December 3, 2022

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Balancing the Needs of More Than One Child (with Erica Orosco Cruz)

32 min read

How does respectful care work when we have more than one child? What can we do when siblings, multiples, and other groups of children seem to need our attention all at once? Janet’s guest is early childhood specialist Erica Orosco Cruz, a mother of 4 and the founder/director of Homeschool Garden, a childcare center and preschool/kindergarten for children ages 1-6. Erica trained with Magda Gerber. She encourages parents to allow their children to participate actively in their own care, empower them with predictable routines and cues, learn through age-appropriate conflicts, and express their feelings fully. “Being a mother is no easy feat,” she says. “Being a caregiver of multiple children is no easy feat. But when we have a love and a curiosity for it, it gives us a lot of opportunities to shift, to try different things.”

Transcript of “Balancing the Needs of More Than One Child (with Erica Orosco Cruz)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury, welcome to Unruffled. Today, I’m very excited to share a guest with you, Erica Orosco Cruz. I’ve known and admired Erica for many years. We both studied with Magda Gerber. She’s also a RIE certified educator. She’s been in early childhood since she was a teenager and she, 20 years ago, founded Homeschool Garden, which is a childcare center, preschool/kindergarten for children ages one to six years old. Erica’s also a mother and she’s used Magda Gerber‘s approach with her children. I’m really looking forward to hearing Erica share her experiences and wisdom for parents or professionals who want to care for more than one child with respect.

Hi, Erica. Welcome and thank you so much for being here.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Hi Janet. I’m so happy to be here. It’s great to hear your voice .

Janet Lansbury:  And yours, and by the way, congratulations on your 20-year anniversary of the founding of Homeschool Garden. That’s amazing.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I know, it crept up on us.

Janet Lansbury:  What an accomplishment and I love your mission statement, “To provide a safe environment where parents and children can learn and grow together. We believe that when children are truly seen and heard and parents learn to see with new eyes and listen for what is unsaid, families flourish.”

With new eyes is the way Magda Gerber asked us to see infants. It’s so true, isn’t it?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  It is. I learned so much from Magda. She’s right up there with my grandma as far as mentors and women in my life that really guided me. And yeah, I couldn’t rephrase it in a different way. It’s so clear and it gives people a great perspective.

Janet Lansbury:  So you said your grandmother, does this mean you were raised with this kind of respectful approach?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I want to say she was the one that truly saw me and she was so attentive to all her grandchildren. Unfortunately, I only had her for the first four years of my life. She ended up passing from breast cancer. But I am proof of how they always say the first five years are so important. She left such a lasting mark in my life that I am the person I am today because of her.

Janet Lansbury:  Was she a primary caregiver for you?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  She was when my mother returned to work when I was one. And she was the matriarch of our family.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow. And then how did you end up starting a preschool and being a consultant for parents and doing these courses that you teach? How did this all come about?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yeah, I don’t think that was ever my intention. I joyfully worked with children since I was 15. I was volunteering in daycare centers and I was a camp counselor and a teacher assistant, various avenues of work in early childhood and I really enjoyed it.

I actually came across the RIE Philosophy, the RIE Manual, in an early childhood course for infants and toddlers. And I was fascinated by it. I had never read anything like it, it was so different from what I experienced, even working in the field already. It was so different from what I experienced and I loved it. As an 18-year-old learning this for the first time, I said: This is great, but you can’t really do this with children.

Janet Lansbury:  What do you mean?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Well, you couldn’t talk to children where they would understand. You couldn’t not teach them. You would have to teach them how to do things, teach them to sit up. It was so different.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah, this idea that they are coming into the world as people with their own abilities and can be treated like an aware person. I know it was shocking for me too when I first learned this.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yeah. And so I had that experience in school. And then a couple of years later, as I finished up my education, I was looking for employment and I came across a center that actually had sought out Magda Gerber for some consulting: Glendale Adventist Medical Center. They have childcare onsite for their employees. And I went there for an interview and the director, who was a very tall woman, over six feet, was giving me a tour of the location.

