Thursday, November 17, 2011


Lately I have read a few stories about the problems moms have with sleep deprivation. Especially one story about a new study that will develop ways to identify, prevent and treat sleep problems got me thinking "What about the babies, the children that usually are seen as the source of it? They need sleep too, they WANT to sleep through the night as much as we do!
So here are my thoughts on this matter combined with my own experience.

What I have found in several internet forums is that moms actually advise each other to "lower your expectations" or "live with it, once the kids are 14 you will struggle to get them out of bed". A question of a desperate mom usually gets replies of moms who share their horrible experiences of 5 or 6 year olds that still wake up several times at night, combined with a winking smily and an invitation to join the club. I didn't find this very helpful and don't believe it's healthy for neither the children nor the moms.
Sleep is not just a chilly relaxing time we parents force on our children to get some rest ourselves. Children need sleep to regenerate, it is the basis for a healthy development. A child that slept enough is relaxed and balanced. New studies even show that the body weight is regulated during sleep. Therefore sleep can prevent obesity, researchers say. Of course children's sleep patterns change from time to time especially during developmental stages or due to illness or changes in life (e.g. new baby arrives, kindergarden starts, a move). But if they have a basic fullfilling and relaxing sleep habit they will be able to get back to that after such phases in no time.

So what can we do to get to this habit of sleeping well and sleeping through?

1. Fullfill their needs
Of course it is highest priority to fullfill your baby's needs. And I'm not saying we should not set our own needs aside a bit in the first few months. Of course we have to and we know that and are willing to. But not forever.
We have to be there, have to feed and change our baby and make sure he feels warm, comfortable and happy. But that's it. We don't have to entertain him, walk him around day and night and jump through hoops to get a smile out of him. And most importantly - we have to make sure he gets enough sleep because that is a basic need too. And in the beginning, even in the first years we are responsible for our child's sleep. We should make sure they find a routine and have a quiet and safe place to rest and sleep. Between 6 months and 2 or 3 years children are not capable of knowing when to go to sleep. They are tired but life is too exciting to miss just a second of it. But we can help them learn to trust their feeling of tiredness, allow sleep to come and feel comfortable when doing so.

2. Routines
This is an usually way underestimated part of the whole sleep situation. Children need routine. They need to know what's happening now and after. Only then they feel secure and self confident and can trust us and themselves.
The first weeks are crazy, the babies sleep most of the time, you never know when they wake up and when they do food must usually be provided instantly. Then you change the diaper and before you know it they are asleep again. At this time I struggled a lot with the uncertainty of when Leander would wake up again. I didn't dare sleeping because I feared he would wake me in my deepest dream. I only ate crap food I could make quickly.
But after a while you can see a routine - if you observe your child and allow household, phonecalls and appointments to be missed every now and then. I usually stayed in the whole morning and went out with Leander after his lunch nap. And I made sure we would be home by the time for his bedtime routine. No parties we took him to, no restaurants or anything (also see my previous post "Dinner cancellations". Ever since he had a pretty stable bedtime and bedtime routine. Since he only takes one nap a day he even knows very well when this is on. After lunch he sometimes jumps off his chair and goes straight into his room (of course I have to follow to get him to bed eventually), sometimes he goes and plays but as soon as I remind him he is off to bed.
During the summer, when the creche was closed we went away quite often and obviously all the routine was messed up. You could tell that Leander was uneasy and a bit more clingy. As soon as he went back to the creche and his daily and weekly routine was back to normal he was way happier.

3. No food at night
In the beginning it is perfectly fine to feed the baby whenever he is hungry. This so called feeding on demand is no problem at all AS LONG as it is also good for you. There are moms out there that feed a baby on a half hour schedule and are desperate. Here it is advisable to try and lengthen the time betweens feedings. Constant food consumption is not just hard for the mother that has to provide it, but also bad for the baby's organs and system. They need time to rest, fully rest.
At the age of 6 months nightly feedings can and at the age of 12 months should be stopped. Simply because the organs do not need it and with less and less daytime naps the nightly sleep becomes more and more essential. There is no problem if mothers still WANT to breastfeed their baby during the night - but please make sure the baby wants it and it's not just a created habit. I am not against long term breastfeeding up to 2 or 3 years if it's ok for both mother and child. But we all need our sleep and we should respect our baby if he can get through the night without food.

I for myself forgot to check if Leander actually still needed those feedings at night or not. I just went in like a half-sleeping robot and fed him. But then I read somewhere that before we lift a child out if his cot at night we should let him know we're there. Because it's dark and with all the crying they don't always hear us coming. So this night I went in and simply placed my hand on his hand, spoke to him and let him know I was there. Before I could get ready to take him out and feed him he was sound asleep again. This was earlier on and a surgery threw us back a few weeks and after that we decided to take some action on Leander's sleeping habits. You can read about it here.

4. slowly, gently, quiet
It may no news to you but whenever you come close to your baby be slow, gentle and quiet. The world is new and scary to them, they need soft and gentle hands that hold and stroke them, a gentle voice and a quiet environment. Do apply this at night twice as much.
When entering the room, don't immediatly switch the light on, don't take him out of his cot all of a sudden and don't talk too loud or too much. Go and see how he feels, stroke him gently, ask him if he wants to be picked up and give him time to respond (yes, even the newborns, it's about respect, not about abilities).
You might be annoyed being up for the third time, just being back to sleep after the last distraction. Leave those feelings in your bed. Take a few seconds and breathe in before getting up too quickly and angry. Your child senses your feelings and responds to them accordingly.
Don't take him out of his cot too quickly, don't carry him around all night, don't start trying EVERYTHING to get him back to sleep. Sometimes it's all they want too - sleep - and we keep them awake by running around doing everything we can.
With time you will learn the difference between the crying and the crying. Listen to him.

5. Allow them to learn, allow them to struggle
As I said before newborns need us to fullfill their needs. But do not underestimate their ability to learn and to learn quickly. Give them the chance to take lead but still lead their way. Watch and observe.
If they have difficulties falling asleep or going back to sleep - allow them to struggle. Don't run in the minute he starts making noises. Give them time to comfort themselves (not long, a few seconds for a start, a little longer when they get older). Be there and help through difficult transitions (e.g. Stop nightly feeding sessions) but don't try and be the solution. Help them find their own.

