CULTIVATING SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR TODDLERS
Teaching social skills to toddlers might look like a big challenge as young children face several difficulties. First, they learn to manage their emotions, then they need to develop empathy towards others, and finally they have to learn to express their feelings and needs while respecting their peers. So, as a parent, your role is to assist them in developing their emotional intelligence.
Here are a few strategies to help your toddler:
1. Show empathy. When children receive a lot of empathy for their own feelings from the adults in their environment, then they develop empathy towards others early. Empathy being the cornerstone of successful interpersonal relationships, it is essential to cultivate it at a young age.
2. Do not force your toddler to share. Although it is a common belief to think that toddlers need to share, it is indeed counterproductive if your child is not ready. First, children need to feel secure in their ownership before being able to share. So, the first concept is to learn to take turns.
3. Stay close during playgroups. Toddlers who hit during social interactions do it because they feel overwhelmed by their emotions and do not know yet how to handle them. If an adult is there when the hitting is happening, then the adult can coach the child how to manage the situation without hitting. For instance, you can say: “Yes, Calvin took your bucket…is that okay with you? No? You can say “My bucket!” If your toddler knows you are here, she will feel safer, learn strategies to express herself without hitting.
4. Teach assertiveness to your child. If your toddler often lets other kids take away things from her and seems unhappy about it, then show her how to stand up for herself. For instance, tell her “If you are not ready to give that up, you can say “I am still playing with it.” Until your child develops her own language skills, you will need to be her “voice” when she plays with others.
5. Set clear limits on physical aggression. Children are entitled to their feelings, but they need to learn to express them appropriately. For instance, tell your child “You can tell us and show us how mad you are without hitting. You can call me, and I will always help you. Now, let’s tell Laura how you are feeling. You can say NO and stomp your feet as hard as you want.”
6. Give your child language for their feelings. It is never too early to start labeling emotions. This will help your toddler process her emotions verbally instead of physically. For instance, say “It is so frustrating when you work hard on your tower and it collapses like that. No wonder you are angry.”
Social skills are a crucial factor in predicting a child’s happiness in life. Studies show that it is indeed more critical than academic or financial success. So, give your children plenty of opportunities to develop and cultivate emotional intelligence.
DINNER TIME: NURTURING THE MIND AND THE BODY
Everybody has heard that having dinner together as a family is a good thing for your children. Recent studies show the huge positive impact that children get when eating dinner with their families. The more frequent family dinners children have, the better they do in school, the less likely they get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active early in their teen years.
The benefits of eating together help children and parents to stay connected and build better relationships. A family dinner gives children a tangible sense of belonging and fulfills their need of being nurtured through the ritual of sharing food with those they love. In order to create a productive dinner hour for everyone, here are a few ideas to get started:
1. The food is not the point. Although healthy meals are essential, decent nutrition does not necessarily require a long prep time. So, instead of focusing on an elaborate meal on weeknights, remember that the point of sitting down together is to connect and share with one another.
2. Cultivate sacred space. Create a daily, short, but restorative celebration of family, which will help everyone to relax from their busy day. Some families light candles, put a seasonal table cloth while others say a blessing that may or may not be religious, but speak about our gratitude of being together and our appreciation of each other.
3. Make the discussion interesting for everyone. Make sure to not talk exclusively about jobs and school. The initial question might be “How was your day at school/work?”, which can lead into a broader topic. Family dinners are also the occasion to talk about an upcoming family decision such as the next vacation. Ask your children their opinion or what they think about a decision you made. Share a poem or a book you truly appreciated. Jokes can also be shared but be cautious to not hurt anyone.
4. Truly listen to your children. Unless asked, do not offer advices as children will be more willing to bring up what is bothering them if they do not get interrupted. Listen to their perspectives of the described situation. Praise your children if they did/say anything that they can be proud of. Point out your concerns/worries using “I statements”. For instance, instead of saying: “You can’t keep coming home so late. It is inconsiderate.”, say: “I feel worried when you come home so late. I wish you would call me.”
5. What to talk about? If you run out of topics of discussion, ask everyone to write on index cards possible agenda items. Then, pull out an index card when it is dinner time. Some topics may include ideas such as “Tell each person of the family why you are glad they are part of the family.”, “What do you think makes a person popular?”, or “If you could have a conversation with anyone in history, who would it be? What would you discuss?”
Having dinner all together after a busy day for everyone is a privileged time to reconnect with one another, share happy and difficult times of the day, discuss an important topic, or make a family decision. In any case, it is a way to express love and attention in constructive ways.
ENHANCING YOUR BABY BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
In order to develop their brain the best way, babies need the presence of an adult who is responsive to their emotional and physical needs. Human babies are designed to develop by interacting with and observing loving and caring adults. However, it is essential to not focus exclusively on the baby as making every moment about her would put pressure on her and make her anxious.
Here are a few tools and resources to help enhance your baby brain:
1. Engage warmly with your baby throughout the day. By enjoying her, engaging with her, responding to her, showing her the world, and reassuring her when she is upset, then your baby receives the foundation of emotional security necessary for her intellectual development. Studies show that infants who are the most advanced intellectually, physically, and emotionally are the ones who have caregivers who are attentive, responsive, and warm.
