Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Expecting too much from my toddler

I love my daughter’s pre-school teacher. She is a gorgeous, petite Australian with a smile that fills her whole face. By night she’s something of a party animal, with outrageous stories and a brilliant sense of humour. By day she is not that different. The best bit about ‘Teacher Lisa’ (There's no Miss … here) is that she is totally relaxed and entirely child-led. You know the kind - one who calls your child ‘spirited’ instead of ‘naughty’.

“Jemima needs a bath!” she laughed as I arrived the other day.

Jemima always needs a bath after school. She looks like a well-fed street urchin after a morning at Garden and Gecko, the small, parent-run pre-school that she has attended since she was three.

“So how’s she doing?” I asked, as we watched her bury her friend in the sand.

“Oh she’s full of fun” Lisa replied. Further investigation revealed that she was referring to the fact that Jemima likes to encourage other children to run about the room instead of sitting still.

I was not quite sure whether to laugh or apologise. I’m still getting used to the whole school thing and sometimes I feel a bit like I do at the hairdresser. I find I leave some of my self-esteem on the door step on the way in. And of course, although I know that this is normal behaviour for a happy, confident three-year-old girl brought up attachment style, and ‘child-led’ (ahem, mostly), I also want Jemima to be respectful and not to disrupt the few moments at school when they are actually required to sit still and listen. I was still fumbling for the right response when Teacher Lisa continued,

“It’s no problem. At this age we expect far too much. It’s not normal for them to sit still and it’s not good for them to be told what to do by a teacher all the time. This is why we do learning through play”. I wanted to hug her.

“Children need time and space. You know they have absolutely no concept of time until they are about eight? And when you really want them to do something I find tickling is really useful! I say ‘Oh I’ll just have to tickle you then!’ and they love it. They get on and do it straight away.

“And if they are taking too long over something I call out ‘last one to the door is a rotten egg!’ Works every time”

Everyday I learn a new technique from Jemima’s school for making getting out of the house fun, getting dressed into a game and generally ways that make us all much happier. And these days I find I really need to.

Five mornings a week of learning, through play or otherwise, is a lot for a tiny person to cope with. It is only three and a half hours and she adores it, but she is very tired as a result. I have no idea how children cope with longer school hours. Or their parents for that matter. I’ve yet to discover something more exhausting and soul-destroying than a tired, grumpy toddler at dinner/bath/bedtime.

Everything is fine as long as we do nothing in the afternoon. I have noticed a huge difference in Jemima’s mood and behaviour when she just hangs out at home or plays with one friend. It’s easy, she is happy and relaxed and bedtime presents no issue.

As soon as things get hectic, however - I have filled our weeks with too many afternoon activities involving too many children and adults recently - she turns into a demon child round about 5pm. Sorry, sorry, ok, call her ‘spirited’ (It has two meanings right?). Her tortured screeching of NO! Nooooo! can be heard from half way down the street. I always wondered why parents call this time of day the ‘witching hour’. Now I know. But I know that, in our house at any rate, it is entirely my fault and entirely avoidable.

It is frightening to behold my child change so dramatically in front of my eyes. I can see she is completely overwhelmed with exhaustion and distressing emotions that she simply cannot cope with alone. (Check out Margot Sunderland’s Science of Parenting for brilliant explanation and advice on this). I have to remind myself of this at the time of course. It is so easy to feel angry with her and raise my voice, when all she needs is gentle arms, soothing tones and a lot of sleep. These days when things get out of hand we play babies. I sit her on my knee and feed her supper and carry her around the house wrapped in a sarong and sing to her. She coos and pretends to talk in baby language. She loves it and I have learnt that Teacher Lisa is right. I expect far too much from Jemima and if I watch her and listen to her carefully, I can see she feels the same.

So I’m resolved to make her afternoons a lot more relaxing from now on. In fact I think my next post will be about ideas for toddler play at home. And given that there is ANOTHER national holiday in Cambodia coming up, I shall have lots of time to try them out before I share them with you!


Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds like she's got a great teacher!

Tara said...

...And sounds like she's got a great Mum! Well done you for being so sensitive to what is really going on with J. More of this invaluable insight please for us that have it all to come in the not so distant future....;-)

Anonymous said...

Boy doesn't it all sound familiar! Mine makes up boundaries just so that he can test them. I try to remind myself that those that get on and make the most of their life are those that have the get up and go to do it. That does not always fit the 'good' ones who are prepared to sit still and 'be seen and not heard. Let's just enjoy their character!


Sue said...

Georgie, you have helped me make sense of all Marina´s little (and at times major)tantrums and feel more comfortable with her screeching 'Nooooo'. I wish I had read this before whisking her off tired and over stimulated to the super market in Reykjavik - not quite the same reaction as I would have got from other shoppers (mothers) at the Central Market in Cambodia! Reading your words was like reading about Marina so thank you for articulating it so beautifully. The first time that I heard 'last one to the door is a rotten egg' was from you to Jemima and Marina to get them into the classroom. Now I know where it comes from, I will listen more attentively myself to teacher Lisa on our return. Thank you and keep blogging as this is the most realistic child development reference that I have found yet.

Georgie said...

Thank you soooo much! This is going to be my comment of the month for February! I did not know you read my blog! What a great morale boost on a day when I have had no sleep and am feeling very tired and wondering when I am ever going to achieve anything other than all night breastfeeding! Thank you :-)