Today I will be busy.

I want to sleep more because I know I have to work today. You come to me at 5am but I had only gone to bed at 12am so I am very tired. You come to me while I lay in my bed, I am wishing that you would go back to sleep. You creep in with us and mutter and poke me in the nose and put your face up close to mine in an effort to wake me up to play with you, to pay attention to you. You cuddle in and I smell the fresh scent of the shampoo that you wash your hair with and feel your warm breath on my cheek.

Today I am busy.

I hurry you along, up and out of bed, so that we can get ready for the day. We brush your teeth and your hair and I press you to fetch your clothes. I hurry you to put on your clothes and try to stop you from pouring too much muesli in your bowl. I hurry you to the car to take you out to your Nonno so I can start my work. I start working, both grateful for work and feeling guilty at enjoying time and space to myself. I wonder what you are doing today. Are you missing me? Are you thinking of me?

Today I was busy.

When we pick you up, you throw your small body from Nonno to mine, pressing yourself onto me and into me and poke my eyes and face. You laugh as I admonished you for wanting to rush straight out the door and into the car so you could squeal in delight as we drive down the freeway and to home. Why rush away? You want to go and you want to go now.

Today I was so busy.

I bustle you inside, quickly make our dinner and press you upstairs after a quick play time in the garden. I want you to have your bath so that you would go to bed early and I can have a work meeting. I hear you crying upstairs for me and am irrationally annoyed (fleetingly) before I hear you being comforted by Daddy. I hear you protesting when you realise I am not coming upstairs to see you to bed because I am busy. But you don’t complain too much, you snuggle into Daddy, happy to have your stories.

Today I was far too busy.

I come to see you after lights are out and you are lying there with your eyes wide open and waiting for me. After I say good night you kiss me and lay in bed quietly. I retreat downstairs, only to hear you call out for me again. I wearily climb the stairs and take you in my arms. You climbed into my lap and insist on me lying down with you. I wonder why you are not sleeping, aren’t you tired my little boy? You cuddle into me with a few toys. As I lie with you I realise how stuffy the room is. Are you hot? “Hot, Mama” is the answer. Do you want the air con on? “No, Mama, no”. After watching you twitch around for a while and looking at me I roll over and wind open the window and watch the soft breeze move over your hair. I watch as your eyes slowly drift shut and I realise as I look at your little face that I am the first thing you saw this morning and the last thing that you saw tonight.

And I realise that today was a day that I missed. I missed seeing you having fun at the dairy park. I missed seeing you as you were lulled into a brief nap after a long walk in the sunshine today. I didn’t see you slide down the slide so fast that you flew off the end. I missed seeing you cut up strawberries on your own, ask your Nonno for juice and cuddle into him for a story after eating one too many chocolate biscuits.

Tomorrow is a day that I will be with you, my darling little boy. Thank you for waiting for me today even though I was not very good at waiting for you. For you I will make all my tomorrows our todays. Tomorrow I will do better.


The Cooperative Child

I recently read an article that got me thinking about eliciting cooperation from a child. The article referred to everyday things that we wish our children would do without complaint (such as wiping noses, cutting finger nails). I have heard and been recommended many ways to get your children to cooperate, from bribes (“if you do this then you get an ice cream”) through to yelling (“do it or else”). I started thinking about our own experiences dealing with this issue and thought I would share successful instances we have had with facilitating a helpful and cooperative attitude from Joshua.

At the park – time to leave

Our little family went down to the park and had a grand old afternoon, Joshua spent lots of time running around the park, climbing, swinging, bouncing and sliding. We wished that the afternoon would never end; it was the perfect day! It was the first time that Joshua had been to an adventure playground and the first time in a very long time that my husband or I had been.

As the time to leave approached, I made sure to remind Joshua at regular intervals that we would be leaving soon so that it would not be a shock when it was time to go. Time came up and we had to go as dinner time was approaching. When it came time to put Joshua in the car he resisted and cried out, clearly wanting to run back to the playground for more fun time. He struggled to get out of his seat and started crying. He did not want to leave. This was looking like it was going to escalate into a tantrum (hooray!), and a wonderful time of the day it was too for a meltdown! We could have demanded Joshua to sit in his seat and endured the storm of tears and tantrums.  Instead I chose to look him in the eye and I said quietly “Joshua I did tell you that we need to go. The reason we need to go is because I need to go home and start making dinner otherwise we will be hungry. Could you please sit back in your seat so that I can buckle you in?” He stopped crying, stopped struggling. Looked at me and sat back in his seat and threaded his arms into the straps. I buckled Joshua up and again looked him in the eyes and said “Thank you for helping Mummy, you are so helpful when you are listening and cooperating. I promise we will go to the park again tomorrow.

There is sense of inner pride for Joshua at being able to make the decision to sit back in his seat rather than being forced to. There is also inner pride from me to see how far he has come in just 21 months.

