Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Joyful Toddlers video footage!

This is a sneak peak at the type of video footage you'll see when you sign up for my teleclass Joyful Days with Toddlers!

Starting Feb. 27 or March 1st, this six-week course is only $150 (choose either Sunday or Tuesday evening calls).   All calls will be recorded in case you miss one.  I will be limiting the size of these classes, so email today to save your spot faithrainbow@yahoo.com

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Foster Determination


Inspired by the book The Family Virtues Guide, I am looking at one virtue each month or so, and giving some thoughts on how we can foster that virtue in the children we care for.

Research is showing again and again that it is determination, rather than intelligence or talent, that determines whether people succeed or fail. One of the most important researchers in this arena is Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset (check out the website). I've seen Dweck quoted in many books I've loved, most notably Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, Nurture Shock by Po Bronson, and The Talent Myth by Malcolm Gladwell. One of Dweck's most famous studies was with elementary-school aged children in which she gave all of the children a test that they did well on. The students were then given one sentence of praise: either “you must be smart at this,” or “you must have worked really hard.” The children who were praised for their intelligence were markedly less likely to choose difficult tasks afterward (it might show that they weren't smart after all), and when asked to write to students at another school about the tests, they tended to inflate their test scores. The children who were praised for their effort stuck with the tasks for much longer, and reported much higher enjoyment of the tasks. Many other studies have backed up these findings as well.

So, what can we do to foster determination in our kids? Clearly, one of the first things is to praise them for their effort, rather than for just “being good” at something, or even worse, being “smart.” Check out the article on the Joyful Toddlers Facebook Page “The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids.” Very fascinating.

Another thing, which feels a little harder, is not to jump in to help too quickly when a child is having a hard time with something. Instead, give them some verbal encouragement: “You can do it!” Often, when I know a kid really can do something with a little more effort, I'll tell them, “I bet you can do it. I'll watch!” Having me watch while they up their effort calls out the best in kids, and they often discover they can do more than they knew. Afterward I'll often say proudly, “Wow, that was hard, but you worked and worked, and you did it!”

Even if it's something you know they can't do, don't jump in too soon. Even at 18 months of age, it's good to let kids deal with their own frustration for a little bit, and see if they can sort things out for themselves. When they can't, we can teach them how to ask for help in a way that makes people want to help them. When I hear a shriek of frustration at Rainbow Bridge I have a range of responses. If the child is under two, or new, I'll simply cue them: “You can say, 'help please!'” and then I help them, whether they repeat it or not. If they're two and verbal, I'll cue them, and wait for them to voice their request. If they're three or older, and I hear a shriek or moan of frustration, I'll say, “Wow, you're having a hard time. Why don't you ask for some help?” Most of the kids can calm themselves enough to respond, “Will you help me, please?”

And sometimes, it's ok to let our kids fail at things. In fact, Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, puts it even more strongly: “If we intervene when our kids are on the brink of making a mistake—preventing the mishap or just making things easier for them—we send the message that we think they are incapable in some way or that failing would be too traumatic. We need to protect our kids not from failure but from a life void of failure.” (Raising Happiness, p.58).

Another thing I'll do, which is indirectly related to determination, is that if a child asks me for help, I'll first look around and see what other resources they have. I'll suggest a tool they might use, or another child they could ask for help instead of me: “Why don't you ask Michael for help?” I'll suggest.

And finally, a last suggestion from Carol Dweck: When kids do something quickly and perfectly, she recommends saying: “Whoops! I guess that was too easy. I apologize for wasting your time. Let's do something you can really learn from!” (quoted in Raising Happiness, p. 57).

I'd welcome comments from anyone on your experiences helping your kids develop determination. What's worked well? What's been challenging?

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exciting New Classes


Hi Everyone,

I'm both pleased and excited to be able to offer two new classes this spring.  One will be located in Boulder and will be aimed primarily at parents (although daycare providers will benefit too!), and the other is available to anyone with a phone and a computer, and is aimed primarily at home daycare providers (although parents will benefit too!).  Let me tell you a little more about them:

Joyful Days with Toddlers
I'm super excited for this tele-class.  It will be a six-week live teleclass class, made up of online discussions, weekly conference calls, and video footage from my own home daycare, Rainbow Bridge.

