5 Ways to Boost, Build, and Develop a Child's Language

Research tells us that up to 61% of variance in child language development is accounted for by parenting style.  Caregiver language input is a critical factor in setting the stage for healthy language development.  Check out these five tips for supporting language growth and development.

Talk, talk, talk around the clock!  In a study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, results showed that as a group, children from lower-income families hear a staggering 30 million fewer words than children from higher-income families by the time they are four years old.  This gap can set the stage for long-standing discrepancies.  We can change this by encouraging caregivers to talk more with children.  Describe the world around you when you are with your child – talk about what you see, and narrative you child’s activities and routines.

Reflect, and expand, on child language.  Parents are often the first (and best) “decoders” for our children as they are learning to talk – meaning that parents often understand them before anyone else does.  When your child tries out a word or phrase, praise their efforts (“great job saying cat!”) and reflect the language they expressed (“Cat!  I heard you say cat.”).  This is also a way to model without being critical.  For example, if your child says “doggy walk,” you can reflect and extend by saying “That’s right, you noticed the big fluffy doggie walked across the street.  The doggie walked!”

Act like a sports announcer.  One of the most powerful and helpful ways to teach language is to describe what your child is doing during play and routines.  Act like a sport announcer, giving a play by play of what is happening.  This is particularly effective for children under seven years of age.  Describing actions helps to teach concepts, vocabulary, and routines in a natural way.  This is particularly fun while children are playing.  When we describe a child’s (or our own) actions, it also helps hold attention to the task at hand – and kids love it!  Next time you are getting your child dressed, instead of firing commands, describe what they are doing (or what you are doing with them).  For example, “You are putting one leg in your pants; you are pulling on your shirt” – you might even notice that the routine goes more smoothly!

Read.  And read in an interactive way.  Reading is one the most effective ways to provide children with opportunities to develop language skills.  Books often contain words that children may not commonly hear, and provide pictures and context to help children understand the meaning of the words.  Adults can also use books to start discussions with children about the stories and pictures presented, and use books to make connections to the child’s life.  Research shows us that when adults read with children and engage interactively by asking complex questions, expanding on children’s responses, and providing encouragement, children’s expressive language develops faster than when we read in less interactive ways.

The Magic of Music.  Adults can help children develop language by incorporative music into routines and activities.  Musical activities help children develop an awareness of sound, and singing songs gives children a change to develop and proactive language skills in a fun way.  Songs and musical activities have been shown to increase vocabulary, and are linked with improvements in communication skills.

 

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.

 

5 Tips for Successful Potty Training

Potty-training can be an intimidating task, and parents often feel stuck about when and how to begin.  While a small percentage of children “potty train themselves” or toilet train with very little effort, most children benefit from the direction and support of their parents.  It is helpful to think of potty training like any other skill that a child learns – it happens most successfully in the context of supportive, patient, and prepared parents. 

Below are five tips to help make potty training a successful experience.

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Look for signs of readiness.  When it comes to potty training, you want to take the lead from your child.  Look for signs of readiness (motor, cognitive, communication, and physical development).  Motor:  Your child should have some ability to dress/undress themselves with some assistance, and have the ability to squat to a sit without losing their balance. Cognitive:  Your child should demonstrate imitative behaviors (playing make-believe is a good clue they can do this!), and should be able to sit down or play quietly for about five minutes.  Communication:  Your child should be able to understand simple requests, be able to show you his or her needs with words, signs, or gestures (does not have to be formal speech), and has an understanding of what urine and bowel movements are. Physical Readiness: Your child should be able to stay dry for at least an hour or so, have an awareness of what the toilet is for, and have an awareness of being wet or soiled. Your child does not need to demonstrates ALL the signs of readiness before you begin potty training, but these provide an indication of things to look for if you are wondering if your child is ready.

Make sure YOU are ready. Potty training, particularly if you are going to follow a specific plan/protocol (which is a good idea, generally), requires effort and time on the part of the parents.  Before you begin a potty training plan, you want to make sure that you have the resources you need – namely, patience and time – to devote to the process.  If at all possible, particularly if you are going to undertake a time limited method (3-5 days), it might be helpful to have an extra set of hands to help around the house (or with other children), as the process requires a higher level of attention to your child as you carefully look out for cues that they need to use the potty.  If you are going through a stressful time, and your patience is running low, this isn’t the right time to potty train – you need to prepare for accidents and be able to handle them with love, positive reinforcement and patience.  Unfortunately, if you lose your patience, this can drag out the process.  Finally, you want to make sure that the “team” is on the same page!  All caregivers should be aware of the plan and ready to commit to following it. 

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Pick a plan.  While I am not suggesting that there is ONE plan to choose when it comes to potty training, I would suggest that you pick A plan.  Like most things parenting-related, there is more than one way to accomplish the goal.  I suggest looking at various options and choosing a plan that feels right for you, and is a realistic strategy that you (and your family) can commit to.  The purpose and benefit of having a plan is that it allows you to be consistent, and it makes expectations and the process more clear for your child – which will undoubtedly improve your chances of success!  While a short-term, rip-the-Band-Aid-off approach like a 3-5 day training plan might not be right for everyone, many families have success with this approach because it allows for clearly defined expectations for your child, and the short time frame makes being consistent a bit easier on the parents versus being consistent over a longer period of time (it’s the tradeoff for an inconvenient and challenging few days!).

 

Tips and strategies while you are in the thick of it.  Below are a few things to remember while you are potty training:

  • The week before you start, make sure your child gets plenty of fiber, as children often try to withhold during training.  During training, push liquids in fun ways – a fun straw, ice, or a tasty beverage.  These strategies will give you more opportunities to try out the potty!

  • Get some books and discuss with our child what to expect. You want the process to be de-mystified and not mysterious (which for many kids = scary!).

  • A week before, try to chart your child’s potty behavior to see if you can delineate a pattern (this may make training easier because you have an idea of when opportunity may arise).

  • Make sure you have all the supplies you need (a little potty or potty seat, wet wipes, 20(!) or so pairs of underwear – and clear out (if possible) diapers and all training pants.

  • During training, look out for your child signs, and get them to the potty when you suspect that they are going, are about to go, or have already started going.  Even “finishing the job” in the potty is a success, even if it didn’t start there.

  • Once initially potty-trained, it might be helpful to bring supplies for outings or long car trips!

 

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Make it POSITIVE.  Above all else, you want your child to learn through the process that 1) potty training is a positive thing; 2) going to the potty is something that will be celebrated and rewarded; and 3) how to communicate their need to go to the potty with you.  You want this to be a positive experience, so expectations might be relaxed during this time as you want to limit the need for lots of discipline.  Set-up your environment so this is as likely as possible, and try to relax during the process! Rewarding your child’s success is definitely something that can help motivate your child.  Note that the reward should be both something you are comfortable with and something that motivates your child.  It does not have to be tangible (it can be praise or a special activity), but many parents have great success with charts (keep them simple) and tangible rewards.

 

 

The above tips are meant to serve as a guide, and are not an exhaustive plan for potty training.  Remember, what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.

 

Understanding and Identifying Postpartum Depression

By Guest Blogger Erica Djossa

When you become a mom, no topic is off limits. Conversations float between the size, colour and texture of poop, to graphic birthing stories. We discuss how our lady bits got ripped in half, and we go from being modest to whipping out our boob wherever we are. So can someone please tell me why we have such a hard time discussing postpartum depression?! 

There seems to be so much shame and guilt around the emotions experienced in the weeks that follow delivery. Many women I have talked to think they are the only ones who have these thoughts and feelings, and feel loads of shame and guilt as a result. How can it be that giving birth to a new life is the most amazing and blissful experience, yet it can also be the most challenging and depressing? This can create so much confusion and shame. 

Well Mama, grab a coffee and get comfy because we are diving in head first today. 

I had a very challenging pregnancy with my third. I suffered from chronic migraines and was put on special medication by my OB. I found out that I was pregnant when my middle boy was 8 months old, and I continued to breastfeed until around 12 months. I was on baby number three in the span of three years, chasing around two toddlers, and my body was tired. To say that I was looking forward to having my body back is an understatement.  

Labour and delivery with my third started and stopped, but overall went really well. Recovery was great, feeding was great, and the older kids seemed to adjust fairly well. I experienced a blissful first few weeks postpartum, full of energy and able to get out of bed without a big belly weighing me down. I was out and about visiting with people and adventuring to the zoo with the kids– then it hit.

