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Archive for May, 2010

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a common element of early childhood development.  Though it is perfectly normal, it can be upsetting to parents and children.

Separation anxiety typically begins around a child’s first birthday and can persist until the child is two-and-a-half years old.  It is important to note that a child’s unwillingness to leave a parent is actually a positive sign of a healthy parent/child relationship.

The following strategies may help families manage separation anxiety:

  • Practice being apart from one other and introduce new people and places slowly.  Make a few visits to your preschool/childcare center before your scheduled start date.  This allows your child to adjust to the idea that you and he will be away from one another.
  • Explain how long it will be before you will return.  Use concepts that your child will understand (e.g., at lunch or after naptime).  It is extremely important that you follow through on your promises.  You should return when you say you will.
  • Be calm and consistent.  Resist the urge to run back to your child at the sight of her tears.  It’s as essential to create a ‘separation routine’ as it is to reassure your child that you will return.  Work with your child’s teacher to establish this routine and have confidence that your child’s teacher has the ability to handle the situation.  After you’ve said your goodbyes, most teachers will probably engage your child in an activity or with a toy so you can depart.
  • For your sake, establish a time to call the school to check on your child’s well-being.  By the time you make this call, your child will most likely have calmed down and adjusted to the day’s routine.
  • You may also want to check with your school’s policy regarding a doll or blanket from home.  These comfort items may assist with transitions.

Family Fitness FOUR

Practice Fitness:

Ride a bike, take a walk on the beach, or hike a path.

Model Fitness:

Drink water, eat properly, workout regularly, and don’t smoke!

Fuel Fitness:

Plan meals and shop together.  Make meal preparation a family affair.

Encourage Mental Fitness:

Limit television and computer games.  Play a board game, read a book, or write a letter to grandma.

Turning Mother Nature into a Classroom

Infants & Teacher with Bubbles AMother Nature is a wonderful teacher and the great outdoors is her classroom! Children learn so much through the experiences they have with nature. Exposure to the environment provides many benefits to children including stress reduction, improvement of attention span and a boost in creativity. Parents can strengthen bonds with their children by exploring nature together.

Today’s children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents. Screen time along with schoolwork and extracurricular schedules have led to a sedentary lifestyle and made physical outdoor activity practically obsolete. A growing body of research supports that more time spent in nature can support a child’s well-being and counteract the rising rates of depression, obesity and attention disorders.

Nature is closer than you think, so make it a priority to spend time connecting with your children outside. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Explore

Remind children to use their senses as they take in the beauty and wonder of nature. Home, sweet home! Have your child look around and see if they can spot homes of wildlife – bird or squirrel nests, bee hives, and holes in trees or the ground. Ask if they can identify which animal or insect lives inside.

  • Can you hear me now? Stand quietly in the middle of a wooded area and listen for sounds from the forest. Discuss what was heard and the possible cause of the sound.
  • The nose knows! Find a few objects with different scents, like a flower, grass or a pine cone. Instruct your child to keep their eyes closed as you place an object near their nose. Now let them try to identify the object by using only their sense of smell.

Create

Collect vines and branches to create a wreath together. Find a few small pine branches full of needles and let your child use them as paint brushes. Set up a piece of cardboard outside for their canvas and let them create a masterpiece.

Play

Prepare your child for a safari scavenger hunt! Hide several plush animal toys outside in the yard, give your child a few hints if necessary and watch their surprise and delight as they discover each of their beloved creatures.

Learn

Put together a “feely” bag full of nature’s treasures, like leaves, twigs, grass, stones and tree bark. Have your child reach into the bag without looking, select an item and guess what it is based on the way it feels.

Appreciate

Take time to enjoy nature with your child. Go on walks and talk with them about the things in nature that are changing as each season passes. Let their curiosity of the mysteries around them initiate opportunities for teachable moments. Eating outside is also a good way to get out in the fresh air and add some excitement to mealtime. Have a picnic lunch on a blanket or set up a table and a few chairs to eat dinner under the stars.

Enjoying free time in nature is one of the keys to children’s healthy development and creativity. These family fun adventures together are sure to create lasting memories.

