Monthly Archives: July 2013

Positive Communication

‘All done!’ says my 20 month old as I fasten the last button on her dress. ‘All done?’ she says in a small hopeful voice after the first rinse of her hair in the bath. The speed with which she has grasped concepts like ‘all done’, and the way she daily picks up new words and how to use them in the correct way amazes me. Sometimes she only needs to hear something once and it becomes a new favourite. This absorption of knowledge and words serves as a reminder that the language I use around her and how I talk to her is so important. It can shape so much of her character, who she will become, how she will interact with other people. Communicating with my toddler is a big responsibility indeed!

Often we say things to our children without really thinking about it and with little regard for what message it sends them. We use phrases that we have grown up hearing ourselves, and that we hear other people say to their children on a daily basis. It becomes automatic, an involuntary reflex almost. But these seemingly innocuous expressions can have a deeper impact on our children, who are taking so much more in than we often realise.  I occasionally hear myself say certain things and realise that those aren’t necessarily the messages I want to send my daughter, and resolve to take more care and put more thought into how I speak to her.

I’m thinking of phrases like ‘good girl/boy’, which seem innocent enough, but when consistently said every time your child does something, can reinforce certain unhelpful messages. I’ve occasionally found myself saying ‘good girl’ when she does something that I’ve asked her to do, but when I think about it, I don’t want her thinking that she has to do things just to please me, or that I’ll only think of her as ‘good’ if she always does as I tell her. I try saying things like ‘thank you’ now instead. The same goes for when she completes a puzzle, or correctly identifies animals and colours. Consistently telling her how great she is for doing these little things can lead to her expecting such praise all the time, and doing things for the wrong reason, and maybe even fearing getting something wrong or being unable to do something. I want her to enjoy learning and developing for their own sake, to work through things for herself, not because she thinks I expect it of her or because I have ‘trained’ her to do so. Watching her face light up when she completes her shape sorter, rather than being pleased because I’ve told her what a good girl she is for doing it, is far more rewarding for both of us.

That’s not to say that I’ll never tell her I think she’s done something well and worthy of praise, or that I appreciate what she has done – of course I will, but I’d like to help her develop her own sense of appreciation for her achievements too, and a joy in just playing and learning along the way – I hope this will be a healthy motivation for doing things.

Another important feature of language is manners, specifically the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We all want polite and well-mannered children, but I think of it as something that has to be learned rather than taught. How many of us have given a child a gift, only for their parents to tarnish their joy by forcing them to say thank you. When forced, it is always said begrudgingly rather than meaningfully. Surely we would much rather our child said it out of genuine appreciation and with understanding of the concept of gratitude rather than because they’ve been made to say it. And how much nicer it is to be on the receiving end of meaningful thanks.

Children learn through observation and experience, through listening to their parents and watching how they interact. I don’t want it to be any different for my daughter when it comes to manners.  I’ve never forced her to say other words, so have decided not to do the same with please and thank you. We make sure to say please and thank you around her, and when interacting with her too, so that she eventually understands the concept for herself and will use the words when she is ready to and comprehends what she is saying. I’m sure that along the way a lot of people will think she is rude, that we’re irresponsible parents, but hopefully after learning from us she will be happy to express these sentiments herself one day.

We’re still early on in our parenting journey, and every day is a learning experience for us as parents as well as for our daughter. Watching how she learns and picks things up has been a real education for me and has made me realise that I need to put thought into things that are so often just automatic. Of course we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but so much of what we do goes into shaping this little human being, and communicating with her in a positive and respectful way is a good place to start.

Toilet Learning

The idea of potty training has always scared me a bit.

Every other issue that has caused me anxiety I have found a sneaky way around it. I avoided the financial strain and endless cardboard boxes cluttering my house by using washable nappies, I avoided the strenuous task of preparing batches of homemade veg purees when I did Baby Led Weaning, I started babywearing and found getting about so much easier than ramming my pram up and down curbs… how was I supposed to avoid scrubbing my floor of baby poo whilst my naked son danced around the living room weeing? That was all I could see.

I had it in my head, pre-parenthood, that children all got to two, then with effort and stubbornness the parent got them using the potty or the toilet. If they didn’t they were probably lazy.

I suppose I knew I was going to take a child led approach to it but it was so unknown. When is a child ‘ready’? Mine turned two and had a vocabulary of about 50 words, and his communication was not at the average level. He didn’t have any idea that he had dirtied or wet his nappy; it was something that had never bothered him.

He had had access to a potty since he was 18 months and had been encouraged to sit on it whilst the bath ran (in the hope of encouraging a coincidence to learn from). It was very new and exciting for a while but it soon became a stress and that was the last thing I wanted it to be. Two coincidence wees and one coincidence poo were the fruits of our labours – and that was far from worth it.

