Grumpy Ballerina

Tantrums – appearing as early as 1 and as late as 42 – are part of a stage of emotional development the caregiver would like to be able to move the child through as quickly as possible. They most often occur  in public places such as supermarket check-out lines and shopping centers. They are characterized by out-of-control screaming and thrashing, and if the caregiver starts screaming and thrashing herself matters only get worse.

The caregiver would like the child to be able to talk about the cause of her frustration. The caregiver’s role is to help the child be able to express her anger in words, so that she needn’t feel so overwhelmed and helpless, having to resort to such immobilizing and (for an older child) potentially embarrassing behavior.

Why tantrums occur

Most tantrums are caused by helpless rage. The child wants what she wants with great intensity, and in her smallness feels powerless to get it in the face of the adult’s – or circumstance’s – “no.” She cannot project into the future, can only see the now, and feels as if she is drowning in a tidal wave of grief at having been denied gratification.

At the same time she is murderously furious at the cause of her frustration – often the adult who said “no.” Her own rage can terrify her because she is often attacking the person she most loves and depends on, and it can escalate into full-blown hysteria.

As tantrum follows tantrum, sometimes there are causes in addition to anger. A child who remembers the hysteria of previous tantrums can quickly move to fear of those feelings she cannot contain, and the cause then becomes more overwhelming anxiety than rage.

And a child who has been rewarded by caregivers giving in to the tantrum – quickly supplying the candy or balloon or whatever the child was so loudly demanding, anything to shut her up – may begin to use tantrums manipulatively.  Tantrums can be uniquely effective, especially those conducted in a public setting.

How it makes you feel

In all probability, you feel everything the child is feeling, and if the tantrum has an audience you are also acutely embarrassed. You are feeling furious with the child for being so unreasonable, helpless to control her outrageous behavior, terrified that it may never end.

If she doesn’t stop screaming in a minute, you will start screaming yourself. You would like to pick her up and shake her, walk away and leave her there kicking and frothing, shove a dozen of the lollipops she wants so desperately down her throat, make her stop!

Since you obviously cannot do any of the above, you are tempted to resort to scary and empty threats, withdrawal of attention (which can feel like withdrawal of love), furtive arm-squeezing, and lengthy lecturing through clenched teeth.

But this is the moment to understand the child has lost all reason, all control. She cannot possibly respond to reminders or reprimands. She is in a howling wilderness of emotions and can scarcely hear your voice, let alone act rationally to your instructions.  She is frightened, desperate, thoroughly miserable. She is suddenly reduced to infancy when hunger or pain was so overwhelming that she could only shriek with every inch of her small frame.

What to do

Contain the child to the degree this is possible. Hold her, murmuring soothing sounds, assuring her that this will end and you are there to help. Carry her out of the store or wherever you may be, and sit awhile outside on the curb or in the car until the sobs begin to subside. Picture yourself as a warm blanket – there to protect her from the storm until it passes. Only then do you begin to talk, to go over what happened, to try to remember together the incident that led to the tantrum.

This sounds very time-consuming, but in the long run it will save you hours of repeat performances. Your ice cream won’t even be melted yet when you return to your abandoned shopping cart.

Following up

What you say afterwards depends on the cause of the tantrum.

  • Rage: “You were feeling very angry with Mommy for not buying you that candy, weren’t you?  You were so angry that you started crying and couldn’t stop. That must have been very scary to have such big feelings. I bet you hope that doesn’t happen again.”
  • Anxiety: “You must have been very scared when we were in the store and you got so upset. Were you afraid that the bad feelings would never stop? They will stop, and I‘ll be here with you until they do.”
  • Maniplation: “I think when you screamed and cried in the store because I wouldn’t buy candy for you, you thought that your crying would make me change my mind. It didn’t work this time, did it? It isn’t going to work next time, either. Let’s talk about some big-girl ways to tell Mommy what you want.”

For the next time, try to avoid the tantrum-producing circumstance in the first place. But if you have to return to the scene of the tantrum, then prepare your child in advance. Tell her that she can help you select some plums or apples for a snack, and that the candy in the check-out line is still going to be there, but that you aren’t going to buy any this time. Then keep your word. With an older child, you might appeal to her desire to be more grown up and avoid the embarrassment of public tantrums.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


The other thing about Easter: Scary church stories

In a previous Easter season, a worried mother sent this note:

One of the kids at my son’s preschool told him about the crucifixion, and what happened, with all the exact details and he was horrified. Telling him about Easter Sunday did not make him feel better. He has been crying about this at night and is afraid of regular pictures of Jesus in a book. I hope it’s OK to ask this question because it’s about religion and everybody has their own opinion. I just wanted to know if any of you grandmas ever ran into a situation like this and what you did.

