Adventures in Toddler Discipline: Setting Boundaries

Avery has started standing and jumping on the furniture as a way of testing boundaries. We have told her that she needs to sit or lay down when she’s on the couch or the chairs, because she could fall and get hurt from standing and jumping. She wants to see just how far we’ll go to enforce this rule, and she needs to test us every single day in case we’ve changed the rule from the day before.

Avery: stands on couch

Me: please sit on your bum when you’re on the couch.

Avery: smirks, stays standing.

Me: Can you sit down on your own, or do you need me to help you get off the couch?

Avery: still smirking, starts stomping her feet.

Me: You’re showing me that you need help to get down. Lifts her onto the floor.

Avery: kicking and crying. Runs to the next piece of furniture, climbs up, and stands on it.

Me: Sit or I’ll help you down.

Avery: stomps and cries.

Me: lifts her down.

Avery: runs to the next chair, stands on it.

Me: lifts her down.

Avery: screams.

Me: pulls hair out in frustration.

Finally out of furniture to climb on, she gives up and runs off to play with something more appropriate. It is unclear who won.

If you’re interested in how we devise our game plan for dealing with boundary testing behaviour like this, I highly recommend two books: The Soul of Discipline and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.

I recommend both of these books, but No Bad Kids is a quicker read with very easy to follow ideas for actually responding to your kid’s behaviour in real time. The Soul of Discipline gets more into theory of misbehaviour and discipline.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance- From Toddlers to Teens

Full disclosure: These are affiliate links, but I have not yet been accepted into Amazon’s Affiliate Program. I need to drive 3 sales in order for my blog to be considered for this program. If you’re interested in either of these books, purchasing through the links provided here will help me to qualify for the affiliate program. Belonging to the Amazon Affiliate Program will allow me to earn a very small commission from Amazon sales made through the affiliate links I provide on my blog.

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5 Awesome Baby Books for Raising a Socially Conscious Kid

I don’t know if these books are actually going to make your baby into a social justice warrior one day. Regardless, when I’m reading books to my baby, I do worry when they illustrate ancient gender roles, or when they are white washed. As a social justice warrior myself, it’s important to me to be able to read books to my baby that promote positive messaging about diversity, social justice, and just being a good person.

This is part 1 of a series of baby books I’m going to recommend. I figure that releasing 5 at a time makes the list easier to get through, and it also gives me a chance to hear YOUR recommendations and potentially add them to future lists.

For now, these are some of our favourites from our bookshelf. We’ve actually read them, so I can actually vouch for them. I love them, Avery loves them, and they have socially conscious messaging that support diversity and compassion for others.

Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.
Fuller disclosure: This is my first time trying out affiliate links, and my approval into Amazon’s affiliate program is still pending – I need to drive 3 sales in order for my website to be approved for the program. I won’t always make posts this link-heavy, but I’ve been wanting to publish this book list for a while, and I decided it was time to try my hand at bringing in a few pennies for the links I want to share anyway. I will still only post links for books/products that I really, really recommend.

Book List for Raising a Socially Conscious Kid: Part 1


5. The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf

The Story of Ferdinand

Notes: This is a cute little book about a young bull named Ferdinand. This book would have packed a more powerful social justice punch a decade ago when it was even more unacceptable for little boys to be interested in stereotypically feminine activities, but hypermasculinity is still rampant, and children and parents everywhere still need to be reminded that boys don’t have be stereotypical boys to be awesome. The reason why I like this book over others with similar messages (like My Princess Boy) is because Ferdinand is non-human, so there are no concerns about racial diversity. I also really liked the ultimate message of non-violence in this book.
Socially Conscious Message(s): boys don’t have to be masculine to be awesome; non-violence is awesome
Types of Diversity it Encompasses: gender expression (masculinity).
Board Book Available: No


4. Mama, Do You Love Me?, by Barbara M. Joosse

Mama, Do You Love Me?

