I’m going to take a break from blogging. Why? Because I hate writing.

love reading about how children learn and how to support them. I really love implementing these ideas as I interact with children. I love thinking about these things, talking about them and listening to others share their suggestions and questions.

But I hate writing about it. And I hate having to spend so much time in front of my computer to do so.

Some of you have kindly commented that my writing is clear and engaging and while I’m glad to hear this (albeit a bit surprised) I must admit that it comes at the cost of many hours and no small amount of frustration. Some people think through things by writing and at the end of the writing process their understanding is much deeper. At least with this topic, I find my brain getting more and more muddled as I try to construct sentences to accurately reflect what I intuitively know to be true. Instead of helping me think through things, writing this blog tends to make me second-guess myself and my methods.

So, instead of spending hours in front of my computer twisting my brain in knots to reformat information that’s already available online I’m going to take a break from blogging. What will I do instead? Live it, talk about it, enjoy it…but not write about it;)

Thanks for your support…it’s been fun!

Jenna

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I last posted about a new approach we were trying to help E learn to listen, especially during prayers and stories. I thought I might’ve been jumping the gun a bit by blogging about our approach when we had just started to try it out. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results, especially in prayer, and would like to share them with you now.

Grandparents always listen to me!

Grandparents always listen to me!

What it looks like: When E interrupts while her father or I are praying we treat it as an indication that she would like to pray too. We say something like, “It sounds like you’d like to pray. Mummy and Daddy will listen. Just make sure to say ‘amen’ when you’re all done so we know you’re finished.” E then proceeds with a sing-song list of words she knows (often it’s “daddy-daddy-daddy-daddy…”) while her father and I model how we would like her to listen during prayer (eyes closed, bodies still). When she feels like she’s had her say she finishes with “amen” and whoever was praying before carries on where they left off, with E now ready to listen.

Mistaken for: Teaching her its okay to interrupt adults; letting her get her own way.

Why we do this: Children inherently want to be a part of the adult world and praying is no exception. Her version of praying may not look at all like the adult version, which is why it can be so easily missed or even mistaken for misbehaviour. Her (admittedly clumsy) attempt at joining in prayers is the best way she knows how to indicate her wish to be a part of the situation. “Me too!” she says. If we were to scold her for interrupting we would miss this wonderful opportunity to include her prayers and teach her how to join in respectfully.

How we support: A child’s desire to participate in the adult world is healthy. It’s part of what drives her to become a contributing member of society. Supporting this desire can be tricky but mastering the knack can really come in handy in a lot of situations (tidying, gardening, washing up, etc.):

See the clumsy attempts – Any time a child does something ‘rude’ stop and have a think. Is there any way that this ‘rude’ behaviour could actually be a ‘clumsy attempt’ to participate?

Acknowledge – Acknowledge what the child may be trying to do – I can see that you’re trying to pray along with us. I’m glad you’d like to join in.

Model – Give the child the respect you expect her to give to others. Explain what you’re doing and why – I’m going to listen while you pray. I will close my eyes and keep my body still so I can hear what you’re saying. I won’t speak until you’ve said ‘amen’ and I know you’re finished.

Modelling isn’t the only way to teach or encourage, you can simply tell a child what to do. But modelling meets a child where she is instead of expecting her to do the hard work of processing and applying verbal instructions. It gives her first hand experience of what it feels like to receive this respectful behaviour. And seeing trusted adults engage in such behaviours allows her to see that these behaviours really are an essential part of the adult world. As such, modelling results in much richer and deeper learning.

Please do let me know of any strategies you have for supporting children as they learn to participate in the adult world. You can never have too many up your sleeve!

I’ve been having trouble getting E to listen during prayers and stories. I’m happy to respond to questions and comments pertaining to the activity (Mama pray? Tractor be silly!) but lately she’s started to carry on her own dialogue on top of my voice making it impossible for her to listen to what I’m saying.

It’s clear that she hasn’t fully grasped what’s required for good listening because asking her to ‘Listen, please’ really doesn’t work (i.e. lots of giggles followed by louder talking). After a few failed attempts I remembered my own advice and put it into action. Here’s what happened…

It's my turn to read, okay?!?

Would you just let me read?!?

