Posts in Parenting
A New Way to Think About Toddler Tantrums That Will Turn Your World Upside Down

A Letter…

Hi Aubrey, 

I’m contacting you because I feel like I need help with my toddler. I’m hoping you can give me any advice that can help both him and I. My son is 22 months. He is very outspoken, a trait I love about him, but we are struggling. I feel like from the moment he wakes up to when he goes to sleep, we are constantly dealing with meltdowns.

I don’t know what to do. I offer choices, I try to help him take deep breaths, I don’t shut down his emotions, I acknowledge them and try to help him get through them, I even have tried to give him alone time to see if that helps calm him.

I know he’s not acting this way on purpose and it comes with this age, but, it’s gotten to a level where I feel like I am not being a good mother. I can’t help calm him and it’s gotten to where we are both crying.

What can I do? Just this morning, while making the bed, he wanted to play under the covers, which I understood and played with him, making forts, etc, for an hour. It had gotten to the point where it was time to get the rest of the day going and I told him we were done playing. He didn’t like that and the meltdown started.

Next, I offered him two choices of outfits; he threw them on the floor and had another meltdown. What do you advise? I’m with him 24/7 and I feel like the constant meltdowns are making me short fused and I know that he doesn’t deserve a mother who snaps out negative at his emotions. 


Dear, Sweet Mama…

I can tell by the way you write that you have boatloads of compassion for your child. You know from your research that children who are tantruming or melting down are really having a hard time emotionally, and that resonates with you so deeply that you feel it in your soul.

Your Parenting Toolkit Is Full of Good Stuff

You have good strategies in your parenting toolkit already! You offer choices first, you take deep breaths, and you do your best to help your child calm down, knowing that what most children need is more love and not reprimanding when they are hurting inside.

I would say that you already have the golden ticket here with your approach. You’re doing great, mama! Honestly, there are just a couple of things I think you might be missing in your bag to help you deal with this situation more effectively.

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The Mindshift You Need: Self-Compassion

When I read how you are framing yourself, it is a story of a mom who is feeling inadequate because she is unable to calm her own child. You see yourself becoming “not a good mother” when you’re stressed, and you “can’t help” him, despite throwing your entire being into the effort. You’ve tried everything you can think of, and you still can’t do it.

These feelings of helplessness are causing your anxiety and frustration to spike during these difficult moments.

...and it’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The more your child melts down over the little things, the more helpless and frustrated you feel. His behavior is both developmentally normal and influenced by yours. No doubt you are aware of this, and the more uptight you are about it, the longer his tantrums will last and more frequent they will be. The more you expect them and worry about them, the more likely they are to happen.

Conversely, and most importantly, the more relaxed and easygoing you are during his meltdowns the easier they will be for both of you.

So how are we going to help you get more relaxed about this, mama?

I want you to take some time to reflect on our conversation. Go on a long walk alone or with your partner and stew on it, do some journaling, talk about it with some IRL friends at the park while your children play, or do some restorative yoga poses in the evening while you meditate.

I also want you to do some research into the concept of reframing negative self talk. If you choose, you can change your habit of thinking of yourself as a bad mother when things go awry. 

Not to sound like a Negative Nellie, but mama, there are a lot of tough times coming your way in the future. 

Talk to any parent who has a child older than yours and you will find that parenting can be a very emotionally painful experience - especially for those who are like us: sensitive, empathic people. From the occasional terrifying illnesses to the first time his romantic crush rejects him, you will feel it.

If you don’t intentionally reframe the way you think about yourself as a parent now, all of these future experiences will be internalized through a screen of guilt and inadequacy. I am not chiding you. I know this from experience, and I so wish that someone had told me this flat out when I had my first toddler.

Don’t Fear Those Meltdowns

I wish I could tell you exactly why some children tantrum more than others at different ages. We have all kinds of suggested labels for different types of common childhood behavior and there are many ways we can help.

For example, tantrums and meltdowns can be caused by...

  • Anxiety - in general or caused by a specific event

  • Insecurity - because of lack of enough boundaries

  • Disturbed sense of order - routine disrupted

  • Frustrated by own inability to do things he feels he is capable of

  • Being asked to do something he feels he is not capable of

  • Overly hungry or tired - not enough sleep?

  • Illness - a cold/virus is not yet obvious

  • Sensory overstimulation or understimulation - not just for those with “sensory processing disorder” but this can happen with any child

The key to helping him in the current moment will depend on your ability to observe, wait patiently, observe again, try something new, observe again, and try something else, and then wait and wait.

Follow your gut. If you feel like the tantrums are way outside of the norm and an indicator that something is seriously wrong, please find in-person help from a counselor or at the very least consult your child’s doctor — but many children do go through a very normal tantruming phase that is no indication of any more severe problem. Trust your intuition here.

On patience…I know that it’s hard to wait. You want to solve his behavior immediately. The truth is that sometimes we never know what causes our childrens’ meltdowns or the “right” thing to do to help. We have to ride the wave with them.

You Are Already What He Needs

You are the best mama for your son - the only mama he ever needs, the one he absolutely hands down no doubt whatsoever deserves, and you are a good mother - even when you are short fused, even when you feel like you can’t do anything to directly calm him in the moment. He is a lucky, lucky little boy.

You are not letting him struggle alone. You are there with him in those tough, frustrating moments, and maybe you are letting his emotions dictate yours a bit - it’s true. But you know what? There is a LOT of parenting advice out there telling us that in order to properly handle our children’s meltdowns we have to be these cool, impassive, emotionless beings, and I just don’t buy it.

Lean in to it. If you’re a passionate, sensitive person, it makes sense that your son is, too! He is feeling the unfairness of the world intensely right now. His brain is not yet developed to understand logic and reason, so he is just...feeling.

While tantrums look really dramatic on the outside, they are just outside expressions of inner emotions. They’re nothing to be afraid of.

The two of you are still intertwined emotionally. It’s been a year or more since he left your womb, and yet your heartbeats and breaths still sync when things are good, and also when things are bad.

I am so touched that you reached out to me and I am rooting for you and your little darling. I know things will get better soon for you both. You’ll make sure of it!

Love,
Aubrey


Here’s Your Free Parenting Checklist

Get my free checklist of the most common reasons why your child might be tantruming.

Here’s a sneak preview…

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Here’s what to do next.

  1. Download the checklist. You’ll get the list, plus, when you join my community of readers, you’ll also receive gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

  2. Save it digitally, print, or share it with a friend.

  3. Put it on your fridge or in a special place and use it when you’re feeling stressed and need some objectivity.

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    Amazing Ways Routine Can Help Children of Divorce
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    A letter…

    Good morning, Aubrey,

    I am so inspired by your gentle and beautiful model of the Montessori lifestyle and parenting. I am emailing you today to ask for some recommendations you could give me so that I can better help my son through some life transitions. 

    I am a single mom, sharing custody with my son’s dad, and I have noticed my son having a difficult time with the adjustment between our house and his time with his dad. 

    Do you have any ideas on things that I can do to better help my son during these transitions, and to help his time back at home with me be even more successful, gentle and healing for him? 


    Dear, sweet mama…

    I have never been separated from my children’s father, and I can only imagine what it is like to be in your shoes. Parenting while single and sharing your little sweetheart son with another person remotely sounds so stressful - for you and your child.

    So before I talk about some strategies to help with transitions, I want you to know that just being in this situation takes a lot of bravery -- not just the weight of responsibility on your shoulders as a single mom but also to let go of what you cannot control on the other end. Please be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for all that you do already. You are enough just as you are. You are 100% brave.