Sometimes it helped me that I felt dizzy when I got up too quick. So I had to sit and wait until I was stable. By then the crying may have stopped. This was when I realized - it isn't always the cry for help. It may also be the frustrated cry for not finding back too sleep fast enough or for banging an arm at the walls of the bed.

Leander is now 19months old and still has nights when he wakes up and cries. We don't always know why but we just sit by him and let him know we are there until he gets back to sleep. No it doesn't feel good to hear him cry, but there is nothing I can do for him apart from being there and this is what I do. And this again feels good. The majority of the nights he sleeps through roughly since he is one year old. And this was my main goal. I am not suggesting a child of 6 months SHOULD sleep through the night (although some do) but I'm also not jumping on the boat saying that 4 year olds waking up 5 times a night are normality and should be expected.

Now all these thoughts only apply to "normal" healthy children. Ihave no experience with colik babies and I am not going that far of thinking I know what to do in those tough cases. But usually a colik baby gets better after 3-5 months and you can still start from there.
These are just simple suggestions from me that may help your child to relax and sleep a healthy sleep. And if all of this does not work for you - feel good about getting help. Because your child needs to sleep and you need too!

Monday, November 7, 2011


When I was pregnant I met my friend who was also pregnant with a boy whose due date our boy stole (what a sentence). Those two boys were born 11 days apart from each other but couldn't be more different. For me they are the living example of each's child's individuality.

Today we met up with Lian at the playground. Although the boys are both becoming a bit more "social" - each on their own terms - they are not really playing with each other. It's just us mums, desperate for a chat, who make them meet up every now and then. Lian is a huge fan of the slides. He climbs up and slides down with this big grin on his face. Leander doesn't usually pay much attention to slides from that perspective. Occasionally he tries to climb them up from the bottom, fails due to the Earth's physics and goes off to something else. Today he watched Lian slide and me and his Mum laugh at him and his huge grin. So he walked around, climbed up the steps and sat down at the top of the slide. I was excited. Would he really do it? He smiled at me, turned around and for a second I thought he would slide down on his belly. Instead he walked over to the steps and back down. At this moment I loved him so much. For not doing something just because others are doing it. For not doing something because he might think I'd like it. But especially for knowing that there is always the chance to go one step back to safety, security and self confidence.

How often are we capable of going backwards? In a shop we just wanted to look around a bit ending up bying something expensive because we are too polite to say no? Getting drunk with friends because we don't want to be uncool? Jumping down the high board because it'd be too embarassing to walk back down the stairs.

If we let our children develop in their own time at their own pace they will always know what their "safe place" is in this moment. When they can crawl and only walk a few steps - crawling is their safe place. If they just start talking and they are upset - crying or screaming is their safe place. If they can physically climb up the stairs but are too tired - mum's arm is their safe place. And we have to be there in this safe place, we have to be their haven of comfort and trust. Not pushing them, not forcing them - just acknowledging the situation as it is. If we interfere too early, help out or encourage a little too much the child might focus rather at the next step than at how to manage this situation happily and joyfully - within their own physical and mental limits.
Here we really have THE chance of raising children who feel confident in what they are doing and confident in saying what they DON'T want to do.

It's taken me 30 years to actually stand up to the things I like but also the things I don't like. I had to learn the hard way that a "No!" can feel so good. And when my future neighbours get together for a circle dance again I will smile and say "No thanks!" and think of my little boy, who - so far - does not know any different.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Over the last months I have been keen on a simple life approach. Less is more. I tried to get rid off a lot of stuff and make the flat looke more clear. I bought a drawer for the toys in the living room so they would all be gone in the evening when I want to relax and be back in the right place in the morning. Now I have been to the first block of my Pikler training course and already I have changed the play area. I ADDED stuff. Phew

The older Leander gets the more I am keen on NEW toys. What is he interested in NOW? What's the next step? The creche gave me that feeling too, they have all this Montessori material there and I tried to copy that into our home. I even let him play with two small jugs of water, of course I showed him how first, just as Montessori describes. He surely LOVED it. But what did he get out of it (apart from wet trousers)? Exactly. Nothing. He didn't ask for it, he didn't figure it out for himself and the small but heavy jugs didn't leave much freedom for his own free play.

Free play. Yesterday I learned a lot about it. The importance of it and the characteristics. The more we talked about it the smaller I got, thinking about how I went the completely wrong direction, exactly the way I DIDN'T want to go and surely didn't want Leander to go.

So today I did a bit of a change. I put the "didactic toys" - the ones that have an aim, that have purpose - away and replaced them by "open toys" - ones that let the child explore freely for himself. Instead of the tower stack, puzzles or 100s of cars and trains there are now many balls, many cups, many bowls with many wooden bricks and many rings than could go onto a tower stick but could also be used for... Well, be creative! I also put the crayons away because he COULD BE as creative as Antek with them, but in the creche he has already been TAUGHT what to do with them but isn't really keen yet (apart from those 5 minutes once a week when the walls get a new artistic touch).

You might realise the excessive use of the word MANY there. That's right. All that kids need in their second year is just a great number of those toys they have been playing with in the first year. They want:

- put things on top of each other
- put things into each other (and see what fits where)
- (re)arrange things
- empty and fill and refill and refill cups or bowls
- push things
- move things
- climb into things (apart from Leander)
- Walk around pulling toys
- be flexible and creative with what is there

Our living room now looks like the room in the playgroup we go to. But that's wonderful, it feels right and harmonious. I can't wait to go and pick up Leander from the creche, take him home and give him back the quality of free play. Most of us haven't experienced it and are lacking qualities such as joy of exploration, concentration, focus and attention span (see also Janet Lansbury's post on this here)
I want my son at least to have the chance of building up those qualities.

Monday, August 1, 2011


This year I decided NOT to give my husband a book for his birthday as he always asked for one, got one and that was it. I thought I should be more creative. I tried but my ideas didn't really fit in the little spare time I have without son and husband, I'm not too organised right now and in the end - hubby was really really asking for this one book. So I got it for him. Again. Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional parenting" was the number one on the list this year.

