Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New Baby’s on the Way – How to Break the News to Your Toddler

No matter how many children you already have, when a new baby enters the family, everyone is shaken up. Here are some tips to help you make the experience as positive for everyone as possible.

1. Timing is important. When you tell other family members about a pregnancy depends a great deal on each person’s age. Your two year old will not understand what you are saying if he you don’t look pregnant. Nine months is almost half his lifetime and way too long to be told you are pregnant. Wait until you are about five months along. At that point he can see where the baby is, and it gives him enough time to digest the news.

2. Be inclusive. It’s important to include your children in your pregnancy. Let them feel your belly, especially if they can feel the baby kick. That will help them understand that a real person is about to be born. When you begin to set up the nursery or buy things for the baby, let your children be involved. They can help you choose colors for the nursery, brainstorm names, and pick out bottles and rattles. It’s important that they feel part of the process.

3. Make them feel special. Be sure to spend quality time with your child leading up to the birth, making each child know how important he is to you and your family. Stress that because he is older, you will need his help when the baby comes. The new addition will have so much to learn from his big brother and you can’t wait to see what a loving, caring big brother he will be.

4. Ask permission to take your children’s things. For example, if you plan to move your three year into a bed so the baby can have his crib, be careful about how you do that. Begin by telling your toddler that he is big enough now that he can get a big boy bed of his own. Let him help you choose special sheets, pillows, and blankets so that he feels ownership of his new bed. Be sure he is in the bed at least a month before the baby arrives. Then, you can ask him if the new baby can sleep in his old crib since he is a big boy now and won’t need it anymore. Make him feel special to be able to share something so important with his new sibling.

5. Continue to shower them with attention after the baby comes. While everyone’s focus will be on the new arrival, be sure to let your older children know how important and helpful they are during this crazy time. If company comes with gifts for the baby but not the siblings, have a stash of small items that will be special to the older kids. When the company leaves, give your older child a puzzle, coloring book, or similar item as thanks for being such an understanding big brother. Try to take some time when the baby is sleeping to spend quality time with the other kids.

6. Encourage the children to appreciate each other. As your family grows, it is even more important that your kids get along with another, and truly love each other. Sure, there will always be sibling rivalry, but try to find ways to build their relationship as opposed to making them feel like they need to compete for your time and attention.

Congratulations on your new addition! When the baby comes you will be exhausted and there will be chaos for a while. The more you can prepare, the better off everyone in the family will be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Even Toddlers Can Handle Small Jobs

Most toddlers love to please their parents and teachers. When asked to clean up toys in the classroom, the students beam with pride as they take this responsibility seriously. They will be equally eager to clean their toys at home if they feel that it is their job.

As young as two years old, you can explain to your child that everyone in a family has certain jobs to do and these jobs are very important. His job is to put his toys away when he is finished playing with them. You can help him at first by showing him how to sort the toys (also a great learning skill) such as the action figures from the animals. Be sure your shelves are organized and there is plenty of space on a low shelf that he can easily reach.

When he’s finished, make a big deal about what a great job he did and how helpful he is to you. You might even create a sticker chart that you will fill up with a sticker each time he cleans up. When you reach ten stickers, he gets a special treat, such as an ice cream cone, small toy, special play date, etc.

There are many jobs that kids can do at very young ages. You will need to add more responsibilities as you believe your child can handle them. Helping set the table, putting laundry away, and putting non-breakable groceries in the cupboard are all jobs that toddlers can handle. They will gain pride in helping you and will learn the value of becoming a responsible member of the family.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creativity is the Key, Not Perfection

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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Celiac Disease and Childhood Food Allergies

When 15 year-old Molly began losing weight, her parents were worried. They suspected her new early lunch period in school was the culprit, but they took her to a doctor to be sure. After about a year of testing, Molly was finally diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that affects about three million Americans. People with the disease cannot consume gluten, a protein found in most grains, cereals, and breads.

“The gluten triggers an immune response so that your body attacks itself and the little hairs on the intestine get blunted so that you can’t absorb your nutrients,” explains Molly’s mother Jennifer North, who is now Vice President of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Essentially, the body attacks itself every time a person with celiac consumes gluten. People with celiac disease must adhere to a strict gluten-free diet.

Throughout my career, I have taught many children with food allergies. Some have been allergic to peanuts, but our school is now a peanut and tree nut-free environment, so we no longer have to worry about that. Others have had dairy allergies, and one little girl, sadly, couldn’t eat anything at all. Lately, we are seeing more celiac disease.

