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.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Meltdowns and Tantrums


This is the second part of my response to the mom who wrote this letter:
Hi Miss Faith,
         I love love your blog and reading it often as I have a newly 3 year old and a 9 month old at home. I have a questing regarding whiny and near constant meltdowns with my 3 year old.  We found the 2’s to be very easy, not terrible at all but have found the 3’s to be very challenging so far.  She is extremely whiny and almost everything results in meltdowns and tears.  I for the first time, am finding myself NOT enjoying my time with her and that makes me sad.  Just this morning she didn’t want to get dressed, I gave her a 5 min and a 1 min warning and then when it was time she yelled “no” and cried.  Then she said she wanted raisins, I brought them to her and they were the wrong kind, more tears.  You get the idea.
         I would love any suggestions on how to deal with this and work her through it.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts how on how you deal with this type of behavior. 
Hi again-
          Today I'll write some about dealing with meltdowns and tantrums.  I'll talk first about meltdowns from over-stimulation, then I'll get on to what you're talking about in your letter.  I've seen a lot of popular literature that suggests walking away, time-outs, taking away toys or privileges, etc.  But I don't agree with most of them.  I think that meltdowns and tantrums are generally a cry for more support, and so withdrawing your love/attention/support is the last thing that your a child needs.  However, "support" can take many different forms, and giving in to children over and over again, or "doing anything" to placate them, is NOT giving support to a child.  Supporting them means helping them learn how to regulate themselves and their emotions.  So how can you provide the support that a child needs in order to minimize meltdowns and tantrums?

Over-Stimulation Meltdowns
          Often, meltdowns and tantrums are a child showing you that he or she is overstimulated, tired, hungry, or uncomfortable.  The obvious answer, of course, is to try and keep your child well-rested and well-fed, and don't go to the grocery store right before naptime.  However, despite our best efforts, these things happen.  If you are out shopping, for example, and you can see a meltdown starting to brew, our instinct is to rush as much as possible, to try and get out before the storm breaks.  However, children have a very low tolerance for rushing, especially when they're tired or hungry.  Instead, try this:  "You look like you're really ready to go.  I can see that!  You wish we were going home right now.  Let's find a quiet place to snuggle for a few minutes."  Find a corner or a bench or somewhere where you can take your child onto your lap and just pour some love and support into him.  This undivided attention helps your child reconnect with you, and gives him the space he needs to regulate himself.  You might tell him how much you love him, or tell him a story about when you were a little girl and used to go shopping with your mom; anything to let him know that all of your attention is on him, and you are there, creating a safe space for him, within your arms.  After a few minutes, when you feel him start to relax against you, you can say, "That was a really nice snuggle.  In just a minute I'll put you back into the cart, we'll get our last few things, then we'll stand in line, we'll pay for our food, and we'll go out to the car and drive home.  Are you ready for that?"  By being very specific about how things are going to go, you can help him prepare himself for the rest of the trip.  Usually then a child will be ready to face the world again; if he's not, give him a few more minutes of love, with the feeling that there's all the time in the world.  When it's actually time to move on, use a nursery rhyme or song for your transition, instead of talking or convincing.  I love the rhyme/song "One, two, buckle my shoe," because it's very rhythmic and quite long.