About 6 weeks after delivery I started to notice I wasn’t feeling like myself. I felt EXHAUSTED:  like it took too much energy to stand up or get out of bed type of exhaustion. I became extremely irritable and was often in tears by the end of the day. I felt myself becoming resentful of little things that didn’t usually matter and noticed that I was having a really hard time coping with everyday things like the kids getting sick. Life happens, kids get sick. But life happening meant they would NEED more from me, which was overwhelming considering I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed. 

Okay, pause. I have to acknowledge that it was really hard for me to share all of that. At the time I wrestled with thoughts of why was this happening to me? Shouldn’t I be able to snap myself out of this? I am a psychotherapist after all. But here is the thing: I am human, I am not exempt. And while this may be hard for me to share, I have to remind myself that this isn’t about me– this is about you. I am sharing so that you don’t have to suffer alone. So that you can work up the courage to be brave and tell someone about how you are feeling. I’ve told a handful of moms my experience and I have been  surprised to find out how many have had a similar struggle.. Adjusting to motherhood is no joke. Whether you experienced mild to moderate postpartum depression, struggled with anxiety, or made it through with only a few gray hairs– Motherhood is a MASSIVE adjustment. 

I am fortunate to have training and know the signs of depression. I gave myself the span of a week or two to shake how I was feeling, and knew that if the feelings lingered I would need talk to someone (other than my husband) about it. I felt the feelings, but I didn’t allow myself to sink into them. I made sure to take care of myself and talk to someone right away, both for my sake but also that of my children. I am a more patient, happy, present, and engaged mom as a result. 

Why do some struggle with postpartum depression and others don’t? Research suggests that roughly 15% of North American women experience moderate to severe postpartum depression. Often people don’t seek help until depression is moderate or severe, therefore it is hard to accurately report those that may have struggled with milder forms. There are many risk factors that make some women more prone to postpartum depression: a history of depression, wanted vs. unwanted pregnancy, the number of children, the presence of breastfeeding challenges, baby colic, ease of delivery, family support, NICU stay, anomalies and/or deformities, mother’s marital relationship satisfaction, and so on. Most, if not all of which are outside of the mothers control. 

All of that to say, many women I speak with feel so much guilt and shame about struggling. Coping with the adjustment to motherhood is A LOT in itself, let alone recovering from a 3rd or 4th degree tear, or having a baby in the NICU that you can’t snuggle and hold. Our birthing stories don’t always go as expected:. maybe you tried very hard but weren’t able to breastfeed. It’s ok to feel sad or disappointed. It’s ok to FEEL. As I mentioned before, just don’t allow yourself to sink into and drown in that feeling. 

How do you know if you are drowning? Well, here is a list of the common warning signs of postpartum depression. Usually you would have several of these and would feel them the majority of the time.

  • A feeling that you are not bonding with your baby

  • Depressed mood the majority of the day. This could look like being tearful, working extra hard to “keep it together”

  • Increase in irritability

  • Lack of patience (more than usual, lol)

  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy

  • Overall feeling of not being happy

  • Increase or decrease in weight and/or appetite

  • Challenges sleeping or wanting to sleep all of the time.

  • Less physical movement

  • Loss of energy or sense of fatigue

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Example: Not feeling good enough and feeling no one cares

  • Impaired concentration or indecisiveness

  • Thoughts of death or thinking about suicide. These may be thoughts like “no one even cares about me”, “no one would notice if I’m gone”, etc. They could also sound like “if I were in a car accident, all of this pressure and responsibility would disappear” (side note: if you are struggling with serious suicidal thoughts, go to you local emergency room and talk with the crisis team, or call a crisis line 1-800-273-8255)

If you are going through this list and feel that this describes how you are feeling, TELL SOMEONE! I promise you, you are not alone. You can make an appointment with your doctor or find a therapist you feel a connection with. Find a mom support group where you can open up and tell your story. Advocate for yourself and your needs: don’t let guilt, shame or fear silence you. By taking care of yourself, you are also taking care of your baby and the bond the two of you share. That is something worth nurturing and protecting. 

Whoa, ok. I know that was a lot of information to take in. If you have struggled with PPD, pop into the comments to share your story. What was your experience and how did you push through it? 

Your story matters <3


Erica Djossa is a psychotherapist who specializes in parenting and postpartum care. She has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology and has spent most of her lifetime observing and learning about various relationship dynamics. As a passionate professional, she works full time in a private practice, writes a parenting and motherhood blog and has appeared on several television segments discussing healthy relationships. She has a desire to educate people on the ways they can nurture and strengthen their relationships with others and also their relationship with themself. Visit www.makeittonap.com or connect with her on www.instagram.com/makeittonap for more information.

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5 Tips for Encouraging Independent Play

Dr. Elizabeth Adams; Child Psychologist and Parent Coach

A version of this blog was originally posted on Parental Guidance:

www.parental.guidanceguide.com

How can I get my child to play alone for a little while?!

This is a question I often hear from parents.

Playing with our children can be fun, is critical to their development and self-concept, and is an important part of connecting.  That being said, independent play is also important for children (and a welcomed break for parents!).  While social play and cooperative play are important skills for children to develop during childhood, solitary play can encourage independence, increase creativity, and promote self-reliance and critical-thinking skills.  For many parents, the idea that their child would play independently seems like a unrealistic dream.  Below are five tips to help foster independent play in children.

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1). Fill the “attention bucket” first.  Engaging with your child in play can actually lay the groundwork for teaching children how to play independently.  While play and exploration is a skill that naturally develops for many children, engaging with them in play schemas and showing them how to engage with materials can support their independent play when they aren’t with you.  Additionally, if you provide some opportunity for child-led play with you where your attention is truly focused on them, the need for them to constantly seek out your attention is diminished.  Setting aside one-on-one, protected time (5-minutes of special time daily is sufficient!) can give kids a touch point that they can depend on, and affords them the comforting knowledge that they will have the time with you eventually, which encourages them to feel at ease to engage in play independently.

2). Examine toy set-up and selection. The toys that we have in our homes can have a big impact on the likelihood that children will play independently.  Toys that entertain a child with the push of a button, or toys that only have a single use, can lead children to tire of the engagement quickly.  Choose toys that encourage open-ended play, and toys that are multi-functional.  Toys such as kitchen sets, dolls, dress-up items, and play sets (e.g., a barn set with animals) encourage imaginative and pretend play, and allow children to utilize their creativity.  Blocks, building sets and train sets are also great ideas to keep children engaged.  An excellent way to initiate independent play is to set-up an invitation to play – you might set-up a tea party with a set and some stuffed animals, assemble part of a train track, or arrange dolls and a doctor’s kit into a “doctor’s office.”  Helping your child by initiating a fun and inviting set-up can ease them into independent play and get them excited about the opportunity to play.

Additionally, be sure to tune into your child’s interests, and have toys that encourage and satisfy their natural curiosities.

3). Scale back the number of toys, and provide an organized system.  The fact is that many families have too many toys.  While this is often the result of well-meaning parents interested in providing their children with lots of opportunities to play, most parents don’t realize that more toys often equals less play.  A study from the University of Toledo in Ohio published in the journal of Infant Behavior and Development found that an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play. Having fewer toys can lead a young child to focus and engage in more creative, imaginative play, and fewer toys resulted  in healthier play and deeper cognitive development. When given fewer toys, toddlers play with them in more varied ways and for longer periods of time.  If you are overwhelmed with the number toys in your home, chances are your child is too.  Go through and donate items that are no longer developmentally appropriate, or consider initiating a “toy rotation” to scale back the number of items and increase the sense of novelty. While you are in the process of weaning down, consider a system to organize toys.  When the environment is overwhelming and scattered, children have a harder time initiating purposeful and productive play.

4). Start small.  If you feel that your child “can’t” play by themselves, start small.  When you are engaging with them, make sure you are not directing their play.  Engage in child-led play, where you allow your child to take the lead and explore the materials.  This will help give them a sense of confidence, and also helps prepare them for play without you.  Be careful to not be critical or too corrective when playing with your child, which can make them feel less confident, and can stifle creativity.  When you move to promoting independent play, manage your expectations and start small.  It would be unrealistic to expect that your child will play independently for hours - encourage short periods of time initially.

5). Circle back.  When your child has engaged in independent play, circle back to them and take an interest in what they have been doing, what they have created, and what they are engaged in.  This type of interest and positive reinforcement can help encourage more independent play (and may even give you a few moments to enjoy a hot cup of coffee!).

 

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org. Learn more at www.personalizedparenting.org.

 

3 Tips for Parenting Young Children During Cold Season

Dr. Adams is now a featured contributor and expert for Guidance Guide (www.parental.guidanceguide.com)! The following blog post can also be found as an expert guide on Guidance Guide!

