At First I Was Afraid ...
14:49 (GMT+2), Mon, 19 December 2011
Your child’s firsts won’t end for a while – before you know it, your baby will have progressed from his first tooth, word and step to his first kisses and crushes, and you might not be privy to these. But while you’re still the shining light in his life, every first he experiences can be met with either excitement or dread, and it’s your attitude that could mean the difference between a walk in the park or a screaming match. The overriding expert opinion when it comes to firsts is that you should be careful of projecting your fear, and acknowledge your toddler’s feelings.
First dentist appointment
“Firsts are always exciting and critically important as they establish the foundation upon which everything is built,” says paediatric dentist Dr Janet Gritzman. “It’s important that children have a positive attitude towards dentists and dentistry.” Angela Hutchison, parenting-skills coach and founder of Parent Works (www.parentworks.co.za), suggests acknowledging your toddler’s feelings and potential fear around a visit to the dentist. “Sometimes, people think if you mention the feeling, it’s going to make it worse, but the opposite is true,” she says. “When we acknowledge people’s feelings, they can release and manage them.”
According to Janet, fear is the number one issue she encounters in toddlers in her chair. “Once the child is confident and pleased to come to the dentist, it’s far easier to do dental procedures on him,” she says. "Ideally, a child should visit the dentist by the time his first tooth appears, which is usually between six and 12 months of age, and then have check-up appointments every six months thereafter. Avoid saying how much you hate going to dentists in front of your toddler, and don’t lie to him. ‘It won’t hurt at all’ is a statement you don’t know to be true.”
First haircut at a salon
While trimming long hair can be done at home, leave the styling to the pros. “Hairstylists are familiar with the effect of crowns and the various hairstyles,” says Graham Tod, owner of kids’ hair salon, Chop It. Graham suggests visiting the salon before the appointment, so your toddler becomes acquainted with the environment. But the person cutting your toddler’s hair needs to know about toddlers and what makes them tick. “The key to a stress-free haircut,” says Graham, “is having an experienced kid-friendly stylist cutting your toddler’s hair.”
If your littlie is reluctant to sit on a chair by himself, he can sit on your lap while watching an old favourite on one of the TVs. Hair can either be washed and conditioned, or just sprayed with water from a bottle before the cut. “Our stylists will then place a few complimentary hair clips in the girls’ hair, or apply gel to the boys’ cut,” says Graham. Avoid wanting to hold your toddler in a head lock. “Kid hairstylists are trained to cut the toddler’s hair safely and accurately, even if he’s moving most of the time.”
First aeroplane flight
“Being able to state their own feelings, understand their toddler’s feelings and do it in such a way that doesn’t compromise everyone else on the flight, is a great challenge for parents,” Angela points out. The key to keeping your angel from being the child who people talk about on a flight, is keeping him occupied. “I’ve noticed that kids who are entertained with activity packs on board are the least disruptive,” says Leigh Palmeiro, an air steward with plenty of air miles under his belt. “Colouring books, portable DVD players and play dough are all winners.”
When the activities are done, don’t let your toddler run up and down the aircraft’s aisles, and don’t let him wander around the cabin unsupervised. It’s not safe and he can get seriously injured. Pack an extra set of clothes for unexpected spills and remember that it gets chilly in a plane, so always pack a jersey for your toddler. Avoid changing his nappy on the tray table or seat. And never dispose of the soiled nappy in the seat pocket! “There are nappy-changing facilities on board for this purpose,” says Leigh.
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry to move your toddler out of the cot,” says author and sleep expert Erica Neser in Sleep Guide for Babies and Toddlers. “If he’s still happy, and there’s no immediate reason to move him, wait. Having him in a big bed can be a real hassle if he’s not quite ready.” Most toddlers move into a bed before they’re three, but if your toddler has sleeping issues, try to sort them out. “Move him once he falls asleep easily,” advises Erica. “Working on sleep problems will be much harder when he's in a big bed.”
