Thank You Heather Shumaker!

If I were ever lucky enough to meet this woman, I would not be able to resist over-hugging her. Who is she? She is the author of the most useful and insightful book on the topic of parenting toddlers EVER. Strong words, but I’m standing behind them.

ItsOK

I thought it wise to allow myself a cooling off period before writing about this one as I have been known to get swept up in my own over-enthusiasm. Two months after  reading I’m as enthusiastic as ever, so I’m trusting it.

As I’ve mentioned, I find toddlers overwhelming. It’s not just my toddler either. The whole lot of them are just wild, wild little creatures. Lovely sure, but entirely uncivilized. Of course, this is why we love them but love isn’t usually easy.

Enter It’s OK NOT to Share.

For me, this  book has been a kind of field guide to toddlers. It’s helped me see Yogi a bit more clearly and that is the greatest kind of gift, don’t you think? People in general are fairly incomprehensible, but toddlers take the confusion to a whole new level. There is something in Heather’s direct and reasonable style that lets you know this lady gets it. She knows little people and the way she frames their behavior just makes a gut level sense.

While I understand that Yogi is not an adult and should not be expected to act like one, I admit to more than a little skepticism (fear?) about the wisdom of letting “kids be kids” in a hands-off/what can you do? kind of way. This has left me wondering where to find the middle road. I want to see Yogi just as he is in this moment, while also having reasonable expectations about his behavior. Thanks to Heather Shumaker, there’s a book for that! (Who needs an app when you can have a book?)

The foundation of the book is the notion that unstructured, child-directed play is sacred work for young children. Built on that big idea, her primary message is “It’s OK if it’s not Hurting People or Property.” As a guiding principle, I think this is a good one. There are MANY moments when Yogi’s idea of a good time seems just weird to me (why are you creating an elaborate maze of diapers connecting your room to our room to your brothers room again?), but when I assess it’s ok-ness in light of this guideline and let it continue it is almost always a win. I think it’s the simple magic of seeing someone that does it. It may not seem like a great idea to me, but when I honor Yogi’s need for his own brand of play (and expect that he help clean up his great idea) he responds with more cooperation and enthusiasm in the hours ahead.

Her other big idea that has been huge in our house is “All Feelings are OK. All Behavior Isn’t”. No, it’s not rocket science but all of the applications of this idea that she walks you through are seriously life changing. A few of these suggestions that have worked wonders at our house include:

  • Let em Kick and Hit – “I see that you’re angry, but I can’t let you kick your brother. People are not for hurting. If you need to kick, you can kick this pillow. The pillow can’t get hurt.” Acknowledgement followed by redirection has really worked for us.
  • Take  Dictation from Your Tot – Yogi is having an elaborate meltdown bc he can’t have the snack he wants. Tears, screaming, thrashing around.  ME: “Man, you are mad! You want a snack! Let’s write that down! Let’s write how you feel in a letter. What should we say? How about “Dear Mama, I am mad. I want a chocky bar.” I’ve actually got a notepad and am writing this down. YOGI: “I want it! I want it! I want it!” ME: “Ok, I’ve got that” Writing it down. “Anything else?” YOGI: silence (also note – no screaming, crying or thrashing) ME: “Ok, let’s read it together.” Read aloud. “Why don’t you sign it for me?” Passing him the pen and paper. YOGI: silence with huge, eager eyes. He scratches something on the note and passes it back to me. “Read it again Mama” I read through it twice and we’re ready to move on. This sounds elaborate, but it took about 3 minutes. MUCH less time than the meltdown would have consumed.
  • Kids Don’t Have to Say “Sorry” – Instead of forcing a word that provides a quick out, help your kid stay with the conflict and begin to work it out. Yogi knocks Monkey down (again). Bring the kids together, state what happened “Monkey was pushing the walker and your train knocked into his body. He’s crying.” Model empathy “Are you ok Monk?” Encourage action. “What do you think we could do to help him feel better? That’s a good idea. Go get his lovie.”
  • Let Your Kids Swear – This one makes so much sense to me. Language has power and kids know it. Instead of making certain words off limits (which you can’t enforce anyway), give them boundaries. YOGI: “Get out of my way! Get out of my way!!” ME: “I can’t let you scream at Monkey. People’s feelings are not for hurting. If you need to say that, you can go out on the porch and say it as many times as you’d like.”

This is a book that I have at the ready. I flip through it every few days. Certainly there are tips that don’t work all that well for our family, but there are many that do. I hope you’ll check it out and see what you think. I’d love to know your thoughts.

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12 thoughts on “Thank You Heather Shumaker!

  1. Long-time lurker coming out of the woodwork to suggest that if you like that book, you should also check out Janet Lansbury’s blog (and Facebook page, where she shares a lot of good stuff from other sources).

    In my experience, this approach has done wonders for my toddler’s well-being–he gets to have his feelings and know that I see what he’s going through. The awkward part, of course, is that other parents haven’t read this stuff (yet), so the playground can be a little weird.

  2. Not Just Cute is a good one too — she focuses on early childhood education and development. She has a couple of e-books and courses, but plenty of helpful content on her blog. I had great role models in my parents, but I have picked up some useful ideas here and there that are very similar to the things you are doing — I think it comes down to having genuine respect for your kids (and a toolbox to help you live out that respect). When you start to hear Yogi use some of your phrases with Monkey, you will know it has sunk in 🙂

  3. I so needed to hear this today. We’re coming off of a weekend with friends who have a VERY different parenting style, one that involved a lot of forced sharing and sorry. I found myself trying to box RR into that mold and getting increasingly frustrated that she didn’t get it. In reality, we parent much more like this book suggests and it was killing me to try to do it differently. Thank you for sharing. A thousand times thanks.

  4. Thank you for sharing this! It sounds like a fantastic reference book. I’ll look forward to reading it as Z gets older. Some of those tools aren’t that different from what my partner and I do to make sure that we both get heard and understood when we are arguing. It is amazing how much benefit you can get from good communication techniques. 🙂

  5. I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, but your rec is inspiring me to move it from “saved for later” right on into the cart.

    The sharing thing really pisses me off, btw, and everyone does it and then I feel like they’re all looking at me with judgy eyes if I don’t make Bunny do it. Which may not be true, but that’s my stigma, right?

  6. Great review of Heather’s book, Yogi’s mama. Keep spreading the word. Heather’s the real deal and the book is truly revolutionary in the context of what has become the “traditional way” to raise children in the past generation or so. It’s all common sense, which seems to have gone out of style in the age of parents who can’t say “no” to their children and where every kid is a winner at everything he/she does.

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