2. Read to your baby. Reading to your baby has multiple benefits. By exposing her to the sound of your voice, it soothes her. It also helps develop feelings of emotional intimacy between your baby and yourself as well as increase her attention span and memory.
3. Talk to your baby. Involve her and speak to her as you move through your daily tasks. Babies learn language by listening to you and others use it. Soon, you will be able to check your child’s understanding of words. For instance, ask your baby to find her favorite toy or stuffed animal. If she turns toward it, she probably knows what it is. Make simple requests such as “Wave bye-bye”, “Give me a hug” or “Throw the ball” and observe her reaction.
4. Play brain development games. Make sure to make it interactive and age-appropriate. Remember to introduce your baby to sensory games, not just cognitive ones. You may sing to her, play pat-a-cake type games, massage her, play music of different kinds for her, or dance with her.
5. Let her be on her own. While babies do need plenty of interactions with their caregivers, they also need plenty of time to play with their toes, listen to noises in their environment, stare at the dust motes in a shaft of light, or just figure out how their own muscles work.
Quality time is not necessarily busy time. Babies don't benefit from over-stimulation. All babies need time to play and explore the world in the security of a loving and caring adult, but they also need time to occupy themselves without our interference. A healthy baby has access to both types of experiences.
COPING WITH SCHOOL STRESS
As school has begun, stress may have kicked in for your child. Between schoolwork, homework, standardized tests, bullying, and after school activities, most children are stressed out. Common signs of stress are changes in mood or behavior, headaches and stomachaches, changes in sleep and appetite. For teenagers, signs may include cutting oneself or expressions of despair or hopelessness.
Here are a few resources to help your child/teen to cope with stress:
1. Teach your child time-management skills. Encourage your child to use a planner to keep track of assignments. When an assignment is finished, your child can check it off for a feeling of accomplishment. Also teach your child to budget her time wisely by making a list of all activities (homework, after school activities, exam prep, sport activity) she does every week and help her put them on the calendar.
2. Consider cutting down on extras. As a nation, we tend to believe that the more the better. However, over-scheduling is a huge source of stress for children of all ages who are worried about keeping up with their responsibilities and activities. Instead, reevaluate the priorities and look for ways to cut back on school work and extra activities.
3. Encourage sleep, exercise, and family mealtimes. About 30 to 40% of adolescents have 6 hours or less of sleep on school nights while studies show that adequate sleep reduces level of stress. Being physically active prevents stress from building up and mealtimes are an opportunity to connect to your child/adolescent by communicating with her and supporting her emotionally.
4. Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, writing affirmations, and positive thinking are healthy habits to develop daily. Those techniques are proven ways to reduce stress and bring relief from anxiety.
5. Keep the fun in childhood and teen years. It is essential to maintain a balance between work and play. So, let your child/teen have unstructured time to relax and play the way she wants. Plan with her activities you all want to share together: hanging out at the beach, having a bike ride, watching a movie, playing a board/video game.
Stress is part of our life. However, when managed properly, children and teens do not get overwhelmed and then have the ability to develop a sense of accomplishment and pride in different areas of their life.
s GETTING READY FOR THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR
A new school year lies ahead of us. It is both exciting and anxiety provoking. It is definitely a big transition that all children experience every year. Children who start school for the first time or who go to a new school face the biggest adjustments. Even just moving up a grade requires getting used to a new teacher, changing social circle, and having more academic demands. However, with some preparation and forethought, children can get ready for the big day.
Here are a few strategies to help her:
1. Have conversations about the next school and/or grade before the first day of school. Prepare your child by telling her what she can expect, including playground, snack, reading, computers, music, and art classes. Share your own stories about what you loved at school when you were a child.
2. Get your child back on an early bedtime several days before school starts. Since most children stay up late in the summer months, they can sleep in late in the morning. However, they will not be able to keep the same schedule once school starts. So, make sure your child has enough sleep (between 9.5 and 11 hours depending on her age and individual physiology) by moving bedtime a bit earlier every night a week before school starts.
3. Involve your child in the process of getting back to school. For instance, let her choose her own school supplies either from home or from a store and let her put them in her backpack. Discuss with her a few options she can have for a healthy snack and lunch. Similarly, let her choose her clothes or give her a few options. The more your child feels in charge, the less she will be nervous/anxious for the big day.
4. The day before school starts, tell your child exactly what will happen. It will give her a comfortable mental representation of what to expect. The unknown is what makes her nervous/anxious. So, by describing her what to expect on the big day will help her relieve the potential stress.
5. When saying goodbye, your child may feel teary. Reassure her she will be fine and that you cannot wait to see her at the end of the day. Your child needs to be left with a new person she can attach to, such as a teacher or a teacher’s aide. Your child’s tears should not last long. In case they do, make sure to talk to the teacher so that you can strategize a way to help your child handle this transition.
Before school starts or even the first days of school, your child may experience some unusual meltdowns. Be sure to be present emotionally for your child and to normalize her emotions. With time and patience, your child will quickly adjust to her new routine.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.