“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
February 17 is Random Act of Kindness Day. We see long lists of ideas for being kind and spreading acts of kindness. The ideas are wonderful and we think, “I could do that one, and that one, and maybe that one.” But do we? The reality is that sometimes we get bogged down by the demands of everyday life – and there is a lot going on!
Simple Acts of Kindness
So what can we do to combat the day-to-day drag-down and promote positive energy and kindness? Let’s start small, just with ourselves. Here are a few concrete, simple acts that we can each do, every day, right now.
Eye-to-eye: When you pass someone, look them in the eye and smile. It’s amazing to see their face light up as they smile back – and they usually do.
“After you”: Let someone go ahead of you in line – any line. At the coffee shop, in the grocery store, step back and gesture them in. Yes, you may be in a hurry, but it only adds a few minutes, and the goodwill lasts much longer, for both of you.
Help others: Keep a pack of bottled water in your car, and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help.
Don’t talk: Make an effort to really listen when someone is talking to you. Look at the person, nod your head, pay attention. And put your phone down. It lets that person know that you value their thoughts, and that you value them. And all we have to do is open our hearts and close our mouths.
Write it down: Leave a note on someone’s keyboard, pillow, lunch box, steering wheel, or gym bag saying what you appreciate about them.
Be present: Put your phone away and make a connection. In person.
Be kind to yourself: In the midst of our busy lives, we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we are worn out and depleted, it’s hard to give. Think about what restores you – slow, deep breaths, a quick nap, a soothing cup of tea, a brisk walk, positive thinking? Try to make it happen.
And let’s keep it up beyond the day! When we are aware of how we interact with those around us, we can start a kindness revolution, an upward spiral of goodwill. Plus, we are modeling the kind of behavior we want our children to see and copy. So try to smile, listen, and connect. You will feel as good as the people you do it to!
Life is busy – regular everyday life. And this time of year gets even busier. The holidays can be wonderful – full of family gatherings, special traditions, and delicious food. But it can also mean having too much to do and feeling very stressed! How can we navigate this hectic time and find the balance we need for ourselves and our families?
Family Time Can Be Simple, No-cost, and Beneficial
One of the most important things a family can do is to make time to be together. Time when everyone is unplugged and present. Time when the focus is on conversation. Time to re-connect. This is an excellent stress reliever and helps family members feel close to one another. But how do we find that time?
Here are a few ideas to carve out some family time with little or no fuss or prep:
Have a family meeting – get together over hot cocoa and graham crackers (without phones or devices). Start with each family member telling something kind or helpful another member of the family did for them. Talk about what is coming up that week. Schedule a Family Fun time – and it can be simple: block out half an hour to play a board game, go for a walk with flashlights, build a blanket fort, or color together. Having some simple, fun time together can make a big difference.
Eat together – one of the most important and beneficial things you can do with your children is have dinner together. Again, without any electronic devices or TV. Research shows children have a bigger vocabulary, do better in school, and even eat more fruits and vegetables when families have dinner together. And it doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal. It’s the sitting down and eating together that’s important.
Give back – brainstorm with your children ways to help others. Think of something you can do as a family – volunteer at a food pantry, go through toys together to find some to donate, fix a meal for a neighbor, or serve a meal at a shelter. Spending time helping others strengthens the family bond, supports the community, and sets a great example for kids.
Work together – take on some projects that you can all do like raking leaves, sorting laundry, or organizing books. Make it fun by singing or telling knock-knock jokes. If children help with household chores from an early age, it becomes the expected norm. And it increases their sense of belonging and of feeling valued.
Just say ‘no’ – you do not have to say yes to every invitation or event that comes along – even if it might be fun to do. You don’t need to make excuses when you decline. A simple “We are not able to attend that evening” is fine. Scheduling time to not have plans is a splendid way to have some down time together. Treat that time like it’s written in stone; everyone can relax and re-charge.
