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Archive for March, 2010

Training your Toddler for the Toilet

Excerpt from Me, Myself and I

Dramatic Play - Girl

At first, it probably appears to the child that it is the toilet that’s being trained (hence the misnomer “toilet training”).  After all, she is typically reasonably satisfied to fill her diaper and continue on about her business.  It is parents who are so enthusiastic for her to move on to the pot in support of public health.

The transition need not be Armageddon if parents remember that a body is more ready for the mind to influence its conduct when development has prepared both.  Consequently, toilet training takes less time and energy when your toddler is as ready as you are.  Starting too early pretty much guarantees the process will be long and messy.  Many children who begin training before 18 months are not completely trained by age four, while those started around two usually are completely trained by age three.

Timing: Somewhere between 18 and 36 months, the child will start to notice that her dirty diaper has become a bother.  She may pull at her diaper or crotch while, or just before, she empties her bladder.  She’ll pick a favorite corner of a room or go under a table before she quietly moves her bowels into her diaper.  These are critical signs that she is making the necessary mental connection between bodily sensations and the urine or stool that is produced from them.  It is easier if this behavior follows the easing of the extreme negativism of early toddlerhood.  Bowel training is typically the first goal.

What Helps: Put a potty in the corner of her room and let her sit on it fully clothed at first, then without a diaper, a few times a day.  Tell her how big people go poop and pee and let her watch a grownup using the toilet.  (Stick to same sex demonstrators.  Otherwise, you will create needless confusion at this age.)  Tell her the potty is where she will put her poop when she is ready.  Then, she can wear “big girl” pants and leave her diapers for babies.  Let her play with her potty using dolls, water, whatever – the less mystery the better.

How to Proceed: Between one of these signaling behaviors and the event itself, ask – in a gently curious way – if she wants to take off her diaper and sit on the potty.  If the answer is no, forget it.  You will have many more chances.  If she says yes, stay with her while she sits, and praise her if she “produces” (not too lavishly, however.  Remember, this is her body to master, not yours.)  If your child doesn’t seem to be “getting it,” don’t force her to sit on the potty.  Instead stay mildly interested and uncritical.  If you change her diaper a few times and find solid stool, drop it into the potty with her to remind her of the real deal.

Expect accidents, and that they will upset your child.  If you’re even more upset, you’re probably pushing too hard.  Sustain your child’s self-regard by reassuring that: “We all have accidents while we learn to use the potty.  Let’s go get some dry pants.”  Also, expect a longer, slower process for staying dry.  Girls usually don’t learn day-dryness until after three, and boys learn even later.

The Digital Age and its Effect

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to avoid television and other electronic media for children two years of age and under; yet two thirds of infants and toddlers watch a ‘screen’ for an average of two hours per day.

Older children have a similar average; however children ages eight to eighteen have an average of four hours per day. This amount of time spent in front of a computer, television, video game or the like can interfere with school work, physical activity, curious exploration, social interaction and playing. Many children also get in the (bad) habit of eating snacks while watching TV or playing computer games which can turn into a habit of eating when not hungry and contribute to childhood obesity.

Extended exposure to television poses serious risks.

  • Children who watch violent shows or play violent (video) games may become desensitized to violence at a higher rate.
  • These violent (video) games re-enforce stereotypical gender roles which are often demeaning to women.
  • Children who view what is considered “risky behavior” such as smoking, drinking, doing drugs, selling drugs or having sex are at a greater risk.
  • It has been suggested that the more television a child watches, the higher their risk of developing an attention deficit disorder. For every hour a day a child watches a screen, their chances go up 10%. (If a child watches four hours of television every day, they are 40% more likely to develop an attention deficit disorder.)
  • Children are bombarded with commercials. They are conditioned to think they need the advertised products to make them happier.
    • If your three-year-old watches television every day and regularly sees a happy child playing with a toy, she will begin to believe that she will only be happy when she has that toy.
    • Commercials may encourage unhealthy eating habits which can lead to an unhealthy eating habit called “snacking habit.” This snacking is generally a component of a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle.

Watching TV, however, may provide benefits – Sesame Street has long been credited with helping youngsters learn the alphabet and its’ shows also depict racial and social diversity.

Mom and Dad are Different: The Critical Role of Fathers

Family - Father DaughterMothers and fathers care for their children in very unique ways.  Children can recognize the differences between mother and father care, which actually enhances their development.  This article focuses on the critical role fathers play in a child’s development.

