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, May 30, 2011

Foster Patience

 Our enjoyment of the children in our lives increases dramatically when we teach them how to be patient. Picture two sets of mothers talking together. One has a child who wants his mom to push him on the swing. She tells him that she's busy talking, and he whines and pulls on her for five minutes until she finally gives in. With the other set of mothers, a little boy wants his mom to play on the teeter-totter with him. She says, “I'm talking to Mary right now; I'll come over in a few minutes.” He waits patiently until she is done, or goes off to play with something else, checking back periodically to see when she'll be ready. Who wouldn't want their child to be more like that second little boy! Many people seem to think that patient children just naturally “come” that way, but in reality, patience is a skill that we can help children learn.
So how do we foster patience in the children we care for? Patience is really about children being able to regulate themselves, and there are several things we can do to help them learn.

Use Ritual
When I first started working with groups toddlers, it seemed like mealtimes were especially hard. No matter how quickly I tried to get everyone seated and get the food out, it seemed like it was never fast enough. They just couldn't wait, and it seemed to end with a melt-down as often as not. Finally, I took a deep breath and realized that since I couldn't do it any faster, I needed to change my whole approach. And what I did was to slow down, and infuse the beginnings of meals with ritual. I used song and verse, and I did things in the exact same way each time. I washed children's hands in the same order. I stopped between tasks and played finger-games with the group. And suddenly, even though the mealtime transition now took at least three times as long as it had before, the children were able to sit quietly and patiently through the whole thing. It was amazing! Ritual helps children to self-regulate (which leads to learning patience) by letting them know exactly where they are in the process.

Tell Them When
Another thing you can do to help children learn patience is to tell them exactly when they will be able to get what they want. Young children's concept of time is linear, so to tell them “exactly when” is to tell them what will happen between now and then. If a child wants you to help her undress a baby-doll while you're washing the dishes, you might say, “First I'll finish washing this pot, then I'll rinse it, and wipe my hands, and then I will help you with your doll.” If they want you to go upstairs with them but you're busy paying bills, you might say, “I'm going to finish writing this check, then I'll put it in the envelope, put a stamp and address on it, and put it by the door. Then I will come upstairs with you.” If, after a moment, she comes back and asks you again, you can say, “I'm done writing the check, and I've put it in the envelope. Now I'm putting the stamp and address on it, then I'll put it by the door, and then I'll come with you.” You can let her know exactly where you are in the process each time she asks, and this will help her learn patience. When you first start using this technique, keep it very short: “I'll finish writing the check and then I'll come up with you.” As they start to learn that you consistently come when you're done doing what you say you'll do, they can wait through more and more steps.
I also use this technique in conversation. If I'm talking to another person and a child tries to interrupt, I'll tell him, “I'm talking to Oma right now. When I finish with her I'll be ready to listen to you.” With a very young child, or a child who's new to my program, I'll just finish my sentence with Oma and then it will be the child's turn to speak. If they want me to help them with something, I will tell them, “I'll be able to help you when I'm done with my conversation. You'll know I'm done when I come into the play-room.” Again, I won't make a child wait too long. When I come, I'll acknowledge, “You waited so patiently, and now I'm here to help you!” It's really important to start small and work your way up, so that a child can rest in the knowledge that if you say you'll come help in a minute, you really will (they don't need to remind you again and again). If they're very impatient, and have to remind me again anyhow, I will acknowledge this, too: “You're having a hard time waiting, huh? What will you do while you wait? Why don't you play with the fire-truck until I come?” Or, “Would you like to sit on my lap while I'm finishing up here with Oma?” Then I'll wrap up my conversation with Oma, and say to the child, “Wow. You waited and waited, and now I'm finally ready.”
And finally, I use this technique when multiple children are attempting to talk to me at once. “First I'll listen to Ashley, then to to Sonya, and then Chloe.” I always try to make sure that I give each child the turn that I've told them they'll get, although they've often forgotten what they were trying to say by then. However, they're always happy to make up a new story when they've gotten my attention! When children feel confident that they'll get my attention when I say they will, they don't feel the need to talk over each other, and it's easier for them to learn to be patient.
Miss Faith

