Friday, May 1, 2015

Drop off childcare is sort of new for my girls. They have one day for two and a half hours, starting last term.  As we are at Playcentre they are dropped off in the same centre they have been at since they were babies, it's just that now they get to have an extra day there without me. They have some strong relationships, they are independent and comfortable in their surroundings, they are able to let people know when they are hungry or need to go to the toilet and are able to trust the adults around them enough to let them help. The wonderful mums there too are respectful of their play, and right now of their need to be different identities and be called different names, and they make an effort to remember who is Elsa, who is Ben or Holly or William or Grace or... last week when I picked them up they had name tags with their assumed name printed large and their real name in brackets.

However the week just gone was one of those times when you really appreciate how differently toddlers think. I was greeted with enthusiasm as I arrived for pickup and received great reports from them and the adults who spent time with them about all the fun things they had done. No toileting accidents (yay!!!) no upsets, just happy settled play. They both expressed to me how they didn't want to leave (yay!!!) and we went on our merry way. Until we were part way home.

I am not sure what the trigger was as it was behind me in the back seat but Thing 1 started to cry. Not just cry - scream and wail and howl. In that special ear-splitting way she has. It continued the entire 10 minute drive, the extra 10 minutes it took for me to get Thing 2 and the gear out of the car and into the house, and the next 20 minutes of me carrying her and lying down with her on my tummy to cuddle and talk. She just couldn't calm herself down enough to tell me what was wrong in all that time, I felt so helpless, I was desperate to find out what she needed and I had literally no clue.
Finally she took some breaths, managed a shaky "I'm better" and told me "you did it wrong way mummy" okay... I guess that was something to work with...but seriously what on earth? the car? the music in the car? the seatbelt? each wrong guess of course was so upsetting to the child trying to communicate something to what must've felt like the stupidest adult on the planet:
the answer? her name tag.
As there were some new people at Playcentre this morning I had written their names on stickers as some people find it hard to remember who's who. "you said I was Meredith but I wanted to be Ava" And then I remembered, I had been in a hurry, I hadn't even asked what name she wanted or explained that I would need to put her actual name there too to help out the new people.
I apologised, she said "I forgive you mummy, I love you mummy" and we got on with our lives (after a very long nap!)

The scenario seemed (to my adult brain) over the top ridiculous so i spent a long time trying to see things through her eyes. And I guess it isn't really so different after all. Her need to be respected, her need to be heard and understood and supported. She has a 2 year old's communication skills and assertiveness and at this stage in her life she needs advocates. I wondered how many times it probably happened that she had done a painting or a drawing and a helpful adult had written her name on and she had thought "but I'm Ava today" or had been cheering her on while she ran "really fast" and they said "what is your name, oh that's right, Meredith" and all these little interactions built up inside her. And the origin of all of them was the name I had given her today. And how often do I do that in my other relationships? Make assumptions of what people need based on what I think without checking first? Listen but not reflectively?
I am so thankful for the lessons these children teach me, for the way they give me pause.

Friday, February 27, 2015

In Defence of the Defensive

I hear the phrase 'the strong willed child' bandied around a bit. It makes me wonder. Especially when I hear it being used to describe very young children, the under two's... or as if it is some kind of affliction, a hardship, something terrible for parents to deal with.

I know there is a whole world of children who behave unpredictably due to allergies, food issues, difficulties like autism and myriad other things and I'm not referring to this level of need. I'm talking about the run of the mill small child who wants to do what they want to do, not what they are being told to do.

I hear about the 4 year old who won't go to bed... the one year old who insists on feeding themselves, the two year old who won't get their shoes on, the child who doesn't want to go to the park, who doesn't want to leave the park. I've got some of them around here. They learn best by testing limits not by being told, they don't like the word no, and their reaction to it is often loud, explosive and frustrating!!!

It's easy to put a label on kids, 'strong willed' is one I am especially hesitant to hand out. I think when we do this we absolve ourselves from thinking too deeply about what our child's behaviour might really be expressing, and the onus is not so much on us to nurture that strength as to feel justified in our irritation at our children's will not lining up with our own.

Things I find helpful to think about when my children are being extra stroppy:

How well am I listening to them?
Are they feeling connected to me? Do I stop and listen when they tell me something important? If not, I can hardly expect them to do the same for me.

How many decisions are they getting to make about their day?
Imagine having other people make every decision for you: when you woke,. when and what you ate, what you wore, where you went, what you did...sometimes I feel like this as it is and I hate it! Just like some adults struggle against too much routine, some children seem more sensitive to the perception of control. What decisions can I hand over to them? Where can I ask for their opinion? Dinner menus? Where I'm going to park when I go to the library? What I'm going to wear?

How much am I saying 'no' to them?
they might have been asking to do lots of things I can't allow, I may have been stopping them drawing on walls or hitting siblings, I'm not suggesting we should encourage this behaviour but if all they are hearing is no from me, how can I expect them to answer all my requests with an enthusiastic yes? Sometimes this takes creativity...but it's not too hard to say 'I see you want to do some drawing, lets get you some paper. When you're done we could come back and clean that wall together!'

