Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Doing errands with a toddler: Slowing down to speed things up

Running errands isn't much fun
Recently, I had a big errand-running day with Munchkin. We were out for about 2 hours and made 5 stops. We did it without buying any new toys (and yes, we went through the toy aisle, twice), without treats or "incentives", and without a meltdown or tantrum. Even when we got back home, Munchkin never had his typical post-outing meltdown.

Maybe for some seasoned moms, this is no big thing. For us, it was a big deal. I have to admit, I'm incredibly proud of us! Usually, I can only manage 1, maaaaaybe 2, stops in a single outing before Munchkin comes undone. He gets overstimulated. He gets tired, but never falls asleep away from home. He gets hungry, but is too distracted to eat when we're out and about. He gets disconnected from me because he is so captivated by discovering the world. When we return home, he usually has a breakdown, whining and crying for comfort to soothe all those mixed up feelings.

For me, running errands with a toddler can be tense and stressful. I try to balance my need to complete tasks with his needs, but that doesn't always happen. I feel hurried to get everything done before he gets too tired, hungry, or overwhelmed. Then I really feel the pressure when we get home and he has his meltdown. Since I often have to take him with me, I've been working on making our outings less demanding for both of us.

On the day in question, I must have hit the mark. Maybe Munchkin was just having a really great day. Still, I keep reflecting on what I did to help our errands go so smoothly. Because I definitely want to repeat this pattern!

I gave advance notice of what we were doing next. Munchkin could prepare himself for what was about to happen. It was also a useful way to set a limit ahead of time and to let him know he was included in my plans: this IS what we're doing and you ARE coming, too.

I didn't rush him. I let him take his time exploring the toy aisle, picking up and replacing shampoo bottles, and wandering about the store carrying and kicking a ball through most of it. Funny, it actually took less time this way than trying to persuade him to do these things on my time scale (I'm an in-and-out kind of shopper).

I reconnected with him frequently. Between stops, or when we were getting in and out of the car, I was present and authentic. I talked and listened to Munchkin, gave him hugs, and looked him in the eye as I buckled him in. It was clear that we were doing this errand together.

I made time to sit and have a snack together. I spotted a bench outside one of the shops and I thought it would be a good place to take a break. I always carry snacks with us on outings, but I usually let him eat in the car (you know, to save time, ha!). Eating on the bench was much better. Not only did Munchkin get to refuel his body's needs, he also got some valuable time to connect with me. Now that's what I call efficient shopping!

Overall, it seems that my keys to success were being more patient, being fully present, and staying connected. I might not be able to repeat this every time we run errands, but at least now I have a benchmark. I know that I can do it. I can get stuff done without Munchkin coming undone. All I have to do is slow down and things go a lot faster!

What do your errand days look like? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's OK For Parents to Feel, Too

When my son is hurt or in pain, I offer hugs, kisses, and space to cry if he wants to.

When he is angry or frustrated, I help him find safe ways to express himself, like punching the couch instead of hitting himself in the head (oh, toddlers!). Then I guide him to re-center himself by taking deep breaths, for example.

When my son is scared, I figure out what frightened him and then work to either keep him safe from it in the future or show him that it won't hurt him so he won't be afraid of it again.

When my son is happy, I smile and allow him time to enjoy his joy.

When my son has feelings, I want to encourage him to experience them. I want him to know that emotions are not to be feared, that they don't have to overwhelm an experience, and that he is capable of recovering from even the strongest, darkest feelings.  I want him to have the skills and internal resources to express his emotions in healthy ways, without bottling, lashing out, shame, guilt, or resentment. I want him to know that I will love him and be there for him no matter what he feels.

Why, oh why, then, is it so hard to do the same for myself? I'm getting better at it, but I still have a ways to go before I am as consistently gentle with myself as I am with my son.

It seems that as parents -- and especially mothers -- we become so focused on allowing our children emotional expression, yet we deny ourselves the same unconditional love. We are still unable to truly experience our feelings. We over-eat to stuff them. We exercise to run away from them. We busy ourselves with jobs or activities to avoid quiet moments for the soul. We clean the house instead of our hearts. We focus on caring for others instead of ourselves.

This system of parenting won't work. It's too hard to support someone else through intense emotions when you've got unresolved feelings of your own in the way. Eventually, there will be a collapse or a blowout. In fact, I'm pretty sure emotional suppression is what gets in the way of practicing unconditional, mindful parenting each and every moment.

That's certainly the case for myself, anyway.  It's when I literally forget myself that I run into the biggest parenting hurdles. Therefore, I have resolved to use the same (or similar) phrases and actions on myself that I use with my son when I notice strong feelings well up inside of me. I'm going to focus on loving myself unconditionally through my feelings, too.  This make sense when I consider that my son will learn the most about emotional freedom and expression from the way I handle my own. That is, my feelings aren't just OK, they're essential for good parenting.

