Memento

nad_leo_retuszLeander has broken his arm twice this year. The second fracture – only two days after the cast came off – was too complex to heal just with a cast around. It had to be operated on. When we found ourselves sitting in preparation for the OR we were all still in shock. Leander got a light sedative so he could calm down. Apparently that didn‘t work too well because when the doctors asked if I could take his shoes off he refused. And I did not think further and left it to the doctors to do so later. Then I had to watch them take my son away from me. He screamed. He cried and he fought. I just stood there crying. Knowing there was nothing I could do to prevent him from any of it. A nurse came towards me and said two things that are both worth a blog post each. This is the first.

One thing she said to me was: “He will not remember any of this.“ Because he got the sedative. I would have loved to believe her. (Nadine)

But the real problem we both have with this is that neither doctors nor nurses nor anyone really knows what exactly a child a person can remember when being put under sedatives. Their mind might be blurry, their brain a bit spongy. But that doesn‘t mean everything sinks right through and ends up in nowhere land. 

And even if they don‘t remember much of it – is that really a good reason to act the way they act in hospitals or doctors practices? To take children away from their parents before they are put under a general anaesthetic? Having people in green take them into a scary room where they take the child‘s clothes off and put a needle in their arm until – finally – they are sound asleep?

For us as adults this often seems minor. It‘s just a few minutes. It has to be done. He won‘t remember (we believe and hope). For a child it‘s probably something like that:

Mom and Dad are leaving me. Scary people are taking me away. This room is huge, has big bright lights and everything is steel and scary. They put me down and take my clothes off. I am completely naked in front of those scary people in this scary room. They hold me down to put needles in my arm. It hurts. Them and the needle. I am scared. Scared. Scared… sca… asleep.

Unfortunately we cannot change hospital routines. (Believe us – if we could…) But what we can do is fight. We as parents have to fight for every right and every second with our child. And this is not about what a child remembers or not – it‘s about their right for respectful, loving and gentle guidance through a scary enough situation this is.

When Antek had a minor urinary tract infection we went to the doctor to get it checked out. He was barely a year old and did not like to be there at all. The doctor looked at me, winked and said, ‘OK, you hold him down, I’ll pull off his pants and his nappy.’ When I told her I would not do it like that, she looked at me surprised: ‘But he won’t remember any of it!’ (Anna).

So really, does it matter that who remembers what? What if we just tried to act as if everything is going to be stored in our memory (in our mind or our bodies) somewhere, and try to navigate each situation as gently, as respectfully as we can? What if, instead of hoping that they will not remember, we tried to make a bad situation into a memory that they can live with? And that we can live with?

So, what can we, parents of little patients do in scary situations, at the doctors’ and at the hospitals?

  • We can slow way down, and make sure our child knows what is going on and what will happen.
  • We can make sure the doctors know we want to slow down, and how we want to handle things – very often they will be ok with our way of doing things, but they need to know what we expect and how we want to proceed.
  • We can demand every piece of information we can get, so we can understand it ourselves and explain it to our children.
  • We can demand time and slow down at every moment of the process.

Because this is about your child. Not only about a medical procedure in a medical environment in which you are the small patient. This is about your child‘s health in general. Not just about his body, but also about his emotional health.

Everything you fight your child won‘t have to fight. Now or later.

But back to the problem of children not being able to remember anything. We as adults in general like to believe this. Because it makes things so much easier for us. We like to believe children already forgot when after a fall, a bruise or a frightening situation they suddenly jump up again and sing and dance and play. But that‘s not forgetting. That is called living in the moment and has nothing to do with childish forgetfulness.

After the mentioned surgery Leander had to stay in overnight. He was whiny, clingy and very very unhappy. He would not move on his own but demand to be on our arms all the time. Until we were finally allowed to go home. The door of the hospital hadn‘t closed properly behind us when Leander got all excited about the cars outside, the trams and asked me to run down the ramp with him. It was as if we had taken another child home. But Leander had not forgotten. He simply lives in the moment. He left a lot of pain, anger, fear and anxiety inside the hospital. He screamed some of it out in there. Some stayed inside of him, buried under excitement and fun. Just to come out a little later.

When we talked about the surgery at home at some point he mentioned that the doctors wanted to take his shirt off in the OR. And that he did not like that. So much for “He won‘t remember any of this.“ No. He remembered even further.

Thank you, Lisa!

We are still 2 mamas in the making. Still learning. Always in motion. One of the greatest gifts is to have people who inspire us. And support us. Who help us along the way. As parents but also as Bloggers – as mamas who also want to help.

Lisa Sunbury from Regarding Baby has always a great help for us. An inspiration in person. In return it is time to thank Lisa. This is why:

Dear RIE Parents and Caregivers,

As many of you know, Lisa Sunbury is a RIE instructor, mentor, parent coach, trusted advisor and cherished member of our group who has helped us to foster a generation of confident, authentic people. Now we have an opportunity to help her. 