Of course I was thrilled that after over one year of talking about parenting, discussing and reflecting he still wanted to read into it more and more. And yes, I am aware that I am quite lucky to have a father like that for my son.
But when we were both sitting in the living room, him reading Alfie Kohn, me deep into Naomi Aldort's "Raising our children, raising ourselves" I came to think about all the discussions about reading too much instead of trusting my instinct when it comes to parenting. Well from what I can say - a good mix of both is very healthy.

As said previously it was my boss who got me into the whole parenting world and on to the RIE approach. Luckily me and my husband felt right there the minute we read about Emmi Pikler and her work. We were happy to find the books by Magda Gerber that were a bit more "to date" and many many more books on mindful parenting, respecting children and so on. Very early we have found our basis, our path and are now enjoying a wonderful journey with our son. But of course I can understand the people who question the use (or non-use) of our instincts in this whole parenting process.

Well, I was a bit concerned about that myself for a while. But the more we all grew together, the more the theory from the books became practice the more I felt the need to use my instinct. Because despite the not uncommon misinterpretation of RIE such as "a lot about it not being compatible with an instinctual style of parenting" (see the very recent debate as posted on Janet Lansbury's blog) it is very very much to do with instincts and the trust to let your baby lead your way. I just think it is much easier to trust yourself, to listen to yourself AND your baby when you know where you want to go and how to get there. To raise an independent, self confident, relaxed and happy child is what we all want but how to do so is NOT something that is inside our head and heart from the minute the child is born. Because what we sometimes take as instinct I believe is rather habit, taken over from the parenting style we were raised to (and many of us DON'T want to raise their kids to). When I am stressed, edgy or annoyed by whatever what I realise that I fall into a behaviour pattern I then realise as my mother's. The feared sentence "I'm turning into my mother" comes to my head. That's exactly what I don't want but what in 30years has grown inside me and bitten onto every bone in my body. That doesn't mean it is right to accept and go with it, instead I think it is important to question it and try to break through these behaviour patterns.

Think of all these daily examples of parents and grandparents picking up the babies in a rush of love and affection, the habit of walking your baby, the sentence "I'm so proud of you" when a child is fulfilling our expectations. Instinctual you do all that but that doesn't mean that it is neither necessary nor good or helpful.

Our instinct is there in the first place, it tells us what parenting style feels right for us, but after that first very relevant task we should give it a break and open our minds. We as parents grow as well, and it is inevitable that we do. We can not expect our children to develop if we don't do the same and therefore we need to discover what is instinct and what is habit. When we are willing to do so we will feel our instinct changing, developing and becoming more and more important again. And in the end the books, the theory and ourselves are becoming one. One solid rock raising your self-confident child.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


For the last month I have been back to work a few days a week. My colleagues show a great interest in my life as a mother but since in their eyes I am not practicing general common known methods of parenting quite a few discussions have erupted in the last weeks and this one really got me thinking.

It came up that I am not intending to praise my son for doing his first steps, for painting a nice picture or for a good mark in school. I even think I saw their "What kind of mother are you?" thoughts shining through their eyes.
I admit that it is not something I would (or should I say I wouldn't) intend to do naturally. I read about it throughout my reading, research and discussions on parenting and first it sounded strange to me too but when I got to think about it it all made so much sense.

Alfie Kohn created the word "prasie junkies" but that's just one of five reasons why we shouldn't call out "Good job!" as soon as a child has acted to our expectations. Read more on that in his own article here.

So when my son is taking the wipe out of my hand to clean himself instead of me doing it I am tempted to say "Well done!" but instead I bite my tongue and quietly say "Oh you can clean yourself." and when he hands me the wipe back I say "Thank you!" Why should I praise him for a developmental step?
His first steps I commented with "Hey, you made it! That is great I'm so happy for you!" and I hugged him and laughed with him. These are very special moments and I still see the pride and happiness in his eyes even if I don't shout out "Well done!". But instead of just praising him I am enjoying the moment WITH him.
And I hope this will help to avoid what I heard of my colleagues when we discussed all this, because they said that they are dependent on their parent's acknowledgement and recognition, that they need their boss or colleagues to tell them what a great job they are doing and that friends show what good friends they are. And I thought this is sad. Am I really sitting here, 32 years old in the process of changing my life and my career hoping my mom would say "I'm proud of you!" ? I would have to ask for whom I am doing all this, wouldn't I?
Of course I am happy when my mom supports what I'm doing, but I don't need her to praise me. And luckily she never did. When I moved to Great Britain she certainly wasn't happy, especially considering the fact that I had taken years to finish my study in engineering and would now go into "nowhere" without a job or anything in my mind. The better it felt when a few years back she said that she is happy for me and my experiences, that I took my chance to go away for a while and learned a bit about life before settling into it.

It is the same in my job. What I have to do needs to be done. Why should anybody say "Great job!" Of course this can come when I am doing something really good in a very short time but then what happens? First they expect me to deliver the same "great job" next time too when I am not able to and they are disappointed or I do but they got used to it and won't acknowledge it again which will result in my disappointment. In the end the line "Great job!" was just a "feel good" moment I had once. If I don't rely on it, do my job the best I can and enjoy what I do I should have lots of feel good moments. And this is what is important, this is what we should convey our children. That they should do something they like, that they should enjoy the process and know for themselves if the result is in their eyes good or bad. We shouldn't raise those praise junkies like me colleagues that can't wait for acknowledgement the minute they finish a job and who are rather angry with my boss because he never does.

Yesterday my husband sent me an email from a colleague of his who really praised the job my husband just did. Of course Jan was happy and I was happy for him. But today or tomorrow or next month it is much more important that my husband LOVES his job, that he loves going to work on a monday morning and that such emails come as a surprise to him rather UNexpected. Isn't that we all should aim for?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


18 years ago today my brother died in a car accident and changed our family forever. I was 14 years old and ever since that day he didn't come home anymore I lived a "what if..." life. Thinking about what tragical incidents could happen to other family members, friends and friend of friends. The amount of phantasy in my head I'm usually happy for did not help with that at all and no matter how hard people tried to convince me that I shouldn't imagine what might not come - I couldn't stop. Until I became a mother myself.