Michele Borba: How to Choose a Quality Child Care

by Dr. Michele Borba
Reality Check: Blogging About Parenting Issues and the Solutions to Solve Them
Posted on May 14, 2010

OK, you’ve read the results. You recognize know that the study says the key to reap academic and behavior gains for your child’s success is to find a QUALITY care giver. Of course you want a great day care for your child. But how do you know which facility is the best one for your child? How do you know which is a quality care facility? My strongest recommendation: Observe a few. And always observe when children are there. It will help you decide if it’s a place you want your child to spend part of his or her day.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself and the staff in making your final decision:

1. Does this seem like a place my child would like to be?
Use your instinct on this one. Can you see your child fitting in and being comfortable in this environment? Are the children enjoying themselves? Do they appear to be happy and active? Is there a variety of activities that are age-appropriate for the children? You know your child better than anyone, so rely on your instincts.

2. Are there rich, interactive language experiences?
Watch the staff interaction with the children closely. Are they talking with the children? Are the children communicating with the staff? Are there rich language experiences and if so are they “hands-on” (not just paper and pencil)? For instance, is the staff reading, speaking, listening to the children? Are there outings, art, dress up, and play type of activities in which children can communicate with peers? Is there a television and if so, is it being used as a “baby sitter”?

3. Is the staff knowledgeable about child development?
Ask the staff what their philosophy about early childhood education is (don’t worry if you don’t know their answer – make sure they have one). Ask how the staff is trained in child development and how frequently? How many of the staff are credentialed in early childhood education? How do they stay current on the latest child development research (such as this study)? What is the educational background and credentials of the supervisor?

4. What is the daily schedule?
There should be a consistent daily structure where children know what is expected. Is there a balance between physical activities and quieter ones? Watch the children. Are they doing the kinds of activities your child would enjoy doing? There must be rich language experiences and activities that stimulate cognitive growth to reap those gains. Make sure children are actively engaged in creative play, interacting with adults, and are not just sitting and doing paper and pencil tasks. Make sure the television is not used as a baby sitter! Then visualize your child in this setting: Is this a good match for your child’s needs, temperament and abilities?

5. What is the ratio between staff and children?
It’s always best to have a smaller number of staff to children. You want to make sure your child is being closely watched. You also want to make sure there is positive interaction (face-to-face!!) between that caregiver and your child.

6. Is the staff “kid friendly?”
Watch the interaction between the staff and children. Do they enjoy kids? Are they patient and kid-oriented? Are they respectful towards them? And (most importantly) do the children appear to enjoy the staff? The “kid friendly” rule has always been the one I was the pickiest about when choosing a school for my own children. A key to the study was that a “High Quality Caregiver” was warm, supportive and provided quality cognitive stimulation. Watch for those traits!

7. What is the discipline policy?
Ask what their discipline approach is for inappropriate children’s behavior – especially for hitting or biting. Ask, “How do you deal with aggressive children?”  Make sure they have a thought-out plan and you agree with their plan. Watch how the children interact with one another: are they caring or aggressive? If you witness an aggressive child, how does the staff respond? The NIH report found that the longer a child was in day care the more likely he would be impulsive at age 15. Habits are formed early. Make sure the facility has a proactive approach to behavior and knows how to replace acting out, aggressive behaviors with more appropriate ones.

8. Is the Day Care within my budget?
Are there any additional costs for the program such as materials or transportation? Find out the entire budget. Is it worth the cost?

9. Will my child fit in and be safe here?
Is it well gated? Are electrical sockets covered? Are fire extinguishers available? How well are they equipped to deal with accidents? Is the staff trained in CPR? Hopefully, there will never be a safety issue, but a good day care makes sure that children’s safety is a primary focus. What do you when my child or other children are ill? Find out what the policy is when children are ill at the center. Is there a supervised location where they can be removed from the other children? Could I see my child in this facility or with this care giver? Is this a place where he would fit in, feel comfortable and thrive? (Use your instinct! Get into the shoes of your child and see the caregiver or facility from your child’s eyes!)

10. Does the staff share the same values as I do?
These people will be sharing their lives with your child, so you want them to hopefully share a few similar values. Think through what are your core beliefs about raising your child and watch to see if the staff models them. For instance: Are they respectful? Do they require children to be courteous and are they courteous to children? Are they dressed neat and appropriately?

For more parenting strategies on this and 101 other issues refer to my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. You can also follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba and subscribe to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check on my website, MicheleBorba.

