Sunday, April 12, 2015

4 Lessons I've Learned from Toddler Testing

My 20 month old daughter, El, occasionally likes to draw with markers on the wall.  She looks back at me as her giggles erupt.   I say, "El, please do not draw on the wall, draw on the paper."  This makes her laugh even harder and in return, I laugh too because, well, she's 20 months old and there's nothing I love more than the sound of her laughter.  

I walk over, she hands me the marker, I clean off the wall (sometimes she helps) and we move on or do it all over again. 

Setting boundaries is not an area I'm particularly strong at.  Often her bold yet playful testing some how turns into a game (which ruins any chance of enforcing a limit).  But since I'm at the beginning stages of my boundary setting journey, I have already learned a few things that will hopefully carry me through the toddler years. 

Deciding which limit to set, isn't always easy. 

  • Sometimes I find myself attempting to set a limit on something I think I should care about. This often leads to inconsistency. For example, the marker on the walls. After some reflection I realize, deep down inside, I actually don't care if she does this. She draws, I wipe, end of story.  

When my tone and face communicate I mean business, it only makes the inappropriate activity more interesting. 

  • This one needs little explanation and I've tested this theory on more than one occasion, with more than one toddler.  

Mom's acting weird, let's do it again! 

Resorting to sternness, is just not me.

  • El's best friend is 32 months and is in the prime limit-testing stage. For a while, I believed that my face and tone should convey that I am serious.  If she didn't listen, I said it again, direct, stern, and with an edge...on repeat.  I was embarrassed and surprised when my emotional state began to rise to an uncomfortable place.  I recently read Janet Lansbury's, 9 Best ways to Stay Unruffled with Toddlers article, which provided relief. 

Say it once (EXPECT them not to comply), give a choice, 
then follow through. 

Narrating what is happening on a developmental level, reminds me of the big picture. 

  • If El insists on standing on the chair,  I say,  "I know you keep standing because you are curious to see if I'll respond in the same way."  By saying what I logically know, I maintain the perspective that El (and any other toddler that crosses my path) is going through a NORMAL, EXPLORATORY and HEALTHY phase in her development.  

El is looking to me for information, guidance and consistency as she actively seeks out ways that she is separate.  At 20 months old, it's pretty much her full-time job.   As a parent of a 20 month old, it is my job to be disciplined in the art of setting limits, so El can continue to confidently defy my wishes, make choices, and learn to collaborate and compromise with the world around her. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reasons to Love the Big "NO"

The word NO is a word that some parents dread their little ones learning.  People have warned me, "Just wait until she starts saying NO!"  I've even heard stories of parents avoiding the word all together in hopes that their child wouldn't learn to say it or use it.

But in the end...

NO is inevitable.  
NO is going to happen.
And there's NO way around it. 

NO is a powerful word. The first impulse might be to stop this inconvenient and threatening word as soon as passes through a toddlers lips ("Don't you say NO to me!"). Hearing NO from a small child can potentially bring on feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy or loss of power.

However, when my daughter El learned to say NO, I was surprised that our relationship transformed for the better.  With this powerful, 2-letter word, she holds me accountable to my parenting ideals and reminds me that she deserves clarity and consistency. 

Just by uttering the word NO she can say...
  • Tell me what's happening now.
  • Tell me what's happening next.
  • Slow down.
  • Let me try first. 
  • I'm frustrated.
  • Don't touch me. 
  • Show me you understand.
  • I wanted that.  
  • Give me a choice. 
  • Set a limit. 

It's hard to hide my smile and pride as she asserts her independence, challenges authority, asks questions, tries and tries again and demands respect.  NO has brought out these bold and beautiful qualities in my daughter.  Therefore, even though this word may be inconvenient to hear at times, I wouldn't trade them for the ease of a million Yes's.  

Related Resources...
What to do When Toddlers Say NO; Janet Lansbury 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One day to get it right

My daughter, El, is almost 15 months old.  Since she was born, my husband and I rarely embark on family field trips.  Our family time is typically spent on the home front.  However, the couple of times we organized a family outing, there was an underlying sense of urgency to have a tremendous amount of fun.  One-day only events seem to carry their own unique stressors. 

Why? Well...

  1. We paid a significant amount of money to be there and share a unique experience so it better damn well be magical!  
  2. If the outing doesn't go smoothly then we may never leave the house again.
  3. Where are the bathrooms? Where do we park? Where's a map?  Where are do we eat? 
  4.  It's too easy to tune into the anxiety of other stressed-out parents and then silently judge them. 

It was the weekend of my birthday and a perfect autumn day.  I requested that we visit a local arboretum. I have visited the arboretum pre-baby and remembered the Children's Garden.  I imagined El crawling around the paths, climbing the stone stairs, splashing in water and freely exploring in nature as we observed with delight.  

After navigating the first stressor (see #3), we found the cafe, waited in a too-long of line for food, discovered that the tables with the perfect views were taken and then settled for just a nice view instead. 