Winter is here, and so are running noses, the sniffles, and colds that seem to drag on for weeks at a time.  Given that young children are prone to exploring the world using their mouths, and toddlers aren’t known for their hygiene, it is no wonder that kids are often sick. 

 In my work with parents, it is so common to hear that a particularly difficult week occurred during a time when their child was sick.  For lots of kids, they communicate their discomfort with being ill through less than desirable behavior.  Even as adults, when we don’t feel well, it takes a toll on our bodies and our patience.  Young children are unlikely to complain about the specifics of their illness, but they might show you how they feel through irritability or an increase in tantrums. 

Parenting when a child is under the weather can be tricky.  Here are a few tips to get you through:

1). Understand the behavior can be a proxy for emotion – and empathize.  If you suspect that your child is cranky and having a tough time because they don’t feel well, name it to help your child understand it.  You want to empathize with your child about how difficult being sick can be, and how you understand that they don’t feel well.  For many children the experience of being sick can be confusing, and for some kids it might even be scary.  Remembering to remain calm and empathetic will help them through it.  As always, books are a great resource!  Some of my favorites are Bear Feels Sick, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, and Llama Llama Home with Mama.

2). Relax expectations (and keep demands lower than usual). I know that sick days can throw parents through a loop. An unexpected sick day inevitably throws a wrench in workdays and schedules.  While the reality is that we might need to answer emails while our children watches TV, keep in mind that entertaining themselves for an entire day likely isn’t a reasonable expectation for a young child.  Remember to keep demands lower than usual.  This isn’t the time for long shopping trips or picking battles over small behaviors.  Keep things structured and choose your battles carefully.  The one exception?  Sleep.  Sleep is so important when little ones are sick, so try to keep sleep routines as close to normal as possible.

 3). Keep them occupied. Truth be told, I have some nice memories of sick days when I was younger.  While feeling badly is the worst, giving our bodies time to recover and rest can force us to s-l-o-w down and delight in a slower pace.  The “resting” part of not feeling well is often tough for many young kids, and a lack of distraction will only force them to more intensely focus on the fact that they don’t feel well.  My work in hospitals taught me that for sick children (and adults!) distraction is king.  When our minds are not focused on physical symptoms and discomfort, they are not felt as intensely.  As parents, we can harness this knowledge and use it to remember to keep our kids distracted.  Engaging art projects, cooking soup, coloring, reading books, playing board games, and just snuggling up and watching a movie together are great ways to keep the child occupied while not winding them up.  Sensory activities like water beads are also a great idea! Silver lining: it’s a chance to spend some uninterrupted time and finally do some of those quiet, in-home activities we have been hoping to do “when we have the time.” Enjoy the extra snuggles!

Video Blog! Helping Children Get To Bed (and stay there) - The Bedtime Pass Technique

Utilizing a Bedtime Pass

A “Bedtime Pass” is a strategy that you can use with young children (approximately ages 3 to 10) who have a difficult time going to bed on their own, or staying in bed once they have been put down. It’s best used with children who do the following things after being put to bed: call out to parents (e.g., “Mom, I love you.” “Can you come back in?”), cry or yell, or actually leave the room.

It is important to note that for children under two or over ten, this may not work.  Also, it may not be best for children who have lots of behavior problems at times other than bedtime. For these children, other things are probably needed first, before working on the bedtime routine.

 

Using the Bedtime Pass is a multi-step process. Below is an outline for your to follow:

 

1)    Sometime before bedtime on the night that you are to start the program, sit down with your child and explain the procedures. These are the important points to cover:

 a.     Explain that your child is having some difficulty going to sleep on his or her own and that you have come up with an idea of how to help. (e.g., “I know that it’s hard for you to go to bed on your own. So, I’ve made up an idea that may help you.”).

b.     Explain the strategy. Say something like, “You and I are going to make a pass for you to use each and every night. You will get one pass per night. After mommy or daddy puts you to bed, you can use the pass for one free trip out of the room, for some purpose. The reason has to be short and to the point. For example, if you want one last hug or one last trip to the potty, that’s fine. If you use your pass, then you need to give it to mommy or daddy and go straight back to bed.” Stress that it needs to be a short, specific reason (5 min or less).

 c. Explain what should happen after your child uses the pass. Say something like, “After you use your pass, you need to go back to bed and stay there for the rest of the night.”

2) You and your child should now make the pass. You can use 3x5 or 5x7 note cards, thick cardboard cutout to about the size of a small photograph, or some similar material. If you used note cards, you might want to tape several together to make the pass sturdier. Allow your child to color, write on, or otherwise make the pass his/her “own.”

3) Just before bed, hand your child the pass and remind him/her of its purpose. Follow your typical bedtime routine and then leave the room.

4) If your child requests to use the pass, allow this and then take the pass. Send your child back to bed, reminding him/her that it is now time to stay in there and be quiet.

5) If your child calls out AFTER using the pass, ignore this behavior. Even if s/he escalates, continue to ignore the behavior.

6) If your child comes out of the room AFTER using the pass, physically guide him/her back to bed with no/minimal interaction.

7) For the first few nights when you are using the pass, remind your child of the rules of using the pass, give him/her a pass, and follow the same routine. Increasing the Success of the Pass: For many children, simply using the pass will be effective in decreasing bedtime behavior problems. Of course, you will want to verbally praise your child for using the pass and for going to bed like a good boy or girl.

For some children, the pass may result in some improvement, but not as much as you’d hoped for. In this situation, you may also need to add an extra incentive for using the pass.

 

Examples might include:

1) Letting your child pick his or her breakfast (within reason, of course) on mornings after not having any bedtime behavior problems.

2) Offering an afternoon/after school treat when your child didn’t call out or leave the room at all.

3) Providing an opportunity to reach into a grab bag with small treats each morning that there was no resistance.

4) For older children, you can make the rewards more long term, like staying up later on Friday if there was no or minimal bedtime resistance during the week.

Remember, if you are offering incentives; make sure that your child only gets them when there is no bedtime resistance. Also, think about providing more rewards at first, and then decreasing the rewards over time.

5 Ways for Busy Parents to Spend Quality Time with Their Kids

5 Ways for Busy Parents to Spend Quality Time with their Kids

 Life is busy.  Throw a full-time job and kids into the mix, and life becomes especially busy.  Time is a precious commodity for an overloaded parent, and it is also the resource children crave most.  Between a child’s birth and when they leave for college, there are about 940 Saturdays.  If your child is four (like mine is), 208 of those have already passed.  In addition to the ever-fleeting weekends, weekdays are laden with logistics of careers and making it through daily routines (bath, bedtime, homework), with many families clocking-in only two hours of time with their child between work and sleep.

The good news?  Children thrive and gain valuable skills and experiences when they engage in activities (and with caregivers) outside of their parents; and despite busy schedules competing for time and attention, a busy parent is still extraordinarily influential and important in a child’s life.  With a few moments of mindfulness and intentionality, busy parents can make quality time with their children really count. 

1). The Magic of FIVE minutes

Parents, rejoice! Research shows that the amount of quality time needed to make an impact in the relationship with our children might be shorter than we assume.  Several studies have shown that as little as five minutes of 1:1, child-directed play and interaction (at least five times a week) can have a significant impact on parent-child attachment.  5-minutes is brief enough to make it manageable for parents, but long enough to make an impact. 

 

2). Quality over Quantity

If your immediate response to the above was – “I spend far more than five minutes with my child,” it’s important to note that how we are spending that time is critical.  All too often, when we find a moment to interact with our children (or sit down to play with them), we are simultaneously checking email, mentally revising our to-do list, and getting up to throw in one more load of laundry (or tidy-up, or make a meal...).  An important part of making sure the time we are spending with our kids is qualityis ensuring that the time is focused on them.  Put your phone on the other side of the room and make a conscious decision to use the time to be mindful, present, and engaged.

 

3). Schedule it (and follow-through)

Most families have daily and weekly routines or patterns that they follow to make sure tasks get done for the day.  Scheduling some “special time” with your child can become part of the routine, and have powerful implications.  Experts suggested that this special time is focused on play (rather than reading books at bedtime, or another “typical” routine), and it helps to give it a name (i.e., “it’s time for our special play time!”).  Having time scheduled for short periods of focused play, if it occurs on a regular basis, ensures that connecting becomes part of the routine.   Having a visual schedule for your child is a great idea, and anchoring special 1:1 time as part of that routine gives children a sense of security that they will have protected time with you.  This knowledge helps curb frustrations on the part of the child and reduces the likelihood that children will seek our your attention through negative behavior. 

 

4). Build in weekly (or monthly, or yearly) traditions. 

