Archives for 2019

The Importance of Play

If you’ve ever visited a Montessori classroom, you may have noticed something odd about the language that is used. Children are invited to choose their ‘work’ from the shelf. They are invited to find work to do with their friend. Why do they talk like that? For parents familiar with play-based preschool programs, this emphasis on “work” seems inappropriate to a preschool setting.

As adults, we often think of “work” as that which we have to do. If it’s “work” by definition, it is not “fun.” Merriam Webster defines work as “an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Play, on the other hand, is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

Dr. Maria Montessori, in her research of child development, famously stated, “Play is the work of the child.” Translation: when children play (engage in an activity for enjoyment) they are working (involved in mental or physical effort which achieves a purpose or result).

In other words, when they play, children are working on many things.  

Play helps them develop fine and gross motor skills, improve self-regulation, develop cognitive and intellectual abilities, learn social skills, and increase their ability to imagine and create.

There are so many benefits of play for the developing child. And yet, for a variety of reasons — full calendars, changes in family structure, and increased attention to enrichment activities and academics — children today have less time each day for recess at school and child-led play outside of school. The rise of electronic access to passive entertainment has also stolen time from healthy, active, creative play.

Free-play is different from an arranged play date, participation on a sports team, or adult-led group lessons in music, dance, or sports. While those things are all valuable, children also need unstructured time to engage with other children and their environment. Free-play invites them to imagine, create, negotiate, lead, and relinquish leadership.  

When children are offered time to play without structure imposed by an adult, it creates a space for the child and his/her peers to “be in charge.” There is no adult directing the activity, no adult making the decisions about what will be done next, no adult expectations imposed upon the child, and no assigned tasks. This invites the child to decide what will be done and how will it be done. The child has the freedom to imagine and then execute. To try, to fail, to succeed, to engage with other children in order to accomplish that which they have imagined.  

It encourages them to think and develop problem-solving skills. It gives them real-time feedback and consequences. They envision something that works and are rewarded with the satisfaction of a plan well executed. They attempt something that fails and are given the opportunity to build resilience, to develop evaluation and analysis skills, and then to try again.  

Children who have not had the opportunity to spend much time in unstructured, child-led play may need some practice before it feels natural and comfortable. If they are used to being told what to do and how to do it, calling upon their own creativity may not come easy for them. You are likely to hear, “I’m bored.”  But boredom is not a bad thing — being bored spurs our imagination and invites us to figure out what would give us satisfaction and joy, right here, right now.

At first, they may do nothing, but being still and doing nothing is not a bad thing. Laying in the grass doing nothing but watching the birds and the clouds float by is not a bad thing. Much has been written about the perils of day-dreaming, but research is now discovering the benefits of letting our minds wander. A recent study reported in the journal Learning and Individual Differences that a wandering mind improves creativity and metacognition (understanding of one’s own thoughts). Better understanding of yourself leads to improved self-regulation and enhanced well-being. (Daydreaming is good for adults, too!)

If your child’s day is full from beginning to end, try to find a way to carve out some “down time” when nothing is scheduled so they can just play, without adult direction or involvement. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to imagine, then plan, and then try.  

Where will their imagination and creativity take them? Lots of good places!

Want to learn more about the benefits of play for growing children, visit The Genius of Play.  
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Features of the perfect free-play environment:

Feature: Benefit
Unstructured: Invites children to use their creativity and imagination – to invent the activity all on their own.
Child-led: Lets the child take responsibility for the activity, encourages imagination and creativity, lets them do only what they want to do.
Open-ended: Builds skills in creating processes, procedures, and social interactions when there is no adult decreed task to complete.
Loose Parts: Contains bits and pieces of things that can be used in many different ways to support their play.

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Helping Kids Cope

Disappointments and difficulties are a part of life. Economic circumstance, political upheaval, and family dynamics can create hardship and adverse life circumstances for children and their families. Sometimes children and families also experience truly traumatic events.

How do we – and our children – cope with both everyday difficulties and larger life trauma?  How can we help our children learn coping skills? Research examines resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties – in an effort to answer those questions.  

Over the last two decades numerous research studies have examined psychological resilience in children, looking to identify the special traits or skills that help children navigate difficult circumstances and overcome adversity.  Surprisingly, what they found is that it is not special traits or skills that help people who cope well with adversity. Instead, people who develop resilience call on the normal coping mechanisms available to us all.

What studies have found is that the key to helping kids learn how to cope turns out to be many of the same things that help kids grow up well: effective parenting, connections with competent and caring adults, self-regulation skills, a positive view of themselves, and the motivation to succeed.

