{     Offering the Best Childhood Preparation for Social and Academic Success.     }

Archive for the ‘Dr. Kyle Pruett’ Category

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.

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.

Five Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

grateful child

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

No matter how many place settings there were to accommodate three generations of Pruetts at our Thanksgiving Feast table, everyone had a seat at the grown-up or kids’ table. Every celebration I can remember began with my father−a pastor by trade−telling everyone to hold hands and, starting with the oldest, share one thing for which they were grateful on this day. It was hard to be patient, sitting there, mouths watering, and wondering what you were going to say when it was your turn. In this simple act, we learned that gratitude was what made this meal different from all others. I was amazed year after year by how seriously everyone took this charge. Answers ran from sacred to profane, but the lesson was clear; families thrive on gratitude.

The Holidays are an important opportunity to affirm values that most parents hope (or wish) their kids were developing naturally. The bounty of family life−so obvious on the dining room table−is less obvious to our younger children, and most of them need a little help seeing the connections between what we share as a family and how we feel about belonging to that family. While children seem to have a natural drift toward empathy, even compassion, feeling grateful for what they have is a harder sell. Grown-ups need to place this high on their agenda, along with plenty of patience for this sapling graft to take hold. Before you start, think about why this matters to you and how you got that way. Share those thoughts with your partner, and make a plan about how to sell gratitude as a family value to your children, as it is one of those desired human values that does not always unfold naturally, as our children grow.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly express your own thankfulness verbally. (We are very lucky to have grandma nearby. I’m thankful to have a son like you in my life. Your dad made that so easy for all of us.)
  • Express gratitude behaviorally. (Take a casserole to a neighbor who has been kind or needs some extra help for whatever reason−even better if the children help you make it. When the hand-me-down toys end their cycle, make a Goodwill run with the children in tow.)
  • Make generosity part of your family’s routine. (When seasons change, collect clothes from everyone’s closet to donate or take canned goods to the local soup kitchen.)
  • Take the children along on community fundraising activities, runs, walks, etc. Explain to them why this matters to you. (Make sure they meet the organizers and understand the purpose; if it’s personal, it’s remembered)

Consider this: regularly planned simple activities can make children feel useful and appreciated as givers, not takers, which is the antidote to gratitude). These are the roots of self-esteem, not reward or praise.

5 Ways to Calm Holiday Stress

stressed mom holding new born baby

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

It seems a given that the holidays will be overdone yet again this year. Kids are only young once, right? After the year many families have had, who wants to cut back? Furthermore, parents have their own ideas and images about how the holidays should or should not go, and if there are two parents, it is unlikely that they are identical ideas and images. Throw in a limited budget and visits with extended family and things can get pretty exciting/tense pretty quickly. Most of us tend to focus on keeping our kids and their schedules – especially of the young ones – under some kind of control to limit the damage and hurt feelings that frequently accompany this overdoing. But the most effective way to calm holiday stress is to manage our own. Kids will learn far more about staying calm when we get there first.

1) Manage your own expectations. Perfect holidays do not exist in real time. So expect some happiness, delight, surprises, disappointments, fatigue and the occasional meltdown. Tell your kids to expect the same. Families are just like that during the holidays, even when they are at their best.

2) Make a list. Well ahead of time, sit down and make a list of holiday things you’d like to do or achieve, then cut it in half and proceed. One or two special events spread out over two days, with a generous dose of hanging out and ‘just being time’ (as our teenagers labeled such inactivity), is a pretty good pace. Get some sleep with the time you save instead.

3) Accept help from others. Remember, you have already yielded on perfection as a goal. So let people bring some food and distribute chores on the bigger events. People old and young typically love being useful, even it adds to the chaos.

4) Watch the sweets, fats (kids and grown-ups) and fermented spirits. Your (and your kids’) tensions can all be exacerbated by lousy dietary indulgences, not to mention the guilt and the weight gain, which only add more stress. Having fewer of them in the house or apartment to begin with tips the scales toward success.

5) Get out of the house and exercise (kids and grown-ups). It helps to repair the damage to routines and relationships by freshening the internal and external environments. Once, when I was in 5th grade, my parents (who were not typically jokesters) actually faked a power outage between the main holiday meal and dessert, just to get everyone away from the TVs and out of the house for a while. It was one of our favorite holiday gatherings ever. Lesson learned.