Newborns can differentiate between mom’s voice and touch and dad’s voice and touch.  Although mom may have gotten a head start on the bonding process with the baby, dads have their chance, too.  By six weeks old an infant can distinguish a father’s voice from a mother’s, and while a quiet baby may pay more attention to mom’s voice, an upset baby will calm more readily to his father’s handling.  Mothers usually are very consistent in the way that they handle their children, often picking them up in the same manner, saying the same thing before they handle them, for example, at bath or bedtime.  Dads rarely approach the baby with such consistency.  Each time they pick up the baby, they usually do so in a different manner than before, but this helps the baby recognize that it is dad who is holding him.

Time with dad is typically less structured and more play-oriented than with mom.  Most of mother’s time with her children is dedicated to care-giving tasks or educational play, while dad’s time is less structured and full of impromptu play.  Where mom uses toys, dad tends to use his body.  Dads are typically more physical with the kids and they love it.  Physical play helps to stimulate both physical and brain development.  Dads also have a tendency to make any situation educational, even if they don’t realize it themselves, so that a father’s tasks around the house might be an adventure for the child.

Fathers challenge their children to learn.  Obviously, both mom and dad want to help their child learn in any way they can, but they do this differently also.  For example, when teaching a frustrated child, a mother tends to assist her in finding the answer; whereas, a father is more likely to guide the child through the frustration and challenge her longer to find the answer on her own.  Fathers also encourage more exploration and boundary pushing than moms do.  A father’s way of teaching his child persistence in the face of adversity results in positive academic and social performance in the long run.  Certainly, one style is not better than the other, and children absolutely benefit from both.

Children and Pets

Pets enrich the lives of many children and families. While children raised with pets show many benefits, safety concerns should always be a determining factor when deciding to get or keep a pet in a family with young children.

Choose wisely from breeds or species that are a good fit for your family, your home and your lifestyle. Behavior, temperament, excitability, patience and size are important characteristics to consider in a child-friendly pet that your little one can help care for. Pets should be free of disease and regularly checked by a veterinarian. Family allergies should also be taken into account. Young children should always be supervised during their interactions with pets. Animals can be easily harmed or provoked to attack if hit, poked or grabbed by young children. Children must be taught to play gently with pets and to keep their distance when an animal is eating, sleeping or caring for their young.

Involved parents, planning and open discussion are necessary in order for a family pet to be a positive experience. Young children can help with pet care, but can’t be completely responsible. They may only be able to help you with a few small tasks when feeding, cleaning or grooming your pet. For example, your child can join you when walking the dog, but certainly shouldn’t walk the dog alone. Allow your child to help care for the family pet in small, safe ways and always under adult supervision.

There are many benefits to children raised with pets. Positive relationships with pets can encourage children to love and trust others. Bonding with a pet can also help young children develop non-verbal communication, compassion and empathy. Caring for pets teaches children responsibility and respect. Both children and animals need exercise and pets are great playmates and a fun way to add physical activity into a child’s day. A pet’s life span can also provide parents the opportunity to teach life lessons about reproduction, birth, illness, loss and death.

Setting Limits: Rules & Punishment

Excerpt from Me, Myself and I

Be a role model.  Young children are highly imitative and like to please.  The more good behavior you demonstrate, the more they will copy.  The more approval they get for their good behavior, the more good behavior you will get from them.

Keep rules to a minimum. Focus on the big-ticket items that govern safety and the important aspects of social behavior.  To set more rules than your child can manage at any given age is just confusing.

Be consistent. Enforce rules consistently.  Only set rules you will maintain.

Don’t overreact. Children explore behavior in stages.  When a new behavior emerges that is unacceptable, such as biting or using bad language, overreaction on your part can actually reinforce it.  Children like oversized reactions.

Match punishment to the child’s understanding. Don’t use punishment until a child is cognitively capable of understanding what action is being punished and why.  Children do not reach this level of mental maturity until somewhere near the second birthday.   Punishment before this achievement is just confusing to a child.  If tendered on a regular basis, a child can withdraw from the entire category of activities that include the offense.  As a result, he may curtail exploration that is essential to learning.  Until a child can understand the offense, parents should use distraction and physical removal to stop unwanted or unsafe behavior.

Punishment should be effective. When your tactics aren’t working, reassess.  As your child’s language skills improve, you can involve her in the process.  Ask what would help her improve her control next time, and what you should do if she doesn’t exercise that control.

Punishment should be appropriate. Punishment should fit the child’s stage of development, temperament, and “crime.”  Don’t overdo.  Especially in the early years, keep punishment for the major infractions, especially those involving safety.  Don’t waste big ammunition on small stuff.  It cheapens the currency and weakens its effectiveness.

