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!

 

Healthy Al Healthy Me Celebration – April 23, 2015

Happy children and their fabulous teachers joined in the Healthy Al, Healthy Me celebration on April 23, 2015 across the country and in Canada, too.

A family child care program in New Bern, NC lead by Sau’nia Kay “had a ball!” They made salads out of cucumbers & tomatoes, with some from their own garden. They created and laminated placemats decorated with pictures of veggies and fruits. The placemats turned into a healthy version of I Spy while they ate. Finally, they took some bananas and applesauce to an assisted living facility and handed them out. The children wanted to be sure that the residents “could eat healthy, too.”

HAHM Placemat

I spy something red!

At Sunshine & Rainbows Learning Center in Joliet, Illinois, Karen Cooper and her class spent the entire day outside at a park. They hiked, played kickball and tennis, and enjoyed the fresh, brisk air. Lots of parents joined them for the day to get their dose of Vitamin N (for Nature)!

Outdoor trail

What treasures will we find on our walk?

In Culpeper, Virginia, Paula Treadway’s class had a great time exercising in the gym and learning about making healthy choices. They cut out pictures and made a collage of things that are healthy. Al made a surprise visit in some of the classrooms to see what the children had learned.

Up north in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Jennifer Barone’s class participated by making Healthy Al, Healthy Me hats and parents were encouraged to get involved by bringing in a healthy snack for the class to share. The children also did lots of gross motor exercises to build strong muscles.

Y boys with hats

We love our hats starring Al!

The children in Ana Cuenca’s family child care program in Salt Lake City, UT took advantage of many of the ideas provided for the Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration. They talked about good food, and used the food groups to sort healthy foods. They made a fruit salad together. They wrapped up the morning by doing yoga – a good time was had by all!

A good yoga stretch!

A good yoga stretch!

At the VCU Health System Family Care Center in Richmond, VA, Carol’s class had a full morning. They read Al’s Healthy Choices and used the lesson that comes with it. The children role played all sorts of active motions like bouncing a ball or running. Then they made veggie people and told stories about their creations. They finished up by eating lots of yummy vegetables and deciding which they liked best.

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Veggie baseball player ready for a home run!

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Entranced by Al’s healthy choices!

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Would you like to share my colorful snack?

Dorothy Weinzapfel at St. Phillip School in Evansville, IN appreciated the opportunity because she likes “being proactive in teaching children how to be healthy, cope with negative behaviors, and stay safe, rather than always reacting to the negatives.” They reviewed all the great things they have learned from Al, Keisha, and Ty this year and are planning a special healthy snack for their last week together. They want to make veggie people because it’s always fun to create something with food!

We are already looking forward to next year’s celebration! Remember, that you can have a Healthy Al, Healthy Me Celebration any time with these fun, easy-to-use resources!

 

Get Ready for Mud Day June 29

Children can join others around the world squishing and splashing in the mud on June 29th celebrating International Mud Day. Experiencing the wonders of mud is a true joy of childhood. More ideas on connecting children with nature can be found in our blog, More Vitamin N for Happier, Healthier, Kinder Children.

Children Should be Seen AND Heard!

Why Involve Children in the Activities of Daily Life?

Sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. Toys need to be picked up in a hurry? Table needs to be set? A four-year-old needs to get dressed?  Activities for Saturday afternoon need to be planned? In our busy day-to-day lives, if there is a job to do or decision to make, we tend to mull over the options, choose one that seems manageable, and just do it. Quick and easy, right? But when we do it all, we are missing opportunities to involve children in meaningful ways that can help them become more independent, creative, and resilient.

Everyone Needs a Voice in Family Life

When we find ourselves making the decisions, telling children what to do, where to go, what to wear, what to eat, we are inadvertently depriving them of the chance to think for themselves and to voice their opinions. Like adults, kids begin to bristle when they are micromanaged all the time. Even the youngest children benefit when they get to be involved in life’s little decisions.

When given opportunities to express themselves, share their experiences and make decisions, children feel valued and develop a sense of self.  This gives them the message that they are an important part of the family.  And when they are involved in a way that has meaning to them, when they have a Voice, children become more cooperative and behavior issues decrease.  So how can we let children know that we value their ideas and experiences?

Joining in children's play helps them have a Voice

Joining in children’s play helps them have a Voice

We Need to Listen

One way for children to have a Voice is to take a few minutes to let them know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say:

  • Listen to how their day was. Prompt them with something specific like “tell me about one person you played with (or talked to or laughed with) today.”
  • Ask them to tell you that joke again (even though you’ve heard it 100 times).
  • Have them tell you about the picture they made or the block structure they built.
  • Ask a silly question like “What super power would you like to have?” or “If you discovered a new planet, what would it be like?” or “If you were the boss of the world, what rules would you make?”

While most adults can listen and do something else at the same time, to a child it feels like you are not tuned in. So when they are talking, be sure to stop what you’re doing and really pay attention. Let them know you are listening by looking at them and responding to what they say.

