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.

  • 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 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
  • 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

The Paris attack: 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

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

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

Our annual Halloween reminder: Please don’t scare the little ones

Dear Grandmothers:  A few years ago, my 3-year-old Phoebe helped me hand out treats on Halloween and we were having a lot of fun until a child dressed as a witch came to the door. Phoebe was terrified—she ran and hid under a table and wouldn’t even go near the door the rest of the evening. What should I do to make Halloween less traumatic for her this year?            –Phoebe’s Mom

We answered:  First, let us congratulate you on taking your child’s fears seriously – and before October 30. So often, we are taken by surprise when all the hype — which begins just after the Back to School sales — begins to cause our children to become over-excited or nervous. We may not realize that such behavior is all about the upcoming season of scare.

Despite all our talk to our preschoolers about the difference between what’s pretend and what’s real, they are still too young to really know this. Even though they say “I know it’s not real,” they can still be confused and frightened when confronted by witches, skeletons, ghosts and monsters – all the scary props of the season.

You can help your preschooler if you can just remember that everything she sees is absolutely real to her.

Another way to help young children is to recognize that your memories of your childhood Halloween fun are not from your preschool years.  You certainly were in elementary school when you had so much fun trick or treating until all hours with your friends, watching a scary video, or visiting a haunted house.

Many parents remember only those school-age Halloweens and think that such activities are what it’s all about, even for the littlest children. But they’re not—those kinds of activities are way too much for preschoolers.

Don’t worry;  you have many years ahead of reliving your childhood Halloween fun.  Just don’t rush it with the little ones.

So, what can you do for Phoebe this year?

Protect her from scary TV (even many commercials are overwhelming and frightening—or, at the very least, confusing).

Be on the lookout for signs that she is overwhelmed, overexcited, scared.  Is she running around excitedly, or does she cling to you, have her fingers in her mouth? Any unusual behavior at this time of year should make you wonder if she’s confused or frightened and should prompt you to ask her if she is worried about something.

Just your recognition of her nervousness will reassure her and help her to calm down.

If you can get her to tell you what she is worried about, don’t try to talk her out of her fears; acknowledge them and try to figure out a way to help her manage.

Let her decide how much she wants to participate in Halloween activities, respect her wishes. And give her a calmed down, low-key Halloween:  a costume, no mask;  trick or treating at a few friends’ or neighbors’ houses;  pumpkins and cute black cat decorations;  protections from anything that is overwhelming and not understood—or at least acknowledgement of those things and reassurance from you that you will keep her safe.

So, have fun this year, but be on the lookout for things that are “too much.”  All too soon she’ll be 10 and begging you to help her put up a haunted house in the garage.

Photo courtesy of Phaitoon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sharing Meals

Hanna Perkins Garden Cabbage ImageAt Hanna Perkins School, we have a long history of gathering at tables each day to share fresh and nutritious snacks and lunches. During these “family style” meals, children learn to pour their own beverages, serve themselves from a variety of choices, and practice passing and enjoying meals with other children and their teachers.

Currently, in an effort to introduce children to new foods and experiences, children are involved in preparing their own meals and sharing recipes. Like all aspects of the day, the snack and lunch times are managed and prepared with sensitivity to the developmental phase of the children in each classroom.

Our kitchen is used to prepare wholesome foods, including fresh fruit and vegetables and – whenever possible – locally produced and organic foods, including bread, butter and eggs. The kitchen provides tasty meals without the use of high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors, hydrogenated oils and preservatives; and is moving toward a “farm to table” meal program, where produce may be grown near the school or even in the school garden. Such a program allows children to be involved in growing, harvesting and preparing their own seasonal meals.

A vulnerable moment before starting school

In Los Angeles, a TV reporter interviewed a 4-year-old boy on the way into his first day of pre-school. She asked if he would miss his mom.

The little boy tries to put on his game face and bravely says no.

But the next moment tells the truth:

For many children, preschool is the first experience on their own – away from mom or dad or another trusted caregiver. It’s not just a matter of being separated physically; it’s the idea of having to be independent – navigating the unknown without immediate comfort and support from those who have been at your side every day of your short life.

The first day of preschool doesn’t have to involve tears. The overwhelming feelings behind the tears – smallness, helplessness, even abandonment – are counterproductive. And what 4-year-old has the ability or vocabulary to put such big feelings into words?

Here’s another way to think about it. If you throw a young child into the deep end of the pool, he or she will most likely manage to make it back to the edge. But that’s not a swimming lesson; it’s survival. If the goal is to teach a child to swim, you might carry the youngster into shallower water, providing the chance to get comfortable with – even enjoy – the sensation of floating.

Likewise, you want your child to love going to school and becoming more and more independent; to get excited by mastering new skills and learning and new things.

But before any of that can happen, he or she has to get comfortable being apart from you. That takes time, understanding and patience.

Here are some thoughts on how to prepare your young child for his or her first school experience:

At Hanna Perkins preschool, separation is the first thing we work on. We do it slowly and gently, taking as much time as necessary until your child feels ready to be on his or her own at school. We’ve been doing it this way for more than 60 years and know it provides a lifetime of benefits.

Post script: The little boy’s mother was there to give him an off-camera hug. first day interview


The roles of a parent…

Source: Erna Furman, Helping Young Children Grow