“Here’s our pre-K room. Here’s our preschool room. Here’s where the two-year-old toddlers are. Here we’re going to go into the toddler and infant space.” And it was very reminiscent of Magda Gerber’s space. They had an outdoor deck, there was a door that was propped open that the children could go in and out of.

When we walked in, we both saw an infant about 8 to 10 months old. She was sitting up on her own, and we saw her pick up a leaf and she put it in her mouth. And then what came next is what was so different. The director walked over to her, she squatted down in a kneeling position, and she even tilted her head so that her eyes were at eye level with the infant. And she said, “I saw you put a leaf in your mouth,” and she waited. And then she put her hand out and she said, “I’d like it now.” And the young infant opened up her mouth, stuck out her tongue and the director plucked the leaf off of her tongue.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yeah. What was that? And it was so different. I expected her to run over to the infant, scoop up the infant in her arms and then stick her finger in the infant’s mouth to get the leaf. And that was not what happened at all.

I even asked the director, “What is that? What did you do?” And that’s when she talked about the RIE Philosophy again. And so seeing it in action, I was like, “I want to learn more, whatever that is. I want to learn more of that.”

Janet Lansbury:  Right, it totally stands out as just so different from the way our society treats children and the way that most of us instinctively would treat a baby.

So you studied with Magda and some of the other wonderful mentors at Resources for Infant Educators, and then you started teaching, right? You started teaching parent-infant classes and parent-toddler classes. And then at some point 20 years ago, you decided to start Homeschool Garden and care for groups of children.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. I had a then five-year-old and two-year-old and had been teaching classes and was looking for a school for them. I didn’t find one that where I was seeing that they were respected, seeing that they were taken care of in a way that I wanted them to be cared for and so Homeschool Garden was born.

Janet Lansbury:  So you decided I’m just going to do it myself.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I was determined that there was a space for that and that other families are also looking for that as well, and 20 years later, here we are.

Janet Lansbury:  Wow. And this is actually one of the reasons I especially wanted you on the podcast. There are a lot of reasons because you have so much wisdom that you’ve gathered through all this work with children that you’ve done over the years, your own children, how many do you have now?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I have 4: 25, 23, 14, he just turned 14 and then a two-year-old as well.

Janet Lansbury:  Quite a spread. That must be such an education in itself. And then your Homeschool Garden is a mixed age group, right?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. Our youngest right now is actually my granddaughter who is nine months old.

Janet Lansbury:  Oh my gosh.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yeah. And then we go up all the way to six years.

Janet Lansbury:  How wonderful. Well, so many parents and professionals ask me, “How can this approach work, how can you respect a baby or respect any age child (the way you talked about respecting that baby with the leaf), when you’ve got twins, triplets siblings, or groups of children? How do you give them that respect? How do you handle their behaviors?”

And what I often don’t get the chance to explain, in fact, I rarely get the chance to explain is that this approach is actually geared for caring for groups of children, because much of it was developed as you know, by Pediatrician Emmi Pikler in an orphanage setting where the ratio was one caregiver to nine babies or toddlers. And most of us, at least as parents, are dealing with a better ratio than that.

Through those respectful care practices that Pikler developed and then Magda Gerber developed further, they had remarkably positive outcomes for institutional care, unheard of outcomes where these people grew up to be typical in wanting to have relationships, wanting to have children, things that just don’t usually happen in an institutional setting. So it works. And you have had all this practical experience putting that into action and developing your own ways of giving attention to all the children and giving them what they need, taking care of their needs so that they can flourish. That’s what I want to hear more about.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Even when we have licensing people come out or physical therapists or people that have a variety of the experience of childcare and different locations, they come here and they sense right away this is different. We are not trying to micromanage the children’s time or what they’re doing. We are really giving the opportunity for them to play freely. And when we have routines like snack or a transition into the program, or a transition of getting picked up, or even a transition to go wash hands, we’re doing that with individual time and respect. And so those visitors, even when we have parents observing, are in awe of how it all flows. And I, 100% attribute that to the RIE Philosophy. The idea of children being an active participant in their care, the safe environment that we create, the consistency of our routines.