Notes: This book makes the list solely because it celebrates a marginalized, vulnerable culture, Inuit culture. It’s refreshing to see representation of Inuit culture, and it helps me to keep my daughter’s book shelf full of diversity. We also love this book because it tells a beautiful story we can all relate to about the unconditional nature of a mother’s love. Here’s an excerpt to show some of the awesomeness of this book’s message. It’s dialogue between a child, who is testing the limits of their mother’s love, and the mother, who reassures the child that even if she is angry at the child (or scared), she will always love her child.

What if I turned into a polar bear and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp , shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?

Then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you.

The illustrations are also bright and colourful and really catch a baby’s eye.
Socially Conscious Message(s): teaches about an underrepresented culture, a parent’s love is the same across cultures
Types of Diversity it Encompasses: Racial/Cultural (not enough literature represents Indigenous cultures)
Board Book Available: Yes


3. What Does It Mean To Be Kind? by Rana DiOrio

What Does It Mean to Be Kind?

Notes: One of my favourite ways this book suggests to be kind is …”allowing yourself to make and learn from your mistakes”. This is such an important lesson for raising allies and social justice advocates, because being afraid of making mistakes is a huge barrier when trying to learn about others and do right by them. A note is about the illustrator’s attempt to represent diverse races: There is an attempt, but every character in the book is pretty light skinned, even the ones who I think are supposed to be Black. But the illustrator did take racial diversity into consideration.
Socially Conscious Message(s): celebrate differences, have empathy and compassion for others
Types of Diversity it Encompasses: racial (sort of…), visible disability (there is one wheelchair), gender (sort of – there are some gender-ambigious characters).
Board Book Available: No.


2. What Makes a Baby, by Cory Silverberg

What Makes a Baby

Notes: I bought this book when we first got pregnant. It is unbelievably inclusive. Like, you didn’t know a book could be so inclusive. It tells the story of how a baby is made by making reference to parts of the body that are required (i.e., egg, sperm, uterus), and does not make reference to gender (as in, there’s none of that “when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much” barf-inducing crap). I also love that all of the characters are various colours of the rainbow, from blue to green to brown. This book is effectively for everybody, from any ethnic background, from any family dynamic. Cory Silverberg also wrote a book called Sex Is a Funny word that I bought (I pre-ordered it because I love this author so much), but that’s for older kids.
Socially Conscious Message(s): families come in all forms, people come in all colours
Types of Diversity it Encompasses: race, gender, sexual orientation
Board book available: No


1. Counting on Community, by Innosanto Nagara

Counting on Community

Notes: An adorable little book with a strong social consciousness message. This book is a counting book (One stuffed piñata, Two neighbour friends, Three urban farmers, etc.), but it’s far from your everyday baby’s counting book. The images and words will expose your baby to various cultures and ethnicities, and to pro-social ideas like protesting as a community, and pro-environmental ideas like raising backyard chickens (and ducks!). The words are simple and few and have a nice ring to them, and the images are colourful and interesting (but may be a bit complex for an infant’s brain to interpret). I love that we see our family in this book as the “urban farmers” and that we can see and imagine the friends that my baby will one day make on our street. Lovely book.
Socially Conscious Message(s): growing your own food (environmental), protest to make positive social change, participate in festivities, food and music of cultures besides our own.
Types of Diversity it Encompasses: racial/cultural
Board Book Available: Yes


What social consciousness raising books do you and your littles love?

30 Days of Blogging, Day 15

I’m sitting at a coffee shop drinking a double shot mocha and I’m about to read a book. It’s my first self care act in months and months and months. I also just came from getting my legs waxed. I may be alone on this, but the feeling of having individual unwanted hairs ripped from their roots is really freeing and satisfying, and it gives me a bit of an adrenalin boost to boot. 

The reason I can do this today is that I submitted my final proposal draft to my advisor at 10pm last night and now it’s on its way to my committee – the committee of “deciders” who will fingers crossed approve my proposal so I can start this bloody experiment already and finish my PhD one day. 