Plan now to make family time a priority. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or costly, or take a lot of time. It does need to be intentional and involve talking and listening. Everyone will feel more connected and better prepared to take on what life brings next.
Over one third of American children are overweight or obese. We’ve heard this for so long; the statement has almost lost its impact.
But really – one third?
Not only are overweight children more likely to feel bad about themselves, but they may well be on a path of on-going over-weight and diminished health.
Won’t Young Children “Outgrow” Being Overweight?
Some young children DO grow up and out of being overweight. But not all. Children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight adults. That means one third of our children are more likely to develop diabetes, liver and heart disease, asthma, cancer, sleep apnea, joint problems, and other health conditions.
What Causes Children To Be Overweight?
In addition to larger portion sizes, more processed and high calorie foods – changes in children’s snacking patterns contribute to the hefting of the nation’s children.
This is a short blog, so let’s look at one factor – the snacking – and what caring adults can do to protect children’s health. [ more… ]
The end of summer brings lots of changes. The weather gets cooler. The days get shorter. The leaves start to change color. Children start school. Or child care. Or have new teachers and classrooms. A lot of change.
While starting something new can be exciting and eagerly anticipated, it can also be scary for a child. Will my teacher like me? What are the rules? Will I know anybody? Where is the bathroom?
And it’s not just the child having all the worries! Parents have them, too. How did my child grow up so fast? What if he doesn’t like it? Will he have friends? How will I manage the school routine, soccer practice, my job, and everything else going on?
It helps us all to know what to expect when change is looming large. We need to be prepared for the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
It can take weeks for children to become comfortable in a new environment.
When a child has to ‘keep it together’ all day, there may be melt-downs where it’s safe (with you!) and they can let it all out. Anticipating this can help us be prepared to stay calm and supportive.
New behavioral issues may surface: a child who rarely cries may be quick to break down. An easy-going child may become grumpy and quick-tempered. Or a child may regress and say she can’t get dressed on her own or pick up her toys anymore. Patience is the key here. Typically these behaviors won’t last long.
Children will probably need more sleep, especially early on – adjusting to all that newness can be exhausting!
So how do we weather the stormy or even the sunny transitions?
Supporting Your Child
Take your cues from your child. What questions is he asking? What is he worried about? What is he excited about? Help him identify his feelings and let him know those feelings are okay. He might be feeling anxious and eager. It is comforting for children to know that they can have more than one feeling at a time and that feelings can change quickly.
Be careful not to dismiss your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” While we want to be reassuring, it doesn’t feel like everything will be fine at the moment. Instead, reflect the feelings you hear.
Tell a few positive stories about your early school days, or about a time you started something new (going to camp, joining an organization, changing jobs). And talk about times you felt scared or nervous and what you did to feel better. It helps to know that we are not the only ones who have felt this way.
To build skills that are helpful in a classroom, play games that involve taking turns, have rules, or require thinking before acting. Even good ol’ Simon Says, Red Light – Green Light, and Mother May I help children develop self-control.
Keeping to a routine (as much as possible) is comforting to children. Try to hold the extra activities at a minimum those first few weeks. Allow for down time – over-scheduled kids can mean tired, frazzled, and tense kids. And parents!
Refrain from telling your child how much you will miss him. Instead, at the end of the day ask him to share one thing about his day, and you share something about your day as well.
Try to set aside a few minutes each day (without technology) to spend on an activity that your child chooses. That focused attention, even if it’s brief, is reassuring for your child and makes him feel valued.
Taking Care of Yourself
Sometimes in preparation for a transition like the start of a new school year, we focus all of our attention and energy on our child. If we are going to be supportive, we need to be aware of how WE are feeling, too. Young children are intuitive, and can pick up on adult worries and concerns. Whether you find comfort in talking with a friend, taking a walk, or just carving out a little ‘me’ time, try to take care of yourself, too. When we care for ourselves, we are often better emotionally equipped to have empathy for others.