However, if your toddler is climbing out of his cot, sleep issues sorted or not, put him in a bed so he doesn’t hurt himself. Erica recommends making a big deal about the move: “Tell him that he's a big boy now and he can sleep in a bed just for big boys. He can even help you pick out his own bed linen,” she says. “Put up a rail on the bed so that he feels safe.” Avoid moving your toddler to a big bed just because you need the cot for a new sibling. “Either do it a few months before or after the baby’s arrival,” says Erica. “Toddlers can be extremely possessive and won’t like giving their bed to the ‘intruder’!”
First swimming lesson
Leanne Smith, a swimming instructor at Sandton Seals, believes introducing Baby to water from an early age will help him to be more relaxed for his first swimming lesson. Mom to two young girls, she introduced the early aspects of swimming at bath time.
“I taught my daughters to blow bubbles and float on their backs in the tub,” she says. While one toddler will happily jump into the deep end on his first lesson, another will approach the water tearfully – despite Mom's best efforts. “The progress at a first lesson is dependent on the child’s personality,” says Leanne, “but all toddlers should be happy in the water by the end of the session.”
“I always start my toddler and young-children groups by getting them to kick their legs in the water while sitting on the pool’s edge,” she explains. “We then ‘wash’ body parts – tummy, shoulders, face, hair – with the water. I ask them to blow bubbles in the water – first with just their mouths in the water, then their noses, then their eyes. And we play lots of games; they enjoy themselves so much, they don’t even realise how much they’re doing in the water. “Enjoy the lesson,” says Leanne, “and your toddler will too.”
First day at nursery school
“Often, the parent struggles more than the toddler with the first day at a nursery school,” says Angela. “If the parent acknowledges their own feelings of guilt or sadness at not being with their toddler, it will help manage the actual leaving, without projecting all of that onto the child.”
Stay confident about school, so your toddler feels more secure, and once at school, it’s better to say goodbye and let him settle without you. “Parents who linger create more upset for the toddler, as they’re both stressed and the child feeds off his parent’s emotional state,” agrees nursery school owner Lynne Ferriman. It normally takes two weeks for a toddler to settle into the new routine and parents can expect their little ones to be more tired than usual.
Avoid waiting for your toddler to be distracted before leaving. “Parents must always say goodbye to their toddler, even
if it causes tears,” says Lynne. “The toddler needs to become familiar with the routine that his parents will leave and also come back later. If you don’t say goodbye, when the child does eventually realise that you’ve gone, he feels abandoned and insecure.”
When your toddler falls, let him tell you what he’s feeling. If you react without this input, you condition him to put up a fuss, even if he isn’t hurt. “There are a couple of things at play when a child falls,” says Angela. “There’s the toddler’s potential physical pain and then there’s his possible embarrassment.” Take a moment before responding to his oopsy daisy, acknowledging his feelings without over- or underplaying them and then allowing him the dignity to recover. Angela believes you shouldn’t pretend it was nothing: “Little bumps and bruises are a great way for a child to learn to manage the feelings that go with the everyday business of living,” she says. Avoid offering a treat when your toddler cries after falling. "A chocolate covers up his feelings, rather than letting him experience and release them,” Angela adds.
Say Cheese. Please?
My two-year-old daughter, Willow, has racked up an impressive amount of frequent flyer miles on our biannual flights to the UK to visit family, and she always surprises me with her good behaviour on board. But it was a trip to get her visa photo taken that had both of us in a flap. Willow refused to sit on the chair, and would squirm and scream while I attempted to hold her on it without getting in front of the camera myself.
After much snot en trana, I put Willow on my shoulders and stood in front of the white screen, red-faced, as the photographer adjusted the camera’s angle. We got the shot, and I didn’t have to coerce her with sweets. “Often an outburst can be avoided if parents understand why their child is acting out, acknowledge their feelings and sets a boundary,” Angela explains. “It’s not about making the world easier for the child, but giving him the skills to negotiate life.”Toddlers, tantrums, firsts, swimming lessons, hair cuts, flight, dentist