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.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Joyful Toddlers Has Moved!

I've written a post on what it means to have high expectations for young kids, and posted it on the new Joyful Toddlers website!  This post, and all future Joyful Toddlers blog posts, will be found on the new site: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Please change any bookmarks or links that you might have.
Miss Faith

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joyful Toddlers Is Moving!

I'm excited to announce that Joyful Toddlers is moving to a new spot on the internet!  Change your links and your bookmarks, because from now on my posts will be integrated into the new Joyful Toddlers website,  http://joyfultoddlers.com/.

Many thanks to Beverly Mau of MAU Web Studio for helping me design this fabulous website.  As of today (Nov 16) the website is still under construction, but I'm so excited to consolidate everything that I'm going ahead and transferring the blog content over.  Thank you all for your patience as we work out any kinks.  If you have any suggestions for the new website, don't hesitate to tell me at faith@joyfultoddlers.com.

Very Warmly,
Miss Faith

PS Enrollments are starting to come in for the Tele-Class that starts on January 22, 2012, Joyful Days with Toddlers and Preschoolers!  If you're thinking about taking the class, please let me know!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Young Kids and Chores

Dear Miss Faith,
Can you talk a little bit more about responsibilities/expectations/chores for 2-3 year olds?  How do you go about incorporating young kids into household tasks, self-care, etc?  What can you reasonably expect at different ages?  When do you institute mandatory chores?

Dear E.,
These are great questions!  As you know if you’ve read just about anything I’ve written, I’m a huge proponent of incorporating kids of all ages into household tasks.  First I’ll talk about why I think it’s so great to do, and then I’ll talk about age-appropriate expectations.

Why Household Tasks are Great for Kids
               The reason that I’m such a fan is threefold:  first, when you slow down a household activity enough to incorporate a toddler into it, doing that task together can be a wonderful way to connect with your child.  The two of you are doing it together.  Second, doing household tasks are a wonderful way for children to practice skills and gain competence in many different areas:  fine motor skills through folding wash-cloths; gross motor skills by putting dishes onto their shelf or sweeping the floor or washing the windows; sensory integration by washing the dishes or kneading dough.  And by inviting a child into a task that you do from beginning to end, you are teaching him how to go about tasks: about follow-through, about attitude.  Thirdly (and this is how doing household tasks together are different from doing arts-and-crafts projects), incorporating children into household tasks allows them to contribute to the household, and to help the person they love the most:  you!  That is really fulfilling for children.  Although doing tasks with young children takes MUCH longer than doing it by yourself, making space for your child to be able to contribute to tasks that really need to be done sets the stage for them to be able to contribute in ever-greater ways in the future.

What to Expect At Different Ages
               So, what are young kids capable of at different ages?  When should it go from being something that you lure them into, to something that is simply expected?  My experience is that adults tend to underestimate what one- and two-year-olds can do, and overestimate what three- and four-year-olds can do.  What do I mean by that?  Well, with the littler ones, we often simply don’t create the space or even have an idea of what a little one can do.  Their skills are growing so quickly at this age, that we often treat them as an infant when they are in fact capable of much more.  As young as 18 months, a young child can take her bowl from the table, scrape her food into a compost-tub, and put her bowl and spoon into a wash-tub.  I had a class of 8 one- and two-year olds, and they all did this after every meal!  When a child first came to me, I would stand behind him and help him reach out his hand to get his bowl.  Then I would point out the compost-tub, and walk over with him.  Kneeling behind him, I’d put my hands around his to grasp the spoon and scrape out the food.   Then I’d point out the wash-tub and he could put his bowl and spoon in by himself.   After five or six times of literal ‘hands-on’ help like this, most kids became quite competent!
          Now, don’t get the wrong idea:  some children require lots more than six times of ‘hands-on’ help, and all of the kids needed help sometimes, even those big almost-three-year-olds who had been doing it twice a day for almost two years.  The fact that we ALWAYS did it after EVERY meal was a help, and the fact that everyone else was doing it, helped the new children learn quickly.  We had a little song that we sang while we did it, which helped things go smoothly, and my assistant and I were always actively involved with the process.

               So what can most two-year-olds do, if we teach them how and help them do it every time?  They can help you make their bed.  They can brush their own teeth while you brush yours.  They can help set the table if we hand things to them and ask them to put them on the table.  They can wash their own hands, if we are right there to help/talk them through it:  push up their own sleeves, scrub with soap, rinse hands clean, turn off the water, and dry their hands on a towel.  They can drink from an open cup and only spill sometimes.  They can take their bowl from the table to the counter when they’re done.  They can help wash the table with a cloth before/after a meal.  They can help wash dishes if you don’t mind them getting wet.  They can go potty with help from you.  They can help fold laundry, put things away, unload the dishwasher, put forks, spoons and knives in the proper place in the silverware drawer as long as they can reach.  What two-year-olds generally CAN’T do:  many can take shoes or clothes off, but can’t yet put them on.  Most can’t follow multi-part directions, unless they’re very simple and sequential (“please pick up your sock and put it in the drawer” usually gets the sock picked up, but they may need a reminder of the second part: “and now put it in the drawer.  Thank you!”).

               Three- and four-year-olds are much more competent in terms of what they are able to do.  They are capable of doing many tasks, even fairly complex ones.  However, adults frequently overestimate what child children of these ages can do.  That’s because we assume that because a child is CAPABLE of doing something, they should be able to do it whenever we want them to.  And that’s simply not the case.  Just because your four-year-old is capable of putting on every item of clothing, doesn’t mean that you can simply ask him to get dressed and then go downstairs to fix breakfast while he does it.  Chances are you’ll go upstairs ten minutes later to find his clothes still lying on the bed, while he’s playing with his fire-truck.  In fact, even if you stay there with him and talk him through the process (“it’s time to get dressed and your clothes are on the bed.  Where’s your shirt?”), he may well only be able to actually dress himself sometimes.  Even though he’s CAPABLE of it, at this age he will only be ABLE to do it by himself sometimes.  Some days those clothes zip right on, and some days you are doing almost every piece.
          How competent children at this age are on a given day depends on how tired they are, how distracted they are, how distracted YOU are, and many other factors that we can only guess at.  The trick at this age is to be fully present with them as they do a task, stepping in to keep them on track as much or as little as is needed, without getting mad that yesterday they did it just fine, and today they don’t seem capable of doing anything.  That’s how things are at this age.  The smoother and more consistent your support, the more and more frequently he’ll be able to do it on his own.  If your support is inconsistent, so that he can go a long ways off-track before you direct him back to the task at hand, or your support is angry, or your support is rushed, then he will resist that "support," and he’ll want to do the things you ask of him less and less.