Learn and practice steps designed to help you calm down when you feel yourself getting impatient or upset or even overly excited. Not only does this help you calm down, but you are modeling the use of a very helpful tool for your child. Teachit to them, too.
Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It can help to know how things are going from that perspective.
In the immediacy of everyday life with young children, finding ways to take care of yourself, will help you be a calm, loving presence with your child.
Starting anything new is challenging. Taking time to plan ahead and be prepared can result in a more confident, relaxed child who is ready to take on the world!
The 6th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was a great mix of moving, reading, experimenting, and learning! Early childhood programs around the country and in Bermuda danced, ran, tried new foods, read books, and played games.
In DeWitt Michigan, at Capital Area Community Services Head Start, Jessie Nevius sent this report: “Our kids enjoyed celebrating being healthy with Al! We read the story Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. We used the book to have a discussion about healthy foods and healthy activities. We worked hard to complete Al’s healthy food maze.”
The students at Lyceum Preschool in Bermuda enjoyed an interactive read-aloud by Mrs. Shavana Wilson. After doing about twenty minutes of exercise, students were given a healthy snack of fresh fruit kabobs and peanut butter and jelly rice cakes. Mrs. Kimwana Eve also presented all the students with their own Al’s Pals t-shirts and water bottles.
Debbie Miller’s class at Maymont School in Richmond Virginia read Al’s Healthy Choices and talked about their favorite healthy food and how they stay active. Then they had a tasting party with cauliflower, snap peas, mango, red pepper, cara cara orange, and starfruit. Most were a big hit, but the starfruit was not very popular! Everyone was adventurous and willing to try new foods.
In Arkansas, at the North Little Rock School District, Whitney Addie’s class celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me all week and tried different fruits and vegetables. The overall favorite was strawberries. After talking about how they grew and what they looked and tasted like, the children did a still-life drawing. Each child was excited about trying so many different fruits and veggies.
Angelette Pryor at Shady Grove Y in Richmond Virginia reports that Al was as popular as ever during the YMCA Healthy Kids Day. At the Al’s Pals station kids made Al hats. This station is a calm spot among the busy, noisy stations. Several kids came to the calm down spot which had big pillows on a small rug with the Calm Down and Problem-solving posters there. They had current Al’s Pals kids stop by as well as those who remembered Al from previous years.
The Grasshopper Class at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond Virginia did yoga poses and danced. The celebration fit right in with their focus for the month of April: exercise!
Ruby Allen’s STEPS Head Start class in Charlotte Courthouse Virginia joined the celebration by having the children choose their favorite fruits and decorating them. The teachers used the fruits from the dramatic play center to continue the discussion of their favorites. They all enjoyed the celebration and had such fun – they can’t wait until next year!
At Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk Virginia, they started their day with a discussion on the importance of healthy habits and taking care of their bodies. They exercised and danced to “Shakin’ It” by Paragraph Express. They read Al’s Healthy Choices – a couple of times! Their healthy morning snack was apples, cheese and crackers, and water. They were talking about butterflies that week, so their physical activity was moving like butterflies. That afternoon, their outdoor activity was to run races.
So it was another great Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day! And remember that all the resources for these and other activities are always available here.
“Our Morning Routine is Not What My Child Has in Mind”
It’s almost time to go out the door and head off to school. The last time you checked, your four-year-old was taking off her pj’s and was on the verge of getting dressed. Ah, you think to yourself, “It will be a good day.” Now, five minutes later, not only is she still in her pj’s, but she has slipped her sweater on, backwards, over the pj’s. You gently remind her that it is time to get dressed to get ready for school and help her take off the tangled sweater. Instead of getting dressed, she starts to play with a puzzle. Exasperated, and concerned about the time, you pull off her pajamas and put her clothes on, even though she has successfully dressed herself many times before. You sigh. So much for the day starting off smoothly.
