Sunday, August 24, 2014

Taking your Toddler on a Short Term Mission Trip - the emotional side

Despite our efforts in life to expose ourselves and our family to diversity, most of the people with whom we interact on a day to day basis look, dress, and think a lot alike. They live in the same types of homes and have the same type of life rhythms. We don’t want O to grow up unaware of or unconcerned with either the weaknesses OR strengths of the world beyond her home.  And because of that, we decided this summer to take her on our church's annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  The details of that trip and relationship are enough for a separate post.  But today, I wanted to address some of the "why" of going and how it turned out for us.

The bible would say “raise up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” As a speech pathologist, it’s my job to take big goals like “Raise up O in the way she should go” or “O will not depart from the ways we’ve taught her.” into short term, measurable goals. And of course, there will be different goals for each age dependent on her developmental level, emotional level, and knowledge level.

So this year, I set a few (hopefully measurable) goals for my family that we worked on before the DR and continued to work on while we were there and now have to keep in mind once we're home. Some of them are very basic and you might even laugh when you hear them. But we though that each of them was a “first step” toward that bigger goal of raising her in the way she should go. Here's the goals and how I phrased them/thought about them before we left...

1.O will listen, obey, and be polite. She might not like it, but we expect her to stop when an adult says stop, come when an adult says come, and pay attention when someone is speaking to her. She is expected to follow short, simple directions and be a productive part of society (e.g., throwing away her own trash, cleaning up her own messes). When she asks for something, she should say please. If she doesn’t, I often will prompt her by asking what nice words she should use.

2. Olivia will try new foods. She doesn’t have to eat the whole thing. But she does have to tolerate items on her plate and hopefully will even put items in her mouth and chew (even if she then spits it out). We do plan to travel with preferred foods/snacks too just in case.

3. Olivia will observe her surroundings. When we walk or ride on buses/trains/planes, we ask “what do you see?” and then follow up with conversation about things we see. We try hard to point out what we can actually observe and not to make judgments about it. (aka, “I see a woman with children” is different than “I see a mother and children.”)
4. Olivia will wait. Travel requires patience and toddlers don’t have much of that. When she requests something (either formally or informally), I often expect her to be able to wait a few seconds or a few minutes for that item. If the wait is going to be unusually long, then I’ll try to distract her with a different, preferred item while she waits. We also use a lot of “first XXX, then YYY.”

5. Olivia will display a spirit of adventure. At home, this means that while we have a typical routine, when fun things come up like visiting friends or attending special events, we don't let our schedule dictate when we say yes or no. To this end, we expect her to participate in all of the activities we do in whatever way she’s capable—even if that means sleeping in the carrier while we are out and about. I think “participating in whatever way she’s capable” is easy when we’re playing with kiddos in HdY or going on team outings/adventures. I’m not really sure what it looks like during medical days, construction days, but we’re all going to figure that out together this year.

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