 You can sign up for either for the Sunday course (with calls on Sunday at 2pm Mountain Time, starting Feb 27) or Tuesday course (calls on Tuesday evening at 6:30pm Mountain time, starting March 1), but all calls will be recorded in case you miss one

Keep your eyes on Joyful Toddlers for a sample of the type of footage you'll see in the class, coming soon!  Topics covered will include:

1. Life as the Curriculum
2. Teach Children to Interact Graciously
3.  Make Mealtimes Special
4.  Space that You Love & Care for
5.  Smooth and Easy Transitions
6.  Be Your Best Self

I am pleased to be working with Lisa McVicker of Prosperity Media on this course.  Lisa shot all of the Rainbow Bridge video last summer, and will be handling the technical aspects of this course.  We will be in good hands!

Because this is the first class of its kind, I will be limiting the spaces and offering the course at an introductory rate of $150.  Please email me at faithrainbow@yahoo.com to hold your spot.

Parenting Inspiration
While the class above is new and exciting, this class will be be warm and inviting. This class in Boulder, CO is about connecting with other parents, discussing thought-provoking articles, getting concrete ideas for your home life, and doing art and handwork projects that you never have time to do in your busy life.  This class is about taking the time out of your week to slow down, to breathe, to connect with other adults who are in the same situation.  This class is about self-care and inspiration.  I will bring in a list of suggested topics, but the class will choose the topics that feel most relevant to them.

 I am still settling on a location, which will determine its days/times, but it will run from late Feb through March. If you're interested please email me at faithrainbow@yahoo.com  and let me know if daytime or evenings are better for you.  Classes will be once a week, two hours each.  This class is offered on a sliding scale, $160-$240.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Storytelling with Toddlers


I love telling stories to toddlers. Although I enjoy reading stories to toddlers as well, I find the act of telling a story much different from reading one. Reading a storybook is a nice cuddly activity, where children snuggle up with me on the couch and we look at the pictures together, and talk about what's going on (I rarely read the words). This is a great activity to do when the kids are tired and grouchy, or when they're wound up and need something to help them calm down. Telling a story, on the other hand, is a much different experience: I tell it from memory. I use the same words or very similar words each time. The children are watching me instead of looking at a picture. And these are the stories that show up in the children's play again and again. They are alive for the children in a way that picturebook stories never are.

The age of the group determines where I tell the story: if I have a group of one- and two-year-olds, I'll usually tell the story at the lunch table. I'll wait until the older children (who usually eat much faster than the little ones) start to finish up. I'll start a story, and the big ones sit and listen to me, while the little ones have all the time they need to eat as slowly as they do. Then we can all end the meal at the same time. For groups of older toddlers (two- and three-year-olds), I will tell simpler stories at the table, but save my real storytelling juice for either a puppet show (often done very simply on my lap) or acted out in our circle. Or I'll start a new story at the table, and tell it pretty much every day for several weeks. Then I'll take the story and do it as a puppet show or as a circle for several more weeks. I only change stories about once a month at the earliest; when I had only one- and two-year-olds, I would tell the same story for two to three months before changing.

If the idea of memorizing a story is scary for you, don't worry: toddlers are VERY forgiving! The more times you tell the story, the more regular the words will get for you. I've often started telling a story just trying to remember it from my own childhood, and over several days or even a week the words and cadences will cement themselves together.  There are two types of stories that go over really well with toddlers. The first are nature stories, and the second are simple fairy tales.

Nature Stories
Nature stories are simple stories about woodland creatures that the children might find in their backyards.  In the fall I tell one of the animals telling what they're grateful for (at Thanksgiving time), as winter comes I have a story of a mouse finding a warm home for the winter in a pumpkin. In the spring I tell the story of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. A wonderful source for these stories is Suzanne Down of Juniper Tree puppets. She taught the puppetry portion of my LifeWays training in Wisconsin, and now is the organizer of the Rocky Mountain LifeWays training in Boulder, CO. She is a wonderful resource! You can check out her website at http://junipertreepuppets.com/ . She puts out a newsletter periodically that always has one of these simple nature stories that's appropriate for the season, with instructions on how to make simple table-puppets or lap-puppets if you wish to do it as a puppet show.

Simple Fairy Tales
The second type of story that toddlers love are fairy tales that have lots of repetition in them: The Three Little Pigs is my all-time most successful story, and is a great one to start with if you have never told a story before. You can even tell the Three Little Pigs for a month, then tell another story for a month, then tell the Three Little Pigs again. The children never tire of it; I am the only one who tires of it! Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a good one, but very long. If I can see that the children can't sit all the way through, I will truncate the part where the bears go through each activity and discover the destruction that Goldilocks has wrought. However, if I do it as a puppet show they can almost always sit through it. If I have a bit of an older toddler crowd, I will tell The Elves and the Shoemaker after Christmas.

