Category Archives: Infant/Toddler Development

Love is in the air

String of hearts

So, Love is in the air today. And yeah, I love my husband. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Today I want to talk about loving being a Mom. I often complain, or joke about how much my daughter is a handful (as all toddlers are) or whine about how hard it is being a parent. Which I think is fine… I think it is important to express frustrations to let them out. I also think that this community of Moms I am a part of is fueled in part by that tendency to share a very realistic view of our experiences.

But that doesn’t change the fact that  I love being a Mom. And not just being a Mom. I love being Audrey’s Mom. I love how she runs to hug me when she sees me. I love how she likes to kiss me on the cheek… and then says “other cheek?” and waits for me to turn my head so she can kiss my other cheek. I love the intense look on her face as she very seriously builds a lego tower or plays with her sushi set. I love listening to her sing ‘pat a cake’, ‘ba ba black sheep’, ‘abc’s’ or ‘six little ducks’. I love it when she tells me to sign or ‘sit here’ or ‘mommy read book’. I love the look she gets on her face when I tell her not to do something. I love it when she goes to ‘find mommys slippers’. I love it when she asks “where daddy go? where puppy go? where grandma go?” I love that words like “thank you” “please” “excuse me” “your welcome” and “sorry” are regular parts of her vocabulary.

As much as she exhausts me, she is an amazing little girl. Not more amazing then any other toddler, but amazing to me. Because she is ours.

Every day she learns, explores, shows affection, asks for comfort and has fun.

And I love that.

Photo by aussiegall via Flickr Creative Commons Licsense

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Power to the Potty

Oh yeah, I was going to write about the potty.

So, over the holidays my mother in law successfully got Audrey to use the potty a couple times. Can I just say that Grandmothers are powerful in the ways of persuasion. We have had a potty in the house for a couple months, knowing that Audrey was probably too young to start (she is 21 months) but wanting to get her used to the idea. The dayhome she goes to has a number of older kids there that are either fully or partially potty trained, so she had started asking about it. She had sat on the potty before, here and there, but never really done anything. Until Grandma suggested. And then it seemed like a brilliant idea.

And then! She realized that using the potty = happy and excited family cheering for her. Which motivated her for approximately 5 days.

You see, praise is just not what gets Audrey out of bed in the morning. I mean, she likes some good positive recognition as much as the next kid, but she doesn’t crave it. And, as we discovered, it only motivate her for so long.

Because she discovered an other way to get attention via this whole potty thing.

What is the number 1 most effective way for a kid of potty training age to get the attention of their parent? Ask to go to the potty.

We react. With lightening speed.

“You want to go to the potty? Okay, lets drop everything, including that request I just made for you to put on your shoes and run upstairs to the potty. Yeah Potty!” *Internal dialogue*”… please please please let my kid use this potty so this diaper stage might some day end

I am guess my toddler isn’t the only one who realized that she now had a very very powerful tool for parental control. She is wielding it with abandon.

Yesterday morning I spent about 15 minutes waiting for her to use the potty. About every 3 minutes she would say she was done. Close the potty. Walk to her bedroom and as soon as I ask her to come over so I can help her get dressed…. “I pee potty” and off she would run to the bathroom. She has not actually ‘used’ the potty in a good couple weeks now.. so its not like this is a productive exercise.

Power. She is sick with it.

I get, 100%, that it is a toddlers job to try and test boundaries and assert themselves. What they really want and need is to know that there are boundaries and limitations, because this structure makes them feel safe. I get that she isn’t doing this to try and drive me crazy or just to be a pain. This is her doing her job as a toddler. Testing the limits.

And it’s not just testing limits- she does want to learn about the potty. She gets that adults and older kids do it and she wants to be big. But it also takes time and practice to learn those skills of self awareness and control.

That being said, I kinda feel like I am between a rock and a hard place. I have two choices (if I have more then these two choices, please please let me know!!).

1. Let her yield the control and ‘use’ the potty as much as she would like. I mean this is an area where she does and should have 100% control. It is her body and she is the only one that can learn to use the potty. The implication is though that our time-lines or requests will also be controlled by her, as she is able to manipulate the plan by yielding the potty power.

2. Encourage her to use the potty, but also set loose time limits so she doesn’t use it to, for example, delay bedtime, getting ready in the morning, picking up her toys or anything else she doesn’t want to do. (I don’t mean delay bedtime my 3-5 minutes.. whatever. I am talking major 20 minute plus delays.) My hesitation with this is that I don’t want to have a battle with her over the potty. I want using the potty to be a good thing, a positive environment.

I don’t know. Maybe I am over thinking this. I get 100% that potty training is a long term process. I don’t expect her to be potty trained by her 2nd birthday. I know lots of people talk about “potty training” in one, two or three days. Which may work for an older toddler who has already had time to develop and practice the self awareness and control skills necessary. We, however, are just getting started and I think she needs lots more time and I am happy to support her to learn in her own time. But I also want to find a way to encourage it without her using it to manipulate. I strongly believe that despite their behaviour, toddlers crave boundaries. I’m just not sure in this case, where those boundaries should be.

