Quietly observing the Winter Honeymoon

For the under-5 set and their families, getting used to the academic calendar comes with growing pains. Just the concept of an academic year “ending” has undone many a young child who thought school would go on forever with this teacher in this room.

From the perspective of young children, summer becomes a time of missing what we used to have, and worrying about what comes next. August is anxious as we ready for new things in September.

September is a time of newness, separation and adjustment. There is a tiny window in October when the routine has been mastered and teachers feel familiar. Then comes Halloween – which absorbs a good five weeks between anticipation, doing or avoiding, and debriefing.

Then, we’re in the midst of the winter holidays, which pretty much disrupt all mastered things. Throw in the long winter break (let’s admit that it does feel too long in many young families), an optional polar vortex and Martin Luther King day, and January is a long, drawn-out return to routine. For the under-5 child, that actually feels like a new routine because four months is such a statistically significant percentage of his or her lifespan.

So somewhere in late January or early February, the sweet spot begins – the Winter Honeymoon. It’s one of those hidden gems that most adults don’t notice.

Routines feel familiar. The only major holiday that causes disruption – Valentine’s Day – celebrates friendship, kindness and shapes. Spring break is far enough away that we’re actually living in the moment.

This is the tiny window of time each year that has fewer excitements and dramatic changes. Young children make developmental leaps because the world around them has become a little quieter.

Teachers know this; you can tell because this is when they roll out favorite stations and projects – confident they can rely on the continuity of the season. This is that moment. No major changes on the immediate horizon. Excitements lulled. It’s a special time.

As a parent, how do you use this time?

Soak it up. Share with your child how nice it feels to have the calm of routine; how good it must feel to know where everything is in her classroom; how comfortable she now seems with her teacher.

Savor the mastery. Notice out loud all the things your child can do that were new, intimidating or unfamiliar in September. Stand by and admire how your child needs you a little bit less than when school started. The act of standing by and admiring mastery is a critical part of parenting – a job and also a pleasure.

Look at your little one hanging his coat on his hook, knowing where to find supplies when he wants to draw you a picture, getting started at a favorite place in the classroom where he previously stayed close to you.

Enjoy the trust. Take pleasure in the relationship with your child’s teacher. Once new to your family, this person is now a safe and trusted grown-up, the template for your child’s future learning and personal relationships. Enjoying a trusting relationship is something that you get to teach your child too. It is enriching for you and your child together.

Notice the special (not always perfect, but special) connections you have, and show your child that you value and are grateful for the three-way partnership of parent-child-teacher. This step is important; in just a few more months, the cycle of changing teachers will begin again. Having a memory of this good feeling will help everyone in the transition.

Take a deep breath. This is just for you. Notice how time has been moving fast or slow for you and your family. Breathe in the feeling of being in the moment. Keep life simple; don’t overfill your time just because the holiday craziness is over and you got used to massive to-do lists. Do the comforting things that make you feel grateful and refreshed – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Find satisfaction in simple things; as with our kids, this the sweet spot where creativity and growth take seed.

Notice how good this can feel. Time moves fast. Raising children is taxing, and the stress-to-reward ratio often feels like it’s not in the caregiving parent’s favor. Noticing the good feelings helps to buoy us through the tough patches.

Is your child excited to return to school to see a friend? Does your child enjoy giving you art from school and look forward to you putting it on display at home? Is your child trying new things every once in awhile? Is something, anything, going easier than it was in September?

See these gems and hold them in your mind as best you can. They are your anchor for the many strenuous parenting moments, April through January. You get to keep this calm and confident time in your back pocket as an amulet for all the other taxing, crazy and extraordinarily special months of the year.

Image courtesy of freeimages.com/Iain Nisbet

Why your kids don’t listen – and how to deal with it

A mother of young children asked why she finds herself saying the same things over and over again, but the children don’t seem to be paying attention. “It would almost be better if they would openly defy me,” she said “Instead, everything goes in one ear and out the other. Why don’t they listen to me?”

As with so many of the issues we discuss with parents about those very complex little people – their children – the answers are many and varied. But from the top:

  • Maybe your children are so bombarded, all day every day, by sounds from the TV, radio, CD player, microwave, dishwasher, hair dryer, passing traffic, neighbor’s leaf blower, etc. etc. that they have become very accomplished at shutting a lot of it out – and that includes your voice. One thing you could do about that is to get rid of the unnecessary background noise by not permitting TV and radio to run constantly. That might help.
  • Or maybe you don’t always listen to them, either. What gets priority: them or the ringing cellphone?

