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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tips for Good Parenting from the Dog Whisperer? Yes!

An article that I return to often is from Parade Magazine a few years ago. The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, succintly states many of the tenets of our workshop series in his article, "What Your Pet Can Teach You." I especially appreciate his first point- "Live in the moment" and his fifth point, "Learn to listen." I thought I'd pass a link to the article along to you all. If you get a minute I think you'd enjoy reading it. I think it has some good thoughts on our interactions, both with our children as well as the the people we encounter in our lives.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Now that you've heard about the importance of rountine, a word about being flexible...

It seems to me, that the idea of flexibility implies the idea of routine. We don't have opportunities to be flexible and vary from a routine unless we have a routine in the first place. Not having a routine, doesn't equal flexibility, it equals chaos.
One way to think about our ability to be flexible is to imagine yourself driving in a strange town, on a strange freeway: Radio is off, all eyes are on the road, hands at 10 and 2... where are we?! No time for chit chat or goofing around! Where are we going?!
Then think of the way you are when you are driving on your commute to work: Radio on, possible chit chat with passengers, a quick fix of your hair in the mirror... relaxed and ready for a quick stop at that new coffee shop!
This is how I think of routine. When we don't know what to expect, it's hands at 10 and 2 and no talking! If we are doing what we always do, we have time and energy for another book, another song, maybe even a pillow fight. Routine frees us up to savor the moments, not fight over details.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

7 Essential Skills Every Child Needs

I wanted to share the article below that I found on the Work and Family Life website. You can find it at:
It talks about, "7 essential life skills every child needs and how parents can encourage them." It's right in line with what we know about the research that supports our use of the High/Scope curriculum at Gretchen's House. It's a terrific primer for the GH parenting workshops that are set to return on March 6!

The article was written by Ellen Galinsky

Adapted from the author’s book Mind in the Making (HarperCollins)

We all want the best for our children, but how do we ensure that they not only survive but thrive–today and in the future?

For children to reach their full potential in school, the workforce and in life, we know, of course, that they need to acquire knowledge in many different areas. And they also need life skills so they make use of what they learn.

Others have talked about skills for the 21st century before, but eight years and interviews with and filming more than 75 of the leading researchers in child development and neuroscience have led me to new insights about which skills truly have short-term and long-term effects on children’s development–effects now and in the future.

I have concluded that there are seven essential life skills which are incredibly powerful in making children be all that they can be growing up and as adults. They involve what child development researchers call “executive functions” of the brain–the part of the brain that helps us “manage” our attention, our emotions and our behavior in order to reach our goals.

These skills weave together our social, emotional and intellectual capacities. They help us go beyond what we know–and tap our abilities to use all that we have learned in these different areas. It’s important to understand three essential points about these life skills: We as adults need them just as much as children do. In fact, we have to practice them ourselves to promote them in children. We can promote them through our daily activities with children. We don’t need expensive programs, materials or equipment. It’s never too late to help children learn these skills, no matter how old they are.

Overview of life skills

1 Focus and self-control. This skill allows children to achieve their goals in a world filled with distractions and information overload. It involves paying attention, remembering the rules, thinking flexibly and exercising self-control.

2 Perspective taking. This goes beyond empathy. It involves figuring out what others think and feel, and it forms the basis of children understanding their parents’ and teachers’ intentions. Children who can take others’ perspectives are much less likely to get involved in conflicts.

3 Communicating. It’s much more than the ability to speak, read and write. It’s the skill of determining what one wants to communicate and realizing how our communications will be understood by others. It’s a skill that teachers and employers feel is most lacking today.

4 Making connections. It’s the core of learning: what’s the same, what’s different. And the ability to make unusual connections is at the core of creativity. In a world where information is so accessible, people who can see these connections will be successful.

5 Critical thinking. It is essential for the ongoing search for valid, reliable knowledge to guide our beliefs, decisions and actions. It involves developing, testing and refining theories about “what causes what” to happen.

6 Taking on challenges. Life is full of stresses and challenges. Kids who are willing to take on a challenge (instead of avoiding it) will do better in school and in life.

7 Self-directed, engaged learning. We can realize our potential through learning. As the world changes, so can we–if we continue to learn for as long as we live.

