The Fine Line Between Freedom & Limits

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Before even becoming a parent, you probably heard that children need limits and boundaries. It is not a secret that disciplining and setting boundaries for toddlers and preschoolers is no walk in the park. When it feels like everything you say and do is met with a whine, a tantrum, or your child doing the exact opposite of what you asked, it can feel terribly overwhelming. You may ask yourself why you need to put yourself through this in the first place. Well, when children are faced with the necessity to rein in their impulse towards something they want (a new toy at the store, for instance), so they can have something they want more (a warm, happy connection with you), they learn and develop self-control. So these limits and boundaries we set for our children actually teach them to set limits for themselves and learn to control their reactions, which is otherwise known as self-discipline! This is definitely a skill we want our children to have!

However, there is a sweet spot between being permissive (low demands with high responsiveness, i.e. letting them do whatever they want) and authoritarian (high demands with low responsiveness, i.e. forcing your child to obey your every command). This ideal middle ground is when we set limits as necessary, but do so with love and  empathy. Empathy makes the limit much more acceptable to your child so he/she doesn’t resist it as much. They internalize what you are trying to teach them. It’s how you set the limit that counts.

So, how do you set a limit with empathy? First, you start with a strong, supportive connection so your child knows that you are always on their side. Look at the situation from their point of view and always offer genuine empathy that your child can feel. Resist the temptation to be punitive in any way because setting the limit and following through teaches the lesson. Anything more may backfire. Pick and choose your battles wisely–only set the limits that you really need to set. Make life more about connection and discovery rather than about limits and frustration. Saying “no” too often will undermine its meaning and your relationship.

It may seem hard at first to figure out which limits are really necessary. If you think about it, you already know the answer to this! Safety — for themselves and others — is non-negotiable. Treating others with respect is very important, although always a work in progress, as you teach your child that he/she can advocate for his/her own needs without attacking anyone else. All other rules will change over time — for example, they will have to learn to clean up their own messes and not to interrupt you mid-sentence — but if you’re seeing things from the child’s perspective, and keeping in mind what’s age-appropriate, you will know what they are ready to handle. You will also see what he/she needs — for instance, regular meals and a good night’s sleep — and be prepared to enforce your child in getting those things.

In short, just make sure that you have a wonderful connection with your child so that you can offer genuine empathy, and he/she can feel it, while the limit setting is taking place.

Here are some strategies to help…

Set clear expectations. Before you set expectations for your child, you need to prioritize which ones are most significant. Make sure the expectations you set for your children reflect your values — and consistently help your kids understand how these values govern your day-to-day decisions. Your child will be more likely to remember a small set of expectations (three to five), so start with a short list. You can also post them in your home using a combination of short words and pictures. You can even take photos of your child in various situations to remind him/her how to behave in those circumstances!

Be consistent. Both parents need to agree on what behaviors you are going to address or let go. You also need to come up with a solid plan for what you are going to do when your child’s behavior is unacceptable and stick to it. Every time. This makes it much easier, when the in the heat of the moment, to have your response ready to go when you are feeling frustrated and upset. If all caregivers are consistent (including nannies, teachers, babysitters, family members, etc.) with their responses to behaviors, it is much less confusing for your child and they will move through the unhappy phase quickly. It also helps to have your child’s school partner with you for extra support and unbiased advice.

But what happens if my child throws a tantrum in public? Respond the same way you would at home. It’s harder because you may feel embarrassed or like people are looking your way, but consistency is key! We’ve all been there.

Start early. Once you’ve established your list of expectations, start enforcing them! We often make the mistake of thinking our children are too young to understand; we end up permitting certain behaviors, which can become bad habits.

Be a role model. Young children are very observant, and they watch what their parents, siblings and caregivers do. One easy way to teach boundaries is to consistently model the right behaviors. The behaviors I expect from my child are ones that I live out myself. When your child is learning new concepts, you can reinforce these teachable moments by using words to describe your choices. For instance:

  • “I’m buckling my seatbelt because a seatbelt keeps my body safe.”
  • “I listened to Daddy while he was talking. Now it’s my turn to talk.”
  • “I’m putting away my book so it doesn’t get torn.”

