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Parenting & Education

Toddlers and Tablets

Tablet computers are so easy to use that even a 3-year-old can master them. That has some pediatricians and other health experts worried.

Since navigating a tablet generally doesn't require the ability to type or read, children as young as toddlers can quickly learn how to stream movies, scroll through family photos or play simple games. That ease-of-use makes tablets —and smartphones— popular with busy parents who use them to pacify their kids during car rides, restaurant outings or while they're at home trying to get dinner on the table. Many feel a little less guilty about it if they think there's educational value to the apps and games their children use.

The devices are expected to rank among the top holiday gifts for children this year. Gadget makers such as Samsung have introduced tablets specifically designed for kids and many manufacturers of adult tablets now include parental controls. Those products are in addition to the slew of kiddie tablets produced by electronic toy makers such as LeapFrog, Vtech and Toys R Us.

But some experts note there's no evidence that screen time — whether from a TV or tablet — provides any educational or developmental benefits for babies and toddlers. Yet it takes away from activities that do promote brain development, such as non-electronic toys and adult interaction. They also say that too much screen time has been linked to behaviour problems and delayed social development in older children.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, points out that iPads have only been on the market for a little over three years, which means tablet-related research is still in its infancy. Christakis says educational games and apps have some value if they engage a child and prompt them to interact with the device, but cautioned that if all children do is watch videos on their tablets, then it's just like watching TV, which has a limited ability to engage a child.

He also notes that parents need be mindful of whether tablet time is replacing more important activities such as sleeping, reading or interacting with adults. He says that while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day for kids over the age of two, he thinks one hour is plenty. "The single most important thing for children is time with parents and caregivers," he says. "Nothing is more important in terms of social development. If time with the tablet comes at the expense of that, that's not good."

Dr. Rahil Briggs, a pediatric psychologist at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, says tablet usage needs to be limited for the youngest of children, because too much screen time can slow language development. Since there's very little research out there so far, experts still don't know exactly how much is too much, she says.

For older children, Briggs says too much tablet use can slow social development. She notes that the solitary nature of the activity means that kids aren't using that time to learn how to make friends or pick up on social cues.

Some experts, however, believe tablets and smartphones possess unique educational benefits. Jill Buban, dean of the School of Education at Post University in Waterbury Conn., says the more children absorb and understand technology before they start school, the more comfortable they'll feel when they enter a classroom for the first time. But she says even the best educational apps must be monitored by parents and limited. She recommends no more than 30 minutes of tablet usage at a time in light of the short attention spans of most young kids. "There's so much media out there and so much marketing," she says. "It's all about smart choices and research, whether it's an app on a tablet or a TV show."

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says parents should be wary of any TV show or app that touts educational benefits for babies or toddlers, saying that scientists have yet to prove that there are any. "Babies and young children are spending huge amounts of time with screen media when really what they need is hands-on creative play, active time and face-to face time with the people that love them," Linn said.

Linn's group, known for its allegations against "Baby Einstein" videos that eventually led to consumer refunds, is urging the Federal Trade Commission to examine the marketing practices of certain apps and games geared toward babies. "The best toys are the ones that just lie there until the child transforms them," Linn said pointing to blocks and stuffed animals as examples. "If all children do is push a button, that's not the kind of play that promotes learning."

Since its debut over 40 years ago, Sesame Street has dealt with questions about the amount of screen time small children should have. Scott Chambers, Sesame Workshop's senior vice-president for digital content, says the brand, which now includes 45 apps and 160 e-books, has gotten a huge boost from touch screen devices, which are much easier for preschoolers to handle than computer mice. That content can provide children with a much more customized and interactive educational experience than the show could hope to deliver, he says. "It's a balancing act, but all we can do is try to provide a good enriching media experience wherever parents and preschoolers may be," Chambers says.

Chambers notes that some of Sesame's apps encourage kids to put down their devices, pointing to Sesame's new "Family Play" app. Instead of having a child interact directly with a phone or tablet, it gives parents ideas for ways to play together.

Adam Cohen, a stay-at-home father of two from New York, says apps have been a key part of his 5-year-old son Marc's education since he was just a baby. "He had an iPad at close to 18 months so he was definitely one of those babies swiping away in his stroller," Cohen says. "Now it's different, but back then we were a little ostracized. Now he's reading at close to a second-grade reading level and I credit a lot of that to iPad apps." Marc now has his own iPad loaded with mostly educational content and his baby sister Harper, who isn't yet one-year-old, seems frustrated that she doesn't have one too, Cohen says.

Still, not every parent is keen on tablets and apps. Lance Somerfeld, another stay-at-home dad from New York, says he thinks he and his wife are stricter than most parents. They don't own a tablet and didn't allow their 5-year-old son Jake to watch TV until he was nearly three. But Somerfeld says he does have an iPhone and lets Jake occasionally play with some of the apps. "If I have an hour and a choice, I'd really rather spend it reading books with him," Somerfeld says. "But he's really engaged by the apps, so you could make the case that there needs to be a balance."

