It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Teeny tiny talker

Daisy is a seriously cute baby.

Now, all the children in my care are gorgeous, of course. They all share the requisite round cheeks and big eyes. Some have curls, some have adorable baby-fine wisps. Most have dimple instead of knuckles — and if that doesn’t make you go “aw” every time you see it, you have a hard, cracked lump of coal for a soul. They have round knees and bellies, and the best collection of laughs you’d ever want to hear.

In addition to all that, however, Daisy is tiny. She’s 16 months old, but is in the 10th percentile for height. TEENY! (She is perfectly healthy, she’s just small. Her parents are not big people. Neither are her grandparents. She comes of petite stock, and will be a tiny woman, likely.)

So she does get a significant amount of cute factor from her sheer teeniness. People see her, think she’s 10 or 11 months old, and just LOOK what she can DO! They are amazed. (You see? ‘Tiny’ can be an advantage.)

She’s also got a quirky, mischievous, gregarious little personality. She’s friendly, she’s an imp. So there’s that.

But what gets her the cute award this week is that she has begun to say the names of her peers. But it’s not that she’s saying them, it’s how.

Liam comes out as a short, sharp burst of “Lee!” Never just once. A rat-a-tat of them. “Lee! Lee! Lee-lee-lee-lee Lee!” Makes me chuckle almost every time. She raps his name.

Zoe, however, gets an entirely different treatment. No rapping for Zoe. No. Zoe gets a long, lyrical sweep of a song. “Zooooooooooooooooo-ee!” Sometimes that first syllable is so elongated that I fear she’ll run out of breath before she gets to “ee!”, but she always manages it.

While she sings the name, her mouth is a perfect O, of course. So are her eyes. “OOOO”, says the mouth. OOO go the lips. OOO are the eyes.

Adorable, I tell you. Drowns me in cuteness every time.

Zoe’s dad saw it for the first time Wednesday evening. Saw it multiple times, because Daisy likes to say that name. Dad laughed, every time. Of course he did. Because it’s so damned cute! “I don’t think that will ever get old,” he says. Thursday morning, he drops her off, Daisy does it again. He laughs again. “Yup! Still funny!”

It is. Funny and adorable beyond words.

Congratulations, Daisy. YOU win Cute of the Week.

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October 17, 2014 Posted by | Developmental stuff, individuality, the cuteness! | , , | 1 Comment

The new crew

There’s been a big turnover here. Poppy, Daniel and Rosie are off to other adventures — JK for Poppy and Daniel, preschool for Rosie.

(An aside: Preschool, to “get her ready” for Junior Kindergarten, don’t you know. Silliest thing ever. As I recall, JK was intended to ‘get them ready’ for SK, which, at its inception, was intended to ‘get them ready’ for Grade 1. Honestly. What’s next? Intercom to the womb, so we can ‘get them ready’ for life outside?)

But, a secret here? The only one I truly, truly miss is Poppy. Daniel, though a charmer, was also more than a handful. I could manage him, him with his aggression and defiance. Over the course of the three years he was with me, he improved tremendously, but even so, he was a lot of work. And Rosie? Sweet little Rosie came with parents who were, increasingly, a lot of work. So, while I do miss Rosie, I’m pleased to have mom and dad gone.

And in their place?

I still have Daniel’s little sister, Gwen, who is now two. She’s dawning into an absolutely lovely child. You know how some people are just naturally positive? Gwen is one of those. Now, like her brother, she is very strong-willed, but unlike her brother, she is not self-destructively, reflexively defiant. It’s probably an exaggeration to say she can be ‘reasoned with’ very much just yet, but it is fair to say she is amenable to reason. She’s two, and perfectly capable of unreasoning contrariness, but negativity is not her default. She’s sunshine, mostly. Thunderstorms are occasional, and fleeting.

I still have … Oh, gracious. Did I ever give Poppy’s baby sister a blog name? I think not. Hmmm… I think I’ll keep the flower theme in the family, and go with ‘Daisy’. Bright and sunny, but also a bit of a weed. Yeah. Daisy. Good name for this one. (And yes, I’ve given her the same name as my dog. They share a goodly number of character traits…)

Daisy is now 16 months old. She’s got a killer sense of humour for such a wee one, is bouncy and resilient — cheerfully feisty, too. She’s tiny for her age, often taken for 10 or 11 months old, but make no mistake, she’s a powerhouse, this one.

And we have two new tots, Liam (18 months) and Zoe (14 months).

Liam is a hoot. He’s got the most beautiful, engaging smile. When Liam beams at you, it’s because he’s seen something wonderful and he just knows you’ll share the joy. From time to time, he recalls the evil, parent-eating door, and has a moment of sadness, but he’s quickly distracted. He’s a big, solid boy, but gentle with it, gentle in spirit and in actions. He does charge around like a tiny moose, yes, but manages, for the most part, to avoid knocking the others over like ninepins. He’s not a blunderer. And I have yet to see him use his size to push the other children around, which he manifestly could.

