Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

The Toddler: ‘Baby on Wheels’

By Avanya Manasseh

It’s 8:30 in the morning. My husband looks at me on his way to work and says, “Have a great day!” Apparently he didn’t notice the poop on my shirt and disinfectant wipes in my hand. Or the scrambled eggs in my hair. He must not have seen our toddler nursing and clinging like a monkey to my neck while I cleaned poop from the floor. No, he just smiled his enviably brushed teeth at us and went on his way. Thus began another 12-hour day of toddler care, following and sure to be followed by an all-too-short night of toddler care.

I’ve never met a parent without a tome of similar stories. Soon enough, I’m told, my toddler will be a teenager and I can remind her of these moments. This is small consolation right now, and I try to keep in mind how much I do love this growing nursling and wouldn’t parent her any other way.

Well described by Norma Jane Bumgarner in her book Mothering Your Nursing Toddler as a “baby on wheels,” a toddler is not what people will tell you about when you get pregnant. They woo you with tales of first giggles, first words, first steps. Few mention that toddlers learn to say “no” long before “yes.” Not that toddlerhood is all bad – in our family it is far preferable to those early months of endless crying. Constant babywearing, bedsharing, breastfeeding, and endless love didn’t seem to stop the tears. But these eventually paid off, and Naila is a joyous 18-month-old. But this baby on wheels is just that: a baby with more desire than ability.

I often struggle to find the balance between sensitive response and the safety guardian all these desires require as they meet increasing skill. Coupled with sleep deprivation and the frustration that stems from limited verbal communication, the truth is sometimes I DO need to let Naila “cry it out” when she wants to watch television and I think we should read books instead. I hold her, distract her, attempt to find enticing alternatives, but let’s be real: She’s screaming at the top of her lungs. The same scenario unfolds throughout the day when I won’t let her handle steak knives, run into the street, or drink window cleaner. Her tears tell the story of the deep injustice she feels. “Surely,” I imagine she thinks, “SOMEONE out there loves me more and WILL let me play with steak knives!”

Jean Liedloff reminds us in her book The Continuum Concept (Da Capo Press, 1977) that even though a child may be old enough to play independently, that doesn’t mean she should be left to do so all the time. Liedloff emphasizes the importance of constant babywearing until the baby is ready to crawl, and then continued babywearing until the child desires to get down and explore. After reading this, I realized I had given in to the “ability mindset” and was trying to force Naila to entertain herself while I grabbed a few minutes here or there to do chores around the house without her “help.” What she really needed was to participate with me just as she always used to. She hasn’t changed nearly as much as I imagine, and her need to be physically close is still far stronger than her desire to do something more interesting than watch me empty a dishwasher from her perch on my back.

I need frequent reminders that although she is growing quickly, Naila is still the child and I the adult. Sharing sleep means that when Naila has a difficult night, so do I. The result is that the next day we are both tired and grumpy. But as the adult, I understand why we feel that way and have the capacity to overcome it. I need to rise above the occasion, tie on my sneakers, and go outside for some fresh air for both of us. As my mood improves, hers always follows. Even though we often feel the same way, I need to lead her out of any negativity she is feeling. The resulting giggles are surely a well-earned reward.

One of the greatest tools a parent of a toddler has at her disposal is creativity. When boredom or frustration seems to loom, it’s important to get ahead of the game as quickly as possible. Before a tantrum starts, try to get your head out of the situation and jump into prevention mode. A spontaneous game of peek-a-boo or a quick change of scenery can often save the day by distracting your little one from the frustrations you know he is feeling. If your usual bag of tricks doesn’t work, remember: This is still your baby; get him into the baby carrier and turn on some music or head outside. The same patient responses that you used with your newborn will still be helpful with your energetic toddler.

It’s important to recognize that a child lives in a world that is very different from the one you share with her. It is filled with experiences she cannot communicate about effectively. This is especially evident with teething. We know why they are uncomfortable, and we know it won’t last forever, but how can we expect small children to recognize these things? All they feel is pain for unknown reasons, and they usually can’t tell us about it. How would we feel if something hurt, and we didn’t understand it and couldn’t tell anyone?