She put everything on hold and moved from California to Florida in order to care for her infant niece and is the midst of the adoption process. Once the adoption is complete she will then be able to return to her livelihood in California. The adoption proceedings can take seven months to a year. Until then, she is the full-time caregiver as she can only use a mandated state daycare facility, which is not an ideal environment. This makes it very difficult for her to work, but she is doing what she can from home.

I am asking you, dear parents, to consider what Lisa gives us in time, knowledge and experience and how we now have an opportunity to help her. 

There are more than 2,000 of us in this group. We can assist her with the cost of plane tickets, legal fees, and incidentals that may arise during this challenging time. Any amount that you are able to donate, no matter how small will help. 

Thank you Lisa for all of the support and insight you have given to us and others over the years.

Below is a link to the website where you can make a donation in the amount of your choosing: http://www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/lisa-sunbury-appreciation-/73752

We appreciate every help given. Thank you all!
Nadine & Anna

Can you still play?

We have talked a lot about play. And about how children play. What they use to play and why. Some of you may have noticed this already – we could go on forever. But right now we want to invite you to do something different –  simply sit back for a while and just observe, but not just your children, observe yourself when you were a child. Magda Gerber talked so much about the ability to observe our children, the importance of observation in understanding them and in building a relationship. Surely this applies not only to children. So how about we observe ourselves for a while? Let’s start from the very beginning – let’s travel back in time.

So let‘s do this. Let‘s sit back. And let‘s talk about us for a moment.

How did you play when you were a child ?

What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about fun childhood memories?
What did you enjoy most?
Who did you play with? Your siblings, friends, parents? Or your imaginary friends only?

Maybe if we all do this once in a while, we will look at our children play a little differently. Maybe we will join more often, instead of making sure that their shoelaces are tied properly, or that their hands are washed… maybe even we will be able to discover something in this observation we had long forgotten about? Or perhaps we will be able to work on our relationship with ourselves a bit more? After all, it all starts with observation.

So, close your eyes. Come on, you know you want to do this J Let yourself go back into your childhood. Where are you? What are you doing? And most importantly – are you having fun?

When I think back I see myself in my grandparent‘s garden. It‘s the place of my childhood. Whenever I smell freshly cut grass I am in this huge garden at the end of that small village. Where all you heard all day was dogs barking, chicken and the occasional tractor going by. I see myself walking around on big wooden stilts I got from our neighbor. I see myself collecting tons of acorns from the huge acorn trees or watching the sky from the swing that hung underneath the big nut tree. I am eating carrots I just dug out and I am feeding the rabbits. I am busy wandering around the many sheds that contained soooo many old things I tried to figure out what they were. It was a whole fantastic world of fantastic things and I loved making my own mind up about everything I saw and did.

It took me a while to see what I did when I wasn‘t there. When I was at home in the city living in an apartment block that is so typical for the former East. All I can see myself do there is draw, read or write. Or hang out with my friend who lived three storeys above.

I cannot think of unhappy times. Not during my childhood. Whenever I see myself do things I mentioned above I see a happy girl doing what she loves and enjoys. And a warm breeze of joy overcomes me writing this down. (Nadine)

***

I’m in the tree. I’m so high up I don’t really care anymore (funny, now I am afraid of heights) I can’t see or hear what is going on down below. We climb as high as we can with my cousin and then we rush down as quickly as our legs and arms let us. Finally, we end up lying in the grass under the tree, laughing so hard we can hardly catch a breath. I hear my son laugh like that now sometimes when he runs around – is it only in connection with movement that we can laugh so hard? I remember trees and grass and hay and us running around or jumping or just lying and looking in the sky. I remember the taste of stolen apples and strawberries – picked from the field right next to our grandma’s, even though she had the same strawberries and apples. Hiding from the neighbor who pretended to be angry. We were only alone if we chose to be, and there was always someone ready for another big adventure – a walk after dark, following some older cousins to see what they were up to. There was always some mistery around the corner.(Anna)

Sometimes we wonder too much about what and how our children play. Are the toys appropriate? Are the games educational? Are they hanging out with the ‘right’ kind of friends? Maybe going back to our own memories can help us understand the play of our children.

But wait! This is about us right?

“In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment.“ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_(activity))

So when does pleasure and enjoyment overcome you? Now – as an adult? Is it similar to what you enjoyed as a child? Or has it changed? And if so – when? How?