In case anyone’s wondering, the book I’m now settling into is The Soul of Discipline, by Kim John Payne. He also wrote Simplicity Parenting, which I reviewed in a post a while back. I’ll let you know how this one turns out. 

It’s OK Not To Share, and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (a review) 

The parenting books I’ve been reading for this parenting book club have been helping me to feel more chilled out about parenting Avery. It could have gone the other way – information overload could have led to heightened anxiety. I think we must be choosing good books as a group of hippy parents. And by good, I of course mean books that align with our pre-existing beliefs…

My first impression of this book was that it covered a lot of the same stuff as a book I previously reviewed, How to Talk so Kids will Listen. It’s written from the same positive, empowering parenting perspective with the idea that kids need to be listened to, respected, and understood. It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids teaches parents through examples how to set reasonable behavioural limits for your children without limiting their developmental opportunities.

It’s OK Not To Share bases pretty much all of its parenting lessons on the idea that we need to give kids more freedom. In the words of Miss Frizzle (of Magic School Bus fame), let them take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. It focuses a lot on free play (i.e., let them play how they want, when they want, and with whom they want) and values play above early ‘academics’. I found myself pondering this the last time I tried teaching Avery her primary colours. Why I am trying to push structured learning on a baby? Memorization learning, no less! I don’t even like the idea of memorization learning in higher education. Since reading the book I’m trying to protect Avery’s play more, which mostly means I sit there and watch her play with whatever she finds (toys, pots and pans, the cats) and don’t try to butt in and show her how to play. It’s lazy parenting 101.

While the basis for this book is pretty harmless (let them play), it also covers some pretty controversial topics such as not stifling aggression and, well, not sharing. Tough for the pacifist parent to swallow, It’s OK Not to Share also asserts that rough housing is OK. There was some disagreement with this advice during our book club meeting, with some parents not wanting to encourage or enable aggressive behaviour. I think this is ultimately going to be one of those parenting decisions that depends on the kid you are parenting. As with any parenting resource out there, take what you want, and leave the rest.

Overall, this book was easy to read (but long…), and I enjoyed allowing my own parenting beliefs to be pushed outside the box a little with these “renegade” suggestions. It’s full of controversy and definitely a fun read for a parenting book club. It generated lots of discussion. However, it’s not at the top of my list of parenting book recommendations. I think that the important stuff about listening to your kid’s needs and supporting all emotions was better taught in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. And although I missed the book club meeting where they read and discussed The Soul of Discipline, the other parents in our group felt that it covered discipline vs. autonomy better than It’s OK Not To Share. 

If you decide you want to check it out regardless of my so-so review, I’ve included an affiliate link above.

Simplicity Parenting, a review 

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I started drafting this review back in March. Then I fell off the book club bandwagon. I missed the meeting where we discussed this book, and the next book… But I’m back on track for July. And I did read Simplicity Parenting, so I thought I’d make a brief review post about it now. Better late than never. 
In a tiny nutshell, this book is about reading your child’s bad behaviour – or acting out – as a sign that they are emotionally unwell, attributing that to being overstimulated, overburdened, overworked, and treating the root of the problem by simplifying their life. The author has a background in education and psychology, and seems to have a lot of experience backing his ideas. But to me, this is just one more parent with big ideas about the right versus the wrong way to raise your kids. 

That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, or that the message didn’t speak to me. I happen to agree with the author on a lot of things. But I have added this book and it’s ideas to a shelf in my mind that I draw from occasionally when I want to try something new with my parenting. I don’t believe that this approach to parenting will solve all of every child’s problems. But it’s worth a try if you’re interested. 

