Follow Through.

mom-debateIt’s easy to come up with, and devise a parenting style within the confines of your home, it can be much harder to maintain that same style when confronted with the outside, judgmental world. 

It can be hard to follow through on your own parenting style, when others around you are collectively doing something else.  It’s hard when strangers look at you like you’re crazy for implementing some parenting technique, whether it’s enforcing a rule, or letting your child play on the playground with other kids while you’re on a bench watching.

At playgrounds I often have an inner, self-encouraging mantra running, telling myself not to jump into the sandbox, or pointlessly follow ‘my’ kid around on the actual playground. I have to do this because all around me I feel parents judging me for not following their lead of over-parenting (yes, I too judge their over-parenting.)  While I love, and will happily play with the girl I watch, I think that she should play at the playground with other kids, not with me.

The other day, while I was out with the girl I nanny, who is now 22-months, I encountered this stranger-judgment.  I had two choices, 1. stray from my “parenting style” so as not to be judged, or 2. Maintain my style, and possibly be wrongly judged for it.  I chose the latter. While we were walking she (we’ll call her Turtle) decided to set her water bottle on the ground, walk away from it and then demand that I pick it up. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Turtle, can you please pick up your water?

Turtle: No, you pick it up. I need you to pick it up.

Me: Turtle, I’m not going to pick it up.  If you don’t want to carry it, bring it to me and I’ll put it in the bag. But you need to pick it up.

At this moment a stranger glared at me and went to pick up the water bottle, I intercepted saying…

Me, to stranger:  No, thank you, but I want her to pick up the water bottle.

Stranger: [Disgusted face]

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Me:  Turtle, you can take your time, but we aren’t going to walk any further until you pick up your water.

2 minutes later….

Turtle picks up her water and brings it to me.

Me: Thank you.

Turtle: You’re welcome.

The moral of the story is, yes, it was hard for me to have this stranger judge me, knowing she probably thinks I’m a terrible, mean, evil caregiver, but I have a specific “parenting” style and so, to maintain consistency, I let the stranger judge me.  Plus, I know I’m not a mean, terrible of evil-caregiver, which helps.

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Eating, Right?

imagesFirst, lets get rid of the myth that babies and children won’t like vegetables. Okay, good.  Some tastes and textures might not immediately suit your child’s undeveloped palate, but with consistent attempts, they will, more often than not, learn to like and even love the bitterness of kale and the gooeyness of tomatoes’ innards (my personal feat 19 years ago.)

We shouldn’t assume or prepare for picky eaters.

Lets avoid saying things like “this is something new, but lets try it anyway.” And lets not stand by biting our nails, preparing for a food fight (not the fun kind.)  Our children’s reluctance to eat vegetables will arise from these verbal and physical cues, so sit back, relax and assume your kid will love veggies and fruit. And if you’re a person who doesn’t like broccoli or avocado, try hiding it for the sake of your child’s nutrition.

We shouldn’t give into our kids’ food related demands.

What we spend time making for our kid should be the food they eat.  I’m not saying they need to finish every last bite; to the contrary, they don’t even have to eat it, we simply should not make them mac and cheese after we’ve spent any amount of time creating a well-balanced meal.

If I provide a well-rounded meal of, quinoa and tofu, with sides of, spinach, tomatoes, cheese and blueberries that will be the only food provided at that given meal.  If the toddler demands a peanut butter sandwich I will not make it, and neither should you. I don’t refuse her cries for a peanut butter sandwich out of pure power of authority.  I refuse her demands for two reasons. First, because I spent time making her a meal that is nutritious. Second, because this is a teaching moment.  She will learn to like, and try, other foods if that is what she is given.  She will not learn to try, and like, other foods if I make her a peanut butter sandwich every time she asks for it.

That being said…

While I won’t make a whole new meal, I do ask the child I watch if she would like anything in particular, or I offer her a few options she can choose from. If she asks for something specific, I’ll often incorporate it into the meal, unless she wants ice cream and cupcakes.  Doing this makes her a part of the food preparation process, and allows her to make decisions, within certain guidelines.

