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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Talking with Your Child About COVID-19

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Watching the news about COVID-19 can be alarming and concerning, especially with a young family. The hardest thing is often knowing what to say to your children and how to calm them if they ask questions or express fears. Dr. Kyle Pruett, member of The Goddard School’s Educational Advisory Board and Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, shares advice for parents about how to effectively address their children’s questions and soothe their fears during this time.

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Keep TV and social media away from your children. If you are watching TV, make sure it is on a channel with children’s entertainment and not the news.

 

 

 

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Be aware of conversations with other adults that might clue young ones into your level of anxiety, if you indeed are anxious. Make sure the children are not in earshot of the dialogue.

 

 

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Rehearse with a partner or friend what you feel ready to answer. The inevitable and often-repeated questions from your children may include – Is everybody getting sick? Do I need to wear a mask? Will Grandma be ok? Why do I have to wash my hands? Practicing what to say will help you to not appear fearful or anxious when it comes time to talk with your children.

 

 

lightbulb

 

Do not force your children to talk about this matter. Don’t assume they are fearful just because others around them are feeling uncertain. Wait for the questions and you’ll have a better idea of what’s actually on their minds. You’ll also improve the odds of your answers being useful.

 

 

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The most important thing you can do, which you have probably already done, is to create an open environment in which questions are welcomed rather than feared and enjoyed for the opportunity to help your child better understand the world around them. Take the time to let your children express how they feel. Avoid jumping in and interrupting them as they speak.

 

 

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Here are a couple of suggested narratives if you need some help getting started:

  • “The virus is a very small germ that has made some people sick, but our home and your school are safe. We know what to do.” Don’t succumb to the temptation to say that it will “never happen here.” Trust is really important, so don’t make up answers.
  • “To make sure we stay healthy, let’s all wash our hands as a family five (5) times a day. We can make it fun. What song should we sing while we wash our hands?” Face-touching is of course part of preschool and kindergarten life and is unlikely to yield to parental pressure, so emphasize the hand washing. Avoid pulling hands away from faces at every second. You and your children will only end up frustrated. Hand washing can also give children a sense of control if they are anxious about getting sick.

 

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Consistency and routines signal to young children that things are “normal.” Keeping regular schedules are important. Only adjust them if asked to by your school, medical advisors in your community or government officials.

 

 

The important thing to remember is to keep healthy and calm yourself. Try not to show any anxiety. Your children take their cues from you – if you aren’t appearing worried, neither will they.

20160818: Kyle Pruett head shot (Shana Sureck Photography)

 

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.

Why You Should Be Reading WITH Your Child and Not TO Your Child

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

Three-quarters of middle-class parents read to their preschool children at least five days a week. To many, it’s as important and routine as personal hygiene. Yet many parents need encouragement to keep at it because their children don’t always seem tuned in to the activity. Parents believe that regular reading leads to higher reading – and eventually writing – achievement, and research supports them, just as it supports their belief that it engenders positive attitudes toward reading as an activity and as a motivator in learning to read. However, a parent reading to you is not the same as a parent reading with you. Shared reading (sometimes called lap reading), where the parent and child engage together in a conversation about how to understand and mutually enjoy what is on the printed page with the ultimate goal of turning the printed word into its spoken counterpart belongs to the larger and more productive world of family literacy where language is taught wherever and whenever it matters. It starts with joint attention to illustrations and leads straight to phonemic awareness of what is in print. 

Here are my favorite reasons to read with your child every day: 

  • Literacy promotion  From tactile books to first chapter books, parents can edit and customize the text to fit the child’s interest, mood and curiosity about what is on the page. That is how they support the child’s innate interest in the printed symbols we use to capture meaning and intent in our written communication; 
  • Focused social interaction – As the child sits on the parent’s lap, the parent feels the child settle, become alert, get bored, get back up and lean in, which is all part of the reciprocal conversation the child and parent have in the moment. This serveandreturn learning is the favorite of the growing brain, which prefers it over other kinds of stimulation because being connected emotionally and synaptically allows the parent to use that information to tune in precisely to what interests the child about what’s on the page; 
  • Intimacy – The physical and emotional closeness of shared reading and attention lowers levels of stress hormones (especially in the grown-up) and settles down both generations. Try to name a healthier moment of the parent’s day; 
  • Entertainment– The delight that comes with the turn of the page, the echoing of an intentional sound, the desire to repeat a particular page, the search for a favorite illustration or the closing of the book with a slap (our son’s favorite) all guarantee shared enjoyment for a few moments of every day; 
  • Stimulating cognitive growth – In those first thousand days, the brain grows faster than it ever will again, and regular manageable intellectual stimulation encourages the growth of connections between the parts of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, problem-solving, thinking and behavior regulation. Shared reading reaches across each of these growth centers, connecting them for good. 

Five Tried and True Ways to Ease Holiday Stress

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By Kyle Pruett, M.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Do you feel you are overdoing the holidays and beginning to stress out once again this year? Most of us tend to focus on keeping our children and their schedules – especially for the young ones – under some kind of control to limit the damage and hurt feelings that frequently accompany this overdoing. The most effective way to calm holiday stress, however, is to manage our own. Children will learn far more about staying calm when we get there first. Here are some tried and true ways to help you along the way:

  1. Manage your own expectations. Perfect holidays do not exist in real time, so expect some happiness, delight, surprise, disappointment, fatigue and meltdowns. Tell your children to expect the same.
  1. 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, is a pretty good pace. Get some sleep with the time you save instead.
  1. Accept help from others. Remember, you have already yielded on perfection as a goal, so let people bring some food and distribute chores for the bigger events. People old and young typically love being useful, even if it adds to the chaos.
  1. Watch the sweets, fats and fermented spirits. Your (and your children’s) tensions can all be exacerbated by lousy dietary indulgences, not to mention the guilt and the weight gain, which only add more stress.
  1. Play outside. Get out of the house and exercise (children and grownups). It helps to repair the damage to routines and relationships by refreshing minds and bodies.

Four Ways to Encourage Children to Share

Learning to share is important, but it can be challenging to convey this to children. Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and member of The Goddard twenty20_6aebd1b2-afcf-44cf-9788-c5f6f30ac2beSchool Educational Advisory Board, offers four ways to encourage children to share.

  1. As is so often the case, children grow to give what they have received. Valued and generously loved children find it much easier to be generous to others – in due time. Parents who behave generously (and talk about it) help their children develop the language of sharing early on. Phrases such as “Want to share my grapes?” or “I’d love it if I could share your orange, okay?” afford your child the chance to hear the vocabulary of sharing in the context of positive emotions like appreciation and generosity. This helps children begin to understand that generosity is a way of staying emotionally close to the people they want to stay close to.
  2. Avoid parent-enforced sharing whenever possible. The umpire is the least popular position in any sport or family. Acting as the referee supports the fantasy that, when a child wants something another child has, you can make things fair or right by forcing that other child to share. Instead, whenever you can, use the huge power of your affection to comfort the child, reassuring him you are staying right there and helping him wait for his turn.
  3. When you catch your child sharing, which they are more likely to do with younger, less intimidating peers, praise her for it, tell her how proud you are that she shared. This works far better than teaching or trying to make children share.
  4. Children in mixed age groups often find it easier to share than those who interact with their peers. Older children are usually less territorial and more likely to share, which can be a cue to younger children to share. These moments should be met with praise.