Preparing your child for kindergarten

At one time, being ready for kindergarten meant knowing your name, address and phone number, being able to print your name, counting up to a certain number, reciting the alphabet in order and even tying your shoes.

These are helpful accomplishments, but in reality they have little to do with “readiness” for learning in a school setting.

Parents are a child’s first teachers, and they have all the tools needed to have him ready and eager to learn in an environment away from home, and from a teacher who isn’t also a caregiver. No special kits, flashcards or materials as-seen-on-TV are necessary.

In the everyday life of a family, parents guide children through many milestones that are part of being school-ready. These include:

Self-care: You won’t be with him, so his bodily needs (eating, using the toilet, dressing, wanting to be clean) will be up to him. So take advantage as he shows signs of wanting to “do it myself.” As he tries to be more independent, you can encourage each small step and admire his efforts. A child who can do for himself in a new environment can be less dependent on others – and is freer to focus on taking in and using new concepts.

Communication: Your child will be ready for school when he can tell others what he needs, when he needs help and what he doesn’t understand. Encourage him to use words at home to let you know what he wants and how he feels. Help him put into words how he feels when he looks sad or acts angry.

When he is curious about his world and asks questions, try to take the time to answer him simply. His “Why?” and “What’s a …?” curiosity will make him an eager learner at school. The ability to communicate at school will keep the learning tasks focused. It will help him avoid getting sidetracked with interfering behaviors of acting out or shutting down from the frustration of not understanding or not being understood.

Being part of a group: Being able to play comfortably with others his age will help greatly when he is at school. As you observe your child playing with others, watch for his ability to wait for a turn and share materials. If he has difficulty with this, help him see how the fun he’d been having was spoiled because he made his playmate feel bad by grabbing, pushing in front or not sharing.

Help him want to be liked and to see his role in whether things go well and if he and his friends are having fun. When he can use more inner controls to behave in a friendly way – rather than always needing outer discipline – he will feel good about himself and have more positive energy for learning and making good relationships.

“Missing” feelings: It’s normal to miss Dad, Mom and home, but these feelings do not need to overwhelm your child. Point out to him all of the things he can do already because he worked hard and practiced. Tell him how proud you are of all the ways he shows you that he is growing up. Let him know that you will be missing him, too; that his school is a place you know about and like. Hopefully, you and he will be able to visit the school, his room and teacher before the first day. If he has seen his room and met his teacher with you, it serves to put your “stamp of approval” on it and he can feel that he is “safe.”

If you do visit his room, you can point out some of the activities he is already familiar with, such as the blocks, puzzles and some of the art materials. Remembering doing some of them at home with you will help him be able to do things at school when you’re not with him.

There may be set-backs. He may have been in other programs where there were extended separations, but this is different and it may bring up those “missing” feelings again. At home, be prepared to listen and give your child the opportunity to express the worries and frustrations he may have.

Admire the way he could tell you and let you help with his feelings. Let him know you have missed him, too, but feel so proud of all the good growing up he’s shown he can do. The more confidence you have in him, the more confident he can be.

Image courtesy of Photostock/FreeDitigalPhotos.net

Birthday parties – a little bit of sanity please

“Happy Birthday, dear Billy…” oh no…the candles are burning and everyone is singing, but Billy is definitely not a happy birthday boy.  In fact, tears are rolling down his cheeks and the wish he’s making as he blows out the candles is for everyone to just go away and let him play with that cool truck in the pile of presents.

How could it be that this perfectly planned event was not a wonderful experience for the honoree?  It was held at a special location, which specializes in kids’ parties.  All fifteen children from Billy’s preschool class plus his 10 cousins were invited and there were lots of exciting things for kids to run around and do.   There was a magician to entertain them, pizza, a special cake, and a piñata to whack away at.  What more could a child possibly want?  Well, yes, maybe a pony for everyone to ride—but that’s for next year.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? In our modern, competitive world, many birthday parties for young children have become occasions for keeping up with—or even outdoing—other parents. “Ashley’s party was so lovely; the girls and their mothers went to a fancy hotel for a fashion show—whatever can we do to compare with that?”