Well-rounded meals should include:

Veggies: raw/steamed/roasted veggies. I recommend giving veggies plain, without butter or salt.  While we might think raw veggies taste plain, to our baby’s undeveloped/uncorrupted palate, raw veggies offer an array of exotic tastes and textures that don’t need to be enhanced.  Once they can appreciate and enjoy raw veggies then you can incorporate butter, oils, and sauces.

Fruits: (With no added sugars.)

Grains: Preferably whole grains such as, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa (actually a seed,) etc.

Protein: Meat, soy, beans, fish, (avocado!)

Making mealtime more enjoyable.

This task can be difficult for no reason other than our own impatience.  Prepare yourself for the time-consuming mess this process will be, but it can also be really fun for you and your baby! When you’re first introducing your baby to food (other than breast-milk/formula) there are a few fundamental things I recommend to help in creating a stress free environment.

Getting Started:

  1. 1.Don’t worry about the mess! It’s going to be messy, it’s just something we have to accept and once you do so, you can (calmly) let your baby explore and touch his food.  *This isn’t an all things goes scenario; Don’t let them: throw food, or put feet on the table.  As they get older table manners can become more extensive.
  2. Things you can do to limit some of the mess:  Strip your baby down to their diaper, this way you wont have to spend 20 minutes scrubbing out the inevitable food splatter.  I recommend getting rubber/wipe down bibs such as, baby bjorn bib.
  3. Try to sit down and eat with your baby.  Watching you eat will interest and motivate them to copy your eating habits. And yes, you too should eat some vegetables, if for no other reason than to set a good example.
  4. Give them time.  Make sure you have at least 40 minutes open to let them “try” to eat.  As adults we often eat too quickly, squeezing in the “annoying” yet necessary task. These are unhealthy habits for us, so lets not pass it onto our kids.  The process will be much more enjoyable if you can forget about the clock and let your baby explore and maybe eat the food.
  5. Don’t spoon-feed them!  Let your baby do it on his own, using his hands at first and eventually graduating to utensils. I got this tip from Baby-led Weaning and it proved to be very helpful in making the eating process more successful and enjoyable. When we spoon-feed our babies we do it at our pace, too fast for our little ones.  When we rush them, we also frustrate them and ourselves. Let them have a (literal) hands-on experience with their food.
  6. They might not eat, that’s okay. Don’t force them to eat, they might just look and touch their food the first few times.  Eventually they will want to try their food, so don’t panic if they don’t eat right away.  It’s a new experience for them.

Some things from Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

1. Course your child’s meals out: You can either use this method all the time or    specifically if you’re having trouble getting your toddler to try something new.  Whatever food your kid might be resisting (veggies, fruits, or other), try bringing this food out first, and alone. If that food is the only option your toddler will be much more likely to try it, after they eat all of it (or at least try it,) bring the next course out.

2. Cool it on snack time(s):  Stick with: Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner.  Not: Breakfast, Snack, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner. I’ve always disliked the amount we (Americans) depend on snack-times to occupy and settle our children. Having multiple snack times a day, it seems to me, could create a breeding ground for future food dependency.

Why:  Besides the possibility of later food dependency, the immediate outcomes of an all day snacking habit can be that they won’t eat well during their actual mealtimes, because they aren’t hungry! They are also much more likely to act out during mealtime because they are not focused on their meal …because they are not hungry! If your kid isn’t focused or eating well at mealtimes, assess how much you’re letting them snack during the day, and what they are snacking on.

How to not snack in the U.S.: Druckerman recognizes that in the U.S. it is difficult to break the snacking routine, because your kids will constantly be around others who are snacking, and also sharing their food.  I’ve set out on outings without snacks, on purpose, so that the child I watch will be hungry and interested in eating during mealtime.  My plan often fails because the other parents and nannies we are out with have abundant, ready to share, snacks.  So, I’ve devised a system.  I bring light snacks such as, raisins, oranges, grapes and apples, broccoli.  These fruits and veggies obviously count as snacks, but they are not loaded with filling carbs, like most other snacks parents and nannies bring.

 

 

Crying Babies and Screaming Adults

We’ve all been at playgroups when the inevitable screams of a parent/caregiver demanding their irritable-tantrum-raged toddler to “Stop! You’re being so bad! We’re going home!” resound over the screams of the toddler, demanding the question: Who’s having the tantrum, the child, or the adult?

