Unstructured Play – Here We Come!

Unstructured Play – Here We Come!

Last week I was beginning to panic about not having summer activities planned out.  I was frantically looking for activities to sign our 2-year-old son up for and trying to come up with ideas for our 14-year-old. Then I came across an article about the importance unstructured outside play.  This article reassured me that my original decision to take it one day at a time and not be over programmed was a good choice.

So we have embarked on a summer where we “Fly by the Seat of our Pants.” Last Friday my little man stated he wanted to see a train. Fast forward one hour and we were sitting on the CTrain heading downtown with no destination in mind.  Then we landed at the zoo where he was able to run around in the dinosaur area.  We then turned around and went home via the train.  It was liberating to go with the flow.  Seeing the smile on my son’s face was awesome. The best part was when it was nap time it took a grand total of 2 minutes for him to fall asleep.

Yes, we do have a vague plan.  For instance, we know we will be going to visit relatives.  I have brainstormed a number of activities we can do.  I will be making an activity jar for the days I cannot decide what to do that day.  I will simply put a number of activities on pieces of paper in a jar.  The day I cannot decide to the jar I go!!!

Some of the ideas of activities for our youngest is as follows:

  • explore the neighbourhood
  • feed the ducks
  • indoor pools
  • spray parks
  • check out the many playgrounds in Calgary and surrounding areas
  • visit Butterfield Acres (awesome interactive farm for children)
  • backyard play
  • visit the zoo
  • bubble play
  • hiking
  • throwing rocks in a stream or river
  • water play with hoses and sprinklers

I then had another awesome realization!! I do not need to be the entertainment squad when my 14-year-old is here.  He is an awesome young man that will follow along with his little brother if he chooses too.  He is great at finding things to do.  If he cannot, I will have a list of chores waiting for him! (A very easy way to encourage a teen to keep busy).  I will admit he loves electronics but limits are a good thing!

Unstructured playMy goal is to engage in as many child-directed play activities as possible.  In a previous post, I explained how to engage in child-directed play.  I am constantly amazed at how inventive and imaginative young ones can be when given the chance.

For example, we went to Spruce Meadows for the National Show Jumping event yesterday.  We were in the line for our youngest to ride a pony.  I originally thought it was going to be a painful wait.  He kept himself (and me)  entertained by running around (literally in circles), playing with some children he just met, picking grass, and then he starting practicing his gymnastics. I am so happy that I have made the choice not to worry about keeping my youngsters entertained all summer and refocused my plan to having fun and enjoying them as much as I can.

My wish for you is that you get to take time out for yourself and find things to do that work for you and your family.

Separation Anxiety Stinks

Separation Anxiety Stinks

My little toddler started an un-parented class in December 2013.  I was panicked the first day I brought him to the class.  I was prepared for him to have a hard time transitioning as this was the first time he was alone in an unfamiliar environment.  He walked into the room said, “bye” and I left.  He did not bat an eyelash.  He was happy to go play.  That was easy for him. ( I cried as soon as I sat in the van).  This happened for 4 weeks, no issues at all.  He would simply run into the classroom.  

Week 5, he went into the room without issue but, he started to cry when we walked away. (Daddy was with me.) The teacher had reported that he cried for a few minutes and then he was distracted by his peers.  He was happy when Daddy picked him up.  

Then the next week he did not want to go in and he cried.  He held onto to me, and the teacher had to pull him off me.  I kept it together (how I am not sure) until I was out of his sight. I cried in the stairwell.  When I went to pick him up I could hear him laughing and having fun.

After speaking to the teacher, I discovered that there were no major changes in the program (the teacher had changed but that was weeks before) and that he was not having issues with any of his peers.  He was not expressing any concerns about the classroom.

The only thing that had changed was that he was potty training. BINGO! He hit a developmental milestone that changed things for him.

It has been 4 weeks of the separation anxiety issues. He still struggles with going in the room; however, the teacher does not have to pull him off me. I can pass him to her with some minor whimpers. This is a work in progress.  I am confident it will continue to get better.

