It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Intimations of Maturity

Grace to Jazz: I know you want very much to do that, but it will make Poppy sad, so you just can’t, understand?”

Her tone of voice is gently encouraging, but firm. I hear her mother — and myself — in her small voice.

But really? Is that not SO IMPRESSIVE?? I’m impressed. (Also, aaawwww, the sweetness.)

Honesty compels me to note, mind you, that she is less adept at making this distinction when the sad-making thing is something she wants to do…

But it’s progress, and I am proud.


August 14, 2013 Posted by | Grace, socializing, the cuteness! | , | 1 Comment

I couldn’t script this stuff nearly so well

Grace: I have a flower in my hairclip.

Jazz, her tone bright and interested: Oh. You have a flower in your hairclip?

Grace: Yeah. My mommy put it in there.

Jazz, her tone regretful: I didn’t got one today.

Grace, after a pause, with great sympathy: Oh. Well, that happens.

Jazz and Grace, together, nodding sagely: Yeah.

June 22, 2012 Posted by | Grace, Jazz, the things they say! | , , , | Leave a comment

Here be sharks

Remember Daniel? My darling little barbarian? We’ve been working hard on his blundersome tendencies with notable success. After all, he’s a loving, willing, cheerful little guy. Good cheer? Daniel owns the patent. The rest of us have pale imitations.

So, though he remains a sturdy and active little fellow, he really is easing off on the maiming and bludgeoning. Really.

Yesterday, though, was a difficult, physical day. We had commando hugs and hair-pulling. We had inadvertent flattenings and absolutely vertent shoves.

And while I use all these events to train Daniel into better patterns, and to teach the others how to deal with unpleasant events (and manage Daniel a bit), it does get a smidge … repetitive.

1. “MARY!!! Daniel hitted me!”

2. “Did you talk to Daniel about it?”

3. Blink. Blink.

4. “Well, I didn’t hit you. You need to talk to Daniel. Go tell Daniel you don’t like hitting.”

5. “Daniel! You not hit me! I don’t like that!”

6. “Good. Now tell him what hands are for.”

7. “Daniel, hands are for hugging!”

And the sun bursts forth from Daniel’s charming round face, the arms spread wide, and we have much love all round.

Until the next time.

“MARY!!!! Daniel pushed me!”

“Did you talk to Daniel about it?”

Repeat steps 3 – 7. Over and over again. With every child. We’re all learning here. Except Daniel, you might reasonably conclude, but no, over the weeks there’s been definite improvement. Yesterday was a relapse, is all. These things happen.

Things had, in fact, improved by late afternoon, after naptime. (Either that or my reflexes had improved and my deflections were more timely. Could be either, but I prefer to believe it was Daniel.)

Until, fifteen minutes to home time …

Grace, running around the corner from living room to front hall, caught her arm on the doorframe. Quite the whack. I heard it from the other end of the dining room. I heard it and looked up in time to see her approach Daniel, who was sitting on the bottom step. (Also known as the Quiet Stair, but he hadn’t been sent there. He was just sitting there.)

Approach him with her arm extended. “Daniel, I got a bo-bo. You wanna kiss it better?” And …
she places…
her arm …
against …
his mouth.

Yeah, I was wincing, too.

You know how when a very bad thing is about to happen in a movie, it suddenly goes all slow motion? I knew what was about to happen. I started up and across the room, but there was no way I was going to get there in time. A sudden, startling yell would probably only hasten us to our unfortunate end. I hurried, but I may as well have been in slow motion. “Nooooooooooooo...”

Poor Grace. Her yell was entirely predictable. Her poor, unsuspecting arm. Bloody meat dropped into the shark’s tank, really.

“MARY!!!! Daniel bitted me!!!”

Oh, dear. And, yeah, surprise, surprise…

It wasn’t a bad bite. Barely dented the skin, and left nary a mark. But a bite, for sure. We put ice on it, of course. We always put ice on things. Ice is the Miracle Cure at Mary’s house. It was almost a non-event, but it was quite definitely not a kiss.

Poor innocent Grace.
Poor impulsive Daniel.