Thus, everyone has the capacity for resilience.  Parents help support their children’s development – including developing their ability to cope – right from the beginning. Young children begin developing resilience as they learn from the responses of their caregivers.

Parents, with the support of other caring family members and community members, can help their children become more resilient through everyday interaction and role modeling. Parents who model resilience – demonstrating self-regulation in the face of disappointment or talking about how they “bounced back” from a setback – help children learn how to cope with disappointments in their own lives.  

Lizzy Francis offers a number of parenting strategies that support the development of resilience with these tips from Amy Morin, author of the book 10 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do:

“Supporting struggling children is important, but the best way parents can teach resilience is by modeling it. Acting cool-headed in the face of stress and acknowledging mistakes provides children with a rubric for failure. Failing, they learn, is not the end of the world. It’s just part of being alive.

Here are the specific suggestions that Morin gives parents looking to teach by doing….

  • Don’t Intervene All The Time
    “When your child is struggling — if, say, his blocks keep tipping over and he’s getting angry, don’t swoop in and do it for them,” says Morin. In other words, practice restraint. It’s easy to step in and help soothe your kid. But letting them struggle helps them learn that they can solve their own problems.
  • Own Up To Your Mistakes
    Parents, per Morin, should actively apologize to their children when they make mistakes, like if they snap at them, or are late to pick them up. “Pointing out what you did wrong — if you didn’t handle your anger very well, or said something that wasn’t very nice — explain what happened, without making an excuse. And then you explain how you will learn from the problem and fix it,” suggests Morin. This, she says, teaches kids that making a mistake is fine, as long as you apologize and learn from them.
  • Examine Their Feelings
    You want to acknowledge a child’s feelings and tell them that their feelings matter,” says Morin. “That makes a big difference in whether they perceive if their feelings are okay, that it’s okay to be scared and still do something anyway.” Letting your kid know that their feelings are legitimate — but that they don’t have to inform their behavior at all times, like, say, when a playground scuffle breaks out — is essential.
  • Audit Your Behavior
    Kids are always watching. Per Morin, it’s essential for parents to think about how they act in moments of daily stress and try to do better. “When you’re dealing with an annoying situation, like the long line at the grocery store, and you’re tired, and you’re hungry, how do you handle it? Are you complaining? Are you staring at your phone? Your kids are watching how you cope with your emotions,” says Morin.

In other words: by being a resilient adult, you teach your kids how to react to moments of stress.”

Parents can also help build resilience by taking care of themselves.  Self-care makes you better equipped to parent and better able to meet everyday challenges.

And good parenting has protective power for children in difficult circumstances.  As does strong, supportive connections with other adults – teachers, mentors, neighbors, and family friends.  For children and teens, relationships with other adults help foster a positive view of themselves and encourages motivation to succeed.

A resilient child has:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of themself and confidence in their strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

(https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience)

Luckily these are all skills that can be developed at any stage of life.  As parents, we can help our children learn these skills and behaviors. As community members, neighbors, scout leaders, and sports coaches, we can mentor and support the children in our community as they develop their own resilience.

For more tips on helping your children develop the ability to cope with adversity, join us at the 6th annual PSN Speaker event on Monday, May 20th.  Dr. Ann Masten will be presenting “Ordinary Magic”, a look at building resilience in children.

The event will be held at the Linn Benton Community College, Tripp Theatre, LBCC Albany Campus, 6500 Pacific Blvd. SW, Albany.  Doors open at 6:30. Free childcare is provided by reservation – call 541-917-4884 to reserve your spot.

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Supporting Differences: When a Child Needs Extra Help

In our last post we looked at developmental milestones and resisted rushing to conclusions about development that doesn’t fit our picture of “normal.”  We also looked at developmental screening tools that help identify situations that might benefit from further assessment. Today, we look assessment and support for children with special needs.

Special needs are often categorized into 4 major types:

  1. Physical, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy
  2. Developmental, like down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders
  3. Behavioral/Emotional, such as ADD, bi-polar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder
  4. Sensory Impaired, such as blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing

For young children not yet in Kindergarten, after screening a preschool teacher or doctor can refer a family to Early Intervention for further assessment.  But you don’t need to wait for a referral. Parents can also “self refer”. This means that you do not need a doctor or daycare provider to begin the assessment process.  You can simply call them up and request an appointment.

They will schedule a time for you and your child to visit their offices.  During the visit they will do an assessment and determine if your child would benefit from services.