“What did you do as a child that made hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key.” ~Carl Jung

I had a flashlight I used when I hid under blankets at night and read and read and read. And then, right next to my books there were notebooks filled with poems, stories, both finished and unfinished. I don’t have a flashlight for reading anymore, but I do fall asleep with a book more than once a week. And as for writing? Well, here I am :) (Anna)

***

Considering writing on 5 different blogs I think writing is my greatest passion. This is when I feel big volcanoes of pleasure and enjoyment overcome me. When I feel free and happy. If I‘d be able I would do that and nothing else for a living. And I still like doing things on my own. Enjoying the world and nature around me. So for me not much has changed despite the fact that time is limited. (Nadine)

Quite often when we think about our childhood we think about the relationship between our parents and us. Especially when we have children of our own we look at how things were back then and how we do them now. We hardly ever take time to really travel back in time and remember. But maybe this can help us understand ourselves better. Seeing who we were and what we did. What we loved and enjoyed. And if we had forgotten – maybe do those things again and see if they feel the same now? And surely, if we can understand ourselves a bit better, we can understand our children better as well?

I still love sitting on swings watching the sky and trees above me. But I am getting old and therefore sick on swings so the joy isn‘t lasting. (Nadine)

We have talked about us. Now it‘s your turn. Travel back and then tell us! We are curious to know what really mesmerized you when you were little! What was it that made hours pass like minutes? What put the biggest smile on your face?

Tell us if you want to… or perhaps, tell you children one day :)

Nadine & Anna

Boys don’t cry

sensitivityOne day, when I picked up Leander from kindergarten, I watched him ride a scooter around. Another boy ran into him with a tricycle and Leander fell. It wasn‘t bad, he didn‘t hurt himself much but still he cried a lot. Another boy watched the situation and then came over and said: “You know what I do when I fall?“ “What?“ I asked. “I don‘t cry!“ I was stunned and angry at the same time. And felt somehow sorry for that boy. (Nadine)

 


Boys are tough.

Boys wrestle and play football.
Boys are loud and wild.
Boys don‘t cry.

Right ?

Isn‘t that what society has in mind? What people think of boys? Don’t boys generally get a different look from those around when they cry, than girls?

But instead of serving this picture – wouldn‘t it be great to have a boy that is allowed to cry? That wants to cuddle up. That rather sits back and watches other kids run around and play every now and then? A boy who knows it’s ok to be happy AND it’s ok to be sad. That it’s ok to run around and be wild AND it’s ok to sit quietly in a corner when you’re not in a mood for running.

Well the good news is – maybe you can have both! How? Raise him like a child, not like a boy.

We have been talking about respect a lot. And about sensitive children in general. About acknowledging emotions, allowing feelings to come, responding to a child‘s needs. If you do this you will most likely raise a child who is used to express his feelings and capable of acting in a way that feels his own and not what others expect him to be. It’s hard sometimes, for both you and him. It might be different to what the people around are doing. You might be told you’re raising him like a girl. But he’ll also be grateful one day that you let him own his feelings; that he knows what it means to be happy, sad and angry; that he understands his emotions and when he grows older they won’t overwhelm him.

What the boy mentioned above probably heard from his parents (or peers) was that he doesn‘t need to cry, that he should be tough, be a boy! What he might lose then is his healthy sense of his own feelings and pain. So you might end up with a child that falls, gets back up and keeps running. Great? On the surface, yes. And of course, there will be times in life when he will have to do exactly that – get up and go like nothing had happened. But…

What about when he gets older, meets other people, falls in love? If he is not able to grasp his own feelings how can he understand others? How can he live a healthy relationship with someone if he‘s not capable of saying what he might need, if he does not even know that himself ?

Think about your daughters for a moment. Wouldn‘t you want them to fall in love with a boy who respects her feelings, who is gentle and caring?

But it‘s not about the people he might meet and fall in love with. It‘s also about himself.

Most boys are taught from an early age to act tough and repress their emotions. In particular, sensitive boys learn to deny their real selves in order to be accepted and approved of by their peers. This denial can create fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem. (Ted Zeff, “The strong sensitive boy“)

But won‘t my boy be bullied if he is so sensitive ?

We think – No! By acknowledging, understanding, respecting, responding and empathizing you provide him with strong self-confidence. If he is always allowed to express himself exactly the way he feels right now, if he is always accepted for who he is he will learn to be able to stand up for himself and protect himself. And he will most likely attract and gather around people who are more like him – sensitive, understanding and empathic.

But he is a boy after all – shouldn‘t he be allowed to run around and scream ?

Of course. We are not saying you should raise him to be sensitive instead of loud and wild and … well … boyish. But these things come naturally. Just as we don‘t brush away their feelings we also don‘t force them to be quiet and still when they want to jump and down and sing “Oh Maddo hadda farm eehaaeehaahooowww !!“ from the centre of their lungs.

When Leander enters the backyard of the building we live in some people quickly close their windows. In the U-Bahn quite often I am looked at as “Can you not tell him to be quiet?“ He needs activity and lots of body movement in order to calm down at night and sleep well. But he also needs a long cuddle and quiet space to be whole and happy. (Nadine)

Our task is to provide both. Love and understanding, empathy as well as action and wild play. But coming to think of it – isn‘t that what our recently born girls might need too ?