Has your toddler wielded potty power? How did you balance boundaries and encouraging potty learning?

Another fun toddler stage: “Up?! Up?!”

I get that babies and toddlers go through stages. Everything is a stage. Ironically, the more frustrating the behaviour, the longer the stage- in my experience. But, as with all things, eventually it passes and they are on to the next.

Audrey’s current stage can be described as “Up?! Up?!”. I know she is not the only 20-26month old that has gone through this. I should probably go back and consult The Wonder Weeks to find out just what kind of amazing and disorienting changes are going on in her brain to warrant such an obsession with being carried around. Anyway, the point is I am sure there is a developmental reason for this shift but it rather sucks. I mean, I was just getting used to her being a little more independent.. able to walk herself to the car, get herself up into her chair for dinner, able to climb up and down the stairs, ect. And now we are back to absolute exhausting “Mommy I need you All. The. Time.” Sigh.

She wants me to carry her up and down stairs. She wants me to carry her around all morning while I am getting breakfast ready. She wants me to carry her upstairs and then asks to go downstairs. The other day she wanted me to carry her 4 feet from her bedroom to the bath tub in the bathroom. Kid weighs like 28 lbs. She is 21 months old. And yes, I need to work out, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.Wanna take a guess as to what happens if I put her down or say no? Yeah, you got it, crying. Lots and lots of crying.

So the question is, what does one do?

1) Carry the kid. Let it be a stage. Indulge. Soon she won’t want me around as she races off to play.

2) Split the difference. Carry her when I can, stop carrying her when my back is near breaking or when I really just can’t hold her while doing a particular task. Put her down, bear the crying.

3) Stand my ground and try to talk her through it to do it on her own. Maybe not all the time, but regularly.

I was channeling Janet Lansbury (or what I imagine Janet would say…) the other day and tried this tactic:

This particular stand off was over the stairs. “Audrey, I know you want me to carry you, but you can do this on your own.” Crying.

“Audrey, I know you want me to carry you, but you are very good and walking down stairs on your own. You will feel good when you do it on your own. Look, there is only 3 steps. I will hold your hand and we can count them together.”

“One…….” She takes one step and starts to cry again.

I repeat pretty much the same thing over and over again until she finally gave in and walked down the stairs. I told her I was proud of her and that she looked proud of herself. I thanked her for going down the stairs on her own.

I tried a similar technique with the walk to the bath tube the other night. So I know it works.

But I don’t have the time or the energy to do this every single time she wants to be picked up. So, along with a few of these chats a day, I am also trying to get down to her level and give her extra hugs. And yes, sometimes, carry her around.

Anything else that works? Oh, and any idea on how long this stage lasts? (If it is longer then a couple months please lie to me, I don’t want to know.) What do you think one should do?

Shhh… don’t tell my daughter

Photo by albastrica mititica via flickr

 

This year we are keeping Christmas simple. We have always tried to keep the toys to a minimum and focus on the more simple toys. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things here and there that require a battery, but for the most part we try and focus on just having a few toys that Audrey can really use her imagination with. And also, I feel like I am constantly stepping on toys and books strewn all over the floor, so I would prefer not to add to much to her basket.

I thought I would share some of her favourite current toys are and the things that are going under the tree. Audrey will be 2 in March (Oh my!), but I think a lot of these toys are great for many ages.

Current Toy favourites:

  • simple musical instruments- a trumpet, tambourine, little toddler piano, egg shaker
  • set of small silicone bowls- ones you would get for the kitchen. She loves to stack and unstack them and also drop them from various places
  • simple wooden puzzles- I watched her remove and replace all the pieces in one of her two puzzles at least 4 times in a row the other day
  • books- really, who could go wrong with books
  • old fisher price play house- ours is from 26 years ago or so. It was a gift for my brother and my Mom gave it to us when Audrey was little. But I have seen some ‘retro’ toys come back.. some of the really simple ones from 25 years ago are great and sans-batteries
  • Deck of cards- yeah, apparently 52 pick up is a great game, not just an annoying joke

And now for part idea sharing and part shopping advice seeking. These are the things that, between the grandparents and us, will be wrapped up under the tree for Audrey. Some of them I am still on the hunt for and any tips would be appreciated!

1) Books

Replacements for some of the books she has eaten like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit and a few new ones.. mostly variations on Peter Rabbit. Audrey loves her some Beatrix Potter.

2) Lego

Audrey absolutely loves playing with Lego. Duplo (Lego’s bigger cousin) actually. She talks all the time about building towers and it is often something she asks to do. She has a small set, but the pieces always go missing. In fact we aren’t hiding Easter eggs this spring, we will go looking for Lego instead. Anyway, we can always use more Lego.