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Friday, May 27, 2011


People have asked me about toys for toddlers, my ‘must have’ list.  Mostly, I think that children do better with fewer toys than we would ever imagine.  If you want a more comprehensive list, look in Kim John Payne’s book “Simplicity Parenting.”  But here’s my list: 
-First, colored silks.  These are so versatile and can be used for so many different things:  as a cape or skirt, as a baby blanket, as a sack for carrying things around…etc. etc.
-Next, a basket of soft balls of various sizes.  These balls are what are appropriate to throw inside, so whenever a child forgets and throws something else, you can remind her: “What can we throw inside?”  If she’s too little, you can answer for her: “Soft balls!  Where IS a soft ball?”  And she can run over to the ball basket. 
-Third, a play-kitchen.  The first step of imaginative play is largely imitative, and children will act out what they see around them in their play, as their way of processing experiences.  Since many of us spend lots of time in the kitchen, a play kitchen is paramount!  (warning:  I don’t love those vegetables that come apart into pieces with Velcro in between.  It seems cool in the ad that the kids can ‘cut’ them apart, but the reality is that they never go back together, at least with little one.) 
-Books.  Many Waldorf programs don’t have books, but I know that many children use books as a way to self-soothe, and when kids are tired it can be really nice to snuggle on the couch together and look at a book.  I don’t usually read the words; most of the time I talk about the pictures with them.
-Dolls.  Not too many, though; each doll should be really special and cared for.  I tend to think that three is a good number.
-Things for kids to push.  These could be wooden trucks or metal Tonka trucks outside, or a baby carriage, or a duck that flaps its feet as it walks.
-Paper and crayons to be brought out periodically.

Really, this is enough.  As kids get older, dress-up clothes start to become popular, but again, less is better.  When each toy is special and cared-for, and each thing has its own designated space, then toys are used more often, and more imaginatively.  I am a big believer in rotating toys, as children will approach things with new eyes when they've had time to grow a bit in between.  So whenever you notice your play-room or livingroom or a child's bedroom feeling cluttered, or cleaning up taking more energy than you wish, take several boxes out and fill one to give to Goodwill, and the other to put in the shed for a few months.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Stop," "Don't," and "No."


How and Why to Stop Saying “Stop,” “Don’t,” and “No.”

Stop saying “Stop.”
Why I avoid saying ‘stop’:
Young children can’t stop.  They don’t understand it yet; the only time they stop is when they’re sleeping.  So I try to avoid saying “stop,” as that only tends to lead to frustration, both on my part and the children’s.
               So what to do when children are doing something that you don’t like?  Well, even though children can’t stop, they CAN do something else.  So instead of saying, “stop banging your spoon on the table,” I say, “You can use your spoon to take a bite.”  Instead of saying, “Stop throwing sand,” I say, “You can put that sand into a bucket.”   Instead of saying, “Stop grabbing,” I say, “You can find a toy that nobody is using.”
               When a child is interacting with another child in a way that they don’t like, I try not to say “stop.”  Instead, I give them the words to talk to one another:
Sam comes up and tries to grab Harry’s toy.
Harry:  Wah!  (Looking at me)
Me:  Harry, you can say, “I’m playing with this right now.”
Harry:  I’m playing with this right now.
Sam:  Wah!
Me:  Oh, you wish you were playing with that?
Sam:  (nod)
Me:  Why don’t you say, “Can I use that when you’re done?”
Sam:  Can I use that when you’re done?
Harry: Mine!
Me:  Harry, you can say, “You can use this when I’m all done.”

When kids say “stop” to each other, I help them by translating very clearly what “stop” means.  At Rainbow Bridge, “Stop means take your hands away.”  I keep my ears out and whenever I hear a child saying “stop,” I turn around and watch, and remind them if needed, “Stop means take your hands away.”  If they don’t, I’ll continue, “It looks like you need some help taking your hands away this time.”

Don’t say “Don’t.”
Why I avoid using the word don’t:
We all think with imagery, and children even more than adults.  If I say, “Don’t run in the street,” what’s the image that comes into your head?  Now, how about if I say, “Please walk straight along the sidewalk.”  The word “don’t” is a modifier that is very weak compared to the strong image created by the rest of the phrase.  This is why, if you say “Don’t jump in the puddle,” the average two-year-old will go directly to the puddle and jump in it, and be slightly puzzled as to why you’re annoyed.
What I do instead
The solution is exactly the same as with “stop.”  Instead of saying what you don’t want, say what you DO want the child to do.  If a little boy is riding his bike towards his friends and knocks into them over and over again, I will say, “You can go around your friends.”  If a child is leaning on a gate that is rickety, I’ll tell them, “Please stand up straight and tall.”
               Because we think so strongly in images, I also use images to set the scene for children, telling them how I want them to act in an upcoming situation:  “When I open the gate, everyone will walk calmly through, and wait on the other side until I latch it again.  Then we’ll walk together on the sidewalk, stopping at each tree for me to catch up.”  I don’t necessarily expect them to remember and obey, I’m just planting the seeds and setting the scene.  Then I’ll remind them right before each step, what’s about to happen.

