Tele-Class Intro

The Big Idea

 

Imagine a life where your child is happy to do what you ask, and is able to recover and move on easily when disappointed. Imagine getting all of your housework done while your children play, or happily helps alongside you. And imagine feeling confident in your skills to help young children navigate the waters of social interactions with one another. All of these things are possible for you and your child, even if your child is extra sensitive, demanding, needy, belligerent, or all of these at the same time. I have seen it happen, not once or twice, but many times. This class will provide the tools to do that.

And in today’s world of hurry and over-commitment, imagine a life where you support your child’s development, increase your sense of connection, and encourage your child’s capacity for independent play, all through activities you already do every day: dressing and undressing, brushing hair and teeth, mealtimes, laundry, washing dishes. Even if those activities are currently challenging, they can absolutely shift and even become the highlights of your day. Imagine putting your child to bed and relaxing, because all of your household chores are done. Ahhhh!

Why do the images above feel so far out of reach for so many people? It could be because our culture provides only fragmented images of how to create strong, positive relationships with our toddlers. We hear about the importance of staying connected to our kids, and we hear about the importance of setting and maintaining boundaries, but these two directives seem to be completely at odds with one another. In any given moment it seems like we must choose: do we choose to connect, or do we set a boundary? If we choose to connect and neglect the boundaries, we end up with little tyrants; if we choose the boundaries and forget to connect, we have relationships with no joy.  Most of us walk a tightrope between these two, falling continually to one side or the other, pulled in separate directions.

Until now. This class offers powerfully positive tools for strong parent-toddler relationships where connection and boundaries can actually strengthen and reinforce one another, rather than competing. It is based on extensive research of what makes parent-toddler interactions go smoothly and enjoyably, and the key is this: the parent-toddler relationship is strongest when child and adult have a Mutually Responsive relationship.

In this type of relationship we continue to be responsive to our children, noticing and caring what they need and want, but we also expect them to be responsive to us, noticing and caring what we need and want. We expect it, and we’re willing to support them in learning how to do it.

In being responsive, a person does not always do exactly what the other person wants; however, they do always respond quickly, respectfully, and positively. For example, if I’m trying to talk to my husband about something while he’s trying to leave the house, he might be responsive to me by saying, “I’m interested in what you’re saying, but I need to get out the door or I’ll be late. Can we talk about it when I get home?” My need for connection has been met, even though he was unable to do what I wanted in that moment. The principle is the same with a parent and toddler: if a 20-month-old yells, “Milk!” a parent might be responsive by helping him ask in a way that makes her want to say yes: “You can say, ‘Milk, please.’” If we ask a three-year-old to get her jacket on and it feels overwhelming to her, she could be responsive to us by asking, “Help, please,” or bringing her jacket to us for help. Of course, children will absolutely need help to learn the skills needed to respond quickly, respectfully, and positively; that is what this class is about.

In a Mutually Responsive relationship, we are no longer simply setting boundaries: we are helping our kids learn to be responsive to us. This is not just a semantic difference, this is vital. It is vital because the way we help our kids learn to be responsive to us is by making what we’ve asked to be as natural and enjoyable as possible. Quite different from a “normal” approach to boundary-setting, no? Helping our children learn to be responsive to us in a Mutually Responsive relationship means using connection to help create structure and maintain boundaries, to help transform “no” into “yes,” to help our children put their own desires on hold in order to do what we’ve asked. No longer do we have to choose whether to connect or to maintain the boundary; now we can do both at once.

One of the reasons the Mutually Responsive relationship is so powerful is that being responsive to each other is not only what makes a parent-toddler relationship strong: it’s what makes any relationship strong. By helping our toddlers learn to be responsive to us while being responsive in return, we are setting the groundwork for them to have healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. Indeed, we would be doing our children a disservice to allow them to do otherwise. Each step that they learn not only sets them up for the future, but helps our relationship go more smoothly and enjoyably right now, as they learn to say, “Yes, Mama,” and “Yes, Daddy.”

 

Even Toddlers Can Live a Life that’s Fulfilling

There are two sides to a Mutually Responsive relationship. One side is asking –and helping- our children to be responsive to us, and we’ll explore practical ways to do that throughout the book. The other side is our own responsiveness to our children. As babies, our children’s wants and needs were one and the same, and they were relatively easy to figure out and address. As toddlers, however, it all becomes much more murky. If we continue doing everything we can to help our children avoid unhappiness at all costs, we end up with children who are fragile, unable to handle even minor disappointments (see research on “resilience” for more on this). But then how then can we be responsive to our children if doing what they say or want isn’t always the right response? What do we do instead, and how do we know what to do?

I gave a hint earlier when I talked about my husband being responsive to me by meeting my need for connection when he couldn’t do what I’d asked: instead of being responsive merely to our children’s desires, we can be responsive instead to our children’s needs. The idea that people have needs beyond those of food and shelter has been explored for millennia, and different people have come up with different classifications for our non-physical needs. For this class, we will be focusing on three universal needs that have to do with achieving a deep sense of belonging and usefulness. The first of these is our need for connection with others, the second is our need for competence or mastery, and the third is our need to know that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves, that we are making a difference.