Most of us have struggled, at some point, with trying to persuade a preschooler to get ready or finish eating on time. And it is so easy to become annoyed when they don’t comply. We try to stay calm but the more she does her own thing and acts “contrary”, the more we find ourselves feeling frustrated, anxious, and even angry. And on top of that, we start feeling stressed about being late. The more we try to “force” the child, the more resistant she may become and the situation can easily escalate.
Avoid Power Struggles by Engaging Children
Sometimes a shift in our approach can be helpful. As adults we often find ourselves telling young children what to do and how to do it. When they don’t comply, we often blame the child for “not listening.” This can quickly become a power struggle and ultimately no one really “wins.” Rather than telling young children what to do, we can periodically try a different approach – we can engage them in the process. Young children crave – and NEED – independence. They want to assert themselves and be in control of themselves. Don’t we all want that? So one of the keys to having children cooperate is to give them some control, while still maintaining expectations.
Strategies to Encourage Children’s Cooperation
Some tried and true strategies to encourage children’s cooperation:
Be proactive. Talk ahead of time about expectations like being ready for school on time. For example, over the weekend, when you and your child are both calm and relaxed, talk together about the steps of the morning routine. Be sure to include your child in coming up with ideas for what she needs to do to get ready (i.e. wash hands and face, brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast).
Use visuals to help guide and remind your child. For example, create a chart together using pictures for each step. Or write each step on a tongue depressor, and include a picture of it to serve as a cue. Place the tongue depressors in a red cup. As your child completes each step she places them in a green cup. Once all the tongue depressors are in the green cup, it signals to your child that she is finished and ready to go. And gives her a feeling of accomplishment.
Make the task into a quick game. For example, challenge your child to see if she can put her pants and shirt on before you reach 1 when you count backwards from 10. Or incorporate the task into a nursery rhyme: challenge her to finish brushing her teeth before you get to six in the “Buckle My Shoe” nursery rhyme of “one, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door, five, six, pick up sticks.”
Note: Expect to change up the game every so often – if it’s no longer working, it’s time to try something new.
Recognize when your child does cooperate – thumbs up, high fives, specific verbal comments like “nice job putting the toys back on the shelf.”
When Children Feel Empowered
This phase does not last forever. At the time they are going through it, it can certainly pluck our every nerve. While it is important for children to learn to follow instructions, we can help them navigate this struggle for independence by giving up some control, allowing them to gain some control. By finding creative ways to involve them, we promote their independence and they gain a sense of accomplishment. Making daily tasks into fun challenges can help motivate children and they often will rise to the occasion and cooperate on their own. Rather than resulting in a power struggle, it ends up being a “win-win.”
There’s lots of talk about school readiness, but what does that really mean?
School readiness is more than basic knowledge of language and math, important as these are. Being ready for school means being ready in all areas: physical, cognitive, AND social-emotional. It also helps to come with a positive attitude toward learning.
There are many facets to helping a child prepare for success in school and summer is a good time to support your child’s readiness. These tips can help make the transition a smooth one.
Practical strategies to help kids prepare for daily school life:
Helping hands. Have children take on more responsibility as a member of the household. Together with your child, come up with a list of chores that he can do this summer. Some ideas are tidying up his room, helping with meal clean-up, feeding and brushing a pet, sweeping the kitchen, sorting laundry, making his bed, putting away groceries, planning a meal. Children will have more responsibility at school, so this is good practice. And children thrive when they contribute to and feel like a part of a group.
Fine motor fun. Give children a chance to use scissors, glue, and paints, or build with small blocks or legos. These activities help with fine motor development and spark creativity.
I did it myself! Look for opportunities to let your child do more things herself. Can she order her own lunch, carry a tray, speak to the cashier or librarian, or pack and zip up her backpack? This builds independence and gives her the message that you believe she is capable.
