My four year-old is….well, he’s a challenge. He seems to live restlessly at the intersection of high intellect, struggling autonomy, and heightened sensitivity. He loves structure, and he needs to be engaged, both in a worthy activity and with a loved one (usually me) most to all of the time. He feels things deeply, and for a while I felt I was living in a minefield: I never knew when an explosion was coming. I shut a door he wanted to close. I took the top off his yogurt. I flushed the toilet after using it. Meltdowns ensued.

Add my two year-old spirited, also intelligent, daughter to the mix, and things get interesting. I was running, chasing the day that was sprinting away from me. Forget “regular” activities like going to the park or farmers’ market. If my son wasn’t running off or touching everything, both kids wanted my undivided attention, and both wanted to go in opposite directions, leaving me tending to one while chasing the other. Both reassurance and yelling were involved, usually at the same time to different kids. My emotional bucket was frenzied and empty. Going out in public with the two of them by myself became more trouble than it was worth. At home I was raising my voice. A lot. I hated it.

It wasn’t a matter of setting consistent boundaries, like I always thought was the issue when I saw it happening with other parents. I did set boundaries. It was a matter of staying ahead of my kids, as well as finding the line between teaching appropriate behavior and not curbing their uniqueness and curiosity.

I decided I needed help. I thought about finding webinars on parenting techniques or articles about discipline, but I wanted guidance based on what would work for my unique children. I wanted to talk to someone, someone who not only worked in the field of early childhood education, but who also knew my kids.

That’s when I had a one-on-one mentor meeting with Joy at TEAMS Learning Center. She had been working with both my kids for over a year and knew them well. During our two-hour meeting we discussed my children’s tendencies, their preferences (both socially and intellectually), strengths, and challenges, everything she had observed since they’d been students at TEAMS. She gave me some ideas on how to set boundaries with them, how to establish good habits, how to discipline them effectively, and how to keep my structure-loving son engaged without running myself ragged. We talked about the dynamics and the rivalry between my kids. We also discussed how important it is to take care of myself during times of stress (which was a nice reminder that moms don’t hear often enough). I left the meeting feeling affirmed and positive. Finally someone understood my kids. Finally someone could tell me how to manage them. It was exactly what I needed.

I understand my children better now. I’ve been able to step back and say “I get it.” I’m able to keep my son busy, but not so busy that he feels overwhelmed. I’m able to more effectively shape his behavior. I’ve given him more autonomy. He’s happier. I’ve been able to give my daughter what she needs, and balance both better. I’m not sure we are ready for farmers’ market yet, but we’ve been hitting parks and even restaurants with success.

For anyone struggling with his or her child’s behavior, or who just wants an educated perspective on parenthood and early education, I recommend a mentorship meeting with Joy. Her insights are invaluable and have benefited our whole family tremendously.

(Photos from Teacher Joy and TEAMS.)