Posts in Conscious Caregiving
Considering Conflict

Conflict is healthy. Learning how to navigate it is important.

How do we support children through conflicts?

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When children are between 18 months and 3, they’re transitioning from the “parallel play” stage into social play. Energetically, they’re waking up a bit to the realities of boundaries in the world, and understanding their autonomy and separation. This can manifest in a lot of ways but in social settings one of the most interesting clues of this transition is conflict. No longer will the child allow an object to float from their grasp with the dreaminess of a one year old. Suddenly, they notice the hand that is grabbing it from them, and they hold firm. These are the first conflicts, the “I want what they have” and to get to that realization they first need to have an understanding of the separation between “I” and “they.” This is an important marker, and shows us that the child is ready for deeper social learning.

I saw this article in the New York Times the other day with the quote “be a sportscaster, not a referee.” I’ve been quoting it ever since, because this just about sums it up! Narrating children’s actions is one of the hallmarks of RIE parenting, and when done intentionally this simple strategy has a remarkable ability to encourage children’s authenticity and independence (trying to keep up a constant stream of narration, however, can be exhausting for both caregiver and child. As with everything, care and moderation are key.) Faced with new realizations and emotions, children need our support so they can navigate their experience of a situation. What they don’t need, and in fact what will hinder their development of conflict resolution skills, is someone stepping in and saying “you have to share that with your friend.”

Active support

What to do in the moment, ideally when you see a conflict about to happen, or after one has already begun.

1. Ground and calm your presence in the space (I like to sit down cross legged next to them and take a steady breath)

2. Simply narrate what is happening: “I see that you want the block. I see that she has it.

3. Allow them to feel frustrated if they are (after all, that’s frustrating!) and validate their emotions with a sympathetic look or back pat. Feel for yourself how long to let them work through this feeling, and what kind of reorientation they might be needing. Try just letting it play out, staying present to make sure everyone is safe—often initial frustration will transition into a social game!

When they’re first navigating conflicts or if they seem “stuck,” and try…

4. Redirect them to an alternative. “I see there’s another block over there.

Eventually, they’ll start to take over parts of this process, until they can navigate their emotional experiences of conflict with ease. After all, this is essentially the same process I follow when I get into a conflict with an adult! I ground myself, articulate my emotional experience, give myself space to feel whatever it brought up, and move on to a solution.

Passive support

How you organize your space and your days can set you up to help manage conflicts much more easily.

Prepare your space

First, assess your play area and see what you can do to make it more free play-friendly.

Decide what (and where) will be off limits (“closed”) during playdates. Special dolls, etc. often do well tucked away, or perhaps a bedroom is closed and just a few baskets are brought into a communal play space. When the children are older they’ll want to share and show off their “special” things, but with toddlers it’s just too much.

For siblings, likewise decide what special objects will be individual possessions, and which will be shared. You have to feel this out for your own family, but I’d shoot for more shared than not. Open ended toys are so flexible that they can engage children across a wide range of ages!

Have multiples of shared things. It’s far easier to deescalate if they can see there’s another block two feet away they can use instead of the one in their friend’s hand.

Be confident in your discipline in general

Seeing you navigate conflicts and set boundaries with confidence and understanding is such an important model for children as they learn to do this themselves. Get started with Creative Discipline here, or go deeper with our Boundaries workshop.

Consider your rhythm

I have a whole workshop in the works about building and managing your daily rhythm (I’ll update this post when it’s live) but essentially: take a look at your child’s energy and your schedule, and see when would actually be a best time for a playdate, social program, etc. The social world is so new to toddlers that managing it can take all of their energy, and times when you or they are already mentally exhausted may not be the best moments to put them in that sort of situation. If you have multiple children in your household, consider how to balance times of more independent, quiet play with times of togetherness.

A note on hitting

Hitting and other similar behaviors are really a topic unto themselves, but as you work on keeping everyone safe as they navigate conflicts, consider this: toddlers experience the world through all of their senses, and especially touch and movement. They are naturally curious about other beings and want to learn, experientially, about how others feel, move, react, etc. All this to say, toddlers are not malicious, they’re learning. And one of the things they can learn is that we are here to keep everyone safe, so hitting is not allowed. Simply stating that, calmly and gently, while physically preventing the action with a gentle, confident motion, typically works quite well. If their curiosity continues, taking them out of the situation by gently pulling them onto your lap will also provide that sense of safety—for everyone involved.

Let the Children Be

Children are wise beyond measure. Their bodies, their souls, their intuitions know what to do.  You cannot teach exploration or wonder, you can only hold space for it.

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Before Groundwork sessions, I send out an email with all of the details for the week, including a section called Expectations. There I write:

“My expectation of the children is simple: that they be children! They will have lots of time for free play and will be invited but not pressured to join during simple group activities... To facilitate the children’s play and exploration, I ask that all adults please try their best to be quiet observers during play, rather than playing with the children.”

To observe play quietly but not get involved is a huge change from how modern caregivers are often expected to interact with children. There seems to be this idea that children need our help to bring attention to what they’re doing, how much they’re learning from play. I think a lot of this is also tied into the amount of cultural pressure put on full-time caregivers to perform, to treat their caregiving like a job, to show results. Doing your own thing and trusting your children to do theirs can feel and look like you’re being uninvolved or unsupportive, even though it is better and easier (in the long run) for everyone.

Here’s the thing:

Your children will learn more and be more well adjusted if you allow them to play free from commentary or query. Trust me. They will learn of the verdant green of new leaves, the brilliant vermillion of the setting sun, the placid blue of a calm ocean without you asking them “what color is that?” They will listen to bird song and dogs barking and be filled with curiosity and wonder, absent an adult asking “what does a doggy say?” They will delight in building block towers or watching a silk dance in the afternoon breeze and discover movement and mechanics all by themselves if you sit back and drink your tea and don’t ask them what they’re making. 

This is not to discount the endless energetic work of holding space, holding rhythm, observing their perfect uniqueness and offering them opportunities to play with it. This is not to promote absentee parenting or a dismissive attitude. It is to promote TRUST. Trust your children that they know what to do, they know what they need. Trust yourself that you are the perfect person to be with them in this moment, that your presence and mindfulness is involvement enough. Our work is to create a safe space for the children, then let them just be in it. 

Potty Training

How we can approach potty training in a loving, non-shaming, and effective way that is based on a clear understanding of children’s developmental needs.

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Prepare

Start with self work

One time, a long time ago, I was babysitting a child who was in the middle of potty training. They had taken to it pretty easily and weren’t having many accidents anymore. We were on our way to their playgroup when the subway stopped between stations and they said they had to pee, like right this second. I saw a puddle start to spread over the seat we were sitting on while they stared at me, confused and surprised. It was really one of those defining moments, where the thing I thought couldn’t possibly happen had happened, and I wasn’t prepared. I realized I could either freak out and everyone would notice and this sweet child would freak out too, or I could just let it go. So, I laughed. I laughed and took off my sweatshirt and soaked up the pee and told them it was fine, it’s just an accident, we can change when we get there.

