Category Archives: Social & Emotional

Nurturing honesty in preschoolers

We have all been there. You suddenly hear a loud noise, turn your head, see a knocked-over box of toys scattered all across the room like a mined field and then you hear the feared lie coming out of your preschooler: “It wasn’t me!”.

Don’t worry, although witnessing your kid lie for the first time can be unsettling, it’s important to know that this is a completely normal behavior in small kids. They are still learning the social and emotional skills that allow older kids to know that honesty is the best policy.

Your kid might have indulged in a white lie for many reasons. It might be to avoid the consequences of a naughty action, because of her faulty memory-recalling, to avoid disappointing you when an accident happens or because distinguishing reality from fantasy is still challenging at her age. Because these preschooler lies aren’t malicious, they shouldn’t be a cause for either concern nor punishment. Your daughter will soon outgrow the need to lie, especially if you surround her with honesty and trust.

Meanwhile, you can nurture the development of honesty in your child by making it easy for her to tell you the truth. Show appreciation for her honesty, helping her remember the whole truth of a story and, above all, trust your kid and model truthfulness.

Can my child start eating independently and tackle new milestones?

Between the excitement of achieving new milestones and the fear of messy floors and tables in the nearby future, figuring out when your child is ready to start eating by himself can seem complicated. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the independent feeding skills and table milestones that are usually met between 3 and 4 years of age.

According to doctor Tiffany Hays, director of Pediatric Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, allowing your kid to be independent early on during mealtimes is crucial because it will not only foster a sense of autonomy, but also make it easier for your kid to respond to his natural hunger and fullness cues. Remember that some spills and accidents will inevitably happen, although with decreasing frequency, but you can safely start working toward the following skills with your 36 to 48-month-old:
• Pour liquids from a pitcher using a cup.
• Use the fingers and hand to hold a fork, apply the correct amount of pressure to pierce and pick up soft foods with it and accurately direct it into the mouth.
• Wipe mouth with a napkin when prompted or reminded to do so.
• Take notice to swallow the food before taking another bite.
• Pour and scoop with minimal spilling.
• Open different kinds of food containers, like jars, food bags, juice bottles with a straw, etc.
• Drink from a small open cup using only one hand.

If you want to read more about independent feeding skills for your toddler, you can check out this link:

Helping my toddler to solve conflicts with his friends

It’s completely normal for toddlers to sometimes get overwhelmed and as a parent you’ve surely witnessed how interacting with playmates or making new friends can, at times, seem as an unsurmountable challenge. Don’t worry, occasional conflict between young kids is normal, and a necessary component for your kid’s socio-emotional development. When this happens, you have the opportunity to teach your kid about conflict-solving.

Following the work of psychologist Kelly Tu from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies of Auburn University, here are some tips on how to help your young child manage conflict with his peers:
• Be a positive role model of conflict-solving.
• Encourage cooperation. Suggest using words instead of aggression to deal with conflict.
• Propose sharing. If the popularity of a single toy among playmates is proving problematic, remind your child that when two kids share a toy, they each get an equal turn playing with it. You can also be in charge on timing the turns if you see the need.
• Reformulate. If your child is crying or is overwhelmed with an emotion, ask him to restate the problem in a way that opens up possible solutions. Ex. “She won’t give me the purple crayon” can be reformulated by you as “So we have two artists, but only one purple crayon”.
• Teach alternative solutions. If sharing is too challenging for your child’s developmental stage right now, suggest finding another activity or toy to play with instead. Acknowledging the situation and then proposing an alternative is very useful to manage toddler-conflict.
• Help him see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This strategy can be very useful for discouraging aggressive behavior, because you foster empathy.
• Give praise. Supporting and encouraging positive solutions will reinforce this behavior. Let your son know that solving conflict is valuable to you, that it feels good and that you recognize his efforts.
• Practice makes perfect. Make sure you give your child plenty of opportunity to spend time with other kids and playmates.

Tips on how to foster good parent-child communication

Research done by academics Almudena Sevilla, of the University of London, and Cristina Borra, of the University of Seville, has shown that parents spend less than 40 minutes a day engaging in conversation with their child. And that is not enough!

Following Michigan State University Extension advise, as well as recommendations featured in the book What to expect: The toddler years, here we offer you some tips on how to make communication a central part of your relationship with your young girl.

• Have an early jumpstart into it! Even if your child’s verbal skills are still limited, laying a good base for dialogue with her is still very important.
• Be a good listener. This might be the best communication advise we can give. Be patient if your child is taking her time to go into the details of a story or to express an idea, and try not to jump too quickly into conclusions.
• Make a big deal of talking about things and set aside time for it. Try to have a good stretch of unbroken time in your daily schedule to talk with your toddler. This means staying clear of distractions such as your cellphone, televisions or reading materials for this period of time. A good idea is having a “good morning” and a “goodnight” ritual of talking before school and before bedtime. Now is a great moment to start these new family rituals.
• Help her to express things when they’re complicated. Since your child is still developing her language skills, she might experiment feelings that she can’t yet put into words, simply because her vocabulary is still growing. You can aid by providing lots of words to name both positive and negative feelings.
• Be attuned to both verbal and non-verbal communication. Try and focus completely on your toddler, and demonstrate your interest by making comments and asking questions. In that way, your child will know that what she is saying is important to you.

