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Engaging Games to Develop Leadership Skills

two children playing with puzzle

By Lee Scott

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

All children have the potential to build leadership skills. Developing these skills boosts self-confidence, supports communication skills and helps children organize their thoughts and learn to collaborate. Beginning at an early age builds a foundation for essential social-emotional development.

Playing games is an easy way for families to support the development of social and leadership skills. Children learn to cooperate with others, present their own ideas and take turns – all part of becoming leaders. Here are five of my favorite games to help you get started.

1. Puzzles – Puzzles are a great way to learn to take turns and solve a problem together. Work with your child on which pieces go where, ask for help from each other and encourage your child to try pieces in different positions.

2. Construction – Get out blocks, clay and recycled materials. Ask your child to help you build something. Encourage your child to decide what you will build, who will do what and what materials you could use.

3. Design a New Game – Your child can get creative by taking a familiar game and developing a few new rules. Play the game together while your child explains the new rules. For example, while playing I Spy, the new rule may be that you only spy things that are red. When playing a board game, try changing how many times a person can roll the dice.

4. The Classic Egg Game – This classic leadership game can be played with other family members and friends. Split the group into pairs. Each pair gets an egg. The goal is to move the egg across the room. The pairs need to be creative. The rules can be that you cannot just hold the egg and walk it across the room, that both players need to be involved and that you must use a tool of some sort to move the egg. The less restrictive the rules are, the more creativity you’re encouraging.

5. Follow the Leader – There are many ways to mix up the activities in this game. Get moving, and give it a try. Start by asking your child to give you two- or three-step directions. Take turns giving directions and following each other. Set a goal, such as moving in a circle or moving to the end of the driveway with 10 unique moves.

National Cuddle Up Day

Family cuddling on sofa

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

National Cuddle Up Day encourages us to snuggle up with someone for the health benefits and more.

I’m not sure that I was prepared sufficiently in the run-up to adulthood to understand the lasting importance of a simple act families do every day, nor did I appreciate the science behind it. This involves parents interacting with their children of any age, sometimes with specific intent, and other times intuitively or unconsciously. However and whenever it happens, it has many important short- and long-term benefits for physical and emotional health and, can I add, it is wonderful. As we snuggle in for National Cuddle Up Day this January 6 and beyond, let us reflect on the shared benefits of cuddling with our children.

To count as a hug or a snuggle and to have the desired emotional effect, you must make physical contact and give a loving, nurturing squeeze for about 8 seconds or more, according to research. For the recipient (and very likely, the giver), a loving hug promotes the release of oxytocin, known variously as the ‘feel-good’ or ‘affection’ hormone. Indeed, we know that oxytocin promotes several important biological processes that are immensely important to a growing child. It promotes the release of hormones that boost growth, bolster immunity and lower inflammation. Quite literally, cuddles can help your child get bigger and stronger.

In turn, frequent cuddles and snuggles in families are associated with children who have less anxiety during their childhood and teenage years. This may be due, in part, to the unspoken messages hugging and handholding can convey, including the love, appreciation and feeling valued by their family and loved ones. We know that in children who receive little or no nurturing contact, a lack of hugs and snuggles over time leads them to have lower cognitive scores and a higher risk of behavioral and emotional problems.

Snuggling promotes health, and it benefits everyone involved most when it is engaged in on a regular basis and in a loving manner. Snuggles are not a chore but a joy. Find ways to connect with your little ones and, if it helps your reluctant tween or teen, get the family dog or cat involved. Plunk down on the couch and hang out. Hold hands and take a walk. Sit side by side and scratch your child’s back as you read a story together. Do whatever works for you and your crew.

Over time, children who find snuggles to be comforting may be more likely to develop some inner resilience, and that helps them appreciate the importance of connection and contact with their loved ones. Snuggles may last only moments, and you may need to make time in your busy day to make them happen. However, this National Cuddle Up Day, feel inspired by the fact that the goodness of hugs can make an impact over a lifetime.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging – In Recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Lee Scott Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

As we reflect on the events of 2020, the recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes even more important. How can we help our children live in a world that represents his dream?  Many parents of our youngest learners ask us where they should start. 

