Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Gifts for young children

Many of us went shopping this past weekend, hunting for bargains and purchasing gifts for Christmas presents. If you have not finished picking out gifts for the little ones in your life, you may enjoy and benefit from today’s column.
Many of the toys on the market that are advertised on television are toys that will have no lasting play value. These are the toys that come from the most recent children's movie or television show. They leave little to the child's imagination. Their play value is only in re-creating scenes from the story that a child has already seen.
What toys do have lasting value? What toys give children the opportunity to use and develop their own imagination? What toys are handed down from one generation to the next?
My top choices for gifts are books, blocks, and puzzles. A gift of a book goes farther than just the story in the book. It gives time to cuddle with mom or dad; it places value on reading and learning; and it builds enjoyment of language and the written word. A gift of a set of blocks gives the child time to imagine through his own creativity, gives concrete practice with math skills, and gives children opportunities to work out social interactions. Puzzles are lovely to hold and feel the outline of shapes that fit together. They build confidence and concentration as a child completes the puzzle over and over.
These kinds of toys are handed down from one generation to the next. They are not based upon the most current movie nor the most current fad in child development. They are lovely, lasting gifts.


We’re Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole,*
Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole,*
Making all the Christmas Toys**
For Santa to bring to the girls and boys.***
Oh we’re Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole
Busy, busy elves.

Wrapping all the gifts,*
Wrapping them up with ribbons and bows*,*
For Santa to take them when he goes.***

Loading up the sleigh,*
With cars and trucks and dolls and bears,**
The sleigh is now ready to fly in the air.***

Tune: Little White Duck

Monday, November 28, 2011

Three additional strategies for Kindness and Empathetic Children

In the past two weeks we have been talking about how to raise kind and empathetic children. We have learned that being kind ourselves and showing empathy for our child’s feelings are the only real way this can happen. However, if we have not been parented that way ourselves, it is a challenge to actively change our own behavior, consistently behaving the way we would like to. To do this, we have to turn off the automatic responses in our own behavioral repertoire and insert well thought out responses and activities in their place. 
Here are three strategies we can practice: 1) We can support our children’s natural compassionate behavior; 2) We can teach children what to do when they are angry; and 3) We can organize a “caring” project for our family.  The following are some examples of these three strategies for preschoolers.
1) Children are naturally compassionate. When we see our little one do something nice, we need to recognize the value of their behavior. “I feel so proud of you when you help your little brother by picking up the toy he dropped. You are such a kind brother.” 
2) Children can learn how to keep themselves in check when they identify their feelings. Many of us have strategies for keeping ourselves from saying something we didn’t mean to say. The first step is in identifying the feeling of anger and giving it a name. As we see or sense our young child becoming angry we can help him identify his feelings. “Tommy, tell daddy, ‘I’m angry. I want to play outside now!’” Of course, we are not going to reinforce anger by quickly taking Tommy outside. The best response is to use empathy, “I know you want to go outside right now. I’m sorry, we can’t do that, but I am very glad you could tell me. Tomorrow after breakfast we will go outside.” By doing this, we teach our children to talk about feelings such as anger without physically acting out our anger. 
3) Children enjoy participating in projects with their family. Tommy can help packing a special box to mail to grandma that includes one of his toys or drawings. He can help shovel the walkway of your elderly neighbor. He can help carry a meal to a sick or grieving family. Any time children are included in altruistic activities, they learn how good it feels to do good.


I’m thankful for mama
I’m thankful for papa
I’m thankful for family
I’m thankful for me.

I’m thankful for my grandma
I’m thankful for my puppy
I’m thankful for my nice toys
I’m thankful for me.

This lovely little song is augmented with the use of sign language for the word thankful, mama, papa, family, and me.
In the second verse use children’s choices of what they are thankful for.  Being thankful is a difficult concept for preschoolers.  Using this song many times before Thanksgiving will help give meaning to this concept.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kindness and Empathy--Three Strategies

This week we are looking at three strategies to teach kindness and empathy to the two to five year old. These strategies build very naturally upon the work we have done with our infant which was to read the emotional cues and add our words in empathizing with our infant. The three strategies for this week are 1) continue empathizing with the emotional cues our preschooler gives and adding our words to our child’s experience; 2) give our child practice in understanding and imagining the feelings of others from books or television; and 3) help our child remember similar experiences and feelings in their own lives.
1) When families move from one home to another, the stress is felt by everyone. Especially challenging is the stress felt by our toddler because of the lack of power they have over a scary situation that they cannot begin to fully comprehend. One little girl, fully potty trained stood in the midst of her once familiar living room surrounded by moving boxes. With a look of great unhappiness, she peed on the floor. What could the mother’s response be in this situation? If she is terribly stressed herself, she may not be able to empathize with her daughter’s feelings. However the very best response is to put comforting words to the child’s experience. “Oh honey, this moving business is hard for you. It must feel scary having all your nice toys packed away in these boxes. Let’s clean up and have a little cuddle and we’ll talk about how we are feeling.”
2) There are a great many wonderful books for preschoolers which give voice to the feelings children are experiencing. The ‘Little Critter’ book series by Mercer Mayer includes many books about feelings: sad, angry, or scared. There are also books in this series which put the Little Critter in relationships with members of his family where these feelings occur. These books give us an opportunity to discuss feelings when the feeling is not overpowering to the child at the moment, “How would you feel if you were the Little Critter and your friends teased you?”
3) Another great strategy to teach kindness and empathy is to use cuddling times with your child and ‘remember’ events in your child’s life that you can help your child remember and relate to others in his or her experience. “Do you remember when we visited your big cousins and they would not let you play the game they were playing? Do you remember how badly you felt when you were left out? Do you think Susie feels that way when you and Katie play together without her?” This strategy is so much more helpful to the development of kindness and empathy than the strategy of telling children. “You had better share with your baby brother!—or else!” Next week I will close this important discussion with 3 more strategies to teach our children to be kind and empathetic.

A turkey is a funny bird
His head goes wobble, wobble.
And all he says is just one word,
“Gobble, gobble, gobble”

Hold head with hands and wobble it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kindness and Empathy

My apologies for not posting these two blogs on time--in line with the column in the Ladysmith News.  Although, I will be 'cramming' in three posts in the next three days, I am plunging ahead because the topic is so very important.
In these weeks before Thanksgiving, we will talk about raising kind and empathetic children. Doing this goes beyond raising a child who mimics the words, ‘thank you’ when prompted by a parent or teacher.
I have often heard parents say things like “pet the puppy nicely”, or “be gentle with the baby”. However to teach children to be kind and empathetic, we need to begin with kindness and empathy toward our own children and each other.
Mothers of infants begin right after birth to read the emotional cues and empathize with their infant. You may hear a mom saying to her fussy baby, “Your tummy hurts, what can I do to help you. Does it feel good when I move your little legs up and down?”
You can do this all the time with your infant: putting your words in place of the cues baby gives you. Here is an example of empathizing with a 3-month-old who is beginning to smile and laugh. “You are so happy! Did you like it when Daddy blew raspberries on your cute, little belly? So fun. Do it again, Daddy!”
Later in development when your one-year-old is screaming because his favorite food has fallen out of his reach onto the floor, you can put words to his feelings and give him a strategy for coping, “What happened? Timmy’s cookie fell on the floor and he is angry. Tell daddy, I’m mad! I need a new cookie.” In this example the parent is responsible for both sides of the conversation.  He says what Timmy might say if he could talk, and he tells Timmy that daddy understands the dilemma and will help
What did Timmy learn by this experience? He learned that his dad has empathy for his feelings about the loss of the cookie. What if dad did something else? What if dad heard Timmy screaming and simply gave Timmy a new cookie. What would Timmy learn by this? He still may learn that dad is kind and will give him a new cookie. However, he could also learn that if he screams he gets rewarded. The most appropriate response gives Timmy a rich interchange of language and empathy that will help him take the next step in his own development as a kind and empathetic human being.


Great big turkey
Great big turkey
Hear him gobble
Watch him wobble.
Running all around
Making such a sound
Great big turkey
Great big turkey.

tune:  Frere Jacques
Pantomime motions