A Child’s Stress Is Real

January 30, 2013

Mother and son readingWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

Sometimes we tend to minimize a child’s anxiety if we know that he will outgrow the source of that anxiety. For instance, if he is struggling to adjust to a new school, we might be quick to reassure him that he will find new friends and that everything will be okay. We tend to forget how difficult it is to be the “new student.”

As adults, we need to remember that a child’s stress is real. Although we know for certain that she will adapt to her new environment, we should not make light of her feelings. Stress can be more overwhelming to a child than it is to an adult because most children do not, as yet, have the coping skills they need to deal with it by themselves. As always, begin with patience, love, and understanding. Encourage your child to talk with you and listen closely to what she is saying so that you understand the source of her stress.

Here are a few tips that will help your child through a stressful situation:

  1. Spend one-on-one time with him. Find an activity or hobby that you both enjoy doing together such as reading books, baking cookies, or playing games.
  2. Never underestimate the power of touch — back rubs, massages, hugs, and gentle touches are very soothing to a stressed child.
  3. Be physically active together and go outside whenever possible. Vigorous physical activity is a great way for both of you to release the stress of the day and also a good habit to adopt.
  4. Let your child know that it is okay to make mistakes. Share a minor mistake you have made and explain how you corrected it on a level that she can understand.
  5. Children love stories. Laughter is a great stress reliever so make up a fun story where the main character deals with the anxiety that your child is feeling.
  6. Consider deep breathing exercises and even yoga classes for an extremely stressed child. You will find http://www.yoga4beginners.org/yoga/kids.html to be a great website detailing the many benefits of yoga such as enhancing a child’s self-awareness and bolstering his self-esteem as he gains control over his body and mind.
  7. Validate your child’s feelings with phrases such as “I know you feel sad” and “It’s okay to feel scared.” Validation simply means that you have heard her. She needs to know that you have listened to her feelings more than she needs to know that the problem will be resolved.
  8. Every child handles stress differently, and there are times to ask for help. Do not hesitate to involve your family doctor if you believe that your child is exhibiting signs of extreme stress and anxiety.

Life brings stress. Be a good role model for your child, and let him see you working through your stress and handling it in a healthy, positive way.


What Does a Child Really Need?

January 23, 2013

iStock Mother and child talkingXSmallWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

Do you recall the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson? For those who might not remember this fairy tale, let me refresh your memory.

There was once an emperor so vain that he changed clothes every hour, and two con artists decided to take advantage of his vanity. They came into town and promised to sew clothes that would be so light and fine that the only ones who would be unable to see them would be those who were too stupid or too incompetent to see them.

When the emperor in his arrogance and vanity marched down Main Street to show off his new clothes, he was extremely confident that he looked amazing. His “wise and competent” advisors continuously told him that the clothes were everything he thought they were. At the apex of the parade, it was a child who stood up and shouted above the noise of the crowd, “But he is naked. He has NO clothes on at all!” The entire crowd was stunned by the wisdom and courage that the child demonstrated when NO one else around the king was bold enough to express the truth.

Children speak the truth, and all we need to do is listen. We sometimes surround ourselves with so much noise and so many different opinions regarding what children need. We then proudly walk through our days interacting with them in a manner that we’ve been told is right, and yet we ignore what the children themselves tell us they need.

Children ask for our time. Children tell us that they just want to be around us. They are comforted by just being in the same room with us. They forgive easily and don’t hold grudges. They ask us to hold them — even older children love physical contact although they act as if they do not. They ask us to play with them. They have a propensity for joy — adults are the ones who stifle it.  They find beauty in simple things, and yet we inundate their world with ads and pressure ourselves to buy all the THINGS that we think they need to be happy. They do not need “things.” A child can have tremendous fun playing in a cardboard box.

Determine that you will truly listen to your child. You will be astonished at the wisdom and truth he will provide. Get rid of the noise and focus on really listening. You might find yourself strolling “naked” in the parade of life with advisors who have lied to you about what children really need. If that’s true, just grab a robe and sit down and listen to the real expert … the child you have the honor of loving and guiding. Inside that little heart is a wealth of treasure.



Your Child Will Forever Hear the Words You Speak Now

January 16, 2013

iStock -Glitter Heart Love TextWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

As I have shared before, Sunday is a very special day in our family. We go to church and then have lunch together each week. When I gather around the table with my grown children and my grandchildren, I am home no matter where we are. I think every mom can relate to the peace that she feels when all her family is in one spot.

My children inspire me as I observe them parenting their children who are 7, 3, and 1. They guide their children with such devotion, skill, and consistency; and I think about how fortunate these three young ones are to have not only loving and well-intentioned parents but also parents who are knowledgeable in early care and education. So it is with passion to educate parents everywhere that I write on this Sunday afternoon.

My friend Peggy O’Mara posted this quote on Facebook: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” As I reflected on today’s lunch, I must say it was hectic. However, all of us guided and redirected without one harsh word. The one-year-old boy was being a one-year-old boy; and my daughter-in-law was kind, prepared, and respectful at all times. My daughter addressed her seven-year-old with the same polite tone and manner afforded others who were in the restaurant. Her expectations were appropriate; and my son helped by giving his niece smiles, hugs, and kindness.

I share this personal picture only to make this point: Every word that you say and action that you take as a parent matters. My three grandchildren were not hearing negative directives such as “sit down,” “be quiet,” “stop fidgeting,” or words that were even more berating such as “you are bad,” “mean,” “stupid,” “not nice,” etc. Words such as these become a child’s inner dialogue that he will hear over and over in his mind throughout his life.

Life is tough enough. Children who grow up in amazing homes with loving parents who give affirmation and great words of encouragement will still go through phases of self-doubt. However, if we have validated their feelings of inferiority, they will have a very hard time rising above the doubts and bouncing back from them.