    That being said, let’s talk about transitions.

    For every child at every stage of life, there must be a balance between consistent routines and open-ended flexibility. Children are born with a natural biological preference toward one end of the spectrum or another, and before you can determine how to best help your own child through any stressful life experience, you might pause first to consider whether your son generally responds positively to schedules.

    The Sensitive Period for Order

    No matter their personal biological leanings, child development research tells us that all children younger than age 6 are particularly attuned to the order of everything in their environments. In Montessori education, we call this the sensitive period for order.

    “Order is one of the needs of life which, when satisfied, produces a real happiness.…Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where or each thing should be.

    This implies that one is able to orient one's self within one's environment and to dominate it in all its details. The proper environment of the soul is one in which an individual can move about with eyes closed eyes and find, simply by reaching out his hand, anything he desires.

    Such an environment is necessary for peace and happiness.” - Maria Montessori

    This includes the hands-on things, such as where the day’s clothing can be found, to the intangible things, such as whether the teeth are brushed at night. The more consistent and intentional we are with our home spaces and rhythms, the better for our children’s sense of order.

    You might start with making sure that your home spaces are cultivated in this way.

     
     
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    Make it Visual

    Young children also often appreciate a good head’s up about what is to be expected of them at different times of the day.

    You don’t have to get specific (after all, children don’t have firm concepts of time) but in general, knowing what is likely to happen next can provide your child a feeling of security when in your care.

    Many parents create visual schedules to satisfy this need, and it’s not hard to do! You can use google images or clipart if you like, but the most effective visual schedules are photos of your child’s real routines in his real home.

    Here’s how:


    When your child is happy and awake and ready to play with you, tell your child that you are going to document what happens during his day.

    With him, role-play waking up in his bed (snap a photo!), choosing his clothes for the day (snap a photo!), brushing his teeth (snap a photo!), eating breakfast (snap a photo!), etc.

    Try not to take too many pictures -- just the main events you would like to keep consistent.

    Print them out and display them somewhere in your home. You might use a pre-made photo flip book or a piece of long poster board stapled to your wall. You can get all fancy and laminate them as cards that can be shifted around (a little velcro goes a long way) or you can just tack them up to the refrigerator.

    It really doesn’t matter how pretty the presentation is.

    The important thing is that sometime during the day when your child is first returning home to you, the two of you will review your photos in order. When you point to each photo, talk as meaningfully as you can about them. For example, “Here you are in your comfy bed. This is where you will sleep tonight when you go to bed. Do you want to sleep with your bear as usual or choose a different lovey to sleep with tonight?”

    Going over the expected routine, even if it seems obvious to you, will comfort your little one and bring a sense of security when re-entering your environment after the disruption in routine.

    Snuggles and Patience Both Win

    Many children, after any kind of parent-separation (like having a babysitter or going to daycare or school), seek extra snuggles and will show clinginess. If your child does this, lean in to it and give alllll the extra snuggles you can stand.

    Sometimes children will do the opposite as well -- outright ignoring you and refusing all physical contact for a while. If your child does this, be as patient as you can.

    He is no doubt saying, “I missed you and I am upset about being apart.” His feelings are legitimate and you can acknowledge them while being patient.

    Let Go of What You Cannot Control

    Finally, you didn’t tell me in your email what your relationship is like with your son’s dad. Some separation/divorces end amicably and both work together to co-parent on the same page, even if they are living apart. Some have little contact with one another other than dropping off the child in one home or the other.

    If your son’s dad is up for communicating about this issue, I would recommend that he do the same on his end. Cultivate his environment for consistency and offer some kind of visual schedule.

    Note that his routine and environment do not have to match in order for your child to feel secure in both spaces. If he is up for keeping toothbrushing before bedtime just like you do, that’s great -- but it’s not your job to enforce it because it will be impossible for you to do so. Let it go, and if you need outside support, such as family counseling, please seek it out.

    Children have the amazing ability to code-switch behaviors and understand expectations in different situations and environments. So don’t fret about a different routine or even different parenting strategies, although they may not be what you know in your heart is best -- just make sure that YOURS is as consistent and loving as possible.

    Love,
    Aubrey

    P.S. I asked my Montessori facebook community what they would add, and I got this lovely response from a mom who is dealing with a similar situation as you but from a different perspective - as a stepmom of a blended family. Read her loving, gentle advice below.

    As a stepmom in a blended family situation (2 SDs, 2 of ours), this whole transition is soooo hard. Sometimes it feels completely impossible. For me, and for the kids. It feels lonely and frustrating and always one step forward, one step back.

    My advice?

    1) Give yourself, your partner, your kids, and everyone else a ton of grace. It’s just hard and it’s hard for everyone.

    2) Stay consistent. While you may need to be more patient and tolerant, your own kids don’t need to experience any more chaos than a transition naturally brings, and the traveling kids will learn to adjust. Visual schedules, repeated retracting, and gentle explanations will work over time.

    3) Cuddle. Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle. Traveling kids will need a physical connection and full time kids will need a reminder that you’re still there.

    4) Breathe. Find a support group. Connect with other people who are trying to do it too. And if the Montessori thing seems insurmountable, focus on practical life and small things until you find a balance. Your best is good enough.

    Also, I think it’s worth saying that Montessori is about doing your BEST, not about being perfect. Read about who she was, who her children and students were...it’s about providing an environment full of love and intention, not about posting pictures and competing with other families. It’s about connection and truth. ❤️
    — Laura, mom of four

    Need Help With Your Toddler?

    Read the introductory chapter to my book Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage for free.

    Skip the Kid Calendar and Lean In to Heart-Centered Time
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    24 hours in a day. 

    7 days in a week. 

    52 weeks in a year. 

    18 years in a "childhood". 

    Add another 6 to 10 to become a fully formed adult being. 

    As adults, we are comforted by these facts, beholden to them, and bound by them - sometimes uncomfortably so. And we want our children to understand the concept of time as we understand and live by it ourselves. 

    We give them visual schedules, child friendly calendars, set timers, and try to teach them how to tell how time with analog clocks. We reasonably want them to understand that tomorrow is the day the grandma comes but not until next week is the annual family BBQ. 

    Our children walk through life sometimes frustrated and bewildered as we respond, in their view, so often arbitrariliy. At 7:30am we eat breakfast, 11:00ish we lunch, and it isn't time for dinner yet, honey - we have another few hours to go. The child setting the table "too early" is rightfully offended!

    On the playground, how often do I hear these words: "You can play for 5 more minutes, ok?" The tears come anyway, no matter how many more "5 minute warnings" are given. 

    We think to ourselves, it would just be so much simpler if they could understand how long it takes to load the car and drive home. That five minutes is meaningful to us. It's just that it's completely meaningless to a child.

    Today, I'd like for you to put aside your planner for a moment and imagine what time feels like to your child. Imagine a day that starts with the sun rising and ends with night falling with no schedules in between, just inclinations to move one's energy in a certain way. 

    If you're among one of the many, many parents who are trying to teach the concept of time to your two or three or four-year-old - or even if you are proud that your young child has mastered "telling time" through practice, I have to tell you this. 

    The concept of time as you know it is inherently inaccessible to children. 

    In toddlerhood, just knowing that there is a past and a present and a future is enough. We don't need to practice this concept in any formal way either - just having natural conversations about what happened yesterday, what we might do today and what may happen tomorrow is enough. 

    In the preschool years, clocks are fascinating mathematically, and so, for that matter, are reglular calendars. We can count the seconds and the minutes. We can model for them how we notice the hour and then count by fives to get to the minute hand. 

