Gentle Parenting in Real Life

I’ve had some questions about gentle parenting, and I want to answer them here because I think there are some myths and misconceptions that need to be dispelled. Here are some common questions, and my answers.

What is “gentle parenting?”

Gentle parenting is a choice. It’s a choice to use words and actions with our children that are supportive and caring. It’s recognizing where a child is in the moment and what she needs to move through that moment in a positive way. If my daughter throws herself on the floor screaming (as she did last Thursday), I could pick her up, put her in a time out, and leave her to deal with emotions she can’t possibly comprehend or process on her own, or I can sit down on the floor beside her, let her know I’m there to help her when she’s ready, and give her space to express her emotions.

Let’s look at Thursday’s scene: My daughter woke up with a cold. She had a low-grade fever and was very stuffy. She had already had a few mini-meltdowns because she wasn’t feeling well. I watched the wheels turning in her head as I asked her to come back to the table with her box of raisins. I knew this was going to be the tipping point. I also know that raisins are highly toxic to dogs, so I can’t have the open box of raisins flying out of her hand with a lightning-fast dog waiting to scarf them all down. I have to engage with my daughter for the dog’s safety, and I also know that my daughter is really looking for an outlet (you might say she’s looking for an excuse, but I think there’s a negative connotation there). She needs to release feelings that are bubbling up inside her, so she’s waiting for that last straw.

I got up from the table as she headed for the kitchen, put an arm around her to stop her from running away, and gently but firmly reminded her that we eat at the table, not while running around. This is one of the misconceptions about gentle parenting. Yes, my daughter has rules, and I do insist on rules being followed. I asked her to give me the box of raisins, and when she refused, I gently removed it from her hand and closed the box. She screeched like a banshee, stomped, sat down, and then put her face on the floor to cry. I let her know I wanted to help her and tried to rub her back. She wasn’t ready for me to touch her, so I backed off for a moment. I told her that I understood she was not feeling well and was having strong feelings right now. When it became clear that she was not able to move past this point on her own, I picked her up, put the raisins on the counter, and carried her to the stairs.

Here’s one of the differences in the gentle parenting approach. I don’t give my daughter time-outs. What would be the point? She’s 20 months old. She can’t process big feelings on her own, and I don’t want to punish her for expressing her emotions. She’s not being bad. She’s trying to deal with feelings that are overwhelming. We do time-ins. I’ve found that the stairs are a good place for us because it’s dimly lit and removes a lot of the excess stimulation. We can just sit on the steps and have some quiet time together. I sat on the steps with her and sang, “Let It Be” until she was more calm and then tried to talk to her. She started getting upset again, so I went back to singing. When she was ready, she signed, “Milk,” and we moved to the couch to nurse.

At this point, she was able to listen, so I could talk to her. I explained that I understood she was feeling yucky, and that makes everything seem like it’s a big deal. I let her know that I’m always here to help her when she has strong feelings and snuggled her close. She nursed and fell asleep. This could have been a situation that was far more stressful for both of us (and for my dog who has anxiety issues), but I recognized where she was, why she was behaving the way she was, and helped her to move through those feelings. By the time we got to nursing, she was smiling again and was calm and secure.

You can’t always be that calm, can you?

Simple answer: “Hell, no!” I’m human. I have strong feelings and sometimes have temper tantrums myself. Part of gentle parenting is knowing yourself. I know what my triggers are. I know what’s going to cause me to “lose it” and not be calm. In order to treat my child with respect, I have to be respectful of myself and my needs. I do the best I can in each moment and strive to do better in the next moment. Being a gentle parent takes practice. I’m far better now than a year ago at recognizing when my reactions have more to do with how I’m feeling at the moment than the behavior my child is exhibiting. I’m far better now at choosing the right words and actions in the moment than I was a year ago, or a month ago, or a day ago. I get better at it every day because I forgive myself for the moments when I’ve yelled instead of soothed, the moments when I’ve covered my ears instead of listened, and the moments when I had to give myself a time-out because I knew I wasn’t being the mother my daughter needed me to be. I’ve learned from each of those moments and made a choice to do better next time. At this point, almost 2 years into this adventure, I can proudly say that I am calm about 99% of the time. And I’m going to tell you that anyone who claims to be calm 100% of the time is lying or delusional…or maybe a well-designed cyborg.

