On having a problem

Upon hearing I am a parenting coach and educator, parents often ask me: “So, what do you do with a screaming child?” Or something similar. It sounds like they are testing me, to see if I know the one single miracle maneuver that will relieve them from a stressful issue in their life.

This is embarrassing. What can I say? Should I say: “Do you want a “one size fits all” answer? Are you a parent like everyone else, or like some standard, or an ideal? Is your child like all other children? Does he or she eat like everyone else? Sleep like everyone else? Smile like all children?”

If you and your child are unique, how can a “one size fits all answer” can help you? Even if I tell you all that research has to say on the subject, how would you know if your situation is a replica of the laboratory’s assumptions?

What I end up saying to the parents is simply: “It depends.” And from here a process of learning can start.

Child development charts

Is my child’s development OK?  When a parent ask this question, the expert will give her a chart. This is what I found on the Mayo Clinic web page, and there are many others out there:
Age 2 Age 3 Age 4 Age 5
Language skills
Links two words together Identifies most common objects Describes the uses of common objects Uses compound and complex sentences
Speaks clearly enough for parents to understand about half the words Says first name and age Speaks clearly enough for strangers to understand Says full name and address
Knows some adjectives (big, happy) Uses pronouns (I, you, we, they) and some plurals Uses verbs that end in “ing” and some irregular past tense verbs, such as ran and fell Uses future tense
Speaks about 50 words Answers simple questions Tells simple stories Understands rhyming
Social skills
Becomes aware of his or her identity as a separate individual Imitates parents and playmates Cooperates with playmates Wants to be like friends
May become defiant Takes turns Tries to solve problems Follows rules
Becomes interested in playing with other children Expresses affection openly Becomes interested in new experiences Understands gender
Separation anxiety begins to fade Easily separates from parents Becomes more independent Wants to do things alone
Cognitive skills
Begins to play make-believe Plays make-believe Becomes involved in more complex imaginary play Uses imagination to create stories
Begins to sort objects by shape and color More confidently sorts objects by shape and color Prints some capital letters and names some colors Correctly names at least four colors and counts at least 10 objects
Understands some spatial concepts (in, on) Understands more spatial concepts (over, under) Understands more complex spatial concepts (behind, next to) Distinguishes between fantasy and reality
Scribbles Copies a circle Draws a person with two to four body parts Copies a triangle and other geometric patterns
Finds hidden objects Understands the concept of two Understands the concepts of same and different Understands the concepts of time and sequential order
Physical skills
Walks alone and stands on tiptoe Walks up and down stairs, alternating feet Stands on one foot for at least five seconds Stands on one foot for at least 10 seconds
Climbs on furniture and begins to run Kicks, climbs, runs and pedals tricycle Throws ball overhand, kicks ball forward and catches bounced ball most of the time Hops, swings and somersaults
Builds a tower of four blocks or more Builds a tower of more than six blocks Dresses and undresses May learn to skip, ride a bike and swim
Empties objects from a container Manipulates small objects and turns book pages one at a time Uses scissors Brushes own teeth and cares for other personal needs

Most parents get too anxious to score their child on the chart, and they need some help in the process.

Here are some suggestions:

It’s easy to look at such a chart and become anxious because your child is 3 and not yet taking turns, for example. But the fact is, there is not really a specific age for any stage. This is simply a general guideline. Researchers are more sure about the ORDER of what comes first, but cannot say that any stage should happen at a particular age.

Is the child growing? Just as the weight gain of an infant is a general growth indicator, you can look at others. Do you notice more vocabulary words? More understanding? Does curiosity move the child forward? Your child is growing.

Language is important. In the past, we gave time for language development to manifest itself. Recent research sends parent to speech therapists at a younger age now. There is an important reason: Speech is the key for both social and emotional development. Without language, a child is more vulnerable to frustrations and temper tantrums, and will experience a harder time in moving from solitary play to cooperative play without becoming aggressive.

Language specialists now have many tools to aid a child’s language development, but I recommend that you see the process as facilitating a natural process and not fixing something that is broken. Your child would have picked up the language on his or her own; we just want to protect him or her from the side effects of delays. Your child is FINE!
Do not look for information that causes you to worry–but do not ignore your gut feeling that something is wrong. If you do feel something is wrong–talk to your pediatrician, child-care provider, family member. But above all, trust your child, accept him or her as s/he is, and take delight in every step of development–even it is behind your best friend’s child’s.

Your child’s development is nurtured by you witnessing it. So, go ahead, become your child’s cheerleader!

Your child’s crying – your crying

The first crying of a baby, the one to which the mother responds so powerfully, is the basis of the mother-child bond. Mother–and father, too–will always jump to help their crying child. The “alarm bell rings,’ and help is on the way. This bond can be described as hormonal/physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are connected. We are one.

As the child grows, and the parents perceive him or her as a more-aware partner in the relationship, it becomes harder for the parents to listen to the crying. If it is obvious to the parent the the child is not in imminent danger, than why does s/he cry? Parents’ thoughts and feelings start to swirl around: Why does s/he do that to me? Why doesn’t s/he listen to me?

And judging start to take place: What a selfish kid! S/he just want to show s/he can get his or her way, to show me s/he is the boss. Many negative thoughts and feelings come to the foreground. The normally loving and supportive parent becomes an angry, frustrated, and negative individual. It is almost like this individual needs to cry, too.