When to Implement “Chores”
               I am not a fan of “chores” for children under the age of seven.  In my mind, “chores” are things you have to do whether you feel like it or not, and there may be some sort of punishment if they don’t get done.  I don’t feel like this is appropriate for young children.  Remember, in having children help with household tasks, we are setting patterns and laying the groundwork for a lifetime of helping out around the house, of pitching in, of feeling proud that they are contributing.  In this vein, there are two important points to help set yourself up for success:  first, don’t expect children to be able to do tasks by themselves, and second, don’t get into power struggles over tasks.

Don’t expect children to be able to do tasks by themselves.  With young children, household tasks should always be done together.  Children want to be with us and connect with us; while they’re happy to forget about us when they are immersed in deep play, household tasks and self-care tasks are things that WE want them to do, and we want them done in a certain way.  Therefore, they must be done together.  Remember, children don’t have the skills yet to follow through on tasks consistently, even if they’re capable of doing each part.  We are teaching them how to do these tasks, and supporting them as they learn the skill of following-through, which won’t be fully developed till much later.

Don’t get into a power struggle.  Although I don’t have chores, I do have expectations about what children help with.  For example, when I set out to chop some veggies, I’ll bring my chopping board, knife and bowl to the table, along with some kid-chopping boards and table knives.  I’ll start chopping my veggies, singing a chopping-song.  Usually one or two or three children will come over and want to help, but if nobody does, that’s fine.  They can play while I chop.  Likewise with washing the table before a meal, or sweeping the floor.  I do these tasks slowly and mindfully, with room for children, and the children are welcome to help or not, as they choose.  Other tasks, such as tidying up, are done all together and I will gently steer a child who is not participating back into the activity by giving her a toy and asking her to put it in its place.  And finally there are some tasks, such as clearing your bowl from the table, are expected from each child at the end of every meal.
But what if a child refuses to take his bowl? What to do?  Do I MAKE him do it?  Or do I just not care?  My answer to that is that it depends on why they're saying no.  If a child is just saying “no” to try it out, I’ll say, “Oh, it looks like you need some help getting started,” and I’ll simply go over and help him pick up his bowl, then face him in the right direction.  Just getting them in motion (through my own motions, NOT with words) is often enough to get him back on track.  On the other hand, maybe he’s saying “no” to test boundaries.  For example, perhaps you and your son set the table together every day, but one day your 3 ½ -year-old stands there defiantly and says, “No!” And then looks at you to see how you’ll respond.  What do you do?
In general, the best way to meet defiance in young kids is to transform their emotion through humor or imagination, and then continue on with the task being defied, without talking about it.  So here's a response that comes immediately to my mind, if I were in the situation described above.  I'd look at that little boy with utter amazement.  “What????  Did you say No?????  Wait!  Say it again and see what happens!”  Then he says “No,” but not nearly as defiantly.  He’s curious.  I take a big breath and raise my arms up high above my head, then say, “Whooooossshhhhh!” and swoop him up and onto the couch.  Then I tickle him and kiss him until he’s limp with laughter. (I've transformed the emotion away from defiance.)  I sit up and make smiling eye contact with him, then take him by the hand to help him up off the couch.  Still holding his hand we walk into the kitchen together.  “Now, where are the plates?” I say.  (I go back to the task, without talking about it.)  Usually a child is happy to get back on track at this point.  But if he’s not, he might say say “No, I don’t want to set the table.”
At this point the most important thing is not to get into a power struggle.  The reason for this is that power struggles do little except give your child practice at saying no, and not doing what you say.  Even if you make them do it, it’s not setting them up to want to do it again the NEXT time you ask; power struggles tend to beget more power struggles.  So at this point, I’d look the child in the face, and try to get a sense of what’s going on.  Depending on what I see, I might try to connect emotionally with him, in an imaginative way:  I’ll make a sad face, and say, “I’ll be so lonely if I have to set the table all by myself.  Boo hoo hooo!  Boo hoo hooo!” and I’ll pretend to cry, looking through my fingers to see his response.  But another time, I might look and see only obstinacy.  In this case, instead of trying to play further, I’ll simply say, “I can see that you’re not ready to help me set the table today.  That’s OK.  Why don’t you sit on the couch and look at a book while I do it.  I bet you’ll be ready to help me again tomorrow.”  I’ll go and I’ll set the table by myself.  And the next day, chances are pretty good that I’ll have my helper back.
This is the part that strikes many parents as strange.  Am I not simply 'giving in?' Have I not just lost my authority?  Am I not setting things up for them to be irresponsible for life?  But I would answer, no.  This technique, of verbally creating an image of your child being cooperative the next time, is a powerful tool.  Children will live up (or down) to our expectations most of the time.  Often times, when we are trying to force a child to do something, we think we are stating expectations for them to do it.  What our actions and attitude are ACTUALLY saying, however, is that we expect them NOT to do it, which is why we have to force them.  So, by listening to their desires and letting them off this one day, but saying, "I bet you'll be ready to help again tomorrow," this creates a powerful image that children can live up to.
However, just creating the image is not enough.  If a child is refusing to help and can't be jollied into it, there's something else that must also be done the next time that task comes up.  It's to go back to why doing household tasks together is useful:  if your child is not inspired to contribute, and is not inspired to do it to build competency, then you must go back to the foundation: connecting.  When the next day comes, take whatever your child didn't want to do the day before, and make it as enjoyable, as fun, as connecting as you can.  When the connecting part is in place, the other pieces will fall back into place, too.
Miss Faith 

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check us out at our new location, http://joyfultoddlers.com/ 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Toddler/Infant Sibling Interactions

My daughter is two and my son is almost one month old. My daughter is madly in love with her baby brother and wants to hold and carry him. I help her hold him while sitting down, but am having a tough time redirecting when she tries to pick him up or take him out of my arms and pulls on him. I find myself saying no while playing tug o war with my infant- not effective parenting :( Really, I'm looking for advice on those situations when the toddler puts herself or others in harm’s way. Another similar example is that when she plays with her friends, she will hug and not let go until the friend cries or falls over.

Dear Erin,
               It always feels like such a shame when we see a child go in with good intentions, only to have things end poorly.  I have had several children in my care whose instincts for affection seem to be to grab and not let go.  The good news is that their hearts are in the right place.  The bad news is that it’s a hard habit to break!  I’ll answer the sibling part of your comment today, and address the friend-hugging another day.