Are you better at handling your child's emotions than your own? Have you found a way to handle both? Leave a note...I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Handy Parenting Resources: the Fridge Lists

Some of my readers have said they'd like to put up some of my posts on their refrigerator for easy reference. Here, I've distilled these lists down a bit so you can print them out for just this purpose and still have room on the fridge for your child's artwork and photos. I call them the "fridge lists." Enjoy!

MaMammalia's Fridge Lists

(the Fridge version)

1)      Appeal to your toddler's natural empathy. "It hurts my ears when you... " bang on that, scream, etc., or "I can't understand you when you..."  whine, yell, cry, etc. or "Ouch! That hurts!"

2)      If at first you don't succeed, try again in 1 minute.  Or 30 seconds, or 5 minutes, or 15. Be quiet while waiting. Let him finish what he's doing.

3)      Provide an attractive alternative. Make the exchange respectfully and be sure to validate any disappointment or anger.

4)      Use humor and playfulness. Get creative, laugh, and watch your tension melt!

5)      Be emotionally available prior to your request. Before you ask... play, hug, smile, nurse... connect.

6)      Enlist the help of your toddler. Ask him to help carry something, pick something out, put something away, etc.

7)      Say "gentle" instead of  "no touch." Save the "don't touch" for seriously dangerous items.

8)      Avoid using punishment for non-compliance. Work on developing alternatives to yelling, spanking, and time-outs.

Want more explanation? Get the complete article
Like this type of list? Visit MaMammalia for more:

MaMammalia, Copyright 2011


(the Fridge version)

1) Try a gentle approach first. (See the Gentle Strategies list)

2) Use toddler-appropriate language: correct pronouns, precise phrasing, and age-appropriate.

3) Demonstrate confidence in your request through your tone of voice.

4) Offer legitimate choices. Come up with 2 different ways to fulfill your request, then give your toddler the choice. Avoid false choices.

5) Take action. "I won't let you..." or "Please do not..." hit the dog/throw toys/run in the street, etc. , then enforce the words peacefully by holding up a hand or standing in the way.

6) Validate the child's feelings. "I understand that you are angry because I won't let you..." or "It's OK for you to feel angry at me for..." or "Are you sad that...?" Avoid judging, criticizing, minimizing, or blaming.

7) Consider the child's unmet needs. Start with physical needs (hunger, thirst, fatigue, overstimulation, pain), then consider emotional needs (acceptance, respect, independence, connection).

8) Reconsider your request. What's the worst that would happen if you just let it go?

9) Work on your relationship. Do you need to reconnect with your child, or yourself?

10) Avoid bribery, threat of punishment, or withdrawal of privileges.

Want more explanation? Get the complete article
Like this type of list? Visit MaMammalia for more:

MaMammalia, Copyright 2011

(the Fridge version)

Take a break to just breathe.  Say "I need a moment" then sit or lay down for some deep breathing.  Afterwards, reconnect with your child through a hug, eye contact, or kind words. Repeat as needed!

S--l--o--w    d--o--w--n. Do one thing at a time, paying close attention to your actions, thoughts, words, and feelings.  Avoid judging or evaluating yourself, just notice your own experience.  

Put the problem  on the shelf, along with other items not appropriate for children. Create boundaries around your thoughts, e.g. "I'll think about this after she goes to bed".

Look your child in the eyes when you talk to him. It will keep you connected.

Let go of guilt. If you haven't been your best self...Forgive yourself, apologize to your child, decide on changes to make, commit to them, and move on. 

Get some rest. Nap or close your eyes for a few minutes.

Get out of the house. Take a walk, get some exercise, do a simple errand.

Chat with a friend.  Get it off your chest.

Give yourself space to feel angry, sad, etc. Schedule time and space away from your child to experience your emotions. Validate your feelings and honor your experience.

Want more explanation? Get the complete article
Like this type of list? Visit MaMammalia for more:

MaMammalia, Copyright 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hidden Talents

Welcome to the August Carnival of Natural Parenting: Creating With Kids
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how they make messes and masterpieces with children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I have always admired crafty folks because they possess a type of creativity I seem to lack. When it comes to arts and crafts, I have far more interest and desire than I do skill or knowledge. I was hoping that with my son, I would have the chance to explore my own craftiness and discover hidden talents in both of us.

I started with the basics, crayons. At this point, Munchkin is more interested in eating the crayons than coloring with them. Inserting and removing them from the container is also a fun game.
Munchkin is not inspired by crayons

I also tried non-toxic, washable pens. Decorating his hands and face was far more amusing to him than putting pen to paper. 

I decided to skip the finger paints and other drawing/coloring media for now. Oatmeal or yogurt provide similar results, with at least a bit of nutrition! 
Munchkin eating his 'artwork'

With the Play-Doh Fun Factory, we had some luck. Munchkin liked the mechanical aspect of pressing down on the lever, watching the Play-Doh emerge, balling it up, and then repeating the process. He was deeply focused for a good 20 minutes!
Insert play-doh, then...


Then there is creative building and construction. Munchkin is getting more skilled with the Mega Bloks and takes pleasure in stacking them "up, up, up!" Natural wood blocks are at the top of my list of toys-to-buy-next. Good thing I won the Beka Blocks from the NPN giveaway!