So the potty became a hat and I started to let go of the idea of having a child trained at 2. I was due my second son; it was a bad time. But I knew in my heart of hearts he wasn’t ready and there wasn’t a gentle, loving way of teaching him – and that was a good reason to stop.

I didn’t think much more about it until I could see his awareness changing, probably 4 months later. I could see he was absorbing and learning so much: suddenly he grasped puzzles, using a fork, and widened his vocabulary considerably. His final molars broke and I started to wonder about how he learnt, why he picked up some things and not others. What excited him? What interested him and motivated him to learn?

We did. He learnt through watching and then by doing – his language was nowhere near a level where something could be explained. An adult ‘reason’ for doing something couldn’t be grasped. It had to be an instant consequence – he could see us doing something, try it, then establish its usefulness. Our little scientist.

He had entirely learnt to eat this way, play with his toys this way, climb onto the sofa… how could I apply the way he learnt to toilet training?

Maybe I needed to change my perspective on this; rather than toilet training, this was going to be toilet learning.

So we started getting his attention when we used the toilet, and although he wasn’t as good at language we explained it simply. We occasionally asked him if he wanted to go on the toilet and do a weewee; sometimes we got a yes – it was quite a privilege to sit on the toilet (especially on your own special seat!)

So one day I offered him some light motivation: ‘If you do a weewee on the toilet you can push the button’. It just clicked, and to my surprise he did it for the novelty. He knew how to isolate the right muscles to some extent! I was quite excited.

So I would ask him from time to time, and sometimes he said yes, others no. He once asked to go at a friend’s house and surprised us both by actually going. As time went on we offered more frequently, we got less wet nappies, we put him in pants part time (subject to plenty of accidents!) –  he was figuring it all out.

Within 4 weeks I managed to pick up his ‘poo-signs’ effectively enough to take him and I will never forget his delighted little face as he heard and then mimicked loudly ‘A plump!’.

It was all a natural progression; he would go to the toilet when offered and taken. Accidents decreased, I got braver with a few pants outings (not all successful) and he still wore nappies when we went out sometimes.

Our toilet learning adventure is still on-going. I’m amazed as it has all happened so quickly and he has led the way and seems to be quite proud of his achievement. He’s starting to ask frequently now as well as remaining dry overnight – we use less than one nappy a day. He still wouldn’t understand a decent explanation; he doesn’t think using a nappy is ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ and he never had pressure to progress. I haven’t felt stressed and have never had to scrub smeared poo off the floor.

And my child has not done a naked wee dance.

(Yet.)

Being a Babywearing Dad

When you find out that you are expecting your first child there are a number of things you start to think about: cot, car seat, possible names and a pram, amongst various other ‘practical’ things. We spent a long time thinking about which pram to purchase – it needed to be small enough to fit in the car, not pink or blue, and plenty of other things we thought were necessary.

It never really occurred to me that there was another way for a baby to commute – prams are just the ‘done thing’. Claire had bought a sling when pregnant, but I never thought it would actually replace the pram or become a long term thing. It wasn’t until after Matilda was born and when Claire started to use the sling did I see the advantages.

Initially, I guess like most people unfamiliar with them, I feared that Matilda would fall out when the sling was undone, that it would be awkward to use, that it might make her ‘clingy’. Then I tried the sling on for myself and I felt a real closeness with my child – it felt like we were one. Claire already had a special bond with Matilda having carried and birthed her and now through breastfeeding; babywearing enabled me to develop a bond with her too.

One thing I love about babywearing is the interaction Matilda and I have when out and about – I can talk to her and point things out to her – things I couldn’t do with her in a pram. She sees the world from our perspective and is learning so much about everything around her, all from the comfort and security of our arms. And when she is tired she snuggles in and goes to sleep. She walks a lot when we are out now, but when she is tired, or wary of her surroundings, she puts her arms up and we put her in the sling and she gets rest and security.

Babywearing is really practical too. If Matilda is tired or just wants to be close to us, I can put her in the sling and get on with things – mowing the lawn, washing the dishes. We can go for family walks in the forest without worrying about how far we can get with a pram. And we can fit all our shopping in the car because the boot space isn’t taken up with a pram. There are so many benefits!

I feel like such a proud dad walking with her close to my chest. Sometimes people give you funny looks, especially now she is bigger, but I can’t help but feel for those other dads that don’t experience the kind of bond with their child that babywearing can bring. It’s so important to me as a working dad to develop a relationship with my child – babywearing is a perfect way to do that.

We haven’t used that cute green pram that we put so much time and thought into buying for a very long time – it has been folded up and put away, and I have no fond memories of using it, whereas babywearing has given me so many special times and memories, and has had an wonderful impact on our child and our lives together as a family.

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