The Relationships of Childhood

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When I look back through the blog, I notice how much my early posts focused on the girls’ individual experiences – what they did and how they did it. Now that they are older, I can more easily see how their world has grown. Their relationships now extend beyond our immediate family.

 

The relationship between the girls and me.

 

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Their relationship to each other.
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Their relationship to friends.

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Their relationship to the natural world.
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Their relationship to their world.

 

 

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These relationships have simple roots but such deep potential.

 

A Waldorf Inspired Birthday

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When you were one, you explored.

                  I was getting to know you. 

 

When you were two, you became passionate.

                 I started to know myself as a mama.

 

When you were three, you became aware of being empowered.

                 I began to understand how to flexibly partner with you.

 

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Here’s to year 4!

A Peaceful Toddlerhood

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RIE Peaceful

 

The outdoors are immeasurably valuable to young children’s growth and development. Developing a connection and awareness of nature and wildlife is a priority for my daughters’ childhood.

 

When my daughters and I go outdoors, I have no intentions for “education” to happen, though it always does.

 

This week the lesson was for me.

 

As Greysen and Moon (3 and 2 years old) age, I find myself occasionally reviewing the RIE Principles. These tenets were easier for me to see and understand when the girls were infants and toddlers, but now I find myself trying to figure out how I can support the development of an authentic childhood as they get older.

 

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Last I looked at the list of characteristics of children who experience an authentic childhood as explained by RIE, the word “peaceful” jumped out at me. As infants, it was much easier for me to see how the children were serene, but now as toddlers? Let’s just say that when I think of my children, it is not in the top 10 list of words that come to mind. My children are great, active, enthusiastic, loving, curious, connected, conversational, and challenging – but peaceful?

 

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Last week I kept asking myself how I could create the circumstances that would allow for my children to feel peaceful. In time, I realized that as we went about our regular days, they experienced this type of engagement regularly.

 

 

 

Just like me, Greysen and Moon were most peaceful when:

  • We were outside. There is something about being surrounded by natural beauty that young children connect with.
  • They have autonomy.  When the girls had the opportunity to direct their own play, games, etc., they were peaceful. Peace in toddlerhood very often happens while children are engrossed.
  • They had regular periods of uninterrupted time to play. When the girls play they need a fair amount of time to get their play going or to just hang out.

 

 

In childhood, peace isn’t always serene or calm, though it absolutely can be. Greysen is absolutely joyful here, but I suspect that there could be peaceful feelings teeming underneath.

 

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What does peaceful look like in the life of your toddler or young child?

 

 

 

The Distress of the Dress

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It is so easy to say I don’t care about my daughters’ clothes when their preferences match my ideas of what is important.

 

Unfettered play, climbing trees, and canals built in the sand or mud is how I dreamt of my children playing. And they do. They do play that way, I just never imagined Greysen would prefer to do it in dresses.

 

Dresses?!? Dresses and fancy shoes. Not the running through the grass barefoot, holes in the her jeans kiddo I had imagined.

 

After really watching her play, I came to see that clothing did not impact her play in any way. She plays and is just as focused and unconcerned about her clothing as she ever has been – as long as she is wearing a dress.

 

So, if it doesn’t hamper her play then why does it matter that she wants to wear a dress? I’d prefer that she didn’t care about her clothing. I wish she didn’t insist on wearing a dress every day, especially since she only has a couple.

 

More watching, more conversations led to more understanding. I’m learning that her preference for dresses is not exactly a reflection of her values. Nor does it seem to define how she defines beauty which was a concern because she had once cried out that she wasn’t beautiful if she wasn’t wearing a dress.

 

Allowing my daughter to be whom she wants to be and like what she wants to like when it in opposition to things I value has been difficult for me to support.

 

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Ultimately, if I really don’t care about her clothing then I shouldn’t care that she does. This disparity between our appreciation for clothing feels like the first  significant difference in our priorities and I think will be a landmark in her becoming her own person. Thus, I will learn to embrace the dress because most importantly I want to embrace my daughter.

