Category Archives: Social & Emotional

Beyond defiance: saying “no” and stating independence

As developmental psychologist Erick Erickson stated half a century ago, a big part of a child’s social and emotional development during the first years of life is the struggle of navigating both dependence and autonomy. As he moves into his toddlerhood and preschooler years, your child is experientially exploring the concept of “personhood” and working hard at establishing himself as an independent individual.

Beyond knowing his name, age, dislikes and likes, developing autonomy requires your son to venture into stating that he is entitled to feelings and opinions that might not only be different from your own, but might also be in conflict with your wishes. It’s here where you might feel like you’re stranded in the “no-land” alongside your kid.

Because cognitive development is still in its early stages, between 2 and 4 years of age kids are just starting to think of the world in categories and concepts, and they begin by seeing things through the binary “yes-no”. Also, even though your kid’s language skills have undoubtedly developed a lot by now, they are still in their early stages and aren’t of much use when your little one tries to communicate with you. For a preschooler, saying “no” is far more reachable than explaining in long sentences and complicated grammar that those socks you insist on putting on him are actually very itchy.

Being able to express disaccord is a fundamental part of human experience, just as it is noticing the differences, see similarities, think abstractly, generalize, arrive at new conclusions, build bridges between us and create new things. When your child says “no”, he is beginning to problematize things, assert independence and individuality through language, thus opening up many more developmental doors.

How can I know my little child is self-aware?

Beyond parental curiosity, for decades, the question of when, why and how children develop self-awareness has been a crucial inquiry for developmental psychology. In the book The Interpersonal World of the Infant, published in 1985, psychologist and researcher Daniel Stern drew conclusions from his experiments with infants and toddlers and presented the first evidence of self-awareness in young children.

In one of his behavioral experiments, he placed children between 12 and 30 months of age in front of a mirror, and marked, without the child noticing or being aware of a mark, the kid’s faces with rouge. When in front of the mirror, he observed that kids younger than 18 months old appeared to be unaware that what they had in front of them was their own reflection. In the other hand, most kids beyond the eighteen-month mark, when they saw the paint in their reflected face, they immediately touched the mark on their faces instead of the mirror. Thanks to his findings, we now know to expect important changes in self-awareness between 2 and 3 years old.

There are many ways in which your child might show her increased self-awareness. For example, when she starts to use pronouns to refer to herself, when she states what she likes or dislikes, or when she shows personal preferences towards clothes, food, animals or characters, when she starts using first names to refer to people she knows, including herself, and, further in her socio-emotional development, when she starts showing interest in friendships and adventure into sharing toys and showing empathy.

The impact of self-awareness skills

When we talk about children’s self-awareness skills, we are referring to their capacity to know themselves and, based on that knowledge, evaluate and respond appropriately to different personal and interpersonal situations. Thanks to self-awareness we know what we like, dislike, how were prone to react in certain situations, and how best to self-regulate our emotions and thoughts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these skills start developing around toddlerhood and continue to do so until adolescence and young adulthood, when a person’s personality settles a bit more after lots of self-exploration.

How having good self-awareness skills will help your child:
• Understand her own feelings, thoughts and subjectivity.
• Understand that her mind is unique and separate from other people’s.
• Make the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
• Comprehend that other people are equally valuable than her, even if they think differently.
• Estimate how difficult or easy something might be.
• Understand her own strengths and develop a sense of self-worth and pride.
• Admit her mistakes and accept help.
• Develop empathy for others, as well as compassion for herself.
• Notice in what situations and with what things she struggles, and to identify how to work on it.
• Think about how her actions might impact other people.

Because we constantly need to use our self-awareness skills in a myriad of different situations, and these skills lay the groundwork for many other social, emotional and academic aspects of development, it’s important to help your kid develop her self-awareness skills. Your little one will reap the benefits of this throughout life.

Helping my child develop self-awareness

As your child transitions from toddlerhood to his preschooler years, you’ll notice, among other things, important changes in his self-awareness skills. In other words, he will be able to say and understand the meaning of his first name, age and sex, as well as having a better understanding of his likes and dislikes. Your child’s self-awareness skills are what, in the future, will allow him to understand that he is a whole, unique and independent person with thoughts and feelings. This set of skills is essential for developing and maintaining relationships, and to lead healthy and happy inner lives.

According to 1991’s seminal paper on how children develop the concept of selfhood, published by Harvard’s professor Jerome Kagan in the journal Developmental Review, self-awareness refers to a person’s realization that he or she is a distinct human being, with body, mind and actions that are separate from other people’s. Approaching 4 years of age, children work on developing their autonomy, as stated in the stages of psychosocial development proposed by Erick Erickson during the 1950’s.

