Monthly Archives: March 2019

Why social skills are key to learning

– Ellen Booth Church

You may be hoping your child will learn how to read and write in the first few months of preschool or kindergarten. But there are many other skills she needs to master before an academic focus is appropriate. Studies show that the most important skills to learn at the beginning of the year are social: cooperation, self-control, confidence, independence, curiosity, empathy and communication.

In the first months of school, early childhood teachers are most concerned with children who have behavioural and attention problems. It’s simple: If a child is not able to take turns, listen and sit in a group, how can they learn what is being taught? That is why teachers spend a good deal of time early in the year on the basic social skills of preschool and kindergarten. Even if your child has been in a child care centre or another type of program, they still need to learn the social and emotional dynamics of this new group. Luckily, their previous experiences with social interaction both at home and in other programs will help them make the transition. Once these basic social interaction and group behaviour skills are in place, they are more ready and able to concentrate on academics.

The first basic skills: The four C’s

Here are a few examples of teachers’ goals for the beginning of the school year. Ask your child’s teacher to tell you about her objectives and for her suggestions on how you can support these skills at home.

  • Confidence: One of the first skills teachers focus on is the development of your child’s sense of confidence or self-esteem. This means helping them feel good about who they are, both individually and in relationship to others. This is a lifelong skill that will help them feel competent now and as they continue in their schooling.
  • Cooperation: Games, stories and songs help your child learn how to work with others — no small task at this age! This teaches them how to empathize and get along with others.
  • Curiosity: Perhaps one of the most important skills she needs to develop at this stage is a true thirst for learning. Their teachers will use a wide variety of interesting materials and ideas to engage your child’s natural curiosity. Recent research shows that novel or unusual activities and materials engage the brain more than predictable ones, thus causing the brain to pay close attention.
  • Communication: Expressing themselves and representing their ideas, feelings and knowledge about the world is a key skill for your child. It is at the core of all reading, writing, math, and science skills. If they feel comfortable talking about an idea or opinion, they will be more open to learning and taking the risks of thinking that are needed to learn anything.

What you can do

Help your child develop essential social and emotional skills by making connections with school friends at home. Ask them who they would like to invite for a playdate. It is often easier for children to make friends in their own space one-on-one than in school. Many teachers have found that a child who is having difficulties making friends or sharing in a large group often can make a close connection to a new friend on her home turf. This relationship can then carry over to the classroom setting. Once there is a connection to one child in the classroom, more are soon to follow!

The experiences your child has at the beginning of the year provide the foundation that will enable them to become an enthusiastic, lifelong learner — enthusiastic because they have discovered that learning is fun as well as meaningful.

Are ‘little white lies’ really harmless?

Charity Ferreira

“I already gave to your organization. It’s no trouble at all to feed your cat while you’re on vacation. We have plans that weekend. I won’t have time to stop by this afternoon.”

That last one was said during a phone call with my dad, and generously speaking, I was stretching the truth. I had time. I just didn’t want to spend it stopping by my dad’s. When I noticed my son eyeing me suspiciously as I ended the call, I hastened to explain. “I want some downtime this afternoon,” I said, “and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”

We think of so-called “little white lies” as harmless, but what about when our kids hear us tell them?

Most of these lies are benign; they’re called “prosocial lies” by researchers because they smooth our interactions with others, making our lives easier and helping us avoid conflict. We tell them to avoid hurting someone’s feelings (I already have plans), to excuse our own behaviour (I’m late because the traffic was terrible), and to make someone feel better (I can hardly see that pimple). Most of us don’t put these kinds of lies in the same category as lies that cause obvious harm to others or break laws. One survey found that the majority of adults don’t consider “white lies” to be lies at all.

When kids hear us lie, the implicit message is that sometimes lying is okay. And then there are the times we explicitly encourage our kids to lie — about liking a gift which they actually don’t like, for example. We all want our kids to be honest, but we tend to be proud when they tell a polite lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. And for good reason — the ability to lie is a developmental milestone associated with intelligence and social sophistication.

But these sanctioned falsehoods come at a cost.

Encouraged to tell so many white lies, children gradually get comfortable with being disingenuous. Insincerity becomes, literally, a daily occurrence. They learn that honesty only creates conflict, while dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict. it’s a slippery slope from small polite lies to telling other kinds of lies.

If you catch yourself telling a lie in front of your kids, treat it as an opportunity to state what was in your head at the time. Let your child know why you said what you did.

7 tips to prevent tantrums before they happen

-Connie Matthiessen

It can happen at the store, the doctor’s office, or the party your child’s been looking forward to for weeks. Something snaps and your child has a total, tectonic, temper tantrum: screaming, kicking, tears. Nothing you say calms your child down, strangers are gaping, and before it’s over you feel like flinging yourself to the ground and bawling, too.

What are temper tantrums, exactly, and what causes them?

Small children have little control over their lives and few words to communicate their desires and disappointments. Tantrums are a normal expression of frustration from a little person who wants her way — and doesn’t have the skills to express herself yet.

Just because they’re normal, however, doesn’t mean they’re inevitable. Here are the best ways to head them off before they happen.

7 ways to prevent tantrums

1. Mind the basics.

Is your child thirsty, hungry, overtired, or over-stimulated? These are common preconditions for tantrums. Carry snacks and water on outings, and avoid potential tantrum triggers — a shopping trip, for example — when you know your child is tired.

2. Use the 5-minute warning.

No one likes to see a good thing end. Give your child a warning before you leave the playground or a playdate so it won’t be a surprise. Setting expectations for yourself and communicating them clearly to your child can make a world of difference. “We’re leaving in 10 minutes. In 5 minutes I expect you to get your shoes and socks on and say good-byes.”

3. Pay attention to attention.

Could your child be throwing tantrums to get your attention? If this is the case, make sure you get special time with your child, but don’t allow the tantrum to be the immediate reason for it. (You don’t want to reinforce the behaviour). When your child behaves well, show him you notice that as much as his meltdowns. Basically, pour on the positive attention.

4. Routines rule.

Develop family routines — regular meal and bedtimes, for example — and stick to them. Young children’s lives are full of change and near-constant stimulation. Plus, they’re growing so fast — anything you can do to add stability will help them feel more secure.

5. Use feeling words.

Encourage your child to label and describe his feelings. You can help your child develop a vocabulary to express himself by saying things like, “I can tell you are feeling frustrated because you really wanted a treat,” or “Did it make you mad when she yelled at you?”

6. Give (limited) choices.

The set up here is important: don’t give your child free rein to state any whim. Instead, offer up two or three viable options — whether it’s a snack, an activity, or what to wear. For example, you can say, “You need to wear shoes to school because that is the rule. Would you rather wear your tennis shoes or your boots?’” However, matters of safety should never be negotiated: a child must always use a seat belt, for example, whether he wants to or not.

7. Change the channel.

At this age, distraction works like a charm. If you see trouble ahead over an off-limits item, your best bet is to offer up something else. And if your child is becoming upset or overstimulated, suggest another activity or remove her from the situation.