We‘ll see.

Do you think boys and girls should be raised differently? How? We are looking forward to your thoughts on this one!!

Nadine & Anna

Further reading:

http://www.positive-parents.org/2013/04/parenting-highly-sensitive-boy.html

“The strong sensitive boy“ by Ted Zeff

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-development/201201/the-highly-sensitive-boy

 

 

The Work of Childhood.

I was in the kitchen the other day and wanted Antek to come help me. ‘Can you come a minute?’ I asked. ‘No, sorry. I am busy working. Kalina is working too. Sorry we can’t help you now.’ Antek is three. Kalina is six weeks old. He was building train tracks and she was … well, doing what six-week-old babies do – lying on the floor looking around and smiling. Were they working? Sure they were! (Anna)

‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’ (Confucius)

What is the difference between play and work? Play we do for fun. Work we do because we have to? What about all these people who love what they do for a living? Do we really need to create the boundary between play and work? Wouldn’t life be more fun and more rewarding if we all managed to play for a living?  And if we think of work as something serious… look at our kids at play; look at their incredibly focused faces; consider the time and effort they put into whatever it is they are occupied with at the moment; notice the excitement and enthusiasm – don’t you wish everybody worked like this?

We have talked a lot (a LOT :)) about play, but here is a crazy idea we have not yet discussed – what if we treated our children’s play as their work. How would that change our approach not only to what they do, but also the way we deal with them on a daily basis? Our requests, the way we ask questions, how we approach a diaper change, how we manage transitions…

Don’t disturb me, I’m working!

We hate to be disturbed when working on something, especially something difficult. Everyone is probably the same in a way – so much effort goes into trying to understand and work out the problem at hand, we don’t want to spend any of this precious energy on dealing with others disturbing us, or wanting something from us right now. When writing, if someone interrupts your thought process how do you feel? More often than not, the thought is gone, it may never come back. Grrrr…

Children understand and realize so much, that it still amazes scientists, and there is an incredible amount of work they are doing every day, all day. It might look like nothing much to us, but there is a lot going on when we think they are simply playing with cars.

We want our kids to be creative – developing creativity takes time. A lot of time.

We want our kids to be good learners – they need time to practice undisturbed, develop and test ideas, make hypotheses about the world and have time to test them.

We want our kids to be able to play independently – they need to be allowed to do this over and over again, without our constant interruptions.

We want our children to be able to focus, we want them to develop long attention span – they need time and more time to do this, and the last thing they need are constant interruptions.

When we see someone at work, we don‘t just walk in and talk or even yell from one desk to another.

When we see someone at work and we need something from them we try to:

  • Wait until they are finished before asking a question;
  • Tell them in advance we need something from them, then respect the fact that they need to finish something first;
  • Do not stand looking over their shoulder if they have told us they will be with us in a minute;
  • Do not ask them five times if they’re done yet;
  • Do not expect them to drop everything they are doing immediately and go with us without asking why;
  • Don’t yell what it is we need from behind the door and expect them to listen and follow.

What if we did all this when we approach our children who are… playing? Working?

So again – what if we looked at children’s play as work (which it really is!)? What if they are just observing the ants at work when we think they are just slow and lazy? What if they are right now discovering that this hand above them is their own? What if they are about to finish a piece of art just for you while you are trying to convince them that they need to clean up their room? Doesn‘t it seem fair and right to wait a moment or even walk over and see what is so interesting instead of yelling “Hurry up now?“ Isn‘t it worth that one moment of waiting and quietly asking our baby if you can  pick her up instead of running in, interrupting her play and scooping her up without warning? Is a piece of art made with love not worth much more than a tidy room? Exactly.

Your child doesn‘t need a degree in physics to be a scientist at work :)

What do you think? We would love your opinion!

Anna & Nadine

Raising sensitive children

You may have heard of the term “Highly sensitive person“ (HSP). Those 15-20% of our population who are born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. Since you don‘t become highly sensitive at some point but you are from birth on, there are the so called “Highly sensitive children“ hidden in our world. They “grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously“ (Elaine Aron). They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some HSCs are fairly difficult–active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent–while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know. But outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient, all HSCs are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment.

What these children need is understanding and appreciation for their trait. This is what Elaine Aron, the author of several books on High sensitivity, states and what we certainly agree with. But…

We want to ask you this: What do you think would happen if we raised ALL children AS IF they were highly sensitive ?

And by that we don‘t mean carefully protecting your child from any uncomfortable or overstimulating situation in the world. We mean: when it comes to their emotions – acknowledge, understand, respect, respond and empathize.

Elaine Aron developed a questionnaire to see if your child is highly sensitive or not. It contains questions such as “Does your child startle easy?“ or “Does your child want to change clothes if wet or sandy?“. But it has also questions like “Does your child use big words for his/her age?“ or “Does your child ask deep, thought – provoking questions?“ in it.

