Contrasting what a toddler can and can't do

Written by Cindy Hovington

Montreal, Canada

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After my first child turned 1, I realized that I was beginning to use the word “no” more often than I wanted. She had started walking and exploring her environment, which was great, but that meant she was climbing everything, opening all the doors, grabbing anything she could and putting everything in her mouth. I was creating a world filled with barriers for my child and with very little freedom. In addition, even if I would say “no” to opening cupboard doors or climbing chairs, she would do it anyway.

I decided to make a few changes. First, I created an environment that would allow her to explore freely. I moved items around in my kitchen so that any drawer or cupboard she opened was free of any danger. Secondly, I consciously stopped saying “no” to her and started explaining myself more and showing her what she WAS allowed to do or touch. This made a huge difference!! If she happened to go into a different room and opened a drawer I would say “I DON'T want you to open this drawer, but you CAN open this drawer”. If she climbed a higher chair I would say “I DON’T want you to climb this chair, but you CAN climb the sofa”. I would nod or shake my head as I said DO or DON’T to give her a visual.

This helped her reduce most of her emotional outbursts since she was starting to understand that she was allowed to do certain things and wasn’t allowed to do others. I repeated this method with my second child who is now 20 months and it has been working really well.

We tend to forget how much our children understand at a young age and how beautiful their curiosity is. We need to nurture their curiosity. This also taught me that I need to speak with my child in the same way I would speak with an adult. I don’t just say NO to someone if they did or said something wrong. We communicate what we want and what we don’t want. Our children want and need the same type of communication, regardless of their age.

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THE DAY I WAS TOLD MY CHILD HAS Autism spectrum Disorder

Written by Cindy Fu, mommy behind @littlemissplayschool

Cork, Ireland

Photo credit: pxhere.com

Photo credit: pxhere.com

“No, this can’t be!”

“What did I do wrong?”

“It must be something I had did during the pregnancy.”

“This is not the child I know.”

“My child is autistic. AUTISTIC!”

 

These thoughts ran through my mind when we were told our little girl has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It may sound like an exaggeration and overreaction, but my world fell through and suddenly my child felt different to me. I could not see her the same way anymore. For weeks I went through denial and blaming myself that it must be something I had done wrong. No matter how many times I was told that there was yet a known cause of ASD, I still spent time trying to remember the things I did and did not do during the pregnancy and her newborn stage.

When you become a parent, you start having many dreams of doing things with your child. Dreams like going to a children’s concert, doing your nails together, dropping them off for dance classes, playdates, etc. Never once do you let any bad thoughts run through your mind. The truth is, “ASD”, “Autism”, “Autistic” – these words bear such heavy meaning, a terrifying meaning to associate especially with your own children. ASD has robbed us so many of our parental dreams. Instead, we start having smaller dreams. Dreams that may be normal to other parents. As parents of ASD children, we dream of the day they start calling us “Mommy” and “Daddy”; we dream of the day their frustration of not being able to tell us what they want fades away; we dream of the day they eat all kinds of food; we dream of the day when little things would not bother them as much, and many more. For me, it took my little girl 990 days since the day she was born for her to call me “Mommy” and actually mean it, instead of just saying the word meaninglessly. I know 990 days seem shorter compared to other children in the spectrum who take their sweet time to start being verbal, but it has become the day I will never forget for the rest of my life. She has improved significantly since then and I can not be more proud of her for fighting through her fear and being able to express herself verbally.

During my denial and self-blaming stage, I refused to buy any self-help books or do any research on how to cope with the news. I was too scared to acknowledge the fact that pouring myself into the world of ASD parents would make the diagnose official. Though I tried picking myself up to start dealing with the fact a couple of months later, I still regret that I didn’t do it much sooner. The fact is, it is okay to feel however you want to feel. How can you not? It is a devastating and life changing diagnose to receive. However, try to remind yourself this – your children may be anxious and frustrated by so many things, they rely on us parents to assist them. Knowing ASD is the reason why your children are behaving the way they do means you get to know how to help them better. There are so many professionals and resources out there to better equip you with strategies and tips to make both you and your children’s life slightly easier living with ASD. Yes, it is parenting on a much more difficult level, but you will surprise yourself how strong your children will make you. They may not know how to express it just yet, but it is a mutual relationship of unconditional love.


