Planned Connections

September 18, 2013


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

I watch parents with young children and sense that some think the road will get a little easier when their children are older. I just smile to myself as I scroll through my phone to see how long it has been since I called or texted my grown children or my parents. Keeping connected with our family members is always challenging due to the pressures of life, regardless of our age or status in life. If we are going to have meaningful and loving relationships, it will be because we choose to invest the time and effort. This commitment is true from the very beginning of our relationship with our newborn and continues … always.

Often what we enjoy doing, what we do best, or what is easiest for us are the things we do first without giving a thought about where we are investing our time. I am a list maker, and I love marking things off of my list. When I find an old list, I often shutter at how many things on it added absolutely no value to my life or to anyone else’s life. Too many times, I have said, “I’ll call just this one client while she plays on the slide” or “I’ll send just this one text while I am bathing them.” How purposeful have I been about planned connections with those I love and cherish?

What I have discovered is that a pattern continues unless the pattern is broken. So often, tasks feel urgent but are not really that important. Connection takes time. If we are going to truly enjoy those we love, we must make them a priority in our lives. This means that we set aside the other “important” things and focus on those we love. I feel like I am living a balanced life when I see dates and other plans with my husband, children, grandchildren, and parents written into my calendar.

I can say from experience that these moments that truly matter will not occur if we do not focus on planned purposeful, connections. These connections might be as simple as committing to be totally present for one hour a day in the backyard, at the park, or in the family room with your children. It might mean turning off all electronics from 5:30-8:00 pm and talking, running, playing, and enjoying each other before bedtime. Perhaps it means planning special weekends and doing something each day that builds up to those weekend plans. Every family is different, and only you know what planned, purposeful connections mean for your family. What I know for sure is thatit is up to you to make it happen.


Peaceful Environments

September 11, 2013
she loves youWritten by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.
Wikipedia defines peace as“a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships.” Webster offers this definition: “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.”Where do our children find peaceful environments?

So often I look around our homes, our preschools, our nursery schools, and even our churches and wonder if we are doing what we should be doing to create the most peaceful environments in which our children can thrive. The older I get and the more I learn, it becomes so obvious that we must first live out in our own lives what we desire for our children. If we want our children to have peaceful environments in which to thrive, we have to have a lack of conflict behaviors, freedom from fear of violence, and healed interpersonal relationships. WOW! I get it — it’s up to us! The children of this world depend on the adults.

As a parent and grandparent, I ask myself what “absence of hostility” really means. Sure, it can mean no yelling or fighting in my home, but the definition also suggests that peace is the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal relationships. Research shows that 70-90% of all communication is non-verbal; and sometimes there is a deafening hostility in the silent glares, the body language of anger, and the unspoken messages that convey that we are not at peace.

We must create peaceful and secure environments in order for children to thrive, feel safe, and develop a lifelong love of learning. If children are cocooned in a loving, safe, and peaceful environment, their energy can then be focused on their natural love of learning, exploring, and experiencing new adventures. Until a child feels safe, it really doesn’t matter what gifts are placed beside him and what opportunities are in front of him. He simply cannot feel released to embrace life if he lives in an insecure, chaotic, and hostile environment. Children want to explore, they are amazing dreamers, they are filled with wonder, and they have some of the most profound observations to share with us … if we just listen.

Providing a peaceful environment does not mean there will not be conflict. When people get together, there will be conflict. My two granddaughters were with me yesterday, and they were arguing. I stood there trying to decide what to do, and the 4-year-old said, “Dee Dee, would you like for us to go sit down and work out a peaceful deal and then come back to you?” I was both stunned and relieved! They understood conflict, and they also had good conflict-resolution skills. I confess that I went around the corner but stopped to listen to how they negotiated the deal. They compromised. All’s well that ends well, right?

My challenge to you is that you are purposeful in creating peaceful environments for any child in your world. You cannot control anyone but yourself, and only you can control your responses. Commit to creating and maintaining a peaceful environment in your classroom, your home, your car … anywhere and everywhere that children are present.

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.

Five Things You Should Know if There Is a Child in Your Life

July 17, 2013


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

The one thing that most adults will tell you very quickly – whether they are the parent of one, the teacher of ten, or an observer of just a few – is that children surprise them. Children think of things that we don’t anticipate, are more ingenious than we think they are, and their honesty catches us off guard. It can be refreshing … and frustrating.

In my 30+ years of working with young children, I’ve often been asked what one thing I would want adults to know about caring for young children. While it is difficult to name just one, I can narrow the list to these five that can be applied to parenting or working with young children in a formalized program: 

1.     Safety first! If you do not keep children both physically and emotionally safe, nothing else matters. Their little hearts, bodies, and minds must be protected. Ensure that locks are on the proper cabinets, that dangerous things are out of the way, and that hurtful words do not come out of adults’ mouths.

2.     Matters of the heart matter the most. Relationships matter!  After safety, build a relationship with the child. Don’t expect him to know that you love him … tell him. If he doesn’t know that you care, it will be difficult for you to teach him very much. Use words of affirmation and give him loving touches. Praise specific actions so he knows that you noticed exactly what he did.

3.     Model desired behavior. So often we drag our children to counselors, therapists, and doctors when actually their behavior mirrors what they saw lived out before them through their formative years. Be careful of the influences you allow in your child’s life. Choose the environments that you immerse her in and model before her what you desire her to embrace.

4.     Read to your child every day. Research has proven that sharing great stories, snuggling together, and reading to your child can produce significant gains in his reading comprehension. Keep reading out loud to him even when he is old enough to read on his own.

5.     Teach, model, and communicate the GIGO (garbage in/garbage out) Principle. This is true with everything in life. Teach your child very early the principles of logical consequences and cause and effect. Teach her that she can control her thoughts by reading, watching, and feeding on positive material. Recognizing the needs of others is critical to her well-being, so give her opportunities to help others. Don’t hover – let her experience life in a safe way and allow her to face the consequences of her decisions so that she understands and grows from them.

Research evolves daily about how children grow and learn, and the best thing you can do for the children in your life is to stay current. Make it a priority to never stop learning about children.