Zoe is a cautious one. Though she’s capable of some lovely smiles and has bouts of good cheer,  those are not her default. Zoe, sadly, is a whiner. Zoe’s response to life’s little setbacks is to cry. And Zoe’s definition of ‘setback’ is both exceedingly broad and endlessly specific.

Did you know that toddlers fall an average of 17 times an hour? True fact. That’s an average, too, meaning a bunch of tots fall more often than that! And did you also know that in Zoe’s world, an unexpected sit-down on her well-padded butt constitutes a ‘setback’ of scream-worthy proportions? Followed by long minutes of low-intensity grizzling? The girl seems to have no other response to a setback, no matter how insignificant, but to wail. No resilience whatsoever.

She’s cautious, so she probably falls less frequently than average. We’ll say a mere 10 times an hour. Oy. And that’s only the start. She will cry for … gracious. What won’t she cry for? I say again, Oy. Someone walks by too close. I put her in the high chair. I lift her down from the high chair. Another child laughs. Another child looks at her. Or at her toys. Or doesn’t look at her. She’s offered food. She’s not offered food. I put her in the stroller.

And let us not speak of diaper changes, which she greets with screams that would have the neighbours thinking (had I not pre-emptively shut the windows) that I was removing her toenails with pliers. Rusty pliers. Lord only know what will happen should she ever get a diaper rash!

Now that I am sure she’s adjusted to the new environment,  and equally sure that the grizzling is more bad habit than genuine unhappiness, I am beginning some basic behavioural training. If I am playing with her, helping her stack blocks on the floor, say, and she begins to grizzle (because someone walked too close? because a dog scratched itself across the room? a dust mote settled on the top block?), I spin on my butt so I have my back to her. Then I ignore the wails. She is passive. She won’t crawl around to the front of me. She sits and wails at my back. *sigh*

But, after a little while, there will be a pause.  Now, I doubt she’s tired. This girl is a marathon-calibre grizzler. No, not tired of whining, but puzzled. This is not what grizzling is supposed to do. So there’s a pause, and in that pause, I promptly turn back, smile, and continue with our game as if there hadn’t been a two-minute Grizzle Hiatus. I play with her until the next dust mote offends Her Delicacy and the grizzling starts again. Without saying anything at all, I once again turn my back.

And so we go, in sessions lasting 5 or so minutes, two or three times a day. I’ll use the quick-turnaround strategy at other times when the grizzle is being used instead of communication — this happens many times in a day — but I’m making a point of squeezing in these more prolonged, specifically training sessions.

It’s only been three days, but I can see improvement. On this, the third day, I will first sit back to increase the distance between us, and then pause a moment before I turn my back on her. About a third of the time, that pause is sufficient to make the whining stop, and then we resume our play.

If she can make that much progress in three days, I’m confident that we’ll train the Default Whine out of her. She’ll probably always be the first to whine when she’s tired or hungry. That’s okay. She may never be Miss Suzy Sunshine, but, give me a couple more months and we’ll get her to Polly Peaceable, at least.

It’s a largely pre-verbal group. Gwen chatters up a storm, but she’s only here three days a week, and she’s the only truly verbal one in the bunch. Daisy has some words, her absolute favourite being “Do-GGY!”, said at least 400 times a day, always with the accent solidly on the last syllable. Liam doesn’t offer words, but will occasionally echo, or give one up if prompted. And Zoe? Zoe goes in for vowels, in a big way. A serious dearth of consonants in Zoe’s ‘vocabulary’ just yet, though I have heard an enthusiastic “BA!” when she sees her bottle.

And now Daisy has woken from her nap, and I need to bring her downstairs for a diaper change and a story.

It’s nice to be back. Even if there isn’t anyone out there any more!

🙂

October 8, 2014 Posted by | individuality, socializing, whining | | 21 Comments

The Rules say…

“Ma-ry! I peed on the floo-or!” Poppy’s voice carols down from the bathroom upstairs. Words to warm a caregiver’s heart.

Poppy sits on the toilet, her feet dangling above a sizeable puddle. She has indeed peed on the floor. Some on the seat, too, I see. This is the second time in as many days this has happened. Dry panties and tights, puddle on floor. The first time, Poppy was assured it was okay, these things happen, and we chatted companionably as I mopped the floor.

I considered the notion that it could be a bladder infection. Little kids with bladder infections often end up peeing a nano-second from the toilet. Peeing all over the house, in fact. So a previously reliable child who suddenly starts having accidents could be the innocent victim of some nuisance bacteria. I considered the possibility, and discarded it.

No, this is nothing medical. This is the natural result of an almost-four-year-old who gets immersed in her activities and doesn’t notice the cry of the bladder until seconds before lift-off. Even more critically, this is a four-year-old has just been allowed to pour herself her OWN cups of water from the Brita. When you are almost four, such things are very important. And fun!