3) A Box of Crayons

Because her current box has suffered one of two fates. Half the box she has broken and the other half a box has been eaten by the dog. Time for replacement. P.S.- didn’t they use to sell those BIG GIGANTIC toddler crayons? Like Jumbo ones? Now I can only find the bigger triangle ones or those weird creepy wobbly people ones that Audrey doesn’t seem to understand how to work. Seriously, what was wrong with the jumbo ones? They were hard to break! Anyway, if anyone knows where to find them in Calgary, please comment below! I digress.

4) Playdough

Yes, I could make my own. But I didn’t. There were tubs of it for $1 eat at Superstore. So I just got those.

5) Buckles

Audrey has an unnatural obsession with buckles. One of her favourite things to do it to climb up into her chair (which we recently converted from an infant high chair to the ‘toddler’ version which is pretty much a small and tall chair so she can sit at the table but get in and out of herself) and buckle herself in. Not because she likes to be trapped, it turns out. Which kinda defeats the purpose of converting it to a toddler chair because currently she enjoys buckling herself in and then asks to get down 2 minute later just for fun. Anyway, the point is that she just likes buckles. A lot. She also will buckle up any rogue stroller straps she encounters… you’ve been warned.

So we are going to go try and find some big buckles that she can just play with. And while we are at it we will probably also try and find her some giant buttons. I could see her liking that too. She likes buttons. That being said I am not sure where to find either. I tried a GIANT craft store to no avail. But there must be somewhere where people buy these things. Maybe I need a fabric store.

6) Doll clothing

Audrey has this lovely, simple baby doll that friends of ours gave her on our last visit to the West Coast. She loves that baby doll. It came with a diaper, slippers and a towel, along with a pretend bottle of shampoo which Audrey calls ‘clean.’ Audrey loves to sit on the floor and try to clean the baby with the bottle of shampoo and then open the bottle, pretend to pour the soup out and then say “all gone?” But the baby? Baby goes mostly naked as keeping the diaper or the towel on the baby is a challenge. So I am going to look for some simple baby doll clothing.

Here is the trick- everything I have seen so far is some crazy set with a glitter pink dress, purse and locket for the baby doll. Baby doll is not going to the club. Baby doll is hanging out at home and going for occasional car trips when Audrey refuses to leave the baby at home. If Audrey doesn’t need clothing fit for glamming it up, then her doll certainly doesn’t. Where do I find more simple, reasonable doll clothing? Anyone?

7) A pair of P.J.’s

My favourite Christmas eve tradition is a new pair of PJ’s. I don’t think we did this every year, but I know as we got older I requested it. And I still do. I LOVE putting on a new pair of PJ’s to go to bed in on Christmas eve. As it is I have an unnatural obsession with comfortable PJ’s. And I plan to pass that obsession on to Audrey. So, if I can find some I like that don’t cost a fortune, I am going to get her a new pair of PJ’s for Christmas eve.

Okay, now I am excited.

Motivation and our kids

A colleague e-mailed me a link to this video a couple weeks ago. It is all about how we are really motivated. After watching this though, I started to think about how it relates to how we motivate our kids, particularly when it comes to encouraging good behaviour and discouraging bad behaviour. Take a look at the video and then let’s chat.

This video brought up a couple questions for me.

1) Is adult motivation and child motivation different?

From the perspective of someone who works in human resources and career services, I totally get this. I do believe that we are most motivated to do things when we feel a purpose and have the autonomy to make our own choices. We feel good when we are good at something and can demonstrate mastery over a skill.

Are our children motivated in the same way? I tend to think they are. I have seen the pride in Audrey’s eyes when she masters a new skill. That pride is totally internal, it doesn’t come from the expectation that she will be rewarded. Anyone who has a toddler probably is very familiar with the phrase “I do it”. They want autonomy and they want it now. They want to make their own choices, assert their will and have control over their world. I believe sometimes kids ‘get’ purpose more then adults do. We get lost in all the day to day figuring out our lives making ends meet stuff. Toddlers in particular, seem to see life for what it really is; get basic needs met, connect with the world, learn, love and have fun. So I can see these three basic principles of motivation at work.

2) How does this related to how we parent?

One of the idea’s this video challenges is the notion that if we reward good behaviour you will get more good behaviour. This is a key parenting principle that many, many of us are operating on. We are told to ignore the bad behaviour and focus on rewarding the good behaviour. We praise our children a lot. I am not saying that approach is wrong, but does it work?

This video suggests that rewards work when they are exercising a ‘mechanical skill’ but as soon as they cross over into ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’ then a larger reward only leads to poorer performance. And really, for a toddler for example, doesn’t everything require cognitive skill? I mean, they are learning everything from scratch… you can see in their efforts them puzzling through what in 2 weeks will then become a ‘mechanical skill.’

At the same time, the video does suggest that for things where we want someone to “follow along and get the right answer” and for “following rules” the reward system does work. This suggests to me that there are times and in some circumstances where it make sense to reward good behaviour. However, I think the implication is that it has to be very clear, straight forward and linear. When we are asking our child, for example, to make decisions based on more complex set of information and circumstances, it crosses over into the cognitive skill piece and rewards may not work. It is better then, in those circumstances, to support them to instead have the autonomy, mastery and purpose to make better decisions? Encouraging independence, providing choice and supporting learning of values is going to have a greater impact then just rewards.