In addition to the frequent, short times of focused play, “special” events and activities can also be treasured memories.  Research supports the idea that family traditions are an important component to healthy families.  They provide children with a sense of security and help to solidify the family as a united entity.  The traditions can be small, and occur on a weekly basis, such as a Friday night pajama walk around the neighborhood, or the reliable Taco Tuesday dinner.  Traditions can also be special moments during the year where you celebrate the relationship between a parent and a child.  In my own family, my brother and I each had a special day once a year that was dedicated to us.  These days could be declared by the child a few days in advance and consisted of a vacation from school, and child-chosen special activities and meals for the day (within reason).  It is still one of my most salient memories from childhood, and one I will carry on with my daughter. 

 

5). Make Routines Playful

One of the difficulties related to finding time is that it is generally taken up by other demands.  Days are filled with rushing to activities, making dinner, and getting kids through routines.  This is especially hard for working parents as the majority of the time they spend with kids is dominated by high-demand times of moving them through routines (i.e., the beginning and end of the day).  Making a mental shift away from thinking about these times as chores to slog through, try to make them more enjoyable.  Don’t be afraid to be a little silly as you are getting them dressed, connect and talk to them on car rides to activities, and engage them in joining you while you make dinner or pack lunches.  You may find that these tasks feel less like a chore, and your children will likely be more cooperative during these moments if you are engaged and having fun.  Yes, including the kids in these activities might result in them taking a bit longer (and might not always be possible), but it is multi-tasking in the best sense of the word – bringing in joy and playfulness to the everyday tasks of parenting. 

 And with that: I know your time is limited – so put down your phone, shut your computer, and go turn some minutes into memories with your kids.

 

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org. Learn more at www.personalizedparenting.org.

 

 

Video Blog! Helping Children Make (and live with) Decisions

Helping Children Make (and live with) Decisions

Helping Children Learn to Make Decisions

Have you ever struggled while helping your child make a decision, or observed how decision-making can be difficult for children?

Consider the following scenario:

Parent:  What would you like for lunch?  Chicken?  Macaroni and Cheese? Peanut Butter and Jelly?

Child:  Mac and Cheese!

*Parent makes mac and cheese and delivers it to child*

Child:  GROSS!  I hate Mac and Cheese.

 

Sound familiar?  If so, the answer to the question above is yes - you have experienced how complicated the decision-making process (and the experience of living with a made decision) can be for children.

 

Decision-making is a skill that is developed over time. With support and help from adults and parents, we can guide children in developing this skill, just as we do other developmental stages.  When we give young children the opportunity to make simple decisions, we are helping to prepare them for the complicated task of making difficult decisions throughout their lives. 

 

Below are some tips and considerations to help children learn the skill of decision-making:

1). Be clear about options.  It is important for children to understand what their options are when making a decision.  We often ask a child to make a choice and assume that they are implicitly aware of the options they have (and the limits of those options).  It is important to discuss the options available to a child when asking them to make a decision, and to also be clear about options that are not on the table.  Doing this will help children make an appropriate choice, and is an important first step in collaborating and teaching kids how to make decisions.

2). Present the choices in a developmental way. With very young children, it can be helpful to limit the number of choices a child has.  Instead of asking ‘what do you want for breakfast?’ you might ask ‘would you like pancakes, waffles, or eggs for breakfast?’  Offering two choices of outfits in the morning is generally a more helpful way of giving a child some control over a choice, while also helping them narrow options to reasonable and appropriate choices. 

I recently asked my 4-year-old daughter what she wanted to be for Halloween and opened up a website where we clicked through various costume options.  With each fun costume, my daughter exclaimed, “I want that one!”  I quickly realized that while it might be appropriate for me to peruse a website to choose options, this is not a developmental task for a child her age.  Four-year old’s have an immediacy bias, and it is normal for them to want whatever they see in the moment when making a choice.  Asking her to hold the information from the previous 10 or 15 choices in her mind while I moved to the next exciting picture was a set-up that wasn’t going to end in a helpful (or careful) decision.  The next day, I printed out pictures of six costumes on six separate pieces of paper.  This gave her limits around her choices (see tip one), and also presented her options in a way that was developmentally appropriate (she could hold each paper and look at the options at the same time).

3). Help children consider options. When we make decisions as adults, we often weigh our options carefully, consider pros and cons, and think through our decisions (on a good day).  This type of critical thinking is not a skill that most children naturally possess, but it is one that can be taught.  Parents should take the time to discuss options with children, so they can practice (with you) the process of making decisions.  Help children weigh options and consider the good points and the bad.  Teaching children this valuable skill can have long-lasting results.

4). Allow children the opportunity to make decisions. Agency and control are experiences that children desire and seek out.  While a child’s willfulness and desire for control can be (very) frustrating, we should provide opportunities for children to exercise independence and agency in a healthy way by guiding them through making decisions and providing (appropriate) opportunities for them to choose.  Through the process of collaborative decision-making, children learn that they are capable of making choices and that they have agency over their choices and behavior, which is an important component of self-control.  Further, children who have the opportunity to make guided choices and have some sense of independence and agency may be less likely to seek control during less appropriate times.  Allowing your child to make everyday choices like what book to read at bedtime, what color cup to drink from, or what outfit to wear are great opportunities to practice decision-making.

5). Help children live with their choices. This can be an important point to cover before a decision is made.  It is important to be clear with children when they make a choice that isn’t subject to change (e.g., what they want for breakfast or which toy they choose from the store).  Parents can discuss this element with children as part of the decision-making process.  Understanding consequences of decisions will likely be difficult for children under three to four to fully grasp, as the concept of cause and effect emerges more fully around that age.  It is almost a guarantee that your child will experience decision remorse, which may be accompanied by tears or tantrums.  Allowing your child the experience of living with their decision will help them understand and develop cause and effect, and will ultimately help them make careful decisions in the future, so consider the protest a learning opportunity (but don’t undo the choice!).

We make hundreds of decisions on a daily basis; by teaching our children the skills necessary to make decisions, we are preparing them to be independent, thoughtful, and responsible in the decisions they make. 

Video Blog! This creative trick will help your child face new situations and transitions with confidence

Today I am going to be talking about how to use personal stories, sometimes called social stories, to support your child as they go through a transition, try something new, or learn a new skill.

Transcript:  

Hi everyone!  Today I am going to be talking about how to use personal stories, sometimes called social stories, to support your child as they go through a transition, try something new, or learn a new skill.

When children go through a new experience, particularly one requiring a big change in routine, it is normal for them to have lots of questions about what to expect, and also to be unsure about what is expected of them.

So, Personal stories are a great way to prepare and ease an anxious child about the unknown, and to teach a spirited child expected ways to behave in a new situation. 

Children love to see themselves in stories -  it helps them make a personal connection, and it will also help them apply the information we share in the story when the transition or new experience happens.

Personals stories can be helpful for learning new skills like potty training, new experiences like going to the dentist, or transitions and changes, like starting a new school.

The first step in creating a social story is taking pictures.  You can use images you find online (like a generic picture of a bus or dentist’s office), but it might also be helpful to take pictures of your child’s new school, classroom. 

Next, write the story.  Include your child’s name, and keep the language simple or at the child’s level.  Include a related image for each page.  Include information about what will happen (like first I will ride on the bus to my new school), include information about what is expected of them (such as “when I get to school, I will put my things in my cubby”).

You can also include details about the concerns your child might have, such as “I may feel a little shy about meeting new friends, but I will be friendly and say hello.”

For these stories, it is most helpful to write in the first person – this helps your child connect to the story. 

You can assemble the story in lots of different ways:  You can simply create it on Microsoft Word and print it.

There are also these amazing blank board books that you can buy on amazon.  For little ones, you can simply use thick clear masking tape to put pictures directly on the book and write the story underneath. 

Or, you can take pictures on your phone, add text, and then save it as an album, which works as your very own personalized E-book.

The next step is to read the story with your child, and use the opportunity to start a dialogue or talk more about what to expect – you may notice the story helps the child open up to you about their concerns. 

If you created a physical book, leave it where you child can access it and look through the pictures. 

While these stories can take a little time to make, the effort often pays off by support a more smooth transition. 

Remember, what each child needs is different, and if you are looking for more support for you or your child, feel free to reach out via our website personalizedparenting.org.

Three More Bites! End Mealtime Madness and Promote a Child's Healthy Relationship with Food

Written by Kaitlyn Jue and Dr. Elizabeth Adams 

I used to dread lunchtime at school.

Managing 14 young children, the contents of their lunches, guiding them to make healthy choices, and ensuring that they all ate enough seemed like an impossible task to take on at noon every day.

Because it was.

I reached a point where this approach didn’t feel right anymore.

