The Importance of Reading to Babies and InfantsReading to infants contributes to the development of their growing brains and gives them a good start towards a lifelong love of reading and good literature. When you read to babies, it can also help speech development as they are taking in information and beginning to learn about speech patterns. In addition, synapses connect between your infant’s neurons as you read aloud, positively affecting child development in many areas.

Infants tune in to the rhythm and cadence of our voices, especially the familiar voices of their parents and caregivers. While initially the rhythmic phrase, “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?”, for example, may not hold meaning, your baby is taking in the sounds of language and how they fit together. As babies see a picture of a red bird in the book and you name the bird, they begin to make the connection between what you say and the picture of the red bird. The more you read that book, the stronger the connection. The repetitive storyline makes the book fun, engaging, and easier to remember. Reading to babies is not only a way to inspire a love of books from infancy, but also an important way to grow a baby’s vocabulary – first his understanding vocabulary and later her speaking vocabulary.

Best Way to Read to Your Baby

  • Of course reading aloud to an infant is different than reading aloud to a preschooler. With a baby, you may not get through the whole book. Your baby may want to hold the book and chew on it or try turning pages. All of these actions are appropriate and help your child become familiar with books and how to handle them.
  • Make reading together a close cuddly time. Reading before bed may be the perfect time to hold your baby on your lap and cuddle together while you read.
  • Don’t worry about reading a book start to finish. It is great if you can, but if your child wants to stop and hold or chew on the book, that is okay. That is another way infants take in information about their world.
  • Point out and name pictures. Later ask your baby to find the “cow”, “horse”, etc., when you point to it.
  • Increase the length and complexity of books as your child shows interest. By about one year of age, some babies will enjoy hearing a short book with a storyline.

How to Choose Books for Babies

Books for babies should be easy for them to hold and manipulate. Books in heavy cardboard (board books), cloth, plastic or even wood are popular and hold up to a baby’s use. Some recent favorites from the Growing Readers Books of Excellence and Notables include:

  • Everyone Eats by Julio Kuo
  • In the Garden by Elizabeth Spurr
  • Little Mouse by Alison Murray
  • Whose Toes are Those? by Sally Symes
  • I Can Do It Myself by Stephen Krensky

Keeping Your Child Safe from the Summer HeatFrom infancy, humans seem to be on a quest for independence. Babies insist on holding a bottle or picking up food themselves. Toddlers emphatically announce, “Me do it.” The preschool years are a time of burgeoning independence as children gain the intellectual, verbal, and social-emotional skills to tackle more tasks independently.

But how do you balance your child’s desire for independence with his need for safety and limits? This issue is one that doesn’t go away as your child gets older, but continues to emerge. Think of sleepovers, extracurricular activities, teen dating, sports, and perhaps the scariest of all – handing over the car keys to your teen driver. The communication and relationship style you develop when your child is a preschooler will continue to inform your parenting for many years to come. Here are a few ideas to navigate the journey to independence with your child.

Tips to Help Preschool Children Develop Independence

  • Pick your battles. If you find yourself butting heads with your preschooler, ask yourself, “Will this matter a year from now?” In many cases, it’s okay – and even desirable – to let your preschooler make decisions. Parents always get the final say in matters of safety, health, and well-being, but your preschooler can help make many small decisions, such as which book to read at story time or which movie to watch at family movie night.
  • Offer choices. One of the simplest ways to foster independence and help develop critical thinking skills in toddlers and preschoolers is by offering choices you both can live with. For example, many children love to choose what they’ll wear each day, but still need a little guidance to make appropriate choices. Let your child pick her clothing, but set some boundaries, e.g., “It’s cold outside so you need to wear pants or leggings.”
  • Provide flexibility within structure. Predictability and consistency help children feel safe, but rigidity can cause them to bristle. Maintain a schedule and let your child know what to expect. At the same time, be willing to make changes when necessary. For example, perhaps you have a rule that you eat dinner as a family with no television or devices on. This is a perfectly reasonable rule, but there’s room for flexibility too. It’s okay to move dinner back 15 minutes to let your child finish watching a favorite television program. These small gestures build a spirit of good will and cooperation within your family.
  • Support growth. Early childhood theorist, Lev Vygotsky, favored an approach of “scaffolding” children’s growth to teach new skills. He suggested observing children to understand what skills they had already mastered, then working directly with them to learn a new, slightly more difficult skill. Perhaps your preschooler can put on his shirt and pants, but hasn’t learned to put on shoes and socks. Encourage your child to learn these skills and practice together for several days. Soon your child will develop the new skill independently.
  • Set up the environment for success. How your home is organized can make a big difference in your child’s independence. Organize your home so your child knows where everything goes. Shoes and coat go in the mudroom, for instance. Toys go in marked bins in the playroom or bedroom. In the kitchen, keep plastic dishware down low and teach your child how to get a simple snack or cup of water.