Perhaps the idea in this video about adults and pay at work, the concept that you need to pay enough to take the issue of money off the table, could also be applied to kids. Perhaps we need to praise enough to get the issue of praise off the table. What I mean by that is that every parent wants their kid to know that they are loved, appreciated, and that we are proud of them. I just can’t help but blurt out a praise when Audrey does something new and really wonderful. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I know there has been a lot of criticism lately about over-praising. And I do think it is true that praising constantly for every little thing can cause a child to be dependent on praise for validation and then make life pretty hard when, as they grow up, that praise fades away. (Many millennial site that lack of praise at work is a major cause of dissatisfaction.) Internal motivation is where it is at. But I do think we also all deeply want to feel recognized and valued. It is all about balance.

I also find it interesting that what motivates adults is also what many of us strive to support our children in developing. “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose”. I believe many of us feel that if we can encourage our children to be able to take leadership over their lives, master a certain number of skills and interests and then have purpose in their life, then our child will be successful. Looking at it from a point of those being the key factors that motivate adults seems to back that goal up as being a good one to strive for.

Really, this is all well and good in theory. But we all know that it isn’t so easy in practice. When you are trying to motivate your screaming kid to go to bed or get out of the house in the morning, I am not sure how much this theoretical stuff will help. You do what you have to do and what seems to work best. I don’t know how much you can get a toddler to understand the purpose when it comes to leaving the house in the morning. And sure they might be proud of themselves over having some autonomy and mastery over the process, but if that means you are a hour late for work because they are trying to do it their way… well… that just isn’t going to work either. So grain of salt and all….

I don’t really have any clear conclusions about this. It’s not like watching this video is going to change how I parent… but it is interesting to think about and do I think it brings up some good points to consider.

Free Range versus Highly Engaged Parenthood: The Debate goes on

Via Flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography, D. Sharon Pruitt

This is not a new debate. Not on this blog and not in the world of parenting. But it rages on none the less. And being a topic that is of great interest to me, I am content to bring it up and discuss it over and over again. The last time we talked around this issue was a ControverSunday topic. Check it out here.

This time, I am responding to this article, “Modern Parenting; If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?” by Katie Roiphe. Go read it, I will wait.

Her point is this, there is a tendency in modern parenting whereby parents are highly involved in their children’s lives. (Not all parents, but many). This high involvement seems to include parents going to great effort to ‘control and perfect’ the child and the environment the child grows up in. It is in part a response to perceived and/or real risk, both of which exist. And it is in part a response to try and give our kids a ‘head start’ at success. There many many examples of things that parents now do that were not common place 30-50 years ago. Playing classical music to your baby with earphones before they are even born. DVD’s, toys and flashcards promising to make your baby capable of things not taught until preschool. Enrollment in a wide wide range of activities and programs to try and ’round out’ your child with art, music, sports, ect. Advanced education programs promising to get your high school kid a head start at university.

And then there are the more subtle changes. Closer supervision. “Showing” babies how to play. Doing homework ‘with’ your child. Parents calling up University professors to argue their kids mark. Did you know that some employers are now sending an information package to the parents of the new graduates they are sending offers of employment to, as they are recognizing that winning over the parent is key in the new grad decision.

Not all parents do this. And not all kids that experience this are anything but wonderful, engaged, warm children. But. But.

Think about the homework thing for a minute. In the article, Katie says:

“I can recall my own mother vaguely calling upstairs “Have you done your homework?” but I cannot recall her rolling up her sleeves to work side by side with me cutting out pictures of rice paddies for a project about Vietnam, or monitoring how many pages of Wuthering Heights I had read.”

Here the thing. If you are eight and your parent asks if you have done your homework and you say you have, but they don’t do it with you. You haven’t done your homework. You go to school and you fail a test. You have just learned there is a consequence to your action. Then the next time you study and do your homework, and you get a B. You have just learned that you can do it. You motivated yourself and you accomplished something. You feel proud of yourself.

But if every time you do your homework your parent sits down with you a monitors to see if you have it done. Answers any questions you have. Helps you through it. What happens when you go off to university and you don’t have someone to do that? No one to give you a gold sticker for finishing your homework.

Obviously, not every kid who’s parents do their homework with them is going to lack internal motivation. It is metaphor for the larger point. Our job as parents is to support our kids to live their own lives. Learn what they are passionate about. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to make decisions, make mistakes, make changes, and motivate themselves. Learn how to like themselves.

“One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analysing really making anyone happier?… Is there something reassuring in parental selfishness, in the idea that your parents have busy, mysterious lives of their own, in which they sometimes do things that are not entirely dedicated to your entertainment or improvement?”