Regular Whininess/Meltdowns
          On the other hand, sometimes when a child is going through the process of individuation (like the child of the mother in the letter above), a child can't agree with you on anything.  Nothing is right, everything becomes a struggle.  In this case, again you want to form a strong, supportive boundary around her, to help her learn to regulate herself.
          First, it's good to know that while children are going through growth-spurts they often need more sleep than they needed in the past, so try putting her to bed half an hour earlier.  
          Next, you want to empathize with her while at the same time teach her how to express her dissatisfaction in a way that is acceptable (this is an important part of self-regulating). Teaching her how to express herself in a way that's acceptable generally involves saying what you wish she were saying, in the tone that you wish she were saying it in.  If you remind her that it's time to get dressed and she screams "No!"  You might say, "Mom, I'm not ready to get dressed yet."  Most of the time, a child will repeat your words, in exactly the tone you use.  It's amazing how a child can go from an angry tone to a pleasant one in an instant, through imitation.  And it's amazing how well it works.  If she doesn't, you can repeat, "You can say, 'Mom, I'm not ready to get dressed yet.'"  Don't force her to say it, just let her know what's expected.  Most of the time it works, like magic.  Then you can respond.  "Oh really?  It looks like you're having a fun time playing, huh.  What are you playing?"  Then matter-of-factly start getting out her clothes and help her dress while she's telling you.  Children are often fine doing something that they've been saying "no" to, if you just stop talking about it.  Remember, children often need your physical/emotional support to do tasks that they are capable of doing alone on their best days, probably until they are five or even later.
          When your child asks for something and then it's not what she wanted/expected, there are a couple of things that can help.  For example, with the raisins:  you offer them, and she cries, "No, no!  Not those raisins!"  You say, in a pleasant voice, "Mommy, not those raisins, please."  She may or may not repeat.  You say, "Oh, you want different raisins?  Tell me!"  She says, "Other raisins."  You know that there are no other raisins, but you don't say that.  Instead, you say, "I don't know if there are any others.  Let's go down and look in the cupboard together."  Often, getting a child into motion is enough to diffuse a situation and move out of "No" land.  Motion works better than words.  But if nothing will soothe her and she begins to cry, don't try explaining.  Don't tell her that there are no other raisins, don't tell her that all the raisins are the same, don't try to bribe her with something else.  Simply be compassionate.  "You wished you could have the raisins you want, but there are none.  That's a big disappointment."  Give her a hug, and after a moment, move on.

But It's Hard!
          Yes, it is absolutely hard work to keep your pleasant demeanor when your child is being whiny, or disrespectful, or demanding, over and over again.  It is hard to model the pleasant tone/behavior that you want her to imitate, especially if she's pushing your buttons.  So what to do?
          One thing I do when a child feels challenging is this:  a child exhibits a challenging behavior (such as demanding raisins and then crying because they're not what she wanted).  I take a deep breath and imagine stepping backwards into what I refer to as my "Goddess Space."  I know/imagine that my back-space is filled with the Goddess spirit, and when I step backwards into it, I reconnect with that energy.  When I'm there, I can dis-connect from the things that push my buttons.  I don't have to take things personally.  From the Goddess Space I can see what this child needs in order to grow, and what kind of support she needs in order to learn to regulate herself.  And often, then, I can do it from a place of compassion.  

Full-Blown Tantrums
          Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can't head off a tantrum.  In that case, it's time to step into your Goddess Space again.  Again, you want to provide compassionate support for your child.  I usually do this in two ways:  first, I do it by imagining that I'm setting an energy-field around the child.  It is like a soft, firm wall that keeps her safe.  Second, I think to her, "I see that you are out of control, but I am here, and I will keep you safe and help you learn how to stay in control of yourself."  I don't say this out loud, buy I think it.  Then I will sit quietly nearby, thinking these thoughts and waiting for her to calm down enough to be comforted.  If the tantrum goes on for more than a few minutes, I can tell that my presence is not calming, so I will go into another room or another part of the room, and begin doing other things.  "I'm going to wash the dishes,"  I'll tell her, "But when you're ready for hugs and kisses, I'll be ready too."  Then I'll go and wash the dishes, but I'm still surrounding her with my protective energy.  Usually this is enough to help a child begin to calm down.  When a child sees that you are calm and supportive even when she is out of control, it helps her feel secure.

Good luck!  And don't worry if you can't find that Goddess Space every time.  Each new meltdown is a new opportunity to practice it. 

Miss Faith

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Whiny Meltdowns

Hi Miss Faith,
         I love love your blog and reading it often as I have a newly 3 year old and a 9 month old at home. I have a questing regarding whiny and near constant meltdowns with my 3 year old.  We found the 2’s to be very easy, not terrible at all but have found the 3’s to be very challenging so far.  She is extremely whiny and almost everything results in meltdowns and tears.  I for the first time, am finding myself NOT enjoying my time with her and that makes me sad.  Just this morning she didn’t want to get dressed, I gave her a 5 min and a 1 min warning and then when it was time she yelled “no” and cried.  Then she said she wanted raisins, I brought them to her and they were the wrong kind, more tears.  You get the idea.
         I would love any suggestions on how to deal with this and work her through it.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts how on how you deal with this type of behavior. 

