Listening to Children

March 27, 2013

Closeup portrait of sleeping babyWritten by Donna McClintock, CCO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

My older brother just welcomed his first grandchild into the world — beautiful Eliza Kate. I’ve celebrated with his family as they have shared over 500 pictures on Facebook with those of us who do not live close by. You can see the love, adoration, and attentiveness to this baby in every picture. I am confident that every cry or whimper is heard and responded to by the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other loving adults surrounding this sweet baby girl.

As adults, we tend to listen intently to new babies and have no problem trusting that they will tell us when they are hungry, tired, hurting, or in need of comfort. However, there seems to be a gradual discounting of a child’s voice as she ages. We don’t continue to listen intently to what she is trying to communicate to us. Perhaps we get too busy or become too confident in our ability to just know what she needs without really listening to her.

Or perhaps we focus on training our child on the behavior that he exhibits and miss the point. He screams out, bursts into tears, is defiant, or loses that radiant smile that once graced his face. If your child is causing you stress, it might be that he is attempting to communicate something to you that he feels is not being heard. The solution begins with your resolve to really listen to the pain behind the action. If he cannot communicate with words, listen closely to his cry. Remember when you could tell a sad cry from a hungry cry? Just because he is a big boy now doesn’t mean that his cries are not coded.  Listen carefully. Observe. Step back. Watch how you act. Is your child trying to communicate that he needs you? Often our children’s behavior is more about us than about them.

There are times when parents should stop all the deafening noises that might be drowning out what their child is trying to say and focus on hearing her needs. This doesn’t mean that you excuse unacceptable behavior. If a six-year-old is hurting her three-year-old sister, that isn’t the time to just sit and listen. Adults must intervene. However, once that situation is handled, we have a responsibility to listen beyond the unacceptable behavior. So often we focus on what the child is doing wrong and fail to listen to the pain behind the behavior. If your child is acting out, there may be much more to the problem than her decision to be defiant. Listen to her actions as an older child just as intently as you listened to her cries as a newborn.

No one would be silly enough to think that a newborn baby cries just because he is mean, rude, or misbehaving. Crying is his way of communicating a need. As he gets older, perhaps making wrong choices, wearing a frown instead of a smile, or hitting his friends is communicating in the only way he knows how. Perhaps it is time for the adults in his life to stop and listen to his needs rather than spending so much energy focusing on his behavior.

We know anger is a mask for pain. I am of the opinion that repetitive, unacceptable behavior in children is often their way of getting our attention. Make sure you hear what they are trying to say to you. Lean in close and really listen.


Tender Guidance

March 20, 2013

Dad and Baby girl Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

I recently blogged about positive guidance and would like to share a few thoughts on how to gently guide our children into making the choices that will enable them to be successful in life. Because our babies arrive so dependent on us, it is sometimes difficult to remember that our parenting objective is to empower them to become independent. We often forget that our role from day one is to move them toward independence while building a strong relationship of mutual respect.

I have read so much about positive guidance in my 30+ years in the field of early childhood education. The one word, whether implied or spoken, at the center of every discussion is relationship. Parents become accustomed to their baby’s dependence, and some never move forward but rather continue to do it all for their child – even to the point of imposing choices, consequences, and outcomes. This parenting style is selfish and disrespectful and does not consider the needs of the child.

The first step in Tender Guidance is to build a strong relationship with your child by:

  1. Giving gentle touches.
  2. Speaking kind words.
  3. Quickly responding to cries of distress.
  4. Having appropriate expectations for her age of development.
  5. Watching for his cues and responding appropriately.
  6. Listening to her on her eye level.
  7. Saying his name when talking to him.
  8. Describing the world around her.
  9. Warning him before making a change.
  10. Giving her clear expectations.
  11. Reviewing the rules.
  12. Apologizing when you are wrong.

Tender Guidance means that you:

  1. Explain that the action made you unhappy, not the child
  2. Keep your facial expression consistent with what you are saying. If you are displeased with what he has done, show a stern face when you discuss the action. When you talk about your love for him, make sure your expression matches your feelings. Separate the two things.
  3. Listen. You might get it wrong. Apologize if you do. Adults make mistakes, too.
  4. If you have a toddler, intervene early and redirect to avoid issues. Tender guidance sets the child up for success.
  5. Teach your child to self-manage.
  6. Your child derives her self-worth from you and the other adults in her world. She is not born knowing how to feel about herself – we teach her. Teach your child to be gentle with herself so that she will be gentle with others.
  7. Try different approaches. Don’t be afraid to try new things that are positive and put aside old habits that you know you shouldn’t do.

Reading to Children of All Ages

March 13, 2013

Early readerWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

My goal for writing blogs is to share practical and relevant information in a manner that inspires parents and adults who work with young children to remain focused on the things that truly matter. There is so much information about what to do and what not to do; and even professionals disagree among themselves on many topics. However, I believe that there are some areas where the data is pretty much undisputed.

