Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sensory Box Fail {Carnival of Natural Parenting}

Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.



When the girls were still little babies, Andy was in his Master's degree program and taking a class on the way the brain works and learns. It was so fascinating to discover how genius kids are from the earliest age. I mean, learning to walk, mastering a new language, making sense of the world, all in a few years time? Smarties. 

We thought we'd capitalize on this newfound knowledge while they were still young, harness the power of their developing brain, and somehow make our kids super scary smart.  

Then from the all-mighty Pinterest, we learned about sensory activities, and sensory boxes! Such a fantastic idea. You put an assortment of carefully chosen items into small boxes and let your kids explore using their senses, creating a learning environment TIMES TEN and molding the geniuses of tomorrow. Or at least provide some alternative stimulation for two little city babies who didn't yet know what grass is (and screamed when they stepped on it, but that's for another day).

So me, being the on-top-of-it mom that I am (stifle laughter, please) would put together some carefully chosen sensory boxes to engage their minds and make them brilliant. 

That was our plan, and in theory, it's true. Sensory activities are really important for kids - Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute wrote a great post about it - and according to research, "Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one." It's part of the scientific process, and we are made to learn this way; it's like Christmas morning for our brain.

But then the unthinkable happened. 

My kids don't get sensory activities! 

Or, more truthfully, they don't get what I (emphasis, ME) want them to do or learn from the sensory boxes. They're just not there yet. So it ends up like this: 

Me: Ruthie, the water stays IN the bowl. Use your pourer-thingy and pour it into the other bowl! Isn't that cool how it pours? It's like a little waterfall!
Ruthie (this happens all in looks and gestures and a little eh! eh!): Sure thing, mom. Pours water onto floor. But see how awesome it looks when all the water covers the table AND the floor! So now it's like a LAKE instead of a waterfall. BOOM.

Me: Hey girls, put these dyed pasta shapes into these different containers and lets practice our colors and sort them out all smart-like! 
Them: Throws pasta across the room. Yeah! Pasta wars! Yum! Pasta chips! Bonus points for getting it way under the couch so mom can't reach!

Me: Here's a nature box, full of nature-y things. Let's explore and keep you from getting nature deficiency syndrome. 
Them: Yum, pine cones! Let's eat them! Ouch! Both loudly cry and throw said pine cones.

Me: Here's a box of beans. Run your fingers through them and see how it feels!
Them: Mmm, beans smell cool! Cool beans! Stick beans up nostrils and then I proceed to freak out. 

All that to say, I know that sensory boxes are really great in theory, and I do believe in them. And I'll keep trying, especially with mentors like Deb from Living Montessori Now (Check out her Pinterest!). But sometimes, you introduce them before the kids are ready, and sometimes your kids just won't get past the let's see how far we can throw this! phase. And sometimes (always) as a mom, your expectations are blown out of the water.

And that's ok. They're not dumb, and you're not either. Their brains are still learning and thriving just discovering, only in a different way than I intended. Imagine that!

Maybe I'm just a little - ok, a lot - overeager and overzealous. 

So let's go find a mud puddle, or better yet, make one, and let THAT sensory fun begin. 

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (posts will be live and updated no later than afternoon on June 11):
  • My little gastronomes — "I'll never cook a separate meal for my children," Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn't turn out quite as she'd imagined.
  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don't. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn't mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year - because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she's not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn't it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I've Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love... — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin', They Hatin' — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with "babywearing haters."
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting "mistakes," and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids... — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But "doing it right" looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter's high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on MommaJorje.com.
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  • How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
  • How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
  • My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
  • Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children's needs.
  • Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
  • 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
  • 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn't do, or be allowed to do.
  • Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
  • The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
  • Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
  • The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby's mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
  • What my daughter taught me about being a parentMrs Green asks, "Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?"
  • Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
  • Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
  • I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

connection: maintaining your child's emotional bank account {peaceful parent, happy kids series}

Last post, we learned from Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids about keeping OUR cool during a toddler (or older child) meltdown. It is, after all, a brain development thing, and often times they take their cues from our responses. So if we can keep it together, there will be a lot less crazy.

But there's also another side to toddler meltdowns, and it comes down to one word: connection.

Dr. Laura has an interesting theory about the relationship between defiance and challenging behavior and the level of parent-child connection, and applied to our family, it has definitely proven to be true. She says this:

"Your ability to enjoy your child may be the most important factor in his development...That deep connection is also what makes peaceful parenting possible. Children freely, even enthusiastically, cooperate when they believe that we're on their side. When they don't have that belief deep in their bones, our standards of behavior seem unfair, contradicting what they perceive as their own best interests, whether that's taking the biggest piece of cake or lying to us." (pg. 40)

How simple, and yet how difficult.

That's where her emotional bank account idea comes into play, and I found it very helpful to visual our interactions in this way, especially on those trying days. You've probably heard about the emotional bank account (maybe in a marriage book, perhaps?) but your child has one, too, and it's important to check the balance daily.

This doesn't mean bowing to their every wish or allowing them to do whatever they want - quite the opposite, because kids crave and need empathic limits - but the thing is, because the child truly believes that you are on their team, you can give them direction, instruction, and admonition while they give you the benefit of the doubt, that yes, mommy and daddy do this because they love me, and there are enough loving interactions that it creates a "positive balance" in their emotional bank account.

But on the flip side, when your child is being defiant, uncooperative, and challenging your every request, that's a signal that your account is in the red and it's time to stop and regroup. According to Dr. Laura, this behavior is a child's cry for help and reconnection needs to be a priority. Maybe it's a big hug and five minutes for an extra snuggle, or 15 minutes of child-directed play, or some fun roughhousing. It really doesn't take much to bring that account back into the green, but it does have to be consistent enough for our kids to really trust us.

For our family, especially during this moving fiasco and changing our housing situations three times in three months, we learned the hard way that connection has to be one of our top priorities, and the girls let us know loud and clear when they're not getting it with clinginess, tantrums, and just general crankiness. Both my husband and I noticed, on the same very exhausting and challenging day, that when we finally put everything aside and sat down with them and just played, giving 100% of our attention to them for about 30 minutes, we made a "positive deposit" in their little accounts and it made all the difference in the world. Now when Andy gets home from work, we sit down on the floor and just be with each other, even if for just 15 minutes.

Is your child's emotional bank account in the red? Ponder these questions from the book (pg. 64) and answer them honestly:

How many loving connections have you had with your child in the past two days?

What can you do to refill your relationship account with your child? Think of two things you can do TODAY.

Consider what contributed to your being overdrawn: what are five things you do in the future to make sure that your account stays in the green?

I'd love to know your thoughts - how do you reconnect with your kids and what difference do you see in their behavior when you do this? 

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