This article looks at just one of the seven skills and suggests ways parents can promote it with their children–now and in the future.

Ways to promote focus:

Help infants and toddlers learn to bring themselves under control. This is a first step toward self control. You may notice that your child calms down when you carry her to a quiet place or when you use words to describe his feelings. When you follow kids’ own cues and use their strategies to calm down, you’re not imposing control. You’re helping them, even in infancy, learn to take the lead in managing themselves.

Encourage lemonade stands. This is my term for having a strong interest–so named because my daughter had a lemonade stand when she was six and seven. I saw the planning, work, stick-to-itiveness and passion it took to set up and maintain. Of course, not every child should go into the lemonade business. My point is by promoting children’s interests, we help them focus. Why do kids who are involved in the arts do well in school? Researchers have found links between the focus and motivation gained by pursuing the arts and academic achievement.

Play games that require kids to pay attention. Try the “I Spy” game, “red light, green light,” musical chairs and puzzles. Encourage games with rules that children have to remember.

Read stories in ways that encourage kids to listen, focus and remember. For example, ask preschoolers to listen to a line or two of a nursery rhyme or book and repeat it with you.

Ways to promote cognitive flexibility and self control:

Choose computer games that require kids to think flexibly. Some researchers use computer games to promote these skills. In one, the children are given a joystick to move a cartoon cat around on a computer screen. At first the cat is surrounded by grass, but patches of mud begin to appear on the screen. The task is to keep the cat away from the mud, which requires a variety of skills.

Play games where kids can’t go on “automatic pilot.” You can start this with three-year-olds, but it’s best for children four and older. For example, there’s a “peg tapping” game: if you tap once, your child should tap twice or you tap twice, the child taps once. Or in a “Simon says” variation, do the opposite. Players do the opposite of what the leader says. If “Simon says stand up….” children are supposed to sit, and so forth.

‘Do you want one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later?’

In a famous research project that Dr. Walter Mischel, now at Columbia University, started in the 1960s, four year olds were asked whether they wanted one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Then the experimenter left the room. The children who wanted two marshmallows waited until the experimenter returned (15 minutes), but if they didn’t want to wait, they could ring a bell and bring her back. To watch a video of this experiment, go to

Sounds simple, but this study has had dramatic findings over time. As the children grew up, those who waited longer for their marshmallows were also able to pursue their academic and other goals more successfully–with less frustration and with less distraction.

As adults, the children who were able to wait longer achieved a higher educational level, were less likely to engage in bullying behavior and had less drug use. While the children who did not wait were in no way doomed, the study points to the significance of the life skills of focus and self control for children.

The children in this study used wonderful strategies to resist temptation. Some turned their back on the marshmallows or sat on their hands. Others sang songs to keep themselves distracted or shook their heads as if to say ”no, no, no.”

Dr. Mischel found that kids can be taught to use these and other techniques to help them manage frustration and delay gratification. The small things that parents can do make a big difference!

I hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

But I'm soooo tired of carrying this diaper bag....

Potty learning is a tough issue to be patient about. I remember asking myself how many more diapers I could change in my life with out going crazy. Thank goodness I never found out. I’m crazy all right, but not from changing diapers! I promise that your child will figure out the whole potty routine, and long before he/she goes to kindergarten—though if you're struggling with a high level of disinterest I’m sure you’re wondering if they’ll figure it out before high school! So, here’s my take on dealing with the persistent dream of a diaper free household.

One thing is for certain, only a child can decide when the time for toilet training has come. Any pressure parents may feel from grandparents, helpful friends or their own fatigue with changing diapers had better be disregarded. It’s got to be the child’s achievement, not yours. Children are in absolute control of two things- what goes in their mouths and what comes out the other end. I’m afraid that any pressure for the child to comply in either of these areas will land you in a battle of the wills that’s un-winnable and ultimately unhealthy. I promise that your child will use the potty just like everyone else ultimately manages. If you’re going to avoid the pitfalls surrounding this hot topic you have to let your child determine the course of this transition.

Let me be clear about this, learning to use the toilet is a milestone in development just like a first step, a first word, alternating feet when going up stairs… You wouldn’t dream of handing out M&M’s to encourage these developments any more than you would dream of punishing a child or taking away a privilege if they didn’t learn these things when you wanted them to. We seem to know intuitively that children want to learn these things and will learn to do them as soon as they are able.