I often will tell parents who have twins or more than one child that you have to be even more RIE so that you can create that kind of environment and that flow and ease of being with your children.

Janet Lansbury:  Right, that’s what I feel too. And finding that time for self-care in all of that as well. It’s even more important that you put that oxygen mask on first when you’ve got the challenge of multiple children to take care of.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  And I think something that was very different for me going through the RIE Program as a parent was that I was a single mom, a single mom of two young children. So I got to apply this practice every day. And when I had my second son and my three-year-old was demanding of my time and my attention, okay, how can I be here for both of them? How can I be present? What would that look like?

For me, it’s really about having one-on-one time with each child, even if in a group care setting. If that means that’s the potty break that’s happening. If that means it’s the diaper change. If that means it’s a child who wakes up late and everyone else has finished snack. And so this child has one-on-one time with the caregiver having snack, then that’s how it happens.

Janet Lansbury:  Well, somebody actually asked a question about that on a comment on one of my Facebook posts recently, it’s actually a podcast post “Damage Control When We Feel Like We’re Failing,” and it’s talking about multiple children. So I had brought up the study by Sherry Turkle about the way that children feel when the phone or the tech device takes the parents’ attention at any time, they get a text message and they go or whatever. I had shared a study about that in the podcast. And this parent said:

“What if that something is not your phone, but your other children, because I feel like this happens constantly? I’ve read your words on being present for the “wants something time,” and being there during caregiving moments. And I try, but I’m with one, and there are two other children in a similar state needing help. I’m doing someone’s hair and from across the house, someone else is screaming for me to help them on the toilet. I’m just sitting down to color with one and another has spilled their drink all over the floor. There seem to be so many interruptions that I feel this is the sense that I give to my kids: that I can always be taken away. And on the other side, I try to give “needs nothing time,” (I think she’s referring to “Wants nothing quality time,” Magda’s term)… and make time to be present and play. But what ends up happening is they all try to play with me individually at the same time. It normally ends with frustration because no one is getting what they want.”

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes, I can relate to all of that.

Sportscasting. Sportscasting is huge. “I’m coloring with your sister right now. I hear you’re asking for help on the potty. You may have to wait until I’m done using my red color.”

I always want to be sportscasting so that each child knows where my attention is. I had a three-year-old and a three-month-old and I was spending all my time focused on both of them at the same time, where I didn’t have any individual time with them. And so instead of bathing them both at the same time, I had decided that I would have my one-on-one time with them each by bathing them separately.

So I started with my three-year-old and would bathe him. And at that moment, sometimes my three-and-a-half-month-old would cry and would want attention. And I would remain with my three-year-old as I was sportscasting to my three-and-a-half-month-old, “I hear you, Jacob. I’m bathing Andrew right now. And when I’m done, then I can be with you.”

As my three-year-old started to hear that over and over — that I was choosing to stay with him as his brother was calling for my attention, it then became the three-year-old that said, “I’m okay, mom, you can go check on Jacob right now.” The baby was just outside the bathroom door, laying down on the rug, and the three-year-old was within arm’s reach of the bathtub. But it was the understanding and the empathy that he was developing by me being present and staying with one child at a time.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. They both get a positive message from that. They get the message that even if he’s getting the attention now, I’m going to get my own version of full attention at some point, too, instead of nobody’s ever getting it all the way.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. And trying to meet everybody’s need at the exact same time.

Janet Lansbury:  Right.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  We have a new child that’s transitioning in. And before I get up and leave the space, I let him know I’m going to be going to the kitchen and getting some dishes and I’ll be back. And he may toddle behind me and follow me in that direction.

When I come back, I let him know: “I’m going to be serving lunch right now. You can come sit down.”

