Category Archives: Social & Emotional

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:
https://www.positivediscipline.com/free-downloads

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:
https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/advice-and-info/positive-parenting.pdf

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.

Tips for dealing with defiance while also encouraging growth

Between 2 and 4 years of age, among all the amazing milestones your daughter is reaching, chances are you have already encountered a dreaded marker of your little one’s social and emotional development: defiance.

The experience of being a toddler or a preschooler is filled with curiosity, imagination and also an increasing need for autonomy and exploring boundaries. With a still developing prefrontal cortex, you can imagine how, being a young kid in a world of grown-ups, she enjoys and is happy to assert all the power and control she might get her hands on. At times, parenting a small kid can be very frustrating, especially when confronted with a continuous stream of no’s, but if you think of this behavior as your daughter’s way of exploring her newly found independence you will be able to respond in a nurturing way that will continue to encourage growth, autonomy and exploration. Here are some tips on how to do so:

• Think “what’s the message that my child is trying to communicate by saying no?”. Your child is not being defiant in order to frustrate you, she is trying to express something.
• Recognize your child’s actions and feelings, and try not to engage in a power struggle. Instead, try to voice what’s happening.
• When anticipating a “no”, try and change the question or task into one where there’s room for your child to make some decisions and exert a bit of control. For example, you can ask your daughter which toys does she want to pick up first.
• Try to empathize with what your child is experiencing and why she is refusing to engage with it.
• Model responding instead of reacting. Your kid is learning how to self-regulate herself and how to assert independence by watching you.
• Ask her to be your important helper.
• Encourage putting feelings into words and other ways of self-expression.
• Remember it’s not personal, its developmental!

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.