Obviously I was scared. Scared that this terrible experience in my life would turn myself into this overprotective mother that is worried all the time. And I'm thankful for this wonderful little person that has taught me so much already.

Before our son was born I was reading a book about pregnancy and birth and the author actually suggested to sit down and at least shortly think about the tiny but terrifying possibility of a miscarriage. And for the first time I couldn't. It stressed me so much that I knew instantly it wouldn't do me any good. The fear is there anyway, all the time but finally I managed to shut it out. Ignore it and believe that everything would be alright. And it was. Partly. The little man was diagnosed with a heart defect shortly after birth and there it was again. Right in front of me. The "what if..." situation. The fear and anxiety.
At the same time I met another mother who became a good friend and introduced me to some buddhistic principles. Live in the moment was one of them. Forget about the past and don't think about the future. Be right here. Right now. I learned that Buddhists try to achieve this state of mind where they deal with such situations or really bad experiences the way that they still take something out of it, that it doesn't wipe them out completely and send them into a depressive valley, that they accept these things as much as they happily accept all the joy and wonderful moments.

I wanted the same. I didn't want to become a Buddhist like that but I wanted to enjoy life right now without this long time partner "What if..." on my side anymore. I didn't want an "if" at all anymore. So I tried. I tried to be there and don't think about tomorrow. And it was good.

The day the little Lman had to go into surgery Jan came into the hospital early in the morning so he would be there to take him onto the OR with me. I was desperately waiting for his arrival to hand the little man over and let myself down into the mess I was feeling inside. But Jan was a mess himself and all of a sudden I had to get up and stand for myself. I had to pull myself together and be strong. I didn't think about this at all and that was a good thing. I wasn't prepared and so I just went through. And survived. As much as Jan survived and the little man. That taught me that the buddhistic thinking is right. There is no way to prepare yourself for any situation in life. So don't waste time and wreck your brain and try. instead - enjoy the moment. Live now!

But even more important - look at your child. Enjoy him and let him change you. Don't just stand there as this fully grown adult who is in charge of this little person. Allow the little person to be in charge too. Only so you can walk this way together and grow.

One day I will not tell him about his uncle he never had but about the brother I had for 14 years of my life.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Today I went to a "Alexander Technique and Meditation" workshop. Something very unique and since I didn't have much experience with either of those 2 methods I was intrigued and well surprised. Not just by the outcome for myself but also by the realisation how close this can be related to parenting.

We started off with some easy led meditation and afterwards a girl asked what you do if you suddenly feel your nose itching or your foot being uncomfortable. I thought that you would obviously try to sort such things out quickly to go on with your meditation without being distracted. After all that's what it's all about. Or is it ?
The answer was - it isn't. Especially Zen meditation is rather about being in the moment. Feeling the moment. Feeling the situation, the surroundings but also your body and your soul TOGETHER. An itchy nose or a slight twist in the body can rather be seen as a challenge. What does that feel like? Can I actually stand it? Will it go away or will it get worse? Can other thoughts distract me from that and make me forget about it? This is being with yourself in THAT moment. And more. It is about dealing with also the unpleasant situations. We tend to invite and deeply enjoy the good thoughts, the fun, the joy. At the same time we try to avoid difficult situations, find the easiest way out and do all we can to bring ourselves back to the easy going place. Unfortunately this is a one way track. We don't learn how to deal with conflicts, bad or even sad moments. We find it more and more difficult to cope. And we concentrate on the good stuff which we can't often enjoy as much because the disability to handle the bad stuff is floating above us more and more. You can see where this is going.

It doesn't mean that you shouldn't scratch your nose straight away when it bothers you or that you should watch that mosquito bite you just for the experience of dealing with it for hours or days afterwards. It just means to try and find the middle. Don't always go the easiest way. Don't always just run away from difficult situations or those that could possibly be some.

And this was when I quickly made a loop to the most present topic in my head nowadays - parenting. We try to teach our children to cope with frustration from a very early age. When they want to move in a way they can't yet (rolling over and back again, crawling, walking etc...), when a toy is stuck under the cupboard, when out playing with other kids and conflicts arise... The list goes on. And with the above explanation you see how IMPORTANT it is to really let this happen.
Still a lot of parents say "I can't let my child cry, I can't see him struggle, he will learn to deal with frustration or conflicts early enough." Well and this is where I slowly shake my head and say: "No he won't." Because of that spiral, that one way road. He will rather either learn to rely on the parent to solve the problem for him or he will learn how to leave it, run away, go on with something else and start to ignore conflicts.

I do not say to implement Zen meditation on your child. I'm saying: Give them the chance to struggle, the opportunity to express anger and the possibility of a self found solution. Not all the time and not under pressure. Just so they can experiences the down side as well as the fun side to not just find their middle in life but also find it joyful and satisfying. And after all - to not let them sit in a meditation workshop at the age of 30 and suddenly realise what they have not known, missed out and are now at the very beginning of learning.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


When I was in school I was told what Lenin used to say: "Practise, practise and practise!" And when I couldn't always find the motivation I am now also lacking the patience to practise over and over again. If something is just not happening - I'm done with it. Therefore I was astonished to watch this little scene just before.

We were having lunch and without thinking much I unscrewed a drinking carton to give Leander something to drink. He reached his little arm - not for the drink but for the cap. I gave it to him and he again reached out his arm to place this cap on top of the opening in the carton. When it fell on the floor over and over again I placed himself on the floor with the cap and the carton and was sure the interest in this game would be over in now time (remembering my latest blog post). But this time I was wrong.

For several minutes he was highly concentrated and occupied with his self set task. He managed to place the cap on the hole but is not able to screw it yet. The cap would then always slip out of his fingertips into his hands which made the whole thing more difficult. And what I saw then really struck me.

He put the cap on the floor only to then pick it up carefully with his fingertips. And then he placed it back on top of the carton and so on.

And when I thought he might be getting frustrated because he was not able to screw it, so when the cap did stay on but was easily lifted it looked to me as if he was checking if it is fixated. Instead I realised that every time he just lifted the cap again to start his game over and over.

