(Everybody Sing)…To Grandmothers House We Go!

During the weeks leading up to the holidays, parents often trade tips about traveling with children, how to navigate another person’s home, and how to help a child adjust to wildly different schedules. Hopkins Early Childhood staff wanted to offer a concise list of our best advice for how to handle a family holiday trip. And, if you’re not traveling, be sure to join us at Harley for Coffee and Play over winter break for playtime for the kids and social time for you.

Travel by car: Everyone can agree that traveling long hours in the car with children can often feel like slogging through mashed potatoes–slow going and often pretty messy. If you are planning on driving a long distance, also plan on a realistic time frame for the length of the trip.  The children will surely need to stop at inopportune times, and surely each child in the car will feel the need to go to the bathroom at completely different intervals. Take these rest stops into serious consideration when you are thinking about your estimated time of arrival.

  • Plan the rest stops into the trip, and allow your family to let out some energy during these pit stops.  Let the kids run and play or just sit outside the car and have a snack.  These refreshing breaks will likely help everyone persevere through the long hours.
  • Having a bag of never-seen-before activities on hand for the long hours is also a great idea.  These do not have to be expensive or fancy new toys, simple items that will hold interest for a certain amount of time will help you and your child move across the miles.
  • Pack an extra T-Shirt for yourself. Parents undoubtedly catch all of the travel messes, and if you have an extra shirt you can arrive at your destination fresh.
  • Bring snacks. You can not count on stores or restaurants being open or available when your child gets hungry.

Travel by airplane:

  • Airline websites have up-to-the-minute information on security and procedural rules (such as packed breastmilk or strollers or car seats). Be sure to check it out before arriving at the airport.
  • Take a bag of never-seen-before activities with you. Simple toys that will hold your child’s interest.
  • Take an umbrella stroller with you to help you maneuver through the airport. People may be more helpful to you when they see you have a stroller.
  • Pack an extra T-Shirt for yourself. Parents undoubtedly catch all of the travel messes, and if you have an extra shirt you can arrive at your destination fresh.
  • Bring snacks. You can not count on the airline providing anything to eat during your flight.
  • To help with ears popping during landing and take-off, have your child drink from a bottle or cup. That should help to keep their ears clear.

Staying at another person’s house:

  • Contact your host before the trip and ask them to purchase what you need so you don’t have to lug it there yourself. Diapers take up a lot of luggage space! Don’t forget to pay them back upon your arrival.
  • Have a discussion with your hosts about bringing your children into their home. Find ways to address their concerns beforehand.
  • If the hosts are worried about breakable items in their home, ask them to consider putting the items out of sight or on a high shelf.
  • If you are wondering about how your child’s behavior may be perceived by your hosts, discuss what you see as the issue before you arrive in their home. Be proactive in talking about what you and your child are working on as it concerns social behavior. A good way to approach this subject is to say “We are working on the rules, but they aren’t quite there yet.”
  • Some items you may want to consider bringing: shade material for windows (available at fabric stores), white noise machine or app, rubber sheet or other water-proof material for the beds if you fear there may be a bed wetting incident, the child’s own pillow–this familiar item can help bring comfort and easier sleep.
  • Discuss your expectations for behavior with your children.  Be clear about what you expect of them.  Be realistic about what you ask for.
  • Rules at the homes of others can be more lax than in your own household. Balance the need for behavior expectations with the flexibility that a trip away from home requires. There can sometimes be a certain amount of wisdom in surrendering. Ask yourself: “Is this harming my child, or just irritating me?”  Children generally understand that the rules are being bent because of the special-ness of the trip.
  • If a situation occurs where you need to advocate for yourself, your family or your child, don’t feel guilty about it. State your position honestly. Use sentences that begin with “I”, rather than “you”.
  • Some sense of familiarity can be truly comforting to the child who is asked to acclimate to a completely different environment for a number of days. Find ways to ensure familiarity and routine without over-burdening your suitcase–a favorite blanket or pillow, or favorite books or “loveys” (stuffed animals of special significance) can provide reassurance for the child.
  • Talk with your child about the hustle and bustle of holiday get-togethers. Find a place in the hosts’ home that will provide a quiet space, and plan into your day a chance to go there. Find time during the day to spend one-on-one time doing quiet activities with your child, in order to counter-balance the energy and noise that surround you both.
  • Do not assume that the children in the house will easily get along. Be an active observer of the children’s play. Get an organized activity going for the children by bringing out board games, or encouraging a game of catch outside, or providing craft supplies for a quiet afternoon.
  • Create a plan with your children around what to do if there is an argument or fight during play. Help them to understand that it is all right for them to come to you if things are not going well with the group’s play.
  • This family trip is really just a small amount of time–whether it is a day or a weekend or a longer stay. Don’t try to pack too much in to the stay.
  • If you feel inclined, create traditions for your own family in your own home as well as spending some time away. There is no “one time only” chance to enjoy special moments with your family.