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How I got my 15 month old to play independently

Written by Carol Renshaw , Mommy and Elementary School Teacher

Montreal, Canada

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That moment when you just want to prepare dinner and your toddler is hanging off of your leg whining…. I now know first hand how challenging that can be. With a shift working partner and a very demanding little girl, small tasks were getting harder and harder to accomplish. Then I read an article about toys. What I did next has forever changed the way my child plays. Being an elementary school teacher myself, it has always been clear to me how to set up a classroom environment conducive to learning for all types of students. Not too many bright colors, limiting what is hanging on the walls, using curtains to cover shelving units so students are less distracted etc…. Why on earth did it only just occur to me that I was setting my daughter up for failure and wasting so much of my own time and money on toys!!!!!

So, here is what I did…. I took all of her toys and books off of our small shelving unit on our main floor (where she primarily plays) and sorted. I then brought all of those items into our basement- where all of her toys are stored- and I chose a small amount of items to bring back upstairs. Here’s what I focused on; 2 vehicles, 6 board books, a ball, building blocks, a stuffed animal, a stacking toy or two, a shape sorter and that is IT! I displayed them clearly on the shelving unit (using bins before) and then I waited for the magic to happen…

Once our daughter was awake from nap I brought her to our main floor level and low and behold, it was as though I had given her new toys. She began exploring. I decided I would try to make dinner, and I was able to! She happily played occasionally bringing me a book to read to her. She wasn’t whining at my feet, what was this new trick I had found?!

About two weeks later, she seemed to need a change. So, I gathered all the items from upstairs and did the same sort again. I tried to choose a variety of toys but limited them again. I realized the rotation created the same learning environment as two weeks ago. She was more engaged in her play and she was taking her learning to a deeper level, exploring toys to their actual capacities. Now, obviously gaining the ability to accomplish small household tasks was wonderful, but guess what…. clean up now takes 2 minutes!! Another bonus!

So, next time you think to yourself; why can’t my toddler play alone? Try taking away most of their toys!

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Travelling With Kids for the Wanderlust Parent: Part 3 (At the Destination)

Now that we covered preparing for a family vacation in Part 1 and what to do on the flight in Part 2 of my blog posts, we are ready to explore our destination!

Here are a few tips we have learned while travelling to many countries with our children.

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1.    Keep your kid’s interests in mind when selecting places to visit and things to do. For example, my son is currently all into knights, so we made sure to visit Templar Knight Temples in our recent trip to Israel.

 

2.    Throughout the duration of your trip, alternate between adult activities you want to do like go shopping and child activities like go to a farm or children’s museum.

 

3.    Include “kid time” every day of your trip. This is all about dedicating a section of your day to indulging your child’s needs. We would visit a museum and then go spend an hour at a public park, where my son could just run around, be loud, and play with other kids on the games. “Kid time” spent playing in the Princess Salma Park in Aqaba made for some of my most memorable moments in our last trip to Jordan.

 

4.    Time box your commute time.We found that when travelling, we could include car rental to move from one city to the next so long as we kept every day’s commute down to a maximum of 2 hr car ride per day.

 

5.    Respect nap time. I can’t emphasize this enough, if your child is still taking naps, make them happen wherever you are. My son napped in his stroller through the Alhambra gardens, in a hammock under a palm tree in Riviera Maya, in the hotel at the Red Sea in Egypt. Getting enough sleep has an important impact on how collaborative and engaged he will be with the trip activities and keep him strong.

 

6.    Offer new foods but keep it safe. While visiting new destinations you might feel inspired to try new foods, you can proceed at full speed, if so desired. However, when it comes to your kid’s dietary choices carefully apply safe food handling guidelines. Reduce risks as much as possible such as avoiding street stalls, or preferring bottled drinks over tap water or ice, apply good judgement based on location. I also find it worked well to follow my kid’s lead with regards to quantity, by not pushing food when they were not hungry and rather equipping myself with a multitude of snacks, time zone changes can affect appetites. A happy stomach goes a long way!

 

Happy Travels!

Fanny - Passionate Mom, Stepmom, Godmother 

Travelling With Kids for the Wanderlust Parent: Part 2 (The Flight)

In part 1 of my blog, I outlined our family's tips on how to prepare before leaving on your family vacation. We have learned a lot from our travels with our 3 year old and 17 year old children, travelling to over 14 countries! Below you will find our tips on making your flight with your children a smooth one!

The Flight

1.    As soon as you board the plane, decide who goes where. Our littlest (3yr) usually gets the window as it gives us extra in-flight entertainment tools and gives me peace of mind that he won’t be getting bumped by carts or people travelling down the aisle, or bumped by falling items from people opening overhead bins during the flight.

2.    Settle into your seats. Remove young kids’ shoes so they don’t get everything dirty and find a spot for everything you need for the flight (the activity bag you prepared, sweaters/blankets you brought, water bottles). I find this initial, intentional distribution of items reduces the risk of forgetting items on the plane on your way out.

3.    Do double check you have found the correct seats (the seats indicated in your ticket), before settling into your seats. I can tell you from experience it is not a happy moment when someone shows up at your seat claiming that’s their spot and you have to remove quickly everything you’ve so neatly organized, and your kid’s complaining because they’d already warmed up to the idea of the other seat, even if the new one is identical…sigh.

4.    Hydrate yourself and your kids continuously. I also make it a point of giving my kids water on take-off and landing, as swallowing relieves pressure in the ears. I find this works better than the trick of chewing gum, especially for toddlers. I advise bringing your own water bottles (you can refill after security before boarding at the gate) or buying disposable water bottles near the gate before boarding. This way, you won’t depend on the flight attendants bringing you water, which they won’t be able to do every time someone is thirsty or eating a snack and definitely not at take-off and landing.

5.     Don’t assume the airline’s inflight entertainment will cater to toddlers or that it will be working/available. I’ve been on flights where all of the games were too advanced for my toddler. I have also found myself on a 3-hour flight on an old plane that didn’t even have screens on the seats, just a plug on the armrest for music. Yeah, those still exist. Some airlines cater to families, and those will provide better coverage, but don’t assume. You can visit their websites in advance to check but better yet, bring your own back up for screen time (i.e. a tablet or device that is charged and loaded with appropriate content and works offline).

6.     Pace your child’s activities. Don’t let your kids see all the items you’ve prepared all at once, as that will do away with the element of “new” and surprise, which is highly engaging.

7.     Change your child’s activity periodically, alternating between sedentary and dynamic, fine motor and gross motor activities.Depending on your child’s attention span, the appropriate time to change activity can vary (for my 3yr old it’s around 20min), but generally once he starts to get restless! So, I will give him something to color, then switch building blocks, then to walk down the aisle, then a snack, then a screen time activity, then silly putty (use with supervision, I find it’s small and not sticky like playdough, therefore not as messy), then tangrams, then “head, shoulder, knees and toes” stretching over by the bathroom sections of the plane, or yoga poses, or a potty outing. I hope this paints the picture. When you are on 6-10hr flights or more, you have to be creative and have variety. There are plenty of ideas available online, prepare in advance. Here’s one I liked: http://www.toddlerapproved.com/2010/03/airplane-traveling-with-toddlers.html 

8.    Find the appropriate time on the flight schedule to get your child to turn everything off and wind down enough to sleep.A tired child will be cranky, fussy and uncooperative. I find that with all the stimulus onboard (other passengers, overhead lights including plane mood lights which passengers can’t control, so many screens on the seats, noises, unrequested meal times) my son needs help shutting down, so I use a large scarf or pashmina to attach to seats as possible to build a little cocoon over him in order to tune the world out. When he was a baby, the breastfeeding cover did the trick.

My final blog post will cover what you can do to make your travels easier at the destination. 

Stay Tuned! 

