WAYS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR TODDLER EACH DAY

Friday, February 27, 2015

Three is hard.

I mean, there is a challenge in every stage of parenting that seems overwhelming at the time, but three has had me way more baffled than any other age so far. I know that I'm a good mother and I know that she's a fantastic kid, but lately I haven't felt like a good mother who is raising a fantastic kid. Lately my brain has been full of worry - that she has ADHD or SPD, that my correcting her so often is tearing down her confidence in herself, that by not sending her to preschool this year, I'm depriving her of something and dooming her to a life of being lonely. I'm not sure whether it's the age or the life circumstances or the pregnancy exhaustion and emotions that has things feeling out of sorts between Ev and I, but I've been struggling. My impending due date isn't helping things much - every little tantrum, every time I lose it, every bad day seems to matter more because I know how precious this time should be to me. Every tantrum is accompanied by thoughts along the lines of, 'This is going to be impossible to deal with when I have a newborn.' Every time I lose my patience I think, 'My patience will be tested more with another child to take care of.' Every bad day ends with fear that I'll fall into postpartum depression again. After having done this once, I thought I would be able to approach a second baby with more confidence - 'you've done it before, you can do it again' kind of thoughts - but I find myself with more worries this time around. Maybe it's because I'm not oblivious now. I know the hardships that are coming. I also know the joy that is coming along with it.

Anyway, in lieu of focusing on discouraging thoughts, I've been trying to really pay attention to what Ev enjoys, to what makes her feel loved and connected to me. I know that a lot of our issues have to do with the lack of things to do in a hotel room in the middle of Winter, but others have to do with me and my selfishness. By noticing these things and being intentional about our days, or at least certain parts of them, I've come to see an obvious difference in her mood and behavior. When she feels seen and heard and known in a way that all of us desire to be known, she is more joyful and more apt to listen to my requests. Here are a few things I've been doing to try to forge that connection between us and make for a more joyful day:

- When she wakes up each morning or after her nap, I put down what I'm doing. I acknowledge her and connect with her. I make sure she knows that she is accounted for and appreciated. I ask her how she slept and what she'd like to do now that she's awake. There have been times that she has wandered out of the bedroom in the morning or after nap time and I've been working away on something and haven't looked up. That usually queues tears from her or frustration from me when I find her doing something she knows she shouldn't be. I wouldn't like to wake up and go looking for my husband in the morning only to find him staring at the computer screen and not even have him acknowledge my existence. There are times of the day that it is good to teach your toddler to let you finish a job or entertain themselves, but I've found that wake up times are not it.

- No matter how frustrated I am, I should never make her doubt whether she is loved. As she has gotten older and can now understand what I say and right/wrong, discipline has gotten trickier. Sometimes I find myself berating her over every little thing for no other reason than I'm grumpy. I forget that she's a toddler and still makes messes just for fun, even if she knows she shouldn't. I try to remember to encourage her as much as I correct her. I also say, 'I love you.' at least fifty times a day - often before I start to talk her through something she did wrong.

- I try to remember it's her day too. People often talk about how selfish kids can be, but in reality we adults are often oblivious to our own selfishness. We wake up with our own to-do list on our minds and forget that this little person might have a to-do list of their own that is full of things that don't seem important to you, but to them, it is. It's their 'work.'

- I make time to join her in her play. I often find myself just searching for something to entertain her, plopping it down in front of her, and walking away so that I can get back to whatever I was doing. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in children learning how to play by themselves and that it's good for them to be bored occasionally, but that's all different from being lonely. Since it's just her and I at home each day, I'm her friend and I'm sure I won't always have the privilege of that label. So sometimes I sit down and try to act three with her, even if that's not what I want to be doing with my time. I tell her she's my best friend. I make train noises. I yell when her block tower tumbles over.

- I let her help me. This is a hard one for me. It tests my patience more than anything on this list, but it also means more to her than anything on this list. I used to ask her to go find something to entertain herself with while I was working in the kitchen because I just wanted to get the job done, but lately I've made an effort to slow down and let her help. I at least give her a job to do while I'm making dinner like washing the mushrooms or peeling the garlic. I came to the conclusion that we're going to be here all day and we usually run out of things to do, why not take a little longer doing the things we have to do everyday anyway? It makes her feel accomplished and she learns valuable lessons from it.

- I savor bedtime rituals. No matter how tired I am or how hard the day has been, I try not to rush bedtime. This is our final connection point for the day, our last chance to end it on a good note, when the thoughts of me that she will go to bed with are formed. As much as I want to get out of there as fast as I can and enjoy my adult time, I try to read every story like it's the first time I've read it and sing every song like it might be the last time I sing it. Repetition is soothing for kids, even if it drives you bonkers. We try not to make a habit of laying down with Ev until she falls asleep, but if it's been an especially hard day for us, I'll make an exception and play with her hair until she drifts off. It's important to enforce boundaries as parents, but I think it's equally important to know when to let the rules go for the sake of connecting.

- I'm intentional about physical touch. When you have an infant, it's easy to give them a lot of hands on time and direct attention because well, they're always in your hands. It gets a little trickier when they're older and more mobile. They still need that physical touch, but they don't always slow down enough to know that they need it or communicate to you that they need it. As they begin to separate themselves from you, it's easy to forget that aspect of your relationship. Last time Alex was away for a few weeks on military duty, I noticed that Ev was a lot rougher with me than usual. At first I was annoyed and couldn't figure out why she was climbing on me and swatting at me (playfully, but we don't play like that) when she had never done that before, then I realized that Alex wrestles with her every night before bed and she wasn't getting that physical touch she was used to and needs. Since then I try to be intentional about loving on her in my own way (Mom just doesn't wrestle.) even it means forcing her to sit still when she doesn't want to.

- I pick up my camera and try to document the beauty in the chaos. It helps me just embrace it. I see a different kid through the lens of my camera. Some of the little quirks and annoyances cause me to smile. The messes don't seem so big. I can more easily find the joy in the everyday and the beauty in her childhood if I'm pausing to capture them.

If you want to read more about 'filling up your toddler's love tank,' check out this post from my friend Andrea over at Hand and the Heart.

Please share with me the ways that you parent intentionally each day and forge connections with your toddler/kid!

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