So what’s this guy pushing, anyway? He’s pushing a simplified lifestyle so your kids have the mental space to work out some heavy developmental stuff. The obvious area to simplify is tangible clutter, like toys. While the book also goes into detail on how you can simplify the rhythm of daily life and your child’s involvement in extracurriculars, it seems easiest to start with the toys. I liked the advice on simplifying toys because we already keep things simple in the toy department (I always love reading things that affirm my beliefs). The authors suggest cutting your child’s toys in half, and then in half again. You should be left with no more than a dozen that are accessible at any given time (the rest that aren’t complete junk can go in a toy library). 

When I read the section on toys, it inspired me to find some images of “good” toys, which the book defines as toys that inspire imaginative play and don’t overwhelm the senses. Here are some ideas:

Where the book goes too far: Simplifying sensory stimulation from light and taste

There are two suggestions in the book that I found a little absurd. One was to cut back on excess artificial light. I’m aware of the science of sleep and it’s suggestion to cut out TV and other blue lights before bed and during sleep, but the author went as far as to suggest using candles after dusk and before dawn, sharing that he eats breakfast with his daughter in the dark winter mornings by nothing but candle light. Too extreme for me. I did get inspiration, though, from the idea of letting your kid have a candle lit bath (exercise safety, please!) I think my 9 month old would love this experience before bed.

Another section that didn’t convince me was the section on simplifying food. Yes, the examples given of cheese Doritos and sugary sodas are unhealthy and may make whole foods like carrots seem bland and uninteresting in comparison, but the point made in the book went further than that. The author argued that “food is meant to nourish, not entertain and excite”. I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive experiences. While I agree with not letting your kids consume too much additives/artificial flavours/over-processed foods for health reasons, I don’t buy into the idea that eating Doritos will overwhelm their senses or make them never want to eat a carrot again. I believe that cooking with and for kids can be exciting. In my opinion, the author was just looking for a way to include as many daily practices as possible into his list of things that can be fixed with his theory of simplicity parenting.

Overall, I’d recommend giving the book a read if a) you can score a copy for free from the library, and b) you think your child might be suffering from overstimulation. Otherwise, the concepts are obvious enough to try out without following the book’s outline to a T. You can test out simplifying life by purging some toys, cutting down on extra curriculars, and working less / doing less so you can spend quality down time together as a family.

The good thing about the book is that it allows for parents to pick and choose the changes they want to make in their families. Although I’m not the expert here, it really doesn’t seem like Simplicity Parenting has to be an all-or-nothing life overhaul in order to show some effect on your kid’s stress levels.

So whether you read the book or not, and whether you’re trying to solve behaviour problems or not, it might be worth testing out some simplifications in your child’s life. The book is a sufficient but uneccesary guide to do so. 

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, a review 

I joined a parenting book club. I hate reading, but I love comparing notes with other parents, and this book club (started by a friend) was advertised as reading optional. That’s the kind of commitment I can handle. Our first book was How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish. I’ll give you a brief review of the book in my not-so-humble opinion, and then in true book report style, a summary of the book in case you want to not actually have to read the book to know what it’s about. 

Review

Like the title says, this is a book about communication. Someone in the book club said that it could have been called “How to Talk to People” because it covered such basic communication skills. The skills taught in the book do seem basic, upon first glance. 

“I would never talk to my kids like that,” I think to myself indignantly.  Right off the bat, I found the examples the book used to be obvious no-nos (like don’t tell your kid they can never be an engineer or an astronaut,  or some other cool career path, because they’re too stupid). But the book comes with exercises so you can role play and work out what you would actually say in a scenario (a really helpful inclusion), and I started to realize that hindsight is 20/20. One day, when my kid is a little older and having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store for the 10th time that week, I might snap and say something that new-mom-me without the benefit of hindsight might think is a completely horrendous thing to say to a child. So I gave the book a chance and considered that we are all capable of stooping to hurtful, damaging phrases shouted out with quivering, wits-end tones of voice. We can all learn from this book. 