But probably it’s not so simple. Do they seem to be listening at the time, but later when they have failed to finish their cereal or go get their shoes or whatever it is you have asked them to do, does it appear that in fact they have not heard a word?

That might indicate – and this is especially true of younger children – that they were confused, and didn’t really understand what was being asked of them. That might well be the case if you have given them a whole string of directives, such as “finish your cereal, and then go upstairs and brush your teeth, and while you’re up there get your shoes and bring them down, and then put on your raincoat, or we’re going to be late…” Sound familiar?

Maybe you asked them a “why” question. Children may well not know the answer to the question you ask and so don’t respond, appearing not to be listening. “Why did you leave that book at day care?” is an unanswerable question. So is, “Why didn’t you carry that bowl of cereal with both hands, the way I told you?”

Another possibility is that they are only faking the “in one ear and out the other” pose. Maybe they are actually defying you, trying to gain control, trying to get you upset. And they’re being pretty successful, aren’t they?

So take a look at the situations that most often end up in your getting upset because they “didn’t listen.” If they were only pretending not to be listening, then some feeling is behind it. Trying to figure out what the feeling is would help everyone.

Were they worried about what was going to happen at the place where you were in such a hurry to get them to on time? Have the days at day care not been going so swimmingly perhaps?

Were they angry at being rushed to do all those things you were asking and wanted to keep spooning in cereal at a leisurely pace?

What’s the feeling? You may not have time to discuss it right then, but later you can revisit it. Even if they can’t remember, it will be helpful for them to hear you say, “You must have been upset/worried/angry and next time you can tell me about it, so you won’t have to pretend you don’t hear me.” Then be prepared to ask and hear about that feeling next time.

Or maybe they’ve learned that if they wait long enough, after you’ve told them to go get their shoes five or more times and they continue to sit there as if oblivious, you’ll go do it yourself. Children can be incredibly patient sometimes.

It’s too bad we can’t have tape recordings of our voices to play back so we can hear what we sound like to our children. Sometimes we adults talk on and on, yammering away, with lectures and advice – none of which is very helpful.

One of the Grandmothers remembers giving what she thought was a very informative little talk to her young son about whether or not he should engage in some possibly (albeit remotely so) harmful activity. He waited until she was through, and then asked “Does that mean yes or no?”

Would you listen to you?

So try saying it only once or twice, in simple terms and few words, with the TV off and the cellphone on mute. Give them ample preparation time for each step of the early morning routine, or whatever the rushed time of day might be. And if they still don’t seem to be listening, offer to listen to their reasons why not. But remember not to actually ask them why they weren’t listening.

We told you it was complicated.

 

 

 

 

Go play! It’s the key to success in school

The old days

Finally research has vindicated the mothers of half-a-century ago who routinely opened the screen door in back and told their kids to go play – and not to bother coming back until the street lights came on or they heard the dinner bell (whichever came first).

Turns out these mothers were not being abusive and neglectful. The moms of the previous century didn’t know it, of course, but they were ensuring that their children developed a critical cognitive skill called “executive function.”

What kids did when their hours were not filled with TV, video games and electronic toys (or yoga classes, soccer games, and tiny tot gymnastics) was regulate their own activities, mostly in improvised imaginative play. They played “cops and robbers,” house,” or “school” – their own reality-based dramas. They also became the characters in fantasies involving queens and dragons, cowboys and horses, flying caped heroes and tall buildings, pirates and sinking ships.

And as they did this, researchers are telling us now, they were developing “executive function,” the ability to self-regulate, the measurement of which turns out to be a better indicator of success in school than the results of an IQ test. Kids with good self-regulation skills are better able to control their emotions, resist impulsive behavior, and become self-disciplined and self-controlled.

Times have changed

Those were different times, of course, and there’s no going back to them. Kicking one’s kids out of the house is no longer considered good form. No one rings a dinner bell at the back door to call the children home anymore. The kids are already home, bickering over which channel to watch, perhaps, or gobbling down a quick supper so they won’t be late for t-ball practice.

There are a couple of reasons for this shift. First, we now seem to be afraid to permit our children to play unsupervised. We are worried about all the terrible things that could happen to them if we’re not watching their every move.