Fact: This parent does need a shoulder to cry on. Our children’s feelings resonate with us, bringing our own feelings to the surface. We have found ways to ignore those feelings, bury them, deny them, invalidate them–but they are there. And spending a long time with young children who cannot cope with negative feelings yet reminds us of times we were just as vulnerable. And we, too, need to find our way out of these negative feelings.

What is a parent to do? If you do feel your negative feelings coming to the surface, do not take it out on your child. Find a safe place, a friend, a journal, a coach or a counselor, to unload your pain, your crying. That will help you to be calm, present, and positive, so that your child will be able to unload his or her feelings safely, and move on.

Child development: Crying

When my first child was born, I was surprised at how strong she was: She cried so loud, it MADE me know what to do and go and do it.
As an infant, it was simple, totally hormonal: I fed her. I also held her, changed her, talked to her, cuddled with her.

This new experience of knowing what this baby is saying when she cries overrode all other experiences. Her crying did not annoy me, it did not frustrate me, it actually empowered me: I felt I understood my baby. She “talked” to me, I knew what she said, and I knew what she needed and what I needed to do.

As she grew, she started to use other forms of communication: She smiled, she made cooing sounds, she closed her eyes and lips when she did not welcome a new food. I expected that as her vocabulary grew, I would be able to understand in more detail, to get more information about what she wants. I expected everything to become much easier.

But what happened instead is that she learned how to say “NO.. And she cried really loud when she did not get what she wanted. As you can see, this too was crying, but it was different.
The difference between the crying of the infant and the crying of the toddler is its urgency and its purpose. The child does not know the difference. For a toddler to get what s/he wants is as important as food for the infant. It is the adult’s judgement call to decide when “urgent” is urgent, and how to let the child experience delay without losing trust in us.
This is part of what we mean by “child development”–but we rarely consider the “parent development” part. The parent needs to be ready to make this change, to realize that the child can wait, that not to fulfill his or her need right now is ok.

The child trusts the confidence of the parent that s/he will be ok. S/he does not know it, yet. That is what needs to change in the next stage of development.

Gift-giving, gift-receiving

The more we try to give a “perfect” gift, the more we expect our effort to be appreciated. A delighted facial expression, a surprised joyful laugh, a great “thank-you,” and a big hug–that lets us know we made the right choice, and we feel rewarded.

Sometimes this puts a lot of pressure on both children and adults. In the book “Nurture Shock,” Po Bronson points out that children are expected to say “Thank you” and act happy–even when they are disappointed.

What adults fail to recognize is that young children do not take intentions as an excuse: The fact that the parents meant to make a good choice of present, but the child actually wanted something else, puts the child in a bind: If he or she says what they really feel, they will hurt their parents’ feelings. If they choose to make the parents happy, they will lie. So by demanding good manners, we are demanding lying. This is the conclusion of many research surveys, and as parents we should know this.
If you are going to coach a child to act in a sensitive way, you must take his or her age into account . In the early years, the child will understand such coaching as permission to lie. This is a very challenging fact for parents to deal with, and there is no simple answer as to what to do.
But knowing this, maybe we can take the pressure off the youngsters in the family, and give them some time to figure things out,. Perhaps for a while, we can let them feel free to express their true feelings about the gifts they receive. They might be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or just simply not excited.

Let them know you love them no matter what they feel. You know in your heart what the choice of gift was intended to communicate, and that their appreciation might not come right away. This way you give your child an opportunity to mature, under the wings of your love, and allow them to figure out the right use of “white lies” when he or she is old enough to deal with social complexity.

Parents: Challenge Success

Preschool teachers who promote age-appropriate, child-centered education have a hard time convincing parents that this kind of education works. Parents are so pressured to “find the right preschool” with which to get their child into the “right school” and later into the “right college,” that the only thing that calms the parents’ anxiety is seeing their 3-year-old reading and writing willingly all day…

For parents who would like to hear other messages, who are open to listen to research, and to their own heart, here is a link to an organization that is challenging the prevailing notions of success.  http://www.challengesuccess.org/Home/tabid/688/Default.aspx

Check out this site. Most of it is dedicated to older children, but it is good to know the road ahead of you.

Reggio for parents

As I am re-reading my favorite literature of early Childhood Education, I ran into an interesting chapter the book “Next Step Toward Teaching The Reggio Way”.  It is called “Thinking with Parents About learning”. After 7 years of work with parents in a parents coop setting, I felt such a comfort reading colleagues in Missouri facing the same challange that I faced, and using the Reggio way to get progress!

My challange in the coop setting was:how to get the parents involved in their child’s learning? In a coop setting, I did not have other teachers to document, and I have to work with the parents. How could I focus them on the children’s conversation? Their interest? Their ideas? There was so much anxiety around conflict resolutions, problem solving and other ways to control children’s behavior, that just observing, listening and learning did not seem to be given a chance.

In this chapter, the writer are reporting a Reggio way to focus parents attention to their child’s learning, beyond just presenting them with documenting boards.  They are describing using the Reggio way to give parents learning experiences of their own, to reflect on and than to reflect on it’s connection to their child’s learning process.

Did you ever thought about the relationship between your learning process as a parent, to your child’s learning process? Do you think you learn differently then your child? Did you find similarities? can you share your thoughts and experiences?

Thank you!