Michele Borba: Study Finds Impact of Child Care on Teens

by Dr. Michele Borba
Reality Check: Blogging About Parenting Issues and the Solutions to Solve Them
Posted on May 14, 2010

Over 2.3 million American kids under five are cared for at day care centers. If you’re like most parents, I’m sure you’ve pondered the age-old question: “What impact does child care have on my child? Now there’s an answer.

A federally funded study by the Early Child Care Research Network just released results that will have parents and educators alike on alert.

I shared those results with Ann Curry this morning on the TODAY show. Here are key discoveries from this fascinating research:

Since 1991 researchers have been tracking over 1364 families. Children in the study were randomly selected at birth (all born within 24 hours of each other) from 10 different American locations and have been followed since one month of age. Upper, middle, and lower income families were represented. Investigators examined how differences among families, children and child care arrangements might be correlated to their health as well as intellectual, social and emotional development.  The children were evaluated periodically, most recently at age 15, with a host of measures. The study is significant because it is first to track children representing all demographics and incomes a full decade after they left child care.

Key Findings Parents and Educators Should Know

  • As the researchers point out, “Parents have far more influence on children’s growth and development than any type child care they receive.”
  • Academic and behavior gains from child care that endured until age 15 were slightly higher when children were involved with “high quality child caregivers.” High quality is defined as caregivers who warm, supportive and provide high quality cognitive stimulation.
  • Teens who were in high-quality child care settings before age 5 scored higher on measures of academic and cognitive achievement.
  • Specific academic areas (in order) that showed the highest gains at age 15: Reading, Vocabulary, Verbal Analogies, and Math.
  • Teen also reported fewer acting-out behaviors than peers who were in lower-quality child care arrangements during their early years.
  • Teens who spent more hours in child care in their first 4½ years of life reported a greater tendency toward impulsiveness and risk-taking behaviors (taking drugs, smoking, and alcohol) at age 15 than did peers who spent less time in child care.
  • More than a decade after parents stopped those day care payments the behavior differences were still evident.
  • Though differences in these measures among the youth were deemed small, researchers still considered them significant since the gains latest until age 15. Translation: high quality care giving in the early years affects children’s social, academic, and behavioral development in the teen years.

For parenting strategies and 101 other issues refer to my latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. You can also follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba and subscribe to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check on my website, MicheleBorba.

Cooking with Children: Make it Fun, Safe & Memorable!

Sharing the kitchen with your child can not only create a lifetime of happy memories, but can also instill valuable life lessons from a young age. Through baking, cooking and even cleaning up, children can develop and express their creativity and independence; explore new foods; learn about nutrition; enhance their math, reading and science skills; and, most importantly, spend valuable quality time with mom, dad and siblings.

Below are a few tips to help make kitchen time with your little one fun, safe and memorable:

Always stress cleanliness and safety in the kitchen.

  • Wash hands before, after and as-needed during the process.
  • Provide your child with a sturdy, non-slip step stool to stand on so they are at your level.
  • Use kid-friendly wood or plastic utensils.
  • Let them choose their own apron or buy a plain one that they can personalize with fabric markers. Covering up will help cut down on the cleanup afterward.
  • Keep sharp knives, graters and other dangerous tools/appliances away from small hands.
  • Explain that only mom and dad can use the stove, oven and other electrical appliances.
  • Supervise your child closely. Stay in the room until the cooking is complete. If you need to leave for some reason, take them with you.

Include your child in the preparation.

  • Decide together what to make.
  • Read the recipe together thoroughly and gather all ingredients before beginning.  Take them shopping with you for the ingredients and/or have them help select what you need from the cupboard.

Start out easy.

  • When first introducing your child to the joy of baking, use simple recipes with basic ingredients and uncomplicated instructions.
  • Box mixes are a great way to get started. They usually ask for only two or three added ingredients and provide easy-to-follow, detailed instructions right on the box.
  • As your child learns more about the cooking and baking process, feel free to introduce more complex recipes.

Let them do it.

  • This is a great learning opportunity for your little one, so let them measure and pour ingredients into the bowl. It’s not only a good math lesson, but also bolsters their confidence.

Taste and praise!

  • Learning to cook and bake should be a fun experience for your child, so always be enthusiastic about tasting their masterpiece and praise the effort and the outcome, no matter what. They’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and be excited for their next cooking adventure!

