development

Helping a Child Be Resilient

Hi Dr. Rene,

My two-and-a-half-year-old is going through a lot of the typical two year old stuff. He has a growing imagination, talks lots, tests boundaries and is experiencing new fears. I am taking this all in stride, but I do find myself thinking that he doesn’t seem very resilient. He seems so sensitive to small pains, slights and annoyances. He is also pretty tuned in to loud noises, new tastes and textures. I don’t expect him to manage on his own or become resilient overnight, but I’d love tips on how to help him better weather the little upsets.

Sincerely,

Diane

Dear Diane,

Thanks for the question. It’s a big one. There are many ways to help build resiliency across childhood. I apologize for this list, most of the bullet points represent what should be a whole book of content. For now, give lots of empathy and teach problem solving at every turn. When you can, focus on problem solving in the moment. If he is too upset, remember to go back later and discuss or brainstorm what could have happened for a better outcome.

  • Model and Encourage Optomism – If you are an optomistic person, this is an easy one. Unfortunately, if you are a pessimist, this can be near impossible. The idea is to model looking on the bright side, focusing on solutions and having faith things can be resolved.
  • Use Descriptive and Avoid Evaluative Praise – Evaluative praise to avoid sounds like, “good job,” “you are such a good boy,” “that was great,” “thank you so much,” “I really like that,” “I like the way you…,” and, “I am so proud of you.” Descriptive praise to use sounds like, “you handed a block, that was helpful,” and, “you waited while mommy was speaking, that was patient.” This means to describe the behavior, and then give it a related label.
  • Focus Your Discipline on the Behavior NOT the Child – This means using ‘I messages’ and avoiding ‘you messages’ as you enter into a discipline exchange. When a child runs through the living room and knocks over your lamp, it’s saying “I’m angry, my lamp is broken,” or, “I’m frustrated, people are running in the house.” It’s avoiding, “I am mad at you, you broke my lamp,” or, “I’m frustrated, you always run in the house.” I messages label emotions and blame the behavior or the situation not the child.
  • Learn Scaffolding – Scaffolding is the language of problem solving. When you help a four-year-old with a new puzzle, or a fourth grader working on hard math, your language and approach is your scaffolding. There is a review of effective scaffolding guidelines in this previous post: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/?s=scaffolding.
  • Avoid Rescuing – This is a difficult one to practice when your child is a toddler, but it’s important to keep in mind as they grow. If they steal a trinket from a store, have them return it rather than doing it for them. If they purposefully break a toy, avoid replacing it.
  • Teach Decision Making and Offer Choices – Allowing greater decision making is a gradual process. At two years old they might decide what snack to have, at four years old what toy to buy, at six years old what clothes to wear, at eight years old what sports to play and at ten years old what instrument to learn. Of course, you are providing guidance as needed, but focus on teaching them how to make decisions rather than making decisions for them.
  • Positive Attitude Towards Learning and School – The idea is to build a “home-school connection,” so the child grows up feeling my parents value my school, and my school welcomes my parents. Read to them everyday, know what they are learning about in school and participate as a room mom and in extracurricular activities. Check their homework, teach them to study and meet their teachers.
  • Check and Build Social Skills – A child’s sense of social connectedness and acceptance from others is a big part of their developing self esteem which overlaps strongly with resiliency. In childhood, social competence is defined loosely as the ability to play while keeping friends. If play isn’t going well on a regular basis for your child, step back and check their social skills. Work together to improve as needed. This includes their conflict resolution skills. Friends also provide a social network to cushion the blows of life.
  • Focus On and Develop Talents – A second foundation of self esteem is a child’s growing sense of skills and abilities. Look for their strengths and provide opportunities to build their talents.
  • Provide Downtime – The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children have a minimum of an hour of downtime everyday. Downtime is truely unstructured, go play time. This can be with other children as long as it’s by choice and child led.
  • Sense of Faith or Spirituality – Not one better than another, but children raised with a sense of faith or spirituality tend to be more resilient in the face of life stressors.

As a side note, your descriptions, “he seems so sensitive to small pains, slights and annoyances. He is also pretty tuned in to loud noises, new tastes and textures,” lend themselves to possible sensory concerns. This could easily be well within normal limits and not an issue. If this continues to be the pattern or seems worse overtime, you might read The Out of Sync Child by Kranowitz, or take a consultation with a pediatric occupational therapist. Either will also give you additional ideas about resiliency more related to sensory processing. Please let me know if you have additional questions about this.