Why then do we feel such a strong urge to push them to succeed at the equally difficult task of learning to use the potty before they are ready? Yes, yes I know, diapers are expensive, changing diapers is smelly dirty work, getting your pre-schooler to lie still while you change the diaper is a feat in multi-handedness… but these inconveniences are equal to the ones you faced when your child couldn’t walk, (You carried them everywhere and oh boy those eight month olds in car seats are a quite a load), and couldn’t talk. (What do they want? Why are they crying?) We seem to have a much harder time conjuring respect for the struggle of learning to use the toilet than we had for these other developmental milestones. We seem to think that a child is choosing to stay in a diaper, not that they aren’t ready to use the toilet.

I can’t beat this drum loud enough—learning to use the toilet is equally as difficult as learning to walk and requires that the body and mind of the child be developmentally able to do many varied tasks before the milestone can be managed with ease. Your child wants to learn to use the toilet… I promise they do… and they will use the potty as soon as they are really able AND as long as your desire for them to do it before they are ready doesn’t turn this milestone into a power struggle.

Check out the complex skills that are needed to move from diaper to bathroom:

1. I have to understand what my bladder/bowels feel like when they are full… and be able to translate that feeling into an action.
2. I have to understand when the message my bladder is sending me is urgent enough to walk away from the fun I’m having, and to realize it before it’s so urgent that it’s already too late to get to the potty in time.
3. I have to be able to be able to unbutton, unzip and pull down my pants. (And quickly if I’ve misjudged #2!)
4. I have to be able to climb on the toilet by myself, reach the toilet paper and have the coordination to pull it out, tear it off and fold it or bunch it in such a way as to wipe myself.

Let’s see, we’ve got gross motor, fine motor and cognitive skills listed there and lots of them. I hope this shows clearly that learning to use the toilet independently involves many areas of growth and development that the child has no volitional control over. I want to make it clear here that learning to use the toilet is not a matter of choice. I swear to all of you that your child wants to learn to use the toilet, it’s just as powerful an urge as learning to hold their own fork and cup… how many times do you hear them say, “I want to do it myself!” in a week?.

So now that I’ve told you to cool your heels and wait, what if anything can you do? Here are some good places to start:

1. I always suggest watching for signs of interest. Do they ask about the potty? Do they want to know what you’re doing in there? Do they talk about their friends potty behaviors? When they ask questions like these, answer with enthusiasm and support. Try to be encouraging, but not invested. Remind them that you know they’ll use the potty just like you and their friends do, as soon as they are ready.

2. Watch for signs of discomfort with a loaded diaper. Chat about how that must not feel so great, and boy won’t it feel better when they decide to use the potty just like mom and dad do, and how great that will be-- as soon as they are ready.

3. On a practical note I found it useful to have a potty chair with steps that allows easier access to the toilet. An example of the kind I think works best is here: A step stool can do nearly the same job and you probably have one handy. You can put it in the bathroom and tell your child that the stool is there for them so that they can get to the toilet comfortably—as soon as they are ready. I do not recommend a separate potty chair. It’s yucky to clean and then you have to transition them from that to the toilet- it just adds an additional step. I think that a big motivation for kids and the potty is the consistent urge that kids have to be just like mom and dad, using the same toilet that you do, can help support this transition.

4. Remind yourself that MOST children are not using the toilet independently until at least three plus a little bit,and often not until closer to age four. Read that again--MOST. "Independently" is the operative word in that sentence. This means they go to the bathroom, with out prompting and can complete the challenging tasks necessary on their own. It's normal for our young preschoolers not to have any interest... in fact developmentally we would expect this. So, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone and that your child will indeed some day have great interest in using the toilet and that, if left to his/her own timeline, will most likely go from no potty interest to full skill set in less than a week!

