In an earlier life of mine I used to teach Early Childhood Education. I ran a classroom of children who were 18 months old to 24 months old for a few years, and then spent the rest of my years in education in a classroom with 14 toddlers ranging in age from 2 years to 3 years old. I LOVED IT. I loved the none stop movement that happened all day both physically and mentally. I loved learning how kids learned and how their brains were developing and why they were in the stage of behavior they were in. During those years of helping other parents learn how their child’s brain worked, and why they were acting out, or why they are constantly licking the wall really prepared me for motherhood. But in some situations there are still no explanation why your child does what they do, and sometimes they just like to lick the wall. Yes that was an actual situation that the parents and I spent over a month trying to get their child to stop licking walls. It was only ever walls though.
How has this helped me in parenting my own child? Does my background mean I know all the answers and never struggle? Does this mean my kid does all of the arts and crafts and has every sensory toy in the world and I am the most patient when it comes to handling a tantrum? Haha. Oh man. I made myself laugh there for a moment. Truth be told, yes. My background does help me understand my child better than if I never taught her current age group. Do I still struggle? YES. Do we do art time? Sometimes, but not every day or even every week. Does she have the proper learning toys like I had in my classroom? Some of them, but oh gosh not anywhere close to what my kids in my classroom had. Am I a mom boss when it comes to dealing with behavioral issues like tantrums? *sighs* no. Because I am human. But I do have some tips and advice to help get you through the tantrums, and the days where you just want to pull every last hair from your head, and scream on the top of your lungs on the back porch. (I do recommend that at least one time in your life. It is so soothing, and the neighbors will get a good laugh. Plus,who cares what they think anyway!)
Your child will never fit into a box.
Okay well not literally speaking because of course your child can fit into an actual box. Speaking of actual boxes, save that thought we will come back to that. Your kiddo is not going to be like Amy’s kids. They are not going to be like your sisters kid, your neighbors kid, or even like your other kids. Each and every child is truly unique and has their own ways of learning, growing, understanding the world around them and how they need to be loved. Just like you are not 100% like anyone else. That didn’t start when you were in high school, that starts right now. When they are tiny little humans discovering the huge world that they are pretty new to. This is hard advice to follow and I often find myself trapped by this one. Stop comparing your child to someone else’s. Just stop. Comparing will only bring on questions and worry or boasting and none of that is good. But Timmy in his class can say full and clear sentences already! Cool for Timmy! Is Timmy your kid? No? Than all you need to do is move on. If you are bff’s with his mom and she gets excited about his new milestone, be excited with her, and move on. It does not need to go any further than that.
My mini me has always and will always do things on her own terms and in her own timing. Heck she came into the world that way. Two weeks early to the day and oh my gosh in her own way. It’s a long story that I will share at another time, but my point is that she is her own person. For the longest time she was in the 80th percentile on all of the charts at each doctors visit. Then one day she was in the 20th. She took longer to roll over, to crawl, to walk, to “untuck” her thumbs and to speak. Around the time she was six months old I started signing to her. Sign language is an amazing way to teach your kids how to communicate what they want and need at an early age. Their little brains can do sign language long before speech is in the picture for communicating. And isn’t that half the battle when they are so young? That you are just trying to figure out what they want or need?
Communicating with a Tiny Dictator.
“JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!” Have you ever said that to one of your kids? No? Yeah, cool, cool, cool, me neither. I am totally cool, calm and collected all of the time and never get frustrated that I don’t understand what “dat dat dat” and pointing means. So in all seriousness yeah, I get a little crazy sometimes trying to decipher what she wants from me. She is trying so hard to talk to me, but does not have the sign, or the words to communicate it properly for me to understand. If my frustration grows so does hers. So how do we solve this before it becomes a problem?
Teaching Zoe signs became so much more important to us after she was diagnosed with asthma. We immediately started working with her for signs for her inhaler and when she needed help breathing. Believe me though, the first time she came up to me and signed “Help – Inhaler” my heart just broke. It was the saddest thing I had ever seen, but I was able to help her better, faster, because she could communicate with me that something was wrong.