Dear Mom,
          I'm currently out of town at a conference but will write a full response soon.  My experience is that some kids have a hard time at 2, and others have a hard time at 3.  It's usually one or the other, but it comes as a rough surprise to the parents of three-year-olds who thought they had gotten through the twos scott-free!  So just know that it's part of her process of coming into herself:  discovering that she's separate from you, that she has her own opinions, that she suddenly has big feelings but has very little impulse control. I have some ideas of things you can do to help things go more smoothly, but just know that this is probably just as uncomfortable for her as it is for you.  Let her know by your attitude and your actions that you have compassion for her in this difficult time, and that you will help her learn to regulate herself so that the two of you can be in loving relationship again, enjoying your time together.
          I'll write more later, but I just wanted to give you a first piece to work with.  Not an easy piece, but a necessary one!  Hang in there, mama!  Your sweet girl will return; she just has some important things to learn first.
Miss Faith

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Monday, April 11, 2011


Dear Miss Faith,
          I've been feeling a little worried about my three-year-old son because I observed him in a gymnastics class recently and while all the girls were following instructions perfectly, he was getting very distracted and off-task. This was right after his preschool teacher told me that he dawdles a lot more than the other kids. So I'm just looking for some perspective on whether he is a normal 3 year old boy or whether he is a little more distracted than others and if so, what help does he need now to intervene early. It's been on my mind.  He has some mild sensory-integration issues but I don't know if that's related or not.
Thanks,  J.A.

Dear J.A.,
           I definitely suggest that you trust your instincts on this.  If you're feeling uncomfortable enough to write this, it certainly wouldn't hurt anything to have him evaluated.  If the experts watch him and say he's normal, you can really breathe easy.  And if they say he's borderline and give you some suggestions on ways to support him, that will be helpful too.  Early targeted intervention can really help kids to round out their development so that potential problems are nipped in the bud.
          On the other hand, dawdling and getting distracted are VERY normal activities for a three-year-old.  Even if he's dreamier than other kids his age, that doesn't necessarily mean there's anything wrong with him.  Some kids are just dreamier than others.  However, since you mention that he has some sensory integration issues as well, it wouldn't hurt to have an expert weigh in on the issue.  In the meantime, there are some things you can do.
          In terms of dawdling, here are some techniques I use all the time: Ask him to do something once:  "Please take your shoes off."  If he doesn't do it, look over and say, "Oh, do you need some help getting your shoes off?"  Sometimes that's enough to get them moving.  If not, go over and say, "Let's do it together.  First, open the velcro."  If he doesn't reach down to open the velcro, take his hand and wrap his fingers around the velcro.  Give him a chance to pull, then wrap your hand around his and get his fingers to pull.  So you're really helping HIM to do it, you're not doing it for him.  Likewise, if it's time to get ready to go, you ask him to go get his coat once, then say, "Oh, do you need help getting your coat?"  Then you take him by the hand and go over together.  When you're standing right in front of it, say, "Where is your coat?"  If he doesn't get it, take his hand and put it up to get the coat.  It's energy-intensive, but if you do it for a few weeks, he might start to wake up to doing things a bit.
        Another idea is to start playing rule-following games, like Simon Says.  As he gets better at it, start issuing two-part commands:  "Simon says, go stand by a lamp and put your hands on your head." And then even more complex:  "Simon says, find a cushion and put it on the coffee table, then sit on the couch."  If you son is capable of doing things but is easily distracted, these rule-following games can be very helpful to get him into the habit of doing what you ask him to, and promptly!  Make it fun and engaging, so that following your instructions has positive feelings associated with it.  Another rule-following game is "Red-Light Green-Light," where kids run when you say "Green Light!" but have to stop immediately when you say "Red Light!" (for three-year-olds, you might want to run and stop with them until they really get the hang of it).  A third game is  "Mother May I," but that might be too advanced for little ones.  
          A very simple rule-following game I play at the table if we're waiting for kids to finish washing hands or waiting for the meal goes like this:  Sing, "Ten little fingers, they all belong to me/They can do so many things, would you like to see?"  Then I make up things for the kids to do.  "Who can put their hands on their head?  Who can wiggle their ears?  Who can touch the tip of their nose?  Oh, Sylvia can!  Julie can!  Look, everybody can!  Who can cover their mouth?  Who can stroke their hair?"  etc. etc.  If you want to make it even more direct practice for rule-following, you might phrase it like this:  "Please put your hands on your head.  Thank you!  Please wiggle your ears.  Thank you!"  These 'requests' are likely to get giggles from your kids, so you can enjoy yourselves while kids are learning to do what you ask.