Here are some tips on how you can help your kid develop self-awareness skills:
• Notice, accept and help your son process all the array of human emotions he might be feeling.
• Help him notice the relationships between what he might be feeling and what he is doing.
• Model empathy, self-expression and communication.
• Name feelings. Feelings are complex and, as preschoolers are just beginning to grasp what they mean, they need your help to name emotions. Being sad because it’s raining and you can’t go to the park is much easier to assimilate than just feeling something unpleasant and having no words to understand what’s going on.

Helping my kid learn to share

For preschoolers, learning to share is challenging and marks an important developmental moment in their social and emotional growth. During childhood, sharing is a capacity that kids need to have in order to play and learn, but they need your help in building the relationship and emotional intelligence skills required to do so.

Because sharing can be hard for children around 3 or 4 years old, it’s a skill that’s usually developed until a child starts going to childcare, kindergarten or until they start having playmates. According to the Raising Children Network, kids need to learn to share in order to make and keep friendships, because sharing helps them understand fairness and compromise, as well as learning about tolerating frustration, being patient and trusting others.

Here are some ideas on how you can encourage your preschooler to build his relationship skills by learning to share:
• Provide plenty of opportunities to practice sharing. Remember that kids learn by doing things in a manner of trial and error.
• Model sharing and taking turns.
• Help your child notice when someone is sharing.
• Give lots of praise for progress.
• Play games that involve turn-taking.
• Explain sharing and talk about empathy and about how nice it is when someone shares with him, and how other kids like that as well.

Tips for actively listening to your preschooler

Your daughter is now stepping out of the terrible twos and into the awesome threes and fours. In this stage of your kid’s development, she is staring to make friends and build relationships, learning to interact with other people outside the family (like playmates, teachers, peers, day-care staff, etc.) and is also beginning to express feelings, needs, likes and dislikes with her newly discovered language skills. This communication is slowly, but surely, building your little girl’s personality and setting the base for future relationships, communication style and sense of self.

Because of this, communicating with your child is very important for her social and emotional development. As the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes, knowing how to receive the message your child is trying to convey to you is an essential part of the communication. This article will focus on listening actively to your preschooler.

All communication can be thought of as a channel that goes both ways: not only the receiver end of the message is getting something! In every communication, the person speaking also gets an implicit message about what he or she is saying. This message is conveyed by the listeners body language, attunement and feedback or lack thereof. When you use active listening, your child gets the message back that what she is saying is important, and that you are receptive to what she is expressing.

Active listening can help your daughter better understand her feelings, and it fosters a warm and nurturing relationship between the two of you, while also boosting your girl’s sense of worth and self-confidence. Here are some recommendations on how to become an active listener with your child:
• Try reflective listening. This is when you listen, summarize and then repeat back the message your child is giving you. The important thing here is not to just repeat what you’re hearing, but to lend your more advanced socio-emotional skills to your child so you speak out what she might be thinking or feeling. You can try giving names to a feeling you see in the communication, as an open suggestion, “It seems to me as if you are happy/sad/angry/tired”.
• Set aside distractions and show interest. When your daughter is telling you a story, try to get yourself free from distractors, like the cellphone or the newspaper, and give your complete attention to your kid. You can show your interest by maintaining eye contact and making facial expressions.
• Encourage your child to keep talking. You can interact with the story, while avoiding interrupting, criticizing or hurrying her up.

Communicating in a way that fosters your child’s socio-emotional skills

As the American Academy of Pediatrics assesses, we know that at around 2 and 4 years old, preschoolers are right in the center of an important improvement in their communication skills. In this article, we’re going to look at communication beyond its benefits for your child’s vocabulary, and focus instead on the important role that it plays in your kid’s social and emotional development.

How you communicate with your son will set the base for how he communicates with himself. Because your child is still very young, communicating can be tricky, especially around situations where he is frustrated and you’re getting angry, like when discussing about a conflictive behavior. It’s precisely in those situations where it is crucial for you to model how problems can be solved by talking. If you practice positive communication in your family, your child will take in the problem solving, emotion expression and relationship building skills you show him. After all, the family is the first place where we all get to practice socio-emotional skills!

The Early Childhood Development Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln gives some tips on how to communicate with your child in a way that fosters understanding and emotional development:
• Before speaking, know what you want to say. Kids can easily get overwhelmed or side-tracked when they are given too much information. It’s better to let them be part of the conversation by handing them some simple information and then ask questions to clarify, instead of having them listening to a monologue that’s beyond their attention span.
• Be aware of your emotions. Sometimes kids respond in unexpected ways even when we think we’re being very clear. This might be because the words they hear are different from the emotion they see. To avoid giving mixed signals, don’t ignore your emotions and, if you’re getting very frustrated or tired, take a moment to calm down before continuing the conversation.
• Be an active listener. Focus on the speaker, show your interest with your body language and try to listen with your heart as well as with your ears.
• Try to choose “I” messages instead of “you” messages when attempting to change a problematic behavior.