Please enjoy this link to an article about building resiliency written by the American Academy of Pediatrics: www.healthychildren.org.  –  http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/pages/Building-Resilience-in-Children.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Playdates and Stressed Kids

Dear Dr. Rene,

My son is almost three years old. He is very verbal and cognitive, but seems overwhelmed easily in playgroups. If we are at playgrounds and there are three or more kids nearby, he wants to leave. If an indoor group is loud, or children are misbehaving, he gets extremely upset. He manages better when play is with just one other child, but even that often ends in tears. He hates to leave the house, he says, “let’s just stay home,” even when it’s a place he loves to go. He dislikes other children or adults touching him. He is also an only child and takes after me. While I try not to show it, I don’t like crowds and don’t care for other children being rowdy. Do I continue to put him in these stressful situations?

Sincerely,

A Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom,

I think there is a best answer in the middle. Yes, continue to leave the house and continue to schedule playdates. Leave the house for more low-key activities, think play at the park rather than busy gym class. Plan one-on-one playdates with kids that tend to play well rather than playdates with several children at the same time. One-on-one actually tends to be better for play skills, and there’s no real downside relative to bigger groups. Managing group play becomes more important as he is a bit older.

When things get to busy or loud, give a lot of empathy and step out for a time. When others misbehave, if he is not directly involved, distract him away when you can. If there’s no distraction, talk him through it and let him see the resolution. If he is directly involved, think empathy and wait for the calm. Talk through on the quiet, calm side.

Pulling too far back means no playdates and you never leave the house. Both are important towards social development, but you want to aim for things that may be successful. Just diving in to big groups means he will struggle through and enjoy social less. Aim for the middle.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Teach Planning and Reviewing towards Self-Control

Planning and reviewing skills are a piece of building attention span and impulse control.  In some of our classes, each week the children have to plan their 15 minute play time.  This includes choosing where they will play (only 1 center each day) and planning three activities to occupy their time.  Teachers check on their progress throughout and help children to meet each goal.  This is something you can easily incorporate at home.

At clean up time, sit for a minute and ask your child to plan the effort.  This includes details such as the order of the tasks and if they will work together.  Draw or write a check list and help them to stay on task.  At the end a pat on the back for completing the list.  A more fun example – ask your child to plan their next playdate.  Invite a friend over for an hour and have child (or children) come up with three or four activities they’d like to do during that time.  Help them manage the time and move through the activities.

It is also helpful to take a plan-do-review approach to outings or other activities.  If you are headed to the pumpkin patch this weekend, take some time to look at pictures from last year or visit their website, print the map and plan your trip together with your child.  Talk about all the things they are seeing and doing while their.  After, call a grandparent and encourage your child to tell them details about the trip.  Review again with your child when you print the pictures.

Article on Teaching Self-Control

I just wanted to share a link to a great article from The New York Times titled Building Self-Control, The American Way by Aamodt and Wang.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/opinion/sunday/building-self-control-the-american-way.html?pagewanted=all

During the next week, I will post ideas and activities to support developing listening skills, planning, goal setting and follow through skills, sequencing, their attention to detail, attention span and impulse control. In agreement with the article, these will all be through play. Here are a few guidelines as you work and play to build new skills:

Avoid Lecture

When you are teaching new skills like goal setting, listening, planning and sequencing, you want to avoid lecturing as much as possible. The best way for children to learn these types of skills is through play and experience. This means if you are teaching listening skills you want to do this through things like puppet shows, role plays, hypotheticals, storytelling, movement games and art projects.

Gradually Challenge

Whatever the concern, start small and work your way up. When children are starting with puzzles, you start with simple patterns and a few pieces, and gradually work the way up to more challenging ones. It is the same with skills like impulse control and listening. These are skills that are best to gradually challenge and grow.

Highlight When They Do Well

With life skills, it can be easy to overlook when things go well. If you have an often impulse child, it can be easy to overlook when they happen to wait patiently in line at the grocery store with you for five minutes. It is those easy moments that you want to reinforce the behavior. Notice that they did well. It’s best to describe the behavior back to them, “you waited to quietly, that was helpful!”