I want to be a gentle parent. What books should I read?

I’ve never read a parenting book. I’ve read a number of good articles about the dangers of baby training, cry-it-out, and other non-gentle, non-baby-friendly methods. Those articles reinforced for me that I don’t want to take those approaches with my child, but they really didn’t give me a how-to on parenting. The true expert, whose knowledge on parenting practices that I respect above all others, is my daughter. She knows on an instinctive level what she needs, and if I tune out everything else and listen to her and to my own instincts, I’m going to be a gentle parent. I’m a very different parent and have very different philosophies from what I thought I would because I’ve let my child guide me.

How do you do it? How do you stay calm when your child is throwing a tantrum?

I’m going to share my big secrets with you here. This is your view to the inner workings of my parenting style. I didn’t know all of this when my daughter was born, and I’m still figuring more out each day. I am a work in progress. Here’s what I have learned so far:

  • Know yourself. Know what triggers are going to make it harder for you to stay on track and parent the way you want to parent. Is it high-pitched screaming? Is it throwing things? Is it being hit in the face? It’s important to recognize these triggers because if you know that screaming is going to be overwhelming for you, you can prepare. You can control your thoughts. Your thoughts lead to how you’re feeling, and your behavior comes from that process. It’s also important to know your triggers because your child knows what they are. Trust me. I knew that morning that my daughter was going to scream when I took the box of raisins away. So, here was my thought process: “She’s going to scream when I take this away. It’s just a sound. Breathe.” After I took the raisins, “She’s expressing her frustration in the only way she can. She’s not feeling well, and that makes everything a big deal.” Knowing that the ear-splitting scream is a trigger for me, preparing myself for its coming, and talking myself through that trigger meant that I could respond the way I wanted to respond.
  • Know your child. Every child is different. If you have multiple children, you probably find that you parent each child differently. That’s your instincts at work. Watch how your child reacts to different situations. If you know what situations are likely to lead to unwanted behavior, you can try to avoid those situations. If it can’t be avoided, like a doctor appointment, think ahead about what you can do to help your child deal with the emotions that situation stimulates. Being prepared for what is likely to happen helps you to respond proactively and positively. Learn what words, songs, distractions, etc. help your child to deal with big emotions. When the big emotions bubble up, you’ll know what to do to help your child deal with them. For us, that’s finding a quiet spot so that I can sing to my daughter and then talk through what was happening that caused her to become upset. If you can anticipate your child’s reactions, you can be ready with your response.
  • Check-ins. If we aren’t at home, or I don’t feel we need stair time, we do a check-in. A typical check-in might be, “You got upset because you fell down. That was frustrating, but listen to your body. Your body is OK. It’s not telling you that you’re hurt, right? So you can let go of this feeling now. You don’t need it.” We check in to help her be attuned to what her body is telling her and to evaluate what is happening right now, in this moment, not in the moment where she became upset. It helps her to understand that we can let go of feelings that aren’t helping us, so that she can choose a new feeling and move forward. Another example of a check-in is with disputes with other children. “When Johnny took the toy from you, you felt angry. He gave the toy back and said he was sorry, so it’s time to let go of feeling angry, so you can get back to having fun.” I’ve been doing check-ins with my daughter since she was a newborn. She didn’t understand the words at that age, but she understood the tone and that I was trying to help her make sense of her emotions. Little ones feel things just as strongly as grown-ups do, they just don’t have the cognitive ability to process all those big emotions on their own.
