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How to Guide Your Toddler’s Emotional Development

April 11, 2017

By Jessica Vician

How to Guide Your Toddler’s Emotional Development | The ultimate goal in raising a child is independence, and that goal is the same in guiding your toddler’s emotional development. | Two toddlers play with their mother in the sand.

As your baby enters the toddler phase, he or she will go through many emotional highs and lows—which may put you through the same emotional rollercoaster. Guiding a child through emotional development can be taxing on the parents since the emotions and behavior can change quickly and finding the right rules and approach to managing the behavior can be trial and error.

The ultimate goal in raising a child is independence, and that goal is the same in guiding your toddler’s emotional development. Each tantrum you manage and victory you celebrate gets you closer to the goal: an independent person who behaves appropriately for the situation.

That means teaching your toddler when to be quiet and sit still (at church or in the pediatrician’s waiting room) and when it’s okay to scream with joy and run around (on the playground). Your toddler will test limits, which might drive you crazy when he or she does so at inappropriate times, but that’s when you have the opportunity to teach him or her the proper behavior.

According to Healthy Children, toddlers act out more around their parents than others because they trust their parents to protect them. Your toddler will test the limits—let’s say by going toward the street when playing outside. When you set and enforce those limits, he might react by crying, screaming, or huffing and puffing. In this example, your child might cry out of anger when you grab him before stepping into the street and telling him firmly to stay in the yard. Depending on your toddler’s age, you might want to explain the limit—playing is only allowed in the yard, not the street, because there are cars in the street that can hurt him if they hit him.

Toddlers also become more independent as they learn to live without their parents for short periods of time. That’s right—it’s good for your child to get a babysitter and have a few hours to yourself! Your toddler might become quiet and withdrawn or even cry in anticipation of you leaving, but reassure her that you will be back in a few hours and playtime with the babysitter will be fun. I recommend trying a few babysitting sessions while your child is awake so that she witnesses you coming home. Praise her for being good while you were away. After a few times with the babysitter, she might feel more comfortable with a nighttime session, feeling safe and familiar enough with the routine to go to bed while you’re away.

In this case, both you and your toddler are testing limits. She is learning how to let you leave and enjoy time without you, and you are learning how she deals with the separation.

Zero to Three offers an activity you can do with your toddler to see how she feels when you are gone. When your toddler is role-playing with friends or toys, see how he or she behaves as Mommy or Daddy. Some kids will pretend to be the parent and wave goodbye. If you’re playing with your child, remind him or her that while the doll or action figure misses Mommy or Daddy, it knows they will be back. Your child might even instruct a friend or doll to “be sad” or “have fun” once “Mommy” or “Daddy” leaves. That will give you great insight into how your child feels when you leave, and give you the opportunity to address those feelings.

These are just a couple of examples of how your toddler may test limits on his or her quest for independence. He or she is learning the rules, how to behave, and how he or she feels about being given limits. As you guide your toddler’s emotional development, it’s normal for tears, screaming, and tantrums—sometimes from both of you.

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Socializing Your Baby

April 4, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Socializing Your Baby | Just as you are your child’s first teacher, you are your child’s first friend. Taking his or her social cues from you, your child will slowly learn which faces and noises elicit reactions and how to mimic your facial expressions. | A dad smiles with his daughter.

Just as you are your child’s first teacher, you are your child’s first friend. Taking his or her social cues from you, your child will slowly learn which faces and noises elicit reactions and how to mimic your facial expressions. Eventually, he or she will start interacting more frequently by babbling, smiling, and crying around you to communicate. Those early communication skills are your child’s first steps toward socialization.

Since so many of your baby’s social skills are the result of interacting with you, it’s important to communicate often with him or her. In the first month, you can encourage these skills by making exaggerated facial expressions—raising your eyebrows, opening your eyes and mouth wide, sticking out your tongue—while speaking to your baby.

As he or she grows, keep talking to your baby as much as you can. Talk through your chores, as you change diapers and dress your baby, even as you prepare meals. These verbal cues slowly help your baby learn to talk and build the bond between you.

This Baby Center article details the monthly social developmental milestones for babies, which can help you know what to look for as your baby grows.

Every baby is different, and every parent has different expectations and needs for their child. The socialization skills and activities outlined above are easy to do at home, but what if you want to get out and expose you and your baby to other youngsters and parents?

