Ways to Encourage Early Writing

Preschool Kids Education

Before they are writing

There are lots of ways to encourage the skills that support writing from long before they are writing letters and words.

Fine motor activities – Starting in the first year, you can give activities that practice the pincer grasp and exercize the fingers. This is picking up small food like Cheerios or raisens. Later it is using tweezers, putting coins in a piggy bank, dress me dolls and playing with small manipulatives like bristles blocks and legos. This is making small balls with playdough and folding paper for planes and oragami.

Gross motor activities – This includes crawling, climbing and swimming, ball games, frisbee and gymnastics. This is anything that encourages strength, flexibility and coordination of their arms and hands.

Lots of art supplies and often – The goal is to encouarge a wide range of art supplies early and often. There is a different pencil grip and pencil pressure using thin v thick markers, crayons, pencils, dot art, roller art and paintbrushes. Spray bottles and hole punches build hand strength.

Writing props in play – If children are playing store, give them long paper for shopping lists and a notepad for writing reciepts. If they are playing office, give them a calendar for meetings and a legal pads for taking notes.

A writing supply drawer – By three and a half or four years old, it can be helpful to have a writing supply drawer or box separate from your other art supplies. This might have list paper, notebook paper, staitionary, pens and pencils.

Other writing activities – In preschool this includes maze books, dot to dot books, color wonder, stencils and scratch paper. In elementary school this includes tracing paper, spirograph, invisible ink books and

Encourage new positions – When they are coloring with crayons, you can encourage them to color sitting at a table, laying on the floor, standing at an easel, or under the table with the paper taped to the underside. Each position gives a new view on arm and hand position, pencil grip and pencil pressure.

Once they are writing

Once they are writing letters and words, the goal is to encourage writing often.

Give them jobs – There are several fun jobs that encourage writing. The list maker writes all the shopping and activity lists. The navigator draws maps or traces the route on an actual map for car trips. The historian keep a journal of family activities. The mailcarrier writes postcards to grandparents weekly.

Notebooks, journals and diaries – Especially over the summer months it can be helpful to encourage writing daily. This might be easiest with a dated journal or diary. It may also be helpful to keep a writing notebook and pencil in the car.

Writing prompts – For young children this might be having them draw a picture and then tell or write a story to go with it. As they are older this might be giving them a starting story line or topic and encouraging them to write the rest.

Book making activities – You can make a book with a few pages of paper, a pencil, crayons and a stapler.

The more writing and other academic supplies, visit: Lakeshore, Kaplan, Discount School Supplies and Community Playthings

 

 

 

Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom From Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says “Who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “How was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “Fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and “How did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and “Did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and “How did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let him be your banker. Let him count the money to and from cashiers. A seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A v plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down in to smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

Are we together too much?

happy child girl with a kite running on meadow in summer

Tips for Creating Space in a Family

“I feel like I am disciplining my children way more often than my mother had to discipline me.” I hear this often. It may be that we, as families, are just together too much. Or at least together way more than we were with our families growing up.

Aging myself here, I was a child in the 1970s. Summers and weekends we were outside, playing in the neighborhood and riding bikes to the park at 6 years old with lots of other neighborhood kids. There were long days when my mom would say, just after breakfast, “Go find someone to play with,” which meant, “Go knock on neighbors doors until you find something to do.” We’d be out until a late lunch and then often out again until dinner. When I was inside, my mother was often busy with cleaning house, cooking or grad school. She was rarely playing with me.

I am not saying to put your kids outside for the day after breakfast and let them fend for themselves at 6 years old. I get it doesn’t work that way anymore. If your kid were out there, they’d be out there alone and likely CPS would take issue. And it’s good to play with your kids.

I am saying our kids are underfoot, they are indoors and often stuck with siblings for much longer stretches. They have constant supervision until much later ages. This shift means more discipline and more sibling conflicts. It means more pressure to provide structured activities and classes. It means arranging more playdates.