Here is a fun holiday idea: Write the names of all the people present in your party on separate pieces of paper. During the time that you are together, have each person write a word that positively describes or a phrase that shows appreciation for the person named at the top of the paper. Children who are not yet able to write can dictate to an adult what they want to contribute to describe each person.  During a time that the group is all together–perhaps during a meal–read off the lists about each person.

The holiday season is a chance to celebrate with the people you choose to be with. Find ways to relax and enjoy each other, and create traditions which will help your children cherish the memories they will have.

Daylight Savings and Your Toddler

Sleep is rarely easy in households with very young children. Just when a pattern seems to develop and the family routine includes a longer stretch of sleep, something happens that upends our restless nights.

The one hour adjustment for Daylight Savings can make a significant difference in the sleep patterns of many young children. Their rhythms for waking and sleeping are fragile at best, and this time adjustment can be hard for them to adjust to.

The staff at Harley Hopkins wanted to offer some strategies for helping your family smooth the transition to this hourly change.

  • A week before the change, begin adjusting your child’s bedtime by 10-15 minute increments.  Every other day of the week, move her bedtime up by this small among of time. When the official change happens, her inner clock won’t sense such a big difference.
  • It can take up to a week for the change to fully be incorporated into your child’s inner rhythm. Be patient with them as they wake earlier or resist sleep in the evening.
  • If you regularly wake your child in the morning, continue to wake them at the time you normally do, according to the adjusted clock. Morning waking has an effect on night-time sleeping.
  • Have a bright, sunny, and active morning each day of the week after the daylight savings change happens. Being active in the morning helps a child to develop a sense of the flow of the day. An active morning encourages a regular pattern of active / rest /active /rest throughout the day.
  • Keep a routine throughout your day for meals, naps and activity. Feed your child at regular intervals, and have a nap or rest time at regular times. Your child will be able to count on their biological needs being attended to at regular intervals, and their body will begin to internalize the schedule.

Daylight savings time is often difficult for us all – but especially difficult for families with young children. Use these strategies to successfully navigate the change this year.

Boo! Young Children and Halloween

Halloween is a time for scares, tricks, and spooky stories, right? Some young children seem ready to embrace Halloween and all the scariness that it has to offer, and some children are much more likely to hide from the ghosts and goblins. As a parent, this time of year helps you to quickly learn what your child is able to handle in terms of thrills and excitement.

Children under the age of seven still have the tendency to confuse fantasy and reality, and so the child who looks like he is enjoying a thrill may later that day become scared about what he saw.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center has discussed ideas for helping you navigate the spooky stuff in a way that best meets your child’s attitude toward the holiday. Here are some of our tips:

1. Halloween really celebrates spooky, but sometimes the excitement of the holiday can be too much for our youngest children. Parents often need to advocate for their child. Control the environment and expose children only to what they are ready to handle. If a party is getting too scary,  go home. Avoid areas of the store that might have Halloween displays that are too scary. If your child sees someone in a scary mask, you could ask that person to take off the mask to confirm with your child that it is just a costume, not real.

2. Our children need us to follow their lead during this holiday. This means we respect what they are willing and able to do during Halloween. We love to see kids in costumes, and we remember our own years of joyfully running in our outlandish outfits and gathering all that candy. However, young children may not be willing to even put on a costume. This is very common for the young child because the costume itself may be uncomfortable, or the child is not comfortable “becoming” someone different—even for a day. Masks can be especially difficult for young children to tolerate, as it is extremely difficult to see behind those tiny holes designed for eyes.

If your child is uncomfortable in a costume, acknowledge that this may not be the year for a costume. Parents can help children participate by handing out candy at the door rather than dressing up to trick-or-treat.

3. Are you and your child ready for the excitement of Halloween? Practice what you will be doing that evening. Talk with your child about what to expect. Talk about the people she will see in costumes. Talk a lot about how these people are pretending. Discuss what to say at the door of the neighbor’s house—both “trick-or-treat” and “thank you!” Remind your child that they are not to have any candy until they are back at their house.

4. Remember, also, to keep your expectations realistic: go trick or treating while it is still light out or during dusk (there will be lots of fun years ahead when your child will be old enough to brave the scary dark spooky Halloween experience) and feel free to go home when your child is tired of it (they are usually satisfied with the experience after just a few houses). Lastly, be sure to dress for the weather. Halloween in Minnesota often means the costume is covered by a winter jacket, mittens, scarf, and hat. Better to be warm on Halloween night than to catch a cold that lasts a week or more!

5. Enjoy Halloween with your young child! These sweet years quickly give way to haunted houses and scary parties and nights out with friends. Enjoy as a family the celebration of Halloween as a young child needs to see it.

The staff at the Fred Rogers Company provide more information on dress up, costumes and Halloween. Learn about young children’s idea of pretend and real, and follow their lead on how they want to experience the scariest holiday of the year. This can help your whole family enjoy the spooks and tricks of the season in these early years of childhood.

Not quite ready to step in…

As this school year starts, new adventures await our children. Some students run into a room and embrace all they see; others tend to hang on the outskirts of the room and watch all that is happening with the studiousness of a keen observer. Parents often worry if their child is not naturally inclined to jump into a situation, wondering if this means that their child is unlikely to be involved. The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center would like to share what they know to be true about these more reserved children. With more information, a parent of a cautious child can confidently watch as her child enters into a new situation in her own time.

A reserved child is often excited about the activity at hand, but is not yet ready to trust those involved. Therefore this child will take her time to understand the people, the situation, and the expectations before becoming too engaged. This is a trait we appreciate greatly in teenagers; that thoughtful moment before awarding trust is sometimes what keeps them out of situations that could be harmful to them. As your young child is showing this same self-preservation skill, remember to offer positive statements about what they are doing. As a parent we can show understanding by saying:

  • You want to take your time
  • It is ok to watch
  • You will join in when you are ready
  • Let’s explore together – you can stay close to me

With these statements, you are letting your child know that tuning in to how she is feeling about a situation is acceptable and beneficial.

It is helpful for parents to show that new situations and new people can be trusted. A reserved child is often trying to read the situation, and she will use your reaction to help her make her decisions. You can boost her confidence by showing that you are comfortable with it yourself:

  • Provide your child with information about what is to come, so she knows what to expect
  • Talk with the new people, and show that you feel comfortable with them
  • After leaving the new situation, talk about and focus on the positive parts of the activity or people

These actions will help your child learn what it is they should be looking for as they assess whether or not they can trust others in new situations.

A teacher will often assess the level of reservation in each of his students and act accordingly. For this reason, you might notice a much softer approach toward your cautious child when a teacher first meets her. Your teacher will be less likely to come right up to your child. He will be more likely to match his interaction level to that of your child. By matching the level of interaction, the teacher is allowing for a respectful space to build trust. This trust will be much stronger if it is not rushed.

Remember that the words you choose to describe your cautious child can have an impact on her self-image. A child will see her approach to new situations positively when she is described as reserved, cautious, intuitive, or as a person who takes time to think about a situation. The word “shy” is often applied inappropriately in these situations: a person can feel shy, but “shy” is not a character trait. (Just as a person can feel angry, but she is not an angry person all the time).

Looking for a book that helps children to see their approach in a positive light? Joy Berry has written a book entitled “Let’s talk about being shy.” The book stresses the feeling of being shy, and discusses ways for children to build trust in new people and situations.

All of us feel a bit shy sometimes, it is a natural approach to new experiences. Offering support to our youngest children will help them to be confident in the way they handle this feeling.

Building Cooperation at the Playground?

Our young children are exuberant when the summer sunshine fills the air.  Running, shouting, sliding, digging, swimming, jumping . . . cooperating?

Parents remember that rush of freedom when we as children were finally able to spend those lazy days at the playground or the community pool.  We remember the long afternoons of playing together with the neighborhood kids and the thrill of feeling unbridled by responsibilities.  We want our children to have that same sense of summertime freedom, but we also need to temper that with our expectations for appropriate behavior.  If we were able to REALLY look back on the “good old days” we would remember that it wasn’t all just fun and games–we still had chores and routines and bedtimes and the opportunity to experience discipline when we pushed the limits too far.

In the words of one wise woman I know, a child’s summertime experience should be like that of lying in a hammock. The child is able to lay suspended and feel as though he is floating in the summertime breeze of carefree cloud watching.  However, that hammock needs to be suspended between two strong trees.  The trees are what keeps the child secure in his floaty dreaminess and also grounded to the expectations of the world around him.  If the trees that hold the hammock are not strong and tall, the suspension of the child comes crashing down with a rude bump!

How to build cooperation and maintain an expectation of positive behavior throughout these months?  The early childhood staff at Hopkins have access to some helpful hints provided through the Family Information Services organization.  Use these techniques to help your family work together to build cooperation into your lifestyle.

1. When observing a problem, make a simple statement and wait for your child to respond. (They often do!)
Example: “Your crayons are on the floor” or “Your hands are so dirty from playing in the garden.”

2. Use grandma’s rule:  You may _____________ after you ________________.
Example: “You may play outside with your friends after you have cleared your plate from the table.”

3. Give clear instructions. Be more explicit than you would be with an adult.
Example: Rather than “Get ready to go” say “But your sandals on, put your hat on your head, and pick up your beach bag.”

4. Give a choice.  Allow for just two options. Be willing to accept either option.
Example: “Would you like to read a book under that tree or here on the blanket?”

5. Make it brief–limit your request to just a few words.
Example: “Let’s pick up your blocks.” or “We will leave the park after one more slide.”

6. Make something talk–use a funny puppet voice.
Example:  “I’m such a lonely beach shovel, I wish I could sit inside my beach bucket!”

7. When you say it is time to go, mean it.  Offer a warning about the impending departure, and then follow through.
Example: “We will leave the park after I push you on the swing three more times.  3…..2…….1. Time to go. I know it is sad to leave the park.”

8. Ask helpful questions. Children feel competent (and cooperative) when they can demonstrate they know the answer.
Example: “There is spilled lemonade on the table. How will we solve this problem?”

9. Use humor.
Example: Sing a silly song about what you would like the child to do.  Suggest both you and the child “dance” or “hop” or “wiggle” your way through a task

10. Stick to your routine as best you can.  Summer requires flexibility, but children also need to feel a certain amount of consistency throughout their day to feel secure about what to expect.  Feeling better allows children to act better.
Example: “We are having such a great time on our nature walk. We are going inside after we collect one more leaf because it is nap time.”

Enjoy your summer, and help your child to enjoy themselves too by balancing the freedom of this wonderful season with the expectation of cooperation with your family’s limits, rules, and routines.

Summertime Snoozes

It is important for families to protect the sleep of our young children — even during the summer months. It is also difficult to stick to a sleep schedule because of the many temptations of summer. There is so much more sunlight during this season, and it feels like there are so many opportunities to find play. In addition, a child who is able to truly enjoy the outdoor time of summer and revel in the energy and fun of activities is also old enough to fight sleep because she realizes that every time she sleeps other people in her family are surely having fun without her.

It is tempting to let some of the naps slide, or push bedtime back a bit to accommodate the rest of the family’s schedule. These moments of flexibility are necessary for all of us sometimes, but it is important to not let the flexibility overwhelm the routine. Young children and babies need a regular schedule for sleep. Sleep is what consolidates their learning (and when children are young everything they do involves learning because it is all so new to them), and rejuvenates them for the next thing. In addition, sleep begets sleep. This means that skipping a nap does not often result in a longer night time sleep–it is much more likely that skipping a nap will result in your child having a harder time falling asleep and sleeping for a shorter period of time. Children often depend on the routine of the day to help them regulate their own bodies. If they can count on nap time coming every day after lunch time, their bodies begin to anticipate the shift. If they can’t predict when a nap time will come, then their minds and bodies aren’t in the habit of settling down and they struggle to calm their bodies when we ask them to.

Sometimes the hardest person to convince of the necessity of a good nap is the child herself.  She will resist and moan and cry and often roar at the indignity of being asked to slow down. As a parent, however, we can see that an overtired baby or young child can not be in charge of deciding for herself when she needs a rest time. Some of the following hints may help baby to calm down and rest her body and mind:

1. Catch a child before she is over-tired. Look for signs of sleepiness and get baby to a quiet place to rest at that time. Once she is over-tired, she will ramp up her energy and be physically unable to calm herself for a long time.

2. Ensure that the place your child sleeps is boring and quiet. Remove all the reminders that there is a fun world out there, and make her sleeping place soothing and tranquil.

3. Create a brief routine to help your child slow down. Lower the lights, read a book or two, cuddle or rock or sing a song. The routine should last 5-15 minutes.

4. Some children need a long time to calm their bodies down. The hour before sleeping, engage in quiet games or reading.  A child who has been running around wildly for the past hour will often really struggle to fall asleep.

5. Create an environment that feels secure for your child. You will know what your child most needs. Some children prefer the hall light on; some children prefer a night light or “lovey” (stuffed animal or blanket); some children prefer the door to their room wide open; some children prefer a visit from you for another quick hug five minutes after they have laid down to rest.

6. Remember to get rest yourself during their nap-time or bedtime. It takes a lot of energy to keep up with young children, and we won’t have that energy if we don’t take care of ourselves.

Childhood in Spring

Everyone is hoping that spring is finally here to stay. The desire to be outside and running around seems to be a physical pull in all of us. Our children, most of all, look forward to the warmer breeze, the greener grass, and the longer bouts of sunshine. Childhood in the springtime is a true joy.  As parents we can remember how important it was to us to have days full of playing in the water or the sandbox. Feeling quiet and calm as we lay on the grass and watch clouds drift by. We saved worms from rain showers and splashed in the puddles.

Spring also brings registration for next year’s school adventures. Deadlines around preschool and kindergarten, the rush to get on the list for the coveted summer camp our kids would love. That sense of relaxation can sometimes be whisked away by the pressure we now feel as parents to keep our children busy. To be sure, the experiences that are available to our young children are fantastic and we should take advantage of new experiences that are available for them. Yet, have a goal to balance it all with a protection of childhood; expect that our young children will enjoy their days of spring and summer, they will join activities for the fun of them, and the learning will naturally develop and be enhanced because they are having fun. Provide developmentally appropriate experiences for your preschooler, and watch with joy as they get involved in messes, play with the hose, create sidewalk chalk art, and shout with glee.  This is the sort of spring we remember, the sort of childhood we hoped we could watch them enjoy.

In the series “This I Believe: On Motherhood” the author Marla Rose said it best:

The Essential Gift of Childhood

Marla Rose – Oak Park, Illinois
Entered on October 28, 2005

I believe in my three-year-old son, who is not in the 95th percentile of anything, who did not know his alphabet by his first birthday, who is struggling mightily with shoes and the potty and most social graces. He is truly mournful when leaves fall off the trees in autumn, and he is as gentle and weird and kind as I’d dreamed my child would be. He does not know a second language yet, but he has a magical belly laugh. I believe if I could play a recording of it to warring nations, he would be heralded as an international peacekeeper.

When I was a child in the 1970s, children were woefully unfashionable. Yet, in retrospect, that decade may have been the last time children were allowed some breathing space. We didn’t have to dwell so much on adult preoccupations of trends, fashion, and getting ahead. We could just be children.

I’m not romanticizing my own childhood, because it could be such a brutal, scary time. In my youth, I learned about alcoholism, about mothers who cried themselves to sleep, and about the everyday cruelties classmates inflict on some of us. I do not see childhood in a sepia-toned, idealized way.

This is why I so fiercely guard my son’s youth. In the years before we had hundreds of cable channels, and parents thought their newborns should be baby geniuses, negotiating the often pretty rugged terrain of childhood was our chief concern. I understand that the push for achievement and the pressures we face as parents can be overwhelming. But I believe that I would be robbing my child of an essential gift if I didn’t nurture and protect his youth. The world of playtime and the outdoors is the best laboratory available to my son.

Last week, we were at the playground when I heard a freckled girl in pull-ups call out to her mother from the top of the slide, asking for juice. “Ask me again in French,” said her mother. The girl complied with an impatient eye-roll. At that moment, all I could feel was worry for my child, who is still just getting his feet wet in English, scared that he’d be left behind.

But then I heard my son laughing. He was watching two squirrels chase each other up and down and around a maple tree. “Squirrels are silly,” he said.

Motherhood is a state of always being vulnerable to our expectations and worries about our children. I know that at his core, my son is a happy, free-spirited boy having the childhood he deserves. When I am at my best, I know that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. So at that moment, I forgot about his French-speaking peer and picked my son up, nuzzling those delicious, satiny cheeks, and said “Yes, squirrels are silly.”

I believe in the silliness of squirrels, I believe in my son, and I believe in his childhood.

Marla Rose is a freelance writer and aspiring novelist living with her family in Oak Park, Illinois.