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.

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.


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: