Panelists: Josie Olson (Registered Play Therapist and Mama) and Madie Haskell (Early Childhood Education Professor, Mama and Grandma), and our moderator, Lauren Barnes.
We will spend the morning discussing some creative ways parents can encourage children to regulate their emotions, utilize problem-solving skills, encourage mindfulness, and deal with that o-so-scary temper tantrum. The goal for this cafe topic is to get conversation going about parenting and to provide you with resources, ideas, and hopefully some refreshing perspectives.
Problem solving skills can be gained through play, says Josie. Adapting to and interacting with their environment can nurture these skills. If safety is not an issue, she recommends letting children work through problems themselves. Madie agrees and adds a reminder that there are very few things in a toddler's life that they are in control of. If you can add things to their lives that they can control, this will teach them responsibility and problem solving. Giving them the opportunity to help solve situations by asking questions ("What's going on here?") will be more beneficial than simply telling them the solution. She stresses that problem solving is key to emotional and social well being, which can help them be successful in life.
Josie says that mindfulness can be promoted by tracking a child's behaviors (by narrating aloud), and making suggestions when they could use some help. Explaining what you're doing as you do it (while cooking in the kitchen, for example) will help them see that what you're doing has a purpose. In terms of milestones, Madie says that there is not a specific time at which children should be learning certain responsibilities. There is a guideline (link), but it is not rigid. Karen Ruskin, the author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices, suggests these steps: 1. Start young 2. Let them help you 3. Show kids the way 4. Model responsibility 5. Praise them 6. Manage your expectations 7. Avoid rewards 8. Provide structure and routine 9. Teach consquences
Many of these ideas mimic the Montessori way of teaching, through play-based learning and allowing children to help with real life tasks. Josie reiterates that modeling for children will let them learn. She suggests child-sized tools (brooms, gardening tools, etc.) to let children help around the house. Madie warns against rewards for expected responsibilities, but a spontaneous good deed or surprise is fun and beneficial. Our audience questions how to teach consequences, and Josie suggests the book Have a New Kid by Friday. Madie says the hardest part of teaching consequences is the parent; we naturally want to give in and see our children be happy. Following through with consequences is not the path of least resistance, and sometimes we as parents do give in (and that's okay!). An audience member acknowledges that she knows consistency is key, but it is hard to do. A funny tool called the Dammit Doll can help parents release frustration (out of sight of children, of course).
Teaching empathy to a child can be challenging. Josie suggests being an example for your child and treating those who are different with respect and humanity. Doing charitable acts, helping others and being kind to someone in a difficult situation shows your child how to respond in the world. Filial Therapy including expressive arts, directed drawing and more (coming up with a family crest or moto, for example) can give insight into the family relationship.
When it comes to play, Madie recommends watching children play without interruption (our tendency is to control or direct them), as independent play is vital for children. Playing with adults includes doing everyday tasks together (walking together to get the mail) and is also very beneficial for children by helping them understand the world around them. Cooking is a great way to play with children, and can help promote good eating habits. Parents benefit from this play, too! Our audience members mentioned that sometimes kids want parents to "play" with them, but then they ignore you. Madie says this is normal and just being available is good. She suggests introducing a new toy (or unusual household item or tool) every month or so to keep kids interested and learning new things.
Regulating emotions can be done through expressive arts (having children draw a picture of their feelings), asking how they feel (as opposed to telling them), using stress balls, inflating balloons to practice/mimic breathing, molding clay (pound it if you're angry, etc.). The goal is to allow them to realize that all feelings are okay, but all actions are not. We want to give them an appropriate outlet for their feelings and emotions. Lauren suggests introducing these stress management tools when they are not in the throes of an emotional meltdown, so that they will know how to use them when they are needed. Books may not be helpful during a meltdown, but using a book afterwords to open a discussion about what they were feeling is very helpful. Modeling all of the different emotions as a family (again, not during a heated moment), is a helpful tool as well. Talking through our own emotions as parents is a good example of showing how to handle strong emotions and allowing children to understand that everyone has these feelings.
One parent mentioned the need for her child to be productive despite sad or unpleasant feelings. Our panelists suggest that acknowledging their feelings and then setting a limit (a timer or activity) can be a compromise. Madie says to always use positive feedback when discussing feelings ("I appreciate that you are feeling sad. It is very sweet that you're missing Daddy.")
Why do temper tantrums happen??! Reasons include a battle for independence, limited skills to influence the events in their lives, inconsistency and unrealistic expectations, undue strictness, over-protectiveness, overindulgence, and lack of assertive limit setting. Conscious discipline is one method (there are many!) for dealing with a child's undesirable behavior. The STAR method (Smile, Take a breath, And Relax) is mentioned in this video from ConsciousDiscipline.com, which discusses reasons and methods for dealing with temper tantrums.
For children who are easily frustrated and want to give up on tasks, emphasizing effort as opposed to the outcome can help children's self-esteem. Congratulate a child's effort and encourage practice to build tenacity and a willingness to continue trying even after failure. Give reminders of other skills they have mastered to show them that they are making progress.
Madie has helpfully provided a slideshow covering many of the topics discussed today. Click here to download the Power Point presentation.