Toddler/Infant Sibling Interactions
               I’ve noticed that two-year-olds with infant siblings do best when they get lots of help with EVERY physical interaction, until they have strong habits in place.  The best way to establish these habits is to have very firm ‘rules’ about how it’s OK to touch the baby:  she can hold him sitting down while you help, or she can touch him with one finger.  I’m a huge fan of one-finger-touching for 1- and 2-year-olds.  It is useful for ANYTHING they might want to grab, that could be hurt or ruined:  flowers, computers, your earrings, your baby son.  So, first introduce these rules.  She already knows about you helping her hold him when she’s sitting down, so introduce the one-finger rule.  “You can touch your brother with your one finger.  This is how we do it.  That’s right!  You’re doing it too!  You can always touch him with your one finger.”  Then, for the next several weeks, EVERY time you see her going to touch him, jump to her side and help her touch him with her one finger.  Whenever she tries to touch in another way, lovingly show her how she CAN touch him.  (If she is able to kiss him without grabbing, kissing on the cheek or arm is OK too.  If she can’t resist grabbing when she kisses, teach her to blow kisses to him to show her love and affection.) After a few weeks of physically helping her touch with one finger every time, you will start to be able to remind her verbally from a little distance away.  Soon she’ll do it by herself, looking right at you.  “That’s right!  You know how to touch your little brother!”  Even once she does that, she may still need help when she’s tired or excited. 
She may also occasionally try to touch him in another way, looking over at you to see if it’s OK.  For now, go ahead and remind her how she CAN touch him—with one finger.  Once her habits of touching him really gently are firmly in place, you can start to expand from there.  Acknowledge that you’re changing the rules.  “Now that you know how to touch him so gently, you can touch him with your whole hand.  You can stroke his arm, like this.  Yes!”  Expand the acceptable ways of touching very slowly, and start helping her notice if he’s liking her touch or not liking her touch.  “Look, he’s pulling away.  He’s saying, ‘that’s too rough!’” or, “Even though you’re touching him gently, he’s saying ‘Not right now.’” And help her touch him in a way that he likes, or if he’s not liking anything, to pull away and blow him a kiss instead.
This technique is very energy-intensive for several weeks or even a few months.  But it’s totally worth it, because you’re laying the foundation for positive sibling interactions for the rest of their lives.  Siblings who notice what the other one wants (or doesn’t want), and respond respectfully to those cues, have positive relationships with one another.  This noticing and responding respectfully is the key to bypassing the bossy/bullying/playing-the-victim/picking-on-each-other-till-they-explode cycle that can mar many sibling relationships.  So start laying the groundwork now!

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/ 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Help Getting to Sleep

My question is about my 20 month old and sleep. My daughter usually takes several hours to get to sleep no matter what. I really feel she doesn't get enough sleep, and she is often exhausted but cannot seem to stop wiggling. She has always had a great deal of trouble sleeping, she is very active, smart, and has been overly alert since birth. She is quite sensitive to noise etc. but fine otherwise. I keep her routine as predictable as I can...esp around sleep times...and I make sure she plays outside for a while each day, but it seems she needs to much more to get to sleep. I am exhausted and a bit worried because we have a new baby coming soon.
ANY suggestions are appreciated. We have and continue to explore food allergies, sensory issues (i believe that is a contributing factor), we have a homeopath, have seen crainiosacral therapists etc. etc.

Hi Laura,

Oh my gosh, what a challenge for you guys.  It sounds like you're doing a lot of the things I would suggest, and how frustrating that none of it seems to work consistently.

I am currently reading a book that I am LOVING, and might be just what you need.  It is called "Sleepless in America:  Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep it Deserves," by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.  I'm only about half way through, but so far I've agreed with just about everything that she's said.  She talks about how when children are sleep-deprived, their bodies emit stress hormones, which make it much harder to get to sleep.  She talks about teaching children how to relax their bodies, and she gives lots of tips on how to minimize stress levels throughout the day, and how to approach bedtime.  She's not a cry-it-out proponent.  Her book is not focused on toddlers specifically, but she does address the issue of children who have always been jumpy and had trouble sleeping.

Setting the Mood
From my personal experience, the thing that I've found that makes the most difference is the lead-up to bedtime.  I dim the lights, pull the curtains, and start talking in a very soft voice, walking very softly, helping the children 'wind-down.'  I actually don't tell or read a story, because I find them to be more stimulating than calming for many kids.  I make the sleep-room VERY dark, and have the lights already out when we tiptoe in and slip into bed.  I start by rubbing backs as I sing a lullaby (I sing the same one over and over, gradually getting slower and softer, till I'm humming, then I finally drop silent.  I lie down on the floor next to the children, and I doze off.  They can almost never resist that.

Help Their Fingers
For children who have trouble falling asleep, I have a few tricks that have worked.  One is that I've noticed that lots children keep themselves awake through their fingers.  Their fingers wander around, touching and exploring, poking themselves in the face, etc.  With those children, I'll often have them lie with both hands on their stomach, and I'll put my hand(s) over theirs, and say, "Now it's time for your hands to go to sleep.  They can lie there quietly and listen to me sing."  Sometimes I'll even take each of her hands and surround it with one of mine, to help them sleep. 

Wrap Them Up
Another thing I've tried which has worked like magic with some kids, and not so well with others, is to wrap them up fairly tight (like swaddling).  It can help them with wiggling, and makes them feel secure, but largely I think it helps them keep those little fingers still, without me having to do it for them.  To set the stage for this, start telling a story about a caterpillar who was so sleepy, and how he wrapped himself in a cocoon blanket, and when he woke, he had transformed into a beautiful butterfly.  Tell it for a few days, then one day say, "I know!  You can be like that caterpillar, and turn into a butterfly, too!"  Then get a blanket that's about the size of a large couch-throw, and with her arms at her side, wrap her fairly tightly in this special cocoon blanket Lie her down on the bed and rub her head or her body (not both; see which works better for her) while you sing to her.  When she wakes up, comment on how she has become like butterfly!  I know one LifeWays care provider who does this with all of the children in her program, and she says that it has changed the entire naptime experience.

Absorb Busy Energy
The third thing I do is to absorb 'busy' energy, and emit 'sleepy' energy.  I start doing this when I dim the lights while we're getting ready, and then I have a specific technique when they're falling asleep.  I find this to be very effective, because I don't get so annoyed when the kids are doing something (like not going to sleep).  I've found that kids have a VERY hard time falling asleep when I'm annoyed at them; I guess it makes sense that it's hard for a child to relax when there's somebody tense next to her.  Anyhow, the way I do it when they're falling asleep is by rubbing the child's back.  I start out rubbing quite firmly, and imagine all of her 'busy' energy flowing out of her body up into my arm.  I imagine that I'm doing the moving FOR her, so she doesn't have to wiggle around herself.  All of that wiggly energy that's trapped inside her can flow into my hand and up my arm.  As I feel her busy energy emptying out of her, I let my hand get slower and softer.  I start imagining sleepy energy pouring out of my arm and into her.  If I get slower and she starts to wriggle around, I get a little more firm and pull more of that energy out, then slow down again (you can do this technique with the cocoon or without).  As her body starts to relax, I get slower and slower, until my hand is still and heavy, with sleepy energy flowing into her.  When she's breathing regularly and not moving around, I slowly make my hand lighter, lifting a hair with each in-breath, until it's hovering a few inches above her, and then I allow my hand to radiate a blessing of sleep out over her, casting a protective 'net' that stays over her while she sleeps and keeps her from waking up from noises.  I've taught this energy technique to two assistants, and they've both noticed an improvement when they used it.  The main key is that you absorb 'busy' energy, and you send out 'sleepy' energy. 