  • Time ins. A time out is separation from the parent and other comfort. Using a time out approach to regulate behavior makes no sense to me. Put it into the context of an adult. Let’s say that you’re angry with your spouse, and you’re expressing your anger. If your spouse says, “That’s enough. Go sit in time out!” how would you react to that? Would you sit in your time out spot and calm down? Of course not, you’d sit there and stew and wait until the time was up so you could finish expressing your anger. It’s even worse for kids because they don’t have the coping skills we develop over a lifetime, and separation from parents is hurtful. With a time in, the parent goes with the child to a quiet spot, sits with her and helps her gain control, and offers comfort. Once the child is calm, then you have an opportunity to discuss what happened, why it was upsetting for her or for you (or both), and how to avoid a similar situation in the future. You’re helping the child find her calm and teaching her how to cope with these emotions in the future.
  • Know the signs. My sister and I took my daughter to a local fair last week. As the afternoon wore on, we saw more and more babies and toddlers melting down. They had reached their melting point. Whenever possible, get your child home or at least to the car before melting point. Once they are so over-stimulated and over-tired that they are melting down like that, it’s much, much harder to get them back to a state of peace. Watch your child for those little signs that she’s getting close to melting point and get her out of the melting pot.
  • Give fair warning. Like most small children, my daughter doesn’t like to be blind-sided. She needs to know that something is going to happen soon so that she can prepare herself for it. That includes day-to-day stuff like bath time, pajama time, leaving for an appointment, etc. It also includes someone leaving or leaving a place where your child is having fun. When a child knows what is going to happen, it is much easier to transition than when they’re surprised. If I take my daughter away from whatever she’s doing to go put her pajamas on, there’s going to be an epic battle. If I tell her that we’re going to do pajama time after this book or in 5 minutes and give her a couple reminders, there might be a little whining, but generally, she moves straight to cooperation because she was ready. If we’re leaving a playground or the library, I give her several warnings that we’re going to be leaving soon. This usually helps us avoid a fight. I made the mistake last week of not preparing her for leaving the fair. I actually thought she was too tired to notice and was going to fall asleep in the stroller before we got to the car. I was wrong, and that led to tears when we got to the car, and she realized we were leaving. I should have given her fair warning that we were leaving.
  • Prepare your crisis tool kit. Once you know what helps in these situations, you can prepare a tool kit to help you choose your reaction. The right words, songs, and actions will come naturally eventually, but in emotionally-charged situations, or when you’re overtired or over-stressed or sick, you might not remember them in the moment. When my daughter was a colicky newborn, I was running out of songs to sing while rocking her and trying to help her with her gassy belly. I was so exhausted that I just couldn’t remember what songs I even knew. So, when I was semi-conscious one day while my daughter slept, I wrote a list of song titles and kept it by the rocker. When I was drawing a blank at 3 am, I could reference it and not have to sing the same lullaby 15 times. Coming up with supportive, positive, nurturing words when you’re stressed out and your child is throwing the third major tantrum of the day and it’s only 9 am can be really challenging. Write down the responses you want to give and post them where you’re likely to need them. Just the act of writing these things down will help you commit them to memory. Some of my frequently used phrases:
    • “You’re having strong feelings right now.”
    • “I understand you’re upset with me.”
    • “I’m here to help you when you’re ready to let me.”