If they determine that support services will benefit your child, Early Intervention will design an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).  The IFSP outlines the scope of services EI will provide – what they will do and how often they will do it. The IFSP can include transportation to and from the service provider, if needed.  As your child gets older the IFSP will convert to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that can carry them through public school to high school graduation.

An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a legally binding document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  The IEP classifies the disability, documents the accommodations needed, and outlines learning environment modifications that will be made by the school.

Each year an IEP meeting is held to assure that parents, teachers, and support specialists review the goals in the IEP, review how the student has progressed toward the goals, and update the goals and supports for the coming year.  Parents have a strong voice in helping craft an individualized plan that assures their child receives the equal education that the law provides.

What exactly is a child with special needs entitled to?  Federal law includes the following:

  1. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
    1. Students with disabilities must be prepared for further education, employment and independent living
    2. If a child’s strengths, endurance, or stamina cannot keep up with school activities, they qualify for “other health impaired” special education status
  1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    1. Prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities
    2. Requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students
    3. Students with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity can qualify as disabled (including learning and social deficits)
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    1. Schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems
  3. No Child Left Behind
    1. Schools must uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities

(From:  https://pbwslaw.com/special_needs_children_rights/)

With the supports documented in the IFSP or IEP, the child with special needs is assured a learning environment that is optimized for success.

Parents of special needs children play an important role in the education process – as advocates, watchdog, and cheerleader.

If your child is newly diagnosed, getting involved in online forums and local support groups with other parents can help.  There you can learn what others have found helpful and get input into situations you are experiencing. Support from others can provide encouragement and information as you work with schools and doctors to support your child’s growth and development.

When a child needs extra help, it is important to work together with the school and support specialists, but it is also important to note that parents have a voice in the IEP process.  Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to go to IEP meetings prepared to ask for what you want. You know your child best and are their best advocate.

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Love and Anger

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I remember going to a mother’s group back when my firstborn child was around 2 years old and asking “What do I do with my anger?”

Because I got angry sometimes. When I did I yelled, stomped around, said bad words and/or cruel things. Even when my anger was addressed at inanimate objects, this behavior was upsetting to my daughter.

I don’t recall receiving any helpful advice to my question back in that group. Over the years I learned a few things about managing anger—and sometimes was able to put them into practice! I’m still working on it.

Managing anger is hard. Managing anger at young children or even in the presence of young children is even harder.

One thing I tried was ignoring my feelings. I forced myself to stay calm and tried to be accepting and accommodating. Bad idea. I recall an incident with my second daughter who was in the midst of a tantrum. I was trying hard not to scream at her. I said something like “You are upset about having to leave now.” I was trying to be empathetic but she yelled back at me “Why are you so happy?” All my energy had gone into trying to be calm—and that interfered with my being truly empathetic. My calmness made it appear to her that I didn’t understand her feelings at all. And I wasn’t dealing with my own legitimate feelings.

Forced calmness often led to an even stronger outburst later on my part. I call it snapback—I was like a rubber band that got stretched too far and then broke with a snap.

What helped? Awareness about the factors that contributed to my anger. One big one was neglecting my needs in my efforts to be a “good” self-sacrificing mother. Being tired, hungry, stressed, feeling put upon, not having time or opportunities for doing things I enjoyed . . . all those contributed to the likelihood I would get angry and to the force of my anger.

I did get better at taking care of myself. I learned that the self-sacrificing mother ideal is nonsense. Like athletes, mothers need to take excellent care of themselves or they won’t be able to do their

jobs—and the same is true for all parents and people in helping professions. Other things can be sacrificed –not you.

An important part of self-care is paying attention to feelings. Feelings can serve as warning lights reminding us that some need we have requires attention. Anger is a secondary emotion—we feel scared or frustrated or hurt and then we get angry. Karen Young from HeySigmund.com writes that anger “exists to block other more difficult emotions from rising to the surface.” Our mind is trying to protect us from those feelings we don’t know how to handle. For many of us recognizing emotions may need to be learned and may require professional help—and that’s okay.

Even with the best self-care parents will get angry. And that anger should be acknowledged –in ways that don’t hurt or scare others. In order to do that successfully we first need to recognize the physical signs that indicate we are getting angry. If we’ve never thought about anger in this way, identifying what led up to an outburst (or to a cold simmer, or a stone-faced withdrawal) may take some reflection. Authors Susan Beekman and Jeanne Holmes [Battles, Hassles, Tantrums & Tears] recommend looking back at a recent incident and remembering where, what, and particularly when you started to lose it.