Children learn social behaviors and attitudes in many ways – through observing others, using dramatic play, modeling the behaviors of adults and siblings, and considering stories and their characters. Sharing books and bringing the narrative into the forefront supports children in applying the lessons they learned to real-life situations.We thought we would help you get started by selecting five engaging books for infants and toddlers and five for preschoolers and kindergarteners. It is never too early to build a fountain for understanding others working toward anti-bias and inclusion. 

Infants and Toddlers 

Babies around the World by author Puck and illustrator Violet Lemay 

Babies around the world children's book cover

Wonderful images of friendly babies from across the world are seen throughout this book. The book shows children in New York, London, Paris, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo and more. The added feature of greetings in their language is fun for our littlest learners to repeat.  The English translations are a bonus as well.  Babies around the World is a great place to start viewing the broader world.  

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by author Mem Fox and illustrator Helen Oxenbury 

Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes Children's Books

The images in this colorful book will bring a smile to all children.  It helps children connect to who they are and builds awareness of how similar we all are. What a wonderfully visual way to begin to show how while we may look a bit different from one another we all have ten fingers and ten little toes!  

 Everywhere Babies by author Susan Meyers and illustrator Marla Frazee 

Everywhere Babies

In Everywhere Babies, rhythmic and rhyming language takes the reader through the everyday activities of babies. Depicting a diverse range of families, the book shows babies in all their glory:eating, playing, moving and, ultimately, showing they are valued for being just who they are. 

 Who? – A Celebration of Babies by author Robie H. Harris and illustrator Natascha Rosenberg 

Who-a-celebration of babies all babies

Who? provides a terrific way to engage babies and toddlers in the relationships with people around them.  The rhythmic verse and beautiful images make the book one they will want you to share over and over again.  

 Baby Faces by author Margaret Miller 

Baby Faces All faces

What do the expressions for yucky, yum-yum, stinky, uh-oh, boohoo and yippee look like? This book provides reallife, closeup pictures of infants with a bunch of different facial expressions that infants can make along with simple wordplay expressions to support language development. This is a simple yet effective book for helping infants learn about themselves and have positive reading experiences.  

 Preschoolers to Kindergarteners 

Same, Same but Different by author and illustrator Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw 

Same Same but different

Two boys explore each other’s lives while becoming pen pals. They learn what they have in common and what might be different. They soon learn that they have become close friends even though it might seem they live in different worlds at first.Same, same but different becomes different, different but the same. 

 My Two Moms and Me by author Michael Joosten and illustrator Izak Zenou 

My two moms and me different families

This story follows various children and their two moms. Each child describes what the moms do and compares their interests to what the child likes to do. It is fun to see how self-confident each child is. As you follow the children throughout the day, the children highlight their own talents. The story is full of the love within each family. 

 All Are Welcome by author Alexandra Penfold and illustrator Suzanne Kaufman  

All are Welcome Inclusion

School is a wonderful place to gather with friends, learn new skills, play and have fun. Everyone is welcome and everyone has a place in this delightful rhyming story about a multicultural school. The focus is on helping children understand that everyone can be welcomed and accepted for who they are.

The Day You Begin by author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator Rafael Lopez 

The day you begin Children's Books

This beautiful story shows children how interesting their lives really are. It is okay to be different.Even though it may feel awful at times, you will soon find your way. The story highlights the interactions of a variety of children and how they cope with changes in friendships. The day you begin is the day you start to find similarities and celebrate differences. 

 Be Kind by author Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrator Jen Hill  

Be Kind Children's Books

When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better and wonders,What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, the choices highlighted in this moving story explore what kindness is and how any act, big or small, can make a difference or at least help a friend.