So what catchphrase now? Lips are for kissing? Teeth are for eating (but not your friends)?

I guess I shouldn’t find this quite so amusing, huh?

February 28, 2012 Posted by | aggression, Daniel, Grace, socializing | , , , , , | 12 Comments

Willing, but clueless…

Daniel is a tank. We know that. We know that he’s cheerful and happy and well-intentioned, but that he’s also a big, unempathetic doofus when it comes to the other children. Other children are fun! He loves them! He loves to smile at them. He loves to watch them. He loves to run with them. Sometimes when he lumbers along runs with them, he bumps into them and the fall right over! He loves that, too, because it’s very interesting when that happens.

Yesterday, Daniel was loving the thick, chunky sweaters that everyone is suddenly sporting. He loves their colours, he loves their texture. He was particularly loving Grace’s sweater, because it had big bright wooly buttons on it. Buttons just begging to be clutched in giant meaty fists. Begging, I tell you! And Daniel? He is not the man to deny something that so obviously NEEDS TO BE DONE.

Daniel clutched Grace’s sweater-buttons. Anchored by the substantial bulk of Daniel, Grace can go nowhere. Being the passive little thing she is, she just stands there, eyes wide and alarmed, hoping that somehow, if she just stands very still and quiet and does absolutely nothing, she will magically be freed. (And yes, sometimes I just watch and refuse to bail her out, to see if I can force her to take action.) Just as she’s beginning to panic, another child — in another chunky sweater!!! — toddles by. Grace is saved. Rory, however, is now anchored. Rory, being a different sort than our Grace, does not take this passively.

“Daniel, yet go of my sweater!!!” Good for him, using his words!! Of course, his words are completely useless. (I often consider how apparently unfair it is that we insist they “use their words” when really? With young toddlers? Words don’t work. We all know that. I do it, of course, because you have to start somewhere! And if you don’t begin the expectation young, when will they learn it? Still, the irony of praising Rory for using his words when WE ALL KNOW they won’t work, never escapes me…)

So. He used his words, and his words didn’t work. Surprise, surprise. Rory grabs Daniel’s wrists and attempted to wrench himself free. A perfectly reasonable use of physical force, I figured, and a reasonable second step when the words didn’t work. Daniel holds firm, though, a wide grin stretching over his face. Rory is holding his hands! This is interaction! This is fun!!!

Rory has tried his words and has taken reasonable action. His next step will undoubtedly be equally reasonable, given the circumstances, but less acceptable. Time to intervene. I kneel down in front of them.

“Daniel. Rory said ‘Let go.’ You need to let go of Rory’s sweater.” As I say the second “let go”, I am peeling Daniel’s hands from the sweater. “Let go. Thank you.” Daniel’s hands lunge for the sweater again. I block and re-grab his wrists. Time for a redirection.

“Daniel. Daniel, hands are not for grabbing. Hands are for hugging. Can you give Rory a hug?”

Well, now! THAT is one of THE BEST IDEAS Daniel has EVER HEARD! His face lights up like someone flipped a switch. His eyes sparkle, his beaming grin widens even further. (Who knew it was possible to grin that big?)

“Huh! HuH!” He flings his arms wide and latches them onto a rather stiff and uncertain Rory.

“Isn’t that nice, Rory? Daniel is giving you a hug! That is so nice! That’s right, Daniel. Hug. Hands are for hugging.”

Rory is reassured. Somewhat. And permits the onslaught of affection.

“Huh! Huh!” Daniel is loving this. This is SO! MUCH! FUN!!!

“Hug. That’s right. You’re giving Rory a nice hug!”

Grace toodles by.

“Huh! Huh!” Daniel releases Rory and barrels toward Grace, arms wide. Happily, Grace is right in front of a chair, so she’s only knocked back into the padded cushion rather than flattened to the floor when The Hug makes impact. More soothing, reassuring noises from me, helping Grace to understand that no, this is not an attack, this is love. She smiles, more warmly than Rory managed, and gives Daniel an enthusiastic hug back. Then she pats his head and kisses his cheek.

(Oh, I could just melt from the cuteness some days.)

“Good boy, Daniel. Now you’re hugging Grace! That’s right. Hands are for hugging. Good for you!”

Well, now. Hugs, pats, AND kisses? And noises of encouragement and praise from Mary? Daniel is all over that! Who else can he hug?

Round the room Daniel goes, hugging one child after another. Now that they understand what’s going on — it’s love, not attack… well, it’s an attack of love, not aggression — the others are all into the game. Rory gets hugged again, then Jazz. Grace, then Jazz. Rory, then Grace, then Jazz.

“Oh, isn’t that nice? All those hugs! Hands are for hugging!”

And then Daniel spots Poppy, who has been playing quietly with a toy in the next room, oblivious to the hands-are-for-hugging love-fest going on in the living room.

“Huh! Huh!” He moves toward her. Except he’s surrounded by the other three huggees. “Huh! Huh!” He has Poppy in his sites, and love in his heart… but the way is blocked. What to do?

If you’re Daniel, the solution is clear.

“Huh! Huh!” Jazz staggers one direction, Grace another as Daniel bulldozes his way through. Grace plops down on her butt, Jazz grabs Rory and manages to stay upright.

“Huh! Huh!” I’m not quite quick enough. Poppy lies on the floor under Daniel, crushed by the hug.

Of five children, three are on the floor, one is staggering, and one upright but shaken.

Because hands? Are for hugging.

October 25, 2011 Posted by | aggression, behavioural stuff, Daniel, Developmental stuff | , , , | 6 Comments

Empathy takes time, don’t you know

Daniel is an explorer. Daniel is a cause-and-effect guy. He’s fascinated by what happens when you do stuff. “Can I find out what happens when…” is a prime motivator in his little life. I predict a fine career as an engineer one day.

Some of his discoveries are happy, some are scary, but all are interesting. The alarming discoveries do not put him off. Not in the slightest. This is a compulsion people. He.Must.Explore. Must.

“If I throw my Cheerios off my high chair, the puppy will eat them!” (Happy!! Until we were out of Cheerios, and he’d only eaten, oh, four. The it was Very Sad.)
“If I pull on this lever, that thing there will move!” (Happy! He did that one at least eleventy-gazillion times.)
“If I blow into my water, I can make bubbles!” (Sooooo happy! And since it’s contained in a plastic drinking box, no mess, so I’m happy, too.)
“If I push that button, the music gets WAY LOUDER!!!” (Which was a little alarming, true, but SO INTERESTING!)

Sadly for the other children, Daniel’s explorations don’t stop there. He has no malice in his happy, bubbly little soul that I can see, but he’s an explorer. Cause-and-effect fascinate him. You can make things happen with things, and you can make things happen with PEOPLE! Yes, you can!

“If I pull Jazz’s hair, she makes that great noise!!!”
“If I shove Poppy, she sits down on her bum, fast!!”
“If I shove the enormous tower of blocks Rory’s been working on for the past twenty minutes, they scatter all over the kitchen!!!”

Yes. No malice, none at all. No discernable empathy yet, either. Boo.

You’ve all seen my stroller. You have not seen this view, however. Let us stand behind the stroller with Mary, and peep under the sun canopy to see the array of little heads, shall we?

Isn’t that cute?? That’s Daniel’s head in the rearmost seat. Then an empty seat, then Grace with a wee top-knot. You can’t see Poppy in the very front, but she’s there.

Because the rear seat has the narrowest spacing, I put the smallest child in there. The smallest child is not Daniel the Tank. It’s not even Poppy the Dumpling. No, the smallest child is skinny-minny Jazz. The order of children in the stroller used to be, from front to back: Rory or Grace; Poppy; Daniel; Jazz.

You will note the hole in the back of Daniel’s seat? The one through which you’re seeing his blond-blond mop? Yes. That hole, Daniel has taught me, is a distinct design flaw.

Rory/Grace, Poppy, Daniel, then Jazz used to be the order of the children in the stroller, I say, until Daniel realized that he could stick his hand through the hole in front of his face! And really, what baby worth his salt wouldn’t be doing that? You can stick your hand through that hole, you can reach around, and you can feel stuff! Too fun! And really, tots have been doing that since I bought the stroller. A firm word, a few firm grips-of-a-wrist and an equally firm plopping it back in a lap has been all that’s required to put a stop to that.