There are many days when after eating part of my own lunch, I realize that I’m not hungry enough to eat all of it. On other days, I eat every last bite. There are days where I intuitively want an apple first, while other days all I can think about is enjoying my sandwich/salad/other “main dish” before anything else.

Children have, and will follow, these same intuitions if we give them the time, space, and opportunity to do so.

Current research suggests that much of the conventional wisdom related to how we interact with kids around mealtime is actually counterproductive to meeting health and nutrition goals.  For example, it is so common to see parents pressuring kids to eat their meals. This can take many forms with young children, but parents often encourage their kids to “take a few more bites,” using treats as an incentive to eat more of the presented meal, feeding kids that are able to feed themselves, or resorting to arguing, bribing, yelling, and even punishment as a means to entice more food intake. This desire to pressure children to eat is generally driven by good intentions of the parent - they do not want their child to be hungry or uncomfortable, and they worry about providing them proper nutrition.  

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A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that children who were pressured to eat consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables and ate significantly more foods with less nutritional value compared with children who were not pressured to eat.  Ultimately, the goal for our children is that they are able to make appropriate decisions about food independently, and are able to look to their bodies regarding cues about hunger. When parents put too much pressure on children, we aren’t giving them an opportunity to read their body signals, or develop the capacity to make independent choices about food and regulating what they eat.  Battles also result in frustration and negative feelings about food and nourishing our bodies.

Changing our approach

In November of this past year, we worked together to begin exploring what would happen if we released the micro-management of meal times at school. One day, completely “cold turkey,” we stepped back and let our students take the lead.

Using evidence-based practices, our new approach to lunch management empowered the children to make their own choices about what they ate from their lunch, in what order they ate it, and how much they ate.

One common practice around mealtimes is having children eat a certain amount of a meal in order to get a dessert or treat (e.g., “Take three more bites of your chicken then you can have your brownie”).  Nutritionists suggest that this practice encourages kids to be less mindful of what they are eating. Psychologically, it sets up the meal as a “chore” that kids have to muck through in order to earn the “prize” at the end of the meal, rather than teaching kids the value and appeal of a variety of foods, and how to make choices in a food landscape where lots of choices exist.  This is especially important since children have an immense amount of control over their diets as young as elementary school when many of their choices over food choices, the order of consumption, and amount of intake are generally independent.

In our classroom, given our new approach, when a child asked, “How many more bites of [insert food type here] before I can have my treat?” We’d respond with “Listen to your tummy and choose what you think will help it feel best,” as opposed to providing an ambiguous number (“three more bites”), which is what I had done for years.

At first, I’m fairly certain a few of the kids thought I was joking. And, as expected, there were a few students who dove straight for that “treat” as soon as their lunch boxes were opened. But, over time, I noticed my students speaking intentionally about their food choices and intuitive eating processes with increased mindfulness and confidence.

One day, after taking two bites from a cookie, one student shared, “I think my tummy is all done with my cookie today. I’m going to save it for when I get home.”

On another occasion, a different student was trying to determine what she wanted a bite of, she spoke, “Tummy, what do you want? Do you want the mango? Or crackers? I think my tummy wants both so I’m eating them together like a sandwich.”

 

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Helpful tips for managing mealtime (for teachers and parents)

We as adults are often fearful about allowing kids to take more control over their eating because we worry that children will make only unhealthy food choices, or that they will “starve” without the pressure to eat.  Physically “making” a child eat is not possible, and most toddlers figure out very quickly that this is one of the few domains where they have a lot of control. Below are a few tips to help you work with your child in developing healthy eating habits, and making fueling the body a positive experience.

1). Have developmentally appropriate expectations regarding quantity intake. Parents often pack too much food for young children, and then are dismayed when a lunchbox returns home half-full.  Education regarding typical and nourishing amounts and types of food for growing children is an appropriate place to start!

2). Present a variety of foods, including somme options you know your kids will eat. Repeated exposure to new and healthy foods is key!  One aspect parents can control in many mealtime situations is what food is offered.  Focus on offering a variety of options, and give your child the control is choosing which of the foods they will eat, and how much of each they will eat.

3). Be mindful of what you focus on. It is far more important to talk about food in terms of fuel, and the positive aspects of different foods, instead of labeling foods as “good” and “bad.”  Use mealtimes as a time to also focus on connection and being together, and make the presence of your child at a family meal mandatory, rather than making a certain number of bits the mandatory focus.  Encourage kids to listen to their bodies, and recognize cues about hunger and fullness. Praise trying new things and kids expression of paying attention to signals, rather than praising eating certain amounts or avoiding certain foods.

4). Relax! Taking the pressure off takes some getting used to, and can activate anxiety in parents and caregivers.  Rest easy that children may learn from a natural consequence of being hungry if they choose not to eat at dinner (tip:  set the dinner aside for later, or keep fruits and veggies on hand as “anytime food” if they indicate their tummy is telling them they are hungry!). These learning experiences of cause and effect will help them to grow and understand how to read their body’s cues, and respond accordingly.

For more tips on developing healthy eating habits at home, see our evidence-based infographic below:

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Mealtime should be a positive experience for the family; one that is focused on fueling bodies, and connecting over a conversation and a shared meal.  In the landscape of “picking battles,” micromanaging food intake is likely a smart one to give up - and you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.

Supporting Your Child's Innate Need for Gross Motor Play

By Guest Blogger:  Kaitlyn Jue

Gross motor play (also known as “rough play” or “big body play”) is an essential part of your child’s development. This refers to any game or play schema that incorporates the actions of running, spinning, twirling, tackling, rolling, and any other movement pattern that may use the large muscles of the body. There is overwhelming research to support the need for unstructured gross motor play in a child’s daily life, and it is valuable that we as caregivers recognize this need and provide children with these play opportunities regularly.

Before diving in to how we can best support this part of child development, I want to clearly differentiate gross motor play from “fighting” and real conflict between peers. Here are some quick physical clues to help distinguish between the two:

A child is engaging in play if…

  1. All play participants are visibly enjoying their interactions with each other. You may see the  children smiling, laughing, and engaging in constructive conversation as their game continues to grow.
  2. Requests to “stop!” are listened to and honored by the children involved.
  3. All children involved are willingly participating in the given play schema or game.

A child is NOT engaging in play if…

  1. One or more play participants seem angry, sad, or scared.
  2. Requests to “stop!” go ignored.
  3. One or more participants appear to want to escape the game.

When observing children play, at first glance these two scenarios may appear very similar. You may see a group of children chasing each other, or two peers wrestling and tumbling together. Before stepping in, stop and assess the situation, looking for the clues mentioned above. Ask yourself, are the children actually fighting? Or are they simply playing? 

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We know that gross motor play is necessary to nurture a child’s development. Gross motor play has countless benefits, including enhanced language development and cognitive function. Perhaps one of the most beneficial pieces of gross motor play is that it provides children with the opportunity to experience and navigate challenges on their own and in their own “world”. Sometimes two children playfully and happily wrestling together may result in an accidental bump or a misread social signal for how to play the game at hand. These are challenging moments, but they are essential to prepare our children to navigate the world as they continue to grow. Just as adults, children learn best through their own trial and error.

 

There are two main ways that caregivers can support a child’s need for gross motor play:

1)    Intentionally carve out unstructured playtime in a setting where gross motor play is appropriate.

This may look like play time at a park after school, play dates at an indoor play space, or clearing away the majority of the living room furniture to provide space for children to tumble around. We can find creative and innovative ways to create opportunities for our children to experience gross motor play, even when access to open or outdoor spaces is limited.  If for some reason our schedules or circumstances don’t allow for this, that brings us to the second way we can support our children….

2)    Adjust behavioral expectations when gross motor play isn’t an option (but probably necessary).

A lack of gross motor play is associated with increased restlessness inattention in children. Whether this looks like an extra energetic child stuck inside on a stormy day, or students in a classroom visibly ready to run around the playground but who still have 10 more minutes of “Book Time,” these are challenging moments – for both the adult AND the child. When these moments arise, we can recognize what our children’s energetic or fidgety behavior may be communicating in that moment and approach them with compassion and understanding.

As a teacher, for me this means that sometimes “Book Time” ends early and is replaced with a mini dance party. It may look like allowing a child who is rolling around on the floor to continue to do so; because what I know about that child’s needs, combined with knowing how few opportunities the child has had for gross motor play that day, tells me that the child’s rolling is communicating a need for movement. If gross motor movement isn’t an option in that moment, I try to approach that behavior with patience and understanding.

For a child, their most important job each day is to learn through play. This is how friendship amongst children grows and strengthens. This is how life lessons are learned and committed to memory for future encounters. This is truly how our children learn best J.

