Your child’s first birthday is certainly a cause for celebration! Many families want to mark the occasion with a big, memorable event to surround their child with friends and family. However, this kind of party can be overwhelming and distressing to many toddlers. At UWS Parenting Support, we recommend very small, intimate and short (1 1/2 -2 hours, not too close to naptime) celebrations for a few good friends and family members. Quiet children’s music, finger food and cake is all you need to give your child a Happy Birthday. Save the big, loud parties for a few years so that your child (if he or she likes big parties, not all kids do) can enjoy it.
- Choose a child friendly restaurant with foods that your child likes.
- Go for your meal when your child is well rested and not too hungry. Eating too close to nap or bedtime will make it hard for your sleepy child to tolerate eating out.
- Bring quiet activities to do at the table to make waiting for food easier. Crayons, small cars and trucks and play figures are easy to pack and use during these times.
- If possible, have everyone’s food served at the same time rather than asking for your child’s food to come first. If your child is not too hungry and can eat independently it is helpful to have all the food come together so your child is not waiting for you when she is done with her meal.
- To avoid too much sitting time, take turns walking around the restaurant or outside before the food comes. Bring your child to sit down as soon as the food arrives for all.
Toddlers can spend endless playtime pushing buttons, turning handles or flipping levers. The classic pop-up toy offers age appropriate play that promotes physical, emotional and cognitive development. Physically children practice fine motor skills by using their little hands to push, pull,and turn. Emotionally and cognitively they explore cause and effect and practice object permanence as they make the character go away and come back. This helps with the real hellos and goodbyes in their daily life. It’s fun to narrate your child’s play by saying, “Hey, where did Big Bird go?” and “Yay, you made him come back, hello Big Bird!”
Just like bath time and bed time, uninterrupted playtime with Mommy or Daddy should be an important part of your daily routine. It can be as short as 15 or 20 minutes a day. Turn off your devices and let your child choose and lead the play sequence. Your role is to embrace his ideas, follow and join her, and then build on what she makes up. Choose games and activities that are fun and pleasurable for both you and your child. Authentic pleasure in a parent-child relationship leads to a secure attachment. Try this and you may find that your child is more flexible, attentive and has an easier time with more stressful parts of the day.
Spring is here, allowing you and your child to get outside and spend time in your neighborhood playground. It can be fun for your child to meet up with friends and neighbors in the park, but it can also be stressful to share this common play space. Toddlers and preschoolers often need help playing together in the sandbox because it requires turn taking, impulse control and sharing. These are all skills that are challenging at this stage of development and your child will need some help from you to navigate the sandbox.
Here are some tips to help in the sandbox:
- Bring more than one toy so that your child can use one and give another child a turn.
- Do not bring your child’s favorite toy as this will be very difficult to share.
- Stay close to your child to intervene if there is an issue with taking turns.
- Model and teach your child how to ask for a toy.
- Stay attuned to your child’s experience. Is he getting overstimulated, frustrated or overwhelmed by the activity in the sandbox? This may be a good time to gently scoop him up and say “The sandbox seems very busy and hard to play in today. Let’s take a break and come back when it’s quieter.”
- Visit the sandbox during less busy hours to allow your child the room to explore and play with her own toys and ideas.
Holiday celebrations and visits are occasions of happiness and sharing among family and friends but can also be stressful. For your young child/children, the holidays often mean changes in their schedules, family visitors and gatherings, and sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings. See our tips on traveling with your child: https://uwsparentingsupport.com/2015/06/30/traveling-with-your-baby/ https://uwsparentingsupport.com/2015/06/30/traveling-with-your-toddler-or-preschooler/
Here are some things to keep in mind that may help the holidays be more enjoyable for both you and your child/children:
YOU WILL HAVE TO BALANCE YOUR NEEDS AND THOSE OF YOUR CHILD DURING SOCIAL GATHERINGS
- Make sure your child is being supervised by a familiar adult or is engaged with a toy, with another child or a group of children.
- Don’t assume your child will manage on her own while you chat with the adults. This can create a situation in which she could become disruptive.
- You and your partner can switch off doing childcare. This will allow for more rewarding time with the adults when it is your turn to socialize.
YOUR CHILD NEEDS TIME TO BECOME COMFORTABLE AND TO GRADUALLY CONNECT WITH UNFAMILIAR FAMILY MEMBERS
- Explain to your relatives that your child does best when he can come on his own timetable. If applicable, remind your relative that it has been a while since your child has seen him or her.
- Talk in a calm, authoritative manner, even if your relative is insulted by your child’s refusal to “give a hug”. Reassure your relative that this is what will work best in the end.
- Try playing a familiar game with your child and your relative so they can begin to form a connection.
- Remember, you are your child’s advocate, even if it means presenting a different point of view to demanding or critical family members.
HOLIDAYS ARE OFTEN A TIME OF OVERSTIMULATION FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
- If your child receives many presents at once, you can give her one or two gifts at a time. That way, your child can focus on and enjoy each gift without feeling overwhelmed.
- Try to allow some down time in between events.
- Rather than be disappointed in your child or yourself, assume there will be some meltdowns, even with the best planning.
Winter is upon us! Are you dealing with the common challenge of struggling to get a coat on your protesting, squirming toddler? This can delay getting out the door on time and parents can feel exasperated and helpless.
It is important to remember that toddlers assert their autonomy by saying “no” to the wishes of their parents. They also rebel against being physically manipulated in any way. This is a necessary part of their “me” development but since they must wear a coat, what can you say and do when your two year old won’t put on her jacket?
Some children do well with your saying, “We have to go now. I will carry it for you until you need it” and then put their coat on in the lobby or once you’re just outside. However, for many children, that just delays the struggle and it is best to get the coat on inside your house before you go. You can distract your child with a toy, by talking about another topic that interests her or by singing a favorite song while putting on his coat, thereby avoiding a power struggle. Always focus on where you are going TO, rather than on the leaving.
If you have to put your child’s coat on and distraction doesn’t seem to be working, then put on his coat quickly and energetically, while remaining calm and talking to him in a reassuring tone about where you are going, what you will see on the way and get out the door as quickly as you possibly can. She will calm down after you get outside and start pushing the stroller.
Parents can feel that they are being aggressive while dressing a protesting toddler, but it is important to remember that he or she needs you to be in charge and is relieved when the struggle is over.
Hectic, stressful mornings are a common complaint among families with young children. Several people trying to get up, washed, fed, dressed and out the door in less than an hour. It can feel almost impossible to get through the mornings without an outburst from a child or a parent. Many parents feel shame, guilt and disappointment that they need to repeat themselves or even yell to keep their child focused on the morning routine and out the door in time for work and school. The preschool years can be particularly difficult because this is the first time that your child has had to maintain a morning schedule and may resist giving up a slower paced start to the day. Schedules can feel arbitrary and difficult to understand for a toddler or preschooler, and parents can feel frustrated and angry when their child does not follow through with the tasks at hand. It is helpful to understand some of the factors that contribute to the hectic start to the day so that your family can make changes that will allow for a more peaceful morning.
Most often, the end of a busy morning routine is met with a “goodbye” and separation between parents and children. This can be difficult for a preschooler who is just settling into school and learning to separate from Mommy and Daddy. Your child may not feel the same rush to get to school on time as you do because she is not feeling ready to say goodbye. This is a troublesome feeling to put into words for a young child or they may not even realize that they are feeling this. Instead, they will resist the morning routine and delay the goodbye as a way of communicating or acting out their struggle. It is helpful for parents to put the behaviors and feelings into words and reassure their preschooler that they understand and can help. It can be as simple as saying, “Mornings can be really tricky because there is a lot to do before we have to say goodbye at school and saying goodbye is still hard when we get there. Remember, I can read a book with you before you go into the classroom and I will be back to pick you up when school is finished. So let’s get those shoes on so we have time for that book”.
