Being Truly Present With Children Is a “Priceless” Gift

What’s a Perfect Present for Young Children?

There is a no-cost, easy-to-acquire gift that supports the overall well-being and personal happiness of young children:  Be More Present.

Being more present with children sounds simple, but for many of us our daily lives feel more and more chaotic. We often feel stressed and distracted – so much to do and so little time.

 

Tune Out the Distractions and Tune In to Children

Many adults today are plugged in non-stop and maintain hectic schedules.  Balancing work lives (in or out of the home) and family lives can be tough.  Parents and children are often “together”, but not really together. How many of us have found ourselves talking with our children, nodding our heads, but not really hearing what they are saying because we are distracted by other things? We are physically present but we might be thinking about a disagreement we had with a friend or an email that needs to be finished. Without even realizing it, we are often focused on the past or the future, preventing us from being truly “present.”  It takes conscious effort to focus on the moment at hand.

 

Connecting with Children Helps Them Feel Valued

Young children are intensely present every day, every moment, absorbing and learning.  They can be thoroughly engaged watching a squirrel wind its way up a tree or stomping in a puddle. In a child’s perfect world, their favorite adults will slow down and appreciate their interest in the squirrel’s acrobatics or how high the puddle water will splash. Those adults will take a little time to have that meaningful, in-the-moment interaction.

Consider offering your child (and yourself) the sweet gift of tuning in.  Create some time to simply be more present, on purpose, with your child – even for just a few minutes. When you focus on your child and engage with him, you give your child a valuable message: “You matter. You are important. You deserve my time and attention.”

The gift of bring present - giving your full attention.
The gift of bring present – giving your full attention.

Tips for Being (More) Present with Children

Of course, we can’t always be tuned in to our children. We have things that need to get done. And we are busy. And tired. And sometimes, in our jam-packed world, it’s ok to “listen” and nod while we think about those things. But connecting with a child for just a few minutes can have a huge impact.  A few strategies are:

  • When your child is telling you something, try to stop what you are doing, and really listen when you can. Let your presence show by validating your child’s feelings, making comments, or asking questions.
  • Watch for opportunities to connect with your child: in the car, walking the dog, settling down at bedtime. Whether for 10 minutes or an hour, focus on being ‘all in’ during this time. Let your child know she has your attention by looking at her, touching her shoulder, or holding her hand.
  • Put your phone away when possible. Let your child see that you value him above all else.
  • Plan a ‘together time’ or ‘just us time’ or ‘the two of us time’ and let your child choose a quiet activity for the two of you. Keep ‘together time’ media-free. Just making a long line of cars or drawing with markers or doing puzzles together creates opportunities for quiet sharing, or simply being close. If you have more than one child, let each know that they will have their chance for ‘together time’ too. Maybe it’s once a week, and maybe it’s for 10 minutes, but it’s invaluable.

Don’t worry if it’s not always a magical “movie moment.”  Sometimes children are cranky just as we are taking a moment to be present. That’s life. You’ll have another chance.

 

Being Present Can Reap Many Positive Benefits

While we all struggle to find the right balance, it is worth the time and effort to deepen our bonds with our children. Being present with your child helps them feel valued and develop a sense of self-worth.  They may even be more cooperative and are likely to show improved behavior. All the result of our truly listening and showing genuine interest in them.

As we reflect back on our own childhood, it is not the stuff we got for birthdays or holidays that stands out, but it is those times spent with a caring and present adult that was the best gift of all.

 

Give the gift that is truly priceless – be present!

Instead of searching for the perfect gift to buy this holiday season, why not focus on the gift of your presence? Here are some suggestions to get you started: https://bit.ly/33KNYzf

 

To Praise or Not to Praise….What REALLY Helps Children?

“You’re the BEST climber!”

Ok, Shakespeare never wrote to “to praise or not to praise.” And even if he had, the real question that caring adults are asking is more about HOW and WHAT to praise.

Does It Help Children When Adults Praise?

How Often Do You Say “Good Job?”

Do any of these sound like things you might say?

  • “You are a very smart little girl.”
  • “You’re awesome at writing letters.”
  •  “Thank you for being a great helper!”
  • “Wow!  This is such a beautiful picture!”

[ more ]

Cultivating Cooperation

“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.”

For more tips, check out the Cooperation tab on “In a Nutshell” and
download Take Five: Countdown to Cooperation.

The 7th Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was SO Much Fun!

