Parenting through the Pandemic: Some Additional Resources

Parenting through the Pandemic: Some Additional Resources

In the parent meeting, we discussed some shared concerns about our children’s emotional well-being, and I have felt called to explore how a situation like this impacts our emotional health as well as that of our children. The bottom line is that it will impact all of us, including our children. But, we are not helpless in this situation. There are resources available, and there are things we can do to mitigate the potential traumatic impact of this event for our children. I recently participated in a session with Colleen Wilkinson, who has experience in both trauma informed practice and Montessori, and she is an excellent resource for parents of young children.

Colleen says, “”Relationship is the inoculation against childhood trauma.” In short, we can’t control external events but we do have the ability to provide our children inoculation against the trauma of external events by nurturing positive relationships with them. Children are resilient, but they must have positive relationships to mitigate the effects of potentially traumatic events. To learn more, I highly recommend following her on Instagram @trauma_informed_montessori or viewing her webinar on Discipline and Guidance through a Trauma Informed Lens

A few other resources you may find of value . . .

 

 

Ten Tips for Transition

Ten Tips for Transition

Because it bears repeating, here are my final thoughts on transition as we prepare to wrap up this year and move into the summer and the fall with so many unknowns. How can you adapt the following to nurture yourself and your child through all of life’s upcoming changes?

  1. Slow down. Young children need A LOT of time to transition from one activity to another, so slow down and then slow down some more. We tend to be very goal oriented as adults, but children value process over the end goal.
  2. Talk to your child. Even with unknowns, we can talk to our child through the process. As appropriate, share what you do know and let them know that you will continue to be there to support them through any changes.
  3. Hold space for your child’s feelings. It’s natural for young children to have big feelings when changes occur, especially if they don’t have words to express what they are feeling. Even if it seems unrelated, allow them to move through whatever they are feeling, whether sadness, anger, or disappointment, so they can release it and move on.
  4. Be patient with unusual behavior. Sometimes children’s response to change manifests in their behavior, so if they are behaving in ways you’ve never seen, remember, again, that this might be their way of processing any changes that are occurring. Address the behavior as needed with understanding and compassion.
  5. Give space. We all need space at times, right? Allow your child time AND their own space to have their big feelings. Rather than try to fix it right away, wait until they move out of their “dino” brain before you attempt to talk to them or process with them. That can be done once they return to a calm and more receptive state.
  6. Maintain boundaries. As much as we want to hold space for our child’s feelings and be compassionate for new behaviors, it is still OK and necessary to maintain boundaries. Too much freedom and lack of structure can be overwhelming for young children, and giving them a sense of where the boundaries are gives them a sense of continued security when all else may feel uncertain.
  7. Maintain a sense of order and routine. Similar to maintaining boundaries, maintaining a semblance of order and routine helps everyone, big and small, to stay connected and grounded. Though all else may feel uncertain, regular routines help give us a sense of security which allows us to move forward through life’s inevitable changes.
  8. STAY CONNECTED. This is such a big one. Remember that no one likes to feel corrected when they don’t feel connected. If nothing else, remember to lean in during those times when your child’s behavior is especially challenging or annoying. Sometimes all they need is to know that you’re still going to be there with them in the challenging times.
  9. Fill your child’s cup. Sometimes children become clingier or more anxious during periods of change and transition. It’s ok to spend extra time with them and give them extra hugs and reassurance. Transition is temporary and when your child’s cup is full and they feel certain again, they will begin to venture out again with confidence. Acknowledge their need and stay positive and encouraging. “I understand things feel different right now. I’ll be here to give you a hug whenever you need one, and when you’re ready, you can move on.”
  10. Embrace uncertainty. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and we are feeling that more than ever these days. Know that even though you don’t have control over your external circumstances, you can control how you respond to them and that alone will have more impact on your child than anything else.
  11. Take care of yourself. I know I was supposed to stop at ten, but this is important to say. You are important. Enough said.
On Transition

On Transition

This is a post I shared with my families at the close of the past school year. As we approach the close of our school year together, I thought the information might be helpful for you with the recognition, of course, that we are in a very different situation this year. We were all thrust into a very unexpected and stressful situation, and transition has taken on a new meaning for many of us. Still, I feel called to find and provide some closure for you while in this very unprecedented situation. The reason is I believe, even during these times, that it is important that we acknowledge life changes for our children and offer some recognition of the big work and the growth they have undergone. And, even though we may feel like we are living in Groundhogs Day, life does go on. Change may look and feel different these days, but it is still inevitable and honoring changes goes a long way in helping our children learn how to honor and manage transition now and for the rest of their lives.