November to Today

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The last two months went something like this . . .

 

Thanksgiving. Sold our house. Christmas. New Years. The Flu. Pneumonia and moving out of our house but not yet into our new one.

 

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But we are healthier . . .

 

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and happier.

 

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The girls are feeling better and we visited friends today. We are getting back to our routine and I will be getting back to this blog, which I have missed so much.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read our story.

– Marisa

 

The Critical Step of Acknowledgement

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My path to understanding how to acknowledge my children’s emotions has been a long one. I don’t know why something so simple was SO hard for me to incorporate into my parenting practices.

 

Acknowledging children’s emotions as I learned in my RIE 1 class felt uncomfortable and unresolved. I felt like I wasn’t helping. When Mike first heard me “acknowledging” Greysen’s feelings by sportscasting, he questioned the technique. I don’t remember what he said exactly but it went something like, “Doesn’t she know what just happened? Why are you saying it again?”  Valid point. Why was I?

 

The answer to his question is something that I did not yet understand.

 

Responding to High Emotions
I rarely take the girls to the grocery store anymore. With some planning, I am able to go a couple of times a week on my own. However, last week I tried to bake a cake a Frankenstein cake, which crumbled when I tried to take it out of the pan. So to the store we went for three ingredients. With just three ingredients to get it seemed like it would be an easy trip.

 

We walked along, picking up our things and went to the self checkout registers. From her preferred position of the grocery cart seat, Greysen had a view of everything I was doing.

 

Greysen:    Can I do that? (Referring to the scanner)

Me:             No, this machine is for adults to use.

Greysen:    Mom, can I push the button?

Me:             No, I need to pick the right numbers.

Greysen:    Mom, look at that. (She points to a lollipop display on the counter) Mom, can I have one?

Me:             No, we are not buying candy today. (Not surprising, as I never do.)

Greysen:    NO!!!!! BUY ME THAT NOW!

 

My cheeks burned red with the attention that her screams surely raked my way. Frustrated with what selfishly felt like an unfair situation, I start an autopilot calm voice response, “Stop screaming, take a breath.”

 

This helps me do the same. I breathe. I remember, I can do this  . . . and I believe it. I need to start again.

 

I lean down, breathe and say, “You want a lollipop.” I wait. She clenches her teeth and throws her neck back, grimacing and groaning. I kindly continue, “I said, no.”

 

She cries and kicks. I lean close, no longer afraid of letting these emotions be, “Do you want a hug?”  She falls into me.

 

Before prioritizing acknowledgement as suggested here, my strategy would have been to start with, “Stop screaming and talk to me in a regular voice.”  Truthfully, I wouldn’t have stopped there. I would have said more. I would have tried to work through her upset feelings rather than taking the time to accept her emotion first.

 

I have been working on establishing acknowledgement as part of my every response to upset feelings since I was at a recent lecture by Janet Lansbury. I came to shift my practice by coming to a new understanding of acknowledgement.

 

 

How I Started To Acknowledge My Child’s Feelings

 

 

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1. Acknowledge the situation the child is in.
State the circumstances/facts. This is a factual statement about the challenge your child is experiencing. “You wanted candy and I said no.”

 

2. Before saying more . . . stop right there.
Take a breath and wait for your child to respond before saying more – if you decide there is more to say. It is really hard to stop at number one. When I stop at that statement, my daughters usually respond to that statement alone. More often than not, it’s a nod or cry and a motion for a hug. It ends there.

 

  • Consider why I wanted to say more. We so often want to say more. We spend so much of our time as parents of young children explaining the world that it seems only natural that this circumstance would be no different. I spend a part of each day answering “why” questions about minutia, so doesn’t something as significant as a display of intense emotions deserve some conversation? Perhaps, but in my experience, this is not the time. I still have a very strong urge to explain the “why” of what is happening. ” I’m not buying candy because . . . “

 

  •  Hold off on presuming an emotion. I naturally want my children to know that I understand them. I want them to know that I can see that they are sad, hurt, disappointed, or angry as a means of accepting those feelings. “I can see that you are upset about not having a lollipop right now.”

