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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30 Days of Blogging, Day 16

Today I’m going to talk about teaching consent to a toddler. A toddler who isn’t even 18 months old yet. How the hell are we supposed to do this?

I was always concerned about people forcing hugs and kisses on our baby. I wanted her to learn consent so she could trust her feelings and know when she didn’t want to be touched, and feel confident saying no to physical affection from anyone, even trusted family members. To our surprise, that has been the easy part. Our family and friends have been pretty good about following our lead in asking if they can hold, hug or kiss her. Our problem is that we need to teach Avery to get consent before giving physical affection.

She’s such a huggy, kissy, loving baby. She always has a big, run-at-us-full-tilt, hug for us, and an abundance of lovely kisses on the lips with the best “mwaaa” sound effects. We love it. But somehow we need her to understand that not everyone does.

Her best friend at daycare is petite, and although the two of them are the same age exactly, Avery is twice the size. Avery LOVES her friend. Unfortunately, our daycare provider has reported back to us on a couple of ocassions that Avery’s forceful kisses and hugs aren’t always wanted by her friend, and sometimes Avery’s bear hugs knock them both over and her friend ends up crying.

So what do we say or do to teach Avery to dial back the overt affection and wait for cues of consent to proceed? A young child of her age hasn’t yet developed empathy as we know it, and can’t articulate how someone else might feel when receiving unwanted physical affection. All she knows is simple instruction, like “no.” But we don’t want to just say “no touching,” as it feels too general and isn’t the message we want to send.

What we’ve come up with is to use a one-word instruction that has worked really well to teach her how to approach the cats: “Gentle.” When we instruct her to be gentle, she slows down her approach and seems to become more watchful for signs that she can approach. We’ve asked our daycare provider to use this word when she starts laying on the unwanted affection with her friend, and if that doesn’t work, to simply say “Please don’t touch her right now.”

Our approach is to give simple instructions that are easy to understand and follow. But this doesn’t really tap into what consent is, or why someone may not want her wonderful, loving hugs and kisses. But I think maybe she’s just too young for that level of context.

What are your thoughts on this parenting conundrum?

30 Days of Blogging, Day 8

The word of the day is Patience. 

As we inch closer to the ripe old age of 2, the “terrible two’s” start earning their name-sake. For about a month or two, Avery has been having regular tantrums. They happen over silly things like not being able to get the puzzle piece in the puzzle on the first try or get her sock off in the car, but also over legitimate emotions like learning to accept the realities of “no”, and as per my last post, sometimes the tantrums are caused by separation anxiety. My strong-willed little 16 month old will sometimes have up to a dozen tantrums in a day. 

Luckily they’re usually short, lasting just long enough to get a few tears down her cheeks, get her face good and blood-shot, and do some minor damage to my hearing. Yesterday she tantrumed for 45-minutes – just an ear piercing angry scream, stomping through the house. I don’t even remember what it was about. Probably that I wouldn’t hold her while I was making dinner. 

Dealing with a tantrum-throwing child requires So. Much. Patience. The trick is to not give them any kind of big reaction, which means remain calm and let them get it all out while somehow simultaneously teaching them that yelling and hitting isn’t how we communicate our needs. I sometimes offer her a big hug while she screams, but that more often than not gets me punched in the face. 

I try to see these tantrums as a good thing – she feels comfortable letting her true emotions out, she is developing her emotional regulation skills (early stages, obviously…), and she is finding her power and voice to fight for what she wants. 

I appreciate the developmental milestone that is having tantrums, but it’s still a less than enjoyable part of parenthood. Patience is the word of the day for more than just the patience it requires to parent through tantrums. I want to be patient with all of the hard parts of parenthood and let myself slow down to appreciate the good parts. I find myself wishing away toddlerhood for a future time when she can be reasoned with, when she sleeps through the night, when I get to hear, in her own words, her own voice, about all the complex thoughts going on in her head… But toddlerhood is also an amazing time and I don’t want to take it for granted. I don’t really want my little girl to grow up. I need patience to appreciate the now. 

30 Days of Blogging, Day 5

I’m 99% sure that our recent sleep issues are due to the 18 month sleep regression. I know Avery’s only 16 (and a half) months, but she’s exhibiting all the signs. Her language is on the cusp of exploding, she’s got separation anxiety, and she just seems to be maturing into her terrible two’s right before our eyes  😛. 

As for the language boom, she says dozens of half words, like ca(t), mou(se), be(d) and ba(th). She’s also starting to sound out head, shoulders, knees, toes, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose (and elbow, belly button, and hair), while pointing to all of them (on herself, on us, on the cats, on dolls…). She has blurted out a few full words without the pressure of being put on the spot and questioned (like toys, elbow, and water). She does sound effects for dogs, cows, trucks, and squirrels (squeak!).  She has even tried to make the elephant noise.

All that learning has to be hard work on the brain, and it’s bound to leave her mind buzzing at night.

I’ll leave you with a random picture of her pulling my socks off today. She HATES wearing socks, and has recently started hating it when other people wear socks, too. 

Weekend Update in Pictures and Words

My weekend was extended into Monday because I had the stomach flu and my wife had to stay home to look after Avery while I laid in bed all day. So today is my back to reality day. Today is my Monday. 

On Friday when my wife got home from work we put up our new family sized tent in the backyard to check it out before we go camping on the 24th. Avery had a lot of fun. 

 That’s going to be the summary of every day this weekend – Avery had fun. It really doesn’t take much to make this baby happy these days. Of course, it also doesn’t take much to set her off into a whiney fit… She has a lot of emotions. 

