Time Flies By—How Do You Capture It?

The beginning of the school year moves us swiftly from the lazy days of summer into a fast-track structure of running from one thing to the next.  It is also a time when many parents reflect on just how fast time flies by.  Watching our child board the bus for the first time, or dropping him off at preschool and watching him walk excitedly but nervously into the classroom for the first time, makes an impression on us.  It really wasn’t all that long ago that we were holding him over our shoulder, lulling him to sleep.

There are times when we see our kids are growing so quickly that we wish we could just capture a moment, so that we will have the memory in the future. Taking time to create family rituals can do just that. Having a ritual that allows your family to come together and do something that feels special to all helps to slow things down, and creates the memories that our children take with them into life.  One example of this is the practice many parents have of creating bedtime rituals–the events that begin to calm our child’s body and mind. The books we read, the songs we sing and the activities we have each evening are a ritual that your child can count on, and that you use to create routine and structure. Rituals like this become deeply ingrained in a child–the songs we choose to sing now to our children are likely to be the songs they sing to their children one day.

Families can often create rituals around holidays, seasons or life events.  For instance, the time around back-to-school is often a ritualized time. We as parents want to mark the beginning of each school year with something special–a picture or a meal or a family event that marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  We document these rituals with pictures and as we add years and years, we add pictures upon pictures marking the passage of time. As our children continue to build their identity, they begin to see that they are a part of a unit that is held together through ceremony and tradition as well as daily schedules and activities.  They being to say to themselves “We are a family that goes for a walk every Saturday morning” or “We are a family that has a special dinner on our birthdays”. When children see their family as a strong group tied together through joyful activity, they are often inclined to make the effort to preserve that connection.

The early childhood staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center discussed the ways they worked to preserve memories and mark the passing of time with their children.  We thought we would share some of our favorite family ideas with you:

WAYS TO MARK GROWTH

1) Taking pictures with a treasured object each year helps to mark time. Using the same stuffed animal, or the same backpack, or something meaningful to you year after year shows the growth of your child. Each year the object miraculously gets smaller and smaller!

2) Every birthday mark the height of your child on the wall, or the door frame, or a special poster designed for the purpose.

3) Each birthday take a picture with your child holding a sign that says “I am 3 (or the age that your child is that year).

RITUALS AROUND THE SCHOOL YEAR

1) On the first day of kindergarten, (or any first day of school–or last day of school for that matter!) have a special outing with just that child to honor the day. The first and last days of school tend to be great days to go to the kid friendly places that are usually packed, because on these special days of school they are usually ghost towns!

2) On the week before school, have a crazy dinner day to celebrate that summer is ending and school is beginning. One of our staff has an “Ice Cream for Dinner Day!”

SEASONAL RITUALS

1) In the summer, one of our staff remembers having her Friday nights be “Stay up til ya drop night!”. This was the evening that the kids could stay up as long as they lasted.  Gratefully, the kids lasted usually until about 8:00 each time. But they felt as though they had made it into the deepest part of night!

2) Families on staff have spent year after year going apple picking in the fall, strawberry picking in the early summer or raspberry picking in the later summer. These seasonal experiences helped shepherd the new season in, and created a better knowledge for the kids of how their favorite foods grew throughout the year.

3) One family we know of kept her Christmas tree in the back yard throughout the winter and spring. The first day of summer was marked by a bonfire in the back yard with the Christmas tree.

4) Grow a sunflower throughout the summer. By the end of August the plant is tall and impressive, and taking a picture beside the large flower every year shows just how much a child has grown.

5) Summer time for older families can involve movie marathons. One member of staff has her kids pick a movie title out of a hat and then the family watches that series of movies over the Labor Day weekend. Her family does the same thing over the Memorial Day weekend. This marks the beginning as well as the end of summer.

6) On the coldest day in winter one staff member takes her child out to ice cream.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

1) Throughout the school year our students tend to collect lots and lots of art, examples of work, and precious treasures. One way to keep all the items, without having to actually keep them, is to take a picture once a month of everything hanging on the fridge, or wherever it is kept. Then keep the most important pieces, and let the others go.

2) During the start of the new school year, one staff member asked her child to go through last school year’s paperwork. After the summer, and with the start of the new school year, many of the items had lost their “specialness” and it was easier to decide what to keep and what to let go of in order to  make room for the new school year’s items.

3) Summer time can be a good time to go through a child’s toys and clothes and decide what is no longer necessary, what has been grown out of, and what can be given away to someone who needs it more. The trip to the local thrift shop to drop off items no longer necessary can be combined with a special trip to the park, or some other refreshing activity.

4) Birthdays are a natural mark of time moving forward, and a good time to talk to your child about making room for the new by letting go of some of the old.

SPEAKING OF BIRTHDAYS

1) Special dinners chosen by the child make a birthday special. One staff member remembers providing mashed potatoes, corn and peas for years and years as a favorite birthday meal.

2) Children who have been adopted have another day to celebrate–the day they arrived to their adoptive family. One staff member marked this day by writing a list of new things she had seen in her children throughout the year, and three or four wishes for the upcoming year. She then shared this list with her family.

T-SHIRT QUILTS

Our staff also discussed the practice some of us had of keeping favorite t-shirts or outfits throughout the years. It is so hard to let go of that favorite shirt that your child loved and loved, but what exactly to do with all of them? A few of the people on our staff made (or received) t-shirt quilts. The quilts are handmade from all the t-shirts that had been worn throughout the years. When was the favorite time to offer this gift? High school graduation! So if you start planning now, you can begin collecting those t-shirts, and you likely will have years to learn how to actually make one of these magnificent pieces of art.

Marking time throughout the years by creating special rituals and meaningful events helps to keep a family focused on togetherness throughout the year. Do you have a favorite activity you would like to share with others? Log in and let us know what you do with your family to create and capture memories.

Foundations for the Future

When a parent sees a child playing in the park with his friends, we sometimes glimpse a shade of what he will be like as he gets older.  We sense the older body in the younger one, we can see the mannerisms that will one day take shape as preteen reactions. There is a part of parenting that looks forward to the older child even as we sit admiring the child we have today.

The future focus of parenting turns our thoughts to preparing our child to be the teen who will overcome the inevitable difficulties involved in growing older.  We hope he will be happy and strong and able to face challenges. We worry that the choices he makes will not suit him well or keep him healthy. Already as we look to our preschooler in the park, we sometimes consider how to protect him from falling into the use of drugs, keep him on a path that will ensure academic and social success, teach him to focus on his own health when faced with peer pressure to partake of a chemical or activity that can hurt him. How do we help to lay the foundation for a strong young adult when we are currently faced with a strong-willed young child?

Although it is hard to see the link between the preschool years and the teen years, there are many things a parent can do to reinforce values around making healthy choices, avoiding unhealthy chemical use, and finding ways to manage stress in a way that focuses on problem solving rather than avoidance. These  age appropriate strategies build a foundation of open communication and information-sharing which can help families talk about the situations preschoolers face, and find ways to address and support each other.

  • Talk to your child about the healthy choices you are making as a family
  • Celebrate your child’s ability to make decisions – choosing an outfit for the day provides good practice at decision making
  • Turn frustration into learning opportunities – find ways to work through a frustrating situation and focus on problem solving

Sometimes a child will notice the people around him are making unhealthy choices and ask about it. These conversations can be difficult to have – especially if the people who are making these choices are people you love and want to support. There are ways to approach your child’s questions in an age-appropriate way that supports your values while still supporting your family members.

  • Reinforce that adults can make decisions about themselves, but that you agree that sometimes adults make unhealthy choices
  • Talk to your child about the medicines and vitamins he sees you or others use. Stress that these medicines can help the person they are designed for, but could make others sick

We can not be sure of what the future holds. We will not be able to safe guard our children through every situation, and they will make mistakes as they grow. Use these early conversations to establish a family habit of open communication, support and learning from mistakes, and a modeling of healthy choices.

 

Have a 90%-Child Summer!

Although the weather has never allowed us to warm up to it this year, summer is just a weekend away. Children are yearning for the free feeling of playing outdoors, playing without structure, playing with whatever is at hand. All of this creative, imaginative and energy-intense play is valuable for mind as well as body; how do we help children to delve into summer-time play?

While discussing play and toys with a group of early-childhood colleagues from many different school districts, I heard one esteemed teacher say she talks to parents about encouraging playthings that are 90% child, 10% toy. This seems like an especially wonderful framework for summertime play.

A 90%-child toy has no right or wrong ways to play with it–and it won’t come with instructions. A 90%-child toy has no end-product or desired result. It is a toy that takes on purpose only through the eyes of the child–and that purpose can change from day to day as a child’s game changes.

A 10%-child toy has only one clear way to play. Once a child has mastered what the toy requires, there is nothing to do with the toy but repeat the game. A 10%-child toy speaks for the child, rather than allowing the child to create the action himself. A 10%-child toy allows the child to passively take in the entertainment, rather than be asked to provide the entertainment himself.