Helping around the house, toddler-style

All parents would love their young children to be responsible and help with some of the household chores, but you might be wondering if it’s too early to ask your 3 or 4-year-old to tackle some of the chores already. Even though it’s true that toddlers are messy and still have limited attention spans and tolerance to frustration, raising a responsible child as early as 3 years old is possible!

It’s certainly too soon to expect your kid to perform the chores an adult would, but there are lots of things your little one can help you with. In fact, many young kids enjoy imitating their parents around the house and that proves an excellent opportunity to assign him simple and safe tasks. Just make sure to keep reasonable demands. Overwhelming a toddler with responsibilities may prove counterproductive if he gets burnt out and resentful of helping out. So, this isn’t the time to pass over the duster to the next generation!

Based on the What to expect: The toddler years guide, here are some ideas of which house chores you can ask your 36-month-old to help with. Most of them will be fun to do and will exercise his cognitive and physical skills as well!
• Pick up toys and putting them away
• Mix cake batter, just make sure your kid doesn’t lick the spoon when there’s raw eggs involved
• Shape cookie balls
• Place dirty clothes in the laundry bin
• Help sort color clothes and white clothes for washing
• Unload clothes from the dryer machine after they’ve cooled down
• Set placemats on the table
Just make sure that your kid has adult supervision, and you’re all set!

Growing together: your 3-year-old social and emotional development

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ book Caring for your baby and young child: birth to age 5 (2009), arriving at 36 months marks an important moment in your child’s social and emotional development. Around this age, you’ll notice that your daughter has already achieved many social milestones when compared to her social skills of last year. You will see how your kid will be very interested in interacting with other kids, instead of staying with you or play independently side-to-side with other kids. You might sense that your child has gotten better at tolerating frustration, ending temper tantrums or sharing with others. As her sense of self and identity grows, you’ll discover that your little one starts having specific playmates that she drifts towards as the first friendships start to arise.

This means great news for you! After the so-called “terrible twos”, you’ll probably have calmer playing sessions in your horizon! Although sometimes kids are able to solve conflicts with playmates on their own, keep encouraging her to engage in positive social behaviors, as this will prove enriching to your child’s emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills.

Friendship: an important part of my child’s socio-emotional development

Beyond being lots of fun and encourage imaginative and physical play, being friends with other kids and interacting with peers is an important building block for your preschooler’s social and emotional skills development. According to The University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service, having frequent experiences with other children can help your child learn how to handle social interactions and challenging, but normal, situations, like being fair, share, take turns, set and respect limits, arrive at a compromise, and cooperate with others.

Although for some kids making friends comes naturally, other children might need to experiment with some trial and error before feeling comfortable enough to make new friends. Be patient and supportive as your kid learns new social skills, and try to give helpful and positive feedback on his progress. Giving a bit of praise, smiling or hugging goes a long way with preschoolers!

Here are some of the recommendations made by the child psychologists authors of the book What to expect: The toddler years:
• Teach your kid social skills. Children that are friendly, take turns, show kindness and tolerate frustration, tend to make friends easily. Help your kid identify these behaviors and point them out when other’s do them.
• Show and tell. Be specific about the things that might make it easier to play with other kids or to make new friends. For example, if you instruct your kid to be nice with his playmates, show him that this means sharing or taking turns, smiling or saying “please” and “thank you”. If you tell your child that playing too harshly or being aggressive will push away other kids, explain how hitting or biting hurts and how it makes other kids sad. You can also use this as an opportunity to learn to apologize by saying “I’m sorry”.
• Model trust, support and consistency. Young kids learn their starter-pack of friendship skills from their relationships with mom, dad and siblings.
• Practice makes perfect. Children need to try out things by themselves in order to acquire new skills, so giving them the opportunity to practice making friends is essential.

The important role of visual-spatial skills in independent feeding

Pouring liquids on her own using both hands, or cutting her food and feeding herself using a fork involves much more than just having the required muscular strength and hand and finger coordination to hold a cup or pick up utensils. Beyond the physical skills, archiving independent feeding relies heavily on the visual-spatial ability of a child to process where the food and feeding utensils are in relation to the body, particularly the hands and mouth, and the coordination of movements needed to eat.

Between 3 and 4 years of age, kids are continuously developing their capacity to organize the information of what they see, interpret it according to the context of the environment and compare it with previous experiences, and integrate it efficiently in the body movements.