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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being Your Best Self

          We all want to be our Best Selves for the children we care for.  Certainly because this would create the best possible environment for our little ones, but also because when we're our Best Selves, we enjoy our lives more.
          In a perfect world, it seems like we’d be able to be our best selves all the time.  We’d go gracefully through the day, and nothing would faze us.  We’d know when to be firm and when to be flexible, we wouldn't lose our tempers when our little boy poops in his pants for the fourth day in a row, right when that baby’s supposed to go down for her nap.  We’d be fresh and gracious when our partner gets home from work, and when he asks what we did today, we’d have a list as long as our arm of things we’d accomplished.  Right?

          Well, only maybe.  Actually, I’m going to go ahead and say No, that’s not what Being Your Best Self is about.  Because if that IS what it’s about, what can we do except feel perpetually guilty about not being as good as we imagine that we could or should be?  Instead, let’s put aside this mythical person who never messes up, who doesn’t get annoyed and who never loses their cool.  Instead, let’s make this about us, and who we are, wherever we are right now in our lives. 

So, how do we work on Being Our Best Selves, from where we are right now?

          When our children see us striving to be better, they also can strive to be better.  This means making mistakes, then trying to learn from them.  This means having to learn the same lessons over and over again, just like our children do.  That’s part of what it is to be human.  But when we come in with the attitude of, ‘Next time I’ll do better’ that is what can really be life-changing to our children.  This act of striving is a huge piece of Being Our Best Selves for our children.
A mentor of mine told me and a group of women a story about this:  she said that when she was a young mother, she and her husband had wanted things to be perfect for their kids. With this in mind, they never argued in front of their children.  But then when their children grew up and embarked on serious romantic relationships of their own, they thought that if they argued, they had blown the whole relationship, or that it must be a ‘bad’ relationship.  They had never seen their parents disagree on anything, and therefore they had never seen a model of how to argue in a healthy way so that both parties could benefit and grow.
         I’m not saying that it’s a great idea to fight in front of your kids all the time, but what I’m saying is that it’s not only OK to be human, it’s preferable to be human!  Life is full of disappointments and mistakes and times when you don’t do as well as you might have done.  Teaching our children how to recover from mistakes, how to apologize when we don’t handle things well, how to pick up the pieces and keep moving, with the attitude of “Next time I bet I’ll do better,” this is what can truly help our kids, and ourselves.

Miss Faith

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Daily Rhythm


          Having a strong rhythm to your day helps your day go more smoothly and more enjoyably for you and for your kids.  Every teacher and daycare provider knows this, because if they don't have a strong rhythm, everything turns into mayhem!  But for parents, it can be much harder to see the benefits of the work it takes to establish a rhythm.  Many parents kind of limp along, not enjoying their days but making it through.  I had one family with a 3 1/2 year old boy, and the parents complained about how strong-willed and stubborn he was. When I tried to suggest  that rhythm would make their lives easier, they only saw it as limiting and constraining.  As a result, they spent a lot of time 'convincing' their son that it was time to do this or that.  Then they visited a brother and sister-in-law with three children, and a strong routine.  Their son fell into this other family's rhythm without a peep.  Suddenly he went from being contentious at every turn, to being easygoing and go-with-the-flow.  They could hardly believe it! They came back from vacation raving about their experience, and determined to set up rhythms in their own home.  But how does one go about getting started on something like that?

Anchor Points
          If you're just working to create rhythm, start with your 'anchor points.'  The anchor points of rhythm are sleeping and eating.  Be aware that these are the anchors of your day, and do your best to have them be as regular as possible.  For example, it can be tempting to push naptime back if your child doesn't seem sleepy and you could just swing by the post-office on the way home from the grocery store...but try to resist the impulse.  The more regular you are with naptimes and bedtimes, the more your child's rhythms will 'set' to those times, and the easier it will be to get him down.  Same with meals!  Another anchor point in your day should be going outside together, to play in the yard, take a walk, or go to the park.  Morning is the best time
for this, as kids have lots of big energy in the morning.  So try and make going outside every morning part of your routine. If you have a high-energy kid, go outside in the afternoon as well.  