Recommended resource:  Big Body Play by Frances M Carlson

The Power of Teaching Kids Mindfulness, and Four Tips for Parents

By Guest Blogger:  Rhiannon Landesberg

I teach yoga and mindfulness practices to over 200 students a week at the River School in Washington, D.C. This class gives students as young as 2 years old tools to connect with their breath, bodies, and feelings through music, movement, stories, and relaxation. My curriculum allows students and teachers the opportunity to pause and breathe. To stop and notice. To listen and feel.  

I often ask my youngest yoga students, “What does it mean to be mindful?”

“Mindful is when you pay attention to right now,” one of my first graders responds. “Like your mind is full of just right now.”

Studies show that mindfulness training leads to structural changes in the brain. It can enhance attention, awareness, impulse control, and executive functioning skills. It helps cultivate compassion and overall well-being in both children and adults.

Witnessing the effects these practices have not only on the well-being of students, but also on teachers and parents, has been particularly rewarding. I often hear stories from parents and teachers about how their student or child used deep breathing as a tool to self-regulate in a difficult moment or how they practice yoga poses at bedtime when they are feeling anxious and can’t settle.

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In the busy world of having a child, it might feel like there is never enough time. Between school, activities, meals, and everything else that family demands, the stress of everyday life can be overwhelming for parents, and that stress is often compounded in children. We all need space where we can just be - without expectations. Bringing mindfulness into your home, even in just small, bite-sized ways, can make all the difference for your child’s social-emotional development and overall well-being, not to mention your own! Here are four tips to keep in mind when introducing mindfulness to your child:

Make space for peace

Making a peace corner (or any small space dedicated to your mindfulness practice) can be a special activity that you engage in with your child, while also introducing mindfulness in a fun way.

Your peace corner can be adorned with favorite things that bring you joy, such as a plant, a rock, a stuffed animal, or your child’s favorite books. This is a place where you or your child go when you need to re-focus or re-set. You can discuss what peace means to each of you. Color, read, take deep breaths with a breathing ball or meditate with a DIY mind jar. These are all ways to make your space extra mindful!

Celebrate emotions

There is often a misconception that mindfulness=happiness. Mindfulness is the awareness of our range of emotions and the ability to feel and experience them all without judgement. We should be teaching children that it is not shameful to have uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. It is about how we deal with them that matters. The practice of labeling emotions can help your child process them easier. When we label an intense emotion like fear or anger as it arises, it begins to lose its power over us.

Ahn’s Anger is the story about a little boy who learns how to sit with and befriend his anger. As he welcomes his anger, his anger grows smaller and smaller until it disappears. I love this book because it has allowed me to have such enlightening conversations with children about how anger feels in their bodies, minds, and hearts. Giving children the tools to talk about and manage their emotions in a healthy way, without judgement, will empower them for life.

Practice Gratitude

A grateful heart allows us to remember and celebrate the good things instead of dwelling on the bad. A gratitude practice can increase feelings of happiness and well-being for both you and your child. Studies show that gratitude enhances our sense of empathy, mental strength and self-esteem.. A simple gratitude practice is an amazing tool to introduce in to your daily conversations with your kiddo.

You can have this conversation in the car or on the bus, at the dinner table, or even make a gratitude jar for your home. Everyone can contribute something, and when you or your child are feeling down, pull out a piece of paper as a beautiful reminder of all of your many blessings. This practice will surely bring joy to you and your child.

Get moving

It’s great to have your child participate in drop-off group activities and sports, but make sure that you are carving out time to cultivate a love of movement that includes both you and your child.

Take a walk in nature, plant a garden, do a race for charity, have a living room dance party or practice these fun yoga and partner yoga poses. Not only will these make for positive connections for a healthy love of physical exercise, it will fuel your endorphins, relieve stress and serve as an incredible bonding experience for all.  

A mindfulness practice can set your child up with physical, emotional and mental strength to navigate life’s challenges with confidence and resilience. In addition to your child’s social-emotional development, your well-being will be enhanced and you will see the world in a more compassionate way. Taking the time to pause and breathe, stop and notice, listen and feel, move and be still with your child are simple, yet powerful ways that you can begin to harness the magic of mindfulness.

Rhiannon is a child, family and adult yoga and mindfulness specialist based in Washington D.C. For the past seven years she has been sharing her love of mindful movement in schools as well as partnering with a number of non-profit and community organizations. She is passionate about getting tools for health and well-being in the hands and hearts of people of all ages and backgrounds.

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Tough Topics: 7 Tips for Talking to Kids about Race

In talking with friends — and in my work as a child psychologist — parents often say that what they want most is for their child to be kind. Many parents have told me that for their child to be racist or bigoted would (understandably) be a tragedy to them. I also know that many parents, particularly white parents, have not given much thought about how to raise a racially conscious child or are overwhelmed and unsure where to begin.  

Why it’s necessary

This post is about how to talk to children about race.  While the information here may be helpful for all parents, it is important to note that the conversations parents have with their children about race will be different based on family background.  That is to say, the conversations parents of color have with their children differ in significant and necessary ways some conversations white parents have with their children.

Children WILL learn about race and racism, and they will be better off if we as parents can control the dialogue and teach them about race in a constructive way.  For many parents, initiating these conversations feels paralyzing, and research suggests that many white parents rarely, if ever, discuss race with their child (which itself is a privilege unknown to children and parents of color). The reasons for avoiding these conversations usually stem from a fear of being seen as racist just by discussing race, wanting to protect children from feeling scared or feeling badly, or simply having no idea what to say or where to begin. When white parents do talk to their children about race, it is often in a negative context (like a hate crime), or when it is relevant to their lives specifically. Otherwise, there is often a belief that simply telling their children ‘all people are the same and they should not see race’ is enough.  It is not enough.

These conversations are difficult and daunting, but are also necessary. Unfortunately, our children are exposed to violence, hatred, and non-inclusive rhetoric. As parents, we have a responsibility to help children process and understand what they are exposed to, and to counteract negative messages they may hear.

Many parents avoid talking with their children about race in an effort to protect them from exposure to hate that exists in the world.  While children certainly need us to protect them, they also need us to be honest about the way the way the world is and share information with them about the way we think it should be.

If we want to raise the next generation of children to be more inclusive and accepting, a powerful way to do so is by controlling and initiating the conversation about race with all children (including children who are white). Children are perceptive, they see what is happening around them, and when we do not acknowledge injustice that exists it is confusing and can make kids feel unsafe.

Talking about race is not racist

Talking about race is incredibly important, and necessary if we want to raise inclusive, accepting, and racially conscious children.

When white parents tell their children that they should not see race, the intention is often to communicate that race shouldn’t matter in how people are treated.

The problem with this message is that it instead communicates that it doesn’t matter.

If we want to work towards a racially just society, our children need to develop a deep understanding of race and diversity, and a specific set of skills to confront and manage racism.

This understanding and ability will not be developed through the silence of parents. We would not expect our children to become fluent and knowledgeable in other subject domains without explicit instruction, guidance, teaching, and skill building, and the ability to understand and discuss race is no different.

Here are a few tips, and some resources, to help begin this important conversation with your child.

Start young

When I suggest starting young, I mean immediately and as soon as possible.  Include books and toys for your child that are representative and diverse. There are lots of great books (including board books for babies) that you can purchase or borrow from a library.

Some wonderful examples are Shades of People by Sheila M. Kelly, The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, and A Rainbow of Friends, by PK Hallinan.

Develop meaningful and authentic relationships with people that are different from you

And encourage your children to do the same. One of the most powerful ways to combat stereotypes and encourage acceptance is to have meaningful relationships with people that are different from us.  Personal connections are often the starting point for change.

Develop self-awareness about racist beliefs

This is a difficult one, but if we truly want our children to think deeply about the complexities of race and understand systematic bias that exists in our society, we have to first look at our own biases as parents.

We all carry incorrect information and stereotypes about people. As parents, we need to examine our own behavior and ensure that we are acting as a model of inclusiveness. This means examining how we interact with others and thinking critically about the language we use.

Understand stereotypes and counter-narratives

As mentioned above, most of us carry stereotypes.  Negative images in the media and consistent exposure to stereotypes form the foundation for bias.  The easiest way to counteract this is to identify stereotypes and construct a counter-narrative.  One powerful way to combat stereotypes is to share stories with your children about leaders and positive examples of diverse individuals.

Learn how to intervene

When some of us suffer or are treated unfairly, we all suffer. Show your children that antiracist action can be accomplished in many ways. While many people don’t intervene in certain situations out of fear, there are ways to stand up to injustice and instill important lessons.

