Pregnancy with a toddler in the summer

… Kind of sucks. Growing a human is beautiful and I can’t wait to meet this little boy, but oh my goodness this is so much harder than the first time. 

I’m 34 weeks pregnant and we’ve been going through a heat wave here in NYC, with lots of hot, humid days with a heat index above 105° F. I’ve never been a summer person, preferring cool weather or even a rainy or snowy day to the clear skies with the burning sun. 

So this summer, with the heat wave, the third trimester, and the challenges of parenting a toddler… I’ve felt a bit like I’m melting to pieces. Many times it’s all I can do to get through the hour or the day. Tears seem to fall more easily. I go to sleep when my daughter does most nights, spending 10 hours in bed, and often still want a nap. 

I’m getting better at managing, though. I’ve been frank with my husband about the support I need, lowered my expectations of myself, set an earlier start to my leave (less than 3 weeks to go!), built more rest and refreshment time into my days, and also spoke with my doctors and increased my anti-depressants. All of this is helping, and I’m feeling more stable and ready and in control. We’ve made it to mid-August and there’s just a little summer left. 

One day soon, I will walk outside into a cool fall breeze, holding my new baby and watching my toddler and husband play, and it will be beautiful. 

Advertisements

Our highly sensitive toddler

With 2.5 years of parenting our daughter under our belts, my husband and I have come to believe that we have a wonderfully aware and sensitive child. I wrote about this as one of the traits we saw back at 22 months. 

As she’s blossomed further into toddlerhood and has even begun to seem more child-like, this has become even more clear. Earlier this year we learned of the term “highly sensitive child”, and it’s provided a useful construct for understanding and talking about the special qualities our daughter possesses. 

What is a highly sensitive child? 

Recognizing our daughter is a highly sensitive child means that we believe our daughter, like 15-20% of the population, has a heightened physiological response to certain stimuli. 

Highly sensitive children tend to be creative, intuitive, and empathetic in addition to being introspective and easily overwhelmed by such sensory experiences as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. 

If you are wondering whether your own child might be highly sensitive, Dr. Elaine Aron, the foremost researcher and author into high sensitivity, offers a tool here

Yesterday I listened to an episode of Susan Cain’s podcast, Quiet, which included a great description. By the way, if you have an introverted child, I highly recommend her podcast, a 9 part series on parenting introverts.

In the 9th episode, she interviewed a researcher of highly sensitive children who described them as Orchid children. An Orchid child is much more sensitive to their environment than the average child. In contrast to a Dandelion child, who will grow similarly well in all sorts of environments, an Orchid child’s outcomes will depend more heavily on the environment in which they grow up.

In a tough environment, an Orchid child will struggle and wilt. They may be seen as weak and may not come to utilize and value their strengths. But in a nurturing and supportive environment, they will flourish, outperforming their peers in areas like creativity, innovation, and understanding. If you have a highly sensitive child, the most valuable thing you can do is to value and help them capitalize on their unique traits. 

Why do we think we have a highly sensitive toddler? 

Highly sensitive children are not exactly alike, but I thought it might be helpful to share what we see in our daughter that has helped us to identify that the community and parenting resources for parents of highly sensitive children are particularly helpful for us. 

She is upset by other children’s crying

One of the earliest signs that we saw in our daughter was her high responsiveness to other children’s emotions. This came out most strongly when she would hear other kids, usually babies, crying. It would distress her, sometimes leading her to cry too. As she began to understand language better, it seemed to help when we would acknowledge that there was an upset baby or child and reassure her that someone was caring for them and helping them to feel better.

More recently, our daughter started in a daycare where she is in group care for the first time. There are several other babies and toddlers there, and when she describes her day to us she often talks about the crying. We’ve talked with the daycare staff and know that there’s not an unusual amount of crying there, but the crying of children at daycare ranks high on her awareness of what happens in her days there. 

She is bothered and scared by loud noises

“Too loud” is one of her most frequent phrases. From the sounds that are nuisances to most of us, like construction work or a loud motorcycle, to the more benign, like the buzzing of the machines that keeps a bouncy house inflated, loud noises make her cover her ears and she frequently stops what she’s doing and needs reassurance. It’s too the point where she is scared to see new machines even when they are off. She recently cried and covered her ears when we got a new window a/C and when she found my breast pump in a box of baby stuff. Even though the machines were off, both situations took some time and soothing to get through. 

She’s always been highly responsive to music

Her first clearly intentional arm movements, at under 2 months old, were along to the beat as a friend held her and sang a rhythmic song. As a baby she would be calmed by soothing music, and we soon noticed that she would reflect the mood of the music, even getting sad or scared when the music suggested it. As a toddler, we’ve had many a time where we are walking down the street and a car or boom box goes by playing loud music and she dances and moves to the beat. 

She is very focused and loves quiet play like puzzles, Legos, and drawing

As a baby, other kids would crawl to her and check her out, and she’d be more absorbed in the toy she was looking at. As a young toddler, she would happily play on her own more than other kids her age, engaging with her stacking rings, blocks, or board puzzles. Nowadays, she does 24 piece jigsaw puzzles (with some help) and can even stay engaged enough to do 3 or 4 of these in a row. 