You know what they say about avoiding the topics of politics and religion. But that rule doesn’t apply to the Grandmothers.

We have two side observations on the subject of friends who tell our children frightening things:

  1. The friends are scared themselves, and try to relieve their fear by scaring someone else.
  2. It can be very difficult to protect our children from terrifying stories. Even if our children don’t see the scary movie/television program/book themselves, one of their friends is sure to tell them about it.

But what to do about your child who is having nightmares about Jesus? Already you have done the most important thing: You took your child seriously; you didn’t try to make him feel better with platitudes; you listened, you empathized. You didn’t burden him with theological concepts that he wouldn’t understand and that would trouble him further.

Crucifixion is indeed a hideously cruel fate to contemplate. We adults who have been looking at paintings, carvings and other reproductions of the crucifixion all our lives have become somewhat accustomed to the idea, not allowing ourselves to think about the cruelty in detail. But a sensitive child learning about it for the first time might understandably be horrified. You have probably already told him that the picture of Jesus on the cross is hard for all of us to look at and think about, and that you are not surprised the story makes him scared and sad.

So, first you listen, realizing that preschool children think egocentrically, hearing things in the context of “if it happened once, then it could happen to me or my family.” Perhaps he will have trouble articulating his fear, and you will have to listen carefully to hear his very concrete interpretation of what his friend told him. You might ask him what he thinks might happen because of this story. Then, when you are sure you have heard him and that he feels understood, you might try comforting and reassuring him with whichever of the following seem most applicable, or a combination:

  • Jesus lived far, far away and a long, long time ago. What happened to him won’t happen now to you or anybody you know. We will keep you safe at home and your teachers and the people who are in charge of our city will keep our neighborhood safe.
  • The picture of Jesus on the cross can be very scary and you don’t need to look at it or be worried by it. When you are older you may be ready to understand more about Jesus and the worry won’t feel so big.
  • Jesus was someone who wanted to help people talk to one another, to use words, instead of hurting. Unfortunately, there were some bad guys who hadn’t gotten help to use words and they were mean to him. That was long ago before people had TV and cars and a lot of the safety rules we have now. Now, people work very hard to help one another to use words. They can even help bad guys learn to use words.

You didn’t mention if church attendance has become a problem, but we can certainly imagine it becoming one.

Children can be introduced to religion gradually, starting simply with messages about how to be kind and loving to our family and friends. If it is a family tradition to go to church and the figure of Jesus on the cross is unavoidable, do lots of planning with your child ahead of time. Perhaps the child can bring a coloring book and focus on that during the service, or perhaps the adults can take turns staying outside with the child. It wouldn’t be helpful to contaminate his introduction to religion by forcing situations that frighten him.

With that kind of loving attention and acceptance of his fear as very real, the fear will slowly fade.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

National author taps insight of HPC Grandmothers

Author Olivia Gentile has interviewed the HPC Grandmothers for her new project, The Grandparent Effect: Stories from a quiet revolution.

In this blog post, she talks with Kathy Smith Baker about the challenges of being a long-distance grandparent.

gp effect

Leaving children for the weekend

No matter how laid-back the parents of young children are, they sometimes need a weekend get-away to take a break, tend to out-of-town family matters, attend a function where spouses are invited, etc.

When this need arises for the first time, they might have some concerns – especially if their child already fusses when a sitter comes for just the evening.

If the sitter can be someone your child already knows, such as an extended family member or good friend, so much the better.  There is already a relationship forming and the sitter knows some of the family routines and where to find things.

However, if none of these options is available you may have to choose a sitter your child has never met, but has good references and is recommended by someone whose judgment you trust. As parents, you will want to meet her and interview her before she comes to your house to meet your child.

Preparing for departure

Not too far ahead of the time you leave, you will want to tell your child of your upcoming plans and who will be staying with him/her while you’re away.

