Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

Spotlight On: Million Minute Family Challenge

API: Tell us, exactly what is the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH MUEHLENKAMP: The Million Minute Family Challenge is a grassroots effort across the United States and Canada to encourage families and friends to play non-electronic games together. We know people across the country enjoy playing games; this is a way for them to visually see their efforts and connect with others who share the same interest.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH: Most parents tell me that the Million Minute Family Challenge gave them a reason or goal to turn off the TV, computer, or video game and reconnect around a board game. It gave them that little extra push, and when their kids see that other kids across the country are doing this, too, they get excited. The other bonus is that there is no cost to join and it takes as little as 20 minutes, but the benefits can last a lifetime. Plus, we provide you with an organizer kit and all the tools you need just in case you want to plan a larger scale game night or spread the word to your school, church, or any other group you are involved with.

API: How does the Million Minute Family Challenge fit into Attachment Parenting? Continue reading

The Busy Brain Kit

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

Are you worried about your children’s bent necks and poor posture? Do their batteries run out at the wrong time?  Concerned that your toddler might drop your iphone? You don’t have to rely on cell-phone applications, portable handheld gaming devices, media players, and other electronic devices to occupy your kids during waiting times.

These constructive ideas will stimulate imagination, creativity, intellect, problem solving, and social skills. Best of all, they don’t require cable or batteries, can be taken anywhere, and will amuse toddlers to teens.

The lot of these items should fit in a small 9-by-12 inch container, such as a rectangular plastic box with a snap lid, a backpack, or even a laptop side pocket or briefcase for ease of carrying to restaurants, appointments, or airports. Continue reading

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Breastfeeding has seen the gamut in terms of public support. For centuries, it was the most natural thing to do, and then in the mid-20th Century, it suddenly became taboo and nearly disappeared from Western civilization. Through La Leche League International and other breastfeeding advocates, it has steadily made a comeback into mainstream family culture. But, in some respects, breastfeeding still has a long way to go — in normalizing public breastfeeding and breastfeeding for working mothers, and improving access to lactation services for all socio-economic classes by enabling lactation consultants to be reimbursed by health insurance and Medicaid.

“It’s very important that people realize they have a voice and that people will listen to that voice — and you don’t have to have a lot of letters after your name,” said Dr. Laura Wilwerding, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, a pediatrician in Plattsmouth, Nebraska USA, and a pediatrics professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she lectures on breastfeeding medicine, child advocacy, antibiotic overusage, and obesity prevention.

In addition to being a fellow of the International Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Wilwerding is involved in the Nebraska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as the breastfeeding coordinator, the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition on the leadership team, and as a member of the Nebraska Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Advisory Board. Wilwerding spoke during the La Leche League of Nebraska Annual Breastfeeding and Parenting Conference in May 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska USA.

“Particularly locally, you do have power, and not just with elected officials but also hospital administrators and human services program directors,” she said. It’s all in your approach. Continue reading

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

INSTEAD OF: No!
TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

Staying in Control when Things are Out of Control

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifecenter.org.il

“When I’m calm, I have no trouble responding patiently, but the problem is that my child’s tantrums jangle my nerves and I lose control of myself!”

I hear parents say this over and over again. They might be talking about their five-year-old son who is whining because he wants them to buy him the toy he sees on the shelf in the store, their 10-year-old son who is complaining because he claims it was his brother who made the mess that he now has to clean, or their 15-year-old daughter who criticizes the family rules. Parents often feel stretched to the limits of their patience because of these daily minor confrontations.

“I just want to get the job done and get on with things!” But trying to find a quick solution usually prolongs these conflicts, and getting angry spoils the atmosphere as well as the relationship.

Seeing the child in a different way can help parents stay calm when their children are not. When parent and child are together, their brains do a dance! The parent can lead the child to a state of calm, rather than the child leading the parent to agitated confrontation. In each of the scenarios mentioned and in many others like them, the child is feeling frustration, one of our most primitive emotions. He is confronted with something he cannot have, a reality he doesn’t agree with, a situation he wants to change. When children are frustrated, it is normal for them to have temper tantrums, bite, kick, hit,  throw things, slam doors, yell, or talk back. They have not yet developed the ability to adapt quickly to the given circumstances. Their brains have not yet reached a level of development that helps them think of their options and choose their responses maturely. These are processes that take years to come into full fruition.