 

What it looks like: Talking over others, especially when being asked to listen. May find adults’ exasperation funny and/or encouraging.

Mistaken for: Poor listening skills, rudeness.

Why she does it:
It’s tricky! – Listening, you guessed it, is another one of those complex social skills that we expect children to just be able to do. (I’m not sure why because I’m still rubbish at it at 30!) One of the reasons children struggle to listen is simply because they don’t fully understand how it works.

I’m ready to talk! – Children spend a lot of their lives being spoken to but many have much to say themselves. They may not be able to find the most appropriate times to get their words out so they just speak whenever they know they’ve got our attention.

Let me try too! – Kids love to take part in ‘adult’ activities and things like prayer and stories are no exception. It’s possible that she’s simply having a go at ‘praying’ or ‘reading’ herself, even if it doesn’t sound like it.

How to support:
Model good listening daily – If children observe us listening well to them and others throughout the day they will be much more likely to copy that behaviour.

Let her talk – Unless it’s imperative that she listen immediately, give her a chance to say what’s on her mind, even if you can’t understand a word. Make it clear that she can talk until she’s finished and that you will listen. During this time model good listening by stopping what you’re doing, giving her your eyes and showing interest. If she interrupts again after indicating she’s finished take it as a sign that she’s not actually finished and let her carry on. (This may take a while the first few times so either make sure you have the time for it or plan to finish later if you run out of time.) When she’s all finished allow her to listen while you tell her what you need to say.

Let her participate – If this behaviour occurs while reading or praying, assume that this is her way of participating. Ask if she would like to read/pray first and then let her have a go. Again, make it clear that she can read/pray until she’s finished and that you will listen. During this time model good listening by stopping what you’re doing, giving her your eyes and showing interest. If she interrupts again after indicating she’s finished take it as a sign that she’s not actually finished and let her carry on. When she’s all finished allow her to listen while you pray/read.

 

Listening is a hard one to explain, especially to those who haven’t fully grasped language. But modelling is always a great place to start. The results may be slow in coming but the lessons are deep and lasting.

I would love to hear your stories about learning to listen with children, please share!

Today E and I had a lovely outing. We watched lawnmowers, skateboards, people and cars. We lay in the sun and the shade, on our tummies and on our backs. We said hello to ladies and dogs and the postman. We were out for two hours and we didn’t even make it to the end of our street.

Slowing down to toddler time is not always easy for me. My natural rhythm is quicker and much more productive. But forcing myself to slow down to E’s speed has brought so many benefits for both of us.

wandering through the park

wandering through the park

What it looks like: Stopping to smell, touch and taste every rose. Staring at seemingly insignificant scenes for a long time. Moving at a glacial pace.

Mistaken for: Trying to be difficult or obstruct adults’ plans.

Why she does this:

Time – In her post on toddler stalling, Janet Lansbury describes toddler time as being ‘fully present each moment, yet blissfully ignorant of the moments passing.’ Time is a complex construct and means very little to toddlers. They are not necessarily trying to slow us down, their schedule just isn’t dictated by time in the way that ours is.

Everything is new – So many mundane events (e.g. cutting the grass) are still fascinating to kids. They may seem simple to us but that’s because we have years of experience to help us understand. Toddlers are just beginning to build up that bank of experience through hours of observation.

Repetition builds understanding – I am continually amazed at how many times E feels the need to repeat certain experiences (talking about her trip in the airplane, watching the garbage truck, poking the same patch of dirt over and over and over). But each repetition seems to cement the experience in her mind and further develop her understanding of the world.

How to support: There is not always time to smell the roses. Sometimes we need to get home for supper, sometimes we need to pick up siblings at school, sometimes its time for a nap. But trying to schedule some toddler time into the day or week can really bring peace and joy to adults and children.

What do I mean by toddler time? Simply following a child’s lead. It doesn’t have to be a toddler, but toddlers are especially good at this. For E and me it often means dressing for the weather, packing a snack, opening the door and following E’s nose. Sometimes we end up at the park, sometimes we end up around the corner. I find the outdoors to be a great place for toddler time because there are endless resources to explore. (We once spent 30 min. exploring a hotel parking lot – I had no idea all the wonders it held!) But indoor explorations can be just as fruitful, especially in a new environment.