Why Not to say “No.”
Why I avoid saying ‘no.’
I try to avoid saying no because children hear it all the time, and it loses its effectiveness if used too much.
What I do instead
If a child needs a swift word to stop them from doing something, I will often clap twice, very loudly.  This startles them and pauses them long enough for me to let them know what I DO want them to be doing.
               If a child asks if they can do something or have something, I try to say Yes, with as many caveats as I need.  If I’m up to the elbows in sudsy dishwater and a child asks me to tie a cape around their neck, I’ll say, “Yes.  I’ll help you as soon as I’m done with the dishes.”  If the child complains that they want it right now, we might brainstorm together: they could ask a friend for help, or try to do it themselves, or play with something else until I’m done.
               If the child asks for something and the answer will always be no, I will either tell them what they CAN have, “You can have a red ball today,” and just be compassionate if that’s a disappointment; or I will say “yes” in my imagination:  “If I had another green ball, I would give it to you for sure!”  I often take this imagination and run with it, making it bigger and bigger, and then transforming it into another conversation:  “In fact, if I had two green balls, I’d have one for you and one for me.  And we could throw them back and forth.  If we had three green balls, who would you give the third one to?  What if we had a whole room full of balls?  We could take them to the park and give one to every child we met!  That would sure be fun.  Remember last time we went to the park?”  And on from there.
-Tell them when they CAN have/do what they want

               The reason that I try to avoid saying stop, don’t, and no, isn’t because it will ruin a child’s self-esteem.  I do it because it’s significantly more effective than the alternatives.  And I do it because I enjoy my time with toddlers more when I’m not saying no all the time!

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

'Shy' Toddlers

Dear Faith,
          I would love your thoughts in shyness in my almost two year old.  I've noticed in recent months that if someone she doesn't know talks to her or wants to engage with her (question, etc) she becomes very withdrawn.  I have had several experiences recently when she enters an unfamiliar space with people around that she will burst into strong tears for several minutes and buries her head in my chest, begging to go.  This leads them to declare her shy, or even, wow, she's extremely shy!  I have read that it's much better to avoid labeling her this way, as it may contribute to a feeling of defectiveness.  My husband and I don't call her shy for this reason but invariably others will.  
          In known situations, she is exceedingly secure and spirited.  I'm with her full time but she often plays with other kids and we attend music classes, etc, and those interactions are positive since they are familiar.
          I know we each have our own temperament; I simply want to support her the best I can in these situations and in her social development.  I would also love to hear your advice on how best to respond when others declare her shyness.
          Many thanks!

Dear Mama,
          It's extremely common for children at this age to go through a "very shy" phase around strangers.  I think that as infants, many children feel like they are part of their mother's being, and as long as they're in her energy field, they feel fine no matter where they are.  But this stage, approaching two, is the very beginning of your child realizing that she is her own, separate person.  At the beginning, this can be quite a scary realization!  So many strangers!  So many people who are not you!  Often between 19-22 months, children will get very clingy, suddenly have separation anxiety, and/or be scared of strangers.  This is totally normal and doesn't mean that they are "shy;" it's a spiritual awakening.  Then, sometime between two and two-and-a-half, your child will start to realize the power of being separate and of having her own opinion, and that's when the "No's" start to come in force.
          Mostly, I'd suggest limiting your child's exposure to strangers as much as is practical during this fragile time, all the while knowing that this too shall pass.  When you are out and about, or friends come over to visit, if other adults remark how shy she is, just say in a light voice, "Oh, she's just getting used to meeting new people again."  If adults are trying to interact with her and she's not going for it, you can ask her if she'd like you to speak for her this time.  Usually kids are quite happy to have their loving adult answer for them; you are the shield between her and the big, wide world.

Miss Faith

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