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.

Finding and Being the “Helpers”

 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I’m always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

In the past few days, months, (even years) it may feel hard to turn on the TV or any media source because of the images that we are constantly bombarded with.  As a parent of young children, this can feel overwhelming.  How are we supposed to raise children to love and inspire when they are constantly faced with so much hate?

The answer lies in the wise words of a man many of us grew up with…Mr. Rogers.  It was he that clued us in to the idea his own mother passed on to him “Find the Helpers.”

In nearly every scary, tragic, untimely event, there will always be people doing good; being good; showing good.

Recent events show thousands lining up to donate blood in Las Vegas and millions of people donating time, money, goods and effort to help the victims impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

No matter the situation, there are always, always people helping. This is a reassuring on a global level, but also on a day to day level.  In any situation we encounter, we can help our children find the helpers…while also being the helpers.

How can we do this? Small steps include

-Take time to notice the every day good and point it out to our children.

-Engage in small moments of “paying it forward.” This can be as simple as bringing cookies to a neighbor, helping new parents adjust to baby life, raking leaves for an elderly friend who may need assistance, or bigger gestures like prepaying in the drive-thru or donating winter gear to children who may go without.

-Speak kindly.  About everyone and everything.  Kindness is a powerful tool in the face of hate and discord.

Looking for more?  DoingGoodTogether.Org is a fabulous resource for:

Everyday Acts of Kindness:

Talking Tips:

Books About Kindness:

Family Service Ideas:


Welcome Back!

We are so excited to be back in the classroom!  While summer definitely has its perks, there is something to be said for the routine that a new school year brings.

As we start these first few weeks of classes, we wanted to inform you of some of the “extra’s” that our program is offering in addition to our standard classes!

Early Childhood Fest 2017

Saturday, October 7

10:00-11:30 a.m.

Hopkins Library, 22 – 11th Ave. N, Hopkins

Join us for a free fun-filled celebration at the Hopkins Library with family-friendly entertainment, live music, and fun family activities.

Sponsored by Hopkins Public Library & Hopkins Early Childhood Family Education.

Advisory Council

October 23rd, 6:30pm

The Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Advisory Council is composed of parents, school district personnel and representatives from the community that act as an advisory group for developing ECFE programs. This group reviews policies, fees, and program offerings in an attempt to reflect the community’s needs. The Hopkins ECFE Advisory Committee also has developed a variety of volunteer opportunities for parents within the program. Thanks to all the generous and busy parents who have contributed to our program.

The Advisory Council’s purposes are:

  • To assist in developing, planning and monitoring the Early Childhood Family Education Program in District 270.
  • To be responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.
  • To serve as a sounding board and a source of ideas for the Early Childhood Programs Coordinator.
  • To offer budget-related input and suggestions.
  • To serve as a resource to staff in program preparation, outreach and delivery.

Anyone interested in serving on the Advisory Council should contact the Harley Hopkins Family Center office at (952) 988-5000.

Young People’s Concert 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 5:45-7:00 p.m.

Hopkins High School

2400 Lindbergh Drive, Minnetonka

Hopkins High School Orchestra students will perform in a kid-friendly concert. Experience an “instrument petting zoo” where children can try out various orchestra instruments and enjoy other fun activities! Children are invited to wear their pajamas and bring their favorite stuffed animal.

Admission is free, join us!


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.

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:


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).


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!”


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.


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.


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.


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.

So Your Child is Going to Kindergarten!

So Your Child is Going to Kindergarten!

Rani Murdoch Zappa, MA, M. Ed, licensed parent educator

This parent-only workshop is designed to help parents understand what their kindergarten child will experience in kindergarten at Hopkins Public Schools as they continue their educational journey. Parents will hear from an elementary principal and participate in a facilitated conversation with a licensed parent educator. Learn more about kindergarten curriculum and examples of activities, the importance of social skills, and how to help prepare your child for kindergarten.

Parent-only class. For parents of children ages three to five years.
Tuesday, Nov. 14 • 6:30-8:00 pm Harley 25 #703-EF • $10/person, $15/household

Register online or call 952-988-5000.

Summer Simplicity

Sometimes the wide margins of a summer day can lead to wide margins in our parenting style.  Summer often means that the rules are flexible, the routine is less structured, the expectations vary by our energy level. As parents we love the opportunity to relax and let loose. Children greatly appreciate summer as well–the hours and hours of sunlight allowing for play is a great plus. However, it is important they understand that there are still boundaries to their behavior; they are still expected to stay within the limits. Children feel the greatest freedom when they have a clear understanding about the boundaries we are providing.  They may constantly bump up against our limit setting–but that is only to reassure themselves that the limits are still there.

Structure is for the school year–simplicity is for the summer. Here are five simple pointers to keep in mind as you guide your children throughout these wide open months. Finding ways to incorporate these practices will help children to revel in the freedom of the season while feeling secure in the clarity of your expectations:

1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ensure that your child is well rested, well fed and has the energy level for the activities you are going to embark on. We want to fill our days with fun in the summer. However, your child will not be able to keep up with your expectations if she is over-tired or hungry or exhausted from other activities earlier in the day.  Know when to end the day and shift plans to tomorrow.

2. Set clear expectations and consequences. Use simple terms and language to explain what you expect during an activity. If your child is old enough, have them repeat what you have said to be sure they understand. If you all decide together that hitting or pushing on the playground will result in leaving immediately, then it will not be a surprise if you have to leave.

3. Follow through on your limit-setting. Having talked about it before-hand, it is easier to follow through. However, there is a temptation to overlook misbehavior when we know that everyone in the family will have to suffer the consequences of leaving an event. In addition, the extra energy it takes when dealing with an angry child in the heat of summer can tempt us to “let it slide.”  Children are doing their job when they push the limits, they are developmentally designed to push us to see if we will stick to what we said. Although their outward behavior would lead us to believe they are spitting angry, their inward psyche is calmed in knowing that the adult in charge will follow through on what was said. This is what builds trust.

4. Choose your battles. We tend to rush to “no” when our child asks us to do something or we see a new behavior. Parents first job is safety, and the easiest way to maintain safety is to limit behavior. However, remember that when you say no, you will have to follow through. Sometimes it is more effective to say “Let me think about that”, and then go over the situation calmly in your own mind. Is there a way to help your child be safe and successful at this new activity? Is there a compromise you can work out with him so that you can feel safe and he can feel adventurous?  Often, if a young child knows you are willing to think about it, he is willing to give you a few minutes to ponder, and ends up forgetting all about the idea by the time you have made your decision.  🙂

5. Get time for yourself. Children have an unlimited store of energy in the summer time. They simply deny that they are ever tired until they drop from exhaustion. It is mentally and physically difficult to keep up with them every minute of every day. Find ways to replenish your own energy store. This may be as simple as a 10 minutes walk around the block. A quiet space of time or a phone call with a friend can do wonders for our own abilities to keep up with our children.