Second, we now feel that we have to give our child every possible opportunity to add to his repertoire of skills. How can he become a soccer star if he doesn’t join the team as soon as he can walk; how can he get into Harvard if his parents don’t very nearly bankrupt themselves buying him very expensive “educational” toys? We can’t let him waste his time “just playing,” can we?

According to experts and our own common sense, we can and should.

So, how do we reconcile today’s anxious parents and the highly structured environment with our children’s need for unstructured, self-regulated play?

What to do

Let’s start with the givens: We’re not going to cancel all his activities, and we’re not going to let him play totally unsupervised. But we can certainly limit the number of activities we sign him up for. The primary requirement for unsupervised play is uninterrupted stretches of time, and we could easily cut back on all those classes and practices in order to give our children a little more of it.

No adults allows

And while we’re not going to let our children play entirely unsupervised, we don’t need to be hovering over them, intruding into their play, either. Even the youngest children are quite capable of entertaining, even educating, themselves. We can stay nearby, assuring ourselves that we are keeping them safe, but at the same time go about our own business and not intervene, not offer solutions to problems until it becomes quite clear that such help is needed.

We can limit TV to an hour a day, tops, and start buying our children uncomplicated toys and fewer of them. We can encourage complex imaginative play by offering simple props and play ideas, but then withdraw so the children can plan their own scenarios and act them out.

Even the smallest toddler, given the opportunity, will start feeding the baby, or driving his car down the highway. Older children will become family members, characters from stories, powerful heroes, animals in the jungle, royalty – all the while devising plotlines and scene changes worthy of the most skilled dramatist.

Imagine your children along with those of your more enlightened friends enjoying whole afternoons of such brain-enriching, creative play. Then imagine your snoopy neighbor observing them and starting to brag about how her 3-year-old excels in karate, chess and ballroom dancing. You needn’t be intimidated. You can tell her that your 3-year-old, who appears to be feeding dryer lint to her teddy bear, is actually improving her “executive function.”

Your neighbor will surely be impressed. And you will be confident that your child is spending precious time at the activity that children need most and love best: playing independently and imaginatively.

 Image courtesy of Valdas Zajanckauskas/Geras via stock.xchng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing with bullying – from both sides

Bullying, a topic of concern to parents nationwide, is really a 2-year-old trouble. Toddlers can be very mean—biting, hitting and snatching things from others. This is why it is important for parents to be firm with toddlers.

“No. That’s mean and mommy (or daddy) want you to be a kind boy.” This message has to be repeated over and over again through the years whenever you see your child engaging in hurting behavior. Parents must be watchful and immediately intervene.

If your child is engaged in a group activity with peers and gets aggressive, he/she needs to be temporarily excluded. “You can join us again when you’ve settled down, but there’s not going to be any meanness. Kickball is meant to be fun.”

In my many years of work with bullies, I have never met one who did not eventually describe an incident of bullying directed at him or her.

Sometimes they were bullied by a parent, sometimes not. But all reported someone glaring at or making ridiculing/threatening comments to them. And this very behavior was passed along to a younger or somehow more vulnerable peer.

Here it is important to remember that a bully is looking for a particular response — a child who will be intimidated just as he or she was. But bullies need to talk about the incident that scared them and made them feel unsafe rather than doing to others what was done to them.  And they also need to apologize for their mean behavior and realize that adults will be watching them to assure it doesn’t happen again.

Bullies get great excitement out of intimidating. So children need to take the excitement out of it by acting bored in response to their meanness.

Then the bully will move on to another who will fall into their trap. But this is a tall order for children.

So, if your child has been the victim of bullying, it is important to devise a protection plan. Don’t be too quick to jump in there and offer suggestions. Let your child take the lead.  “It’s important to keep you safe. How can we do that?” In this way, you are helping your child be active (rather than passive) on his or her own behalf.

This protection plan may well include school personnel. For example, your child may need to tell the teacher if someone is mean to him/her, or stay close to staff on the playground.

Every now and then I run across a child who will not abide by the protection plan and seems to invite bullying from multiple sources.  In this situation, the child is part of the problem and needs professional help. Likewise, if a bully continues his or her mean streak—get counseling.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Santa Question

This is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually.

The Tooth Fairy

No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a child starts losing teeth – at about 6 – he’s already well aware that there’s no good reason for someone in a tutu with wings and a wand to go flitting from bedroom to bedroom gathering up the baby teeth from the world’s first-graders. What could she possibly do with them all?