Now that was a lot of cap and carton talk. But who would have thought that this might be such a thrilling toy?
And again we learned - we do not need to teach anything. Not how to hold things, how to screw things or anything. And we do certainly not need to tell them how to do things better or different. When he put the cap down to grab it differently... that was one of those Aha-moments we want to miss as little as our children want to miss their learning experiences.

sorry for the terrible pictures I just could pull out my phone quickly otherwise I would have distracted Leander from his play.

Monday, May 2, 2011


It has been said often. But looking around toy shops, parents' shopping bags before Christmas or Easter (which seems to be becoming another Christmas madness) it looks like it can't be repeated over and over again: Children do not need bright and shiny, several senses stimulating, challenging and encouraging toys. It's the simple things they enjoy the most.

Careful reading about Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber and their approach on toys and children's entertainment we were attempted not to overwhelm our son with oh so many toys. I believe so far we did quite well. But still, there are the temptations in the toy shops, the own childhood memories and the thought of giving your child all he needs to develop well. It is a struggle after all and here is a summary of our journey so far.

Before Leander could actually grab and here I mean purposefully grab - seeing something, wanting it and grabbing it - there was a time where I was impatient. I had some soft toys ready for him and with his first teeth approaching I wanted him to be able to grab a carrot or a wooden ring to bite and chew on. As soon as he was able to all the soft toys ended up in his playpen until a friend reminded me of what Pikler had said "not more than 4 toys at a time". And it made sense because the playpen seemed to be overloaded and the little man was not playing with any of them. So every now and then I removed some of the toys in there, replaced them by some others etc...

When our son became rather active and moved around a bit more we learned what really interested him - the paper my husband left lying on the floor nearby, the plastic bag with cough drops that slipped out of my pocket... such things way more interesting than those colourful knitted dices and sewed animals and puppets my mom had made herself.

Obviously - with the crawling, sitting and standing up EVERYTHING in reach that belonged to us (Laptop, mobile phone, books, coffee cups... you name it) was much more interesting than the toy car or the wooden mobile he was so keen on the week before. In a charity shop I bought him stacking cups and a stacking tower. After all I wanted him to have something and it was cheap as well. Well he LOVES the stacking cups and would love the tower but that just challenges his frustration skills (which is worth a whole new blog post).
In the playgroup I discovered that he loves playing with balls and wooden cars. I bought him one each for his birthday. Now that I am writing this I seem to remember that wooden car and realise I have not seen it in a week. It also seems that half of Vienna heard that Leander loves balls so he's got a bucket full of them now. They are so small though that it takes him 10 minutes for them to end up under the furniture and a minute later he won't miss them at all.

One day the hoover came out while Leander was around (usually we hoovered when one of us was out with him because he was so scared of the crawling noisy monster). Well now he seemed highly interested in getting to know that monster and was entertained by it (or entertained it) for a whole day. When we bought a new hoover and he kept playing with it so happily we gave him the tube of the old monster as a toy. That was interesting. For a bit.
A friend of my husband gave him a tube for cleaning building sites which makes funny noises when you blow in. A brilliant toy and you should have seen the look on Leander's face when he brought that home with him. He couldn't care less about me as long as this tube was around. Now since he's got it in the living room obviously declared as a toy it is - yes - just not interesting at all.

Cables have been the hit for EVER. So my husband looked for an old one we don't need anymore. It was received well and is now... well actually. Where is it??

Today Leander was playing with 6 empty beer bottles in their crate. Taking them out, putting them into the cupboard and back. My first thought was to take our plastic cycling bottles, fill an empty beer crate with them and give him that to play instead of the old glass bottles. But somehow I got the feeling that as soon as I give him the crate for the purpose of playing he will find... well... anything else more interesting.

It's not just that a child doesn't really need toys as produced and sold by people who are interested in making money and not in our children's happiness and daily fun. It's that our children see for themselves what is fun to be with, fun to blow in, to pull on, to stack on top of each other and to fill from one item into another. Of course we can't let them play with anything in the house (that's why he is still interested in our phones and laptops). But we can realise that he is the one to choose and what's interesting today might not even be blinked at tomorrow. And that again is the excitement of it all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


When I was thinking about a new blog post yesterday it occured to me that all I write is mainly about how good and wonderful it all goes. I therefore decided this time I would share something I am not so happy about. So you know we are just "normal" too and it's not all perfect. And maybe I can finally let go.

When little Lman was around 10 months old we started the nightly weaning which went very very well. I told him in the evening that during the night dad would come and check on him and when my husband did so the little man was back to sleep in no time. I couldn't believe it.
A few weeks later little Lman slept through the night more and more often. I was only breastfeeding him in the evening before he went to bed and I knew he didn't need that anymore, that it was just a habit now and for me as much as for him. So when we decided to stop that too I was worried but at the same time I knew I really wanted that. I wanted my husband to be able to take him to bed too, I wanted the freedom of not having a certain time at which I had to be at home when I went out for a meeting.

The day came and again, this went really smooth. But this time I forgot to tell little Lman that the last time when I actually fed him would be the last time. So when I put im down for the night a day later I gave in easily and fed him again. This went on for a few days and I knew it was me. Suddenly I couldn't let go. I couldn't bring myself to tell him "Tonight is the last night I will breastfeed you before you go to bed honey." But on the other hand I allowed my husband to put the little man down for the night again. And then I was ill. The flu totally got me and I got some strong medication. This was the sudden end. A week later I took my little man to bed and he did the usual - he started to look for my breasts, he still expected me to feed him. But I was still on medication and pretty sure the milk had gone as there wasn't much left anyway. I soothed him by holding him and explaining and apologising. I was in tears more than he was.
After that he never "asked" for it again. Now we just cuddle before I put him in his bed. We never did that before.
I still feel bad about the "END". But I guess it is time to let go. To forgive myself. And to be grateful for a wonderful time we had for almost a year.


Saturday, April 16, 2011


So. A lot as changed or let's say: I've got some great news. My insight into Pikler and Gerber, my son and those regular visits to parent-infant classes made me change my career direction at last. I am now becoming a playgroup educator mainly to run those parent-infant classes myself. On top of that I'll start the Montessori education in September and Pikler education is following next year or the one after. Lots of education, lots of interesting reads and thoughts. And so much to discover.

