Parenting: Tuning In to my Toddler

I just spent a glorious long weekend in California with my best friends. All-in-all, because I had to escape the hurricane a day early, I spent 6 days away from home. It was a rare long break for me. As most of you know, I take a lot of little breaks from the kids throughout the week (thank God for great caregivers), and my husband I go on vacation several times a year as a couple sans kids, but solo trips for me are more challenging. As moms, I think we struggle to get away, because so much work is required for us to step out for a bit. Sometimes it feels like the work to get the break > the break. Stepping out requires asking for help, being willing to accept it, and letting go of control. Over the years, my prep game has changed drastically. If you ask me about the lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry compote I made as just one of the 5-6 meals I left for my husband and one year old child several years ago, I’ll deny any knowledge of that crazy lady. These days, I leave a loose schedule, a list of what’s in the fridge, and I make my exit.

This trip came at the perfect time, because the last few weeks have been especially taxing for me as a mama. My two-and-a-half year old has an appetite for destruction. Last Spring, I gathered opinions on whether or not our new home should have a dedicated play room, and now I find myself wondering why I didn’t think to dedicate a padded room to my little daredevil whirling dervish of a son.

It seems like more and more, I can’t turn my back on him for a second. I’m in a close personal relationship with poison control, and I think I own every single cabinet and drawer lock on the market. My first child was the kind of unicorn baby who didn’t need baby proofing, she was just that trustworthy, and now I feel like God might be laughing at me.

As the days with George have become more and more exasperating, I’ve turned to my village more and more for support and resources. A few weeks ago, I spent my precious Saturday night in the bathtub binging on parenting podcasts (I can hear the younger version of myself cringing) to try to get ahead of things. I had felt myself yelling more and more, threatening more and more, and generally losing control of things. I’m choosing to be the primary caregiver for my kiddos, so it’s a requirement for me that I enjoy that job, not just endure it. I don’t mean enjoy every single moment, but overall, I’ve gotta come out ahead.

A friend turned me onto the Atomic Moms podcast a few months ago, and I find myself bookmarking and sharing her pods on a daily basis, trying to further spread all of the incredible info she is sharing. So, today, I’m sharing one thing that is working for me lately. To listen to the full episode, which I recommend you do, go here.

ALP is an approach pioneered by parenting experts Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, authors of The Happy Sleeper, a book, which was making the rounds over the past year. I heard it recommended as a wholistic approach that was lighting up the sleep world. Having already conquered sleep, I relished not having to read this book, but these ladies are developing some valuable techniques which extend to all aspects of communicating with and understanding our toddlers. In this episode of Atomic Moms, they share theirapproach, and host Ellie shares how she applies it to her spirited child.

After listening to the episode, I started applying the approach. Luckily for me (and for you), my children give me about 47,000 opportunities per day. So far, I find that the “A” is the most valuable part — in order to verbally “attune” to your child, it forces you to actually attune to them and figure out what the heck is going on. My first reaction lately has been to yell, this has forced me to move to attunement before reaction.

ALP is quite simple but gets better the more you practice it; by the end of week one I was ALPing my drycleaner. Muscle memory, folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. No matter how silly it feels, practice saying these things to your kids, even when they’re too little to notice, and even when it’s not a situation that is escalating. It makes it so much easier when the time comes and you need it desperately to avoid melt downs on both sides.

The method:

  • A- Attune to your child
  • L- Limit set
  • P- problem solve

I’ll give you a few examples, and then you can give me yours. It’s 5 pm, and I’m trying to make dinner in the kitchen. George is repeatedly coming up behind Marilyn and shoving her into the wall, or the chair in the kitchen for no reason. She is screaming.

  • A- George (I’m down on his level), I can see you have a ton of energy right now, and you really want my attention. (This is the hard part – what is my kid doing, and why? It’s Psych 101)
  • L- But, I can’t let you bang your sister’s head into furniture (setting the limit)
  • P- I have an idea, how about you climb up into the learning tower and help me stir up the salad dressing and cut the apples (cue these– worth their weight in gold)

Or, it’s dinner time; we’re all munching away on our pork chops and sweet potato fries, when Marilyn starts dipping hers in her water. Next, she starts dribbling water on her plate, and quickly, food starts being thrown on the floor.

  • A- Marilyn, I can see you’re done eating (hint, it’s tough to notice this quickly enough if you aren’t off your phone, focused on your kid during dinner) because you are playing with your food
  • L – But we don’t waste or throw food in our house
  • P – Why don’t you ask to be excused and clear your plate, and you can help me get the dishes loaded

Mamas, it’s an ever-changing game, but right now this is helping me through long days with toddlers. So, if you can’t get yourself a junket to California, but you’re feeling a little strung out, try it this week, I’d love to hear what works for you and what doesn’t! For those of you with older kids, does this attunement step still matter?


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