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.

What to do When Children Bicker in the Car

Autofahrt

My children are now teenagers and we still occasionally have this. Here are several ways to solve:

Settle specifics – In our house it has always been the music. Settling specifics means coming up with a full, solid and publicly agreed upon plan for repeat conflicts. For a few years our plan was structured around whoever was in the front seat picked first and on commercial breaks, control alternated. At some point a great debate started about what constituted a commercial break so we restructured. You might have a simpler plan like following odd/even days. On odd days one child makes all those decisions and on even days the other child.

Bring supplies and BOOKS – Stock the car with things to keep them busy. This might be magazines, notebooks and pens, magnet games, car bingo. Once children are reading, car rides provide an opportunity for them to really get into their stories. I remember reading whole novels on our trips to and from the grandparents house each year.

Give them something to listen to – Their music is a great place to start. Books on tape can be a helpful way to engage them. You might find these using the Audible app or at your public library. Listening with individual earphones might cut down on the bickering. Giving them just noise reduction earphones or earplugs while they color, play with their magnets or read and it might also reduce the bickering.

Play games – You might keep them busy with games like the Alphabet game or Find the States game. Here are a few links for car game ideas: Best Car Games for Kids, Fun Car Games and Moms Minivan.

Sing alongs – Car rides are a perfect time for sing alongs. This might be to your children’s favorite CDs or teach them songs you know. I lean towards campfire songs and patriotic songs. Sadly, your children might not learn them otherwise.

Conversation starters – There are several companies that make question boxes. This includes Melissa and Doug, Table Talk and American Girl’s box of questions. These are a great way to start conversations that encourage everyone to participate.

Give them elbow room – It may be helpful to seat them farther apart. If you have a third row, consider moving one of them back there. Once the oldest is 13 years old, they might move to the front seat.

Put up dividers – When all else fails, divide and conquer. For about 6 months when I was in elementary school, my dad set a huge cooler in between us in the back seat. I couldn’t even see my brother let alone bicker with him. Cardboard might be easier.

Stop the car – When all else fails, fine to pull the car over and wait. Doesn’t help any if stopping the car is an empty threat. You’ve got to really pull over and wait them out. All the better if you are headed somewhere for them. My dad did this right before the cooler.

 

What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Wanna Go to School”

Parent Taking Child To Pre School

At some point, most children go through a phase of not wanting to go to school. For others, that push can ebb and flo for years. My younger daughter has always had a difficult time going back after the Winter Break. There were tears in January through elementary school.

Smooth, calm morning – I understand their not wanting to go to school upset alone can be enough to knockout the feeling of a smooth, calm morning. They may lose it, you stay calm. Be the rock. If you need ideas to meet this goal, you might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel or Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Markham.

Matter of fact empathy – When your child is upset, it is best to start there. Matter of fact empathy mean acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might be, “I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes.” “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. Avoid starting with denial or reasoning. Denial would be “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Focus on the routine – It may be helpful to refocus on the routine. Talk to your child about the time available, steps that need to be done and the order. It may be helpful to make a chart together to keep track of the morning. Within each step, it’s often good to offer choices or challenges. When it’s time to get dressed, they might get dressed on the bed or the floor. A challenge might be racing you to get dressed. Here’s a blog post focused on improving your morning routine. If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns – By day two the second year of Claire’s January blues, I was ready. Maybe it’s worse in September in your house. Maybe Mondays each week are hardest. Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with teacher – Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information. You might also ask the teacher for help. This might include setting up a specific way for your child to start school each day. Coming into a known situation (everyday the first thing will be this) may be easier than not knowing day to day. This might be giving your child a morning buddy, a friend to be together with for first transition activities and classwork.

Speak with your child – Occasionally and out of the moment, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask what they are thinking about. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about, scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone, at a calm time may be helpful.

Organize 1:1 playdates with a variety of kids from the class – Playdates give kids a chance to get to know their classmates. The more positive social connections they have with classmates, the more they might want to go to school.

Carpool – So this might be more time consumming than the initial push to avoid school but your child may be more willing to go if they arrive with a friend. If your child is a bus rider this may mean having a bus stop buddy or asking the bus driver to help with seating friends together.

Alternate who manages the morning or drops off – It may be easier for a child to move through the morning or separate for one parent than another or from a sitter or grandparent versus a parent (if that’s available, even short term).

Things to bring – Not everyday, but occasionally it may be helpful to have something for your child to take to school or to deliver. This might be something small to show his teachers or friends, a note he wrote or drew to someone, a snack to share with the classs, a thing you need delivered to the office or guidance counselor.