 

  •   Don’t immediately look for a solution. When we focus our efforts on allowing our children to have their feelings rather than on moving through those feelings, our efforts become less about a solution and more about acceptance. This still astounds me. There are likely many solutions around that would make my daughter feel better, but were I to start working towards a solution this critical step of acceptance might be missed.

 

 

In her lecture, Janet shared story after story about children expressing their feelings. These tales centered around the expressions of upset infants and toddlers. Janet did not offer explicit instructions on how to resolve a conflict between toddlers or guide an infant through sad emotions, although she taught me to do exactly that.

 

The examples of acknowledgment revolved around acceptance – allowing expressions of sadness or frustration to be expressed, and accepting those feelings so that our relationship emerges deepened by the connection of our shared experience. I needed to hear several stories about emotions and not about solutions to understand that I needed to redefine what acknowledgment of someone’s feelings means in practice.

 

I didn’t always believe that we would get through these instances without tears (mine or my Greysen’s).  Her intense reactions still often trigger feelings of anxiety and fear, but they are fleeting.  I am beginning to understand how to accept my daughter’s emotions as a pivotal point in responding to feelings that used to very easily overwhelm me.

 

 

When Young Children Don’t Want to Wear Costumes

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Involving our children in holiday traditions is arguably one of the most anticipated things about having children. Ornaments painted with endearing sayings about our “Baby’s First Christmas,” and bibs with witty holiday related sayings are a way to share what we know to be the memory making moments of our lives.

 

There can be as much anticipation and excitement around Halloween as any of the other major holidays. Trying to decide on a funny or cute costume for our children is a big part of the Halloween fun but sometimes, despite our thoughtful choices and prepping, young children may be unwilling to wear their costumes.

 

Disappointment in missed photos and perceived fun can lead some parents to try to get their children to dress up. Parents can make promises of enjoyment and bribes of candy that may get a child into a costume, but for whose sake?

 

What if instead of making a child wear a costume parents . . . just didn’t.

 

 

No Costume, No Problem
For several years now, my friend Kimmy’s son has been uninterested in wearing a costume, but it never seems to hinder his or their family’s enjoyment of the holiday and surrounding Halloween parties.

 

Kimmy is always prepared with a costume, bringing one along just in case. And while all the other children are costumed, her family contentedly joins in the fun without any attempt to coerce and sneak part of the costume on, not even for a photo.

 

I have admired her respectful approach for some years now and so I asked my friend Kimmy to share her experiences and thoughts about her 4 year old son’s reluctance to wear a costume.

 

 

How did you feel when C did not want to wear his costume?

Kimmy: “When C didn’t wear his costume in previous years, I felt that it was probably uncomfortable for him (physically, and perhaps something new emotionally, causing discomfort) and that perhaps he just wasn’t ready for it yet. In his time, he would be. Last year was the first year we trick or treated. He was ready for it, but we didn’t try before that because he wasn’t interested yet. Last year was the first year he wore his costume as well.

This year he is more excited and even though he didn’t wear his costume for long at a party, he was excited to help make it with Daddy, and wears it for short periods. I noticed that the boys were the only ones who took off their costumes at the party. I wasn’t bothered by it because I felt like they were more comfortable without it on and they weren’t bothered by not wearing it.”

 

 

Why did you not ask C to wear the costume anyway?

Kimmy: I didn’t push him to wear it because I put myself in his shoes. Would I be comfortable wearing it? Maybe not. If he doesn’t want to wear it that is fine. I want him to enjoy the celebrations in his own time and in his own way.
 

How did you help him stay included in the Halloween festivities without a costume?

Kimmy: To stay included in the festivities this past Sunday, we asked him if he wanted to participate in, for example, pin the nose on the pumpkin, the crafts, the piñata, and the parade. He only chose to participate in the piñata. I was happy for him that he enjoyed the piñata. Even though he chose not to participate in any of the other activities I knew that he wasn’t bothered by it. I was glad he tried one when he was ready for it.