Then to confirm his suspicions that some hoax is involved, you wake him up in the middle of the night feeling around under his pillow, or you fall asleep before he does and neglect to switch the lost tooth for a silver dollar until he reminds you. But he doesn’t complain; he’s happy for the extra cash and he enjoys the game.

The Easter Bunny

That a rabbit would hop about carrying a basket, hiding eggs and delivering jelly beans is a story so silly that a very small child could see through it. She loves the fantasy of it, however, as well as all that candy that she’s actually allowed to eat before breakfast on Easter morning.

But it wouldn’t ruin her day at all if she were to catch you hiding the eggs. She understands imaginative play full well and would know right away that you’re just pretending.

Superman and Wonder Woman

Children enjoy pretending they are these all-powerful characters, and we adults can easily understand why they would: Children are small and comparatively weak, while these superheroes are neither.

You let them wear bath towels as capes around their shoulders and fly about the house saving captive dolls and rescuing endangered teddy bears. You only intervene if the furniture seems threatened, or if the children appear to actually believe that they could safely leap out of windows.

But they don’t. They understand it’s all fantasy play and so do you.

Hannukah Charlie

For some reason he never did make it to the big time, maybe because he was just thought up as a Santa Claus substitute. Which brings us to …

Santa Claus

On the one hand there are those who, for religious, moral or psychological reasons, want him done away with:

He represents greed, they say, not the true spirit of Christmas; parents who demonstrate their love by making or buying elaborate gifts for their children should not give that overweight, bearded virtual stranger the credit. Parents should not tell lie after lie to their children about how he gets into their house even though they don’t have a fireplace – or why he appears in every store and on every street corner even though there’s only one of him. Or how he can manage to get to the millions of children in the world in only one night, etc. He doesn’t really exist and we should tell our children, so they say – and the earlier the better.

On the other hand are those parents who still half-believe in Santa themselves:

They tell their kids that Santa “sees them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake” so they’d better behave or Santa won’t leave them any presents. They start decorating the house with red-suited icons shortly after Halloween, insist that their kids visit a department store Santa and sit on his lap even if they scream in protest, and maintain the Santa myth until their kids are well into their teens.

Which way to lean on the issue of Santa is up to the individual family, of course. But our recommendation would be for moderation. The fun about believing in Santa is not lost when the pretend aspect of it is acknowledged. It’s probably a good idea not to frighten your children with Santa – either with his all-knowing ability to know if they ate all their peas or fed them to the dog; or with forcing your little one to sit on the lap of someone she never met and doesn’t care to. But go ahead and play the game.

Pretend along with your child that there really is a sleigh pulled with reindeer and a North Pole where elves create shiny toys. But you needn’t lie and connive to perpetuate the myth. Pretend that Santa brings gifts to your house on Christmas Eve, but if you’ve spent many hours building a dollhouse or saved up for months in order to buy that special bicycle, let your child know that those gifts are from you.

Speculate with your children about how Santa manages to do all those miraculous things, but don’t be afraid to explain that it’s all magical make-believe, pretend. Just like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Wonder Woman and Superman are pretend. Very real, but still pretend. Who knows better than your child about pretending?

And don’t keep all the fun for yourself. Let him pretend to be Santa too.

Image courtesy of Ron Bird/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The San Bernardino shooting: What your children need right now

 

hug_David Castillo Dominici_freedigitalphotosAnother horrific event has occurred, and it will dominate the news and social media for days and weeks.

Except for the very youngest children, you won’t likely succeed in sheltering them from it. They will seek to understand what they see and hear, trying to put it into the context of what they know about the normal and expected.

The amount of information children need from parents in such situations differs depending on the child and, of course, his or her age. Here are a few resources to help talk with your children about recent news of school violence.

 Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A collection of holiday wisdom: All the Grandmothers’ seasonal writings in one location

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but all the excitement and traditions of the season can create stress in young children that grownups, in their own enthusiasm, can easily overlook.

Here is a collection of previously published articles by the Hanna Perkins Grandmothers that may help you see the holidays as they really look through a child’s eyes – so you can create the best kind of memories for the young people in your life.