Your child will probably protest and won’t understand why she cannot go with you.  She will feel angry and left out.  The best way to get over left-out feelings is to have your child be a part of the planning. For example:

  • She can help you pick out the clothing she will wear while you’re gone and put it in a special place.
  • She can be a part of planning the menus for the meals she and the sitter will have together.
  •  She can pick out the games she might like to play with the sitter.
  •  You could take her to the library to pick out some new books they can read together.
  •  She could help make a plan for an outing while Mom and Dad are gone – the park/playground, the zoo, a movie suitable for young children.

As for you, Parents:  Even though there may be protesting that makes you feel guilty about leaving your unhappy child, don’t be tempted to try to sugarcoat the feeling by telling her about all the fun things she’ll be doing with the sitter while you’re gone. Instead sympathize with her and tell her the things you’ll do to help take the sting out of her missing feelings. For instance:

  • It would be very helpful if you would leave short notes for your child to read – one for each morning you’re gone and one for each evening.
  • Making a plan for a telephone call each day you’re gone will reassure her that you’re thinking of her.
  • Suggest that she draw some new pictures for the refrigerator to show Mom and Dad when you come home.
  • Leave a picture of the family together for her to look at so that she will have a tangible connection when she feels the “missing” the most.

When she can still feel “connected” she is less likely to be sad and angry because of a left-out feeling.

Time to leave

When the leaving day arrives, you as parents hope you’ve thought of everything – notes for the sitter, the name, number and address of where you’ll be beside the telephone. The bags are packed and in the car. The sitter has come and already has your child engaged in the game or book you suggested. You look at each other and are tempted to sneak out without saying “goodbye” and risking an upset.

Don’t you dare! When your child finds that you have gone without a hug or goodbye, she will really feel abandoned. It’s better to go to her, tell her you are leaving and give her your hugs. Tell her you will call her at the time that was arranged and now she and the sitter can finish the story or game. There will probably be tears, but you know that you and she will live through them.

Let me tell you a true story that one of our Grannies told about when she stayed with her 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter while her parents were on a trip.

It was bedtime. They had called and after they hung up, she was crying on her bed. I said, “Oh, Jadey, I know how hard it is to have Mommy and Daddy away. Would you like me to read to you before you go to sleep?” She raised herself up on her elbows and cried out, “NO – I just want to lie here and miss my Mommy and Daddy!” and she again flopped down on her tummy.  Jadey’s Granny reminds us that “We all want to do that at different times in our lives – well beyond 4 or 5 years of age.

Coming home

So, you did it.  You spent a weekend away and feel refreshed for it even though the planning felt endless. Don’t be surprised if, after the first hugs and kisses when you return home, they are followed by signs of your child ignoring you. She might even find a reason to become angry with you about something. Maybe the gift you brought her was “dumb.”  Maybe what you’re preparing for dinner smells “yucky.” She might fuss about going to bed because “it’s not fair” that you get to stay up later.

This reaction is pretty normal for a young child who has had to “suck it up” and stay with a sitter overnight for the first time. She felt left out then, now it’s your turn.

All of the careful planning and good preparation in the world can’t make up for the fact that you left her behind and had fun without her.

Image courtesy of Rawitch/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

100 great books to read with your kids

The selection of books is as important as the selection of toys. Most children will sit and enjoy when we read to then, so this is our chance to pass on the love of literature and of reading, to teach facts, values and the pronunciation of words.

As you look at pictures in books and identify the objects, the child learns that abstract picture symbols represent real things. Soon the transition will be made to understanding abstract letter symbols. It is better to have only a few good books then to have many which are unworthy of a young child’s developing mind.

As you make careful selections of books, provide a book shelf or some other easily accessible place to keep them, so that the child can easily find the one she wants, can care for them and easily put them away.

Books for young children should be uncluttered and simple with a clear presentation of the important concepts. The first words that children learn are nouns – the objects of everyday life.

The pleasure in reading is in the meaningful relationship the infant or young child has with the primary care giver. Books become meaningful when they are part of a one-on-one relationship with the mother or mothering person; they are a sweet addition to the loving relationship that exists between the child and care giver.

The first thing I look for in a book is whether there any scary pictures. Is there a fire? Do the animals have long sharp teeth? Look at the text of each book and decide if the vocabulary is appropriate. Are the words scary  – i.e. yelping, snarling and hissing sounds. Are there references to violence or antisocial behavior – fighting or throwing things?

I think about what questions or worries the child – your child – may have about a picture or phrase that is used in the book. Children will have their own thoughts, ideas and fantasies about the story that is being read. A child may have had frightening experiences with a dog or horse and you wouldn’t choose a book about these animals.