    We don't need to drill them until they can tell time and point to it constantly. It won't make them get dressed and get in the car any faster, and nor will it make them brush their teeth.

    It seems like your elementary child should be able to manage their time, but guess what? The concept of time is still fuzzy at this age! Hours pass without much awareness, and to-do lists are great, but the schedule flops without an adult intervening and reminding (often!).

    Teenagers are more capable, but yet again, are our expectations in check? Maria Montessori believed that teens should get a big break from pressure, from schedules, and from all academics in order to connect more with purposeful, hands-on work in the real world

    This would give their bodies time to process all of the turbulence that comes with the immense physical growth and the heightened emotions. This is obviously not a time of life to expect time management to be in full swing either!

    Come to think of it, maybe we are a bit too tied to the concept of time ourselves as adults

    When was the last time you lost track and played for hours as the sun went down? 

    If you can't remember, it's been way too long and you need to reconnect with your childlike self - the one who doesn't care about the clock says and follows her heart instead.

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    No Gadgets Needed: Your Old Favorite Toys Were As Awesome As You Remembered
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    OH, 80’S…YOU HEARTBREAKER, YOU.

    With your sparkly glam makeup, and guitar-smashing hair bands, you were really something to remember.

    I can instantly walk into any Claire’s and blink and I’m eleven again with a poodle-like hairdo pulled back in a scrunchie getting my ears pierced for the one and only time.

    I’m wearing jeans rolled tightly at the ankles and an oversized shirt tied in a knot at the side. I’m nervous but I’ve got my Dirty Dancing soundtrack in my walkman, and I’m channeling Baby as I take a step toward adulthood.

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    BUT THOSE TOYS!

    But dear 80’s, just as iconic in my memory is your toy selection: Cabbage Patch Kids, Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie dolls, She-Ra figurines, Miniature Micro Machines, and Slap bracelets.

    The sheer number of hours we spent fiddling around with our tinker toys, army men, slinkies, and those silly wooden sticks that no one really liked picking up but pretended to.

    I’ll never get those hours back.

    Life presses on. But somewhere in my mother’s house I’m sure there is a box or drawer with a few remnants of that era of my life.

    We weren’t all obsessed about how educational these items were back then. At least, I don’t remember my mother talking about it. And yet in the past few decades, the emphasis in the overall toy industry has shifted from “good old fashioned fun” to “brain-based”.

    The problem is that a lot of toy companies are tricking us on purpose. The high-tech toys with the fancy labels aren’t actually so brain-based after all.

    Someone either hasn’t studied child development or is more interested in a fat check than helping parents provide a quality education.

    A PROBLEM WE CAN FIX

    Fortunately, there are ethically-run toy companies that you can trust to have the needs of real children at heart (Monti Kids certainly comes to mind). There is also no end of DIY-obsessed parents sharing their tips, tricks, and hacks online through social media.

    Inspiration for true brain-based toys really does abound when you know where to look!

    As a mom and Montessori educator, I have always been interested in observing how children interact with their toys. Once you start watching, you’ll start to notice -- the toys with lots of buttons, the ones that spit out information and perform actions “on command” are played with very differently by children of all ages than, say, a simple wooden box and a ball.

    Plus, the research confirms it. Classic and simple wins over fancy & tech-infused.

    Maybe my 80’s nostalgia is well placed when it comes to toys, even though they were kind of silly when you look at them in retrospect.

    I MEAN…POPPLES?!

    Deep breath here. Let’s see if we can make a brief case for Popples, as ridiculous as they were. (They were. Don’t argue!)

    1. They were cuddly. Can’t complain about that!

    2. They didn’t speak, flash, or sing when you pressed a button. At least my little furball didn’t!

    3. They could be “operated” entirely by a child’s hands.

    4. They could be used imaginatively by a child like any other plush toy, especially if there was no television-show connection to influence the play.

    Not bad. Not bad at all.


    Hey, are you Into Nostalgia Like I am?

    Get my free guide to today’s best toys for kids: modern alternatives to all of your old 80’s favorites!

    Here’s a sneak preview…

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    Download your free printable toy guide.

    1. Download the guide. You’ll get all the fun of the 80’s with all the modern convenience of today’s most popular Montessori-friendly toys. Plus, when you join my community of readers, you’ll get gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

    2. Keep it digitally, print, or share it with a friend.

    3. Add these toys, or toys like these, to your wish list for yourself or relatives. I can vouch for all of these personally!

    LOVE THE 80's?
     
    Get my FREE GUIDE to today's best toys for kids: modern alternatives to all of your old favorites!

    Learn how to meet your child's cognitive, social, and emotional needs with a reasonable selection of the most brain-boosting toys the modern world has to offer.

     
    And wallow with me - just a bit - in some well-deserved nostalgia.

       

      This is me in the 80’s: pigtails with those little hair ties with the balls on the ends, turtleneck stripes, and overalls. Nailed it!

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      Your Parenting Journey

      Boisterous or clingy, shrieky or shy, our toddlers give us the wildest ride of our lives and win our hearts forever.

      Your parenting journey, just like your toddler’s personality, is unique.

      In this excerpt from the Introduction of Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage, you can get a glimpse of my own pathway toward compassionate, gentle discipline.

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      Excerpt from Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage

      He glares at me from across the kitchen, eyes squinting in fury, face reddening as he holds his breath. Headfirst and full force, he runs toward my belly, and upon contact, mashes himself against me. His arms are flailing, and I can’t tell if he’s actively trying to hit me or if he’s just out of control. My biceps are still stronger than his so I use them to hold him at bay without hurting him. He screeches in protest and reaches for my waist. I can see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. I feel awful inside.

      In my head, I am running through all the discipline strategies I know and I’m second-guessing all of my decisions. Did I make the wrong choice by setting a limit? Was I too harsh or unsympathetic? Am I a pushover? And the worst thought of all—am I failing as a parent?

      I give up fighting him. Heart pounding, I reverse the energy flow and hug him tightly instead. I yell, “You’re mad at me! You’re really, really mad! I’m sorry we’re fighting. I don’t want to fight. I love you. I love you so much!” His body goes rag-doll limp. He takes a shaky breath and lets out a sob. We melt to the floor together, a tangle of bent knees and bowed heads. I still don’t know if the way I handled the situation would seem right or wrong in anyone else’s eyes, but my own uniquely impulsive and intensely emotional child accepts the cuddle. I rock us back and forth for a long time, whispering, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

      Every time we interact with our children, we have the opportunity to coach them on how to manage their own emotions and behave appropriately in social situations. It isn’t easy; our own personalities and insecurities greatly influence how we address a challenging behavior in our children.

      As the daughter of a Montessori preschool teacher and a psychologist, child development was a frequent dinner table topic. By the time I was thirteen, I was completely hooked. My childhood heroes were Alfie Kohn and Madelyn Swift, two fierce proponents of a more positive, compassionate approach to discipline. I also became aware that I was being raised differently from many of my peers: While my friends and cousins were spanked or grounded, I was counseled. But it wasn’t exactly easy to come clean and reveal my emotions and mutually agree upon solutions, and sometimes being punished seemed like the easy way out! Still, I grew up with a heavy appreciation of the time my parents spent with me to offer their guidance, and the fair and respectful treatment of children became the golden, wrapped-up package in my soul.

      After several years of teaching kindergarteners and a whole lot more personal research on disciplinary techniques and strategies to handle defiance, effective parenting seemed so easy. When I saw a child having a tantrum in the grocery store, I assumed that if the parent had been proactive in the right way, the whole embarrassing conflict could have been avoided. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that, now.”

