Empower Your Toddler With a Visual Schedule

Have you ever thought about the sheer lack of control toddlers have over their day?  They are typically told when and what to eat, what to wear, how to act, when they can be loud, when to be quiet, when to sleep, when to wake up…the list goes on and on and on.  We literally control every single aspect of their lives.  Is it really any wonder that toddlerhood often brings tantrums?  At this time in their life when our growing babies are yearning for ever-increasing independence, most parents are yearning for compliance.

If you have been around me at all, you’ve probably heard me utter the term “respectful caregiving.”  Respectful caregiving involves viewing babies and children differently than the mainstream and it warrants its own blog post (or many blog posts!) with details and examples.  That post is in the works!  In short, what respectful caregiving means to me is viewing children as whole people from birth.   While this includes many things, a few of them are: including them in age-appropriate decisions and day-to-day happenings, explaining everything that is going to happen to them, treating them the way you would want to be treated, and accepting and empathizing with their feelings.

One way to put respectful caregiving into action is to provide your toddler with a visual schedule of their day.  Knowing what is happening “next” helps young children make smoother transitions through the day and gives them a sense of control over their lives.  Stella thrives when she knows our plan for the day.  This is especially true if we are going to be doing something out of our normal routine, but even on the days we are staying home, she does best when we talk about what we’re going to do.  For all of these reasons, I decided to create a visual daily schedule for her.

I totally obsessed over how I wanted to do this for waaay too long instead of just getting it done so we could start using it!  I’m pretty detail-oriented (obsessed?) about certain things and that can be a blessing at times and a major pain at others!

Anyway, I used Pages to create an 11×17 document for the layout of the day.  I had it printed in Holton at Marketing Concepts — it is great quality and the price was very, very reasonable!

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I used Google Image Search to find clipart, created the activity/routine cards in Pages, and  printed all of the the cards on photo paper.  I laminated everything, cut out the activity cards, and applied Velcro dots.  I laminated an extra 11×17 sheet of paper to store and display the activity cards that aren’t in use. I will probably have to use the back of it, too, because there are at least twice this many cards!

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Here’s the finished product:

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I forgot to print a “Breakfast” card!  Grrr!  Of all the cards I made, I forgot the one that starts our day!  Part of me wanted to use an entire sheet of photo paper and a laminator sheet for ONE card (there’s that obsessiveness!).  Don’t worry, I talked myself out of being so wasteful and decided to just wait until I have something else to print and laminate 🙂 Until then, it WILL drive me nuts!

I anticipate Stella loving this!

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Painting with Textures

Today, we had fun painting with different items I found around the house — a rubber basting brush, empty toilet paper roll, loofah, and a regular paintbrush.  Stella loved this!  I offer paint pretty often, but she usually doesn’t show much interest.  If she does, it’s only for a minute or so.  She stayed engaged in this for much longer.

She was really interested in learning colors a month or so ago, picked it up pretty quickly, and has been spontaneously naming every color she sees since then.  I gave her blue and yellow paint for this activity and she began noticing excitedly that it was turning green when she mixed them.  It’s really amazing what kids can learn all on their own when you let them lead.

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Her “Little Helper Stand” is coming in so handy!  She loves standing on it whenever we are in the kitchen.  Whether she’s playing, helping, or eating, it gets a lot of use!

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A less messy painting option is watercolors.  I wouldn’t have thought to use watercolors with a young toddler, but my mom has been letting Stella play with them at her house and she seems to really enjoy it.  I’m going to get some for her to use at home.  My mom adds a couple of drops of water to the colors so Stella just has to dip the paintbrush in.  Oh…and if you’re picky about the watercolors getting mixed with different colors in the container…well…you might have to get over that first 🙂

Ball Pit Fun!

Lately, Stella has been really interested in throwing, catching, and rolling balls.  She throws them all around the playroom and walks or crawls after them, often giggling.  I was thinking of ways to expand on her interest and I remembered seeing a baby pool ball pit over at Play at Home Mom a long while ago.  I jumped on Amazon Prime and ordered a small inflatable baby pool and a set of 100 ball pit balls! I set it up in the playroom last night and Stella discovered it this morning.  She was thrilled, to say the least.  It’s pretty much the only thing we played with all morning.