With the joys of increased communication, fast running, and newfound independence, toddlerhood also brings a new set of parenting challenges. By keeping the same principles in mind that we used with our newborns, we can learn new ways to apply our beliefs in sensitivity during this stage. Through continued physical touch, a high-energy mindset, and constant checks on our perspective, each day’s challenges can be met with the same sensitivity as always. Sensitive parenting through this phase is not easy, but sharing the excitement of toddlerhood with your little one is certainly worth the effort!

A Lullaby Massage Riddle

By Sybil L. Hart, PhD, author of Lullaby Massage

Who would be the last parent to get voted off the island? Would our champ be the one able to take a pair of toddlers camping and return with both still smiling? Or, would she or he be the one able to bake a birthday cake that is a perfect replica of Spider-Man or Cinderella? My vote goes to the one who can take bedtime and make it the highlight of the day, even for the most challenging toddler.

It’s no secret that for some children, bedtime is enormously problematic, and for their parents, tackling it represents the Mount Everest of parenthood. Part of the difficulty finding a solution stems from the fact that bedtime problems arise for a wide variety of reasons. Some children are fearful of the dark, being alone, being abandoned, or all the fun they’ll miss if they’re asleep. Others are tightly wound up, either physically or emotionally, but have no strategy for unwinding. Some fall into both categories, and some are just unfathomable and fall into none. With so many different kinds of causes, it’s not surprising that there are so many different kinds of solutions, and so many floundering efforts to figure out why something that worked yesterday doesn’t seem to work today.

Nevertheless, certain kinds of treatments are so compelling, they work even though we don’t exactly know why. Of course, breastfeeding comes to mind. As nursing mothers the world over know, breastfeeding works for a whole variety of reasons. But most importantly, it works, period. What many Western mothers do not know, though our Eastern sisters have known for centuries, is that massage works, too.

When I developed lullaby massage, it was with the aim of making bedtime beautiful, easy, and fun, not only for children but parents as well, even Western parents who may not be familiar with massage. The technique involves strokes for different parts of the body that children (and all of us) find relaxing, and each type of stroke goes together with a poem. So, with each soft stroke that a child feels, she also receives the sound of her parent’s voice. Some of the words offer humor, others convey warmth and reassurances of love, and underneath it all, there is a message telling parents how to conduct the massage. See if you can figure out how to do the finger massage done to the words:

Five little tubes of toothpaste
Squeeze bottom to top
Then screw on the cap
Don’t waste a drop.

The Daycare Dilemma

By Jan Hunt, founder/director of The Natural Child Project, www.naturalchild.org

Jan HuntIt’s always a dilemma for me to know just how to address the subject of substitute care, because there is such a gap in our culture between the ideal and the possible. Ideally, there would be little need to use substitute care, nor would any mother feel a strong personal need or desire to do so. The reality, of course, is that parenting — the most important job a woman can have — is not valued sufficiently.

No one should ever feel that she is “only a mother” — motherhood should be more highly valued than any other profession. No other job is as critically important; no other job has the potential for improving our world by nurturing the capacity to love and trust others. As Canadian psychiatrist Elliott Barker wrote: “We have to change a lot of established patterns or ways we do things — our priorities — so that nothing gets in the way of attachment in the earliest years. The capacities for trust, empathy, and affection are in fact the central core of what it means to be human, and are indispensable for adults to be able to form lasting, mutually satisfying cooperative relationships with others.”

Our culture not only minimizes the importance of motherhood, it maximizes the desire to consume commercial products, defining success always in economic, rarely in humane or social, terms. There is no question that a mother with a professional career who uses daycare for her children receives far more recognition and respect than the mother who has left a professional job to stay at home with her children — despite the fact that the at-home mom is in a position to contribute far more to society in the long term. If motherhood was valued as highly as it should be, more mothers would choose to stay at home, and more pressure would be put on governments to help provide the means by which this could be done.

Creative solutions can only come about through a deeply-felt need. If everyone understood the critical importance of mothering, there would be fewer daycares and more and better alternative solutions that keep mother and child together. There would be more family centers where mothers with infants and young children could get together with other parents, watching the children as they play together. Families would be given sufficient financial support by the government, and this support would be seen not as a “handout” with all the stigma that welfare has now, but as a wise and critical investment in our future. Everyone would know that motherhood is the single most important profession there is, one that deserves the highest esteem and the highest pay. What kind of society do we have where athletes, movie stars, and CEOs get the highest pay? What kind of society do we have when the professional woman with her children away from her all day enjoys higher esteem than the stay-at-home mother who has the opportunity to nurture a human being, whose personal qualities, positive or negative, will affect all future relationships? Which is the more critical job?