Embracing change and managing transition is a skill that begins early in life, yet we continue to refine and work on that skill well into adulthood. As parents, we have an added layer of managing our own process in addition to that of our child (or children!) And, lo and behold, our child’s process is rarely the same as our own. So, when change occurs, and, it inevitably does, how do we embrace the change in a way that honors everyone’s process and creates a less stressful experience for everyone in the family? I won’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I will admit that this is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, particularly because change and transition are woven into my daily fabric as a toddler guide.

Having said that, here are just a few things I’ve learned:

  • Take care of yourself. I’m not always great at remembering my own needs, but I start to feel it when I don’t, and I know that I need a lot of time to process when life changes occur. Knowing that about myself, I know that I need to work extra hard during times of transition to make time for myself. What do you need? Can you make time to get quiet and figure out what would best serve you during this period of transition? I know two weeks in the Bahamas and daily massage might not be an option right now, but are there incremental steps you can take to fill your cup so you’re not running on empty? Do you need more information, less activity, increased connection with others or less? It bears repeating to say that putting your needs first will allow you to better take care of your child’s needs.
  • Acknowledge your child as an independent being. Deciphering our child’s needs isn’t always easy, especially when they are pre-verbal and just learning how to identify and articulate their needs themselves. On top of this, your child is gradually growing in independence, and the push-pull they feel between autonomy and their dependence is often evident (and downright frustrating!) In short, acknowledging that your child is a unique individual with their own needs will help you remember that their process is also unique. Allowing space for their feelings and providing words for them will help both of you move forward with more ease.
  • Slow down. When life feels like it’s rapidly changing, I often feel like I have to move faster and “do more” to keep up. In reality, what keeps me going, and my family, is slowing down. Remember that while you may not have control over external circumstances, you do have control over how you respond to them. Showing your child that you can choose to approach change at your own pace will demonstrate that they have the ability to create their own experiences and slowing down will keep everyone grounded in what’s important. So, how do you slow down? Learn to say no, do less while in transition, sleep in, go for long walks, simplify mealtime, skip some chores, hang out in your pajamas all day, and breathe deeply.

No matter how big or small, I just wanted to acknowledge that all change can feel significant, and I want to remind you that you can do this! It can be terrifying to think about how your child will “handle” all of the changes, but life is about change, right? Above all, remember that they have you, and, more than anything, all they need to know is that you’re in it together, and, if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it is that you are fully committed to being there for your family. I have full confidence in them. And in you.  ❤

Dance Party anyone?

Dance Party anyone?

Are you in a rut? Dance parties are a great way to break up the monotony and a fun way to introduce your children to some of your favorite musicians. Exposing your child to different types of music is a really great way for them to explore different types of movement, and, naturally, we have a lot of great musicians right here in Austin. We may not be able to enjoy them live for a little while, but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy their music and show our support online!

Here’s a song from one of our favorites, Laurie Berkner, plus the names of a few more of our favorite musicians below:

Video

Precursors to Trauma and What We Can Do Right Now

For anyone who is interested in diving deeper into understanding how this pandemic may affect our well-being long term, I have recently discovered a helpful series with psychologist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk available online at this link: Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

Unknown.jpegMany of us have felt at a loss as to how to handle our current circumstances. While our rational minds comfort us by reminding us that this is an unprecedented event, we may continue to feel at a loss as to how to move forward through this pandemic . Many people, parents in particular, have also expressed concern, “How is this going to affect my child long-term?” This is a shared concern that we don’t have the answer to right now, although there are steps we can take to mitigate the traumatic impact of this event on both ourselves and our children which Dr. Bessel speaks to in his series on the Global Coronavirus Crisis.

Dr. Bessel specializes in trauma and people’s adaptations to trauma, and explains in this first video that we are currently in a pre-traumatic phase. He speaks to the following precursors of trauma and what we can do to minimize trauma for ourselves and our families. Please note that these are highlights, and I highly recommend watching the half hour video at the above link!