She would wave her hands through the balls and say, “Splash!” as if she remembers splashing in a pool like this last summer! (I wouldn’t put it past her — this girl amazes me with her memory every single day!)

She would wave her hands through the balls and say, "Splash!" as if she remembers splashing in the pool last summer!

She laid down and told me she was going “night night” in the ball pit. LOL 🙂

She said she wanted to go "night night" in the ball pit. LOL :-)

I plan to add items like ramps and tubes to the ball area in the playroom soon (or on a larger scale outside) to expand on her interest even more, so stay tuned! 🙂

Homemade “Moon Sand”

Today, we explored homemade moon sand in the sensory table!  Stella really liked it, but not as much as the three-year old I watched today.  He was absorbed in this stuff for a very long time and kept coming back to it, adding more materials (vehicles, geometric shapes, play kitchen utensils, cups and bowls…), and exploring it in different ways. I found the idea over at The Imagination Tree and we’ll definitely be making it again! The recipe called for 5 cups of flour and 1 cup of baby oil and I ended up doubling it to fill our large tub.  I was skeptical because of the flour (how could flour be like sand?!), but this stuff was awesome!  We added glitter to the mixture later in the day and that added another level of fun.

Not a great picture, but it at least gives you an idea of what it looks like:

Homemade "Moon Sand"

Baby Doll Birthday Party

Stella’s great-grandma, Connie, made her a mini chocolate cake today, just because she’s sweet like that. I decided to add to the fun and turn the mini cake into a birthday cake for her baby doll, complete with a candle and the “Happy Birthday” song. Stella thought it was quite fun 😉

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DIY “Little Helper Stand”

I’m continually amazed by my husband’s ability to make pretty much anything 🙂  Check out this awesome Little Helper Stand he made for Stella so she can stand safely at the counter to help with things she loves to help with like cooking, washing dishes, making coffee, and other fun activities.  He found the plans in the October/November 2013 issue of Handy Magazine.

Side view of the stand.

Side view of the stand. It is adjustable so we can continue to use it as she grows taller.

Back view.

Back view. Excuse my messy countertop 😉

Our Journey with Lip and Tongue Tie

Several months ago, we discovered that Stella had an upper lip tie and posterior tongue tie.  I won’t go into detail about them here, since a quick internet search will give you plenty of information.  Instead, I want to talk about what the warning signs were, because as far as breastfeeding is concerned, the earlier you can identify and revise a tie, the better.

If I hadn’t been so determined to breastfeed, I would have given up.  I’m sharing our story because I’m passionate about the benefits of breastfeeding.  I understand that some women don’t have a choice because their bodies will not allow them to breastfeed.  I also understand that some women make the  informed choice to not breastfeed.  But, I also believe that many women who do want to breastfeed are  robbed of having a real choice in the matter because of undiagnosed, unrecognized issues such as these — issues that have a solution, but need to be recognized by healthcare professionals.

Here’s how it went for us.

My first clue should have been that nursing was extremely painful for the first few months.  My complaints of pain were often met with a sympathetic, yet dismissive, “Yeah, it can be a little painful in the beginning while you’re getting used to it.”  But it was more than “a little painful.”  It was excruciating.  And it wasn’t just while I was getting used to it.  It lasted well past the three month mark.  I even remember crying sometimes when it was time nurse her because I was so sore and trying to get her to latch correctly was exhausting, painful, and frustrating for both of us.

The reason it was painful was because Stella had a “shallow” latch (a common symptom of lip and tongue ties).  She rarely opened her mouth wide enough and always curled her upper lip under.

I tried using shields, which did help with the pain, but was met with disapproval from my lactation consultants.  I started to feel guilty about using the shields and was concerned they could negatively impact my supply, so I worked to “wean” her off of them.