The other children are like, “I want agua,” because we’re a bilingual school, asking for more water. And I’ll say, “I’m helping this child right now. And when I’m done helping this child, then I can start serving water,” sportscasting whose attention I have right now.

Janet Lansbury:  Yes. But what if that other child doesn’t accept this gracefully at all and has the impulse to go and do something destructive with another child or with something in the room or scream really, really loudly? How do you handle it when it’s not easy like that?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  So one of the things I recommend not only to my staff but to caregivers and parents is to have an environment that supports you. So when I am going to the kitchen, I am bringing actually a basket full of every single thing that I’m going to need. We’ve got extra plates, we’ve got the extra napkins, we’ve got extra silverware, extra glasses. Everything is in one space. And so when I put it down near the children that are sitting at child-sized tables and stools, it is again within arms reach. So I can put my hand over it. If a child is like, “I don’t want to wait. I’m just going to grab a glass,” or, “I’m going to reach for the water pitcher,” everything’s within arms reach of me so that I can put my hand over it and say, “I’m not offering that right now.”

And I would repeat, “I’m still helping so-and-so sit down, and then I can serve you water.” And I even point to my ear, “I hear you, I hear you asking for water. I want to remind you that I’m going to help this friend to the table first.”

And I’m pausing. I’m not reacting. There’s not a big reaction from me so I get to set the tone. I’m not going to amplify it. I don’t need to yell. I don’t need to move quickly because I’ve created an environment that supports me right along with Magda Gerber’s example of a safe environment.

Janet Lansbury:  Also I’ve got to believe that the fact you’re not getting triggered, well, it’s a lot of practice, but the way that you’re perceiving that it’s normal for children to do those things…  it’s normal for them to object when they’re not getting what they want. It’s not a bad sign that you’re doing something wrong and that you’ve got to fix something and everybody’s unhappy and that’s going to rock you. It’s a mentality of normalizing a lot of things, our perceptions, our expectations.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. So as soon as the children arrive, they get either sun hats or beanies, depending on the weather, and a child who’s been here for five years and their routine is the same (we’ve always gotten a hat), I still will remind them, I’ll be touching my head: “It’s time for you to get a hat now.” Just as if it was a child who’s only been here for three months.

So it’s not the expectation of, well, they should know, they’ve been here for five years or we’ve been doing this for three months. It’s with the understanding of, there are a lot of stimuli. And I don’t know if they got the breakfast that they wanted or if the parent that they wanted to see in the morning is the parent that woke up. I don’t know how their day is and I just want to be supportive in any way that I can.

Janet Lansbury:  That reminds me… It’s almost like a literal version of a touchpoint, that you’re giving the children just those little moments. Even that’s a moment of attention that you’re giving solely to that child. It just lasts for one second, but it matters because you’re connecting right there and saying: I see you and I’m here to help you. I’m here to remind you and help you. Not be angry with you for not getting it, but to show you that I’m here caring for you as well.

So it doesn’t take as much energy as I think we sometimes believe it might, to give a child that feeling of being seen and being cared about in a small way.

One of the common issues parents have and I remember this being an issue for me, is that they need to put their baby to sleep, and their toddler, or in my case, it was a four-year-old, is not able to be quiet in the area because they can’t control their impulses at that time. So, therefore, they’re disrupting and they’re making it pretty much impossible for that baby to fall asleep and for you to have a little bedtime moment nursing or whatever it is at bedtime. And then you ask the child to leave the room and then they’re screaming outside the door, crying, and you feel terrible as a parent that you’re abandoning them and neglecting them. How would you handle a situation like that?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Janet, I think it goes back to being able to give the children grace. That’s normal, they’re tired, they’re wanting your full attention. They don’t want you to be separated from them. But I wouldn’t be able to give that grace to the child unless I was giving that grace to myself too.