Our vision is too narrow, too immediate, too limited. We see only the present contribution of the professional woman and are blind to the even greater potential contribution of the mother at home. We need to value these mothers now — or our future will look no different than it does at present, with our myriad social problems.

If we really understood the importance of the mother-child bond, we would find those solutions that now seem so elusive and difficult. We would recognize that a young child who has bonded with a particular caregiver, who then disappears from the child’s world, can internalize feelings of rejection and disappointment. We would be committed to finding ways to keep mothers, babies, and young children together. We would provide whatever financial support is needed, and give extensive parenting education to all. We would give greater prestige and sufficient financial support to dedicated stay-at-home mothers. Most of all, we would recognize that repeated separations from the mother can damage the mother-child relationship and create a tragic reluctance in the child to love and trust others in the future. Close bonds of love and trust take time to develop; they take time to maintain.

We would recognize the critical importance of providing paid maternity leave. We would understand that parental care has the most stability. We would build a healthier population and fewer hospitals and prisons. We would strive to learn more about the father-child bond, and give fathers an opportunity to bond early with their child, and to support the mother in the earliest years. We would enjoy a very different and vastly improved society, where compassion and connection were valued and desired more than any other goal or commodity, where a small house filled with love, trust and joy would be valued far higher than the biggest mansion.

What do you think? Weigh in on this Attachment Parenting International poll on the Value of Motherhood

How to Use Family Meetings

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

No matter if yours is a family of two or ten, taking regular opportunities to get together and talk about “business” helps families connect and communicate. Much like staff meetings in an office, family meetings offer a chance to share successes, brainstorm solution to problems, make plans, and set goals. The idea is to create a specific time to talk about issues that may not have an opportunity to come up naturally in conversation.

There is no magic age for children to participate in family meetings, as long as they can share their voice. Children as young as  two years old may enjoy getting in on a conversation about the day. When children are young, family meetings may begin at the dinner table, as meal times are very conducive to discussion. Over the years, as more family members are involved, meetings may be held anywhere it’s easy to focus on communication and work through problems. Continue reading

10 Ways to Gently Respond When Children Say “I Can’t!”

By Dionna Ford, contributing editor to the API Speaks blog, blogger at www.codenamemama.com, cofounder of www.nursingfreedom.org

Kieran
Kieran

My son, Kieran, has been struggling with a bout of the “I cannot’s” lately.

“I cannot take my shirt off, you do it mama.”

“I cannot ride my scooter! I cannot!”

“I cannot glue the ribbon on.”

At first, I tried to isolate the problem:

  • Am I asking him to do too much? His “can’ts” are sometimes, but not always, in response to something I’ve asked him to do, so I don’t think they are the result of request overload or mere unwillingness. And they are usually in reference to a skill or activity that I know he can do, so they are not based on inability or even fear of failure.
  • Are the “can’ts” related to a mood or condition? I have not connected them to a time of day (i.e., when he is tired or hungry) or an emotional state (i.e., when he is upset). Nor do they appear to be a matter of disinterest.
  • Does he really think he can’t? The frequency of the phrase made me worry about his developing self-esteem. It is important to me and my husband to respond in a way that will acknowledge Kieran’s feelings as well as empower him, but we weren’t sure how to address the “can’ts.”

After researching, reading, and soliciting the advice of some wise mama friends, I came up with the following list of ideas parents may use to respond to a case of the “can’ts”: Continue reading

Empowering Children with Choices

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

Kelly BartlettCertainly there comes a point in our children’s lives where we need them to take on some added responsibility for themselves. Sometimes this happens naturally: Our child suddenly wants to be a “big kid” and do things for himself. As my son used to put it when he was 1 year old, “Me…do it…own!” The age in which young children want to do tasks and chores on their own is wonderful, isn’t it? The newness of their independence and capabilities is so exiting. It is the age of autonomy.