There are plenty of options, from play dates with friends and their babies to classes at socialization centers like Gymboree. This mom, Brittany, wrote about her experience taking her eight month-old to a class, saying it helped her daughter interact with other youngsters and improve her motor skills. As your baby gets older, he or she will start taking an interest in other babies and you can begin nurturing those social skills, too.

While your baby is young, enjoy the bonding time as you teach him or her to socialize through interactions with parents, grandparents, siblings, and close friends. The parental bond will be the strongest social bond in the first year, so enjoy it!

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How to Discipline Kids of All Ages

March 21, 2017

By Jessica Vician

How to Discipline Kids of All Ages | Effective non-physical discipline is possible with these tips.

When discussing punishment in our YOU Program workshops, many parents tear up as they share pain and fear from when they were physically disciplined as a child. It's a pain they never want their children to feel, but sometimes don't know how to discipline their children otherwise.

Disciplining a child isn't easy. It’s normal to feel frustrated and mad. If you grew up with physical punishment, take a time-out before disciplining your child to ensure you're cool-headed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child and discourages any form of physical punishment. Effective non-physical discipline is possible. Here’s how:

Set and enforce rules.
Make it clear to your children what you expect from them. Talk about the house rules frequently, when everyone is calm and things are going well. If the rules are clear and easy to understand, your kids will have an easier time following them.

Be consistent.
Ensure every person who cares for your children—babysitters, grandparents, daycare providers—knows the rules and knows how to enforce them.

Children model behavior and may not follow the rules if you or other caregivers don’t follow them, too.

Be supportive.
When identifying your child's unacceptable behavior, be clear that while you are disappointed with the behavior, you will always love and support him or her.

Use age-appropriate disciplinary techniques.
The disciplinary method you use with your children should depend on their ages. With toddlers, use brief verbal explanations about the bad behavior, then redirect them to another activity. With teenagers, explain what they did and the consequences of their actions.

It is possible to effectively discipline your children with love and without using physical actions. There's no need to repeat the mistakes of the past when parenting in the present and future.

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Parental Engagement: When Your Ex Remarries

January 10, 2017

By Amanda Alpert Knight

Parental Engagement: When Your Ex Remarries | A mother shares what she has learned about her kids as they get used to their dad remarrying. | The photo shows a man cutting through a paper family.

Typically when I use the term parental engagement, I’m talking about how involved parents are in schools and their children’s lives. I’m referring to the depth and the breadth in which a parent is engaged in a child’s educational, social, emotional, and physical activities. This article is not about that.

My ex-husband is engaged. Less than two years after we divorced, my ex-husband emailed me that he is engaged. My feelings aside, I remembered an article I wrote about striving for a kinder divorce for the kids—something I have since discovered is somewhat of a unicorn. As an educator and a mother, I have observed my children through this process and can offer my thoughts on what I think can lead to the greatest success as this transition continues.

1. Kids come first—bottom line.
In the process of dating, engagement, and wedding planning, it's critical to let your kids know that they are always number one.

Even if they aren’t directly expressing that they are feeling replaced, left out, or simply concerned, your kids need your attention, affection, and positive reinforcement. As the families are blending (and even thereafter), children need time with their parent. I recommend making one-on-one time a priority with each of your kids without the soon-to-be spouse.

2. It’s not about the party.
The day after my ex got engaged, he told my oldest about how much fun the wedding would be—tuxedos, a tropical location, the dancing—it sounded like a dream; who wouldn't be excited? But each night thereafter, I heard about the concerns, the worries, the long term: Where will I sleep? I don't get along with my stepsibling. I don’t want the wedding to happen so soon.

While the newly-engaged parents are in bliss and excited, the kids are full of emotions. It's important to see and hear those emotions and concerns, as children need space for them. They need to know that those emotions are okay and are going to be addressed, both by the engaged parent, the soon-to-be stepparent, and the other one. There is real life after the party, and while it's okay to get the kids excited about the wedding, you also need to address the day-to-day changes that will occur.

3. Respect your child's parent and your past relationship.
Not everyone will agree with this, but I think respect for the past relationship is critical when approaching a second marriage when kids are involved. You created children together and are co-parenting, so it's important to speak respectfully to and about the other parent, especially when speaking to your kids.