(Brief parenthetical tangent: Now that I’m thinking about it, there was that child a few years back who was so compulsively determined to remove the hat in front of him that I ended up tucking his snowsuited arms under his seatbelt and reefing that sucker in tight. And then I covered it all with a blanket so any squeamish Earnest Mommies we passed wouldn’t see that I had TIED THAT BABY DOWN!!!

I’d forgotten about that until this very moment. Hmmm…)

Back to story: So, if you’re Daniel of the massive hands, you can GRAB stuff! Grab and pull! You can pull hats through that hole, which is SO COOL. And then? Where most kids are content to wave the hat around and maybe throw it out of the stroller, Daniel, Mr. Explorer, he has to go back again. You can pull hats through the hole! Is there anything else you can pull through?

Hair. Hair!!! When you pull a hat through the hole, you get a hat. That’s interesting. But when you pull hair through the hole, you get hair (though, for some reason, not all of it, hm), you get resistance (because it seems to be stuck on something, hm), and you get NOISE. That’s really interesting!

Yeah. And with the old seating, Daniel was two seats ahead of where I stand. I couldn’t reach him in time to save poor Poppy’s head.

So now, Daniel is in the back, where I can grab him restrain him monitor him. When possible, there is an empty seat in front of Daniel. When it’s not possible, though Daniel will certainly protest the curtailment of exploratory possibilities, I think I may resort to plugging that hole with duct tape. (Duct tape, the caregiver’s friend.)

And Poppy?

She is very grateful that Daniel no longer sits right behind her.


October 12, 2011 Posted by | behavioural stuff, Daniel, health and safety, Mischief, Poppy | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dealing with the Attention-Hog

Hodgepodge asked what I do with the pushy-needy-demanding prima donna kids, those kids who feel their place is always the center of any adult’s attention, and just hate sharing it. I find these kids pretty tiring, frankly! A day of being the focus of the ongoing power struggle — you must love ME MOST!!! — can get pretty tedious pretty fast. You begin to feel like the stuffed toy on the cusp of being torn to bits between two determined toddlers, each gripping a leg and screaming “MINE!!! I got it FIRST!!!”

Like Hodgepodge, I insist they all share and wait their turn. There are consequences for refusal to do so. When we read stories, they each get to choose a book from the book bin, and each child sits in my lap when I’m reading the book they chose. My lap is prized real estate, and they all love having their turn.

When I have a prima donna (PD from now on) in the group, I make sure that child doesn’t always go first. If they try to insist that their story be first, or insist that they be in my lap for all the stories, or resist leaving my lap when I’ve read their story, I will sit them on the quiet stair. They can hear the story from there, but they don’t get a lap at all. (I usually warn them in advance that this will be the consequence of not sharing my lap during story time. Usually, but not always. Depends on the awareness level of the child. And of course I always explain why they’re going to the quiet stair: “If you can’t share my lap with the other children, you don’t get it at all.”)

There are any number of examples of this sort of interaction I could cite, where sharing my attention is the expectation, and the consequences of refusing to meet the expectation (or even of complaining too much about it) are well-explained and followed through. The idea is to eliminate the behaviour by ensuring it doesn’t work for the child. It’s a good approach.

But, when I’m feeling calm and clear-headed about it all, as opposed to TIRED TO DEATH OF IT, I can certainly see that from the child’s perspective, there’s not a lot of positive in standing aside and waiting.

At the younger end of the spectrum, the other childrens’ needs don’t much factor in to PD’s thinking, but as they get older, the sad fact is that knowing that they have what another child wants only adds to its appeal. So, from their perspective, there are no downsides to the behaviour, and much to be lost from giving it up.

But of course, they are losing out by persisting with the attention-hogging. They’re losing out on a key concept of friendship (and human relations in general): taking pleasure in someone else’s pleasure. Someone else’s happiness makes you happier. And one step beyond that, empathy, whereby your pleasure is reduced if you know it causes someone else unhappiness.

