Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Turn, Your Turn

No need for lengthy explanations on the virtues of sharing. These few simple words will help your baby understand the concept of taking turns.

When I ran weekly parent-child playgroups, the single Little Tikes slide was a huge draw. A throng of impatient toddlers would push and claw their way to the little plastic stairs. All it took to calm the crowd was a basic repetitive announcement:

Sara’s turn

Charlie’s turn

Mia’s turn

If one little trailblazer still tried to push his way to the front of the line, all it took was a pair of adult hands on his shoulders providing gentle resistance and a repeat of the turn taker's name. Soon all the toddlers got into the excitement of waiting for their turn and would gleefully chant whose turn it was.

This technique can be used with your baby during everyday tasks. Grabbing for the toothbrush or wanting to do things by themselves can be tempered by announcing turns and keeping them brief. It’s amazing how quickly children learn the concept, and how little they fuss as they wait because they understand that after her turn, it will be “my” turn.

Once children begin to come together at playgroups and playgrounds and they ultimately struggle for control of a toy, parents can be caught off guard and feel a little unprepared for toddler aggression.

Armed with this simple phrase (my turn, your turn), you can be the parent who steps in to save the day!

Photo Credit: Janis Gonser
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Young Children Will Do What Is Expected of Them

Sounds simple enough, but many new parents don’t catch onto this little gem early enough. Have you ever noticed how even very young children behave differently when they are with Mom as opposed to Dad; and even different still when they are at Grandma’s house?

I myself didn’t learn this fully as a parent until I began working in childcare centers. Teachers often relied on a few simple rules that they repeated often:

  • we use inside voices

  • we wash our hands before we eat

  • we do not run indoors

  • we take a nap/rest after lunch

A little bell went off in my head. That’s all it takes? I set the rules and they follow?
It is the simple truth. Parents set the rules and children will follow.

Lots of loving new parents want to avoid causing their child any discomfort or sadness, yet there are certain things that a child just can’t do and parents are often the ones that stop them from doing it. A child can’t touch a hot stove. It’s not safe. A child doesn’t like being removed from an interesting object or being told no, but parents feel they are justified in making their child unhappy for that instant to protect them from harm. The same goes for touching electrical outlets or playing inside the toilet bowl. It is not safe.

When my own daughter was small and would cry in these types of situations, I had a little mantra I had to repeat to myself so I wouldn’t feel awful for making her upset. I would just say out loud for her (but mostly my) benefit, “It’s a mommy’s job to keep you safe.” Years later when she didn't want to do her chores at age 11, the mantra evolved into “It’s my job to help you grow to be a responsible, capable adult.” For some reason, I needed to affirm that those difficult moments were part of my important job as her parent.

A more current example comes from my work as a nanny. Little M has reached the stage where he likes to roll over and crawl away during diaper changes. Mom tries to follow him and haphazardly fasten his diaper from behind. Daddy thinks it works best when he keeps M distracted by jumping up and down and making silly faces. (Note: Daddy doesn’t change many diapers). I know this because both parents have given me their tips on keeping M happy at diaper time.

While I certainly understand the value of a little song or funny game now and then to occupy a little one, it is not always possible at every diaper change over a period of 2 years or more. Diapering is a basic fact of life for infants and caregivers. It is not always exciting, but it has to be done.

Little M is a terribly smart and observant boy. When I see him on Mondays, our first diaper change always goes well because I’m new and fresh to his eyes. By the second change, he’s ready to do the quick escape. I always gently put him back in his place and say, “ we can’t roll around when changing diapers,” and I shake my head from side to side. He stops and studies my face for a few seconds and realizes I’m being serious. Then he gives me a little crooked smile to let me know that he gets it – it’s my rule. Then, I usually hand him a toy or break into a chorus of Row Row Row Your Boat.

Children learn very quickly that the rules change from person to person, and M is no different. With Mommy, I can roll all I want and she’ll apologize for having to make me uncomfortable the whole time. With Daddy, if I roll away he’ll play games with me. With Nanny Dee I can’t roll away, but we still get to sing or play.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. Let’s just say that after years of working with infants and toddlers, I’ve seen very similar patterns and behaviors being reinforced unwittingly. As the old saying goes, if I knew then what I know now, I would be a much less frazzled parent. If just one new parent or parent- to-be hears a little bell going off in their head right now, I’ve earned some karma points.
Photo Credit: Sam Hatch (Baby Maximus 2)
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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Parents as Teachers

I could be dating myself, but do you remember hearing about Welcome Wagon many, many years ago? When families located to new neighborhoods, a Welcome Wagon representative would visit their home and bring all kinds of information and special offers from local businesses and services in the area.

When I worked for a Parents as Teachers (PAT) program as a parent educator, I often described our program as being a Welcome Wagon for parents. Using the PAT Born to Learn curriculum, I would visit families with children ages birth to five each month and bring parenting information, along with a learning activity just right for their child's age.

PAT programs also sponsor playgroups, family activities and field trips. Parents loved our program and often found it hard to believe it was a free community service! New parents especially welcomed a friendly face offering information on their baby's development and being available to answer questions about early childhood issues.

PAT also conducts ongoing developmental screenings along with vision/hearing screenings to detect any issues early on. PAT parent educators are knowledgeable about local services and school districts, such as Early Intervention and the preschool/kindergarten screening process.

PAT programs are usually grant funded and provided by social service agencies or school districts. For this reason, program size and offerings can vary, and some program may have income level limits. However, most programs are open to all families in the community, and they are a wonderful resource for families with children under the age of five:

For more information and to find a program in your city or town, go to

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Nanny Needs a Playdate

Just like being a parent home with your child all day, being a nanny is very rewarding , but it can be a bit isolating at times. Unlike being a parent, I can't just pop little M into the car for an outing.

I've been with this current family for a year and started when little M was only 2-1/2 months old, so it's been a wonderful year of growth and many discoveries for both of us! Because he was so small and his parents' first child, they did not want their little guy (understandably) to be driven around town. Other than the fact that our 10-hour days together are a long stretch and nanny wouldn't mind a change of scenery now and then, I really had no reason to take him away from his cozy room and nearby play space.

Now that the weather has passed into spring and M is almost confident enough to take those first few steps without his Little Tikes push toy by his side, I'm about to bring up the topic of a weekly outing -- in the car! There are playgrounds, petting zoos, and libraries to see, and I can't wait!

This need to be out and about prompted me to see if there were any nanny playgroups in my area. I checked, but there seems to only be parent playgroups on this end of my small state of Rhode Island (Bristol and Newport County). I know that I'd have to find a group VERY close to M's home, as Rhode Islanders think any drive over 20 minutes is TOO long, and I'm sure his parents wouldn't be up for more than 10 miles away.

We used to have the RI Parents Paper, a local publication that I wrote a couple of articles for when my daughter was younger, which had local info on fun day trips and other parenting resources. While it is no longer in publication, my search led me to a great resource for parents in Rhode Island:

Unfortunately, I still didn't find too much information for my little neck of the woods. So, here I am blogging as a way to reach out to others who love spending their days with babies and toddlers, but could use a little interaction and maybe share some tips and resources along the way!

Photo Credit: Mario Gonzaga
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