One of my students, Rachel, had a failure to thrive between ages one and two, gaining no weight and having skin that appeared practically translucent. Doctors knew something was wrong, but it took many tests to finally conclude she had celiac disease. Since the snacks we serve in school are typically crackers, cookies, and pretzels, Rachel could not eat what we served the other children. Her mother provided a basket of snacks specifically for Rachel. They were similar to what the other children ate, but were all gluten-free.

Even at three, Rachel knew that she had to eat her own snacks, and if someone mistakenly put something in front of her that she couldn’t have, she was able to say that she couldn’t eat it. When Rachel was diagnosed, her doctor pointed out that the disease is genetic, so if Rachel had it, one of her parents must have it also. After testing, it turned out that it was her dad. He only recognized his symptoms in hindsight.

“I knew that if I ate certain foods I didn’t feel good, so I stopped eating those foods,” he explains. “I would eat breakfast when I was in grammar school and I would never feel good after breakfast. So, I stopped eating breakfast.”

Though he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 41, he likely had the disease for much of his life. That’s the word the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is trying to get out. “Celiac has over 300 symptoms, so there really isn’t a typical profile,” points out North. “It can onset at any age.”

As many as 90 percent of people with celiac disease do not even know they have it. Symptoms range from stomach aches and headaches, to bowel issues and discolored teeth. It can also trigger other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease or lupus, and even infertility and migraines.

Now that father and daughter are on a strict gluten-free diet, they are both feeling better than ever. Several area stores carry gluten-free foods, and more restaurants than ever offer gluten-free entrees.

People with celiac must be very careful. Gluten is an invisible ingredient, so if a food were contaminated with it, it would be impossible to see it. When Rachel’s father has eaten gluten by mistake, he says he feels like he has the flu for about a month.

North urges people to speak with their doctor and be tested before going on a gluten-free diet on their own. For more information visit www.celiaccentral.org. If your child has any food allergy, be sure to educate her teachers about her disease, what her restrictions are, and how they can best suit her needs seamlessly in the classroom. She shouldn’t be made to feel badly because of this difference from the other students. Also put a large sign in a place that is easily seen by all, which points out the child’s name, picture and allergy. That will ensure that a substitute teacher or parent helping out, won’t mistakenly give the child something she can’t have.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What’s the Right Age to Potty Train?

I find that more families are holding off on potty training their children. Years ago, most children were trained before their third birthday. Today, I have some four year olds who are just being trained. Does it matter? That’s a personal decision, but I believe that when a child is ready, it’s important to take those cues and get the job done.

Sonia was a four year child I taught who was bright, articulate, and strong willed. She was the only child in our class who still wore a diaper. When we would encourage Sonia to use the potty, she would, though reluctantly. She simply didn’t want to be bothered. Though we encouraged her at school, her parents didn’t reinforce this at home, so there was no consistency in her training.

In my opinion, Sonia should have been trained by this time. She understood and recognized how it felt when she needed to use the bathroom. It got to the point where other children would make fun of her for still wearing a diaper. She wore dresses a lot, and when she sat at circle, her diaper was obvious. The kids love to talk about the characters on their underwear, and Sonia seemed embarrassed that she was still in diapers.

Experts say that it’s easiest to potty train a toddler when she’s ready. Watch for those signs from your child and take advantage of the opportunity. Cleaning the bottom of a four year old is not a fun experience. By four, most children should be using the toilet.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teach your Kids to Say Thank You

Another Halloween has passed, and again, I am amazed at how many children fail to say thank you after getting their goodies. Generally, the really young kids who come to the door with their mothers are prompted with “what do you say?” But the children who are old enough to walk up to the door on their own seem to have lost that sense of appreciation.

I love Halloween! I enjoy the adorable children in their wonderful costumes. I get a kick out of hearing the doorbell ring, and am sad when we don’t get many takers. I like to notice which kids take their time choosing their candy and which just grab and dash. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors I haven’t seen in a while and to see how the kids have grown over the past year.

It just irks me to see so many kids forget their basic manners. In our classroom, we make using good manners a necessity. Whether it’s thanking the child who holds the door open, or using “please” when asking to have a shoe tied, we stress the importance of being polite. We hope that these rules will be so ingrained in the students that it will carry over into their daily lives.

So, parents, I offer you a challenge. Spend this year reminding and encouraging your children to use good manners, including the words “please” and “thank you” in their daily vocabulary. I’ll look forward to well-mannered ghosts and goblins and fairy princesses next Halloween!