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Jan 27, 2010

Preparing for Little Sister

We are expecting a little girl in May, and have been wondering how our 2-year old son Daniel would take it when he can't be Mom and Dad's exclusive focus. We obviously won't know until our little girl is here, and we see how the dynamics in the family change.

That said, it's been interesting to watch how Daniel starts preparing for the thought of a baby. We didn't think he would really understand what's going on, although we try to explain to him in easy terms what is going to happen. But it seems that he gets more than we thought.

Early on, we had to explain to Daniel that Mom had a baby in her tummy and that he had to be careful when playing with Mom. As I had some complications at about 3 months pregnant (I wasn't supposed to lift or hold things for a month... yeah, right, with a toddler!), we had to suddenly be pretty clear and strict about the issue. So Daniel had to learn and accept that Mom had a baby in her tummy. Since then, he has been really good at showing my growing tummy and saying "careful, baby", hugging my belly and even offering his pacifier to the baby inside. Very cute!

At that point, we thought Daniel just knows there is a baby, but we didn't think he would understand the connection between this concept and the fact that soon a baby will be coming out and be physically present with him. My husband and I even had discussions about how much to explain and prepare him, since we thought Daniel might not be able to think abstractly that far ahead, and it might just confuse him.

However, this morning, we got confirmation that Daniel understands more than expected. As I was putting him in his car seat, Daniel pointed at my belly and then to the spot next to him in the car and said: "Baby, sit here". Yes, this was correct, the baby will soon sit next to Daniel at the back of the car. As I confirmed this, Daniel pointed at his own seat and said: "This is Daniel's seat, not the baby's". So much about not thinking ahead. Not only is Daniel starting to imagine life with a baby sister, but he is making sure his belongings are clearly marked. This promises to be fun when the kids have to share toys!

We look forward to seeing if Daniel continues to make this type of comments, or if it was just a random observation. In any case, it shows that Daniel is thinking about the baby more often than we think. Hopefully, it means that he will be ready to welcome his Little Sister when she joins our family.

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Jan 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Daniel!

Daniel just turned 2, and we had a great birthday party for him. It was our first birthday celebration for him as we felt he was too young to enjoy his birthday last year. This year was another story.

Daniel has a lot of friends that he loves (primarily from daycare), and he is very involved whenever we have new activities for him. We decided to organize his birthday party in a gym, offering a variety of activities. We had attended similar birthday parties in the past, so we knew this should be a hit. And it was!

The program included a mix of free play in the structure around the gym (trampolines, bars, big bolsters) and dancing/singing/activities moderated by a teacher. I was very impressed by the ability of the teachers to offer a variety of activities - and at the right pace- that were perfect for 2-4 year olds. All kids had a lot of fun, and I think most of the parents enjoyed it too.

Daniel was so happy the whole time. From the minute he saw his friends arrive (he was so excited he started dancing and clapping without even any music) to the good-byes, he was great. He went with the flow of activities, and enjoyed each of them fully. The pace was so appropriate that he didn't complain when the program stopped. He had used up all his energy and was still happy but ready to go home.

Enjoying the parachute ride

Balloons and bubbles

Jumping on the trampoline with Daddy

Daniel and his friends

Overall, we can really recommend this solution, especially for winter birthdays that have to be organized indoors.

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Jan 13, 2010

2-year old processing transitions

The last few weeks have been busy for us. First our trip to Europe via Colorado, then Daniel switching class at daycare.
We had been looking forward to this transition as he had started to get bored in his old class. Since the last class transition in September, he had lost most of his old friends who moved up and he was now the oldest in his class (turning 2 tomorrow!). It was time for him to move and rejoin his friends, and he had been asking for it for a while.

However, when the day came, the transition was much harder than expected. Daniel spent almost the entire day crying for mommy (to the point of losing his voice by end of day), and separation in the following days was not pretty either. After waking up, as soon as Daniel understood that he had to go to the new class again, his -usually happy- mood changed and he didn't say a word until the time when I left him at daycare and he started crying. This wasn't fun, and something we hadn't really anticipated.
Daniel is usually easy going and he adapts quickly. However, this time around, the series of recent events (meeting and saying good-bye to a lot of people in a short amount of time, starting to get used to having mom and dad nearby all day long, the travel and jetlag, etc...) was probably overwhelming. Daniel is also at an age where he processes things differently than he has in the past, being a lot more vocal and communicative, and self-aware too. This all contributed to his painful transition.

It was interesting to observe how Daniel processed the situation, though.
After the first day in the new class, he kept repeating to me (in French): "Mommy left, Daniel cried". He obviously wanted to communicate how sad he was once I left. It was a great opportunity for us to spend time empathizing with him and explaining the situation. However, it didn't quite help right away.