The thing that makes, or breaks, a public tantrum is the parent/caregiver’s reaction to the crying child. Does the adult keep his/her composure, or, out of embarrassment and frustration, loose it as well?  The reason a crying child can be unbearable isn’t because of the child, it’s because of the screaming adult accompanying the child.  Screaming attempts to “Stop!” your child from being upset only fuels the fire, that is your screaming child.

Like adults, children have bad days; unlike adults they haven’t yet learned to control their emotions, leading them to display, publicly, just how upset they are with slight signs of frustration, or massive tantrums.  Sometimes a child can be calmed down with an easy fix of a clean diaper, meal, a nap or a calm conversation. Other times, there isn’t a ‘thing’ to be fixed. They’re just in a funk and there isn’t much a parent or caregiver can do to stop it. I’m not saying we should accept crankiness, nor am I saying we should praise our children when they aren’t fussy.  What I think is important is that we (adults) maintain our composure, even while our children are completely loosing it.

We can try to help them calm down, by figuring out if they are hungry, sleepy, or need a new diaper but after those things are checked off, there isn’t much we can do other than talk to them calmly and explain the situation at hand to them.

At the beginning of any given day I discuss with ‘my’ toddler what the day will entail, whether it’s a fun play-date or a not so-fun doctor appointment.  I believe, (as I’ve stated in other posts) that preparing our babies/toddlers for the days activities and involving them makes it less likely a tantrum will occur.

If a tantrum does occur in public I try not to leave right away, or at all.  I try to figure out if there is something I can do, by talking calmly and understandingly to the child. Giving the toddler time to adjust to the new environment and people is key.  She may just need 15 minutes to realize that she’s safe where she is.  Running out because she’s crying, or wont leave my side, will not teach her independence or patience, because I’m not allowing her time to adjust.

Most everyone can excuse and empathize with a screaming child; the same does not go for an angry, screaming adult.

If you’re out in public and your baby/toddler starts to scream or cry remain calm and remind yourself that everyone with kids has been here.  Try to figure out what’s upsetting your child, if there’s something you can do to make it better, do it, but if they’re just in a funk, leave them alone.  Talk to your child calmly and reassuringly. This will go a long way in calming both of you down and will relax the people around you.

I cannot count the times that saying something like “I understand how you’re feeling, take your time” or “I understand you’re upset right now, but we are around other people, so lets try to be a little quiet” has led to a calm child.  When I say these things it calms me down and it also works to calm down the toddler.

Children want to be acknowledged in their frustration, saying things like the above can completely turn a mood around.

So if talking to your child calmly and reassuringly works so well…(sometimes,) why don’t people use this tactic more? My guess is, people think it’s just too simple, we have it in our minds, our way of thinking, that we must talk them out of their frustration with negative reinforcement, “Stop!…We’re going home!…” when most of the time a calm and understanding tone will do the trick.

Leave when necessary, but don’t chastise your child for it (unless they are hitting, or pushing.) Use your judgment, but you don’t have to run out of a playgroup because your child is upset, give them some time to adjust to the new environment and people.

If you’re at a ceremony of some kind you should leave, know your audience.  If there are tons of kids, and it’s a kid event, stick around.  If you’re at an adult gathering, head outside for a bit until your child calms down.

Things you can do to avoid and calm public tantrums:

  • Prepare them for the day, talk about the new class, play-date or activity for the day.  If they know what’s coming and are excited, its less likely they’ll be overwhelmed upon arrival.
  • Try to figure out what’s wrong and help them if it’s something “fixable”.
  • Reassure them, e.g. “Everything is ok, we are going to play here for a bit and then we can leave.”
  • Be understanding, e.g. “I understand you’re frustrated…”

Stay Calm

Parents, nannies, and friends often wonder at my “ability” to stay calm and patient when dealing with children, especially toddlers.  I’m commonly asked shyly, sometimes bitterly, by parents and nannies how I remain so calm when “They walk so slow…Ask the same question over and over…Have a tantrum.”

My ability to remain calm and patient isn’t because I have a super power calm/patient gene. To the contrary, I’m quite impatient in daily life, when dealing with adults.  I am calm and patient with children because I consciously decide that being calm, patient and taking the time to listen and explain is the best way to teach kids these behaviors.

