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Archive for February, 2011

Whistle While You Work: Your Child’s Chores

Music - GirlChores are a valuable life activity for everyone. They help fulfill our basic need to feel needed and contribute to our household. Helping others, and doing a good job at it, helps boost children’s self-esteem, while making them feel more confident, competent and valuable. However, getting children to put down the toys, turn off the television and get off the couch to help clean, declutter and spruce up the house isn’t an easy chore in itself! Here are some great ways to motivate children of any age to consistently get their chores done, while minimizing the moaning and groaning.

  • Keep a list of chores for every member of the family—even mom and dad. This helps children see that no one in the house is exempt from doing their fair share of the housework. If they see in black and white what mom and dad do each day, their chores may seem like less of a hassle.
  • Don’t expect perfection. When introducing a new chore, show your child how it is done first and then let them do it their way. It may not be exactly how you’d like it to be done, but at least they’re making an effort. Don’t step in and take over or redo the chore after they have finished. Next time, offer some tips on how to do it better. They’ll learn eventually and be encouraged to keep up with it.
  • Time it! If a chore is assigned, give a time frame for completing it. If not, your child may realize they can put it off until you or someone else takes care of it. When a chore is completed properly and on time, offer appreciation and praise for your child’s diligent follow through.

From the Mouths of Babes: Unacceptable Language

The first time your preschooler blurted out “bad words” or other unacceptable language you were probably pretty surprised—and may have even laughed out loud. We may wonder: what happened to our eager-to-please, angelic sweethearts? As our little ones grow bigger, their curiosity to test and push boundaries grows bigger, too. As parents, we know that rude language and other maddening behavior will quickly lose its charm and humor. Instances like this provide the perfect time to lay the foundation for better behavior. Here are a few simple steps to curb the rudeness.

Establish the rules. Let your child know that “bad words” or rude behavior are unacceptable and will not be used again—and that they will have consequences if they are.

Pre-determine the consequence. Decide in advance on a consequence that you will use if this rude behavior should happen again. Choose something that has a fairly immediate effect such as, “No more playing outside right now,” or “Snack time is over,” as opposed to something you would be more likely to rescind such as, “You are not going to Grammy’s house next week.”

React with confidence. Next time your child speaks impolitely, respond with certainty. Calmly, but firmly, say, “We do not use that sort of language. For that reason, you will not be riding your bike this afternoon.”

Follow through. Do not negotiate or justify the consequences of rude behavior. It is important to set consistent limits by following through with your decision. If you cave in or offer multiple chances, your child may believe that what is acceptable and what is not is up for discussion.

Reward the good stuff. Recognize when your child uses “nice” language. Provide lots of praise, love, affection and positive feedback when they behave well.

Take The Safe Driving Pledge

Distracted driving is thought to be the cause of 80 percent of all crashes.  For my family and the drivers, passengers, and pedestrians around me, I promise to cut back on distractions while I’m behind the wheel.

From now on, when driving I will not:

  • Use my cell phone or any handheld devise
  • Fiddle with my GPS
  • Change CDs or DVDs
  • Retrieve objects from the floor or glove box
  • Put on makeup or fix my hair
  • Do anything that takes my focus off the road

If I’m a passenger in a car with a driver who breaks these rules, I’ll speak up.

When it comes to the children in my car, I will not:

  • Pass toys or snacks to kids sitting in the backseat
  • Allow them to throw anything inside our vehicle (and I’ll impose a punishment if they do)

The next time I shop for a car, I’ll look for one with anti-distraction features.

Information provided by Parents.com/driving-pledge

Picky Eaters

There is an important distinction between picky eaters who are children and picky eating by children.

Labeling children as ‘picky eaters’ implies that we think of picky eating as a core identity issue, not just a behavior they’re passing through. Whereas, calling the behavior ‘picky eating by children suggests that it’s a natural developmental phase and something to work through.

I’ve yet to hear of, or know, a child that has never hit a food bump. Maybe the same could be said of us parents. In fact, there may be some evolutionary sense to not trusting all the food nature has to offer. Familiar, sweeter and bland foods are less likely than the exotic to poison or make us sick or destroy our appetites.  From a more specific perspective, we’ve begun to understand genetic influences leading toward and away from particular food preferences. Certain children carry genes (which they may not share with their parents) that intensify the reaction to bitter foods, leaving these children with a preference for sweeter foods and drinks in general; not to mention a different palate than their parents.