It is also challenging to balance your morning schedule and needs with the needs of your children. Some parents have to check their emails or messages to help organize their day, but their child requires their full attention. Others want their morning coffee, alone time or even a shower before they can attend to their child’s needs. This can be impossible to do if you are all waking up at the same time. Many parents find it extremely helpful to wake up before their child so that they can have the much needed time to themselves to start the day. This can be achieved by setting your alarm 20-30 minutes before your child’s wake-up time, allowing you to turn on your coffee maker, check your messages and jump in the shower before you have to make breakfast, give repeated reminders about teeth brushing, and help with shoelaces.
Families can also strategize together about how to make mornings easier. Ask your preschooler what she thinks about the morning…”Wow Missy, this was a really hard morning! You really didn’t want to get dressed and Mommy yelled too much. What do you think we could do so that tomorrow is not so rushed and hard”. The answer will probably not be a fully developed plan, but even short responses such as, “I don’t like to wear tights to school” can be very helpful. Planning together gives your child an active role in the morning and also some accountability.
These are just a few ideas that can help families establish more manageable and successful morning routines. UWS Parenting Support works with families who need more specific and individualized guidance to restructure their mornings and help their child calmly and happily start their day. Please call or email to learn more or schedule an appointment.
By mid September, most preschools have started their “phase in process” to help young children and parents transition to the school day schedule and the daily goodbyes that are a necessary part of being a student. Some schools begin the year with shorter sessions and invite the parents to stay for the first few days. Gradually, the day becomes longer and the parents are asked to say goodbye soon after they arrive. This “phase in process” is typically enough for most children to be able to separate from their parent or caregiver. However, some children need a bit more care and support to successfully say goodbye to their grown-up and feel confident enough to engage in and enjoy the classroom activities. This can be a very normal reaction to starting school and there are several tips that can help your new preschooler transition to school.
- Have a conversation with the classroom teacher. Share your concerns about your child and ask for feedback about what the teacher sees during the day.
- Help your child to develop a trusting relationship with one of the teachers in the classroom. This is often easier to achieve with an assistant teacher, because she may have more time to devote to an individual child than the head teacher. Find a teacher that has a style that is comforting and attractive to your child and try to spend time with your child and this teacher. Your child may then be able to use this grown up as a “bridge” between his family and school. A classroom can feel big and hard to navigate for a small child and finding a special grown-up can make it feel more manageable.
- Establish a short, consistent goodbye routine. This will depend on the rules of the classroom, but if you are allowed to enter the classroom, pick one or two special and quick activities that you can share with your child and then help them find their special grown-up to assist with the goodbye. Discuss the plan with your child before school and remind them of it each day….”Remember Tommy, Mommy is going to take you to school, we are going to draw one picture and read Thomas the Tank Engine and then Mommy is going to say goodbye. Ms. Johnson will be there to help you say goodbye and get ready for playtime”. Goodbyes are harder when they are prolonged because of the reaction of the child and a quick predictable goodbye routine is very helpful to preschoolers.
- Limit afterschool activities until your child is fully adjusted to and engaged in school. It takes a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy for young students to get used to going to nursery school. This is a time filled with new people, activities, routines and rules and the comfort of home will be very important to your little one. A few hours of nursery school is enough daily activity for most children and they will benefit from after school downtime at home and the company of their family and/or caregiver.
- In some families, goodbyes are easier, meaning less emotional and conflicted, with one adult than another. If this is the case in your family, and if your child’s struggles with separation are not becoming any less intense as the days go by, then it may be worth having the parent or caregiver who is able to hold on to a more neutral, less reactive stance be the one to drop the child off at school for a while.
Each child has her own way of adjusting to new routines and separating from her parents/caregivers and some children need a longer phase-in period than your school has offered. Many schools and teachers are flexible and will support you and your child if you need more time to transition so don’t be afraid to ask. This and the above suggestions may be all that your child needs to get used to and become happy at school. UWS Parenting Support offers individualized support and guidance to families and children who need additional assistance with helping their child say goodbye, learn and have fun at school. Please email or call for more information or to schedule an appointment.