Teacher Tanya is our Ogalala Advocate for infants and toddlers! This blog post originally appears on her blog. Teacher Tanya is a mom to a toddler and preschooler, a teacher, and RIE facilitator-in-training.
When parents ask me what would be the most challenging part of raising a toddler, I always say that there are just so many challenging moments but on top of my mind, it would always be mealtimes with a toddler.
I’m sure some moms would agree with me- that once your baby becomes mobile and active, it will be quite difficult to have them sit for a long time. Such that sharing a meal with them would be about picking up the food that they threw on the floor, or at times, you would have to sacrifice your hunger or eating with your spouse so that you can attend first to your toddler’s immediate needs. This was our life back then when my husband Mike and I were figuring out how to raise a toddler and nurturing a newborn.
Yes, we had a kasambahay to assist us but we decided earlier on that mealtimes as much as possible should be shared as a family and it would be “us” or either one of us who would be there to eat with our children. These were just some of the “habits” that we decided to start in our own family life. Another thing we started was that to turn off any gadgets while we have mealtimes with our children. Starting it was easy especially because our children weren’t exposed to it even when they were babies. The challenge is when you are establishing this habit when they are already a toddler because they have already acquired certain “habits” that are just so difficult to “unlearn”.
I remember before we had Ellie (our firstborn),
Mike and I discussed the values that we wanted to instill in our children. We realized that we wanted to raise children who are God-fearing, responsible and life-long learners (among others). We also decided to choose to delay using screen media (tv, videos) if possible until our children are in the preschool already. We also informed our household regarding this decision- this meant they can’t watch tv or using their phone while being with our kids. It helped to get everyone on board. In the same way, we modeled this to our kasambahays by putting away our phones (except when there’s an important call) when we were with our kids so that we can focus on playing with them.
This decision was easier said than done. It was the easiest when you have a newborn, and the level of difficulty increased as our children became mobile, and reached the toddler years. This decision is tested even more whenever we would eat out. Whenever Ellie would like to down from her chair, and then Julia would follow her Ate, there’s not a time wherein I would have this urge to take out my phone and just give it to them so they can sit down and be pacified.
We realized that informing our children what will happen next (Ellie, it’s time to eat in awhile) and what’s expected of them helped so much during mealtimes. With Ellie, she needs to run around first and move around before she would finally settle down and so we let her. On the other hand, Julia would easily sit down once she has gotten her utensils with her first. It’s truly different for every child. By doing this, we not only respect our child and put value on how transitions truly matter for them but we also lessen ourselves of unnecessary stress.
You might ask, Teacher tanya why have this decision? Aren’t you depriving your kids of what’s normal nowadays?
The RIE approach has encouraged me alot about raising children who get their satisfaction inwardly. It has pointed out to me the importance of being stimulated “inwardly”, where a child’s source of motivation is not just dependent on a form of entertainment. It has reminded me to think about our long-term goals for our daughters- we want our children to learn how to wait, how to be patient, how to entertain themselves, to realize eventually that there are things you can’t get right away just because and that praying means also waiting for God’s timing.
In a society where we are pressured to believe that “earlier is better”, where children are becoming more entitled, and used to being “spoon-fed”, where everything can be accessed in one click, I believe that we need to think twice about the appropriateness of using technology in our family life. I always believe that there is the right time for everything and what our young children need at this moment is lots of time for PLAY! Screen media is a good tool for learning but it should be used as a resource to enhance learning- learning that’s hands-on, concrete and meaningful.
These are the reasons why we decided to make our mealtimes as a time to be connected to each other. It was a safe place and time to just be with each other. I always love conversations we share with our children- their stories about school and their friends. At home, we made our dining area as a screen-free zone (we just inform our visitors this) together with our children’s bedroom and playroom. When eating outside, we always pack in our bags, several items that we can do for our “unplugged activities”.
When Ellie and Julia were younger, we would pack activities such as: their favorite books, stickers, paper (that they can tear) and a white board too for them to just doodle on. If your child is not yet interested in these sit-down activities, you can let them roam around first and then settle down once the food is there. It’s always good to bring some of these things with you (pack those that are handy) because not all restaurants have child-friendly activities available.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages that for babies and toddlers- parents should prioritize lots of play and unplugged time with them. This is because playing is the best foundation for your baby’s language development, encourages interaction with others, teaches important values such as patience and develops cognitive skills such as: attention and exercises those big and finger muscles too! AAP also suggests several guidelines for children 2 and above: (in terms of: duration of time when watching, appropriate shows to watch, etc) but the important factor is having an adult co-view with the child.
All of these factors led us to choose to “delay” screen media use with our daughters. Believe it or not, my husband and I by God’s grace accomplished it until they turned 2. It wasn’t easy but I’ve learned that when you embrace your conviction and are happy with it, then you become more open to explaining in a positive way your family’s decision and others (your relatives, household) get on board with you and respect your own choice. My advice is to start small. do what you think is feasible and what you believe you can commit to as a family.
Now, we are seeing the benefits of what we planted 4 years ago. Sometimes, i’m in awe of how Ellie and Julia can wait for their food, choose from their bag what activities they want to do and find ways to entertain themselves. Seeing them keep themselves engaged reminds me that their love for learning has indeed been fueled by play. I am assured that they will grow up to be life-long learners. When this happened for the first time, I cried because finally, I can relax and enjoy my meal and really just savor eating with my husband unhurriedly.
Simple joys indeed but I would say it was one of the best decisions I made as it reminded me that my time and more importantly my emotional presence with my children whether it’s just during a basic daily routine such as mealtimes or during a major event in their class matters most.
You can check out AAP’s recommendations here [on recommendations for children’s media use].