Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Best Advice I Ever Received About My Toddler

So, here I am, eager to give out advice and share my experiences via blog, but I realized while I'm keen to share my own advice and experiences, I need to give credit for the advice I have received. I am lucky to have a wonderful network of mommy friends and fellow daycare providers who give me ideas, help me problem solve the latest toddler issues, share their own stories, and give me amazing advice. The most helpful piece of advice was given to me nearly two years ago by Harrison's pediatrician.

Harrison is my middle child. And when I say he's my middle child, I mean he is truly a middle child through and through. Trouble seems to find him. No matter how much attention I give him, it's just not enough. Fussing, whining, and all around naughtiness is a daily thing with him. Yet, he's an incredibly smart and quick kid. Picks up on just about everything. Has a huge imagination. That's why, when at almost two years old (he's 3 1/2 years old now) I was beyond frustrated that he refused to speak and tell me what he wanted. Instead he chose to grunt, cry, fuss, point, and anything else that would make one think he was an infant. Not only was it frustrating, but I was somewhat shocked because when he did speak he had a great vocabulary and spoke with such precision it was amazing. Even now at 3 1/2, he has a better vocabulary than our 5 1/2 year old.

We were both to the breaking point. He was frustrated I didn't understand him. I was frustrated trying to get him to talk when I knew he could. It was just so easy to give in. When he wanted his sippy cup, instead of asking me for it (which he was completely capable of) he would pout, cry, and point at the counter while doing some prehistoric grunt-fuss that made me want to rip my ears off. After holding him in my arms for what seemed like hours (in reality it was only a few minutes, at most) trying to get him to simply say "cup" I'd break, hand it to him, and walk away waiting for the next fuss fest coming all too soon.

I'll never forget that spring day I walked into the pediatrician's office with him. I was weeks away from giving birth to our third child and here I was lugging him on my hip...or where my hip should have been....because he refused to walk himself. He insisted on clinging to me during check in, we had to skip the weighing portion because he wouldn't let me go, and I was dreading when the doctor came in for the check up. However, my life soon changed the moment she walked in.

She walked in and said "hello" in her friendly voice. Harrison eased a bit (he's a sucker for the ladies) and when she looked at me, fighting to hold a nearly 2 year old, she said "oh my goodness mommy! Put him down! I know how coordinated he is and he has no trouble walking. Make him walk." I then practically lost it about how horrible the last few months had been. It's a disaster. He can talk, but refuses too. He wants me to do everything for him when I KNOW he can do it himself.. I'll never forget her next words: "calm down. You're doing a great job. You make him. You show him. Stop doing it for him. Don't give in." I stared blankly at her (I'm sure I looked like a stupid pregnant whale at that moment). Duh! It seemed so simple, but would it work??? She spent the next half hour explaining it to me, giving me examples, telling me it would be okay and that I was a rock star mommy.

I applied her new advice moments after we walked out of the room when Harrison asked to be carried. I got down to his level, looked him in his eye, and said "no. Baby Elizabeth will be here soon and mommy won't be able to carry you anymore, but you can walk right by my side." I quickly stood up, breaking eye contact (I've learned that's an important step to show there's no argument to be had) so there was less chance of an instant break out, took his hand and started walking out the door. There was some moping, but he did walk slowly next to me. As I got him in his car seat I thanked him for his good behavior and high fived him. Another key to this advice: don't over praise for simple behaviors they should be displaying daily or one(s) you want them to display, while any bad behaviors get no recognition at all (and most importantly stand your ground and DON'T give in to the whining).

The next few months were much like this: if he wanted something, he HAD to use his words and ask for it. Grunting, stomping, fit throwing, crying wouldn't get him anything. I'd promptly set him down, walk away and tell him to calm down before I'd do anything. If he wanted his sippy cup he needed to say "cup" (or whatever word(s) he could say to signify he needed a drink). As his speaking skills progressed, we worked on sentences. Word by word. I still have to do this sometimes when he reverts to whining. In a matter of months, it seemed like I had a different child. He knew what would get what he wanted and needed and what wouldn't. He will still whine and fuss about things (he is a toddler after all), but things have gotten soooo much better. Now, at 3 1/2, when he refuses to not "use his words" or fusses for unfit reasons, he is sent to his room until he will use those words he's so capable of saying.

After seeing how this advice has worked with positive results, I began applying it to daycare. We work every day on taking deep breaths when there's conflict, use words to get what we want/need, and fussing about things gets you nowhere. I have used a form of this advice on my third when she turned one. It should be of no shock to anyone who has children, that one year olds can understand far more than they let on and can communicate. When she wants something, we work on saying the word, forming the word with our lips, and asking her to repeat (which she does about 90% of the time). We also tell her she needs to tell us what she wants without whining and fussing (been there, done that, not letting it start in the first place). We use a lot of the line "show us what you want" and she instantly does and has done this since she was eleven months old.

It's amazing how much toddler's can communicate if we, as parents/adults/caregivers, actually listen. This advice that the pediatrician gave me has made me stop, take a while to actually communicate with toddlers on their level, and help them to reach their full potential. This one piece of advice has dramatically changed the way I parent my children and all for the better. It has made us communicate all things more, expect more from our kids (without expecting too much from them), and has laid the ground work for independent, capable children.

I know to some of you may think this was the simplest piece of advice. Some of you may already use this tool on your children. Some may think I'm too harsh. Others may think I'm the stupidest person ever for not knowing to do this in the first place. Raising a toddler is NOT easy and most parents like to hear new ways in trying to get through to their toddler. The best piece of advice is the one you share with another that is passed on from person to person, hopefully helping at least one other struggling parent with a toddler.