For 7 years, children have been celebrating Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day! It’s a chance for teachers to highlight the work they do to help children learn about healthy foods and the importance of being active. This year brought lots of creative activities to classrooms across the country, in Canada, and Bermuda. Here’s a sampling of the fun!

At St. James’s Children’s Center in Richmond VA, the children heard Al’s Action Story and played Al Says (like Simon Says). They had a great time with the guessing game, What Animal Am I? The classrooms had taste tests and the children told their parents all about the new foods they tried. It was such a fun way to learn about healthy habits!

Act out the animal. Can you guess what I am?

 

In Hot Springs AR, at the Langston Magnet School, Carol Gibbs’ class read the Al’s Action Story and the children acted out all the moving parts. The kids loved it so much that they are now re-telling and acting out the story themselves. They rolled the Activity Cube and even taught some older kids, who came to read to the class, how to play. They used the Foot Pattern Hopscotch  to hop around the room. Their day ended with the children drawing self-portraits with “empty” bellies, then having a nutritious snack from each food group. Afterward, they drew what they ate for snack to “fill their bellies” on the self-portraits.

The visitors joined the jumping jacks and dancing!

 

Kathi Rosbottom reported that the children at Highview Public School in Ontario, Canada love Al and had a great day! She used lots of activities from the AcornDreams website: the mazes, a tasting party, and the matching game. They made and decorated the hats, too! The children loved it all.

 

 

So many good tastes!
We worked hard on our hats!

The children in Janet Clemons’ class at Westview Early Childhood Center in Petersburg VA got their parents involved. They wanted to have some healthy snacks to eat so parents brought in bags of clementines, red apples, and pretzels. Ms. Clemons reports that they talk about healthy eating regularly, and they discuss the fruits and vegetables they like before lunch which encourages the children to eat them more often.

 

 

In Fort Wayne IN, at Lifeline Youth & Family Services, Bernice Bush’s morning and afternoon classes participated in the “fun and educational activities and as well as some music with Al!” The children talked about healthy food and practiced building the food pyramid. Snack time included pinwheel sandwiches (turkey and cream cheese wraps), grapes, apple slices, carrots, apple juice, and water.

      

 

At St. Andrews School in Richmond VA, the children in Madeline Hendrix’s class had a lively discussion about what healthy food they like and what they do to keep active. They like to eat strawberries, broccoli, carrots, and apples. To stay healthy, the kids love to run, ride bikes, and play basketball. They used the Activity Cube to “work out!”  Jumping jacks, hopping on one foot, windmill arms, and running in place got their hearts beating, and there was lots of laughter, too!

   

 

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, including this new activity for 2019.

Fruit and Veggie Figures

Easy Ways to Spread Kindness

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. Help others: Keep a pack of bottled water in your car, and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help.
  4. 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.
  5. Write it down: Leave a note on someone’s keyboard, pillow, lunch box, steering wheel, or gym bag saying what you appreciate about them.
  6. Be present: Put your phone away and make a connection. In person.
  7. 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!

A note of thanks.
a note of thanks

Making Time for Family Time

Work together - and have FUN, too!
Work an a project together – and have FUN, too!

Life is BUSY for Today’s Parents

“I have to work late this week.”

“How many games do the kids have Saturday?”

“What time is the birthday party?”

“The laundry!!”

“What?? It’s December?!”

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.

Snack Fever: Have Young Children’s Eating Habits Changed?

Healthy and tasty snack!
Healthy and tasty snack!

 Snacking Is Part Of A Bigger Problem

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 ]

Helping Children Cope with a Storm

Big storms like hurricanes can be alarming for children.  Adult awareness and support can help children handle  feeling nervous or worried, and get ready to cope with the storm.

Best Ways For Adults To Help Children Cope With A Storm

Watching the Storm
Waiting for the storm

Stay Calm.  Children take cues from adult behaviors and attitudes.  Even if you feel worried, prepare as much as you can, and then stay calm.

Be aware of the storm broadcasts.  Hyped up news reports may increase children’s sense of alarm.  Keep the volume low and engage children in other activities.

Let children know it is okay to feel worried or scared.  Many children don’t like storms and feel afraid. Remind them that you will take care of them. [ more ]

Lots of Feelings as the New School Year Starts

Change Can Be ChallengingJohn in the hall - lightened (2)

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?

 

Getting Prepared

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. Teach it 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!