Category Archives: Social & Emotional

Building my toddler’s social skills when going to the movies or to a show

Your toddler has been insisting on seeing the latest movie that just came out, and even though you know how much your kid loves those characters, you wonder if he or she is old enough to sit through an entire movie at the cinema. Maybe you’re wondering if attending a theatrical play or a live show will be simply too much and too soon. Our in-house experts share some insight about this decision.

Most child psychologists and parents agree that somewhere between 2 and 4 years old is a good time to introduce your little one to the cinema or the theater, accorded that the film or show in question is age-appropriate for your child. Nonetheless, how cinema-ready a kid might be will ultimately depend on his or her individual characteristics at the time. So as always, it’s important to neither rush, nor pressure your kid into it just because you’ve heard of other 2-years old that actually look forward to staying put in a seat for 120 minutes. It might hold true for some kids, and not so much for others.

To help you weight discern, here are some aspects to take into consideration:

  • Your son or daughter’s capacity to sit still for longer than 30 min at a time and be happy about it.
  • Your kid’s usual attention span.
  • Your kid’s tolerance for noise, dark places or loud sounds- it can be an overwhelming experience for some kids that aren’t used to or aren’t interested in such activities.
  • According to Brenda Nixon in The Birth to Five Book: “Any noise that registers 90 decibels or higher can hurt a child’s hearing”, and some movies can measure up to 130 decibels.

How to make it a good experience for everyone (not only for you and your kid, but for other kids and adults sharing the space):

  • Always choose child-friendly shows. There’s a better chance a matinee or kid’s show will be a positive experience than a weekend-night opera or ballet-presentation. Your child and the rest of the audience will be far happier if you arrange for a sitter while you go ahead and watch that drama movie with your partner.
  • Knowledge is power. Even if the movie or show’s intended audience is children, make sure to know the content of it beforehand, so you can have an idea of what to expect (flashy lights, action scenes, loud music, etc.) and compare those features with what you know your kid can tolerate and enjoy.
  • Communicate that cinemas and theaters are quiet places. This might be a tricky concept for some toddlers, but the key here is being both understanding and disciplined about it with your kid. It’s important to help him or her understand that there are places where you can have lots of fun if you listen and watch, and that they can of course laugh and ask you things but using a quiet voice so that other people can still hear the show.
  • Try to find a sitting place near the exit, and not too close to the screen. This way, it will be less complicated to exit suddenly or to make an unexpected restroom break with your kid.

Every child is inevitably going to go through a learning curve regarding sharing social spaces with other people. Activities like going out for a movie or play are good and fun opportunities to help your kid work at being increasingly more masterful of his or her impulses, delaying gratification, and thinking about what other others might be feeling. Although it might appear like a small feat, conquering small outings like this can help your little one develop his or her socio-affective abilities!

Sharing is caring!

Having difficulties for sharing is part of every kid’s developmental process. In fact, the word “mine” is one of the firsts words to come out of a toddler’s mouth. During your kid’s second and third year, he will experience going from oneness to separateness, so you’ll start noticing comments like “This is mine!”, “I can do it myself”, etc. This is due to his growing awareness. So, don’t worry, there are a lot of ways you can help your child understand the concept of sharing. Keep reading to learn more!

Sharing is caring?

Sharing is a fundamental skill; it is how we keep our friendships, play and work well with others. This action teaches about compromise, fairness and, most importantly, gratitude. “Thank you for sharing your truck with me. Do you want to play with my teddy bear?”. Sharing teaches children that gratitude reciprocates. If we give to others, we will receive in return. Gratitude is the best policy. Sharing also teaches us about negotiation and coping with disappointment, two vital skills in life. Continue reading

Oops, I Reinforced it Again

We all do it on a daily basis –we accidentally reinforce behaviors that we don’t like. The good news is that it is not too late to do something about it! With our little ones, especially those under 5 years of age, actions really do speak louder than words. Your child will respond to what you do 1000 times more than what you say (*see graphic above). So yes, you may say “we don’t throw”, but those words mean nothing if your actions don’t correspond. If your child’s unwanted behavior was effective in getting his or her needs met, then it will continue. So, in the example above, instead of throwing the bowl to get more food, he or she should pass you the bowl, say “more” or point to the wanted food, for example. We should not refill the bowl, until the child imitates the new, positive behavior that we model.

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples. Continue reading

Using my child’s tantrums as a learning experience

Because your preschooler’s brain is still developing, it’s normal for your daughter to get very excited, frustrated, sad or angry about something and react accordingly. Since she has limited verbal skills, when she has a tantrum, she is actually communicating that she is struggling with an intense feeling and can’t solve a problem that seems unsurmountable. Yet, although tantrums are normal between 2 and 4 years of age, many of them are avoidable. Since, more than one are bound to happen anyway, use them as a way to better understand your child and let her know that you understand and are trying to help.

