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Reading in early childhood leads to academic success

June 6, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Reading in early childhood leads to academic success

Think about when you're most proud of your young child. Is it when they conquer a skill you've been working on for a while? Is it when they use a word larger than you thought they could understand (or even a word they did—but shouldn't—have picked up from you *wink*)?

For young children, small steps in learning eventually become their academic development. Their ability to learn now will help them learn once they're in school. Reading can help your toddler develop those early academic skills.

Did you receive children's books as gifts when you were pregnant or after your baby was born? Keep those books out and accessible for your child to pick up. Flip through them together, looking at and talking about the pictures. Ask your child questions:

  • What animal is that?
  • What color shirt is he wearing?
  • Where do you think she is going next?
  • How does she know that woman?
  • Why is he sad?

These questions encourage your child to interact with the book, develop cause and effect critical thinking skills, and use their imagination about what could happen outside of the written story.

Once your child starts to develop an interest in books, head to yard sales and the library for inexpensive ways to expand their reading options. You can even use newspaper comics and magazines.

By including your child while reading books—asking questions during the story, pointing out details in the illustrations, and prompting your child to share their own version of the story—you are encouraging academic development in your child and setting them on the path to success.


How can you teach your child to read? Try this teacher's tips

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Early Childhood Physical Development

May 2, 2017

By Jessica Vician

Early Childhood Physical Development | How to encourage your toddler's physical development with exercises and activities that nurture their gross and fine motor skills. | A young toddler squats to pick up a soccer ball.

As your baby becomes a toddler, they will grow physically stronger and will gain a better grasp of the movements they started when they were smaller. For example, their walk will start looking more like "one foot in front of the other" instead of a waddle. Soon, your growing toddler will gain more strength and coordination, learning aim and how to throw and catch among other activities. You can encourage their physical development with exercises and activities that nurture their gross and fine motor skills.

Gross motor skills involve larger movements using the whole body, while fine motor skills are more precise and will only use a portion, like the hands and fingers.

To help your child learn both skills, incorporate Albert Bandura's theory of observational learning (quoted below from a Cliffs Notes article):

  1. Observe the behavior in others.
  2. Form a mental image of the behavior.
  3. Imitate the behavior.
  4. Practice the behavior.
  5. Be motivated to repeat the behavior.

To nurture your child's gross motor development, try these efforts:

  • Provide a large, open, safe space for running, jumping, rolling, etc. to use big muscles.
  • Spend time at the playground teaching them to swing by themselves and climb around (stay close by for safety).
  • Set up a balance beam at home—on top of a soft ground, tape foam blocks together on the floor to allow your child to walk across the "beam" in a straight line.
  • Try some of Get Ready to Read's activities outlined here.

Help your child develop their fine motor skills with these activities:

  • Teach your child to brush their teeth by showing them how you do it and then asking them to imitate you.
  • Build something with large Lego blocks or Lincoln Logs. Let them learn to put the blocks together and pull them apart.
  • Draw or color with crayons, paint with watercolors, or do puzzles together with big pieces.
  • Try this mom's favorite activities for fine motor skills.

If you're wondering what developmental milestones your child should be at for their age, check with your pediatrician. He or she knows your child's medical history and can provide the most accurate assessment. For a quick check online, you can reference Gracepoint Wellness' article here.

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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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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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Parent Engagement in the Early Years

November 15, 2016

By Jessica Vician

Parent Engagement in the Early Years | Several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten. | A father reads with his young children.

When raising a child, it’s hard to know when parent engagement begins. With a baby, you’re doing your best to meet the baby’s needs and fit in sleep when you can. Once the baby becomes a toddler, you’re working on small things, like motor skills and reading. But when should you start actively being an engaged parent?

The answer is at the very beginning, but the shape of parent engagement changes as your child grows. Here are several examples of how you can practice parent engagement throughout the early years—from day one through kindergarten.

Infancy and Stress
Raising a healthy and secure child starts in infancy as you hold, soothe, and interact with your baby. That nurturing helps the child develop a healthy sense of self that will allow him or her to better cope with stress when he or she gets older.

In addition to that nurturing, you can further help your baby by keeping your stress away from him or her. When you are stressed, your body produces toxins that affect your major systems. Babies and children can sense your stress as well, so keep the stress away by taking deep breaths, practicing yoga and/or meditation, and seeking therapy if necessary.

Toddlers and Vocabulary
Help your child develop his or her vocabulary by experiencing new things together.

For example, if you live in the city, take a day trip to the country. Your child will see new things and ask about them. If you see a silo on a farm, explain that it is used to store grain. Once your child seems to understand, point to the silo and ask what it is. Help your toddler continue to learn these vocabulary words by taking pictures and looking through them at home, asking him or her to name the things seen during the trip.

Early Childhood and Preschool
When your child is around three years old, you might consider sending him or her to preschool to start the formal learning process and prepare your child for kindergarten. Attending preschool can provide your child with many benefits, such as:

  • Learning concepts and skills, like colors, shapes, numbers, and letters.
  • Learning to play, share, and cooperate with others.
  • Learning to talk and listen to others, along with new words and proper grammar.

Starting Kindergarten
When entering kindergarten, it’s important that your child starts making his or her own choices. You can encourage making smart choices by giving your child healthy options. For example, ask your child if he or she wants yogurt or an apple as a snack. Does he or she want to play t-ball or basketball today? These options allow your child to eat healthy and exercise regardless of the choice, while it also empowers your child to have control over something in his or her life.

It’s not difficult to practice parent engagement. It’s as easy as nurturing your child, encouraging him or her to learn new things and meet new people, and slowly helping him or her learn to be independent.

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