Janet Lansbury:  Giving yourself that grace of…

Erica Orosco Cruz:  It may not be perfect. I might unravel just as quickly as the other child or it might feel rushed. I might have both of the babies in my arms at that time. So knowing that it doesn’t have to be perfect every day and being able to give myself that grace.

But I want to be able to meet both of the child’s needs. Okay, how can I do that, if I’m thinking about it? Okay, the youngest one I would like to put to bed early so that I can spend the time with my four-year-old or older child. How can I do that? Oh, okay, does that mean that I move up one child’s bedtime an hour earlier, instead of just 30 minutes earlier? Maybe I don’t need to put the child completely asleep. Maybe I just need to feed the child, burp the child, put the younger child in the crib while I go and sing songs, have a cuddle, have a story time with the older child, and then come back to the other child, the younger child if he’s not asleep.

I’m always trying to think of possibilities. What are other possibilities? So that it’s not just, I need to do this, because that rigidity, the rigidity of it has to be done this way or they’re calling me, so I need to go over there, even though I’m being here in this moment.

I remember being that parent: it has to be this way and not giving myself that grace of, I can take a breath and then I can go attend to that child that needs me.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. Or we can have a very messy moment here, it’s not going to be smooth. Which is most of the time, especially if you have more than one child, it’s hardly ever everybody’s just perfectly content. Those moments happen and then you’re wondering, Oh gosh, I’ve got to pinch myself here. I must be dreaming.

I think getting used to that it’s going to be… And also for that older child, that’s the moment where maybe all that envy and jealousy and feeling about having this new child in their life, this new child in the family is coming to the fore right there and it’s spilling over and it’s getting expressed and in a way that’s such a positive, healthy thing.

And we can acknowledge and help someone feel heard, even outside of a door. You can help someone to feel that you care about them and love them, even if they’re not right there with you.

I think that’s another thing with caring for children in groups or caring for multiple children in a family. Yes, it’s nice when a child is having a feeling and we can just drop everything and be just with that feeling. But oftentimes, when there’s more than one child, it doesn’t happen that way, and we have to find ways to accept feelings and encourage children to share feelings with us, without us stopping everything for that to happen.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yeah. Even if they’re on the other side of the door. If you’re going to the bathroom and there’s a two-year-old demanding your attention and the door is closed, you can still, even then, “I hear you, you’re wanting me to be present with you and I’m taking care of myself right now.” Whatever that might be.

Janet Lansbury:  Right and unplugging that thing in us that’s like, I can’t relax. This again comes from expectations and perceptions of what it means when children behave like this. It’s not a bad thing that’s going on. It’s not a negative thing. It’s very healthy for children to feel: sometimes I don’t get what I want. My life is a flow of feelings and it’s not this static — I always feel a certain way. I always feel calm and happy or just calm and settled. It can be ALL those things. And that’s healthy for children to experience. It happens naturally when we, as you said, kind of prioritize one child or even ourselves sometimes.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  And when they’re receiving the focused attention at some other part during the day, I can even bring that: “I remember when you were pounding on the door when I was in the bathroom and here I am, I’m all yours now. We can go and read your story. Now my time is with you.”

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. “And that was so hard for you. I could hear how hard that was. You didn’t like that.”

Another practical example people need help with is let’s say… Well, actually I did a post recently, just a little post on Instagram, about transitions and helping a child to leave something, like the park. It could be also leaving daycare or leaving childcare or school or some other situation or a play date with a friend. The child is having difficulty in that transition as children often do. They’re getting overwhelmed and they’re getting dysregulated. And how can we respectfully help them to get from point A to point B? They’re not usually able to be given a lot of choices then or whatever. They’re not in a reasonable frame of mind and they really need help. So I had a post about this and somebody said, “Well, what if there are two children and they’re both running in different directions when you try to help them. What do you do if everybody’s running away?”

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Again, creating that safe environment for yourself, a supportive environment.

So if I have two children and there is a possibility that they might run in different directions, I maybe bring a wagon to the park so that I can corral them into a space, so that I don’t have to carry two children out of the park.

