What ‘child development’ means to those who study it

An excerpt from one of our previous webcasts of Hanna Perkins Therapist Deborah Paris, LISW, BCD, on what the experts mean when they talk about “child development.”

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.net

Handling separation when young children first go to school

An excerpt from one of our previous webcasts of Hanna Perkins Therapist Deborah Paris, LISW, BCD, discussing the separation difficulty that most young children experience when they begin programs that require separation from parents and/or caregivers.

Here’s an additional article on the subject.


Your vacation and their daycare

Following the last vacation season – spring break – I heard from several parents about their young children’s disruptive behavior at home.

They were puzzled by this, as they had maintained their children’s daycare schedule even though they took time off from work. They had made this decision because they needed time to “recharge their batteries.”

But children need time away from the daily grind too.

Parents also indicated that they didn’t want to disrupt their children’s schedule. They assured me that their children didn’t mind or even know that they were at home. In truth, children are very perceptive. And yes, they may be quite attached to their care providers at daycare, and they might miss playing with classmates. But nothing is as important as spending time with their parents.

As for the disruptive behavior, I suspect it was a communication — a child’s way of letting parents know of his/her sad and mad feelings.

I know that being a working parent is taxing. But I would urge you to keep your children with you when you have several days off.

Remember, the time is coming when children will be much more focused on their peers and not so needy of your attention. And when turbulent adolescence arrives, you will be very glad to have established a strong bond with your son or daughter.

More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


A formula for a perfect kids’ summer

Warm, sunny days! Aren’t they great after having been cooped up all winter? Everyone is so ready for fresh air and freedom.

And freedom is what we grandmothers wish for your young children during spring and summer.

Yes, we know we must be concerned for their safety and we understand that the work week continues for most parents. But please, we implore you, try to provide some sense of freedom and independence for them this summer.

Take advantage of this time – when some routines change and nature beckons – to make this all-too-short season a time of growth and happiness.

The rules

At the start of the outdoor play season, think about the ground rules that are appropriate for your children now; they can do so much more than they did last year. Decide how to set the limits that will allow a young child to realize how much he has grown, how competent he is becoming.

Figure out the boundaries that will allow you to be comfortable without having to be constantly on guard. “You can ride your trike as far as Mrs. Smith’s house, then turn around and come back.” How exciting is that for the 3-year-old who couldn’t even ride the trike last year?

And for the 5-year-old: “You can walk around the block to your friend’s house; just call me when you get there.” She will feel as adventurous as if she had gone to the moon.

Even the toddler will feel like a big boy when you get him out of the stroller and give him a paper bag to fill with his discoveries as you walk slowly to the vacant lot down the street.

Using the things he picks up to make a collage, or sorting them into an egg carton when you return home, extends the sense of discovery even further.

The freedom

When you go to the playground, don’t stop your children from challenging themselves in new ways. Children need to try new and harder things – climbing higher, jumping further, pumping their legs to make the swing go without Mommy or Daddy always pushing them.

If at all possible, provide a safe, enclosed place in your yard where your children can play without your constant supervision. Sure, you’ll check on them from time to time, but the main idea is to let them make up their own activities and allow lots of time for their play.

Ideally, this is a place where they can make a mess with water, dirt, sand and weeds to mix into a mud pie.

Ideally, there is some place where they can pretend they are in a hideaway or fort or ship. Use your own imagination to provide the basics, but allow plenty of leeway for them to use their imaginations—you won’t believe what they come up with.

Anything with water: Help Daddy wash the car, run through the sprinkler, “paint” the side of the house or a wall with a bucket of water and a real paint brush. And how about bubbles? They can provide hours of experimentation using kitchen utensils. Visit Bubblesphere to find a recipe for the best bubble mixture and for ideas of items to use to make different kinds.

The props

Anything you can do to help your children experience nature will help them grow in appreciation of our wonderful world.

Planting a garden, putting up a bird feeder, walking in the woods at a nature center, feeding the ducks at a duck pond, or going to a spot where they can see and experience our Great Lake: these are all experiences that will enrich them now and throughout their lives.