Children’s parties can also become social events for the adults, either as a way to entertain friends or to gather the extended family for a reunion.  In both of these instances, the focus is on the adults and the children may get lost in the shuffle, either to run amok unsupervised or to have too much attention showered upon them when they are unsure of what they are expected to do.

Perhaps parents want to feel that they have done everything to make their children’s lives as perfect as possible.  In our fast-paced world, parents may feel guilty that they are not giving their children the time and attention they should and so try to make it up to them by throwing a grand and glorious birthday party.

Similarly, in the hurried world of two working parents, Mom may think, “why should I have all these kids running through my house making a big mess to clean up?  If we have the party at Chuck E. Cheese, I can have the rest of the weekend to get other chores done.”

All these are possible explanations for the overdone, inappropriate, chaotic birthday parties we see.  If only parents would examine their motives as they plan for this important milestone in their child’s life, perhaps the scenario would be a different one.

WHAT TO DO? First of all, think of everything from your child’s perspective.  How old is she?  One easy rule of thumb is to invite the same number of children as the age of the child, so three guests are perfect for your three year old’s party.  Send cupcakes to the pre-school to celebrate with all the classmates; let the actual party be a private one which will be a pleasure for your child only if it is kept at a size which she can manage.  Similarly, plan on a manageable length of time, two hours is plenty.   Be sure to state the hours on the invitation so everyone knows just what to expect.

Second, remember that the simplest things are new and wonderful to young children.  Think of what your child loves to do.  If he is a nature lover, go to the nearby park and have a simple scavenger hunt for acorns, bird feathers, and yes, even a piece of litter (can’t start too early with cleaning up the environment—and, of course, you brought hand-wipes to clean them up afterwards).  If it’s a nice day, spread a cloth on a picnic table and ice some cupcakes, have some lemonade, play a few games, and go home.  Oh yes, the goody bag: a little ladybug toy and a few pieces of your child’s favorite candy are a nice souvenir of the day.

If she would love to have a tea party, invite the guests to bring their dolls and provide all the makings of a pretend tea party at home.  The children could make the sandwiches and, of course, pour the pretend tea (lemonade with a touch of tea for color) for themselves and their dolls.  A fun craft activity, such as a picture frame, for the photo you take of each girl with her doll, would be a nice favor for guests to take home.

What to do with those boys when it’s bad weather?  How about the scavenger hunt indoors?  Hide items, which go along with your party theme, around the house.  Play a beanbag toss game or rig up a balance beam for the junior Olympians to walk across.  Get some scraps of wood for them to glue together and paint or show the DVD of some old (short) cartoons that you loved as a child.  Let the boys make their own pizzas or string cubes of fruit on bamboo sticks for kabobs.

When there are fewer children and the activities are based on reality rather than overly stimulating fantasy, there is less random running around and everyone is calmly involved. When you think of themes for the party for children who might become over-excited, choose the real vs. fantasy, for example:  astronauts, the circus  (without the wild lion), the Olympics, or explorers digging for hidden treasure but nothing about ferocious, scary things. When parents don’t take on too much and the party is planned with the child’s best interests in mind, it will be just as pleasant for them as it is for the child.  Not to mention the easier cleanup when there are not hordes of kids running rampant through the house.

The planning and preparation are as much fun for the birthday child as the party itself, so involve her as much as possible.  Picking out the invitations and decorations at the dollar store or making them yourselves, making the cake, setting the table and filling the goody bags are all major ingredients of a memorable occasion for a child.