  • The Santa Question santa_ron bird_freedigitalphotosThis is a controversial subject, so we’re going to work up to our main point gradually. The Tooth Fairy No parent that we’re aware of takes great pains to protect the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. Maybe that’s because by the time a ... Read more
  • Handling holiday disappointments Grumpy Ballerina“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams over the PA system in Walmart – and as we pile gifts in our shopping cart we halfway believe it. The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and ... Read more
  • The spirit of giving: How children’s gifts are recieved presents stacked_stuart miles_freedigitalphotosIt was Christmas morning. As the family sat around the little tree, under which was a modest pile of wrapped gifts, Nina could not contain herself. She ran to the tree, pulled her gifts away from the others and distributed them; one for ... Read more
  • How little ones learn to love giving candycane play doughWe Grandmothers are certainly aware that today’s families live in times of “Hurry Up” – that mothers and fathers both work and have to deal with malls filled with gifts of every shape and color. We recognize time is a precious commodity, so ... Read more
  • Excitement vs. Fun excitement v fun_David Castillo Dominici_freedigitalphotosIn most circles excitement is a positive word – often considered synonymous with fun. A movie, a television program, even an activity for young children, is praised for being exciting. Using the common definition, the opposite of exciting is boring, and boring is ... Read more
  • Keeping holidays focused on the children holiday girl and dad_freedigitalphotos_imagerymajesticIt’s happening again. We’ve all seen it before: A mother rushing along the sidewalk or through the mall, pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a 3-year-old who is pasted along her thigh, half-walking half-trotting in an effort to keep up. The ... Read more
  • A holiday wish: Simple delight in your children happy family_David Castillo Dominici_freedigitalphotosWhat quality would we Grandmothers most ardently wish for you parents of young children in this final, bustling season of the year? Well OK, you didn’t ask, but we’re going to tell you anyway. Not patience, not insight, not mediation skills, not tolerance for ... Read more

Benefits of play

Finally research has vindicated the mothers of half a century ago who routinely opened the back screen door and told their kids to go play, and not to bother coming back until the street lights came on or they heard the dinner bell, whichever came first.

Turns out these mothers were not being abusive and neglectful. The moms of the previous century didn’t know it, of course, but they were ensuring that their children developed a critical cognitive skill called “executive function.”

What kids did when their hours were not filled with TV, video games, and electronic toys (or yoga classes, soccer games, and tiny tot gymnastics) was regulate their own activities, mostly in improvised imaginative play.  They played “cops and robbers,” house,” or “school,” their own reality-based dramas. They also became the characters in fantasies involving queens and dragons, cowboys and horses, flying caped heroes and tall buildings, pirates and sinking ships. And as they did this, researchers are telling us now, they were developing “executive function,” the ability to self-regulate, the measurement of which turns out to be a better indicator of success in school than the results of an IQ test.

Kids with good self-regulation skills are better able to control their emotions, resist impulsive behavior, and become self-disciplined and self-controlled.

Times have changed

Those were different times, of course, and there’s no going back to them.  Kicking one’s kids out of the house is no longer considered good form.  And kids shooed outside into a modern day subdivision would probably quickly come home bored anyway, because there wouldn’t be any other kids out there for them to play with.  No one rings a dinner bell out the kitchen door to call the children home any more.  The kids are already home, bickering over which channel to watch, perhaps, or gobbling down a quick supper so they won’t be late for t-ball practice.

There are a couple of reasons for this shift.  First of all, we now seem to be afraid to permit our children to play unsupervised.  We are convinced that there are child molesters outside wanting to grab them, and accidents of all sorts waiting to happen to them, outdoors or in.  In vain do statisticians tell us that our children’s chances of being molested are no greater than they ever were, and that accidents are even more rare than previously. And secondly, we now feel that we have to give our child every possible opportunity to add to his repertoire of skills.  How can he become a musical prodigy if he doesn’t attend toddler Suzuki classes; how can he become a soccer star if he doesn’t join the team as soon as he can walk; how can he get into Harvard if his parents don’t very nearly bankrupt themselves sending him to the very best preschool?  If we don’t make sure he has these opportunities we will be putting him at a disadvantage compared to all the other children who are on all the right teams, in all the best classes.

So, how do we reconcile today’s anxious parents and the highly structured environment with our children’s need for unstructured, self-regulated play?

What to do

Let’s start with the givens: we’re not going to cancel all his classes and sports activities, and we’re not going to let him play totally unsupervised.  But we can certainly limit the number of teams and classes we sign him up for. Very young children don’t need anything extra outside of the occasional playdate, if that.  Toddlers might enjoy an hour or so per week at a class designed for kids their age where they could run and move freely, either to music or on gymnastics mats and 6-inch high balance beams, but no more.  Older preschoolers would probably benefit from attending, 3-5 mornings per week, a preschool where the bulk of the time is given over to free play.  A kindergartener might join a soccer team where cooperation and not competition is stressed, but only if he expressed interest.  The primary requirement for unsupervised play is uninterrupted stretches of time, and we could certainly cut back on all those classes and practices in order to give our children a little more of it.