I also like to talk about routines and consistency. So one of the things that we used to do with my children when we would go to the park is that: “Before we leave the park, we will go on the swings. And when we are done with the swings, then we’re going to go to the car.” So they may ask for the swing earlier in the park visit. And I would remind them, “We do that before we leave.” And so they would go off and play again.

And then when I was getting ready to or it was time for us to leave, “Okay, we’re going to be getting ready to leave so I can offer the swing now.” So they got into the routine of Oh when we go in the swings, that means we’re going to leave, and it would be pretty much smooth sailing.

So again, when we take a group of children to the park or another visit: What kind of cues can I give them? What can I let them know? So when we start to put our shoes back on, that’s going to be time for us to leave, and we’re reminding them of that as we arrive at the location. “When we get our shoes back on, we’re going to be leaving.” And shortly before we’re leaving, “Okay it’s almost time for us to get our shoes on. And then we will be leaving right after that.”

So lots of physical cues. If I’m at a friend’s house and my children have come along, “When I go get our jackets from the other room, it’ll be time for us to leave.” “When I put my dishes on the counter, it’s going to be time for us to leave.” So I’m trying to give them physical, not only visual cues, which is super helpful.

And then there are times where they’re tired and they’ve had tons of fun and they don’t want to leave. Now you’re dealing with a tired child who might be throwing a fit. You can give them all the cues and they’re still not participating. So it’s, “You may walk to the car or I may pick you up and take you to the car,” pausing and waiting, giving them every opportunity that you can, that they will participate. And then it’s, “I see that you’re not walking, so I’m going to pick you up and carry you to the car.”

Janet Lansbury:  I love that idea of the transitional activities, sort of like a bedtime routine, where once the child is in that activity, they’re already feeling themselves getting ready to leave, or they’re feeling themselves getting ready to go to sleep because they’ve associated that activity with the next activity or the next situation that’s going to happen. That’s brilliant. I actually haven’t heard of that before and I love it.

Erica Orosco Cruz: There have also been times where we’ve had an “after RIE class.” So a class for children that are over two years. And I remember we were wrapping up class, the volume was going louder and the parents are in the class going, “Oh no. How is this going to unfold?” The children were running around in the indoor space. And I got out a box of silks and I just slowly folded them. And the energy slowly shifted into much calmer. Some of the children started joining me. But it’s so much about being the calm in the eye of the storm of just being present and slowing down. I don’t need to raise my volume. I don’t need to stand up and lift my arms. I don’t need to react to what’s going on in front of me. I just need to know where I want to go. “Do I want to bring the energy down? Okay, I can do that. How can I do that? What are the tools that I can have? Is it sweeping? Is it raking? Is it something that I can do, repetitive and calming as well?”

Janet Lansbury:  Do you ever get wound up and you feel like: Okay, I’m getting wound up. What am I going to do? I’m going to breathe, or whatever it is. Do you have a self-dialogue that you do at all or imagery?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I even talk it out loud with the children. Say they’re moving their bodies precariously on something. I might go, “I’m watching. I’m not sure about that. I may come closer.”

So it’s not even in my head, it’s just something oral. And I’m saying it out loud and they’re like: Oh, what does that mean? She’s watching, what are we doing that’s bringing her attention to it?

Or I might say, “I’m coming closer,” when I’m getting behavior that’s out of the norm and screaming and amplified and they’re having a good time, but I’m not sure about it. So I’ll go, “I’m not sure. I’m going to come closer.” And so I’m checking in with them, but I’m also checking in with myself. Is this something I’m okay with? This is something I’m not okay with. Well, let me get closer. Maybe I can be closer and feel more comfortable with what they’re climbing on.