Taking on the COVID-19 Holidays – Together

children trick or treating

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

Many of us are feeling uncertain about the holidays this year. Should we pretend everything is normal and take our children trick or treating? (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shared some fun alternatives to trick or treating this year.) What do we do about the winter holidays? Should we continue our traditions and host the annual extended family gatherings? As parents mull over their options, children take notice. They are astute and sensitive to their parents’ emotions and are experts at listening, even when we think they aren’t.

Children have no problem asking direct questions, which often puts us on the spot. If children have overheard someone say, “No Halloween this year,” they will turn to their family for answers. How parents choose to respond is critical because children can quickly tell if their parents are acting as a team or are divided.

Take the following scenario between a child and father as an example of how an answer may signal a divide. A child asks, “Dad, mom says no Halloween this year! Why not?”

Our pretend dad could say any number of things at this point. How and what he decides to say will clue the child into whether mom and dad are on the same page or even in the same book.

Just for fun, choose the best response for our pretend dad from the following options:

  1. The punt – “I don’t know – ask her.”
  2. The challenge – “What? Halloween is definitely happening this year!”
  3. The consensus – “Your mom and I have talked about this. Let’s go get her and discuss it together.”
  4. The dodge – “Not now, kiddo, I’m busy.”
  5. The subject change – “Hey, did you see all of the pinecones on the ground out front?”

The best answer is one that both parents have already agreed upon. It’s paramount to try your best to reach mutual decisions about your family’s safety during the COVID-19 holidays. Children are looking for secure anchorage during this bizarre time, and they need to know that the anchor line is taught, not dragging along.

It’s completely normal for parents to disagree on certain approaches toward parenting. However, they should agree on the best way to keep their families safe. According to recent research by my wife Marsha Kline Pruett, discrepant parental attitudes and behaviors about COVID-19 safety are toxic for children of all ages. If parents want to survive the approaching influx of holidays, they need to pull together on the following non-negotiable topics.

Agree on schedules and routines. By now, your original routines have likely been worn to a nubbin thanks to the disruptive pandemic. Get ahead of the holidays by brainstorming a new daily routine. Be sure to discuss food, hygiene, play, sleep and screen time, and keep the plan flexible so that holiday celebrations don’t destroy the routine.

Loosen up on some discipline. Agree to loosen the reins a little during the holidays, and pick your battles carefully. Letting certain non-harmful behaviors slide will help ease your stress levels during the holidays.

Practice what you will say to your children. Align your messages about how to discuss the holidays and your children’s feelings during COVID-19. “We’ve never had a [insert holiday or ritual] quite like this one. Some things will be the same, and some will be different.” Each parent may choose to empathize different aspects of the conversation, and that’s fine as long as they are actively listening to what their children are feeling.

Model your expectations. Parents should agree on and model the non-negotiables, such as handwashing, wearing a mask, avoiding large gatherings, practicing social distancing and telling someone when you feel sick.

Consider safe socialization. Support reasonable efforts for your children to socialize with their peers and friends. If your child has a friend whose family is just as cautious as yours, it may be okay to arrange a playdate. Virtual playdates are always a safe option but can be tricky for young children with short attention spans. Unfortunately, our protective urges can lead to social isolation for children, which may upset and sadden them more during the holidays.

Share the love. During times of uncertainty and excitement (COVID-19 holidays), children may experience larger-than-life emotions. Sometimes, all they need is an extra big hug and lots of affection. Be sure to praise good behavior when you see it. Say, “You are a terrific teeth brusher!” or “I love how you helped with the laundry today.” Praise does wonders for children’s well-being and mental health.

Along the same lines, work with your partner to focus on any immediate health and safety concerns that may affect the holidays. Other problems that won’t matter afterward aren’t worth your time and energy.

Remember to care for yourself and each other. No one will look after you or you and your partner except yourselves. Take a deep breath, grab a snack or beverage from your secret cabinet, curl up on the couch and unwind. Remember, the holidays are about your families, so make space to relax and enjoy your time together

 

Dealing with the Ups and Downs of a Preschooler

mom holding preschool daughter

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

Last evening, our neighborsparents of three children under seven, were sitting out on their porch steps, masked and full of coffee. They said hello as I (masked and at a distance) walked byI paused and asked, How’s it going? Kids asleep? and heard, Thank God” in unison. The mother continued, sometimes it’s been sweet and sometimes sour – very sour. I feel kinda hollowed out in the middle. I really love, both of us love, simply being together with them for more than just a snippet of the weekend, and other times, I feel bottomed out, discouraged.” I thoughtthere is the pandemic family anthem in a nutshell. 