A lot of times parents tell their children, “use your words,“  but words may not be adequate to manage the physical sensations of anger. (Not to mention that the words that come to mind may be ones you don’t want your children repeating.)

Taking deep breaths, briefly walking away, and counting to ten are some things that can help us calm down enough to use appropriate words. Doing something physical but safe—my son recommends hurling ice-cubes into the shower stall—is another approach.

Then simply saying “I’m angry” is a good place to start. Describing what triggered your anger in non-accusatory language can be helpful as well: “When we are late for an appointment, I get frustrated because I like to be on time.”

Nancy Samalin, author of Love and Anger (yes, I stole that title) also suggests: Avoid physical force and threats; Keep it short and to the point; Put it in writing; Focus on the essentials.

And finally, apologize for any hurtful words or actions. This can be a good time to reflect on what triggered you and make plans for handling future situations.

 

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What’s “Normal”? Tracking Developmental Milestones

When every baby is different, how do you know if your baby is meeting developmental milestones?   As parents, we observe, compare, and worry when we see other children doing things our child isn’t yet attempting.  How do we know what is normal?

As we watch and wonder, descriptions of typical child development can help.  But lists and charts provide only a framework for understanding. Not all children will meet all milestones at the ‘typical’ age‘.  You know your child best.

My son was born with a condition that limits his vision. We adopted him when he was 13 months old.  Since we knew babies typically start to walk around 12 months, we worried when he didn’t walk until he was well over 18 months old.  Was it his vision keeping him from this milestone? Was it adoption trauma? Was there something we should be doing?

Pediatricians and daycare centers routinely ask parents to complete developmental screening questionnaires to help monitor a child’s developmental progress.  Done regularly, these tools provide a picture of your unique child’s development over time.

If you have concerns consulting your pediatrician or preschool teacher is a great way to begin the conversation about normal development and your child’s individual personality.  They will likely invite you to complete one of the many different tools that screen for growth and development.

These are typically not assessment tools, but rather help screen for indicators that suggest the child would benefit from closer monitoring or early intervention services.

There are a number of different screening tools available:

ASQ (Ages & Stages Questionnaire): Many doctors and pre-schools use the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) to screen children between the ages of 15 months and 48 months.  ASQ is not an assessment tool but it can help determine if a child needs further assessment or support. https://agesandstages.com/about-asq/for-parents/

CDC checklist:  The CDC checklist provides lists of typical behaviors from birth through kindergarten.  In addition, they offer parenting tips for interacting with your child at each stage of development.  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf

M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers): The M-CHAT, like the ASQ, is a screening tool and not an assessment.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for autism at 18 and 24 months. It cannot diagnose but it helps identify children who should be evaluated further. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/How-Doctors-Screen-for-Autism.aspx

Completed questionnaires document your child’s growth and development, helping you and your support team of doctors and caregivers know what is normal for your child.  They also provide indicators when further assessment and support would be helpful to you and your child.

My son did eventually move from crawling to walking.  The delay was normal for him. But his unique circumstances meant that we also sought help from early intervention to equip him with the tools he would need to help him walk safely with limited vision.

Screening tools help us answer the question “Is this normal?”.  But they also provide a path toward further support when warranted.

 

Sidebar

10 Physical, Social, Emotional & Cognitive Milestones from healthychildren.org:

  • By 2 months: Tries to look at his or her parent and pays attention to faces.
  • By 4 months: Copies facial movements, such as smiling or frowning, and responds to affection.
  • By 6 months: Likes to look at himself or herself in the mirror and brings objects to mouth.
  • By 9 months: Has favorite toys and picks up small items between the thumb and forefinger.
  • Around 12 months: Puts out arm or leg to help with dressing and follows simple directions.
  • At 18 months: Explores alone if a parent is nearby and points to a body part when asked.
  • By 2 years: Gets excited to see other children and begins sorting shapes and colors.
  • By 3 years: Is able to dress himself or herself and completes puzzles with three or four pieces.
  • By 4 years: Is able to tell the difference between real and make-believe and predicts what is going to happen next in a book.
  • By 5 years: Wants to be like his or her friends and is able to draw a person with six body parts.

(https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/health-management/Pages/Milestones-Matter.aspx)

 

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Social Connections Help Build Strong Families

Just before my first child was born my husband and I moved from New England to the Midwest.  We were young, newly married, and knew no one in our new hometown. All of our friends and family were thousands of miles away and we had a baby coming in a mere three months.

My husband’s new colleagues provided our first group of social connections.  To make new friends, we were intentional about attending church regularly. But it was the Welcome Wagon that really helped us build deep and lasting friendships.  They came with a list of ways to get connected.