And so she has been having approximately 40 tiny cups of water an hour. Forty tiny cups of water go pouring in, and then she ignores her innards until the last possible second.

Well, the one-after-the-last possible second, really.

So this time, she gets a small scold.

“Poppy. You have been drinking lots of water today. It’s good to drink lots of water, but it makes you need to pee more. You have to pay attention.”

“Yeah. I waited too long.” She’s a lovely girl, Poppy. Smart and, for the most part, non-contrary.

“I thought so. You waited too long and then you ended up peeing on the floor. I do not want to clean up any more pee, Poppy. Make sure you go as soon as you notice you need to pee, okay?”

I lift her down past the wet area, and set her on the floor.

“We need a sign,” she declares.

“A sign? Because the floor is wet?”

“No, a sign to say ‘No Peeing On The Floor’.”

Ah, four-year-olds and their Rules. They love to know what they are. They love to see that they’re complied with… particularly by other people. A nice, big sign will do the trick well, in Poppy’s world.

I laugh. “Poppy, you know not to pee on the floor! Do you really need a sign to tell you not to do that?”

She considers. “No, I know that already.” She’s a little disappointed, however. She liked the idea of a Sign with The Rule written on it. She is almost four, after all. Then her face brightens. “It’s okay to not have a sign, Mary! You know why??”

“No, lovie. Why’s that?”

“Because I can’t read, anyway!” She laughs gleefully, delighted with her insight.

I love this kid.

February 25, 2014 Posted by | individuality, Poppy, potty tales | 5 Comments

Lateral Thinking

Daniel continues to be a challenge. The “one-chance-you’re-out” system of responding to defiance and aggression is working well, but he’s still a lot of work. A lot.

Daniel sits in the front hall, struggling to put on his snow pants.

“If you use two hands, sweetie, it’ll be much easier.”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

“You think so? It looks like you’re having a lot of trouble. If you put one hand here, and the other here, and pull, it will be easier.”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

“Okey-doke.”

I turn my attention to the other children. Five minutes later, he’s still struggling, though he’s managed to get one foot to the bottom of that pant leg. Now, however, the elastic on the inner liner is hooked on his heel. He is still only using one hand, and that hand is gripping the pants well above the knee. Destined for failure, this approach.

“Still having trouble?”

“Yes.” Well. That’s a step. At least he admits his master plan is not working for him.

“If you put your hands here and here,” I say cheerfully, indicating the side seams of his pants close to the cuff, “and push with your foot, the pants will POP right on!”

“I tan do it yike dis.”

I shrug. “If you say so.”

Now, there are two things going on here. One is that he wants me to put his snowpants on him. However, he is three and a half, and perfectly capable of putting on his own snowpants. Rosie, a full year younger and less physically coordinated in general, can pretty much get into hers, with only minimal assistance. He’s being deliberately helpless to force me to do it for him. I am willing to help, but I will not do it for him. ‘Helping’, in this case, is coming in the form of pro tips … which he is refusing to heed. So there’s that.

The other part of it, though, is that Daniel hates taking direction of any sort, for any reason. It does not matter to him that my way will save him time and aggravation. What matters is that my way is not his way, and so, even though his way is manifestly NOT WORKING for him, it must be resisted.

What happened, eventually? Well, everyone else was ready to go. Daniel was still struggling with the first leg of his pants.

“Are you still stuck?”

“Yes.”

“Did you try using two hands, like I showed you?”

“No.”

“Okay. Then we are going outside. Here is your coat and your boots. When you try using two hands, I will help you. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

(n.b. We are playing in the driveway, I can see him through the front door, and though Daniel doesn’t realize it, my son is in his room upstairs. (My 24-year-old son, quite responsible enough to be left in charge of one recalcitrant toddler.) Once outside, I will text my son and have him keep a discreet eye on Daniel. But really? It completely suits my purposes to have the boy think he’s been abandoned, just a bit.)

Daniel LOVES playing outside. Suddenly deprived of the satisfaction of defying me, and possibly losing out on outdoor play which may include SHOVELLING, he is galvanized to action.

In approximately 3 minutes he comes onto the porch, dressed in pants, coat, boots and hat, needing only help with zipper and mittens. Crying a bit, but dressed.

There was absolutely no attention given to either the tears or to his appearance. No soothing for the tears, which we a result of his own poor decisions, no cheering for his dressing, which is well within his capabilities. A nod, a quick smile, an “Oh, good, you’re ready to play. I saved you a shovel!”, and he was off.

I presume he used two hands to push his foot through his pants, too. Certainly the way he was not trying to do it was guaranteed to be unsuccessful. However he managed it, he did so expeditiously when there were no other options. So we weathered that incident with minimal fuss, no direct conflict, and Daniel eventually complied with my expectation that he dress his own damned self.