Then comes the next phase: After children’s realization of their sense of autonomy comes their developing sense of initiative. It’s a difference of realizing what children can do versus what they choose to do. Suddenly, parents find themselves nagging when they once had to simply suggest clean-up as a fun game. We become engaged in power struggles and start to dread the moment when we must announce that it’s time to stop playing and put the toys away because we’re very aware of the response we’ll get.

It is important that parents take care not to enable children during this stage, thus discouraging their developing sense of initiative, but to empower them. When we empower our children, they realize their capabilities and begin to learn valuable life skills. Consider the following examples of statements regarding clean up time: Continue reading

Helping Children Become Independent

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

Shoshana HaymanThere are some things that simply drive us parents crazy: One is when your child insists on doing something that you want to do yourself. You are trying to feed your 1-year-old mashed potatoes and carrots, and he clamps his mouth shut while squashing the mixture through his fingers. You finally finish dressing your 3-year-old so you can make it on time to work, only to find that she has undressed herself 2 minutes later because she wants to do it herself. And as you are carefully unpacking the groceries, your 6-year-old silently volunteers to put the tray of 36 eggs into the refrigerator. (These examples are just for starters. I’m sure you’ll think of many more)!

Another thing that drives parents crazy is when your child refuses to do something you know he can do by himself. Your 3-year-old will only eat supper if you feed her. Your 5-year old will only get dressed if you dress him. And your 7-year-old will only put away his toys if you do it with him. (Yes, there’s more).

Hard as we try to keep our composure, our frustration rises and we lose our patience. When our children need our help, why won’t they let us help them? And why won’t they do things for themselves when they can? Continue reading

One-on-One Time

 

Kelly Bartlett and her children

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

This weekend, my husband and daughter went camping, and I was able to spend 2 whole days with just my son. It surprised me how I was able to connect with him in a way that is not usually possible when we are together as a family.

I was able to see what he really wanted to do when the choice was all his. I came to understand his love of guns, swords, and robots, of which I had previously been somewhat unappreciative. I was also able to focus on his quirks and characteristics — to fully realize those unique traits that exhibit themselves every day but often get glossed over with the business of the day.

Our weekend was great, but normally our one-on-one time together is not that intense. With both my son and daughter, we do set aside time every day as “special” time. One-on-one time is one of the best tools in the positive discipline toolbox because it is proactive; it allows us the opportunity to be fully present with our children and to experience who they truly are. Though it may not be immediately obvious, this actually goes a long way toward working together and solving problems during moments of discipline.

To strengthen relationships, parents and children should habitually find time to be alone and connect. Here are some suggestions for creating special one-on-one time with your kids: Continue reading

API Parenting Support Survey: Parents Crave Local Support

A 2009 online survey by Attachment Parenting International revealed that parents around the world are hungry for support and education in their Attachment Parenting choices. Results from the survey clarify API’s role in providing this support.

This API survey was conducted to gather anecdotal information and feedback from established API supporters. API was pleased to have more than 100 responses from busy parents in the brief timeframe.

The key point disclosed through the survey is that parents want to see API have more of a local presence. Parents very much appreciate all of API’s resources, but it is the local peer support that they crave. Moving
stories and more in-depth feedback is included in “How has API Helped You” at the end of this summary.

Read the full report here: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/pdfs/API2009ParentingSupportSurveyReport.pdf

Why Your Child Doesn’t Share

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

Q: Our neighbor’s child happily shares everything, but our children don’t. They don’t share with each other either, and every piece of a treat becomes a fight. How can help them see the gift in sharing?

 

Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort

A:

In one of my workshops, a mother summed up her childhood experience of sharing by saying: “Every time I got a candy, I had to share it with my sister. Mom said it was nice to share, but I was sure it was bad because I was always left with half the candy.” Whether sharing food, toys, or the use of the slide, the result of adult-directed sharing often leaves a child with a sense of loss or a diminished experience — and not with joy. Children’s authentic generosity shows up in areas that we often don’t notice or don’t approve of. They assume that guests can stay forever and don’t see why they should leave and they see food in every home as their own. They share clothes and beds easily; they love giving gifts, hugs, and love.

Children are generous, and they also like to keep certain personal things and experiences to themselves, just like adults. Therefore, I use the word “sharing” to describe what adults wish that children would share. Continue reading