These are pretty airy-fairy concepts to the concrete-minded toddler, though. So how do you turn this around? How to teach the concrete-minded toddler that sharing attention is a good thing, not a loss?

One method I use is the group hug. I am hugging another child, and I see PD bearing down upon me, and I know PD’s aiming to nudge the other child out and claim the premium territory, or, at the very least, ensure that the other child doesn’t get all the attention. I call out “Group Hug!!” Suddenly I don’t just have PD running at me, I have ALL of them. And we ALL share a scrambling, giggling, multi-kissing hug. When it’s done, I can smile at ALL of them, and say with utmost sincerity, “Hugs are so much fun when there’s a bunch of us sharing it!!!”

I organize games specifically designed so that another child is key to a satisfying experience.

“Row, row, row your boat” is a nice, simple one. The children are seated in pairs on the floor, soles of feet touching, legs forming a diamond on the floor. They reach across and grasp their partner’s hands (bending the knees is fine) and rock back and forth as they sing. If I have a particularly PDish PD in the mix, I don’t play with them, so they’re not competing to be my partner. I just supervise (and provide the bulk of the rhythm and melody, ahem).

For older children (they have to be able to jump!), ‘sticky popcorn’ is a good one. The children all start squatting on the ground, arms wrapped around knees, making themselves as small as possible. They’re being popcorn kernels. They we all chant together,

“You put the oil in the POT
and you let it get HOT!
You put the popcorn in
and you start to grin! [Maniac grins all round.]
Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle [everyone starts wriggling while still staying scrunched up]
sizzle, sizzle, sizzle,
sizzle, sizzle, sizzle, sizzle…….
POP!” [at POP, they all start jumping up and down]
POP! POP! POP! [they keep jumping]

Normally, the game stops here. I call out, “AAAAAAAAND… STOP!” as I hold my arms out then drop my arms and body to the floor, their signal to all go back to being kernels on the floor. Over and over again. It’s a Very Fun Game.

In the “it’s more fun with your friends” version, once I get them jumping, I’ll wait a few seconds and then say, “STIRRING IN THE CARMEL” making appropriate big, sweeping motions for a second or two before calling out, “You’re getting sticky! STICKY POPCORN1 STICKY POPCORN!!!”

Meantime, they keep on jumping, only now, whenever they touch someone they have to ‘stick’ to them (hold hands, or try to jump while staying in contact) until everyone is a big blob. Or until I decide I’d better stop it now before the bounding ball implodes and one piece of popcorn jumps right on another popcorn’s head…

Anything you can think of that would be more fun with a friend… Crafts are another great vehicle for this lesson. So is cooking. And of course, when I see that we’re all having fun during these activities, I Preach It, Preach It, Preach It. “Some things are just more FUN with a FRIEND!!” “Isn’t it nice that our FRIENDS can help us?” “We wouldn’t be able to do this fun thing if we didn’t all WORK TOGETHER!!” “I just love working with you guys! It’s such fun!” etc., etc., etc. (Do I bore them? Dunno. Nice thing about little kids, you don’t have to be subtle…)

The PD often enjoys being Helpful. Exploit this!!! We know that they want to do this for less-noble reasons (to keep your attention fixed on them). That is irrelevant. What matters is that it is usually not too difficult to shift the emphasis from “I’m helping so you NOTICE ME, ME, ME!!!” to “I feel good about myself when I help others.” I like to give the child a job that benefits another child, not me. So, they don’t take their dishes to the sink, they go to the kitchen with the little one who can’t reach the sink, and put both their dishes in. Then I can praise them for being kind to the other child, and point out when the other child now sees PD as a friend and a resource. “See how Zoe is smiling, PD? That’s because she knows that because of you, she will be able to play that game she just can’t manage on her own.”

When I feel that PD is now taking genuine satisfaction in helping the other children, even if their motivation is still primarily that I like it, I move us up a notch. The next step comes when I am able to shift PD’s focus from me to someone else, from getting to giving. “Zoe is looking a bit droopy. I think her cold is making her tired. Can you ‘read’ this book to her? You know how she loves it when you spend time with her.”