      The first time I had to handle a tantrum from my own child, I was knocked flat off my feet! All the strategies I had learned by heart now had to be implemented in practice, not just preached. The complete lack of objectivity had rendered me a newbie in the field. What I had learned to be true from the books now had to be learned all over again from experience. And so, my children set about teaching me the right way to parent them.

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      Now, as a parent coach and educational consultant, I listen to the concerns and anxieties of many parents in the thick of those tough toddler years, and my heart aches in remembrance. Parenting is a humbling experience. Children pass through such a quickly progressing succession of developmental stages during the first few years of life that it’s hard for us to keep up with their current needs, much less anticipate what changes will occur next. As my mama always said with a bit of cheekiness, “If you don’t like your child’s behavior, just wait a few weeks for a new developmental stage. By then, you’ll have an entirely different problem to figure out!”

      In addition, most of us have no real memories of what it felt like to be a toddler. We can only imagine the intensity of their emotions as they push toward independence and simultaneously demand the safety and comfort that can only be provided by a parent.

      You, like your child, are on a path of becoming. Your quest: to nurture your child’s potential, and while doing so, learn how to become a stronger and more compassionate human being yourself. Every day, you bravely face the possibility of tantrums and acts of defiance, obstacles that would ruffle even the most heroic among us. Yet you are never alone in these woods.

      Unlike a fairy tale, there is no magic wand or spell that can skip to the happily-ever-after; however, what I can offer you is a map that reveals your child’s natural developmental path. I can also help fill the backpack for this journey with discipline strategies to pick and choose from as you learn what works best for you and your child. I can give you a heads up about the issues parents commonly face during each year so that you know what to look for. And I can reassure you that there is no such thing as perfection. We all make mistakes and learn from them. Our children’s capacity for forgiveness and acceptance of our faults is unfathomable. As long as you are meeting your child’s basic needs for health, safety, and love, you will walk right out of these dark woods into the sunlight. I promise.

      Technology Can't Fix Your Parenting Problems

      I have to tell you, I'm excited about how technology is changing my life. Cars that can detect when someone's in my blind spot, better voice dictation for typing, video chat sessions with my newborn niece that are crystal clear even though we live on the other side of the country, my new noise-cancelling headphones, appointment reminders that sync from my email to my calendar - it's amazing and I'm loving it!

      What I don't love is when products are created to give a quick fix to a parenting issue.

      Tech + babies & toddlers makes me very skeptical

      Want to know how much milk your baby drank in a nursing session? There's a gadget that claims it can do just that. Attach a sensor to your baby's earlobe, and the suck and swallow is recorded in an app.

      Can't remember when your baby's diaper was last changed so you'll know when to change it again? You can plug that info into a device that will tell you by the second.   

      Need to get your child to brush his teeth? A toothbrush can sing to him, beep, and sync to an iPad to put a star on a rewards chart. 

      Disturbed by your toddler waking you up before you're ready to open your weary eyes and face the day? You can install an "ok to wake" clock that trains your toddler not to come wake you up by showing a red light until your pre-set wake time. 

      Truth: parenting is super hard!

      Babies always seem to poop when you've just gotten everyone out the door. Breastfeeding is awkward and anxiety-ridden for many new moms in the first few months. Most children dislike the feeling of a toothbrush on their teeth. And toddlers battle bedtime and sometimes wake up at the crack of dawn.

      Exhausted parents who find that there's an app for that are often swayed by the slick video advertisements of well-rested, happy parents and compliant children all due to some kind of tech-intervention. 

      So do they work?

      Since children are very receptive to external stimuli, they very well may. And somewhere out there there is a parent and child who would benefit from a product with capabilities like these. My gut instinct says that it would be a rare need.

      More truth: If a tech gadget seems to promise compliance from your child, it's probably too good to be true. Because we're raising humans, not robots. And we're the parents. It's _our_ job to set the limits and gently guide our children toward adulthood. If they wake us up too early in the morning, we need to ask ourselves why.

      So let's take that last gadget - the “OK to wake clock”.

      And let's break down the real problem. 

      Here are just a few reasons why children might wake up early in the morning: 

      • Their bodies woke up ready to play!

      • They had a bad dream. :(

      • It's daylight's savings time.

      • They napped too much the day before.

      • They got to bed too late.

      • They are having a developmental growth spurt.

      • They woke up and it was dark...and lonely...and they wanted you.

      • They woke up and it was sunny...and eerily quiet...and they wanted you.

      And here are some possible non quick-fix solutions for you: 

      • Help children become more aware of their circadian rhythm by allowing them to sleep and wake with the sun.

      • Trust that they will, in their own time, adjust to a more realistic rhythm that also works in sync with your needs.

      • Talk to them about your expectations before you get them to bed. And when they wake you up too early, be compassionate. Remember - you're the adult.

      • Install darkened curtains or light proof blinds so that the room is darker earlier and stays dark later.

      • Bedtime routines. I'll say it again. Bedtime routines.

      • Make their room accessible for independent wake and sleep as much as possible. Toys that they can play with in a safe environment without you just for a bit while you rouse yourself.

      • Learn how to appreciate the sunrise. This was my solution with my second born, and guess what...it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I saw so many beautiful pink skies!

      • Go to bed earlier so you're not as cranky when you're awoken earlier.

      • Let your child crawl in bed with you. (Here's another solution that worked brilliantly for me!)

      • Be patient and kind - both to yourself and to your child. These days won't last forever - I promise!

      With every gadget that promises a parenting quick fix, we need to ask ourselves: Is this an aid to the emotional needs of the child?

      Does it foster independence?

      Is it necessary?

      Is it the best solution?

      Or is it something that gets in the way of my child's natural development or my ability to do my parenting job? 

      If the answers to those questions gives you pause - just be patient a little longer and try a few human strategies first.

      They've worked for us for thousands of years.

      What's another generation got to lose in trying?

       
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      Toddler Fears are Normal: Calm Them With Kindness

      Whyyyy can’t they install nice, affordable, universally quiet air-based hand dryers in our public restrooms? Or toilets that flush without filling our ears with a sudden burst of static? All the parents of toddlers I know would be ever-so grateful. Both adults and children would exit the room feeling a good deal less stressed.

      Can we make this happen now, please?

      And then can we apply what we’ve learned about helping humans peacefully enter and exit public places to airports, grocery stores, malls, and schools?

      Libraries, just hang tight for this conversation. You’ve got it covered already. ;)

      Of course, even if human-designed areas of our world were created with a calmer, more natural mindset, our children would still find things to be scared of. As a mom of two, I’ve seen my own children experience both little fears and bigger anxieties as they entered and exited toddlerhood.

      There was the year that dogs became a huge issue and meeting a dog-walker in the neighborhood ended in my child running away and hiding behind a bush. There was the year that hard candies were banned (lest a family member choke on them). And, of course, we had our fair share of bedtime battles because nighttime itself is dark and scary.

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      Childhood Fears Are Common

      When parents share with me the things their children are afraid of, common themes always emerge:

      Animals, like…dogs, cats, insects, spiders, snakes, or roosters.

      Being Separated...like at a playground, in a grocery store, on a crowded street, or while attending a class.

      Unexpected Lights or Voices...battery-powered toys, talking electronics (Siri / Alexa / Google Home / the car GPS system), talking baby dolls, or alarm clocks.

      Excessively Loud Noises, like...car washes, jet planes, hair dryers, blenders, lawn mowers, garbage disposals, toilets, or vacuums.