Still, I've been feeling like we're pretty boring in the creativity department. That is, until I began to look for ways that Munchkin is creative on his own, rather than how he is "creative" at an artsy activity I put together for him. For instance, he made a point of showing me how he could line up his cars in a row. Pretty imaginative for a 19 month old who's never been stuck in gridlock traffic!
Munchkin's car creation
Munchkin's pièce-de-résistance, however, was an innovative creation so exciting that he ran to get me from the other room.

"Dat! Dat!" he urged me, beckoning me to take his hand and follow him. I let him lead me to his design, something he was immensely excited to show off. He pointed and said, "Wah-oow!"

I exclaimed "Wow! Look what you did! You put the flags on top of your tractor!" He grinned and chuckled with self satisfaction.  I was, indeed, quite proud of him. Proud, partly because he had invented a novel "hat" for his tractor. Mostly, I was proud because he had initiated the creation on his own and he displayed unadulterated delight in his own accomplishment. He expressed himself purely. 

Tibetan prayer flags on top of tractor

I realized then that a sense of fulfillment and the freedom of self expression are what I most want to provide for him when it comes to creativity. I care less about how or what he produces than I do about whether it brings him joy to create, and whether the activity engages him.

Of course, we'll keep working on the arts and crafts. I'll do my best to present him with a variety of opportunities for creativity. At the same time, I'm going to marvel at and encourage the unpredictable, creative ways he finds to be creative...his hidden talents.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Breastfeeding is so much more than...

Here's another little contribution to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week:

Munchkin climbed up on the bench, asking for some assistance. I helped him maneuver around until he settled down next to me with his little legs dangling over the edge of the wood. He swayed his legs back and forth.

"Na-na," he said, and made the sign for food. Na-na is a word he made up when he was less than a year old to designate food, eating, or hunger.

I pulled out some snacks. He nibbled, then climbed on and off the bench a few more times. We talked about the leaves and the California buckeyes ripening in the tree above us. Munchkin made his way through most of the snacks I'd packed, and finally resettled again next to me. He scooted up close to me so that our bodies were side by side, touching. I sighed that blissful maternal sigh of I can't believe how wonderful this is.

"I love you," I told him, putting my arm around him for a gentle hug and kiss. He smiled and finished the last bite.

"Boo?" he inquired gently.

"Really? You want the booby now?"

I'd never nursed him in our apartment's courtyard before. I felt a moment of cultural-conditioning discomfort when I remembered that the groundskeepers were about that day, mowing the lawns and trimming the hedges. Whatever, I thought, and dismissed my discomfort with a shrug. Then I felt true embarrassment, in front of myself, because I had never nursed him here under the tranquil shade of a tree, here with the dreamy wind, here with the birds for a soundtrack.


"OK, come on over here," I said. He climbed into my lap and again I helped maneuver him into position. He looked me in the eye and I smiled down at him.

That was the moment I really got it. That was the moment when I truly understood extended breastfeeding. Munchkin wasn't hungry. He'd just eaten. He wasn't thirsty. I'd given him water. He wasn't seeking physical affection. We were already cuddled together. He wasn't seeking love. I had just told him. He wasn't tired or cranky, in pain, teething, uncomfortable, lonely, sad, scared, confused, none of it. He just wanted a bit more, he wanted it. In obliging him, I could also partake of this nebulous, mystical, transcendent, experience of breastfeeding beyond infancy. I could have a little bit of it, too.
I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week: Breastfeeding a preemie

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week with the Natural Parents Network, I'd like to share a glimpse of our breastfeeding journey. Please forgive the amateurish poetry -- I don't do this often. Sometimes prose just doesn't do the trick. Eventually, I'll be able to really write about it...


I still cry to think how you were too small,
too weak,
too early
to suckle
Still, I held you to my breast,
I let you smell me and fumble around
all the wires,
all the tubes,
all the waiting nurses
Still, I refused the bottle and formula
you sucked
you grew
you came home

Without the feeding tube you stopped growing
because of reflux,
because of weakness,
because of my frazzled nerves
Still, I pumped every few hours and helped you learn to suck
with nipple shields
and SNS
and physical therapy
and kind helpers

Together, we were determined to overcome the
bad latch,
plugged ducts,
and sleeplessness
Still, I nursed you at my breast and watched you grow

After 4 months,  breastfeeding was "established" and we could do it
without props
without pain
without interventions
Still, I wondered how long our mamatoto* would last:
six months,
one year,
or two?

Today, at 20 months, I nurse you like a pro
in the bed,
at the table
on a bench
Still, my breast and it's magic milk are made
for hunger
for connection
for easing tears
Still, I can't imagine giving this up anytime soon
we've worked too hard
we've come too far
we are mamatoto,

*mamatoto is a Swahili word to denote "mother-baby". My understanding is that it refers to the nursing mother and infant dyad as a single, connected unit, rather than as two separate individuals.



I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)