Parenting: Kids to age 4
Last week NPR ran an interview with Jonathan Cohn, the author of “The Hell of American Daycare” just published in the current issue of The New Republic. As someone who has been working in the field 30 years, I sadly agree with many of his points about dismal state of child care in our country. In fact, according to the National Institute of Child Health Development ‘s 2007 survey, most of US childcare is “fair” or “poor” while only 10 percent rated high-quality!
Unfortunately, in my experience these percentages ring true. I agree with the licensor quoted in the article, and would not put my own children in the majority of child care programs in Whatcom County! This is not to say that there aren’t hundreds of wonderful dedicated caregivers here- but there are also places where I literally cry in my car after visiting because I am so heartsick. These children are usually from high-risk and/or low-income home who need and benefit most from high quality child care!
The reasons for the “hell of American day care” are myriad—ranging from a lack of governmental family supports (we one of the only industrialized countries without maternity/paternity leave) or a comprehensive system for licensing and safety, to the high cost of child care for families while most child care providers are paid less than parking lot attendants! This means high turnover and drives many talented providers out of the field. This is so frustrating for those of us trying to improve quality—it means that caregivers I just trained are long gone and the situation unimproved…
These findings should scare us deeply! Brain development research has found that the very architecture of the brain is formed in the first years. Children without supportive and appropriate care are at higher risk for problems with impulse control, school, work, and physical and mental health.
From Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child http://developingchild.harvard.edu/topics/science_of_early_childhood/
There is a bit of hope for the future since the importance of early learning s finally being recognized—even by President Obama and economists like, James Heckman, to calculate that quality child care is “…not only a worthwhile investment, but also an essential one….(since) every dollar that society invests yields between $7 and $12 in benefits. When children grow up to become productive members of the workforce, they feed more money into the economy…(and) also cost the state less…(for) expenses that have been linked to inadequate nurturing in the earliest years of life. “
Read the entire article: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112892/hell-american-day-care or the NPR interview: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/23/178601471/is-american-daycare-a-disaster
Research over the last decade or so has yielded lots of new information about the human brain and how it develops. The most important finding of all (in my opinion) is that brain architecture is formed during infancy.
In order words, when a baby receives responsive care and appropriate experiences his/her brain will make lots of rich neural connections. But if an infant doesn’t have a warm relationship with a caring adult and experiences “toxic stress” (unrelenting such as extreme poverty, neglect or abuse) their brain’s architecture will weaken leading to long-term problems with learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
This short and informative video sums it up: Brain Builders
If you’re looking for more academic information on toxic stress, executive functions, and brain development please see Harvard University brain research videos and information on early learning
For my next couple of blogs I thought I would share my opinion rather than information. My first unsolicited opinion is that – if possible- children should have at least one sibling. Although research refute the stereotypes that only children become selfish and socially awkward adults, I think they miss out on so much.
I have been working with families for decades and have become quite opinionated on many issues, including this one. I have seen the positive difference siblings can make in children’s development- that can’t be replicated by play dates and preschool.
Siblings provide children with lifelong playmates, rivals, co-conspirators, role models, defenders, friends, and more. Children are forced to compromise, negotiate, be flexible, and most importantly, learn that they are not the center of the universe. All essential social skills for later relationships practiced in the safety of home.
I know many wonderful only children and understand another child may not be an option or right for many families. But when asked my opinion, I do think more than one is ideal (just like two parent families are) with at least three years between them! Seeing my three teens support each other (mostly) makes me so glad that they have each other and will long after their dad and I are gone.
I asked 3-5 year olds from Lakeside and Lynden Co-operative preschools for help with this week’s blog. I explained that my job is to help parents so needed their advice—What should parents do? What is the job of a good mom or dad? Here is what they said:
Parents take you for walks (Illustrated above by Sophie Forster)
They say “I love you”
They give you hugs and kisses
They say “thanks you”
They give you candy but only sometimes
They yell in the hills and make echoes
They fix your toys
They dance when you sing
They make coffee but only for grown ups
They like to kiss me all the time
They sometimes put you in time out and hug you
They make you eat vegetables
They always say clean up, clean up all the time
They make pancakes
They watch movies with you and make popcorn
They drop you off at school and come back to pick you up
They take you swimming and help you practice
I know this title sounds pretty cold but it is the unvarnished truth—a parents’ job is to provide structure (as well as love) not to be buddies with their children.