      Fantasy and Masked Characters, like....people in holiday costumes like Santa or the Easter Bunny, clowns, or cartoons. (And let’s not forget monsters!)

      The Dark… Who are we kidding, though? Even most adults feel uncomfortable in the dark. Fear of the unknown and unseen is part of the human experience. So if we feel a little creeped out and vulnerable ourselves by burglary noises in the dark, scary clown pictures, or being alone at the park, how do we help our children overcome their anxieties?

      Acknowledge the Reality

      It can be tempting to dismiss the fear entirely -- especially if you know that your child is safe. However, just telling her not to be scared isn’t going to be effective.

      Instead of saying, “Don’t be afraid,” or “You’re okay,” acknowledge the intensity of her emotions.

      Describe what you see. For example, “Your body is very rigid and you’re hiding behind me. The noise of the hand dryer is very loud, isn’t it? You’re scared. Lots of people are afraid when they hear loud noises. I understand how you feel.”

      Offer Comfort

      Some children will need a simple hug or cuddle after a frightening experience, and that simple physical contact will assure them that you are there. Other children may appreciate some kind and comforting words, like “I love you so much, and I will keep you safe,” or “I am confident that the hair dryer will not hurt you.”

      Give Information

      What’s behind door number 1? Is it a tiger? If you open that door and engage your child’s natural curiosity, you are allowing her to consider new possibilities to reframe her own fears.

      If a dog bark sends your child into panic, talk about how animals communicate with one another and what they might be “saying” if they could express themselves like humans do. Show how high pressured soapy water and a soft brush can rinse away dirt, just like the automatic car wash does.

      By revealing the truth behind the object of anxiety, you are allowing your child to choose whether to be afraid or not.

      That’s real empowerment! You’re being supportive, empathetic, and kind when you educate about reality.

      The fears may not go away completely, but your attitude toward them will make a world of difference for your child.

       
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      Need Help With Your Toddler?

      Read the introductory chapter to my book Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage for free.

      Ending the Neverending Bedtime Battles
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      A letter…

      “Hi, Aubrey! We are struggling at bedtime. My son’s bedtime routine is dinner, playtime, bath, and books. We read 5 books after bath and usually one story after.

      I’m happy to stay with him after that until he falls asleep; he can be in my bed if he wants, but as soon as the story is over, he demands more, and if I say no he starts to be very loud waking his baby brother, he suddenly needs to get a drink, go to the toilet, or anything to make it longer.

      Sometimes he runs back downstairs. I do not know how to reinforce the routine in a gentle and respectful way.

      We tried letting him stay up in his room but he will stay up for hours, frequently coming back downstairs until I go back and read again. Then he is tired and miserable the next day. Any advice please? Thank you.”

      - Teri, mama to 4 year old Teddy


      I hear you, mama…

      If only we could just create a consistent bedtime routine and be done with the battles! The age-old wisdom is correct: routines are important. You are already one step ahead by thinking through and implementing calming, consistent just-before-bed habits to help him wind-down.

      Physically, you know that his body is prepped for sleep.

      A full belly, an engaged mind, some warm, muscle-relaxing water therapy, and a good cuddle should do it. You’ve got the physical needs covered.

      If anything, I’m wondering how long this routine takes. If you’re completely exhausted by the time “sleep” is supposed to be happening, consider shortening it or starting the whole thing a little bit earlier to allow for more flexibility (and emotional capacity) on your end.

      Empathy and Exhaustion

      I can tell by your descriptive words to me -- “I’m happy to stay with him” and “if he wants” that these are also empathetic words you use with him. Gentle, respectful parenting is important to you, and you work hard at it. I can also tell that you are feeling exasperated by the time bedtime rolls around.

      The words “demands” and “miserable” speak volumes, even though you are talking about your child and not yourself. These are not easy times!

      Empathetic as you are, emotionally, your child is obviously still struggling internally, and it likely has nothing to do with what you are or are not doing. This one is not on you.

      Developmental Changes

      Four-year-olds are going through a pretty big developmental transformation that can greatly interfere with sleep. While they can, if they choose, be quite amicable, they are also prone to engaging in power struggles, even when you are giving them no real “reason” for one.

      New fears often emerge at this age - of scary noises in the dark, worrying about being lost or alone, thinking about what would happen to him if you died, the uncomfortableness of the transition from awake to asleep.

      What if a terrible event occurred while he was helplessly asleep, or even worse...what if something amazingly exciting happened and he wasn’t awake to witness it?

      Friendships are especially exciting and anxiety-inducing at this age as well. If he couldn’t figure out how to properly join a game of tag at the park the other day or had a disagreement with a good friend, it may take a little while for him to sort out his feelings.

      These thoughts are often swimming around inside the typical four year old’s head, and it’s new and different for him. None of this entered his consciousness last year at all!

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      Finding Solutions

      Because four-year-olds are good at communicating the lack of desire to go to bed but not actually so good at communicating those deeper worries, you will need to be a detective. How are you to know what’s actually bugging him just before bedtime? You can’t see into his mind, and you may never know exactly what the issue is. Chances are good that it will resolve itself as he processes and adjusts.

      Don’t go changing up his routine again too much. You’ve got the basis already, and consistency is still important at this age. I wonder if you might be able to have some heart-to-heart discussions with him about why bedtime is so hard right now. I’d recommend that you do it during the day and not in the middle of a bedtime battle.

      See if the two of you can find some time to talk about the problem. If you do, you should make sure you are not in a chastising type of mood. This is not a lecture. For some children, it works best if you are deep in a snuggle after reading a story - whether on your couch under a blanket or in your bed. For other children, it could work best while their hands are engaged in an activity they love and find comforting, such as playing with legos.

      You really want him to open up and talk to you and help you find a solution. “I am concerned about how bedtime is going recently. I’ve noticed that sometimes you have a hard time getting to sleep, even when I lay with you. We read our stories, and then it seems like you’re getting up a lot. Will you talk to me about that? You used to go right to sleep. What’s going on at night?”

      He doesn’t have to answer you verbally. He may be answering inside his head, and if there is silence after a bit of wait-time, you should move on to possible solutions.

      First, remind him of the rules (four-year-olds are absolutely still comforted by family policies and consistent boundaries). “Our family rule is that after 5 stories, we go to sleep. What can we do to help you do that?”

      You can also offer some child-friendly suggestions, such as…

      1. You could choose a stuffed animal to cuddle with us.

      2. We can stop after 3 stories and go to the toilet one more time and then read the other 2.

      3. We can put a water bottle next to the bed so we can drink some water.

      Either way, with enough love and patience, you can get these bedtime battles and your responses to them under control with the gentle, respectful way you are aspiring for.

      Love,
      Aubrey

       
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      You can find more effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow in my book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage.

      There is no degree in parenting. But there's this.
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      I loved my mother so much I wanted to grow up and be just like her. I can close my eyes and I still see my five-year-old rosy cheeks and pigtails in the mirror. The answer to the age-old whaddya wanna be when ya grow up question was suddenly clear as day.

      I looked right into my own hazel eyes and announced the epiphany out loud. “I’m going to be a mom!” My voice echoed off the old olive-green tiles. I whispered it again for good measure. And then I went into my backyard and twirled in the sun, happy and fulfilled, secure in my future career. I wonder how many other children had a similar adorably innocent moment.

      Unlike other life-altering career decisions, like my own foray into classroom teaching, there is no degree to obtain in parenting. There are no certifications to pile up. No professional development hours to accrue and turn in. No one hires you or fires you. No one gives you a to-do list or evaluates your performance.