  • Lack of predictability. Establish routines and a schedule that includes activities you can look forward to each week.
  • Immobility. Our bodies need to move, particularly when we are in stressful situations so that our stress hormones can be released.
  • Loss of connection. Even if via screen or from a distance, make sure you continue to maintain connection with your loved ones through this event.
  • Losing a sense of agency. (“Numbing out.”) Maintain self-awareness and acceptance of how this situation is impacting you even if it feels challenging.
  • Loss of a sense of time and sequence. Incorporate a practice like meditation that will help you maintain awareness and the realization this situation is temporary.
  • Loss of safety. Ensure your sense of safety by recognizing what it will take to allow you to feel safe physically and emotionally. 
  • Loss of sense of purpose and identity. Stay connected with what’s important to you. 

Video

Grace and Courtesy: The Language of Respect and Kindness

Perhaps one of the greater challenges or questions, we are all facing now is how do I meet my child’s social needs at this time? I wish I had the answer, honestly, it’s something I struggle with as well, particularly as a parent of an only child. We’ve definitely had to get creative and are employing more screen time than we ever have, but it seems that every little bit helps. Loosening our parameters has helped. Accepting that we are doing the best we can helps. Knowing that we don’t have control over the situation, but we do have control over how we respond has helped. We are doing all we can to model resiliency for our daughter, we are continually working on holding space for her feelings, and we still encourage her to practice our family values.

In this video from Nido Marketing, Montessorian Donna D’Hoostelaere shares more on how we can support grace and courtesy/social skills at home:

A worthy read on independence . . .

A worthy read on independence . . .

Just wanted to pass on a link to this fantastic New York Times article, Now’s a Good Time to Teach Your Kids to Play on Their Own by Kate Rope. I just realized it’s been sitting in my inbox, but figured it’s as good a time as any to share! During our parent meeting, we discussed the challenge of knowing how often and when to intervene in your child’s play. More to the point, many of us are feeling a need to engage or entertain our children all day. Truth be told, it’s highly likely they are needier than usual, so there’s that! Don’t be hesitant to give them a little extra at this time (we’re all needing a little more right now), but for those times when you need a moment OR you’re noting that they are needing some extra enrichment, don’t be afraid to take baby steps towards encouraging their continued independence.

With a few tools, experts say, we can teach our kids how to play more independently, which will reward them with lifelong benefits. “Independent play encourages time management, executive function and organizational skills, and emotional and physical awareness and regulation,” said Dana Rosenbloom, a parent and child educator in Manhattan. “All skills that help us be successful individuals as adults.” And, in the process, we can make our lives right now just a bit easier.

This article doesn’t mention Montessori, yet it offers advice I feel is very aligned with the Montessori approach and advice which may be helpful during this crisis. I will warn that you should read it with a grain of salt as it seems to be aimed towards older children. Remember, that two year olds have only just begun to practice their independence and may not be ready for extended periods of independent play. The article does, however, have some valuable nuggets and good food for thought.

Namely, it encourages parents to employ the following, which are all concepts we’ve shared with you at some point:

  • Start with connection. Most importantly, remember that connection is paramount. Spending more time with them might seem contrary to our goal of fostering independence. The key is making sure it’s quality time. Offering your full attention may help fill their cup more effectively, thus, freeing up your time later! 
  • Start small. Remember independence for a two year old will look different than that of a five year old. Start with five minutes and build from there.
  • Create invitations to play. The idea of creating invitations to play or “strewing” mentioned in the article is basically the prepared environment. Remember that setting up your space appropriately may help alleviate your need to assist or engage your child all day long!
  • Make room for mess. Sensory play is key for this age group!
  • Build a movement zone. Movement as well. If you can’t get outside, get creative or refer to our Get Moving checklist in the Drive for inspiration!
  • Build connection into play. Look for opportunities to keep filling their cup throughout the day. Sometimes all it takes is a wink or a thumbs up to say, “I see you.”
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Today I’m going in a different direction and would like to share a few thoughts on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, some of which I shared briefly in our parent meeting on Saturday. This image is something that recently emerged from somewhere deep in my mind and my Psych 101 days as I’ve been pondering our evolving needs through the various phases of this pandemic.