The most important role and perhaps the greatest challenge of parents is to believe in and support the processes which bring out the finest human qualities: caring, patience, thoughtfulness, courage, flexibility, self-control, adaptability, and responsibility. One of the ways parents can fulfill this role is to remain calm when the child is not. It helps to remember that children cannot yet control their impulses to hold on to their demands or to behave aggressively. When the parent remains calm, patient, compassionate, warm, and loving, the child then feels safe, that someone is in charge, and that his parent can handle his out-of-control behavior.  The child can then come to rest and begin to see a different reality.

Parents can see themselves as a safe haven as they accompany their children through the maze of getting from their feelings of frustration and anger to their feelings of disappointment, sadness, and coming to terms with what they cannot change. Perhaps this perspective will help parents remain calm and in control when their children are not.

Breastfeeding after ‘Almost’ Weaning

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: My two-year-old had almost completely weaned himself a few months ago. Then I got laid off from work and he began nursing all over again. Now he demands to nurse every two to four hours and will hold on to my boob saying he “doesn’t want it to fly away.” I put a limit of nursing at nap time and bedtime, but I’m not sure if he will re-wean himself. And, I’d really like to resolve his apparent fear that they are going away, or to somehow find a way for him to console himself with something other than the breasts.

A: This is a sweet misunderstanding between you and your son. He didn’t almost wean himself, and his fear that “they will fly away” is valid; he is sensing your intent to take breastfeeding away from him. Continue reading

Tips to Dealing with Acting-Out Behavior

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Earlier this year, I attended a day session put on by the Appelbaum Training Institute in Omaha, Nebraska USA. The purpose of this session was to train childcare providers, but it gave some great tips for parents, too, in dealing with acting-out behavior from their toddlers and preschoolers:

Be Proactive

  • Stay calm — It’s important to QTIP (Quit Taking It Personal). Children act out for a variety of reasons, but it’s not because they dislike you. It’s because they’re frustrated, tired, not feeling well, hungry, or have another unfulfilled need.
  • Create a positive atmosphere – Children feed off of negative vibes. If you’re feeling stressed, they pick up on that and start acting out how you feel, which of course only perpetuates how you act, and the cycle goes round and round. This tip also applies to the physical atmosphere — children love bright colors and light and fun shapes and music. Decorate your house in your child’s artwork and provide plenty of opportunity for them to get involved in activities. I have a dresser filled with activities, from coloring to puzzles to ink stamps to sun-catcher kits.
  • Give compliments throughout the day — Make sure these are genuine and not conditional, so they’re not confused with a reward-based discipline system.
  • Speak in a quiet voice — We don’t need to shout to make our children hear us. They actually listen more when spoken to in a soft, respectful voice. Try whispering when you really want them to listen. Continue reading

Stripping the Layers of Advice

By Carrie Kerr, Safe Sleep Editor for The Attached Family

My grandma was working on writing a book when I was a teenager. The subject was music. She never finished the manuscript, so I can’t be sure of the exact focus of her topic, but I do remember that she interviewed my brother and me on the theory behind Alternative Rock. I didn’t have all that much to offer; I just listened to what sounded good. But my brother, always the academic type, was quick to add his input. He said, “These bands have stripped away the unnecessary layers and gone back to the basics. They threw away the synthesizers, and all the extra bells and whistles, and have focused on the classic instruments of guitar, drums, and voice.” I don’t know if his explanation was accurate or not, but I was reminded of his comments recently as I came across a parenting message board from a fairly prestigious college in California, USA.

I had never visited the site before, and I was very interested to see how such an intellectual group of people addressed the parenting topic of sleep. The advice was fair. It was supportive, friendly, educated, and it was very much Attachment Parenting (AP). But as I read on, I became overwhelmed by the amount of input on the subject. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “All of this advice is over-the-top. What ever happened to intuition?”

Shortly thereafter, I started reading a book by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate entitled Hold On to Your Kids. Interestingly enough, my thought process was affirmed early on in the “Note to the Reader.” It said, “The modern obsession with parenting as a set of skills to be followed along lines recommended by experts is, really, the result of lost intuitions and a lost relationship with children previous generations could take for granted.” Now, that being said, it is also human nature to discuss day-to-day joys and struggles with our friends, relatives, or experts. But, in considering how to best get our children to sleep, I’d like to bring intuition back into focus.