The Symbols of Play

Excerpt from Me, Myself and I

Think about it.  Play helps children understand that things can stand for other things – that keys or shoes can stand for “Daddy,” that her purse or lipstick can stand for “Mommy,” that a leash or collar can stand for “dog.”  It is quite amazing, really, because there is no way we can ever achieve that for our kids.  They simply have to sort it out on their own.

Dramatic PlayHow?  As a child rummages through the bottom of the closet and pulls out a familiar pair of big, old shoes, someone who takes notice in the sequence of the child’s play will say the word “Daddy,” and probably more than once.  The child plays (with pleasure) as she pairs them up, hefts her weight, maybe even struggles to put on those size 12s.  And the “power” word she hears in this whole scenario is “Daddy.”  After the memory and pleasure centers in the brain connect with the word heard for this experience, the experience gets filed (pleasantly) under “Daddy” or “shoes” or “smelly feet” – probably all three.

But more importantly, the experience gets remembered (learned), and soon the play starts to symbolize the child’s experience with any or all of the parts of this scene.  Which experience is hard to predict, be it remembering her father when he is gone, classifying pairs of things that belong together, or the raw joy of exploring.  But the experience now has some kind of symbol connected to it, thanks to play.

Moreover, experience gets symbolized and images fixed through play in a way that the child can create new symbols over time.  He combines and reshapes old ones, or uses them in novel ways.  This capacity to manipulate and change them gives him wonderful new tools for elaborating his own experience and understanding of the world and his place in it.  This remarkable capacity it what we call “imagination.”

Nutrition: Shake it Up!

Nutrition comes in many shapes and sizes – and not all of them are solid.  A fruit shake is a refreshing way to start your child’s day.  Choose your child’s favorite fruits or try a new one from time to time.  Add a piece of whole grain toast – and maybe a little peanut butter – and you have a balanced breakfast alternative.  Cut and freeze fruits ahead of time to make this breakfast as quick and easy as it is nutritious and fun!

Yogurt, Banana, and Strawberry Shake

Ingredients:

  • 1 Small Banana
  • 6 Strawberries
  • ⅔ Cup Plain Yogurt  (Substitute: Soy or Vanilla Yogurt)
  • 3 T. Orange Juice
  • 2-3 T.  2% Milk

Directions:

  • Slice the banana and strawberries.
  • Puree sliced fruit in a blender or food processor.
  • Add the yogurt and orange juice.
  • Blend until smooth.  (Use milk to thin, if necessary.)

Prepare for Summer Fun

Are you planning a summer vacation with your children?  Young children are natural explorers and typically adore adventures. But they love them even more when they have been prepared for new experiences.  Better-prepared kids are kids who cope better.  Here are some suggestions to prepare your children – to get the most educationally and emotionally out of your adventures.

  • Talk about where you are going and why.
  • Discuss how long you will be there and a few things they can expect.
  • Ask them what they think they will see or want to do.
  • Suggest some “I Spy” targets to look for at your destination. This makes them better travelers and learners.
  • Wrap-up the experience on the way home by discussing the surprises and the discoveries.

When you do this right, it feels like a shared family adventure in which everyone’s experience matters and contributes to its success. It also helps parents feel less like travel agents or teachers, and more like moms and dads who know what their children need. Enjoy first – learn second – remember always.

Family Picnic Time!

Introduce your children to the wonders of a picnic…grab the picnic basket and a blanket.  But food is still the most important picnic ingredient:

What to pack:  (Always consider age-appropriateness!)

  • Easy-to-transport veggies: baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers
  • Bottled water or sippy cups with water
  • Trail mix:  Make your own.  Include nuts, raisins, pretzels, dried fruit, and coconut.
  • Fresh fruit:  Slice it or cube it and put it in small individual containers.
  • Pre-sliced cheese and whole-grain crackers.
  • Pre-cut sandwiches: Peanut butter and banana or cream cheese and cucumber on whole grain bread.
  • Plastic utensils.

Picnics are a great family outing, and can become a treasured family memory.  Plan your picnic according to your family dynamics to ensure a pleasant experience.

  • Does your toddler need a nap at two?  Then make it a brunch picnic so you are home in time.
  • Does your preschooler need high-energy activity before sitting down to a yummy lunch?  Bring a Frisbee, a few balls, and maybe a kite – play first, and eat later.