A good story to tell at the table, that even little ones can enjoy, is the Grimm's tale Sweet Porridge. One year I had a little boy who was very demanding, so I changed the tale just a little bit so that the little girl must say to the pot “Please cook little pot, please cook.” Then when the little girl is gone, the mother forgets to say “please” when she's trying to stop the pot, and it won't stop. In my version she goes through various efforts to get the pot to stop before the little girl comes back and puts things to rights. The children LOVED it. Each time I say, “Do you think it stopped?” I look around expectantly and all of the children chorus, “No!”
Here is the version as I told it (or just google it for the original version; I know some people don't like any changes made to fairy tales):
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her mother. They were very poor, and one day they had nothing left to eat. So the little girl went out into the forest to see what she could find. While she was there she came across an old woman who gave her a magical pot. All she had to do was put the pot on the stove and say, “Please cook little pot, please cook,” and it would cook sweet porridge which they could eat to their hearts' content. When they were done, she would just say, “Please stop little pot, please stop,” and it would stop. The little girl thanked the old woman and ran home to her mother. “Look mother! We will never be hungry again,” she said, and so it was, for a long time.

One day, when the little girl had gone to town, the mother was hungry. She took out the pot and said, “Please cook little pot, please cook,” and she ate the sweet porridge to her heart's content. But when she was done eating, she forgot the words. She said, “Stop little pot, stop!” But do you think the pot stopped? No! It began to boil over the sides of the pot and onto the stove. The mother said, “Little pot, stop right now!” But do you think the pot stopped? No! The porridge began to boil off the stove and across the kitchen floor. The mother said, “Pot, stop-stop-stop-stop!” But do you think the pot stopped? No! It boiled out the door of the house and started going down the path. By the time the little girl came home, the porridge had filled every house in the town but one! The little girl ran home and said, “Please stop little pot, please stop,” and it did. But anyone who wanted to leave their house and go through the woods had to eat their way through the porridge.
If you have any questions or comments about storytelling with toddlers, don't hesitate to put it in the comments; others will surely appreciate it!

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Worthy of Imitation


We all know that young children learn through imitation. Sometimes this is funny, like when a little two-year-old in my care walked up to a big four-year-old boy and said, “Hi Cutie!” Other times it makes us cringe a little bit, seeing our actions or hearing our words come out in miniature.

Although we know that children learn from imitation, the logical conclusion to that absolutely never occurred to me until I did my LifeWays training: that because children learn through imitation, in order to serve them best we must strive to be worthy of imitation.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Well, certainly we need to watch what we say. This one is fairly obvious: when we hear swear words coming from our toddlers' lips, we realize that we need to restrain ourselves from swearing in front of them. But something that is just as important but perhaps not as obvious is our tone of voice. Do we speak in a warm, welcoming tone of voice, or do we let ourselves get snappy when we feel tired or rushed or annoyed? We can certainly speak firmly while still letting our love shine through, but when we snap angrily at children or at our spouse, it sends a different message. I will never forget a little boy in my care whose father had started working from a home in an office with glass doors. For two weeks, this little boy did nothing but dig angrily in the sandbox. If anyone tried to approach him he would yell at them, “Go away! Can't you see I'm working?” Parents often have no idea how much of what happens at home comes out in children's play. Children have no filters at this age; everything they experience soaks in.

Another thing to think about are our daily actions. Children thrive when they see caregivers doing “good work.” By good work I mean practical activities that children can imitate in their play, and eventually can help with or do themselves. Any sort of hobby where you make things (either useful or beautiful) are great for this: sewing, woodworking, mosaic art. And a great source for “good work” is household chores: cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, picking up toys. Set up an environment that allows your child to imitate you: have a miniature broom next to the full-sized broom. When you wipe the table, bring two cloths, and sing a little song while you do it. If your child asks to join in, you'll already have a cloth ready. Instead of thinking of these things as chores that should be gotten through as quickly as possible, remember that you are a model for imitation in each case. Instead of slapping the plates together to unload the dishwasher, or setting the table as quickly as possible, imagine you were being filmed for each activity.  Think about how you move, how you gesture, the attitude you display when you are doing this activity. Your child is soaking it all in. I love the image from the Disney movie Snow White, where the birds and woodland creatures come in to help her do her housework, and she sings joyfully through the whole thing. Who wouldn't want to live in a house with a person who moved joyfully through every part of her day? How can we start to become that person?