Intuition refers to the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. We all have intuition, but often our gifts for it are in differing domains. For instance, some people may have great intuition when it comes to safety or emergencies, whereas other people lack common sense or tend to panic. This can be seen in parenting as well. I have heard people say, “I’m not very maternal.” They probably mean that they don’t have a strong intuition for handling children. Strongly knit societies typically have had frameworks for helping develop this intuition in the younger generations. Modern-day societies are struggling with this. As a result, the door for random parenting advice is wide open.

AP is largely based on the idea that we do have instinctual parenting skills and, with the right support, we can reconnect with the behaviors of our ancestors. Our current culture has made that difficult. We don’t have, as Neufeld explains it, “attached cultures” in our society. Our communities are segregated by age groups, with large gaps often existing between the young and the old. Instead of gleaning the wisdom and experience of our elders, we look to our peers for advice. This habit carries the risk of becoming a circular, fruitless, and maybe even harmful experiment.

What if the way you parented your child at night was only between you and your child? What if you never had to tell the opinionated bystander if your baby did or did not sleep through the night; you never had to hear unsolicited advice from your best friend; you only had to do what felt right to you and your child? What if you threw away the message boards, threw away the parenting books, and didn’t have any baby gadgets? Then what would you do when you and your baby were tired?

When it comes down to it, the issue of sleep is largely based on individual child/parent needs. We need to be less concerned with following a superficial protocol and more concerned with thinking critically about our unique situations. Game plan or not, intuition will be the leader for meeting the spontaneous needs of your child. A parent always needs to be sensitive to the miraculous instincts that come with parenting — the unexplained start that wakes you up only to realize your child has a fever, or the let-down of milk just moments before your baby starts crying. To override that with advice that is outlined by current trends, even those we view as positive, can be counterproductive.

Sometimes, like too many synthesizers in a band, all of the nighttime parenting advice gets in the way of our inner voices. For just a moment, I suggest we stop layering ourselves with tips and strategies, stop reading, stop second-guessing. Perhaps all of the overanalyzing is what’s actually exhausting! Regardless of my advice to you, or someone else’s advice to me, it often comes down to personally testing the waters of our unique situations. It’s about listening to your child, his or her needs, and the reasonable, responsive inner voice that comes with the age-old occupation of parenting.

The Importance of Making Mistakes

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for Portland API, Oregon USA

So often, as parents, we try to prevent our kids from making mistakes. We issue warnings, reach out to help, or just do a job ourselves because we don’t want the hassle of fixing a mistake like a spill, fall, or ill-thought decision. But making mistakes is valuable and necessary for a child’s learning and development of self-confidence. How we handle mistakes can teach children that challenges are either threats to be avoided, or that they can be opportunities to learn and develop strong mastery skills.

A “rescuing” parent does just that: either rescues a child from a problem she has encountered, or anticipates a problem and prevents it from happening. For the sake of our children’s developing sense of self-efficacy, we do not want to do this. It may make our job easier for the moment if we complete a task ourselves, rather than give our child the job along with its accompanying opportunity to mess up. And we might also think our children will love us more for it; cleaning up their mistakes rather than turning the responsibility for repair around on them. But as Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It, says, “Parenting is neither an efficient profession nor a popularity contest.”

Aside from rescuing kids from their problems, washing our hands of them — that is, ridding ourselves of any involvement (which may or may not be accompanied by a healthy dose of berating) — is equally unhelpful. It sends the message that kids are incompetent and incapable, and that we are not there to help them when they make a mistake. Sometimes our children will get into a problem that is over their heads and, with our help, their mistakes will turn into incredible learning opportunities!

We need to be supportive and encouraging of our kids’ mistakes. We need to see mistakes for what they are: one more chance to boost self-confidence by allowing for critical thinking and problem solving.  What we need is not a balance between rescuing and washing our hands, but a third choice all together: focusing on solutions. When a mistake has been made, is it more important to look for blame or to figure out how to fix it? Instead of spouting off about carelessness, immaturity, or inconvenience (which are always the first exasperated thoughts that come to mind), try asking “What are we going to do about it? What can I do to help? What are you going to do? What are some options we could try?”

Though the steps involved in problem solving are not always fun for kids, the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction in themselves that follows offers a big reward. Children begin to see problems as challenges to be mastered, not threats to be avoided.