Through them, I joined a Moms group (which included a babysitting co-op), we joined a card club and an International Dining group (potluck, a different country’s cuisine each month), and I started attending monthly La Leche League meetings, where I joined other new mothers for regular support after the baby was born.

All of these avenues of connection helped us build strong social connections and gave us a support system at a time when our old support network was very far away.  Our new friends could reassure us when we felt overwhelmed as new parents. They offered advice, entertainment, and babysitting. They helped us feel welcome and cared for in our new community.

Social connections are one of the five protective factors for strong families.  (You can see the other four here.) Friends can lend support when we are overwhelmed or just need a different perspective.  Others who are facing similar challenges can provide a listening ear or childcare assistance while you run to the doctor. When you have emotionally supportive friends, life gets easier – for you and for your children.

Here are some options for making connections with other parents in and around Corvallis:

HOME group. Meets at Northwest Hills Community Church, Tuesdays from 9:15 – 11:15 during the school year.  For moms with children 5 yrs and under. Childcare is provided while moms gather for fellowship and learning.  Emphasis is on equipping moms through gifted speakers, hands-on activities, and building a community of support through friendship.  https://www.helpingourmoms.com/

Osborn Aquatic Center.  Sign up the kiddos for swim lessons!  Parents participate in class with their youngest swimmers.  But as the children progress to independent lessons, parents watch from the bleachers – where they can visit with like-minded parents.

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.  Activities for children and adults alike offer opportunities for parents to connect with other parents through shared activity.  In addition to the usual story hours and children’s reading clubs, the library also offers events just for adults. Looking for something to do without the kids?  Check out https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/events/adult-events/

Parenting Classes.  Check out The Incredible Years, for parents of preschoolers, or Make Parenting a Pleasure for those with older children.  Learn some new communication strategies and meet new friends in the process.  Many classes are free, with dinner and childcare provided. Details can be found here: http://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting-programs/

Mid-Willamette YMCA. Offers programs for children and adults, such as their monthly Lunch and Learn, which is an opportunity to listen to a speaker while enjoying lunch with other attendees.

Community Events.  Corvallis has a long tradition of holding family-friendly community events –   like Benton County Fair in August, Fall Festival in September, and Downtown trick-or-treat in late October.  For more, visit: https://www.visitcorvallis.com/festivals-events

Other ways to make social connections:

Volunteer – in your children’s school, through a faith-based organization, or with an organization whose mission you support.  Watch for invitations to volunteer on social media, or reach out to an organization directly.

Join a Group – find a group of other adults doing something you love (biking, hiking, reading, knitting).  Attend their regular meetings and build friendships around your common interest. During the summer months parents in Corvallis hold regular meet-ups at community parks.  The kids spend time together while the parents visit with each other.

Reach out – to your family and your friends.  Plan get-togethers, invite them over for coffee or a meal.  Be intentional about building strong relationships with those you already know.

Strengthening your relationships outside your family can provide concrete support when you need it most and will strengthen your family at the same time.

 

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Be a Better Parent: Step Away

Taking time away from parenting can make you a better parent.  Sounds ironic, but it’s true. Taking a step away from parenting responsibilities gives body and mind a chance to recharge.  And that time spent focusing on your own needs can improve your parenting.

So much changes when you become a parent.  You still need to eat, sleep, and most likely earn a living.  But when that fragile newborn is placed in your arms they are suddenly the center of your universe.

In those early weeks, our life is on hold as we cocoon with our newborn.  We are wired to attend to their needs. In the middle of the night, they need to eat and so we give up our own need for sleep to meet those needs.   We juggle learning to parent while trying to resume all the other aspects of our life before baby. As we meet their needs for food, sleep, and dry diapers, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

But prioritizing self-care can make you a better parent.  The same sleep, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships kids need are just as important for adults.  When we attend to our needs – physical needs for exercise and mental needs for healthy social engagement – we improve our state of mind.  

And being healthy and happy has a direct effect on our parenting.  When we are well-rested and know we have taken care of ourselves, we have the energy and enthusiasm to be our best for our children.

Taking care of ourselves also models well-being for our children.   When our children see that we also do things for ourselves – and with other adults – we teach what taking care of ourselves looks like.   We can help them recognize their needs for quiet or rest, if they see us recognizing and meeting our own needs for those same things. And we help them learn patience, gratitude,  and grace.