  • Encourage independent play – By 3 years old a child should be able to occupy their own time for about 20 minutes. By five years old maybe 45 minutes to an hour. If your child isn’t able to do this they may need more practice. During the summers in preschool and elementary school my girls had 30 minutes each day to go to any room in the house to play alone. Some days one was the playroom the other in the living room, other days each others’ bedrooms. It wasn’t that they were in trouble, it was a time for everyone to have a bit of space. For older children, this might be having an independent reading time each day in the summer. Here is a blog post with lots of helpful ideas to encourage independent play.
  • Think downtime daily – Downtime is truly unstructured and relaxed time. This can be when they are busy with independent play. It can be time playing with siblings or time to just look out the window or hang out with the dog. It’s not time on screens and it’s not time directed by you. The American Academy of Pediatrics would like children to have at least an hour of downtime a day three through ten years old.
  • Have more long term projects – To encourage downtime and independent play as children are a little older, it may be helpful to have a few long term projects available. This might be a large jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table, model kits, building sets they are allowed to leave out, latch hook rugs or big fuzzy posters to color.
  • Get them outside often – There is so much more space outside. The playground, the park, a walk in the neighborhood, the field behind your house, county parks, the woods. I get you are going to trail along at least for a while. There is so much benefit to spending time outside and in nature.  A good parenting book is Last Child in the Woods by Louv.
  • Take them to the playground and plan to sit on a bench for some of the time – Once they are able to manage the playground equipment, it is fine to take stretches to sit on a bench and watch from a distance rather than follow them around the playground. Yes, it’s good to play with them, it’s just also good to give them some space.
  • The backyard – When they are young, this might be sitting out in the backyard with a good book while they play nearby. As they are older and you feel comfortable, this is letting them outside on their own.
  • Plan playdates then strive for less supervision – So this one may backfire. Invite a friend over and you may need to supervise more. The hope is you find a few friends who get along very well with your child for 1:1 playdates and schedule them more often. Here is a blog post all about playdates.
  • Give them a chance to work things out on their own – When children have conflicts with friends at any age, it is good to let them try to work it out. Even toddlers might surprise you with their ability to give a turn or help another child. It’s helpful to keep an eye on things and if it starts to go South, you can intervene. Under three years old you are likely making the decisions, walking them through ways to solve. As they get older, it’s helpful to gradually do less. This might be helping them brainstorm solutions or giving a few suggestions. The goal is to support them learning to work it out on their own and they can’t do that if you continue to solve things for them. Give them some room.
  • Give siblings a break from each other – This might be the daily play times listed above. You could have each invite a playdate over and then play with their friends on separate levels of the house. It might be having individual outings with each parent regularly. You might have them work on homework in separate rooms.
  • Give privacy when they ask – At some point most children close the door when they use the bathroom or sleep and ask the bathe separate from siblings. The idea is to plan to give them privacy when they ask for it. As long as you feel they are safe and old enough, step out.
  • Their bedroom is their space in the house – This includes letting them pick the paint and the decoration as young as you can tolerate. As they are in middle school or high school this might be letting them keep their room how they’d like to keep their room. You can insist on a deep clean once a month, in between maybe just close the door.
  • Good to have some boundaries for your own privacy – When they are little privacy is often unheard of, they follow you in the bathroom and basically sit on top of you on the couch. It is fine to teach them about personal space and request it as needed.
  • Still set smart limits on screen time – I get that handing them a screen, your phone or a tablet is an easy way to buy you some time but it comes at a cost. Do this often or for long stretches and their time on screens may skyrocket. Here is a link to four articles that outline the current screen time limits offered by the AAP.
  • Have hobbies and other interests – It’s healthy for everyone in the family to have outside interests. If you’ve lost your time for that, finding it again will give everyone a bit of space.

Things to Consider When Giving Your Child a Cellphone

Group Of Young Children Hanging Out In Playground

How and when to give a child a cell phone of their own is a big decision for parents. The bulk of the research suggests that the less screen time children have the better. The American Academy of pediatrics suggests having a family plan with set limits on screen use. Giving them a cell phone is putting a screen, often with a camera and the internet in their pocket. Setting limits becomes that much more challenging.