Good luck!  Sleep is such a tricky issue, because everyone's patience is impaired by lack of sleep (your daughter's, your husband's, and yours).  I find that i have almost immeasurable patience if I get 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, but my patience gets shorter much quickly if I get much less. Do order that book from the library if you can, I'd love to hear if it is helpful as well.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/ 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Imaginative Journeys for Mundane Tasks

Redbird tell each child to put
his cloth in the bowl

Dear Miss Faith, 
          I’ve never before had children that regularly made a fuss but at the moment I look after two brothers (just turned 3 and 4) that get upset about washing hands, having nappies (diapers) changed and having shoes put on. I always give them warning (ie. in a few minutes we can wash our hands so that we will be ready to prepare our snack) give them a choice of helping to do it themselves or I can do it and try to keep things positive and fun but quite often none of it works.  I hate having to force them to do things when they get upset but these are things that really need to be done so im not sure what else to do. If you can think of any ideas that might help us I would be grateful!
Thank you,  Karen

Hi Karen,
               If the children were smaller (say, between 1 and 3), I’d suggest doing less talking.  A child who refuses to put on his shoes when you tell him, is often fine if you simply take him by the hand and start putting on his shoes without talking about it.  Especially if you are talking about something else that’s interesting, instead.   However, your boys are older, and that probably won’t work with them.  So, there are a couple of things to do. 
One thing that can be very effective is using songs for transitions like washing hands, putting on shoes, etc.  A wonderful source for songs for these activities can be found in Mary Schunnemann’s songbook with CD, “This is the Way We Wash-A-Day” (look in the tab "Toy Stores and Song Books" above for how to get it).  But again, at three and four, these boys may be so entrenched in being against these activities that you may have to bring out the Big Guns!
The Big Guns in this case are what I’ll call Imaginative Journeys.  Three and four year olds are enthralled with imaginative stories of any kind, and these are extra fun because of the movement involved.  An Imaginative Journey is a story that you and the children act out together, that involve doing something (like washing hands or putting on shoes).  They take a lot more time than just doing the act quickly, but they’re well worth it: the children love them, and it is a sneaky way to increase competence in children who resist doing things for themselves.  Think of them as activities in their own right, like circle games.  Here are a couple examples, but you can also make up your own. 

Washing Hands After A Meal
Try washing hands at the table, using wet wash-cloths.   Start telling a story, using the cloths.  Here’s one that I use: 
Once upon a time, there was a little caterpillar.  (You wrap one hand up in the wash-cloth and start ‘crawling’ it around the table). 
This caterpillar was SOOO Hungry!  He was hungry for…Rice! (or whatever you had for lunch). 
He searched and he searched, until finally he found some! (find your other hand which is open palm-up on the table and ‘eat’ all of the rice on it, scrubbing it with the wash-cloth.) 
But he was still hungry.  ‘Maybe I’ll find some more up here,’ he said, and he crawled higher and higher (crawl up your arm) until he came to the top. 
‘There’s lots of rice here!’ he said, and he ate, and he ate and he ate (wash your whole face with the wash-cloth while you say it) until he was SOOO Full, and SOOO Sleepy. 
He wrapped himself up in a cocoon blanket, and he found a Branch (put your arm out horizontally) where he hung himself, and he fell fast asleep. (hang your caterpillar arm over your branch arm.
He slept for days and days, until one day he felt the warm sun on his back, and he wiggled and wiggled out of his cocoon, and down it fell. (put the washcloth on the table, then bring your hands up so your fists are together.) 
But he discovered that he was no longer a caterpillar; he had become a beautiful butterfly! (link your thumbs and let your fingers flutter as your butterfly flies around. The end.  Or sing a little butterfly song.)

If you are washing hands before a meal, it might be something much faster, maybe even just a song with movements to scrub each hand.  At Rainbow Bridge we wash hands before the meal with a pitcher and wash-basin at the table.  We sing a song while we do it, and wash each child's hands in turn around the table.  the children who are competent scrub their hands with soap and dry their hands on a towel; those who don't, we do it for them.  There's no discussion about it because we're singing, and each child's turn seems quite inevitable.

Putting On Shoes
Again, think about how you can make this into an imaginative journey.  The following story I just made up, thinking about what I would do in your situation.  The story you make up doesn’t have to be as long or as involved as this one, but it should be interesting enough that everyone wants to take part.  You can do the same story every day for at least a month, or significantly longer if you don’t get totally sick of it.  Here goes:  Put all of the children’s hats down in a row, about 2 feet apart, with the child’s shoes in front of it, then announce, “Today, we will do something special.  Each child may go and sit down where his hat is!”  While they’re finding their hats and sitting down, sing “Find your hat! Then sit down!  Find your hat!  Then sit down!”  Singing during this time will forestall any discussion over it.  (After the first few days, no announcement will be needed.  Simply start singing the song, and gently steer any child who doesn’t immediately run over.)  When they’re all seated, sit down in front of them all with your feet out too, and start telling a story (make sure you have your hat and shoes in your place, too).  Speak in a slow, rhythmic voice, a little deeper than your own:

Once upon a time, there were two Feet.  (Have your feet with the soles facing each other.) 
'Hello,’ said the one foot.   ‘Hello,’ said the other.  (Wiggle the toes of one foot, then the other.)
(address this next part to the children) Can your feet say hello to one another? (go back to low story-voice.)  ‘Hello,’ said the one foot.  ‘Hello,’ said the other. 
‘Nice day for a walk,’ said the one foot.  ‘Indeed it is,’ said the other.  (Wiggle toes as each one speaks.) 
’Well, where should we go?’ said the one foot.  ‘I don’t know,’ said the other. 
So they began to walk.  (Lift your knees together and have the two feet ‘walk’ on the floor in place, slowly and steadily.) 
They walked and walked and walked.  ‘I’m really cold,’ said the one foot.  ‘I’m really wet,’ said the other.  ‘Maybe we can find a cave.’ 
They looked around, and they found something that they thought would be just right.  In they went. (put both feet into your hat.  The children will think this is hilarious.  They can put their feet into their caves, too. When the feet are ‘talking’ in the cave, speak in a muffled voice.) 
’Why are you pushing me?’ said the one foot.  ‘You’re pushing Me!’ said the other.  ‘We need to find our own caves.’ And out they came. 
‘Where is a cave for me?’ said the one foot.  ‘Where is a cave for me?’ said the other. 
They walked and walked, until they saw something new.
‘Here’s a cave that’s just my size!’ said the one foot, ‘But it will be hard to fit into.  I’ll open it up as much as I can.’ (Take one shoe and open it up, pulling any laces or Velcro wide, pulling up the tongue.   Then put your foot at the entrance, and start pushing it in.) 
’I can’t fit in! I can’t fit in! Push, push, push!’ said the one foot. 
Then In-He-Went!”  (Push your foot in.  Help any children who need help, repeating, ‘I can’t fit in! I can’t fit in!  Push, push push!’ until all of the children have one shoe on.  Then go back and sit down.
(Repeat that part of the story for the second foot). 
’Now we are ready to walk,’ said the feet! 
‘I won’t be cold,’ said the one foot.  ‘I won’t be wet,’ said the next foot.  And Off-They-Went.” 
(Reach down for your hat, and pull it onto your head, giving a big, satisfied sigh to signify the end of the story.)