Routines Are Essential after the Holidays

bedtime routine reading

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Nate, the young father of 30-month-old Seth, had participated in a research project of mine that focused on co-parenting issues unique to preschoolers. He loved his first-born “more than he’d ever loved anything,” but he’d felt “out of my comfort zone” for most of Seth’s life. Then, it changed. “Doc, we just saw this movie that explained everything you’ve been trying to get me to understand about routines and toddlers. Now I get it!” The movie was Groundhog Day. The lesson was that repeating the same routines prepares us for changes, which we can then handle better. Life with young children is nothing if not change, often at a pace that confounds us slow-growing adults.

After the holidays, it is hard to get back into routines, but that is exactly what will relieve stress, create calm and get things under control. In general, waking up, eating, playing, sleeping and then doing these things all over again is the infrastructure of children’s routines. The sequence matters more than the time allotted to each activity. Familiar soft toys or blankets, foods, toys, games, songs, diapering routines and bathing routines all smooth the journey for both the child and the parent because they are comforting and restorative.

Here are some tips to help you back into your routines:

  • Routines need some stretch, so don’t be dogmatic, and be playful. Our preschoolers loved family picnics in their play spaces;
  • Talking with children about routines as “just the way we do things” can reduce power struggles over who is the boss of what happens next in the day, including when to go to sleep;
  • As the children learn the rhythm, parents can back off a bit so that the children can enjoy the fullness of being in charge of themselves for a while, but we all learn the price, especially over the holidays, of backing off too far. Flexibility is appropriate, but the sequence rules;
  • All this can make it seem that the earlier routines are established, the better. It takes time and a lot of watching and input from spouses and friends before we can see patterns emerge, and they will if you feed your children when they are hungry, change them when it’s needed and put them to bed when they are tired. Soon, your child will be eating at the time when she is usually hungry, seeking a play partner at the time when she is usually social and drifting off at the time when she is usually sleepy. Bingo! This fairly predictable pattern has become a routine. To push your own agenda too early means you will spend far more time managing meltdowns than you would have spent building and maintaining routines;
  • It’s the unpredictable changes that come along in life, such as deaths, friends moving away, sicknesses or the losses of pets, that are the hardest times for families, so practicing manageable change in the structure of routines helps families prepare for those inevitabilities.

How Small Children Can Make a Big Difference

children's hands playing piano

By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

In my last blog, I wrote about ways to help children cultivate an attitude of gratitudeDr. Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, a colleague who studies positive psychology, recently told me that people who are more grateful also tend to be more optimistic, be more hopeful, have higher life satisfaction and be more empathetic. I hope that you’ve been trying some of the ideas that I shared! As it turns out, focusing on the good in our lives is only one way to reap these positive social-emotional benefits. Another way is to give to others in ways that support them without expecting anything in return. Today, I’ll share some ideas for how to get children of all ages involved in giving back to help their communities. 

Intergenerational Caring and Sharing  Now that families are traveling to see each other less often, seniors may be feeling especially lonely and disconnectedMake it a family goal to add cheer to the year for neighbors who may be struggling. Sara Bartlett is a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on the benefits of intergenerational relationships for mental health and well-beingShe has shared some ideas for how families with young children can bring joyful moments to seniors who must socially isolate during this time 

  • Letters and Drawings  Encourage children to write letters or draw pictures, and mail them to local nursing homes or drop them off in older neighbors’ mailboxesYou may even spark a penpal relationship and receive letters back;  
  • Performances – Invite your children to play musical instruments, dance or perform a short skit from the driveway or porch for an older adult who watches nearby; 
  • Shared Storytelling  Ask children to practice their storytelling skills by sharing a story with an older adult over Zoom or FaceTime or, perhaps, invite the older adult to read with the child;  
  • Surprise Packages  Involve children in creating care packages with puzzle books, catalogs, jigsaw puzzles, art supplies or other items to be placed safely on someone’s stoop or delivered to elder care facilities. 

Caring for Others in Outdoor Places and Spaces – An abundance of research links developmental benefits to connections with nature. Although the pandemic limits visits to indoor spaces, families can still safely engage in outdoor activities, and they can do so in ways that help others in their communities.  

