The Chains of Habit

August 28, 2013


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

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
–Samuel Johnson

This quote makes us think of a negative habit that takes root in our lives – a habit that controls us by the time we recognize it. However, the quote caused me to pause and think that it might be possible to instill some strong, positive habits in our young children as we enter this back-to-school season … good “chains of habit” that lead them to do things in a customary way before they realize they have established a habit.

Another quote says: “Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character.”  We cannot completely monitor the thoughts of our children, but we can help them establish some great habits. These habits will then contribute to their overall character.

It’s amazing how our expectations of our children and what we live out before them truly impacts who they become as adults. We want the chains of healthy habits to control their actions. If we guide with respect, expect only the best from them, and consistently hold them accountable, they will be constrained by ‘good’ habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.

Often parents want to say “Yes,” as frequently as possible and give their children only joy and fun. As a mother and grandmother, I can totally relate to the desire to see a child immersed in fun … laughing and loving life. However, I have also seen the sorrow and pain caused by adults who do not instill the loose chains of good healthy habits in their young children. It is our job to equip them with the tools they need to survive, and this often means denying immediate gratification in favor of a long-range goal.

Helping our children develop the habit of doing the right thing each day is tough when those around them seem to get away with doing the wrong thing. But we owe it to them to teach the chains of habit that will protect them now and when they are older … the chains they don’t even feel as they surround them.

Love your child, enjoy your child, laugh often with your child … but do not be afraid to do whatever it takes to allow the chains of healthy habits to form around her for her protection as she emerges into adulthood. She will cherish these habits one day … and she will thank you.


Teaching Social Skills to Young Children

August 21, 2013


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

Did you know that young children begin to learn social skills from their parents? Have you really thought about how your child treats his siblings, his friends, and his classmates will most likely be based on the way he is treated as a very young child by you? The behavior that is acceptable in the home between adults and between siblings is the behavior that your child will observe and emulate as he forms social relationships.

My eyes, ears, and heart just naturally perk up when I hear or see young children close by, and I routinely have to use great restraint when I am in stores where families shop. It angers me when an adult speaks disrespectfully to a child and then demands that she respond with respect. I want to explain that yelling at a child to stop yelling is simply illogical in much the same way that hitting a child to teach her that hitting is wrong.

We often drag innocent children to professionals and ask, “What is wrong with my child?” There are certainly situations where professional help is needed when children are unable to cope. However, I would challenge any adult who works with children, parents them, grand-parents them, or mentors them to take an inward look.

1.     Do I role-model the desired behavior? Am I doing everything that I ask my child to do? This means using gentle touches, kind words, and a respectful tone. It means saying, “I’m sorry,” when we make mistakes and treating everyone in our homes with respect.

2.     Are the rules that I have for my child necessary? Are they in her best interest or are they for my convenience only? For example, your child hates getting to school before her teacher arrives. She voices this, and you could easily adjust your schedule. Ask yourself, “Do I make the adjustment that shows her I really do listen and care or do I just barrel on with what makes my life easiest?” Trust me, children pick up very quickly when parents take the easy way out.

3.     Am I fully present each day with each child? Do I care enough to show him that he is valuable to me? Do I teach him by example how to be engaged and an attentive listener? Will he know how to make his friends feel valuable by giving them his full attention when they are together?

4.     Do I use words of affirmation appropriately and encourage my child to do the same with those in her world? Children can practice showing appreciation for those they care about at home. This teaches them how to pay compliments in the real world.

5.     Am I genuine and authentic? Do I keep it real? Children are honest, candid, and oh so genuine. They can spot a phony quicker than anyone. If we want them to have great social skills, we must model for them how to be comfortable in one’s own skin.

As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. Teach her by living your best life. The most valuable lessons in life are caught, not taught … and this includes teaching her great social skills early. Trust me, she will need a coach; but if you aren’t living it out in front of her, it will be difficult to coach her with any credibility.

Toddlers and Technology

August 14, 2013

happy family using tablet pcWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.