When a child’s feelings or worries are big they get in the way of what you are trying to teach. So a story with scary pictures or words may get in the way of a child learning a new concept.

As we read, we help our children move along the continuum from learning to read books toward reading to learn from books.

You will need to read books over and over because children learn from repetition. However in some cases, the wish to have something repeated does not always stem from liking it. If a child finds a book to be scary, the desire to have it repeated can be motivated by a need to play an active role in controlling when he or she has that scared feeling.

They ask for the scary book to be the boss of when they feel scared. They want things repeated to learn how to manage worried feelings. In fact, rather than practicing being scared, children may benefit more by talking about what gives them scared feelings. Let them know you have the same feelings.

With that introduction here are 100 great books for reading with your kids:

  1. Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
  2. Little Turtle’s Big Adventure, David Harrison
  3. Do Like Kyla, Angela Johnson
  4. Why Do You Cry?, Kate Klise
  5. Boots, Anne Schreiber
  6. Shawn Goes to School, Petronella Breinberg
  7. New Shoes for Silvia, Johanna Hurwitz
  8. Shades of Black, Sandra Pinkney
  9. Kevin and His Dad, Irene Small
  10. Something is Going to Happen, Charlotte Zolotow
  11. The Little Red Hen, Byron Barton
  12. The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, Shirley Neitzel
  13. The Kissing Hand, Audrey Penn
  14. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Laura Joffe Numeroff
  15. Freight Train, Donald Crews
  16. A Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  17. Green Eyes, A. Birnbaum
  18. Jonathan and His Mommy, Irene Smalls
  19. Kitten for a Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  20. Alphabet Under Construction, Denise Fleming
  21. Snowmen at Night, Caralyn Buehner
  22. From My Window, Olive Wong
  23. Mama, If you Had a Wish, Jeanne Modesitt
  24. Big Wheels, Anne Rockwell
  25. Feelings, Susan Canezans
  26. The First Snowfall, Anne and Harlow Rockwell
  27. Little Quack’s Hide and Seek, Lauren Thompson
  28. Too Big, Too Small, Just Right, Frances Minters
  29. A Winter Day, Douglas Florian
  30. Don’t You Feel Well, Sam, Amy Hest
  31. My World, Margaret Wise Brown
  32. The Important Book, Margaret Wise Brown
  33. When This Box is Full, Patricia Lillie
  34. Snow on Snow on Snow, Cheryl Chapman
  35. Michael and the Cats, Barbara Abercrombie
  36. Ten, Nine, Eight , Molly Bang
  37. The Way Mother’s Are, Meriam Schlein
  38. My Spring Robin, Anne Rockwell
  39. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems
  40. Big Fat Hen, Keith Baker
  41. Anno’s Counting Book, Mitsumasa Anno
  42. The Line-Up Book, Marisa Bena Russo
  43. Rain Drop Plop, Wendy Cheyetle
  44. Feast for Ten, Cathryn Falwell
  45. Caps for Sale, Esphyr Slobodkina
  46. On Mother’s Lap, Ann Herbert Scott
  47. What a Wonderful World, George David Weiss and Bob Thiele
  48. Duck on a Bike, David Shannon
  49. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Bill Martin Jr.
  50. Mama Always Comes Home, Karma Wilson
  51. Mommy Always Comes Back, Constances Miller
  52. Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel
  53. The Gigantic Turnip, Alekei Tolstoy
  54. School, Emily Arnold McCully
  55. One Happy Classroom, Charnan Simon
  56. What Comes in 2’s, 3’s and 4’s, Suzanne Aker
  57. On My Way to Buy Eggs, Chah-Yuan Chen
  58. Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Bill Marlin Junior
  59. Let’s Go Home Little Bear, Martin Waddell
  60. My Cat, Judy Taylor
  61. Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke
  62. The Littlest Owl, Caroline Pitcher
  63. Gooseberry Goose, Claire Freeman
  64. School is Unfair, Patricia Baehr
  65. Little by Little, Amber Stewart
  66. Jamaica Tag- a- long, Juanita Havill
  67. Rain, Kalan/Crews
  68. All About Me, teacher Created Materials
  69. When I Feel Angry, Cornelia Maude Spelman
  70. Just My Size, May Garelick
  71. One of Three, Angela Johnson
  72. Sing a Song of People, Lois Lenski
  73. A Tree is Nice, Janice Udry
  74. Ruby in Her Own Time, Jonathan Emmett
  75. The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown
  76. Snowballs, Lois Ehlert
  77. Sadie and the Snowman, Allen Morgan
  78. Llama Llama Mad at Mama, Anna Dowdney
  79. Growing Like Me, Anne Rockwell
  80. The Friend, John Burningham
  81. Clementine’s Winter Wardrobe, Kate Spohn
  82. Why Do Grown-ups Have All the Fun, Marisakina Russo
  83. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
  84. The Cat Sat on the Mat, Alice Cameron
  85. The Mitten, Jan Brett
  86. All You Need for a Snowman, Alice Shertle
  87. The Bus for us, Suzanne Bloom
  88. Over on the Farm, Christopher Gunson
  89. Block City, Robert Louis Stevensonne Rockwell
  90. Something from Nothing, Phoebe Gilman
  91. One Magical Day, Claire Freedman
  92. My Spring Robin, Anne Rockwell
  93. Alphabet City, Stephen Johnson
  94. All the World, Liz Garten Scanlon
  95. Flower Garden, Eve Bunting
  96. Fall Leaves Fall, Shari Halpern
  97. Jamaica’s Find, Juanita Havill
  98. Jamaica and Briana, Juanita Havill
  99. Fiesta, Ginger Foglesong Guy
  100. The Tortilla Factory, Gary Paulsen