Match your behavior to the outcome you want. The way that you act when you set a limit matters as much as your technical prowess in carrying through.  Sometimes, your child is so relieved at your calm, you don’t even have to carry through.

Provide clear expectations followed by anything that encourages self-control. Use words: “Biting means you have to be away from us for awhile.”  Anything that helps a child feel in charge of his impulses, even briefly, is money in the self-control (and self-esteem) bank.  Being the boss of one’s own body or temper is the eventual goal, and language can help your child understand what you and he are trying to work out together.

Choosing a Summer Program

Infants & Teacher with Bubbles AAccording to research conducted by the National Center for Summer Learning, which is based at the Johns Hopkins School of Education in Baltimore, Maryland, summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in the likelihood of a student pursuing a college preparatory path in high school. As these findings indicate, keeping children’s brains challenged throughout the summer is crucial, since the lack of learning that occurs during these months has both short-term and long-term consequences.

Keeping a child’s day consistent throughout the summer months keeps the brain focused and helps prevent learning losses during the summer. In addition, this can potentially ease the anxiety that often accompanies transitioning into a new classroom or school come fall.

Research has shown that programs like The Goddard School that have specific learning goals, use learning and developmental standards and are age-appropriate are ideal in preventing summer learning losses.

Tips for Choosing a Summer Program:

  • Choose a program that is based on each child’s interests and natural curiosity – this allows children the opportunity to direct their own learning.
  • Ask for credentials, experience and training of the teachers/counselors.
  • Check the health and safety practices of the program.  Make sure you are comfortable that the program will be able to handle your child’s unique needs.
  • Inquire about the daily schedule of the program.  Does the program combine songs, stories, exploration, art, physical activities and learning adventures in a safe, nurturing environment?  Ask how much freedom a child has to choose activities.
  • Ask for references.

Sleep Patterns in Children

Children’s sleep issues are among the more challenging developmental stages for parents to master.  But biology is on the parents’ side in this one, because sleep patterns mature over time just like other developmental skills.

  • Polls tell us that one-third of American children and their parents sleep together some or most of the time before children start school. Co-sleeping varies hugely by culture and ethnicity. So think about what you want to do, and discuss the pros and cons with your pediatrician.
  • Make sure your crib is safe (locking rails), that your older child’s ‘big bed’ has side rails, and if you are co-sleeping, that there is plenty of room.
  • The human brain is active during sleep, but the deepest sleep is typically at the beginning of the night.  Babies spend more time than older children in stimulating REM sleep, with eye movements and irregular breathing. Don’t worry about all that action in your child’s body – it too is growth.
  • Start them young – do not ignore the importance of naps, watch for the yawn, and start bedtime early in the evening.
  • The transition from crib to bed is also a time of sleep pattern changes, but most kids want it to work.
  • To instill good sleep habits remember that consistency matters so much:
    • Bath Time
    • Goodnights
    • Tuck and Talk Bedtime Story
    • Lullabye (yours are best)
    • Goodnights

This all sounds well and good, but it is a rare family that hasn’t had to handle some sleep trouble along the way.  If your family is trying to re-establish a lapsed routine, stay calm and reassuring.  We almost all need more sleep than we get, and it is a tremendous gift to our children to teach them how to sleep well.

“Snowball” Hunt

Enjoy this fun activity with your young children and preschoolers!

Bring the ‘snow’ and fun indoors while your children work on their fine motor and counting skills!

Materials

  • 12 cotton balls per child
  • 1 marker
  • 1 egg carton per child

Instructions

  • Label each egg carton cup 1 through 12.
  • Hide the cotton balls around the room (12 cotton balls per child).
  • Have the children walk around the room, looking for the hidden ‘snowballs’.
  • Encourage each child to put the ‘snowballs’ in order when they find them (1 through 12).
  • Once all the ‘snowballs’ have been found, count them together!

Biting

Why does a nearly universal event in a child’s development evoke such strong feelings? Odds are – as children we were either a biter or a victim – and often both. Plus, biting hurts and frightens us a lot. And though we know aggression is a normal part of development, regular cruelty is not, and we fear the connection between the two.