Positive alternatives to “No”

By Holly Bennett, Today's Parent Magazine

No. How often do you suppose most toddlers hear this in a day? A week?

Is it any wonder they turn around and give it right back to us?

Let’s face it, toddlers need limits. Curious, impulsive, blissfully unaware of most dangers, they rely on us to keep them (mostly) out of trouble. “Consistent boundaries give a child a sense of safety and security,” says Chaya Kulkarni, vice-president of Parent and Professional Education for Invest in Kids. “But you don’t want to be always saying no.”

Why not? If a toddler’s penchant for imitation isn’t enough to persuade you, consider the tantrum angle. Frustration is probably the top toddler tantrum trigger, and toddlers already have a lot of frustration in their lives. Now imagine hearing no at every turn, feeling thwarted again and again with no alternative path. Some toddlers explode in protest. Others become generally discouraged. “They’re going to start thinking they can’t touch or do anything,” says Kulkarni. “I don’t think we want to turn off a child’s curiosity.”

Finally, no is not such a good teaching word. For a toddler, it conveys disapproval rather than a specific instruction, something along the lines of there is something you are doing right now that I don’t like and want you to stop, but you will have to guess which thing it is. “Because they are still learning to think and understand instructions, the more concrete you can be with them, the greater the likelihood for them to stop,” says Kulkarni.

So here are some positive alternatives to no. But first, a caveat: No is not a dirty word — there’s no need to go to crazy lengths to avoid it. We’re just talking about cutting back from a deluge to a sprinkle. As Elizabeth Matos, mom to 20-month-old Calder, says, “Sometimes it can’t be helped!”

Minimize the need “Look at how you set up your home,” says Kulkarni. “Is it an environment that is child-friendly or an environment where you are constantly having to say no to everything your child touches?” A home where most forbidden temptations and dangers are out of reach, and where interesting, safe opportunities to explore are available, will be less frustrating for both of you.

Redirect Taking a toddler away from a temptation to get involved with something else is sometimes all that’s needed, says Kulkarni — as in “Let’s go look at the fish in the big tank” (and give your older cousin a chance to finish his Lego creation in peace).

Use action words “Let go of Brian’s hair” or “Stop flushing the toilet” gives more concrete information than saying no, while still getting across the message that what she’s doing is not OK. “Don’t” plus the appropriate verb (“Don’t kick!”) is also more specific than no, but the grammar of a negative construction can be confusing to younger toddlers.

Give positive alternatives What would you like your child to do instead of the forbidden action? A positive instruction lets her know how to behave in a way that will gain your approval. Stephanie Hogan, a home daycare provider and former parent educator, uses this approach a lot: “We walk in the house.” “We sit on chairs.” “Use two hands to carry your plate.”

Give simple explanations Toddlers can’t follow complicated reasons, but simple explanations (“Hitting the TV might break it”; “That’s Mommy’s — not for kids”) help them understand. Bronson uses the word danger; for example, if Calder is playing too close to the fireplace, she’ll say, “Play over here, Calder. The fire is dangerous.”

Have a warning signal Hogan lets her charges know that they’re on the wrong track with an alert sound: “Ah, ah, ah!” Then she follows right up with the instructions: “Come away from the CD shelf.”

Ask for the rule When the kids are breaking a rule they’ve learned, Hogan often asks them: “Where do we throw balls?” or “Can you show me how we pat the dog?” She explains: “This helps reinforce that they know the rule, and I am not getting mad, but giving them a chance to correct themselves and do it right.”

Will these strategies always work? Absolutely not! As Hogan says, “The toddler stage is one that requires a lot of patience as they are testing their boundaries and exploring the world around them.” Still, if you can avert a few tantrums and have a happier, more co-operative toddler, isn’t that worth it?

Toilet training Q & A

Q. My daughter is a little over 3 years old. She has no problems using the toilet to urinate. When it comes to doing #2, she refuses to go to the toilet. When it's time for her to go, she will ask for a pull-up and go to a corner. After she's done, she will tell me that she needs to be cleaned and will put on her underwear. She goes to nursery school from early in the morning to about 4:00 PM. During school she wears her underwear, and urinates in the bathroom with no problems, but she hold the #2 until she gets home and gets a pull-up. I have tried withholding the pull-ups when she asks for them but she just cries and holds it. I have sat in the bathroom with her so that she doesn't feel lonely, but she won't go. I have a four year old son who was fully trained when he was two years old. Do you have any suggestions?

A. This is a very common situation for toilet training children, who may quickly learn to urinate in the toilet, but are hesitant to bowel movements there. Instead of thinking about it as a problem though, it is better to consider it to be a normal part of training, which means that you just aren't done yet...

To help your child learn to poop on the toilet, you should first make sure that she isn't constipated. If she has bowel movements that are sometimes big, hard and painful to pass, then she may just be afraid to use the toilet to have her BMs. Increasing the amount of fluid and fiber in her diet, and perhaps using a stool softener, can help make her bowel movements softer and easier to pass if this is a problem.