If your little one is under a year old I strongly, strongly, STRONGLY recommend you start simple sign language in your home. Like I said, I started signing “More”, “Help”, “Please”, Thank You”, “Milk”, “Eat”, and a handful of others when our daughter was six months old. I had a couple people in my life that witnessed me signing words to my baby looking at me like I had lost my gourd and probably should be admitted for a psych evaluation, but a few months later, when my little human started asking me for things with her hands and I understood her needs there was more amazement than judgment. “She can sign what she wants?” Uhm, Yes. Because I have been working for months teaching her these things. It does take time, but the payout it so worth it.
Update Toys Regularly.
No, I do not mean go buy new toys all of the time. I mean rotate the toys you already have. If you are anything like me your little human now has more possessions than you do, and they are like what? 3 years old?
This is something I did every week while I was teaching. Granted I had an entire walk in closet with toys, puzzles, are supplies, motor skill activities, etc. But you can rotate out toys even if you don’t have a lot of toys to rotate. There are some key groups of toys and activities you should try to keep at their reach, if they want to play with it that is up to them. These are the groups I have Zoe’s toys sorted into. 1- Books. 2 – Cars / Transportation toys. 3 – Stuffed Animals / baby Dolls. 4 – Puzzles / activity boards. 5 – Art Supplies (Paint is not in this group that is at her reach on the regular. We use crayons, stickers and markers. Painting is for special art with mommy or daddy supervision.) 6 – Counting / Color activities.
I switch out her books seasonally. Her larger motor skill toys like her fisher price ride on scooter, ball pit, or tunnel I switch out every couple weeks. Her other activities I try to switch out every month.
Every time I switch out toys I wait until she is down for a nap, so when she comes downstairs it is like a new world to discover. If she new I took toys away and hid them in the closet she may not be super happy with me, and if that is a battle you can avoid, do that! 🙂 Make life easier on yourself mama!
Let Them Get Messy.
I know. You just bathed them, cleaned the house, finally finished laundry, got their toys cleaned up for the 100th time today…Now I am asking you to let them get messy? I promise you I am not crazy.
There is a time for playing messy, and this may not be every day, or every week for you. We do a messy day once a week. Let me explain what I mean by “messy”. We do messy art, messy crafts, messy activities like playing in mud, or painting, or playing with shaving cream and food coloring, or “helping mommy bake”.
This has nothing to do with her toys in the living room. This is when we choose the activity, prepare her by either stripping down to a diaper ( If it is warm enough ) and let her learn. Some kids don’t get messy at all and hate this. I had a few students that I really had to encourage to touch something slimy, or use their fingers to paint. Don’t ever force a child to get messy if they aren’t feeling it, but encourage them by showing them it won’t hurt them.
You do not need rooms filled with brand new toys to entertain little minds. Have you had an amazon delivery in the past week? Of course you have. Save that box. One afternoon set it on the floor of the play room with a handful of markers, crayons and stickers and walk away. That box will be a rocket ship, or a cave, or a jungle gym.
Grab items from your kitchen and let them play with them for the day. Every now and then the most prized possessions of my child is a spatula and a giant mixing bowl from Ikea. Throw in some measuring cups and you have hours of entertainment that you can just wash later.
Mommy Time Outs.
This is the bit of advice I will leave you with today. Give yourself a break. When you feel your blood pressure rising, or your patience really really slipping. Walk away. Make a better choice. For yourself, and for your kids.
While teaching I could not obviously leave my classroom to give myself a break because well, then the children would build some robot that destroys the building while left unattended. If I couldn’t have a sub come in for a minute I would go sit in the corner by the door where time out was for my classroom. I could still see every inch of my room and what was going on, but I would put myself in timeout. I will never forget a student once asked me what I was doing there, and I told him “Miss Sarah needs a time out”. With the most confused look on his face he continued with “Did you bite someone?”. No, as it turns out I didn’t bite anyone, but I needed a mental break.
Know that what you are doing, raising little humans that will one day be contributing adults to their communities, you are doing good work. You are doing HARD work. Give yourself grace. Know that you are not alone, and when you need a break, and if you are able to “tap out”, take the time you need to catch your breath before going back into the chaos!