We had a parent that came in and was volunteering, but was very fluent with the language that we use: “I’m not sure, I’m coming closer.” And I remember at the end of the day, one of the staff members says, “She’s not sure about a lot of things.” And I thought that was so great because at least she was vocalizing it for uncertainty with the children and with the staff. So I was happy. That made me laugh.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. It’s always better to put it out there because children are feeling that, they’re feeling that trepidation or that discomfort a little bit in the person. And then it’s kind of scary if they don’t hear somebody put words to what’s going on with them. So, it really helps to calm children even just to be that honest about what’s going on with us, cluing them in. It also helps model a process for them, for themselves: I’m not sure about standing on that rock. So let me think about it. Okay, I’m going to try putting one foot up. Not that they would verbalize that, but they might internalize that kind of dialogue.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. And its familiar language. So even the other children might say, “I’m not sure about that,” when they’re referring to another child.

Janet Lansbury:  Yeah. I love that. That’s so great.

What else do I want to ask you about… What about the conflicts between children? What about when they’re using unkind words or being unkind or they’re being physically unsafe or maybe they’re fighting over toys? What kind of responses do you have to those things?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  I feel like it’s the same responses when we’re in a RIE class and it’s infants exploring each other’s bodies and things like that. And the same thing with the preschool or a child who has a whole lot more language. One of the words that we use often is “ouch,” if we see something that’s rough or hear something that’s rough, or if it’s unkind words. So we come closer, we sportscast, “I saw that you were both holding onto it. Ouch, that’s rough when you’re pulling on someone’s hair,” or “Ouch, that was rough how you said, give it to me.”

So we are still sportscasting, even with children who have a full round of language because they still are centering on themself and what they desire instead of really looking at the other child who may have that same desire. And so that’s where the sportscasting still comes into play. And it’s so helpful, especially with siblings who have varying degrees of language and comprehension of what’s going on.

Janet Lansbury:  But you stop some of the behaviors, right?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes. We are definitely putting our hand in there to make sure everybody’s safe. We intervene if there are children that are being rough with each other, or if they’re being rough with an object, like a toy, or even — we have some chickens here — if they’re being rough with themselves even. We’re intervening, putting our hands in the path where they could do harm, and still continuing the sportscasting. “I may hold onto that car, I see that you’re both pushing. I’m going to make sure that you’re both safe.”

Janet Lansbury:  But you’re allowing them to resolve the conflict if possible by themselves. And at what point would you decide that they can’t be in this conflict or they’re not able to be here right now, or I need to pull them aside, how would you do that?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Sometimes we will stop the harm from happening. And then it may be, we can be in that space with them and see how it unfolds. “Okay, I’m going to have you stay close to me, but you’re still going after that person. Okay, I’m going to have us move into a different space.” So that there’s a clear boundary of what’s okay and what’s not okay. Yes, it’s okay to struggle over a toy or want to be sitting on the same stool or to have conflict is natural, but to be forceful with someone’s body, that’s a hard boundary.

Janet Lansbury:  Absolutely. But you’re still not judging the child as a bad child or shameful or anything. Yeah-

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Definitely not.

Janet Lansbury:  That’s the key to so much. Our reactions are what make certain behaviors repeat or make things a “thing.” Like children running away from us when they’re supposed to do something, it’s often because of the way that we’ve reacted to that in the past or the way that we’ve been judgmental.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Here on site with the staff, it’s like okay, what is that behavior desiring? Is that child wanting to play with those children? We see them knocking down a structure that the other children built with blocks, but does that need mean that they want to be playing? Okay, how can we facilitate that? What is behind the behavior? What is the need that’s trying to be met?

Janet Lansbury:  Right. And sometimes it’s the opposite. This child is trying to get some space if it’s too stimulating for this child to be this close to these children. So they’re pushing, hitting them.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  You can’t discover that unless you’re observing. Because if you’re in it and you’re like oh, I’m constantly having to stop this child from pushing friends away from them. And you’re not observing… Okay, what happened before? Okay, what was happening earlier in the day? If you’re not trying to figure out through observation what’s unfolding, then you’re not going to be able to see it. And then I would say, then you would move towards the labels or you would get frustrated or you would say: Oh, not again.