Have fun and grow!

Building Vocabulary

Once they are talking, there are many ways to build a child’s vocabulary.

  • Continue giving running commentary – Talk about all the things they are doing and seeing. Be sure to include functional definitions and adjectives.
  • Continue echo expansion – When they say, “more juice,” model back, “you’d like more apple juice, please?” Keep their language intact and ad on. Model longer phrases and more descriptive language.
  • Plan-Do-Review – If you are going to the pumpkin patch this weekend, before you go get out the pictures from last year and discuss the details or check out a few books from the library about pumpkin patches. This is the “plan” part. While at the pumpkin patch give them running commentary about all that is happening. This is the “do” part. After, talk about what was their favorite thing to do or discuss the day when you get the pictures printed. This is the “review” part. Children are benefitting from having the language before, during and after.
  • Encourage emotion language – Label their and your emotions. Talk about the causes and consequences of emotions. Discuss how people calm and how people cope.
  • Play word games – For the beginner, this includes “I spy” and rhyming games. As they get older, this is 20 questions, telephone and Mystery Garden.
  • Practice following directions – By two years old, we expect two-step directions. By three years old, we expect three-steps. A three-step directions is, “go to the kitchen, get your shoes and bring them to the front door.” If you are unsure, play the Crazy Directions game. This is where you say things like, “find the cat, kiss his nose and jump up and down. Ready, go.” This is more fun and serves the same purpose.
  • Give a vocabulary word a day – There are many websites and calendars to build vocabulary, and the idea is to present and discuss a new word each day with you child. See how often you can each use it.
  • Continue to read aloud – Plan to do this long past the point they are reading to themselves. Yes, it is nice to give them time for that, but plan to do both. Everyday have some time spent reading independently and some time spent reading aloud.

Early Speech Milestones

With so many patterns of normal speech and language development, it can be difficult to sort out what is most important. There are a few basic milestones that if not met, signal flags in early language development.

  • First word – Most people say babies should have a first word by one year old. The normal range for a first word is 10 to 16 months.
  • 50 words by 18 months, concern if less than 10 – Most babies have in the ballpark of 50 words by 18 months old. There is concern if there are less than 10, particularly if those 10 are garbled or only used once or not really in context. I actually wouldn’t be concerned if they only have five words, but those words were clear, well used in context and consistent.
  • Two words together by 24 months – Most babies are putting two words together by 24 months. Many of them are stringing six and seven word sentences, but the concern is single words only.
  • For articulation – Think that children should be 50% understood by strangers at two and a half years old. This means half the time when your child speaks to the lady checking groceries, she understands them. By three years old this jumps to 75%, meaning more often than not she understands. It doesn’t count to be understood by grandma or a great babysitter, they hear his language often. This marker is for strangers.

I am a firm believer in the benefits of early intervention. If you feel or worry your child has a speech or language issue, there is no harm in having an evaluation. Children often enjoy the process, and at best they reassure you and let you know to let go of the concern. At worst, the child qualifies for what were needed services, and you get started on a better long-term path. Somewhere in the middle, they may not qualify for services, but you are given great guidance for working with your child to make improvements at home. Whatever the outcome, early intervention also provides a baseline; a professionals take of where your child is and how to move forward.

Using Developmental Checklists

I started the morning Play & Workshop program with a checklist of Language Development milestones by age, so I’ll give a few comments about using checklists. The best way to use checklists is to look for progress overtime. I hesitate to even give checklists because many parents immediately fall into one of two traps:
Trap One – Looking only for weaknesses

Many parents get bogged down by items their child is low on. Child may be high on six of seven measures, but the parent is narrowly looking at the seventh category.

Trap Two – Comparing to every other child in the room
Many parents fill out the checklist while glancing just as often at their neighbor’s paper and can’t help but ask, especially if they find an area that’s low (see above).
The best way to use checklists is to fill it out, put it away for a few months, get it out again and fill it out like new. Then go back and check for progress. By all means if you see an area of weakness, you might make a plan of action on how to improve and then really look for progress based on your efforts.While I don’t want you stuck in weaknesses, if you made efforts and still don’t see progress, it may warrant further investigation just don’t get stuck. Worry doesn’t tend to serve you well here.
%d bloggers like this: