Sweet Slumber?

After having children, do you wonder if you will ever get a full nights sleep again? Having a baby or a toddler tends to make us nostalgic for the evenings when falling asleep was smooth and soothing.  What can we do to help our toddlers fall into the habit of a full nights sleep? The early childhood staff  at Harley Family Center wanted to share some strategies for snoozes.

Remember that sleep is a neurological function. It is affected by development, stimulation, emotional experiences and even how much sleep your child got earlier in the day.  In short, the young child will experience sleep disturbances throughout the first years of life just because she is growing up. You can expect that your child’s sleep will be spotty at times. Knowing that your child is expected to wake up throughout the first years of life can help us to have more patience toward the process of helping them get back to sleep.

Toddlers need to have 12-14 hours of sleep during a twenty four hour period. This includes nap and night-time sleep. If your child is not getting this amount of sleep her sleep is likely to be disturbed at night. Make sure that your family is prioritizing sleep over other experiences. Even if these experiences seem to be special and exciting opportunities they are likely undermining the general well being of your child if they are interrupting sleep.

Young children crave routine and predictability. Making changes in the routine will likely cause sleep disturbances. These changes can occur around positive or negative situations. A new baby, a new bed, a new activity during the day, anything can make the sleep cycle of a young child go haywire. Try to keep your activities throughout the week and the day predictable. If you need to make a change, make only one change at a time and allow your child to acclimate to the change. While you are transitioning to something new, have patience with the sleep disturbance.  Meet your child’s waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Develop an understanding of what is over-stimulating for your child, and avoid those activities in the later afternoon and evening hours. Caffeine can stay in a child’s body for hours (think chocolate and soda—and don’t forget about the effects of sugar in candy). A bath in the evening can be over-stimulating rather than calming. Exercise or rough play can rile up a young child rather than wear them out. Screen use of any kind generally keeps a child more alert rather than soothes them to sleep. If a child shows signs of tiredness and we push them past those signs to keep them up a bit longer, her body will kick back into alertness and she will have trouble relaxing into sleep.  Although we cannot make our children sleep we are responsible for and in control of the sleep routine—so take this job seriously.  If we create an environment around them that favors sleep we can help them to soothe their own bodies and relax into sleep themselves. Although we do our best to keep a consistent and calming routine around sleep, remember that there will be many nights when they do wake up due to internal or unexplained circumstances. Knowing that we have created a quiet and soothing environment for sleep, we can meet waking in this instance with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Small things that we do can make a big difference in helping our child sleep. Keep a simple routine for bedtime. Remember to keep it short rather than extensive. A book or two, a simple song, a hug and a kiss and a tuck in to bed is a simple way to signal to your child’s mind and body that they are expected to let themselves relax into sleep. By waking up in the morning with good morning light and activity throughout the day we help the child regulate when times are appropriate to be awake and when times are appropriate to fall asleep.  Her body and mind fall into the rhythm of the day and she recognizes mornings as active and evenings as quiet. By feeding your child meals and snacks at regular times in the day you can help her to regulate her system and mind towards predictable events. This allows her to accept sleep at regular times in the day as well. Some children really appreciate a white noise machine in their room, some children need a light on to be comfortable, some children need to toss and turn for a while to relieve their bodily stress before relaxing. Some children need a gentle back rub or back scratch just before the light turns off. All of the “helps” we give our children are respectful ways of providing tools so they can learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.  Even with all the things that we do to help them sleep, children will sometimes wake up for reasons that we can’t identify.  During these instances, knowing that we have done all we can to set the scene, we can meet the waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and a quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Toddlers can sometimes use these waking up instances as an opportunity to play or explore the house, or visit parents who are looking for just a moment of time together. When your child takes to getting out of bed and refusing to sleep, instead trying over and over to get out of her room and play, find ways to clearly and consistently state your expectations. Some parents have been successful by setting up a visiting schedule with the child as she lays awake. For instance “I will come back and check on you in 5 minutes.” Continue to visit the child on a predictable schedule until she falls asleep. These visits help her to build trust that you are still around, and having that sense of security will help her to relax and fall asleep. Provide your child with a comfort item. Your scent is often very comforting for the child, so ensure that the item she finds special isn’t cleaned too thoroughly. The blanket or stuffed animal is comforting because it is so well used. If your child tries over and over to get out of bed then we as parents have to insist on returning her to bed over and over. Keep the lights off, don’t be playful during this time, keep the house and yourself quiet and calm and boring and bring your child back to bed. Remember that with all the efforts you make to insist on your child sleeping in her designated area, she is likely to fight you at some point in her early life. The advice to offer will by this time seem familiar: know that you have done all you can to set the scene for sleep, and meet the waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and a quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.


A Minnesota Opportunity–Early Childhood Screening

Minnesota has some of the best opportunities for parents of young children!  We offer parenting education to every family of young children. We provide indoor entertainment during the cold months of the year so that parents and caregivers have a cure for cabin fever. In addition, we partner with parents early to address questions or issues around kindergarten readiness.

When your child is between the ages of three and four years old, you are asked to come in to the schools for early childhood screening. During this 1/2 hour long meeting we take the time to talk with you about how your child is developing and learning. We will have a conversation with you about how your child is communicating, and about her social experiences. This is not a doctor’s appointment, but we do check height, weight, vision and hearing to get an understanding of how she is growing.

Our nurse ensures that the screening process is friendly and pleasant for parent and child. Many of the activities your child is asked to do seem like games. You are present with your child during the whole screening process, and your input is essential in helping the schools gain a better understanding of your child. This screening is a great way to start the conversation around what you as a parent can do to help your child be ready for kindergarten, and what the school can do to provide your child with extra support if there is a need.

Because this screening is required of every child who will be entering kindergarten, the appointments tend to fill up quickly.  Ensure that you can get your first choice time slot by calling our office at 952-988-5017, or registering online.

Taking part in the Hopkins Early Childhood Screening with our nurse will help to get your child off to the most successful start in kindergarten–another great Minnesota opportunity!

Toilet Learning: Getting it Right!

Do you sometimes wonder if your child will go to college in diapers? Do you often hear, “I don’t want to go potty!” Help your child succeed at going to the bathroom on his or her own. Come for information, strategies, and support for facing the toilet learning challenge. For parents of 2-5 year olds, parent only class.

Tuesday, 2/12/13

6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins 55343

$10/adult, $15/household

Call 952-988-5000 or register online at www.HopkinsCommunityEd.org

Baby and Mama Yoga

Mama and Baby Yoga invites babies and their caregivers to bond through loving touch, sight, sound, and movement. Baby is included in the yoga practice. The class offers a chance for moms to connect with other new moms, too. It’s for moms who are feeling fine at 6 weeks postpartum. Babies ages 6 weeks until crawling are welcome. Please bring a blanket for baby.

The class is taught by Anna Melzer, certified yoga instructor with advanced prenatal training.

Free, registration required. Call 952-988-5000 or register on-line at www.HopkinsCommunityEd.org

Tuesday, Feb. 26 or Thursday, May 30.

6:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S. Hopkins.

Limited childcare for children 6 months through kindergarten is available, $5 per child in Harley room 35.

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.