Just like most things where children are concerned, potty training can be humbling for us caregivers. It can be frustrating, non-linear, smelly, embarrassing. Using the bathroom isn’t something little kids are good at yet—that’s fine. If you’ve gone in your pants for three years, suddenly being told that that’s the wrong thing to do can be confusing and disorienting. They’ll get it eventually, but how you react in that learning time is important. Hear me when I say: it’s not about you. Them peeing on the slide (or the subway) doesn’t make you a bad caregiver, it makes them a normal potty training kid. The more you hold on to embarrassment or shame about their accidents, the more they’ll learn to associate those feelings with using the bathroom, which can cause problems down the line and needlessly stress everyone out!

Early Potty use

If you’re working with someone 18 months or younger

Use cloth diapers from the get-go. They’re about 1,000 times better for the environment and allow a child to actually feel wet, which is an awareness you’ll be working with when you switch to the potty. If your lifestyle works for it, follow elimination communication protocols from as early an age as possible (I’m not the best person to teach you about this, but there’s tons out there).

Otherwise, still use cloth diapers, and start offering the potty around 12-18 months, when children are more mobile and will (no matter what you do!) learn where to put their pee and poop. If you offer the potty they’ll learn to go there, if you offer diapers they’ll learn to go there. I recommend looking into Montessori potty learning advice if you’re working within this phase.

(If you don’t have an easy laundry situation or just don’t feel like dealing with that aspect of cloth diapers, Diaperkind is a great cloth diaper service in New York you could look into)

Toddler Potty training

If you’re working with someone 18 months-3

The goal, when you’re working with children this age, is for them to learn their body’s own signals and understand that instead of just going in their pants like they’ve been taught, they should go in the potty. This is a complex endeavor for a little one! If you try to wait until they’re old enough to grasp the logic of it from an intelectual place, you’ll be waiting a long time. Instead, tie their learning to their experiences—give them opportunities to feel wet, to feel what happens when their pee/poop comes out. Give them opportunities to feel “success” (“wow! You peed in the potty! Now your pants will be dry.”) and don’t put so much pressure on accidents: just like learning anything, we all start off pretty terrible and our mistakes are how we learn.

Start

Close to home. In warmer weather ideally. Roll up your rugs.

I recommend that people start by going pants-free around the house and yard. Make a weekend (or week) of it! This can also be a great strategy if you’re on a beach or country vacation where you won’t have to get in any cars for a few days and they can just run around naked. Your kid will pee on the floor. They may well poop on the floor. But they’ll learn much more quickly to be aware of what is coming out of their bodies, and they won’t equate the feeling of peeing in underpants with the “correct” feeling they’ve learned of peeing in a diaper. Have a little potty nearby at all times.

A few starting tips:

Avoid a reward/punishment system. The goal here is that they figure out that not sitting in their own pee is a reward in and of itself! Bribery in general tends not to work to develop habits in the long run, as we learn to associate accomplishment with external motivators, rather than the intrinsic value of the activity. 

If you want to “explain” what’s happening, you can say: "You can learn to put your pee in the potty now!" Saying "like a big kid" works for some kids, but can be a little scary to others who actually are really just fine being a little kid for now! You could mention their friends who have learned to pee in the potty, or just say "like me!"

For children with penises, sitting down to pee is ideal (though some might see a caregiver pee standing up and be really into imitating that, in which case I wouldn't push it.) It takes the "aiming" out of the equation, and often they actually have some poop that has to come out too. Depending on their body, some children might need to learn to gently poke their penis down a little, so they don't pee up. I find that being pants-free can help with this, because they can spread their legs wider and often their penis will hang down more when they adjust their pelvis like that. 

Take some deep breaths, this is all normal, we’ve all done it.

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Next steps

you have to leave the house eventually

Now comes the transition to underwear. Still be pants-free as much as possible—at home, in nature, at the houses of very understanding friends… Dresses are also great for this transition as they offer some coverage without the need to push them down/pull them up.

First underwear should be "training pants:" underwear with built in absorbency, like period panties but for children and pee. (weird metaphor?) They won't totally sop up a pee like a pull-up, but they help a lot--you usually won't have a pee dribbling down their legs and onto the subway floor. They also learn that when they pee in their pants they get wet, while pull-ups/paper diapers are too absorbent and moisute-wicking for them to feel wet. 

When they do inevitably pee in their pants, don't make a big deal out of it! The phrase I use is "oh! I see you peed in your pants. if you pee in the potty your pants (or the floor) will stay clean and dry!" That way you’re tying in the inherent reward of staying clean and dry, rather than shaming them for messing up in a process that can take a while! Stay casual, chill, and matter-of fact about the whole thing.

When you start venturing out, you need to have a plan for inevitable urgent calls of nature. Children can’t hold it for very long, so searching for a Starbucks when they say they have to go will cause undue stress to everyone and usually result in an accident anyways. Depending on how comfortable you are with such things and where you live, you can just teach them to “nature pee.” You can also get a travel potty (more below) that you can break out anywhere—the side of the road, the back of your car, the corner of the playground…

If your child is regularly waking up dry, I recommend going diaper-free at night too. You can get a waterproof mattress pad just in case and put a little potty next to their bed for a first thing in the morning pee try. For older children, the message of "you want to stay clean and dry so put your pee in the potty, but at night actually it's fine to pee in your pants" can be confusing! Younger children can't always hold their pee all night, and a nightime diaper will save a caregiver having to wake up and help them with the potty a few times a night, which will make everyone happier.

Gear

You’ll need potties: one for travel (the foldable “potette” is my all-time favorite), and one for home. When they start using the big toilet, a seat reducer will be helpful (I like this one because it’s built right in, so they can be more independent!) as will a dedicated stool so they can get up and down by themselves (a squatty potty actually works really well for this, tucks away neatly in tiny bathrooms, and helps with grownup pooping.)

When you introduce pants back into the equation, be sure to find some that are stretchy and easy for the child to to push down/pull up on their own—elastic waists are best! Training pants are also essential. If you’re worried about leaks at first even with the added absorbency, you can get/continue to use cloth diaper covers over them, which should really eliminate the chance of puddles. Be sure to carry a wet bag with you for when they do inevitably wet their pants: they’re more functional, less ugly, and more earth-friendly than just using plastic grocery bags. Bonus tip: you can store your used travel potty in one too!

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Raising Environmentalists

How do we raise environmentally consciousness children without instilling anxiety?

How do we teach children that the world is good in the midst of a climate crisis?

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Spend time outside

The more time children spend communing with the natural world, the more they’ll grow to value it and learn to respect it, nurturing the innate connection to the natural world they are all born with. Even a simple daily park outing will be a huge help! Helped by their natural inquisitiveness and unique ground-level perspective, toddlers will notice the subtle beauty of changing seasons and the millions of other species who share this land. I urge you to find the wildest possible place nearby and let them explore with as few boundaries as possible. Let them get dirty, roll around, pick up bugs…

Model environmentally conscious habits

Hopefully you’re already doing a lot to minimize your carbon footprint, but let the children be the motivation to shift some habits if you need to. In addition to biking, using cloth bags, composting, etc. make sure you’re also engaging in the politics of environmentalism. Call your representatives, march in the streets, make subversive art. Right now, we need to live with a fair amount of privilege to have the time/money/education/opportunity to change our habits. Without change in our policies, the responsibility to change will remain on the level of privileged individuals, the climate destruction of big companies will continue to be disowned by them. You don’t need to bring your children with you, but simply doing these things will make you embody the values you want them to carry with them through their own lives.

Make things

Consumerism is a huge cause of climate change. By making and growing your own things you’ll help your children see the work and resources that go into creating the objects we use every day. You don’t have to do everything, but give them a taste of it. If you can’t plant a garden, grow herbs in your window and go visit a working farm. If you can’t sew and knit your own clothes, mend them yourself and find a crafty friend they can watch. If you can’t build your own furniture, then fix things, hang paintings, assemble your own IKEA, and take them to see a sawmill or wood shop! Also shameless plug, send them to a Waldorf school! Practical arts are a huge part of the curriculum for just these reasons.

Save big talk for when they can process it

Melting icebergs are so far outside of a young child’s consciousness, your talking about them will either go over their heads or create a lot of anxiety. Phrase things simply and center them around the good people are doing and actions you all can take to help. Instead of going off about all the people using plastic straws and littering and how turtles are getting these things stuck in their heads and dying, say “let’s help the birds in the park by picking these up so they don’t think they’re food!” Simple, close to home, and centered around a helpful action.

Intentional Playthings
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So often in meetings I’ll hear a familiar story: “we have so many toys but my kid still complains about being bored!” “my child doesn’t play at home, they just throw things around!” “My kids are always fighting over toys but never actually playing with them!” “your clean-up time sounds so easy, ours is impossible!” My response is usually to have them look around the room (I have family meetings in my classroom): “What does their playspace look like? Do you have more toys than we have here?” “Yes.” They reply. “A lot more.” At home these children are faced mountains of toys, stuffed into chests and hidden under beds, strewn across the floor with half the parts missing. They’re so overwhelmed that they can’t focus on playing with anything for too long and become disoriented, causing stress for the whole family. The type, the quantity, and organization of playthings in the home is important for children’s healthy development and families’ general quality of life. No one means to cause harm by giving a child a toy, but alas, intentions aren’t everything. I urge caregivers to feel empowered as gatekeepers for the things coming into their children’s lives, not hopeless in the unending onslaught of consumerism.

Simple, Beautiful, and Few.

That is my mantra when selecting or recommending playthings. It helps me be a wise gatekeeper with what I choose to bring into the children’s lives, and is also helpful in deciding what should go.

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Simple

Toys should be minimally detailed and as open-ended as possible. Things like blocks and cloths are perfect examples of this—they don’t tell you what you should do with them, so the children have unlimited options with just one object! Also consider how open ended more inherently “fixed concept” toys can be. A simple wooden block with wheels can be a car, or a truck, or a taxi, or a racecar… whereas a more detailed toy car already tells the child what it should be, limiting their imagination.

Beautiful

Aesthetics are not frivolous. Children’s boundaries between themselves and their environment are thin, so when we fill that environment with beauty they feel it. They are highly sensitive—a toy that is obnoxious to us is doubly so to them, they just don’t always know how to process that! Toys should be made of natural materials so the experience of touching them is pleasant and natural. (My exception to this is plastic things like legos or magnet tiles for older children, as they’re amazingly open-ended and great for creativity, and easy to find second-hand.) Materials should also be considered for their environmental impact—we aren’t doing the children any favors by polluting their future home. Lots of small toymakers are using up-cycled materials these days, taking garments out of the waste stream and avoiding the impact of manufacturing new textiles!

Few

Toy overwhelm is a real problem for a lot of kids these days—having so many options that it’s hard to stick with anything for long enough to play deeply and always being able to turn to something new to stave off boredom rather than having to get creative and build grit. Too many sets beautiful wooden blocks is still a problem. Perhaps less of one than too many whirring plastic do-dads, but still overwhelming and not conducive to healthy, creative play. Try putting away all but one or two things in each of the toy categories listed below and see what happens over the course of a few weeks. You can always add more back in later if it seems their play would be deepened with another doll or set of smaller blocks for detailed castles.

Categories of playthings

None of these categories are mutually exclusive, nor is this guide meant to be limiting! Rather, this is intended to help you look at your toys to ensure a diversity of play opportunities are available. I’ve linked to some favorite playthings below!

Big Play

Big play is a broad but simple category that basically includes anything where the child’s body is a part of the play. Babies and toddlers naturally engage in this and will turn anything into big play-climbing on dollhouses, throwing wooden animals, etc.

A few essentials in this category are: a rocker board or boat, ropes or rolly polies, logs, big cloths, and something to climb into or under. Additionally, make sure to offer things for:

Fort-building

Construction on a larger scale. Big hollow blocks, cushions, playstands, stumps, lumber, sheets… This is also a great type of play to direct outside.

Dress up/big imaginative

A few pieces of cloth can be plenty for dress-up, especially for younger children! Older children might benefit from a few simple hats or crowns, and perhaps a vest or cape. Ropes or rolly polies can become tails, scraps of cardboard or rocker boards shields, sticks can become swords or canes. A “fireman” or “princess” costume is so limiting—let them design their own!

Small Play

Small play is usually done while sitting down on the floor, manipulating something small with one’s hands in a deliberate way. This is usually more popular with older children (think: 4 and up), but even toddlers will benefit from having some small playthings on offer.

A few essentials in this category are: cars, animals, blocks small enough for your child to fit in one hand, and small cloths or silks.

Construction

On a small scale, specifically. This category includes blocks, legos, etc.

Small scale imaginative

A toy barn is an amazing jumping-off point for imaginative play, and could be as simple as a wooden box where the toy animals “sleep.”

Imitative Play

Toys in this category are often less open-ended, but can be hugely important for older children looking to “play pretend” as well as younger children who are new to free play.

Dolls

Dolls are a special category all their own, though a special stuffed animal that the child practices nurturing could also be included. Expressions should be neutral and details minimal.

Kitchens

A toy kitchen is not an essential, but many children do love them. Make sure you at least have some open-ended toys that lend themselves to pretend cooking, tea parties, etc. (The Grimm cup stackers are great for this!)

Books

This category does not include storybooks, the reading aloud of which I don’t consider play. Rather, look for a few (sturdy!) books with few or no words and engaging pictures so the children can imitate reading and practice telling their own stories, and save story time for special “in breath” moments in your daily rhythm.

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Organizing Playthings

How toys are organized is nearly as important as what they are. To encourage the freest play possible it’s essential that toys be accessible, and to support the rhythm of your day it’s important that they be easy to put away and “close” when needed. Start by looking at where your child plays. Playrooms (or bedrooms with toys) are great for older children, but toddlers often want to be near the action, so storing their toys in another room is impractical and will hinder clean up time. Wherever your child typically plays, try to consolidate toys in that one location. Or, depending on your rhythm, keep a few options for a more limited playtime in a public space, then the majority in a playroom for big free play time.

I generally find that a low bookshelf if the best bet for toy storage, anywhere in the house. You can even use the bottom few shelves of a larger bookshelf in a living room, or stack apple crates for a cheap and modular solution. Small toys can be sorted and stored in baskets or wooden crates on a low shelf, and can be covered with a cloth when “closed” if your child needs that visual reminder. Sorting is key—don’t keep all your toys in one basket or stuff the animals in with the blocks. Play books should be treated with great care and have a special home. Larger toys should be few to begin with, and all have a designated home. Perhaps the hollow blocks all stack on a certain wall, and the rocker board goes on top. If your child has any “furniture” such as a small table or kitchen or playstands, think about when you want them to be open or closed and how you can communicate that visually. I recommend against using kid furniture to store toy baskets when possible, as it often leads to toys being dumped off of the furniture so they can use it, then being walked over or otherwise not valued. When choosing baskets, chose ones that are flexible or sturdy—delicate baskets tend to break quickly when accidentally stepped in.

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Here are a few of my favorite things to support free play. Some links are affiliate, which support our work by earning us a small commission. You can also look at your local natural toy shop—I love Acorn in Brooklyn, share in the comments if you have a favorite in your area!

Being Worthy of Imitation
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“Being Worthy of Imitation”

As a new teacher, I remember being told that the children would imitate everything I did, so everything I did had to be worthy of imitation. I was 20, and didn’t know how to do this—I was so shaky in my sense of self already, was I going to have to change who I was to be a good model for them? Who am I to show them how to be in this world? As the years have gone on, I am eternally grateful to that initial advice and the unrelenting pressure of the children who never let me fake anything and who’s trust imbues me with the confidence to be worthy of it.

Start with Self Work

Do what you need to do to truly embody what you’re bringing them. Unpack your programming, do the yoga, meditate…

Young children learn through imitating the actions of others, adults especially. They will imitate your speech patterns, your mannerisms, the way you answer the phone, the way you sweep the floor. But they will also see subtler things, like the way you communicate with your partner or the way you respond to disappointment. As they imitate, they internalize the behaviors and take them as their own. They are so eager to learn how to be in this world, and they trust us to show them the way. As the adults who spend time around them, that leaves a lot of pressure on us to be worthy of their imitation, to embody the values we want them to hold. This is why the answer to many questions I am asked is to start with self work. 

An example

I am terrible at being the “nap teacher.” I worked in an aftercare program for a year, where the children were expected to nap or rest quietly for a good hour and I could barely get my group to sit quietly for a half that time. Even later, when my kindergarten class would have a 10 minute rest time, they would be so squirmy and chatty and restless and I couldn’t figure out what it was! What I realized (with the help of more experienced teachers) was that I was not embodying restfulness. I was so anxious, my mind was racing, thinking of what was coming next and what I needed to do. I wasn’t resting on the inside, and they were imitating that! So, I tried to feel restful during rest time, I tried to deepen my breath and feel sleepy on the inside. And still, nothing really happened.

Interestingly, the same thing would happen to me at home when I tried to go to sleep. My experience of going to sleep was one fraught with struggle and anxiety—no wonder they picked up on that. It was only a year later when I started meditating and learning to drop into that restful, quiet state when putting myself to sleep that I was able to model true restfulness for the children in my class and get them to rest.

In this situation, I needed to change my entire experience of rest in order to understand how to embody it fully. My own childhood experiences of rest and bedtime certainly informed what I was bringing to the children in this time, and having never learned how to put myself to sleep I had to start there. Meditation was a tool for that, as was understanding that falling asleep is a skill that can be learned.

Start by asking yourself: what am I modeling for them in this situation? What is preventing me from fully embodying the gesture I want them to imitate? Then you can see where your actions are misaligned with your inner life and intentions, and you’ll know where to direct your work. This isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but thankfully the children don’t need us to be perfect. They need to see models of human beings who are striving for goodness—and by starting with self work you’re doing just that, and being worthy of imitation on that deepest level.

until I can truly trust myself in that situation—

Authenticity

If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor.

All of that work can feel like an opportunity to change yourself, to contort yourself to be what you think an ideal caregiver would look like. That won’t work. You already are an ideal caregiver, the children are with you for a reason. Yes, we all have unconsidered habits, unexplored beliefs, things that we need to work out, but all of that should be in pursuit of being your most authentic self, not an attempt to mold yourself into some angel goddess in a pink skirt who likes singing in the pentatonic scale all the time (unless that’s your jam, then more power to you).

In fact the highest, most valuable thing we can model is authenticity, being secure with ourselves on a deep level. If you fake it, they’ll learn that inauthenticity is the way to success—they’ll learn to bury themselves and be whomever the world pressures them to be. Let this be your permission to be yourself, and the kick in the ass you need to figure out who that is and love it deeply. If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor. That is really the key to this, and where some of the hardest work lies. Once you trust yourself to be imitated, the rest will flow.

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Notes From Our Kitchen
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Over the years I have had parents stop me, wide eyed, in the middle of a sentence when I’m reviewing classroom snack time during our meetings: “she eats three helpings of rice and lentils???” I hear that, at home, these children are incredibly picky eaters and am begged for recipes. My recipes are simple, heavy on the butter, and I’ve shared a favorite below. But there’s also so much more to it than that. Yes, there are a lot of things we do that can’t necessarily be recreated at home: if there’s a bunch of kids, all eating the weird food, your kid will be way more likely to try it. But there are are also some shifts you can make in your home and in your approach to food and feeding your family to make your life easier and help your child to develop healthy eating habits and attitudes that will carry through to when they have to feed themselves.

Establishing a healthy relationship with food

We want children to develop the capacity to eat intuitively, to love food, and to use food as a way of nourishing—not punishing or rewarding or manipulating—themselves. This starts with you, their caregivers, treating it that way for them as well. Just as we discipline children in the way we want them to learn to self-discipline as they mature, so should we feed them with the attitude we want them to develop towards food. If you’re on any type of diet, try to keep it away from the dinner table. That is, try to find meals that everyone can enjoy (perhaps with some slight modifications) so you’re not modeling restrictive eating behaviors. Try not to talk about it with or around your kids, make it a part of your identity, or place values on foods as “good” or “bad.”