Some kids can take being a party host in stride, but others may need you to go over the entire scenario before the event so they know exactly what will happen when and pretty much what they will be expected to do and say.  When you plan the Birthday Party taking into account your child his age and interests you will find its economically sane and results in less clean up and a happy child.  Save the elaborate party for the wedding reception.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A parenting technique that really works

At a gathering of parents sponsored by The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development (HPC), Licensed Independent Social Worker and HPC Child Psychoanalyst and Therapist Deborah Paris addressed a range of questions and concerns, including this one:

 Q: I keep hearing about “attachment parenting” and other parenting techniques. Is there a particular technique that you like?

A:  My preferred technique is whatever works best in promoting healthy development. It begins with understanding there are certain goals in raising young children:

  • Self care
  • Self regulation
  • Self determination

What makes people healthy is developing this sense of self – not us as parents doing for them.

You know, we do a funny thing these days. On one hand we see the helicopter parent, who is over-involved in everything the child tries to do. On the other hand we sometimes act like children are little adults, and we expect all sorts of things from them that they aren’t ready to handle – like sitting quietly through a long meal at an upscale restaurant.

In both extremes, what’s happening is the parents are trying to control the outcome. It’s as if by just doing or demanding all the right things, everything will come out fine. This is actually leaving the child – as an individual person – out of the equation.

If you insist on controlling the outcome, then your child is going to struggle to learn and practice self care, self determination, self regulation. It will be about you instead of about them.

But if you start from the perspective of what the child needs and what is going on inside of him or her– as opposed to adopting a specific parenting “technique” – you’ll end up in the right place.

Children have an inner world that is understood (or misunderstood) from the perspective of a 2- or 3- or 4-year-old brain. Be sensitive to this. Work with them to identify and resolve misunderstandings and misconceptions. Help them learn those things the developing self requires.

If you want to call this a parenting technique, I’d say it has a pretty good record of success.

Image of little boy courtesy of Julie Moore/Stock.xchng

 

Dealing with stranger anxiety

Parenting has always been stressful, but now more than ever it seems. So my heart goes out to moms and dads who struggle with the issue of how to keep their children safe without instilling undue fear – fear that can lead a child to heightened levels of stranger anxiety.

Stranger anxiety is a normal part of development that occurs in most children around the age of 6 or 7 months, and it may last until the child’s first birthday or so.

At this stage, children are very attached to their primary providers, and they may experience considerable distress when in the company of people with whom they are unfamiliar. Often, they show this distress by hiding behind their parents, quietly peeking at the stranger and loudly protesting if he or she makes any overtures.

When this kind of behavior is seen in older children, I often wonder about angry feelings they may be experiencing. Are those aggressive feelings being projected outward and making the world seem like a very unsafe place?

This is typical of what you find in children who are terrified of the boogey man, burglars, ghosts, etc. As one savvy boy put it, “I think that’s just my mad feelings coming back to get me.”

So, what do you do?

First and foremost, keep your cool. Children are masters at picking up on their parents’ anxiety.

Very matter-of-factly reinforce the importance of not talking to strangers. But then, prepare the child in advance for situations where contact with strangers will be unavoidable – like at the airport, as an example.

You can say things like: “Mommy and daddy will be with you and keep you safe.” Or if a school field trip is planned, you might offer: “When you go to the museum, there will be strangers, but you’ll be with your teacher. And the school staff will keep you safe.”

Also, remind your child about police officers, whose job is to keep us safe.

If you suspect your child is projecting his/her own anger, encourage the use of words for feelings. “You seem angry; I wish you could tell me about it.” If your child seems scared of strangers to the point of panic, seek professional help.

More Parenting Tips available at www.westpsychotherapy.com.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping for preschool: 19 things your child needs to learn

When you begin to look at preschools for your children, it’s easy to be wowed by some of the exciting things many of them will offer to compete for your business, such as big muscle rooms, regular field trips, strenuous academic curricula, and name-brand extracurricular activities taught by outside instructors.

This splendid collection of  activities raises a question: How can parents figure out the best pre-school environment for their child?

It helps to think for a minute about who children are at this age and stage; then it becomes much easier to figure out an environment that matches their development level and abilities.