Some thoughts to help us manage:

  • Infant Boy AWhen children first bite, it is often their mother while breast-feeding, and their motive is most probably curiosity – not aggression. Mothers should send the following message to their infant: “Ouch, no and if you bite, you lose the breast – end of discussion.”
  • Biting often begins as exploration, but may be quickly associated with out-of-control feelings or feelings of being overwhelmed – with excitement, fear or curiosity. Parents should manage these feelings by staying as calm as possible and firmly saying:
    • “No one likes biting, especially me.”
    • “You just cannot bite.”
    • “I’ll help you stop until you stop yourself.”
  • Parents often fear biting at school most. Peers, especially close ones, are fascinated by each other’s aggression, and the dramatic reactions it evokes. Adult overreaction just makes things more exciting! Experienced teachers have radar for when ‘the chompies’ are in the air and become particularly vigilant.
  • If all adults involved in a biting incident are convinced that it was not an isolated but willful, premeditated event, both children should be kept safe.  Adults should explore the language of what went on and be able to offer alternative responses.

Finally, it bears stating – parents should never bite children back. Believe me, I understand the impulse, but all you accomplish is establishing mutual violence as an acceptable value in your family, embarrassing yourself, and degrading the natural authority you have with your children.  They want your help with this stuff, not your indulgence.

Integrating Emotion & Learning in Everyday Moments

Excerpt from Me, Myself and I

Your own ideas about how to integrating emotion and learning in everyday moments with your child are probably better than anything I could advise for you personally.  But here are some ideas and suggestions that might help you customize those ideas.

  • Blocks - Teacher & BoyTalk with your child. Hopefully, you have been doing that since the moment she was born.  Chat with her about what you and she are doing.  She’ll become part of the conversation sooner if you express to her what you love about being a parent.
  • Encourage curiosity and understand that repetition is a good thing for him, boring though it might be for you.  The neurological basis for the insistence on the familiar lies in the fact that when synaptic connections are repeatedly activated by the same stimulation, they become immune from elimination during the brain’s pruning process.  They survive to become permanent neural connections that enhance learning.  So go ahead and do what your child likes – over and over.  This is a good rut to be in.
  • Simply being nearby and available while your child plays on his own is so important, as is your willingness to interact.  So get down on the floor and stay awhile.  Of course, this is hard for working parents, but the effort is worth it.
  • Nothing beats reading. Children don’t learn interactive, conversational language from TV because it does not respond to them. Language and eventually reading are learned from being actively engaged in speaking and reading with others – hearing parents and caregivers talk to each other and waiting for the child to respond.
  • Children learn best in the context of their daily lives and when the amount and kind of stimulation fits their temperament, level of development, interests or preferences, and mood.  Pressure to perform or conform to high expectations can lead to stress that can sabotage learning through burnout and confusion.
  • Young children do not need to be taught how to think.  Science is careening ahead pursuing fascinating findings and ideas about how, even whether, children this age actually do think.  But our ignorance dominates our knowledge embarrassingly.  We are still understanding why they even want to think in the first place.  It is like walking or talking, unfolding in due course when the maturational timekeeper tells the mind-body duality, “Johnny: it’s time?”
  • The five-second check-in. Since most of us don’t spend our days staring endlessly at our toddlers and preschoolers, it is important that you take a few seconds to assess the mood, or state your child is in before you join in his doings, ask him to do something or simply interrupt him.  This is the feeling state that will determine his ability to understand or comply with whatever you might need, no matter how small.  If you are not tuned in, he probably won’t hear (i.e. learn).
  • Join your child. Follow her lead in activities she is already involved in.  Don’t take over – it will turn her off.  But if you want her to learn, become a partner in the exploration she has begun.  Add a ball to hide in the pots and pans scene, or move close and take her hand if she is wary of a dog on a walk.  Don’t instantly rescue (unless safety is an immediate concern) because you will lose one of those interesting moments of tension that could be mastered, leading a child to a wider, more complex understanding of the world.
  • If your child balks at a “learning” moment with you, it could mean you didn’t read the five-second check-in right.  Back up and let your child know you know what she is feeling first.  (“I guess you weren’t quite through,” or “It’s hard to have to stop when you are having fun doing X.”)  When the feeling domain feels appreciated, then the learning domain is less burdened.
  • If your child needs redirection after you have connected with his mood or feeling, ask softly what he might enjoy doing.  If you still have no luck make two suggestions of things he might do and help him choose.  He will probably need some pump-priming from you, since you can manage your own mood apart from his.  Remember, how you are in such moments, is as important as what you do.
  • If it’s important for you to initiate an activity that will bring you pleasure and you know it could be good for your child, like reading or going for a walk, stabilize your own mood first.  Only then can you help your child regulate hers.  Once done, then she can crawl up on your lap or get out the door and learn.  For some kids, it’s the other way around.  But for the majority, in the feeling and learning dance, it isn’t always possible to say who is leading.