Expanding our Horizons

Month: June, 2017

Routines are the Foundation for Early Childhood Mental Health

By Maegan Lokteff, PhD

Almost everyone likes to have a routine. Some people have an exercise routine, a morning routine, and a work routine. Routines create structure and help guide activities. They provide predictability and security.

For young children, routines provide the foundation for positive early childhood mental health. Routines ensure relationships. For young children, routines need to be facilitated by the adults in their lives. Routines also ensure repetition. Repetition helps babies and toddlers learn to connect their relationships to their experiences of safety and security. Routines play a major role in helping children develop social and emotional skills by providing safe and predictable experiences which allow them to develop and practice social and emotional understanding.

Routines and Self-Control

Routines help young children learn self-control by providing a sense of safety and security. When children feel safe in their day to day activities, they have more freedom to explore, play, and learn.

Routines Reduce Power Struggles

Mother_Scolding_Aspergers_Son-881x499Because they provide children with information about what will happen next, routines can reduce power struggles. Children feel more in control and have a greater sense of security regarding what’s happening to and around them. When children feel in control, they may be more likely to respond positively to requests.

Routines and Safety

bike-helmet-childWhile routines support young children’s sense of security, they can also support the health and safety of a young child. When health and safety practices like washing hands, sitting in a car seat, or wearing a helmet are expected routines, children are more likely to do them. This in turn supports their health, safety, and sense of responsibility.

Routines and Social Skills

Social interactions are a series of routines. As babies grow into toddlers, they learn how to respond to social cues from routines (they know to say hello when someone arrives and goodbye when someone leaves, for example). Social patterns and routines help young children understand turn taking in conversation and activities as well as problem solving with peers.

Routines and Transitions

toddler-tantrum-1024x682Routines can make transitions easier. Routines around transitions, such as bed time or going to day care, help children know what to expect next. This makes them feel secure and makes the change in activity or environment easier to process.

Routines are the foundation for promoting social and emotional health in young children. They offer opportunities for children to build self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, regulation, and communication skills.

Maegan Lokteff
Grand Beginnings, Executive Director; 970.725.3391; director@grandbeginnings.org

Maegan has spent almost 20 years working with children and families. After earning a BS in Child Development and Family Relations and a BS in Recreation at the University of Idaho, Maegan spent several years working in early care and education programs, after school programs, and summer day camps as both a teacher and administrator. She spent four years as a coordinator and advocate for families experiencing domestic violence. In 2014, Maegan completed her PhD in Family and Human Development with an emphasis in child development and early care and education at Utah State University.

The mission of Grand Beginnings is to promote a child-centered school readiness system that fosters early learning, facilitates healthy child development and promotes family success in Grand County.

More information can be found at Creating Routines for Love and Learning, Zero to Three, 2010.

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The Daily Vroom App

Parents of kids age five and younger often find themselves juggling work and family, wondering if they’re doing enough of the important stuff kids need to learn and succeed. In our fast paced society, it’s easy to feel rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed. Daily Vroom, a mobile app created to be wherever parents and caregivers are, reminds us that we already have within us what it takes to help kids develop.

Vroom is based on the ideas that brain building moments are all around us and any moment can become a brain building moment. Some parents might benefit from using everyday moments a little differently while others may need new ideas to spark everyday learning.

vroom-activty

In the first five years of life, a child’s brain makes more than 700 neural connections every second. These neural connections form the foundation for future learning. Since each experience and interaction shapes the growing brain, we’re teaching our kids whether we’re trying to or not. Daily Vroom helps parents understand what happens in children’s brains during these experiences and interactions.

Three scientific principles comprise the essence of Vroom. The first principle is that positive relationships with caring adults are essential for brain building. There is no healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development in the absence of relationships.

The second principle is that back and forth interaction between a child and adult—especially pre-language—is the root of relationships. When parents respond to children’s sounds, actions, and expressions, children learn that their sounds, actions, and expressions have meaning. With or without words, kids learn to initiate communication, pay attention, respond, express clarity, and change topics.

The third principle is that children are not born with executive functioning skills, but they are born with the capacity to develop them. Executive functioning skills include working memory, self-control, and mental flexibility. The interactions and experiences children have in early childhood can help them focus, adjust, resist temptations, and manage emotions. These skills are essential in getting along, achieving goals, and becoming part of a civil society.

The Daily Vroom app gives you access to over 1,000 tips appropriate for your child’s age as well as the brainy background (or science) behind the tips. For example, during bath time, give your two year old different size containers to scoop and pour water. Encourage her to explore and compare the containers and talk about what she’s doing. The app will point out that children learn best through hands-on exploration in playful, commonplace ways. When you help your child set up experiments to learn how the world works, she’ll employ math and science concepts and develop critical thinking skills as well.

