Friday, July 11, 2008

Knowing Thy Toddler: Tips and Tools for Parenting One- to Three-Year-Olds

We signed up for two of Carrie Contey's parenting workshops ( TJ went to the first one last night (see title of this post) and I'm going to one next week on the subject of setting boundaries. He found last night's class helpful and interesting overall. We don't feel like it's the end-all, be-all, necessarily, but hopefully it'll help us be better parents to toddler-E.

They spent a lot of time talking about brain development, and the three brains present in toddlers: lizard (tantrums, rejecting, running away), monkey (resistant, irritable, clingy, fragile, hard to please), and human (happy, verbal, compliant, creative, affectionate). As we all probably know, toddlers are working hard to grow into their human brain, but they just aren't there yet. They're stuck in their lizard and monkey brains much of the time. Their behavior during this time is not a reflection of their personality or true self; it's just where they are developmentally. Tantrums and obnoxious behavior are inevitable, and not caused by poor parenting, and even if you were to do everything right, which is impossible, crazy-ass behavior would still ensue. The point of this class was to teach you how to react to these challenging moments, how to stay in touch with your child's emotional state, and how to redirect them and guide them through whatever they're feeling. She made the point that the stuff you're teaching them when they're toddlers are things they won't actually grasp until they're, like, five. But you just keep doing it, over and over. Eventually they'll get it, but probably not the first fifty times or more. Oh, boy.

Carrie passed out a flow chart (which TJ brought home) that's got the lizard, monkey, and human brains, the behaviors associated with each, and what we should be doing accordingly. For instance, when they're freaking the freak out (lizard), we should: pay attention to our own feelings, breathe, slow down, be present, reflect feelings non-verbally, and surrender expectations. (This one seems pretty idealistic to me.) When they're irritable and clingy and hard to please (monkey), they're likely at any moment to bring on the lizard. At this time, it's good to give them a snack of some kind, especially protein; give them water, go outside, play a pushing game, make eye contact, touch, reflect feelings physically as well as verbally. (Cool, this makes sense.) When they're human (happy, verbal, compliant, relaxed), this is the time to play and teach and sing, be creative, and tell stories about "big experiences" and stories about behavior. (Gotcha. But when do we get stuff done around the house?? Just saying.)

There's also a step-by-step guide on how to deal with behavior that is unacceptable. It seems like it'll be helpful, but it, too, seems pretty idealistic and scripted. I guess you have to make it your own. I won't knock it until we get to the point that we can try it. (I hope I don't sound like I'm being too critical of all this. I don't mean to be. I have some reasons, and probably a big one is that my mom is a play therapist, and is constantly using language like this, but in a way that sometimes feels contrived and devoid of real empathy.) Ultimately, I really am glad to have some guidance in this area, because I don't know how equipped I am to deal with a toddler all day, every day, and it's just around the corner. I don't want to find myself in a position where I'm constantly losing my temper and patience and disliking my baby. (I realize I will have plenty of moments like that, inevitably, but I'd like to work to minimize them. Do I sound like a first-time mom or what???) And TJ is glad to be educating himself on this stuff because he was raised with the parenting approach of "I'll give you something to cry about," and he knows he's in danger of repeating that same dynamic with E. A total disconnect between parent and child. That's the last thing he wants for him and his boy.

Anyway, I'm actually starting to be able to imagine E as a toddler, and it's exciting. He's really coming into his own, this one.

I can tell I only have a few more months (at most) of being able to blog as often, by the way. So I'm going to enjoy it (and the two naps a day) while I can. We're at a super easy stage right now, I've realized. TJ gave me some props last night, which was really nice. He realized from this class that it takes a helluva lot of energy to care for a baby all day, and it'll take a shitload more when E's a toddler, let alone when there's another baby around (goddess-willing). He was in awe, and I love him for it.

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