Well – you wouldn‘t know until your child was about 3, 4, or 5 years old. What about the 3 years before that? You may not realize that your child is “different“ than others until you become aware of him playing rather quietly on his own than with a group of children, of him talking more or more meaningfully than other children. You may not be surprised by him not liking getting wet and sandy on the playground but see it as something he might get used to eventually.

But the first 3 years of life are crucial. And while we don‘t want to put a diagnosis in your head and consider your child to be highly sensitive we want to raise awareness to sensitivity in general.

Our culture is performance driven. You need to function and you need to function well. There is no time to be wasted to become independent, learn the basics in life and an instrument too. Good manners, the rules of our society and strategies to protect yourself, to compete and become successful. Sensitivity does not really fit in well here. It is usually combined with thoughts of shyness, fearfulness or fussiness. How can a person like that become successful and self-confident?

And so many parents tend to “toughen up their child“. A small scratch, a minor accident with the tricycle or the wrong coloured cup on the breakfast table are said to be “nothing“ and “not a big deal“. Get over it and move on. That‘s life!

But does preparing children for a harsh world by being harsh to them really work?

What if it is true what Robin Grille  (and countless others) suggest – that things like violence and war are not a political but a psychological issue? Wouldn’t it then make sense to celebrate sensitivity in our children in hope that we are raising sensitive people, who understand their own feelings and those of others; who know what they feel and are not afraid of these feelings; who are okay with being sad, angry and scared, as well as being happy and excited?

Dr Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber both advocated an approach to child rearing, where we – parents, caregivers – respect the child for who he is. We believe this also means respecting their feelings and emotions. Even if we sometimes disagree. Even if we don’t understand. Even if they trigger in us something we can’t quite put our finger on, but that makes us uncomfortable.

What would it require us as parents to do?

  • Acknowledge our child’s feelings with respect.
  • Try to understand.
  • Respond, even if you don’t know what it is they are going through.
  • Empathize.

In day-to-day life it would probably mean coming to terms with our children’s strong emotional reactions to things like:

  • Spilled water (on them, on the carpet, on the table, even on someone else);
  • Dirty or wet hands;
  • Wrong kind of shirt. Wrong again. Not this one either;
  • Being too hot or too cold;
  • And countless others.

And while we would more often than not want to say that it doesn’t matter, it matters deeply to our child in that moment. And in fifteen years’ time we will probably think fondly of those moments and want them back. So is it really too much to ask?

It doesn‘t mean protecting your child from any situation that could be harmful. It doesn‘t mean compensating pain or fears with physical contact. It means RESPECTING all sorts of feelings and emotions and RESPONDING to them. It means letting our children do the work of preparing for the world “on their own, with our help”, rather than pushing them to do it faster.

In our recent e-mail exchange Lisa Sunbury says: “I don’t believe you can go wrong with simply validating  and allowing [your child’s] feelings, gently talking with him about what  happened to help him understand, and waiting patiently for him to come  up with answers he feels comfortable with in terms of how to respond  to situations like this. This is his work to do, and yours is to accept him, and offer gentle reassurance …“

‘As parents it’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.’  (L.R. Knost )

Perhaps one way of doing this is by celebrating our children’s sensitivity?

What do you think? We can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Nadine & Anna

Collect moments, not things – Lessons in simplicity

We probably all know the situation. There is something on the coffee table. A mobile phone, a good book or a nice candle holder. A one- year-old comes approaching with big wide eyes and arms stretched out to grab whatever is there to grab. With a big grin he holds our mobile phone, book or the candle holder in his tiny and sticky hand. We already see it drop or go into his mouth. We don’t want either, so we take it off him and put it back on the table. Right back within his reach. This time we see the child approach again and we try and stop him right away. “No!“ maybe followed by a “You can‘t have that.“ or “This is not for your tiny fingers.“ But the child won‘t listen. The object is too interesting. The child is too curious. So the game can continue forever. Or we simply put the objects out of reach.

This is the first lesson in simplicity our children teach us: Don‘t have stuff lying around that you do not want to have in kid‘s reach. While the children grow and we will at some point run out of places high or hidden enough for the child to get to we will learn a much more rewarding lesson: Don‘t have stuff lying around at all. Ever.

There are a few lessons in simpler living in between. Your children might teach you some of those. Some you will have to discover for yourself. Here are a few we have learned over the past three years:

1. Everything in its place
Have a place for everything. Too often when we clean up we end up with a pile of little things we don‘t know where to put. Even if it is just a drawer you create especially for “random stuff“ – this helps you to have surfaces clean and tidy. And you don‘t end up looking for those things all the time because you know they must be (somewhere) in this random stuff drawer.

2. Touch objects only once
Often we go to the bathroom and on our way back through the hallway we see something that belongs to the kid‘s room. We pick it up and bring it into the kitchen where we leave it because we find something that needs to be put in the drawer in the bedroom… someone might eventually at some point take it. Or not. This is probably how one of our friends ended up with car keys in the fridge (true story!)