What is the adult’s role? To observe, describe and provide boundaries – nothing more. It can be a challenge to spend time with a toddler without playing with her but it is a great opportunity to learn about and from her. Narrating what’s happening will help her attach words to her experiences even if she doesn’t say anything herself. Try to only offer ‘help’ if she explicitly requests it. Don’t be afraid to clearly identify boundaries (‘I won’t let you throw rocks at the house.’) but try to set limits rather than banning things outright (‘You can throw rocks into the water instead,’ rather than ‘No throwing rocks.’)

What are the benefits? It’s still not something I can do all day every day (which is good, because I’m not a toddler) but choosing to experience the world through the eyes of a toddler for a couple of hours each day brings our whole family such peace. E feels that her preferred way of moving through the world has been respected and is more willing to move at my speed for other parts of the day. I’m able to understand and provide for her better after observing her interests and moods. And we fill those long hours at home with a toddler that I used to dread before becoming a mum. No fancy treasure baskets, no trouping around to playgroup after playgroup, no DVDs.

I encourage you to try some toddler time with a child today. Start small – plan for 10 minutes and go from there. Sit back and observe, narrate or don’t. See the world through the eyes of a child and you might just find you like it.

 

[I’d like to say a big thank you Katie Westacott of Mrs West Knows Best for designing my smashing new header.]

The concept of teaching a child ‘to obey’ has always left me a little uneasy. It sounds unfairly one-sided, with all of the responsibility being placed squarely on the shoulders of a small child. But holding it next to my own understanding of God’s role in Christian obedience I have started to see things differently.

Obedience is, in fact, the responsibility of the adult. And I think we all innately know this and that’s why we get so frustrated when children disobey us – we feel we have failed and, not knowing how to help the child obey, we place the blame on them. But obedience is a HUGE and difficult concept to learn and we’ve done society a disservice in convincing ourselves that it should either be something that children automatically do OR something that can only be drilled into them through an elaborate system of disconnected rewards and punishments.

I believe there’s a better way to help children obey.

Oddly enough, I haven't taken many photos of disobedience (but it does happen!) So instead, here's a nice one of E in her summer skirt.

Oddly enough, I haven’t taken many photos of disobedience (but it does happen!) So instead, here’s a nice one of E in her summer skirt.

 

What it looks like: When a child is given an instruction (e.g. It’s time to brush your teeth.) she refuses or ignores.

Mistaken for: Naughtiness, sinfulness*

Why she does this: Reasons for disobedience are quite varied and depend greatly on age but let’s stick with a toddler example since that’s what I’m currently most familiar with. Toddlers (and teenagers) can particularly struggle with obedience because they’re hard-wired to push limits as they explore the world (including relationships) around them. However, there may also be other factors in play, such as:

Expressing feelings – She may be scared, frustrated or discouraged by the suggested activity. Although these feelings seem silly to adults, they are no less real for the child. She probably doesn’t like dealing with them any more than we do!
In the Zone – When a child is engaged in play she can become totally absorbed – it is everything to her in that moment. This kind of focus is an essential skill to develop but it doesn’t mix well with interruptions from well-meaning adults.
Out of control – If a child is feeling particularly powerless she may try to assert her own control. She may do the same if it seems like no adult is in control.
Tired/hungry – The wonders of healthy sleep and nutrition never cease to amaze me.
Other – Even the best of us have days when we wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

How to support: I believe that appropriate support is the key to making obedience work for both adults and children. Recognising disobedience is easy but knowing how to help a child obey is much more tricky. Here are some ideas:

Remind yourself that…

  • learning obedience takes time for all children and lots of time for some.
  • limit-pushing behaviour, although frustrating in toddlers and teenagers, is also common to world-changers.
  • this is a HUGE and complex concept to learn – don’t expect it to happen overnight.

Acknowledge feelings
I can’t stress enough how effective this is in all situations! Often all it takes is a little empathy for a child to be able to move on. And if not, here is your opportunity to help her find appropriate ways to express her feelings.

Communicate
Whenever you can, explain why she must obey (i.e. You need to hold my hand so I can keep you safe). This builds trust for the times when you can’t explain.