I’ve met three year olds who have their own phones and tablets. That ownership seems young by any standards. In the United States about 10% of children have their own phone by five years old and 65% by ten to twelve years old. As a mom I wanted my children to be able to call home without having to ask permission when they started riding with other families often and spending the night away from home. This made sense to me at 12 years old, around 7th grade. Whenever you decide, here are a few things to consider:

  • Start with a limited phone – Our girls each started with a talk and text phone only for the first two years.
  • The phone belongs to the parent – We made this really clear from the beginning. We own the phone and are sharing it with them. It was understood that we’d check on their phone use, their calls and their texting once in a while. It isn’t an invasion of privacy if it’s part of the plan.
  • Only connect with people you know in real life – This rule applied to talk, text and chat in the beginning. It applies to Facebook and Snapchat now. It doesn’t apply to Twitter and Instagram but we had a talk to make that decision as a family.
  • Talk directly about inappropriate talk, texts and pictures – If they are old enough to have a cellphone, they are old enough to have these conversations. Make your expectations and limits clear.
  • Good to get permission to add apps or have accounts – It’s helpful to be clear about what apps and accounts they may have and the need for having permission before they add new ones.
  • Smart to have apps and accounts where they do – You don’t have to be connected to them directly (don’t have to be their friend or follower) BUT smart to know how each works and what’s available there. I was mildly surprised by what’s available on Instagram.
  • Healthy to set daily screen free times and places – In our house this is all mealtimes, school hours and homework time unless it is specifically required.
  • Set a daily time to turn off – In our house this is 9:00pm on week nights and 11:30pm on weekends and vacations.
  • Safe to hold onto the NOT in their bedrooms rule – When families first started having desk top computers, a common rule was to not have the computer in a child’s room. For safety and for healthy sleep, this rule remains a good one for all screens.
  • Fine for child to be responsible for part or all of this – Some families decide to have their child pay for some or all of their phone service. Other families add weekly chores in exchange for the phone.
  • Either way, discuss staying within data limits and plan if they go over – Helpful that everyone know what the limits are, how to stay in and what happens (who pays) if anyone goes over.
  • Of course, important to consider the individual child – This includes how well they follow rules and meet expectations, how responsible they are with belongings and how much difficulty they having managing peer pressure and social conflicts.

 

 

When a 2 Year Old Hits

Asian Chinese little sisters struggle for blocks

This may be a two year old being aggressive with their older siblings or a child in a two’s program hitting classmates. I tend to think there are three (long run, four) parts to the answer:

Coach being gentle

  1. You might read Hands are Not for Hitting by Aggasi, No Hitting by Katz, No More Hitting for Little Hamster by Ford and Baby Be Kind by Fletcher.
  2. You can teach “Hands down,” by playing Simon Says and every third or fourth direction be “Simon says, ‘hands down,'” and encouraging them to put their hands by their sides. Then play Freeze Dance with the direction “hands down” when the music stops.
  3. You can provide a visual cue by taking a picture of them with their hands down by their sides and show this to them when you remind them to “keep your hands down.” This might be a reminder in general when they go to play or your warning language if you see the behavior coming.
  4. You might practice a “gentle touch” or “nice touch” when you greet each other.
  5. Be sure to praise occasionally when they remember to be gentle “You gave your friend a nice hug. That was gentle!”
  6. You might show and tell them about ways to give high fives, shake hands, give a gentle hug or hold hands and praise when they do it gently.

Coach the triggers – The first step to being able to coach triggers is to identify them. It may be helpful to keep notes about the aggressive behaviors for a few days, be sure to note what sparked the behavior. This might be being told “no,” having to share toys, getting the wrong color cup or rough house play that went too far. Coaching out of the moment might be role playing related scenarios, giving puppet show, drawing a picture of it going well, providing a visual cue or reading related children’s storybooks. Here is a post about coaching wanted behaviors. The goal of coaching is to encourage wanted behaviors over time.

It may be helpful to listen to our free online workshop on coaching wanted behaviors.

Discipline in the moment

  1. A little attention to the victim first – Avoid looking at or talking first to the child who was just aggressive. Look and speak to the other saying something like, “I am so sorry. Are you okay?” or “Ouch, that hurts! Do you need a hug?”
  2. As a parent I tend to think the next step should be a logical negative consequence. Logical negative consequences are an imposed, related outcome. If they hit over a toy, they lose the toy for a time. If they push for a particular seat on the couch, they are off the couch today. If there was no context, just a drive by, you might have them separate. This may be playing in another room or sitting out for a turn.
  3. Once this is served, good to either good back with a sentence of emotion or better choices. Also helpful to make a mental note of the trigger so you can coach later.

The fourth, long run answer is coaching emotion language and empathy. I say long run because two year olds aren’t expected to have much in the way of emotion language and a very limited sense of others. While they are not well versed, good to include emotion language and impact on others in the moment. This would be “I know you are frustrated. You wanted that toy.” and “Wow, your friend is sad. Grabbing his toy made him feel sad.” Out of the moment, helpful to coach these things as well.

With all of this, remember you are talking to a two year old. This means when you are coaching or disciplining you get a few short sentences.

 

Positive Discipline Language: It’s Easier Than You Think

Kids playing with toy trains

Many parents assume that learning the language of positive discipline is a difficult task. Really, it’s not that hard. Good preschool and elementary school teachers are in and out of this language all day long. It’s like learning any new set of language rules; take a new job and you are likely learning new language. It just takes your attention and practice.

For this introduction to the language we’ll use the example, “Your child wants a toy another child is playing with. Your child grabs the toy and runs away screaming.”

Proactive techniques – These are ways to encourage the wanted behaviors to happen more often.

  • Descriptive praise – When it goes well, this is describing the behavior and giving it a label. “You waited for a turn. That was so patient.”
  • Positive directions – This is avoiding directions that start with “no,” “don’t” and “stop.” It means telling children what to do rather than what not to do. For this example, it’s avoiding “no grabbing,” and “don’t grab.” It would be saying “ask for a turn,” or “wait for a turn.”

Foundation steps – These are techniques to use on the way into a discipline exchange. They are not meant to change behavior, more to allow emotions, keep communication open and lessen the defensiveness of the listener.

  • I messages – I messages give parents a productive way to share their emotion and lay blame. This would be, “I’m frustrated, people are grabbing,” or “He’s upset, he wants that back.” I messages are your emotion or the victim child’s emotion and then either global, “people are grabbing” or passive “he wants that back” blame.
  • Empathy – This is acknowledging your child’s emotion. Even when it is big for the situation or seems unreasonable. This might be, “I know you are frustrated, it can be hard to wait.”
  • Positive intent – Is the good or just valid reason behind the behavior. For grabbing a toy, it’s as simple as “I know you really wanted that.” This is not to excuse the behavior away, it’s more a starting point for now dealing with the behavior. It’s a way better starting point than the negative intent, “you are such a rude, mean kid.”

Active steps – These are techniques to change or start behavior. They are often a distraction in to the behavior.

  • Choices – In general, you give a child two choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. In this case it might be “do you want to give that back or would you like me to give that back,” or “would you like to play with this or this while you wait?” If they didn’t take it yet, “do you want to ask for a turn or do you want my help?”
  • Challenges – This is making it a race or a game in some way, “can you give it back before I count to 3?” For this example it’s not so attractive but for others this is often helpful.
  • Contribution – A contribution means giving them a related job title or a responsibility. It might be offering the child to be the time keeper or list maker (if there are others waiting for a turn).

End Steps – These techniques are meant to curb behavior. There are a lot of variables to consider between each of these including the age of the child, the level and history of the behavior and fit of each consequence.

  • Natural consequences – This is what just might happen in life. In this case, “if you are grabbing toys, he might not want to play with you.”
  • Logical positive consequences – This is the good related outcome for the wanted behavior. Best if this is matched in time, intensity and topic. “If you can give the toy back, I will help you to get the next turn.”
  • Logical negative consequences – This is the bad related outcome for the unwanted behavior. Best if this is matched in time, intensity and topic. “If you grab the toy again, you may not play with it today.”

The foundation, active and end steps combine to make what are called the Steps of Positive Discipline. This gives parents a framework for moving through any discipline exchange. It starts with techniques to calm emotions and open communication, moves to ways to guide behaviors and ends with ways to curb. The steps are a flexible process meant to address everything from running in the house to hitting a friend.

This language came out of the work of Alfred Adler in the early 1900s, Rudolf Dreikurs in the 1930s and Haim Ginott in the 1960s. STEP classes (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) became popular in the 1970s and 1980s and continue to be viewed today. Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline books have been popular and revised since the 1980s.