Two- to 5-year-olds are evolving people – not totally developed. Their personalities and sense of the world are still getting organized.

That’s what we mean when we talk about developmental stages: Children are continually organizing and reorganizing as their abilities evolve for moving around in – and understanding – the world. So we are looking for an environment that promotes this process of organization, that encourages children to feel safe in the world, in charge of themselves, and zestful about new experiences and learning.

What this means is that some of the best preschools may be the least exciting to visit. Or more accurately – they won’t be overexciting.

They tend to be quiet places that emphasize a daily routine. That allows children to know what’s going to be happening and to predict their experience. Such an environment helps them to learn about the world and themselves in a way that encourages mastery.

Activities are designed to stimulate, not over-stimulate.  At this age children don’t need so much outside stimulation; they need to process experience in little bites rather than bug gulps. Otherwise they get overwhelmed, which gets in the way of their feeling safe and organized inside.

In other words, the purpose of preschool is to help a child become a learner – someone invested in learning, with the skills to be able to learn, and who enjoys mastery and work.

Or still another way: It isn’t a matter of how much a child knows, as gratifying as that might be; It is a matter of how the child learns and how he or she feels about learning. By becoming learners in these early years, children will have the skills they need to succeed in any academic environment in the future.

Here are 19 specific tasks that are prerequisites to becoming a learner. Mastering them requires a gradual process that evolves from the ages of 2½ to 5.

Once mastered, these tasks will allow a child to learn anything when the time is right. But if a child hasn’t succeeded in mastering these tasks by early elementary school (more or less), he or she will be compromised in learning, which can interfere with their future educational investment and success.

Mastery Tasks for Becoming a Learner

Listed below are 19 specific tasks children need to master in order to become learners. A strong preschool curriculum is organized to help children attain these skills:

  1. Be able to take care of the self – their bodies and their things – in an appropriate way.
  2. Be able to separate from their parents/caregivers in such a way that they maintain energy, zest, interest and spectrum of affect in the new environment.
  3. Be able to see the teacher as a teacher, not just a substitute caregiver. Be able to trust so they can later learn from different people.
  4. Be able to use language for communication; be able to ask questions.
  5. Be able to listen and hear communications; be able to hear answers to questions.
  6. Be able to take in and express (a corollary to No. 5).
  7. Be able to sit still and be in their own space.
  8. Be able to delay gratification (i.e. wait).
  9. Be able to tolerate frustration; try, try again!
  10. Be able to relate to peers as people, rather than as conveniences or inconveniences.
  11. Be able to function in a group while maintaining autonomy and without feeling lost.
  12. Be able to make transitions.
  13. Be able to follow directions.
  14. Be able to risk.
  15. Be able to be wrong.
  16. Be able to have pleasure in learning and mastery.
  17. Be able to be curious in a neutral and productive way.
  18. Be able to assert themselves in socially acceptable ways.
  19. Be able to remain neutral in the classroom – that is, be a schoolboy or schoolgirl.

As adults and parents – because we can’t remember routine events from our own toddler years – it’s easy to forget that these skills are neither intuitive nor self-learned. They need to be taught and reinforced through patience, understanding, kindness and quiet dedication.

When evaluating preschools, this is what I recommend parents seek.

Image courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Handling holiday disappointments

“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.

Grumpy Ballerina

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The kid riding in the cart, eyeing the decorated artificial trees and the life-sized cardboard Santas and the aisles and aisles of toys sincerely believes it.

His favorite TV shows, his nursery school teachers, the Santa on whose lap he sat last week at the shopping mall, his older siblings and playmates have all convinced him of it. Everyone is as happy as happy can be during holiday time because they’re all going to be given exactly what they want, and a few things they never even imagined, besides.

And then the crash comes. Maybe it’s because her divorced mom and dad didn’t get back together as she had hoped they would after all.  In fact, dad didn’t even show up;  he just left a gift under the tree. Maybe it’s because she got the flu and spent most of Christmas throwing up.