Demonstrate control
Try to remain calm and unemotional (i.e. not impatient or flustered by her disobedience) no matter how severe or unexpected the disobedience. If it is clear that a trusted adult is in control she will be less likely to try and assert her own control in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind
Sometimes when faced with disobedience we realise that the situation is not a battle worth fighting; however, withdrawing from the battle feels like surrender. As long as you clearly communicate your change of expectations there’s no reason for a child think she’s won this battle. And your flexibility will only build trust as she learns that you don’t ask for obedience if it isn’t important.

Know your audience
Learn to recognise times when it is especially difficult for your child to obey (transitions, when focused on play, tired, hungry) and adapt your expectations and support to match.

This is a big concept. Seeking to map it onto Christianity makes it easier in some ways (God gives us an unparalleled model of grace in the Bible) but more challenging in others (understanding the role of sin in childhood). I’d be honoured if you’d join the conversation either in the comments section or on Facebook.


*The concept of sinfulness in children is complex to say the least and I certainly don’t claim to have a solid grasp on it. But I do believe that often times children’s methods of learning are mistaken for disobedience. We must spend more time trying to see things from a child’s perspective before we jump to the conclusion of disobedience. And even if it is a matter of disobedience, God has given us the ultimate example of grace in taking full responsibility for our disobedience through Jesus Christ. Should we not be able to offer grace to our own children, doing whatever it takes to help them obey?

My daughter is just coming up on two. And I’m excited. I’m excited for all the important and complex concepts she’ll be learning and I’m excited to be right by her side, supporting her through them.

I’m anticipating that the coming months will be filled with all sorts of challenging lessons, both for her and me, and I’d like to chronicle as many of them as I can. Although we’re just getting started it’ll be easiest to tackle these topics in bite-sized chunks, not least because they can get very complicated very fast (precisely why they’re so difficult for toddlers).

So let’s start today. With a couple of play dates this week the concept of sharing has landed squarely on my daughter’s radar…and therefore mine. Here’s what I saw today and here’s how I explain it…

 

image

 

What it looks like: When E is approached by others while playing with something of value (perhaps a newly acquired toy) she responds by shouting No! and swatting at the intruder.

Mistaken for: Being rude, mean or selfish. Not being willing to share.

Why she does this: A lot of toddler ‘behaviours’ are rooted in a feeling of not being in control and this is no exception. E has managed to snag a toy that she loves and, since toddlers live entirely in the moment, that toy is everything to her right now. Enter other child. The other child wants to use the toy (may in fact be the owner of the toy) and he comes to make his claim. E senses his presence and immediately starts to panic. She has no idea how to control this. Although her verbal skills are well developed, the best way she knows of controlling the situation is through her volume, her arms and using the word No! Is it effective? You bet!

How to support: Sharing is an immensely complex social interaction and it takes years for children to really master it. What is routinely taught as ‘sharing’ is actually ‘you-have-to-give-your-toys-to-someone-else-whenever-an-adult-say-so-ing.’ Not necessarily a bad skill to have on hand, but not something she’ll be able to do independently.

I’ve been reading lots on sharing. I can tell you all sorts of tips I’ve learned but I don’t have a one-size-fits all answer. A lot seems to depend on how much you as an adult are willing to break social conventions, perhaps even offend others, for the sake of respecting your child’s developmental journey.

But here are a few things I tried today:

Acknowledge her feelingsYou don’t want M to take away the toys. I can see that you’re upset.

Explain the realityThat toy belongs to C and she needs it right now to make her feel safe. OR M is not trying to take the toys. He’s just watching you play. Make sure that your tone is reassuring and calm – don’t make her feel stupid for misunderstanding.

Confirm that you will keep her and others safeI won’t let you hit M. Only say this if you know you can follow through.

Model a socially appropriate responseJust say ‘No thank you, M’. What is appropriate will depend on the child’s developmental stage, but try to keep it simple.

If it’s too much, get her out of thereI can see that you’re having a really hard time sharing today. Thank you for giving it a go. It’s time to try something else now. Then provide her with an appropriate alternative or remove her from the situation altogether.

I really haven’t figured out how to convince E that her current method (shouting and swatting), although extremely effective, should be exchanged for mine (a calm and kind, No thank you). If you have any suggestions to offer I’m all ears!

First off I would like to apologise for my month-long absence. We had a busy stretch at the end of April and then the end of support for Windows XP meant I was without a computer until we got a new one sorted.

But I’m back now with a short post about something that has come up in conversation with several parents lately…

 

One of the many important positions mastered on the way to rolling over.

One of the many important positions mastered on the way to rolling over.

 

It’s often said that parenting is all about intuition.  And often it is. But sometimes it’s also about counterintuition. I know that’s not actually a word (my repeated battles with spellcheck are a reminder) but it best describes this phenomenon so I’m going to use it anyways.

When is parenting about counterintuition?

  • Physical Skills – I always thought that children needed help to learn to sit, stand, walk, jump and this help comes in the form of special chairs, walkers, and jumpers as well as back-broken parents. In fact, allowing children to pick up these skills all on their own enriches the learning experience immensely.
  • Potty Training – I always thought that toddlers needed a week of sticker charts and exciting new underpants to be tempted to use the potty. But children don’t want to stay in nappies forever. What they really want is to be part of the adult world…and adults use the toilet! As long as an appropriate toilet is made available and children are not pressured into using it before they’re ready, sticker charts and Superman underpants aren’t actually needed. (Although, you can never go wrong with Superman underpants.)
  • Manners – I always thought that children needed to be taught early to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry‘ or they’d never pick up the habit. However, if a child is taught these words as a toddler that’s all they’ll be to him – a habit. Children are not developmentally ready to apply these concepts meaningfully until 4 or 5 years of age. But make no mistake, if adults consistently model these words children will incorporate them into their social interactions once they’re ready.

There is one skill that is essential for successful counterintuition: being able to let go of your own timeline and trust your child’s. While I don’t believe any serious damage will come to a child who is put in a walker or potty trained with stickers or taught to say ‘thank you’ at the age of two, there is so much benefit from allowing children to take their time: The infinite number of physical positions a baby can master on her way to sitting up. The gradual increase in assurance that causes a toddler to confidently declare that he is now ready to take responsibility for his toileting. The observation of hundreds of altercations before realising that if you hurt someone, you must do something to put it right, even if it was an accident.

I am so thankful for all the friends and blogs and books that have helped me hone my parenting counterintuition. If you’d like to read a little more on the above topics I’d suggest you start here:

They’ll Grow Into It – Janet Lansbury

 

I have learned a lot over the past year about communicating well with young children, especially toddlers, and have eagerly implemented my learning both at home and school.

Over breakfast this week my husband thoughtfully shared with me how amazed he’s been to see how receptive our daughter is to these methods. We agreed that a few simple ideas have made parenting so much easier and are allowing us to really enjoy these toddler years.

 

Do you like my necklace Mama?

Here are three tips that we have found to be simple yet extremely effective:

    1. Slow down – The adult world moves very fast for children. We want to quickly breeze through things that we find inconsequential and move onto the important (or perhaps just urgent) things. In doing so we can make children feel confused, lost and frustrated. (In other words, exactly how I feel when talking to an accountant.)
    2. Explain – There are many things we assume children will understand simply because they’re so commonplace to us (like why it’s important to clean your face and hands after eating). We don’t intentionally keep children in the dark but we forget to consider their point of view. Some children are happy to just go with the flow while others get agitated when they don’t understand everything that’s happening to them. But no child will be harmed by a simple explanation: I’m going to take your hat and gloves off because it’s warm in here and I don’t want you to get too hot. (Don’t forget to leave a moment for it to process.) It may feel silly the first few times but it quickly becomes habit. This is a great way to show respect for children and build trust.
    3. Acknowledge – What a powerful thing it is to acknowledge another person’s feelings. Not the expression of these feelings, but purely the feelings themselves. I can see you’re frustrated. It must be really hard to be in a wheelchair and be unable to control where you go and when. I understand why you would feel like shouting and kicking. Yes, it is our job as adults to teach children how to appropriately express their emotions but FIRST we must take a moment to simply acknowledge their very real feelings.