Think about the experience of parenting as slowly releasing responsibility over time, starting when your child is in preschool. Your child should learn from an early age that you are her best advocate and cheerleader. At the same time, it’s your job to keep her safe and healthy by setting reasonable limits. Mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation guide every interaction.

Finding the Right Parenting StyleWhen we become parents or if we’re planning to become parents, we develop our own concept of what the “right thing” is when it comes to parenting. We may opt to be the strict disciplinarian or maybe we’ll opt for being more relaxed and even care free and still others may opt for something more in the middle of both styles.

Two children raised by the same parents will likely give very different answers when they are asked about how they feel about their parents because they perceive things differently. While one may believe they were disciplined enough or appropriately, the other may feel that they were over-disciplined or not disciplined enough. When we become adults, many of the decisions we make when it comes to parenting are based on our own experiences and upbringing. We may choose to follow our parents’ style or go in the opposite direction.

Here are a few things to consider when you are trying to decide on the right style of you:

  • Remember that your choices will affect your children’s future happiness, outlook on life and even their future relationships. We all want what’s best for our children but sometimes we don’t always make the best choices or decisions. Evaluate what you are doing and how you are communicating with your children; if you don’t like the results it’s time to change.
  • How much time have you spent reading information on different parenting styles? Obviously not every book is right and not every “expert” is really an expert. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be said for learning something from others – especially when it comes to things like potty training advice or dealing with a biter. If there is legitimate advice at your fingertips, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.
  • It’s a good idea to communicate your parenting style with the teachers at your child’s daycare.  This way they can adopt the same techniques you use with your child and there will always be consistency in discipline and rewards.  Premier Academy teachers will be happy to meet with you to discuss different parenting techniques that seem to be working for you at home or that work for us here at the center.

In the end it all comes down to: if you like the way you parent, then you’ve picked the right style of parenting for you. You will never find two parents that agree on everything and you will never find a child who agrees with his or her parents about the way they are disciplined. In a nutshell – when it comes to parenting, one size does not fit all.

Children and Technology: Parenting Tips for the Digital AgeSmart phones, laptops and tablets, oh my! We love all sorts of technologies ourselves but worry about the effect of too much technology on our children. According to a study by Common Sense Media in 2013, the total average screen time for children ages 0-8 years is just under two hours a day. Traditional screen time in front of a TV is still the preferred form of screen time, but not surprisingly, mobile screen time is up. According to the study, 38% of children under two have used a mobile device.

The American Academy of Pediatrics along with the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity recommend that children under two have no screen time. For children ages 2-5 years, the recommendation for children and technology at home ranges from 1-2 hours per day. The limits are recommended for many reasons, including:

  • Sedentary activities like watching TV or playing with smart phone apps limit children’s time to be physically active, important for growing bodies
  • Unscreened media content may expose children to food and beverage advertisement for kids, or sexual and violent content.
  • Children benefit from playtime learning and through their interactions with other children and adults. The use of technology is often a solitary experience, limiting chances for developing social skills through joint play activities.
  • Excessive screen time for children has been linked to irregular sleep, behavioral problems, academic lags, and more.

Passive vs. Interactive Technology: Of course, not all technology experiences are equal. Non-interactive or passive technology like television, movie viewing or streaming media provides no opportunities for hands-on learning, which we know is key for young children’s development. On the other hand, interactive media like ebooks, searching on the internet to solve a problem, or experimenting with educational apps for kids have greater potential than passive experiences. Pre-screening is always recommended with either interactive or non-interactive technology. Intentionality refers to the deliberate choices teachers and parents make about what kind of educational technology might be useful to a particular child’s development. For instance, if your child loves to draw and tell stories, give your child many intentional opportunities to build those skills. If you want your child to also be technologically literate, look for software or apps that allow your child to be a media creator rather than just a game player. Or look for technology that encourages creativity, exploration, pretend play, peer interactions and more.

