-knife), they can put veggies I've chopped into the bowl before they go onto the stove, or they can pour or stir things that we've measured. Also, children get to taste every ingredient I use, including the strange ones. They taste the oil, the salt, the lemon-juice, every raw vegetable including very tiny slices of onion, even sometimes a grain or two of uncooked rice. I talk about what each thing tastes like (sweet, sour, spicy, bland), I laugh at their funny faces when they taste something unexpected, and I'll even talk about how the taste or texture changes when it cooks. Food is something to be explored and savored.

Don't Change the Menu
The other important thing to do to convert your picky eater is to stand firm and be confident in the healthy food choices you've made for that meal. Don't “give in” and let them have slices of bagel -or whatever it is that they like- if they choose not to eat the food you've prepared for that meal. Bagels are so yummy, why would they possibly branch out to broccoli or peas if they know that they just need to wait a bit for the bagel? But if they know that whatever you prepare is all that's forthcoming, they're much more likely to eat. If they choose not to eat much, you can prepare them another meal or a snack in an hour or two. It's OK for them to learn that if they don't eat what you prepare for them, they will be hungry for a bit.

On this subject, don't stop offering a healthy food to a child just because they don't like it. Research has shown that children's tastes for foods change with repeated exposure. I have certainly experienced this working in daycare and early childhood settings. I try to use seasonal vegetables as much as possible, and the first few times a new veggie will often be rejected by some of the children. However, usually by the fifth time a new veggie is served, everyone is eating it (of course, the fact that they know nothing else will be forthcoming if they hold out probably helps). With this in mind, I changed the mealtime vocabulary so that when a child says, “I don't like this,” I gently correct, “You're still learning to like this.”

Tell Stories About Food
I sometimes tell stories about foods I didn't like when I was a youngster, that I have since developed a taste for. But I do this with a light touch, more as a funny or distracting story than as a heavy morality tale. Kids love to hear stories about mom or dad when they were little. An even more successful type of food story I'll tell is when a child tells me, “I don't like carrots,” I'll say, “Really? Do you know the story of carrots?” Then I'll tell them:

“Carrots come from the tiniest of tiny little seeds. The seeds are so small that you can hardly pick one up by itself. So you have to be very careful when you plant them, not to spill too many in one spot! Before you plant them, you prepare the soil, and put the tiny little seeds in the ground, and each day you water them. The sun shines down, and the rain falls, and finally one day, a tiny little sprout peeks its head out of the soil. It's so delicate, if you step on it, or if the soil dries out, it will surely die. But you're careful, and you water it every day, and it starts to grow bigger and bigger. It becomes leafy and green with the most beautiful, lacy leaves. But where is the carrot, you ask? There's nothing orange here, only green leaves! Let me tell you: it is growing underneath the ground, where we can't see it! Bit by bit it grows down, down, getting thicker and longer each day. Until one day we see the top of it poking out of the soil, and we know it's ripe. We get our trowel to loosen the soil, then thwop! Out it comes! Covered with dirt, we put our carrots into a basket and bring them into the kitchen, where we chop off the tops, then we scrub-scrub-scrub all the dirt off them, then chop them up, and cook them, and now here they are, in our bowls!”

This story can be told for any fruit, vegetable, or grain, quite easily, as well as milk and juice. For things I don't personally grow in the garden, like rice, I'll tell about where they grow it, and how the farmer sends it to the store for moms and dads to buy. The story itself is so fascinating, and many children forget that they “don't like” carrots and happily eat them up as they hear the story. Even if they don't, I don't make a big deal out of it. Some day they will eat them; maybe even tomorrow.

Use Humor
For my hardest, hardcore hold-outs, I'll sometimes dangle a special type of reward in front of them. I'll say, “Some day, you will eat your whole bowl with everything in it, and I'll be so surprised, I'll fall right out of my chair!” Then, the first time it happens, I ham it up, falling out of my chair with shock and pride. I have done this successfully for several different children, but I'll only do it for children who are really tough hold-outs (where I really WILL be surprised if they eat it all), and I'll only do it once per child. I don't need mealtimes to turn into circus acts!

Final Thoughts
And, finally, there is the comment that my mother used on us when we were young, which worked quite well. When one of us kids would say, “I don't like this,” she'd calmly reply, “That's OK. You don't have to like everything you eat.” And you know what? Remembering that helped me innumerable times as I traveled around the world in my teens and twenties, and exposed me to many things I otherwise would never have tried.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Using Imagery

Children, even more than adults, think in images. When we speak to children using imagery, it speaks directly to their imaginations. Whether or not we are conscious of this, anyone who has spent time with young children uses imaginative imagery: when we want a child to come to the table, and they're underneath it pretending to be a cat, we will enter into the fantasy easily. “Come to your your chair, little kitty,” we'll call, and pet them when they climb up. As we get practice, we start introducing imaginative imagery of our own to help children move in the direction we want. “The train's leaving. Climb aboard! Chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga. Toot-toooot!” They are happy to go out the door and into the car if it has suddenly transformed into a train. But in addition to imaginative imagery, knowing that children think in images can change the way we talk to them, even in mundane matters. There are three ways that I do this all the time.

