Big Little Decisions

Big Little Decisions

By Brooke Blanchard

There are two groups of people: those who thrive on having a lot of options and those who absolutely do not. The former include people who enjoy comparing and contrasting a manifold array of possibilities when it comes to making a decision. These individuals most likely did very well on their SATs. The latter group, in which I include myself, can become quickly overwhelmed and insecure when presented with more than just a handful of options. Second-guessing and anxiety go into overdrive as we panic over having to make a decision that we tell ourselves is of life-altering importance. We don’t just put the cart before the horse. We run in circles, with our arms flailing, around the unhitched cart and horse in a futile exercise of wasted physical and emotional energy.

All this to say, when it comes to making choices for our young children, the amount of directions, options and methods we base our decisions on can be overwhelming. What age should I start pre-school? How many days should they go? Should they be in a structured setting or play-based? Fine arts or dual-language? Ballet or soccer? And so on and so on. Sometimes, the answer is made for us due to scheduling or financial limitations, but even then, second guessing can simmer beneath the surface. Am I making the right decision? What if I make the wrong decision?

For most of us, the “right” decision is the one that we think will be best for our children’s development. It is the path that will give them all the best tools in their tool belt to build healthy, happy, and successful lives. However, life is not a SAT test. There isn’t actually one right answer. This reality can feel both infuriatingly vague and mercifully relieving. It means that you will be confronted with an overabundance of options for each decision you need to make for your child. However, it also means that whatever you ultimately decide will likely support and nurture your child in a way that will help them further down the road.

There is a lot of anxiety and fatalism out there in the world right now. It can feel hard not to let it seep into our daily lives and decision-making. However, when it comes to making big little decisions or little big decisions for our families, our perspective can be a positive one.  The abundance of options in front of us can be viewed as an abundance of opportunities. In this sense, any choice that you make will ultimately give your child something valuable rather than deprive them of something missed out on. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”  

How to Get Cooperation From Your Toddler

How to Get Cooperation From Your Toddler

By Aspen Anderson

Because my son was premature (82 days early, 2 pounds, 62 days in the NICU, I know you were wondering), for over two years I had an amazing benefit, provided by the state, of bi-weekly therapy appointments with speech, physical, and developmental therapists with Master’s Degrees and Ph.D.s in early childhood development. One of my biggest takeaways from that experience was that there is real, valid, scientifically-backed advice out there that, when followed, can make life with a small human just SO much easier. 

I was constantly amazed at the specificity of the instructions these therapists gave me to help him catch up. He’s behind in crawling? Do this eye exercise. Boom, fixed. He’s not advancing to the next food texture quickly enough? Stick his Cheerios in the back side of his cheek so he has to strengthen his tongue to fish it out. Boom, fixed. It once took me (not my son – ME) four tries to properly follow their very specific instructions on how to give my son a choice – if I gave him a choice and he grabbed the item from me rather than me handing it to him, it wasn’t properly developing his social interaction skills, so I had to turn his wrist upward and put the toy in his hand so that I was actively responding to his choice. The minutia was fascinating to me, and it taught me that tiny adjustments in how we parent can lead to huge results.

 Fortunately, a lot of equally qualified therapists and doctors maintain blogs, so I have been able to continue learning in the wonderful world of the internet. As my son began entering toddlerhood, I read an article I found extremely helpful on how to get your toddler’s cooperation and participation – unfortunately, it was a while ago and I can’t find it to link. It was written by a Ph.D. in childhood development, and let me tell you – IT WORKS! Here are some of the things I took away that I have incorporated to get better cooperation from my toddler. It’s all about understanding how their brains work!