If you’ve neglected yourself while caring for your children, you can begin to make a change in your self-care by carving out some time each day just for you.  It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Some days, it may be minutes you capture between scheduled activities. Other days, a whole afternoon can be scheduled “me” time.

When my big kids were young, I belonged to a babysitting co-op that allowed me and other young mothers to share childcare.  I would earn hours by watching someone else’s children, which could be redeemed by having someone else watch mine. It was a beautiful barter system that allowed us all time for self-care, without incurring the expense of hiring a babysitter.  It gave me an entire afternoon to pursue a hobby, or just sit with a book uninterrupted.

Mindfulness

Taking care of ourselves begins with being aware of how we are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness helps us see how different stressors affect us.  It helps us identify those things that help us cope most effectively. Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing for a deep breath. These few seconds can create space for stress hormone regulators to slow the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by triggers in our environment.

Carve out time for yourself

Find moments of time in your day to focus on your own well-being.  In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, new moms are encouraged to sleep when the baby sleeps.  As children grow, we are tempted to do that ‘one more thing’ that needs to be done before we take time for ourselves.  Make it a habit to find time for yourself. Take turns with your partner so that each of you has one night a week to go out and enjoy a class, engage in a hobby, or just be alone or with friends at the library or coffee shop.

Take up (or resume) a hobby – something you do just for you

Having an activity or two that you do just for you gives you space to be you. Doing something you love, that satisfies and excites, gives you something outside of family life.  If that something is a group activity, it has the added benefit of enlarging your circle of support – friends and acquaintances who are there for you. Self-care directed toward group activities can expand  your circle of connection and support life-long learning and growing.

For more ideas on finding ways to care for yourself despite your hectic schedule, check out Ashley Looker’s wonderful list of self-care tips: 20 Little Self-Care Tips at MindBodyGreen.

 

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Got “No!”? Two Doesn’t Have to be Terrible

Have you ever been in a situation where you were completely bewildered by what was happening – and then someone explained why?  And then the behavior  made a little more sense?

Last Fall I had just such an experience.  My middle school son showed up ready to head out the door to school in shorts.  He’d been wearing shorts since September. But lately the overnight temperatures had been consistently low.  On this particular morning, it was 42 degrees outside.

I told him it was cold and he needed long pants.  He insisted he would be fine. I insisted he needed to change.  As he dug in his heels, I responded with consequences if he didn’t go put on long pants.  Finally, relenting, I offered to let it go if he’d explain why he thought shorts were fine on this cold morning.

He sat sullenly on the couch, neither moving nor explaining.  After a few more motherly hysterics (yet maddenly powerless), he finally said quietly, “I can’t wear long pants to gym.”  “You can change into shorts in the locker room,” I replied. Even more quietly he responded, “I don’t want to have to change.”

My eyes were opened.  Here sat a newly minted adolescent – reluctant to undress in front of his peers.  It was suddenly crystal clear why he would rather be cold at the bus stop than change into long pants.  My heart swelled for him and the new territory he was navigating as he moved from child to young adult. (A topic for another blog post. Hint: 12 is 2 all over again.)

“Thank you for explaining,” I answered.  “Now that I understand where you are coming from, I won’t insist you change.”  I finished up with an apology. “I’m sorry – hope your day at school is better than the last 10 minutes have been.”  I hugged him and he trooped out the door. In shorts.

The bewilderment I experienced that morning will be familiar to parents of toddlers in the age of ‘No!”.  Where does this sudden refusal to cooperate come from?

A baby’s brain is one quarter of the size of an adult brain.  But in the first year of life it will double in size. By the time the child is three, their brain will be 80% of its adult size.  During that journey from birth to age three, the helpless, completely dependent newborn will transform into an autonomous young child.

Right in the middle of that transformation is the “terrible twos”.  That period of time when ‘no’ is their favorite word. Dr. Maria Montessori, a pioneer of experience-based early childhood education, called this stage of development a progression from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind.  “Unconscious” because they begin unaware of their own participation in the learning process, but as they become “conscious”, they arrive fully aware of themselves as independent, thinking, learning beings.

They discover they can have a thought about something that is different from their caregiver’s thoughts.  They can even have their own opinion – one that might be contrary to the adult’s opinion. They test their new understanding with practice.  Lots and lots of practice. Which means lots of “No!”.

Adults have been frustrated by this phase of child development for so long it bears the label “Terrible Twos”.  But understanding that the “No!” is coming from a new awareness of their own ability to choose can help. When parenting a child in this phase of development, encouraging the choosing can help encourage cooperation.