Still. With that sort of resistance to each and every directive, no matter how innocuous, you become aware, as an adult, of how very many directives you issue in a day, and, to be fair, how many of them are unnecessary.

So I need a new approach with Daniel. Not so as to avoid giving direct instructions entirely. Life’s not like that. He needs to learn to accept guidance, instructions, even outright orders, and to do it promptly and graciously.  I expect all the children in my care to follow instructions, take guidance, and obey direct orders. No exceptions.

And really, that suggestion I made about his pants was simply a helpful tip. There was absolutely nothing in it to get his contrary little back up … except that he has a contrary little back. Any other child would take that instruction with cheerful good humour. “Oh, great idea, Mary! Look at my foot popping right out the end of my pants! Who knew it could be so simple??”

I am quite capable of sticking to my guns. I can see to it that Daniel’s defiance doesn’t carry the day. He won’t win the power struggles he so determinedly sets up.

However, we don’t need to have so many of them. We don’t need to, not only because it’s exhausting for me, but because it taints the atmosphere of the daycare for the other children. (It may be exhausting for Daniel, too, but I worry less about that. If the conflicts carry a negative weight for him, well, that’s all to the good.)

Still. The conflicts are tedious, and many of them probably avoidable. I can undoubtedly structure our day to as to reduce what can be a constant stream of directives. I can think of a few ways to achieve this:

1a. Let him struggle. Don’t offer assistance until he asks.
1b. Don’t attempt to coax/encourage: If he asks, I give assistance/offer a suggestion. If he doesn’t accept this, ignore him.

2. Ask, don’t tell. “I know a neat trick for that. Want to know what it is?” He’s allowed to say no, of course. Then I offer him the possibility of asking me later, and in the meantime, let him get on with it without further interaction from me.

3. Vicarious Learning. Show the strategy to the kid beside him. Don’t tell Daniel how to put his feet through his pants, show Rosie or Poppy.

4. Prepared Environment. This taken from Montessori. Have crafts and other activities set up in such a way that instruction is not required. The children can explore with the toys, craft, manipulables, and figure out for themselves how to get the result.

It’s not that I don’t do these things with the other children, but the emphasis is different. If I stand back when I see Poppy or Rosie truggling with some task, it’s because I want them to wrestle with it a bit, to learn persistence and/or to discover, hey, they can do it themselves! With Daniel, there’s more to it than just that, but I think it’ll be effective.

Teaching. Encouraging independence, persistence, autonomy. And making our environment calmer. Ah, yes. I’m all for calm.

December 18, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Daniel, individuality, power struggle | , , | 7 Comments

Poppy the Chipper

This kid is the happiest tot I’ve had in care for a long time. She has her moments, sure. She struggles a little with anxiety, though much less than before. She can pout and whine — she’s three after all. But all in all, the most consistently upbeat little human it’s my pleasure to know.

She’s also verbal. (She’s three.) Very verbal. Ceaselessly verbal. A steady stream of chatter flows from this girl, but because it’s 99.9% happy chatter, it’s utterly charming. Yes, my ears do get tired, but my heart? Never. (And does Mary feel a little goofy for expressing herself with such sentimental cheesiness as ‘heart’? Yes. But it’s true, nonetheless.)

The children are wrestling with some Big Problem. How to move a chair around the dining table so they can all sit on the same side, I think, and one chair leg had gotten snagged on a table leg. Daniel is frustrated, and Rosie is shouting at the chair.

“It’s okay, guys!” says Poppy, full of confident positivity. “We can fix it! We are the Solution Gang!”

Adorable, I tell you.

December 11, 2013 Posted by | individuality, Poppy, the things they say! | , | 3 Comments

Getting Better!

I described last week the challenge that Daniel is presenting. “Contrary” is not sufficient to describe this boy. All two-year-olds are contrary, or at least, go through a contrary season. Dealt with effectively, however, the contrariness does not extend past that year, often doesn’t even last the entire year.

I am certainly not used to seeing compulsive contrariness in three-year-olds. Not the ones who’ve been in my care all along. I did wonder for a while: Daniel’s mother returned to work in September after her year’s mat leave, and for that year, Daniel was with me a day a week, on average. Not enough time for my lessons to take root. Was that it? Was it just that a year of a soft-hearted mummy sufficient to create this demon of opposition?

I don’t think so. I do think he’d be better-behaved with me if I’d had him full-time all along, but, as I said to his parents when we met one evening to discuss Daniel, the things they’ve been doing would be working just fine with another child. I think there’s something in Daniel that compels him to resist, and to resist to a degree that is far, far greater than any other child I’ve ever seen. In 17 years. Because, usually, no matter how poorly behaved they may be at home, the children learn in fairly short order that that nonsense does not fly at Mary’s, and we work out an allocation of power and authority (it’s mine, but I share) that keeps everyone happy.