So instead if you grab an object go all the way to where it belongs and place it there. You might end up walking around a bit more? Maybe you end up picking up more things on your way and so end up having less stuff lying around and fewer times to walk around the flat.

3. Model
If you want your children to clean up after themselves and place things where they belong – do so yourself. Do it slowly and carefully. Don‘t just quickly throw the cloth from the table into the sink. Don‘t kick your shoes off and push them near the shelf. Make an effort to carefully carry the things to where they belong. Your children are watching you. But they need to see every movement. They can‘t follow if you are too quick. They will try and be quick too and might leave things in the way or even break them. And no matter how many times you repeat and repeat and repeat… they will end up doing what you do, not what you tell them to do.

4. Simply HAVE less stuff
Once you get into the habit of putting things back where they belong, of tidying up and clearing the surfaces you might soon realize that you don‘t look at or use the things you have now put into the cupboard or drawer that often anymore. You might forget about them altogether. If so – you could just get rid of them. At some point this tidiness might even lead you to not buying things anymore.

5. The simple toy story
We dare to say that most children in the western world have far too many toys in their room. Small babies are surrounded by stuffed animals, balls and blinking mobiles. The older they get the more toys move into their play space. Often it‘s well intended to encourage and nurture the child‘s both happiness and development. But the truth is – they don‘t need that much. Often they don‘t need anything at all. This is why we have started The toy revolution. Of course kids like shiny and blinking toys. But we like chocolate or this 5th cup of coffee too. Do we need it ? Children are explorers. They are creative by nature. They make the most wonderful toys out of a spoon and a cup, a twig or a ball and a blanket. If you are gifted with too many toys and can‘t bring yourself to give them away – keep them in a box. Limit the amount of toys in the play area to keep it simple and clear. It‘s nice to have „something in the back“ that your children might „forget about“ for a while. Don‘t be scared of kid‘s boredom. It doesn‘t exist. And even if they do get a little bored every now and then – THAT is encouraging. Challenging.

6. Simplify your schedule
Being busy is a motto of today. We are all busy and we are always on the go. There is stuff to do, people to see, schedules to fill… and then you have kids. The choice is yours – will you keep up with the world, filling your diary with stuff to do, or will you simply let a day go by sometimes? Separate the things you need to do, the things you want to do and the things that you do because… if you have no good reason, maybe skip it? Give yourself and your kids a break. Sure, it’s nice to have all those coffees with friends, but why should your toddler behave through all those adult conversations? Schedule less. Try to just be with your kids. There will be time for coffees and lunches with friends. There will never be another childhood for your kids.

7. Simplify your kids’ schedule
And then there is the baby gym, swimming classes, piano lessons, and other stuff that is never too early to start with… or is it? Your child probably has enough exercise as is (see one of our many posts on movement if you have doubts ), and playground seems like a social enough place. Resist the urge to fill your toddlers days with scheduled program. Let him play freely and just watch what happens. There will be time for filling his diary with ‘stuff-to-do’. Let your kids be. Let yourself be. And enjoy every moment of it – it will be gone to soon, when the time comes for filling in the schedules.

We could go on and on. But we want to keep this post simple. There may be follow ups. There will surely be more lessons to be learned. More stuff to be thrown out. We’ll keep you posted.

What do you do to keep your life as a family simple and sane and your house clean? Tell us, we are always keen on another lesson in simplicity!

Anna & Nadine

Walk the line – (Diaper) changing with a toddler

“Help me do it myself.”  – This is a famous quote by Maria Montessori. Her approach was to help the children JUST as much as needed for them in order to then do most of it themselves. Which is the fine line between doing things FOR them and forcing them to do things completely on their own. Again – it takes patience, careful observation and communication with the toddler. All of which are strong pillars of the RIE philosophy too.

This post is the third and last in our series of diaper changes. But it is also about (un)dressing in general. Because with a toddler this goes along the same lines. 

When changing a toddler we are facing a whole new challenge – the strong aim for independence. More and more often we hear „Me! me!“ or „Alone!“. Quite often he wants to be bigger than he is. And more independent. It is our task to support this. Not more. But how ?

Move down

With a toddler we tend to change him wherever we are in the house right now. The changing table might be too small or too dangerous now. And in the end the child can stand just anywhere while being changed. But having a clear area helps us and the toddler focus on what is going on NOW. What we are here to do together – get changed.

This area can now be on the floor, maybe with a little cushion for the child to sit on while he tries to put his trousers on. And we sit or kneel down with him. To still be able to look him in the eye.  To be at his height and connect.

A little corner is ideal because there WILL be times when he tries to run off. But at the same time trust the child to stay. In the end – he will know that this time there is not just about the diaper or the pyjama. It‘s about you and him.