• Be a calm and reassuring model of how to handle emotions.
• Think ahead. Most kids are tantrum-prone if they become very tired or hungry. Having clear feeding schedules, rests and quiet times, you can avoid the feared release of the Hangry-Child.
• Give your child some minutes of warning before you end or change an activity since many children are prone to tantrums when play-time is over.
• Acknowledge emotions as they appear, and put them into words to avoid them escalating into actions.
• Psychologists from the extension Department of Human Development and Family Studies from Iowa State University recommend to “distract, remove, ignore, and hold”.
• Try to understand the reason behind the meltdown: when, what, where, who…
• Let your daughter assert her selfhood when it doesn’t compromise anyone’s safety or health.
• Hold your ground but stay calm and reassuring. Create a safe space where your child can explore relationships and emotions while resting assured you still love her.
• When she has calmed down, tell the story of what happened during the tantrum. Emphasize on the emotion that arose and why, and remind her of the fact that you stayed there. When she’s ready give her a big hug and ask her if she feels better.

You can read more practical tips by family therapists from Iowa State University by following this link:

Gaining independence at bedtime: transitioning from the crib to a bed

With your child’s newfound emotional, verbal and motor control skills, you’re probably thinking about transitioning from the crib and into a bed.

Here are some useful recommendations from the book What to expect: the toddler years. The authors recommend making the transition after 36 months of age, not earlier, because at this age your son is just starting to understand the more abstract concepts of rules and limits. A indicator for making the change is when your child starts suggesting it.
• When your little one is ready, celebrate the transition.
• Try to position the bed in the same place where the crib used to be.
• Pediatricians recommend that bedtime should be timed about 12 hours after your child wakes up, or about 5 hours after his nap ended.
• Make a fun bedtime routine and talk about it with your toddler. Give him a couple of choices, like choosing whether he should put on pajamas or brush his teeth first.
• Make bedtime a bonding moment in which your son can feel safe and loved.
• Provide him with his blanket, stuffed animals or other comfort items from his crib.
• If your child gets out of bed during the night, hold your ground and return him to bed in a silent and yet consistent manner. It might take some time, but he will get the message.
• Avoid reinforcing last-minutes excuses not to sleep.
• Show him empathy and patience while adjusting to this change.

Enhancing the relationship with my child during the terrible-twos and beyond

For about a decade, professor in psychology at the University of Queensland, Matthew Sanders, has been researching positive parenting. He has also focused on the effects it has in the relationship between child and parents, how it enhances the caregivers’ skills and confidence, and how it aids children develop good emotional skills from toddlerhood and well into adult life.

We drew some ideas from his 2008 paper “The Triple P: Positive Parenting Program as a public health approach to strengthening parenting” published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Here are some tips on how to foster your child’s emotional development, survive the terrible-twos and actually enjoy this age:
• Make time every day for talking with your child. Give her our undivided attention.
• Be interested in your daughter’s likes, interests, quirks and development. This might seem intuitive, but plenty of research has shown that being interested and attuned with your child is far more beneficial for her socio-emotional development than trying to be a perfect parent.
• Have reasonable expectations according to her development and age.
• Recognize effort and praise improvements.
• Be aware that children are very attuned to their parent’s non-verbal communication. Try to model coherence between what you say and what you do.
• Use incidental teaching. For example, if your daughter is having pieces of string cheese and crackers for lunch, ask about shapes and colors to prompt learning.
• Hold logical consequences for bad behavior. For example, remove troublesome objects from your child’s view and try to talk with her about what happened.
• Recognize emotions and help her translate them into words.

Positive parenting encourages toddlers emotional and social skills

Toddlers and preschoolers can be a handful! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 24 and 48 months of age your son is achieving lots of social and emotional milestones. With his newfound physical strength and skills, your little one will start actively exploring his environment, his personality and your limits. This period of time is a crucial for his development, but it can also prove challenging for a parent. At this early age, curiosity is accompanied by impulsivity and risky behaviors, determination comes along stubbornness, and independence can quickly shift into defiance.

Because toddlers can difficult, developmental psychologists have devoted a lot of research into how certain techniques or parenting skills can promote a happy and healthy relationship between moms, dads and their children. In 2005, researchers Liliana Lengua and Erica Kovacs from the University of Washington found that when parents used positive parenting tools with their preschoolers, over the course of one year this was associated with a decrease in irritability, defiance, fearfulness and rejection, and was correlated with an increase in both the child’s positive emotions and the caregiver’s acceptance and consistency.