If you want to read more about positive communication and how to try it with your family, you can read the 2-pages article by Myrna DuBois “Open the door to good communication” by following this link:
http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g1840.pdf

Communicating with your preschooler in a nurturing way

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children go through many important communication milestones between their 36 and 48 months of age. This means that what your child can understand and the complexity with which she can express and communicate with you increases greatly around this age. Communication is very important not only for language development, but for your kid’s social and emotional skills. Positive and effective communication sets the base with which to build and mend relationships.

According to the recommendations of the Early Childhood Development Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, parents need to practice positive communication with their young children. They emphasize that developing children benefit greatly from a communication that is open, respectful, honest, straight-forward and kind, no matter the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of practical tips from The Big Book of Parenting, by Doctor in Education Michele Borba:
• Understand the “no” as a way of asserting newly discovered independence. Toddlers live in a world full of big people, feel things they don’t know how to manage, and want to express feelings and ideas without having the language skills to do so, so it’s natural that they crave for some control at times and act defiantly. Try not to take it personally and model the appropriate way of interacting. Explain that it’s not nice to speak rudely and try integrating some choices into their daily routines.
• Don’t expect your daughter to internalize social graces just yet, model behavior instead. Three and four-year-olds are still very young to master their impulses. So, if you find yourself mortified because your little girl is talking very loudly at the movies, know that this is completely normal and take advantage of your child’s inner copycat by whispering “use your quiet voice, like this”. You can even practice this and other alternative behaviors at home, which will make it easier to do so in the library the next time you go there.
• Make talking fun instead of overwhelming. Some kids can get frustrated or inhibited when they’re given many instructions or corrections. So, try not to draw attention to the mistakes she might be making, and simply repeat the words in a clear way when you next have the chance.

If you are interested on more tips about communicating with your young children, you can check out this one-pager by the University of Nebraska:
https://child.unl.edu/4d325c2c-1457-4220-a7d2-ec1a709edc16.pdf

Making new foods appealing to my preschooler

Because young kid’s senses, personality and cognition are still developing, it’s normal for them to have somewhat rigid food-preferences regarding texture and flavor, especially when a new food is just being introduced. Therefore, it is necessary to take their developmental stage into account when exposing them to new foods, so that the experience can be positive and build their emotional, verbal and physical skills as well.

With this challenge in mind, here are some ideas on how to successfully introduce new foods into your daughter’s diet:
• Read together a book that features a new food and talk about its characteristics before getting to experience it in real life.
• Make sure that your child has a good posture while eating, so that she is not uncomfortable or too occupied trying to stay upright.
• Let your child help in the preparation of the food. Cooking together provides interesting and positive experiences around food, and it has been proven that it boosts the child’s self-confidence, while also encouraging them to try their creation.
• Take into account the food temperature and try to make sure its pleasantly warm.
• Monkey see, monkey do. Model how trying this new food is safe and fun to do.
• Consider the food’s texture, as some kids will turn down stringy of lumpy foods, or those that need lots of chewing.
• Make the food presentation interesting. This can be easily done by serving different colors or shapes of foods, like brightly colored veggies, fruit wedges, square chunks, triangle-shaped sandwiches, etc.
• Introduce one new food at a time, accompanied with healthy and familiar foods to avoid overwhelming your kid. Baby steps go a long way in the long run.

Teaching my kid how to get dressed

Getting a preschooler dressed can be a cause for morning stress for many parents. You might be in a hurry and your child won’t put on his coat without making a tantrum, or he has decided to wear tree pairs of socks today or has buttoned his clothes wrongly and feels betrayed by you when correcting the situation. You might think that the only way around this is dressing your child yourself, because if it’s still such a struggle, it might be too early to be working on self-care skills like dressing.

In fact, learning to dress independently is an important skill that your child can start to tackle between 36 and 48 months old. Meeting challenges like pulling clothes off, opening large zippers, putting on shoes or buttoning and unbuttoning large buttons actually helps your child build many new skills. For example, he develops multiple different areas, like fine and gross motor skills when mastering necessary hand movements, or his memory when recalling steps and their order when putting clothes on and off. He also works on his attention span and learns through experience about shapes and colors, not to mention the self-awareness, the sense of achievement and the confidence that is built by learning to get dressed.

Here are some tips for you to help your kid learn how to get dressed:
• Be supportive and acknowledge progress. If you make getting dressed a positive experience, your child will be more likely to cooperate with you.
• Teach undressing first, as it takes less coordination.
• Try to practice getting dressed when the pair of you are not in a hurry and set a realistic allotted time for dressing.
• Let your child choose clothes from a couple of weather-appropriate options and talk about the weather and how its related to the clothes you choose.
• Explain the difference between clean and dirty clothes and how you put them in different places.