So what did I do to help reduce his anxiety? Here are some of the tips I used:

  1. Remain calm I did not let him see me get emotional.  I remained as calm as possible.
  2. Consistency I remained consistent.  I took the same shoes for him, followed our regular routine before class, and then I used the same reassuring words, “Mommy will see you soon.”
  3. Transitional object I gave him part of my key chain to put in his pocket and gave him a business card to put in his other pocket. He now requests the items before he goes into the classroom.
  4. Don’t rush away when the program is done.  I take a few minutes to sit with him and listen while he tells me about his class.  This way I can ask the teacher what he did that day and talk it up all week.

The main thing to remember when you are going through a similar situation is that this too shall pass.  Separation issues can be a normal part of development.

I often tell parents that separation issues are a sign of a good attachment.  It can be hard to not just take your child and leave for the day.  I believe this is a teachable moment and a great opportunity for you to show your son or daughter how to cope in similar situations.

Hang in there.  This behaviour should get better with time and consistency.

Keep on smiling and hug your kids!



Surviving the Toddler Years

Surviving the Toddler Years

The first thing that comes to my mind when someone says, “toddler” is TERRIFIC!  I personally believe perspective is everything.

I have heard lots of people state “terrible twos” and they discuss how frustrating it is to parent children in this stage.  I am not at all disagreeing with that, trust me. I am currently living it. Some days are better than others.  Do I get frustrated and raise my voice? Yes, sometimes I do.  Then I apologize, not sure he completely understands, but I do.

I am often amazed at how my little man is constantly watching and wanting to do what we do.  If I had a loonie for every time he stated, “I help” or “I do,” I would be a millionaire.

There are many times that I am busy in the kitchen and I see my little man running for his chair.  He grabs his chair, pulls the chair up beside me, climbs up and says “I help.”  A similar thing happens when I do laundry.  As soon as he hears the door to the washer or dryer open, he yells, “I do!”  It takes more time to get the chore done and I have to be patient. These are great teachable moments that help children take an interest in doing chores.

We have witnessed many cute moments.  Examples: copying his older brothers as they yawn or stretch; dribbling a basketball when he was less than 2; repeating phrases straight from my mouth ( I had no idea how often I said “sure” or “okay”); jumping up and down with glee after going pee in the potty; singing along with songs from his brothers iPhone; and dancing in the middle of a store without a care in the world.

2013-12-08 17.56.57There are many moments where I am not sure if I should run away, cry, or tantrum with him.  I still have no idea how he can hit the floor face down in full tantrum mode in 2 seconds flat.  He goes from standing, happily chatting, to sprawling on the floor screaming. Sound familiar?

That is my cue to figure out what is causing him to be so distraught.  90% percent of the time, it is that he is not getting what he wants, NOW!

I get down to his level or bring him up to mine.  Then I usually try to empathize with him.  It works sometimes, but not always. Then I try to distract him by encouraging him to engage in a different activity or I help him accomplish the task that is frustrating him.  If that is not working, I keep pulling out my various parenting tools until I find something that works. For more information, read my previous post, Overflow Your Parenting Toolbox.  (see https://parentingfoundations.com/overflow-parenting-toolbox/)

Lets put ourselves in those little shoes for a moment. For the first year or more, things are being done for them.  All of a sudden he/she figures out that they can do so much.  They want to do the same things you do, but just can’t yet.  It must be hard to see people around you doing something and you try but it does not work.

A good example of this is talking. My little man has a lot of words that he can speak with, but they often form weird sentences or are difficult to understand.  He has to repeat himself several times to get his point across.  I believe I would cry or tantrum if I was in that situation.

Have you ever tried to physically see the world from a toddlers perspective?  Wow, I find it to be very intimidating. When you get a chance, get down to your child’s level and see what they can.  I see a bunch of knees, lower body parts, and only parts of things.

This perspective has made me less angry and more understanding of why my little man often wants “uppy pease” (up please).  I challenge you to get down to your child’s level in a crowd to see what they see.

How can we reduce the frustration that our toddlers experience?

We can be patient, teach them how to do the new task, engage them in age appropriate activities, let them lead an activity (child-directed play is amazing for increased self-esteem), get them to help out with chores, give them things to do, and teach them new words.  Remember this is a stage that is short-lived and so much growth is occurring, it is amazing.