  • Community Clean Up – Cleaning up litter in your neighborhood or local parks can be safe and fun for children – just bring a plastic bag and gloves. Be sure to set rules in advance about what can and cannot be touched safely;  
  • Encouragement Rocks!  Invite children to spend some time painting rocks to scatter around the neighborhood for other people to find. Older children can paint encouraging words and phrases on their rocks, and younger children can paint with colors that they think will make others feel cheerful; 
  • Good Deed Day – Offer to do your neighbors a favor by pulling weeds in their yards, planting a small garden or making and hanging a bird feeder near their windows. These easy and fun activities will leave your children feeling like helpers and make other people a little happier during this difficult time.   

Pro tip – If you want your preschool-aged children to be enthusiastic about helping others, start by calling them helpersIn a recent study, children were more likely to offer spontaneous help to others when researchers told them, Some children choose to be helpers,” than when they said, “Some children choose to help.” This wording helps children begin to think of themselves as the kind of person who helps, and this encourages prosocial behavior. 

I hope you enjoy these ideas for how to engage in being thankful and giving!

Helping Children Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

testing-blog-graphics-5

By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

This is the time of year when social media, magazine and news stories and blogs (like this one) encourage us to reflect on the parts of our lives that we are most thankful for and to express appreciation for those who make our lives full. As a parent, my thoughts go immediately to my children. I am grateful to be sharing the experiences of life with them, and I hope that the things I say and do show them how important they are to me. As I write this post, though, I wonder what am doing as a parent to help them develop an attitude of gratitude.   

One place to start is to use the upcoming holidays as a reason to think about how much we appreciate our family members and help your children come up with ways to show them how much we value them. Although gathering with family members may be tricky this year due to pandemic-related health concerns, we can be grateful for the resources of the modern worlthat provide us with many ways to stay connected, even from a distance. Here are some ideas for preschool-age children that might inspire them to feel and show gratitude toward others. 

Art with Heart – Making art for others is an enjoyable childhood activity – not only do children get to create art, but they get to enjoy someone’s enthusiastic response when they receive it. I’m a big fan of process-oriented art in which the focus is on using materials creatively in an open-ended way rather than producing a specific set outcome. Instead of asking children to make a leaf wreath, provide them with a variety of materials and invite them to create something they think Grandpa would like. As they think about Grandpa, encourage them to reflect on what makes him so special, and write down what they say.  You can send Grandpa the artwork in the mail, take a photo and send it to his phone or ask your children to show the artwork to Grandpa over video chat. Include a note in which you share why your children think he is so special 

A Week of Warmth – Print out pictures of family members, turn them facedown and pick a new face from your pile each week. Start a conversation about that special family member in which you help your children reflect on how this person shows care and interest, what they do that your children appreciate and how your children feel when they think about that family member.  Each day of the week, have your children send a short video or text that they think will make that family member feel special. 

Sweet Treats – Invite your children to think of a kind of treat they’d like to make and who they’d like to send it toThis idea is a two-for-one – it has all of the benefits of a fun cooking activity combined with a way to show appreciation for family member far away.  When the family member receives the treat, ask that person to call (or start a video chat) so that your children can explain why they’re thankful for that person in their lives. Pro tip – Make a double batch so you can also leave one out to thank the mail carriers for what they do for your community, or make a triple batch and give one to your children’s teachers. 

Activities like the ones above help children pay attention to what they value about their family members and engage in age-appropriate ways to say, “Thank you for being in my life.” Combining conversations about how children feel with activities they can do to show thanks is the secret recipe for supporting children’s capacity for gratitude 

How to Prevent Meltdowns during the Holidays

family dressed for holidays working togetheron cookies

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

What is not to love about the holidays? There are acres of food, the anticipation of celebrations, traditions and, in some traditions, gifts. From a child’s perspective, it is a winwin. Routines are thrown to the wind, the rhythms of the day (like, say, bedtime or school) are changed over to the holiday pace and, for those who may be quarantining or podding with family or friends this year, there may be guests visiting your home. There’s so much going on and so much novelty. When do we open presents, again?  

From a parent’s perspective, the holidays may feel like a seasonal conspiracy designed to precipitate that dreaded event in any parent’s journey: the meltdown. Parents may have trouble recognizing who their children become when put into the breach of the overstimulation the holidays can bring. The joy of big meals, the hubbub of shared traditions, the sharing of the home and toys and the need to get along with everyone may be too much, leading to tears, yelling, thrown toys and children showing their families that they can go full supernova when they fall apart, spectacularly. (Hey, these can make for some funny memories for years to come, or you may take videos to put aside to embarrass your future high school senior.) In some cases, they can be pretty upsetting or take a while to get past for some children.  
Fortunately, with all of this in mind, there is a lot families can do to prevent the meltdowns in the first place. With a little bit of planning, one can lower the risk of witnessing fruitcake made airborne in a fit of pique or hearing salty oaths muttered to a cousin or houseguest.  

When humans of any age are sufficiently stressed, it can challenge their ability to cope and absorb annoyances or inconveniences. For adults, we have learned to adapt and extend ourselves during the holidays to be at our most polite and on our best behavior (wellmost of us have). We have an enhanced ability to roll with the stresses and quirks of the holiday schedule, leading to our ability to engage in small (or big) talk, connect with our relatives and prepare and deliver on the celebrations. We can behave, usually.  

For infants to children of school age, shifts from the normal patterns of sleep, shifts in meal and snack times and new surroundings or company may lead to them becoming crabby and more emotionally fragile. Whether you are hosting a celebration at home (via Zoom or in person) or whether your family is traveling afar to stay with others, I counsel families to bring some routines and special times with you to support your children emotionally over the holidays. There are some key ways to keep them on track and help them be more likely to hold it together. Have a go bag ready to go this holiday season. 

Are you worried about your picky eater not eating well and getting hangry? Bring his favorite snacks or food items. For my daughter, energy bars and some fruit were a handy goto that kept her smiling and willing to roll with whatever life threw her. 

Are you concerned your child will become edgy if she sleeps poorly? Bring the items that may optimize sleep in a busy time, including a noise machine (or app on your phone), noisecanceling headphones and some favorite books, and create a dedicated space you can escape to for siestas and downtime.  

For older toddlers and schoolage children, alone time may be as important as nap timeGiving children a chance to be on their own or just with their siblings may allow them to recharge and be ready to reenter the holiday fray.  

Preparations to head off meltdowns can start before the holidays themselves begin. I advise that parents talk with their children of all ages in a way that is right for their ages and stages, and give the children a sense of who is coming and what will happen. Keep the dialogue going, and even have them help get decorations or items ready for family members or guests. Praise them for their good work and, in the process, plant the seeds for their enjoyment of this busy time of year.  

For children who may hit the point of no return, there may be some lastminute techniques to head off a meltdown. Keep an eye on the clock, and be mindful of people or situations if you think your child may be having difficulty with them. Like a coach on the sidelines, consider having them take a moment in a quiet place to let them talk through what they are feeling or why they are upset. Redirect and distract them if you think it may help—bust out some crayons or head outside for a walk or a romp to work out the feelings physically if time and weather allow. Take time or make time if you need to. Like us adults, children may have an overflow of energy, but they are just better at playingusing their imaginations and dispelling that frustration. 

You might do all of that. Chances are, you do a lot of this consciously and unconsciously in your daytoday already, but even the most attentive and vigilant parents may find that, in spite of all of their preparation and research, meltdowns may happen anyway. If they occur, do what you can to help yourself and your children leave the crowded area and find some private space. Give children time to emote, and be supportive—it can be tough when you are a child and things don’t go your way. If necessary, delay a return to the bigger group and make some intimate fun – read a book together, sing a song or cast a spell and send those bad feelings packing. If your children are willing to talk about it, let them know that meltdowns happen and, like holidayscan be pretty intenseand it is okay. After a while, they too shall pass, and life will get back to normal.  

A Whole New Digital World

child with mom and tablet
By Helen Hadani, Ph.D.
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents worried about how much time their young children were spending on screens and how often they were engaging with digital technology. With many schools shifting to remote learning and most afterschool activities canceled, children’s technology time has increased by leaps and bounds. So, what are parents to do? 

Instead of swimming against the current, try embracing a different perspective of the digital world and seeing the potential of technology to strengthen skills that we know young children need—creativity, collaboration, motivation and persistence. A recent paper from the Bay Area Discovery Museum titled Tech Time with Purpose offers a new way for parents to examine the myriad of digital games and programs out there for children. The paper uses the museum’s CREATE Framework, which stands for child-directed, risk-friendly, exploratory, active, time for imagination and exchange of ideas, as a guide to the digital world for young children.  

Child-directed learning leverages your children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and allows them to explore (i.e., get into everything) with minimal adult involvement. View technology as a way for your children to express their creativity by painting using a tablet (that way, they don’t get paint on your kitchen table), building a world in Minecraft or recording a story on a smartphone. 

As a parent, it is hard to watch your children struggle or even failbut exposing your children to risk-friendly environments encourages them to try new things and builds confidence. Digital games allow children to take risks without serious consequences. For example, apps like FlummoxVision or PeppyPals Sammy Helps Out provide an opportunity for children to practice social interactions without the stress of trying those skills out in public.  

From a young age, children conduct experiments and engage in exploratory play to learn more about the world around them. Children as young as preschool age can practice basic coding skills in a playful way using coding programs like ScratchJr or drawing a path to direct Ozobots.  

Technology gets a bad rap for being a sedentary activity, but certain digital technologies can encourage children to be physically active. Try digital games like Dance Dance Revolution or Pokémon GO to get your children up and moving.  

 Children can spend countless hours pretending to be superheroes or turning cardboard boxes into spaceships or castles. Certain digital technologies can take time for imagination to whole new levels by promoting creative exploration and original thinking. Children can bring their ideas to life in makerspaces by using digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and laser cutters to build a 3D model of an airplane or rocket.  

While technology has a reputation for isolating people, some digital technologies provide opportunities for children to exchange ideas with others and provide a new outlet to express themselves. For example, in a time when visiting friends and family members is difficult because of the pandemic, using Skype or FaceTime can be great for connecting with friends and family memberswhether they live down the street or across the country. Apps like Marco Polo and Voxer can model how technology can enhance relationships.  

 

Choosing Toys for Little Ones

testing-blog-graphics-6By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

When I was a boy in my home state of New Jersey, we often stopped at roadside diners where I would stare gobsmacked at the delights posted on menus that went on for days. “Your eyes,” my dad liked to say, “are much bigger than your stomach.” He was right, of course. I’d order some big special, take only a few bites and leave piles of food behind.  

So it was when I became a parent. This was AFTER I had finished pediatric residency, mind you, so I was supposed to KNOW THINGS about choosing the right toys for my oldest when he was born. Going to the toy store or looking at listings online was like the diner all over again. I was inclined to buy the things that LOOKED great, without really thinking whether they were the best choices. So, when I showed up with a really cool LEGO Star Wars setup for my 18monthold, my wife was very much in the right to give me some sideeye. I reflected that I may have brought home a kit far past his developmental level and, even worse, might have allowed him to swallow up to 148 separate small pieces. Indeed, what was I thinking?  

Let’s learn from my mistake. When choosing a toy for an infant or toddler, it pays to keep a few simple ideas in mind   

  1. Keep it simple.  
  2. Build on what they love.  
  3. Go age appropriate.   

Of note here for this pandemic year, I am not inclined to recommend that folks buy additional tech or screenbased gifts for children, as I think we should be inclined to get our children outside, off the couch and away from screens to the extent that it is safe and possible.  