A great way to start creating this healthy relationship is to expose children to as wide a variety of foods as possible from an early age. Don’t be afraid to offer weird or new things! My colleague in Sag Harbor will put sunflower (or whatever’s available from the farm that day) microgreens in her class’ vegetable soup, and the children gobble them up because they think they’re noodles. Let your baby (after 6 months) sit at the table and give them whatever you’re having to taste, rather than relying on pures or special baby foods. When they’re older, don’t cook them a separate meal—that’s too much work for you, and they’ll be better off learning to eat whatever delicious dinner it is that you’re making yourself. I love this perspective on cooking for kids from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen:

“I don’t aspire to unlock the Meanest, Most Terrible Mom Ever badge for refusing to be a short-order cook or to turn dinner into a battle of wills. I take this stance because I love cooking and want to protect this love by not burning out from preparing three dinners a night. What I do instead sounds radical but shouldn’t be: I cook what I crave, then tweak as needed to convince the kids to come along for the ride.”

A Few Tweaks

As much as I believe in feeding kids regular food, their growing bodies and developing gut systems do require a bit of extra consideration. When feeding children, I try to design meals that have protein, lots of good fats, and are easily digestible. Here are a few tweaks you can integrate into your cooking to make it more kid friendly:

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Cook with butter. Specifically grass fed and organic. Specifically lots. I spread butter on bread as thick as I would a nut butter—so thick you can see you teeth marks in it. Fat is necessary for all of us to metabolize many essential nutrients, and is especially important to children’s growing bodies and brains. It’s also delicious and will get them to eat most anything.

Soak your grains. This is one of the core tenants of Nourishing Traditions, which is a book I strongly recommend to anyone interested in further research. It helps pre-digest them, making their nutrients more bio-available.

Any sort of buffet-style, self-assembly meal is a great way to include everybody in the same meal while allowing for different needs and preferences. Try burrito bowls, loaded sweet potatoes, or grain bowls.

If you notice anything unusual in your child’s behavior, skin, or poops after eating certain things, get them allergy tested. Not eating foods you’re allergic to has such a positive impact on your life and relationship with food, especially for children whose guts are especially sensitive.

Tips for Picky Eaters

“Trying bites.” In response to pushed away food or no-thank-yous, I always say “you can have a trying bite.” even if they’ve had the food a hundred times before and always hate it. It’s a good practice, and so often they’ll try one tiny bite and then gobble the whole bowl.

Don’t bribe or negotiate around food—you’re just giving it weird emotional power it shouldn’t have. No “three more bites and then you can have desert.” Food is necessary for our bodies to function properly. When we eat well, it feels good, and that is reward enough.

If your child consistently refuses dinner, then is hungry again soon after, try just covering the plate when they clear it and then offering it again when they ask for a snack. A simple way to make sure they don’t feel like they can manipulate you into feeding them cheddar bunnies for dinner.

Our Kitchari

This is based on a few traditional recipes that have been shared with me over the years, simplified to make it easier to make it the classroom and appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. Tweak the spices as you see fit, or use your favorite curry spice bled. It makes an excellent savory breakfast, and is great for lunch or dinner with some veggies on the side!

Ingredients

 

3 Tbsp butter or ghee

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground turmeric (+ a dash of black pepper to help with absorption)

1 1/2 cups red lentils

1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice

1 can full fat, thickener-free coconut milk

4 cups water

Sea salt to taste

note: all measurements are quite approximate

 

Process

  1. Optional: soak the rice and lentils (cover them, in separate bowls, with warm water and a dash of apple cider vinegar, let sit in a warm place for about 7 hours. Drain when you’re ready to cook them.)

  2. In the bottom of a dutch oven or rice cooker, melt the butter or ghee. Add the spices and stir until they start to smell amazing.

  3. Add the rice and lentils and stir until they’re covered in the fat/spice mixture and slightly warmed.

  4. Add the can of coconut milk and water.

  5. Bring to a simmer, then turn down and cover until done. If you’re using a rice cooker, just let it keep doing it’s thing.

  6. Add sea salt to taste, then serve! Grownups and spice-loving kids might like some hot sauce or chili flakes on top.

    Shop

 
 
Getting started with Family Festivals
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Just as we work with daily and weekly rhythms to help the children feel secure and comfortable in the world, we can work with the larger rhythms of the year. It is important to adjust things in response to the changing seasons—longer, looser days in the summer, more structure, earlier bedtimes in the winter. And just as I’ll mark transitions during our daily rhythm with a song or a verse, we as a culture have learned to mark transitions during the rhythm of the year with festivals. These regular, seasonal festivals are powerful for children and help them to feel at home in the universal family of humanity and our planetary ecosystems.

It’s a fact of modern life that many of us are living far removed from our ancestral heritage, from the indigenous traditions that kept us in touch with these natural rhythms in centuries past. Still, bits of these traditions have wormed their ways into popular culture, and many more of them are available to those who search. It is us to us to find ways to re-integrate and re-create festivals that feel powerful and true to our ancient humanity and modern realities. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Finding Inspiration

If you were raised with a strong festival life, think about the parts of it that still speak to you that you want to carry onward. Did you love lighting candles and singing with your whole community on Christmas Eve, but hate other parts of going to church? Find a way to have a singing and candle lighting ceremony around that time of year with your family, or even open it up to your extended community. As someone of European descent living in America, I like to turn to the traditions of pre-Christian Europe for my own festival life, and to research and appreciate and participate in the traditions of people from other backgrounds when invited.

As you’re creating a festival rhythm, start small and keep track of what you’ve done. The more you work with this the more ideas you’ll come up with, so chose carefully and keep things consistent from year-to-year. Find an organization or place or group of people that holds festivals you like, or is interested in creating some with you. Schools are a great place for this, especially Waldorf schools, as we lovingly create large, community festivals for just this purpose. But it’s also lovely to do a little something just at home, just for your family.

elements of a festival

  1. Food

    Food is one of the most intimate ways we can connect with the earth. Eating seasonal, traditional foods is a big way of marking festivals, especially for children. If you’re creating a new tradition, look at what the earth is producing that time of year—squash and root vegetables in autumn, greens and eggs and cream in spring, naturally preserved foods and root cellar staples in the winter.

  2. Song

    Music marks time. We know how powerful it can be because of how angry people can get if you start playing Christmas music outside of December. Find little songs that feel seasonal to you, and integrate them into your festivals. (Some resources below!)

  3. Ceremony

    Think about the feeling or gesture you’re trying to evoke, and find an activity that holds that feeling. In the dark of winter we often light candles to remind us of our inner light, and light them in community to remind us of it’s power. In the bright ecstasy of spring we make things out of rainbow colors, dance, and work with flowers. Find something, however small, that you can do with reverence and intention.