Give your child a HUGE advantage in life. Speak kindly. Be gentle. Think about what you are going to say before you say it. If you say the wrong thing, apologize and figure out how to avoid continuing in that pattern. Don’t be too weak to apologize again for the same behavior if you fail more than once. Your children will come to appreciate your authenticity.

There is one clear point I must make: Kindness does not mean weakness or lack of boundaries. In fact, if you want your child to be very insecure, let her be in control. Control frightens young children. Children actually thrive on consistent boundaries that are lovingly enforced. We could not enjoy our lunches on Sunday if my children did not have boundaries for their children.

Take some time at the beginning of this new year to inventory how you speak to your child and other children in your world. Are your words the ones you want ringing in their ears for the rest of their lives? If not, YOU can change them! Words matter … so choose your words wisely. Also remember that some experts believe that up to 93% of communication is NON-VERBAL. So, when taking inventory of your words, do a quick heart check. If your heart doesn’t match your words, figure out how to adjust that. Every child is worth whatever you must do to get it right. Each child has only one childhood, and you have only one chance to impact her at this stage in her development. Make it count!

Building Creative Confidence

January 9, 2013

Children's artworkWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

IDEO company founder David Kelley was featured in a 60 Minutes special this past week. I found his approach to business so intriguing. Whenever I watch a leader whom I admire, I probably look at things from a slightly different angle than most. I am always striving to understand how what we do in the early years reaps real rewards for children when they are older. I hit the jackpot with David Kelley when I found a speech he made on TED about how to build creative confidence. I hope you will take the time to watch it. (http://youtu.be/16p9YRF0l-g) He says that everyone can be creative. A person who doesn’t feel creative has probably been shut down by someone saying that s/he was not creative at some point along the way – her coloring wasn’t good enough, his project didn’t turn out well, or her idea wasn’t that great.

I want our educators and families to be reminded that WHAT we do each day and WHY we do it will have a tremendous impact on our society. We stress the importance of nurturing in our children a love of learning and exploration; and we encourage creativity by removing as many barriers as possible. Research supports everything we do – open-ended art, both child- and adult-initiated experiences, small- and large-group activities, technology that is social and interactive, writing centers that allow the child to go at his own pace and never compare his skills to others … and the list goes on.

Our job as the adults in a child’s world is to awaken, inspire, and ignite her creativity. That’s why it is so critical that the early years are filled with successful experiences. We do not know who the child will become, but we do know that each child is naturally more gifted in some areas than others. Childhood is a time when children should be allowed to explore anything and everything with no judgment. They should be allowed to touch, smell, build, discover, and experiment in a positive environment. We must keep their world as friendly and non-judgmental as possible. And because harmful words from their peers can shut down children’s creativity just as fast as those from adults, we must teach them how to be respectful and kind to each other.

We are shaping our world. What we as parents do in our homes each day matters. Feed these tender, young souls with inspiring words. Build your child’s (and your spouse’s, for that matter) creative confidence by saying something positive about what they dare to create or a new idea they may have. If there is a problem, work together to correct it.  If you have discipline issues with your school-age child, involve him in setting up the rules and consequences. He is very creative and can be a part of the solution.

David Kelley said that his life goal is to build creative confidence in others. I think it is a very worthy goal because having creative confidence leads to confidence in so many other areas in life. Let’s help him by beginning early and building it in the children we touch.

Five New Year’s Resolutions Children Wish Their Parents Would Make

January 2, 2013

Happy New Year BabyWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

If your child were able to express his desires and needs from the moment he arrives, I believe that he would offer reassuring and inspiring words of affirmation to you. I think he would want you to know that aside from his basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing that there is nothing he wants more than simply being with you.

As parents, we are the ones who operate under the false assumption that our children need and must have more. They must have the best strollers, the designer wardrobes, mechanical toys that cost too much, the best decorated nurseries … the list goes on and on. Society has come to equate love with the amount of money spent. There is certainly nothing wrong with raising your child in a world of beautiful things if you can afford it. However, if providing this environment for her robs you of time with her, she wants you to know that she prefers you over things.

Here are five resolutions that I believe children wish their parents would make for 2013:

1.     Take time each day to be alone and fully present with your child – no cell phone for texting/talking, no computer for social media, and no television for the latest news. Time spent with you without distractions means everything to him, and even an infant can feel it when you are not connected to him. Remember: “Joy lives in the present moment.”

2.     Develop routines. A predictable routine is healthier for your child, and she is more secure when she knows what is going to happen next. Even if you are in a time of transition, resolve to keep her same bath time, bedtime and nap time.

3.     Resolve to use a gentle voice with your child AND other members of your family. Loud, harsh, and hateful words are hurtful to a child’s spirit. While your family tradition may be to yell at and be abrasive to each other, every newborn would tell you that he prefers a gentle tone if he could speak. If you must argue with someone, do it outside the presence of your child.

4.     It is okay to fall short and start over. Your child wants you to know that she forgives you, and she doesn’t want you to pull away or to feel that you have failed her. If your baby could talk, she would stroke your face and tell you that she still loves you and wants you to try again. If you yell when you said you would not, just forgive yourself and start over. Don’t let guilt or a fear of failure keep you from bonding with your child. If you do not know how to handle a situation, ask for help … but don’t stop trying. Your child wants YOU and would want you to resolve to never give up.

5.     Take good care of you. Children want parents who are happy and healthy, so find a place of peace and contentment. It is very difficult to be a loving, caring parent if you are a bitter, angry person. It is also tough to be a great parent if you are always tired, overworked, and too busy. Figure out how to put yourself at the top of your priority list and set some healthy boundaries. You are the only mother or father that you child wants.