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You can choose tips related to changing diapers, cleaning up, doing laundry, going to bed, or being in the car, on foot, or at the park. Brushing hair can become math, getting dressed can improve self-control, and eating peas can explain cause and effect. Your child’s development begins and grows with you.

5 Brain Building Basics

  • Look: make eye contact with your child.
  • Chat: talk about things you see, hear, and do. Explain what’s happening around you.
  • Follow: let your child lead. Respond to her sounds and actions. When she starts talking, ask questions like “What do you think caused that?” and “Why do you like that?”
  • Stretch: make interactions last longer by building on your child’s words and actions.
  • Take Turns: use sounds, words, facial expressions, and gestures to go back and forth to create games or conversations.

Limit Toys for Kids

Recent studies have shown that children ages five and under are often overwhelmed with too many toys. Too many options can be over stimulating and make children anxious. Kids can lose the ability to concentrate on one toy long enough to learn from it, and they can feel compelled to play with every toy in sight without fully engaging with each one.

When a nursery school in Germany agreed to remove all of its toys from their classrooms for three months, teachers reported that the children were initially confused but had ultimately begun to concentrate and communicate better and use their imaginations more.

This kind of research was prompted by the prevalent apprehension that parents are too often substituting toys and screens for their children’s development, creating childhoods that are not only defined by prescriptive (or predetermined) play and patterns of consumption but also lacking in meaningful personal interactions.

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With fewer toys in front of them, kids learn to be more creative. They tap into their imaginations and use their surrounding resources to invent games and activities. They also develop longer attention spans by spending more time per toy, letting themselves indulge in the toy and explore its value and possibility. If a particular toy seems too hard to manipulate or solve, kids are less likely to give it up for another toy. They show more patience, perseverance, and determination. And because fewer toys invokes scarcity, kids actually cooperate, share, and get along better.

Toys are an integral part of a child’s development; they shape the child’s character and value system. The kind of toys we give kids and why and how often we give them teach kids about the world, themselves, and our own values. By constantly giving kids more toys, we teach them to rely on material items rather than their own inner resources. We also establish a standard of consumption. Some psychologists argue that everything other than a first transitional object (like a blanket) is a socially generated want.

When toys are removed from the environment, kids will immerse themselves in nature and physical play. They will engage more deeply with their friends and parents, developing better interpersonal relationships. They learn to value what they have and find value in the things around them. They come to understand that happiness is not up to someone or something else to cultivate. Eventually, they might even learn that boredom is a gift.

outdoor-play-nature

Tips to manage toys and play:

  • The optimum number of toys to have out at once is four.
  • Use a “one toy in, one toy out” policy.
  • Keep toys in boxes and rotate them for play.
  • Put old toys out in new combinations.
  • Avoid prescriptive toys that limit fantasy play (“found objects” offer creative potential for free play).
  • Auditory (background noise) and visual clutter can interfere with play.
  • Encourage reading, singing, dancing, coloring, drawing, and painting.
  • Allow children to be bored.

The Five Critical Needs of Children

By Jessica Smolleck, Pyramid Plus Teacher with Grand Beginnings

1) Every person, whether an adult or a child, needs to feel respected.

  • Examine whether you’re treating your children in a positive and respectful way or whether you’re treating them with rudeness by lying to them, demeaning them, or not listening to them. Before you respond to your child, ask yourself: “How would I respond if I was speaking to an adult?”

children_learn_respect

2) Children appreciate being made to feel important.

  • Children need to have a sense of value, control, and usefulness. They need to feel that they are somebody. Find a middle ground between being protective and allowing your child to explore the world. Be willing to listen and let them problem solve or make decisions. Let your children take responsibility for some things.

3) All kids desire and need to be accepted for who they are.

  • Children have a right to their own feelings, desires, and ideas and they deserve to be recognized. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree or disagree with everything, it simply means that you acknowledge them. Avoid overreacting, being overly critical, or encouraging kids to suppress their feelings. Instead, listen to them and praise the things you like.

acceptance of the child

4) Everyone likes to be included, but children especially need to feel included.

  • Children need to be brought in and made to feel a part of things. They need to feel included in family activities and events. Spend time each day sharing what each person in the family is doing, try to make the kids a part of decisions being made, and find activities that the whole family can do together.

5) Most importantly, children must feel secure.

  • Children need to be in an environment and have relationships that are consistent and caring. They need to know they are loved no matter what and that you have their best interests at heart. Keep this in mind with your interaction with your kids, your discipline, and your relationships with others.
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Unconditional Love

Becoming a Student of My Own Behavior

self reflection

Self-reflection, self-improvement

  • Which of my action today were positive in regard to my child/children’s 5 critical needs?
  • Which of my actions today were negative in meeting the five critical needs of my child/children?
  • What does this tell me about myself
  • If I were doing today over again, what would I do differently?
  • What will I change or try to do tomorrow?