      You can read about the right way to discipline children and even study child development before you give birth to or adopt one. These formal studies can certainly get you philosophically centered and ready to face challenges head on, but in the end, as new parents, we are all more or less on the same playing field. Newbies mucking about together, hoping for the best.

      Parenting well takes constant introspection and empathy - for when we learn to see the world through the eyes of our children, we start to understand why they behave the way they do. And then we can modify our reactions to meet their deepest needs.

      If we are trying our best to parent with compassion, with respect, with loving guidance, with gentle encouragement, with supportive limits, and with a good deal of humility, I truly believe we are all on the right path.

      Even so grounded, many parents have come to me over the years and asked me for specific strategies to try when their toddlers and young preschoolers are throwing tantrums, refusing to cooperate, throwing toys, hitting, or biting, among other behavioral difficulties.

      I’m happy to share the wisdom I’ve learned along the way - from reading books, chatting with my mama friends, and by watching my husband work his own parenting magic - but it is impossible disregard information about the development of the child in lieu of a specific method. They are both essential to solving a problem.

      In my new book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage, you’ll find practical strategies for overcoming common issues faced by parents of 1-4 year olds right alongside insight into your child’s developmental stage. It was a genuine thrill to write and brought back so many memories of my own children when they were little!

      You are the perfect parent for your own child - just as you are. You know that, right? I hope you do.

      I know you might not always feel like one. Most of us struggle with periods of self-doubt and even cry about it in the bathroom or get unreasonably cranky. Recently, I re-watched the animated film Tangled again and was struck by how much I identified with the evil witch (“mother”) when she fell back into her chair in exasperation after yelling and said in regret, “Great. Now I’m the bad guy!” Oh, how many times have I been that bad guy, goaded into losing control of my own emotions!

      All of the fretting, the exhaustion, and for some of you (myself included) even the yelling…this is life handing you an opportunity for learning. Every good story has an internal struggle. It wouldn’t be a story without one!

      But with dedication to learning and the willingness to embrace the ups and the downs, your child will respect how hard you tried and may even look in the mirror and decide to one day take the journey, too.

       
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      Going Grocery Shopping With Kids? Read This First!

      It’s a common scene in the checkout aisle: a tired-looking parent is hurriedly putting the grocery items on the conveyor belt. A baby sits in the front of the cart clutching a teething toy. A three year old stamps her feet impatiently and then inspects the candy bars at eye level.

      It begins with a tiny whine but quickly turns into an attention-getting wail. Two options are quickly obvious to the parent: buy the candy bar or endure an embarrassing meltdown in public. Fortunately, there is a way to avoid grocery store tantrums and it comes down to four steps.

      1. Role-play It at home

      2. Give Reminders first

      3. Be Responsive to Their Wishes

      4. Set Realistic Expectations

      1. Role play it at home

      A little preparation goes a long way. Here’s how.

      1. On a table or on a rug, have your child help you set up some objects to “buy.” Get a piece of paper and only write down a few of the objects on the list.
      2. Get a basket to gather the items you need to “buy.” Then, pretend you are going shopping. Show your child the list and read the first item on the list. Select that item.
      3. Intentionally reach for an item that you know is not on the list and stop yourself before putting it in your basket, reminding yourself that you aren’t going to buy it at this time.
      4. When you are finished with your pretend shopping, return the items to the rug and help your child make a list for his/her own basket.

      Example

      “I’m going to go grocery shopping, but first I need a list….Okay, I’ve got my list! Now I’ll shop. First I need… Oh look at this! Wait - it’s not on the list. Maybe I’ll put this on my list for next week, but I’m not buying it today. Let me look at the list again. I need….”

      2. Give a reminder just before you go in

      Before you actually enter any store, remind your child what the expectations are for shopping. Do this by taking the time to bend down to your child’s level, make eye contact, and speak clearly and calmly. Tell your child exactly what you will do in the store together.  

      Example

      “We’re going to go into the grocery store now. You will get to sit in the cart, and we will do our shopping together. Do you remember how we played grocery shopping yesterday? Well, here’s our REAL list! I’m going to need your help. We only need things that are on the list… Can you help me stick to the list?”  

      Example

      “Remember that when we go into the grocery store, we will walk, not run. We don’t want to bump into anyone and hurt them! We will choose the items on our list, and we’ll be done soon. Then, we’ll be ready to take you to the playground this afternoon.”

      3. Be Responsive to their Wishes

      Grocery stores are designed for one thing in mind -- to get you to buy what’s on the shelves! Everyone can be susceptible to the desires for wanting to buy what isn’t needed. Your child may want something that is definitely NOT on the list, and if you say “no” and argue as to why it’s a “no," you may be in for a meltdown.

      The trick here is to respond and respect your child’s wishes as valid, human feelings that are worthy of your attention. Be prepared to listen, answer empathetically (yet firmly!) and move on.

      Example

      “I see that you really want to buy this, but it’s not on our list for today. Would you like for us to consider putting it on a list for next time?”  

      Example

      “I know how you feel! You really want this. I wish we could buy it! I want it too!” 

      4. Set Realistic Expectations

      What grocery store will be easiest for you and your child to navigate? Is it the tiny, local shop on the corner with fewer purchasing choices? Or is it the big superstore with wide aisles? If you go shopping at 8:00am on a weekday, will it be less crowded? Or is the better time on a weekend in the evening?

      If you can pinpoint the right store and the best times for doing your shopping, it could be worth the effort.

      Young children have limited attention spans and limited tolerance for overwhelming situations. Consider bringing a toy to fiddle with in the cart or snack to eat while shopping. Don’t forget that even with very small children, taking the time to smell the oranges that you are buying can engage their short-lived interest a little longer.

      For older children, consider giving them a list of their own to help shop with, or send them on mini-errands to pick up items. Most children love helping out when the work is purposeful. If you can involve them in the planning and in their own behavioral expectations, you'll have even more success!

      Example

      “Oooh, look how red and smooth the apples are this week! Would you like to feel how smooth it is?”

      Example

      “The next thing on my list is bread. What’s the next thing on your list?”  

      Your Plan of Action

      Do you see a common theme here running throughout all of these suggestions? Having an overall plan and including your child in the responsibilities involved with shopping will help you get through your shopping experience in the smoothest way possible!  

      Start now by writing down the answers to these questions on a pad of paper and make your plan now.

      1. Where do you commonly go shopping? List all the stores. 
      2. Which stores seem to be easiest for your children to navigate? List the top 2. 
      3. Which stores seem to be the hardest for your children to handle? List the worst 2. 
      4. What are your expectations for your children in the store -- Sit in the cart? Walk beside you? Snack while shopping? Make sure YOU are clear on these answers before talking to your children. 
      5. Have you role-played shopping? If not, put it on your to-do list now. 
      6. Practice your language. Your child wants to buy a candy bar. You've decided it's not on your list. What are you going to say? 

      Happy shopping! 


      Hey, Parents! 

      Looking for long term solutions power struggles, meltdowns, and tantrums? CDIR now offers Illuminate Parent Coaching with Aubrey Hargis, catered to your family's situation. A 6-8 week intensive program helps you focus on positive strategies that WORK to help develop the responsible, considerate adults you are raising as children in your arms today.

      Inquire here. 

      Don't Feed Your Kids. Organize the Fridge!

