Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remember Your Spouse During Family Vacations

We just returned from a family beach vacation. One night my kids, now 22, 19, and 16, asked if my husband and I planned to have a night alone without them. That's a natural question on our family vacations, because in the past, we always reserved one “alone night” for mom and dad. We would either hire a babysitter from the hotel when they were little, or as they got old enough to stay alone in the room together, we’d let them rent a movie.

I’ve been married 29 years, happily, and I think part of the reason is that my husband and I always made time together a priority. Whether it was date night once a week throughout our years together, or a night alone on the family vacation, we found time for each other.

I believe this has been a wonderful example for our children. They recognize the importance for us in maintaining a strong relationship, and frankly, I think they always enjoyed their time together without the parents. As more and more of our friends are separating and divorcing, I can reflect on the value of our time together.

On this particular trip, we opted out of our night alone. Now that the kids are older, we spend less time with them on a regular basis and treasure the time we have together as a family. They have grown into wonderful, enjoyable people and we are blessed that they still want to spend time with us.

Enjoy your family all the time, but don’t forget that you need to also nurture your relationship with your spouse.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Importance of Toddlers Using Scissors

Scissor skills are important for children to practice, though some parents do not allow their toddlers to use them at home. Concerns over the child harming himself or cutting something that he shouldn’t be cutting, make parents wary of even introducing their kids to scissors. We encourage the use of scissors in school for a couple of reasons. For one, this is an important, though difficult skill, for children to master. It takes a great deal of practice for most children to even learn how to grasp a scissor correctly. Cutting is also a skill that they will need by the time they get to kindergarten, and it takes quite a bit of practice. It is also an excellent way to help develop fine motor skills.

We have three types of scissors in the classroom. For children with very weak fine motor skills, we have a pair that actually has four finger holes. The child puts his fingers into the bottom two holes while the teacher puts her fingers into the top two holes. I find them a bit awkward, but for the very beginners, it helps children learn the proper grasp and the motion of opening and closing the scissor. After that, the child can use a pair that has a spring so the scissor can open itself. The student needs to use the proper grasp, but he only needs to squeeze the scissor shut and then it will open back up automatically. Once the child is successful with this pair, he is able to move on to a regular child’s scissor.

In all cases, the scissors have rounded edges and can only cut paper. They can’t cut a child’s skin or fabric. We place a dot with a magic marker at the base of the thumb hole. This dot serves as the scissors’ ‘eye’ and must point up to the sky. That helps the child understand the way the scissor needs to be held. We then help him put his thumb into the top, smaller hole, and two or three fingers into the bottom hole. Next, we practice opening and closing, opening and closing the scissors.

Even before introducing scissors, we encourage the children to rip pieces of paper. Ripping can be a difficult task before fine motor skills are strongly developed. Some children have trouble with the ripping motion. Once they are able to rip with their hands, they have an easier time cutting with scissors.

When the children do graduate to scissors, we start by having them fringe paper as opposed to cutting it. The fringing motion is a quick opening and closing of the scissor without having to navigate moving the scissor fully across the paper. Once they can fringe, we give them straight lines to cut. Finally, they are encouraged to actually cut out shapes.

I am always amazed at how persistent children are when learning how to cut. Very few children can cut instantly. It’s a skill that takes practice. Yet, even children who have trouble cutting are willing to persevere until they find success.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hero Kids

I am constantly urging parents to demonstrate charity to their children through their actions, so it always impresses me when the kids see the lesson and carry them forward. Congratulations to thirteen year old Jenny Silver who has given over 5,000 stuffed bears to children in need over the holidays since starting Bowling for Bears at the ripe young age of nine. For her efforts, the eighth grader at Rosa International Middle School in Cherry Hill has been chosen as one of 12 award winners in the Build-A-Bear Workshop Community Service Program.

Though only nine years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, Jenny was touched by the disaster. “I wanted to make sure the kids who were affected would still receive holiday gifts, and would know that they weren’t forgotten and that people were thinking of them,” she recalls.

Seeking out the “fun” in fundraiser, Jenny and her family held a bowling event and invited guests to seek out sponsorships in order to play. Each year, in early December, enough money is raised to provide $8 bears to hundreds of children in need. “We have t-shirts, food, and it’s a really fun event,” says Jenny.

For the first two years, Jenny donated the bears to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and the surrounding area. In the third year she gave her donations to The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and other local kids in need in Philly and Camden.

“It really meant a lot to me to be recognized with so many amazing kids who have done such great things,” says Jenny. “It was an honor to be a part of it.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Allow Children Creative Expression

I’ve had students over the years whose parents wanted perfection. Yet, the way three year olds learn is by experimenting. The more they try new things, the more they learn. Even when they create things that seem wrong to you, it is important to allow them creative expression.

One of our projects each year is a self-image picture. The child looks in a mirror and tells us what color his eyes and hair are, and how many eyes, eyelashes, nose, and mouth he has. We then give him an oval shape to serve as his face, and he creates his image. One mother approached me after viewing the self-image pictures that were hanging in the hall.

“My son put his eye where his mouth should be,” she said. “Why didn’t you fix that?”

I explained to her that the process in making the picture was more important than the finished product. To make his picture, her son, Bobby, had to cut out the circles for the eyes, use scissors to fringe the eyelashes, glue them onto the face and then draw the nose and mouth. He then chose the color yarn that he wanted for his hair and attached that to his head. There were many skills involved in this, including correctly grasping a scissor and cutting, holding a crayon, gluing and coloring. I did ask Bobby to look in the mirror one more time.

“Is that where your eyes are?” I asked him.
“They are today,” he said laughing.

For whatever reason, Bobby was in a silly mood that day. He knew where his eyes belonged, but he felt like putting one eye near his mouth. Maybe we had a budding modern artist on our hands! Because Bobby did all of the cutting, gluing, and coloring, we allowed him to be creative and complete his own interpretation of his face. By that time, he was much more interested in playing with the toy truck.

His mother felt that we should have made him fix it.
She said, “But compared to all the other pictures hanging in the hall, Bobby’s looks stupid.”

“Maybe you have the next Picasso on your hands,” I replied. “What is important in this project is the process of cutting, coloring and gluing. These activities all use fine motor skills and you can see that Bobby did an excellent job. I am sure that he knows where his eyes belong on his face, but if he wants to be creative, we prefer not to discourage him.”

I do remember years earlier when I was the mother in the hallway comparing my children’s artwork to that of their peers. It is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the finished product. Does my child cut as well as the others? Is my son behind the curve?

Yet, the more I have worked with different children, the more I value their individualism and creativity. In preschool, kids are experimenting with different mediums often for the first time. Sometimes, just peeling a sticker off its backing is a difficult task in itself. To observe children using their imaginations in their artwork is a beautiful thing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Family Meals Form Strong Bonds

It’s certainly logical that spending more time with family members should strengthen relationships, and now there’s proof that family meals keep kids healthier on many levels. Of course, carving time out of your lives to find a common hour when everyone can sit at the dinner table is a challenge. Yet, it’s worth the effort.
Kids who eat family meals do better in school and are less involved in dangerous behaviors. Research shows that the time spent talking, debating, and even arguing over the dinner table, helps forge stronger relationships. When parents show that they are interested in what their children have to say, the kids are more likely to share more about their lives.

There are many positives that come out of family meals. For one, parents will learn more about their kids, and visa versa. You also get the chance to demonstrate that you value other family member’s opinions. Find out what’s happening in your children’s lives, what matters to them, who their friends are, etc. etc.

Studies also show that parental influence and involvement is an important tool in preventing substance abuse. Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who rarely have family dinners are three-and-a-half times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana.

Family meals also encourage healthy eating. By eating with your children, it is more likely that meals will be more balanced. Girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals to full-fledged anorexia or abusing diet pills.

With religious classes, sports, classes, jobs, and other activities, finding time for family meals is difficult. But do your best to try to make this a priority. Your family will enjoy the benefits.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Guide Your Children, Don't Manage Them

When your kids are very young, you need to manage them. You must plan when they eat, nap, bathe and go to bed at night, and you must help them with these tasks. But as they get older, children need to begin making more of their own decisions. At that point you will become more of a guide than a manager.

Our job as parents is to demonstrate to our kids what our values are, and hopefully they will follow in our footsteps. To think that we can do things for them and run their lives is short sighted. What will happen to them when they have a decision to make and we aren't around to make them?

Well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, believes that parenting styles have to change as our children change. "As children reach grade school, they need more gentle management," he asserts. "And when they hit puberty, now they need guidance more than management."

It is important that parents lay the groundwork early on for open dialogue with their kids. That becomes most critical when a child hits puberty. Managing a child too tightly does not open a door for dialogue. "Then the only dialogue is right and wrong, obedient and disobedient or those type of simplistic black and white dyads," he explains.

Instead, by keeping communication open as your children grow, they will feel comfortable coming to you when problems get bigger. That will open the door for child to say, 'Mom, Dad, I'm suffering,' or 'I'm feeling depressed,' or 'a kid offered me pot.' These are the dialogues we desperately need to have with our children. If we're busy managing, it's not going to happen.