  You can also recap the situation so your child knows that you understand why she’s upset. “You wanted to play with the kitty, but the kitty walked away.” My daughter will instantly relax when she knows that I get what is upsetting her. “We don’t get to decide when kitty stays to play. Kitty has to make his own choices,  but you can…” and offer an alternative. Diversions and distractions are invaluable in helping to smooth over the little situations that you can’t control.

  • Make the Shift. Tonight, while I was trying to make dinner, my daughter was slamming into the backs of my legs, trying to shove herself between me and the counter, throwing anything she could reach on the floor, and running in circles around me as I tried to move between stove, sink, and counter. I was annoyed. I was frustrated. I tried sending her to play with the dog, but she was hurling herself on top of the dog. I tried carrying her into the living room and trying to engage her with the game she’d been playing before I started dinner. She was back hanging on my legs seconds later. In frustration, I started to snap at her. I got her name out, and then I made the shift. I simply said, “I love you.” I didn’t allow myself to continue with a list of “buts.” I just said, “I love you,” and took a moment to choose my next words carefully. Instead of “you’re driving me crazy” or the like, I got down on my knees and told her that I understood that she really wanted my attention, but right now, I needed to finish making dinner so we could eat. I asked her to please go find something that she can do on her own for a few minutes while I finished dinner, and then we would go sit down together and eat. She went to the other side of the island and played with her toys, happy and relaxed. If I hadn’t made that shift in that moment, if I’d snapped at her and said unkind words, she would have had a meltdown. That wouldn’t have been helpful to either of us, and dinner would have been ruined while I dealt with an unhappy child. When you feel those words trying to find their way out of your mouth, those phrases you never want to say to your child, make the shift. Tell your little one you love her. Tell your older child you need a moment to think. Let those words fill the space until you can adjust and choose gentle, supportive words.
  • Think in moments. If you read back through this, you’ll see over and over that I speak of moments. This is intentional. If you think, “My child is having a bad day,” it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. A bad moment does not have to become a bad day. Each new moment is a new opportunity to choose a new path. When you think of everything in terms of moments, the bad stuff doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and you are more mindful of the good things, knowing how fleeting that moment will be. I’ll say to my daughter, “I understand you’re having a rough time right now.” When she’s back to a place of calm, I’ll talk to her about how we can make the rest of her day much better. When everything is framed as moments, we’re both free to choose a new attitude in the next moment. Adopting that mindset has made a huge difference in our lives.
  • Be Gentle with Yourself. You’re going to have moments where you are not the parent you want to be. You’re going to have moments when you say things or do things that will not win you parent of the year. We all do. None of us is perfect. Here’s the big, big secret: your child doesn’t need you to be perfect. Your child needs you to do your best. He also needs to see what you do after you yell or slam the can of peas on the counter in frustration. Apologize to your child, and be specific about what the apology is for, being sure to leave out any qualifiers like, “I’m sorry, but…” Just say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I don’t want to do that, so I’m going to try very hard to choose a better response when I get upset.” You’re not just making your child feel better, you’re showing your child how to give a sincere apology. It’s also important to be gentle in your thoughts. If you’re thinking defeating, negative thoughts like, “I’m the worst parent in the world,” that’s going to affect how you view yourself, which will affect how you think, feel, and act. Try to steer your thinking to, “I’m not pleased with how I handled that situation,” and then turn your thoughts to how you can do better next time. If you’re holding fast to all the negative moments, you’re not even going to notice all those other moments where you’re truly fantastic. I do want to note that if you are behaving in abusive or neglectful ways toward or in the presence of your child, you should seek assistance. Ask a trusted family member or friend to assist with the care of your child while you get some help changing those behaviors.

So that’s my “method” in a nutshell. It’s all about choice–choosing a gentle, child-centered approach in each situation, in each moment. There’s one final common question, or statement rather, that I want to answer.

My child is already (insert age here). If I’d known about these methods sooner, it would have made a difference, but it’s too late now. 

It is never too late. I don’t care if your child is 10 or 37. You can always choose a new path in this moment or the next. Yes, if your child is used to being spanked or ridiculed or screamed at when he does something you don’t want him to, it’s going to take some time for both of you to adjust to this new way of interacting. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the change. Talk to your child. Let him know that you want to do things differently, and that you want to improve your relationship with him or that you want the constant battles to end. Be honest and tell him that you’re going to do your best, but it’s going to take time to learn how to walk this new path. Ask your child to help you become the parent you want to be. I always tell my daughter that we’re a team. It’s my job to help her be her best, and it’s her job to help me be my best. Find support from other parents who are on a similar path, whether it’s joining an online group or meeting them in person. Find people who will support your efforts and encourage you on your new path. If you want to make a change and be a more gentle parent, you can. Every new moment is a new opportunity to choose a new path. What choice will you make now?

Its Time Has Come

It had to happen some time. As much as I’ve tried to shelter my child and keep her from hearing things I don’t want her to hear, it was inevitable. They all hear it. They all become obsessed with it. Our time has come. On Sunday morning, Owl used the word “no” for the first time. My child whose favorite word for months has been “yeah” has learned its opposite. She said it a few times, then in the bath tonight, she was practicing it. Using different tones and inflections. Oh, yes, she’s getting ready to make “no” her new favorite word.

I really have been very careful with choosing my words, and that’s how we managed to get 20 months of no-free bliss. I’d say, “Sweetie, please don’t play in the trash,” or “Honey, I need you to put that down.” It got me this far. I knew it was coming, because lately she’s been signing “mama” and then shaking her head when she didn’t want me to do something. Now, after nearly 2 years of self-censorship, I’m about to hear that word all day every day. Staying the course and choosing to use statements that express the specific behavior I want changed instead of using the “n” word will be my best defense. That, and the emergency chocolate I just recently restocked. Patience sometimes comes in a shiny wrapper.

Imagination

I love watching my daughter’s imagination grow and blossom. Ever since we baked muffins together, her invisible food creations have gone wild. She sets up shop on her toddler couch with all her stacking cups, pans, etc. spread out and adds “ingredients” from the small stacking cups into a large one. Then she’ll stir with a crayon or any other small object nearby. I get to sample her creations frequently, and I must say, I’ve had plenty of invisible food in my life, but this is by far the best invisible food I’ve ever had. She truly cooks with love.