A few years ago, many nurses and pediatricians noticed a parental ‘bump’ around the introduction of ‘staged’ food menus for prepared infant foods; parents worried that their children weren’t transitioning well from the younger to the older food stages. The source of this reluctance was difficult to verify. Was it hard for children to progress from one stage to the next because of the newer food’s taste, consistency, or was it simply its ‘newness’?  This brings us back around to the picky eating versus picky eater distinction…

Picky eating is common, especially in girls, and can occur with both familiar and unfamiliar foods. Picky eaters are less common, and tend to be reluctant eaters around new foods. Some clinicians are trying out the label ‘neophobia’ to categorize picky eater behavior in younger children as a way of improving research and communication about the phenomenon.  For instance, some researchers have found that pickiness was predicted primarily by environmental or experiential factors subject to changes; neophobia was predicted by more enduring and dispositional factors.  (Galloway, A. T., Lee, Y., Birch, L. L. (2003). Predictors and consequences of food neophobia and pickiness in young girls, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103(6), 692-698.).

There are some things that you can do to help your child’s food bump from becoming a pothole:

1)    Your infants and toddlers are such social beings; they are pre-wired to be interested in how you treat your food. New foods will be more acceptable to your toddler if they’ve seen you or another adult they care about eating it regularly. And that positive effect is increased if your talk (with feeling) about what you like about the food. Interestingly, if you eat more fruits and vegetables, even when your child is not watching, your child will be more likely to accept food.

2)    Match up familiar with the unfamiliar. Hummus or yogurt dips that your child already likes can be paired with the new zucchini slice or broccoli floret.

3)    Never pressure or rush to introduce new foods, and only introduce one new food at a time.

4)    Introduce new foods when your child is actually hungry – forcing a new food on a diminished appetite is going to be less successful.

5)    Give it time – most children, and their parents, grow through this phase.

Why ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ Doesn’t Always Apply

Most blogs discuss the problem of biting from the perpetrator’s viewpoint.  They emphasize how to prevent, protect and process.  While these bloggers (including me) provide helpful suggestions, they largely ignore the problem from the perspective of the victim.  Bite victims don’t get much press, yet, for victims and their parents, the experience is more painful and equally problematic.

Infant Boy AToddlers (and to a lesser extent) preschoolers bite.  They always have and always will.  Teeth are ‘cool’—they help us talk, eat, get attention, brand us as ‘getting big’ and yes, inflict pain.  Biting isn’t always intentional, sadistic or aggressive.  Curiosity about dramatic cause and effect is nearly universal.  In general, however, once a biter appears, the environment must change.  The victim is almost always surprised the first time he or she is bitten, and from that moment on, to quote an experienced colleague educator, ‘the environment must be provisioned with vigilance.’  Adults must assist the victim in ‘learn[ing] from experience.’  They must shadow the biter, monitoring his or her moods, behavior and irritability.  Staying close enough to physically intervene, processing the experience with the victim, comforting him or her, and teaching skill building self-preservation techniques help the biting victim.

Children who are repeat victims sometimes want to forgive and forget, and sure enough, they wind up sitting too close to the perpetrator again and again.  These children seem to miss the warning signs that trouble is brewing.  They often don’t complain ‘nearly loud enough’ (according to the above educator).  Prepared adults can talk to such children about preventative actions as a learning opportunity.

Many adults tend to see repeat ‘bitees’ as innocent bystanders, helpless to protect themselves, and not a part of the solution.  With good adult collaboration, however, young victims can learn to increase their own watchfulness and use their growing language skills to think, “Are you going to bite me today? I don’t like it!” and to strengthen their self preservation.

Additionally, if the biting occurs at school, parents may get frustrated when the school does not sufficiently reprimand the repeat offender.  This is because teachers are trained to facilitate group growth and relationships.

So what is a parent to do?  Ask for the director’s plan to help keep your child safe.  Stay involved, give a second chance, and emphasize the positive.

12 Surprising Benefits of Play

12 proven and surprising benefits of child-directed (aka unscheduled and spontaneous) play for our stressed-out, over-supervised kids.

By Dr. Michele Borba

Okay folks, I’m concerned. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reviewing studies involving children and play. “Shocked” and “disturbed” are the two words that describe how I feel when reading those reports.