Summer-time is the ideal time to find the 90%-child playthings. They can often be found on a casual walk outside: sticks and stones, sandboxes or sand beaches, water puddles or water tables, open spaces in playgrounds or backyards for running and jumping. By keeping the playthings you offer as simple as the entertainment provided by nature, you can encourage all kinds of creative play with a minimal amount of money or investment: balls and blocks, simple toy cars or dolls, blankets for fort-making or picnic lunches, and swings and slides at the playground.

A child most often enjoys outings when families are spending time together and attention is paid to the quality of the interaction. A trip to somewhere fun while mom and dad are distracted by their email is a 10%-child excursion. Your child is most enjoying himself when he knows that you are also interested in the event at hand and in your shared experience of it. A 90%-child afternoon for the young child is a trip to the local pond with a no-phones policy strictly enforced for all in the family.  When he has your full attention, he will want to continue the conversation about the ducks and the mud and trees and all the other things he is noticing.  You will have had the opportunity to gain insight into what he is thinking about, what he is interested in and what he is most excited about that afternoon. He will get to store a childhood memory that involves the very special time you spent together.

Use your summer-time moments to let your child take the lead in play. Don’t worry too much about whether the game or activity you are doing together is turning out the way you would expect it to if two adults were taking it on. Enjoy the joy you see when your child inches ahead into exploring, and encourage the path he is taking. Young children aren’t concerned about the correct way to do things, they are most driven to understand what is in front of them–that often means playing with things in very different ways than we would imagine. You are encouraging play that is 90%-child centered by watching and following more often than leading.

Use the summer as an opportunity to practice 90%-child focused play. Enjoy the simplicity, the act of slowing down and the shared experiences it brings.

 

 

 

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.

Put On A Happy Face…..

As parents we love to see our kids’ joy and happiness.  Parenting can be such a pleasure when the whole family has a sense of good will toward each other. It is no wonder that the harder feelings: the anger, frustration and sadness that children feel, tend to cause parents to worry and wish we could make it better.  Many of us remember the days when we were children and we were told to “put on a happy face”, or “stop crying and be a big boy” when we were upset. Now that we are parents we can get a sense of why there is such a need to have happy children—it makes us feel better as parents. Many adults are uncomfortable with strong feelings, and very uncomfortable around feelings that tend to be seen as negative.  Young children, however, are often consumed by these strong and negative feelings.  The staff at the Harley Family Center would like to offer our perspective on how to handle these emotional situations. This approach allows the child to express what he is feeling, and the parent to respect that the feeling is being felt. Addressing and respecting all feelings can help a family feel stronger.

The teachers in our early childhood programs see all feelings as valuable, because they provide a clue to the child and adult about what is happening in a situation. By respecting the feeling, and talking about it rather looking to fix it, we can encourage a child to address feelings, situations, actions and attitudes. Here are some tips and ideas from our staff on how to best handle the difficult feelings that all children have.

  • Before you set a limit or make a decision, be sure that you are keeping in mind the developmental appropriateness of what you are asking.  If the limit you are setting makes sense for the child, and you believe it is the right thing to do, then do not let sadness or anger get in the way of sticking to your limit.  Young children need limits, and they need a parent to uphold those limits and be the authority. Emotional responses to hearing “no” are common in young children—and the “no” usually comes in the form of intense emotion and loud responses. The child needs you to stick with what you have decided, even though he is acting like he knows better.  You know he doesn’t know better—stick with your limit and carry out your decision even while there is a negative reaction.
  • Allowing your child to be sad or mad at a situation, and not fixing the situation, gives your child the space he needs to find a way to help himself feel better. Allow the sadness to sit with your child, and let him know that you see he is sad. “I see you are very sad not to get a treat at the store.” Read your child’s cues to see what he needs from you to feel better. Some children need their back rubbed, some children need space alone, some children need a distraction. “I will sit with you here on the couch while you are sad. When you are ready, we can read a book together.” Allowing him to work through his emotions supports him by helping him to see that feelings can change; we don’t feel happy all the time, and we don’t feel angry all the time. The success he feels when he changes his own emotional state will prepare him for success in dealing with even more difficult disappointments as he ages.
  • Get in tune with your own emotions before you make a decision. A decision or limit you set when you are angry or upset may not be a good decision for you or your child. Get a sense of how you are feeling when you are facing a situation, and allow yourself the time you need to calm down. “I need time to think about this” is a good phrase—and an honest one.  Another phrase that parents of older children have used is”If I answer now, the answer will be no, if you give me time it might be maybe.” Or “I want to say yes—what can you give me so I can say yes?”
  • We are often tempted to give in because our child’s reaction is so intense, or because we are so tired of dealing with yet another situation in which the child becomes angry or sad or intensely upset. Remember there are long term goals in discipline, and what we are looking to do is reinforce for our toddlers and preschoolers that every time they misbehave we will react with authority, firmness and a calm approach to problem solving.  As a parent we need to get used to dealing with our child’s uncomfortable emotions and model an approach that is helpful. As your child ages into elementary school and older, you want your child to already have a sense that you are the authority. A child who has been used to you bending the rules due to emotional outbursts early in life may continue this trend into older grades, when the consequences for bending rules can make a much larger influence on her life.
  • When a problem arises between siblings or peers and things get emotional, take a step back and away from the emotional turmoil. Encourage problem solving after those involved in the issue have taken a calm-down break. Allow your child and the others he is conflicting with to try to deal with the issue themselves; be the mediator, but not the judge. For preschool children and older, use simple language to help them talk through a problem solving process (the three step process below is utilized in our early childhood programs through a curriculum entitled Second Step): 1) How do I feel  2) What is the problem  3) What can I do to solve it?
  • Talk about every feeling—not just the good ones. Books are a great way to build a varied vocabulary around emotions.  Here are some great titles to start with:

My Many Colored Days by Dr. Suess
Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
How Are Your Peeling by Saxton Freymann and Joost Eiffers

Hold On A Second!

Watching our preschoolers rush with energy and exuberance is exhilarating! We often dream of capturing that energy because our adult selves can’t imagine what we would do with it.  It is important to remember, however, that the youthful energy we all admire is still part of us — we have just learned as adults how to channel it more effectively.  We may not run at top speed across a playground anymore, but we harness our energy to complete tasks at work, take care of households and children and find a moment or two for our favorite hobby.  Throughout our life spans, our ability to regulate our energy changes.

The staff at Stepping Stones has the opportunity to watch that energy channel itself productively throughout the school year. The young preschooler continuously is developing her ability to focus and control her energy; as she enters kindergarten she has many of the skills around self-regulation that will help her get the most out of her school experience.  We talked recently about the value of developing these self-regulation skills, and we wanted to share with you their benefit as well as discuss strategies for helping your child gain more and more control over all that energy.

The typical kindergartner will need to exhibit focus skills in order to best meet academic goals. Although we rarely expect a three year old to have these skills, it is reasonable to assume that a 5 year old will – and that a four year old will be working on them. It is typical to expect that a kindergartner will be able to sit and listen to teachers for 10-20 minutes at a time. She will need to focus on directions and information even while sitting in a larger group of kids on the rug during circle time. It will be a great skill to be able to wait to take a turn, rather than insist on immediate action because the other students in the classroom will also be waiting for their turn. Being able to meet unexpected situations and transitions with a reasonable emotional response – honest and regulated ‑ will help the kindergartner move smoothly through a day that involves many activities and lots of jostling to get from one place to another. These are all self-regulation skills: skills that ask the child to show control and focus.

The staff at Hopkins preschools are working with our young students to help them gain mastery over their bodies and emotions. One of the most important ways that this happens is through friendships and relationships. Taking the time to discuss with students how a certain action felt for another, and problem solving ways to address the situation are key elements in building self-regulation skills. For example: two friends are looking to play with the same teddy bear and during their “discussion” around who gets to play with it one friend grabs it roughly away and throws it in anger. The adults will sit with these two children and talk about how that action caused hurt and frustration rather than a solution to the problem. The children are encouraged to voice their feelings around the teddy bear problem, and then work on a solution. Being able to talk about feelings without behaving in a way that is uncontrolled is self-regulation. It will help the future kindergartner have relationships and friendships when he is on the playground during recess and there isn’t an easily accessible adult to help him work through disagreements.

Another way that the preschools are helping students develop the social and emotional regulation of students is through awareness of the group.  Students are asked to wait until everyone is seated at a table to begin snack, to raise hands to speak rather than talk over each other, to be aware of the next person’s personal space and not crowd or kick to get comfortable. This sense of personal responsibility helps the preschooler to see that others deserve the consideration he would hope to get himself.

In addition, the emotional focus of a child will be especially helpful when working through kindergarten tasks. Learning new things is often challenging, and when a child is able to work through frustration she is more likely to find success in a task. The teachers use various strategies to help a child who is growing frustrated. For example, they may encourage deep belly breathing, hugging themselves in a tight squeeze or pressing hands together in a lap.  Having an acceptable physical outlet for the frustration we all feel sometimes will help the child to move through daily frustrations and focus on solving the problem at hand.

Parents play a significant role in helping a child learn to self-regulate.  For all of these early years your child has been using your energy to help her regulate her own energy. She feels your tenseness or frustrations as well as senses your calm in different situations. She then uses your mood to help her decide how to adjust her own mood.  If you tend to have an intense reaction to a frustration, she will also tend to escalate her reactions in that situation. Children learn best through imitation through the age of seven years old, so offer your child the sort of coping strategies you would like to see them imitate. When you are frustrated or unhappy, talk about your feelings and narrate the steps you are going to take to calm down.  For instance, if you are feeling especially grumpy about a situation, say out loud “I am really unhappy right now, and to calm down I am going to go into the other room and take 5 deep breaths.”  Then go ahead and do just that in order to calm yourself down. Talk to your teacher about the coping strategies that are being used in the classroom so that you can use these same methods with yourself and with your child. The consistency between the different locations will help your child to practice this calming-down skill.

Parent can also help with self regulation by maintaining a schedule throughout the day and the week.  Part of scheduling for the family is to know when to say no to events or programs if it disrupts the healthy schedule you have created.  If your preschooler is getting 11-12 hours of sleep per day, three good meals and two snacks at predictable times and family time when you are all enjoying each other, then you have a schedule for your family.  If more and more activities are crowding into the calendar and getting in the way of the basics, it is time to say no to some of those opportunities. A good night’s sleep should likely trump any other activity because self regulation can not happen in a sleep deprived person—whether that person is 4 years old or 40.

When you say no to your child—whether it is no to an outing, a cookie or another book at bed-time, stick to your no. Your child will surely show displeasure at being told no—none of us like to hear it—but one of the difficult lessons we need to help our children learn is to be able to handle a no, and get through the disappointment. It is a valuable social skill to learn to say to ourselves “That is not what I want, I guess I will need to do something else.” Preschoolers need to be working very hard at learning this skill. Without a tolerance for frustration and a problem solving approach to unpleasant issues, the grade school years may be a tumultuous crisis after crisis.  Better to work with your three year old who is upset about not getting a second cookie than a teenager who is upset about anything!  Parents teach this lesson by remaining calm when their child is upset, and accepting the sadness and frustration. “I see you are sad that you don’t get to have another cookie. It is hard not to get what you want. We can go read a book together when you are ready.”  Let your no remain a no, but be available to your child when she is finished being sad about it.

Ellen Galinsky has written a book about seven life skills parents need to work on with their children entitled Mind in the Making. Self control and focus is the number one skill she discusses.  Here are some ideas she offers to help your child gain this important skill:

  • Encourage free play and projects while at home. Projects that encourage children to work together to achieve a goal are great for preschoolers. Dramatic play does this particularly well. When children decide to play store they take the empty boxes from the recycling bin and set up a stand with a cash register.  They collect coins and sort and organize them fairly among the players. They find costumes so that each person is a specific kind of person when they go into the store.  They discuss with each other what each person will do and when each turn is over so the next person can be that.  The project builds and builds and so do the focus skills and social self control skills.
  • Play games that require children to pay attention. Games that do this well are some of the old favorites: Simon Says, I Spy, puzzles
  • Read books to your child in a way that encourages listening and focusing. Be engaging when you read: change the voices for characters, let your voice get loud and then soft, have your child fill in the blanks of stories that have repeating lines.
  • Remember that background television can be very disruptive to a child’s focus and concentration. Research has shown that having a television just playing in the background disrupts a young child’s play.
  • When you hear the complaint “I’m Bored”, sit with your child and ask them to come up with a plan for something to do. With young children the plan is small and simple. “What can you decide to do for 15 minutes? Look through books? Color a picture? Build with blocks?”  Don’t offer TV or screen time as an option.  Have your child carry out the plan, and then when he is done, ask him how it went. “What did you enjoy about doing that? What did you make? What are you going to do now?”
  • Make sure your child is well rested and has breaks.  A preschooler needs her sleep as much as we adults to. Ensure that she is getting 11-12 hours.   Make sure the schedule of her day includes quiet time and down time.  She needs that too in order to regain her energy for the next activity.