First off, let me say I too get frustrated.  Even after my conscious, educated decision that this “is the best way of parenting and co-parenting.”  I have moments when I too would like to move at a reasonable pace. I think, perhaps we will make it one full block without 5-10, stoop-stops, pebble- stops, adjustments of exactly what she wants to carry as we walk-stops.

During these moments of frustration, I remind myself that we are moving so slowly, that I need to repeat exactly why we have to leave the sandbox, not because I’m dealing with a fall-over, incoherent drunk, but a small child, who does deserve patience and explanations as she learns how to walk and talk and everything else.  I remind myself how wonderful it is that she takes everything in, and then I too can look at the scenery and smell the flowers with her—because when do we do this as adults in New York City?

Remember that letting your child walk allows him to practice new skills, gives him independence and even tuckers him out for a later nap.  This isn’t an anything goes experience, if you actually have to be somewhere explain to your baby/toddler why you must carry him or put him in the stroller.

Here are some tips to get you through the slow walks, and repetitive conversations:

Every day, multiple times a day, remind yourself that everything is going to take two-times as long, and that is okay.

I learned long ago to never stress about time when dealing with toddlers (an attribute I do not maintain in my adult, daily life: I am known as extremely, and maybe annoyingly punctual.)  If you, like myself, have always been a punctual, quick paced person, the slow movements of your life with a toddler will be a more difficult transition.

Assess if you actually have to be somewhere, or if you’re just ready to leave.

When you are asking your toddler to move faster because you “have to go!” assess what exactly you need to leave for.  We are in the habit, especially as New Yorkers, of going places, doing things.  Because of this on-the-go-mentality, we often assume after being somewhere for 20 minutes that we “MUST” leave, but maybe that isn’t true. If you don’t actually have to be somewhere, like a playdate, or doctor appointment let your toddler walk. He has just learned this amazing new thing, so be patient and take your time.  Remember that when you are calm and patient, you are simultaneously teaching him calmness and patience.

Getting ready to go:

So, you do have to be somewhere.  Allot two-four times the amount of time to get yourself, and baby/toddler ready.

My ease with children and the reason I don’t stress about time is because I allot a significant, literally two to four times, more time to get myself and baby ready, and the same goes for getting to the place.  If we are going on foot to a play-date, doctor appointment, class, etc., I decide beforehand whether we are going to take the stroller, or just walk.  I try as much as I can to allow enough time for her to walk, at least part of the way.   A walk that would take me 10 minutes, I decide will take me, and toddler 40 minutes and I leave the house accordingly (Yes, I know I tacked on 30 minutes for a one way trip-this gives us leeway, so I’m not stressed.)

Get everything you can get ready while baby/toddler naps.

I always get her diaper bag stocked with the things I’ll need, or might need.  If we’re out for the day this means any of the below:

-Water/milk bottles.

-Diapers.

-Wet whips.

-Bib.

-Extra cloth bib, for other cleanups.

-Change of clothes.

-A book or 2.

-Food (If you’re out for lunch or dinner.)

-Blanket.

-Hat.

-Sunscreen.

-Bathing suit.

-Sweater.

*Have yourself ready too!

Prepare them for the activity.

While you’re getting your baby/toddler ready to go, explain what you guys are doing (As I describe in my previous post “Baby Talk.”)  Prepare them for the activity, this will help them understand they are apart of it and can also be a motivator for them to move more quickly.

Ask them to keep walking with you and explain why.

If we are in a time-crunch, I’ll ask her nicely to “come along,” and I’ll explain to her why we need to move faster, with information that will likely excite her. “We have to get home to see Mama and Dada…We have a playdate with (name of good friend).” Filling them in on the details is always helpful, especially if what you’re doing is fun.

If you need them to move faster, be fun and make a game out of it!

Another nanny, and mother, I know sings a cute song while marching, the kids love it and always happily follow along.

Remember that like everyone, toddlers are going to be less likely to be motivated by an irritated tone. Stay calm and relaxed. Speak to them kindly, not only for their benefit, but for yours as well.  If you speak in a calm voice with some excitement about what you are doing, it will motivate them, and also, amazingly, make you excited and will rid you of your irritation.