Monday, January 16, 2017

Workshop Reflections: Limits, Choice, and Authenticity

"I'm in it with you,
I’m not here to fix you,
I’m not here to feel it for you,
I’m here to feel with you and let you know you’re not alone.”
-Brene Brown

When we set limits with children, there are many things we must take into consideration: location, time, energy level, safety, etc. Each of these considerations becomes simpler when we take the time to connect and become attuned to our child's needs and emotions. When the goal is to create a loving relationship built on trust while avoiding power struggles, limits become a comfort for both child and adult.

Types of Limits

Always Limits – These are always true, regardless of outside factors; they are often safety based.

Sometimes Limits – These are situational, time based, and more flexible.

Rare Limits – These are set on special occasions, for things that seldom happen, and may be based on our own energy level.

What is a true Choice?

Choices are REAL, concrete, and finite (not open ended)
It often works well to give children two things to choose between. Giving too many choices can be overwhelming, or lead to your child making choices that don’t work for you.

Examples of concrete choices:
“You can climb into your car seat or I can help you.”
“Which hat would you like to wear, the red one or the yellow one?”
“Would you like to pick out your cup for dinner, or would you like me to?

You can add in lightness, humor and something that is interesting to your child.

"Would you like to walk or gallop like a horse to the bathroom?"

Phrases we Use at Tumbleweed:

It works when ___.
That works for me!
Let’s make a plan.
These are your options... You can choose when you’re ready
I won’t let you do ___. You can do ___.
It’s up to you!
It doesn’t work when you ___. You can ____ or ____ instead.

In emergency situations we use:
These are rare, and are only used when there is danger for your child. When we reserve these to be clear markers of emergency, the child knows they are important.

Tools for Gentle Leadership:

Empathy - offering nonjudgemental understanding.
Attunement - stepping back and building awareness of and with your child, while remaining aware of your own emotional state. "Tuning in" to their station.
Slowing Down and Staying Present - This is where we set our intention and create a sense of confidence for our children, using language to scaffold and narrate, offering verbal support.


Every family culture is different, and being in a home is different from being at school. What works for us at Tumbleweed may not work for you at home, and vice versa. The unique circumstances and personalities in your family will inform the way you set and maintain limits.

While we strive to be steady, zen, gentle leaders for our children, no one is steady all the time! It is also our job to model authenticity. When adults feel strong emotions such as frustration or anger in front of or with children, we can show children that all emotions are accepted, and that there are safe ways to process big feelings. This also gives us the opportunity to practice repairing our relationship with children, and model that hurt can be acknowledged and assuaged through connection.


It can feel important to verbally set a limit, or enforce the importance of that limit, in the heat of the moment after a limit has been breached. Often, however, this is not the most useful time for a child to hear the reasons why a limit is important. Children are more receptive to language and to logic when they are calm. This is why we want to initially set and discuss limits in placid moments together. If a child is upset after not following a limit, it can be beneficial to offer connection and wait until calm returns before discussing what happened. This will allow the child to be receptive and truly hear what you have to say, and why the limit is important.

“When a [child] feels understood, she senses the empathy behind our limits and corrections.  She still resists, cries, and complains, but at the end of the day, she knows we are with her, always in her corner."
-Janet Lansbury

Friday, January 13, 2017

Independence and Supported Choice: Care Activities With One-Year-Olds

Following the threads of a child's development from infancy to toddlerhood is one of the thrilling parts of teaching a Tumbleweed Cohort.  We teachers get to see interest in shapes, contrast, and colors become interest in books, language, and sounds, become interest in letters, story, and characters, become early literacy.  We get to see object permanence play meld with one-to-one correspondence, counting, and interest in numbers to become early numeracy.  And, just as importantly, we get to see growing independence, body awareness, coordination, and many other skills become competence in care activities such as dressing and undressing, toilet use, and hand-washing.

Cohort 12 has been showing me their desire to take on parts of our diapering routine since we started together.  Since they began to crawl, they all wanted to get to the bathroom on their own.  Early on, they each learned how to climb up the stool to the sink, turn on the water to wash hands, and get a towel to dry.  Recently, the children have been taking on more of their hand-washing routine - getting soap, rinsing their hands, and putting their towel in the used-towel basket when they are done.

Once the children were confidently standing, by holding onto a stool or independently, I began having them stand up for diaper changes.  This allows them to see more of what is going on, and to have hands free to help with pulling pants up and down, picking out wipes, and more.

A big part of wobblers exerting their independence in the bathroom is the opportunity to make choices about their bodies.  Would you like to wear a green diaper or a blue diaper?  Do you want to wipe yourself or shall I wipe you?  Do you want to sit on the toilet?

While these choices may seem small, they are true choices I am offering to the children - what they decide is what we will do - and this is part of giving them power in and ownership of their activities.  The important thing for me is that each child is given the ability to make choices about their own body.  The act of sitting on the toilet is less important than the act of making a decision of whether or not to sit on the toilet - this autonomy of choice will carry over into every phase of toilet readiness.  After all, no adult can choose for a child when to eliminate, and therefore offering children as much choice and power in their care activities as possible now sets them up to be confident in their decision making as they begin to use the toilet.

As with every area of learning, one of my roles as a teacher is to offer scaffolding to support and extend the children's growth and development.  The curious and eager-to-learn one-year-olds of Cohort 12 are in such an exciting time of growing awareness, language development, and increasing independence, and I am fascinated to see how each child continues to take over their care activities!