In my essay for the plagroup teacher I had to answer the following question: Why do you think are the basic mental needs of children often not fulfilled in our world?
And here are my thoughts. I'm excited to hear yours!

My first thought was - WHAT ? When talking to others or reading in some internet forums you would think that the fulfillment of basic needs have the highest priority in parents' minds. And it's true. But that doesn't mean that these needs are actually fulfilled. On the contrary, because they have such high priority, especially those mental needs are quite often NOT fulfilled.

This starts with the gross motor development. As soon as the baby becomes active, starts rolling over, sitting up, crawling and eventually walking the parents are concerned that the child might fall. They are behind him all the time, support him when there is the chance he might hit his head, they catch him when he falls and they don't trust him to be able to care for himself on slopes, steps or small hurdles. They might even help him sit up before he can and walk him before he is able to do so himself.
Not just does the child then learn to rely on this support and help and has difficulties estimating dangerous situations himself later on when he is walking and running free (finding balance, judging heights or distances etc...) - he is also lacking self confidence, pride and the joy of having mastered and achieved such situations himself. He is not learning to deal with frustration which he will undoubtedly face later in life. The parents' fear, this instinct to protect a child does actually quite often lead the child to run into dangerous situations in life unprepared.

Similar observations can be made when it comes to the achievement of certain tasks or the exploration of things, be it toys or household items or anything. Infants discover things with their mouth, they taste them, feel the form and texture with their tongue, discover the weight. Only later they start piling up cups or stones or wooden bricks (whatever is available), putting things from one bowl into another, emptying drawers and place the items back in. They learn how to flip pages in a book and how to play with a car "correctly". But if we show them how to do that, they don't get the chance to learn for themselves. And even worse - we interfere with their creativity, focus and attention span. A child needs two things to achieve those tasks or to discover this world full of things: Firstly, a prepared environment in which he can move freely and touch and taste everything around him. Secondly, observing parents who provide age appropriate items or toys. How annoying is it to see an interesting thing, reach it, discover it with all senses and suddenly have it taken out of our hands because you are too young for it?

We as parents have to be very observing here. Our job is not just to remove inappropriate or dangerous things from his reach in the first place but also to see and learn what our child wants, what he prefers. There is no point in piling up books and reading them all the time to him when he is clearly interested in stacking cups or balls. We do not need to sing and talk constantly to develop his speech, when he is capable and happy to play on his own for certain times. Guidelines and standards on what a child MUST be able to at a certain age can interfere here a lot. We might not see our child and all his capabilities anymore but the task he is NOT yet capable of. Therefore we do not respect and appreciate him the way he deserves, we are nervous, and while we may tell him that we love him while at the same time aren't paying full attention sends mixed messages that children pick up on immediately. Children have such fine senses...

The guidelines and standards are not just a problem often introduced (and produced) by pediatricians. They are also a problem of our society. Not just are random people asking "Can he walk yet? Stand free? Talk?". They are also keen to advise that if we don't act like such and such we might end up having a little tyrant in our house. And I mean tyrant. There is a book by a German children's psychiatrist that's called "Why our children become tyrants". A lot of people are annoyed by that title but I think he has just picked up what he heard from the older generation and people without children. Because this is what society is scared of, what they call our children. And we as parents are easily scared. Especially when those motherly instincts don't kick in just like that the minute the child is born. When we start digging our way through the forest of how-to-manuals and guidebooks for successful parenting. This is when we get confused, when we try things and forget to look at our own child. We are not ourselves and therefore we can't provide our child with the continuity, love and appreciation he deserves.

This leads to another reason I would like to address - the amount of courses and groups we are offered to attend with our newborn. Partly because of those guidelines and standards, partly because there is an obsession to raise little geniuses and to promote and encourage them from day one. A child's calendar can be stuffed with dates in music classes, swimming lessons, playgroups where games are taught and language classes. The list is endless, the offers unlimited and no price too high. Again we might push our child in a direction he is not willing to go or not capable or or both not willing and capable YET. We promote everything in order to open up chances and possibilities in life but at the same time we often overcharge those little persons. No day is the same, no routine to rely on, no idea what is coming next, insecurity and unease. The list is as endless as the list of courses and classes.

Last but not least are we as parents at risk of JUST caring for the child, of just trying to fulfill all needs that we forget about our own, forget about ourselves, our partnerships, friendships and social activities. We are growing frustrated, dissatisfied and maybe even aggressive. We are tired and easily distracted. We are not the loving, natural and respectful person anymore our child needs to feel home, secure and loved.

I am scared to say - I do believe many children are lacking the fulfillment of their mental needs. And I wish I could change the world. But then again I wish I could change so many things in this world that I can only try and care for my own child as good as I can and with my new education ahead help other parents to do the same.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


How much did we hate this line from our parents ? Sometimes I did tidy up to please them and sometimes I created new (old) concepts of tidying up (hiding all in a cupboard, behind the door etc...). Very rarely I came up with the idea of tidying up my room all by myself. But no matter if I did it voluntarily or not - a clean and orderly room still gave me a thrill of satisfaction, motivation and inner peace.

When I first entered the parent infant class I was shocked by the amount of toys small and large and wondered what this room would look like after a few minutes. But before it could turn into a complete mess our teacher would put things back where they belonged just in the area she was just sitting. I thought to myself "What is that all about? She will have to do that all over again in no time. Not just once."
So later I spoke with a friend who went to another parent infant class and experienced the same. But instead of wondering she asked the teacher about this and she said that the children need their order, they will get uneasy and restless when their environment becomes too messy. And suddenly it all made sense.
I remembered the pictures from Montessori children's houses or homes. How I always imagined that they had purposely cleaned it all before the picture taking and why they made an effort of putting the materials all so neatly on the shelves.
I also remembered how much more fun it was to cook in a clean kitchen or how much more motivated I was after I had decluttered my desk (well, at least most of the times).
So that afternoon I gave our living room a nice clean up and arranged our son's toys like I have seen it in class. The balls together in one basket, the wooden toys together in another basket, the stacking cups in order, spoon in the bowl etc... Suddenly the room looked so clean and big as it actually is.