But how do you control your emotions in the heat of the moment? Jenn says, “I close my eyes and count to ten. Closing my eyes helps me to calm down and shut out the world for a second so I can think. Then I can remember my consistent response and I do that versus yelling. Having that consistent response ready takes the emotion out of it.” Another suggestion is to make sure your child is in a safe space and take a minute in the bathroom, bedroom or outside for yourself. Giving yourself just a minute to breathe can make all the difference in how you react or respond to your child. Also, don’t be hard on yourself if you overreact. Kristi says, “If I feel like I haven’t responded in the way I would have liked, I verbalize that out loud. I’ll say, “I’m sorry sweetheart, mama is very frustrated right now and shouldn’t have raised her voice. I’ll try to react more calmly next time.” This shows our children that we are human, make mistakes, and are always working to better ourselves – which is all we can ask of them too. No one is perfect!

Offer choices. One of the reasons discipline can be difficult with toddlers is that at their stage of development, they are learning to assert their independence and often want to do things by themselves. Offering your child two acceptable choices allows him//her to make a decision and can dissuade them from unnecessarily pushing boundaries. This isn’t to be confused with negotiating. Keep the choices simple and straightforward. When your child is upset, they aren’t able to hear you. If you continue to talk, this may cause your child to get even more upset and subsequently you will get more frustrated. The consistent response is what is best for you and your child.

Celebrate the positive behavior. It’s easy to focus on negative behavior and forget to praise positive actions. If your child is making good choices, commend her for it and reaffirm your expectations. Make your praise sincere and frequent. You want to let your child know you see and appreciate the positive choices he makes as you guide him toward wisdom and respect for others.

What is the difference between a behavioral challenge and a possible developmental issue? When in doubt, always partner with a teacher or your trusted medical provider. Jenn shares, “I always thought one of my daughters had a behavioral issue because she never sat still — at the table, at church, while watching TV, etc. My consistent responses didn’t work. So, I finally talked to my pediatrician and she suggested I take her to a developmental pediatrician because it sounded like more than poor behavior. She was diagnosed with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder). She has a hyposensitivity to movement which makes her crave it even more, so she just couldn’t help herself. The doctor gave us tons of tips and tools which work, but most importantly, I stopped seeing her actions as misbehavior and now look at them as a need. Now we work together on getting her the movement her body needs to focus.”

Remember, behaviors come and go. If you respond consistently, you will move through the phases more quickly and then it’s on to the next challenge! 😉 Don’t forget to give yourself a reward at the end of each day or after you’ve gone through a really hard moment. A glass of wine, a handful of peanut m&m’s, a shower alone — whatever puts a smile on your face!

For further reading check out…

Setting Limits with Toddlers: The Choices They Can’t Make

8 Tools for Toddler Discipline

Setting Limits with Young Children

These books are also some great resources…

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham

No Drama Discipline by Daniel J Siegel, M.D. & Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!


“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope, which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” |  Dr. Seuss

Yesterday was March 2nd and on this day back in 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born! At this time each year we celebrate the National Education Association’s Read Across America, where we pledge to help create a nation of diverse readers and remember the importance of early literacy. March is also National Reading Month. So, whether your child is growing in the womb, happily “eating” their board books, asking for 13 bed-time stories, or reading independently, it’s a great time to have some fun with your child(ren) and celebrate our love for stories.

At tlb, we especially love the timelessness of Dr. Seuss. His wisdom is eternal. While many of us remember reading his books as children, the lessons he shares are relevant at any age, young or old. His stories such as Oh, the Thinks You Can Think, The Lorax, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go, inspire young children to dream beyond their own expectations, to find their way based on their individual strengths, to care for others and the environment, to persevere through tough times and to never give up! Classics such as The Cat and the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Hop on Pop introduce children to rhyming words, teach reading fluency and were some of the first books written to help school age children (6 and 7 years) learn to read on their very own.


Jenn reflects, “Circle time in class is my favorite time. I love to prepare lessons with a book and corresponding craft or activity. It’s so cool to see the look of wonder in the children’s eyes while we read and then to see them make connections when we do our activity afterwards. It’s amazing! The power of a story is unlimited.” So, here are some tips on how to instill and strengthen your child’s early literacy skills and inspire in them a love for reading and writing!..

Talk to your children often. Starting from birth, converse with your child about anything and everything. Babies and toddlers need to build a good base for reading comprehension through natural interactions with parents and caregivers and real experiences in the world. They need to internalize words with all their senses, like when you tell your child about the warm water and yellow washcloth you bathe her with, or acknowledge the birds, big trucks, or loud helicopters he hears outside. Use a lot of adjectives! Point out print in your home and neighborhood including signs, store names and symbols. These language “lessons” are in context and have relevance to your child’s life. As they get older, engage your child in conversations about their day, ask them questions, tell jokes and make up stories together. The opportunities are endless!