As with most parenting decisions, you have to examine the recommendations and figure out what is best for your family in the digital age. If having your children under foot while you are trying to prepare dinner results in you losing your patience, then maybe a little video viewing at that time may be a preferred alternative. And of course you are not a “bad parent” if you occasionally go over the above suggested daily limits. Here are a few thoughts to consider when establishing your family’s approach to screen time:

  • We can borrow some terms from the field of early childhood education to guide our decision-making about technology and children: developmentally appropriate practice and intentionality. When you consider the development appropriateness of technology for children, you take into account your child’s age, developmental level and individual characteristics. Ask yourself questions like “Is this movie and the violence it includes appropriate for my five-year-old who tends to act out everything he sees?”
  • Establish your own family rules for screen time. Consider less screen time during the week and relax a little on weekends.
  • Consider an occasional screen free week or day for the whole family to participate.
  • To manage children & technology, set a good example yourself.
  • Substitute quality time together for screen time. Plan a special outing, play a board game together or let your child choose the activity and follow his/her lead. School-age kids may act like they are not interested, but what children really want and look for is your attention. It is worth persisting.
  • When possible, watch TV with your child or interact with the tablet together. Do jumping jacks during commercials or take a break to see who can jump the longest.
  • Keep TVs and computers out of children’s bedrooms. When there, research shows there is increased screen time by children.The rapidly changing technological landscape in the digital age has been compared to the historical shift that occurred after the introduction of the printing press, which greatly expanded access to books and printed materials. The impact of technology on children’s lives is constantly changing and as parents and guardians, we are responsible for helping our children maintain healthy technology usage through this important part of their lives.

Digital citizenship in the digital age: Part of our role as parents is also to teach children to be responsible consumers of technology. School-agers can be introduced to the concept of cyber safety and what are appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology. It is also important to explain to children why they have screen time limits.

Answering The Difficult QuestionsSometimes difficult questions can take parents by surprise. It can be good to plan in advance on how and what to talk to your children about when they ask about death. It is critical not to avoid or try to brush off the questions as that will only cause more confusion and perhaps even fear if children pick up your discomfort on the subject.  Here are some tips on how to talk to your children when they ask the difficult questions:

Stay Child Centered

It is very important to discuss death and dying at the child’s level of understanding. Taking in abstract terms or using common phrases about death to kids will only cause confusion. You certainly can talk about spiritual or religious beliefs about the death and dying with your children but keep them at an age appropriate level.

Be careful not to use terms like “sleeping” or “passed on” or “lost” but rather be compassionate and honest. Children need a clear description that makes sense to them. Even younger children can understand that a body can stop working when a person is in an accident or is elderly. Often this type of honest, clear and simple explanation is enough for a youngster.

Talk About Real World Examples

It is important, especially with younger children, to stay to simple examples and not to try to include too many concepts at one time. It is important for children to understand that death is a normal part of life without stressing the mortality of the child or of you as the parent. It is also important to remember that younger children, especially those under the age of 10, may see death as reversible.

Kids may ask about a pet, family member or loved one’s death repeatedly. Be patient and provide a consistent answer that provides the information the child is seeking. Talking to a counselor or reading a book about death that is at an age appropriate level can help a parent start the conversation and allow children to ask the questions they may be worrying about.

Shopping HealthierGrocery shopping can be a tricky business, especially for  those who are trying to shop healthier. However you can make smarter decisions when shopping by making use of a few tried and tested techniques.

One of the best suggestions is to make out a list of the healthy foods you want to purchase before you enter the store and to know where these kinds of foods are located and head straight to that section.

This will both help you to save time shopping and also cut down on the temptation to purchase less healthy items.

It is also a good idea to avoid going shopping when you are feeling hungry as the amount of impulse buys you pick up can end up being more than you wanted going in.

The produce department also needs to be made more use of. Vegetables should actually take up almost fifty percent of all the food you eat.