Maybe it’s because she got in a fight with her brother over a toy they both wanted and got put in “time out” by an unusually crabby mother. Maybe she didn’t get that puppy she had asked Santa to bring her. Maybe it looked to her like her sister got way more presents than she did.

Whatever the cause, if she knew the words, she would tell us that she is terribly disappointed. And if she did, we her parents would be terribly disappointed.

Feelings on the fridge

Of all the developmental tasks that we hope our growing child will successfully master, none is more demanding on the growing parent than the child’s learning to express his feelings. We tell ourselves that we want him to feel free to tell us when he is angry, or sad, or frustrated, or annoyed. We are hopeful that if he acquires a complete feelings vocabulary, he will be able to cope with these emotions.

We want this so much that we even have a chart of them posted on our refrigerator, stuck with a magnet at his eye level, illustrated with cartoon faces. The cartoon labeled surprised has eyes as round as and two-thirds the size of its circular face; the cartoon expressing furious has gritted teeth and eyes reduced to slits; the one designated exhausted has its tongue hanging out one corner of its mouth, and more.

Feelings on the fly 

We faithfully practice using these words ourselves. When our child has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, we hold our own emotions in check while we intone, “Are you feeling angry that Mommy won’t buy you the cereal with the chocolate chips and marshmallows in it?  But you see, Mommy is feeling worried that if you eat that kind of cereal, you won’t grow up to be healthy and strong.”

Coming to grips with feelings

But then comes the inevitable day when our child breaks our heart with her grief over her goldfish dying, or her best friend abandoning her, or Christmas not turning into the golden day it was supposed to be.

And we want to instantly rush in and fix it, wipe away the tears, offer a new goldfish, a different friend, a candy cane, whatever it takes to make her stop telling us how sad she is.

Even worse is when something we have done – or haven’t done – is the cause of her unhappiness. Or when after all our efforts and accumulation of bills she isn’t appreciative of what we have bought and wrapped and put under the tree. Then we want to tell her how to feel, to move quickly to the other side of the feelings chart, to joyful and proud and excited, not to mention grateful.

And then there’s the matter of her missing the daddy we sent away without consulting her.

Words won’t make the feelings disappear

The developmental stage we’re talking about here is, in fact, not our child’s, but ours.

As parents, we need to learn to tolerate the emotions that our child’s feelings evoke in us. First we need to realize two things:

  1. Expressing and managing feelings is not the same thing as eradicating them.
  2. If we encourage our children to express their feelings, we’d better be prepared to listen to some feelings that we didn’t really want to hear.

Painful feelings will remain painful no matter what we say, no matter how we encourage our child to talk about them. They are his feelings for him to own and live with, and we cannot get rid of them for him – nor should we try.

The point of our child learning to use the words on the feelings chart is not to overcome them, but to express them more exactly and satisfyingly than he might otherwise.

Preparation helps

This holiday season we don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but we can at least prepare our children for the inevitable disappointments.  One way to do this would be to ask our son or daughter what they are anticipating, and then explain, if necessary, that some of their more extravagant expectations just aren’t likely to be realized.

Then we need to work on our own unrealistic expectations for the holiday season and be prepared for not only our own disappointments, but our children’s.  We’ll be able to listen and empathize, and offer our understanding along with a consoling hug – then return to the family celebration as if disappointments were a natural part of life. Because they are.

Even at holiday time.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking Care of Our Emotions – So Kids Can Take Care of Theirs

A special guest discussion with noted children’s author Cornelia Spelman

How does all that we learned – and didn’t learn – affect our ability to teach our children?

Children’s author and therapist Cornelia Spelman will talk with parents and professionals on Saturday, Sept. 21, about the importance of understanding what we have learned about managing our own emotions so that we can help children deal effectively with theirs. The event is offered in cooperation with the Northern Ohio Clinical Social Work Society.