The secret to having these Imaginative Journeys work is to make them highly ritualistic.  Make your movements crisp and stylized, so they are easy to imitate.  Make your voice firm and compelling.  Don’t force the children to do them with you, just make them so entrancing that the children want to follow along.  If a child doesn’t do it, you can give a little help to nudge them along, or repeat part of the story (like when I say, “Can your feet say hello to each other?”), but don’t take so much time away that you lose the interest of the rest of the children.  If a child doesn’t take part in the hand and face washing, for example, I will quickly wipe his hands and face for him as I’m picking up the cloths.  If he objects, I calmly state, “Next time you can do the story with us, and then I won’t have to wipe your face afterward.”

Other Strategies
If the idea of Imaginative Journeys is too much for you, then think about different ways that you can make these experiences special.  For example, I know one woman with a home daycare, and at the end of each meal, she calls each child up to her one by one, and she slowly and lovingly wipes each child’s face and hands, and brushes off any food from his clothing, then gives him a hug, and he can go and play.  She loves it because it's a chance for her to connect with each child.  Or sometimes I’ll play funny games with the cloths, where we hold them flat against our mouths and I ask funny questions (“Are we all wearing our bathing suits right now?”) That everyone can answer “Nooooo!” and shake their heads back and forth, wiping their mouths.  The trick is to make it so fun, or so sweet, that children don’t want to refuse.  It’s not a means to an end, it’s an end in itself!

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/ 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Starting Daycare and Saying Goodbye

Dear Miss Faith,
               My little guy is starting daycare and while I’m sure that it will be a wonderful, loving place for him, I am dreading dropping him off and saying goodbye.  We have had a hard time with babysitters lately.  Do you have any advice for helping it go smoothly?

Dear Mama,
               Yes!  I have helped many families adjust to saying goodbye for the first time, and what I’ve seen is this:  the thing that makes the most difference for a child is the parent’s attitude.  When a parent feels bad that a child is crying, and lingers as a result, children often continue crying for a long time, even after the parent has managed to drag herself away.  I think that when a parent does this, the message she is sending is, “I don’t want to leave you here, but I have to.”  The way the child interprets this is,  “Mom doesn’t want to leave me here; I AM NOT SAFE HERE.”    
The biggest gift you can give your child is to say, with every ounce of your being, “I am leaving you in the best of hands.”  You don’t have to say this out loud; transmit it through your actions, through your attitude.  This doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge his feelings: it’s hard to watch you leave!  You can be compassionate without feeling guilty for causing the grief. “I know that saying goodbye is hard, AND I know that you’ll have a good time while I’m gone.  I love you so much, and I am leaving you in the best of hands.”

But what if I AM feeling guilty?  It is heart-wrenching to walk away when my little one is crying his heart out and reaching out to me. 
It seems like one more hug could only help, right?  But no.  Remember, you know that this is going to be a wonderful, loving place for him.  You told me that in your letter.  That’s why you chose this place.  So, if that is true, then being there won’t be a hardship for him; it’s only the process of watching you leave that is hard.  In that case, the longer you draw out the process of leaving, the longer you’re drawing out his feelings of unhappiness.  Be loving, and firm in your knowledge that this is the best choice for your family, and say goodbye.  If you go out to your car and cry, that’s OK.  This is a big transition for both of you.  But don’t let those guilty feelings make your son’s separation even harder than it needs to be. (One thing that can help is to ask your caretaker to call you if he hasn’t stopped crying after a certain amount of time.)

I tried doing what you said, but he runs after me and latches onto my legs, so the caretaker has to pull him off of me.  That feels terrible!
I bet that feels terrible for everyone!  It sounds like your little guy may feel safer with a ‘hand-off.’  Hold him while you’re coming in, and when it’s time to go, put him into the arms of his caretaker.  Then blow a kiss and wave goodbye.  It’s important that you’re handing him over to the caretaker, so that she doesn’t have to be in the position of pulling him away from you.  Remember, you want to be giving your son the message that you are making a good decision and he will be safe here. 

On the first day, drop-off was OK, but it seems like it’s getting worse and worse. 
My experience is that the first day is often deceptively easy, because your child doesn’t know what’s in store!  Then days two, three and four get worse and worse, as he starts to realize that this is a regular thing!  But by day five he has started to bond with his caretaker, so it's a little better, and day six is a little better still.  Once that bond is established there may still be some crying, but he should be easily comforted by his caretaker after you leave.  If your child is only going two days a week, this process might be a little bit slower, as it will take him more time to bond with someone he is not seeing as frequently. 
So, know that learning to say goodbye is a process, and don’t lose faith!  Continue letting him know that you are leaving him in the best of hands, and don’t draw out the process of saying goodbye.     If your child is still really having a hard time after this period, make some time (not at drop-off!) to talk to your caretaker.  How long does he cry after you leave?  Is he bonding with her and with any of the other children?  If he's not bonding well, it may be that being in a big group is overwhelming for him still, and he'd do better with a sitter or a nanny at home.  Many children are not ready to be in a group setting without mom until they are at least three years old.  If it seems that he IS bonding with her, ask if there’s anything you could be doing differently, that would help his transition.  She may well have some ideas.
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/ 

Monday, October 3, 2011

hitting smaller children

Hi Miss Faith,
First, congratulations. I hope you and your partner had a great honeymoon. I didn't change my last name until I was 3 years into marriage (I didn't think I ever was going to change it, but had a change of heart).
               In any case, we're having challenges with my 2 1/2 year old being physically aggressive with her peers. Sometimes it's 'out of nowhere' which makes it all the more baffling. In other words, I understand more when she grabs, pushes, pinches, etc. to get something, but am worried about where it's coming from (even when the cause is evident). She doesn't do this with older children (even slightly older). She is very verbal (and did this before she was verbal - I saw your post about that) and has always been on the higher energy side. She didn't do any of it this summer (despite ample opportunity) but now has started up again, even pushing babies down, etc.! Any tips or insight is appreciated!