We then headed straight for the Children's Garden.  El leaned over to be let down.  She began to crawl around near the entrance. People were filtering in, saying "Hi" to El and making comments like, "Watch out for that baby!"  We moved her to another location. The same thing happened. A parent said just loud enough for us to hear, "Someone is going to step on that baby."  

Determined to defy the norm and make this world a more baby-conscience place, I allowed her to continue to crawl wherever she pleased as I hovered closely over her for protection. My husband trailed behind grumbling about the crowds.  

Are we having fun yet? 

As I was being judged by other parents for allowing El to crawl around in precarious conditions, my inner critic was alive and well as I noticed parents pulling their children from one feature to another, downgrading their interests, and threatening them if they disobeyed. (See # 1, and #4). 

We were all a bunch of parents trying so hard to do it right and somehow getting it all wrong.  

My husband finally convinced me to leave the Children's Garden to sit under some trees.  I thought, while we were here, I'd capture some shots of El playing in nature.  As I got into position to shoot, my husband lifted her up onto his lap for a snack.  I crtictized, "I was just about to take a picture of her playing in nature!"  Then it dawned on me.  I had our experience mapped out before we even arrived.   

Outside of the bustling Children's Garden, we relaxed and noticed a stunning yellow tree. We decided to sit under it.  El began passing yellow leaves back and forth and tearing them into tiny, glowing pieces. Every so often she'd throw her head and both arms upwards.   

My husband picked her up so she could reach into the yellow mass of leaves and branches.  Her eyes bright and mouth grinning, all because of an up close encounter with an autumn tree.  

When I stopped chasing the illusive idyllic day in search of happiness, I looked to my family. And without fail, they helped me understand that the perfect day, is any day that we share together.   

Check out this great resource...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cure for Monkey Brain

I started a new part-time job that consumes the majority of my free time.  It's only twelve hours a week, but that doesn't cease to fill me with guilt that El, my 13 month-old daughter's routine is disrupted and my brain occasionally hijacked.  Three days a week I am onsite.  On those three days, she doesn't nap in her bed and has to eat breakfast in the car when she would normally be home playing in her pajamas.   

And because I do some work from home,  it's not uncommon for my mind to stray from the present and jump from task to task. I constantly pull myself out of the trenches of LaLa Work Land as soon as I realize that's where I've set up camp. 

I openly admit, I compromised her comfort for my own personal reasons for taking on a job.   

And the reality is, on those three days, it is more about me than it is about her.  

I'm pretty sure that's the definition of Mommy Guilt

However, despite the additional influx of chaos and distraction I have welcomed into our lives, if there is one thing we can count on, it's bath time.

Not my bath time, but El's bath time.  Every evening, after dinner, I slip her into her tub, add some bubbles, hand her a bath tub book and turn on some music.  She smiles, I smile back as we both indulge in the comfort of our bath time ritual.   For at least 20minutes, we have nowhere to go and nowhere to be.  

As she physically cleanses, I mentally cleanse.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner rinses off her skin.  The dirt on her knees and on the tops of her feet wash away.  Tear stains from bumping her head, now gone. When my mind drifts, her splashes bring me back to her. 

I make sure I play too.  Hands immersed in water, putting caps (our tried and true toy) on our heads, and planting bubbles on our noses. The ending of one song prompts her to dance until the next one begins.  Sometimes I sing, and sometimes she sings too.  

After bath, I wrap her in a towel and I hold her cheek to cheek. When she sees her reflection in the bathroom mirror she always yells with her mouth opened-wide, two front teeth exposed and grinning in delight. 


The power of simple care routines and rituals cannot be underestimated. They are reliable anchors in any chaotic day and are a cure for even the worst monkey brain. Whether it is a diaper change, bath, nursing, or lunch time, they draw me out of my cave, and refocus my attention on providing care for my daughter, the most meaningful work of all.  

More on mindful care routines here:


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part II: Chasing After Milestones

I feel compelled to follow-up on my last blog post, which focused on El's natural gross motor development prior to her first birthday.  
I supported El's development by observing and giving her ample floor time for unrestricted movement and play.  As her first birthday quickly approached, she was not crawling or mobilizing forward.  It wasn't easy as a parent to idly sit back and watch her development naturally unfold, oh-so-slowly.  

I was frustrated with the time it was taking, and then frustrated with myself for my impatience. 

I mustered up what discipline I had and stayed true to my beliefs. I did not buy equipment that claimed to strengthen and teach babies to move, I did not prop her into the crawling position (Okay, I did it one time!), and I did not crawl around the floor to show her how it's done. 

I knew what she was working on was important, necessary and not always visible to the adult eye.

The day after Eleanor's first birthday, she began crawling.  Not the butt scoot backwards, or pulling herself in circles on her belly crawl, but good old-fashioned forward crawling.  

Now she crawls everywhere, loudly slapping her hands on the ground like a playful puppy.  She surprises me by magically appearing in the kitchen. She crawls back and forth between her Dada and I searching for belly buttons. And today, she made her way down the sidewalk and took a left, as if to say, "Hello world! Here I come."  A neighbor commented... 

"she seems so confident."