Children have their own lives. From the time they are babies their lives are their own. And as parents, we need to have our own lives too. Living your life through your child’s accomplishments is so not a life I want to live.

“Built into this model of the perfectible child is, of course, an inevitable failure. You can’t control everything, the universe offers up rogue moments that will make your child unhappy or sick or ­broken-hearted, there will be faithless friends and failed auditions and bad teachers. The one true ­terrifying fact of bringing an innocent baby into the fallen world is that no matter how much rubber flooring you ship to the villa in the south of France, you can’t protect her from being hurt.”

All you can do is set your child up to handle that disappointment, hurt, challenge. And setting them up means letting them practice, when they are young and you can be there to give them a hug and make them cookies.

I don’t believe Katie is suggesting we should stop parenting based on what we think is best. I don’t believe she is suggesting that we shouldn’t be involved and shouldn’t do things that mitigate real risk. What I believe she is suggesting is that we remember that the perfect world and the perfect child are unobtainable and that we need to remember that children have their own lives. And live is about ups and downs. From a very early age, children can direct aspects of their own lives. Make choices. Make mistakes. Learn consequences.  She says: “It might be time to dabble in the laissez faire; to let the imagination run to art instead of art projects; to let the imperfect universe and its imperfect ­children be themselves.” Dabble. Just dabble. Sure, I can dabble.

If you haven’t read it, I would highly highly recommend reading a book call “Under Pressure”, by Carl Honore. It is a fantastic book about the high pressure that many of our parenting and educations practices put our children under. If you want to really understand this whole debate, it is a great place to start.

Pick ’em up or Put ’em down?

So a while ago (quite a while ago, this post idea has been in the drafts folder for a while) I read a blog post on Phd in Parenting about babywearing, called “Babywearing gave me mothering wings”. As I was reading it I was nodding.

Nodding about how using a sling or wrap or other baby carrying device can really help. Particularly in that newborn phase where it is so important for them to be close to you. Freeing up your arms does make a big difference.

I really nodded when Annie said: “But I am also concerned with government advisories and regulatory practices that go so far that they discourage and marginalize safe and healthy parenting practices and bankrupt companies that make products that support those practices.” Yeah, totally.

I totally respect and admire Annie, but I just can’t stop thinking about that post and I want to express what got me thinking. There were two things that tweaked my overly sensitive- not always a fan of everything attachment parenting-senses.  One: Annie spoke about physically touching her newborn 22 out of 24 hours each day. And two: near the end of the article she said this: “Babies should not and cannot simply be put down every time their parents need their arms. Putting babies in car seats, swings, or bouncers for much of the day is unsafe and deprives them of the much needed warmth and bonding with their parents. Leaving them to scream in a crib or bassinet while their parents get things done or have a much needed break is neglectful.” And I went WHOA.

It is not that I totally disagree. I don’t think that baby swings, car seats and bouncers are the ideal locations for your baby, at least for long stretches of time. But I don’t begrudge the parent who discovers one of these things is the mystery cure for endless bouts of screaming. Essentially, if it makes baby happy and saves your sanity, then I am all for it. But, in theory, my preference would not be for baby to be in a car seat, swing or bouncer for most of the day.

I also agree that putting a baby down, who is upset and screaming, in order to get stuff done, is not the ideal response. I get really bothered by the word neglectful, mostly because the word is applied to so many many things in parenting that may not be great, but are not the same as true neglect. Like, the kind of neglect that would get children taken away from their parents. You know? I digress. Anyway, that being said, putting a baby down who has been screaming for hours and giving yourself a 10 minute break to save your sanity? Totally reasonable, in my opinion. Especially if you are at the breaking point.

I think what really bothered me about the ending of this post is the portraying the opposite to the extreme. For example, there are lots of parents who don’t hold their babies 22 hours a day and who do put them down, in part to get stuff done, without leaving their child wailing in a crib while they clean the bathroom. And there are lots of places to put baby down that don’t involve strapping them into a car seat. Get what I am saying?

In the first few weeks of Audrey’s life she spent no where near 22 hours a day physically touching me. Well, I take that back, I did spend A LOT of time breastfeeding, which was fine. So that was probably a good 12 hours of the day. And we probably had her in a wrap or sling a good 4 or 5 hours of the day. So, lets call it 16 hours. The other 8 hours? When she feel asleep we put her down in a bassinet, which we wheeled around to whatever room we were in. We didn’t put her down screaming, but we got that space and time to ‘get stuff done’. As she got older, that 16 hours probably went down to 14 and then 12 and then 10 and so on.

When she was older (probably around 4 months), she spent quite a bit of time on the floor on a big blanket. She loved listening to music and trying to reach for stuff and learning to roll over. By 5 month or so she was crawling. I valued this time, as it was amazing to watch her explore her world. She knew I was close by, so she was happy. And I got to ‘get stuff done’. By 9 months she was cruising, and being held by mama was not her idea of a good time. She still was happy in a sling while out and about, but at home she wanted to explore.