Daniel …

Well, there are days that Daniel is just fine. Sunny, happy, cooperative. These days are the minority, but they happen regularly enough that you know he’s capable of sunny cooperation. It’s in him! The other days, though, it’s one long, steady stream of defiance. Big ones, little ones, outright “no!”s, verbal defiance, physical resistance, evasions, resistance, alternate suggestions to every single directive. All the live-long day.

Monday was such a day.

However, When I wrote about him last week, Hannah made a suggestion. Daniel should get one chance, and one only, to comply. Now, I know this, but somehow, in the Supreme Exasperation in which I was floundering, I had lost sight of this lovely, simple, conflict-clearing principle: Say it once, then act. Now, if he were younger, some explanation and/or clarification might be necessary. Daniel, however, is three and a half. He knows the rules and expectations. They are very consistent and clear here at Mary’s. He is not tripping over the rules unaware; he is deliberately kicking them to the curb and daring me to do something about it.

Though he will cry in a conflict, he’s also a bit addicted to the adrenaline rush, I think. He seeks conflict out. And it’s not because he’s not getting enough attention. He gets as much as everyone, often more. But I’ll be damned if he was going to get more for defiance! Except that’s exactly what I had been doing: lots of face-time when defiant. Silly Mary. Thank you, Hannah, for the reminder!

So, Monday. Monday morning, he arrives, says goodbye to daddy, races to the window to wave. All this is happily done. Then I point him to his boots, scattered around the front hall.

“Time to put your boots on the mat, Daniel.”

“I don’t want to.”

Pause. Not to gather my rising temper, because I’m calm. I knew we would get here, and pretty quickly. In fact, I’m almost pleased, because I get to put The Plan in action. We are going to lick this thing! We are going to get sunny-cooperative Daniel to become the primary, default Daniel. Yes, we are!

I pause to let a beat go by so he feels the significance of this exchange. My voice is calm, steady, matter-of-fact, the pacing a little slower than normal.

“Daniel, from now on, I will tell you something one time. If you don’t do what I say the very first time, you will sit on the quiet stair. I asked you to put your boots away. You said no. Quiet stair.”

He looked startled, but, with my hand on his shoulder, he went. And sat.

That was as much explaining as he ever got.

“Okay, everybody, time to tidy up! We’re going outside.”
Daniel leaves his toys scattered and takes his coat.

“Daniel?” I give his toys a long look. “Quiet stair.” (And of course, he has to put those toys away before he can get his outdoor gear on, even if that means the rest of us are delayed.)

It’s story time, and we’re arranging ourselves on the couch. As we do every day. We all fit: we’ve done it daily for … forever. Daniel believes there is no room. (Meaning, Daniel is not getting to sit where his whim demands.)

“You sit here, Daniel, and Rosie will sit there. Everyone can see, don’t worry!”
Daniel shoves Rosie.
“Quiet stair.”
“But I can’t see the book from there.”
I don’t answer, merely escort him to the stair. And raise my voice sufficient to be heard over the howls.

There are at least ten such events before lunch. At least. But! I’m counting the morning as a step in the right direction because:

1. He’s going and staying on the quiet stair, with only verbal resistance. (If he didn’t stay there, the time-out spot would be a high chair where he could be strapped in, or the front hall, which is small and can be secured with a baby gate, making it a time-out room. I have options, but I’m pleased I don’t have to use them.)

2. I’m keeping my temper in check, easily, because I’m not getting into it with him.

3. The time-outs are brief, usually — and this is something he controls. When I use the Quiet Stair, there is almost always some way a child can earn their way off the stair that’s within their control. “You may get off the stair when you are ready to pick up your toys.” That sort of thing. Normally when I send a child to the stair, I make this condition clear in advance. Because of Daniel’s extreme defiance, any such pre-condition would only be an opportunity for further argument with me as he was escorted to the stair, and will also make him less likely to comply with the instruction, even though compliance will free him from the Stair. So, in this case, I’m sending him with only two words — “Quiet Stair” — and will approach after a minute or so to ask: “Are you ready to [whatever] yet?”

On almost every occasion, the answer is “Yes!” And, moreover, the answer is given with a sunny smile, and he trots off quite happily to do whatever. Sunshine and storm, this boy.

Not every occasion, mind you. Two or three times, he said “NO”. My response was a casual shrug, a quick “that’s fine,” and a prompt turning on my heel to rejoin the FUN TIMES we’re having a few feet away. When I approached again, this time two or three minutes later, he was ready to comply.

4. The time-outs did become less frequent as the day progressed. The afternoon was better than the morning.

5. After each compliance, he gets a warm, beaming smile from me, and a hug. He’s returning both enthusiastically.

So I’m curious: will today be better than yesterday? Or will we be back to square one?

December 10, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Daniel, individuality, power struggle | | 5 Comments

Vanity, Self-esteem, Tactlessness and more Self-esteem

I hear a roar of Righteous Indignation from Jazz.

“Grace! That is not a very nice word to say!!!”