The goal is to open the child’s mind so that having an adult’s attention is a good thing, of course, but it’s not the only good thing. That while it’s nice to have the grown-up’s attention, it’s also nice to interact/play with other children, to help, to give love, warmth, and attention.

Anyone else have any other suggestions for simple activities that can get his message across?

August 9, 2011 Posted by | daycare, manners, power struggle, socializing | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Today’s lesson: Compassion

“Baby Rory has a red car.”

Tyler is circling, a vulture with his prey firmly in his sites. Rory has brought a car from home, a small red car. It might be Lightning McQueen, but I can’t be sure. It hasn’t slipped from the grasp of those pudgy fingers once this morning, not even during his short morning snooze. Tyler peers at what he can see of the car. He wants some Sharing around here, he wants it now, and he wants it to start with that small red car. In typical Tyler fashion, his first approach is oblique.

“Baby Rory has a red car.”

“Yes, he does.” I am playing dumb. If he wants something, he knows how to ask politely and directly. I’m not taking the bait, because I want him to do the social lifting here.

“He is not playing with his car.”

“No, he is just holding it.”

“He is not playing with his car.” This isn’t said in a tone of accusation; Tyler is not whining at all, he is merely informing me.

“You’re right. He is just holding it. I think it makes him feel safe.”

“He is not playing with it.”

You know, we could go on playing cat-and-mouse for quite a while. I’m not sure how long it would take for Tyler to realize he needs to be direct, but this morning it would only be cruel, because this morning…

“You know what, Tyler?”


“Baby Rory is very tired today.”

In fact, Baby Rory is just back from ten days in Italy. My clientele tends to be what they term “comfortable”. A significant percentage of my junior clientele are better-travelled than me before they are three. I try not to be bitter about this, and generally succeed. I don’t succeed so well at stifling the occasional wistful sigh… What Baby Rory is, the lucky little monkey, is jet-lagged. But for Tyler, I keep it simple:

“Baby Rory just woke up, he’s very tired. It’s too soon for him to share yet.”

“He can share later?” Tylers round blue eyes widen with hope.

“Well, sweetie, in a little while Baby Rory’s daddy is coming to take him to the doctor, and Rory will want to take his car with him, I’m sure. When he is at the doctor, he will be getting a needle.”

“A needle?”

“Yes. And so when he comes back again, he might be sore and grumpy. So you know what that means?”

“He will have a bo-bo on his arm.” Tyler squeezes a forearm with the opposing hand. He’s been there, he knows from needles and bo-bos.

“Yes. He might also be tired again, and maybe even feel a little sick. I think that we won’t ask him to share his car today.” I lean in toward Tyler’s face, which is sliding into disappointed protest. He’s teetering on the brink of an outraged protest, so I have to be quick, and I have to be smoooooth. But I am not just after avoiding a petulant outburst. I want Tyler to understand, I want to encourage him to think beyond his own wants, and to think of Rory’s needs and feelings. Impossible? Not at all. Tyler turned three this week. He’s capable of empathy. It’s just not his… er… default response…

I nod confidentially, and lower my voice, speak a little slower as I share a Big People insight, inviting Tyler to be a Big People with me. “We won’t ask him to share, because he is only little, and he isn’t feeling well, and you know what? I think that, just for today, sharing will be too hard for Baby Rory.”

“He will not share his red car?”

“Not today, lovie. I think it will just be too hard for him.”

“Because he is little? And he is getting a needle?”

“Yes. That is what I think.”

Tyler meets my eyes and nods along with me, two Big People compassionately considering the foibles of the Small. His face relaxes from incipient protest to knowing smile.

“I think so, too. He is too little to share today.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have empathy.

I give Tyler my warmest smile. “You are a very kind Big Boy, Tyler. You are being kind to Baby Rory.”

“And tomorrow he will be all better, and I can play with the red car!”

Empathy, compassion… and deferred gratification. The boy will go far.