Observe more. Do less. 

It can‘t be repeated often enough what Magda Gerber used to say.
From careful observation we see what our child is capable of. And what not. So when he tries and puts his arm through the sleeve of his jumper himself we may only hold the end of the sleeve so he can slide through easily. We might watch him put his jacket on all by himself. Bite our fingers and watch him struggle. A bit. And we are there as soon as he gets stuck and finally when he needs it zipped up. We offer help. And accept a „No.“

We also wait for the child to ask for help. We encourage without enforcement. We allow without expectations. We acknowledge without praise.

Walking this fine line takes the relationship with our child a step further. While silently moving away from doing everything for your child we are moving closer in trust and the security of „I see you can do this but I am still there when you need me.“

Communication

With a toddler communication comes to a whole new level.

Language has developed and becomes part of the play we mentioned in our previous post. Because the child can now name the car on his shirt or the mouse on his sock. And he will happily do so. He will ask what this is your hair is tied with or what is dangling from your ear. He will wonder why your hair is wet and will zip your hoodie up and down and up and down once he figured how these things work. Again – we join in. We talk and have fun.

This is connection and bonding too. A conversation at the changing table.

But this communication is fragile. And a fine line again. Between offering options and suggesting more than the child is capable of. We might ask „Can you take your diaper off yourself?“  and mean it as an offer to do it himself. But for a child who is not quite able to do so this is a question of „Can you or can‘t you?“. A question that shouldn‘t be raised because it lies within a child what he is able to. And what not. So instead we ask „Do you want to take your shirt off?“ And if the answer is „No.“ we go ahead and just do it. As usual.

Help

Sometimes the child might ask for help although we know he is capable of taking the shoes off himself. This is where parents tend to start a fight. „No you do it. I know you can.“ Often the intention is well thought and they just want to „teach independence“. But there is no need for it. Independence will come when the child is ready for it. There is no need in pushing or even forcing him to do things he is asking us to do. In letting him sit there alone until he did it because we know he can. Instead we can simply say „I know you can do it but I see you are really tired. Of course I‘ll help you.“

Children grow up so fast. We know this and watch it with a laughing and a crying eye. So why do we often rush them into being big and independent? Why don‘t we enjoy being their servants every now and then? We don‘t mind making our colleague a cup of tea although we know he is able to do so himself, do we?

We are so afraid of having children who are too lazy or too dependent and helpless of caring for themselves that we push them too early into something they are simply not ready for. Let‘s not do this.

„Every unecessary help hinders the child‘s development.“ (Maria Montessori)

This is true too. And of course – in doing everything for your child when he is already ready to do it alone, without giving a chance to try we will be in the way and maybe even hinder our child‘s development. But first figure out what help is necessary and what is unecessary. Find this thin line in between. The string that is tied between no help and too much help. And dance on it in rhythm with your child.

Nadine & Anna

Catch me if you can – Diaper changing with a mobile infant

In our last post we talked about how to build a relationship with our newborn and infant on the changing table, what helps us to really connect and enjoy these many many moments together so that our child can then “go off and play“ happily afterwards. And while this all may have sounded doable it won‘t take long until your infant gets mobile. Turns onto his belly. Crawls. Stands up. And literally walks away from you… 

We are facing two new challenges now. Not just will we sometimes find it difficult to wrap a diaper around our child while he turns over and around. It won‘t be as simple as picking him up and taking him to the changing table either. Chasing each other around the room surely becomes a famous game now. So what to do?

Have fun

As much as the diaper needs to be changed now – don‘t forget to have fun. Crawling or running away is not a sign of an uncooperative child. It‘s play. It‘s fun. And why not start a diaper change with some joy and laughter ?

Yes. Diaper changes are about quality time together. About closeness and connection. About paying attention to each other. But that doesn‘t mean it can‘t start a few minutes earlier during play. As long as it is clear that the diaper change is what is on the menu next. Play. Have fun but make clear “Ok this is fun and I see you really want to continue playing, but I need to change your diaper now. Do you want to go to the changing table yourself or do you want me to carry you over?“

Cooperation is thus a two way street – we expect the child to answer to our invitation, but we have to be able to do the same. That is, while changing a diaper should clearly be about changing the diaper (and not about playing peek-a-boo), if the child invites us to play with him for a while we should also be able to accept this invitation, this way showing him we also want to cooperate with him. Surely if you look at it this way, you can imagine the child who is more mobile would be thinking along similar lines: “My mum does not cooperate with me the way she used to during diaper changes.” 

Stay in touch

Eye contact seems to get lost a lot during a diaper change. We are often so busy cleaning and wiping around our child‘s most intimite area, closing tiny buttons or holding those moving legs out of the way that we forget to actually stay in touch with our children. But if we want them to listen to us and to be with us – Cooperate – WE have to greet them first. So keep looking up. Draw the attention back to where you are and what you are doing. Mumbling the next step into the socks of your child will not make him feel as if you are talking to him or actually really waiting for his cooperation.

While starting a game of rolling over or trying to move away your child is showing that he is actually having fun up there with you. That he likes and enjoys those special times with you. But children easily get drawn into those games. Bringing them back to the changing table and the actual situation can help bringing you two back together. A gentle touch (maybe placing your hand on his chest) and eye contact interrupts this game and calms him down. You can then take it from there again.

Slow down even more

It is important to slow down and be gentle and calm with a newborn. Makes sense to us, doesn’t it. But with a moving and mobile infant we tend to follow his movements and his pace. Quite often when it becomes wild our hands become wild to. Even hectic. We wanna be quick and get the diaper on before he moves over again. Instead of staying in touch we are losing touch here. Losing our connection.
It helps to breathe a moment. Hold on, maybe close your eyes (if your child is safe). Calm yourself and then get back in touch.

Grow together

As the baby grows and begins to be more mobile, the interactions on the changing table on the one hand need to grow with the baby, but on the other – the underlying principle needs to remain the same. We are here to do something together, I am here to guide you, but this is a cooperative activity.

When our child turns onto his belly – we carefully turn him back onto his back. We may comment on it „You turned around. You like doing this. But I need you to stay on your back for a little so I can put on a new diaper.“

Remember that the child is developing. Instead of insisting on doing things a certain way – try and develop with him.

I remember raising the issue of Leander not wanting to lie on his back while being changed anymore. And how to get him to do so. Our family counsellor looked at me, smiled and said: “Leander has just learned to stand up. He has achieved a major milestone. He does not want to lie on his back anymore. Can you imagine changing him while standing?“ I couldn‘t but smile back and nod. I had difficulties changing him while standing up with our cloth diapers. But when he was able to develop so fast, to master those gross motor milestone, why should I stand still and not continue trying to develop myself too ? (Nadine) 

Obedience vs. Cooperation 

A common comment seems to be that “my child does not cooperate the way he used to”. Do we really mean he does not cooperate? Or do we simply mean he does not obey, or he is not acting in a way we are accustomed to, and expect him to… but is that the basis of cooperation? Perhaps we should redefine ‘cooperation’?

Therefore if we see the child as our active partner in all activities, ‘we do not always expect him to do what we want [...], but if we cooperate, the child from the beginning learns to want to cooperate with us’ (Anna Tardos, Amsterdam lecture, March 2013)

So what were you most challenging moments on the changing table ? What sort of games did your child come up with ? We’re always excited to hear your stories.
Nadine & Anna

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Origins of Free Play’

Guest post by Elena Marouchos of New Zealand Infant and Toddler Consortium

The Origins of Free Play, Kálló, Éva, and Györgyi Balog. Pikler-Lóczy Társaság, 2005.

‘The Origins of Free Play’ is a delightfully easy read and should be a companion reference for all who work with infants and toddlers. This book not only helps us to understand the value of free play; it eloquently describes the modes of free play, from the time an infant discovers his hands to the manipulation and experimentation of objects until the stage of building things. The detailed accounts and pictures show us that an infant’s need to play is fundamental. It also becomes evident that we can only see the child clearly once we stop prompting and sit back. Attentive observation is where we truly become aware of everything that happens at a physical (gross motor and fine motor) and cognitive level, until one block is placed on top of another. The sequence of how this play unfolds follows the natural development from infancy to young toddlerhood and provides valuable insight as to the learning that takes place, and hence the kinds of objects that are appropriate yet still challenging, for the child.

This book serves as a wonderful reminder that  “a child who achieves things through independent experimentation acquires an entirely different kind of knowledge than does a child who has ready-made solutions offered to him”.  ( Emmi Pikler )

Eva Kallo’s honest account of her own journey as a pedagogue makes this book read more like a journal that a text book …”activities conceived by adults supposed to animate children to play and learn, that mealtimes to be “gotten done with” as quickly as possible in order to make time for what was supposedly the most essential thing: play between teachers and children.  Time where it was thought that a teacher’s role was to demonstrate to children how they should play, to “animate” and supervise them”.   A subtle invitation…as one can’t help but reflect on our own pedagogy over time.

Aside from the valuable knowledge about modes of play, ‘Origins of free play’ provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our role as teachers, perhaps questioning how it is possible to support a child’s development if we do not ‘play’ with the children ourselves. ‘Origins of free play’ shows us how we can create a safe environment for free, uninterrupted play which permits the child to explore and discover the world in their own way and in their own time.     Throughout the book, photographs of very young children engaged in focused play remind us of the fascination that comes when children engage with the most ordinary and simplest of playthings. In its humblest form, this book details the way infants play, simple ideas for appropriate playthings, the play area, and, most importantly, the value of observing play. It’s value, however, lies in how it allows those who work with the very young to reflect, embed and thus articulate our practice.