Uncommon Poisons in the HomeWe’re well aware of the most common types of poisons that may be lurking in the cupboards in our homes:

  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • Automotive products like windshield washer fluid and antifreeze
  • Insect repellants
  • Animal products like flea and tick killers
  • Swimming pool chemicals
  • Mold and mildew killing products
  • Health and Beauty products like shampoos, conditioners and cosmetics
  • Weed killers and other lawn care products

What we tend to overlook sometimes are the most uncommon poisons that can be a danger to our children.

Among these uncommon poisons are plants we have in and around our home.

We make our home pretty and some of the common house plants that don’t cause a problem are African Violets, Begonias, Forsythia, Petunia and Poinsettias at Christmas time. However, there are several pretty plants that can be deadly:

  • Azaleas
  • Daffodils
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Mistletoe
  • Morning Glory
  • Oleander

Also among these poisonous plants are any of the wild mushrooms you may see growing around your yard are also deadly.

Preventing poisoning in your home is simple enough by keeping these harmful products kept under lock and key and plants up and out of reach of little fingers. Here are a few tips:

  • Store chemicals and pesticides in locked cabinets away from children and even your pets
  • Use the safest products you can – sometimes “green” products are a safer route
  • Be sure the lids on all products are replaced and tightened after every use
  • If you are using rodent killer, use packaging that is tamper resistant and child-proof
  • Do not transfer chemicals or cleaners out of their original containers

No matter if there is an interaction with poisonous household products or the plants we have to make our home pretty, a phone call to your local Poison Control Center is critical.

Have a Picky Eater? We Can Help!One of the most common struggles parents have is dealing with picky eaters. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

  • Your toddler takes a few bites of food and announces he’s “done”
  • You can stock your fridge and shelves full but your little one will only eat the same 5 things over and over.
  • Your toddler asks for one thing, you make it, then she asks for something else then decides she wants something completely different altogether.
  • Coaxing your children to just take “one more bite” is a constant battle in your home

First things first – meal times are supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable so you want to avoid these battles every time you sit down at the table. Toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 typically have smaller appetites, so if they only eat a little at a time, that’s ok.

However, also realize that their appetites can change on a daily basis and even from meal to meal. If they like carrots, don’t be afraid to throw some in at breakfast. Do they prefer eggs? Who says you can’t have eggs for dinner?

Dinner time is typically going to be the meal that your toddler feels like eating the least. It’s the end of the day and they are tired and unless they have been doing a physical activity like swimming or playing outside or at daycare, chances are they aren’t going to be as hungry as they are at other times of the day.

If you are dealing with preschool or school age children who are picky eaters, you may be able to reason more with them and enforce the “one bite rule” – meaning they have to take at least one bite of every food on their plate and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it again.

Here are just a few ideas for dealing with picky eaters:

  • Don’t nag or coax your toddler. Pick and choose your battles – plain and simply put, your child WILL eat when he is hungry.
  • Have realistic portions: Many parents set unrealistic goals for their children when it comes to mealtime. A good rule of thumb to follow: If your child is under the age of 5-6, use a tablespoon per year of age. If they ask for more when they’ve finished that then you can always give more.
  • Keep trying to introduce new foods – even if they haven’t liked them before. Tastes change and you never know when you find something new they like.
  • Avoid too much milk, juice and soda in place of food. Many kids will fill up on sugary drinks and have no room for food.

Remember, pick your battles and don’t make meal time miserable for everyone!

Need more information? Contact Premier Academy today!

Helping Children Deal with StressWhile as adults, we tend to enjoy our bedtime and welcome it with open arms, our children aren’t as excited when it comes time to sleepy time. Here are a few tips to help make the bedtime struggle with your little ones a little less of a struggle.

