{FAMILY} What To Expect: Leaving Your Toddler Overnight For The First Time

With my first child, it took me almost 3 years to warm up to the idea of leaving her overnight with my parents. Leaving my toddler overnight was a scary thing! I was afraid that she would experience separation anxiety – that she would reach towards me with her arms outstretched as tears streamed down her face, sobbing uncontrollably and begging for me to stay as I walked out the door.

I imagined that she wouldn’t sleep, crying for me throughout the night, calling out “mommy” to the dark and empty room in which she laid her head. I feared that she wouldn’t eat, hanging her head low as she wandered aimlessly through each day, convinced that I had abandoned her for good. And most of all, I worried that I wouldn’t survive the separation – that I would yearn for her day and night, and that the guilt of leaving her parentless for the weekend would forever damage her fragile little soul.

toddler overnight

 

They’ll be alright, I promise.

All of this of course was ridiculously untrue. When I finally did leave her, she waved happily goodbye and went on to play gleefully with her toys. While I was gone, she enjoyed new adventures with her grandparents, and when I returned, she was excited to see me – not broken, but possibly more whole as a result of our time apart.

With my third child, I’m more than confident in our overnight separations. Perhaps because I know that valuable time spent with my parents is almost as important to her well being as spending her time solely spent with her parents. Perhaps it’s because I know that having time away makes me a better parent, and that exposure to varying environments is important for early childhood development. She feels comfortable with our nights apart, as do I.

The one thing that might take awhile to accept…

But there’s one thing that sometimes comes with overnight separation that took me awhile to accept. When I returned from my time away, my children weren’t always excited to see me – at first. They would reach for my parents, rejecting my outstretched arms in favour of Nana and Papa. It wasn’t because they had grown to love my parents more than their own, or because they were traumatized by the experience of sleeping in a different place.

According to my Mama Dina, it’s natural and completely healthy for children to “punish” you for being away. While at first they may seem to reject your advances, they quickly learn that you come back. Which is a good thing. After a few experiences with being apart, they grow comfortable in their new environment, and confident that their parents will be back soon.

And the “punishments” will quickly pass, I promise.

How to make it easier?

I’ll leave you with some quick tips on how to make an overnight stay a little more comfortable for your toddler:

1) Make sure that you are leaving them with someone familiar. Leading up to the overnight stay, pay a few visits to the place where they will be staying and enjoy some time together in that new space. It’ll be easier to say goodbye if they feel comfortable where they’ll be.

2) Bring comfort toys. My youngest has a favourite stuffed bunny that she likes to sleep with, so I make sure to always pack it for her. I also include a photo of the family so she can see our faces regularly (my mom tapes it near the crib where she sleeps).

3) Let them hear your voice. If you aren’t able to call, leave a little voice recording for them to listen to – there’s nothing more comforting than the sound of a parent’s voice when feeling unsure of a new environment.

4) Prepare them for what to expect. Talk to your child about how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll return.

Good luck, and don’t fret, your little one will be just fine.

 

Ask Mama Dina: Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Helpless?

I can’t count the number of times my children have asked for my help with something, and instead of showing them how to do it for themselves, I’ve just quickly done it for them. Putting toothpaste on their toothbrushes, tying their shoes, and even wiping their bums – it all just seems easier to do it quickly and properly, and I confess, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like things done in a certain way. So when they ask to help with folding laundry or making dinner, I frequently reply with a “sorry honey, not this time”, sprinkled with some excuse as to why mommy needs to do it by herself.

Awhile ago I came across an article that asked the question: Are We Doing Too Much For Our Kids?, and it made me think about my actions and the effects that they have on my children. Today’s society is so focused on convenience – making things easier, more accessible, and faster for us. We’ve become a bit lazy, and I can’t help but wonder: Is our tendency to help ourselves hindering our children’s ability to reach their developmental milestones?

Parenting Tips

When I hear stories about my parents and the responsibilities that they had when they were growing up, I feel a little embarrassed about how much I do for my children. My mom and her four sisters were expected to work from a very young age. When she was only 7 (the same age as my daughter) she would come home from school, change into her “work clothes”, and begin her chores (housecleaning and cooking). When she was 10, she was expected to get a job. She would go around knocking on neighbours doors to see if they needed a babysitter, or help with their lawn mowing, and would work hard so that she could earn money to buy her own clothes. My children on the other hand, have almost everything done for them by yours truly.

In thinking about this, I asked my mom: “Do you think we do too much for our kids nowadays? Are we teaching them to be helpless for our own convenience?” Here’s what she had to say:

She started by agreeing that parents nowadays do tend to do too much for their children (including me). But she quickly followed up with the fact that we are all busy, and when trying to juggle the kids, work, ringing phones, errands, etc. it makes sense to do what’s easiest for us. She said we shouldn’t punish ourselves for it, we’re human and we do what we need to do get through the day. She reminded me that each day is a brand new day, and that it’s never too late to change our ways.

Here are some key tips that she gave me on helping my children to mature and do things on their own:

Ask yourself if you think they are capable of doing it themselves. As often as possible, it’s beneficial for your children to try to do things for themselves. It teaches them independence, and boosts their self esteem when they learn new skills. If they can’t tie their own shoes, respond with “let me show you how” instead of just doing it for them.  If they ask you a question, show them how to look up the answer instead of quickly responding.

I asked her what to do if you’re not sure if they’re capable of the task or not, and her response? “You won’t know for sure until you let them try!”

Praise, don’t punish. Praise them for trying, even if they don’t succeed at doing the task right away. If they can’t tie their shoes after the first few tries, don’t get mad or frustrated (I know, easier said than done), but instead encourage them with praise – “you’re doing a really good job at trying to tie your shoes. Keep practicing and I’m sure you’ll get it!”

**Side Note: Be sure to be specific with your praise. My mom says that always saying “good job” doesn’t teach them as well as being very specific about what they’ve done well. Saying something like, “You cleaned your room without my asking, that shows me that you’re learning to be responsible and that makes me very proud of you!”, helps them to understand what they’ve done right, and helps in the development of their independence and maturity.

Teach them what they need, not what they want. As you teach your children important life skills, be sure to distinguish the difference between the things that they need (healthy eating habits, choosing the right clothes for the season), versus the things that they want (iPhone 6, video game consoles). This will help to develop their decision-making skills.

I then asked her if there were certain milestones that children should reach by certain ages – for example, should my 7-year-old know how to tie her own shoes by now?

She responded that all children mature differently so there really aren’t any predetermined ages for reaching different milestones of independence.

So there you have it! I’m going to try my best to help my children to learn how to do things for themselves. A daunting task to say the least, but worth a try.

ABOUT MAMA DINA:

Mama Dina is a consummate mother, adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother and grandmother. For over 30 years, she worked as an early childhood educator, and is fully trained and experienced in the Montessori educational approach. She has over 15 years of experience as a foster parent to children from all walks of life, many of whom have special needs. She provides emergency respite care for the foster care system, and acts as a ‘baby whisperer’ for preemie twins on a part-time basis. Her educational background includes training in child psychology, ECE, infant-toddler development, and various areas of special needs (ARBD, FASD, ADHD). Mama Dina’s lifelong passion has been children. She understands typical and atypical child development and behaviour, and combines her magic formula of unconditional love and consistency to enhance each child’s potential. She is also my beloved mama, and I am so blessed that she chose me to be her daughter.

Ask Mama Dina: Raising Boys (Part I)

My first child was a girl, and for almost three years I truly believed that time outs, positive reinforcement, and a set of house rules were all that I needed to maintain a well-behaved child, and a “parent that has it all figured out” status.

And then I had a boy. And while I completely disagree with the negative connotations that tend to coincide with the naming of this gender (from the old nursery rhyme that boys are “made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails”, to the comments I often hear today from parents who insist that boys are wild, destructible and out of control), I truly believe that boys are just made differently, and as a result, they learn differently as well.

Equipped with this thought, I went to an expert – my very own Mama Dina. I asked her: “Is it true that boys need to be parented differently, and if so, why and how can I do this effectively?”

She responded with these quick tips:

1) Boys tend to require more physical activity
2) When it comes to parenting, boys need less words & more showing
3) Despite what we may think, boys need to be given more slack & less rigid type parenting
4) Boys tend to show their feelings through actions as opposed to words; parents need to read their feelings through their actions
5) Boys learn most effectively when moving around (associating lessons with actions)
6) Most of all, boys need to be loved & accepted for who they are

 

She then handed me this book: Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different – and How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men by Steve Biddulph. She said the book includes some great points on how boys learn and how to parent them effectively based on the knowledge that they learn differently.

I’m going to read the book and write a follow up post on my findings – stay tuned for a Part 2 post!

ABOUT MAMA DINA:

Mama Dina is a consummate mother, adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother and grandmother. For over 30 years, she worked as an early childhood educator, and is fully trained and experienced in the Montessori educational approach. She has over 15 years of experience as a foster parent to children from all walks of life, many of whom have special needs. She provides emergency respite care for the foster care system, and acts as a ‘baby whisperer’ for preemie twins on a part-time basis. Her educational background includes training in child psychology, ECE, infant-toddler development, and various areas of special needs (ARBD, FASD, ADHD). Mama Dina’s lifelong passion has been children. She understands typical and atypical child development and behaviour, and combines her magic formula of unconditional love and consistency to enhance each child’s potential. She is also my beloved mama, and I am so blessed that she chose me to be her daughter.

Parenting Quote

Ask Mama Dina: Pretty Little Liar

1011949_10151746889176955_897263972_nWhen she was a toddler, she was so honest with me, almost to a fault. It was as though she was simply incapable of lying. But with her newfound confidence as a six-year-old, she has discovered that she can withhold the truth, and even lie to avoid facing the consequences that might come with the truth.

I recently caught her in a lie, and as she spouted out a descriptive re-enactment of what had happened, my heart sank. She spoke with emotion, emphasized details, and even shed a few tears as she told me her story. I would have believed her story – if I hadn’t come to the conversation equipped with facts to back up the truth. She’s a good little actress – a skill which I’m not sure yet is an asset or a liability.

I didn’t want to call my little girl a liar, even though I knew she was in fact lying to my face.

So I did what I always do: I asked my mama for advice. My mom is an expert, and has always been my go-to for parenting advice. She advises her friends, fellow foster parents, my siblings, acquaintances, and even some of my friends who need answers to tough parenting questions.

Here’s a summary of what she said to me:

1) DON’T call your child out for lying. The truth is, we lie to them all the time. Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. We have to be very careful about how we broach the subject of lying because they will one day discover the lies that we’ve told them.

2) Emphasize the importance of telling the truth. Tell them “the truth will set you free”. Remind your child that being dishonest will lead you into a web of lies, and will result in consequences.

3) This is an opportunity to establish a close relationship with your child. Reassure her that if she is honest with you about something, no matter what it may be, she will not get in trouble. If she is not honest, there will be consequences.

4) DON’T overreact when she does tell the truth. Showing your child that you can remain calm, provide advice and guidance, and keep your cool, will keep the channels of communication open as she grows and experiences new things. If she feels as though she can trust you, she will come to you as a confidante, knowing that you won’t punish her for her curiosity.

5) If she confesses to lying, and then tells the truth, don’t get mad. Focus on the positive. Tell her how proud you are of her decision to tell the truth, and remind her that you will never get mad if she is completely honest with you. Don’t focus on the fact that she had lied at first because you are still establishing trust.

I followed my mama’s advice. Instead of calling her out for lying, I said, “Sweetheart, that sounds like a very interesting story, but I can tell by the look in your eye that you’re not being completely honest with me. I feel as though there is more to the story. I just want you to know that I love you, and that you will never get in trouble if you tell me the truth or ask questions that you think might get you in trouble. You can always come to me and I will never get mad at you for being honest. But if I find out that you’ve been dishonest with me, there will be consequences for lying. I’m going to trust that you will do the right thing, and am here for you when you’re ready to talk.”

And you know what? She came to me, and confessed. All on her own accord. We had a long heart-to-heart, and I feel like we’ve established a new level of mother-daughter trust.

And so begins the slow ascent to the dreaded teen years. I’m just so thankful that I have my mom as backup for the parenting growing pains! And how you can benefit from her advice too.