 

I think the main thing is that I want the boys to feel comfortable and to explore what they are comfortable exploring. They were really interested in the train table at the party and eventually after about an hour, C felt comfortable enough to try a Halloween activity.

 

Last year, when we trick or treated, C had a friend who he was comfortable with and they went up to the doors together. My husband started out helping him walk to the door, but by the end of the night C was able to go alone with his friend while we waited. C didn’t say trick or treat at the start of the night, but he did say it quietly at the end.

 

I am all about celebrating little moments and small victories, especially with C. No small victory is ever really small in our book. Because many situations are more challenging for him and cause him to be more uncomfortable to start, we try and do it all in baby steps. We start slow and offer a lot of support and encouragement, and he gradually comes around.

 

I also reflect back on my childhood and things that I was or wasn’t comfortable with. Many of these things are similar to what C encounters, and so I really try and put myself in his shoes as I remember how hard certain things were for me, and that helps me to better understand what he is going through and how I can best support him in that.

 

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Thanks to Kimmy for sharing her perspective and experiences with us. Hope you have a Happy Halloween with or without a costume!

Parenting Worries

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The Bell Curve of Worries

For the most part, I do not worry about most of my parenting decisions. I try to be intentional when it comes to parenting, and making mistakes is part of any relationship. I do my best. There are a few things I feel like I have a pretty good handle on; decisions that are right for my family and that we all feel good about. Then there are a few things about parenting that I worry about pretty much all the time.

 

While there are only a few things that I am preoccupied with, those things I fear have, over time, come to affect my parenting. Inspired by a friend to take a look at those fears, I decided that I wanted to face them once I realized how much of my daily life I was planning around avoiding things I feared might happen.

 

These fears are day to day ones, like being out with the girls when one of them decides to go into a full tantrum due to being tired. My solution? We’re home every day at nap time, no matter what. If I have an urgent errand, it will wait since avoiding a tantrum is an even higher priority. If I’d like to buy some milk and it’s noon? I’ll go to the store when the girls wake or after they rest (Greysen is not always napping these days). This may sound absurd to some parents, but to me doing without is a small price to pay to avoid all eyes being on me during one of the kiddo’s meltdowns.

 

I’ve had enough with the worry, but it’s a tough habit to break since I was raised to worry about everything. It is how I process and understand some things, and I think it helps me to be a more thoughtful person. However, I have decided that I want to lessen the things that I worry about when it comes to my daughters, because I want to model a different approach to worries than I was brought up with.

 

Ready to start small, I recently took a deep breath and headed off to a monthly local event that I have put off attending for well over a year.

 

The community event was at a local farm. While some parents may worry that their young children may trample the garden or wander off, I was worried about me. I was worried I’d be overwhelmed. What if I couldn’t watch the girls and help with the harvesting? What if my daughters were aggressive with the other children? What if I looked like an incapable parent? The worries, in my mind, outweighed my will to participate.

 

After running through a list of excuses in my mind that morning as to why it wouldn’t really matter if I went, and allowing the girls to lollygag their way through the morning, we went anyway. It was, of course, a lovely day.

 

Having faced that fear, I began to question what other things I have prevented myself (and my children) from doing.

 

The “what ifs” with children are endless. Some of those “just in case” decisions and “better safe than sorry” efforts can cause us to be unnecessarily cautious at times. I realize that I have not trusted myself to experience my life to the extent that I have wanted to. Going to the store at noon may not seem like some grand freedom, but the weight of that worry is more than I need to carry. It is not only my life that I am curtailing, but I am also limiting some of my daughters’ experiences unnecessarily.
It’s not cool for us parents to worry about average childhood experiences, such as when kids fall. We are very often encouraged to revel in their play and not worry about everyday things. And no matter how deeply parents may know that unfettered play is good for our children or how common tantrums can be, it can be difficult to set our concerns aside.

 

 

Do you have parenting worries? I’m not referring to those very real things that we need to worry about regarding our children’s healthy and safety. I mean the worries that keep us preoccupied when maybe we don’t really need to be.