Of course it only takes Leander a few minutes (if at all) to spread his toys on the floor. But every now and then when he is busy in another corner I put a few things back in place and when he is having his nap I tidy the whole room again. Right now this is kind of a meditative task, takes me two minutes and I'm happy. When he comes back in the room he now knows exactly where to find what which I think is a good start for when he gets older and deliberately chooses something to play with and knows where to get it.
I am aware that he will have more and more toys but I figured that this way of keeping a strict order will help to prevent us from "too much". When I can't find space anymore we need to declutter. I already started with those toys he is far too young for anyway (but grandparents keep buying...). I put them in a box which he already found but is not capable of opening by himself. It became boring to him but I'm sure one day he'll figure it out and then he will find toys he can actually use in it. By then I will have taken a few other things away.
Well at least that's the plan...

Another reason I hope this strict order will help us with is the tidying up process in general when Leander gets older. Apparently children up to the age of 10 or 12 are not seriously capable of cleaning up a whole mess but can follow requests such as "Can you put your Lego in the red box?" or "Can you please put those books to the others in the shelf?". If they now where to find the red box they can do so. If the bookshelf is cluttered with toys they might not. Again - these are all hopeful predictions. So far I seriously enjoy to arrange balls and stacking cups (I love them too!) and most importantly I enjoy to have my living room back after living in a children's room all day!

And while I have quite a few peeks in the future in my post without knowing too much about it I would love to hear your experiences with the mess and the order of children.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


What becomes more and more fascinating in my life as a mother now is how this little person is interacting with us. The first time he smiles at you. The first time he reaches out his arms asking to be picked up. And the first time he throws a ball at you.

The obvious thing for us to do in response to that is to take the ball and throw it back. Gently. Laughing. So that's what I did but right in that moment Leander was actually getting ready to go after the ball himself. So next time he threw the ball at me I waited. He crawled towards me and picked up the ball. Threw it away and went after... over and over again.

When we went to pick up his dad from work one day Leander found the office football and started his game all over. Excited and happy. A colleague of my husband sat down and took the ball throwing it at Leander. He again just watched the ball roll pass him. He didn't move. He didn't go after the ball. This was not his game anymore. Exact same thing happened with another colleague. And I just watched this situation and smiled. THiS was what Emmi Pikler described in her book about the first games children play. They invent them. They invite you to play along. Or not. They say when and how.

Ever since Leander was able to crawl he had much fun in us chasing him (on our knees). While I sat in his room he would crawl out and behind the door he would make a noise like calling me. When I looked at him he quickly run off laughing out loud, almost falling over because of the laughter. I went after him. When I stopped following he stopped crawling too, sat up, looked back and when he saw me in starting position he would quickly crawl away again. But the most interesting part was that when I had reached him he was no longer interested. He made me go after him until he found some toy in the living room and that was it. He would sit up and play with the toy. Thanks for the fun mom but your time is up. I tell you when it's your turn again. And the most natural thing for me to do is to let him play. I happily play along if he invites me. But I also accept when my time is up.

The relaxing part of it - I don't have to come up with games and inventions that will entertain him. And that might bore him or overstimulate him. Quite often I read in forums from other mothers "what do you do with your kids at a certain age?" Well what I do with my son is I feed him, I change him, a bath him. I go out for a walk with him. These are the steady parts I have control over. The rest of the day is mainly up to him. He DOES. He plays. And I watch.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Today we went to a Pikler parent-infant class for the first time. Although we try to raise our child to the Pikler / Gerber / RIE approach I still wasn't so sure what exactly to expect from such a class. Which was good because I like nice surprises.

After 10 months of "homecare" and only rare encounters between little Lman and other children I had no idea how he would behave in a new environment with 7 other kids his age, new toys, other mothers. Well - apparently he was amazed. I had just taken off his jacket and sat him down to take off mine when he happily crawled away into this big room full of toys big and small. For the next 20-30 minutes he was busy discovering. I sat back and watched. Every now and then he glanced at me just to make sure I was still there. Then he would happily continue his discovery tour. Sometimes he would sit next to me with a ball or a wooden toy in his hand and watch the others play. Then he would be off again. It was so amazing to see him act like this.

The great thing about this "special class" and why it is different from other infant or toddler classes is that the parents are mainly there to watch and accompany their kids. But not to entertain them.
In a parent forum where I keep reading and discussing (although I shouldn't) people (mothers) have been complaining about those classes (they keep complaining about Pikler/Gerber in general). They said there would be a strange atmosphere, it would be too quiet for a room full of kids and the teacher would be too dogmatic. So I was watching out for that. After a while I realised yes - it is quiet in there. Considering that there are 8 children it was fairly quiet but the reason for that was that the children were playing happily. Or not. They chose what to do. If they want to play they do so and they choose from the arrangement of toys. If they want to stick with their parents they do so and nobody is "forcing" or persuading them to do anything they don't want. So the kids are busy. Or not. Of course they interact, they fall and cry, maybe one is a bit rough to another and one cries. But apart from that it is a nice relaxed atmosphere. The mothers do not sit and talk about their diaper, feeding or parenting problems. They just observe and learn about their own kids.
So instead of complaining that this atmosphere is weird one should wonder why it is so nice and quiet in there. Nobody is telling the kids to shut up.

The teacher might seem dogmatic to a person who is not familiar with the Pikler / Gerber approach as it happened in our class today. When you hear for the first time to let your child be and that it is important if he is hitting his head somewhere you are allowed to find the teacher a bit strange. Otherwise you might find very helpful advise on a subject that is playing a very important role in your life.

This is not a usual parent-infant class where the parents go to entertain their kids. This class is for the kids to enjoy free play. And for the parents to observe. It is wonderful and I can't wait to go back next week.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


For some reason I always thought that my child won't have sleeping problems. That with enough patience and calmness he will sleep through in no time. Well, reality has proven me wrong. But it also turns out that I have underestimated my sons capabilities.