Resources

When finding songs for festivals I often work with the Wystones series—they have one for each of the 4 seasons we experience in this part of the world. All the Year Round is full of bigger ideas for festivals and celebrations and lots of simple, beautiful crafts to share with the children. Both of these selections are lovely, and include general, nature-based seasonal songs and ideas as well as some inspired by religious holidays.

 
Caregiver essentials for Cold Times
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In the rhythm of the year, cold seasons are a time to turn inward: to think, to tend to our inner lives, to stoke our inner fires and remind ourselves of our creative capacity. They’re really a beautiful time of year, but can tend to grate on us as the mornings get dark and our toes get cold. One of the things I love about being a Waldorf early childhood teacher is that these rhythms of the year form so much of the basis of our curriculum, giving me the opportunity to work with them really intentionally. At first, I was shocked by the amount of time I was expected to spend out in the cold, and would get miserable after a few weeks because I felt like I was constantly covered in 7 layers of wool, still cold to my bones. After a few years of practice I feel like I’ve developed some pretty effective strategies for staying warm, happy, and available to get in touch with that inner creativity that has so much potential this time of year.

Practices

Movement. My yoga studio is a warm, cozy, wonderful place in the cold weather. My body doesn’t like anything too intense, but taking the time to slowly and carefully flow through my vinyasa practice, followed by restorative yoga under lots of cozy blankets, warms me up from the inside and helps me re-set. Find a movement practice that feels good to you to keep your energy from getting too stagnant.

Breathing fresh air and getting some sun on my face. This means getting outside, for as long as possible, every day, especially during the limited daylight hours. I do this every day as part of my work, but try to find some time outside just for myself, as well. Getting out in the cold makes me enjoy it more and feel happier and warmer. Try hiking, or skiing, or just taking long walks around the neighborhood. Bundle yourself up and go sit in the park on your break.

Lighting candles. I buy tea-lights and tapers in bulk this time of year, and light up the house by candlelight in the morning and evening. It’s so beautiful and cozy and feels like a way of embracing the long dark days. I always use beeswax candles, since paraffin wax is petroleum-based.

Potions

Lanolin is the best lip balm, face balm, chapped cheeks treatment, hand cream, everything. Sheep produce it to help insulate themselves when wet, and I swear it does the same thing for me. It smells a little… barn-y, but its magical abilities to keep my skin soft and warm more than make up for it.

A hot drink to carry with you everywhere. I love my insulated Kleen Kanteen because it keeps my coffee hot for so much longer, whether I’m outside in the freezing cold or just drinking it really slowly because children keep needing me. A hot drink will warm you from the inside out and do wonders for the spirit. I switch over to Earl Grey or adaptogenic coffee in the afternoon to keep myself awake past the 4pm sunset without getting too wired.

Elderberry syrup of some sort for keeping sniffles at bay. Mythic Medicinals makes arguably the best around, but it can be hard to get your hands on (she sells out fast!). Here’s a recipe to make your own, and some elderberries to get you started.

Woolies

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I know I sound like such a Waldorf teacher, but trust me: you need long underwear. You know how you’ll be outside on a cold day and your legs will be freezing even though you’re wearing your coat and boots? That’s because denim isn’t warm—you need something to insulate your legs! (This took me longer than I’d care to admit to figure out.) I wear these silk long underwear on all but the coldest days, when I switch over to a merino pair. They’re warm but thin enough to wear under skinny jeans, don’t itch or really feel like anything at all, and won’t leave you sweating when you go inside.

My feet are always cold from about October on, so wool socks are non negotiable. Darn Tough makes the best around—they’re super warm and guaranteed for life. Don’t try to make it through a New York Winter wearing cotton socks, that’s just mean to your toes.

My number one Waldorf teacher hack is wearing a playsilk as a scarf. They’re super soft and light as air and just a little scrap around your neck will warm you up a lot.

A good hat, and a good way to prevent hat hair. You lose a lot of heat from the top of your head, and a hat will keep you warmer than a sweater (so says my mother, who is generally correct about such things.) I love the hats my friends at Lynn and Lawrence make—they’re the perfect, simple beanies, hand knit from super warm alpaca by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. As for hat hair, I like to throw my long straight-ish hair into a low braid before going outside. Solana has very curly hair and will wear braids or twists, then curl them into a low bun before she puts a hat on. Braids, etc. will also protect long hair from the harsh cold and wind, preventing breakage and helping with the midwinter frizz.

Creative Discipline

The heart can think of no devotion

Greater than being the shore to the ocean —

Holding the curve of one position,

Counting on endless repetition.

- Robert Frost

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Discipline is a way of showing love

Discipline—the work of establishing boundaries and becoming a loving authority in your child’s life—is one of the most difficult and intimidating parts of working with children. Many of us come to this work with trauma from our own childhoods that informs us how not to do things, but that of course begs the question of what to do. And we’ll get to that. But I think the first thing we need to consider is why. Of course, there are practical considerations, safety reasons, etc., but beyond that there is something much more essential to our work as authority figures in their lives. You, as primary caregivers, are the first guides children have in this world. You are the ones who show them what it is to be a human on this earth, and  especially when they are very young and learn so much through doing, showing them what is and is not good to do is the best way to do this.

Children don’t come into this world with the ability to be self-disciplined, or to self-regulate. These capacities will come in time, and the best way we can help them along is by offering external discipline and regulation. A young musician, for example, needs loving authority to help them practice their instrument daily before they can become the adult that wants to wake up early and practice. Likewise, a toddler needs someone to lovingly hold them when they’re sad they didn’t get the toy they wanted, before they can become an adult who will have healthy coping mechanisms to help when they didn’t get the job they wanted. We are literally modeling for them what their higher reasoning will eventually become for themselves—an awesome and difficult task!

Rhythm

As our children’s guides through this new world, one of the most supportive things we can offer them is a strong, holistically considered rhythm.

Repetition and predictability are incredibly nourishing and reassuring to young a child’s consciousness. You can see this in their desire to read the same book, over and over again, to sing the same song, to eat the same after school snack. Without our years of experience the world would seem a chaotic, disorderly place: rhythm is a way to begin to introduce sense and find the pattern to what is going on. A strong rhythm can also take the place of a lot of yelling. If you always get dressed and then eat breakfast, or always take a bath before bed, or Wednesday is always the day you go grocery shopping after school, your children will quickly acclimate to this regularity and take it in stride. I amazed at how quickly the children in my class have acclimated to our classroom rhythm over the past few weeks, and where once there was much confusion and a huge need for adult re-direction, there is now understanding and order. Cleanup, rest, eat. Play, have some apple, say goodbye. These orders make sense, with each activity giving the child what they need to thrive in the next, and keeping them incredibly regular allows everyone to relax in the knowledge of what will come next. In this way, especially when adjusting to a new environment, previewing the rhythm can also help children who are struggling with anxiety.

Strategies

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Adjust your expectations

Make sure what you’re asking of your child--whether it be to sit quietly, to stay by your side in the store, or to play nicely with a friend--is helpful and appropriate for them at this point in their development and also this point in their day. The prefrontal cortex is the most energetically “expensive” part of the brain to operate, so it stops doing it’s important work of judgement if we’re tired, hungry, sensorially overwhelmed, or emotionally overwhelmed. In children, for whom the prefrontal cortex is tiny to begin with, even seemingly small triggers can get them to a point where they “act out” or melt down.

Engage their movement

A toddler especially is still in a place where processing and following verbal instructions is really hard. In teaching them to “listen” and do what you say, it is often helpful to do it with them while saying it. Much easier to say “it is time to clean up now” while handing them a block and the block basket, or to say “time to try the potty” while walking them to the bathroom.

Don’t ask questions

So often I hear toddlers peppered with an endless stream of questions—the child ignoring them and the adult growing increasingly frustrated that they won’t respond “yes, I would like to put my coat on now.” This is exhausting for everyone involved, and can make providing boundaries for your child much more challenging in the long run. Think about in which situations your child’s opinion is actually relevant or helpful. Is it up to them if you go out for breakfast? Is it their responsibility to decide what coat they wear? Even adults can get “decision fatigue;” for children this sets in much more quickly. You do not need your child’s permission to make decisions for them, you have to simply be their loving authority. The less of their energy you demand for decision-making, the more is available for learning and play.

At the same time, a well timed question: “where does the (toy) sheep sleep?” can aid in transitions and engage their imaginations more than just “put the sheep in the barn.” But you can see how different this type of questions is than asking, for example, if they want to clean up now.

Follow through

Much of having a healthy relationship with discipline is being confident and sturdy in your role as the authority figure. I like to be able to honestly tell the children “I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” and this means being very careful with what I tell them. Try proposing a small, simple consequence such as: “If you throw the shovel into the bushes again, we’ll have to put it away.” rather than something something broad or non-specific. It will make it easier for them to understand the consequence, and easier for you to follow through on it. Likewise, if you tell them “one more story and then lights out,” then be ready to turn the lights out after one more story. If you’re not ready to follow-through with something, do not propose it.

“Time ins”

When a child—for lack of a better word—misbehaves, our anger can make us want to send them away to “think about what they did.” If you’re feeling really angry or like you might want to hit your child, then by all means give yourself some space. But often what the child really needs is a moment to take a breath and reconnect with you. Social worker Kim John Payne has the saying “there is no such thing as a disobedient child, just a disoriented one.” Spending time sitting next to you and holding the ball of yarn as you knit, for example, and spending some time in observation can often provide the re-orientation needed.

Further Reading

The Soul of Discipline by Kim John Payne

This is one of my favorite books on the subject of discipline. It’s long and can feel a bit dense if you’re looking for right now solutions, but it gives a beautiful overview of the role of the caregiver as authority—and how that authority changes in nature—for the first 18 years of life. Throughout, Kim uses examples of families he’s worked with, which is both illustrative and helps us feel less alone in our problems! In one of my favorite chapters, he reviews discipline “fads” of the past three generations, which is incredibly helpful when trying to step back and look at any trauma you might have from the way you were disciplined as a child that might be impacting your comfort as an authority figure now.

No Drama Discipline by Drs. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Much more easily digestible, I often hand this over to parents lost in the throws of some new, confusing behavior or challenge at home. The authors use the neuroscience of child development, explained in simple terms, to explore why children act the way they do and give you guidance on how to respond. Helpfully, it uses comics to illustrate some points, making it a great choice for visual learners or anyone trying to review it on the fly.

Your Two Year Old by Drs. Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg

For caregivers of toddlers, this book is awesome (it really covers 18 months-3). I review it regularly when I need a little perspective into behaviors or a reminder of what’s to come. The authors are both serious experts in child development and guide you through common behaviors while offering suggestions on how to structure your 2 year old’s life so they’ll thrive. The chapter “Techniques” is particularly helpful when considering discipline.

A note that my copy is from the 1970s, and while most of the outdatedness is funny there are also a lot of ridiculous gender norms that I sincerely hope they’ve edited out of more recent printings.

Much thanks to Maggie Touchette of Our Sons and Daughters School for helping me plan the talk that inspired this blog post, and for teaching me so much about discipline.

Care for Caregivers

How I support myself through the emotional and energetically draining work of caring for young children.

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Now that we’re getting into the flow of the school year, I’m once again finding my way through the self care practices I work with to support my work as a teacher. While summer self care looked like a lot of time spent on the beach, eating a lot of fresh vegetables, letting go of an obsession with linear time to instead flow on my intuition, with Autumn comes a real shift towards routine and nourishment, and taking the wisdom I found in the freedom of summer deep into my inner life. Each Autumn I reinvent these practices to serve my ever evolving ways of being, and this year especially—with the potentially hustle-inducing process of launching a new project—I am finding lots of small ways throughout my days to find peace, center, and flow.

While I think self care is a deeply important part of being a person no matter what you do, working with children (whether you get paid for it or not) is so particularly intense that I see a real need for caregivers to devote extra time to it. Children are high drama and energetically and physically draining. They don’t have the same energetic or emotional boundaries that adults do, so they lean on and borrow from our energy to move through the world. Caregivers need to be SO strong and SO centered to manage that without breaking down and we don’t get that way by accident: it takes work.

Practices

Telling people to do yoga and meditate isn’t exactly groundbreaking—but trust me, DOING IT is. I’m sharing what I do in the hopes that it will offer the inspiration or information needed to spur you into action in some new way.

Yoga

I’ve practiced yoga since childhood, and have maintained a practice (in different forms) for over a decade now. I take classes, but last year began giving myself the time to maintain a home practice as well which has been a real game changer. I take this as an opportunity to connect with my intuition and really tap into what my body needs on a given day. If you want to let someone else plan the class for you, Yogis Anonymous and Gaia both offer subscriptions to access online classes that people I trust love. Beyond it’s importance as a part of a self care practice, yoga supports my work with children by reminding me to find my breath in challenging situations. It also supports my physical body, which is worked really hard in the classroom. I’ve learned how to move in a way that keeps me flexible and avoids injury, and have used yoga to work through whatever overuse injuries I sustain.

Meditation

Usually I sit to meditate after I’ve come into my physical body through yoga in the mornings. I started out using Headspace, which has awesome guided mindfulness meditations that I recommend to anyone looking to get into a daily practice. Giving myself just 10 minutes a day for a few months to meditate was a relatively small shift, but it measurably improved the way I worked with the children and my overall mental heath. If you’re looking for more guidance or support, Michelle Mankins is offering a 6 week mindfulness series on Wednesdays, just upstairs from Brooklyn Morning Garden!

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being in water

Last year I had the blessing of an incredible outdoor shower that I used through November. I also had access to the beach every day after work (and even went some mornings before work). This year, back in the city, no such luck—but I do have a bathtub! Being with water is so powerful and profound when done intentionally, so I’ve made a point to do it every day, even if just in my tiny Brooklyn bathroom. In the morning I take a cold shower, slowly turning the knob from lukewarm to freezing over the course of a few minutes. It wakes me up and is a huge exercise in patience and mindfulness. In the evenings, I often take a very hot bath as well, to re-center myself after a long day.

Earthing

This one is also harder to implement in the city, where we don’t all have beautiful lush meadows just steps away. But, especially when I’m feeling nervous or out of myself, it’s always worth it to bike to the park and take off my shoes and just breathe. Urban life can be literally so ungrounded, with lots of us spending our lives floating in steel towers, that the simple act of feeling the soft earth beneath our feet can be a big deal. (And yes, I do this even in the Winter.) I return from these outings with a renewed sense of perspective and calm, and often with inspiration on how to solve some problem or another. This is also something that’s easy to fit into your day with children, and good for them too! Obviously in the city you want to check the ground for broken glass, etc., but on the whole I’ve found both Prospect and Fort Greene Parks fields to be much cleaner than I was anticipating.

Play

Not to counter everything I just said or anything, but all this self care stuff can get really heavy and exhausting. We can spend so much time taking care of ourselves, trying to fix ourselves, that we forget who we are and why we’re worth caring about. So I’ve also been giving myself permission to do the fun, silly stuff that’s maybe not so on brand. Lately I’ve been binge reading Harry Potter, taking a lot of spontaneous CitiBike rides, and listening to Santigold really loudly in my car. My partner is also really into games and we’ve been playing Fairy Tale Fluxx (a weird card game that comes in all sorts of different themes, like Star Trek and Anatomy and Pirates) and Gin at night rather than watching TV or both getting sucked into email.

Potions

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One recent change I’ve made is to switch my afternoon coffee over to this mushroom coffee. It is definitely coffee, and is caffeinated, but is chiller and strings me out less than my traditional protocol of undiluted cold brew concentrate. This switch has helped me stay productive through the afternoon, rather than burning out and having to take a nap/stare blankly at the wall. Like the millennial I am, I doctor it up with collagen peptides and oat milk.

I’m also in love with infusions, nettle in particular. I am anemic, and I find that when I am drinking nettle infusions regularly I feel much stronger and have more energy. Much like a tea, but stronger, infusions are the best way to extract the medicinal value out of herbs like nettle, oatsraw, or raspberry leaf. I make mine in a french press: one ounce dried plant to every quart boiling water (eyeballed), let sit overnight or for at least 4 hours, then plunge. Nettle is best chilled with a pinch of salt, IMO.

Basically everything Moon Juice does is magic, and I’m there daily when I go to LA. Their dusts are fun, but I’m personally really bothered by even the tiniest bit of stevia, so I don’t take them anymore. BUT they just released SuperYou, which is super (lol) supportive of people living with daily stress—aka anyone who works with young children. It’s made out of a blend of researched adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs and helps normalize cortisol levels, which can get out of whack in the face of all the stimulation our nervous system faces in modern life.

Monk Oil is made by a Brooklyn-based Waldorf kindergarten teacher, who formulated it to help those of us in cities develop loving fortitude. It’s made out of cedar, lavender, and yarrow: all powerfully protective herbs. I cover my heart chakra with it before entering into a potentially overwhelming situation (like the subway) and have used it daily to support boundary work with children.

In closing

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With all of this guidance, I want to acknowledge that it can feel exhausting to have to take care of yourself on top of everyone else. I remember at one point in my career breaking down in tears because it felt like all I ever did was take care of things: the house, the classroom, the children, and then at the end of the day myself! I’ve made a lot of structural changes to my life since then and have been able to now shift my perspective on self care to be something I do out of love for myself, rather than something I feel obligated to. For me, this shift required some massive prioritizing of how I spend my energy, and for me to make the decision that I didn’t have to hustle to be happy and successful. This is a larger evolution that I am too close to to offer much advice on, but if you’re feeling that way please believe me—I understand.

If you’re reading this, know that my biggest wish for you is that you learn your own worth and find comfort in this life. No matter the pressure you feel to do things perfectly, one of the most important things you can model for the children around you in a deep love of and care for yourself. The core aim in my life of these practices and potions is to allow myself, especially on hard days, of my inherent worth goodness and to find moments of comfort in my skin.

On Separation
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When children enter our space for their first days of school, they are invited in in warmth and love. They and their caregivers enter together, are given plenty of time and space to take off their shoes and hang up their coat, and then turn to their teacher to have their hands carefully washed and dried. Their caregivers, if they wish, are invited in to sit for a cup of tea and observe the children in play for a few minutes. Then, off they go, to do the work of adulthood (whatever that looks like to them). And the children stay, to do the work of childhood. 

We do everything we can to offer a soothing, gentle threshold to independence, because we understand that this transition--spending time away from one's primary caregiver, often for the first time, can be a big deal. Often time it happens quite seamlessly, with all parties glad to have some time and space dedicated to themselves. Children are happy to see their friends and teachers, and often barely look up when their caregiver says goodbye! But sometimes, for some children, it's a lot less seamless, and a lot more dramatic. This is also very normal, and we're here to help.

Separation can be hard. Sometimes children cry. Sometimes grownups cry. It's all okay. 

Practical Tips

In case you need more of a plan than "it's all okay," here is what I have seen work.

- Know, in your heart of hearts, that you are bringing your child to the playgroup (or wherever) because you love them and you know it will be good for them. Meditate on it if you need to, figure out what fears you are carrying. Children are remarkably psychic and intuitive, and if you're anxious they likely will be too. 

- Before dropping them off, share a simple "preview" of the day with your child. For example: "After breakfast, we're going to bike to Morning Garden (or wherever you're going), and you're going to see your friends and help make some soup! After you sing the goodbye song, I'll be there to pick you up and we'll bike home for some lunch and nap time." The more rhythmic your days, the better they can anticipate and relax into the sequence of events. 

- When it's time for you to go, it's time for you to go. I once heard a parent say: "talk like you're relaying a fact of the universe." It's time for you to go, just as sure as if I drop this pen it will fall to the ground. Do not negotiate, do not ask permission, just say goodbye and leave. If this seems harsh, remember this: One of the greatest things you can teach your children is to trust. In order to do this, they need to trust that you will do what you say you are going to do. Promising one thing (I'll come in for a cup of tea, give you a kiss, then head out!) and doing another (okay, I'll have another cup of tea!), while it may placate them in the short term, is confusing and will make trust and separation harder in the long term. 

And if you need even more reassurance, please know that almost all the time, within about five minutes, the children are absolutely fine and happily go off to play. Often it happens even faster, before their caregivers even leave the front gate! We're all in this together, so please reach out to your child's teacher if you want to talk, so everyone can be on the same page and support each other.