Thursday, 26 July 2018

Toddler Behaviour and RIE Parenting

Magda Gerber’s philosophy and most of the books that I have read about RIE parenting and respectful parenting have had such a great impact on me, how I teach the kids in my group, and how I plan on teaching my own one day. When I first started teaching kindergarten, I was relying a lot on reward systems, but slowly I switched my focus to intrinsic motivation. That’s why I wanted to share with you some things about respectful parenting and a set of resources to get you started if you’re interested in reading more.

You probably heard of “the terrible twos” and the fact that kids go through phases when their feelings might be overwhelming. But knowing what you can do as a parent or educator to support them while they express their emotions is truly important for their future. You can help them grow into confident kids, who express their feelings in a healthy way, or kids who think that their opinions don’t matter.

Babies and toddlers are naturally curious about their environment, and they need to discover its boundaries with our nurturing support. When they react in a way that to us seems over the top, it's because they are testing their independence, or because of lack of sleep, or just because they need our attention.

Here are some tips on how to react to typical toddler behaviour:

· the child needs to be securely be informed about the rules and boundaries with calm. We need to let him know that we understand him, but that he can’t have everything.

· create a predictable environment and clear routines. Changing a toddler’s daily routine sometimes messes with their mind, it gets them tired, frustrated, and it creates unpredictability in limits and boundaries. When you take your child to a birthday party, for example, he will be in a new environment, surrounded by kids he might not know well, so everything around is new and needs to be explored before getting to know what is fine and what is not. Try to anticipate problems that might occur when changing a routine and talk about the boundaries beforehand.

· Stay away from labels, such as “naughty”, “well-behaved”, because they will affect how the child perceives himself. When there’s something a child has done, address the behavior and explain why it’s wrong. With such young kids, who might not remember in 5-10 minutes what they’ve done, respond to behavior right when it happens, with calm and patience.

· Use the singular first person pronoun when addressing a child and talking about feelings and emotions, for example “I won’t let you do that. If you do, I will have to take it away, because it might hurt somebody with it”. Talk in a normal voice, because baby talk doesn’t help, especially in these situations. Your child will feel respected if you talk normally to him, as you would do to another friend or family member. What helps rather than baby talk, is to slow down and use short sentences, so your child is able to follow even when he is stresses.

- don’t try to trick or bribe your child. You wouldn’t do that to an adult, so why do it with a child? Acknowledge their feelings, explain why it’s not ok for them to do a certain thing, but don’t try to distract your child. Kids are smart and it might work in the beginning, but it’s not a long term solution.

· try to avoid time-outs, because that means isolating the child when he might need your support the most. Be there for him, offer gentle support, and let him know you won’t leave. You are there to help him through. Time-out is also something imposed from the outside, so it doesn’t help a child self-regulate his emotions and find an inner motivation.

· acknowledge the child’s behavior and feelings as you observe them “I think you are getting tired and that’s why you are hitting. You are telling me it’s time to go home and rest.”, “We need to leave now and that made you feel sad. I understand that.” Take your child’s feelings seriously, even though to you they might seem a bit too much. They are tiny humans with big feelings, and sometimes all they need is understanding and being acknowledged. Laughing at his/her reactions or not giving them the importance they need will make your child not want to share them anymore.

· don’t forget to remind your child that you love her and be affectionate. Sometimes when these stressful moments are more frequent, we don’t get enough time in between to do that. Integrate cuddling time and kisses in your daily routine, while reading, having a bath, or just relaxing together. Try to be present and engaged for your child, and that way she will show you the same respect. Make time for you and your child, when she gets your undivided attention. That’s the best way to create a connection and bond.

· you should be on the same page with your partner – it helps kids to have the same rules, as they will be more able to predict both of your reactions and understand that you will react in the same way. Always follow through with what you said. If you set a boundary, make sure you and your child knows why that is. If the same thing goes once, but not the second time, your child will be confused, and he will try to negotiate.

· kids need to release stress and anger too, so it’s important to do it in a healthy manner – hitting a pillow, asking for a hug, stomping their feet

· a child might react to your own stress, that’s why it’s important to be calm, and find ways to deal with your own feelings before reacting to anything she does. Modelling healthy emotions and reacting to them in a positive way will help your child.

· avoid using the negative whenever possible, because children will understand better what you expect from them. For example, instead of “don’t interrupt” you could say “wait until we have finished talking”. You can also use gestures to indicate that you don’t want to be interrupted, for example putting your hand on your child’s shoulder, but maintaining eye contact

· give choices, rather than imposing. These will help you as well, and they will give your child the understanding that his choices matter. The options could be “Do you prefer putting your blue hat on or the green one?” or “do you want to put the dress on by yourself, or do you need my help?”. Open ended questions might be difficult for a toddler to answer but providing two easy options will help.

· if you notice that your child is doing something harmful to others, give another option that is acceptable: “I won’t let you bite your friend. That hurts. You can choose to bite the pacifier instead.”

· set clear limits, but explain why these were set. Saying “because I told you so” never helps a toddler understand why something is expected of him. Make sure they know you are there to help them get through a difficult situation, but that not everything they want is attainable

· giving a child notice before a transition might help. For example, I hate interrupting the kids’ playtime at work (at kindergarten), but sometimes our daily routine dictates that. I always make sure to let them know that playtime is almost over, so they can try to finish what they have started. I usually sing “5 more minutes to clean up time”, then “3 more minutes to clean up time”. I don’t want to tell them every minute, because that gets them stressed. Also, most of them don’t have the notion of minutes yet, but when I say that they know a little bit of time is left. Sometimes I watch them play and try to observe when the most suitable time to clean up is.

· involving the kids in daily routines and transitions helps a lot! – let them help you pack for a trip, put on their clothes, place all shoes on the rack, etc. They like contributing because it makes them feel helpful and involved. By collaborating in these tasks, we are showing them that our plans are common, rather than us having chosen something that they need to do. Doing things independently will help them grow more confident, and it’s a great way for us to bond with them, by praising their progress.

Kids are kids, and they are wired to explore and test their environment. It’s our job to make them feel safe, encourage curiosity, be playful as often as possible, and set clear boundaries. That will give them the confidence that we know what we are doing and that they can count on us. Failing to set clear boundaries will make them act out and test the outcomes of their actions.

And now, here’s the list of resources that you can use to find out more about what it means to be a respectful parent:

  • Your Self-Confident Baby – Magda Gerber
  • No Bad Kids – Janet Lansbury
  • Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect – Magda Gerber
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  • Playful Parenting – Lawrence J. Cohen
  • A Theory of Objectivist Parenting – Joslyn Ross
  • Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide (The Positive Parent Series) - Rebecca Eanes

Online resources:

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