Hi Jennifer,
              While most toddlers love 'babies,' I have had several children who were naturally aggressive to children who were smaller than they were, and their moms (and I) had to work extra hard with those children as they learned impulse control.  My heart goes out to you!  Don’t worry too much about “where this is coming from.”  She is not destined to grow up to be a bully, and nor is it necessarily a commentary on your parenting.  I firmly believe that some children come into the world timid, and some come in with guns blazing; it’s our role as parents and caregivers to help all of them learn behavior skills that will serve them well as they interact with others.  That being said, it’s worth asking the basic questions:  Does she have a regular routine and consistent boundaries so that she knows what is coming up next and what’s expected?  Does she have a nurturing home environment (you aren’t remodeling your house, are you?) and get lots of loving attention from you (no new baby in the family)?  If these things aren’t as strong as they could be, then do put some attention into them.  
               My main long-term suggestion is to help your little girl develop the virtue of Empathy.  2 ½ is a great age to start working on this, as it’s the age when children first start to really be able to live in to someone else’s experiences.  Here are a few ways you can help her as she begins this process:

Start Noticing Others
               Start noticing out loud how other children are expressing their feelings, and start a conversation with your daughter about what they might want/need.  I find it’s more useful for kids if I describe their feelings through actions, rather than simply labeling “he’s sad” or “he’s angry.”  So, in the grocery store you might say, “Look, that little boy is so loud!  He threw that box of cereal!  What do you think he wishes?  Maybe he wishes that they were done shopping.”  Then imagine what could help:  “I bet he could really use some hugs and kisses from his mom right now.”  This type of noticing can help your daughter start feeling empathy.  With children that your daughter knows, you might make some suggestions about how you two might help.  Say you see a little boy crying at drop-off time at their play-group or the gym childcare.  “Look, Liam is crying.  He’s pulling on his mom.  I bet he wishes his mom could stay.”  Then, make a suggestion of how you two might help:  “Do you think he might like it if we gave him a toy?  What kind of toys does Liam like?”  Then the two of you could help find a toy together, and offer it to Liam.   If Liam takes the toy and likes it, you can celebrate your success with your daughter with a joyful smile.  If he doesn’t want it, you might say, “We wanted to help Liam be happy by giving him a toy, but he wasn’t ready to be happy yet.  Maybe we can play with him later.”  The next step is to help her relate his experience with her own (but don’t be too heavy with this):  “Are you sometimes sad when I leave you with the babysitter?”

Help Your Daughter Notice How Others React to Her
               Also start noticing out loud how children are responding to your daughter’s interactions with them, and you can even speak for those children if they’re not very verbal yet.  If your daughter is approaching someone smaller who she has hurt in the past, watch how they react:  “Oh, Tina’s turning away.  She’s saying, ‘please touch me gently.’”  If she does touch Tina gently, you might say, “Look!  She’s smiling!  She likes how you’re touching her!”  If she touches Tina and Tina flinches and pulls away, you could say, “Tina’s saying, ‘please stop.’  I don’t think she wants even gentle touches today.  Maybe you could try finding a toy for her, instead.” I use this type of noticing at Rainbow Bridge all the time, and it’s quite effective in helping children learn to notice the effects of their actions.  Also, when I ‘speak’ for the smaller child in this way, when that child starts to talk, he or she will often use the words that I’ve been using for all that time, instead of simply shrieking (an added bonus!).

A Special Doll
          Dolls can play a real and vital role for children as they process what they’ve experienced, and experience new roles in fantasy.  I can often tell what’s going on at home by how children interact with our dolls:  a girl with a colicky baby at home paced the playroom with the baby doll for a full 20 minutes, shushing her lovingly.  Another little girl gave the doll many Time Outs. Get a special baby doll for your daughter, and make this baby really come alive.  Introduce her with a special name, and hold her like you’d hold a real baby.  Teach your daughter how to hold her, how to care for her.  Treat her as much like a real baby as you can.  Attribute feelings to her.  If you see her on the floor, say “Oh no!  Baby Rosie has fallen down!  She’s crying!”  Run over and scoop Baby Rosie off the floor, saying, “Don’t cry!  I’ll give you hugs and kisses!”  Pat her like you would a real baby, then pass her over to your daughter, saying, “I think she’d like some hugs from you, too.”  Make putting Baby Rosie to bed part of your daughter’s bedtime ritual, where she can tuck her in and give her a kiss.
               Books or stories that you make up can also be very useful.  I often make up ‘teaching stories’ for children about woodland creatures who are experiencing what the children are going through.  So in this case, since we’re working on empathy, it might be a little boy chipmunk who had a friend who was rough with him, and while he wanted to see his friend, he was scared he’d get hurt, and he stopped wanting his friend to come over anymore.  I NEVER compare the story out loud to what’s happening in real life; the children simply soak it in.

Set Her Up for Success
               Helping your daughter start to develop her sense of empathy is a longer-term solution to your problem.  By the time she’s three I bet you’ll see a marked improvement, and by 3 ½ it should hopefully be gone (although it may come back in times of stress).  In the meantime, do your best to put your daughter in situations where she can thrive and develop healthy patterns.  Limit her interactions with smaller children as much as is practical for the next few months.  Make a conscious effort to arrange play-dates with children who are slightly older than her for the next few months (2 ½ year-olds often LOVE four-year-olds).  If you’re going to be with a family who has a littler child she has hurt in the past, perhaps bring your daughter’s new doll along with you, for her to nurture.  And stay right on top of her as she interacts with any child who is littler than she is, helping her see if they’re liking what she’s doing.
          Another piece of setting her up for success is to step things up a notch.  I've noticed that many children at two-and-a-half suddenly need More than they were getting before:  more structured activities (trips to the zoo or the creek, crafts, baking), more exercise (races, climbing, jumping), more expectations of helping, and more appreciation for showing the skills she's developed when she does help.  If they don't get this More that they crave, they have trouble.  And hang in there!  You’ve got a strong-willed little girl on your hands, but an empathetic, respectful, strong-willed girl will be a pleasure to be around for the rest of her life.  So help her develop these virtues.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Throwing Food

Dear Miss Faith,
Welcome back and congratulations! I have a question for you - my son is 15 mo old and is the messiest eater you can imagine. For the most part I let him feed himself (he loves it) but eventually he starts throwing food all over the place. At that point I assume he is full and ready to get down and play, but often he'll keep eating. I don't want to take the food away if he is still hungry, but I'm also losing my patience with the food flinging. It's great that we have a dog who cleans up most of the mess - but still... :-) Any advice? 
Hi Renee,
I am a big fan of letting kids eat by themselves as much as possible, but I'm right there with you that you don't want food being thrown around.  One thing I've discovered that works really well is to give a child a very small amount of food, and then give them more when they've eaten it all, and more when they're done with that.  I'm not exactly sure why it works, but kids tend to throw food less when there's less of it.  It’s more energy-intensive for you, but it’s worth it to minimize the flinging.  He's a little young to be talking, but when you see his empty bowl you can say, "You've eaten it all!  Would you like some more?"  He can nod, for sure.  You see him nodding and you say for him, "Yes, please."  Then, as he gets older, he can say "Yes, please," for himself.