The following is a list of the things our little man does around the house that seems to empower him. Here goes:

  • moves the laundry from the washer to dryer
  • helps empty the dishwasher (after I remove the sharps and anything of value)
  • puts the face clothes away
  • put the piles of folded clothing in an empty basket
  • “washes” dishes ( I fill up the sink throw in a few cups or utensils that are already clean)
  • puts his toys away (not always where they are supposed to go but close enough)

Oh and if something gets spilled on the floor watch out!  Our toddler runs to get a cloth and throws it on the spill.  Try to find ways that your little one can “help” or be engaged in similar activities that you are.

Remember to pack your patience and take in as many moments as possible.  Time flies. The toddler years are amazing times of growth.  Enjoy!

**Want to learn more, join the conversations about Toddlers in the PF Membership area.

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Sleep: How Much Does My Child Need?

Sleep: How Much Does My Child Need?

Sleeping, Parenting FoundationsWhen I tell people that I am a Sleep Consultant for children, one of the first questions I get asked is, “How much sleep does my child need?”

Every parent’s dream seems to be to have a child that is a good sleeper. A well-rested child means his or her parents are also well rested.  In addition, a child that gets an adequate amount of sleep is less reactive, usually pleasant, have an increased attention span, and appears to handle daily life in a calm manner.

The amount of sleep that is optimal for your child depends on the age of your child.  Please keep in mind that the numbers I am going to give you are estimates.

Here is a rough guide to the amount of sleep your child would benefit from:

  1. Newborn (0 to 3 months) – 16 to 18 hours per day
  2. close-up portrait of a beautiful sleeping baby on white3 to 6 months – 15 hours per day
  3. 6 to 12 months – 14 hours per day
  4. 1 to 5 years – 12 – 14 hours per day
  5. 5 to 12 years – 10 to 11 hours per day

A very common reaction to this is, “That’s a lot of sleep.”  It is a great deal of sleep, especially for newborns. Remember this includes naps and overnight sleep in total.  An estimate of the number of naps that a child will benefit from are as follows:

  1. Newborn (0 to 3 months) – 4 or 5 naps per day
  2. 3 to 6 months –  3 naps per day
  3. 6 to about 14 months – 2 naps per day
  4. 15 months to 3 years – 1 nap per day

Marc Weisbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 7) states:  “Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm. Every night and at every nap, sleep recharges the brain’s battery.”  I am a strong believer in optimal rest equals optimal behaviour.

If you are struggling with getting your child to sleep an adequate amount remember that you are not alone.  Help is available to give you and your child the gift of sleep. Please feel free to contact me, Brenda from  Parenting Foundations, to book your free 15-minute consultation at 403-652-7111.

Happy sleeping, everyone!







Back to Routine: Is It a Good Thing or Not?

Back to Routine: Is It a Good Thing or Not?

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” Thanks to a certain office supply store, this song repeats in my head every year at back to school time. I love the song but I am not so sure it is true. If you talk to my 13-year-old stepson he will tell you that school is okay but he enjoys his unscheduled summer.

This time of year is filled with back to school shopping, going back to school, early morning wake ups, lunch prep, homework, and the never ending extra-curricular activities. Insert a big sigh…

That was my glass is half empty approach! People that know me well know that I am a glass is half full kinda girl.

The things I like about this time of year are as follows:  I know when I need to do school pick up;  when I get to cheer on my boys at basketball; when we do toddler friendly dance and gymnastics; when I have time to spare; and when I need to get ready to pull out my hair.

Children crave and require predictability and routine.  Visual schedules and calendars with lists of activities are helpful.  Do not forget to schedule some down time and time to explore with their imaginations.  I have observed that children that know what is going to happen next are less anxious.  A very good example of routine and schedules would be bedtime!

A bedtime routine should be no more than 45 minutes in duration.  A typical bedtime is as follows:

  1. Snack
  2. Bath
  3. Brush teeth
  4. Read Books (no more than 3)
  5. In bed
  6. Lights out

I believe that predictable routines and schedules make life as a parent so much easier!!  Visual schedules (lists of words and pictures) are great for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children.  When you include your child in making the schedules they seem to follow them with more zest. Children love pictures!  Schedules with pictures and words serve a double purpose (just do not tell your kids!).  These schedules can help keep children on task and they teach word recognition!  Have fun making your visuals!

Schedules and routines rock!

Take care and happy sleeping,