Open talk time – As children move into late elementary school, keeping communication open is so important. Open talk time is an easy way to work towards that goal. This allows time for the child to vent and be heard, for you both to work through things in a calm exchange.

Address any known causes – If there are academic concerns, revisit your homework plans, find new ways to practice the needed skills, hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage, follow up with the teacher. On either front continue to monitor and follow up with interventions as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child in the area of concern

Read related storybooks – For younger children I Love You All Day Long, Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Kissing Hand or DW’s Guide to Preschool. For older children Sophie’s Squash Go to School, The Brand New Kid or Sometimes I Worry Too Much but Now I Know How to Stop.

Read related parenting books – If it becomes a longer term or bigger issue, helpful parenting books include Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal by Eisen and Engler or When Children Refuse School by Kearney and Albano.

There are also therapists who work with children around anxiety issues and school refusal.

 

What to Do When a Child is Scared of Going to Another Room in the House Alone

Upset problem child sitting on staircase

At least every other month a parent says to me, “This might be odd but my child is scared of going to another room in the house by himself.” This is not odd. Between four to eight or nine years old, this is completely common. My older daughter spent a few years negotiating with me or her younger sister to have company in roaming the house. As common as it is, it can also be frustrating for all involved. Here are several ideas that may be helpful:

  • Start with empathy often – When your child is scared, it’s often helpful to start with empathy. Empathy would be saying,”I know you are worried about going up to your room. You don’t like being alone,” which lets the child know you are listening and you understand. It keeps the communication open. So many parents start with logic, “You were just alone in your room this morning,” which is something for the child to argue with. Other parents start with denial, “You shouldn’t be scared, we are all right here,” which just tells the child you don’t understand. Logic and denial tend to close down the communication.
  • Next move to problem solving – Once you’ve given empathy, it may be helpful to brainstorm solutions or ask the child to think of things he can do to help himself. You might also remind him of other solutions given below.
  • Encourage practice being alone in small doses – While you are playing together, you might make small trips to check on something in the kitchen. You can start with stepping out for very short periods and work your way up.
  • Then encourage your child to go alone in small doses – You might ask your child to get something from the hallway that is in plain view and gradually request things farther away. You might leave a favorite thing in another room so they are motivated to make the trip.
  • Offer to go part way – We have two landings on our way upstairs. For about a month I offered to go to the top landing and watch her go the rest of the way to her room. The next month, I offered to go to the lower landing, and for a few days may have negotiated to a step in between.
  • Agree to talk the whole time – (Thanks to a mom on facebook for this idea!) You might agree to have a conversation with your child the whole time they are going back and forth. This mom said she and her child would “beep” back and forth to each other or play “Marco, Polo.” This way the child knew their mom could at least hear them.
  • Promote the buddy system – In our house it was a younger sibling. The dog or a stuffed animal might be sufficient company.
  • Give a bravery cape or medal of courage – Small tokens can go a long way. A bravery cape can be taken from a super hero costume or can be made out of a towel. A medal can be bought at the party store or made from yarn and construction paper.
  • Appeal to being a big kid – Without putting pressure, you might highlight an older cousin or friend who easily goes to other rooms. You might remind him of other things he is able to do as a big kid.
  • Leave music playing in other rooms – Your child may not feel so lonely if there is familiar music playing.
  • Draw maps of the house and make a plan – You might make errands to other rooms more of a game by making a simple map (a few squares with doors marked by lines) of the house. You or your child can then draw an X to mark the spot and lines about how to get there and back.
  • Descriptive praise when he does go alone – Remember this is a small accomplishment. Good to note “You were brave! You went by yourself to get that.” when it goes well.

 

Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this and jot yourself a few notes.

By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.

Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Go prepared – Good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.

During

Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.

Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.

Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. Still good to consider where there is overlap.

Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).

Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more or move forward together.

Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.

If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.

After

Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.

Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.

Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request a later way to touch base with teachers.

For Teachers:

Before

Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).

Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.

Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.

Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.

Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.

Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.

Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.

Bring extra paper and pencils – Nice to have on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – The teacher taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.

Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.

Speak plainly – Best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.

Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.

Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say “We are working on John using gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.

Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation so it’s not a one-sided listing.

Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it or might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.

Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making or guessing at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.

If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.

Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.

End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive. All the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions or a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.

Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.

Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.