ABOUT MAMA DINA:

Mama Dina is a consummate mother, adoptive mother, stepmother, foster mother and grandmother. For over 30 years, she worked as an early childhood educator, and is fully trained and experienced in the Montessori educational approach. She has over 15 years of experience as a foster parent to children from all walks of life, many of whom have special needs. She provides emergency respite care for the foster care system, and acts as a ‘baby whisperer’ for preemie twins on a part-time basis. Her educational background includes training in child psychology, ECE, infant-toddler development, and various areas of special needs (ARBD, FASD, ADHD). Mama Dina’s lifelong passion has been children. She understands typical and atypical child development and behaviour, and combines her magic formula of unconditional love and consistency to enhance each child’s potential. She is also my beloved mama, and I am so blessed that she chose me to be her daughter.

Has your child ever been caught in a lie? How did you react?

 

Ask Mama Dina: Taming the Toddler Tirades

I’m a word lover. I love them so much that I sometimes Google the definition of words just for fun.

So today when my toddler  threw himself on the floor and rag-dolled his tiny little body, screaming in pitches that Mariah Carey could never reach, I turned, walked away, and took my frustrations to Google.

First, I looked up the definition of ‘temper tantrum’:

A tantrum (or temper tantrum or tirade or hissy fit) is an emotional outburst, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, yelling, shrieking, defiance, angry ranting, a resistance to attempts at pacification and, in some cases, violence. Physical control may be lost, the person may be unable to remain still, and even if the “goal” of the person is met he or she may not be calmed. A tantrum may be expressed in a tirade: a protracted, angry, or violent speech.

Wikipedia

Check, check, and double check. All confirmed. My boy is having a raging temper tantrum.
I had accurately defined the issue. Now it was time to find a solution to my problem.
I started to type into the Google search bar “how to stop toddler temper….” – and Google knew exactly what I was looking for. It completed my sentence with “….tantrums in 2 year olds.”
Am I the only one who feels a little relieved when Google reassures me (through predictive search words), that I’m not the only person who has Googled this enquiry?
I scrolled through the results of my search, and came across an article posted by Today’s Parent. In the article, the writer describes a few toddler tantrum scenarios, and provides tips/comments like: try to maintain your good humour when your toddler colours the walls with a Sharpie, they can’t anticipate the difficulties of stain removal (ya right, easier said than done).
She writes about the tantrum as a passing stage, that avoiding the use of the word ‘no’ could help alleviate the start of a tantrum, and that threatening, bribing or reasoning will have no affect as the toddler is experiencing an emotional short circuit.
While I appreciate the truth to these statements, they don’t help me to address the problem at hand. My child is lying on the floor, convulsing, shrieking, thrashing, and kicking. Why? Because he wants to have the scissors that I’ve placed on the counter out of his reach.
My first-born didn’t have tantrums, so this has all been new to me. When the tirades first began with my boy, I tried time outs, I tried holding him and cooing him in a soothing voice, and I tried talking it out – explaining why he couldn’t have what it was he was after. But none of it worked, in fact, it only progressed the wild behavior.
Still looking for answers, I took my questions to the best resource in the world, my mom. Her advice doesn’t only come from her experience as a mom – she ran an infant toddler daycare for 25 years, takes in foster children of all ages (many of which have special needs), and takes courses and studies medical journals in her spare time to learn everything there is to know about childhood development. She knows her stuff.
When I asked her how to deal with the tantrums, her answer was simple. She gave me these three tips:
1) When the toddler starts to get riled up (ie: my boy likes to try to put on his own socks, and when he can’t do it right away, he starts to growl and moan and grunt in frustration). When this happens, try saying to them in a calm voice, “it’s ok, just say, ‘help please mommy’ and I’ll help you.” Believe it or not, I’ve tried this, and it works.
2) It’s important to spend at least 10 minutes a day engaging in one-on-one child-led play (I’ll write more about this point in a later post). This helps to build their confidence and gives them control of something.
3) When the toddler is engaged in a full tantrum, say, “I’m going to turn my back until you have finished making a fuss.” Then turn around and don’t give them any attention until they’ve finished. She said don’t push them away or leave the room as they can feel insecure, but the important thing is to not give them your attention when they are acting up. No eye contact, no talking, just you with your back turned. Once they finish, you follow up with lots of positive reinforcement, hugs and kisses.
Note: if you’re not at home when this happens, try picking up your toddler, and taking him/her to a quiet place where you can use the same method, like the car or a washroom.
Remember that all children are different. There is never one solution that will work for all, but until I find what works for mine, I’m willing to try anything.
What do you to to stop the toddler tirades?