Then pounding footsteps. Jazz thunders into the dining room, where Poppy and I are colouring. Jazz has been into the dress-up basket. She’s draped in two deep purple satin capes, tied at the middle to make a ‘dress’, with a shiny gold scarf wrapped around her above that, a bodice. It is her Princess Dress, of course.

Obviously, she did not get into this rig by herself. I’d helped tie the capes and wrap the scarf some while earlier, at her careful direction. Since then she has been alternatively gazing at herself in the mirror rapturously and wandering about the house rhapsodizing, “I am such a beautiful, beautiful girl!!”

Me, I am of two minds about this sort of thing. A basic part of me wants to repeat my grandmother’s words at her: “Beauty is only skin-deep, kiddo”, and expound upon the more important inner beauties to which we should aspire. But at the same time, I am aware that this is simply an unsophisticated version of self-esteem. It’s crude, it focusses on the wrong thing, perhaps — certainly the lesser thing — but she’s only four. She’s not denigrating anyone else, she’s not being rude or superior. She’s just feeling beautiful.

And really. Wrapped in a purple-and-gold Princess Dress who wouldn’t feel beautiful??

Which is why, even though I’m finding it pretty over-the-top, I let her keep on with it. Little ones are unsophisticated. This isn’t conceitedness, quite. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, though. A half-step in that direction, and she’ll be way over the line. Still, I’ve let her admire herself senseless for the past 20 minutes.

Apparently her own adulation was insufficient, because after a time of happy self-admiration, she sought some from her peers. She presents herself to them, whirling in her princess glory.

“Don’t you love my princess dress?”

They look up from the puzzle they’re doing on the floor.

I confess to a certain amount of wry gratification when, obviously far more interested in whether the piece with the blue bit goes with the piece with the yellow bit, they look up briefly. Grace is the one who speaks. Glancing quickly at Jazz, she says with minimal interest, “No, I don’t.” Then returns to her puzzle.

Ouch.

The score so far:
Tact: 0
Honesty: 1
Vanity: swift kick in the butt

Hence the Roar of Indignation, and the thundering to Mary for Justice! and Retribution!

“Mary, Grace said she didn’t like my dress!!!”

My tone of voice is emotionally neutral. Calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, maybe she didn’t. She’s allowed to say so, if she doesn’t.” (Because, my precious princess, you did ask.)

Jazz huffs in still more indignation.

“My mommy and daddy say you can’t say ‘no’!!”

Now, I don’t believe that for a minute, certainly not in the sense Jazz is using it. Jazz is simply using the age-old strategy of citing other authority figures in her life to try to get the world to cooperate with their whims and desires. (Of course Jazz cites me similarly when she’s at home. You would be astonished at what Mary thinks is A-OKAY!!!) It’s a red herring, and I know it.

“You know, sweetie, it really depends on why you’re saying ‘no’. If Grace said no because she’s feeling grumpy and just wants to be mean, that’s not okay. But if she really just doesn’t like that dress, she’s allowed to tell you so, especially if you ask.”

Jazz is not pleased with this dictum. “She was being mean! She said no!”

“No, I don’t think so. I was watching. Grace wasn’t making a mean face or using an angry voice. She just doesn’t like your dress, sweetie. Different people like different things. That’s okay.” Now, I may choose to address the whole concept of ‘tact’ with Grace later. Or I may not. For now, that’s not of great concern, and I’m certainly not going to reinforce Jazz’s idea that people MUST say what she prefers to hear.

“I want her to like my dress!”

“I understand that. However, it seems she doesn’t like it. That’s just what it is. Different people like different things. That’s okay. The important thing is, Do YOU like the dress?”

“Yes! It is beautiful!”

“Well, that’s what matters then. Grace doesn’t have to like it, so long as you do. So you can say to Grace, ‘You don’t like my dress? That’s okay! I do!’ ”

Heavy stuff, for four years old. Complicated, and Jazz is obviously dissatisfied with my pronouncement, my refusal to DEMAND that Grace stroke her ego.

It’s pretty tough for some adults, come to that. You know what it is, don’t you? It’s self-esteem. Real self-esteem, the type based on what’s on your inside, not your outside. Self-esteem grounded in your confidence in yourself, your worth, your decisions, not based on other people’s opinions and reactions.

I’m raising the bar for Jazz. She doesn’t get it yet, but hopefully, if everyone works at this for the next ten years, she’ll have it when she’s a teen.

When she’ll really, really need it.

August 9, 2013 Posted by | Grace, individuality, Jazz, manners, socializing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Changing Dynamic: the prequel

Today will be the first day without Jazz.

Jazz is having her family summer vacation now, and from there will be heading off to Big Girl School. Jazz has graduated Mary’s. No, I do not do a cap-and-gown ‘graduation’. You get one of those when you graduate university. As in “have done something to merit the ceremony”. A ‘graduation’ that requires nothing more than reaching legal school age? Not even to have stopped picking your nose and eating it? Pfft.