Actually, that leads me to one of the things I liked about the book. It assumes that we will slip up sometimes. The lessons for communication it offers are great to have in your toolkit and to practice as often as you can, but you will probably still slip up sometimes and belittle your child as you choke back tears of frustration. When this happens, the authors advise to be honest with your child about your feelings (maybe after taking a breather and stepping away for a bit). It’s OK to say, “Johnny, I wish I hadn’t spoken to you in that way last night. I was feeling very frustrated and angry and I lost my ability to speak calmly with you.” Having this transparency with your kid should mean that, eventually, when they lose their cool in the future, they’ll have the wherewithal to say “sorry, let me take a step back and process my emotions.” Maybe. 

Although the book is very 1980s with its examples (Johnny, put your records back in the record sleeves or they’ll get scratched), the communication skills are timeless and relevant. I took a Counselling and Communication Skills course in my undergrad and I saw a lot of parallels. I think, in order to find the book useful, you’ll need to be the kind of person who values emotional intelligence and who cares about making people around you feel heard. 

I liked the book. It was easy to read, full of real-life (albeit dated) examples, and it has awesome comics illustrating each new communication skill. This book might even improve your relationship with other adults, too. 

Summary

The book breaks down communication with your kids into 6 skill sets:

  1. Helping children deal with their feelings
  2. Engaging cooperation
  3. Alternatives to punishment
  4. Praise
  5. Freeing children from playing roles

The first skill, helping children deal with their feelings, is about accepting kids’ feelings and validating them. Like a lot of the skills taught in this book, I felt almost offended by being told not to snap at my kid when they tell me they’re sleepy/angry/scared and saying something like, “oh you’re fine.” Of course I’d never do that that. But then again, there’s this thing in psychology known as the “hindsight bias,” where things seem obvious only after you’ve heard about it. Anyway, the gist of this skill, like many of the skills in this book, is all in our ability to actively listen. Use paraphrasing to show your kid you hear them. 

Kid: “I’m scared… I want to sleep in your bed tonight.” 

Parent NOT being helpful: “You’re fine. There’s nothing to be scared of.” 

Parent responding in a positive way that acknowledges the child’s feelings and helps them deal with their feelings: “You’re feeling scared and don’t want to be left alone? It can be scary sometimes when we start sleeping on our own”…and then you use the rest of the skills to complete the situation. 

The second skill is to engage cooperation. This skill comes in handy when your kid is doing something annoyingly unhelpful, like not taking the garbage out after you’ve nagged and nagged to no avail. The book outlines ways to foster cooperation rather than turning your kid into a resentful rebel; instead of making threats, commands, lecturing, warning, etc., try:

  1. describing the problem (e.g., The garbage is still sitting by the front door); 
  2. give information (e.g., if the garbage doesn’t go out by 7 o’clock we’ll miss the garbage truck);
  3. say it with a word (e.g., Johnny, garbage) 
  4. Talk about your feelings (e.g., I feel frustrated when I see the garbage sitting by the door. I don’t like the smell wafting.)
  5. Write a note; e.g., 

The third skill gives you alternatives to punishment. Punishment (like spanking, grounding, or taking away games or electronics or something) is something the authors believe doesn’t necessarily teach the child anything (besides “my parent is mean”). It may make you feel better to let off some steam, but the authors urge that you try alternatives. My favourite alternative is the skill of problem solving. The book goes into great detail on how to effectively problem solve with a child, but the gist of it is to: 

  • talk about your child’s feelings and needs
  • talk about your feelings and needs (model that good behaviour of expressing emotions!)
  • brainstorm together to find a solution, write down all ideas without evaluating them on the spot (even the ones the kid throws out there that are completely unreasonable)
  • and then decide which ideas work for both of you by each crossing out ideas you don’t like, one at a time, from the list. 