One last thing: try to remember what made summers wonderful for you when you were little. Maybe you can’t remember back to toddler and preschool age, but go back as far as you can.

When you recall the whole family riding bikes together to get ice cream on long summer evenings; when you experience again the thrill of climbing what you thought was a huge tree; when you remember how you and your best friend spent hours under the back porch making pretend meals in battered old pots and pans, you’ll realize what opportunities you should provide for your children so their summer will be one of pleasure, discovery and satisfying growth.

Image courtesy of Chris Roll/FreeDigitalPhotos.net






Free Replay: Early intervention to prevent bullying

Mrs. Wilson's class 003Our live webcast, It’s Never Too Early: Intervention For Tomorrow’s Bullies Today, provided insights on:

  • Why  bullying occurs;
  • How ordinary behaviors in preschool-age children can evolve over time into bullying;
  • How to identify these behaviors and provide gentle, effective intervention.

It also discussed a unique early-learning curriculum to help children learn to express emotions in ways that build self-esteem without being hurtful to others.

You can view the recorded webcast anytime as often as you want. It’s free with registration. To begin viewing, click the webcast window. A registration form will appear shortly after the webcast begins to play.

The webcast was hosted by Hanna Perkins with support from GlobalCast MD. It was held on May 14, 2015.


Preparing preschoolers for summer break

The end of the school year can create a lot of difficult feelings for children who are just completing their first or second school year. As adults, it’s easy for us to assume that everyone understands and embraces the excitement of the annual academic cycle.

But little “graduates” have never gone through the yearly wind-down at school, or the last time they did feels very remote in time. It was, after all, a quarter of a lifetime ago for them. So invoking last year’s rituals might not help.

When the rituals fail to comfort the sadness, some grownups swoop in with distraction by building excitement about what comes next – talking about the newer, bigger classroom they’ll have next year, or even the new school.

This method generally backfires; children become anxious about the unknowns – especially for something that is months and months away … which, honestly, September is.

Talking about kindergarten in May is natural for parents and teachers; it’s part of our preparation process.  But it is confusing to the preschooler who took months to settle in to this year’s teacher, classmates and routines.

The idea of a school year literally “ending” can be disconcerting to the young child who thought that the year would go on forever – that “she would be my teacher forever.” Saying goodbye can be scary, sad and maddening. Your child may need assurances about how to stay in touch with a teacher or special classmate, and how to keep school in mind.

Here are some tips to help your child with his or her needs at this emotional time:

Manage what your child overhears. Help to contain adult conversations about the future, and to the degree possible, protect your child’s ability to stay in the moment. When grownups pepper your child with questions about next year, tell them, “Autumn feels far away to us right now, so we are talking about that only at home and in small bits.” 

Reassure and put feelings into words. Respect your child’s conflicting feelings and teach him or her how to say it in a sentence. (“I am ready for new things, and I want everything to stay the same even though it can’t.”) Let your child know that you have mixed feelings, too.

Foster a comforting transition. Make some simple plans that give your child something to look forward to, especially the first week of summer. Let your child have some control over the choices (which day to stay home and bake; which day to work in the garden).

Many families like to set summer play dates with classmates; choose 3 to 4 dates in advance and give each child a printout of the plan. This gives them a concrete reminder that they will see school friends in a few weeks. One way to make these plans easy on everyone is to meet at a community playground, so no child is host and no child is guest.

Opt in and out. Don’t be shy about skipping a few rituals. Our society tends to build in a lot of end-of-the-year hoopla; it may be too much for your child. Only you can judge the right amount of revelry or when it’s better to stick close to home. Be mindful that you will likely be invited to more events than your child can reasonably handle.

The overall objective at this time of year is to help your child stay in the moment and to notice the array of emotions that come with change. That is the best graduation gift you can give.

During these moments, you are building your child’s lifelong resiliency. It’s the icing on the graduation cake, so to speak.