According to BBC News, research from the University of Wisconsin presented at a meeting this week of the Society for Research in Child Development found that children aged between two and three were more likely to respond to video screens that prompted them to touch the screens than those that demanded no interaction. The study suggested that the more interactive the screen, the more real it was, and the more familiar it felt from a two-year-old’s perspective. Heather Kirkorian, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, carried out the research and says touch screens could hold educational potential for toddlers.

I’ve been in the field of early education for over 30 years, and we have had very strict policies about technology with young children. We do not allow any passive media in our centers because we believe that children need and deserve human interaction when they are in our care.

As a society, we are already handing our very young children iPhones and iPads. They quickly become very efficient at operating them, often much more so than the adults in their families. There is still so much that we do not know regarding the impact of technology on very young children, and it will certainly be interesting as the research develops regarding the changes in toddler’s brains.

Here are a few tips to remember:

1.     No matter how entertaining or educational the technology, nothing will ever replace the power of human touch. Your child will always need your undivided attention. Even when she starts school and you are working together on her homework, sitting with her and establishing eye contact can lead to an impromptu conversation about something that is occurring at school that she might really need to share.

2.     The human brain is the only organ not fully developed at birth. There isn’t enough research as yet on either side to support or to argue against using technology with very young children. What we do know is this: Just because a child is engaged and quiet does not necessarily mean that his needs are being met.

3.     Research indicates that interactive technology is better than passive media. It is important that the programs presented to children are age appropriate and that the time is limited.

4.     Using technology with your child is better than allowing her to experience it alone all the time. One of the concerns about young children getting too involved in technology is that they might not develop the appropriate social skills.

5.     Use common sense. Ask yourself if you really want your very young child to master killing and fighting. Even if the game is appropriate, do you want him idly playing a game on a small screen instead of running, jumping, exploring, pretending, and using his imagination?

Technology is here to stay, and we all know that there will be more advances. We can no longer pretend that our children will not use it or that some of it isn’t great for them. However, it is like every other aspect of parenting: We must use common sense, moderation, and keep current as the experts continue to discover technology’s effects on our children.

Positive Guidance

August 7, 2013


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

We all want to maintain an affirming environment for our child, even when the consequences of his behavior interfere with our ability to do so. However, parents sometimes feel that their child winds up with the control and that no matter how gallant the effort, the positive guidance doesn’t always remain positive.

I am firmly convinced that children deserve the highest respect. As adults, we should guard our tone and facial expressions and also model before them what we want them to emulate. However, positive guidance means more than just saying “Yes,” in a very nice voice. If we are to guide them in a positive manner, we must be equipped with more than simply a good attitude and kind words.

According to Webster, one definition of “positive” means “formally laid down or expressed clearly.” If you apply this definition, you might find a whole new meaning to positive guidance. Before your child begins the next activity, adventure, meal, or whatever he is doing, ask yourself: “What is my ‘formally laid down or expressed clearly’ plan to guide him through this?”

I’ve noticed that great parents are really just parents who put in the effort. They have a plan, and they stick to their plan regardless of how difficult it is on them to follow through. They don’t argue with their child, no matter how hard she tries to control the situation. They confidently teach her respect for authority and that there are consequences for her choices. They know that there will be tears, but they also know that their “formally laid down or expressed clearly” plan will bring many opportunities to follow those tears with words of affirmation, hugs, redirection, and opportunities to catch her doing things well.

Perhaps considering this definition of “positive” will help you determine if you are doing the right thing for your child. Don’t stop trying to keep your environment as uplifting and full of words of affirmation as possible but also know that positive guidance is much more than just that. It means you must plan ahead, be prepared, be consistent, and don’t apologize for being the adult. Being consistent is in the best interest of the child. Children feel safe when they can predict with reasonable certainty what is going to happen next. They may act like the want the power to control; but in reality, it scares them. Guide them lovingly and with kindness but follow a very well laid out plan that keeps you one step ahead.