Whew! I’ll stop here and say that I know this is difficult. You want them to be potty trained; life would be so much easier. But hang in there! The time will come, sooner than you think, when your child will be going to the bathroom independently. It’s hard to trust in the natural urge toward self sufficiency that is in each child. But I promise you, if you can have patience, if you can treat this as an opportunity to support the natural development of your child on their own time line, then potty learning can be just another amazing part of watching them grow. Think back to the joy you took in witnessing first steps and first words. And then remember the encouraging words that flowed so easily from you at those times. If you can manage to transfer even a small amount of that same good will and joy to this process, than I promise your well of patience will be replenished

Monday, March 14, 2011

Encouraging Cooperation At Bedtime

Bedtime is tricky for everyone. It's important to recognize that the biggest factor in a calm bedtime is routine. Let's say it together... R-O-U-T-I-N-E! This means that you have to decide what routine you'd like and then you have to stick to it- even on weekends or when other things are wonky at your house. If the bedtime routine starts at 8:00 with a bath, than without fail you have to get to the tub at 8:00! This is just one more opportunity to take the time to consciously set limits at your house. Children can follow a rule, or a routine in this case, if they know what it is.

So, if you're tired of hearing: "Just one more story... pleeeease" or "I'm dying of thirst I need a glass of water!" or "I have to go potty!" I promise that there's hope. Here are some practical suggestions for instituting some changes to your nighttime routine.

Begin your new routine by setting a consistent bedtime time. Children should consistently go to bed at the same time every night. As I said earlier, this means even on the weekends! Be sure to never vary bedtime by more than one hour a night or a total of two hours for the entire weekend.

Next, set a consistent bedtime routine. Create a consistent bedtime ritual —in a predictable calming environment that serves as a bridge between the excitement of daytime and the restful quiet of nighttime. A bath, low lights, a few quiet stories, a bit of snuggle time and then a good night song can go a long way in preparing your child's brain for sleep.

Then, be sure to share this information with your child. A concrete way to do this is to create a bedtime routine chart like this one, that I found on the Positive Discipline website:

Simply take some pictures of your child while they get ready for bed one evening and then put them together for the chart. The chart is a great way to help you in practicing your new encouraging cooperation skills! You can describe the bedtime routine, you can give information by pointing at one of the photos on chart. You can say it with a word, "Teeth!" You can talk about your feelings, "It's a pleasure to know that we can both look at the bedtime chart and know what to do next." And the chart is a note that you only have to write once, but that you can read together everyday.

If this still doesn't work, it may be time to do some additional reading. I suggest starting with, "The No Cry Sleep Solution" and "The Floppy Sleep Game Book" for you and "The Floppy Sleep Game" music CD for your child, which teaches children some relaxation techniques.

Change is hard. We generally only commit to it when not changing is even harder. I can promise you that if you commit to this change, and really stick with it, your house will be a place of peace in the evenings in a few short weeks. And there is no better way to improve your parenting skills than to be the beneficiary of a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Few Words About Self Control...

Thanks to all of you that took the time to attend the first session of the parent workshops. I hope that the information was helpful! I suppose we'll all have a better sense of that in a few weeks;)
Before the series began a parent asked me if the sessions were supportive of a child's development of a greater level of self control. New research shows that self control in young children is a strong predictor of future success. The parent education resources I use very much focus on helping support children's development of self control and a sense of self confidence. The more we share control and teach children that they are able to make decisions the more they think of themselves as able decision makers!
Good decision making depends heavily on our ability to be patient, persistent and to have easy access to our thinking brain. Last night we focused on honing our skills of acknowledging feelings. If we can help our children internalize this skill they will be much better prepared to manage their own feelings. When we are able managers of our own emotions it becomes possible to think under pressure. As you hazard in to the world of acknowledging feelings this week, know that you are fostering the develpment of a skill in your child that will directly increase his/her ability to find future success in life!
For more reading about the research I've mentioned here follow this link:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Resources on Normal Child Development

At the last meeting we talked about how important it is to have a good working knowledge of child development when setting our expectations for our child's behavior. I mentioned that I had found some fairly comprehensive bulleted child development lists on the University of Michigan website... unfortunately they've pulled them down! I did find the same resource on a Texas pediatricians website though. The link is here:
Texas Childrens Pediatrics
Scroll down to the Normal Development header and then click on the age that you're interested in reading about.

You can always ask your teacher for a copy of the Active Learning brochures that Gretchen's House has created as well!