And here are a few more signs:

  • She doesn’t like tags on her clothes or loveys
  • Lately, she has lots of trouble with her shoes being uncomfortable
  • She wants to change immediately when her clothes get wet
  • It’s always a struggle to wash her hair because she doesn’t like the feeling of water dripping down her face

Toddler Parenting

Recently, some of my mom friends and I were discussing how difficult it is to live with a little human who is developed enough to have strong desires and emotions but hasn’t yet developed the ability to manage or even understand all these big feelings…in other words, how hard it is to parent a toddler.

Toddlers often let out their emotions no matter where they are. Here, my daughter sings for the whole subway car.

As our kids are nearing 2.5 years old, this has become a more frequent topic of conversation amongst my mom friends. 

While I’m glad to talk it through with them, I also feel like it’s a year overdue. A year ago, I remember feeling loneliness and even despair as I struggled with how to respond to my daughter’s emotional and expressive behavior (ie, tantrums). At the time, it seemed to me that my mommy peers were more relieved to be past the intensity of the baby stage than worried about the new responsibilities of toddler parenting. I think my feelings at the time were compounded by the fact that I had just returned to full time work. 

Since I’ve felt challenged by my daughter’s toddlerness for over a year, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned and how I’ve coped along the way. 

In the past year, I’ve grown significantly more confident in my approach to “discipline” over this period.  I try to remember I’m always learning as a parent too. Each new challenge is a chance to hone your parenting technique, practice your patience, and grow your compassion; and each phase passes.

It does get better, and now I joke that instead of the terrible twos my daughter had the terrible 1.5 to 2.5, though I know it’s not really over yet.

Here’s how we approach it (cliff notes of the whole brain child!):

Connect and Redirect
I know that my daughter will continue to have emotional outbursts, but I also know the quickest way through them for us is to connect first, then redirect – we try to validate her feelings, calmly tell her why she still isn’t going to get her way right then, and then offer her some acceptable options so that she can feel she has some control.

Be Consistent
Sometimes, the emotional storm is over in under a minute, and other times it may take several minutes or last for much longer, but we stay firm and consistent with what we had said… reminding ourselves that giving in reinforces the behavior because random rewards are the strongest behavior reinforcement. We use this approach with physical restraint if it’s a safety issue, going through the same steps verbally while holding her, and using language and tone to convey empathy and support. 

For things like getting out of the house to get her to school and us to work, we try pretty hard to give her choices, but ultimately will talk her through it while putting her in the stroller or changing her clothes if needed. Routine helps reduce the tension over this, too. 

I can’t say we’ve got this “getting out of the house” thing down too well yet, though. We’re still often late for things. 

Do What Works For Your Family
Sometimes other parents I talk to stress over their children’s routines or the ways that their parenting practices aren’t living up to what they expected of themselves. To this, I suggest: don’t be afraid to pick your battles and do what works! 

An example for us is how we manage sleep. Our toddler’s sleep habits lately have led to some no nap days and too many late nights. She sleeps great with people other than Mama and Dada. With us, she will usually fall asleep in the stroller (I think because it’s the only place where she’s restrained and can’t just get up on her own), so that’s been my go to for weekend naps. We may try to change this when the time seems right, but right now, this works for us. So that’s what we do. 

Remember Brains are Always Growing and Changing
Truly, it’s not easy. I used to worry a lot more about how well my parenting choices were setting my daughter up for a successful life, but I’ve come to believe that with our kids only 2, we have lots of time to iterate and refine and undo whatever habits our kids have. Their brains are still sooooooooo young, and they have just barely begun to build the capacity for reason. The real reason workhorse of the brain, the prefrontal lobe, doesn’t begin developing until 4 and isn’t done maturing until about 25. Even after 25, science has discovered that our brains continue to grow new neurons and change throughout our whole lives.

Therefore I say, no need to burden ourselves with immense pressure of getting it right, right now. 

A strong beginning is great, but even more important is the daily involvement, guidance, and support that we will give our children throughout their childhood, adolescence, and beyond.

Personality developing

I wrote the following a few months ago, but wanted to add pictures before posting and didn’t get around to it until now.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how at 22 months, our daughter’s personality and traits are starting to really show. We are really getting to see just WHO our little darling is! It’s really incredible to watch her develop. Here’s a bit about who she seems to be these days.

We think she’s playful, because she’s often silly and likes to do things just to make us laugh. She asks for tickles (“tick-e-tick-e-tick-e”) nearly every day.
image

We think she’s athletic, because she loves to run and climb. These days she will climb the curved ladder at the park that is twice as tall as her all by herself, and we taught her to do a forward roll. We can’t wait to take her to the rink to skate and to gymnastics classes!
image

We think she’s adventurous, because she’s always run at the ladders and the pool with abandon. This is exciting to watch but makes me nervous, too!

We think she’s strong-willed, because when she wants something, it’s hard to distract her or convince her to let it go. She can get really upset about being told no.

We think she’s musical, because she starts dancing or nodding her head every time she hears music, even if it’s just a brief moment of a car passing by on the street.
image

We think she’s a bit shy, because she often takes a while to warm up to people and likes to hide in me.

We think she may be analytical, because she really likes to fit things together and play with blocks and puzzles. She also responds well to explanations and nods as if to say “oh, right, I see”.
image

We think she’s sensitive, because she is bothered when other kids or babies are crying or upset. She also breaks into tears when told she’s hurt someone and sometimes when reprimanded, even gently.
image

How do you describe your kids? Are there things you thought about their personality as a toddler that no longer seem true?