What I am saying is there is a balance. And I know there are babies out there that respond very well to constant contact and get very upset if they are ever put down. Maybe 22 hours a day is reasonable and appropriate for those babies. But I also know there are babies who are perfectly happy to observe the world a meter or two away from their parents. More over, there are babies who scream at the top of their lungs if you don’t put them down sometimes. You gotta do what is best for your kid.

Babywearing is awesome. AWESOME. But so is putting your baby down to let them explore the world. And so is getting some personal space for yourself.

I think it is unfortunate that a lot of supporters of babywearing present it in such a way that the average person, who may want to put their baby down sometimes, can’t quite relate. If someone had tried to sell me a sling when I was pregnant with the line that ‘you can hold your baby 22 hours of the day with this thing’ I would have run for the hills. I know Annie was just sharing her experience and what worked for her kids, but it still seemed to imply that that was the ideal. And the statement afterward, about depriving our babies from bonding with us, reinforced that.

Furthermore, I really believe that giving baby time to explore her/his world is important. As a baby gets older, it makes sense that they spend more and more time not physically touching their parents and that parents allow opportunities for the baby to reach out and interact with the world. I think each parent needs to find a balance between both wonderful, beneficial things for baby: physical closeness to their parents and that ability to branch out and have the space to explore their world.

Parenting with your Instincts

So I have been thinking lately about instincts and parenting. Probably one of the most common pieces of parenting advice that you hear is to not listen to all the (often contradictory) advice you get as a new parent and rather ‘follow your instinct.’ I 100% agree with this piece of advice. I truly believe that if you listen to your gut about what is best for your baby, your family and yourself you will make good choices.

But I have been thinking about this concept of ‘instincts’ lately and how it is presented as the antidote to advice overload. And how it ties in with ‘natural’ parenting. I have seen the linkage made a lot; natural parenting and instincts. And it makes sense, it appeals to our understanding of nature- that nature works on reacting to innate instincts.

In reading a bunch of the posts in the November Carnival of Natural Parenting. (You can check it out here if you are interested) a number of the bloggers I regularly read were talking about instincts in their posts. Jessica, over at This is Worthwhile spoke about being a natural parent as doing what “feels natural.” Kelly, over at Kelly Naturally wrote a post about following your parenting instincts when they choose not to circumcise their son.

These are both great posts (as I am sure many of the others in the carnival are). But in reading them they twigged some questions for me.

First off, if we all followed our parenting instincts would we all make the same choices? Because this is kinda how it is presented…. the persuasive argument for quite a few natural parenting methods are that a) your instincts would lead you to make this choice and b) it is natural and you just can’t argue with Mother Nature, she knows best. I tend to agree with argument b). Mother Nature is where its at. But the argument that billions and billions of parents would have the same instinct? I don’t know. People are pretty different. If you ran into a bear in a forest what would your instincts tell you to do? Do you think everyone else would have the exact same instinct?

The other question I have is how can you separate your ‘biological instincts’ or ‘nature instincts’ from our ‘learned instincts’ or ‘nurture instincts’? And are one set of instincts better then the other? If everything you have ever known was to do “x”, but maybe most other people would feel “x” goes against their instincts… you see where I am going with this? Very existential. But I wonder, you know?

The other thing I question is if our instincts are always ‘right’? I will give you an example. The other night Audrey woke up at about midnight and started SCREAMING. Which is very unlike her. But she had been sick and it might have been an ear infection or something, I don’t know. Anyway. She cried for well over an hour. I was there with her, trying to help her feel better, letting her know I was there. I talked to her and asked if she had a bad dream or if she had pain somewhere. She was too upset to communicate anything. I gave her advil and offered some water. And held her.

By 45 minutes in, with no idea what was wrong with my baby, my instinct was to cry. It took everything in me not to cry. Why did I try so hard not to cry? Because I was pretty sure part of why she was upset was that she was scared. And I knew logically that if I started to cry she would feel less safe and secure because she would take that to mean something was really wrong. (I do think there is a place for showing and sharing emotions with kids. I believe in being real with them. But 1am in the midst of an all out tantrum is not the time.)

So were my instincts wrong?

Or maybe I had two sets of instincts. My personal, how I relief stress and tension when I am upset, instincts. And my “mommy”, I must keep my baby feeling safe, instincts. Can we have two sets of instincts? Can our instincts tell us two different things?

I have also, on other occasions, when Audrey wakes up in the middle of the night and started to babble and cry a bit fought my instincts to go in that second, and rather give her a couple minutes. Because I know from experience that she often wakes up, babbles and then falls back to sleep in five minutes or less. Should I follow my instincts even though I know from experience that going into to her room in the middle of the night usually just gets her worked up and eventually she needs to fall asleep on her own? I know there are many people who would disagree that I should fight my instincts on this one, but they don’t know my kid.

I don’t write this at all as an argument against ‘natural’ parenting or any other school of parenting thought that advocates following our instincts. As I said from the get go- I think following your gut is good. I just think it is valuable to look at the basis for our beliefs. And the instinct-natural argument go hand in hand and are very seldom really deeply examined. I mean, suggesting that something is natural– well that is very hard to argue with.