Teaching kids practical life skills includes giving them opportunities to make mistakes. Though it can be tempting to rescue our kids from making any mistakes, it is more important to be able to explore the consequences of them. When a child has made a mistake, avoid the temptation to lecture, blame, or shame them. Rather, we can help our kids understand the situation by invoking their help in solving the problem. Instead of shrinking away from difficulty, kids will have confidence in themselves and learn that they can successfully tackle any obstacle throughout life.

The Third Step in Responding with Sensitivity

By Dottie Stone Coleman, MAT, MEd

Whatever their age, every interaction with our children — every word, every response, every look — has the potential to build up their self-confidence and self-esteem, or tear it down. Likewise, every behavior of our own in which we model self-confidence, respectful self-expression, and responsible self-care and self-advocacy has the power to encourage and build those kinds of behaviors in them. All eight of Attachment Parenting International’s Principles of Parenting contribute significantly to building self-confidence and empowerment in our children of every age. That said, let’s look at a few examples of Responding with Sensitivity — examples of beautiful parenting sure to promote the traits we so hope to see developing in our children.

Responding with sensitivity is usually done by active listening, or acknowledging feelings expressed by your children; and then affirming, or validating, those feelings. For example, “I know you’re upset because we can’t buy that toy today. I get frustrated, too, when I can’t afford something I want.”

But let’s consider that there may be a third step to responding sensitively, and that is, when possible, “eliciting or suggesting an action based on the feeling.”

For example, Owen, age five, wanted a new outfit for his toy dog. His mom told him they would not be buying anything else on that trip to the store, and Owen was upset. So, his mom asked him how he might earn some money to get what he wanted the next time they came to the mall. Owen had learned how to crochet at preschool, so he got busy making crochet chains of different lengths to be used as rings, bracelets, and necklaces. One day, Owen’s dad let him set up shop in an unused space in Dad’s office, and thanks to Dad’s generous co-workers, Owen earned enough selling his chains to buy the items he wanted! He was ecstatic, and so proud of himself.

On another occasion, Owen and his mom were leaving a restaurant on an extremely hot day and just ahead of them was a family of seven — a mom with six kids, two of them babies. Owen was worried because the family didn’t have a car. His mother told him they were probably walking to the bus station. Owen was sad about their situation and concerned about the little kids because of the heat. Soon nine people were crammed into mom’s minivan to give these folks a ride to the bus. They caught the bus they needed and avoided a 30-minute wait. Owen felt so good about helping them; he couldn’t stop talking about helping them catch their bus. What wonderful reinforcement of his compassion and for his self-confidence that Mom went out of her way to act on his concern! Of course, I’m sure she will also teach him that you can’t safely take into your car just anyone who seems to need help, but in the circumstances of that day, it was so empowering that she acted on his feelings.

Nick, also age 5, is a curious, deep thinker. After encountering the idea of black holes in space, he had many questions, like “What happens to the things that get sucked into a black hole?” His father acknowledged and affirmed his curiosity by saying, “That’s a really good question, Nick. I’m afraid I don’t know.”  But Dad didn’t stop there. Dad happens to have a friend who works with the particle accelerator at a nearby university. Dad arranged for Nick to talk to this friend, who did a great job of putting his answers in terms that Nick could understand. Again, a caveat: Obviously it’s not always possible to answer a five-year-old’s questions in terms they can comprehend. But, when we take their questions this seriously, it sends a message that their thoughts and their curiosity are important, and warrant following up on.

And one more example from Owen:  A visit to Grandma’s house overnight was marred at bedtime by the absence of Dino, Owen’s long-time sleeping companion, who had been accidentally left at home. Owen was very tired from a long day of exciting activities, and he was inconsolable because Dino wasn’t with him. Owen’s father and his grandmother listened actively, sympathized, and offered substitute loveys, all to no avail. Finally, Dad suggested that Owen phone Dino, make sure he was OK, and tell him he’d be back tomorrow. The call was made, and with the help of Mom, who was at home with Dino, Owen told his friend where he was, learned that Dino was doing fine, and afterward settled down with one of Grandma’s collection of snugglies and went to sleep. Dad’s suggestion that Owen take some action toward restoring his connection with Dino made all the difference.

Thus, Responding with Sensitivity could be said to include three As:

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Affirmation
  3. Action.

Though an appropriate action may not always be evident, looking for one is sure to result in many instances in which your child is helped to feel effective and empowered, both of which are crucial components of self-confidence.