We have only one chance to get it right, and we know for sure that what we do in the first five years of a child’s life impacts the child forever. We also know that what we do isn’t as important as the spirit in which we do it. We must love, nurture, hug, and express our feelings of love for a child in those first five years.

The heart comes first, but there other elements that are also essential. One thing I find that adults often misunderstand is the importance of reading to infants and young children. I want to share a few simple facts that I think are critical to instilling in your child a love of reading.

  1. Read to your infant every day from the day she arrives. Don’t make it a chore — read nursery rhymes and poems that are fun and also sing to her. Make daily reading a habit that you never stop.
  2. Read to your toddler and make it a cozy snuggle time. Read the same book over and over if that’s what he wants. Adults get bored with repetition, but toddlers do not. Have a set reading time each day so he can predict it and also read when he requests it. Bedtime stories are great and find other times to read to him, as well. Try reading outdoors, in the car, and to fill waiting time.
  3. Read out loud to your child, no matter the age. Do not stop reading aloud once she learns to read on her own. This is a serious mistake parents make. Children miss out on hearing a great story read to them when parents believe their children should practice reading at all times.  Reading may eventually become a solo activity but read aloud to your child as long as you can. Even high-school students often enjoy their parents reading to them.
  4. Offer specific praise to your emerging reader when he excels at reading.
  5. As your child gets older, read a couple of chapters in a chapter book each night. Waiting to see what happens next is great delayed gratification, and it allows you to discuss the story. Talk about it and play guessing games to expand the story line.
  6. Find easy books for your child to read for pleasure. She will stop reading if a book is too hard so don’t push her to always read difficult books. The more comfortable she feels reading, the more she will read. Gradually increase the level of difficulty.
  7. If your child is reading for fun and doesn’t know a word, just tell him the word. Don’t make him sound it out each time unless he is reading for homework, reading practice, or study. This breaks up the story, and he loses concentration. There are two kinds of reading. Just let him read for fun when it’s the right time.

The more you read to your child, the more you surround her with great books, the more pleasurable you make the reading experience from the beginning, the better she will read. Reading well positions your child for success in many other areas of life.

Real Positive Guidance

March 6, 2013

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

Carl Rogers, an American psychologist, is world renowned for his unique approach to understanding relationships and individual personalities. I would not attempt to restate his theories in a simple blog, but I suggest you spend some time looking into his work if you are interested in clinical studies to support the importance of unconditional love of parents, family, and friends in a child’s life.

As a parent, you might wonder how to let your child know that the behavior or choice he is making is not acceptable and yet you are not withdrawing your love or approval of him when you give correction. It seems that this is one of our toughest challenges — guiding our children without hurting them.

First of all, children want to know when they get it right just like we do. As I blogged last week, they thrive on very specific praise. If you praise specific actions, children are less likely to feel that you are always evaluating them. Specific praise lets them know exactly what you noticed that was great so they can choose to increase that activity if they enjoyed it.

The same theory holds true for unacceptable behavior. It is very important that you give very specific feedback on unacceptable behavior. Whether you are praising or giving redirection, you must establish in your child’s mind that you love and treasure her regardless! It is the ACTION that you are addressing and neither praise nor redirection affects your FEELING of love for her or her VALUE to you. This is CRITICAL to building a strong relationship with her.

To redirect:

1.     Remember that the idea of discipline is to teach, redirect, and eventually lead the child to self-regulate and choose the acceptable behavior on his own. Every aspect of parenting is moving the child toward independence.

2.     Always give a warning so that the child has a chance to make the adjustment on her own. Don’t ever belittle her for not knowing a rule that she should have known.

3.     Be consistent without being angry. Once you give a warning, follow through and do your best to keep your anger at bay. Your child needs to see you discipline in love. He needs to see that you gave him a fair chance to obey, that he chose to disobey, and that the consequence now follows. It is just a fact in life. You still love him, and he is still valuable to you. When this is over, everything is still good. Reflection is always good if the child is old enough.

4.     Be sure to ask yourself if you are contributing to the issue:

a.     Don’t keep a child up late and then get frustrated if she has a difficult time with the schedule. This is a parent issue, not a child issue.

b.     Watch for signs of distress with other children and move in before things escalate. Teach children how to use their words if you see frustrations building. It is often best to just redirect before a situation goes too far.

c.     If there is tension in your home due to marital strife or changes in your life, your children feel it. Don’t take it out on them. They have a sixth sense and may just need extra cuddles. Monitor your own stress levels. If they are high, find a way to vent before you deal with your child.

d.     If you need help dealing with your child, ASK. There is NO shame in asking for help.

5.     Listen to your child, even before he is old enough to talk. This means watch the non-verbal cues he sends you. He will communicate with you and tell you what he needs and wants.

While it is a very important part of parenting to give our children real positive guidance, there are many times they help all of us avoid tears by offering positive guidance to us. Children are never too young to be heard and have an incredible way of communicating so honestly if we just listen.