But we do argue with it in other ‘hot topic’ debates. For example, humans are animals whom are biologically designed to be omnivores and historically were omnivores in nature. And yet there are many people who believe eating meat is wrong. And many of their reasons are very good (I am particularly persuaded by the environmental and health reasons.) But not eating meat is not ‘natural’. Does that make it wrong?

I know I am being argumentative here. And really truly, I don’t mean to. I am mostly just thinking out loud. But you hear so much of the same argument over and over again in terms of why one way is better then an other, isn’t think it is worth it to consider what that argument really means? Isn’t it reasonable to ask why instincts and nature are good? I am just saying that ‘instincts’ is not a perfectly definable concept. The word means different things to different people and trying to weed out what is an ‘instinct’ versus what is thoughts isn’t always easy. Furthermore, instincts are awesome, but where would we be without the other methods of decision making that make humans what we are: memory, critical thinking, problem solving, imagination. All of these tools in our brain are useful. And parenting is challenging- so chances are most of us need all hands on deck, so to speak.

I don’t know, what do you think?

Toddler Profanity and other hillarious things about language

(The post where I tell you a whole bunch of stuff about my toddlers linguistic skills that is way more entertaining to me then it is to you, I am sure. But what else is a blog for if not to over share?)

When toddlers open their mouths and start talking it is nothing short of hilarious. First off, there are the danger words. You know, the ones that could very likely end in a huge amount of embarrassment if uttered in the middle of the grocery store.

Duck

Truck

Sit

Clock

You get the picture. Boy those toddlers are good at making good wholesome words inappropriate. Really, language is a minefield. And I know every parent has to deal with their kid embarrassing them at some point in public, so its not like I am all that worried. But I guess every time I have heard a kid say a bad word in public before I have always thought they were actually saying the bad word, not saying some perfectly normal word that just sounds bad because they can’t quite pronounce it.  Huh. And HA!

The other thing I find hilarious is all the words that sound the same. For Audrey, ‘swing’ and ‘raisin’ sound alike. I know! How in the world she makes swing and raisin sound alike is totally a mystery to me. But they are virtually the same word in her vocab: “fwins.” The other day I took Audrey to the park and she kepts asking for “fwins”, which confused me because she had just had a snack. Until it dawned on me that we had gone to the park without any baby swings (we have two parks near our house) and what she really wanted was to go to the park with the swings. I obliged, she was happy.

Slightly more understandable are two other words that sound the same “Peter” (as in Peter rabbit, which whom she is completely obsessed with right now) and “computer”= “pooder.” Really, how do they come up with this stuff?

What is even more amazing is the speed at which Audrey seems to be learning words and putting things together. The other day we saw a dog in a car driving beside us. I asked her if she saw the puppy. She said “I see puppy. Black puppy.” And yes, you guessed it, the puppy was black. We have been talking to her about colors but I didn’t know she got the concept yet. Amazing! Then we were at the park and a baby was crying. I told her that the baby was crying and she got it right away. She has been talking about crying ever since. “Puppy crying? Daddy crying? Mommy crying? Baby crying?”

Then there are the words and phrases that she says in just such a funny way, I can’t help but encourage her to say them. “Apple Sauce.” I know this doesn’t exactly translate to print, but if you could hear her say ‘apple sauce’ you would laugh your ass off. It is not that she mispronounces it- it is more that the way she says it is so perfect, but with the emphasis on the sauuuce, it is too funny. My other favourites are “Hello cutie,” which she picked up because that’s what my husband says to her. There is something hilarious about a toddler calling my husband a cutie! Also on my list is “Audrey is funny,” which she says when we laugh at her with her for being such a hoot.

The other amazing thing about language is how they develop their own little language that sometimes only their parents can understand. I have a number of friends with toddlers and half the time I have not idea what those kids are saying. No idea. But their parents seem to be able to decode in a second. But Audrey says something and I get it. Not all the time mind you, sometimes my husband and I just look at each other and say “do you know what she is talking about?” and then we shrug. But a lot of the time we can decode the mispronunciation and made up words.

And just in the last couple days Audrey has started giving out directions. It cracks me up. We go to the park and she says “Mommy sit down. Mommy slide. Go,” or “run Mommy, Run.” or “walk puppy. walk. Mommy walk.” At home she goes to the couch, points beside her and says “Mommy sit down,” then she grabs a book as says “Mommy read book please.” Let me tell you, this kid knows how to get what she wants.

I know this isn’t rocket science- it is normal toddler stuff. But I just find the whole language thing a total hoot. And beyond being full of entertainment, it is just so astonishing. How do they go in 19 months from not even being born to full on sentences and communication and LANGUAGE?? There is something about watching that process which is so totally flabbergasting and full of awe.

Okay, I am done over sharing. Yes, that’s right, the only point of this post was that I am just, like, Wow. Language.