Janet: Lansbury. Yes, and that’s such a cornerstone of Magda Gerber’s approach: sensitive observation of children and it really makes a difference. I’ve noticed when I’ve been able to go into a preschool because a parent maybe asked me to assess their child for something. I’ll be the one that gets to observe because the other teachers are sometimes busy and I’ll see everything — how things went down and what really happened. And you learn a lot about each child just in a short amount of time. It’s really, really powerful.

But how do you do that if you’re the parent with a bunch of children? How do you carve out that observation time? You learn to not get involved in their play for one thing, so that becomes observation time.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  And then you get curious. Okay. I was putting the groceries away and a child said something to me, but I continued to put the groceries away, and then all of a sudden there was spilled milk on the floor. Oh, did I miss that opportunity where they were asking for help pouring the milk? What could I have done? Could I have set the groceries aside and maybe the child could’ve helped with the groceries away and then I could have served milk?

It really goes to the curiosity that children instinctively have, that we often lose because we’re just trying to find the answer.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. So it’s not really observation in the sense of the way we do in the classes, which is where we’re actually sitting and observing. We’re reflecting more on what just happened, so that’s another way of learning the way observation teaches us.

We can also learn by actually being open to… which always has to start with self-compassion and non-self-judgment, I think. But reflecting on: Oh, there’s a reason this happened with my child and the reason is not my fault, I’m bad or that they’re terrible, that I’ve done a terrible job with them, that they’re not a good person. None of those are ever the reason. The reason is something else. So to let go of all those other things so that we can love ourselves and have peace with ourselves enough to be open to what it really is, I guess, is what you’re saying.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  That’s what I call grace, to give yourself some grace.

Janet Lansbury:  I love that. Wow. What a gift you are.

So you consult with parents, you coach parents, all of that information’s on your website and you have online classes as well?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  We do. We have online classes for parents, we weekly come together. And what we receive, Janet, is like when we were in class with Magda, the decompression of: Now I get to reflect.  Or, where can I fit in this observation time? Or as Magda used to say, “What are your three wishes?” And by asking that question, it really opens you up to: What is the possibility? How could this be different?

Being a mother is no easy feat. Being a caregiver of multiple children is no easy feat, but when we have a love and a curiosity for it, it gives us a lot of opportunities to be able to shift, to try different things.

Janet Lansbury:  Right. What do I need? I feel like you’re saying. That’s what Magda was saying. She was saying, “If the good fairy could come and give you a wish or three wishes, what would they be?” And what she was saying was: Think about what you need.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Yes, because we teach ourselves first. So if we’re frustrated or tired or not taking care of ourselves, that’s what we’re modeling for our children.

Janet Lansbury:   This is wonderful. Thank you so much, Erica. I’ll be linking to all your information in the notes of this podcast. And then in the transcript, which will be posted on my website. I wish you had been my preschool teacher and I may have wished you were my mother too, at some point. You exude that grace that you’re talking about, you really do.

Oh, there’s this video of you, if it’s still on YouTube of you helping your son brush his teeth, and goodness, that alone, is worth a million words. Is that still available?

Erica Orosco Cruz:  It is.

Janet Lansbury:  Okay, great. I’ll include that in the transcript as well. Wonderful. Thank you so much. And you have a beautiful day. I’m thrilled you’re out there helping so many people, so many parents, so many children to give themselves grace.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Thank you. This went by so fast. I’m so grateful that we got to do it.

Janet Lansbury: Me too. All right, take care, my friend.

Erica Orosco Cruz:  Bye.

Please check out the wonderful resources Erica offers at http://homeschoolgardensite.com

And HERE’s Erica’s toothbrushing video on YouTube, it’s worth watching!

Also, please check some of my other podcasts on my website janetlansbury.com. There are 200-and-something of them at this point and they’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in. And I have two books, they’re available at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting.  You can get them in eBook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play, or barnesandnoble.com, and in audio at Audible.com. Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and for all your kind support. We can do this.

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