      Did the kids eat this morning? I didn't see it with my own two eyes, but what have we here? A hodgepodge of mugs filled with varying amounts of milk or water or.... something... on the dining table. And here, a couple strawberry hulls on the tile floor. And here, a mostly empty bowl of oatmeal by the sink.

      Either the kids ate breakfast or we have the most capable rats this side of NIMH living in our house.

      I don't need a mountain of evidence (or a secret society of super rats) to know the story. Since they were very young, we have given the children wide latitude in the kitchen. Kids being kids, I can usually tell what they're eating and how much -- with little effort.

      Free Range Children

      The idea that even young kids can feed themselves can strike people as odd. Isn't setting food out in front of the child two or three times a day one of our most basic duties as a parent?

      No.

      Certainly, we must ensure our children are eating well, but allowing children some control over their diets doesn't shirk this duty. In fact, it can actually support another critical duty - teaching children independence and self-control.

      Choice Leads to Good Choices

      Giving kids some control over their diets doesn't mean a free for all. If you want your kids to make good choices, you need to make sure they have access to good things. That takes adult planning and preparation -- keeping the pantry and fridge stocked with easy to access choices like mason jars with precut veggies or a big pot of cooked oatmeal.

      But the payoff is worth it. I find that children will ingest more healthy foods and a wider variety of healthy foods when they have control over what they are eating

      Five Tips

      Want to give it a try? Here are some tips for encouraging your children to serve themselves.

      Don't feed your kids! Organize your fridge! Five steps to food independence

      1. Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy foods.

      It seems like all of us have different opinions on what is "healthy," so do your own research here and run with it. I think we can all agree that getting kids to eat veggies is a good thing, so make sure to stock up on lots of those!

      I strongly recommend keeping the junk food completely out of sight or better yet... don't buy it at all. Kids can't make good decisions about cookies. Sugar is just too tempting! We keep a limited amount of chips, cereal, candy, and snack foods in a high cabinet far out of reach.

      2. Prepare your veggies ahead of time.

      After grocery shopping, I try to give myself about 30 minutes to do some food preparation. I chop the celery and carrots into sticks. I cube the beets. Wash and spin the lettuce. Separate the broccoli florets. Slice the bell peppers and squash. Not only does this make fresh, raw food accessible to my kids, it makes cooking meals MUCH faster!

      3. Store your food in child-accessible containers. 

      In my fridge, I use more than one type of food container. Mason jars have the added bonus of being see through. Plastic tops seem to be easier for my kids to open than screw tops. Plastic baggies work great for some things. Recently, I've been really into these plastic freezable containers, but large yogurt containers and the like are great options for food storage, too.

      4. Make sure the kid dishes and utensils are reachable. 

      You can provide a stool so they can reach the family cabinet, you can choose a kids cabinet at eye level, or you can keep their dishes on a shelf. Our kid dishes are on a shelf very close to the kitchen table where they eat.

      5. Designate a place for the dirty dishes.

      In my house, the children put their dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and wash them. When they were younger, we kept a plastic tub on a low table near the sink that they could easily reach. They didn't have to wash their dishes themselves, but they were strongly encouraged to put them somewhere ready for washing.

       
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      And One More Thing... Be Ready for Weird

      Once given free reign, your newly independent kids may choose to eat things that would not occur to you... like a tub of shredded parmesan cheese or a clove of raw garlic or the entire 2 pound container of strawberries.

      Click here  to join us in the next session!

      Click here to join us in the next session!

      Be cool with it.

      They're experimenting and exploring their senses.

      If they are eating something inappropriate, you can troubleshoot this a couple of ways. You can say, "Hey, kids, I'm saving the parmesan for the lasagna, so if you want some of that, tell me first, ok?" Or you can put the parmesan in the back of the freezer out of sight. Or you can put a Post-It note on the parmesan that says "MOM OR DAD ONLY." 

      Over time, they will figure out what foods you allow and what foods you want them to ask about. In our house, all of the condiments are "ask an adult first" foods.

      So give it a shot. If your fridge is full of all kinds of good food, they will thank you for it, and more importantly, they will learn competence and confidence in the kitchen.

      Please, Don't Spoil Summer Vacation

      Sometimes the seasons come upon us shockingly quick. It's not just the weather and fashions. Our moods and ideas about what constitutes good living shift with the season as well. 

      This is a good thing. We all need a good shake-up now and then. Besides, we are human animals - syncing with the natural world is only natural. 

      But sometimes we find ourselves scrambling to accommodate the seasonal hype around us. We think we need to create an entirely new, seasonally appropriate routine for our children. 

      The Summertime Blues

      As I write this, summer camp registration is at full tilt. Anxiety, too. Hearts plummet at the thought that we may have missed a grand opportunity for our little ones because we were too slow to register. (Naughty parent.

      And hot damn, those classes can be expensive! We find ourselves in a debate about what's the most worthy investment for our families and how much we can afford. 

      Five half days of "art camp" + several hundred dollars + a preschooler who does enjoy painting but truthfully loves playgrounds more = money well spent? 

      But if we don't sign them up for all this enrichment, aren't we depriving them of The Essential Summertime Experiences of Their Generation? Aren't we RUINING them? 

      And besides, what else are we going to do with the kids? People have to work, you know? 

      So what's a parent to do?

      Over Scheduled

      I know that many of you are filling up your summer bucket lists, contemplating vacations, and looking at your calendars thinking about how bored your kids will be unless you figure out how to fill the weeks ahead. 

      Out of curiosity, I asked some of my friends for their favorite summertime memories. Take a look at what they said.

      "Summers in the country... North Carolina at grandma's. Running down red clay roads. Eating berries off the vine and apples off the tree."

      "Outside at the pool all day. At camp hiking and rock-climbing. Reading all day in the cool basement. Ice cream and frozen candy bars. Sailing." 

      "Pool from the time I got up to the time I went to bed. Only stopping for adult lap swim."

      "Swimming in the dark at night and eating my mom's homemade ice pops after hours of swimming in our pool. And pretending to be Whitney Houston while singing along with 'I believe the children are the future' on our record player."

      Is it just me or are you noticing a theme here? I can see these children running around barefoot, fingers sticky and dark with berry juice.

      I see them dive bombing into the pool from the highest diving board over and over screaming with anticipation as the dopamine floods their brains and the water cushions the fall. I see their frozen treats dripping onto hot sidewalks.

      I see myself as a little girl melting play dough in the hot sun on my backyard slide. Warm thunderstorms, sitting out on the porch with my mama, swinging back and forth and cuddling.

      Making up symphonies inside my head while laying under a Texas-sized ceiling fan in a house without air conditioning. That enormous geode my brother and I found in our yard and lugged up onto the porch only to shatter the thing into a million glorious crystals.

      The Simple Things

      If you ask your children this question twenty years from now what they cherished most about their summers, I'm hedging a bet that it will be something slow, long, lazy, and amazingly simple that you'd never think to put in your summer bucket list.

      You can make this happen for them. Just try a little less hard to schedule everything, ok?

       
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      Five Ways to Respect Newborns

      It's not just you. Science confirms it - babies smell delicious. They also look like angels when sleeping. And nothing is as soft as a baby's bum.

      Little wonder that we think of babies as small and helpless creatures, which is too bad, really. Babies actually have immense power. No adult could accomplish anywhere near the task the baby has taken on in the past nine months of growth. 

      But more than that, our tendency to underestimate babies makes us it harder for us to respect them.

      We love them. We protect them. But respect? Respect In the way we respect a mentor or person who persevered? The concept is too often foreign even though babies both have much to teach us and have undoubtedly persevered. 