          Next, think about the beginning and end of each anchor point.  The more you can set up little rituals (doing things the same way each time), the stronger your rhythm will be.  So for instance, you might take five minutes whenever he wakes up to sit with him in a cozy spot and snuggle with him and brush his hair, then go straight to the table for a snack.  If he's not hungry right upon waking, you could get dressed first.  Some kids do best eating right away or they get grumpy, some kids wake up more slowly.  But whatever you do, do it as regularly as possible.
          Third, incorporate songs and nursery rhymes into your rhythm. Children love knowing how things go, and having a certain song that's associated with a certain activity can let your child know exactly
where things are at.  You don't have to have a great singing voice; they will love it no matter what!  So, give it some thought.  You might say rhythmically, "Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross to see what dear Alex will buy...A penny white bun and a penny white cake, and a two-penny apple pie" whenever it's time to go to the table for meal or a snack.  You might say, "Shoe a little horse!  Shoe a little mare!  But little Stephie's feet go bare-bare-bare!  No...(shake your head)...where ARE your shoes?" every time it's time to get shoes on.  You might make up a little song for getting dressed in the morning, to the tune of "The Farmer In the Dell:"  "One arm in the hole, the other arm in the hole, then your head goes in the hole and now you have your shirt!"  Then pants, then socks, etc.  Make up your own words to any tune you know, but sing them the same every time you do it, and your children will feel secure that they know how things go.  One great resource for songs and rhymes like these is the book/cd combo "Sing A Song With Baby," available here.

One Sample Day
So, if you just start with those pieces, you're well on your way to having a solid rhythm going.  Eventually, your day might look something like this: 
You hear him stirring, and you walk into his room, singing softly: "good morning, good morning, good morning dear Alex."  You pick him up and say, "Hi, sleepy-head!  Did you have a good sleep?"  Take him
downstairs and pick up his brush, then sit in your special chair and brush his hair.  After a few minutes, take him to the kitchen, saying "Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross...." and put him in his chair, getting him some
breakfast.  After breakfast, get dressed together, then come downstairs and get shoes and jacket on and go straight outside for at least half an hour, but preferably more like an hour.  If you have a high-energy kid, go on a 15-20 minute walk around your neighborhood, having your child run from one 'station' to the next:  "OK, the next station will be the fire hydrant.  Ready, Steady, Go!!!!"  Then he has to stay touching the fire hydrant until you arrive, and tell him the next one.  After outdoor play, have a little snack (outside if the weather is nice) and get into the car and run whatever errands you have that day.  Come back home and eat a hearty lunch, then do some quiet housework together, washing the breakfast and lunch dishes, folding the laundry, etc. until it's time for nap.  During naptime either nap with him, or make your phone calls and do your computer work, as these are things that it's hard for kids to tolerate much of.  After nap you brush his hair and give him a snack, then let him play while you're doing your own things that you can stop-and-start (paying bills, checking email, etc.).  You check in and out with him as he needs, being able to put down whatever you're doing for a few minutes to play peekaboo one time, read a story another time, always being available, but always being drawn back to your tasks.  When you can tell he needs more than just a minute or two of interaction, put aside your work and spend 15-30 minutes doing some sort of activity with him: coloring, baking, going outside again if the weather is nice.  Come back in and have another snack if needed, then start getting the dinnertime meal ready, talking to him and interacting with him as you do, giving him
nibbles of things, or just letting him play on his own if he wishes. Dad comes home, spends a little time unwinding, and the three of you eat dinner together.  After dinner you and baby, or dad and baby, head upstairs for a bath, then put on pajamas, brush teeth, and dad comes up to read a story and tuck him in.   Sleep tight! 

Extra Tips
          Think about the non-kid-activities you have during the day, and how to weave them in most successfully.  Try running errands in the morning when he has lots of energy, but after outside play so he's already gotten to run alot.  Make your phone calls while he's sleeping, because it's hard for kids to have attention away from them for so long.  Do your desk-work in the afternoons while he's happy to play
quietly while you're around, and can pay him attention as needed. Afternoons are also a nice time for household chores, if you can save your desk-work for after he's in bed.  If you do the same sorts of
tasks in the same parts of the day, your son will start knowing that that's how it goes, and everything can go that much more smoothly. Now, it might be that your son doesn't do well running errands in the morning, because he needs to be more physically active then.  Maybe he does better in the afternoons.  But maybe he doesn't do so well in the afternoons, because he needs quiet space and to not feel rushed.  You
will have to figure out what is best for you and your kids.  Enjoy!

Miss Faith 

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