On the following day, Daniel's mood changed as soon as he understood that he would be going back to the new class. After some quick protest (and asking for his old teachers, which was so heart-breaking), he realized that this was not negotiable, and kept quiet. I remember trying to cheer him up all the way to daycare without getting any single word out of him! He was still very sad. He didn't resist much at all when we walked to daycare, but still cried a lot after I left.
That evening, Daniel's key topic was "Mommy left, Daniel cried... Mommy picks up Daniel after work". Of course! Daniel needed to be reassured that I would come back to pick him up every day. I hadn't thought of mentioning the obvious in my prior discussions with him, but the teachers had kept repeating this all day, so he just wanted me to confirm. At night, I kept reinforcing that I would come and pick him up every day.
The 3rd day also had a difficult start. But something interesting started happening in the evening. Daniel started with repetitions of "Mommy left, Daniel cried... Mommy picks up Daniel after work". After we discussed this a few times, he changed to "Mommy leaves, Daniel does not cry". And he repeated this several times. He also repeated it all the way to daycare the next morning. He was getting ready for a morning with no crying!
On the way to daycare that day, we saw a few dads getting into their cars after dropping off their kids. Daniel quickly described that the dads were going to work, but they could come back later for pick-up. I continued to reinforce the pattern as well. Drop-off went much smoother that day. I could feel that Daniel was fighting the urge to cry. But the teachers did a good job finding exciting things for him to do right away, and he went along without looking back. What a relief!

From then on, the transition process was over. Since then, Daniel has been going happily to his new class, impatient to leave in the morning and asking me to stay behind because he wants to walk to class "by himself". What a change in just a few days!

Daniel definitely learned a lot in the process. Tt was interesting to notice how he was articulating his thought process and having a dialogue about it was us. It was heart-breaking, though, and a new and challenging experience for him and us. Hopefully, it means that the next transition will be easier?

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Jan 9, 2010

Christmas trip to Europe & language boost

Over the holidays, we visited our families in France and Germany. All of us, including Daniel, were really looking forward to the break and to catching up with everyone. For the first time, Daniel also could somewhat comprehend what was going on. He had been asking for 2 months when we would be visiting Oma and Opa, and he understood the need to travel far to see them. He was also involved in the packing and had his very own backpack to carry.
The trip went well. Despite a 3-hour delay in the airport, Daniel did great: checking the activity in the airport, riding the shuttle between terminals, etc... He also didn't have any problem walking all the way in the airports (we didn't have the baby backpack this time), despite the fact that we came in at the furthest-away gate in Frankfurt after a 10-hour flight.
Once we arrived, he was very excited to see Oma and Opa. He had been anticipating the hugs he would give them for so long, and he wasn't disappointed. It was so cute! Daniel did great meeting with everyone, grand-parents, uncles and aunts, cousins. He quickly started to ask for his cousins, even when they were not with us. Great to see he was really interested in playing with them.

Daniel didn't seem to be bothered with the fact that he had to switch his primary language first from English to German and then mid-way again, when we went from Germany to France. Daniel's language skills actually improved a lot during our vacation. He had just started to make "complex" sentences before we left. Now, armed with more vocabulary, the experience of hearing various people speak these languages all day, and a better understanding of the world, he tells full stories, with a beginning and an end, and logical elements to tie the pieces together. We can really have discussions with him now and it's a lot of fun. He also switches languages between me and my husband correctly. He now knows most words in all 3 languages, which helps a lot...

The one piece that is still difficult for Daniel is the use of determiners, such as "the", "un/une", "der/die/das", etc... Daniel's sentences are a combination of adjectives, verbs, nouns and some prepositions, but no determiners. Daniel tried once to use some with me, but I think the experience scared him. I was dressing him and putting his socks and slippers on. He tried to describe the sock I had with "une chaussette". This was correct, and I was happy he had said more than just "chaussette". However, when moving on to his slippers, he said "une chausson", using the same logic he had just used. But in this case, it was wrong, since chausson is masculine. I ended up correcting him, and I think he must have thought that this whole determiner concept is too hard. Especially when thinking about it, he will have to learn 3 genders in German as well... Probably too complex for someone who is trying to communicate as effectively as possible. Since we understand him without him using the determinants, he probably decided to use his energy learning new words instead... Daniel hasn't tried to use new determiners since then!

Overall, it was a good trip. We ended up doing a lot: going to the Christmas market and carousel, to the zoo, to the circus (a first for Daniel), pony riding, visiting a farm, a day trip to Paris in train (also a first), and obviously eating and sleeping a lot!
Daniel enjoying the carousel in Paris

Jetlag was a little bit of an issue (as expected), and for some reason, Daniel had a little bit of a hard time in France. He didn't seem to be as comfortable there and he cried a lot, especially I wasn't in the room. He usually has no problems exploring new worlds without me, and he didn't seem to mind me being gone when we were in Germany. Not sure what happened. It was probably the accumulation of a lot of new experiences at once - maybe he had had too much and couldn't handle the new challenge by himself? Maybe he felt overwhelmed by the number of new people around him at the same time, especially because he hadn't seem them in a very long time? Hopefully as he gets older, he will have an easier time with new environments and this won't be a recurring issue.

Would love to get people thoughts on how to address jetlag with kids, though. I expect that this will continue to be an issue for many more years, and am wondering when kids are ready to understand what it is. 6 days after we came back, Daniel is still waking up around 4-5am, expecting to start his day. At his age (almost 2), we can't really explain to him what he is going through. We just keep telling him to go back to bed, and not responding to his calls for breakfast. It's hard on him and us. Is there a better way to help?

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