On Saturday we went to a friend’s house an hour and a half away and Avery slept blissfully in the car both ways. What a change from her newborn days… She actually LIKES the car now. At our friend’s house Avery played in her first bouncy castle and at her first water table. She also loves playing with (or watching) other kids, and when our friend’s 2 year old kept beckoning for Avery to “come play!” my heart melted a bit and I longed for a second baby. 

Saturday night Avery was really fussy, and seemed really gassy. She was flinching and jerking like she was having jabbing pains, barfed a couple of times, and even while bed sharing all night with me she would wake crying and would whimper in her sleep. I thought it was because I had eaten a lot of dairy at our friend’s house (not an uncommon reaction to dairy), but in hindsight she may have had the stomach bug first… 

On Sunday it was HOT. 31°C (87°F), which is something we’re not used to here after a cold, dreary spring. I ran to the store first thing in the morning and bought Avery a cheap little kid pool, and although we spent most of the day indoors, we braved the heat for an afternoon splash. She LOVED it. Avery had a lot of fun. 

We’ve also been pretty lenient with Avery’s exploring, trying not to helicopter while still making sure she’s safe. We locked a couple of the kitchen cabinets, but we left some unlocked so she can play with pots and pans and measuring cups. Avery had a lot of fun. She’s naked because it was just so hot… 

Also on Sunday my wife built the entire outdoor run for the chicken coop. All that’s left before the big reveal is to add the steel roof to the run and to paint the trim. 

Sunday night I was awake all night with stomach cramps and vomiting. Avery was in bed with us because I couldn’t be getting up with her all night in that state, and she stays asleep all night in our bed. At least we had that working for us. 

By morning I had stopped barfing, but I still had stomach cramps and I was super weak and exhausted. My wife stayed home from work and looked after Avery. It went great as long as I wasn’t in the room with them… Avery did not like that I was laying huddled under a blanket ignoring her. I think she was worried when her Mo would pull her off of me because I couldn’t handle the climbing on my stomach. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t have her mommy. 

But today I feel pretty much completely better, and Avery is much happier being able to climb all over me again. 

Honestly though… I liked the break. Even though I felt like shit, I relished being able to lay in bed and not worry about Avery. And now I’m happier and refreshed going into the rest of the week. 

Have a great week, everyone! 

To my shy child

One of the most amazing things about being your mom is watching your personality develop and getting to know you as your own person. Even though you’re just a baby still, it’s clear that you are shy, observant, cautious, and sensitive. You’re also a goofball, you love to laugh and be tossed in the air and tickled and mauled by those you trust. But you require trust. You’ve never been the kind of baby who will give away free hugs to strangers, or who will jump right into playing with other babies. You prefer to sit back and watch for a while, deciding in your own time if you feel comfortable entering a situation. 
I love this about you (and not just because it reminds me of myself as a child). Unfortunately, though, some people think that a child needs to come out of their shell in order to “succeed,” and that being shy means you lack independence and confidence. I disagree with those ideas. I know you are a happy, smart, and kind baby who is testing her limits (and mine) in your own way, in your own time. I want you to know that I respect who you are, just the way you are. 

I love that you observe and think first and act later. I think it shows that you will be a conscientious person, aware of how others are feeling and able to respond in a thoughtful way that will bring comfort and love to others. I also think that this trait shows how smart you are. You are so curious about the world around you, and you seem to analyze new situations and environments in your mind first, before exploring physically. 

You’re also cautious. Cautious around new people, animals, and even new toys. Obviously as your parent I appreciate this trait as it’s just a little easier for me to keep you safe! I hate to see you frightened, but when you warm up to something after being afraid before, it’s so much more rewarding. You have to be won over before giving your love to someone/something new. 

My favourite trait that I see developing in you is your sensitivity. I will always remember the time you started crying when one cat attacked the other cat. You also cry when someone makes a painful grimace (like when you bite me while nursing or scratch my eyeball with your sharp baby nails!) You are sensitive to the wellbeing of others and I think it’s amazing that you have shown signs of empathy so early. 

You are such a beautiful soul and I am so lucky to be able to get to know you as you continue to grow and develop over the years to come. I love you more than life itself. 

The Lullaby as a family heirloom

I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill, possibly out of tune (but it doesn’t matter) lullabies. They don’t have to be anything fancy, and they may be the same songs that many other families sang and cherished as their own. But there is something very meaningful and sentimental about these songs. I love the way a lullaby can be passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom. 

I have very strong memories and a subconscious emotional reaction to the lullaby my mom sang me when I was a baby/young child, and I sing the same lullaby to my own baby now at every nap time and every bedtime. 

My dad sang to me too, but he sang a lot of different songs, and he played his guitar for me, and he played relaxing CDs for me. I have emotional reactions to some of the songs he used to sing as well, but they were something different than The Lullaby that my mom used. From a psychological perspective, a Lullaby is used (intentionally or unintentionally) to condition a sleep response. It is used repeatedly at sleep times to cue that it’s time to sleep, and eventually hearing that particular lullaby will make the child feel sleepy. I have to think that such a deeply conditioned song would stick around in one’s memory and continue to evoke an emotional response later in life. Interestingly, it may also trigger a sleep response in me – I yawn my way through it when I sing to my baby the lullaby my mom sang to me as a baby. 

Avery now reacts instantly to our lullaby. She relaxes, closes her eyes, and her arms stop flailing as she rests her hand on me while she nurses to sleep. 

In case anyone’s wondering, my family heirloom lullaby is All The Pretty Horses. Side note: old lullabies like that tend to have subtly disturbing lyrics. A quick Wikipedia search of this lullaby suggests that the song was originally sung by Africans slaves who couldn’t care for their babies because they had to care for their masters, and some versions make reference to buzzards pecking out their eyes. We don’t sing that verse…. 

What lullaby has a special place in your memory? Do you have a family heirloom lullaby?