ControverSunday: When bad kids happen to good parents

Okay team, lets get this party started! This weeks topic: When Bad Kids happen to good parents is brought to you by @breebop– if you are a twitterite go and say hello. Also, pick up your all important badge from Accidents and then write up your own post with thoughts on the topic at hand. And then come back here for the link up. (Notice how I didn’t make it sound like it was optional?)

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Tortured Potato

Friends, lets be honest, this is essentially a question of nature versus nurture. And what do I say to any question of nature versus nurture? Yes. Column A and Column B. Both.

First off, as I said in my intro to this topic, I don’t believe in the concept of a ‘bad’ kid. Yes, some children have more socially appropriate behavior, better coping mechanisms for anger or stress, or a more well rounded approach to life. But I do not believe any child is ‘bad’. Actually, I have a hard time believing that any person is ‘bad’. There are people out there that do horrific, inhumane, down right evil things, don’t get me wrong. But I believe they do so for deep, painful psychological reasons born of horrible, inhumane, and down right evil things that happened to them. Does this excuse or make okay the horrible things some people do? No. But I do think every person is born with the capacity to be incredibly kind, compassionate and good and to be incredibly cruel, hurtful and hateful. And some of us may have a greater capacity for one way or an other. (AKA Nature) But if and how and what we become? That is because of the collection of all our experiences. (AKA Nurture). So, when it comes to kids, I think they all have the capacity to be amazingly confident, intelligent, kind and compassionate human beings. They also have the capacity to be little rotters; disrespectful, unkind, engaging in dangerous behaviour.

BUT. Before I get into to the parents in the equation, let me also just say that I fully believe that we (the royal we, as in North American Society) have an unrealistic understanding of what is ‘bad behaviour’ on a part of our children and what is 100% normal developmental challenges, AKA kids being kids. We forget (or don’t realize) that the business of going from newborn to our early twenties is one of the most complex, face paced, disorientating series of physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive changes one could ever imagine. With all the change and all that to accomplish, we have to expect that our kids are not going to be able to handle it all with 100% composure. Heck, I can’t handle one stressful month with 100% composure! Babies and toddlers rarely sleep through the night 100% of the time. Toddlers challenge, throw tantrums and act out. Kids and Teenagers? Well I am sure do stuff too (I just don’t have the experience yet to know exactly what it is, but I am sure I am in for a ride). Growing up is hard to do, yo. So I think we need to be very aware of this when we discuss the concept of a ‘misbehaved’ kid. Are they really misbehaved or are they just going through the roller coaster ride we call childhood and need more of our support? ( also, even if they are really misbehaved the answer is still more support in my opinion.)

I think most patterns of misbehaviour are a normal part of growing up. You know, ‘it’s a stage, they’ll grow out of it.’ That being said, I do wholeheartedly believe that parents have an impact, and a big one at that.

Let me explain it this way. My daughter is working her way up to what we call ‘the terrible twos’. Which are called such because toddlers are notorious for challenging and trying to establish control. As Janet says she’s “doing her job.” That is a stage where kids exhibit some fairly ‘bad’ behaviour. But as her parent, I can have an impact, both in making the behaviour worse and in making the behaviour better. Clear consistent boundaries, really being present and giving her attention, a regular routine that helps her to feel safe; these are all things I can do to make the situation better. Getting frustrated, ignoring her because she is driving me nuts, letting her see me get really stressed out; these are all things that I can do to make the situation worse.

Here is the thing. I don’t know about you, but I am human. Which means by definition I make mistakes. Which also means by definition that in some way, some how, it is likely that I will ‘screw up my kid’. I don’t believe in the perfect parent.

What I do believe in is trying our best to recognize when things are going down a not so good behaviour path with our kids. Then trying our very best to be better parents so that we mitigate the potential negative behaviour in our kids. To do this we need to be honest with ourselves that sometimes, even things we do that are well meaning, may be having a negative impact. So we need to be the adult and do whatever we can to turn things around. Especially when our kids are young, because by the time they get to be teenagers I think our impact lessens somewhat.

And sure, there are bad parents out there. I don’t believe in bad people but I do believe in bad parents. Parenting is a skill and we all have the potential to be bad at a skill. Particularly if we don’t care and try and make the effort. And chances are that kids with parents who really truly aren’t engaged, reflective, caring, nurturing and loving… well those kids probably are going to struggle in terms of their behaviour. They don’t have someone helping them to learn the skills we need to lead happy lives. And that sucks.

But I do believe that most people are good parents. And as good parents we make mistakes and sometimes our kids suffer behaviour-wise for it. But we always have the opportunity to make things better. To learn a few new skills for that parenting tool kit and help our kids be better behaved as a result. We are all going to screw up along this journey, but so long as we are trying our best and being really honest with ourselves about our role in our kids behaviour, then chances are they will be just fine. Might still need therapy for when we wouldn’t let them become a synchronized swimmer (just kidding Mom!), but other then that, they will be just fine.

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