And thirdly, what are you doing to take care of yourself so that you have the generosity of spirit you need?  Children also benefit when they see that their caregivers have a rich life that doesn't always include them.

As I move through my day at Rainbow Bridge, I'm very conscious of the fact that everything I say or do will be soaked in and imitated by the children I care for. Some days I do better than others; when I haven't gotten enough sleep or a little boy poops in his pants for the fourth day in a row, I sometimes am not somebody who I'd like to see anyone imitating. But each day is a new opportunity, and the more I practice, the better I get.
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

I found the book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, at a thrift store. I have to admit that I opened it with very low expectations, as I think that our culture tends to emphasize talking to our kids way too much. In general, and especially for toddlers, actions speak far louder than words. However, I was happily surprised to discover that I really enjoyed this book, and agreed with almost everything it had to say. It was aimed primarily at elementary-school-aged kids, but many of the lessons can be applied to toddlers quite easily.

The book gives what I consider to be really practical advice on how to talk to kids in ways that recognize their feelings (without labeling too much), encourages their cooperation, and helps them to be competent.  I especially loved how it shows parents how to help/let kids come up with their own solutions to problems they present.  Some of these were too advanced for toddlers, but even at Rainbow Bridge when a child comes to me with a complaint, I'll often start out with, "Oh no!  What will you do?"  Not jumping in to solve every problem helps children feel competent and proud of themselves. Even the chapter on Praise, which made me cringe just to open it, started out looking at the difference between authentic praise and over-excessive praise, and how undeserved praise can backfire in different ways.  Then it looked at ways to praise kids that feels good to them. It is very hands-on, with exercises for you to do, and lots of actual dialogue between parents and kids.

The only complaint I can come up with is that the book is very rosy in its outlook, with children going from being recalcitrant and surly to being reasonable and responsive with just a few short sentences from mom or dad. In reality, if you have negative patterns going with your child, it will take consistent practice to change those patterns. However, if things are going relatively well with your child, this book is a great resource for nipping negative interactions in the bud and helping your relationship flourish. I would definitely recommend it.

Happy Reading,
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Monday, January 10, 2011


From the time they learn to talk, the word “Mine!” often plays a prominent role until a child is three or so. In fact, the first year I started working with toddlers, a sheet of paper was passed around titled “Toddler Property Laws.” It starts out:
       -If I like it, it's mine.
       -If it's in my hand, it's mine.
       -If I can take it away from you, it's mine.
       -If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
It goes on from there, but you get the idea. Everyone who has spent time with toddlers laughs when they read it. As I've spent more and more time with toddlers, however, my views on the word mine have changed.  I've come to believe that most of the time that a toddler (especially a young toddler) says “mine,” what he's really doing is expressing recognition of this object, explaining that he has a relationship with it. What do I mean by this? Well, here's a conversation that I have on a regular basis at Rainbow Bridge. Let's choose a little girl named Jojo. Jojo sees Sylvia playing with a toy that she recognizes:

Jojo: Mine!
Me: Were you playing with that before?
Jojo: (nod)
Me:  Yes. (pause) You were playing with it, and now it's Sylvia's turn. (pause again) Now you're playing with the dolly.
Jojo looks down at the doll in her hands, then up at me, and nods.

At least half the time, this is the conversation in its entirety. I acknowledge Jojo's relationship with the toy, then point out what she's playing with now. This feels satisfying to her, and she goes off to play with her doll. Unfortunately, many times we adults misunderstand toddlers' limited vocabulary, and assign the meaning that WE would give to the word “mine” when we hear them say it. When a child sees a toy in another child's hands and says “Mine!”, the adult often refutes them, going on to say who it really belongs to, who's allowed to play with it when, etc. And often, this ends up with an unhappy child. My idea is that to them, this feels like we're denying their relationship with that toy, which is completely unjust. They keep trying to explain (by saying “mine!”), and the adult keeps telling them that no, it's not actually theirs. How frustrating.

On the other hand, sometimes when they say “Mine!” it's because they see another child playing with a toy and they wish they could play with it. (I have a theory that toys 'come alive' to children when they are being played with, which is why toddlers always want a toy that somebody else is playing with.) When that happens, we go through the conversation above, but instead of wandering off, Jojo responds with a firm, “Mine!” Here's what I do then:

Jojo: Mine!
Me: Do you want another turn with that toy?
Jojo: (nod)
Me: Why don't you ask her? You can say, “Sylvia, can I have a turn when you're done?”
Jojo (to Sylvia): Can I have a turn when you're done?
Sylvia: Yes
Me: She said yes! You can have a turn when she's done! What will you play with while you wait?

At this point a child usually is happy to find something else while they wait, although sometimes she may need my help to find something that is as “alive” as the toy in Sylvia's hands. I make another toy come alive by starting to play with it, then offering it to her.

There are a couple of things that can trip up this conversation. One is if Jojo fails to get Sylvia's attention before she asks, speaks too quietly for Sylvia to hear, or asks me instead of asking Sylvia. If this happens, I'll either encourage Jojo to get her attention first, or I'll help: “Sylvia, Jojo has a question for you.” If Jojo is too young or too shy to ask for herself, I'll position myself right next to her and ask for her: “Sylvia, can Jojo have a turn when you're done?” Another problem can arise if Jojo asks and then Sylvia says “No.” If this happens, I'll simply explain to Sylvia, “Oh, she doesn't mean right now. She means when you're ALL DONE.” Usually Sylvia is happy to agree with this.

If Sylvia is playing at Jojo's house, there is another layer to the word “mine.” Then the question of ownership may really be coming into the discussion. In that case, I would reassure Jojo: “Yes. That toy is YOURS. Sylvia's having a turn with it right now. (pause). What are YOU playing with?”

Certainly it's clear that the word “mine” can mean different things at different times and in different situations. I don't know if toddlers really use it to express a relationship to the object, but I do know that when I think of it that way, and I acknowledge it as such, children often seem satisfied with no further action needed. Give it a try!

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dressing for Snow


With snowy weather on the horizon or outside your door, the idea of getting kids dressed to play outside can be daunting. “Is it really worth it?” you wonder to yourself. “We'll probably end up spending more time dressing and undressing than we will outside. Maybe we'll just stay in today.”

Well, take it from me: IT'S WORTH IT!!!! If you think dressing one child, or even two children, to go outside it more than it's worth, just remember that I spent my first three years of teaching at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten with EIGHT toddlers and one assistant. And going outside was always worth it. Even when it didn't seem like it would be worth it, it was always worth it. Even when it meant dressing eight 1- and 2-year-olds in a row, it was still worth it (although we'd usually split them up, and do four outside before lunch, and four outside after lunch).

Why do I think it's worth it? Here are my reasons:
  1.    Children thrive on being outside. Although it can take them awhile to get used to cold or snowy weather, if you do it every day, they will get used to it and really learn to enjoy it.
  2.    Being outdoors in the cold takes lots of energy. Using that energy has the dual benefit of helping a child grow hale and hearty, and it uses up a big portion of energy so they can be calm when they come in. When children have had the chance to play outside for a significant portion of time in the morning, the rest of the day goes so much more smoothly!
So, how did I have the patience to dress so many children for outside play in snowy weather each day? Well, a turning point came to me when I stopped viewing dressing for snow as a means to an end (getting outside), and started looking at it as an activity that could be a useful and even enjoyable; an activity in its own right. That new lens completely transformed my experience of getting ready to go outside. I stopped rushing and I slowed down. I looked at children learning to dress themselves as a real skill that was worth taking the time to learn. Look at all the gross-motor skills involved in putting on snowpants or a jacket! Look at all the fine-motor skills involved in zipping up a coat or putting on mittens. Look at how proud a child is when she is finally able to get her boots on all by herself!

If it takes twenty minutes to get ready to go outside, who cares? You don't mind if it takes twenty minutes to do an arts-and-crafts project, or to bake a cake. In fact, twenty minutes is a great amount of time for an activity! And children love it just as much as an arts-and-crafts activity, if you put the same sort of fun and delighted energy into it that you do into arts-and-crafts. They love all of the direct attention that you're giving them if you're watching and helping just as little as is needed to help them get to the next point. They love your encouragement as you watch them struggle to put on a boot and you say, “You can do it!” and they love the feeling of accomplishment when they can. So if it takes twenty minutes to dress for going outside, and then it's so chilly you can only play outside for fifteen minutes, that's OK, because while dressing warmly is necessary for going outside, it was a great activity in its own right.