Friends are equals – while parents need to be the authority who is responsible for providing and protecting their children. Your child shouldn’t be your confidante – parents should provide for children’s needs rather than look to them to meet the adult’s unmet love or friendship needs.
It is essential that you get comfortable setting limits when your children are young because it certainly won’t get easier later. In other words, the three year old who calls you a “butthead” will soon be a 13 year old calling you an “a—hole.” Now is the time to step up and be the parent!
When one of my daughters was 4 years old she asked me if I was her friend? My response was “No, I’m your mommy but I hope when you grow up that we’ll be friends like grandma and I are now.” Ten years later we are much closer than most teens and their mothers, but she knows I’m in charge (although still tests it regularly!)
Remember your job is to be in charge, not to be likeable or “nice”—it is to be a responsible parent who shows and expects respect. If you establish your role early as the parent (rather than trying to be their friend) the battles later will be easier.
For more reading on this topic check out:
Young children need environments—both at home and in child care or preschool– that are safe, interesting, predictable, nurturing and supportive in order to thrive.
A positive emotional climate with frequent interactions with consistent adults who encourage appropriate behavior and trust because children develop best when they feel they belong, are loved, and are respected.
A safe physical environment is one where risks of injury is minimized but also where:
* Children can play, move, and explore with few restrictions
* There are varied play materials available and experiences appropriate for a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional stage.
* Children are stimulated without being overwhelming
* There are rich and varied cultural experiences with people that share the child’s culture
Routines & schedules – are events or actions that take place at regular intervals (like sleeping or eating) and an essential part of healthy environments for children because…
*Predictability= Security The world often can feel confusing and scary to little ones with very little control over their lives. Knowing what is happening next gives children a sense of stability.
*Predictability= Cooperation – Children will follow a set routine much better than changing parental demands. For example, a 4 year old who knows that bedtime always follows bath time, will be less likely to refuse or engage in power struggles.
Grown-ups crave change and variety while young children need predictability and routine (why your toddler would rather read the same book 10x than 10 different books!) So make your life easier by making your child more secure and stick to your routine– so try to get home by nap time rather than squeezing on one more errand!
Getting along with others, making friends, and solving conflicts are some of the most important skills children ever learn. Parents can help social development in many ways, according to research (Wittmer & Honig, 1994.) Here are some tips to encourage prosocial skills while decreasing antisocial or aggressive behaviors in your preschooler:
1. Provide peers. The first tip is to give your child the opportunity to socialize by enrolling him/her in preschool or another program with children of similar age. This is especially helpful if your child is an only or doesn’t have siblings close in age.
2. Value, model, and emphasize consideration for other’s needs. For example, “Let’s open the door for that man since his hands are full” or “I’m sending a check so we can help families that were in the hurricane.”
3. Label and identify prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Be specific – for example, “Hitting hurts people” or “Saying ‘please’ was polite”. Give attention and names to behavior you like.
4. Attribute positive social behaviors to individuals. Assume children’s actions have positive intentions. Saying something like “You are a caring friend” when your child shows interest in another’s distress, helps him/her see themselves that way. This helps children’s positive self-concept and prevent them assuming that others’ intentions are negative (common in preschoolers.)
5. Notice and encourage positive behaviors, such as altruism. Catch children being good. Remember how powerful your attention is for reinforcing behavior – especially when our comments are descriptive, specific, and focused on an action. For example, I noticed that you shared your treat with your friend. You must feel good about that”.
6. Encourage and acknowledge expression of feelings. Use emotional coaching techniques (label feelings, etc) and active listening. See www.talaris.org for more info.
7. Teach perspective taking. Role-plays and stories can help young children see how another child might feel. “What if Elena told you that she didn’t want to be your friend? How do you think you would feel?”
8. Encourage assertion without aggression. Help preschoolers learn to speak up for themselves and their needs without hurting others. Aggression includes verbal, physical, and relational (“you can’t be my friend if you don’t…”)
9. Teach social cue reading. Point out the nonverbal cues in others. “Look at Maya’s face; she looks sad,” or “Diego seems angry; see how his arms are crossed and how his eyes and face look”. Some kids do this naturally while others need to be taught how to read facial expression.
