If you've read here for long, you know that I tend to take an eclectic approach to parenting. I don't ascribe to one "program" or "method" or another and don't live by any book. And I certainly don't claim to be a parenting expert (ha! that actually makes me laugh to type). But, I'm fascinated by child development and read a TON of parenting books and articles full of parenting advice.
I'm a pediatric Occupational Therapist striving to be as present, intentional and positive in my parenting as possible. To that end, there are several things that I say to my baby every day - sentences and questions that have become part of our family ethos:
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1. Can you help?
You would be amazed at how much a baby can do to help and to be involved in his own care if you just ask! Asking my baby to participate in the daily routines of our home paves the way for independence. Here are 50 Ways to Promote Baby and Toddler Independence.
In the early months, I asked him to help with diaper changes by lying still or to help push his arms through his sleeves during dressing. Sure, he wasn't doing a lot, but he heard my words and the tone of my asking and felt my touch gently working with him and not against him.
By 10 months, there are SO many daily activities he helps with - dumping a cup of dog food into the bowl, pouring water on houseplants, wiping his face after meals, and on and on. He LOVES to help and I'm pretty sure the word "help" is one of his favorites because he knows it means he's about to get to do something special with mommy.
He doesn't know it yet but asking him to help is also a GREAT way to redirect him from mischief without saying "No!" all day ("Can you help me shut the bathroom door?" instead of "No playing in the bathroom."). Not that I'm opposed to my kiddo hearing NO but at this stage of exploration, the opportunities for saying it are endless.
2. Let's read a book.
Reading is a part of our playtimes, our pre-sleep routines, our outings to the library, times we have to wait when out at appointments, and road trips. A love of books and reading is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kiddo so we made it a daily habit from day one.
He also has baskets of board books at his level in his room and spends at least 10 minutes most days spelunking through his collection independently. Not only is it an adorable learning time, it gives me a nice chance to get a quick task done.
3. Do you want _____ or ______?
Years of working with non-verbal kiddos as a pediatric Occupational Therapist has ingrained in me the habit of offering choices to every child. Did you know that babies can make choices LONG before they can talk? Empowering your baby to make choices early on helps foster communication, teaches cause and effect and promotes social interactions with caregivers.
When my dude was a newborn, I'd offer choices of books, of toys, of objects to explore and whichever he looked at, I'd give him or talk about with him. Now that he's able to touch, grab or point to what he wants, I’m able to let him pick which shirt he wants to wear, which food he wants a bite of next, which bath toy he wants tossed in the tub and more.
4. I see that you're feeling ____.
It's easy to "shhhhhh" away baby's cries, whines or yells. It can be almost reflexive to reassure with "you're okay", when baby bonks her head or takes a tumble. But I try to make it a habit to say "I see that you're upset, frustrated, hungry, hurt, scared", even when (especially when) I can't fix it. Acknowledging baby's feelings is important for their emotional development and awareness.
5. Let's go outside.
Admittedly, if we didn't have a dog, this one wouldn't be an every day statement. But I'm actually glad that our four-legged friend demands that we at least walk to the stop sign and back every single day. In rain, I wear my baby and use an umbrella. In snow, we use a stroller bunting. In sweltering Southern heat, we strip the boy down to his diaper and use the stroller's sunshade.
The blog 1000 Hours Outside is a great source of inspiration and motivation to get your kiddo(s) outdoors every day.
6. What do you see?
It can be awkward to talk to a baby...since they don't say much. But by asking your baby what she sees, you ask a question that she CAN answer - with her eyes. Following your baby's gaze and talking about and touching what it is she seems to be looking at builds connection, language skills, and helps your baby show you her interests so that you can expand on those in play and conversation.
More often than not lately when I ask this question outside on walks, Rowan is looking at flowers (hooray for Spring!). So I moved a potted flowering plant to the dining table where he eats and we talk about it at every meal. This week, we took a trip to a local nursery and he was downright giddy - pointing in every direction at all the flowers. The simple practice of asking what he saw - noticing what he was noticing - opened up activities that drew on his interests and curiosity.
7. You can do it.
It is so easy (way too easy) to swoop in and shield your little one from the messes, frustrations, repeated attempts and effort of trying new things. But by immediately retrieving the toys that roll away from your wobbly sitter, you eliminate the opportunity for him to learn to shift his weight and reach or try to crawl. When you spoon-feed your baby every bite you take away the chance for them to feel food on his fingers, to figure out where his own mouth is, and to have an “I did it!” moment. When we pull our baby’s arm out from under her body every time she rolls onto her belly, we remove her chance to feel that it’s stuck and to figure out which muscles to use to free it. Every time I say, “You can do it, “ I let my baby know that I”m near but I remind him (and me) to give him more time to try to figure things out on your own.
Magda Gerber's REI philosophy of childcare illuminates the importance of waiting before interfering with your baby's learning. While I disagree with the REI approach's perspective on Tummy Time and other elements of motor development, I find immense value in other aspects of the approach. Janet Lansbury shares how WAIT is a parenting magic word in this post.
8. Good morning, world.
What started as a fun little way to create a sense of routine in the nearly routine-less days of having a newborn has emerged into a family tradition. Every morning we open the drapes and blinds and say good morning to our street, our neighborhood, our city, our state, the USA, and the world. Our little one has grown to expect and love this ritual and it is a wonderful way to start the day. The first time my husband woke up with the baby and said it on his own, I thought my heart would explode.
I also added saying the day of the week and date to the morning routine. Being at home with a newborn left me feeling extremely unanchored to time and most days I didn't even know what month it was. Starting the day by reminding myself of what day and date it is helps me get my bearings.
9. I love your Daddy.
I want our son to grow up with a deep knowing that his parents are in love. It is shockingly easy to welcome my husband into our house in the evening with requests to run a bath, feed the dog and make a bottle. But I try every day to intentionally pause and greet him with a hug, kiss and warm welcome so that our child sees those loving gestures modeled. This simple practice is great for our kiddo and great for our relationship. During the day, I talk to the baby about how much I love Daddy. And he absolutely loves looking at our engagement and wedding albums.
Whoever is on your parenting team - a spouse, partner, your parents, or a community of close friends - it’s so important for you to demonstrate love and affection for your little one.
10. I love you.
This one’s the easiest on the list, right? We all tell our babies we love them dozens of times a day. But I try to say or at least think “I love you” in those tough moments of parenting - during the third wake-up of the night, when the dog’s water bowl is spilled for the second time in an hour, when the newborn projectile poops on my hand. If I can remember to say, “I love you,” in those moments, I soften and am able to respond to a stressful situation more intentionally.
What do you say to your baby every day? Leave a comment below!
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