Now, she got a trip to the local gelato store, and had an ENTIRE small serving of chocolate ALL TO HERSELF. (The small servings are quite large enough that two kids can share, and so they do. Always.) An ENTIRE cup of gelato, and to NOT SHARE?!? Is a Big Deal. Specially when the other kids still did have to share. “This is Jazz’s last day, so she gets a very special treat.” (Which was accepted with nary a blink. They’re such good well-socialized sweet well-trained all of the above little kids.)

So there was that.

And she got a big card that all the children had decorated. And t-shirt that we all made together. And, best of all!!!! (at least as far as Jazz was concerned) a mermaid doll. OMG!OMG!OMG!OMG! MERMAID! DOLL!!!! (To say it was ‘a hit’ rather understates the case. Hee. Go, Mary!)

So, it’s not as if her departure had gone un-feted. But cap and gown? Puh-heeze. No.

Off she goes, then. Some quality family time ahead, and then the big, broader world of Junior Kindergarten. Where I have no doubt she will thrive. A fish to water. All that.

And meantime, back here?

Well, though I will miss her endearing giggle and impish sense of humour, her funny turns of phrases and her mothering of wee Rosie …

I will not miss the petulance. The tattling. The constant jockeying for top dog position. The whining. The insta-tears. The flouncing. The righteous indignation. Many of those are pretty common to four-year-olds, of course, but all of hers were exacerbated by her state of near-constant sleep deprivation. She’s four on steroids, that one.

Grace is with me for another couple of weeks, before she heads off to her own Big Girl School. Without another four-year-old to bounce off and react to, and, in particular, a four-year-old dedicated to the pursuit of being the first, the best, the strongest, the prettiest … I predict Grace drift away from certain contentious patterns and will happily settle into her more-natural state of easy-going placidity. I predict this will happen pretty much instantaneously.

Except for the whining, mind you. Grace does have a tendency to whinge. But she does not have a tendency to push to the forefront, to trample others to achieve superior status. Not at all. So I predict a lovely, lovely summer wherein I do not hear “Why does SHE get to…”, not even once.

Aaaahhh.

What of the others? Poppy and Grace will continue to mother Rosie. Rosie will, for a short while at least, continue to allow it. Soon enough her two-ness will have reached the point where she will resist such importunity, but for now, it’s all good. Poppy and Grace will play as they do when alone together: calmly, cooperative, and with a constant, never-ending, ceaseless stream of happy chatter (90% Poppy’s).

Daniel? A bit of a wild card. He hasn’t been around much this summer, it being the final couple of months of mom’s maternity leave. The two 4-year-olds tended to resist and exclude him. With a certain amount of just cause, mind you: the boy is loud, very physical, and blundersome, but there was an edge of social cruelty to it I didn’t like to it. They weren’t objecting to just his behaviour: “Don’t push me!!”, but his person, “You go away. We’re not playing with YOU.”

Ick.

Without the four-year-olds, will Poppy pick up that torch? I’m hoping not. She’s more physical, for one, and finds Daniel’s physicality less troublesome. She’s also more cheerfully social. She’s also not four. Without the fours to lead the way, and in particular, Jazz, I’m hoping she will — or can at least be taught — to engage with Daniel in a way that’s satisfactory to both of them. And of course we’ll be steadily teaching Daniel to not bang, bump, blunder into, blunder through and otherwise manhandle his peers.

(Good luck with that, I sez to myself. Nonethess, ‘gently, gently’ is going to be a prime interaction with that boy for the foreseeable future, I’m quite sure.)

So.

Those are some predictions and some concerns. Some will manifest immediately, some over time. I’m sure there’ll be surprises.

I’m looking forward to it!

August 6, 2013 Posted by | Daniel, Grace, individuality, Jazz, Poppy, Rosie, socializing, the dark side | , | 1 Comment

This?

Is brilliant!

I love this! Your little girl loves to dress up? Look at all the options there are!

Let’s kick those vapid Disney princesses to the curb!

May 16, 2013 Posted by | individuality, socializing | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Introverts, Extroverts, and Manipulators

“I want to be alone!”

I know some caregivers who just don’t allow that. It’s seen as unfriendly, anti-social, inappropriate, and just plain weird. What is wrong with that kid?? “Don’t be like that, Simon. Suzie is your friend! Now come here and help her build her bridge with the lego.”

I am an introvert. I totally get the need to be alone. (We can talk about how the introvert copes with a day spent with in-your-face toddlers some other time.)

So when a child expresses a genuine need to be alone, I respect that. They get to be alone. They do not have to mingle, mingle, mingle, interact every living second of the live-long day. They just don’t. And the extroverts in the group can back off for a bit.

Now, they have to ask politely. Introvert or extrovert, we all need to respect the social niceties. A howl of outrage, a shove and a scream, are not how you get your time away. “If you want to play alone, you ask nicely.”