As a parent educator and college teacher in early childhood education, I try to keep up with the latest resources and read the new books. Since those of you in the “trenches” of parenting babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are so busy, I did the legwork for you! Here’s a list of my current favorite books with websites on parenting:
1. Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky– The seven essential skills: 1. Focus and Self Control, 2. Perspective Taking, 3. Communicating, 4. Making Connections, 5. Critical Thinking, 6. Taking On Challenges, 7. Self-Directed, Engaged Learning. http://mindinthemaking.org/
2.. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman – The authors apply the latest research to parenting on topics like race, motivation, praise, siblings, sleep, and more. http://www.nurtureshock.com/
3. Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina –Brain science made easy to read and funny — see his online site and videos. http://brainrules.net/brain-rules-for-baby
4. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Elaine Mazlish & Adele Faber—classic books on communicating positively and effectively with toddlers-teens and dealing with sibling issues.
5. Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser – wonderful ideas on every parenting topic imaginable. http://www.becomingtheparent.com/
Happy reading and searching!
What happened in Connecticut last Friday is too horrific for words, and yet parents have to come up with something to answer children’s questions and fears. Although you may still be struggling with your own strong emotions (shock, sorrow, anger, and fear to name a few of my own) your child needs you in the wake of this tragedy . Here are some recommendations and resources:
1) Be sure to limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the school shooting (as well as other scary or violent news.)
2) Express your own fears outside your children’s hearing. Remember they “catch” adult emotions and you are their model and their rock. Be sure not to swallow your emotions but share them with adults.
3) Reassure children that they are safe, you will always protect them, and most people are good (even if you are terrified to take them to school). Although we can’t do much for the murdered children, doing something charitable for others can help both you and your little one feel more positive (as well as the recipient!)
4) Be patient with clinging, repeated questions, and more babyish behavior. The more comfort and support you can provide, the more quickly your child will rebound.
Here are some links from The National Association for the Education of Young Children http://naeyc.org/content/coping-school-shooting with many wonderful resources. This printable one-pager is a great concise guide for parents of toddlers & preschoolers: http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/appendix_tips_for_parents_with_preschool_children.pdf
In memory of those little children and the educators who died trying to protect them:
We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. -Anton Chekhov
For families with young children the added expectations and work of the holidays can put parents (and kids) over the edge! Here are some tips to help you make this season the joyful time it should be:
1. Stay cool and calm- Parents set the tone so being a relaxed role model is the single best way to reduce children’s stress – so take care of yourself by exercising, sleeping enough, eating well, and letting go of whatever you can. Be aware of your own feelings, since holidays can evoke many memories and emotions.
2. Keep regular routines – The added activities and change from normal daily schedule can really increase anxiety. Young children have almost no control over their own lives so routines make life feel more predictable. So try to be sure that bedtimes, meals, rules, chores, etc. are as normal as possible
3. Avoid over-scheduling. Prioritize holiday activities so that you and your children are not overwhelmed. A couple of events a week is probably enough (and will allow you to keep regular routines mostly). Make things easy for yourself—for example buy cookie dough instead of making from scratch so you and the kids can go right to the fun parts.
4. Plan quiet time- Be sure to schedule in some down time for the family when you can snuggle up together and relax! Being outside can also provide a break from the hustle and bustle. Remember that it is your time and attention that children want more than anything!
5. Explain your expectations – Let your young child know what you expect of them in holiday events or at the mall. For example, say “when we go see Santa we will be waiting in a long line—what should we bring to do while we wait?” or how to react if given a gift that you don’t like. Avoid the temptation to squeeze in one more errand when kids are tired, hungry, or overwhelmed. Know your child’s individual temperament and needs. Good suggestions for children with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or just those easily over-stimulated: http://www.autismspeaks.org/docs/holidaytips.pdf
6. Stay focused on your values- Remind yourself and your children, what the holidays are really all about. What you spend your time and money on shows what you really value. Involve your children in giving—by making cards and gifts for others, collecting for the food bank, buying gift for a needy child, shovel the neighbor’ driveway, wrap gifts for charity, etc. Whatever you do, be sure to involve your child. Focusing on giving can help counteract some of the media bombardment of consumerism. Additionally, accepting help and support from those who care about you can help alleviate stress. Even volunteering at a local charity with your kids is a good way to connect with others, assist someone in need and teach your kids about the value of helping others. A website on children and materialism: http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2006/12/26/how-materialism-develops-in-the-young/