Our young children are feeling much the same these dayskinda hollowed out in the middle, caught between the highs of being together and the lows of losing so much of their active physical and social life. That’s why they can go from angelic to demonic in a few hours or minutes. Parents wonder at such times if they are being good parents in the way they handle these huge swings. Their children know how clueless they feel about how to helpDisappointment is around every cornercan’t do this or that, can’t see your friends or grandma, have to wear that itchy, annoying face covering. As adults, we’ve learned something about coping with disappointment by now, but for our preschoolers and young children, this may be the first time they have had to confront it in such a huge dose. No wonder they and we are upset. They are missing out on some things that we know they need to keep growing up well. Helping them cope requires as much compassion and patience as we have ever mustered on their behalf.  

Advice:  

  1. When they are upset and need us to fix something, most of us just rush in with a tool or solution as soon as we can think of one. Don’do that, at least not right away. 
  2. Listen carefully through the tears for what is wrong. Say it back to them in your own words and ask if you got it right 
  3. Confirm that you get what’s so upsetting without judgment or even if you think it’s a bit ridiculous and that those kinds of feelings do hurt and make us sad. This compassion is less likely to soften your children than it is to strengthen them. It validates them and their feelings as more important to you at the moment than correcting some injustice. 
  4. Limit the amount of pandemic-focused information flowing at them through screens (especially back-ground TV) and from other sources, such as over-heard adult conversations. The most menacing, toxic force in the pandemic’s arsenal other than the obvious mortal threat to our health is its mystery; this scale of not knowing what’s coming is unfamiliar to most of us 
  5. Running on empty,emotionally and physicallyis very hard on everyone in the family. There are many replenishmentout there if you look. A favorite for families with pre-k children is Common Sense Media’s list of 26 Kid-Friendly Documentaries for Families to watch together. Turn off your phones, kick off the shoes and grab healthy snacks. Then snuggle up and let someone else do the entertaining for a while. Don’t forget to breathe. 

Dad’s Important Role in Parenting

Dad holding preschool daughtor on sholders with her arms stretched out

Dr. Kyle Pruett, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Fathers don’t mother, just as mothers don’t father. It is obvious from the start; they are less likely to use baby talk, choosing real words instead. They like their babies activated when they are interacting with them, while mom is more likely to comfort and cuddle tight. Play and surprise are more common in dad-infant interaction than with mom, who often prefers a soothing and regulating routine. Even the way a dad holds his baby, more commonly facing out than when mom does, hints at feeling his job might be different than hers – more of a let’s see what the world has for us today than I’ve got you safe and secure right here over my heart.  

Safety and security are huge concerns for today’s parents, both at home and in the wider world. So, which approach is more likely to raise a secure child? Both are, especially when woven together. Secure attachments between mothers and children seem most uniquely effective in providing comfort when the child is distressed. While fathers are committed to comforting their distressed children, there is a unique component to their interactions with their children. Fathers often provide security using shared, controlled excitement through sensitive and sometimes challenging You can do it! support as the child’s exploratory system gets stimulated by novelty. That roughhousing that is so common between men and their children serves a purpose; while it is fun and stimulating to both players, it also helps the father teach the child where the edge between play and trouble lies, No fingernails!  When the father lets the child wander off a little further than the mom might at the park, he’s allowing the child exploration and novelty, retrieving the child when something looms to threaten the security of such adventure. 

That distinction is worth celebrating this Father’s Day. It’s why dad is not just a stand-in for mom, who so often bears the weight of being the real parent. Helping children feel comforted when distressed is incredibly important to their sense of security and so is the support they feel from being fathered when they start looking for the world beyond mom’s arms.  

SoMoms and Dads, here are two tips to help you as you parent together: 

Moms – Support the fathering figures in your children’s lives with your appreciation and respect. They are not just subbing for you; they are your tag team in keeping your children secure and safe, not just from the world, but in it. 

Dads (biological and otherwise) – Turn off your devices and be in the moment with your children. They need to know, trust and feel the real you. Take your unique role as the securer of exploration seriously; they do. 