Maslow’s hierarchy is on the left with an image I recently found online right next to it. Both basically illuminate the layers of needs we each have as individuals. The image on the right suggests that we are all currently working on taking care of our most essential needs at this time (though I would add the third level as well). At its core, Maslow’s diagram suggests that we will find it challenging to meet our higher level needs if we don’t meet our basic needs first.  Obviously, this is a generalization and we are all in varying places within this hierarchy at any given time.  In other words, there is fluidity within this diagram. Maslow himself has adapted this diagram over time  and has since added three more layers including cognitive, aesthetic and transcendent needs. You can read more here.

I only bring this up as a way of reminding you that right now is not the time for us to put pressure on ourselves to self-actualize, to be our best selves, to be the best parent in the world or win employee of the month. We are all doing our best right now and THAT’S ENOUGH. Cut yourself some slack, as a parent, as a partner, as a human being right now.

We talked a lot on Saturday about taking care of our children, of course, but we all find that challenging to do when we don’t feel taken care of ourselves, right? In case any of you have felt pressure from social media to maximize this time by developing a new skill, learning a new language, organizing your whole home, reinventing your image, or any other crazy idea, you are now given permission to just BE. Maybe it’s not pressure from the external world, but merely pressure we put on ourselves to be “better” according to our ideas of what a “good parent,” a “good Montessorian,” or a “good person” should be.

Again, now is the time to loosen those parameters. Extend yourself some grace, and just BE with yourself. BE with your children. BE present with the highs and lows. All else will fall into place in due time. ❤

Practical Life Checklist for you!

Practical Life Checklist for you!

Remember when you were a kid and you had a list of chores to complete? It’s truly not an outdated notion, and providing your child with a tangible checklist of tasks they can do on their own is a great way to encourage cooperation and support their independence. I’ve created a sample checklist for you here that you are welcome to print and use at home, though feel free to make your own with pics of your own child and tasks of your own choosing! (This list is also available in our shared Google folder.)

Practical Life Checklist

Keep in mind, of course, that toddlers are still developing skills in these areas. “Getting dressed” might look like your child pulling up their pants by themselves or attempting to put their socks on without assistance. As always, think in increments. Ask yourself, what’s the next best step towards fostering independence for my child in each of these areas? Can they handle all of them or is there one area (or two) that I can choose to focus on this week?

Hang this list low enough for your child to see it, review it daily with them, and celebrate small successes! The more accomplished your child feels, the more empowered they will feel and the more likely they will be to attempt these tasks on their own.

Is your home supporting independent play?

Is your home supporting independent play?

This week I shared some thoughts on considering your space and how it might, or might not, be serving the needs of all of your family members right now. Our family has had to reconfigure our space a bit given that we are all sharing the space now 24/7, and what worked for us before is not necessarily working now. We have also found that we are needing to prioritize ways in which we can encourage more independence for Frances!

Now, I’m not talking about reconfiguring your whole home or creating a “picture-perfect” Montessori home. I’m just inviting you to consider whether there are any areas of your home that you might tweak for your child to invite more independence, thus freeing up some time for you. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they will no longer need your or stop seeking connection with you, but, bit by bit, you will find that, with the right environment and with access to the right tools, they will begin to play and do things for themselves increasingly over time. Remember to think in increments. Take one step at a time, and add new elements as your child grows in independence.

Some areas to consider creating or adapting: play area, reading area, bathroom, area for getting dressed, area for serving snack or water, clean up area, and a movement area.

Some key tips:

  • Keep it simple. No need to get fancy. There are some great pieces of furniture out there for children, but a small bench or basket will do the trick as well!
  • Keep it low. All the small stuff is cute, but is serves the purpose of being accessible. Make sure your child can access the items without assistance. Low shelves, low hooks, and a basket on the floor are all great options.
  • Minimize. The less you offer, the better. Less choices, less overwhelm, and less to clean up.
  • Rotate. If your child starts losing interest, replace old items with new items.

How to set up a Space that Invites Kids to Play by Themselves offers some quick tips and videos with advice on how to set up a prepared environment in your home that will foster your child’s independence if you’re wanting to learn more about how to set up your space! And, of course, you have us. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you wanna chat further!