Keep ISimple.  

If anything, many households suffer from an overabundance of toys and playthings. I recommend gift shoppers avoid buying items for children at any age that might lead to what we might think of as the LEGO problem: toys with too many pieces or toys that are too complicated for the child. Do you really want the parents of the giftee to be stepping barefoot upon an item from a science kit at midnight? Remember, we often muse as adults that children love to play with the boxes of pricey items more than the toys inside them. Let us learn from that example and seek to offer up toys that tend not to have accessories that can be lost, misplaced or swallowed.  

Instead, consider a teething toy for an infant, a simple box with a latch a toddler can sort and dump stuff from or even an oldschool Nerf hoop for a preschooler. Ask yourself how easy it is to use and how much it will add to the clutter factor. This leads us to our next guideline. 

Build on What They Love. 

Think about the ages and stages of the apples of your eye. What enchants them and might keep them delighted over a long period of time?  Babies are easy. It is hard to go wrong. The world is full of things they love to grasp, squeeze and use to make noise. As a parent, I advise wellmeaning uncles and aunties to go light on the battery-operated stuff or noisemakers. They become annoying before they are out of the box. If it is a child you know well, then think about items that would allow the child to pursue a passion, such as sorting and packing activities for toddlers (consider a series of measuring cups or resealable plastic bins) or balls and wheeled carts for any active startingtowalk children. For children approaching their second birthday, think about simple items that will allow them to engage in pretend play. Consider kitchen items, sidewalk chalk and play cars and trucks. Don’t forget an often overlooked item in the 21st century: books. Therein lies a trove of opportunity as these gifts will go on giving long past the holidays as children reread them and share them with their families (or steal moments under the covers with a flashlight). 

Go age appropriate. 

Don’t be seduced by the grandeur or wow factor of a big purchase. I have made these mistakes in my parenting career. Just as you would not buy a twowheeler for a twoyearold (I hope), we should be guided by the recommended ages on the box or packaging of any toy. These recommendations are made with careful consideration for the safety and appropriateness of the ages and stages of each child. Buying a puzzle recommended for children five and up for a threeyearold may lead to frustration or even a child choking on puzzle pieces. Fortunately, that leaves PLENTY of room to run for the toy shoppers out there. I do find that reviews on Amazon and other sites (e.g., ToyInsider.com) can be helpful as you do your diligence about the safety, quality and suitability of many toys. 

In addition, one can do some additional reading, including materials from the wellregarded authorities at the American Academy of Pediatrics (one such example ishttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/What-to-Look-for-in-a-Toy.aspx). For further inspiration and insight about what makes a toy both desirable and timeless, make your way to the Toy Hall of Fame and get lost there (https://www.toyhalloffame.org). 

When you have made the right choice, the gift wrapping is off and the new item is there on the living room floor, why don’t you get down on your knees with your sondaughterniecenephew or best buddy and share the fun?  

 

Managing Gift Expectations

child with gifts

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Why shouldn’t our children see the holiday season as the high point in a year awash in retail celebrations? It is in everything they see, hear, and taste, starting after Halloween. What’s a parent to do in the face of this tsunami of acquisition? Is there any kind of life jacket that is helpful as the tide of consumption rises around your family?

Spend a few moments in your own head about what you want to convey to your children through your own behavior about this event, especially the relationship between giving and receiving. Then share it with your partner and see where they are on this issue. Are there any values or beliefs about the holidays in your ensuing discussion that are not related to consuming? If so, that’s a good place to start an actual conversation with your kids.

Most holiday traditions mix sacred and secular elements which are sometimes hard to reconcile, but it’s worth a try if you are going to help your children (and you) keep their sanity in the coming weeks. Asking for their holiday wish list sets the stage for disappointment and budget-busting in most cases, often amounting to online retailers having more power than the parents. Asking if they need your help with their holiday giving lists helps set the stage for more of a balance, and is often a good place for them to learn from your behavior.