Keep that in mind as you parent your toddlers. They will demonstrate when they are ready to take on more responsibility. Don't be afraid to give it to them. A three year old can certainly put his toys back on the shelf with your guidance. A four year old can help put groceries in the pantry (preferably the non-breakable variety) and a five year old can determine if she'd prefer to try ballet or gymnastics. Help your children make decisions and discover new things that they can achieve on their own. Be sure that they know you will always be there to support them and their choices, and help them when things don't go according to plan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Potty Training Doesn't Have to be Miserable

I’ve had a lot of questions about potty training, so I’m re-running an earlier post on the subject. A young mom was lamenting the fact that her three and a half year old son still wasn't potty trained. He had no interest whatsoever in shedding his diapers. I assured her that he would be potty trained by the time he walked down the aisle! Seriously though, for practically every toddler, this is a short term problem.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no set age at which toilet training should begin. They advise that the right time depends on a child's physical and psychological development. Between 18 and 24 months, children often start to show signs of being ready, but some children may not be ready until 30 months or older. They also advise parents that if their child resists strongly, it is best to wait for a while.

In the case of a head-strong 3 1/2 year old, there are some things you can try. For starters, go to Target, or wherever you and he generally shop together. Take him to the underwear aisle and tell him that he is a big boy now, and big boys are very lucky because they get to wear big boy underwear. He is especially lucky because you brought him to Target where they have lots of underwear to choose from. He can pick whatever he wants....Power Rangers, Batman, Bob the Builder, Spongebob, etc.

As soon as you get home, he can try on his new undies. If he can go a whole hour and stay dry, he can wear them all day. He needs to use the potty first, to help him stay dry for a whole hour. At the end of that hour, you'll remind him to use the toilet again, and try for another hour.

If he can't make the first hour, try to understand his state of mind. Why do you think he didn't make it? Was he engrossed in a tv show or game? Is he just really not interested, even with the new cool underwear? If it's the former and he really wants to try again, let him. Make the time frame a half hour though and remind him at that point to try to use the potty. If he just really isn't ready, don't push it. Tell him that you'll wash the underwear and put it in his drawer, and you'll try again next week.

If his friends are already trained, encourage a play date where he'll see them use the toilet. Sometimes that's enough to spark interest. By 3 1/2, when he decides he's ready he will likely be very successful very quickly. It's probably not that he has bladder control issues, more that he needs to decide for himself that he's ready.

Summer is the perfect time to train, because you can spend a lot of time outdoors where it's easier to clean up accidents. It's hard work but you have to be consistent.

Please hit the comment tab below to share any tips that have worked for you.
Good luck!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Remember That You Are Your Child's Primary Teacher

We all want what’s best for our children so we enroll them into the right school, sign up for the greatest classes, and get the them the best educational toys. Yet, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that parents are your children’s primary teachers and every moment you spend with your children is valuable.

Keep in mind that your children watch you and learn from your examples. If you drive a hybrid, use cloth reusable grocery bags, and recycle your trash, your children will learn how to be environmentally conscious. You don’t need to sit them down and give a speech, they can see from your actions that protecting the environment is important to you.

If you spend time playing outdoors, hitting the gym, and enjoying physical activities, your kids will learn that exercise is important. You won’t have to urge them from the couch or computer because they will have learned the importance of physical activity.




If you serve healthy meals and eat what is served, your kids will learn to try those foods. By refusing to make other meals specifically for a picky eater, they will be forced to eat what the rest of the family is eating, and will recognize that healthy eating is a family priority.

The car is a great place to spend time looking at the world outside the windows and talking about what you see. Discuss your day, your child’s day, the big yellow bulldozer you see, and even the music playing on the radio. These discussions will show your children that you care about them, and will teach them many lessons about the world around them.

Classes and toys are fine, but never forget that you are your children’s most important teacher.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is Alzheimer’s Disease Hereditary?

My husband’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease, and my Mother-in-Law has always been concerned about the disease being passed down to her. I asked Dr. Robert Nagele, a researcher for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, if the disease is hereditary.

He explained that there is a hereditary form of Alzheimer’s Disease that is inherited, but it is a mutation that is passed on from one generation to the next and it only accounts for four percent of the total Alzheimer’s patients. Ninety-six percent are considered to be sporadic. But the disease does run in families. It ran in Dr. Nagaele’s mother’s family. There were six children in her family and of the six, two of them died of Alzheimer’s Disease and the other one had dementia which was leaning toward Alzheimer’s Disease.

Research has demonstrated that people typically suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years before their symptoms are worrisome enough to visit the doctor. There are signs you can look out for if you suspect that a loved one may be suffering. Maybe Mom is starting to be unable to balance her check book, she’s forgetting where she’s placing her keys, or there are unusual behaviors such as her keys showing up in the refrigerator. Eventually it’s alarming enough that it causes you to bring her into the doctor.

Dr. Nagele points out that the disease is ongoing for about five to eight years before a person ever comes to see their doctor for the first time because the brain doesn’t take it lying down, it’s fighting back very hard. The symptoms can arise anywhere in the brain, and different parts of the brain control different functions, which makes it hard initially on the neurologist to say it’s clearly Alzheimer’s. There are tests that can be given to try and discern what’s going on.

Whatever your family history, we all know that exercise is good for our overall health, and now researchers believe that exercise and healthy eating habits will also help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. As parents, you need to get your kids into good habits from birth. Be sure they eat healthy foods and that they spend time playing every day. Physical activity is important, and building that habit in them when they are young is essential.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Exercise Now to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

I spoke with a researcher who has devoted the last nine years to studying Alzheimer’s Disease, and his advice to everyone is “get off the couch.” Dr. Robert Nagele is a researcher for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. We all know that exercise is important, but now researchers are finding that it can help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, a debilitating disease that causes memory loss in older people.

Dr. Nagele says that at the age of 65, the incidence of getting Alzheimer’s Disease is four percent, and at the age of 85 it’s fifty percent. He believes that everybody has Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s just a question of degree. The people who come into the doctor’s offices just have more disease than other people.

It turns out that we have a blood-brain barrier which is very important. It’s intact in people when they’re healthy, and its purpose is to keep things in the blood. When those vessels travel through the brain, they make sure that nothing leaks out into the brain that shouldn’t. As we get older, we experience aging associated changes in our blood vessels, including the integrity of the blood-brain barrier. You begin to spring leaks in your brain, and they wreak havoc on the ability of the brain to function. There’s a material called amyloid that characteristically accumulates in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s Disease. You have it all over your body but not in your brain. When your blood-brain barrier breaks down, the deal’s off and the gates open and the amyloid now begins to flood out in the brain. The accumulation of amyloid is one of the hallmark characteristics of the disease.

There are things healthy adults can do to help stave off this disease. First, get off the couch. When people retire, they stop working and get a little more lethargic, eating less healthy foods and spending too much time being inactive. These bad habits are harmful to their blood vessels. The blood-brain barrier breakdown is an early step in Alzheimer’s Disease process so you should do all you can to keep your blood-brain barrier intact and healthy. That means maintain your cardiovascular health, and a fringe benefit is that it’s also good for your heart. Get a gym membership, walk on the treadmill, keep your weight down and watch what you eat. The worst thing that has happened to our society is the fact that we spend six and a half hours a day on average watching television.

Experts have said for many years that exercise is good for us in many ways. Now we can add one more benefit to the list.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Parent’s Role in Parent-Child Classes

As both a mom and a teacher, I have always loved parent-child classes. This is a wonderful opportunity for the parent, most often the mother, and baby to spend quality time together. The mother gets to socialize with other mothers who are experiencing the same things she is, and the child gets to see other babies in action. It’s also a wonderful way for a family to test out a preschool, to get a feel for whether it might be the right fit the child when she’s ready to start preschool on her own.

In the school where I teach, there are two teachers in the room to facilitate these parent-child classes, though the point is for parent-child bonding. One year, I had a class where all of the mothers were very good friends. They couldn’t wait to come to socialize with each other and catch up on the latest gossip. My teaching partner and I would attempt to lead the one year olds in a rendition of Old MacDonald, but their parents would be so busy chatting with one another that getting them to join the circle seemed to be an intrusion. That year, I felt that I was constantly trying to engage the parents who seemed very uninterested in getting involved.

While I do believe that the social interaction between moms is vitally important, in that class, their children were definitely cheated. The teachers did the best we could to facilitate the activities, but it was impossible without cooperation from the parents.

By all means, take advantage of parent-child classes and enjoy the interaction with other moms, but don’t forget the reason that you are there.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Parents Must Say No

When children realize that they can always have their way at home, it makes it very hard for them to succeed in the classroom. Tanya knew that when she wanted something that her parents initially said no to, she only needed to throw a temper tantrum and she’d eventually get her way.

Very early in the school year, Tanya wanted to color at the easel, but there were already two children on either side. I told her that she’d have to wait. With that, she flung herself on the ground and started crying and beating her fists on the floor.

As it was early in the year and we didn’t know Tanya well enough yet to know if something else was wrong, I picked her up and tried to soothe her. I explained that she would have the next turn at the easel but in the meantime, she would have way more fun playing with something else while she waited instead of crying. Soon after, one of the children at the easel came over to Tanya and told her that she could take his spot. It was very sweet of him and it certainly calmed her down.

The next time a similar situation happened, we understood that this was Tanya’s behavior when she didn’t get her way. When the sweet boy tried to give in, we told him that while it was very nice of him, this was his turn at the easel and Tanya would have to wait. For the first two weeks of school, Tanya threw temper tantrums several times each week. We began making sure she was in a safe spot where she couldn’t hurt herself or someone else, but we let her cry. Sometimes while she was crying, we’d move on to another activity and Tanya realized that she had missed out on that activity altogether. It didn’t take long for her to recognize that her tears weren’t going to get her what she wanted.

At one point, I asked Tanya if she gave Mommy and Daddy a hard time at home like she was giving us at school. “Yes,” she admitted. “I throw temper tantrums at home all the time.”

“That might work for you at home,” I told her. “But it will not work for you at school.”
It didn’t take long for Tanya to figure that out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Develop Fine Motor Skills in the Kitchen

As the teacher of three year olds, I find that children’s fine motor skills are often extremely weak. One theory is that now we place our babies on their backs instead of their stomachs to help prevent Infant Death Syndrome, and that has prevented infants from strengthening their arms and hands. Whatever the cause, we must find ways to help kids develop their small muscles and the kitchen is a great place to start.

Let your children help you make a salad by tearing the lettuce. The act of ripping is wonderful to help develop fine motor skills. At the same time, they are learning how to make a salad and feel proud to have helped prepare dinner.

On spaghetti night, let your child break the strands of uncooked spaghetti that you will then put into the pot of boiling water. They can help you sprinkle the garlic and parmesan cheese on the garlic bread. If you enjoy baking, let your toddler help. Kneading dough for bread, holding measuring spoons and cups, and even stirring batter, all help strengthen their small muscles.

If you are nervous having your children take part in the actual meal preparation, have a special container of toys in the kitchen that they can play with while you cook. Play dough, puzzles, safety scissors, and balls filled with sand, are all activities that help develop fine motor skills. Even coloring with crayons and pencils is great.

All the while, you can talk about the meal you are preparing or just chatter about your day. It’s a bonding experience that is good for your child, and you, in many ways.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Start Family Traditions When Your Children are Young

Family traditions are the glue that unites a family, and these special moments help mold and shape your children. Among the many traditions our family enjoys, our favorite by far takes place on Thanksgiving. Now that my children are young adults, I can witness the effect this tradition has on them.

Each Thanksgiving morning, another family joins us at a house at the beach, to assemble 40 Thanksgiving meals. Each meal includes turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and cranberry sauce, filled into a carry-out container. We then add a roll, cookie, plastic silverware and a juice box, to make the meals complete.

Each person oversees a segment of the meal, whether it’s cooking, scooping, or assembling. I cook the turkeys the day before, so the whole process takes just a couple of hours. We then load the meals into boxes, get in the car, and drive to the Atlantic City boardwalk. It doesn’t take long to find people in need of food, more this year than ever before.

Practically every person we offer a meal to is incredibly appreciative. There is no greater feeling than feeding someone who is hungry, and the smiles on my children’s faces offer proof of that all day. As we seek out the people who would benefit from our meals, our family bonds. We tell jokes, actually referring to the day as “Bad Joke Holiday.” We enjoy the ocean breeze and brisk wind that often accompanies the November day and reflect on how thankful we are to be able to share with others.

This year we gave our meals out in record time. Sadly, there are too many hungry people. Yet, being able to help just a few is very meaningful to us all. It doesn’t matter what your traditions are, but repeating them year after year for your children is priceless.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, safe Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Teaching Your Children Respect

Because it’s Thanksgiving, for the next few days I will be rerunning some of my earlier favorite blog entries. Have a safe, wonderful, healthy holiday! Happy Thanksgiving!

Something happened recently with my 15 year old that reminded me how important it is for parents to begin teaching their children respect when they are very young. My son and a couple of his friends, little men already at 5'10" with sprouting facial hair, and deep voices, had an encounter with some neighbors. The boys have cut through these people's property for the three years we've lived here, as a short-cut to the Bagel Shop across the street.

My son has chatted up the man who lives there, as he is usually on his riding mower or working in the yard. Yesterday, his wife came out and, to give my son's version, she started screaming at the boys for cutting through her property. He came home and told me about the encounter, and said that he and his friends just kept on walking.

About an hour later, this couple rang my doorbell. I had never met them before. They felt that the boys were disrespectful while she was trying to talk to them. They weren't upset about the cutting through, just about their view that the boys ignored her while she was speaking.

She was absolutely right. Both my son and I apologized and he explained that it wasn't his intention to ignore her. He was very sorry. Later, I picked up an impatien plant as a peace offering, and all three boys accompanied me to their home. This time, we took the long route instead of cutting through.

We rang the doorbell and this woman looked at the boys and plant and had the hugest smile on her face. The boys apologized again, and she was overwhelmed. She gave each of us a hug and thanked us for the gesture.

When I initially informed the boys that I couldn't make them come with me, but I thought it was the right thing to do, they moaned, groaned and obviously didn't want to come. Yet, on the way home, (this time cutting through the yards,) they thanked me for making them go. It was just really a nice human moment.

As a teacher, I have been disappointed to note the lack of manners so many of my students demonstrate. By three and four years old, they should be saying please and thank you on a regular basis. That is the exception in my experience, not the rule. I don't understand why this is happening. Manners are the basic form of respect.

In my classroom, the children learn very quickly that they must use good manners. Of course, there will be mistakes along the way....as in the story about my 15 year old. Children model their parents' behaviors, so begin by using good manners at home. Trust me, teachers can tell which kids learn it at home and which don't.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Encourage Your Child to be an Individual - Within Reason

While we encourage every child to be an individual, and nurture the differences that make each one special, there are times when children must conform to the rest of the class. Aaron was an extremely bright, precocious child with a mother who believed that he could do no wrong. She felt that he was more advanced than the other children and should be given special privileges. For whatever reason, he didn’t like to say thank you. When the teachers tried to insist that he use good manners, he’d refuse.

They called his mother and explained the problem they were having. Aaron’s mother said that at home he is allowed to say “T-Y” instead of thank you. She never knew why he was so adamant about it, but as long as he said “T-Y,” that was fine with her. The problem was that in a classroom community where the teachers are trying to instill good manners in young kids, he was allowed to do things differently.

And this wasn’t an isolated example. Andrew’s mother gave the teachers clear instructions regarding what he was allowed to modify if he didn’t want to do something. Sometimes, the teachers followed her wishes, but other times they could not. On one occasion there was outbreak of lice in the classroom. The teachers had to check each child individually by combing his hair in a special way to seek out any lice. Andrew’s mother protested. “He is an individual and he is uncomfortable about having his teacher comb his hair,” she explained.

The teacher responded that she would be very quick and as soothing and gentle as possible, but in this situation Andrew had to conform to the group. They could not risk that he might have lice and would bring them back into the classroom.

We want all of our children to be individuals, but there are times when they must follow the rules and conform for the greater good of the group.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monitor your Child's Diet to Keep Him Fit

Exercise is half of the battle in keeping kids fit. Their diet is the other half. Ryan came into our class at three as an average sized child. By January, he had gained quite a bit of weight. His cheeks were fuller, his belly was bigger and while he hadn’t grown a lot taller, he was definitely wider. His mother shared her concerns with us and said that she tried to limit his diet, but that was hard to do for a three year old.

We gave her some suggestions to help reverse the trend and keep Ryan physically fit. For starters, his mother told us that he hated to eat breakfast. She figured that was okay because those were calories he wasn’t eating. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that eating a healthy breakfast can help children avoid gaining weight, because they tend to spread their calorie intake throughout the day, instead of eating one or two large meals.

We encouraged her to see a nutritionist, who made several recommendations. For breakfast she would feed him low sugar cereal with milk, or toast with either peanut butter or a low fat cream cheese, or one waffle with fruit. An eight ounce glass of calcium fortified juice was all he needed, as drinks can contain a lot of calories. Ryan typically ate a pre-packaged pizza meal for lunch. It turned out that the meal was laden with calories. Instead, she switched lunch to deli turkey, or humus and crackers, or yogurt, and she included lots of fresh vegetables with a low fat dip to go along with his main dish. She could give him one treat for dessert, such as a piece of candy or small bag of cookies. Depriving a child of something sweet isn’t necessary. Her nutritionist told her that this is his reward for eating healthy foods and that anything in moderation is acceptable.

Let’s start our kids off on healthy paths when they are young. The choices you teach your children to make now, will guide them throughout their lives.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Washing Hands will Help Avoid the H1N1 (Swine) Flu

Regular hand washing will help stop the spread of illnesses, including the H1N1 (Swine) flu. It’s important to teach children how to wash their hands effectively. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are several steps which parents and teachers can pass on to their children and students:

1. Hands should be washed using soap and warm, running water
2. Hands should be rubbed vigorously during washing for at least 20 seconds with special attention paid to the backs of the hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails
3. Hands should be rinsed well while leaving the water running
4. With the water running, hands should be dried with a single-use towel
5. Turn off the water using a paper towel, covering washed hands to prevent re-contamination.

In the school where I teach, we build hand washing into the daily schedule, and we try to make it fun. With two teachers we are able to divide the class in half, with one half using the bathroom sink and the other half standing on a stool in front of the large sink. Just jumping up and down from the stool is a treat. We also have the children sing either the ABC’s or a hand-washing song to ensure they are spending 20 seconds on the process.

The mother of a 4 year old questioned the school’s policy on hand washing, after her son had gotten sick twice within just a couple of weeks. Neither time he had the H1N1 flu, but she was extremely worried that he might get that next. This mother urged the Preschool Director to have the teachers wash the students’ hands more often.

In our classroom, the children wash their hands with soap and water each time they use the bathroom. They also wash them after playtime which comes just before snack. We wash them once again when they come in from the playground. Though our kids are only in school for 2 ½ hours, three days a week, we feel the time we spend on hand washing is important.

This mother, however, wondered why we didn’t wash the children’s hands as soon as they entered the classroom in the morning. Certainly, we could do that, but with a dozen or more children in the average classroom, that is a time consuming process. If the parent or caretaker washes each child’s hands before entering the classroom, that will allow more time for other valuable activities.

I have always been a big believer in allowing kids to come in contact with germs, because they ultimately need to build defenses against them. Yet, the H1N1 has changed my thinking, at least until this epidemic is behind us. We can all take part in doing our share to help protect our kids.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

With Independence Come Mishaps, but Encourage Your Toddlers to do Things for Themselves

I often preach the importance of encouraging independence in your toddlers. They need to try things for themselves to discover what the world has to offer. Oftentimes, they will try something new but won’t succeed. Part of the lesson is in figuring out how to do something differently the next time, until they ultimately figure it out.

Kudos to 2 year old Brady’s mom. Her little guy so desperately wants to be just like his 4 year old big brother, that he is constantly trying to do things he isn’t yet ready for. For example, Brady was convinced he could brush his own teeth, and he actually succeeded…sort of.

Brady hopped up onto the bathroom stool and grabbed his brother’s toothbrush from the stand. He found the white stuff that he was sure goes on toothbrushes and began brushing furiously. At that moment, his mom stepped into the bathroom and realized that Brady was brushing his teeth with hand soap!

It’s not so easy to get an overabundance of hand soap out of a two year old’s mouth. Though Brady’s mom was somewhat exasperated, it was actually a wonderful moment for her son. He may have been confused about the toothpaste, but he was successful in brushing his teeth all by himself.

On another occasion, Brady observed his older brother blowing his nose into a tissue. Brady’s mother found him sitting next to an empty box of tissues and a toilet bowl filled with the ones he’d used in blowing his own nose. My kids were pretty old before they could blow their own noses, but Brady figured this difficult skill out on his own. Sure, he used up an entire box of Kleenex, and there could have been a nasty overflow in the toilet, but he taught himself an important skill.

God bless Brady’s parents and all the other parents out there with the understanding necessary to allow toddlers to learn new things. It takes a sense of humor of to be a parent. Remember that in the moments when it’s easy to forget.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Under the New Mammogram Guidelines, I Might Now be Dead

I am shocked and disappointed by the new guidelines presented by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Contradicting their previous guidelines, as well as those from the American Cancer Society, they believe that women shouldn’t begin mammogram screening until they are 50, as opposed to the old guidelines which urged routine screening at 40. They also suggest that a woman need only be screened every other year, as opposed to every year. Maybe even more shocking is the assertion that women should no longer do self exams.

The reasoning behind the new guidelines is that only about 15 percent of women in their 40’s detect breast cancer through mammography, and only one in 19,000 will die of breast cancer. Yet, many other women face false positives, unnecessary biopsies, and feel anxious about the test.

As one of the 15 percent, I strongly disagree with this change. At 46 years old, I discovered I had breast cancer through a routine mammogram. I felt no lump, nor had any idea there was anything wrong. Even after my cancer was diagnosed, no doctor was able to feel my lump. Had I waited four more years until I turned 50, it’s impossible to say how far the cancer might have spread.

Due to my early diagnosis, I endured a lumpectomy and radiation and am now almost four years cancer free. My oncologist said I had “an excellent little cancer.” Four years later, I doubt she would have used those words.

My friend Claire also had breast cancer. She caught hers through a self-exam, but it did not show up on mammography. Her cancer wasn’t so excellent, and she needed a mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and pretty much went through hell and back. Had she not done a self-exam, it is hard to know what might have happened.

I struggle to see the downside of early screening and self-exams. I would rather be concerned about a false positive, than miss the opportunity to discover I have cancer as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Disorders Can Begin as Early as Preschool

Eating disorders have increased by about 50 percent in the last ten years, according to Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Cooper University Hospital. The most common eating disorder today is ED-NOS, Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified. Young girls can become preoccupied with eating and dieting as early as pre-school, even though the behaviors may not show up until later. “This is difficult, because over time, the thought patterns become ingrained,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter. “We would like to identify these thought patterns as early as possible because that’s going to lead to a more likely, complete resolution of the disorder.”

Predominantly girls are affected, with only 5-10 percent of boys having eating issues. Typically, these girls have a distortion in body image. Doctors are able to show a patient illustrations of different body images, and ask the girl to circle the one who she believes mostly resembles her own body. “Very often, there’s a big disparity between the girl she circles and where she actually falls in her own BMI (body mass index) percentile,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter.

The most important thing parents can do is to teach their children healthy eating and exercise habits. With an obesity epidemic in our country, there’s a lot of talk about weight and dieting. “We’re trying to shift that focus to proper nutrition and physical activity,” she explains. “Proper nutrition starts from birth. Everybody thinks that really fat babies are cute, but now we realize that really fat babies may be at risk for having problems with obesity.”

Parents and other adults must also be careful about comments they make that may be harmful to a girl’s self-esteem. A mother complaining about her own appearance, or a coach pushing a dancer to hold her stomach in, can help trigger a girl’s distorted perception of her own body image.

If you notice that your child is restricting what she’s eating, that may be cause for concern. As a child grows, she must gain weight to maintain that growth. If she is getting taller but not gaining weight, that is a red flag. Also, if she makes comments suggesting a disgust with fatness, she may turn that inward. If you are concerned, take your child to her doctor where she can get the help she needs to get back on track before serious, irreversible damage is done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating Disorders Give Young Girls Control

At thirteen years old, bright, out-going Katie, had lost 20 pounds on her 100 pound frame. It was tough being in eighth grade, with all the “drama,” Katie remembers. Diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves limiting the amount of food a person eats,
Katie needed therapy to help her gain the weight back.

Sadly, two years later, she faced anorexia for the second time, after breaking up with her boyfriend of two and a half years. “I just kind of stopped eating,” she explains. “I didn’t have any appetite because I was so sad. But then it got to the point where being able to not eat felt good, because it felt like I had control over that part of my life.”

Control is the key to eating disorders, according to Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, Division Head of Adolescent Medicine at Cooper University Hospital. Eating disorders come from a combination of psychological issues, biological issues such as a genetic predisposition, and social issues. There is a lot of pressure on kids today academically, socially, and through the media. More than ever before, parents today are extremely involved in the decisions their children must make.

“Kids used to have a lot more freedom in the past, and sometimes, with this sort of authoritarian parenting style, I think lack of freedom sends a very loud message to kids, which is that they’re not capable of making their own decisions,” explains Dr. Feldman-Winter. “Very often, kids will try to find something that they can be in control of.”

Eating disorders have increased by about 50 percent in the last ten years, she points out. The most common eating disorder today is ED-NOS, eating disorders not otherwise specified. Young girls can become preoccupied with eating and dieting as early as pre-school, even though the behaviors may not show up until later. “This is difficult, because over time, the thought patterns become ingrained,” says Dr. Feldman-Winter. “We would like to identify these thought patterns as early as possible because that’s going to lead to a more likely, complete resolution of the disorder.”

Tomorrow I will talk more about eating disorders and the warning signs parents can watch out for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Clean-Up Time: Your Child’s First Job

I am a big believer in giving kids responsibilities at a very young age. At two years old, your child is fully capable of helping clean up his toys, and he will enjoy the independence and feeling of usefulness that accompanies the task.

Clean-up time is the perfect chance to promote independence, both at school and at home. Not only do kids do a great job cleaning up, but they love the challenge. In school, we make clean-up time fun. There are two songs that encourage the kids to give it their all. The first is an old standby:

Clean up girls,
Clean up boys,
Put away your blocks and toys,
And don’t forget the little dolly’s cup,
That’s the way that we clean up.

Once they get started, they want acknowledgement for their hard work. That’s where the second song comes in:

I like the way that _(child’s name)__ is cleaning up,
I like the way that ____ is cleaning up,
I like the way that ____ is cleaning up,
Here at school today.

Heaven forbid we leave a child out, he is quick to demonstrate his cleaning prowess. The children work especially hard to be sure we sing their names.

As a parent, it is your job to teach your children how to be a contributing part of your family, as well as a contributor to the greater community. Each person must take some responsibility in being a productive part of their world. The sooner your child accepts this responsibility, the easier it will be for him to continue to find new ways to help out. First, it’s cleaning up his toys, but soon he can help set the table, put away non-breakable groceries, make his bed, and the list goes on and on. He will feel very proud of his accomplishments as he demonstrates that he is an important helper in his family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finding and Keeping a Great Caregiver

When my kids were small and I worked full-time, I was fortunate to have some wonderful caregivers. Yet, finding the right person was cause for major stress. My husband and I tended to choose women who generally stayed for only a year, because they ended up going back to school, starting families of their own, or moving into office jobs. Though that meant starting the process all over again, with few exceptions, the sitters we chose were phenomenal.

When it’s time to choose a caregiver, there are many things to consider. Do you want that person to drive your children? For my family, that was a must. If so, you need to be sure they have a clean driving record and a reliable car. Whenever possible, I would let the sitter use my car which I knew was safe.

Do you need flexibility of hours? If you travel or have a schedule that isn’t always fixed, the sitter will need to be flexible. You may even need her to spend the night on occasion. If so, is there a place where she can comfortably stay in your home?

Of course, references are vital. I was all set to hire Mary Poppins, or so she seemed, until one of her references warned me not to hire her. Unfortunately, not all references are honest, and some certainly may have grudges for whatever reason, but you have no choice but to listen to what they tell you.

When interviewing a potential candidate, have her spend some time with your children. See how she interacts with them and them with her. Does she instantly find a game to play or some way to connect with the kids? Do the kids seem to relate to her? How is her tone of voice?

If you can, try to be around the first day she sits. Maybe work from home if possible, or pop in and out several times throughout the day. Try to stay out of her way to encourage her to take charge, but you can keep and eye and ear out to see how it’s going. For the first week, if you can, have your spouse, parent, or neighbor check in occasionally. Set up play dates with neighbors and see what the neighbor thinks of how your sitter is doing with your children.

We had a wonderful sitter who had an eyebrow ring. That certainly wouldn’t be top on my list, but she was so great with the kids that I had to let my feelings about that go. Another one smoked and that was a fireable offense. She said she’d only smoke outside, but I could smell it the moment I walked in the house.

Your child’s teachers will also get a great sense of your sitter. How do the kids react when she picks them up? Is she receptive to passing on communication between the parents and the teachers? Is she on time?

Your children are the most precious thing in the world, and finding someone to fill in for you is never easy. Take your time, take a deep breath, and do your homework. And, if you suspect things aren’t going well, move on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Special Holiday Gifts in an Especially Tough Economy

One of the positive by-products of this difficult economy is that many people are rediscovering basic family values. As the holidays approach, remember that homemade gifts truly are special, most notably when they come from your toddlers.

Now that my kids are grown, I relish their tiny handprint works of art that they gave me when their fingers were so small. I still use the pencil holder my daughter made out of an old can when she was in the fourth grade. I even continue to put out holiday decorations that were my kids’ original creations, and there is no price that can be put on their value.

While abstract art is fabulous, be creative if you want to find something useful for the recipient of the gift. Christmas ornaments and Chanukah menorahs can be displayed and enjoyed year after year. Signing a work of art with handprints and dating it, will allow you to compare the child’s growth along with his artistic development. What’s more fun than paining feet and walking across a giant greeting card?!

I am not a crafty person, but anyone can create a collage. Choose an old shoe box, and help your children cut pictures and sayings from magazines or used wrapping paper that symbolize the person the gift will be for. Glue the pictures all over the shoe box, the more the better. This is a time consuming project and your loved one will not only enjoy reading the words and seeing the pictures meant solely for her, but she can have fun reading the box over and over throughout the years.

As your children get older, they can help you create CD’s with special songs intended for someone they love, and there are lots of websites that help you create personalized calendars very inexpensively.

So this year, take some of the pressure off and enjoy spending time making something meaningful with your children. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Importance of Scribbling

As parents and teachers of toddlers, it is our job to encourage our kids to enjoy the process of art, and that begins with scribbling. It’s easy to get caught up in pushing our children to write letters, draw shapes, and create artwork that actually looks like something. That will come, but developmentally, kids need to scribble first.

Generally, at two years old, given a crayon and blank piece of paper, a toddler will create an uncontrolled scribble. She may choose to use different colors, and some lines may be darker than others, but she is experimenting with the crayon and learning how she can control it to make marks on the paper.

At three, children’s scribbles may become more controlled as they better understand the connection between their actions and the marks they see on the paper. Their movements will still be large and generally unorganized.

By the time most children turn four, they are beginning to show some form and organization in their artwork. As they develop better hand-eye coordination and stronger fine motor skills, their drawings will begin to take shape.

You are doing a disservice to your child if you push her to make recognizable pictures before she’s ready. Let her enjoy the process of putting crayon to paper and she will advance at her own pace.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness for Mothers

Though this blog is typically devoted to preschool and toddler issues, today I'm going to repeat a previous post because it’s so important. This one is about Mom. I am now three years cancer free, and I need to periodically share my story in hopes of reaching other moms who face a similar ordeal.

According to the most recent stats from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Ladies, that means that when you're in your Little Gym class and you take a look around the circle of 8 women, one of you will likely get breast cancer. Please don't think it can't happen to you.

My cancer was detected through a routine mammogram. I never felt a lump or any pain at all. In fact, after the doctors knew exactly where the lump was, they still couldn't feel it. Believe me...they tried! Because my little lump was detected so early, my oncologist dubbed it an "excellent little cancer." As cancer goes, that was a nice diagnosis to have. It was excellent because it was found early was extremely susceptible to treatment.

I went through a few surgeries and a summer of daily radiation and have been in tip top shape ever since. There is little history of breast cancer in my family - it just happened and no one knows why.

So, to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of yourself. The ACS recommends that women without a family history of breast cancer get their first mammogram at 40. If you have a history, you need to talk to your doctor about the appropriate age to begin. A mammogram is a walk in the park compared to breast cancer treatment. Take a girlfriend, build in a lunch out at a real restaurant to celebrate your health.

I'd love comments from other women, especially those who for some reason refuse to get a mammogram. I want to try to change your mind before it's too late.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Helping Children Develop Fine Motor Skills

Experts believe that toddlers today have weaker fine motor skills than those of previous generations due to the change is placing babies on their backs in the crib instead of their stomachs. The purpose of placing babies on their backs is to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, but one of the by-products of that may be that babies aren’t using their arms to push themselves up as much as if they were on their backs.

With that in mind, it is the responsibility of teachers and parents to help toddlers catch up with their fine motor skills. There are many daily activities that you can do with your kids at home to help develop these skills. The act of getting dressed includes many fine motor skills, as simple as figuring out how to put on a sock, to the more difficult task of buttoning. Encouraging your child to dress himself at age two or three with simpler tasks will allow him to move on to more difficult ones as his fine motor skills improve.

Encourage your child to use crayons to scribble or draw freely. Play dough or clay is another wonderful tool to develop small muscles while having fun. Hide small toys inside a ball of play dough and encourage your child to find them and pull them out. Use chop sticks or tongs to play a game where the child picks up cotton balls, marbles, or other objects. Jacks and pick-up-sticks are also fun games that promote the use of fine motor skills.

If you don’t mind the mess, and I encourage parents to find a place where their kids can get messy, shaving cream is a great medium to play in. Let your child trace shapes into the shaving cream, or practice writing his name. You can also mix water and corn starch (about 3 parts corn starch to 1 part water) to create a cool mixture to play with. Again, you can hide small objects in the goop, trace letters and shapes, or just have fun letting your child run his fingers through it.

A three year old should be able to cut with scissors, but until his fine motor skills are strong enough, that is really tough for many kids. Encourage your child to work puzzles, play with worry ball, and even make taffy out of marshmallows. To do that, have your child grab a marshmallow between the thumb and index finger of both hands and pull it apart. Continue to flip your fingers so that the right hand thumb is on top, then on the bottom, which allows you to keep pulling the marshmallow. Not only will it turn into a delicious treat, but it will work those small muscles in your child’s fingers.

The more practice our kids get in working their small muscles, the easier time they will have cutting and writing. There are many things you can do at home to get them off to a great start.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Leaving Kids Home Alone

Many parents agonize over leaving our kids home alone, even during daylight hours. What’s the right age to let kids stay home alone? How do we prepare them if something goes wrong?

There is no law that determines the appropriate age when parents can leave their children home alone, according to Voorhees Township NJ Police Sergeant Brian Randazzo. He believes that it is up to individual parents to gauge the maturity and comfort level of their children.

“Along with that, parents need to be open to speak with their children about home security,” he suggests. “You don’t want to scare your children, but you do want to make sure they understand how to open the door completely and how to close the door completely; how to turn the deadbolt lock and how to unlock the deadbolt lock. And also, they should talk about who they would let in the house, when they would ever open the door, and play what-if scenarios.”

When choosing to leave your child alone for the first time, Sergeant Randazzo advises parents to start with small increments of time, which they can gradually increase. Ask the child how he felt being left home alone to help determine if he is ready. Be sure to leave a list of phone numbers in a prominent spot where the child knows to fine it. The list should include 911 in case of emergency, a friend or neighbor who lives close-by, and the parents’ cell phone numbers.

It’s also important to establish the rules for staying home alone. That includes things like, can the child go outside or in the basement or must he stay on the first or second level of the house? Can he have friends over? Is he allowed to use the oven or microwave, run the dishwasher or washing machine, and if so, does he know to clean the lint filter to prevent a fire?

The child should always be sure to have a phone close by, and preferably a land line and not a cell phone. If there is an emergency, the first step is to call 911. “When you see someone who doesn’t belong, call the police right away on the emergency 911 number. We would much rather come and verify that it was just the guy who was there to winterize your sprinkler system than to not find the burglar.”

When calling 911 from a regular phone, the address immediately pops up on the police dispatcher’s screen. When using a cell phone, the call may go to a central station which is not necessarily the closest to the home. The child will need to give his address before the dispatcher knows what precinct to pass the call on to.

When calling 911, the child should immediately give his name and address and explain what the emergency is. The dispatcher will usually stay on the line with him until the police arrive. The child should go to a place in the home where he feels most comfortable, and lock himself in that room. Parents should talk to their children in advance about where that spot might be.

Many parents feel that once their child reaches middle school, at about 11 years old, he is ready to be home alone during the day for a couple of hours. For some families, having a younger sibling there also is a positive thing, because the kids can support each other. For others, watching a younger sibling is too much responsibility for an 11 year old. It really depends on the maturity of your kids and how you feel about leaving them home alone. At whatever age you choose, be sure to have discussions about what to do in an emergency.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Conflict Resolution is an Important Part of Preschool

Learning to share isn’t always easy for a toddler. Conflict resolution is an integral part of preschool. Children must learn how to use their words to express what they are feeling. In our preschool classroom, Shana was a shy four year old who tended to allow other children to take advantage of her. If she had a toy and another child took it out of her hands, she wouldn’t do anything about it. If someone called her a mean name, she would just accept it. We were constantly working with Shana to stick up for herself and express, in words, how she felt. This involved a lot of role playing. If someone grabbed a toy out of her hands, we would help her respond to that child.

“I had that first, you can have it when I’m done,” we’d suggest she tell the other child.

Or, if a student said something that wasn’t nice, we’d encourage Shana to say, “That hurt my feelings.”

We would also have the other child respond so that they could have a dialogue. We’d encourage him to say something like, “May I please use that toy when you’re finished?” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

Children, especially girls, can be so mean, even at three years old. We don’t tolerate comments such as “You aren’t my friend,” or “You aren’t allowed to play with us.” It only takes one strong ring leader to encourage other children to make a rude comment or do something that hurts another child’s feelings. We ask the child how she would feel if someone called her a mean name. We discuss why it is wrong to make someone else feel bad.

The children must learn that we are one community and we must all be able to get along. That doesn’t mean a particular child has to be best friends with everyone else in the class, but they must be polite and show each other respect.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Parents Can Say No to their Children Effectively

Some children have learned how to push their parent’s buttons to get exactly what they want. Once you give in, they’ve got you. While it’s incredibly hard at times to do the right thing and say no, you must be able to. I once heard a child in the hallway ask his mother why they couldn’t go to Burger King for lunch. She replied, “Because I said so.” That wasn’t a good enough answer.

Even at four years old, she could have explained to him her true reasons for not going out to lunch. Maybe, she didn’t want to spend the money. In that case, she could tell him that the family is excited to be saving money for something else, maybe an upcoming vacation, a trip to the store, or a special lunch over the weekend. That would teach him that they need to make choices in life, and they have enough money for some things but not for everything.

Or, if she had just stocked up at the grocery store, she could have explained that she bought him his favorite chicken nuggets or deli turkey or whatever she planned to serve him at home. She could make it sound even more special that she planned to work a puzzle with him or play his favorite game after lunch, something that they couldn’t do at Burger King.

Certainly, some children have an answer for everything and sometimes a parent can explain until she’s blue in the face. Then, “Because I said so,” seems easier. Yet, don’t short change your child’s ability to understand your motivation for saying no. There’s always a lesson in that. At the same time, he’s developing his debating skills!

Monday, November 2, 2009

From the Mouths of Babes

I teach three year olds because I think they are incredibly funny and interesting people. They learn new things every day, and they view the world through their limited perspective.

We go out on the playground every day we can, but sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. On those days, we take the students into a large indoor gym, equipped with toys they can ride, exercise mats, tunnels to climb through and large connectable puzzle blocks. The children still have the opportunity to run around and blow off steam in the gym, even though they are indoors.

After spending time in the gym, one of the teachers called her class to line up to go back to the classroom. She noticed one little girl taking her shoes off.

“Why are you taking your shoes off?” asked the teacher.

“Cause I have sand in my shoes!” replied the toddler.

This child was used to playing in the sandbox on the playground, which caused her to need to dump the sand from her shoes before she came back inside. A creature of habit, she didn’t realize that there is no sand in an indoor gym!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fruit Snacks are not Fruit, and they are Awful for Children’s Teeth

A five year old student was told by his teacher that he had to eat the healthy parts of his lunch before he could eat his treats. The child insisted that his fruit roll-up was the same as fruit, which is very healthy. In fact, fruit snacks are among the worst things children can eat when it comes to dental health.

“There are hidden dangers in kid’s diets, things that you wouldn’t consider as being a bad snack but are actually pretty bad for your teeth,” points out Dr. Stacey Yandoli, a pediatric dentist at Your Child’s Very Own Dentist in Sewell, NJ. “Fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are sometimes advertised as being healthy, like fruit, and maybe have Vitamin C in them. But, they are so sticky and high in sugar that they don’t come off the teeth, even with good brushing.”

Juice is another problem for children’s teeth, as it’s so high in sugar content. Parents think that by diluting juice with water, they are fixing the problem, yet, by sipping even diluted juice out of a sippy cup all day, the kids are still bathing their teeth in sugar constantly. “Your mouth never goes back to a good environment to fight decay,” says Dr. Yandoli.

There are so many choices we can give our kids when it comes to treats. Sweets like chocolate are easily brushed away, which makes them better than sticky candy for your children’s teeth. Some candy companies point out the vitamin C in fruit snacks, but there are many sources of vitamin C that won’t cause tooth decay.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stop Drop and Roll: Effective Fire Prevention That’s also Fun

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) children ages 4 years and younger are among those at highest risk for residential fire deaths and injuries. So, it’s our job as parents and teachers to teach them what to do in case of a fire.

I heard a story recently about an older child whose clothes caught on fire. There was a swimming pool in the backyard, so he ran and jumped in the pool. While the water seemed like the best idea at the time, in fact, the time he took running to the pool, actually helped the fire burn stronger. Instead, had he stopped, dropped, and rolled, he would have ended up with less severe burns.

It is a scary thought to talk to our toddlers about fire, yet we must. In our three year old classroom, we talk about fire safety in a non-threatening way that the kids actually enjoy. First, the teachers model for the children a scenario, and then the kids take a turn. We say, “Oh, no, there is fire on my pants. What should I do? I need to stop, drop, and roll.” We act it out repeatedly. Each child gets to stand up and tell us where the fire is on their clothes, and what they will do to put it out. They stop, drop, and roll around the floor.

We also talk about the loud bell that goes off if there is a fire. Yes, it can be very loud, and scary, but it is an important bell. It tells us that we must stop whatever we are doing and get out of the building. We don’t stop to clean up toys. We don’t stop to finish our snack. We don’t worry about turning off the TV. What we have to do is line up at the door and together walk outside of the building. We practice this with the kids, encouraging them to help us make the loud noise of the fire alarm.

Our school has fire drills monthly, so we try to do this right at the beginning of the school year so the kids aren’t freaked out the first time the alarm unexpectedly goes off. Some kids will be afraid no matter how much you try to practice, but safety is the most important thing. Don’t assume that your toddler won’t understand. Teach him and he will know what to do in an emergency.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ways to Help Your Preschooler Enjoy Healthy Foods

Deb Janove is the mother of a 5 year old kindergartner, who makes healthy eating a priority. Here are some of her tips, from Parent’s Magazine.

All of us who are parents of preschoolers or Kindergarteners know that getting our children to eat a nutritious snack or meal can sometimes be a challenge. However, I have discovered a few secrets on how to accomplish this that I would like to share with you…as long as you promise to keep it between us parents!

Here are some “tricks” that can start your child on the right path to healthy eating:
• Make your kids little helpers in the kitchen: Studies show that when your child helps prepare the meals they are more likely to eat what is served. Let them select the vegetables at the supermarket, let them toss the salad, decide what the entrĂ©e will be that night etc., just get them involved!
• Give your vegetables fun names: Kids are twice as likely to eat more vegetables if you give them fun and creative names – Broccoli is now “Dinosaur Trees”, Carrots are now “X-ray Vision Carrots, Peas are now Super Power Peas”, etc.
• Children respond better when given the power to choose: Give your child three healthy food choices and let them decide what they wish to eat. This gives them a feeling of empowerment and you know that no matter which one they choose, it is healthy!
• Cut the juice, cut the cavities: By simply offering milk or water instead of juice, the chance of your child having cavities is cut in half, if not more. Not to mention, think of the empty calories they can do without!!
• Food Presentation: A cookie cutter is a powerful tool! Children tend to eat the healthy food presented to them when it is in a fun shape. Take a plain turkey sandwich on multigrain bread alone…boring! Now cut it into a heart or dinosaur shape and BINGO…now it is fun and before you know it, it is eaten!
• Colors: Studies also show that if you present foods with lots of color (yellow, green & orange peppers, green broccoli, yellow squash & purple eggplant, etc.) children are more interested and more likely to eat them.
• It is never too early to educate: If we start teaching children the importance of nutrition at an early age, it will last them a lifetime. Teach them about making the right choices, why certain foods are better for them than others, the old “you are what you eat” rule, etc. Reinforce these messages by example. We must be good role models and practice what we preach!
Childhood obesity and diabetes are on the rise in epidemic proportions – two thirds of the population in now either obese or overweight. This leads to many health problems down the line!! Let’s all do our part to make our little ones healthy eaters!!