Is what I am insisting they do really that important?
Sometimes it might feel that way to me when truly, truly in the grand scheme of things it doesn't. It's fairly short-sighted of me to think that their future as a functional human being hinges entirely on this one interaction, on their following this one instruction. Worth considering.

Finally I keep in mind their future
I was a stubborn, strong willed child, my parents tell stories which now are hilarious about me refusing to get out of the bath... going to bed naked rather than wear pyjamas I hadn't personally chosen... at the time I can imagine my poor mother wanting to bang her head against the wall and wishing trademe was invented so she could list me on it. Now my stubbornness allows me to hang on to my principles even when others don't share them. It allows me to be optimistic and search doggedly for solutions in some really dark and despairing times, to sit in the middle of chaos on really crazy days and laugh at that small funny thing that happened earlier because I am not going to be overcome by mess or noise or lack of energy or my stupidly long to do list. It means I enjoy life even when life sucks... because I am determined to! If you can take some time to get outside the way their behaviour is affecting you right now and focus on the long term view, you just might feel differently about them. Having a postive view of my child and their quirks makes a huge difference in my relationship with them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

crying over crushed weet-bix...

One of those moments today that showed me how much i need to work on my listening!

I was busy today, had lots to get done in a short space of time. And I needed the kitchen tidy to do it. I instructed everyone to eat their breakfast so I could get dishes through and of course Mister 7 went slowly.
I was irritated. I wanted it done, I wanted him to do it and rather than  being helpful, I seethed.
I know this kid. He's like me. Unless he's had his breakfast he's useless at organising breakfast. Especially if he's been up for a while. And he's volatile with low blood sugar. And it would've been a small thing to sit next to his distracted self and explain, and offer to help and gently keep him on task. But I wanted someone to look out for me this morning. I felt stressed and harried and that was all I could see.
The whole situation culminated in me not putting enough milk with his weet-bix... and mashing them up even though he told me he didn't like it that way... with him crying and running out of the room.... with me grumping... with lots of back and forth... with me thinking how trivial his upsets were and how hard it is to deal with such ridiculous people all day and then suddenly it struck me and I managed to be the adult in the situation (I guess SOMEBODY had to do it!!) "It makes you sad when I don't listen doesn't it?" I observed "YES" he wailed and just like that his posture changed, he went from being an angry, tense, little person to being my sweet soft and cuddly one. I apologised for not stopping to listen, explained that I was feeling a bit stressed that I had so much to do and that I had been so caught up in what I wanted that I hadn't stopped to help him with his breakfast when he needed it. And in a flash, the breakfast was eaten and he was gone and my kitchen was clear just the way I wanted.
It was about the weet-bix. But it wasn't really about the weet-bix. It was about me not knowing how he likes it, about me not caring, about me not listening, about me railroading him with my agenda. I just happened to do it with weet-bix.
I guess this is what it will be like with this kid. I am unlikely ever to be able to completely set myself aside, to be the perfect parent. We will have these clashes, these disconnected discordant times followed by fervent resolutions, times of deep connection and appreciation.
I strive to learn the ins and outs of him though, the deep waters, the ways we can be unified, to be not just a provider for him but a friend, someone he can trust to always have his best interests at heart.

Monday, December 15, 2014


I don't punish tantrums. I don't give time out for tantrums, I don't ignore them, I don't battle them. I'm not a fan mind you, they interrupt my life and hurt my ears...
When my eldest daughter was small she only threw one or two. She was one of those children you should never have first because you think you've got this parenting thing sussed. Then her brother was born. He was one of those who shatters that illusion. He threw tantrums the like of which I had only read about. Epic, long-lived, desperate, inconsolable tantrums. About many things. About waking up after naps. About arriving places. About leaving places. About shoes. About bedtime. About nothing I could fathom.
I had been taught that the swifter you dealt with this sort of behaviour the better chance you had of nipping it in the bud. But he was a good and patient teacher and gave me many many chances to learn how to be truly patient and loving and supportive. And that rather than 'dealing with' this behaviour I was there to guide him through it, to give him the skills to manage the storms and to address the needs driving it.
I learned to wait, to be there for him, to hold him when he needed it but to give him the time and space to calm down. Eventually he outgrew this phase, as his ability to communicate his needs increased, when he stopped taking naps, and little by little through his life he has learned to calm himself down quicker and to consider the effects of his behaviour on others. Now he is seven he still has ways to go but i am so proud of how he is learning to handle himself and his overwhelming emotions.
Now his two little sisters are carrying the torch. I often think things would be less bumpy for them if they were singletons as I would be able to listen better to one child at a time, I would be asking them to wait less. But they're not, so sometimes things get very loud around here. We're getting there though. One of them doesn't like to be held at first. Then she wants her snugglies and time on the couch with me. The other wants to be held straight away while she calms down, very close and tight. Kind of works out especially when they go down at the same time!

Useful things to say:
'how can I help you?'
'when you've calmed down you can tell me what you need and I'll do my best to help'
'I'm here for you when you're ready'
'it's so tough when you have to wait/ find something else to play with/ give the toy back/ wait for your turn etc'
'I wish I knew what you needed, we'll get better at this'

tantrums unfortunately aren't confined to toddler years, but the same principles apply. Helping children calm down is a priority. Then helping them express what they need. As they mature they can then begin to understand that their behaviour has a direct bearing on others and they can start to see from others point of view how their shouting etc wasn't helpful. Once they're calm of course!

Friday, December 12, 2014

time after time

My two smallest have reached 2 years 5 months. They have just had a big developmental leap surrounding the perceptions of time.
For small people their understanding of time is often limited to right now. We ask them to wait and they meltdown because to them, anything beyond now is sort of equivalent to never. You may try and prompt them to tell about something exciting that happened yesterday or last week and they look at you blankly.
I was buckling one of them into her carseat the other day and she told me a story of something that had happened to her last time she was being put in her carseat. We got home from playcentre and Aunty was regaled with a story of the friend they had been playing with that morning. And suddenly, just like that they have a past! They have the ability and the tools to see a specific event and describe it without it having to be seen and experienced in the present.
Simultaneously I am noticing that the future is more tangible too. Whereas before asking them to wait for a glass of milk while I finished what I was doing must have felt like a flat refusal suddenly they are able to understand that even if it doesn't happen this instant, it will still happen. After many months of them wanting everything all at once and right now, they can understand 'finish this first, then you can have that'. That's one less tantrum in my day!
I'd love to know exactly what's happening inside that makes this new way of thinking possible.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Learning to Listen

It's been a year of enormous changes for me. Without going into too much detail I am now living with my sister and her two kids (instant 6 kid household!) and I have just started feeling like myself again after an extremely turbulent year.

I would like to say I have dealt with every challenge with serenity and patience but that wouldn't be strictly true. More accurately I have been given the opportunity to develop my empathy with the children in my household and to feel their bewilderment at the big emotions that overwhelm them all at times. From tantrumming two year olds to pouting ten year olds, where I might once have reacted with frustration and been tempted to punish their behaviour instead I am learning to listen. To offer my support, to wait with them until the storm subsides and life seems reasonable again.

It's not easy. Sometimes all I want is for them all to leave me alone, just for an hour where noone wants to touch me. Sometimes I just want to shout out all my frustrations or have someone listen to ME!! But the more I hold them close, the more I listen, the more I say things like 'how can I help you calm down?'or 'you sound like you need a hug!' I find I feel peaceful, connected and they're listening. When I say 'can you trust me to help you come up with a solution? lets work together to figure this out? do you need my help or have you got this one?' they listen.

Not that everything goes smoothly all the time but when things get rocky because of the big stuff or even just because someone didn't get the right fruit in their lunchbox, we're learning how to just be there for each other.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas advent-ures

Just over a year ago my lovely sister and her two daughters came to stay and sort of never left... actually as two single mums we found that the support we were able to offer each other was AWESOME and it was so fun to be finally in the same house since childhood!!

For the kids the transition wasn't quite so easy. At first it was fun, but then the gritty reality of living with so many others kicked in. We had two 6 year olds who just didn't really gel. Two 8 year olds who needed as much time on their own as they enjoyed together... and found the 6 year olds a little annoying... and two 1 year olds who were just... well 1 year olds. Actually they were fine. But they got fought over a bit.

Come December we decided to make our own experience based advent calendar...actually the decision was something like 'those kids are going to bond if it kills us both and if it comes to that at least we'll know they'll take turns with the spade!!!' So we planned 24 activities and hoped for the best! Every day they kids would find a note they took turns reading to the others and they would speculate all day over what was coming. Then at the appointed time a basket on the table would mysteriously fill with whatever they needed for the activity to take place. We were all reminiscing the other day and trying to remember them all... and we couldn't so I shall share some of the most memorable. Some were elaborate, some very simple...

  • colouring a giant christmas tree from Mr Printables
  • pavement chalk drawing
  • a Christmas dance party (the basket provided snacks and some decorations and we made a playlist for the occasion)
  • Christmas cookie decorating
  • writing and sending Christmas cards
  • making paper snowflakes
  • Christmas movie and popcorn
  • scavenger hunt at a local beach (we made a driftwood star for the top of our tree which we still have for this year!!)
  • attending a Christmas concert
  • a spa night (face masks, manicures, foot massages. My sister and I dressed up and adopted Scandinavian accents for the occasion and engaged the fascinated and amused customers in polite conversation. Hilarious. )
  • making Christmas decorations 
  • making paper houses
  • crazy photo night
  • games night
  • some fake snow messy play using this recipe from Growing a Jeweled Rose.

The whispers, the giggles, the 'remember when's... although the pace was frantic and required us to be far more organised than I have ever been in my life for 24 consecutive days the payoff was huge. The shared experiences have led to a treasure trove of shared memories and they became a unit, a household, the sensational six. After Christmas my nieces were away for a few days, when they got back the reunion was so lovely, they were so happy just being together.
Now when they are all just milling round together, or the now 7 year olds are intently involved in some fabulously imaginative game together, or the 9 year olds are choosing to have their alone time in the same room, it's hard to remember there was ever a time when they just sort of didn't gel.