  • No big meals right before bedtime – no caffeine either!
  • Once dinner time is over, stay away from over-stimulating activities. Don’t “wind them up” and expect them to be ready for bed a short time later.
  • Give them a choice when it’s almost bed time – do you want to go now or in five minutes? Only do this once and when it’s bedtime, it’s bedtime.
  • Form a quiet and relaxing bedtime ritual that you can start about half an hour before bedtime. Whatever the routine is, have it end in your child’s bedroom with them tucked in. A bath and reading is good but avoid scary movies or exciting television shows.
  • When establishing that calming bedtime routine, avoid rocking and singing your child to sleep. If he or she wakes up in the middle of the night, they may need that same routine to get back to sleep and can lead to sleep disorders. If you are already doing this, gradually phase this out of your routine.
  • Make sure your child’s bed and bedroom are comfortable – the room shouldn’t be too warm or too cold and the bedding should be comfortable but not restrictive.
  • If your child calls for you after you have left the room, don’t respond right away. This allows them to remember that it’s time for bed and they should really be trying to get to
  • If your child calls for you after you have left the room, don’t respond right away. sleep.
  • Finally, set up a reward system of some kind. For example, every night your child gets in bed at bedtime and stays there, he or she gets a star or a sticker of some kind. After a number of stars or stickers are earned, give them a prize.

Answering The Difficult QuestionsThe way we, as parents and caregivers, respond to children’s questions and worries will help them through difficult times and teach them to cope during future challenges.  We wanted to provide you with information to help you recognize signs of stress in children and offer you suggestions for helping children manage stress.

  • Changes in eating, sleeping, or bathroom habits
  • Increased separation anxiety from parents or teachers
  • Bad dreams or crying spells
  • Nail-biting, thumb-sucking, or hair-pulling
  • Feeling sick, i.e. headaches, stomach aches
  • Chewing on clothing or other items
  • Wanting to be alone or withdrawn from others
  • Increased aggressive behavior or acting out
  • Pretend play themes may be related to the current situation

 How can we help our children cope with stress?

  • Encourage children to express their feelings.  Allow them to feel and be in whatever mood they wish.  Let them know it is ok to feel the way the do.  Allow for quiet alone time.
  • Try to lower expectations and avoid putting children under too much pressure.
  • Offer children proper nutrition and plenty of rest.  Do relaxation exercises such as breathing, stretching, or listening to soothing music to ease tension.
  • Use books as a way for children to see characters in stressful situations and learn to cope.
  • Avoid “busy” schedules but try to be consistent and maintain your daily routines. Children feel safe and secure when their normal routines remain the same.
  • Encourage drawing and writing.  Children will be able to express their feelings through journaling or drawings. Encourage children to add faces that express them being “happy, sad, or worried, etc.”
  • Encourage movement, dancing, and physical exercises.  Physical activity decreases stress.
  • Encourage puppet play.  Children will be able to create a reality they can control and recreate stressful events in such away they can manage.

If a child shows excessive signs of stress for long periods of time, it is in the best interest of the child to seek professional advice.

Helping Children Deal with their Reactions to a Traumatic Event

When children witness a traumatic event, they each may react in very different ways. Some may continue on as if nothing happened. Others may express fear, anger, or sadness. It is important to know that each of these responses (and everything in between) is normal.

If a child is experiencing difficulty, it is important that the adults in their lives provide the stability and love that will allow them to process and deal with the situation.  Below you will find some general guidelines on how you can help. 

Answer children’s questions:

The aftermath of any accident or dramatic incident leaves children with many questions.  Children need the opportunity to talk about their feelings with each other and with adults. They need our thoughtfulness and our honesty.

Before talking to children it is important that you get your own feelings and thoughts straight.  Think not only about what you want to say, but also about how you want it to come across.

Acknowledge feelings:

You may need to help young children name their feelings. Let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay.  Share your feelings, but always be strong.

Offer the reassurances you can:

Help the child feel better about the situation and provide comfort without giving misinformation or false hope.  Instead of saying, “I am sure everything is going to be okay.”  You can say, “I know that everyone is doing everything they can to help her feel better.”

Physical closeness may also be important at a time like this.  Give lots of hugs and physical contact.  This helps your child feel safe and protected.

Stay tuned in to the child:

Keep listening, asking, discussing, and reassuring as the child’s thoughts and feelings evolve.  Find opportunities to ask what’s on the child’s mind and follow his or her lead.  Recognize and respond to the clues in a child’s art, play, or conversations with a friend. 

Make the incident understandable to the child:

Every child is different and the explanation of the event needs to match the child’s developmental understanding.  Use words that your child can understand to talk about what happened.

Give your child a chance to express him/herself:

Be alert for opportunities to steer children toward actively caring about others. They might want to make or send a card or send flowers.  Support your child in expressing care and concern.

Need more parenting tips? Contact Premier Academy today!