I never cared much about Leanders sleeping habits before he had to go into surgery because i knew that would change his world upside down anyway and afterwards we would have to start all over again.
He hadn't been that bad anyway- with exceptions of some really bad growth spurts where he woke up every two hours. Apart from that he slept 4, 5 or 6 hours straight and wouldn't complain before 7 or 8ish in the morning which I found okay.
At some point I was hoping for him to sleep through but most importantly for him to be able to be taken to bed by his dad. I have no idea how it happened but at some point I realised that I was nursing him to sleep every night. One day I asked myself - how can I get that to stop? Ever? And again I said to my husband - after the operation we will work on all this.
Well, after the operation Leander needed time and then I found myself struggling and asking "isn't he too small for this transition?". I was insecure and couldn't stand him cry so how could I take those nightly nursing sessions and the nursing-to-sleep sessions from him ?

But there was another problem - all the nursing made him urinate a lot during the night and with cloth diapers we had to change him once, sometimes twice. In bad nights we had to change him completely because the diaper didn't hold it. I was annoyed because nursing was okay - he would just go back to sleep but the changing usually woke him up. I couldn't change him and then nurse either because he would scream his head off if he was changed hungry.
So we decided to "go in" and change those habits.

Leander has stubbornly refused the bottle since he was 3 months old so we did not really have the chance of my husband offering him tea instead of me breastfeeding him - just to make things harder. Anyway, we wanted to try, we made tea and filled it in the bottle and my husband was ready for a tough night with a screaming baby. Leander woke up as usual at midnight and my husband went in, changed him (which he just let happen) and put him back into his bed. A little bit of complaining but that was it. He didn't even want any tea, he played a little with the bottle so my husband took it away and told him to go back to sleep. And Leander slept.
We had decided on one feeding session per night just to make the transition smooth. So at 3 or 4 am I when he woke up again I fed him and he went back to sleep in no time. A few days later Leander slept reliably from 6.30pm until 4am, I fed him, changed him and put him back to sleep with no problem. He would then sleep until 7.30am. It turned out that we had underestimated our son completely. It was US that held us all from good nights sleep.

Unfortunately the next growth spurt combined with the new abilities of crawling and sitting up, the holidays with the grandparents visiting and us visiting the other grandparents destroyed all those sleeping habits and Leander was very unsettled at nights. We are now back to "normality", to our routine and Leander is getting used to being moving around the flat. Yesterday I had an appointment in the evening and I agreed with my husband that he should TRY and put Leander down for the night without me nursing him (after his portion of evening food anyway!). We were gonna "work on that" as soon as he would sleep better but this was a good occasion for a test run. At 7pm I got a message from y husband saying that Leander was asleep since 6.30pm.
Well I wasn't at home last night but today I was so we tried again with me being in the living room. I had also read in Janet Lansbury's latest blog post about sleeping that those transitions can be done within 2 or 3 days so I was gonna give him this time, plus I didn't really trust the success of this one night. But again - Leander never "asked" for me. It wasn't hunger that made him drink his additional portion of milk every evening, it was ME.
I am amazed, I have to admit I was a little sad that he would not "need me" and at the same time I felt bad for "forcing" him every night. Of course he would take it. When you are in a bar and at the end of the night the waiter offers you a glass of wine "on the house" you wouldn't refuse either would you ?

Phew I had thought about those transitions a lot and I was worried. And here is my advice: before thinking to much: try it!
I know it does not work that smoothly for everyone. But it's worth a try. Seems like our children are capable of much more than we think they are. Which is another great lesson I learned from my son. And which makes me respect him even more.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

FiNALLY CRAWLiNG - a lecture in patience

Just a couple of days before Christmas Leander has suddenly moved forwards. I had to watch him a while until he did it again. And again. And again. It was such a relief. For all of us.

I am not the most patient person in the world and my husband is neither. So you do the math on how much of patience our son has gained from both of us. And this is why the last few months have been quite tough for the Hilmar family. And a great lecture in patience.
When Leander was 6 months old I said to my husband "Won't be long until he's crawling. Look at his moves." Had I known by then how long it would still take I would have gone mad that moment.
Don't get me wrong. I was never one of those mothers desperate to have an early starter or worried he would be a bit behind in his development. And even if he would have been - with the surgery he had the best excuse for it. It was his frustration and his impatience that drove us all a bit mad. I was annoyed with Pikler and Gerber saying "watch your child. observe. Enjoy what he can do today and don't push him into doing something he is not ready for...." etc. I knew it was true and I tried. But on days when Leander wouldn't do anything but roll onto his belly and start crying out of frustration because he didn't know how to go on - it was hard. He started this game in the morning before I had finished my first cup of coffee and I had no idea how we both would survive the day.
Then, one day he discovered how to stand on hands and knees and this seemed to give him some self confidence. Something had happened and he realised this. Slowly. Again I said "He is close."
He was swinging back and forth while standing on hands and knees. Often. Sometimes he would give himself a push from his knees without moving his arms so he would fall head first on the floor. Tears. For weeks... I gave up on saying something.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I seriously thought he would never crawl. According to my mother in law my husband never did so I thought it's just in his genes. I was ready for it. I had realised that he was more into his fine motor skills anyway. When he found a toy with a label, a string or something he would try and grab that with his index finger and thumb. It was so cute to watch. Those little fingers. Trying to get pieces of fluff from the floor (telling me to clean up again?). So I figured he would do puzzles before he would set his feet on the ground.

And this was when he started to move. Slowly. First he was creeping. Using his arms to pull him along the floor. The next day you could see how he was looking for support from his legs. A couple of days later he was using arms and legs. And now he is just after me very very quickly. It is so great to watch. But the best thing is - he is so happy. So relieved. We have made his room and the living room safe for him to explore and this is what he does all day. We have removed the playpen and used pieces of that to secure places where he shouldn't be (near the stereo and plants etc.).

Interestingly the same day he started to move forward he sat up for the first time without falling right over again. It must have been absolutely exciting days for him. What I found most amazing was to watch his astonishment. He would sit up straight, lift his arms and watch them, turn them and twist his hands.

As if he could not believe that these were the same hands and arms that have just supported him on the floor. Over and over again he would hold his arms in front of him and watch. I was stunned. Pikler was right. Gerber was right. Sit and watch. Observe. Seriously, who needs TV ???