Despite the incorrect latch, Stella gained weight normally.  After a few months, the painful nursing subsided (or so I thought) and we had what I thought was a normal nursing relationship for the remainder of her first year.  As it turns out, she never had a correct latch.  The relief I felt was due partly to the fact that she learned to compensate for the ties by changing the way she sucked so she could actually get milk somewhat efficiently (which is actually pretty amazing, if you think about it — infants are so cool 🙂 ) and partly due to me just getting used to the painful nursing.

For various reasons (including the WHO’s recommendation), nursing until at least the age of two is important to me, so I continued nursing after Stella turned one.  When she was around 13 or so months, breastfeeding became very painful again.  This time, I started searching for answers.

Through countless Google searches, reading several research articles, and posting a dozen questions on the Tongue Tie Baby Support Group on Facebook, I came to the conclusion that Stella did, in fact, have a lip tie.  I emailed photos to Stacy Cole, DDS, in Fort Worth, Texas, who is one of the leading practitioners in the field of infant/child laser frenectomy.  He confirmed my suspicions and informed me that when a lip tie is present, there is almost always (more than 90% of the time) a posterior tongue tie present, as well.  Sure enough, Stella had both.  Her lip tie was Type IV, the most severe.  The reason the nursing pain and bad latch returned after several months of less painful nursing is because babies’ sucking patterns change from infancy to toddlerhood.  Since her sucking pattern was changing, she was having to learn how to compensate for the ties all over again.

Based on the many issues that lip and tongue ties can cause — breastfeeding, speech, swallowing, digestion, jaw misalignment, tooth decay, tooth gap (which Stella has), weight gain — there was no question for us as to whether or not we were going to get the surgery for her.  We scheduled our appointment for a few weeks later and we made the 8 hour drive to Texas. We took a lot of fun activities to keep her happy in the car!

I know many people think we’re crazy for traveling so far for the procedure.  We chose Dr. Cole because he comes highly recommended and has much experience doing laser revisions on infants and toddlers.  Through my research and stories from other moms in the support group, we knew it was important to have someone very experienced perform the procedure to insure it was done correctly and to reduce the risk of reattachment.  There’s no way we were putting her through all of this only to have it reattach a couple of months later and have to do it all over again.  Aside from Dr. Amy Grawey in Missouri (who was on maternity leave at the time), Dr. Cole was the closest provider we felt comfortable with.  The support group I joined has a list of “preferred providers” based on experience, reattachment, effectiveness, etc., which is how we found him.  It’s pretty tough to get on the list, so I knew he would be good.

When we arrived at the clinic and Dr. Cole examined Stella’s mouth, he couldn’t believe I had nursed for so long with how restricted her mouth was and how it would feel to nurse a baby like that.  What relief!  This painful nursing wasn’t all in my head!  Finally, someone validated my feelings!

I’m not going to sugar-coat it – I thought the procedure was nothing less than horrifying.  Stella was given Oral Versed to make her sleepy and sort of “out of it” and then a local anesthesia was injected near the surgical sites.  (By the way, be emotionally prepared if you ever have to see your baby “drugged up” — that was not a good feeling.)  She was awake for the entire procedure, just groggy.  She was swaddled in a blanket and then her body was strapped to a board thing.  Jacob was responsible for holding her head still.  I bent down so she could see me and so I could speak quietly in her ear.  I reminded her what was going to happen (we had talked about it a lot beforehand) and then I started to sing to her.  They put glasses on her eyes to protect them from the laser beam, propped her mouth open with a mouth guard, and Dr. Cole began cauterizing the tissue, first her lip and then her tongue.  She screamed and cried hysterically for the entire procedure, and while it took less than ten minutes, it was the longest ten minutes of my life.  They say that babies aren’t really in much pain during the procedure and that they are mostly upset about people messing around in their mouth, but that was definitely not the case for Stella.  I know my baby’s cries and those were most certainly cries of pain.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I had to leave the room near the end of the procedure and go to the bathroom because I was going to either pass out or be sick from the anxiety of seeing her so upset and in pain.  I’m getting sick to my stomach and teary-eyed writing this even now, and it’s been over two months.  Dr. Cole and his staff were amazing though.  I would travel there again in a heartbeat.