Dr. Rene Hackney offers workshops in Northern Virginia. She also has online workshops, answers questions on facebook (Tuesdays at 10:00pm) and shares this language on youtube.

Transitions Can be Easier

scold

There are so many transitions built into a family’s day. For children this may include the shift to getting dressed, leaving the house, stopping play or finishing projects, cleaning up, coming to the table for meals, going upstairs for bath, settling in bed for sleep. All of these steps can have small transitions within. It is a lot.

Real and consistent warning – Most children transition better when given warnings. It is helpful to use the same language and mean the same amount of time for each warning. When my girls were younger I said “We are done in five minutes, finish up,” and “One more minute, do your last thing.” When I said this I was also sure to mean five minutes meant five minutes. If sometimes it meant two minutes because I was in a hurry and sometimes it meant twenty minutes because I got distracted, the warnings weren’t as helpful. Even before children can tell time, the consistency is helpful.

Additional cues – It can be helpful to build in additional cues. This might be a visual cue like flipping the lights, a physical cue like a transition high-five or an auditory cue like ringing a bell. This is just another consistent signal it’s time for a transition.

Proximity – If you child tends to ignore or run away at the start of transitions, it can be helpful to stand beside them or even hold their hand just before the transition starts.

Empathy (and limit as needed) – This would be saying, “I’m sorry you are frustrated and it’s time to go upstairs.” When you acknowledge emotions, emotions tend to calm. It’s often helpful to state the limit in a calm way.

Positive directions – This is a reminder to state your directions in the positive. This is saying “Come back and clean up the toys,” rather than “Stop running around.” Here is a full post about positive directions.

Ask their plan or their first step – Asking how they are going to get started  can help a child focus on the task and move forward.

Build in choices, challenges and contribution – For going upstairs choices would be, “do you want to walk or crawl upstairs” or “do you want to brush teeth first or change into pajamas when you get upstairs?” Challenges would be, “let’s race up stairs. Ready, go!” Contribution would be, “I need a toothpaste squeezer.”

Focus on the good in the next thing – Want your child to stop playing, go upstairs and take a bath? You might focus on how many bubbles they can make with the bubble bath or which toys they’d like to play with in the tub.

Give descriptive praise when it goes well – This would be “You listened the first time. That is helpful!” or “You went upstairs so fast. You were super speedy!” You want to reinforce this behavior so describe the behavior and give it a label. Here is a full post about descriptive praise.

A post on better clean-up times

A post on better morning routines

A post on better bedtime routines

 

 

When a Child has to be FIRST or be BEST at Everything

Little brother and sister running

It’s fairly common for children to go through a phase of needing to be first or best at everything.This might be first to get out of the car or touch the front door. It might be best at running fast or writing letters. This push varies widely with some way more than others and boys often more than girls. It tends to start around 4 years old and hopefully subsides for most by 7 or 8.

As difficult as this phase can be, it is at least partly stemming from a good place. As children grow they are gradually developing a sense of self. For two year olds the focus is ‘who am I in this family?’ For three and four year olds it is ‘what am I good at, what do I like?’ For four and five year olds it’s ‘and how do I rank with those around me?’ When you have a bunch of five year olds moving through a phase of ranking themselves against each other, there is bound to be some competition.

A child’s self esteem has its foundation partially in a growing sense of competence. As children learn new skills and rise to face new challenges, the outcome is a bolstered sense of self. Children often feel proud of their new skills, as they should. This pride and the language that comes with it may also increase the comparisons.

What to Do 

Start with empathy often – When children are emotional, empathy is so often the best place to start. For this it might be “I know you are frustrated. You really wanted to be first.” This is before any coaching, limit or discipline.

Refocus on effort, fun or friendship – You might comment on how hard they are working, how much fun the game was or how they are making so many new friends.

Refocus on individual skill building and practice – If they are frustrated from being third, you might follow empathy with, “I know you like to run fast. We can practice running in the backyard.”

Avoid pointing out they are better than others – This would be saying, “I know you lost to John but you were faster than Eric.” This heightens the focus on competition.

Avoid pointing out other strengths – This might be “You may not be as fast as him but you draw really well.” This is just agreeing your child is slow and again it’s competitive.