Nappy changes – a sense of dignity

I often see posts on nappy changes on forums as well as been asked myself several times about this issue. How do we get Joshua to cooperate with us at change time? It became obvious very quickly that Joshua would not let me change his nappy lying down, especially when he started pulling to stand. This quickly became very unpleasant when he decided to start kicking. Hard. Was he being defiant? I don’t believe so. I believe he was telling me “I don’t like it when you do that Mama, I am not a baby”. So we quickly made the decision to start doing nappy changes standing up. Yes, it was harder work for us at that point as he was still in nappies, but ultimately far more engaging for Joshua as he became an active participant. He would help to get wipes and place them and soiled trainers in the bucket for disposal, grabbing fresh trainers to wear, and getting to decide which ones he would prefer to wear (he usually picks the colourful ones rather than the plain white ones!).

This does not mean or imply that we never have any issues with cooperation in our home. As with any approach a parent pursues, it takes time to implement, time to reinforce and time for the appropriate learning to occur. We have had our fair share of situations where sometimes Joshua won’t cooperate and has had a tantrum, just as every parent does. But our experience so far has seen a decrease in the frequency of tantrums, as well as the intensity of Joshua’s reaction to things once I acknowledge his feelings and explain things to him. As with everything this is a slow process of teaching Joshua to understand that he can’t have everything his own way and learning to control his emotions.

What resonates most with me is that this approach allows Joshua to choose to do things himself and not to interrupt a child if they are immersed in an activity (unless absolutely necessary), both core Montessori principles. As with most issues requiring child cooperation such as toilet learning, nappy changes, getting into the car, changes in activities (an exhaustive list), it has remained important to us to remain emotionally detached from the process so that we are able to model the correct behaviour. Our desire to allow Joshua freedom within limits is driven by our love and respect for him. Even though he might not always like it he needs to learn self control, be offered acceptable choices (circumstances permitting) and learn patience. We provide opportunities to practice these things through instances as they arise and by modelling acceptable behaviour.

Another link that I found extremely useful and helpful is an article written by The Full Montessori. It is full of helpful Montessori strategies and tools to use at home that are also in the same vein.

I refer to this article a few times a month since I read it. The steps are simple, do-able and logical and a good reminder for when things get frustrating. We pick our battles and decide what is important. For every family this is different but we draw a line and try to remain consistent.

If you have any other links and resources that you find helpful I would love to read it, please feel free to share them.

The Perfect Day

Today was what I would class as a perfect or near perfect day.  We had made plans but these fell through. So what to do instead? We decided to brave the park this morning on a whim as the weather was fine and the wind was low. We recently discovered a beautiful large park nearby which we have not visited often as it has a lot of things in it that were too much for a small toddler. It is called an adventure playground and for a good reason: It is an adventure playground paradise for kids!

By nature and personality Joshua has always been a shy child. It often takes a few times for him to get used to something before he warms to it. I remember the first time his Daddy flew him up into the air at a couple of months of age, being lifted gently just above Daddy’s head. Joshua was momentarily quiet, but soon his bottom lip poked out and tears followed. It took a few goes before he started enjoying it and this quickly progressed to his laughing at being launched into the air. I should have known then that the child that we were given is a gentle soul that needs time to adjust to new situations before enjoying them.

Months ago, trips to a park would have involved Joshua being reticent to play and explore independently; rather leading us by his hand to play together.  He was not confident to go down a slide or climb equipment on his own. To be fair to Joshua it has been partly that I have accompanied him as I was concerned for his safety, feeling that he was not steady enough to venture off on his own. Often there are older children and I fear he will be pushed over by them or bullied. In the last few months I have come to the realisation that he needs to learn on his own how to handle himself in situations (within reason) and to come to me if he needs help. He needs opportunities to problem solve, to socialise, to work out if he gets stuck how to get out of it, and to not always rely on me to help him. All of this might seem easy and obvious but it is difficult to brush off an upset and clingy child.

So I decided just to let him go. Today Joshua pulled at me to play with him and I said “I’m following”. And so I followed. Slower and slower. Then finally I was not following at all and this is what happened.

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What have I learned?

  • Trust – Joshua is capable of climbing up and down and sliding without my help. He is very able and probably one of the safest climbers I have ever seen. I say this without exaggeration, he has had so much practice partly because we have stairs at home. I need to trust that I have put in the time and he now has the skills to handle climbing alone (within reason of course). The trust also extends to the other children in the park. They have generally been well behaved and have actually stopped when they see Joshua and waited for him even though he is smaller and slower than they are.
  • Patience – Joshua might not be the most adventurous (he isn’t going to be the kid up the front throwing himself headfirst into an activity) but he will be the child that plans and executes activities with his friends when he is older. He will be the person they look to logistically to get things done.
  • Let go – part of my job is to give Joshua the skills he needs and then step back and let him go.

There will be other days when he doesn’t throw himself into activities and clings to me for comfort. All too soon these days will pass and he will no longer need me so much so I am cherishing this time when he still does.

Thank you for making today the perfect day Joshua. Mama loves you.