These needs are universal, and they are not age-dependent. A one-year-old reaches out to others, works on mastering useful skills, and tries to help others. The three-year-old and the five-year-old do, too. And so do we. When we are responsive to these important needs in our young children, this gives us a broader perspective, and a way to judge in the moment how to respond. Additionally, this class offers tools to set up a life where there’s space for your child to pursue and experience each of these areas, and concrete actions we can take to promote them.

Of course there will always still be times when we can’t figure out how to connect, or we don’t have time to let a child help or practice competence. But even in those cases things can still shift around, because we can perhaps approach our kids’ frustration with a level of compassion that we might not have had before. Many people find that when they can see their child as a person who’s learning the skill of being responsive, they have more patience than they ever had before.

 

The Importance of Connection. At all ages and all stages of development, human beings feel more satisfied and fulfilled when they are in authentic, meaningful relationships with each other. This “longing” may be conscious or unconscious, but we are at our best when we are able to love and be loved, to enjoy each other and be appreciated for who we are. We can be responsive to our children’s need for connection by recognizing their efforts to connect with us (it may look different than you think!) and facilitating their efforts to connect with others. We’ll look at ways that toddlers delight in connecting, and how to weave them throughout the day. There’s no need to set aside “special time” to connect; when we focus on injecting connection into normally tricky times of the day such as transitions and tasks of bodily care (dressing and undressing, brushing hair and teeth, diapering) then our days can become much more smooth and enjoyable.

The Need for Competence. There is a sweet spot for each of us at any given time where we are neither overwhelmed nor bored, but are challenged just the right amount, confident in our abilities to handle what comes at us. We can be responsive to our toddlers’ need for competence by allowing them to watch, giving them space to practice through independent play, and doing tasks slowly so they can join in. We’ll discuss this in detail, and also look a specific type of competence called self-regulation that’s necessary for children’s ability to be responsive to us, and essential for the development of executive functioning in the brain.

The Desire to Contribute. People feel both energized and grounded when they know that they are making the world a better place, when they are helping others, when they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Unfortunately, our culture rarely recognizes the very young child’s desire to contribute. Children are expected to learn, and they are expected to play and have fun. Adults are expected to help children, not the other way around!  This class will look more closely at the types of real-life interactions that meet the young child’s desire to contribute, and how to do them successfully in ways that are enjoyable for everyone. It is this aspect of the fulfilling life that is the most absent from the mainstream message about children, and small changes can make big differences in your relationship with your child when we can be responsive to this need.

 

The idea that children could live a fulfilling life today is much different than the message we get about children from our everyday world, which encourages us to think of children in terms of what they need for their future development. To this end, we work to provide enrichment activities for them. We think about ways to stimulate them. We do our best to spend “quality time” with them. We teach them and help them and manage their behavior and wait for them to reach the next milestone, and the one after that, and the one after that. It can sometimes be exciting, but it can also feel strangely stressful and boring at the same time.

On the other hand, when we consider the universal needs that even very young children are striving toward, this knowledge changes everything because with it we can be responsive to them in new ways. Suddenly many of their previously-frustrating actions will make new sense, and our responses can shift. If you are living a life where you’re constantly butting heads with your child, know that it really is possible to make changes that will boost your child’s contentment and strengthen your relationship, all while making your own life more enjoyable.

When you recognize your child’s longings to feel connected to yourself and others, you can weave moments of connection into the necessary parts of the day, and respond to refusals as requests for connection. When you recognize your child’s longing for competence and to learn new skills, you can do things in an expansive way that allows your child to participate and take over, and you can back off to give her room to explore her world through independent play. And when you recognize your child’s longing to contribute, you can allow and encourage him to help in real, meaningful tasks that help your household run on a daily basis. When we can work to create a life that has space for children to do those things, then suddenly we and they can be on the same team, pulling in the same direction, and our days can go more smoothly. When we can be responsive to these deep-seated, universal needs, then our children will be better able to weather the storms of not having every whim granted. When these three needs are met, life may not be easy, but it feels good.

Of course there will still be daily stresses, and times when we can’t provide the time and space that would be optimal, but even in those cases the energy can still shift around, because we can understand WHY things aren’t going as smoothly as we’d like. We can have compassion for our children’s frustration and the tools to reconnect, to help things go more smoothly the next time. Bit by bit, your child will move into a life that is not just filled with activity, but one that feels fulfilling.

When we are responsive to our children in this way, then we can also call on them to be their Best Self more often: helpful, flexible, able to roll with the punches and recover quickly when things don’t go their way all the time; in short, they will be able to be responsive to us when we ask it of them. It will take work to establish a Mutually Responsive relationship, but you’ll be laying the groundwork for a close and productive relationship with your child for the rest of your life. Let’s begin!

 

Comments

  1. Shelly Asmus says:

    This gives me so much hope and encouragement! 🙂

  2. Angie Kochukudy says:

    I loved this – it tells me there are things I’m definitely doing right – like having Sarina help unload the dishwasher, plant flowers, all the things I do every day. I’m good at that. But there’s so much more that isn’t going so smoothly…slightly overwhelmed, but excited at the idea that there are tools I can master.

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