Category Archives: Social & Emotional

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: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1529J.pdf

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.

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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.