According David Kerr, professor of psychology at Oregon State University, using positive parenting will not only make your life easier, but will also help your son’s social and emotional skills throughout his life. So, here are some ideas on how you can use positive parenting while enjoying your child’s preschool years:
• Encourage him to express his emotions and accept them instead of acting out.
• Give choices instead of commands. Because your kid is just starting to state independence and autonomy, this can help you avoid a power struggle, or a sharp “no” on your child’s part. It is important to give him options you are okay with.
• Say “no” from time to time, but really mean it when you do. Keep the limits reasonable and consistent.
• Try to create an environment that’s both safe and open for exploration. Child-proofing requires some work and investment, but this will greatly reduce the stress of constantly prohibiting dangerous activities.
• Give positive attention to good behavior, recognize progress and praise success.
• Be interested in understanding the reason behind the acting out of your son before jumping to conclusions.

Positive discipline: what it is and how to use it

Twenty-five years ago, Doctor in Education Jane Nelsen published her book Positive Discipline and proposed that the key to teaching discipline to children is not punishment, but mutual respect. Today, her “firm and kind” approach to raising responsible, respectful and resourceful children is regarded as the golden guideline and is advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PBS Parents, The Royal College of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other institutions and organizations.

Based on the book, here are some practical tips on how to implement positive discipline with your children and encourage their social and emotional intelligence:
• Understand the challenges your preschooler is facing at this moment of development. Controlling and expressing emotions are skills that are most likely just starting to develop.
• Try to connect to what your son is trying to express and encourage and help him to put the emotion into words. Recognize and sympathize with what he is feeling.
• Give praise and attention to positive behaviors and attitudes.
• Be available for your child, engage in active listening, even if it’s hard because of either the emotional distress of your kid or his limited vocabulary.
• Remember that your son is doing the best he can with the tools and capacities at hand. Help him control “bad” behaviors by figuring out the reasons behind them and then either change the cause or heal the emotions associated to them.
• Have age-appropriate expectations and be consistent with them. Explaining rules and how to obey them is essential.
• Make time for your well-being is crucial. It might take some planning, but it might also make things easier for everyone.

If you want to dive into positive discipline and how to do it, you can find plenty of handouts by clicking on this link:

Applying the principles of positive parenting at home

In 1999, psychologist and researcher Matthew Sanders, from the University of Queensland in Australia, published an acclaimed paper in the journal Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review where he presented some of the first evidence of practical strategies and features parents can adopt to nourish their children’s social and emotional development.

Based on his findings, here are some evidence-based strategies of positive parenting you can implement with your preschooler:
• Ensure a safe and engaging environment that provides lots of opportunities for exploration, play and creativity.
• Create a positive learning environment. Be mindful of your responses to requests for help, advice, attention, etc. Try to be both interested and assist your daughter in adventuring into exploring and trying things more independently (ex. taking off clothes, using a fork to eat, etc.).
• Use assertive discipline. Instead of shouting, threatening or using physical punishments when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated with your preschooler’s defiance, try some of the following: have and discuss ground rules for specific situations with her, maintain logical consequences, use quiet time and time-outs, give age-appropriate instructions and requests in a calm and clear manner.
• Hold realistic expectations. Being mindful of your little girl’s development in different areas helps a lot in achieving this.
• Take care of yourself. Although at times it may seem all-consuming, parenting is part of your life in a greater context and your well-being is an essential part of this. Take time for self-care, and be in touch with your emotions and inner life. Reach out to your support network when you need it.

If you want to read more and have more ideas about implementing positive parenting in your household, you can check out the following link:

Stating independence at the table: tips for picky eating

There are many reasons why a child might appear to be picky around food. Sometimes your son is just exploring how much he can push against the rules and limits you set, or maybe he really dislikes a specific taste or texture, or he finds that trying new things is difficult for him. This is especially true with children between 36 and 48 months of age because, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around this age kids start eating more independently, using feeding utensils and drinking and pouring liquids from open cups.

For this article, we’ll give you some ideas on how to encourage your little one to venture into tasting new foods, while also respecting his efforts for stating independence and autonomy at the dinner table:

• Model eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
• Combine new foods with others that are well-known and loved, and try to introduce one new item at a time.
• Expose your kids to a fruit or vegetable garden, or have your 4-year-old go with you to the farmers market.
• Make sure to present food at a comfortably warm temperature.
• When introducing a new food, encourage exploration. Have your child try touching the food, smelling it and taking a small bite out of it. Small steps go a long way.
• Expose your kids to new foods and keep presenting them many times for a couple of weeks. Researchers suggest that by doing this, it’s most likely your child will learn to accept it.
• Have your child be your little helper around the kitchen. You can ask him to help with simple supervised tasks while you cook or bake, like mixing and rolling little balls.
• Make meals interesting and fun. You can try mixing colors and shapes into a plate.
• Make mealtime a distraction-free moment of communication.
• Encourage tasting everything on the plate, but don’t make it a rule to clean it off. This makes for a more positive experience, avoids power-struggles and helps children get in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.
• Give praise for progress and acknowledge effort.