 

 

I’m letting go. To try to lessen my worries, I’m going to do something with my daughters that I have been too worried to try. I’m going to tackle those worries over time and face a fear today, this week, and this month, working my way up to a play date – something I fear above all else.

 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I tackle one scary park date, playgroup, or noon time errand at a time.

Why I Didn’t Step In When Kids Told My Daughter to Go Away

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Children pick and choose play partners. Their willingness to meet and play with other kids is not necessarily hampered by whether they know these kids.  Play groups form naturally whereever play occurs. From school yards to playgrounds, children’s play is critical for practicing how to get along with others, how to make friends, and really just how to keep on keepin’ on.

 

A Girl Rejected. This weekend while at a birthday party, my three year old daughter, eager to play with kids as usual, climbed up a small backyard slide with a deck and stood politely among three older children (between the ages of 5 and 9). I was sitting alone at a table nearby for the purpose of keeping an eye on her. Though I was about 15 feet away, I could tell by her solemn face and stiff body that they were not having a friendly interaction. As the older kids shooed her away, Greysen stood wide-eyed and unsure, but steady.

 

I had to decide right there, should I come closer or stay out of it? Having intervened with this group of children at a previous birthday party in July, I was familiar with their routine of “get away kid, you’re bothering me.” The other thing I kept in mind was that while they were older than my daughter, they were children too.

 

The last time they asked her to leave, my daughter stood alongside her cousin, and together they played through the group of older children, not taking much notice of their dismissive ways. By my moving in closer, the children quieted, and my daughter and her cousin naturally moved away.

 

This time was different. My daughter stood alone and was acutely aware of their feelings.

 

As the children continued to speak, my daughter turned to me. I nodded and said, you can tell them, “No, I’m playing here.” Perhaps there were savvier words that I could have suggested, but that’s what I went with.  Fueled by my encouragement, she turned to them and said so confidently. The kids regrouped and talked some more. She stood waiting to get access to the slide, but now she was gripping the side of the structure. She looked at me while they spoke. Her face didn’t seem alarmed or hurt, but rather unsure. I stayed where I was, focused and available should she seem to need me. She looked back to the children and continued to wait. Within moments they spoke to her again and she responded to them again, this time with more determination -“NO.”

 

She wasn’t looking to me to be rescued, but rather for reassurance. So, despite the ache I was feeling for my daughter who was being told to leave, I stayed put waiting for her to indicate she needed more from me than she was getting.

 

The children spoke some more amongst themselves before one moved positions, climbing down. This spurred movement amongst all the children, and my daughter took this opportunity to slide down the slide.

 

She jaunted over to see me. I sat and waited, swallowing my urge to ask whether she was ok, and what did they say, etc.

 

As she twisted her leg to free her foot from her boot, she had three things to tell me:

1. Those kids were telling me to go away.
2. I’m going to play in the jumphouse now.
3. Can I have a red sugar candy?

 

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I leaned down for a hug and held her for just the briefest moment, in which I felt a sting of the idea that there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.

 

Had I walked over to intervene, I could have spared Greysen two more instances of confrontation. I could have even possibility facilitated some play. There was a remote chance that I could have even helped her gain entry into their play.

 

Had I intervened, I could have taken over all those children’s play. I could have taken Greysen’s opportunity to stand up for herself, to bolster her tenacity, to negotiate, and to really listen to when she needs help and when she doesn’t.

 

The idea to not ask my child the 50 questions I had read was inspired by this post by Robin Whitcore and a response of approval (when I shared this post) by Lisa Sunbury.

 

The need to process and analyze may not be their need, but ours. At that moment, I chose to trust my daughter and our relationship. I gave her permission to take the lead of her emotional development since it was a manageable instance, and to not ask her to placate me with details.

 

What purpose would those questions have served other than to reassure me? When she has questions, she asks them. When she is upset, she cries. If she needed to talk, she would have.

 

That was that for her. Thus, that was that for me.

 

 

5 Overvalued Signs of a Good Preschool Classroom

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With the start of school, I have had many conversations with parents who are visiting preschools for the first time or looking for recommendations from other parents.