As I stated in my previous article, I have always envisioned a time when my ex and I could be friends, where we could work together to better one another in our new paths and not destroy each other. If we can each respect and appreciate the relationship we had—even though it's over—we can move forward happy for the other person and therefore create a better environment for our children. Constructive behavior is better than destructive behavior.

4. A new spouse isn’t a substitute for the other parent in your child’s life.
Remember that each person is a parent seven days a week, not just when you each have custody.

I recently met a man who dated a woman with children for about five years (he doesn’t have children of his own). He knew he had approached the situation in the right way when the children introduced him to people as their friend, John. He wasn’t trying to be a substitute for their father or play a fatherly role. He understood that wasn’t his place nor did he need that to feel part of their lives. I had so much respect for how he explained his approach to dating a woman with children. He respected the parenting relationship and didn’t try to break that or interfere. He was simply the children's friend, which was of immense value to him.

These four rules are the result of going through this process with my kids. Each situation is different, but I think everyone can agree that respect for your parenting partner, regardless of your relationship status, goes a long way during and after a divorce.

While my dating process is slow and calculated—a casual jog where I watch my footing and carefully select my paths— when I find the right partner, I will reflect back on what I have learned about putting the children first and respecting my children's father. Regardless of divorce, my ex and I are still engaged in each other's lives as co-parents of two of the most amazing children I’ve ever known. I hope our actions fill them with love instead of worry.

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Life Skills for Every Age

January 3, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Life Skills for Every Age | Try teaching your child these life skills for his or her current—and future—age.

We spend at least 12 years in school expanding our academic minds and wading through social, emotional, and physical waters, but in all that time, we never take a class on life skills. Perhaps that is because those skills are better taught through experiences than in a classroom setting, and also because those skills can be learned before school begins and after it ends. Try teaching your child the life skills below for his or her current—and future—age.

Early Childhood
Infants
Babies start learning life skills from the moment they are born. Swaddling and holding your baby establishes comfort and trust between the two of you. Speaking and reading to your baby will help him or her learn to talk and read sooner than if you didn't practice these skills.

Toddlers
There are many things that toddlers can start doing to care for themselves, but you will probably need to help them start or finish these tasks. For instance, you can teach your toddler to put a shirt or pants on. He or she might need help with the armholes or taking the shirt off, but practice makes perfect.

Another big step for toddlers is learning how to hold a cup and eventually learning how to drink from a cup without a lid and without spilling. Use this learning opportunity with caution—start with a sippy cup with a lid and use clear liquids, staying away from more expensive furniture or rugs until your child has mastered this skill.

Elementary
Kindergarten through 3rd grade
Once your child starts kindergarten and elementary school, social life skills will become more important. Model positive behavior by resolving disputes with your parenting partner or your child in a calm manner. If your child witnesses you arguing with someone else, talk to him or her about it afterwards, explaining in simple terms what the argument was about, how each person felt, and how you resolved it. Ask your child what he or she does at school when there is a disagreement to apply this concept to his or her life.

4th through 6th grade
At this stage in a child's life, academics become more rigorous so it's a great time to establish and/or cement strong study habits, as they will be even more important in middle and high school and on through college, especially as your child's social life expands. Boost your child's excitement about studying by creating a special study area for him or her.

Middle School
Even though you've been teaching your child about hygiene as he or she has grown up—including brushing teeth, washing hands, showering, etc.—puberty has its own hygiene rules.

Talk to your child about the importance of regular showers and where to clean (those armpits will be getting stinky now!), whether or not to start shaving, changing grooming habits, etc. Helping your child learn how to care for an adult body will save him or her from some of the embarrassment that comes with puberty.

High School
Exercise is an important part of a child's life, which is usually done through gym class, sports, and playing with friends. But as kids get older, they become less active, especially if they are not in sports. Since high school sports are more competitive, it's harder for less athletic teens to get the exercise they need.

Make an effort to incorporate at least 30 minutes of exercise a day into your teen's life. It can be as easy as an after-dinner walk every evening or finding an activity that he or she enjoys, like skateboarding, snowboarding, or golf. Getting in the habit of daily exercise now will help your teen stay healthy in college and beyond.

What life skills have you taught your children? Share your ideas and stories in the comments below.

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