Four Questions Not to Ask Your Child about Returning to School

13

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

While the return of a schedule for which you are not responsible and a little less chaos overall can make us welcome sending our children back to school, we can’t guarantee a smooth transition. A common temptation is to start grilling our offspring about school readiness stuff in a well-meaning attempt to anticipate trouble and cut it off at the root. Examples of some things a four-year-old might say to some seemingly innocent inquiries from mom or dad include, “I don’t know if I want to see my friends yet.” “I liked being at home with you every day.” Here are four questions you may want to reconsider asking:

1. Are you excited about going back to school?

Most preschoolers feel a mix of emotions: excitement, uncertainty, curiosity or fear and not all at the same time, so it’s hard to answer this one directly. Instead, let them overhear you talking to family or friends about getting ready to send them back and some of your mixed feelings just to let them know this is an okay topic. Doing this may help encourage them to ask their questions about going back, to which you can then listen carefully and deal with where your children are about going back, not just where you are.

2. Do you want to practice your letters and numbers to get ready for school?

Isn’t this tempting since you know practice might help them in reentry? Instead, it often makes a preschooler think he or she is already a little behind because he or she hasn’t been doing his or her due diligence. Instead, before your child heads back, start saying things like, “Can you find the letter A in the billboards along the road?” Playing small games may help him or her get back in the swing of identification without feeling like it’s a getting-ready-for-school thing and is more a growing-up thing.

3. Anything special you want to do before school begins again?

Of course, we want to please our kids by giving them what they want, but this question carries with it the idea that something serious is about to happen, and they’d better get in their goodbyes. Instead, use the last long weekend for family time that is more laid back than what is to come when school starts. Talk about how much these times mean to you as a mom, dad or family and how you look forward to more of them.

4. When you do want to start getting ready to go to bed earlier to get ready for school mornings?

This question may seem like you are trying to partner up with them on this issue, but it’s just better to get it started without their consent, which you are pretty unlikely to obtain.

Caring for Our Littlest Ones During the Coronavirus Pandemic

caring-for-our-littlest-ones

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

We have been asked by many parents of infants how to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. What do I do to make sure my baby is safe?  What if my child doesn’t have all the immunizations yet because she is too young? Should I isolate my family from our friends and close family members?

New parents and almost all parents with infants feel stressed at the best of times.  The COVID-19 crisis adds another layer. It is essential to take a deep breath, wash your hands, cuddle your child and repeat.

The most authoritative publication to date (Report of the WHO-China Joint Commission on COVID-19 /Feb 28, 2020) reported that no young children or infants were positive from November through January. The World Health Organization thinks children may be less susceptible. The very rare cases that have occurred were in families with adults who tested positive. No child-to-child or child-to-adult cases of transmission were reported. We hope this information can help to lessen your worries.

Do not worry if your child has not been vaccinated. Keep up the recommended routine of social distancing, handwashing and regular surface cleaning with standard household products. This routine is smart and is customary with a new infant in the home.

Don’t quarantine yourself from your close friends and family members. As long as they are healthy, without a fever and a cough, it is probably fine to be together in small groups during this tough time. If you need to practice social distancing to keep older family members safe, use this time to video chat and show off the baby’s smiles.

Anyone touching or holding the baby must wash their hands thoroughly first, because washing their hands cleans them better than hand sanitizer, and avoid taking the baby to crowded locations.

Limit your exposure to news and screens, avoid anxiety-ridden calls with colleagues and stay focused on the delights of being with your baby. Take time to sing, talk and read with your child. Just being in the moment with your baby will ease everyone’s stress.

During this stressful time, it is not productive to push ahead with sleep training or toilet training mastery. That is tough enough when all is going well around you. We all need to let ourselves slide back a little to keep our balance.

Remember – take deep breaths, wash your hands, cuddle your baby and repeat.

 

KYLE PRUETT, M.D. 

Through his groundbreaking work in child psychiatry, Dr. Pruett has become an internationally known expert on children, family relationships and fathering. He is a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and is the author of award-winning books Me, Myself and I and Partnership Parenting.

 

At-Home Learning Activities

1

infant-at-home-activities-day-1-v2

toddler-at-home-activities-day-1-v2

preschool-at-home-activities-day-1-v2

kindergarten-at-home-activities-day-1-v2

school-age-at-home-activities-1