Every study reaches one sad conclusion: Good old-fashioned play is quickly becoming an endangered pastime for today’s plugged-in, over-scheduled kids.

Worse yet, play is not only disappearing from our homes and neighborhoods, but our schools as well. And this comes at the same time when reports show that stress is mounting to  new heights in our kids while their mental health has plummeted to a twenty-five year all-time low. A good old fashioned childhood of cloud-gazing, leaf-kicking, and hill rolling is disappearing to be replaced by screens, earplugs, flashcards and tutors.

Facts About Today’s Play-Deprived Kids

  • Since the late 1970s there’s been a 25% drop in our children’s free play and a 50% drop in unstructured outdoor activities
  • Since the late 1970s kids time in organized, adult-supervised sports have doubled and the number of minutes devoted each week to passive leisure, not including watching television, has increased from 30 minutes to more than three hours
  • The average U.S. child is now “plugged-in” to some kind of digital device–not including cell phone and text–71/2 hours a day

The loss of play and even skepticism about its value may be partly due to a more competitive, “no-child left untested era” (don’t get me started on that one…), our increasingly hurried, quicker-pace life style, and the belief we have to schedule our kids with activity after activity to stretch those IQ points. Now Tiger Mom–and every media outlet our there appearing to quote her–is urging every so-called “Western” mom to halt those play dates and any child-chosen activity.

Whatever the reason, today’s kids are playing less and many experts–and the kids–are crying, “Foul!” and with good reason. Dozens of studies prove that play is not just a luxury but essential to our children’s healthy development.

12 Scientific Benefits of Play

We’ve always known that “kids and play” are just a natural combo. But new research also shows that letting kids engage in self-directed play has immense value for their social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth. Here are just a few of the proven scientific benefits of letting our kids get messy and doing something besides clicking those darn keypads and video controllers and paper and pencil tasks:

1. Play boosts children’s creativity and imagination. Play gives children the chance to invent, build, expand, explore and develop a whole different part of the brain.

2. Play stretches our children’s attention span. Playing outdoors just 30 minutes a day increases child’s ability to focus and pay attention.

3. Play and rough-housing boost boys’ problem solving abilities. The more elementary school-boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving. (Don’t ya love that one!)

4. Play boosts self-confidence and self-regulation. Kids learn to become masters of their own destiny without an adult directing, pushing, managing or scheduling.

5. Play forges friendships, strengthens social competence and teaches social skills. Undirected play allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, communicate and develop core social skills they need not only now but for the rest of their lives.

6. Play helps kids learn to enjoy just being in their own company, entertain themselves and develop identity. Ease that guilt when your kid says, “I’m bored, Mom!”

7. Play reduces children’s anxiety and diminishes stress. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that play is also critical for our children’s emotional health because it helps kids work through anxiety and reduce stress.

8. Play creates joyful memories of childhood. Come on, no kid is going to remember the car pools and worksheets but the swings, jumping in leaves, playing leapfrog in the mud, blowing bubbles, building forts–those are the unforgettable childhood moments. Sigh!

9. Play boosts physical health and reduces risk of obesity. Henry Joseph Legere, MD, author of Raising Healthy Eaters points out: “Rises in screen time have led to the rise of a sedentary lifestyle for our children. In 1982, the childhood obesity prevalence in the United States was actually less than 4 percent. By 2004, that number had grown to about 30 percent.”

10. Play expands our kids minds and neurological development. Self-initiated play improve skills such as guessing, figuring, interpreting and is important to brain development and learning

11. Play builds new competencies, leadership skills, teaches lifelong hobbies, and develops resilience. “Play is what allows kids to manipulate their environment,” says a report written by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. of the AAP, “And how you manipulate your environment is about how you begin to take control, how you begin to develop your senses, how you view the world.”

12. Play nurtures the parent-child bond. Child-driven play also improves our parent-kid relationship.Play offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to see the world from our children’s eyes as well as strengthen our relationship when we join in.

In fact, playing with our kids is one of the few times when clocks stop and stress fades. There’s no judgments, schedules or time constraints that worry us. It’s just a glorious opportunity to give our kids our full presence, be in their space and enjoy each other’s company, and build those wonderful childhood memories. Keep in mind folks, there’s no rewind button when it comes to childhood!

So parents, why not just this week push pause and tune into your kids’ schedule? I dare you: take a Reality Check and see just how how unstructured, unsupervised time your kid has. While you’re at it, here are a few questions to help you assess if play should be added to the “Endangered Species List” at your home.