Maintain calm authority.  Children growing in awareness can also be uncertain.  Caregivers reassure them that they are safe and will be cared for by using a tone of voice that is confident and supportive.  Try to avoid sounding angry, even as they try your patience. Use your words to help them understand what you need them to do.  “Oh I see you are not happy about having to put your boots on now. We can’t leave until the boots are on.”

Offer them a choice between two things – but only 2 things.  More than two can overwhelm the child.  My favorite choice is: “Would you like to put the boots on all by yourself, or would you like me to help?”  Countless times I found that when offering the choice between doing it themselves or having my help, their desire to be independent spurred them to action.  They much preferred doing it themselves than having help. But be prepared to be patient and take the time to wait when they choose to do it themselves. Help with any hard part, but don’t rob them of the satisfaction of accomplishing the task independently.

Another option is the choice between first and next.   “Do you want your coat before your boots – or boots first?” also changes the request by providing the child the opportunity to decide.

Notice that we can give them an alternative to their assumption that the choice is “do it” or “don’t do it”.

Change the subject as you proceed to help them cooperate.  “Oh look, I found a fuzzy scarf in the closet.”  Handing them the scarf, begin putting boots on to their feet.  Calling their attention to something else helps them move past the defiance and onto a new emotion.

And finally, mission accomplished, be sure to begin a new conversation as you move onto the next activity.  “Now that we have our boots on, let’s go!  We are going to walk around the block – let’s look for birds as we walk.”

Sometimes you can choose from among these strategies.  Sometimes you will work your way through all of them in succession –  and still face opposition from your toddler. Once you’ve exhausted all efforts at cooperation, just remember you’re the parent.  Lovingly, but firmly, complete the task and move on.

In moments where no amount of encouragement succeeds, doing it for them without further comment on the matter helps the child disengage from the struggle.  With the child in my lap, and boot in hand, I would begin a conversation about something entirely unrelated to the boots. “Look, you have your green sweater on.  It matches your green raincoat.” More often than not, their attention is drawn onto the next thing by a change of subject. And the protest is forgotten.

Yes, they are now old enough to have their own opinion, but the ‘terrible two’ is also amazingly more verbal.  Listening, answering, and participating in a conversation will very often draw their attention away from the ‘no’.

And rest assured, this stage will not last forever.

 

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February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

Caring for Your Teeth Keeps Your Whole Body Healthier

Did you know that Americans without dental care report higher incidents of other chronic health issues?  They are 67% more likely to have heart disease and 29% more likely to have diabetes. A healthy mouth means greater health all around.

We’ve all heard it – brush twice a day, floss every day, see a dentist regularly.  But sometimes, as a busy parent, tired at the end of a chaotic day, that is easier said than done.  As you shepherd exhausted children to bed, taking that detour to brush those teeth can end up the last thing on your mind.

But the benefits of regular brushing can lead to a lifetime of better health.  Which means caring for your teeth is a habit that should begin to be established (by us, exhausted parents) as soon as that first tooth erupts.

Did you know?

  • Everyone should have their own toothbrush.  Shared toothbrushes spread germs. –
  • You should use only Soft or Medium toothbrushes.  Hard bristle brushes can injure your gums.
  • It’s helpful to change up the motions used while brushing so that spaces aren’t missed.  Try for up and down some days, circular or back and forth other days.
  • Don’t forget to brush your tongue too.
  • Toothbrushes should only ever be stored in an upright position in the open air. Don’t lock them up in a toothbrush holder  – they need to dry out between uses.
  • Because toothbrushes are in the open air in your bathroom, close the toilet before flushing to keep bacteria from reaching the toothbrush.
  • And be sure to toss your brush every few months, or sooner if the bristles start to bend and fray.   A new toothbrush will help you do a better job keeping those teeth clean.

So who needs what – and when?

Babies

As soon as your baby’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to schedule a visit to the dentist.  Baby teeth help babies chew properly. As they learn to talk, baby teeth help them speak clearly.  And those baby teeth form a path for the permanent teeth that are waiting behind them. Use a soft bristle brush with a small head at bedtime to brush those new baby teeth each day.  No need to use toothpaste – just the wet brush is sufficient.

Toddlers

Toddlers still need parents to brush their teeth for them, making sure all those emerging teeth are cleaned daily.  You can introduce ‘training toothpaste’ at this time, but avoid toothpaste with fluoride until your child is old enough to reliably not swallow during brushing.  Be sure to support your “help me do it myself” two year old but allowing them to also brush their teeth, either before or after you have made sure every tooth gets brushed.