It puts the caregiver in a bit of a bind, though. You can’t pop them on the Quiet Stair for shoving another child, as you might otherwise do, because in this case the Quiet Stair would be a reward , wouldn’t it? You’ll only train the desperate introvert into bad behaviour. “I need some space!! I know! I’ll just deck little Josh over there!”

What to do? I offer them what they want, in exchange for what I want. “You can play alone at the puzzle table, if you ask politely.” Then I give them the words. Or if they’ve been acting badly to get their quiet, I will require them to play with the others, nicely, for five minutes first. Then they can have as much time as they like, alone.

Because the request to be alone? It can be a real and genuine thing, and you should no more deny it than you’d deny the extrovert his social time. “You want to play with the other kids?? Now, Simon, don’t be pushy! Do this puzzle quietly, there’s a good boy!”

However. There is the desire to be alone experienced by the kid who is feeling overwhelmed and drained, and needs time and space to recharge. That’s genuine and valid, a legitimate need. And then …

Child A flings himself over the pile of blocks. “You go ‘way! I want to play alone!!”

That one’s easy, a clear example of a child who just doesn’t feel like sharing. “Playing alone” is code for “having ALL THE TOYS!!!” It’s not too hard to determine need to be alone from want to have all the toys: Offer the child half the huge pile o’blocks in a private corner. The child who needs to be alone will accept it. The one who just wants ALL THE THINGS will not.

(And if it’s both? He wants ALL THE THINGS, alone? Tough. Half the toys, alone, or none of them.)

And then there’s this:

Child A is in a bit of a snit. Has been all morning. Contrary and prickly, nothing quite right for Her Most Precious Princess. Child A, the Snit Child, plays with the lacing cards in a desultory way. Child B sits down companionably and picks up one of the cards. Snit Child turns her back on Child B with a whine of outrage.

“Noooo! I want to be aloooone!”

Child B, a mellow little thing, gives Snit Child a puzzled look before wandering off with no comment.

Now, if that were the end of it, it could well be that Snit Child has reached the end of her introverted rope, and just needs some solo downtime. But that’s not what’s been happening at Mary’s the past three weeks or so. Just watch what happens next:

Mellow Child B is soon happily involved in some other activity. Snit Girl approaches sidelong, ostentatiously holding one of the Magic Dollar-Store Sparkly Princess Wands. Snit Girl waves it about just within Mellow Child’s line of vision. Predictably, Mellow Child is attracted to the sparkle, and wanders closer.

Snit Child roars her outrage: “Nooooo! You can’t play with me! I want to be aloooone!”

Uh-huh. That’s why you deliberately provoked the attention, because you wanted to be alone. Yeah.

That? That is not valid. That is sheerest manipulation. Snit Child was looking for a conflict, and, when Mellow Child didn’t deliver the first time, she deliberately provoked the attention she wanted to reject.

Now “being alone” is code word for “I’m rejecting you”, or “I control you by not giving you what you want.” It’s really devious. This child has a lot of social savvy. Too bad she’s working it on The Dark Side.

So now poor manipulated Mellow Child really, really wants to play with Snit Child. SC, having achieved her goal of enticing the attention she wishes to reject, redoubles her protests. “No! Go away! I want to be alone!!”

What do I do? I pretend to believe it’s genuine. I pretend Snit Girl has a real and genuine need to be alone. Because, you know, there is nothing wrong with needing to be alone.

“You want to be alone? No, Mellow, if Snit wants to be alone, we will let her be alone.” And then I get Snit Girl all comfy in an armchair, with a blanket and a book and a toy … and then I take Mellow Child a distance away, in the next room but still in view, and snuggle her into my lap for a story. Or take her to the table to colour. Or play clapping games with her.

If Snit Girl genuinely needed time out, this will be fine with her. She’ll stick with her quiet activities, and happily recharge her batteries.

But if she was playing mean girl head games, this will not please her. Mellow Child getting MARY’S attention?? Mellow Child and not her? She will wriggle out of the chair and trot over.

“I don’t want to be alone any more.”

At this point, I can play it either way. “Sure, sweetie. You come sit with us.” The snit has passed, and she’s willing to share time and attention. Good for all of us!

But if she’s been really rotten to Mellow Child, or if I think she needs to be more rigorously deterred from this particular behaviour pattern, I’ll twist the knife just a bit more.

“Oh, no, sweetie. You said you wanted to be alone, and I think you were right. I think you really do need to be alone. Away you go back to your comfy chair. You be alone for a little longer, and when I’m done reading this story to Mellow Girl, maybe it will be time for you go get up. Away you go!” All said in my best, most cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice. (You don’t have a cheerful “Don’t Mess With Me” voice? Find it and practice. It’s an invaluable parenting tool.)

April 16, 2013 Posted by | behavioural stuff, individuality, power struggle, socializing | , , , | 4 Comments