How to better understand and communicate with children

OCTOBER 27, 2022

family on the beach
Photo from Tricia Centenera

Once the baby fever dissipates, you have to learn how to navigate through the highs and lows of child-rearing

 


 

The baby fever quickly goes away once you encounter screaming toddlers and sleepless nights. Being a parent is no easy feat and I am here to help you navigate through the highs and lows of child-rearing.

In the third edition of “Motherhood & me,” the journey towards mindful parenting continues as we go through how we can better understand and communicate with our kids.

READ: Motherhood & me: How to deal with picky eaters and tedious playtimes

Tricia centenera
Photo by JT Fernandez

1. How can I stop my two-and-a-half-year-old son from throwing his spoon on the floor and getting yogurt everywhere? He is definitely past this developmentally!

My eldest used to also throw her spoon across the room. It lasted for a few weeks or so but, because she was my first child, I didn’t know any better—I just kept picking up that spoon and putting it back on the table. This would go on over and over again every single meal, followed by a burst of laughter from her. 

It honestly drove me crazy until I realized that she wasn’t throwing her spoon to try and annoy or upset me. She was tossing it away because she was fascinated by and interested in seeing the spoon hit the floor or the food fly across the room. She was simply exploring.

So, I decided to change my approach instead to baby-led weaning, which is a method that allows children to feed themselves however they wish. If she dropped the spoon on the floor, it stayed there. I didn’t intervene. But, that also meant I would be armed with three to four spoons per meal. It was messy.

 

In your case, observe and try to decipher why exactly your son is throwing his spoon away. Is it because he is fascinated in seeing what happens to it, or is it because he wants to annoy you or draw your attention?

 

Eventually, I was able to tell whether or not she was throwing her spoon/food because she was exploring or was curious about something. Other times, it was because she was protesting against what she was eating or because she was seeking attention. Sometimes babies just throw food to get a reaction out of a parent or caregiver if they’re being told to stop what they’re doing.  

So I would just let her feed herself the way she wants to. We placed a big mat underneath her high chair and allowed her the freedom to explore. And honestly, if I had continued to play that game with her, I think I would have eventually lost my temper. 

mother and kids
Tricia with Arrow and Zuri | Photo from Tricia Centenera

In your case, observe and try to decipher why exactly your son is throwing his spoon away. Is it because he is fascinated in seeing what happens to it, or is it because he wants to annoy you or draw your attention? However, the one thing that you need to ensure is that you remain calm. He might innocently find it funny seeing you get all frustrated.

 

It’s easier said than done, I know, but motherhood is a messy business!

 

I found it helpful to use your words—even if they aren’t talking because they understand the tone—say things like, “No,  thank you. I  don’t want the spoon/food” if they want to keep trying to give the spoon or throw it at you. And when they drop it on the floor, don’t pick it up, just get another one and leave it for them. Eventually, he will get bored. It’s really a milestone of exploration for most.  

If he’s passed this milestone mentally, then he most likely thinks that it’s a game. So the next time his spoon drops on the floor, just give him another one until you have no more and say “Okay, all done” to signal that it’s over. Always use positive body language. Words can be powerful when it comes to kids. You can’t lose your cool. For  example,  say  things  like “Food belongs on the table, not on the floor” instead of  “No, don’t throw your food.” It’s easier said than done, I know, but motherhood is a messy business!

READ: Motherhood & me: Sleep patterns, mama tribes, and discipline at home

2. Hi Tricia. I have a little girl who is four and I want to stay close with her, but I feel that she’s starting to share less with me. How did you parent your eldest in a way that you are still close and that she feels free to speak to you about her wants?

One of my quick solutions for when I feel like this too with my eldest is to take her out on a date!

I always have one-on-one time with both my girls. We call it “Zuri-Mama Day” or “Arabella-Mama Day.” Before this date, the conversation sounds like this: “What do you want to do today? Where do you want to go?  I’ll do whatever you want to do”—they get to make the choice. Let your daughter lead the conversation while you act as an active listener. Don’t use this time as a moment you can correct or discipline. Instead, act as if you are going to have a catch-up with a girlfriend where you pay for the whole bill at the end.

 

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A post shared by Tricia Centenera (@triciacentenera)

 

I am close with both my eldest and youngest, but remember that each child is different and that there are seasons to it as well. I find that it’s a balancing act of giving them space to grow while mindfully helping them navigate through their growing pains while not overstepping. So, try date days and I’d love to know how it all goes. 

Even outside date days, the most important skill set all parents need to harness is to show interest, support, and presence in your kids’ interests. It sounds simple but it’s easier said than done. For example: If your child really loves—I don’t know—Pokemon cards or if they really love ballet or gaming—even if you have zero interest in it, show enthusiasm that matches theirs. If you do something she loves and you take an interest in it, you will bond over that and your connection will grow stronger. She’ll feel like you are her teammate, her buddy. 

tricia centenera with zuri
Photo from @triciacentenera/Instagram

I feel like when it comes to my girls—yes, I’m the responsible parent and I want to be a good role model for them—I also want them to feel like I’m on their side. I don’t go up against them on certain things, and I let their interests be mine and I let them lead. Don’t try to beat them at their own likes. Just support, “be interested,” and give positive affirmation. 

 

Even if you have zero interest in it, show enthusiasm that matches theirs. If you do something she loves and you take interest in it, you will bond over that and your connection will grow stronger.

 

That might sound like this: “I didn’t know that. Thank you for showing me this” or “It looks like you really worked hard on this project, tell me more about it.” I will cheer, congratulate, and support them in the big moments. But when they need correction, I don’t come in too hard. My girls shut down if I yell or come on too strong. I have learned that I have to approach the trickier situations with a lighter tone.  

I love this question because one of my biggest fears as a mother is also losing that open connection with my two girls. Even answering this refreshes my “Motherhood & me” ways! Thank you!

3. What activities can help us parents encourage our children to focus more?

Focus and concentration, I believe, go hand-in-hand with nutrition. Now, every child is different, therefore each one will have a different learning curve and degree of focus. In my journey, I can only speak about what worked and didn’t work for me being that I have a five-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old. So let me share: 

Create an environment for them that is clutter- and distraction-free. Now what does clutter-free mean? By that, I mean less = more. No distractions are really important because imagine trying to read a book in a noisy living room. And for a child, that would mean a room that does not have too many toys! 

two children
Arrow and Zuri | Photo from Tricia Centenera

It sounds simple enough but I got this totally wrong with my second child. 

For my first child, it was okay because she didn’t have that many toys to begin with. We kept it all at a minimum. However, by the time my second child came, their playroom had exploded into this world of colorful stuffed toys, Barbies, cars, puzzles, you name it. I found that my youngest would get really overwhelmed. It went unnoticed at first but I realized it was too much stimulation for her so she would end up just sitting there.

 

Set realistic goals and expectations upon our children and not think that they can sit there for hours on end.

 

What I found that worked was allowing her to play with just one or two toys at a time. For example, my youngest who is two years old—we’re learning shapes, colors, etc. If I do the shapes and colors in a room that’s too busy, she’ll get distracted and go over to something else that’s really colorful and maybe a little bit more fun. But, if I pull out those two toys and we go do it in another room, she is able to focus on it. 

Also, there is an average attention span depending on your child’s age. However, at the end of the day, they really require support and encouragement from a grown-up to stick with an activity for longer. So I suppose what I’m trying to say is we have to set realistic goals and expectations upon our children and not think that they can sit there for hours on end. If you create a calm, safe environment—realistic goals and expectations aided by age-appropriate activities will encourage them to focus. 

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