I recently read Teacher Tom's blogpost Falling Behind.  In a nutshell, he discussed the idea of how young children are often labeled behind, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, advanced, when in fact they are developing at their own individualized and perfect pace. 

Not long ago, I felt like El was falling behind and left in the dust of her toddling, crawling, climbing peers and now I can never go back to her pre-crawling days. I already feel nostalgia for the times when she was content laying on her back so she could hold books with her feet, and flip through the pages.  There were surely moments that slipped through the cracks because I focused on what came next. 


Even though this milestone can be officially checked off the list, I trust that El will forever challenge me to trust her as she moves through life.  It is her journey and I'm thankful to be along for the ride as we continue to find joy and meaning in every chapter we experience together. 

Previous related posts

Meet that Milestone Today

The Benefits of Allowing Your Baby to Struggle

Practice What You Promise


Concepts and Practices of the Pikler Approach

Don't Stand Me Up; Janet Lansbury

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chasing After Milestones

I am very much a mover.  With a background in both dance and early childhood development, I have written and presented workshops advocating for authentic movement experiences for infants and toddlers.  After having my daughter El, I was (and still am) excited to watch her gross motor development naturally unfold. 

But in all honesty, I wish it would unfold a little faster. 

In previous blog posts I've discussed, disclosed and processed my internal impatience with El's gross motor development.  At first it was the 'rolling over' milestone that made me nervous, now a week shy of turning the big 1, El is not crawling, pulling up to stand, and avoids putting weight on her legs.  

I am continually challenged to TRUST that she knows what she's doing.  So far, her process has proven to be nothing short of fascinating and it gets her there eventually. 

However, what still surprises me is the undercurrent of anticipation, anxiety and the twinge of isolation that accompanies not being 
perched on top of the developmental bell curve.  

When I openly acknowledge that I struggle to be confident in El's gross motor development, I am met with the response, "Every child is different! You can't compare!"  
Unfortunately, it is human nature to compare and categorize.  I can't help but notice that at the park I am the only parent in our playgroup that still totes a blanket for El and I to camp out on.  As the other parents chase after their little movers, we are stationary like content little Buddhas. 

And then the overcompensation seeps in.  Last week I observed El as she stacked blocks. I Googled, "How old are children when they begin to stack blocks."  Baby Center said,  "18months."  

18 months!  

My baby is advanced at block stacking!  

That's why she's not crawling! She's too busy becoming a block stacking prodigy!

"Earlier is not better," said infant specialist Magda Gerber, but regrettably and with much guilt I admit, as a parent, earlier feels better. 

Despite my inner conflicts and insecurities, I remain committed to supporting El's natural gross motor development. 

When it comes to parenting, what I feel and what I know are often at odds.  But luckily, my brain routinely reminds my heart that her process is perfect and always will be.  

I'll someday reflect on our early days together and become overwhelmed with wonder and disbelief that El was once a small baby who loved nothing more than to cuddle on my lap, flip through book after book, and watch the world go by on a blanket in the front yard.  

Be sure to check out..

 Related posts 

The Benefits of Allowing Your Baby to Struggle

Practice What you Promise

Resources on natural gross motor development

Sitting Babies Up, the Down Side; Janet Lansbury 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Smile for the Stranger

I always feel uncomfortable when parents ask their children to smile, sing or dance for me.  The child RARELY complies and quickly retreats.  If I see that they are uncomfortable and the pressure doesn't stop, I say, "You don't have to sing that song, I don't mind." 

Pressuring or requesting children to perform for the approval of others is one way that babies and young children are objectified. 

When my daughter, El, was only three-months-old, we went to visit a friend. Before I knew what was happening I said, "Can you smile for Julie?"  I needed her to witness how incredible my smiling baby was!  When El did not smile, she replied, "It's okay, I saw her smile already."  

Guilty as charged. 

When she began doing this adorable head-swaying-dancey-bob- thing, I found myself singing crazily, trying to get her to dance for our guests and family.  I commanded her to shake shake shake and clap clap clap to encourage her to show-off all the fun things she does in the comfort of her own home.  It was as if I was trying to sell her.

The desire for other people to see my daughter as likable and charming is stronger than I could ever imagine. 

When El encounters casual acquaintances or new people, her instinct isn't to smile and engage, but to stare with a neutral expression or even sport a frown for extended periods of time. 

She contemplates and assesses the situation through intense observation.  She hardly moves.  If she anticipates that her personal space is about to be invaded, she spontaneously breaks down in tears. Her first impression won't win any adoring fans.

However, by releasing the pressure to seek approval and please an audience,  the risk of future anxieties, personal insecurities and feelings of inadequacy may be lessened.   

Through continual reflection, I am working on letting go of the expectations I put on my daughter during social encounters.  Her suspicious, observant tendencies are a part of her, and worth getting to know, just as much as her smiley, playful side.  

Instead of pressuring, prompting and acting like a nut to get her to perform, I now strive to support authentic and responsive interactions with family, friends and acquaintances, so that El is empowered to open-up on her own terms and choose who she invites into her world.  

Related Resources:

The Approval Trap

Raising Less Stressed Kids; Janet Lansbury 

5 Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job;" Alfie Kohn