It seems to me that this approach would take a lot of patience, when your kid has been misbehaving a lot lately and you are already tired of nagging/yelling. But taking a step back and finding out why the kid is misbehaving (e.g., maybe they are being aggressive with a younger sibling when forced to share toys), you might be able to work out a mutually agreeable solution (e.g., maybe the kid will be satisfied with a special toy that they don’t share, or more one-on-one play time with their parent without that annoying sibling hogging all the attention).

The fourth skill, encouraging autonomy, is really quite simple. Sometimes we have to sit back and watch them struggle as they take 20 minutes to tie their shoelaces. The key tactics to encourage autonomy are:

  1. Let children make choices (e.g., would you like to have your bath before or after dinner?) 
  2. Show respect for a child’s struggle (the shoelace thing, and maybe say something mildly encouraging like “Tying our own shoe laces is something big kids do. Look at you working on a big kid skill with such persistence) 
  3. Don’t ask too many questions (e.g., trust that they weren’t out smoking drugs behind the bleachers and instead of grilling them with 20 questions about where they were, who they were with, and what they were doing, just ask “hi honey, how was your day?”)  
  4. Don’t rush to answer questions (e.g., if they ask where babies come from, turn the question back on them to see if they can figure it out…obviously if they start spinning an explanation about a man’s rib bone being removed and cloned into a baby, interject with some fact) 
  5. Encourage children to use sources outside the home (e.g., if you really don’t want to explain sperm and eggs and intercourse to your kid, encourage them to ask their gym teacher… or probably better yet, your friendly, local sexual health educator) 
  6. Don’t take away hope (this is one of those tips I was offended by having to be told. When your kid says “I want to be an astronaut,” say “awesome!” instead of “you need to be good at math for that, sweety. How about aiming for something more realistic.” –see what I mean? Who the hell would say that to their kid?) 

The fifth skill deals with giving praise. I’m a heavy praiser. My baby sticks her foot in her mouth and I’m all like “good motor skills, honey!” The authors value an appropriate amount of praise as a way to correct behaviour. For example, if your kid is always forgetting their lunch when they go to school, instead of nagging and berating, try praising them for remembering things. “Johnny, I’m so pleased with how you remembered to bring your lunch container home.” This is supposed to encourage them to try harder to please you in the future.

The other thing with praise is to describe the Praise-worthy thing your child is doing rather than just saying “great job!” or “beautiful painting!” It is apparently more genuine and constructive to say things like “I really like how you used contrasting colours to make the painting really dramatic.” I have a baby, though, so my examples will probably be more like, “good job getting the food somewhat close to your mouth!” 

The sixth skill is a tricky one for me because it’s so engrained in me as a product of my socialization. It deals with not putting your kid in a box, or assigning them to personality roles. For example, when my baby wouldn’t take the bottle, I assigned to her the role of “stubborn.” But she’s a baby… She’s not a stubborn personality – her personality hasn’t even developed yet. And the really sneaky thing about assigning roles to your kids is that negative roles are used way more often than positive. We’re more likely to say “she’s a really whiney kid” than “she’s a really generous kid,” I think because humans are hard wired to gripe and complain to each other as a mechanism of social bonding. We don’t feel comfortable tooting our own horn about how great our parenting skills must have been to make this perfect child. But especially when talking to your children, be conscious of pointing out the positive roles they take on, like generous, patient, kind, etc., and try to avoid labeling with words like spoiled, princess, complainer, etc. The authors believe that children will live up to the roles we see them in – it’s the curse of the self-fulfilling prophecy. 

One thing I like about the book is that it includes comments, cautions, and anecdotes about each skill. For example, the authors address when a skill might not work so well on a moody teenager who is prone to back talking, or when humour might work but to steer clear of sarcasm. 

Be prepared to roll your eyes, and then later, in a conversation with your kid or partner or someone else, come to the sobering realization that you are acting out the very faux pas you had rolled your eyes at. This book has a lot to offer and I recommend it to parents, and even to people who are just having trouble maintaining a healthy relationship with a fellow adult. Six steps. Anyone can do it.