Spelman will be available after the talk to visit and sign books, including When I Feel Worried, the latest in her “The Way I Feel” series. A range of books from that series, as well as her acclaimed memoir Missing will be available for purchase at the event, through cooperation with Appletree Books of Cleveland Heights. (Spelman’s book series was the inspiration for the “I Feel” exhibit at the Cleveland Children’s Museum, which also opens Sept. 21.)

Anyone who misses the discussion is welcome to drop in for the book signing and to visit the open house being held at the same time at Hanna Perkins’ Reinberger Parent/Child Resource Center.

This discussion is eligible for CEU credits (see box at bottom); while it is free,  the accrediting organization may assess a fee upon filing for credits.

Taking Care of Our Emotions – So Kids Can Take Care of Theirs
Saturday, Sept. 21
         2-3:30 p.m.: Talk with parents and professionals
         3:30-4:30: Book signing, informal discussion and Reinberger Parent Child Resource Center open house
Location: The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development 
Cost: Free (Reservations are recommended for the discussion.)

Eventbrite - Taking Care of Our Emotions – So Kids Can Take Care of Theirs

 

About the speaker

Cornelia Maude Spelman, M.S.W., is a clinical social worker with experience as a therapist with children and families. A graduate of  Emerson College in Boston and Loyola School of Social Work, she is an award-winning author of 10 children’s books that focus on feelings and emotions; and of the memoir Missing, about the intergenerational effects of grief. Among her credentials, she also lists her personal learning as a mother and grandmother. Visit her website for more biographical information and more detail about her work.  

Spelman previews her program

Hanna Perkins Center focuses on the ability to “understand, communicate, and manage feelings.” All of us – teachers, parents, caregivers, grandparents, nurses, therapists and anyone who attends to the needs of children – are likely to agree that this ability is a cornerstone of mental health and also necessary for unimpeded learning and growth in all other areas.

But what attitudes toward emotion were handed down to us from our own parents? What emotions did they value, and what emotions were forbidden? What emotions did they express, and how did they express them? How does what we learned from our parents – our emotional legacy – continue to affect us today? And how does it affect our ability to teach our children?

This talk will explore our own learning about emotions; offer written exercises and discussion; and support participants in becoming more aware of the role their own childhood learning about emotions plays in their present life. It will empower attendees to decide if what they learned themselves is what they want to pass on to their children.

Before the talk, attendees are asked to identify (to themselves) an actual emotional heirloom that is of particular meaning to them, to think about the story behind it, and to consider its connection to their emotional learning.

Eventbrite - Taking Care of Our Emotions – So Kids Can Take Care of Theirs

The wisdom and continued relevance of Mr. Rogers

In 1969, the legendary Mr. Rogers made a legendary appearance before the Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to lobby for continued funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In the process, his words about the inner life of children nearly brought an initially skeptical Sen. John O. Pastore to tears.

Those words are as relevant today as they were then. Perhaps more so:

“If we can only  make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger – much more dramatic – than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing…”

 

When the little one is acting sneaky

A while ago I visited a friend and her family. One afternoon I found myself in the kitchen with Janine, her lively little 4-year- old. She was playing with a puzzle and I was helping prepare dinner and her mother had gone into the garden. She suddenly looked around and pushed a small stool against the cupboards. She glanced behind, climbed up and reached to the back of the shelf from which she pulled a chocolate.

Holding it tightly, she jumped back on to the floor, pushed the stool back to its proper position and hurried over to her play area. The chocolate was hastily unwrapped and devoured and the wrapper was immediately buried in the garbage can. She returned to her puzzle.

I was a visitor and knew full well by the look on her face and her hurried and furtive movements that the hidden candy was out of bounds and this little girl knew it. I neither said nor did anything.

In retrospect I should have immediately wondered with her if she was into something she should not have been, and that maybe Mommy had warned her not to eat the candy. I should have suggested that she’d feel bad if she did something she knew Mommy wouldn’t like.