You can take a stand against ethnic, racist, sexist, or other oppressive jokes or dialogue.

You can mean volunteer or make a donation to a group with a mission of diversity and inclusiveness and discuss it with your child (you might even bring them along to volunteer). You can speak out publicly against injustice, or attend a demonstration against discrimination (again, maybe with your children).

Talk to your children about different ways they can safely intervene and how to stand up and not be a bystander to injustice.

Talk about fairness and unfairness

This is a good place to start with kids.  Many young children latch on, and deeply understand, the idea of something being “fair” (if you are a parent, no doubt you know this).  When you witness discrimination, label it, and address it as being “unfair.”  This is a great way to start the conversation.

Keep talking about it

There will come a time when you are at a loss for words.  If you are caught off guard by a question your child asks, don’t be afraid to say, “let me think about that and get back to you” – but make absolutely sure you do just that.  Don’t worry if you stumble or “mess up” (I do, too), bring it up again, revisit the conversation, and keep having the conversation.

More tips and resources

http://www.raceconscious.org/strategies/

http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-competence

The original version of the article was published on All The Moms on August 14, 2017   http://allthemoms.com/2017/08/14/7-tips-for-talking-to-kids-about-race-discrimination

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone-based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here: www.personalizedparenting.org.

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Honoring Your Child's "No" - Let's Teach Kids about Consent

This might seem like a radical idea to many people, but teaching kids about healthy boundaries and consent is something that we can (and should) begin to do at a young age.  In fact, many ways that we “conventionally” interact with children can inadvertently send mixed messages about consent and body autonomy.

When I talk about teaching children boundaries around their body, and about consent at a young age, many parents wonder if I am suggesting that we teach toddlers about sex.  I am not.  What I am suggesting is that we teach our children that they have the right to decide who touches their body, how their body is touched (generally speaking), and that it is ok to decline someone’s touch or physical affection.  Think about it – do we want our teenagers to understand these basic principles?  Of course we do.  These skills, and the feelings of agency over our own bodies, don’t just suddenly develop when we become young adults.  Our children will have much healthier (and safer) experiences if we lay the groundwork for body autonomy, healthy boundaries, and consent at a young age.

So, how do we do that?  We accomplish this goal through teaching, modeling, and being very mindful about our own interactions with our children.

Here are some guidelines to get us started:

1).  If our child declines a kiss, or tells us to stop tickling, listen.  Sometimes, I will ask my daughter if I can give her a hug, or ask if she has any kisses to give Mommy; and sometimes, her answer is no.  I could respond to this in several ways: I could hug or kiss her anyway, I could attempt a “playful” pout, or I could ask her over and over again until she gives me one. But what message would that send her? Not one I want her to learn.  I do not want her to think that it is ok for anyone to pressure her into physical affection.  I do not want her to think that it is normal (or ok) for someone to make her feel guilty or punished because she chose not to give a kiss or a hug.  Although my “inside-Mommy” might pout, I make sure to keep a smile on my face and reply with, “thanks for letting me know,” or “you are the boss of your body,” or a simple “Ok!”  I want to teach her that it is ALWAYS ok to say no to a touch, a kiss, or a hug.  And that she never has to feel badly about it. Do I sometimes just snuggle and hug her without asking?  Of course I do; but if she asks me to stop, I immediately honor that request. 

The same goes for tickling.  In our house, if a child tells us to stop tickling, we stop.  Immediately.  I will often reflect the language back – “you told me to stop, so I am stopping!”  Certainly, there are times when my daughter will say, “Tickle me again!” and so I will.  But I want her to be able to explore and understand that the power of her words are just that – powerful.  And we will listen and honor her words by respecting boundaries in this regard.

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2).  Ask our children if they want to give a hug.  This one is tricky – particularly for certain members of my family who have a strong cultural lens where physical affection among family (or even strangers) is customary.  It is commonplace for us to say to our children, “hug your uncle,” or “kiss your grandmother,” even if it seems like they don’t want to.  Instead of making these demands, we should ask if they would like to give a hug (and accept a “no” if that is the answer!).

We should think carefully about this, and consider whether or not we want to condition our children to learn that they must comply when told to give a kiss or a hug, just the way we would expect them to listen when told to brush their teeth or use gentle hands.  In our family, we see these as different and distinct.  While there are a number of demands that my child must meet on a daily basis, kissing and hugging people if she does not want to is not one of them.  That is her choice and hers alone.  I want her to have the confidence in my presence, as well as when I am not there.  It is profoundly important to me that she does not internalize the belief that if someone demands a physical touch, she must comply.  I know it is difficult to think about someone manipulating our children this way, but it is critical that we teach them they can say no (for girls and boys, for young children and adults).

3). Teach our children to ask others if they want a hug. This is the inverse of the above.  It does not hurt to model for our kids by asking them, “Can I give you a hug?”  We can also teach our children to ask friends for permission.  If we strive for this to be the typical interaction, we are laying groundwork for our children to understand that asking before we touch someone is normal and respectful, and not something that should feel awkward. 

4). Teach our kids there are many ways to say no. While it seems like the favorite word of most 2- and 3-year-olds is “no,” we can help our children by teaching them to read cues.  The ability to read emotion in someone’s face, or understand body language, is a skill set that has value well beyond consent (it is the foundation for social skills, reading a crowd, making connections, and even closing business deals).  If we are walking a child through the above interactions and they don’t say “no,” but otherwise make it clear they do not want a hug (e.g., pulling away, looking hesitant), I might say, “you are keeping your hands by your side which shows me you don’t want a hug, and that’s ok!”  When children do use their words to explicitly express a boundary (e.g., I don’t like that; stop; no), we should thank them for telling us how they feel.  And remind them of the next point…

 5). Be explicit about agency – “you are the boss of your body.” This is a common phrase that we should say to children.  If they decline a hug or a kiss (or ask for one from us), or if they ask for privacy while using the bathroom (my daughter’s new favorite thing), I usually respond by respecting this request and saying, “you are the boss of your body.”  This also works as a good reminder if she is playing in a way another child doesn’t like (e.g., is too rough, or tickling too much and a child asks her to stop), I might say, “you need to stop, he is the boss of his body.”

6). Talk openly and often about boundaries and bodies. When we lay the groundwork for open and healthy communication about bodies and boundaries, we establish a foundation for our children to turn to us as reliable sources of information on difficult and taboo subjects.  We also model that talking about boundaries and bodies with people we are close to is important and should be part of a healthy dialogue.

Our conversations with young children can have a lasting impact on their sense of control and autonomy of their own bodies, and a respect for the autonomy of others.  Planting these seeds early will help our children develop safe and healthy relationships throughout their lives.

Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.

Three Questions You Should Ask Your Child's Teacher

By Guest Blogger:  Kaitlyn Jue

One of the most important relationships your child has is that with their teacher. Outside of primary caregivers, your child’s teacher is likely the adult they spend the most time with five days a week. The quality of that teacher-child relationship will influence your child’s overall experience in school.

Research shows us that when early childhood educators approach classroom and behavior management from a positive, strengths-based lens, teacher-child interactions improve. Take advantage of parent-teacher conversations and catch a glimpse of who your child is through their teacher’s eyes. Focus conversation on understanding the positive traits the teacher works to foster each day, which may even offer continued strategies that could help support your child at home.

Here are three suggested questions to help get the conversation going:

What are my child’s strengths?

Conversations that centers on your child’s strengths in school will provide encouragement for both the teacher and parent. If and when there are instances when a child would benefit from support with a specific behavior or academic domain, solutions can be developed based on the child’s strengths. For instance, if a child consistently struggles to navigate transitions throughout the school day, the teacher examines their relationship with that child (always taking the child’s strengths into consideration) to determine the best possible solution for supporting the child through these tricky moments. Taking a strengths-based approach to teaching cultivates a positive teacher-child relationship, which can in turn influence impactful and productive collaboration with the child’s primary caregivers.

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What motivates my child?

  When a child feels safe and loved, they will be motivated to have fun and learn. Finding a way to positively motivate children in an individualized way is key to child success in school. Some children need positive reinforcement through affirming and reflective language. Some children need warmth and understanding. Some children need emotional reassurance yet firm expectations. No two children will respond identically to a given motivational approach. A teacher learns how to best support and motivate your child through cultivating a loving, trusting, and mutually respectful relationship.

 What is/are your favorite thing(s) to do with my child?

 As with any successful relationship, quality time together is key. In the classroom, this may look like a teacher-student pair collaborating on a puzzle or Lego tower. It may look like a teacher providing a shoulder to cry on during a sad moment for a child. Or, it may look like the teacher and child talking through some angry or frustrated emotions together. All of these moments (and more!) build upon each other to create a beautiful and powerful teacher-child duo.

Anytime I see or hear the book, The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, I think of a past student who got so much joy out of reading it with me over and over and over again. When I see a bright pink bento lunchbox container, I am reminded of a student who was so proud to explain to me the contents of her lunch every afternoon. Anytime I use a big foam dice for an activity, I think of a student who loved numbers so much and visibly cherished his one-on-one time with me playing math games. And, when I walk by a specific bathroom at school, I am reminded of one tough, relationship-strengthening morning where a student and I worked through some tough emotions together as I supported him to complete a new bathroom routine.

Whenever I am faced with a dilemma on how to support a specific student through a challenge, I reference these moments that I’ve had with that child. What have those moments taught me? What motivates that child? How can I use that child’s strengths to set the child up for success?

Your child and his/her teacher share these same invaluable moments. As you continue to navigate the crazy and incredibly challenging world of parenting, I encourage you to find a moment and look at your child through their teacher’s eyes. Aside from creating memorable moments with my students, nothing gives me more joy than communicating to a parent what kind of person I see their child to be, because all children are strong and inspiring individuals.

Kaitlyn Jue holds a BA in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The College of Wooster and an MA in Special Education and Human Development from The George Washington University. She has been working in the field of early childhood education, specifically preschool education, for seven years. Kaitlyn currently works as an educator at The River School teaching 3 and 4 year old children. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband. 

"Why won't my child listen unless I yell?!" Here is why, and how to break the cycle

Written by Elizabeth Adams and Nancy Schwartz 

“Why does no one listen unless I yell?!” Here is why, and even better, some simple steps to stop this pattern from repeating itself over and over in your household.  

Did you know that there is research that shows a reasonable estimate of the number of commands a young child receives is one per minute?  Commands given to our children occur during all types of activities, with some studies documenting and average of 10 commands or more in 17 minutes during mealtimes (e.g., "take three more bits, eat your food, stop throwing potatoes at your sister.")  Take a minute to do the math and you can see that over the course of a day, a child might receive upwards of four to six hundred commands.  Four to six hundred.  Wow.  No wonder our kids aren’t listening to what we say. 

The thing is, we (very accidentally) teach kids not to listen until we yell.  You just read the astonishing number of commands parents give.  Kids need some way to figure out how to filter for the important things!  Often, yelling becomes an easy way to distinguish between a real command and a choice.

The other reason yelling is "effective" is because we don’t follow up commands to ensure kids follow through.  How could you? There is no way that we as parents can appropriately and consistently follow-up on 400 commands in a given day.  It just wouldn’t be possible for ANY parent! Instead, we might find ourselves repeating a command over and over, getting increasingly frustrated, or not following-through at all and just letting the matter drop (because we really don’t have the energy/don’t care that much that they listen in the first place).  This inconsistency is confusing for kids, and they are left to wonder which commands are a choice, and which they are really supposed to listen to. 

And so, all too often, yelling ends up becoming the follow-through. (which doesn’t feel good for anyone).

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Now, we have ALL found ourselves in a moment realizing that we spent that last 30-minutes shouting out a list of orders to our kids:  “Put that down!  Don’t climb that.  Be careful.  Watch out.  Share your toys..” and on and on…and on.  Yes, we have all been there, done that.  But it is frustrating for you, and it is really frustrating for our kids.  So let’s break down why this is happening, and what you can do to change the pattern.

Here is the chain of events involved:

1). Imagine you were on the receiving end of all this high-frequency commanding.  You would find it really unpleasant, and frankly, rather annoying.  It would be the kind of thing you would vent about to anyone who would listen—“My boss tells me what to do every 1.3 seconds.  I’m not kidding.  I started timing it and it’s true!” Kids are no different. When they are inundated with rapid fire commands, or commands coming at them all day long, it is frustrating, unpleasant, and annoying for them.  Which then leads to the fact that…

2). When kids receive too many commands, the chance of them listening goes down significantly.  And when kids feel too overwhelmed and frustrated, they tend to shut down, throw a tantrum, or just ignore the commands entirely.  Which then leads to…

3).  Parents feeling overwhelmed and frustrated themselves, and that’s when our own tantrums kick in, or at the least, the yelling begins!

So, how do we break this cycle of frustration?  Easy. Decrease the number of commands you give your child.  Ok, great, you say.  But how do we do that and make it through a day, clothed, fed, bathed, safe, and on time?  That can be easy (or easier), too.  You just have to:  pick your battles, help your child follow-through with the commands you do give,  and use alternate strategies instead of giving a command in the first place. 

Picking Battles:

Step One:  Choose your commands carefully:  The first step in picking battles is really being mindful about your commands, and when you are choosing to give them.  Reducing the number of commands helps kids comply because they aren’t stressed and frustrated with a barrage of requests and instructions coming at them.  All. Day. Long.

Giving commands is inevitable - we are going to have to tell our kids to brush their teeth, put away the toy, etc.  So, Save it for when it counts.  Try to listen to yourself and pay attention to your interactions.  Imagine how it feels for your child.  If you notice that you are predominately correcting and commanding, it might be time to make a shift.  Ask yourself if you truly care about the command you are about to give.  If the answer is yes, by all means, command away.  But if you can let it go, or approach it another way (keep reading to find out how) try that instead.  You will both feel better for it.

Step two –Follow up so they follow-through:  Ever have the experience of finding yourself making the same request of your child over and over (and over and over and over)?  Sometimes the string of asking nicely a million times inevitably ends with a frustrated parent finally yelling the command (see totally relatable video below). 

This loop of repetition and escalation is all too familiar, right? When I was younger (but honestly, old enough to remember), I figured out that when my mom said “put on your jacket” what that really meant was that I had ten more minutes to do whatever I was doing, and at least four more “put on your jackets” until it was really time to go and Mom meant business (sorry, Mom).  The thing is, part of getting kids to listen to our directions is to follow up on commands so that kids follow through.

As our children are learning the lessons of when and how to listen and follow instructions, we will teach them best if we give the instruction once.  Then, if they don’t listen, we follow up by doing something different to ensure that they follow through. 

For example, after first giving a two-minute warning such as “in two minutes, we have to leave the house!”,  you might ask your child once to put on their jacket (i.e., “Lili, it’s time to get into the car to go to school, please put on your jacket.”).  *Give yourself bonus points for providing both a reason and a clear instruction!*  If Lili doesn’t hop on up to put her jacket on (when does that ever happen with a 2/3-year-old?), repeating the command over and over isn’t going to help anything, and will likely end up in a frustrating power struggle. 

Instead – do something different to follow up.  Change the tactic.  Walk over to the child, with the jacket in hand.  Make sure they are looking at you and you have their attention.  Get on eye level and repeat the command, along with the offer of a hand to walk them to the jacket.  Handling it this way will prevent you from saying the same thing repeatedly (with no change in response), help you avoid a confrontation, and teach your child the sequence of listening after you give a directive.

Step three (a pick your battle life-hack) Use alternate strategies:  One question that often comes up is how to lower the frequency of commands when kids require so many directives to get through the day.  One alternative to giving a command is something called “I statements with environmental control” (so fancy).  To explain, let me paint the scene:  you are at your aunt’s house and your four-year-old enthusiastically begins running around, waving a breakable heirloom over his head.  You need your sweet one to put it down.  You could choose the approach of giving the directive “Please put that down gently!” (I know what you are thinking:  that is NOT how that would sound).  You also have another choice:  you can get up, go over to the child, and as calmly as possible take the object out their hand.  While you place it down on a high shelf you can say, “I am going to put this over here so it doesn’t break” (I statement with environmental control). 

This approach is helpful because it solves the issue at hand while side-stepping a potential conflict.  After all, what happens if the child says no/ignores you/runs away?  It also avoids the likelihood of you repeating the command over and over again (aka adding to the day’s command payload) while probably breaking the heirloom in the meantime!  Try this strategy in a variety of scenarios and notice how it can really help to reduce commands and help you avoid power struggles.

These tips are intended to help us navigate day-to-day commands with a little more peace, and a little less conflict—something nearly all parents long for.  But remember, perfection on the part of parents is unrealistic, not to mention unattainable, unnecessary and not expected!  We will all fall into the cycle of repetition from time to time – and we live and learn.   

 Remember that what each child needs is different.  Dr. Adams provides individual (Skype or phone based) parent coaching to address a range of concerns (e.g., sleep struggles, tantrums, limit testing, co-parenting issues).  Email Dr. Adams for more information, or to schedule an appointment at dradams@personalizedparenting.org, or learn more here:  www.personalizedparenting.org.