Play rhyming games. Walks around the neighborhood and car rides are great opportunities to help your child develop their auditory system. Take turns saying a word like “cat” and come up with as many words as you both can that rhyme with it. It’s also super fun to come up with nonsense words too (i.e. “yat”, “zat” or “dat”).


Set up an art and writing center in your home. Create it and they will come… It’s almost like magic! If you would like to see your children writing for pleasure in their free time, then create an inviting space with engaging materials. Here are our tried and true favorites for creating a captivating writing center. What we love about these items is that they become household staples. Include a variety of open-ended materials like a variety of paper or blank notebooks, pencils, crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, watercolors, highlighters, alphabet stickers, stamps, envelopes, etc. Encourage children to use their emergent writing skills (drawing, scribbling, invented spelling) to create letters, lists, stories, pictures, postcards and more! Playful Learning is a great resource for inspiring the writing center in your home. Check it out!

Move, move move! Both gross- and fine-motor development aid children in becoming effective writers, thus readers. Encourage children to be active outdoors by climbing, running and skipping to build gross-motor strength and provide lacing, beading, modeling clay and dressing activities when indoors to build fine-motor skills that will later help with their tripod grip to hold a pencil. Writing and story telling generally come first in literacy development and leads to reading!


Make reading together a daily routine. We love this quote by Neil Gaiman:

“We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting and not stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.”

Reading a book together and out loud has so many benefits. It helps with language development, listening skills, fluency and it models vocabulary for children. It also helps instill a love of reading. Studies show that even older children whose parents still read to them are more likely to see reading as a pleasurable activity. Jenn says, “I cherish reading with my daughters, even my 10 year old. It’s our time to disconnect from everything around us and connect to each other and to the world of whatever story we read. We read every night before bed and my youngest whispers, “This is my favorite time of day.” Reading also helps when things get crazy at home. I just grab a book, grab the kids and the mood shifts away from crazy to calm.” So, make time for it, but be patient with your kids, especially if you’re just starting out. Ask children questions about the book as you read, point out familiar letters that match their names and fill your home library with a variety of fiction and nonfiction books. The benefit of reading with your child begins before your child can verbalize words or phrases, so start early to help benefit your child’s long-term language development.

Follow your child’s lead. Learning should come from a place of joy, curiosity and intrinsic motivation. If your child doesn’t show interest in letter games or rhyming words at two or three years old, that’s ok! Research shows that children’s brains aren’t developmentally ready to read until age seven or eight. Following your child’s lead and exploring a slower, more Waldorf-ian reading pace is a wonderful approach for some children. Use games and fun activities to teach phonics and sight words such as Bingo, Memory or Go Fish! The more “unconscious” a child can be about learning to read, in the same way that a young child absorbs his mother tongue without effort, the less frustration they’ll have down the road.


In case you’re wondering what to read, check out these lists:

NYPL’s 100 Great Children’s Books

ALSC’s Notable Children’s Books of 2017

NEA’s 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Read

Mama Liberated’s List of Discovery-Based Children’s Books

If your looking for local children’s story times and book related events, check out the West Bergen Branch of the Jersey City Public Library (476 West Side Avenue),  Word Bookstore (123 Newark Avenue),  and Hazel Baby‘s Charles & Co location (199 Montgomery Street).

Happy reading!

Independence: Finding the Courage to Let Go


“These words reveal a child’s inner needs: “Help me to do it myself.”‘ | Dr. Maria Montessori

When babies are born they need their parents to do everything for them–dress them, feed them, change their diapers, rock them to sleep–you name it. Many parents continue to help dress and feed their children long after they become capable of doing it on their own. We understand…

It’s your way of showing love. 

While many of us recognize that it’s vitally important to support our child’s budding independence as it builds their self-confidence and sense of self-worth. However, some parents are still unsure how to channel their affection in a way that is beneficial for their child’s ever-changing development. Kristi explains, “I realized this with my own daughter the other day when something that happened completely blew my mind. I was busy in the kitchen making dinner and Stella (13 months) started crying and wanted my undivided attention. She was hanging on the refrigerator door, so I opened it and handed her a clementine to hold and to hopefully distract her for five minutes so I could finish up.  She happily took it and sat down at my feet. Some time went by and I thought to myself, she sure is quiet. I looked down to check on her and I couldn’t believe what I saw! She had started to peel the clementine herself! What a wonder! I helped her carry it to the coffee table to give her some more space and watched as she finished up peeling and happily ate the entire thing! I didn’t start the peel for her. I never showed her how to peel it. She must have just carefully observed me over time and decided to tried it on her own. I was utterly amazed, even as a trained Montessorian, and the look of pride on her face was priceless! This weekend, I’m planning to organize our kitchen to make some things more accessible to her. She must have just been hungry but didn’t have the words yet to tell me.”