She has other routines for her cooking time, one where I’d swear she’s pretending to do a cooking show. We don’t have TV, so she’s never seen a cooking show. She’s probably just explaining things to her stuffed animals the way I explain it to her when she helps in the kitchen. She likes to share her creations with the stuffed animals and the dog, too. The dog has a hard time understanding what’s going on with this. She doesn’t get the concept of invisible food.

Owl’s imagination has also dreamed up a new game. Last night, she lay her stuffed bunny, Lavendar (yes, Spell Check, I prefer to use the old spelling), in the recliner and covered her with a wash cloth. She stroked the bunny’s ears and was pointing to the bunny and trying to tell me something. I asked if the bunny was cold, and Owl said, “Yeah.” We talked a bit more about keeping the bunny warm, but there was clearly something more she was trying to tell me. She didn’t have a word or sign for it, so it was a guessing game. We finally got to, “Is the bunny sick?” In her very serious way, she replied, “Yeah.” She was very concerned for her friend. Aha! She was processing seeing our friend in bed at the hospice and our cat being sick. Owl has never been sick herself. In 20 months of life outside the womb, she’s had a total of 3 colds, the last one lasting about 24 hours. She doesn’t know what it is to be sick, so she’s trying to figure it out with play.

I went over to help take care of Lavendar. We talked through how bunny was feeling and what we could do to help her feel better. We both gave Lavendar hugs and stroked her head and ears. Owl helped Lavendar drink from her sippy cup. Lavendar apparently felt a little better because Owl moved her over to the couch and lay her on top of the wash cloth. When it was Pajama Time, Lavendar needed to come with us, and I had to carry Owl upstairs so that she could take care of Lavendar.

It was very sweet how tender and gentle she was with her “sick” friend. By the time Owl went to sleep, Lavendar was feeling much better. When we got up this morning, Owl deemed that Lavendar (whom I was sure to tuck in next to Owl for the night) was all better. Brown Bear isn’t so lucky. He apparently has taken ill and needs extra love today. I hope it doesn’t turn into an epidemic, but I know that my sweet girl will take care of every one of her friends.

Preparing for Goodbye

My daughter needs time to get ready for any goodbye or ending. That’s pretty typical of toddlers, but for her, goodbye is always really, really hard. She reminded me of this when we were leaving my sister’s house tonight. She has reached a point where she refuses to say goodbye because she’s so upset over the idea of leaving. If she doesn’t take the time to give hugs and choose to let go, she is far more upset than if she has that moment. I realized that I needed to let her know that a goodbye is coming.

My cat is really not doing well. I had a brief glimmer of hope Sunday night when I gave her some electrolyte water, and she drank it with great enthusiasm. Then, later, she threw up twice. She’s barely had anything to drink or eat today, and she has become mildly incontinent. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep her comfortable for much longer. I decided to talk to Owl about it after she was in her pajamas tonight, and we were having quiet time. The girl who hates goodbyes needs to have some time to prepare.

I told her that our kitty feels yucky, and I didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to stay with us. I said that soon we were going to need to say goodbye to her, and this time goodbye would be forever. We wouldn’t be seeing her again. I don’t think she has any concept of forever, but she seemed to fully comprehend that our kitty is sick, that we’re going to say goodbye, and that it will be very sad.

I hope that I’ve helped Owl prepare for that goodbye. We’ll keep talking about it for the next couple days to reinforce the message. Now if I could just find someone to prepare me, because I’m really not ready for goodbye.

The Weight of Loss

Loss is overwhelming me tonight. I have a friend who is currently in a hospice house, dying of cancer. Jenn made a brave decision a year ago that she was not going to try to fight the cancer again. The odds were not in her favor, and she faced the choice of being miserable from the treatment (or that the chemo would stop her heart on the first dose) and not surviving despite those efforts or taking the time she had left and living her life fully. She’s a few months older than I am. Next month is her 44th birthday, though she won’t still be here. It’s hard to accept that someone who is so vibrant and young would be gone soon, but I did accept it. I respected her decision.