Image courtesy of Arztsamui/freedigitalphotos.net

Noticing – everything, that is

noticing_ stockimages_freedigitalphotos“He didn’t even notice!”

We often dismiss our young children’s observational skills this way. Did our young daughter notice that she was the only white (or black) child on the playground? Of course not! Did our son happen to observe that all the women in the shower room were naked? Didn’t seem to. How about the man without legs in the wheelchair? Well, she started to stare, but we distracted her and she forgot all about it.

“Well, he didn’t say anything.”

Perhaps we think that children don’t notice these things simply because they fail to comment. Or perhaps we are eager to believe that they don’t notice physical differences such as race or handicap or gender paraphernalia because these subjects make us squirm and we aren’t sure we have the words to adequately talk about them. And of course we would like to think of our children as wholly innocent and accepting, as little Adams and Eves in the blissful Eden of their lives. So we happily hope that they don’t notice.

“Of course, he notices everything else.”

But all of us who have tried to walk with a young child from here to there know full well that she notices and wants to touch every bug and blade of grass and passing dog, that the only thing she doesn’t notice, in fact, is how late it is getting as she explores and investigates. So why would we possibly think she wouldn’t observe something so eye-catching and noticeable as breasts or skin color or legs that end at the thigh?

“So maybe she does notice.”

She certainly does. Her job is noticing and she’s a lot better at it than we are. But either because she doesn’t have the language at her disposal yet, or because through our reaction (which she is the world’s foremost expert at noticing) we have indicated that she is not to comment, she does not. So we smile and say, “She didn’t even notice!”

Meanwhile, we may be failing to notice the child’s eyes growing round as silver dollars, and/or her somewhat unusual behaviors afterward as she tries to make sense of what she’s seen. For example, does the only white child on the playground start coloring her hands and face with magic markers? Does the boy exposed to the shower room begin popping in on us when we are dressing and bathing, though he never did before? And does the child who saw the man in the wheelchair start becoming hysterical at the slightest bump or skinned knee?

“So what is he thinking?”

When we don’t notice and help them out, children must draw on their limited previous experience and their primitive logic in order to make sense of their observations. The conclusions they come to might not only be erroneous, but frightening in their implications. (If I change my skin color, will I be as tough and strong as Joshua? Is there something wrong with my body because it is missing all that hair between my legs? Did it get that way because I did something wrong? If that man in the wheelchair is sick, is his sickness catching? Will I lose my legs too if I touch him or even go near him?)

“How do I encourage their questions?”

Physical differences exist in our children’s homes, of course, and we make a choice early on about whether or not, and to what degree, to shield him from them. Children who start seeing family members’ naked bodies at an early age will notice, and may be full of questions – spoken and unspoken. How much better to answer these questions ourselves, sometimes over and over again, rather than leave our children to draw their own faulty conclusions.

Sometimes we have no clues except our children’s behavior to guide us, and interpretation can be difficult. But maybe our son has started gawking at us as we undress in a way that makes us feel self-conscious. Or maybe our daughter looks alarmed when she sees the man in the wheelchair, and grabs tightly at our hand. We have to do our own vigilant noticing, and when we sense that one of these “noticing” situations may have become overwhelming or confusing for our child, start asking our own questions. Are you wondering about breasts, and why some people have them and some people don’t? Are you worried about that man we saw in the wheelchair? Gradually their questions will emerge, as you talk together about what they’ve seen.

Sometimes we would actually prefer that our children not notice, because we’re fearful that their questions could occur in public. Heaven forbid that in some quiet waiting room she might ask in her high, piercing voice, “Mommy, is that man going to have a baby? Look how fat his tummy is!” When that happens we can only smile wanly, whisper to her that we’ll answer her question later, and hope that the man with the paunch has a sense of humor. Later we can explain about women being the only ones who get pregnant, and maybe also introduce the idea of sensitivity about other people’s feelings. We will in no way scold her for her questions, however, but encourage her to ask more.

It’s worth the risk. Notice what your children are noticing, because they most certainly are.


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