 

Parents may look for and want very different things from programs. Some may have a general desire for their child to learn about science and math, while others may look forward to hanging some of their child’s art on the fridge. In either case, parents may look for things in the program that are not really useful things from which to judge a classroom.

 

Here is my list of five things parents look for in a good classroom that are really not helpful ways to critique a classroom.

 

5. A good director means a good classroom. A good director is absolutely essential, but parents all too often meet with the director and assume that the eloquently described practices are the run of the school. And while that is the case in many schools, it is also JUST as important to meet the specific teacher. A teacher should be able to simply and confidently explain the practices of the school and speak of those practices in alignment with the director.

 

4. A blue, yellow, and red classroom is a good children’s space.  Somehow, primary colors have come to dominate early childhood classrooms. From rugs to chairs, many ECE classrooms are doused in these three colors.  These brightly colored rooms have come to be what many think of when they think of when they envision a good ECE classroom.

 

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More and more, preschool classrooms are moving away from functional looks and evolving to more home-like settings, with muted colors and less stimulating decor.  Some parents may feel that natural wood furniture and muted colors aren’t fun or are too boring, but just the opposite is often true. As children are spending many of their waking hours in ECE programs, ECE professionals are acknowledging that children need spaces that are calming, comforting, and evoke feelings of home.  Of all the many children’s rooms I’ve seen “pinned” for their creativity and beauty, none of them have ever been primarily RED, YELLOW, and BLUE.

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A good classroom should feel like a good place to be, instead of an overwhelming, overstimulating hodgepodge of bright colors.

 

3. The more toys the better. A good school will have safe and interesting things for children to play with. A classroom with buckets upon buckets of toys may keep children entertained, but an overstimulating environment can also overwhelm. A few well-chosen toys based on the abilities and interests of the children is more valuable than wall-to-wall toys any day of the week.

 

A good classroom will have toys stored away, and rotate toys in based on the curriculum and children’s interests.

 

2. No art coming home is unusual/worrisome.  In the early years of school-based education, it is not always easy to get accurate or detailed accounts on how our children spend their days. Very often, the first words uttered when asked about a child’s day are, “I don’t know.”

 

Parents are often eager to reunite with them and hear about how they spent their days. At the end of the day, we as parents are looking for a way to connect to our children.  Besides being a starting point for conversation, artifacts such as art or other projects are evidence that our children spent time in some sort of meaningful activity.

 

Lots of art coming home can feel like evidence that our children are learning, playing, and, more specifically – doing something at school. When children spend their day dressing up, playing outside, helping to cook, or singing songs, the evidence of their learning and time well-spent is not as easy for us to see, especially when they can not yet talk about it.

 

And finally, number one. Though this is not something I have ever heard a parent say exactly, parents have expressed how important traditional academic materials are to them.

 

1. An alphabet on the wall (or rug) means my child will learn the things that matter. This may sound silly to some, but I have been asked while giving a school tour why we didn’t have an alphabet on our classroom walls. Academic information like alphabets, calendars, and word charts are very often things that adults look for in classrooms.

 

Are these types of posters or rugs really intended to teach children, or are they simply decoration?

 

If they are intended to teach, I say . . .

 

ABC posters cause me to wonder, are these educators able to take children’s perspectives?  Any information that you as an adult have to look up to see is not going to be seen, much less learned, by a very young child who learns best by having materials in hand. Was this environment prepared with children in mind, or simply by traditional standards?

 

Charts and posters are not the only ways in which children learn this type of information. I’d go even farther and argue it is also not the best way for them to learn the alphabet either. If you’d like to know how children learn the alphabet or about the passage of time (e.g., days of the week) in the classroom and don’t see these things around, ask the teacher. The best classrooms make children’s learning visible to parents by the use photographs or notes in newsletters or on bulletin boards.

 

And if these posters are intended for decoration, I say . . .  see number 4.

 

What do you look for in an early childhood education classroom? What types of things don’t matter to you?

 

 

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