October 13, 2010 Posted by | individuality, Rory, Tyler | , , , , | 7 Comments

Why it’s called “home” daycare

“What is that baby doing in here?” Her middle-aged brows draw into a scowl of puzzled disapproval as she eyes the lone 16-month-old amongst the dozen 4-year-olds. She is an Inspector, and this is my first post-baby job. The baby is my daughter. My boss steps in adroitly.

“That’s the teacher’s daughter. Sometimes she comes in for a visit.”

Ooo, slick. In fact, she didn’t ‘visit’; she just stayed with me. (This only happened after my boss had assured herself of my ability to care for them appropriately. This was her policy with all staff with children; and no, not all staff were permitted to have their child with them.)

Fast-forward twenty years or so, to an interview in my home with prospective clients. The mom is a daycare-centre worker.

“How do you keep the toddlers and the babies separated?” she wants to know.

Short answer: I don’t.

Fast-forward to today. Composition of the household on this particular day: Emily, age 4; Tyler, 2.5; Noah, 2.75; Lily, 18 months, and New Baby Boy, 13 months.

“It’s okay,” Emily reassures a frustrated Noah. “Baby Lily can’t help it. She’s just a baaaaybee.” She pats Noah’s back, her voice rich and soothing. “She doesn’t know that hurts. I will kiss it better, okay?”

Noah beams. “Okay!”

“When you’re cleaning up the blocks, let the baby have one. That way he won’t take them out of the bin as soon as you put them away. When you are all done, then you take that last one away.”

Noah and Tyler carry the block bin together over the baby gate and into the kitchen.

“We are coming in here to play so baby Lily won’t keep smashing our building. But we left some blocks for her to play with.”

Emily carries the bin of playdough and playdough toys to the table. Baby Lily clutches one end and staggers with the bin. It looks a little awkward for poor Emily.

“Do you need help, Emily? Is Baby Lily being a problem?”

“No. She thinks she’s helping me.” She leans closer and stage-whispers to me. “She isn’t really helping, but I’m letting her think she is.” She nods wisely and smiles.

“I need that! Here, baby Lily, you can play with THIS!”

“Mary! Mary! Mary! Baby Lily said ‘DOWN!!!”” Noah’s small face radiates delight. “Did you hear? Her said ‘DOWN!!!’ ” He claps his hands. Baby Lily claps, too, and they laugh together.

Noah scoops a spoonful of stew into his spoon. New Baby Boy watches carefully, then picks up his discarded spoon and starts poking it around in his bowl. He doesn’t quite manage to capture anything on the spoon, but it’s clear what he’s trying to do… and equally clear what encouraged him to try.

“If you shout at the baby, you will frighten him. Tell him in a calm voice, ‘Those are my socks’, and then take them gently away from him… Good. Now you give him something else to play with… That’s it! Good for you! Now you are both happy!”

And THAT, Madame Inspector, is what that baby is doing in here…

May 11, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Developmental stuff, individuality, manners, peer pressure, socializing | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Why I love dads

A while back, Noah started showing some reluctance at drop-off. It doesn’t matter that he’d been coming for well over a year and has been just fine for all but the first month. No, there’s no reason for it. It’s just one of those two-year-old things.

There probably was a reason, initially. Maybe he’d had a bad dream just before waking. Maybe he was coming down with a cold, or had had a squabble with a fellow-toddler, or was sprouting yet another tooth, or hadn’t eaten breakfast, or was under-rested, or, or, or…

There are any number of reasons for a sudden change of attitude, and you know what? Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t matter what the reason might be. One time in ten, it does: on that occasion, you deal with the issue — maybe another child is routinely picking on the reluctant one, maybe the parents are too often fighting in his presence on the way to daycare, maybe a child is chronically under-rested. All those things can be dealt with direct, but generally the adults involved do the figuring. We grown-ups put our heads together to see if there’s a preciptating cause, and, if so, to see if there’s something we can do to eliminate it.

There is almost no point at all in asking a two-year-old “Why are you sad?” They don’t know. They just are. If you press them, they get confused, and it makes the anxiety worse. If you try to help them out by making suggestions, they’ll either just wail harder, or latch onto something at random. “Yes! I’m sad because gramma went home! Yes!”

Is that really it? Who knows?