I've also noticed that many kids go through meals in a kind of wave-pattern of eating and not eating (hence the throwing of food, then continuing to eat afterwards).  Using the method of eating several small servings can let a child naturally go through those waves.  Telling little stories, or doing finger-games, or singing little songs can give a child something to do in the 'down' parts of the pattern besides throwing food around, if it hits when his bowl isn’t empty yet.  Also, do you eat at the same time as he does?  Children act strongly through imitation, so if you see him getting restless and you think food-throwing might be about to start, you could say, "I'm so thirsty!  I'll take a sip of water!"  Then you pick up your cup and take a drink.  Chances are fairly good that he will do that too.  “Mmmmm,” you say, making eye contact with him.  Later you might say, "Take a bite!"  and you take a bite with your fork.

If food-throwing has turned into a fun game which is much more amusing anything else, I do sometimes take a child's bowl away, but I just do it for a moment.  It might go something like this:  a child throws some food and I say, "Oh!  That food is just for eating!  Where is your spoon?"  I take a bite with my spoon.  "Mmmmm."  He throws the food again.  "It looks like you're done eating.   When you're ready to eat again, you can have your bowl back."  I take the bowl.  "Wahhh!"  "This food is just for eating.  Are you ready to eat?"  He nods.  I put the bowl back down. "Where's your spoon?"   This actually works pretty well.  If he starts throwing again, I'll say, "You forgot!  That food is just for eating.  Take a bite!"  And I take a bite.  Sometimes a reminder is enough to get them back on track, but at 15 months, it might not be. So, the next time, "I'll take your bowl till you're ready to eat."  "Wahhh."  This time, I don't give it back right away.  "You wish you had your bowl, but you forgot that food was for eating.  You can try again in a moment."  I take a few bites of my food, take a sip of water, then say, "Are you ready to eat again?"  He nods, and gets the bowl back.  Normally, that's the end.  But if the throwing starts again, I will take the bowl away and he is all done with his meal (otherwise THAT can turn into a game).  I don't do it angrily, I'm matter-of-fact and a little sympathetic.  I reassure him that he’ll get another chance to eat at lunchtime, and I create an image of him doing it right the next time.  “You’re just learning that food’s only for eating,” I’ll say.  “Don’t worry; you’ll get the hang of it.”

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

I'm Back!

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for all of your good wedding wishes.  I'm back from my honeymoon, feeling rejuvenated, and ready to get going again!

And...it's taking my brain a bit of effort to switch gears.  So give me a hand and get me started:  what questions or issues are you working with at home or in your program?  What feels good and what feels challenging?  Post in the 'comments' here, or email me privately at faithrainbow@yahoo.com and let me know.  Questions always get my creative juices flowing...

Miss Faith (or should I be Mrs. Faith?  Mrs. Collins?  I think I'll stick with Miss Faith, at least for now...)

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Friday, August 19, 2011

See you in October!

Running through the rice!
Dear Readers,

If you have all been wondering why my posting has been falling off lately, it's because I've been busy planning my wedding!  Then last Saturday the day came, and I was lucky enough to join my life together with a wonderful man.  What a moving and exciting experience.  And now we're getting ready for our honeymoon, and then we'll be moving to London. So, I just wanted to let you know that I probably won't be posting again until October, when I plan to "get back to business" and start posting again on a regular basis.  Thank you all for reading, and don't think I've fallen away altogether--I'll be back!

Miss Faith (now Faith Collins)

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pre-Verbal Hitting

Hey Miss Faith, I was wondering if you could write more on hitting.
          Our pre-verbal 15 mo is going through a rough phase this past month. He hits me and my husband in the face, throws things at us and the dog, pulls the cats by their tails and bops the goats on the nose. He's just being too rough with everyone. 
          We've tried reminding and showing him how to use "gentle hands," and here lately we've been yelling, "No, we don't hit!" but that doesn't help either. My husband is getting really frustrated as this behavior continues and increases, and he wants me to start smacking him on the hand but that just seems antithetical to all my parenting philosophies.
          Just seems hard for us to communicate the ideas to him... maybe it seems harder because he doesn't yet talk himself.

Hi Mama, 
In my experience, there are often two ‘rough phases’ with pre-verbal kids.  The first often comes shortly after becoming steady on their feet; the other one often happens right before a child is about to start speaking.

So, your little guy learns to walk.  At first, this is a great accomplishment on its own, and it takes all of his concentration.  But then, he has mastered it!  At this point, many kids go through a ‘rough’ phase.  In my mind, I think of it as them realizing that they are big and powerful in the world!  They are exulting in their new-found strength, and in the new-found freedom to use their arms for grabbing or flailing instead of for crawling.  At this stage, I often see kids hitting, or grabbing hair, poking eyes, or biting for the first time.  They are experiencing this new freedom from the inside, and they have no idea that these fabulous new movements are actually hurting other people, or the cat, or whatever else they come into contact with.  This idea that they have to observe how their actions are affecting other people, and moderate them, is totally foreign.  Up until this point in their lives, their actions have never had this effect on people before.  So, we have to teach them to moderate their actions. 
Because this is brand-new, it certainly won’t happen overnight.  That's where we, as parents and caregivers, have to pull on our inner reserves.  Just be as patient as you can, and remember that this is a new skill and a new idea, and will take many, many times of practicing before it becomes an internal process for him.  Yelling as a general strategy doesn’t seem to help to speed up the process, although if a child really hurts you (through a hard bite, or a head-butt in the larynx, for example), then a big reaction is warrented.  But that should be saved for infrequent safety-related moments.  In general, remember that children learn through repetition, and through imitation.  Don’t just say “gentle hands,” as that has little meaning.  Instead, say “gentle hands,” and help him stroke the kitty, or stroke your leg, or stroke the neighbor girl’s arm.  "Yes, that's it!  You're touching with gentle hands!"  If you re-direct his actions into stroking with his ‘gentle hands’ EVERY SINGLE TIME he is too rough, here’s what may well happen:  First, you do it about a hundred times.  After a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to say “gentle hands,” and some of the time he’ll start stroking on his own, without you physically helping him to do it.  You give him lots of love when he does that.  About 4 weeks in, he might start going over to the cat, or to the neighbor girl, and he’ll look directly at you, and very deliberately stroke her, without any prompting from you.  You go crazy with joy, because this is the beginning of a new era!  You still have to remind him (and help him) to touch gently a lot of the time, but he knows how to do it, and even thinks about doing it on his own.  He is proud of his accomplishment, and you are too.

The second time I’ve noticed that it’s fairly common for pre-verbal children to become aggressive is right before they start to speak.  It seems to me that there is a process where a child becomes very frustrated that others can’t understand him, and then there’s a kind of break-through, and when they start speaking, things tend to even out.  When this phase is going on, it can be very useful to give the child the words he will soon be using (you hope!).  So, you see the neighbor girl accidentally bump into your little boy, and your boy turns around and hits her.  Instead of saying, “No hitting!” or, “We don’t hit,” (or even "gentle hands,") try saying what he wishes he could say:  “You’re saying, ‘Please don’t bump me!’”  If the neighbor girl is crying, I would go over to her and give her a hug, saying “Oh no!  Are you alright?  That was too rough, wasn’t it?  I think he was trying to say, ‘Please don’t bump me!’”  Being a Translator for your little guy can help smooth out this time, and when those words come, he’ll know how to say what he’s wanting to express.