Play. Games that have rules, require waiting, or involve counting are great for practicing self-control, understanding rules, and learning how to take turns. Old favorites like Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, and Simon Says help children learn the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and delayed gratification.
Silence is golden. If your child is talkative, help him remember to share the talking time. Have a discussion about taking time to listen to others and waiting to talk sometimes. This is another opportunity to work on self-regulation – remembering to stop and think before speaking.
But why? Encourage curiosity, discovery, and exploration. Get books from the library on topics that your child asks questions about. Look things up online together. Try new foods – have taste tests with unusual fruits or vegetables. Be curious yourself and ask questions about how things work, or grow, or fly (weather, nature, animals, space).
Hit the books. Read, read, and read some more. Reading together promotes emerging literacy and language development. And research shows that reading to a child is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Plus that time together evokes warm feelings about reading and enriches your relationship with your child!
Strategies to support emotional readiness:
Focus on feelings. Listen for the feelings. When your child talks about starting school, stop and listen. Accept all feelings and resist the urge to say “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” or “you’ll be fine”. Instead of talking him out of his feeling, validate the feeling: “It sounds like you are worried about being in a new classroom. Lots of kids would feel worried about that.” Let that soak in for a minute, then add something like, “Let’s imagine what you think it will look like. Then we can compare that to what we see when we visit.”
Teach kindness and friendship. When reading together or out in the real world, point out and talk about what it means to be a good friend. What does kindness look like? How do friends treat each other? Model kind acts by letting someone go ahead of you in line, keep bottled water in your car and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help, visit a neighbor, take flowers to a friend for no reason.
Share your memories. Tell stories of starting school or talk about when you started something new. Certainly be genuine, but spend the most time on the positive parts of your experience: making new friends, learning cool things, getting new supplies.
Spend time together. Designate some time when there are no electronic devices and really connect. Spend 15 minutes doing whatever your child chooses (that doesn’t involve technology!); try to have dinner together as often as possible (device-free); take advantage of time in the car to talk and sing together; make time to snuggle.
You child will appreciate your attention during any of these activities. Your positive attitude about starting school will set the tone and help to make it something to look forward to!
Teachers and children from around the country and in Bermuda went all out for the 5th annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day!
At Lowell Elementary School in Watertown MA, they had a wonderful celebration complete with fruit kabobs, hummus with carrots and cucumbers, dancing, and even selfies with Al. The children recorded their tasting preferences on this form. They added, “Can’t wait for next year!”
At the Child and Family Network Center in Alexandria VA, children made fruit kabobs, too, creating a pattern using strawberries, bananas, and blueberries. They talked about the importance of eating foods that keep their bodies healthy and strong!
Children at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville IN made Healthy Al hats, played Al Says, read the Al Story, played the rolling dice exercise game, colored on the sheet where they picked fruit for their salad, and completed the maze.
In Richmond VA at the Partnership for Families, we read Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. It was great fun acting out all of Al’s movements like looking under the bed!
Down at the Corrigan-Camden School District in Corrigan TX, the pre-K classes made a day of it! The Food Service Director presented a short program on healthy breakfast choices. Each child got a chef hat, a cup of yogurt, and blueberries, strawberries, dried cranberries, and graham crackers. Then they created their own healthy parfait. For their outdoor activities, each class planned a game including a ball relay race. Parents attended and participated in the events. Even their principal joined the fun and played games with the children.
In Wytheville VA, children celebrated by playing duck, duck, goose and having races. They had a healthy lunch of turkey and cheese roll ups, salad, and sliced apples. They talked about the importance of drinking water and enjoyed water that was flavored with fresh strawberries!
Meanwhile in Little Rock AR, there was a tasting party going on at Glenview Elementary School. They tried different fruits and vegetables and made a chart of which were their favorites. They also sent home parent notes about Less Screen Time, More Play Time and Healthy Eating. The students enjoyed dancing and exercising and talked about how this helps them to grow and be strong.