Working with Toddlers: Scene One

This morning my almost three year old found the “pupcake” pan.

Well, it was empty and therefore needing filling, and what better way to complete that task than to find a bunch of little things to sort into the empty cups!

We decided on rocks, as we have a large amount of them currently in what we are calling our backyard (that is all rock).

Bugs and I went out on a hunt for the most interesting, most lovely, most colorable rocks.  A few minutes later, she had a basket (actually it was Kevin’s nest – Kevin is her most favorite bird) full of “interesting treasure” to sort into the 18 or so cups awaiting her attention.

Two hours later, still interested in this activity, she decided to put all the rocks on the floor and declare the pan’s need to be empty, from there on, and for the rest of the day.  “It’s tired of the treasure rocks”, she explained.

Another 30 minutes or so, and about 1/2 dozen “oh!”, “ouch!”, and “yeeeawww’s!” later, I asked Bugs to clean up the rocks and told her that I’d help, and that my feet and knees just couldn’t take it anymore.  She was watching Oswald (the blue octopus) and sorta half way acknowledged me.

I muted the tv and asked her to tell me what she’d heard me communicate.  “Your knees and my treasure don’t have enough room for each other in this spot.”

A moment or two later, I knelt down next to where she was standing and started to pick up a few of the rocks. As I began, I said, “Bugs, are you going to help me pick up these rocks?”

“Yep!”, she chirped, while dropping to the floor to begin gathering.

We made it a game of “Bugs has amazing spy eyes that can see little, teeny rocks MUCH better than Mama;s eyes can”, and she found quite a few I missed, in fact.

Through this experience, she was able to become aware of the value of cleaning up after scattering the rocks everywhere.  She learned she has a great eye for noticing little things.  She also remembered that when she focuses on something, she succeeds at what she intends to accomplish.

She was happy to see the rocks had returned to their homes and felt no disappointment at the dismantling of her collection (is this encouraging a respect for the environment, at a very early and simple level?).

Win, Win, and Win. Can’t beat that.

The pan survived, and that’s a light house rock, by the way.

Helping Toddlers Locate Boundaries

choose to see the world through your toddler’s eyes.  Empathetically experience her world as she experiences it, and you will know harmony instead of struggle.

There seem to be a lot of discussions on how to keep toddlers in line lately, and the conversations in general result in my confusion and sadness. I have a two year old. She is a very complex, spirited, little person. She is communicative, emotional, thoughtful, and intelligent. And she has an opinion on just about everything. Keeping up with her is sometimes quite challenging, but it is a challenge I thoroughly enjoy meeting.

Consistency is an extremely valuable commodity and something that the toddler, especially, desperately needs.  Through consistency from her care giver, she can learn to establish herself in her world, discover her own thoughtfulness and desire to think of others, and develop her autonomy.  Security, self confidence, and the ability to thrive come from her knowing she is valued and worthy of being responded to, as well as being able to rely upon her environment and care givers.

Today was a difficult day because I was too impatient.  I still am.  My daughter knew it.  And as if my own mood wasn’t enough to just end all today, she decided she was going to launch an all out protest, by returning it.  Every impatient action or outburst I shot her way, she reflected right back at me.  And can I fault her in any way?  Nope.

At some point during my day, I began to really get to the point of just wanting to scream.  My little one was just being little, but I wasn’t handling it well.  I have a habit of purposefully falling silent and staring off in the distance in effort to gain the attention of my little bug, or regain my own, or both. Trying to gain the full picture, I will often do this while sitting on the floor, which makes my head about level to hers.  

Today when I decided to attempt to gain control over my own impatience and try to regain control of the rapid downward spiral that would lead to my daughter losing it in a fit of emotion that she doesn’t know what to do with, I discovered something.  My little girl was afraid. She was afraid of me, afraid of what she was doing or not doing, afraid to just be in her own little world (where she is usually very comfortable). She was on edge.

I realized in that moment what I was putting my little one through, and what I didn’t want to continue. I decided we needed a breather, so we put on a movie and just sat together on the couch. Before long, I became impatient again (a result of a hormonal imbalance that I am still trying to get a handle on after the pregnancy) and I picked up my laptop. This is a signal to my daughter that she is no longer my focus.  And some days she tolerates this for a while, and others she hurt by my diverted attention.  So, in response, she sulked.  Then I sulked.  Then she rejected my attempts at cuddling.  So I put the computer away.  But by then, she knew I was annoyed and not wanting to really watch the movie with her, remember she’s 28 months old and perceives well.  She in turn became fully annoyed with me and told me as much.

I allowed myself to see through her eyes, and I felt her hurt.  She was disappointed, felt like she wasn’t as valuable as my stupid laptop, and just didn’t understand why her mama was being so unpredictable today.  I did (understand), and there was nothing I could do about it, but keep trying to remain calm.  Eventually, we decided together that it was time for snuggle/sling time that would lead to a nap.  She knew I needed a break, and so did she (from me).

She fell asleep very quickly, snuggled into my chest.  I consciously made the decision to just hold her this time instead of reading something on my phone while waiting for her to fall asleep.  Sometimes I get away with that, but often she lies in my arms, in the sling, and stares right at my face (the same face/eyes that are looking at something other than her own), waiting.  She waits for me very quietly.  When I realize I’m being stared at, I direct my gaze into her eyes and usually see relief and comfort, and a sense of security in her.  Today, I saw apprehension and a guarded little girl.  It broke me apart, again.

Just imagine if, instead of realizing her behavior today was in direct response to my own, I assumed the position of authoritarian power-demanding, righteously angry parent.  How damaging to my little person I could have been. I’m so thankful I didn’t resort to forcing my way or punishing, I would have crushed her spirit severely.

I am convinced that my child generally wishes to be in harmony with her environment. She can be self focused at times, some of which are very useful and necessary, others are just whims. I can become frustrated with her too, but as soon as I stop thinking and seeing through only my own eyes and start seeing through hers as well, I can again appreciate her. When I relate to the world as this little does, I no longer struggle.

I have an amazing little bug, who perceives things at a level way beyond the depth of what we expected at this age.  Early on, even during her first few weeks, others shared that when they looked into her eyes, they felt connected and that she sensed them fully.  

“She has an old soul”, some said, and I have to agree – she often seems to have an awareness that eludes me.  

I felt her strength, and her desire for harmony and peace well before she was born.  And after her birth, her general demeanor gave me such a sense of peace and awe that my respect and admiration of her existence came without force or even conscious thought. I am on this earth for her.  Her papa and I are committed to joining in her explorations, sharing tools as she discovers her world.

She impresses me every moment I am in her presence.  She impresses me even when I’m not in her presence, because these times allow me to reflect on experiences with her, and I invariably gain an understanding and perspective that gives me even more to admire in her.

She knows we won’t hit her, or come after her.  She seeks the boundaries and we help her see them, and we explain why in terms she can comprehend. She is tiny and has little experience to draw upon to formulate her own conclusions; if your thoughts are communicated, connection will result.  She is highly intelligent, but explain yourself as if she is also brand new. Respect her. Remember what it is like to be a two year old? Take a moment to stop what you’re doing, get down on their level, and ask them what it’s like being them, and listen to their response (whether in word, expression, or body language).

See the world through your toddler’s eyes and experiences. Once you have chosen to do that regularly, you will find that you approach your child differently and they will respond in turn.   Grow their trust and deepen your connection.

If all else fails and your toddler is just driving you nuts,
go take a look in the mirror.
Then, take responsibility for your own behaviors,
and realize that your toddler is the world’s greatest mimic.

Eye to eye, cheek to cheek,give them a moment of yours that is just for them.