Solve it – Especially between siblings, in the long run you might want to make a rule with the goal of ending the debate. Some families do odd and even days, on odd days one child goes first at everything and makes all the decisions on even days the other. Some families have bracelet days meaning whoever is wearing the bracelet is first and makes decisions and the bracelet is passed daily.

Can be helpful to highlight practice – It is good for children to realize that practice and effort are the ways to get better at just about everything. The more they practice at or learn about something the better they will be and more confident they will feel.

Give cooperative challenges – Over time it can be helpful to give cooperative challenges. Between siblings better to say “Let’s see if you can help each other get dressed before me,” so they are working together. Rather than saying “Let’s see who can get dressed first,” so they are hating each other while they get dressed. If it’s a rush to touch the door first, it is stopping them and challenging to touch the door with their noses at the same second. There are a few books for cooperative effort ideas: Everybody Wins: 150 Non-Competitive Games for Kids by MacGregor and Everybody Wins: 393 Non-Competitive Games for Young Children by Sobel.

Focus good sportsmanship – Rather than focusing on winning and being first, focus your parenting language on being a good sport, a team player. It may be helpful to suggest language each time and help them to be that good sport for a while.

Encourage them to cheer for others, be happy for others – Being a good sport includes handling loosing in a good way. This is as small as managing when they don’t touch the front door first when running from the car. This may take lots of review. It’s saying things like “good job,” or “wow, you were fast,” to the other child. It might be easiest to introduce this when they aren’t involved in the competition. This would be cheering as a spectator at their siblings soccer game.

Encourage being nice when they are first too – Being a good sport equally includes winning well. Kids who are pressed to be first may go overboard when they beat others. This can be as little as giving a high five or saying “that was fun!”

Focus on teamwork rather than individual – May be helpful to focus your parenting language on teamwork, cooperation and the benefits of working together. This may include referring to your family as a team. You might point out one way each day that various family members are helping or cooperating with each other. With other children, it may be helpful to remind them they are friends and to think about at least one thing they like about the other.

Teach children to compete with their own personal best – If it’s running, point out that they are faster or they ran farther or than they did before. Again, helpful to focus on their effort, progress and practice.

Start teaching to win and lose at games and sports – Being comfortable with winning and losing at games and sports can carry over towards this push to be the first or the best. Here is a post about learning to manage that competition.

Teachers: How to Answer Young Children’s Questions and Concerns About Stressful Community Events

sad or bored little school girl

Stressful events in the life of a child can include community stressors like the DC sniper shootings, our country making a declaration of war or a stock market crash. These community stressors impact the child based on how much they impact the child’s parents and how much information is being shared with the child, often either through news media or overhearing conversations. There are also family stressors like a parent losing a job or parents separating. There are also child stressors such as someone being mean to them on the playground often or the child switching classes unexpectedly. This post is about how teachers can best address children’s questions and concerns about community stressors.

Because of our Northern Virginia location, the immigration changes that happened this weekend and the political changes that may continue to happen over the next few years are likely to impact many of our families in unpredictable ways. While the hope is that parents will protect their young children from the news media (preschool through third grade at least), occasionally they don’t, children overhear or sense the stress. Children may have questions or make comments at school. Here a few guidelines to help manage when there is a community stressor. These are the same guidelines regardless of the specific stressor.

  • These topics should NOT be brought up as a discussion topic by the teacher to an individual or group of young children. This includes teachers speaking to each other about these topics when children are present.
  • If a child brings up the topic
  1. Listen fully to their comment or question
  2. It is best to start with providing empathy
  3. You may then:
    1. Add a comment that shows you understand them
    2. Answer their question is a small and honest way. This means answer only the question asked, in age appropriate language and without taking sides
    3. OR Let them know this is a good question to discuss with their mom and dad. Let them know that you will write their question or concern down and share it with their parents
  4. Provide reassurance
  • In the case of the immigration changes, if a child is just concerned:

“I can tell you are worried about that. Do you have any questions about what happened?”

Or “So you heard that people got stuck at an airport? You seem worried. I think it would be a good idea to let your mom know that you are worried. We can do that together at pick up.”

  • If a child asks questions:

“You heard that this weekend and now you have questions.”