Before and After

Before the procedure and two months post-revision. I don’t have a good picture of the tongue pre-revision.

After the procedure was over, I immediately picked her up and she began to somewhat calm down.  She was still groggy from the Versed, and that was really nervous-making for me.  I kept asking if it was normal and they kept assuring me that it was.  We were taken to a small room with a rocking chair where I tried to nurse, but she just ended up getting frustrated and more upset because her mouth was still numb and she couldn’t latch.  She threw up a couple of times, probably from a combo of the Versed and the stress.  That upset me, too, because she had never thrown up before.  She finally calmed down and we went back to our hotel, where she threw up several more times, but was finally able to nurse, eat a couple of crackers, drink some water successfully, and keep it all down.  And the nursing?  WOW.  The first time she latched post-revision, I actually cried because I had no idea it was supposed to be so painless.

We had a lot of people praying for Stella through the procedure and that we would be strong and calm for her.  Oh, how I felt the power of those prayers.  Jacob and I were unusually calm through the entire process, except for the few minutes I had to leave the room during the procedure.  Stella did great through everything, given the circumstances.

The aftercare of the procedure involved stretching the sites twice daily and applying aloe for two weeks until they healed, to avoid reattachment.  Those definitely weren’t fun either, but we got through them by talking her through the process and empathizing.

Tongue and lip 5 days post-revision.  The gray color is normal and heals completely after 2-3 weeks.

Tongue and lip 5 days post-revision. The gray color is normal and heals completely after 2-3 weeks. You can really see here that her frenulum attached between her two front teeth.

Full disclosure:  Nursing didn’t stay wonderful.  After a couple of weeks, she began to revert to the compensated way of sucking that she was so used to.  This is common as babies begin to heal from the surgery.  We started cranio-sacral therapy for her (usually recommended with this procedure) with a chiropractor who specializes in it and began seeing some improvement.  We are still working for that awesome latch, but I have a feeling that her latch may never be perfect because of how she learned to compensate for so long.

So, with the stress, travel, horrifying procedure, upsetting after care, and still-not-great latch, do we regret having it done?  No.  She began nursing better and eating more, didn’t choke every time she took a drink of water, produced new sounds (starting the SAME DAY she had the procedure done), gained weight, and though she had always been a happy baby, she began smiling and laughing more frequently.  She had always been within a normal weight range, but gained only one pound from the time she was 10 months old to the time she was 15 months.  We had the procedure done and she gained one pound in four days.  We noticed many improvements and, all in all, I’m glad we had her ties revised.

Tongue and lip two months post-revision, completely healed.

Tongue and lip two months post-revision, completely healed.

I was certainly happy about all of the improvements we saw, but it also made me feel regretful and depressed that we (and various healthcare professionals) failed to recognize this problem.  Thinking of all the issues we could have avoided by having it revised in her first month of life is sickening. It’s been several months now since I discovered the ties and I’ve had some time to cool down, but I stand by my opinion that, when I presented with nearly all of the nursing symptoms related to a lip/tongue tied baby, Stella should have been checked immediately.  La Leche League advises, “Nipple soreness that increases or lasts beyond the first week should be interpreted as a warning that something is wrong.”

I found through my research that dentists, pediatricians, family doctors, and even lactation consultants are often misinformed or under-informed about ties.  I’m in the process of writing an informational letter to the lactation department at the hospital where I delivered to encourage their staff to check for lip and tongue ties on babies (they are pretty common), especially when nursing moms present with the symptoms related to it.  I’m hoping that this information can help someone who may be in the same situation I was.  Since we’ve had a lip/tongue tied baby, chances are higher that our future babies will have the problem.  I’m glad that I will now know to check them immediately and we will have the issue revised as soon as possible after birth.

Dr. Lawrence Kotlow is the leading expert in the field of child frenectomy and his website has good information, if you need it.  Also, if you think your child has a lip or tongue tie, you can send him your pictures via email and he will give you his opinion free of charge.  Dr. Cole (the dentist we went to) will do the same thing.

For information about correct vs. incorrect latching and sucking, click here.