      Respect for children -- not just protection but actual respect for them and their work -- should be a central tenant of our social contract. It is one of the surest ways to social growth. 

      The baby is biologically driven toward becoming a great adult human being. If we give him the respect he deserves as an infant, he will grow into an adult who treats other adults with respect -- creating a stronger, more civilized, peace-seeking society in the future.

      Developing human potential

      As Dr. Silvana Montanaro writes in Understanding the Human Being, a newborn has "a strong drive to develop all the components of his human potential harmoniously." Here are five ways to foster this development through respect.

      1. Snuggle and Nurse Your Baby Often

      Give your baby direct, physical contact -- and lots of it. Skin-to-skin cuddles, babywearing, and cosleeping are all great ways to facilitate close contact. Human babies are born with the instinct to be close to their mothers, as they seek round-the-clock nourishment, comfort, and protection. Rather than trying to keep up with the usual household duties, take time to nurse and snuggle. You cannot give a newborn too much physical affection.

      2. Allow sleeping and eating on your baby's schedule, not yours

      The treatment of children should really be considered a matter of social importance.
      — The Absorbent Mind

      Newborns are gifted with a biological rhythm that tells them exactly how much nourishment and sleep they need. Allow them to regulate these needs themselves by making both milk and a calm place to rest available. Trust in your baby's instincts.

      3. Provide Consistent Routines

      Children have a natural sensitivity to order, and routines remain a great comfort throughout childhood. Your baby will naturally come to understand the difference between day and night and will be comforted by daily, repetitive experiences. By changing baby's diaper in the same place often enough, he will come to know and expect what is about to happen. By singing the same lullaby to your baby, he will soon internalize the music, so the first few lines soothe him right away.

      4. Let them look around and move their bodies

      Newborns are notoriously nearsighted at birth for a reason. Their ability to focus on objects is the exact distance between your breast and your face. Allow your baby to gaze on you while you nurse, and give him lots of eye contact and smiles. Newborns also need to be able to move their bodies. Laying on a lap in a rocking chair or on a soft blanket on the floor is perfect for stretching muscles and nearby focusing. Conversely, bouncers, play yards, swaddling blankets, and other common baby products can restrict both the baby's view and ability to move freely (and may contribute to problems like plagiocephaly).

      5. Stimulate their senses

      Babies thrive in environments rich in sensory contact, and you don't need to work hard to create one for them. Bring your baby into the thick of life, and rich sensory experiences will take care of themselves. Eat nutritious food, and you'll give your nursing baby a taste sensation (breastmilk takes on the flavor of what the mother eats). Let your baby listen in on adult conversations, and softly speak to him directly about what you're experiencing. Go outside and feel the wind softly blow. Stand under a branch and look at the leaves as long as his gaze remains focused. 

      Making Tantrums a Positive Experience

      When your child is having an emotional meltdown, it's hard to keep your cool!

      What if your child is crying uncontrollably or is kicking and screaming on the floor? What then?

      No matter what, realize that it is your job as the parent to push your own emotions aside as much as possible in order to help your child. But how? It takes practice and a lot of determination.

      In this video, I ask you to turn your thinking about tantrums around. Instead of seeing the tantrum as something negative to nip in the bud, look at it from an educational perspective...a positive learning opportunity for both you and your child.

      Tips for Success

      1. Be Their Voice. Children do not always know how to communicate their frustrations to you. Your job is to help teach them how.
      2. Be Strategic. There are two times when your child is more likely to be in a receptive state: before the tantrum starts and after the tantrum is over. If at all possible, use those times to your advantage.
      3. Keep Cool. During the tantrum itself, remain compassionate and patient until it's over. If your child likes to be hugged, provide physical comfort. If your child prefers to be left alone, just hang out sympathetically nearby until the tantrum is over.
      4. Keep Firm. If you said no to something your child wanted to do, really mean no and stick to it. Don't give in just because there is a tantrum. Giving in will not solve the problem. Discussing feelings and coming up with solutions and compromises will.
      5. Be Kind to Yourself. You're only human. Every tantrum gives you the chance to grow and change as a parent to meet your own unique child's needs. By putting a positive spin on the situation, you are not only empowering yourself, you are raising a child who will learn how to put life's hurdles into perspective.
      Five Tips for the Montessori Beginner

      So you want to do Montessori in the home but aren't sure where to start. Maybe you follow those Instagram feeds filled with achingly beautiful photos of some fantastical Montessori home and think "if only I knew the secret, my house, too, could look like that." Perhaps you've toured a Montessori classroom, beautifully prepared with neat shelves of learning materials and thought, "if they can do it with 17 kids, certainly I can do it with just one!"

      Well, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you can't replicate the Photoshopped fantasy nor the carefully managed classroom. The good news is you aren't supposed to. Montessori is much more a philosophy of child development than a set of things to do. Plus, you're doing it in your home -- under real world conditions. Expect the mess. 

      So where does that leave the aspiring Montessorian?

      Mastering the philosophy can be a life's pursuit, but there are a few tips you can incorporate right away to help you along the way. You might now 

      #1. Follow your child 

      This is number one for a reason. Learning new skills will not occur without your child's interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child's stage of development.

      What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?

      I can't tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that's your child's job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can't truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment.

      You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child's interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. Write down a list of your child's current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, "What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?"

      #2. Invest in shelves and baskets

      While you're not likely to achieve immaculate, you do want to make your Montessori environment as organized and peaceful as reasonable. It also keeps your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can't stuff everything on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins.

      Unlike toy chests, shelves naturally encourage you to limit quantity.

      Shelves are cheaply found at stores like IKEA and Target plus garage sales and thrift stores. You can find excellent baskets at Goodwill for less than a dollar. If you can afford it, invest in several shelves and LOTS of baskets and trays. Check out our Montessori shopping list to get a better idea of what to look for at a thrift store.

      Remember, you don't have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won't be disappointed.

      #3. Choose some of your child's nicest toys 

      Toys are fine when the quality and quantity is appropriate. If adding toys, pick ones your child loves; that inspire and nurture; and (if at all possible) are beautiful and made of natural materials. Likewise, steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child's imagination.

      And the toys that you aren't choosing to put on your beautiful shelves? You don't have to throw the rest away, but do keep them away from your child's shelves, hidden wherever you have available. A closet? The basement? The laundry room? Giant plastic storage tubs are great for this, as are heavy-duty black garbage bags, as long as you have them labeled "not trash"!

      And if you find yourself acquiring a massive amount of toys, it's a great idea to donate them in batches regularly.

      #4. Limit quantity

      If you have a toddler, you probably won't be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. Put those in a basket and store the rest. You also don't want to crowd your shelves. Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

      Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

      Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can't tell you that, but your child will. If you have a toddler who is into "dumping" making a big awful mess for you to clean up every time, or if you have a four year old who is having a hard time putting things away, you probably have too many toys.

      You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzles or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.

      #5. Get Support

      You can't make this journey alone. You need help! Start with spouses, partners, or others who are actively participating in raising your child, such as grandparents. The goal is to have a shared vision for what Montessori in your home looks like. This may require you to have some hard, deep conversations -- especially if your partner isn't totally onboard -- but it's critical.

      Go further, though, and reach out to friends and other parents. Talk to them about what you're doing, even if you aren't completely confident in it. In fact, talking about it will help you better understand your own perspective and dissolve the feeling of isolation so common in parenting. 

      Lastly, look for mentors in other places. The Internet is filled with wonderful resources for parents at any stage of their Montessori journey, including our own Montessori 101 Facebook group. Join the conversation!