  1. Make everything a story: Rather than saying, “put your toys away,” you make cleanup about something your toddler can relate to. So I say, “It’s time for your toys to go to sleep! Do you know where their beds are?” and he will joyfully help put the toys “to bed.” Recently he has started hugging and kissing them and says goodnight to them. It’s adorable! Making things silly will get their cooperation too because they are engaging in an imaginary world with you so your instructions become play. Instead of “get in your car seat,” try, “Oh no, if you get into your car seat you will sit on my purple elephant!”
  2. Create patterns: Every day I tell my son to son take off his shoes and then I ask him “where they live” and he puts them away. Then I do the same thing with his dirty socks – it took a little while for him to learn there were different homes for dirty and clean socks, but he gets it now! Having as much structure in your day as possible helps them feel like they understand what is happening, and explaining when things are going to be different will help them feel involved in the process. My son goes to a different babysitter or family member almost every day, so every morning I explain where we are going, who he is going to see, who is going to pick him up, and who is going to put him to bed. The other day he loved this so much he made me go over it eight times, piping “again!” every time I finished.
  3. Toddlers love to help! Research shows that if you let your children help you clean and cook at this young age, it establishes life-long cognitive patterns and increases their cooperation for years to come. It also establishes the expectation that they are participants in maintaining the household – which cuts down on entitlement. As soon as they are old enough to do something for themselves, they should be expected to take ownership of it (not as a rule, where if they don’t they will be punished – more as a natural evolution of their role in the family).  My son pulls out his broom to help sweep, throws things in the garbage, and if I start baking he pulls his stool around the counter and insists on helping pour and stir. If he spills something, he asks for a paper towel and cleans it up himself – I didn’t teach him that, he just learned by example. You may have to do it right when they think they are done, but there is a huge developmental benefit to letting them try. 
  4. Ease transitions: If you are getting ready to head out the door and rip your child away from his toys without warning, you are likely going to get a meltdown. Give them fair warning when a transition is happening: “We will be leaving in five minutes to go to grandma’s, so I’m going to play with you for a few minutes, then we will put on your shoes.” Giving that little bit of time and attention helps them prepare for a shift, and puts their focus on you and what you are doing, distracting them from their previous activity. Giving positive statements about what is coming or telling them who they are going to see also helps them shift to what is next. If I tell him it’s time to see Gracie (Papa’s blue macaw) or Stella (his BFF at CCNS), he gets actively excited to get out the door.  A good tip for yourself is to take a deep breath because sometimes it is hard to have the patience to work with your toddler when you are running behind. 
  5. Be careful about choices vs. directions: “Can you go find your socks” is an optional choice, “I need you to go find your socks” is a direction. If you give them a choice when you really did need them to do something, you can’t blame them if they accepted the fact it was a choice, and choose “no.” Being specific helps them understand when they need to follow directions, versus when you are giving them an option. Similarly, giving them a choice helps them feel like they have control of their lives. Just be sure to be specific. Instead of saying, “Choose a shirt,” say “Do you want to wear the red shirt with the dinosaur or the pink shirt with Elsa?” Whenever my son realizes I am giving him a choice to make his face lights up and he savors every second of it before deciding. These sorts of communications work best when you get down on their level and look them in the eye.
  6. Give them jobs: My son is responsible for getting his own hat, coat, and shoes in the morning and retrieving his bowl and spoon for cereal. It is his job to open the garage door and to hold the receipt for the checkers at the exit of Costco. He knows these things are his responsibility, and he takes them very seriously. Giving toddlers responsibilities helps them feel that sense of control, as well as a sense of participation in the adult world. It prepares them for bigger jobs in the future by teaching them they have an active role to play in their lives.
  7. Give natural consequences: When consequences need to be enforced, opt for logical, natural consequences rather than an enforcement of your power as the adult. Unless you are talking about a situation where their safety is at risk, find a way to talk to them that they can understand rather than just saying “I’m the adult so you have to do what I say” (again, deep breaths). We are developing little human brains, and unfortunately, if they live in a world where we train them to submit to us as authoritarians, they find it confusing because their instinct is to run to us when they are afraid, yet we are the source of their fear.  This inadvertently teaches them that it’s ok for someone they love to exert power over them, which sets them up for normalizing abuse in adult relationships. So try to use “if” “then” statements that are logical. “If you don’t sit still in church, you don’t get ice cream after” isn’t a natural consequence, and are you really going to follow through? Probably not. “If you don’t get into the car, we won’t be able to listen to your favorite song” is a natural consequence. “If you don’t put on your pajamas now, we won’t have time to read your favorite story.” Your job is to help them understand cause and effect, so eventually, they can recognize the relationship between actions and consequences themselves. 

So much of parenting success is in the minutia. The little things really count, and establishing routines and working on making your own responses consistent will go miles in getting cooperation. I know it isn’t always easy, and we aren’t going to be perfect. But if there ever was a good motivation to try, it is the galaxy that looks back at you through your child’s eyes. 

Creating Holiday Traditions

Creating Holiday Traditions

by Amy Twede

The magic of the holiday season is upon us. If you were like me as a child, this was the reason for being alive! My most cherished seasonal activities were exchanging presents, decorating our home, spending time with loved ones, and celebrating traditions.. Usually, we’d travel to St. George where my grandfather would bake a plethora of cookies and hand a tin full to each family. I specifically remember this tradition of my grandfather’s cookies because without fail, we’d receive a tin filled to the top, even if we were unable to travel to visit with family in Utah. The assortment was delicious, I remember only passing on one or two cookies that I didn’t like.

Now that I have kids of my own, traditions are something I think about every year. Which ones will I continue with my boys? Will we start new ones? Since becoming a mother, I’ve learned that nothing is set in stone. If you want to start a new tradition, start now! It’s never too late to try something new with your family. I’ve never had an advent calendar, but it’s something I desire to do with my kids. I do not have the energy this year to create one from scratch, so a store bought Lego Advent calendar seems to be in the cards for us this time around. And that’s ok, it will still be fun!

Some traditions which take less time and energy are watching holiday movies, looking at seasonal light displays (have you ever been to The Grand America to see their window displays?) and baking a yummy treat together.

Do you have some favorite holiday traditions? How do you create new ones? My top two suggestions for creating new traditions are to ask family and friends how they enjoy celebrating the season and ask your children what they like to do once the holidays come around. Our family celebrates Christmas. When I asked my four year old what he likes to do for the holiday he told me he likes decorating our tree and decorating gingerbread houses. Now, we’ve never decorated gingerbread houses at our house, but right there I received a suggestion which I can implement this year!

I hope you are able to celebrate this holiday season how you want to with your family. May you find ways to make new memories and carry on old traditions. 

*Photo by Riccardo Greg on Unsplash

My kid did WHAT?!? Sharing the Toddler Experience

My kid did WHAT?!? Sharing the Toddler Experience

By Brooke Blanchard

You never forget the moment your child is born. No matter how it comes about, you’re suddenly handed this beautiful tiny human with dazed blinking eyes and the softest skin you have ever touched in your entire life. Watching this new person as they drift off into a deep sleep or grab your finger and gently scratch you with inexplicably long fingernails, it is impossible to imagine them ever not being this innocent and perfect for all of time…

Then they turn three.

While they continue to enchant us and bring us immeasurable joy, toddlers are frequently straddling the line between feral and dictatorial. As their conscripted guardians, we parents find ourselves wearing numerous hats throughout the day to maintain order: a healer hat, a mind-reader hat, a personal injury attorney hat, a janitorial hat, and a chauffeur hat… to name just a few. More often than not, we find a way to wear two or more hats at the same time. It’s a dizzying juggling act that can leave us mentally and physically exhausted by the time our toddlers fall asleep and once again return to that state of peaceful innocence and quiet stillness.

Despite the daily reminders that our lovely toddlers are fallible humans, it can come as an unwanted surprise when another parent points out unpleasant behavior to us. On my two-year-old daughter’s first day at CCNS last year, a seasoned CCNS mom came up to me to tell me that my daughter “had a great day, but has trouble sharing.” My initial reaction was to feel defensive and hurt by what felt like a criticism of my precious first-born child. But what was I so upset about? I knew better than anyone that she hadn’t learned to share yet. I live with her for Pete’s sake! Was my feeling one of embarrassment? Was it shame? Why was I so sensitive to hearing about my child’s completely expected behavior? This same thoughtful and kind-hearted CCNS mom later explained things in a way that enlightened me to one of the joys of parenting. Her comment that day was not a judgment about my daughter. It was an observation about where she was in her development on that day.