If your child is still young, you will notice how, in the beginning, she might err when evaluating how much force is needed to hold a fork in the hand, and either drop it alongside the food or have such a firm hold on it that moving becomes hard. Your kid might be very intent in eating independently, have a pretty good grasp of the spoon and nonetheless miss her mouth!

Considering the complex task your baby girl is undertaking, you can help her early on by offering finger foods to try and exercise her hand-eye coordination, have child-sized utensils and training cups or attachable bowls if possible. But most importantly, encourage your daughter to try and be as independent as possible and be very supportive and encouraging when you see she’s getting frustrated.

It’s never too early to reap the emotional benefits of exercise!

You may have noticed how the media has been reporting that in the past prekindergarten children would be seen running and engaging in physical play and activity all day long, and that this has changed in our digital era. There’s some truth to that! Data suggests that nowadays, unless kids are involved in sports, gymnastics, dance or other structured activities, they engage in little exercise during the day. Although many aspects of child-rearing have changed with the turn of the century, the benefits of engaging in physical activity surely haven’t! In fact, researchers continue to find more and more proof of its benefits, regardless of age. In this article, we’ll focus on how exercise is beneficial to the emotional skills of developing children.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend that children as young as 2 years old get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This daily time of moderate to vigorous activation doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get your kid to commit to an hour of running every day! You can go out for a walk, play throw and catch, have fun at a playground, dance to your favorite music, etc.

Here’s a list of some of the emotional benefits of doing physical activity every day:
• Helps them unwind and vent their frustration
• Strengthens their self-esteem and trust that they don’t need to be extremely good at a game to have lots of fun playing with others
• Encourages them to try different things, persevering when encountering a new task
• Boosts their confidence and their feelings of accomplishment and self-mastery
• Encourages cooperating with others, building personal relationships in a fun and structured context

Imaginary friends

You might be wondering why your child suddenly has an imaginary friend or why this fantastical company is still around now that your kid is old enough to start going on playdates. Why is she playing with an imaginary friend if there are so many real-life positive socializing opportunities daily?

First of all, having an imaginary friend is completely normal. In an article published in 2008 by the American Journal of Play, psychologists reviewed research interviews with children, from toddlers to second graders, and found that the creation of an imaginary friend is a healthy and common type of pretend play, in which children invent stories and characteristics about their imaginary pals that they are happy to share. Jacqueline Woolley of the University of Texas at Austin stated in her 1997 publication in the journal Child Development that, even though kids can get very involved in their play, research has found that having an imaginary companion doesn’t hinder nor compromises a developing child’s capacity to distinguish pretend from real. After all, being a young child is difficult and what little girl would turn down an opportunity to be accompanied by someone completely under her will, someone that is not a rival competing for her toys, attention of parents, food, and that is completely non-threatening and controllable?

Most of imaginary play-pals appear when a child is between 2 and 3 years old. Depending on the child, an imaginary friend might be ever-present around your kid or an occasional house-guest. Imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes: from a fairy-godmother to a giant red dog. They can be animal, adult, peer or a fantastical creature –imagination is the limit!

Children have imaginary friends for all sorts of reasons. One kid might use one to encounter his developing personality, as a safe way to explore emotions or as an outlet to express complicated feelings or words, while other kid might have one that acts as an alter-ego to test parents and limits, and place blame for misconducts. It might be that a child creates a pal that’s a perfect peer to keep him company or give extra moral support.

Marjorie Taylor is a leading psychology researcher of the Imagination Lab at the University of Oregon, and, since the 80s, she has been exploring the relationship between imaginary friends and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development. According to her book Imaginary companions and the children who create them, up to two thirds of children will have an imaginary friend between the ages of 3 and 8. Her research team has found only small statistically significant differences between kids with and without imaginary friends, but these differences are actually positive. Children with imaginary companions appear to be good at understanding the perspective of others, have a slightly larger vocabulary and seem to be less shy.

If you understand the importance of your child’s imaginary companion, but could use a few tips on how to react around it, here are some of the recommendations developmental psychologist Tracy Gleason, from Wellesley College, gives to parents:
• Don’t make fun of having an imaginary friend and avoid attracting negative attention to it.
• If your kid likes to report to you on her imaginary friend, tell you about their adventures together, about its likes and dislikes, or where it comes from, listen and be interested. An imaginary friend is often a way for children to participate in conversations where they are the experts on something.
• Be hospitable. Just like you would do in other cases of imaginary play, you can agree to say good morning to your daughter imaginary friend at breakfast if your daughter asks you, but inside the limits of what would be acceptable for pretend play.
• Remember that having an imaginary friend is not a cause for concern on its own, but if you notice your child appears unhappy or withdrawn, talk with your pediatrician about it or ask for a psychologist referral.

If you want to read more about this, here’s a link to a good article about imaginary friends by New York Magazine: