Self Care and the Spirited Child

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.

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Self-care with Abbey has been both a struggle and a blessing. As a spirited child, Abbey must have things just so, and will often react emotionally and explosively if things aren’t done in a manner that jives with her idea of order and logic. However, being such an independent and strong-willed child has it’s perks, because she’s taken it upon herself to learn how to care for her body on her own without too much prodding from mommy and daddy. I’d like to share some things I have learned about self-care and routine from encouraging self-care and cleanliness with my spirited and awesome Abbey.
Cleanliness and Routine:
Abbey is an active child and doesn’t like to take the time to follow through with every activity that she pursues. As such, I realized recently that I have to be on her like a hawk about wiping, flushing, and washing her hands after pottying. Likewise, I have to be on her like a hawk about brushing her teeth and washing her face – things that just don’t seem necessary to a child whose bent on exploring every single thing she can from the moment she wakes up to the time she goes to bed. 
I have found, however, that once a routine is established with Abbey, she will consistently complete the routine given a firm and succinct direction about it. “Teeth” is all I have to say after bath time to remind her that she needs to brush before bed. There may be a fight about who puts the toothpaste on, or an emotional breakdown about Abbey not being able to brush her back teeth with the preciseness that she yearns to have. . . but “teeth” is all it takes for her to understand that before she gets PJs and a story, her teeth must get brushed, one way or the other.
Striking a Balance:
I have found that giving Abbey the right balance of independence to connectedness helps her to care for herself appropriately while fostering a comfort level that’s uniquely hers. Some other children her age may be able to perform self-care tasks like brushing of teeth and hair, washing hands and face, and putting on clothing independently, and still others may balk at doing these things alone. Abbey can do these things by herself, but breaks down in emotional fits when she isn’t able to do them exactly as she desires. So, I stay connected to the self-care by being present in the room with her and helping as I need to.
For instance, if the PJs she wants to put on are dirty, she will try to take them out of the dirty laundry and wear them again. And she will fight to wear the dirty PJs! I can’t let that happen, especially if the PJs have food or bodily fluids on them – so I have to step in to help her get over the fact that she cannot have the PJs that she wants.
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Another example is when she is putting on her socks in the morning. She will have a giant fit if she puts on the sock and the toe-seam is not lined up with all of her toes. I repeat: giant fit. I am NOT kidding about this. Usually, I request to help her with her socks so that they don’t “make [her] disappointed” as she so eloquently (yet feverishly) puts it. Yes, she can put her socks on by herself. . . but it’s probably not a good idea for her to do so, because she’ll be in the midst of a giant fit for 10 minutes if the sock doesn’t go on correctly on the first try.

There are other self-care activities that she takes pleasure in completing herself, like washing hands, bathing, and wiping her face. I allow her to do these things without my help, and that fosters her sense of independence – - – balancing the connectedness that I provide for the other self-care activities (like dressing and brushing her teeth) that still require assistance. 

Tweaking Expectations
All in all, I feel happy that Abbey has started taking responsibility for her own self-care, and though it wears at me some days to deal with the fits that happen over slightly imperfect situations, I know that my sweet and spirited girl is well on her way to being able to take care of herself and her body. 
If you are having trouble with your little one over self-care, it may be helpful to take a look at the balance between independence and connectedness, and experiment with different ways to accomplish the necessities of cleanliness while teaching self-care and fostering a can-do attitude. 
Every child is unique, and just as there is no set age expectancy for walking, talking, weaning, or any other milestone, there is no magic age expectancy for independent self-care. The most important thing in my opinion is to continue to follow and challenge your child, and be there to help when needed.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
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  1. why must socks have that line on them!!! my first used to have the exact same fit at age 3 and 4…now at nearly 6 it is a very rare occassion, he has surpased that thankfully. hang in there!!

  2. Wow – your descriptions of Abbey’s particularities are hauntingly similar to Kieran (and his “quirks” as we fondly refer to them). I keep saying this, but I should really read that book about spirited children, huh ;) At least they are our first children, and hence our “normal,” right?! At any rate, Kieran has gotten somewhat better with age and experience. We have substantially fewer meltdowns over sock seams (seriously – us too!!) than we did last year, but watch out when the weather gets warm and they get sweaty feet. Oh, the drama over pulling socks onto sweaty feet!!

    • It is so incrediblely comforting that the sock-seam-freak-out is not an isolated problem! <3 Yeah, we probably SHOULD read that Spirited Child book, huh? ;)

  3. I love your idea of balancing independence and connectedness — very wise. It’s making me look at what areas of Mikko’s personal care where I need to emphasize one or the other a bit more. I really appreciate what a patient mother you are, too, to step in and help Abbey navigate through her big emotions.

    P.S. We cannot do socks. Mikko wears Crocs, all year round: winter ones with the lining in the very cold, and otherwise just the normal ones. With socks, his feet are “too hot,” he says, and he pulls them off within minutes. What are you gonna do? ;)

    • Thanks so much, Lauren! You should see me in my *not-so-very-patient* moments ;) LOL Balance is something that’s important – in everything. And I strive for it! Daily.

      Sometimes the sock issue makes me want to break down and cry, too. She does the same thing with sweaters/coats and long sleeved shirts. If her shirt gets pulled up to the elbow while putting on another layer, it’s the end of the world as we know it! That’s so funny about the crocs! Oh, the things we do for our kiddos!

  4. Oh dear, I have a very spirited, particular child too. Is this what I have to look forward to?!

    But I see that even struggles like this can be overcome with a loving approach like you have … so I’m sure it’ll be okay.

  5. What is it with children and digging through the dirty laundry? Like the clothes they wore yesterday are so much more interesting than clean ones? Today I found Isabella chewing on her brother’s peed-on pants! (She is 22 mos)

    You put a great perspective on the balance of her independence and the connection her independence has to the real world.

  6. What an interesting post. What a wonderfully patient mother you must be. :)

  7. I can so relate when you talk about a ‘giant fit’ when not getting the socks on right! My little one gets the same frustrated outbursts when she can’t put on her red gumboots! So I give her a hand, encouraging her to help, and let her know Rome wasn’t built in a day!

  8. Amy, I loved this post. Abbey sounds a lot like my four-year-old Genevieve. Especially the sock issue!! I have gotten rid of entire packs of socks because the seams were not right. And the jacket issue you discuss in the comments is also happening in our house regularly. I’ve solved the jacket turmoil by showing her the “thumb trick,” where she pulls her shirt over her thumb to hold it in place while slipping on the jacket. Works like a charm! I appreciate what you say about striking a balance. Even when Genevieve is obviously struggling, she will break down sobbing rather than ask for help, so I pipe in with a simple “Teamwork?,” and she always looks relieved and says “Yes, teamwork” and lets me help.

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