Instead I watched with fascination as she found an inventive, rather athletic way to reach the forbidden candy. The truth of the matter was that now we both felt guilty – Janine for breaking a rule even if she didn’t get caught, and I for allowing it to happen without some gentle, adult intervention.

Who among us can honestly claim to have never been sneaky about anything – particularly if we define it as doing something forbidden, on the sly?

Sneakiness and lying in young children often infuriates parents and teachers. It’s interesting that in adulthood our own sneaky histories are not only remembered in great detail but often humorously shared with friends. We remember exactly what we did and whether we were caught or got away with it. It was the guilt that imprinted these memories.

It’s unwise to accuse a 4-year old of being a sneak or if, when caught and she denies it, a liar. These are strong words to use and aren’t any more help than looking away – as did I.

Adults rightly feel an obligation to discourage children from being sneaky or telling lies, and there are lessons to be taught about rules and the truth. But nothing is to be gained by severely punishing them when they transgress.

Severe admonitions simply result in a small child’s trying to survive the fear of a parent’s anger or the possibility of being spanked – rather than feeling bad about what they had done and regretting it. Terrifying children with angry words and punishment might well drive them further into more inventive sneakiness and lying and more creative ways to avoid being caught.

Young children’s sneakiness can be attributed to wanting something that is missing or forbidden, an urge they have that can’t be satisfied. Their wishes are very strong at this young age; having those wishes denied results in angry feelings. They feel they haven’t been able to get enough when being aboveboard with Mom and Dad, so the impulse to get what they want trumps the newly learned rules and all other feelings.

When caught, young children often lie. It’s an indication that they wish they had done the right thing and, rather than feeling uncomfortable about what they have done, they invent a new reality that would seem to make things better: they lie. They really don’t want to deliberately deceive others in order to “get away” with their forbidden acts.

Believe it or not, this lie can often be a confession, because the discomfort of a sneaky act or the lie that follows is almost more than they can bear.

By 4 years of age Janine already knew many of the family “rules” and knew the candy was not to be taken without permission. She knew her mother would be angry and would certainly scold her had she been caught mid-theft. She also predicted that if she had asked, she would have been denied the candy.

So how to approach your young child when you’re sure this sneaky behavior will land her in prison one day? Contrary to the way I reacted to Janine’s behavior, it would have been far more helpful for me to talk to her about taking something forbidden and about how bad she would feel inside if she did.

Recognizing with her how much she wanted the forbidden candy, for example, and how hard it was not to grab that piece when no one was looking might have helped her hear me. Suggesting we talk to Mom about a time when she might have one would be important or if she can’t, making that clear and finding a substitute food or activity.

Approval by parents is very powerful in young children. So much depends on this strong relationship and a child’s wish to keep it close. It often leads to children denying themselves something they badly want just to maintain it. At first it works when the parents are nearby, but not when they are absent. It’s for this reason baby sitters can have difficulty with a child’s behavior. Eventually it becomes the child’s job to keep the rules in mind even in the absence of  parents. But that is a skill that takes time to learn.

So take heart and don’t fret if your preschooler takes a wrapped chocolate from the shelf when she thinks you’re not watching, or if she denies it when caught. Try not to accuse her or jump to conclusions. Also be aware that nighttime fears often show up as a sign of your child’s inner worries about naughtiness or temptations. Alone in bed, these forbidden acts surface and she fears punishment. As hard as it is, allow her to let you know when she has been sneaky or has lied, and do your best to keep the communication open.

With your help, as your child gets older, the rules will be remembered and her behavior will be modified. If all goes well, by around 5 years or 6 years of age her conscience will be all-powerful and she will be consumed with rules and whether things are fair.

It’s a big developmental step for your child and you can take pride in how she then begins to manage these temptations and any need to be sneaky or to lie when caught will eventually diminish or disappear.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net