And really, it rarely matters. What always matters is how you respond.

And Noah’s dad, GOD BLESS HIM, responds well. So well. This guy is a master of managing the drop-off uncertainty that Noah was evidencing for a bit there.

After getting his customary good-bye hug, Noah was not trotting off to see what the others are up to — which used to be customary. Now he was turning back to daddy.

“Nuther hug,” he said, a tremor of anxiety in his voice.

“I get ANOTHER hug?!?” daddy exclaims, with great enthusiasm. “Boy, am I lucky!” And he would scoop his son up into a wild and happy embrace, swinging Noah’s wee body from one side to the other, laughing all the while. And Noah laughs, too. How could he not, with dad injecting such positivity and fun into the proceedings?

And then, when dad set Noah down the second time, he cheerfully announced “Have fun today!” — and left. Immediately. He didn’t wait to see what Noah does next, he didn’t make eye contact, he didn’t linger to see Noah settled. He just left.

And Noah? Noah was now in my arms, off to get a book. Which we read on the couch, and by the time the book is done — and it always involves at least three enthusiastic verses of Old MacDonald — Noah has made his transition. He is here, and he is happy.

In fact, the second hug/book/sing-song has become such happy part of our morning ritual that I’d forgotten it orginated in drop-off anxiety. It’s just what we do. Noah hasn’t shown any concern for several weeks, but he’s still getting that second, swooping, laughing hug. It’s just adorable.

And then, today, Mummy did the drop-off.

And when Noah evidenced that tiny smidge of anxiety, which hadn’t been obvious for five weeks or more, mummy squatted down and made eye contact, stroking her son’s shoulder, calming him.

“It’s okay, Noah. You know you have fun at Mary’s.”


“It’s okay to be sad, sweetie, but I know you’ll have a good day.”

Whimper, sniffle.

“Oh, honey. Come and give mummy a big hug, and then try to smile, okay?”

And the dam bursts. There are tears everywhere. He is clinging to mummy, wailing. She is patting and soothing.

And I am wishing Daddy had done the drop-off this morning…

February 23, 2010 Posted by | daycare, Noah, parenting, parents | , , , , , | 9 Comments

too much empathy

Nissa, trotting along the hall, takes a small tumble and looks up, checking for response from any adults in the vicinity. Typical toddler behaviour.

And of course, my response is practiced. In situations like this, you don’t ask them how they’re feeling, you tell them. A beaming smile and a cheery comment shows the child this wasn’t a biggie, and they pop up and trundle happily on their way.

Except there’s a parent in door (not Nissa’s), who is in Nissa’s direct line of sight. A nice parent. A kind parent. A well-meaning parent. A parent who is about to annoy the heck out of me. She crumples with doting concern, her voice oozing pathos. “Oooo, sweetie, are you all riiiiight?

Great. So instead of my hearty “you-can-handle-this” message, Nissa’s getting the limp “oh-you-poor-delicate-flower” message. I wince and wait. It takes less than a second.

Nissa crumples into tears. Whyever not? She’s just been informed that’s what’s expected, and furthermore, been told that any tears will be enveloped with great swaths of time and attention. Having ensured the tears, the nuisance parent mom can now utter words of consolation. “There, there, little Nissa. You will be all right.”

Yes, she will. In fact, she was fine until you told her otherwise with all your ooey-gooey empathy. There is a time and a place for empathy. It is smart, however, if you don’t want to be knee-deep in tears all the damned time, to make sure that what you’re empathizing with is what the child’s actually feeling. In this case, the mom projected the tears into that pause between stimulus and response. When she looked up for adult response, Nissa wasn’t unhappy. She was surprised, certainly. But she hadn’t yet decided how to respond.

In that instance, why on earth wouldn’t you nudge them in the direction of cheerful resilience?

Meantime, the mom is still oozing, and Nissa is lapping it all up, her wails getting louder as mom’s fluttering reassurances continue.

Bah. Hustle out that door, woman, so Nissa can stop crying.

Thank you so much.

January 7, 2010 Posted by | Nissa, parents, Peeve me, socializing, the dark side | , | 13 Comments