As you can see, these tips all hinge on taking a moment to see things from a child’s perspective. I recognise that this comes easier to some than others and that it’s not an ability that develops overnight. But I firmly believe that children notice and appreciate when adults at least have a go at it and I think you’d be surprised at how effective and addictive it can be.

If someone were to guess what I was doing based on the sounds being emitted from my child they would probably say:

  1. You’re ripping out her toenails.
  2. You’re trying to inject poison into her eyeballs.
  3. You’re trying to wipe her hands and face.

If you haven’t spent much time with a toddler you might think that one of these options doesn’t belong. But it does…it really does.

Why on earth do children protest so vociferously at the mere suggestion of such a necessary and routine task?

enjoying Daddy's birthday breakfast

What it looks like: Intense protests in response to wiping face and hands, often in the form of screaming, crying and wriggling away.

Mistaken for: Wanting to be dirty or trying to be difficult.

Why she does it: Next time you eat a meal use only your hands to get the food to your mouth. Then, when you’re all finished and have something that you really want to jump up and do, get an adult to leap into action, taking hold of your hands and head to scrap off the food. Make sure they use a cold scratchy cloth and speak in gibberish, if they speak at all. Oh, and if you show signs of dismay the adult should definitely respond with exasperation, saying something like, ‘I’m only wiping your hands. It doesn’t hurt. Why can’t you just sit still?’

That’s why she does it.

How to support: As with all care-taking tasks, children need us to slow down and communicate:

  1. Explain what you need to do – I need to clean your hands and face. I’ve brought a cloth to wipe them. Try to avoid asking Can I…? if No is not an option.
  2. Allow time for child to process – Only about 10 or 20 seconds. But don’t rush right in just after (or during) your explanation.
  3. Wait for permission (or refusal) – To give consent a child may simply make eye contact, hold out her hands or reach for the cloth. Or, at least at our house, she will say ‘No!’ and swat at the cloth.

If a child refuses a necessary care-taking task it’s important to acknowledge her refusal but then explain why it must be done anyways. She will likely continue to protest which simply shows that she needs extra support to cope with this frustrating situation. There are all kinds of ways to offer support; here are some that I’ve found helpful:

  • Involve her in the process – Give her the option of washing her hands and face herself. You may still need to ‘touch up’ after she’s finished but she’ll be much more agreeable to this once she’s had a go herself.
  • Choose to see the learning opportunity – Point out the spots that are ‘dirty’ and narrate what happens as she wipes them clean. Use a mirror to show her where to wipe on her face. Identify body parts as she cleans them or ask her to wipe certain parts by name. Use lots of positional language like on, under, between, beside.
  • Don’t rush or pressure her – Protests are a sign that she’s not yet ready to get cleaned up. As long as you’re not pressed for time, allow her to stay at the table until she is ready. Be sure not to imply through tone or body language that staying at the table is a punishment.

What’s wrong with saying nothing, pinning a child down and quickly wiping her hands and face yourself? This method certainly gets the job done but it’s also likely to cause feelings of confusion, helplessness, and frustration…for everyone! Working through the situation together does take time and patience but turns a power struggle into an opportunity to build mutual trust and respect. How beautiful!

If you have any further suggestions of how to offer support during post-meal clean up please leave them in the comments section. We’re always needing new ideas at our house!

One of my strengths as a teacher and mother and wife is that I’m always striving to do better. If things go well I am pleased but I’m always able to see where there’s room for improvement.

One of my weaknesses as a teacher and mother and wife is that I’m always striving to do better. I rarely take time to appreciate what has gone well before moving on to possible improvements.

making Daddy's birthday cake

Predictably, my blog has not escaped this phenomenon. I believe that weekly posts are best and have thus imposed a strict schedule upon myself to meet this quota. But as the weekend rolls around I’ve begun to dread writing a new post. And I don’t always have something meaningful to say each week.

So…in an uncharacteristic moment of reason I’m going to release myself from this weekly schedule and simply add new posts as and when the Spirit moves me. I’ll still be adding photos to the How it looks at our house… page as well.

Thanks for listening as I work through this. It’s amazing how obvious and simple the solution seems when I see it written out.

Jenna

P.S. I’ve just added a bunch more photos to round out the Baby section of the Free Play page…go check them out!