Sippy cups filled with fruit juice or milk are a real threat to healthy teeth.  Use a sippy cup only as a transition tool from bottle to cup, moving to a regular cup sooner rather than later.   Keep sugary drinks from pooling on the teeth by filling sippy cups only with water unless they are at the table for a meal.

3-7 years

Parents should continue to supervise tooth brushing for their young child, making sure that teeth are thoroughly brushed twice a day.  Now is the time to introduce flossing – ideally daily.

7+

By now tooth brushing should be a twice daily habit, part of their morning and evening routine.  As your child becomes increasingly independent in self-care, you can take a step back from direct supervision.  You’ll still want to be making those appointments for regular cleaning and exam with a dentist.

Speaking of visiting the dentist, Corvallis is lucky to have affordable dental care available to all children between the ages of 0 and 19 years at the Johnson Dental Clinic, located at the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis.  (Pregnant moms can also see the dentist at the clinic.)

The clinic welcomes all children – with or without insurance.  Fees are set on a sliding scale, with free care available to those who qualify.   Anyone who has a child in need of a dental exam or cleaning can call the clinic (541-257-2006) and make an appointment – often being seen within a week of the call.

Now that you’ve got the scoop, celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month by making those dental exam appointments today.  You’ll be glad you did.

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The Power of Attunement

I was sitting in the lobby as a parent was departing with their young child.  The parent stopped at the front desk, engaging in a conversation with the adult on the other side of the desk.  While they talked, the little girl noticed a slip of paper on the floor, across the room, not far from a waste basket.  As the parent continued in conversation, the child toddled over to the piece of paper and picked it up. She started toward the waste can just as the parent finished and turned their attention to the child.

“Come now, we need to go to the car,” the parent said striding over to the child and taking her  hand. The small child immediately wailed, resisting the pull toward the door. Unaware of the child’s intention to deposit the litter in the wastebasket, the parent proceeded to cajol the child, exasperated by their uncooperative behavior.

From my vantage point, it was easy to see why the child was being uncooperative.  But the parent had not seen the litter, or the little girl’s determination to “help”.  It was a perfect example of the importance of attunement.

Had the parent taken just a moment after completing their conversation to observe what the child was doing, they might have seen that the child was simply completing a small task they had independently begun.  Had the parent waited a few more seconds, just until that small piece of paper had been deposited into the trash can, I have no doubt the child would have happily walked out the door, all smiles and cooperation.

Attunement is the attention we give the mood and emotional needs of another human being.  Attunement parenting focuses on how well a parent recognizes and interprets their child’s needs, moods and emotions in order to respond appropriately.  Well attuned parents of infants are able to interpret their baby’s feelings and respond appropriately.

Attunement is facilitated by attention.  In order to accurately interpret another’s emotional or physical needs, one must first be paying attention.  If we are attuned to another person, we will have noticed what happened and be able to see the context within which that person’s need is being expressed.

Attunement requires our attention, but, as Nathalie Spencer observes, “Attunement is not simply undivided attention; it is both more and less than that.  It does not mean a parent giving in to every whim of a child. But it is the understanding of needs, and a response to those needs which ultimately help the other to regulate their emotions and arousal.  It is bringing someone up when they need some stimulation, and bringing them down when they need calming.”

Attunement is different from Attachment Parenting in that Attachment parenting uses continuous physical closeness and touch to promote the emotional engagement and connection between an infant and parent. Parents practicing attachment parenting carry their babies in a sling on their body as much as possible.  Often they co-sleep with their infants. The physical closeness of the infant to the parent supports the emotional attachment between the parent and child. Where attachment parenting focuses on physical closeness, attunement focuses on our attention to the emotions of the other.

It is easy to miss the cues about a child’s emotional needs when we are not paying attention.  This frequently leads to emotional disconnect and frustration, both ours and theirs. With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to be unattuned to the people we are physically with.  Our mobile phones make us always accessible, so we push the stroller while handling the work call – with no opportunity to attune to the child who sees a plane in the sky and exclaims excitedly, “plane!”.

Neuroscience research has confirmed our brains are not wired for multi-tasking.  In fact, multi-tasking does not make us more efficient. Instead, it makes us worse at both of the things we are trying to accomplish.  Parents who try to multitask while in the company of their children do not give the children – or the other task – the full benefit of their time and attention.  Attunement suffers and often frustration ensues.

When choose to attend to one at a time, we stand a better chance of being attuned to our children’s emotional state.   And being better attuned – paying attention – gives us a better chance of meeting the needs or navigating the ‘no’. Attunement makes us better informed because we have observed and are paying attention.

 

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