Does Together Time = Screen Time?

Throughout these next few months we often have the opportunity to get together with family. Although many times we look forward to relaxing our day-to-day structure, we sometimes find that it leads us to wide open spaces when we don’t know exactly what to do. How does the family relax together when we are used to living such active lives? Families – and children especially – seem to have less tolerance for being “bored”.

Parents in our Hopkins Early Childhood / Family Education (ECFE) classes have been reflecting on their own most cherished childhood holiday memories. Most often these memories are filled with cousins or family playing all day long together. There were unstructured games and lots of fooling around. I often heard variations on the comment “We probably drove the adults crazy, because we were just playing so much and so hard.”

If you remember fondly back to long days of wide open games and play, know that your children would cherish the same sort of time together. We tend to jump to wanting to entertain, rather than waiting for our children to create something out of a slow moment in the day. However, our early fond memories would likely never have happened if we weren’t given the opportunity to sit together with nothing to do for awhile. Today we tend to focus on the easy entertainment that comes in the form of screens. As we can see in many situations the desire to have an activity, and the desire to be quickly entertained, has often allowed children access to lots of media, but it doesn’t always allow for the creative play they need.

There is a new project begun in Minnesota, an educational and supportive exploration into how screens are affecting our youngest children – those under five years old. The Screen Sense Project offers research, articles and feedback around the way we use screen time today. Take the time to check out their information. The group is certainly not against media, they are for the thoughtful process of mindful consumption of media. Take some time over these weeks, when things do tend to allow for more quiet time, to decide what meaningful consumption of media and screen time might mean for you and your family.

Another helpful website for considering our use of media is We will likely be using movies or apps to entertain here and there during these winter months. If we are conscious of what our own limits are, and can have a good sense of what is appropriate for our childrens’ ages, we will be able to comfortably enjoy the screen time we allow in our households. CommonSenseMedia provides information and reviews about current movies as well as old favorites, apps and video games. You can even find movies they recommend for the specific ages of your children.

It is hard for many people to imagine what it might be like to return to a time, even briefly, before we had ready access to screens. Think about your favorite memories of time spent together as a family when you were growing up. Talk about your memories with others in your family. See if you can find ways to create those same activities with your own children. Enjoy the time you have together, whether it is quiet and relaxed or just a bit boring. Too soon we will be back to our fast paced active worlds and the time you had together will be just a memory.


STEM Let’s Build events for Preschoolers and Parents

During the month of November, all six Hopkins elementary schools will be hosting a free STEM: Let’s Build event for preschoolers and parents.
STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. During the STEM: Let’s Build events, preschoolers and parents will experience hands-on engineering programs designed to make learning about science and engineering engaging, understandable and fun for kids.

Bring your preschooler to the Let’s Build event, coming to your Hopkins elementary school on the following dates:

Meadowbrook Elementary, November 12, 10:00 a.m.
Glen Lake Elementary, November 12, 6:30 p.m.
Gatewood Elementary, November 14, 6:30 p.m.
Tanglen Elementary, November 14, 9:30 a.m.
Alice Smith Elementary, November 18, 10:00 a.m.
Eisenhower + XinXing Academy, November 22, 10:00 a.m.

At the Let’s Build event you can:

  • Participate in three fun, hands-on STEM activities for your preschooler.
  • Learn about STEM and how the Hopkins elementary curriculum can give your child the STEM edge.
  • Tour your child’s kindergarten classrooms.

About STEM in Hopkins: Hopkins is committed to preparing students for a highly technical future. Our nationally recognized and researched core STEM curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (EiE) was developed by the Museum of Science, Boston. Hopkins is one of only three school districts in Minnesota to offer this advanced curriculum in our elementary schools.

How Can I Help When He Cries?

The times when your child is crying, frustrated or sad can be some of the most heart-wrenching moments of parenthood. We want our children to have happy memories and joyful moments throughout their early years. For this reason, we often jump in to help our children when they are sad or mad or frustrated — we do our best to make it better as soon as possible.

The Hopkins early childhood staff would like to offer that sometimes it can be most helpful to our crying children when we do not fix the problem. This doesn’t seem to make sense until we dig a little deeper into what parents are really doing when we try to make it better.

The immediate achievement of helping your child return to happiness often short circuits the long term goal of helping our children deal with the wide range of emotions they will have in their lifetimes. We as adults are often uncomfortable dealing with feelings outside of happiness. We don’t like to watch or be part of creating frustration, anger or sadness. However, everyone feels these emotions deeply – including toddlers and preschoolers. Everyone needs to learn how to deal with these uncomfortable emotions and find ways to help themselves feel better. When we as parents share strategies with our children to help them soothe themselves, regulate their own emotions, and deal with their own disappointments, we are providing the gift of a lifetime.

Building Strategies:

Children learn through imitation and watching the modelling of others. When a child sees a parent acknowledging and talking about her own emotions, he will learn to do the same. During frustrating moments in your own life, narrate your feelings and your actions: “I am really frustrated right now because the traffic is so bad. I am going to take three deep breathes and sing a funny song to try to calm down.” These narrated examples help your child to see that there are no bad feelings, and that there are concrete ways of calming down the body and mind to deal with the difficult feelings that arise in us all.

Label every feeling that comes along during your day. Both your own feelings and your child’s feelings. Help them to connect what is happening in their body with what is happening in their emotions. Being able to label feelings is a first step in being able to deal with them. If the only emotion you talk about is happiness and excitement, then the message is clear that the other emotions aren’t ok.

During quiet moments in your day, talk about sad or disappointing times your child has experienced. For young children you will have to do most of the talking.  Start with an example of something hard for them. “I notice you get disappointed when your sister doesn’t want to play with you. What can you do when you feel this way? Maybe you can tell her you are disappointed, and then find another game to play by yourself until she is ready to play. What toy would make you feel better the most? Let’s keep your toy truck ready for you to play with whenever your sister needs a break.”

When the Parent is Causing the Sadness:

Toddlers and preschoolers are often sad and angry because of the limits that a parent is putting on them. It is so tempting to give in when we see the genuine sadness that occurs because we have refused a request; this would return the child to happiness. It is important to remember, however, that the short term goal of happiness short-circuits the long term goal of dealing with disappointment and frustration in an effective way.

Our job as parents is not to keep our children happy. Our job as parents is to help children deal with the range of emotions that occur in a typical day. If your limit setting is causing sadness in your child, remind yourself that consistency is far more important than your child’s brief episode of sadness. When your child cries, and then finds a way to feel better, he has learned that he can deal with disappointment and successfully move on. When a child knows in his heart that he can do this he has emotional resiliency, and it creates a strength and confidence that will serve him well throughout his life.

When your child is sad because you are not giving in, label that feeling. “I see you are sad because you can not have the cookie.” Don’t follow up by giving the cookie. Follow up with strategies he can use to help himself feel better. “You can be sad here, or you can play with your blocks for awhile, or I can give you a hug if that will help.” Then allow him to feel his sadness and use the strategies he is most comfortable with to soothe himself. Sometimes that involves a parent sitting close and rubbing his back, or sitting on the couch close to him until he is done being sad. Sometimes that involves the parent giving space and allowing him to be sad in another room.

If sadness builds to anger and a tantrum, then the parent’s job is to keep the child safe, not to fix the tantrum.  The calmer the adults remain, the less escalated the situation will become. “I can’t let you throw things or hurt yourself. You can stomp your feet, or jump up and down, or you can lay on the floor and yell awhile. I am here to give you a hug if you would like. I love you.” Then give a minimum amount of attention to the tantrum, and let the child ride it out. When the emotional outburst has run it’s course, and he has moved into feeling sad or trying to feel better, then move on with him.

What Can I Tell Myself When I am Tempted?

There are so many times when we see our sad child and move into fixing the problem. How can we remind ourselves to be thoughtful about our long term goal of self-regulation and resiliency? Here are some things to say internally when you see the sadness or frustration and you are tempted to fix it, rather than allow her to feel the success of helping herself:

  • Consistency is more important than this moment of crying
  • My child needs to practice soothing herself early in life
  • My child needs to know she can overcome disappointment
  • This will build up her frustration muscles
  • I don’t need to end this quickly
  • If we help her deal with anger now, there will be a lot less screaming when she is a teenager

As your child gets older, use these moments of emotional upheaval as teaching opportunities. At a calm moment in your day, revisit the experience briefly. Review the emotions that your child felt, ask her what helped her to feel better. Talk together about how to use this strategy when she feels herself getting upset.  Show her you are confident in her own ability to handle her emotions.

Books are often a great resource for these teaching moments, and the book Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen is a useful resource for talking about emotions and dealing with frustration.

Give your child the opportunity to be emotionally resilient in her early life. The success she will have in dealing with her own emotional experiences will help her to confidently navigate the wild roller coaster of life as she gets older.