We’re not close friends. We mostly have just hung out with the same crowd. She’s someone I always wanted to get closer to, but it never happened. I’ve always watched her as she interacted with the world and wondered how she came to be that person. When I first adopted my dog, we were at a friend’s house for a gathering, and Jenn was throwing a tennis ball for my dog, over and over and over, with a sense of glee you don’t often see in adults. She had that free, joyful, glowing life about her that is usually lost long before we are grown-ups. She had the same reaction the first time she held my daughter. She was simply giddy.

When I heard she had moved to the hospice last Friday, I was saddened but knew that Jenn was ready. I had seen the change in photos over the last few weeks. She was getting thinner. Her face was drawn and weary. I knew that the time was coming. We went to see her early this week. It was difficult because she’s so heavily medicated at this point that she “zones out” and sleeps a lot. We talked a little, but mostly I just held her hands and gave her Reiki while Owl played with Jenn’s stuffed lion. In one of her more lucid moments, Jenn enjoyed a cup of invisible tea that Owl had made in a toy tea cup from the children’s area. She blew on it because it was too hot and rated it an A+. Owl was, of course, delighted because her invisible concoctions are very important to her.

When we left her room, I knew that it was the last time I would see her in this life. I stopped in the children’s area to nurse Owl before the drive home. As we were heading to the lobby to leave, the staff were escorting a gurney with a deceased patient out to the funeral home’s van waiting at the front door. We hung back and allowed them to pass and then watched as they carefully removed and folded the quilt they had draped over the body bag. When they had finished, I walked Owl to the car and put her in her seat. I knew that she had no idea what had just happened or what it meant, and I didn’t want to upset her. I kept upbeat until she was settled with her books, toys, cup, etc., and I had closed the door.

My brain can’t even grasp the thought that our friend will soon be leaving that building in the same way. That the frail body that once held so much life will be placed in a bag that looks like luggage. That the staff will be trying to make small talk with a visitor who happens to be leaving at the moment they bring her out. That her best friend will be there, loyal and strong to the last moment even as grief overwhelms her. That phone calls will be made that are expected but still painful. It is all so unfathomable.

When I heard the news last year that the cancer had returned and Jenn had made her choice, I cried. I grieved and then moved on to support. I’ve been choked up several times since then after visits, but I hadn’t really cried since that first day. Then, tonight, I was giving meds to my elderly Maine Coon cat who is clearly also getting ready to transition from this life. I decided to weigh her because I had noticed she seemed much lighter. My very large cat is down to about 7 lbs. That was the moment. Seeing that number, I felt the full weight of loss. My friend is dying. My dear cat is dying. And, yet, I still had to keep going. I needed to get Owl into her pajamas and start the bedtime routine. I needed to sing “Old MacDonald’s Farm” and “The Wheels on the Bus” while tickling and changing my daughter. “Be Mommy now; grieve later,” said my strong voice.

Now that my daughter sleeps, the tears have been shed for those who will soon be gone. I’ve dealt with the idea that Owl won’t even remember either of them. She’ll have pictures and stories, but she won’t have actual memories of her own that she can access. I don’t know how I’ll explain that our kitty won’t be with us any more, but I know the words will come when I need them.

I wish both dear, sweet souls a gentle passing at the time of their choosing and a beautiful new life.

Do you know the muffin girl?

I keep baking pans in two cabinets in the kitchen that are easily-accessible for my daughter. Quite often, several of those baking pans are lying around the kitchen floor. I’ve learned to walk around them because picking them up and putting them away is futile. Today, Owl pulled out a muffin pan and took it to her play kitchen in the living room. After a few minutes, she brought it over to share her delicious invisible muffins with me. I’ve been meaning to get her into helping me with cooking, so I took that as a sign that today was the day.

I pulled all the ingredients together, as well as the pan, bowl, measuring cups, etc. and then got the step stool out for her to stand on while helping. I put the mixing bowl and big spoon in front of her, and she instantly started pretending to stir…and to taste. I explained that we don’t taste out of the bowl yet. We wait until it’s all mixed together. I put all the dry ingredients into the bowl and helped her to stir without throwing flour, etc. all over the kitchen. That’s still a work in progress. Then, she helped me pour each wet ingredient into the bowl and stir some more. I took care of cracking the eggs and adding them.

I helped her stir the batter well and then helped her put spoonfuls into the muffin cups. She had a look of deep concentration as we filled each one. She wanted to make sure that she was doing it just right. Of course, in the process, she got some batter on her fingers. She took to the “lick your fingers” instruction well. Once we were done, I washed her hands and helped her down off the stool. I explained that she needed to stay far back from the oven (as I do every time I turn it on) and went a little hyperbolic on donning oven mitts before opening the oven door.

Once the muffins were in the oven, and the door was closed, I turned the light on and showed her what they looked like when they first went in the oven. We checked on them a couple times while they were baking, so that she could see how they were getting bigger and changing from batter into muffins. When they were all done, I went through the cautions about the hot oven again and pulled them out to cool. After dinner, she got to try one of her muffins. I have to admit, they’re not the best. We were trying a new gluten-free baking mix, and they came out pretty dry. We’ll adjust the recipe to compensate next time.

She was still pretty happy about eating something that she helped to make. Thus far, my kitchen buddy’s duties have consisted of picking things up and putting them away and putting items in the recycling bin for me. Now that she’s participated in the cooking, I don’t think I’m going to be able to prepare food without a helper any more. I’m looking forward to that additional creative time together and to the eventual cooking experiments she’ll attempt when I develop a false sense of security and dare to nap while she’s awake. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying the sight of that tiny hand on the handle of the big spoon.

The Benefits of Baby Signs

One of the smartest things I have ever done is teach my daughter sign language. Because of that gift, she has been able to communicate her needs and wants since she was 4 months old. Now that she’s a toddler, this ability to express herself has been invaluable for both of us. I’ve seen so many near-tantrums just melt away when I remind her that she can use a word or a sign to tell me what she needs. It’s also a great way to see into the mind of a toddler. The logic there is fabulous!

Here are some examples from today. When we were going downstairs in the morning, she started fussing as I was partway down the stairs and pointing back to the bedroom door. I went back up and asked her what she wanted. She signed, “owl” and pointed toward the dresser. Without sign language, this could easily have resulted in a major meltdown with her pointing in frustration and me scrambling to try to guess which of the objects she wanted. Instead, I picked up the owl figurine my sister had given her and handed it to my daughter. Crisis averted.

When I put my daughter in her seat for breakfast, we had a brief battle of wills over the owl figurine because I insist that she put toys, etc. aside during mealtimes. After some coaxing, she set her owl on the table, and I got her breakfast all set up for her. She ate a couple bites then started fussing and refused to eat more. Here was our conversation:

Mum: “Honey, you need to eat more breakfast.”

Owl: (signs) “Owl.”

Mum: “Your owl is fine. She needs to stay on the table until you’re done eating.”

Owl: (shakes head no and fusses)

Mum: “Owl is right there where you can see her. She’ll be fine until you’re done eating. Is there something else you need?”

Owl: (signs) “Elephant.”

We have an elephant figurine that’s the same size as her owl figurine, and they often hang out and play together. This all makes sense now.

Mum: “You need me to get the elephant?”

Owl: “Yeah.”

Mum: (goes to get the elephant from the living room) “So the owl was lonely without her friend, and that’s why you couldn’t eat?”

Owl: “Yeah.”

I put the elephant on the table beside the owl, and my daughter smiled and went back to eating her breakfast. This whole situation would have led to a major tantrum had she not been able to communicate this important Toddler Logic to me. Since she was able to tell me what was wrong in her world, I was able to fix it. Once her owl had a companion, all was well in her world.

Throughout the day, she was able to tell me when she wanted milk, her cup, to eat, a book, to read, more of whatever she was eating or I was singing, and she was able to converse with me about what the silly cat or dog was doing or what was happening in the book we were reading.

Right now, she knows how to say lots of words, but she’s still signing more than speaking. Conversations with her are a combination of words and signs. Because each of her needs and wants was communicated and she knew I understood her, she had a fabulous, happy day. Sure, there were moments when she was unhappy, like when I told her it was pajama time. She wasn’t ready for that tonight, so we had to overcome that disagreement. Meltdowns and tantrums are pretty rare, though, because she has these communication tools.

She ended her day as she had begun it. She was nursing to sleep in my lap, and her owl figure was on the couch a couple feet away. She signed for the owl. It took her two tries, since it’s a two-handed sign, and her other arm was behind my shoulder, but I understood what she wanted. This time, I anticipated that the owl would be lonely without her elephant friend and got both. My Owl then fell happily asleep looking at her two figurines sitting on  my chest.