I have a half dozen half-finished blog posts from this year that were never finished. Some were emotionally too hard to continue, like Hannah aging out of Birth to Three and her week in the hospital. Others were like a transcript of my frantic inner dialogue and far better suited for discussion with a best friend. And then of course there was the token “Hannah is the best and I’m so lucky she saved me from a mediocre life.” For 2019 I set an extremely reasonable and attainable goal of at least one post per month; feel free to hold me accountable and harass me if I haven’t posted by the 28th of each month. To show you how serious I am I’m even starting this month…
A few months ago I wrote a guest blog post about raising a daughter with confidence and self-love. After writing, re-writing, editing, and more editing I finally submitted the piece, complete with a picture and bio. The next morning I re-read my submission, worried that I missed major errors the night before. One thing stood out to me that hadn’t the entire time I worked on the post. I never mentioned, until my bio at the very end, that Hannah has Down syndrome. My frantic inner dialogue kicked in immediately:
Wow, what a bait and switch. I wrote the whole post and never mentioned her extra chromosome? I’m a fraud! How can I write about parenting her if I don’t mention she has Down syndrome? I have a whole blog and Instagram account about her life where I never shy away from her diagnosis. Does it look like I’m hiding the truth about her?
Rational thinking finally kicked in. I wrote about the only way I know how to parent, and that happens to be parenting a child who has Down syndrome. Sometimes I think I’m even a little tough on Hannah because, aside from a few exceptions, she’s very capable of age-appropriate skills. Reviewing my nearly four years as a parent there isn’t anything I would have done differently, regardless of how many chromosome’s Hannah has.
If you’re interested the guest blog post is after the picture.
Raising a daughter with confidence and self-love
Raising a child to be a good person is a daunting task. Raising a child to be a good person, have confidence, and love herself fearlessly is an extreme sport. In an age of everything-shaming it’s imperative that we find ways to teach big lessons to our littles, to build them up before anyone can knock them down, and give them tools to navigate the world. With only three years of parenting experience I’m certainly no child-rearing expert but I know what works best for my little Hannah Banana, and these are seven of the ways I’m teaching her about confidence and self-love:
Praise & Praise Some More
If Hannah had a dollar for every time she received praise she could have retired at age 2. She’s always had a whole squad of cheerleaders between home, daycare, and school that continuously provides positive reinforcement. I throw “good job” and “great work” around like confetti because I think the benefits of praise outweigh the possible disadvantages. It continues to motivate Hannah so much that she’s often heard praising herself.
Set Expectations & Give Explanations
I noticed a change in Hannah’s behavior once I started giving explanations along with my expectations of her. My theory is that my instructions come across in less of a “because I said so” way and she doesn’t feel the urge to do the exact opposite; it’s more of a request than a demand. I’ll gladly take the extra seconds to explain my “why” when the outcome is less likely to result in defiance.
If the average person makes 35,000 decisions a day, how many extra does a parent make for their children? I try to reduce my decision fatigue by giving Hannah opportunities to make choices. They key is to phrase the question with options, not as an option. Not only does Hannah make an adorably exaggerated thinking face but we seem to have less meltdowns because she has a sense of ownership over her decision. For example, “It’s time to go – can you put on your shoes?” turns into “It’s time to go – you can pick your pink shoes or blue shoes.”
Tying in with expectations and decision-making, I encourage Hannah do as much as possible on her own or with little guidance from an adult. Sometimes she makes this easy, insisting on getting her own yogurt from the fridge or unpacking her bags after school. These simple tasks can then take a significant amount of time and patience but the look of pride on her face is worth it. In true toddler fashion; however, there are times when Hannah needs more a bit more motivation but with creative phrasing and heavy praise I can usually get her moving.
I want Hannah to know that, even at 3 1/2 years old, she has say over her body. We don’t force her to hug anyone, even family members. I ask for a kiss goodbye at daycare instead of assuming she wants one. Instead of frowning and cajoling her we counter with blowing kisses, high fives, or fist-bumps. The same rules apply to cuddling on the couch or any physical playing like dancing or tickle fights. No means no; all done means all done.
Children don’t cry to frustrate or annoy us; they cry because they’re frustrated. Or scared or hurt. Or they have no idea how they fell. They don’t have the vocabulary to explain their feelings so their emotions manifest as tears or tantrums. When Hannah cries, whether from falling down or because I ended screen time mid-Elmo’s World, I don’t tell her she’s okay. I don’t tell her to stop crying. Under no circumstance will I tell her how to feel.
I can’t authentically teach Hannah to be confident if I’m putting myself down. The F word (fat) is never said and she never sees me pinch my belly or jiggle my thighs. She sees me own up to my mistakes and clean up my messes but will never hear me call myself stupid. She watches me do hard things and cheers me on. I’m far from perfect but I have a little girl who looks at me like I’m the best mom in the world.
One final tip, and possibly the most important, is to follow your gut. There’s an infinite amount of advice available to parents these days. Read all the books and all the blogs. Join mom groups in real life or on Facebook. Ask friends, family, and doctors for opinions. Then only do what’s best for you, your child, and your family. Do it forever or do it for a week. Trial and error is not failure if you’re learning and growing from the experience. Parenting should be about progress, not perfection.
Lee Ulinskas is a mother, wife, and dog lover. She shares her adventures of parenting a child with Down syndrome on her blog and Instagram account Life with Hannah Banana.Her love for children led her to becoming a certified children’s yoga and mindfulness instructor and a certified nutrition and wellness consultant. When she’s not home with her family or at her day job in the corporate world, she’s continuing her education with various trainings, attending wellness events, or, most likely, at Target.