The beauty of parenting is, if we learn to stand back and let go, we will witness this incredible development right before our very eyes. Just look at our friend, Aayansh (2 years) in the photo at the top of this post. He just learned how to do “the flip” to put on his coat independently. He smiled SO BIG and yelled, “I did it!” Now we are working with him to practice fine-motor skills like zippers and snaps. There are tons of ways for children to manage daily tasks on their own and you can look to your child’s teachers for tips and advice about how to assist them. It also helps if you are able to make some simple organizational changes in the preparation of your home to help support your child as they learn to be more autonomous. We also need to be mindful of our expectations for our young children. Here is some food for thought:


Keep their things at their level. Children crave opportunities where they can be successful. Simple modifications to your home, such as hanging low hooks by the entry way, providing a basket or bin for their shoes, dedicating a low drawer or shelf in the kitchen for their dishes, utensils and favorite snacks, and setting up a water station are a great start and can really make a difference. Parents are always amazed at how children manage themselves while at school–well, that’s because everything is prepared with little humans in mind. You can easily create these experiences for your children at home too! You might find that giving them control of certain tasks lessens the opportunity for tantrums throughout the day and makes for happier children.


Facilitate dressing themselves. Low open shelves, low hanging racks, a mirror and a low chair, stool or bench with brush or comb can enable even 2- or 3-year-olds to begin to dress themselves independently. especially if you pre-select two simple choices for a younger child to choose from. Time and repetition is also crucial at this stage. It’s not a realistic expectation for children to be able to get ready and get out the door in the same amount of time that we are. Give your little one a half hour or more, depending on the child. You know him or her best and will know how much time they need. For older children who are purposefully dragging their feet, a sand timer works wonders!

Exercise patience. Repeat after us–There is no such thing as the RIGHT WAY. Trust us, your kids will be the ones to show you this time after time. Parents tend to do more for their children out of love, but also because they want it done on adult time or in a particular way. It is extraordinary when our child masters a task on their own and their pride-filled facial expression is all the reward we need. Who cares if their hat is on lopsided, or their shirt is on backwards, or their shoes are on the wrong feet? If it’s a bother to them, that’s a logical consequence. They will notice it and that is the perfect time to chime in–“Oh, do your feet feel strange? Let’s take a look at your shoes together. You worked so hard getting them on, but I think switching them will feel so much better. Let’s try again and I can help you if you need it.” The growth in self-confidence, the smile on their face and the pride in their accomplishments is so much better than a straight hat (or a tantrum because he or she wanted to do it themselves!). Putting trust in our children, respecting their ability, setting them up for success, giving them the time to practice and encouraging their effort and hard work is so important.


Organize and simplify their play area. Quality over quantity goes a long way when it comes to toys. Fewer options, displayed on open shelves, are preferable over lots of toys in boxes and baskets that the children can’t see. It also helps when it’s time to clean up, since everything has a place. Young children are sensitive to order, which impacts the organization and development of the brain. Ikea and Target have great options for inexpensive open shelving, such as the Kallax  or Threshold series.

A little preparation goes a long way. As parents, we play a very important role as the “custodian” of the environment. Instead of acting directly on your child to control what he or she does, you have constant opportunities to act on your child’s surroundings, preparing your home with love and care so that they can find success within it. As a custodian, your job is to see your home as your child would see it. Notice which obstacles are stopping her from being independent: Does he need a stool to reach the bathroom faucet? Are her clothes easy to find? Is she able to serve herself water without having to ask for it? Then, make the little changes that will allow him or her to feel the thrill of success! If you have the time for a quick read, we highly recommend reading The World of the Child: A Fable for Parents by Aline D. Wolf. (It’s even available from our Lending Library!) It’s a wonderful reminder of trying to see the world through our tiny human’s eyes and remembering that they are facing challenges all day long while learning how to do, well, everything! Kristi says, “I find that it helps to have a mantra–whatever that means or whatever makes sense for you. I repeat to myself all day long, “she’s having a hard time, not giving ME a hard time.” It really puts things in perspective for me, and makes the inevitable tough moments a little easier for both of us because I’m able to respond rather than react.”