Co-oping provides the opportunity for observation every day; either you or another parent is in the classroom or on the playground observing your child’s growth and exploration. Co-op parents can tell you in September that your two-year-old isn’t sharing, but they can also be the one to tell you in January that your child happily handed over the coveted Elsa costume to another kid when asked. Moreover, when you enter the classroom yourself, you experience a spectacular sense of relief and near nirvana-level calm when you realize that every single other kid struggles and has bad days like yours. When parents (and teachers!) come together to traverse toddlerhood together, it removes the feelings of doubt and embarrassment and replaces them with judgment-free camaraderie.

There is a common saying. “Me before kids: I am going to run such a tight ship! Me after kids: Annnnnnnd the ship is on fire.”  A lot of our time is spent trying to put out these frequent blazes, usually by counting to three, bribery, or the old pick em’ up and go move. However, sometimes it might be OK to take a moment to stop throwing buckets of water on the burning ship and just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the light with your fellow shipmates.

Escaping The Worst Book

Escaping The Worst Book

By Megan Corrent

Reading time is one of our favorite activities. If your family is anything like mine, you know that this can be a wonderful activity…  Or one that grinds on your last nerve when your kid is obsessed with the worst book. There have been a several books that we have found over the last few months that have become favorites, and one in particular that has been a BIG hit! I wanted to share some of these literature gems in hopes that you find a new favorite as well so that the worst book might get misplaced for a while and no one will notice.

First up: Cyril’s Big Adventure. This one came to us by way of Grandma along with a super cute sloth, of course named Cyril. Cyril is a sloth who lives in the humid depths of the Costa Rican rainforest with his brother Horace. Cyril has a great dream to travel to far-away places. So, he decides to do just that. The story takes you through his adventures in a new big city. He tries restaurants, parks, even gets an ice cream treat. In the end, Cyril learns that adventures can be fun, but spending time at home with family is even better.

Next up: The Friend Ship. This story is one of my personal favorites. A sweet little hedgehog is very lonely and begins a journey to find a ship that is full of friends (a “friend ship” – cute, huh?). She first encounters a curious beaver who wants to join on her on her quest. They board a ship and start sailing to find the friend ship. On their journey they find more and more lonely animals in need of friends. In the end, they learn that all of them gathered together on their ship is the friend ship they have been searching for all along.  I love this book, not only because I had a pet hedgehog named Gwyneth growing up, but mostly because of the sweet lesson that to find friends, sometimes you just need to look around you.

Last but not least: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. My 2-year old is completely obsessed with this story and it’s become a multiple-times a night kind of book.  Which is fine, because it is adorable. Penelope Rex is starting school and she is nervous (what will her classmates be like? will they also like ponies?). As her name suggests, Penelope is a T-Rex, but come the first day of school, all of her classmates happen to be children -which are super delicious for dinosaurs. So she eats them (her teacher makes her spit them out).  We love this story (and laugh particularly hard when the goldfish takes a CHOMP out of Penelope to teach her a lesson) not only because it is adorably written, but because it has great lessons on friendship and loving people who are different from you. As it turns out, when you are learning to make friends, it’s best not to eat them (even if they spilled bar-b-q sauce on themselves).

I hope you and your little ones find just as much enjoyment out of these stories as we have and  help you both enjoy reading time a little bit more.

Happiness Isn’t Measured in Glitter

Happiness Isn’t Measured in Glitter

By Jana Cunningham

As I browsed through Instagram and Facebook this past St. Patrick’s Day, my feed was littered with photos and videos of green pancakes, green milk, green beaded necklaces, green decorations covered in green glitter and green gifts, as if it was Christmas. Although I found this strange (because until that moment, I had no idea St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated this way), I was most shocked by the elaborate leprechaun traps and the staged mischief (footprints made out of construction paper, toilet water dyed green, green writing on the walls, etc.) this little guy got into.  

Three short years ago before I became a parent, I had no idea how many hours I would need to dedicate to ensure my child felt the magic of every holiday, including St. Patrick’s Day, apparently. Halloween is no longer about school parades and trick-or-treating, it’s a month-long celebration with festivals, corn mazes, over-priced pumpkins, endless crafts, parties, and trunk-or-treating. Valentine’s Day isn’t about bringing a paper-wrapped shoe box to school to collect store-bought cards, it’s about expensive home-made cards with tulle and glitter, daily love notes taped to the door, heart-shaped everything and ornate boxes with engines and AI features. (I may be exaggerating, but you get my point.)

I’m not saying that some of these activities aren’t fun – our local park puts on an adorable over-the-top Easter Egg hunt each year that I love to attend. However, it’s the pressure to participate in all of the activities, the pressure to spend my paycheck at Michaels on craft supplies and the pressure to make everything memorable just so I can forget to tape love notes on my daughter’s door that leaves me feeling like a failure.

In the age of social media, it’s easy to get caught up on what we “should” be doing to make holidays special. It’s easy to forget that some parents are naturally crafty and enjoy doing these sorts of things, but there are also parents who run to grocery store after work on Valentine’s Day and frantically search for the last remaining mini mylar balloon – who cares if it says “I Love You, Dad,” toddlers can’t read. The latter are the posts we don’t see on Instagram.

It’s the greatest feeling in the world to see your child experience something new and magical and it doesn’t matter if it comes from an expertly crafted Easter Egg basket that shoots glitter filled with hand painted Faberge eggs or a store-bought cleaning bucket filled with pink plastics eggs. Each one is memorable and fun. We all have different parenting styles and levels of craftiness and hopefully our kids will appreciate that – and hopefully we can appreciate it in each other as well.

So, whether you trapped a leprechaun this year or did absolutely nothing, remember your child’s happiness isn’t measured in glitter.

Working and Co-Oping: Finding the Balance

Working and Co-Oping: Finding the Balance

by Brooke Blanchard

My grandmother – a lifelong New Yorker – was as tough as she was warm. She lived through the depression, lost her brother in the South Pacific, married and raised 3 daughters, and worked for decades as a school teacher. When I was in college, I regularly visited her apartment for dinner and would often be on the receiving end of lectures that, much like her personality, could seem at odds with each other.

Most often she lamented extensively about my single status. She advised me to sit in the lobby of the Columbia University Law School with my hair down and act like I was lost. A nice law student would surely come to my aid, and marriage (and children) would soon follow. She said this with complete sincerity and unfeigned urgency. One evening however, she sat down next to me and told me that no matter what, I must always vigorously pursue interests and work outside of my marriage and children.  To a 19-year-old, these sounded like conflicting priorities that couldn’t co-exist together. Today, I know they are conflicting priorities. But they can coincide via a complicated juggling act.

Millions of men and women struggle everyday to balance hands-on dedicated parenting with successful professional pursuits. The decision to pursue both can be personal, financial necessity, or both. In doing so however, life can become a one-person game of Twister; contorting your body into absurd and uncomfortable positions with a hand and a foot in different spheres of life, all while trying not to topple over. It’s a constant push and pull that more often than not makes you feel like neither side is getting a fair shake. A deadline is missed and a toddler is yelled at for no reason other than stress.

Enrolling your child in a co-op preschool is just one way parents can be more hands-on and involved in their kid’s life. And while it is incredibly fun, it can also put a lot of time management pressure on those who also have to work. It’s another circle in the game of Twister. Whether you work full time in an office, part time at home, or some combination of both, fulfilling your co-oping responsibilities and keeping it as a priority in your life can be difficult. Not to mention the feelings of guilt it creates when another parent needs someone to step in and you consistently decline due to a prior professional commitment.

This is not to say that only working parents struggle with conflicting priorities. I’ve met incredible people at CCNS. Men and women who have jobs, who manage their household and other kids, who take care of ailing family members around the clock, and who are still figuring all this stuff out. Everyone has a story that is compelling and filled to the brim with hard decisions, anxiety, and fulfillment. As a mother of two with no childcare, a part-time job, and an evening gig as an adjunct professor, I felt inclined to focus on the issue of working and co-oping because I live it.

Working and co-oping can be a challenge. Sometimes it works out just fine. Sometimes it does not. Both are perfectly acceptable, and families will endeavor to do what they believe is best for them. Perhaps, in between complaining about not wearing my hair down enough and inspiring me to professional and financial independence, my grandmother could have warned me about how challenging it would be to balance the priorities of family and work. However, knowing her, if I had asked how to do it, she would have looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Figure it out hon.”