Building A New Experience
The first way that I use imagery is in helping children prepare for new or unusual experiences. When I worked at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten, I used to take a small group of children each week to visit my grandmother at the Waldorf-inspired assisted-living home a few blocks away. I would usually take three 2-year-olds and and a 1-year-old, by myself. As you can imagine, things had to go smoothly! And they did. I prepared the way by talking about what was going to happen. Each day for four or five days before we went for the first time, I talked about it, telling it as if it were a story. “Not today, but someday soon, we'll go on a trip to visit my Grandma Kathy,” I would start, in my storytelling voice. “On that day, we'll be eating lunch just like today. After we finish our lunch, we'll scrape our bowls, and put our napkins away. Then we'll get our jackets on,” (I mime putting mine on) “and we'll put our shoes on, and when we're all ready, we'll go outside and climb into the blue wagon. Then away we'll go, to Grandma Kathy's house!” I'll pause, to let them absorb the image. “On the way there, I'll pull you in the wagon and I'll sing a song, and you will each sit straight and tall, listening to me sing the whole way there. When we get to Grandma Kathy's house, we'll say, 'Hello Grandma Kathy!' And I 'll give her a kiss on the cheek. Then we'll color pictures, and read a book, and when we're done playing, we'll get back in the wagon and come back here, to our very own classroom.”

When the day finally came, we spent the morning baking banana bread to bring to Grandma Kathy's house, and when it was finally lunchtime, the children could hardly contain their excitement. Today was the day! After lunch, each of the children knew exactly what to do. They were living the story! The visit went as smooth as could be, and visiting Grandma Kathy became one of the highlights of each week.

Right Before
The second way I use imagery is to create an image right before something is about to happen. If we're coming inside on a snowy day, I'll pause right outside the door. “When I open the door, we'll both go inside and you'll sit right down on the Changing Chair to take off your boots.” Or, at Grandma Kathy's, “When the wagon stops I'll lift you out one by one, and you'll all stay right next to the wagon so we can walk to the door together.” Using this type of very-specific, realistic imagery can be very reassuring to children, as they know exactly how things are going to be. Sometimes they will still get distracted and forget the image, but many more times than not, they will live into it. It works with children as young as almost-two, and works with my big five-year-olds.

Picturing Change
The third time I will use realistic imagery is when I'm frustrated with a child's behavior, and I will use it to create the possibility of a future where they act differently. I use a light touch light touch with this. After picking up a dropped spoon at the table for the umpteenth time, I'll muse out loud, as if to myself, “Some day I bet you'll keep your spoon in your bowl for the entire meal. Maybe even tomorrow!” And I'll sit back down. You never know. It probably won't be tomorrow, but it MIGHT be. I've set the scene.

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Experiences

Anyone who has spent any time around a toddler knows that young children love repetition. Children love hearing the same stories over and over, love playing the same games with you over and over, love hearing the same songs. The word “again!” is one of the first words a young child learns. With experiences, when things are done the same way each time, the child can relax into the rhythm of it. If each evening you you do things the same way, your child will anticipate each step as it comes. After tooth-brushing is done, she will be heading right to the bookcase to choose a book. After the lights went out, my mother used to light a candle near our bed, sing a lullaby, blow out the candle and sit quietly next to the bed as I drifted off. I can clearly remember this routine being relaxing and reassuring to me.

Why do children love and need routine so much? Here's an analogy that I think is apt: once I was invited by a Muslim friend to go to the mosque with her for the celebration of Eid, the end of Ramadan. I eagerly said yes, curious to see what it would be like. Once we got there, however, I was quite nervous. I wasn't used to wearing the head-scarf she had lent me. I didn't know what was going to happen, and what would be expected of me. Should I stand with them while they prayed, or should I watch? If I watched, where should I sit? There were no chairs. I had heard that in some cultures, showing the soles of your feet was rude. Was this one of them? I didn't know. I followed my friend around closely. She introduced me to the women in her community, some of whom kissed me on the cheeks, and some of whom touched their hearts and murmured phrases that I assumed meant “nice to meet you.” She showed me where I could sit during the prayers, which were all in Arabic and involved lots of movements and everyone did at the same time. I was glad to be watching. After, we socialized and ate strange and delicious foods, then went home. The whole thing lasted perhaps two hours, and I was exhausted.

I loved that glimpse into another culture, but I was glad to get home in the end, where I knew exactly where everything was, how things went, what was likely to happen, and how. Most of my daily interactions are just a small step out from being at home, because I've done them all hundreds of times. Toddlers, however, haven't done anything outside the home hundreds of times. I believe that the whole world outside the home is like that visit to the mosque, for these little people in our lives. They don't know how things go or what's appropriate. They don't have the skills to converse easily with others or do what others are doing. Even though they have someone who knows what's going on to show them around, it's still exhausting, like that visit was for me. If we can remember that, and limit the amount of exposure our children have to new experiences, then new experiences can be exciting, something to be anticipated beforehand, relished at the time, and talked about afterward.