“Some grown ups make the rules about how all grown ups can travel. This weekend some of those rules changed and you are right, a few people were stuck at the airport. They are safe and many people are helping solve the problem.” This would be answering the question in a small and honest way without taking sides.

  • Finishing all of the above would be saying something to reassure them that their school is safe, that this is all between grown ups who will work together to solve the confusion. Reassurance can also be that this is not about children at all.
  • However the conversation goes, be sure to jot down notes after and let parents know either at pick up or by phone.

Other Guidelines About Community Stress and Young Children

Encourage any parents to avoid all news media when their young children are present. This means no television, radio or internet when children can see or hear it. Parents should also avoid having stressful conversations about these types of issues in front of their young children.

It is helpful for parents know that they both set the emotional landscape and are the gatekeepers to the amount of information their young children have. The hope is parents can find calm and reassuring ways to speak with their children and limit the amount of information to a few basic sentences to address their concerns.

In the preschool years community or family stress can cause changes in social behavior (level of outgoing, tantrums, testing behaviors, golden behaviors), sleep patterns, eating patterns, regression in speech and bathrooming changes. Children may have nightmares or may develop new fears such as being scared of the dark or of dogs when they weren’t before.

Young children need relaxed play time, time with caring and relaxed adults, typical routines and schedules, bedtime routines and time to talk as needed. Between preschool through third grade, it is most important for parents to keep naptime and bedtime routines and schedules intact. A stressed family is never better with an exhausted child.

Parents should let their children’s questions be the guide for how much information the child needs.

Leaving Children Home Alone

Cute girl with long hair sitting alone near window

My girls were 7 and 10 years old when I decided to leave them home alone for the first time. They were excited and slightly concerned so we spent about 40 minutes talking through the details about where I’d be, how long I’d be gone, what they could and couldn’t do, how to contact me and emergency phone numbers. I was going to the store about a mile away to pick up one thing and would be gone for about 15 minutes. After all of the rules and ways to be in touch, they decided they were going to sit on the couch, watch tv and not move. While they did sit together and not move, they were thrilled with themselves when I got home.

The decision to start leaving your child home alone is a big one. There are several things to consider. The first would be your child’s own comfort level. It makes no sense to leave a scared child home alone. The next would be their age and maturity level. Here are the current age guidelines for being left home alone in Fairfax County, Virginia:

Fairfax County’s Child Supervision Guidelines by Age

7 years and under:
Should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.

8 to 10 years:
Should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.

11 to 12 years:
May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.

13 to 15 years:
May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.

16 to 17 years:
May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).

Fairfax County adds that given the age guidelines, it is up to the parent to make a judgement about the child’s emotional and behavioral readiness and ability to manage medical or other issues. They reiterate the child should feel comfortable alone, have a way to contact parents or another trusted adult, an awareness of what to do in emergencies, and guidelines for acceptable behavior.

I would add that you consider rules about eating, food prep, the phone, answering the door,cooperating with each other and staying indoors.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides additional guidelines: .

You might also read Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker. It is a parenting book about teaching children personal safety and has a valuable chapter on leaving children home alone.

It is also important to know that local and state age guidelines for being left alone vary in the United States from this 8 year old minimum to a 14 year old minimum.

So all that said, I look at these guidelines not just as minimums but as goals. If you have an 8 to 10 year old and haven’t left them home alone, good to at least start preparing them. If you haven’t, consider why not and work on those things. Start having conversations about it, practice being in different areas of the house for longer stretches, encourage your child to make their own lunch or get themselves completely ready for bed on their own occasionally. You might encourage your child to make more daily decisions for themselves.

Many children are still getting car keys at 16 years old and leaving home for college at 18. To be really ready for these things they need practice at being home alone, at handling situations, making decisions and at caring for themselves. At some point they need practice at being independent in public places as well. Car keys at 16 is free run of the east coast (sorry dad) and it makes no sense going completely supervised at 14 years old to free run two years later.

As a reminder, in 1979 first grade readiness guidelines included your child being able to navigate 4 to 8 blocks of their neighborhood. I get it was a different time. If your first grader were out roaming the neighborhood now, they’d be the only kid out there which isn’t safe.

The idea now is to start when they are young and make slow and steady progress towards them being fully independent. Staying home alone is an important piece of that process.

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