Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Joyful Toddlers Has Moved!

I've written a post on what it means to have high expectations for young kids, and posted it on the new Joyful Toddlers website!  This post, and all future Joyful Toddlers blog posts, will be found on the new site: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Please change any bookmarks or links that you might have.
Miss Faith

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joyful Toddlers Is Moving!

I'm excited to announce that Joyful Toddlers is moving to a new spot on the internet!  Change your links and your bookmarks, because from now on my posts will be integrated into the new Joyful Toddlers website,  http://joyfultoddlers.com/.

Many thanks to Beverly Mau of MAU Web Studio for helping me design this fabulous website.  As of today (Nov 16) the website is still under construction, but I'm so excited to consolidate everything that I'm going ahead and transferring the blog content over.  Thank you all for your patience as we work out any kinks.  If you have any suggestions for the new website, don't hesitate to tell me at faith@joyfultoddlers.com.

Very Warmly,
Miss Faith

PS Enrollments are starting to come in for the Tele-Class that starts on January 22, 2012, Joyful Days with Toddlers and Preschoolers!  If you're thinking about taking the class, please let me know!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Young Kids and Chores

Dear Miss Faith,
Can you talk a little bit more about responsibilities/expectations/chores for 2-3 year olds?  How do you go about incorporating young kids into household tasks, self-care, etc?  What can you reasonably expect at different ages?  When do you institute mandatory chores?

Dear E.,
These are great questions!  As you know if you’ve read just about anything I’ve written, I’m a huge proponent of incorporating kids of all ages into household tasks.  First I’ll talk about why I think it’s so great to do, and then I’ll talk about age-appropriate expectations.

Why Household Tasks are Great for Kids
               The reason that I’m such a fan is threefold:  first, when you slow down a household activity enough to incorporate a toddler into it, doing that task together can be a wonderful way to connect with your child.  The two of you are doing it together.  Second, doing household tasks are a wonderful way for children to practice skills and gain competence in many different areas:  fine motor skills through folding wash-cloths; gross motor skills by putting dishes onto their shelf or sweeping the floor or washing the windows; sensory integration by washing the dishes or kneading dough.  And by inviting a child into a task that you do from beginning to end, you are teaching him how to go about tasks: about follow-through, about attitude.  Thirdly (and this is how doing household tasks together are different from doing arts-and-crafts projects), incorporating children into household tasks allows them to contribute to the household, and to help the person they love the most:  you!  That is really fulfilling for children.  Although doing tasks with young children takes MUCH longer than doing it by yourself, making space for your child to be able to contribute to tasks that really need to be done sets the stage for them to be able to contribute in ever-greater ways in the future.

What to Expect At Different Ages
               So, what are young kids capable of at different ages?  When should it go from being something that you lure them into, to something that is simply expected?  My experience is that adults tend to underestimate what one- and two-year-olds can do, and overestimate what three- and four-year-olds can do.  What do I mean by that?  Well, with the littler ones, we often simply don’t create the space or even have an idea of what a little one can do.  Their skills are growing so quickly at this age, that we often treat them as an infant when they are in fact capable of much more.  As young as 18 months, a young child can take her bowl from the table, scrape her food into a compost-tub, and put her bowl and spoon into a wash-tub.  I had a class of 8 one- and two-year olds, and they all did this after every meal!  When a child first came to me, I would stand behind him and help him reach out his hand to get his bowl.  Then I would point out the compost-tub, and walk over with him.  Kneeling behind him, I’d put my hands around his to grasp the spoon and scrape out the food.   Then I’d point out the wash-tub and he could put his bowl and spoon in by himself.   After five or six times of literal ‘hands-on’ help like this, most kids became quite competent!
          Now, don’t get the wrong idea:  some children require lots more than six times of ‘hands-on’ help, and all of the kids needed help sometimes, even those big almost-three-year-olds who had been doing it twice a day for almost two years.  The fact that we ALWAYS did it after EVERY meal was a help, and the fact that everyone else was doing it, helped the new children learn quickly.  We had a little song that we sang while we did it, which helped things go smoothly, and my assistant and I were always actively involved with the process.

               So what can most two-year-olds do, if we teach them how and help them do it every time?  They can help you make their bed.  They can brush their own teeth while you brush yours.  They can help set the table if we hand things to them and ask them to put them on the table.  They can wash their own hands, if we are right there to help/talk them through it:  push up their own sleeves, scrub with soap, rinse hands clean, turn off the water, and dry their hands on a towel.  They can drink from an open cup and only spill sometimes.  They can take their bowl from the table to the counter when they’re done.  They can help wash the table with a cloth before/after a meal.  They can help wash dishes if you don’t mind them getting wet.  They can go potty with help from you.  They can help fold laundry, put things away, unload the dishwasher, put forks, spoons and knives in the proper place in the silverware drawer as long as they can reach.  What two-year-olds generally CAN’T do:  many can take shoes or clothes off, but can’t yet put them on.  Most can’t follow multi-part directions, unless they’re very simple and sequential (“please pick up your sock and put it in the drawer” usually gets the sock picked up, but they may need a reminder of the second part: “and now put it in the drawer.  Thank you!”).

               Three- and four-year-olds are much more competent in terms of what they are able to do.  They are capable of doing many tasks, even fairly complex ones.  However, adults frequently overestimate what child children of these ages can do.  That’s because we assume that because a child is CAPABLE of doing something, they should be able to do it whenever we want them to.  And that’s simply not the case.  Just because your four-year-old is capable of putting on every item of clothing, doesn’t mean that you can simply ask him to get dressed and then go downstairs to fix breakfast while he does it.  Chances are you’ll go upstairs ten minutes later to find his clothes still lying on the bed, while he’s playing with his fire-truck.  In fact, even if you stay there with him and talk him through the process (“it’s time to get dressed and your clothes are on the bed.  Where’s your shirt?”), he may well only be able to actually dress himself sometimes.  Even though he’s CAPABLE of it, at this age he will only be ABLE to do it by himself sometimes.  Some days those clothes zip right on, and some days you are doing almost every piece.
          How competent children at this age are on a given day depends on how tired they are, how distracted they are, how distracted YOU are, and many other factors that we can only guess at.  The trick at this age is to be fully present with them as they do a task, stepping in to keep them on track as much or as little as is needed, without getting mad that yesterday they did it just fine, and today they don’t seem capable of doing anything.  That’s how things are at this age.  The smoother and more consistent your support, the more and more frequently he’ll be able to do it on his own.  If your support is inconsistent, so that he can go a long ways off-track before you direct him back to the task at hand, or your support is angry, or your support is rushed, then he will resist that "support," and he’ll want to do the things you ask of him less and less.

When to Implement “Chores”
               I am not a fan of “chores” for children under the age of seven.  In my mind, “chores” are things you have to do whether you feel like it or not, and there may be some sort of punishment if they don’t get done.  I don’t feel like this is appropriate for young children.  Remember, in having children help with household tasks, we are setting patterns and laying the groundwork for a lifetime of helping out around the house, of pitching in, of feeling proud that they are contributing.  In this vein, there are two important points to help set yourself up for success:  first, don’t expect children to be able to do tasks by themselves, and second, don’t get into power struggles over tasks.

Don’t expect children to be able to do tasks by themselves.  With young children, household tasks should always be done together.  Children want to be with us and connect with us; while they’re happy to forget about us when they are immersed in deep play, household tasks and self-care tasks are things that WE want them to do, and we want them done in a certain way.  Therefore, they must be done together.  Remember, children don’t have the skills yet to follow through on tasks consistently, even if they’re capable of doing each part.  We are teaching them how to do these tasks, and supporting them as they learn the skill of following-through, which won’t be fully developed till much later.

Don’t get into a power struggle.  Although I don’t have chores, I do have expectations about what children help with.  For example, when I set out to chop some veggies, I’ll bring my chopping board, knife and bowl to the table, along with some kid-chopping boards and table knives.  I’ll start chopping my veggies, singing a chopping-song.  Usually one or two or three children will come over and want to help, but if nobody does, that’s fine.  They can play while I chop.  Likewise with washing the table before a meal, or sweeping the floor.  I do these tasks slowly and mindfully, with room for children, and the children are welcome to help or not, as they choose.  Other tasks, such as tidying up, are done all together and I will gently steer a child who is not participating back into the activity by giving her a toy and asking her to put it in its place.  And finally there are some tasks, such as clearing your bowl from the table, are expected from each child at the end of every meal.
But what if a child refuses to take his bowl? What to do?  Do I MAKE him do it?  Or do I just not care?  My answer to that is that it depends on why they're saying no.  If a child is just saying “no” to try it out, I’ll say, “Oh, it looks like you need some help getting started,” and I’ll simply go over and help him pick up his bowl, then face him in the right direction.  Just getting them in motion (through my own motions, NOT with words) is often enough to get him back on track.  On the other hand, maybe he’s saying “no” to test boundaries.  For example, perhaps you and your son set the table together every day, but one day your 3 ½ -year-old stands there defiantly and says, “No!” And then looks at you to see how you’ll respond.  What do you do?
In general, the best way to meet defiance in young kids is to transform their emotion through humor or imagination, and then continue on with the task being defied, without talking about it.  So here's a response that comes immediately to my mind, if I were in the situation described above.  I'd look at that little boy with utter amazement.  “What????  Did you say No?????  Wait!  Say it again and see what happens!”  Then he says “No,” but not nearly as defiantly.  He’s curious.  I take a big breath and raise my arms up high above my head, then say, “Whooooossshhhhh!” and swoop him up and onto the couch.  Then I tickle him and kiss him until he’s limp with laughter. (I've transformed the emotion away from defiance.)  I sit up and make smiling eye contact with him, then take him by the hand to help him up off the couch.  Still holding his hand we walk into the kitchen together.  “Now, where are the plates?” I say.  (I go back to the task, without talking about it.)  Usually a child is happy to get back on track at this point.  But if he’s not, he might say say “No, I don’t want to set the table.”
At this point the most important thing is not to get into a power struggle.  The reason for this is that power struggles do little except give your child practice at saying no, and not doing what you say.  Even if you make them do it, it’s not setting them up to want to do it again the NEXT time you ask; power struggles tend to beget more power struggles.  So at this point, I’d look the child in the face, and try to get a sense of what’s going on.  Depending on what I see, I might try to connect emotionally with him, in an imaginative way:  I’ll make a sad face, and say, “I’ll be so lonely if I have to set the table all by myself.  Boo hoo hooo!  Boo hoo hooo!” and I’ll pretend to cry, looking through my fingers to see his response.  But another time, I might look and see only obstinacy.  In this case, instead of trying to play further, I’ll simply say, “I can see that you’re not ready to help me set the table today.  That’s OK.  Why don’t you sit on the couch and look at a book while I do it.  I bet you’ll be ready to help me again tomorrow.”  I’ll go and I’ll set the table by myself.  And the next day, chances are pretty good that I’ll have my helper back.
This is the part that strikes many parents as strange.  Am I not simply 'giving in?' Have I not just lost my authority?  Am I not setting things up for them to be irresponsible for life?  But I would answer, no.  This technique, of verbally creating an image of your child being cooperative the next time, is a powerful tool.  Children will live up (or down) to our expectations most of the time.  Often times, when we are trying to force a child to do something, we think we are stating expectations for them to do it.  What our actions and attitude are ACTUALLY saying, however, is that we expect them NOT to do it, which is why we have to force them.  So, by listening to their desires and letting them off this one day, but saying, "I bet you'll be ready to help again tomorrow," this creates a powerful image that children can live up to.
However, just creating the image is not enough.  If a child is refusing to help and can't be jollied into it, there's something else that must also be done the next time that task comes up.  It's to go back to why doing household tasks together is useful:  if your child is not inspired to contribute, and is not inspired to do it to build competency, then you must go back to the foundation: connecting.  When the next day comes, take whatever your child didn't want to do the day before, and make it as enjoyable, as fun, as connecting as you can.  When the connecting part is in place, the other pieces will fall back into place, too.
Miss Faith 

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check us out at our new location, http://joyfultoddlers.com/