Fanny - Passionate Mom, Stepmom, Godmother


 

 

 

Travelling With Kids for the Wanderlust Parent: Part 1 (Before Leaving)

As our family’s summer travel for this year came to a close, I found myself settling in to the familiar living room sofa with a sigh of relief, a smile of satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the conclusion of a trip from which we all came back in one piece with memories to cherish for a lifetime. This summer we tackled the farthest destination we had been to with our 3 yr. old toddler and 17 yr. old teenager. It was a multi-destination trip to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, where we spoke none of the local languages and involved us driving ourselves around and riding camels through the dessert. And I wondered, how did these kids become such savvy travelers?

My husband and I had always enjoyed travelling, often including adventurous destinations such as backpacking the Inca trails to Machu Picchu, skiing the Alps, volcano trekking in Guatemala, 29-hr flights to snorkel the Gili islands of Indonesia, and on it goes. With the birth of our son, we feared all this was over and we’d now be limited to safer and closer destinations. And so it was at the beginning, but gradually we found ourselves pushing the boundaries. I prepared meticulously for each trip, applying advice from others who had travelled with young kids and lived to tell the tale. From diseases to temper tantrums risks and discouraging experiences abound, the fear is real. However, before we knew it, our 3 yr. old had visited 14 different countries. I am thankful to all those other parents who took the time to share their travel do’s and don’ts helping me create healthy and enriching travel experiences for my family all the while maintaining my sanity. What follows, are snippets of the advice I applied and the discoveries I made of things that worked for us, in the hope that other diligent wanderlust parents will keep travelling even after kids. Do note, I found these tips to be as applicable for short destination travel as for visits to faraway lands, be it plane bound, road tripping or cruising.

Before leaving:

1.    A few weeks in advance visit the pharmacy or travel clinic and consult for vaccines and travel medication. 

It may seem like overkill or cliché but trust me, you’ll feel like a Supermom when you can immediately pull out traveler’s probiotics or eye drops to deal with spontaneous diarrhea or itchy eye. Not to mention the gained peace of mind from knowing you gave your child that Hepatitis A vaccine which is not part of the Quebec Immunisation schedule until they are in fourth grade (read more about that here, and the government’s new website here). I’ve lost precious trip time before, looking for a pharmacy, even more challenging when you are somewhere you don’t speak the language or where you don’t recognize the brands.

2.    Pack a couple of days in advance like if you were leaving the next day. 

You’ll be happy you discovered the box of disposable bottle liners in your cupboard is actually empty, or the Tylenol is actually expired with enough time to go shop for some. Same goes for sunblock, repellent and clean clothes! By the way, yes you can buy repellent and sunblock at the destination BUT why pay triple for a brand you don’t even like? (Especially, if you are particular about the kind of sunblock you put on your baby’s skin). And on that note, disposable bottles and liners and microwave sterilizing bags do make feeding bottle diners on-the-go, a cinch! From baby well into the toddler years. 

3.    Prepare a compact yet diverse activity bag for use in the plane.

Try to include new items your child has never seen or played with before. I like to keep the travel activity bag very compact. To do so, think about items that can be used in multiple ways like a shape cutter for play dough, can also be used for tracing patterns on paper. I prefer to put my son’s activity bag, inside my own travel backpack, that way I can keep track of it and ensure contents won’t be accidentally spilled everywhere. See the image below with my hand sized one and its contents from one of our trips. Here’s another clever resource, I found useful

4.    Sign up for the airline’s kids club. 

Be sure to read the rules, as each airline’s program is different, some will let you pre-order children’s meals which feature “kid friendly” options, other airlines will mail you a kids club badge that the child will be required to wear on them to get the plane perks that go with it such as toys and treats.

5.    Plan the plane outfit (yours and your kids). 

The outfits should be loose, comfortable, soft and layered. To my outfit selection I also add: pockets and no metal belts or jewelry, this helps speed up the process through security freeing me up faster to manage the kids and the travel. I also like to include something light and compact that can serve multiple purposes: as a blanket, as a pillow or a shade cover (to build a cocoon to shield from lights and distractions) my favorite is a long and wide cotton scarf or pashmina.

Stay tuned for part 2...the flight!

 

Fanny - Passionate Mom, Stepmom, Godmother 

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How our family minimizes media viewing

We can't ignore the fact that we are surrounded by media. However, our family has made the conscious decision to minimize media use as much as possible. The outcome? We have an abundance of play time with our children and we have realized that there are many ways around resorting to media for entertainment, distractions, games etc. Here are some rules in our household and some ideas to help you minimize media usage in your home. 

 

Our house rules:

 

1) No media before the age of 2.

The only form of media our children have see before the age of 2 is FaceTime. With our first born, she watched her first online video around 2 1/2 years old. During playtime, we would talk about animals a lot and we decided to show her videos of these animals to help her understand their habitats, the sounds they made and how they moved around. We stuck to the rule of no media before the age of 2 given that the American Association of Paediatrics recommends this based on research. The reason for this is partly because of the flashes we see when watching TV (which is over stimulating for children). Think about looking into someones living room at night while they are watching TV. All you see are flashes of colour and light. This is what children see, day or night. When monitoring a child's TV show, count how many times the image changes in a minute (each change is a flash). You want to minimize these flashes. Here is a video that explains it very well.

2) Lead by example.

We need to set an example for our children. If we are always on our cellphones or watching TV in front of them, then they will want to do the same. Our phones remain on vibrate at home and are placed on the kitchen counter. Our phones never touch the kitchen table or our bedside table. Ever. If our phone vibrates and we are playing with our children we return the call later on. This has also helped us, as adults, learn not to depend on our phones and to take the time to have a conversation with our phones away from us. 

3) Supervised media usage after age 2. 

When our toddler watches a video (one that we have previously watched and handpicked on Youtube) it is to learn about an animal. We sit down with her and watch it together so that we can describe what is going on and discuss it later on. It is important for us to not use media as a way to keep our children busy while we do something else. 

 

How these rules have benefited our family:

1) Lots of playtime together. 

Since the TV is never on in our house, we get lots of time to play together as a family. Also, when we are in the car, we sing songs, play "I Spy" and tell stories (The Three little Pigs and Goldilocks). Even if we are in a waiting room or at the restaurant, we are still playing. We have our busy bag with us all the time. With crayons, paper, stickers, books and a doodle board. 

2) Our children are learning to entertain themselves.

When there is some downtime, our children have learned to be creative. I think it is important for children to experience boredom. This lets them use their imagination and learn to entertain themselves. Making dinner with a toddler and a baby can be challenging. As a parent, I have learned to give them activities while I prepare dinner that will keep them busy. There are still many nights where dinner doesn't get done or is burnt because the activities didn't work out, but that is ok. I love using "Invitation to play" activities or sensory bins (get more details by visiting the Curious Neuron Play Ideas page). I also learned to create safe spaces in my kitchen for my baby and toddler to explore. Lastly, I also try to include my children when I can in the process of cooking (read more here).  

3) Our children are building their attention spans.

Watching TV or playing for long periods of time doesn't mean that a child has a long attention span. The brain is BEING entertained, not entertaining ITSELF. Reading a few books in a row, or sitting down to do a sensory bin activity or painting activity allows our children to entertain their brain and stay focused on an activity for long durations at a time, which in turn will help them in school. 

Tips from our family

  • When you are around your children, be mindful of when you use your cellphone and try not to interrupt a conversation with them during playtime.
  • Keep your phone away from the dinner table. 
  • Keep a "busy bag" in your car. A bag with a few items that will help keep your child entertained (some items that they can use on their own and others that you can play with them). 
  • When you are not at home, play games such as "I Spy", memory games, "Simon Says" and so on that don't require any objects. 
  • Try to avoid using media in the car. This is a great time to have conversations with children of all ages. 
  • While preparing meals, try using a sensory bin, Invitation to Play activity or turn on the music and have a dance party! See Play Ideas page for examples. 

I hope this blog post has inspired you to minimize media usage in your family as well. I would love to hear from parents to see what they do to help entertain their children in times when using media might come in handy! 

Cindy