Reality Check: Could Your Kids Be ‘Play Deprived’?

How much are your kids plugged into some kind of a digital device?

How often are your kids glued to that TV or clicking that keypad?

How much free time do your kids have that is unscheduled, unplanned, unsupervised?

How often do your kids go outdoors to just recompress?

Do your kids know how to entertain themselves solo an adult, coach, teacher, or you whether it be indoors or out?

Do your kids enjoy the great outdoors?

How often (if ever) do your kids see you throwing off your shoes and joining in the unplanned, spontaneous fun with them?

Do your kids know outdoor age-appropriate games and have the equipment for those activities whether it be hopscotch, jump rope, Red Rover, I Spy, basketball, freeze-tag, kick the can, skateboarding?

Do your kids know how to self-entertain and do activities that would nurture their creativity or imagination on a regular basis?

Do you set a rule that when friends come to the house a minimum or no plugged-in devices are allowed?

Would your kid say that you encourage them to play unstructured?

How do you respond when your kids get messy? (Just asking…but remember letting your kids get messy every now and then is actually a great way to teach them that nobody’s perfect, accidents do happen, and teaches them to enjoy themselves and their own company).

Let’s remember: Play is an essential — not a luxury – for our children’s well-being. Thirty years of solid child development research confirms that play is crucial for our children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth.  So check into your kids’ lives and make sure at least  a bit of “free time” is a part of their waking hours.

What do you think? Are our kids becoming play-deprived? And if they are, what do you see as the disadvantages?

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert.  You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.

Play-Based Education Drives More Effective, Well-rounded Learning; Effects Seen by 4th Grade

Leading preschool chain shares the power of playful learning with children around the nation

Over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours of unstructured playtime in their week. Since 2002, 34% of kindergartens have eliminated recess. This trend of cutting back on playtime may have more negative effects than most parents are aware of. Although the debate on whether rigorous academic learning or play-based learning is more effective rages on, recent studies have shown playful learning has many positive, lasting effects unmatched by academic-based learning.

“When compared to academically-based preschool programs, children in play-based programs outperform the other group socially and academically by the time they reach the fourth grade,” said Kyle D. Pruett M.D., a child psychiatrist, published author, and advisor to The Goddard School®.

In a study conducted by psychologist Rebecca Maron of the University of North Florida, 1,200 toddlers and preschoolers were followed to measure the long-term academic effects of play-based learning vs. academic-based learning. The results strongly show the play-based learners outperforming the academic group both socially and academically by 4th grade. These findings support the claim that play-based learning increases a child’s ability to both learn abstract concepts and interact with peers.

Supported by a growing body of research from Play for Tomorrow, the consortium behind the respected “playful learning” movement, The Goddard School believes in and supports the power of play for learning and has incorporated the concept into their proprietary FLEXLearning Program. Playful learning is not a new concept at The Goddard School. It has been at the heart of their curriculum from the beginning, reflected in an approach to learning that presents new skills to children in a playful and engaging way.

Research has shown many lifelong benefits of learning through play, including an increased ability to learn from mistakes, develop independent decision making and fine-tuning of children’s physical development and perceptual motor skills.

“Young children who learn through play are more capable of making their own decisions, advocating for themselves and using creativity to solve problems as they grow. Play is essential to the development of your child’s brain, triggering trillions of neural connections that form the basis of healthy cognitive function and mastery of your child’s physical world,” says Dr. Pruett.

To further support these learning techniques, The Goddard School has launched a system-wide initiative, the Goddard Community Games event, on February 5. During the event, families in schools across the country will have the opportunity to enjoy a “hands-on” playful learning experience with a variety of programs, ranging from Sign Language, Yoga and Nutrition to World Cultures Voyages, Everyday Math and “Rock ‘n’ Tot” pre-dance and creative movement. The focus will be on fun, as parents and their children share in a day of discovery and enrichment.

“The children attending The Goddard School today are the leaders of tomorrow,” says Sue Adair, Director of Education at Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School. “Our teachers nurture each child’s self confidence and foster their lifelong love of learning by incorporating teacher-planned and child-directed learning activities into each day. When children enjoy learning, they take away not only knowledge of the task or concept but a sense of personal accomplishment that prepares them for a successful journey through life.”