There are a few things that can help dressing for snow become an enjoyable activity. The first one I already mentioned: Slow Down! In order to be able to slow down enough, make sure that you have a comfortable place to sit, on a stool or a cushion, or even a piece of carpet. Also, if you're going slowly, be sure to put your child's jacket on last (after boots and hats and even mittens, depending on the style) so they don't overheat. Another tip: as you change your attitude towards dressing for snow, and you're viewing it as a chance to let your child develop her gross-motor and fine-motor skills and to bond with you, consider putting your child's clothes on in the same order, and the same way, each time. Children learn through imitation, and when you do things in the same order and the same way each time, they can start to pick up each piece for themselves. My suggestion is for snowpants first, then boots, then hat, then mittens, then jacket. A way to make this routine fun can be to sing a little song or say a little rhyme for each part. For instance, one LifeWays provider I know tells a story of a train going through a tunnel for each leg going into a pair of snowpants. Each leg chug-chug-chugs as it goes through, then a triumphant Toot-toot! When it appears out the other side. And another teacher I know has a sweet yet informative song for putting on mittens: “Thumb in the thumb-hole, fingers all together. That's how we dress in cold and snowy weather,” she'll sing.

In fact, after you start dressing in this new way, your main problem may be that your child always wants to dress in this style, leading to upsets when you're in a rush and don't have twenty minutes to spend getting out the door. My suggestion for this is to have two styles of getting ready to go outside: the fun way, and the fast way. Let your child know which they can expect as you go over to the door. “Normally you love getting ready to go out the fun way, but today we're going to the doctor, so we'll get ready the fast way instead. You'll sit down on your little changing chair and I'll zip-zip-zip you right into everything.” Then, when you're dressing them as fast as you can, make fast zip-zip-zipping sounds with each movement, stopping every once in awhile to smile at them or give them a kiss.

So, give it a try, and do your best to get outside for at least a little while each day. If you get into this habit, you'll be amazed at the end of the winter how competent your little one can be.

Warmly (no pun intended!),
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Monday, January 3, 2011

Foster Kindness


I was inspired by The Family Virtues Guide to notice and bring out the virtues we wish to see in our children. So once a month or so, I'll look at a different virtue and make some simple suggestions of ways we can foster them. So, kindness. I'd love to hear ways that you foster kindness in your homes too, so please let us know in the comments.

In her book Raising Happiness, Christine Carter makes a very interesting observation. She says: “My guess is that most parents hope their children are kind, but few deliberately teach kindness in conscious ways. In young children and adolescents, there is a lot of evidence that parenting practices are significantly associated with kindness in children, meaning that we can, in fact, stack the deck so that our children grow up to be kind and generous adults” (Raising Happiness, p.32).

With this in mind, how can we foster kindness in the children we care for? Here are some ideas I've had. Most you can do with children as soon as they can understand you. As they start to talk, you'll hear the same phrases coming from them:

-Thank people who are kind to you and add a little extra. When someone holds the door open for you, instead of just saying thanks, be a little more explicit. “Thanks for helping me. That's very kind.”

-Acknowledge kindness exhibited by others: “Look! Justin's helping Michael carry the truck up the stairs. That's sure nice of him.”

-'Brainstorm' with your child about how you can be kind to others. “I think it'd be lovely to do something kind for Daddy tonight. What could we do?” Maybe your child could bring him his slippers when he gets home, and you could make him a cup of tea. Or you could offer to hang up his coat for him. Or tell him that you're giving him five minutes of quiet, and you and your child could tiptoe around and whisper while he unwinds from work. What would be kind for dad? You and your child will know.

-Offer help and/or care to others. For example, when you see another child fall down, or an adult stub their toe, ALWAYS stop and ask, “Are you all right?” Often they are fine, but it's kind to ask.

-When you hear another child crying, always acknowledge it to your child. “I hear someone crying! Do you hear it too? Do you think somebody is giving them hugs and kisses?” Imagine out loud what someone might be doing that would be kind to that other little person.

What do you do in your family to foster kindness? What have you seen other families do that inspires you?

...One caveat: DON'T give material rewards for helpfulness. Carter reports in her book that: “Very young children who receive material rewards for helping others become less likely to engage in further helping compared with toddlers who receive only verbal praise or no reward at all.” (Raising Happiness, p.34). Other sources that talk about the deleterious effects of material rewards include the book Punished By Rewards by Alphie Kohn, and a very interesting article on the effects of different types of praise is “The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids,” which I've posted on the Joyful Toddlers Facebook Page.  You can also find it here.

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