Involve Children in Decision-Making

Another way to help children have a Voice is to encourage them to share ideas and opinions when decisions must be made or problems need to be solved. Some examples:

  • Giving ideas about a family activity (which park to visit, which movie to watch)
  • Working through a problem with a sibling by brainstorming possible solutions
  • Helping to pick out gifts for relatives or friends celebrating birthdays
  • Brainstorming dinner ideas
  • Helping to plan a party or celebration

While they may not end up getting the final say, children get the message that their input is valuable and is taken into consideration. Needless to say, certain decisions are not appropriate for children to be involved in such as bedtimes and how much TV is watched. It’s important for children to understand that some things are not negotiable. Giving children a Voice is not the same as letting them ‘rule the roost’. Having a Voice means being involved in the process of child-appropriate decision-making and problem-solving, not necessarily the outcome. Life does not always feel fair, but it is valuable and reassuring for children to learn that there are times when caring parents make the decisions

What Caring Adults Can Do

To help children have a Voice, Dr. Richard Grossman, a psychologist in Brookline Massachusetts, suggests that we keep 3 guidelines in mind:

  1. Assume that what your child has to say is just as important as what you have to say.
  2. Assume that you can learn as much from them as they can from you.
  3. Enter their world through play, activities, and discussions; don’t require them to enter yours in order to make contact.

By letting children know that we value their thoughts and ideas, and that we want their active participation in the life of the family, we give them the message that they matter. Research tells us that involving children in a meaningful way helps them become more resilient and ready to take on the challenges that life will certainly throw their way.

Wingspan’s Bullying Prevention Training for Early Childhood Educators

Understanding and Preventing

 Bullying in Young Children

 Training for Early Childhood Educators

This three-hour interactive training expands early childhood educators’ understanding of bullying behavior in young children.  Participants learn how they can intervene when bullying occurs and what they can do to prevent bullying.  The workshop addresses these questions:

  •   What is bullying and why do some children bully others?
  •  What does bullying behavior look like in young children and why should educators be concerned?
  •  How is bullying different from aggression typically seen in young children?
  •  How can adults curb aggressive and bullying behavior demonstrated by young children?
  •  What strategies help prevent bullying behavior and promote more positive social interactions?
  •  What are effective ways to build empathy in young children?

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The Empathy of a 2 Year Old and His Dinosaur

Healing Dinosaur Offered

Caring and Empathy Start in the Early Years

“I’m going to visit Papa in the hospital today,” my daughter said to her two young sons. “Wait a minute, Mommy,” said 2½ year old Noah. He then disappeared up to his room. After rummaging through his drawer, he emerged from his room, proceeded downstairs, and placed a tiny orange plastic dinosaur in his mother’s hand. She did not remember him having this toy and asked what it was all about. Noah explained that when he went to his doctor when he was sick, the doctor gave him the dinosaur to help him feel better. He then instructed my daughter to bring the dinosaur to me to help me feel better as I recuperated from knee replacement surgery.

When my daughter presented the dinosaur to me in my hospital bed along with the Noah’s instructions, I was overwhelmed by the level of empathy demonstrated by such a young child. It was hard to fathom that he felt that connected to me and what I was going through. That wonderful, healing dinosaur proudly sat on the mantle in our family room and inspired me every day to hang in there through the challenging physical therapy that followed and helped me heal so I could play with my grandchildren.

While I continue to be amazed at how a 2½ year old could empathize so appropriately, it was a real-life reminder that even the youngest of children can understand other people’s feelings and show they care. While children are born with the capacity to be empathetic, empathy is a skill that children learn. When children have adults in their lives who respond to them with compassion and understanding, they are more likely to be empathetic towards others. Children who are empathic are more likely to do better in school, have more friends, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

 

How Can Caring Adults Help Children Learn to be Empathetic? 

  • Talk about feelings often – how you are feeling, how the child might be feeling, how characters in a story might be feeling. “How do you think the boy feels when his kite gets stuck in the tree?
  • Teach children words to express their feelings.  Accept all feelings and validate them.  Help them cope with strong feelings. “I see how frustrated you are that the puzzle pieces won’t stay together. That would make me frustrated, too.”
  • Encourage children to consider that other people also have feelings just like they do.  “You told me you felt sad when Maria teased you. How do you think Trayvon feels when you tease him?
  • Brainstorm with children what they can do to help a child in distress feel better. “Alisha is very sad because her mom is on a trip. Do you have any ideas for what you could do to comfort her?
  • Recognize children when they show caring towards others. “You were a good friend when you asked Kendall if she wanted to play with you.
  • Role model kindness and empathy.  Verbally express your concern for someone’s feelings.  Give caring gestures like patting a child on the back or calmly tell a child you understand how she feels if she is scared, frustrated, sad, or upset. “That loud truck made you feel scared, didn’t it? I understand. Loud noises scare me sometimes, too.

When children’s own emotional needs are met in warm, caring ways, they are more likely to be able to respond to other’s discomfort and pain – and extend a dinosaur of kindness to those in need.

Norman Geller, Ph.D., Educational Consultant and Assistant Professor

Autism and Educational Diagnostics, LLC.

 

Ready or Not, Here It Comes! Preparing for Kindergarten

Getting Ready for School: Supplies AND Support

Starting school can be exciting AND scary!

Starting school: exciting AND scary!

Schools provide a checklist of materials children will need to be ready for school – washable markers, paper, pencils, tissues, and glue sticks.  Check, check, and check!  This part of getting ready is clear-cut.

But what about getting “ready for school” on the inside? For some children, kindergarten is their first time being away from home for so long. They may feel worried about all the new children they’ll meet or if they will like their new teacher. Children may wonder if they’ll get lost in the school or if the bigger kids will be mean.

Starting school is often unnerving for young children (and their parents!). Luckily, with a little preparation, adults can help children feel excited and confident about their upcoming school experience.
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