No adults allowed

And while we’re not going to let our children play entirely unsupervised, we don’t need to be hovering over them, intruding into their play, either.  Even the youngest children are quite capable of entertaining, even educating, themselves.

We can stay nearby, assuring ourselves that we are keeping them safe, but at the same time go about our own business and not intervene, not offer solutions to problems until it becomes quite clear that such is needed.

We can limit TV to an hour a day, tops, and start buying our children uncomplicated toys and fewer of them.

We can encourage complex imaginative play by offering simple props and play ideas, but then withdraw so the children can plan their own scenarios and act them out.  Even the smallest toddler, given the opportunity, will start feeding the baby, or driving his car down the highway.  Older children will become family members, characters from stories, powerful heroes, animals in the jungle, royalty, all the while devising plotlines and scene changes worthy of the most skilled dramatist.

Imagine your children along with those of your more enlightened friends enjoying whole afternoons of such brain-enriching, creative play.  Then imagine your snoopy neighbor observing them and starting to brag about how her 3-year-old, who takes karate, chess and ballroom dancing, excels in all three. You needn’t be intimidated.  You can tell her that your 3-year-old, who appears to be feeding dryer lint to her teddy bear, is actually improving her “executive function.”  Your neighbor will surely be impressed. And you will be confident that your child is spending precious time at the activity that children need most and love best: playing independently and imaginatively.

Emotional Intelligence

2 boys_david castillo dominici_freedigitalphotosThe foundation for future learning is established between birth and age six. During this time, a child transitions from dependence to independence, and develops an emotional blueprint that informs every aspect of his or her life.

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage feelings – is considered the driving force behind intellectual and social achievement, and the strongest indicator of human success.

Emotional intelligence can be fostered most effectively during the preschool years, regardless of the genetic or temperamental predispositions with which a child is born. It is an area in which we can make a difference. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as

  • Curiosity
  • Problem-solving
  • Competence
  • Mastery
  • Creativity
  • Management of worries and fears
  • Ability to focus
  • Self-control
  • Kindness
  • Self-advocacy

By understanding this and addressing a child’s inner life, all children can be helped to cultivate  critical life skills. Children who receive the gift of adult mindfulness during these early years develop essential assets, such as flexibility, relationship-building, conflict management, self-awareness, self-discipline and planning skills.

Through emotionally-based learning, children are best equipped to build resilience and maximize their own potential.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/freedigitalphotos.net

 

National Bullying Prevention Month

bullying_Arvind Balaraman_freedigitalphotosOctober is National Bullying Prevention Month.

Any effort to shine a light on bullying and the harm it can cause is welcome. At Hanna Perkins, we understand bullying as a learned behavior – a coping mechanism for people who never developed better tools for self-advocacy.

We believe the most effective prevention of bullying begins as early as 4 years old. That’s about the time, developmentally, when children begin interacting with each other as people; when they begin going to preschool and/or having play dates.

For the first time, they find themselves in situations many times a day that can create strong emotions – not just happiness and joy, but also anger and fear. For a toddler, navigating such social interactions is anything but routine.

Children at this age know when something makes them feel bad, but they haven’t figured out what to do about it. They need guidance so they can learn to express those feelings in a way that is considerate of others. And when someone else expresses a strong feeling, they need to learn how to respond.

Children are resourceful, and if they don’t get the right guidance, they’ll learn how to deal with it on their own – sometimes by doing things that make other people feel the same way inside that they do.

A child who is angry may push, hit or grab. A child who feels ashamed or self-conscious may pick on another’s appearance or habits. It’s as if they’re trying to say, “Now you know how I feel.”

In toddlers, this is normal behavior. It’s not bullying, but it’s also not acceptable. It’s a form of communication and an important opportunity to learn.

If a child doesn’t get help from a supportive adult, over time these behaviors can become habits. By the time a child reaches adolescence, these behaviors are defined as bullying and the time when it’s easy to change them is long past.

Bullies not only inflict harm on others, they suffer themselves.

Every day, Hanna Perkins helps young children learn to identify, communicate and manage the strong feelings that arise from the ordinary interactions of everyday life. We prevent bulling before it ever begins.

Image courtesy of Arvind-Balaraman/freedigitalphotos