Spring ahead, fall back … just don’t fall apart

It’s time again to change the clocks – and suffer a week or more of family discombobulation. “There’s got to be a better way,” we all think, as the early-waking child seems to wake even earlier; or the cranky-before-dinner child seems to spend even more time in that unpleasant state.

Know two things:

  1. You’re not alone in your clock-changing dread; and
  2. There are ways to make it all go a little smoother.

Here are some tips to get you through the transition:

Change the clock on your own terms. Don’t wait until 2 a.m. Sunday. That barely works for grown-ups; it’s a lousy trick on a kid’s body clock. Change as early in the weekend as you can. This gives you time to reinforce the new timing of things before anyone has to show up to school or work on Monday.

We highly recommend changing the clock as early as Friday night, so you can wake up on Saturday with the “new” time.

This is a great life lesson. Kids need to know how to follow society’s rules (the clock must change) while being true to themselves (we change it this weekend, when it works best for our family).

Change all your clocks/watches at once. This helps you believe the time has changed, so you can be consistent for your young child. If you have somewhere to be on Saturday, try to use the “new” time to keep oriented,

Adjust all meal times to the new clock. Kids like routine; they rely on it. So pace the whole routine as normal; if dinner is usually at 6 , then continue to have it at 6 – even though it may feel like it’s coming earlier or later than usual. The children will adjust. If they react poorly to it on Saturday, you still have Sunday to get things settled before the school/work week begins.

Remember that a child’s wake-up time predicts his or her nap and bed times. If you have a child who is sensitive to change, he or she may have trouble going to sleep at their “regular” time when the clock has just moved. To the internal body clock, it feels like an hour early or late, depending on the time of year and the direction of the time change.

Reinforce weekday wake-up, nap, and bed times to help your child adjust. Be prepared for being a little off-kilter the first few days; naps may be shorter or harder to achieve altogether, but they will come back.

Acknowledge that the weekend feels a little funny, but don’t go into long explanations. Young children take our words literally. They will wonder why you got a different clock, or will argue that the clock hasn’t been “changed” at all.

The concept of time being adjustable may become confusing or distracting. Don’t bog the kids down with this. Your goal is to have a fun family weekend where the new times just blend into your life.

Make lemonade out of lemons. If you are concerned that your young child will have a bumpy adjustment, this is a great weekend to take the big outing you’ve been avoiding because it will mess up the nap schedule.

Sometimes the curveballs of life can actually help. A big outing throws your child’s body clock off, in which case he or she will gladly embrace the post-outing routine that you offer (with the new & improved clock time). Get up and out with a planned outing early Saturday or, better still, Sunday. Then your little one will be more likely to fall asleep at a decent time come Sunday night. And so will you.

Image courtesy of Digital Art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Enrichment is always close at-hand

Why preschoolers shouldn’t get kicked out of school for acting up

The ill result when young children sit too long in school

Why “play” is an important part of preschool and kindergarten

Cover image courtesy of Stuart Miles/Freedigitalphotos.net