For further reading on how to organize spaces in your home and cultivate your child’s independence you can check out:


Cure Cabin Fever! Fun Indoor Activities for Young Children

At three little birds we always encourage our families to bundle up and get out to play in the fresh air, regardless of the season, temperature or weather. However, we completely understand that some days, it may not possible for everyone. With the holidays over and the cold, bleak, New Jersey winter starting to really set in, we’ve come up with a list of super fun activities to help cure your family’s cabin fever and keep your children happy, engaged and inspired in their play at home.


Make Art!

The trick to creating art in the winter is to keep it simple and use materials that you can easily find around the house. This way, you are not creating more clutter and adding to things you will need to throw out later. It’s also helpful to choose easy, age-appropriate activities that kids can manage by themselves. Then you can simultaneously get things done (or drink a hot cup of coffee!) while they are keeping busy. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Mess free “finger-painting”
  • Create sculptures out of everyday  or recyclable materials (try styrofoam, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, marshmallows, thin wire, cardboard, corks, thread spools, drinking straws, wooden chopsticks, etc.) Think outside the box!
  • Experiment with liquid watercolor paint and salt
  • Rip up old magazines, catalogues, newspapers, etc and let your kids collage them
  • Paint a wall with chalkboard paint and let your kids go to town creating a mural! They can erase and create a new one over and over again. If a chalkboard wall is not feasible, you can tape up some parchment paper or use an easel.


Explore Your Senses!

Sensory bins are incredibly fun, easy to put together, simple to change up, and can entertain a wide variety of ages–all at once! Sensory activities are very important for young children as they facilitate exploration and naturally encourage kids to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and discover. Plain white rice is a great basic starting point. You can leave the rice as is, or get as fancy as you like, by coloring and scenting it. Beans, corn kernels and water beads are also interesting fillers to add. Then add some scoopers, spoons, small objects or toys, letters and numbers, pom poms, stones, sea shells, cookie cutters or anything else you’d like. Sensory bins can be thematically based on your child’s interests or just made for fun exploration. The options are truly endless! Here is a great resource for sensory bin ideas.


Use Your Imagination!

Our very own Ms. Joyce suggests, “Staying indoors during the winter months can be a ton of fun and one of my favorite things to do is to use our imaginations and bring story books to life such as,  We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.” There’s even a great song you can listen to together. Joyce explains, “Start by reading the story and then create your very own animal “hunt” at home. Let the children really take the reins and let them decide what animals to include, where to hide them, and see how far they’d like to go in the creation of the hunt. Don’t forget to tip toe, incorporate fun homemade props and sound effects, giggle a lot–make this as fun as possible!” Imaginative play includes role playing which allows children to experiment in creating scenarios, making decisions and problem solving in a safe and enjoyable way. Happy hunting!


Build an Epic Fort!

C’mon, you know: Everything is better when it’s done inside a fort.

Have an older child who isn’t into reading or writing? Here’s the solution to your problems and you don’t even have to go out and buy a teepee, pop-up playhouse, or tent (though you totally can if you like!) All you need is some inspiration, a nice open space and some basic supplies you most definitely have around your house like sofa cushions, bed sheets, blankets, rope or twine, clothes pins, and a flash light for inside. Once it’s built, let the kids get creative decorating the inside or outside of their fort or filling it with fun things they’d like to do such as books, drawing or coloring materials, legos, blocks, etc. Have fun!

Young mother and son in kitchen making cookies.

Cook or Bake!

If you’re looking for the one activity that exposes your child to math, language and science, while helping them to develop concentration, motor skills and delayed gratification, look no further. I’m talking about cooking and baking. Children can begin to help in the kitchen as early as 18 months and not only are they building skills but you are creating memories as a family that will last a lifetime. The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. Remember to focus on the process and not the outcome–accept that things will most likely not go as planned and really live in the moment. No matter your child’s age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently and involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of! Here are some easy recipes to get you started.


Create an Indoor Obstacle Course!

This one is pretty self-explanitory. All you need is a little creative spirit and maybe a fold-away tunnel if you happen to have one on hand. If you’re looking for a little DIY obstacle course inspiration, check out the one Lauren made on her blog, Crumb Buns!