Source: “Teach Healthy Eating at Home,” by Karen Cicero, Parents Magazine, October, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Parents and Teachers Must Work Together for the Benefit of the Child

Though it seems so obvious that parents and teachers should be partners for the child’s sake, too often there is a clash. With open communication, parents and teachers should be able to settle any misunderstandings. Both have only the child’s best interests at heart.

Sheila, at three years old, had an extremely difficult time separating from her mother. Each day, she’d cling to her mom, crying uncontrollably. One of the teachers would need to peel the child off her parent, and carry her into class. It would take a good twenty minutes for Sheila to calm down.

What made matters worse, was that Sheila came to school fifteen minutes late every day. By that time, the class had already begun circle time. Not only did Sheila’s arrival disrupt the class, but it took one of the teachers away from the rest of the group as she calmed the child down.

During the third week of school, there was clearly a pattern that had developed. Sheila arrived late and she needed the teacher to help her calm down. On one particular day, the teacher who typically took care of Sheila, was leading a cooking lesson. When the other teacher greeted Sheila and her mother at the classroom door, the mother said that only the other teacher could calm her daughter. As that was not possible, this teacher took the child, and had a conversation with her mother.

She pointed out that Sheila would benefit by getting to school on time. When she comes in fifteen minutes late each day, she misses out on the time the children get to settle into the classroom and talk among themselves for a little while. By the time she arrives, the lesson is already in full swing. The teacher felt that allowing Sheila to be part of the morning routine with the other children would help her separate.

For whatever reason, this mother did not appreciate that advice. In fact, that was the last day Sheila attended our preschool. Maybe the mother couldn’t physically get there any earlier. Possibly she had another child who had to get on a bus, and that was the earliest she could arrive. If that were the case, she needed to explain that to the teacher, so they could work together on the best plan for Sheila. Instead, she became offended by the teacher’s suggestion, and pulled her child out of school.

Remember that teachers and parents both want what is best for every child. Together, we can make their preschool experience great.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Truth about the H1N1 (Swine) Flu

I received an email from a distraught mother who is unsure of whether or not to give her 3 year old the H1N1 vaccine.

This is her e-mail:
I'm a mother of a 3 year old baby girl, & we mostly stay at home all the time. Every now & then we go out like to Wal*mart or out to eat, but not often. I am very scared of hearing about all this N1H1 flu, & I'm also kinda scared of the shots that are supposed to prevent it. I'm worried & confused - should I get my baby the shot right away? How dangerous is the N1H1? I have heard that it is killing tons of people (mostly babies.) Is this true?

I guess my real question is if she did catch it would she die? How concerned should I be about this flu?

Here’s my response:
I understand and appreciate your worries. I think we all are a bit unsure here. The first thing I would do is speak with your doctor to get his or her advice. This flu is mostly hitting young people. The doctor I interviewed felt that children should get the shots.

First, it is not true that the flu is killing ton of people. I pulled this off the CDC website for you. I'm not sure what state you live in, but it is the most up to date info. available as of Oct. 23rd:
Monday, October 26

Key Flu Indicators from the CDC
Each week CDC analyzes information about influenza disease activity in the United States and publishes findings of key flu indicators in a report called FluView. During the week of October 11-17, 2009, a review of the key indictors found that influenza activity continued to increase in the United States from the previous week. Below is a summary of the most recent key indicators:
• Visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI) increased steeply since last week in the United States, and overall, are much higher than what is expected for this time of the year. ILI activity now is higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons.
• Total influenza hospitalization rates for laboratory-confirmed flu are climbing and are higher than expected for this time of year.
• The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza (P&I) based on the 122 Cities Report has increased and has been higher than what is expected at this time of year for two weeks. In addition, 11 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported this week; 9 of these deaths were confirmed 2009 H1N1, and two were influenza A viruses, but were not subtyped. Since April 2009, CDC has received reports of 95 laboratory-confirmed pediatric 2009 H1N1 deaths and another 7 pediatric deaths that were laboratory confirmed as influenza, but where the flu virus subtype was not determined.
• Forty-six states are reporting widespread influenza activity at this time. They are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. This many reports of widespread activity are unprecedented during seasonal flu.
• Almost all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.
I hope this information helps. Their website is www.cdc.gov. Check it out to stay informed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Preschool Teacher's Role

In preschool, a teacher’s primary role is to teach. Of course she will love, nurture, serve as a role model, and even change diapers for her charges, but first and foremost her goal is to teach. At times, parents lose sight of this.

At three years old, Colleen’s parents hadn’t started potty training her yet. Every day she would move her bowels at one o’clock, and you could almost set your watch to it. The girl was very regular. Her teacher spoke with her father, and suggested that they work together to begin to toilet train Colleen.

Her father became instantly offended and told the teacher that he would train his daughter when he believed it was time and it was not her place to make that suggestion. He went on to say that changing his daughter’s diaper was the teacher’s job and she shouldn’t complain about doing her job.

This was a disheartening conversation. To begin with, changing diapers is not in the teacher’s job description for a three year old. In many schools, children who aren’t potty trained aren’t even allowed to enroll. While in our school teachers willingly change children out of love and caring, the teacher’s job is to teach, not change diapers. Potty training can be very difficult, and this teacher was willing to help Colleen’s parents with the task. Her father should have not only appreciated her desire to help out, but also her willingness to change his daughter’s soiled diapers so many times. Face it, a three year old’s bowel movement is very different than that of an infant. It is not a pleasant job for anyone.

Some parents have personal reasons for waiting to potty train their children until they are older, even four or five years old. They believe that if they wait until their child is completely ready on his own, it will be a far easier process. If that is how you feel, at least say thank you to the teacher who needs to clean and change your child while she is at school.

And please don’t lose sight of the teacher’s primary responsibility, which is teaching.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Dad’s Efforts to Promote Self-Esteem in His Children

Yesterday I gave the expert’s view of how parents can help promote self-esteem in their children. Today I’d like to share the comments from a dad of two boys, ages 4 & 2.He views helping his children develop a strong sense of self-esteem as one of the most important things he can do as a father. He admits he’s learning as he goes, but he may be on to something.

According to well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, “Research shows that kids coming out of college are self-absorbed, less resilient, more narcissistic, and the depression rate is going up. Kids should grow up thinking they are human, they are loved, they are similar to everybody else, they have the ability to make a contribution to the world, to help other people. That’s where the gifts are.”

This dad agrees. “I've heard it said that praising children repeatedly helps kids feel good about themselves but this has always felt hollow to me,” Dad points out. “I just don't see how I can create self-esteem through praise alone. I really think for the most part, a child has to have self-esteem grow from within. My job is to help it grow and I guess I try to do this in many ways.

“Most importantly, I want my kids to know that I love them unconditionally just because of the people they are. I want them to have the security in life that no matter what, Dad loves them for who they are. I also don't want my kids to ever feel that I have too high expectations of the. Sure, I have certain fundamental expectations, but I want my kids to be who they are, not who they think I want them to be.”

This father is hoping that as his kids feel confident to try more and more things in life, there will be a natural cycle that develops. As they learn new skills and master new activities, from riding a bike to learning to swim, he hopes they'll naturally begin to feel good about themselves and their abilities, and in turn they'll gain more and more confidence. That will allow them to try to master more and more.

“My job in their journeys is to make sure that the inevitable failures along the way come with lessons: be optimistic, seek help and be resilient,” he suggests. I want them to know that any problem can be solved and that they are never alone. If they have these qualities, then the failures along the way are merely stepping stones to developing new skills and increasing self confidence.

“Finally, I also want to teach my kids that they are an integral part of something larger than themselves - their family, their teams, their school, their society. I'm hoping that if they feel connected, they'll naturally want to do right by these groups. At the end of the day, if my kids can look in the mirror and know they are moral individuals, I think this will also help them feel good about themselves.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Promoting Self-Esteem in Children: Why Parents are Getting it Wrong

When talking about promoting self-esteem in your children, there are different schools of thought. The pendulum swings back and forth from one generation to the next in the belief that you must constantly build up your kids to make them feel special and important. The opposing view suggests that kids must fit into society, and if you make them believe they’re too special, they will become narcissistic and have trouble surviving in the real world.

I sat down with Dan Gottlieb, well-known family therapist best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart. What he said surprised me. He believes that parents shouldn’t pursue self-esteem for their children - that should be a byproduct of the love and support you give them.

“Kids don’t have to know that they’re great and wonderful, they have to know that they’re loved,” he points out. “Research shows that kids coming out of college are self-absorbed, less resilient, more narcissistic, and the depression rate is going up. Kids should grow up thinking they are human, they are loved, they are similar to everybody else, and they have the ability to make a contribution to the world, to help other people. That’s where the gifts are.”

Dr. Gottlieb urges parents to find what their kids do well, and have them do it over and over again. He related a story of a parent who talked about his seven year old daughter who loved dance and gymnastics. He told her it was time to choose one of the two, in order to take it to the next level. Dr. Gottlieb responded, “She’s a seven year old girl. Why does she have to take it up to the next level?”

“Parents need to role model for their children not self-esteem, but well-being, joy, equanimity, and balance. They already role model achievement, self-sacrifice, and accomplishments. The main mistake parents make is unexamined anxiety. When that father said that to me about his daughter, it was about his anxiety, it didn’t have that much to do with her.”

It’s important to tell your children that they did a great job with something, but not that they are the greatest in the world. They shouldn’t feel superior to other people, but should be productive, caring members of society who appreciate their peers. Praise is great, but don’t overdo it. Be realistic and point out failures along with successes.

“Over time, they’ll come to know that there’s something precious inside, and they’ll learn that by knowing that they’re loved and secure and they have successes and failures,” he says.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parenting Advice: Admit Mistakes, We All Make Them

There is no manual to teach us how to be parents. We have to make it up as we go along. Many times, instinct guides us and we do the right thing. But not always. As human beings, every one of us makes mistakes. Owning up to them, laughing at them, and apologizing for them is part of being a good parent. It shows your children that it’s ok to make mistakes, and important to admit them and apologize for them.

For example, Rachel’s mother picked her daughter up from preschool every day at 11:45. One particular day, she got involved in a phone call and completely lost track of time. When she hung up, it was 11:40 and she lived 15 minutes from school. She immediately called the school to say she’d be late, so they could prepare her daughter. That’s very important. You need to manage your kids’ expectations. Knowing that her mother would be late, Rachel’s teachers involved her in a project, and provided the comfort and assurance that would keep her happy until her mother arrived.

When her mom did show up, she first apologized to the teachers for keeping them the extra time. Then, she apologized to her daughter. She told her the truth that she got caught up on the phone and lost track of time. She said she was sorry and promised to pay more attention from now on.

Rachel’s mother could have just as easily made up an excuse to both the school and her daughter for her tardiness. But, really, what’s the point? Not only is honesty the best policy… but we all make mistakes. Rachel learned that mistakes happen and it’s ok. Everything turned out fine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

You Can be Friends with your Children but Parenting Comes First

I recently had lunch with my 21 year old son. We sat at a table next to two acquaintances, a 13 year old girl and her mother. My son and I were having a great time, sharing stories, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. While her mom and I were getting drinks, the young girl said to my son, “I know that’s your mom, but you act like friends.”

He told her that I am his mom but I’m his friend too. She was fascinated by that concept. She said, “I’m not friends with my mom. She doesn’t even know anything about me. She brought me water with lemon and I don’t even like lemon.”

Still fascinated by the concept, she asked him when he and his mother became friends. He told her that it was probably when he got older. She told him that her sister is 21 and her sister and her mother are definitely not friends.

As I thought about that conversation, I realized that is possible to be friends with your kids, as long as you parent first. My husband and I were fairly strict parents, and our kids knew the ground rules. As long as they stayed within the boundaries, we appreciated them for the people they became. There were certainly punishments along the way when our kids definitely didn’t consider us friends. But, there were never surprises. They knew the rules and they were aware of the consequences for breaking those rules.

Now, I am proud to consider my children friends. At 21 years old, my disciplining of my son is pretty much over. I can still provide advice and guide him through new experiences, but I adore the adult he’s become.

So, in order to create the best relationship you can with your kids, remember that you are their parent first.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Special Needs Label Draws Common Misconceptions

It is difficult enough to discover that your child may have special needs, but it becomes even tougher when friends, family, and other parents seem not to understand. As you struggle to accept what is going on with your child, you must also work to change many common misconceptions.

It is easy to feel defensive when someone suggests that your child may need help, yet, early intervention is vital. “I wasn’t going to ignore it,” points out the mother of a five year old diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder– Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS) by a developmental pediatrician. “If he had any kind of need, I was going to get him help for it. That’s the job of a parent.”

Oftentimes it is a child’s teacher who first notices that a student may require extra support. According to Richard Selznick, PhD, Psychologist and Director of the Cooper Learning Center at Cooper University Hospital in Voorhees, NJ, and author of the book The Shut Down Learner: Helping your Academically Discouraged Child, “The teacher is the front line, seeing the child on a day to day basis, so those concerns need to be listened to. It’s not something parents should be overly sensitive about. Appreciate the fact that the teacher is highlighting some of the concerns.”

Once you accept the possibility that a problem may exist, as parents you need to fight hard to get the best services for your child. That shouldn’t be an adversarial situation, though many parents feel that it is a constant struggle. Some parents have a built-in mistrust about the process, and worry that their child will be labeled throughout his academic career, and that might put him at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think the schools are out to do anything wrong,” says Dr. Selznick. “The Child Study Team has their model of assessing. By classifying the child, they’re saying the child has a disability and parents have to remember that. I would encourage parents not to take it lightly.”

One mother shared a story that points out a common misconception about families with a special needs child, which is the idea that they are too rigid with eating, bedtime, and other rituals. When a doctor suggested that her son stay away from foods containing food dyes, they worked hard to follow that advice. When the child visited the dentist, his mother brought along her own lollipop that didn’t have food dye as opposed to giving him the sugar free lollipop that the dentist offered. The hygienist was disturbed by the fact that she was going to give him a sugar lollipop that was going to stick in his teeth. She couldn’t understand why they would choose the one without food dye.

Dr. Selznick also urges parents to trust their own instincts if they feel their child may need extra help. There are services available and early intervention is vital.

For more on this story, read the next issue of South Jersey Mom Magazine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Preschoolers’ Language Skills Develop at Different Rates but Practice Makes Perfect

The rate at which every child’s language skills develop differs, with some two year olds barely speaking while others are using full sentences. From the time they walk in the preschool classroom door at two, until they move on to elementary school at five or six, children learn not only how to articulate their needs, but they can also express their feelings to others, and feel comfortable speaking in front of a group.

There are many opportunities in preschool to practice these skills. In our three year old class, the children have several chances each week to practice public speaking. Every Monday during circle time, we pass our class mascot, Mr. Bear, from child to child. While a student is holding Mr. Bear, it is his turn to speak. He can tell us what he did over the weekend, or something else he’d like to share. Most children love this time, as holding Mr. Bear is a treat. Any child who is not holding the mascot understands that he needs to be quiet while another student is speaking. That helps the other children develop good listening skills. For children who are especially shy and not comfortable speaking to the group, they can give Mr. Bear a hug and pass him on to the next student without feeling the pressure to speak in front of the class.

The children have another opportunity to speak in front of the class when we have Show and Tell. Here again, we tailor the questions to the child. Some kids love to talk and are happy to go on and on. For those students, we try to ask more thought provoking questions. For example, if the Show and Tell theme was ‘something I used as a baby,’ and a child brought in a rattle, we might ask why he thinks babies enjoy rattles. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. The point is to help them become comfortable speaking in front of other people. The children who are unable to speak in front of the group when the school year begins, almost always become comfortable by the year’s end.

If your child is especially shy in these instances, practice with him at home. Role-play what he might say when it is his turn in class. That little bit of practice goes a long way. Take advantage of mealtime to encourage your child to speak to you. Ask him what he did in school, or why he likes to play at his neighbor’s house. The more he practices speaking, the more comfortable he will feel. And don’t forget to listen to his answers. You will learn a great deal about your child through casual conversation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dress Your Preschooler Appropriately for School

Part of your school planning process involves having the right clothing for your child to wear to school. Be sure to choose comfortable clothes for school days. The children should be able to play freely, without worrying about what they are wearing. One year, we had a little girl, Carly, whose mother made all of her clothes. She operated a cottage business making and selling children’s clothing. Every day, Carly came to school in an outfit cuter than the day before. Her barrettes or hair bands matched the cuffs of her pants, and the way her mother combined fabrics was unusual and unique. Unfortunately, many times Carly’s pants or skirts were too long, and she was constantly tripping over them. We’d have to roll them up just to keep her safe.

Her mother told us that Carly hated getting dressed up, but her daughter was her “sample size.” She needed the other mothers, her potential customers, to see Carly’s outfits. As soon as she came home from school, Carly would rip off her clothing and put on a pair of jeans or sweatpants and a t-shirt, usually her brother’s soccer shirt. She felt much more comfortable in loose fitting clothing.

Carly’s mother had a specific reason for sending her daughter to school dressed as she did, and I always marveled at her mother’s seamstress prowess. She was lucky that her daughter was willing to wear the outfits she created. Fortunately, she didn’t mind if her daughter spilled juice on her shirt or got paint on her sleeve, which are inevitable outcomes for preschoolers.

When buying your child’s school clothes, keep in mind that they will be getting dirty. If you bristle at the thought of scuffed knees from a fall on the playground, or dot marker on a collar, find another outfit that can get dirty. Smocks are not foolproof and snack time is often an adventure in drips and spills.

As for shoes, most preschoolers go on the playground almost every day. Typical school playgrounds have mulch, recycled tires, or some other material that can get into open shoes. While sandals seem perfect for warmer days, having mulch constantly stuck in your shoes makes for a miserable playground experience. Sneakers are way better. It is also necessary to have your child wear tennis shoes on gym days, to be able to take advantage of all the activities.

When choosing shoes for two and three year olds, I find that Velcro closures are best. Once the children reach four or five, ties are important so the kids can begin learning how to tie. But for the very little ones, having to deal with untied shoes is annoying. Many shoes come with rounded laces which seem to be perpetually untied. Flatter laces tend to stay tied longer.

I learned a trick from a shoe salesman. If you loop the string twice when you make the initial knot, before you start the bow, it tends to hold longer. Then make a double knot and it should last for at least the morning.