 

When Children Argue, Build Their Skills

Zwei Kinder streiten sich

So often when children argue, parents intervene and solve the issue. Two children are arguing over a toy, a parent enters and decides who gets the toy and what the other child should do while they wait. Two children are arguing over who goes first, a parent comes in and picks while giving empathy or direction to the other.

When parents intervene and fix, the children are missing out on a golden opportunity to learn the skills needed to solve such social conflicts. Rather than intervene and fix, it should be intervene and teach the needed skills.

When children are arguing, a good first steps is often empathy all around. If my girls are arguing over a ball I might start with “I know you are both frustrated, I could hear you from down the hall. You both want that toy.” This also teaches children to start with empathy which is often helpful.

Teach them to listen to each other’s words. This might be, “Did you hear your brother? He said ‘stop.’ What does that mean to you?” or “I heard her screaming. She clearly doesn’t like that.” You are reinforcing the other’s words to each child. Often, by the time children are arguing, they aren’t listening well.

If needed, teach them to speak up for themselves.  Many children are all over this one, they speak up for themselves quite well. If not, if your child is on the quiet side, you might have to coax some words out of them or give them some words to say so they can at least hold their own. You might follow this up with reinforcing their new words to the other. It can be helpful to teach your child to use an assertive voice in conflicts.

Once they feel understood or heard, the next step is to help them focus on solutions. You might ask them each to give an idea, or you might suggest a few ideas and discuss. You might teach them to weigh their options and negotiate together. The goal is to give them ways to find solutions and work through the issue together rather than giving them the solution. This may take time and effort, it may take more empathy. It may also include taking a break and coming back to problem solving once children are calm.

If the problem solving process continues to be difficult, you might step back and coach them to be more flexible thinkers. These ideas for teaching flexible thinking are best done out of the moment, when all are calm.

  • Brainstorm options – Out of the moment of conflict, teach them how to brainstorm. This can be saying “We don’t have time for bath tonight. Let’s think of three ways to you can get clean before school tomorrow.” Answers might include taking a quick shower, using a washcloth at the sink or taking a bath in the morning. On a game night you might say, “Everyone wants to play different games. Let’s think of three ways we can settle this.” Answers might include one game each night for three nights or starting early or playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide. When brainstorming, it is fine to include funny or crazy answers.
  • Plan A/Plan B – You might model Plan A/Plan B language several times before you ask them to problem solve this way. You might say, “We were supposed to run three errands today but we only got to two and we are running out of time. That was our Plan A and we need a Plan B.”
  • Big problem/Little problem – It can be helpful to have children decide what are big problems and little problems. In our house big problems may take a few days to solve or several people. A few days later, someone might be upset. Little problems might only take one or two people and a little while to solve. No one is upset about it a day later. Point out big problems and little problems in life. Then have children try to categorize their own problems.
  • Play games that require flexible thinking and discuss – This includes Labyrinth (by Ravensburger), Gobblet, Connect Four and Rush Hour Jr. In all of these games, players have a plan and then it gets knocked out and they have to make another plan. This may happen several times in each game. While you play, at least occasionally point out having to make a new plan or come up with new solutions.

When children are able to work through arguments, be sure to give them descriptive praise for their efforts, negotiation, flexibility or cooperation. Here is a post about descriptive praise.

How Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

 

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Me and Rodney 1975

 

I’ll admit, I am about to way oversimplify an issue about complex family dynamics. There are people who spend years in therapy unraveling the impact from the next few points. That said, there are some fairly obvious ways your own sibling relationships, from growing up and from current exchange, can impact your children’s sibling relationships. While it may not be as direct in your family, still worth stepping back and checking the big picture.

Your expectations from childhood – How you got along with your siblings can shape your expectations for how your children will get along. My brother and I got along great and I expected my children would get along. My husband and his siblings not so much. He is still surprised by the way our children get along.

Your current sibling relationships – Through your current sibling relationships you are modeling how to treat and interact with siblings. How much you keep in touch, how you greet each other, the time you spend together and how you move through disagreements are all modeling to children about sibling relationships.

How you speak to and about your siblings – How you speak to and about your siblings models to children how to speak to and about their siblings. If you put down your siblings, complain about them, or critique their decisions often it opens the door for this to be how they speak to and about their siblings.

Your tolerance for behaviors shaped by what you experienced – A mother of three was teary eyed asking how to stop her children from bickering. Her question started “I just can’t take their bickering. There was constant bickering in my house growing up…” Yes, healthy goal for her children to bicker less. Also healthy to recognize some level of bickering is normal and find ways to lessen her carried-over stress about the remainder.

 

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