Video Chatting with Children, Boundaries, and Routines – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

Hello and happy Thursday to you all,

It was another small call last night, but I’m finding that carving out that time on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons* is very meditative for me. It is time that I dedicate to being present and ready to talk about RIE and child development, and to that end, when I’m waiting between people to hop on, I read and write in a more focused way than I might during other parts of the day. (Okay and sometimes I totally just browse Facebook…)

*This weekend I want to try TWO Saturday windows, just to see. I’m going to have a morning window…9:30-11, and then the afternoon window of 1-3.

Part of last night’s chat was focused on screen time…or, more precisely, ‘face’time with families. I’m sure many, if not all, of you are doing that some days (or all days). I just want to reiterate that video calls with family and friends ARE DIFFERENT than preprogrammed screen time. Children’s language receptors go dark with regular programs and shows, but stay lit up with video chats with real people. It’s interactive, which means your child is responsive and engaged (or has the opportunity to be so). Don’t fear the video call…but do feel comfortable setting limits with the calls when your sanity calls for it. That said, most toddlers have limited capacity for sitting and looking into their grandmothers’ faces for long periods of time (they are the OGs of zoom fatigue)…honestly, sitting still is super challenging for toddlers in general. As adults, we shift position on average 8x a minute…they can do 3x that!! So, I recommend limiting the call to one room where you can position the phone or laptop in a place that can see most of the space. You can hang out near the device and let your child come and go to you as they wish, while playing in the background. This gives the recipient of the call the opportunity to see your child and interact with them a bit, but it doesn’t infringe on their movements too much. Or you can go the route of one Mom who’s pricing mountain bike go pro chest harnesses, so she can have her hands free while she follows her toddler!

We also talked about how to respond to a young child that repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly, says Mommy…Mommy…Mommy… Remember when you were waiting for that first word, and then that first utterance of Momma? And now you can’t escape it?! Anyone else experiencing this? We talked about responding with a look only (not verbally) and by stopping, slowing down, getting down on your child’s level and saying “Yes, I hear you, you want my attention.” And then waiting for the reply. I also recommend engaging your child in what you are doing, so you can do something together and feels less of the need to call on you. Oh, and something I didn’t say last night, but I do want to mention…just as with all language with toddlers…extend her utterances. If she says “Mommy” and is showing you something, you can respond “Oh, you are showing me this giraffe. I see it.” Or “You wanted my attention, I’m looking.” Gradually and over time, she will follow your modeling and begin to have longer phrases.

Speaking of modeling, especially if you are flying solo during the day with your toddler, it’s important that you are incorporating cleaning up as you go into your routine…saving the room pick up, table clearing, and dishwashing until your child is napping or asleep gives you less time to rest and recuperate yourself. It’s absolutely fine (and actually quite valuable) to model cleaning up after your play or mealtime for your child…better yet, invite them to participate…odds are they will want to help you. We adults are powerful, and children want to be powerful, too…they will emulate you. Make it part of your ritual or routine…”before we go out for our walk, we have to put all of these toys back on the shelves.” Start by simply modeling, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your child jumps in. Perhaps not always, but often…and what you are helping instill in them is a sense of order and respect for their environment.

Lastly, we talked about keeping children active. Most of us are less active these days than we used to be, and young children need to move. Remember: gross motor development is part of brain development….running, climbing, skipping, walking, pushing, swinging, sliding, riding a bike or scooter…all so marvelous for brain development…and when done out of doors, especially in the morning, help lead to longer and deeper naps…

Looking for a fun and socially distant outdoor activity that’s good for toddlers? Check out Underwood Farms! You and your child can pick some fresh produce in the sunshine and cool breeze…(and remember children who participate in food prep tend to be less picky at the dinner table). I hear it is strawberry season…just sayin…thanks for the tip, Susanna. I’d love to hear more…let me know: where are you escaping to in the great out of doors?