And last thoughts:  this time when they're learning to moderate their impulses can be trying for everyone, so don't forget to enjoy one another as much as you can!  Whenever you are stepping up the 'discipline,' it's important to step up displays of love by an equal amount.


Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Toddlers Grabbing

Dear Miss Faith,
My son is 22 months and he always wants to pound on the computer keyboard or grab the mouse.  My husband yells at him a lot for this, and the whole thing is driving me crazy, but I don’t know what to do.  Any ideas you have would be welcome.

Hi there,
It’s not surprising that your little guy wants to bang on the keyboard and grab the mouse, that’s what he sees you and dad doing, all the time!  Children want to be involved in whatever we’re involved in, and they want to do whatever they see us doing.  That said, it’s not always appropriate for them to do what we’re doing!  What to do?
I have a couple of suggestions:  the first one is to get or make a toy computer that he can play with, so he can use that imitative urge.  You can make a perfectly good laptop out of a FedEx box, some construction paper, and a marker.  However, this will only solve part of the problem, because the real issue is that he sees your computer sucking your attention away, and he wants to be involved in whatever you’re involved in.  But yelling at him not to touch doesn’t get you very far.  Here’s the important piece:
Whenever a child wants to touch something that you don’t want them to be messing with, think of a way that he CAN touch/interact with it, that is OK with you.  Using one finger is often helpful.  For a laptop, it might be that he can run his index finger along the edge that protects the screen.  Next, teach him how to do it.  And from then on, whenever he wants to interact with the computer, you can guide him to touch it in this way that you’ve sanctioned.  So you’re never pushing him away, you’re never yelling at him to stop, you’re just reminding him, again and again, how he CAN touch it.  “Oh!  You can touch it on the edge, with your finger.” (Show him.  He imitates).  “That’s right!  You’re touching the computer!  That’s the way you do it!”  You smile into his eyes, and he’s thrilled that he gets to interact with you around this object which you spend lots of time concentrating on, and clearly love.  You’re not pushing him away, you’re inviting him in, in a way that is age-appropriate.  He can touch the edge of the computer as many times as he wants to. 
I have done this with children that age with many things, and it seems to satisfy them.  I had one little girl who was a little younger, 17 months or so, who desperately wanted to grab my knitting whenever I’d sit down with it on the couch.  Instead of pulling it away from her or chastising her, I came up with a little ritual: whenever she wanted to interact with my knitting, she could put one finger up and touch the tip of one needle, then the tip of another.  It took a couple of days of near-constant practice with her, but eventually it became an established ritual, and then lost much its interest (perhaps because it didn’t get such a big response as grabbing my knitting had?).  After that she would come up and touch my knitting needles about once an hour, but no more.  Each time was a little chance for us to make eye contact and connect briefly, and then she’d go back to her play.  She rarely grabbed it again.  I’ve also done this with flowers in my garden:  with flowers, you can touch them with one finger, or you can smell them.  That is all.  Children are satisfied with this, just as they are satisfied with the fact that the garbage has to stay in the trash can, or the lamp has to stay upright, or all of the other rules around touching things that we have in our lives.
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Friday, July 1, 2011

Luring Kids into Helping

This is a response that I wrote to a mom in my teleclass who was inspired to fold laundry with her four-year-old daughter, only to discover that her daughter wasn't interested.  I believe that allowing children to help with housework can be wonderful for both of you, if it helps you and your child feel connected, if it allows them to develop competence, and enables them to feel like they're contributing.  Most children love to help whenever they're allowed to, but if your child is accustomed to you doing it on your own, they may not jump right in when giving the opportunity.  If that happens, then it's time to concentrate heavily on the connecting aspect, so they really enjoy doing it with you.  Here was a suggestion I gave: 

Dear Mom,
Don't be discouraged that your daughter didn't jump right in.  If she's used to not doing it with you, it may take awhile for her to warm up to it.  And I bet that just having you doing it so calmly and lovingly is still nurturing to her, even if she doesn't participate.  One thing you could do if you WANT her to help is to "lure" her in by making it into a real connecting activity.  Since she loves puppet shows, you might do this by telling a story while you fold laundry, something that she will really enjoy.  At first she might just sit near you while you fold and tell the story, and eventually she might want to help as well.  A slightly different take might be to make the act of folding really enjoyable, and incorporate it into a type of puppet show of its own.  It might go something like this:

"Once upon a time, there was a little mouse."  (take one of the baby's socks and make it into a little mouse scurrying along the ground. "That mouse lived in a house where there was LOTS of laundry to be done!  He loved living in that house because there were always lots and lots of places for him to hide."  (Have your mouse scurry from unfolded thing to unfolded thing.)  "In this same house there also lived a cat!  He loved to chase the mouse, but he couldn't find him
when he hid under laundry that wasn't folded. (Make a cat with a slightly larger piece of laundry that you roll up into a log.  Have the cat chase the mouse around, but the mouse always manages to hide.)

"One day, the cat had a great idea.  What if he could fold the laundry, so that the mouse had nowhere to hide?  He was very excited by this idea, but how could he do it?  Cats can't fold laundry!  He tried, and he tried, but he couldn't do it right." (Have the cat try and fail.)  "'I know,' said the cat.  'I need someone with hands who will help me.'  He looked around for someone who could help.  First he went to the baby to ask for help."  (He goes over to the baby.) "'Will you help me fold the laundry so I can catch the mouse?' He asks.  But the baby is too little, and doesn't know how to fold laundry.  Then he went to the mother.  'Will you help me fold the laundry so I can catch the mouse?'  'Yes,' said the mother, and she folded a washcloth."  (fold a washcloth that the mouse is hiding under, and have the mouse run away to another piece of laundry that's not folded.  The cat runs after him, but he doesn't get there in time.)  "Oh no!  The cat chased the mouse, but he wasn't fast enough! He looked around to see if there was anyone else who might help him by folding a piece of laundry.  There he saw a little girl."  (...)

You get the idea.  You and your daughter can alternate folding the laundry while the cat and the mouse run back and forth, until all of the laundry is folded.  You will have to decide if the cat gets to catch the mouse at the end, or if the mouse escapes, to be chased another day.  As time goes on, your daughter might want to control the mouse as he runs, or the cat (although it might be too hard to resist catching the mouse before the laundry is done).  At any rate, you don't have to use that story, but the idea is to make your task SO fun, that it's what she wants to be doing, and it's all about the two
of you connecting and having a good time together.  And, unlike a normal puppet show, the laundry gets folded at the end of this one!

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/