If constipation isn't a problem, or if it is and you have fixed it, then the following tips may help to get her to have regular bowel movements on the potty:

  • Continue to let her have bowel movements in her pull-up, but then empty her poop into the toilet to show her where it goes. You can then remind her that 'poop goes in the toilet.'
  • Encourage her to have her bowel movements in the bathroom, even if that means having her sit in the corner of the bathroom and going in her pull-up. Once she gets used to that, then have her sit on the toilet in her pull-up when she has to go. The next step might be to undo the pull-up and then eventually take it off. Some people also cut a hole in the pull-up, so that she is still going while wearing it, but her poop falls in the toilet.
  • Read children's story books about potty training to her, such as Everyone Poops or The Princess and the Potty, to help get her used to the idea of going in the toilet.
  • Offer lots of praise when she does make some progress, whether it is emptying her pull-up in the toilet or going in the bathroom.

If she is resistant to all of these methods, then you should likely continue to give her a pull-up and let her go where she wants. Let her know each time that she should tell you when she is ready to start going in the bathroom. Most importantly, don't shame or punish her for not having bowel movements on the toilet. As you found when you withheld her pull-up, this can quickly turn into a big power struggle, which will make your training even more difficult. If she isn't ready to go on the toilet and doesn't have a pull-up, then she will likely either hold it until she becomes constipated or begin to have accidents in her underwear. She is also likely too young to be given responsibility for cleaning out her underwear and washing up on her own, a method that sometimes works for older children. And remember that 3 isn't a magic age where everyone is potty trained. Many children aren't fully trained until they are 3 1/2 or 4 years old.

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Handling an Attention-Seeking Child
"Mommy, come here and see my picture."
"It's very nice, Sarah."
"I can't find the blue crayon."
"It's right here."
"I can't find the green one."
"Here it is."
"I don't want to colour. I want to paint."
"I'll get your paint set."
"Will you paint this flower for me, Mommy?"

It's normal for children to need attention and approval. However, attention-seeking becomes a problem when it happens all the time. Even charming attention-seeking can become controlling. Many children make tragedies out of trivial concerns to get your sympathy. Excessive attention-seeking results in a situation where your child commands your life.

Many children misbehave to get attention. The most notorious reason for misbehaviour in young children, this can be the seed for discipline problems in later childhood and adolescence.

Your goal is not to eliminate your child's need for attention and approval. When handled correctly, your child's need for attention can be a helpful tool for improving your child's behaviour. Eliminate not the need for attention, but those attention-seeking behaviours that are excessive or unacceptable. A mother who says, "Sarah, I know that you want me to stay and paint with you. I am busy now. If you can be patient and paint by yourself for ten minutes, I'll be able to spend some time with you then," is giving Sarah an opportunity to have the attention that she wants and needs. She is not giving in to nagging.

How Much Attention Is Too Much?

That depends on you. How much attention-seeking can you tolerate? The rule is that children will seek as much attention as you give them. You must strike a balance between how much your children want and how much you can give. Even normal attention-seeking can drive you crazy on some days. Do not let your children's need for attention turn into demands for attention. When children do not get enough attention, they resort to outbursts, tantrums, nagging, teasing, and other annoying behaviours. They think, "If I can't get attention by being good, then I'll misbehave to get Mom's attention."

Three Kinds of Attention

Adult attention and approval are among the strongest rewards for children. Unfortunately, parents seldom use attention wisely. There are three kinds of attention:

  • Positive Attention
  • Negative Attention
  • No Attention

When you give your children attention and approval for being well behaved, they are getting positive attention. Positive attention means catching children being good. Focus on positive behaviour. Positive attention can be words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or a pat on the back. A pleasant note in your child's lunch box works well. Positive attention increases good behaviour. When you give your child attention for misbehaviour, you are giving negative attention. Negative attention typically begins when you become upset. You follow with threats, interrogation, and lectures. Negative attention is not a punishment; it is a reward. Negative attention does not punish misbehaviour, but increases it.

What is the easiest way to capture your attention-sitting quietly or misbehaving? When children do not receive attention in a positive way, they will get your attention any way they can. Do not pay attention to misbehaviours. Pay attention to good behaviour. Avoid this scenario: Jeremy and Dominic are sitting quietly and watching Saturday-morning cartoons for thirty minutes. Everything is peaceful. Dad is working on the computer. Suddenly, an argument erupts: "It's my turn to pick a show." Dad charges into the room. He turns off the television, scolds the two children, and sends them to their rooms.

For thirty minutes, these children were well behaved. Dad said nothing to them about how well they were doing. Nothing was said about how quiet they were. Nothing was said about how well they were cooperating. The moment there was trouble, Dad was instantly mobilized. Dad did not give them any positive attention while they were being good. When they began misbehaving, Dad rushed in with plenty of negative attention.

Negative attention teaches children how to manipulate and get their way. They learn to be troublesome. They learn how to interrupt you. They learn how to control you. Negative attention teaches children how to tease, nag, and annoy. It teaches children to aggravate, irritate, and exasperate. We teach this by not paying attention to our children when they are behaving appropriately, and by paying attention to them when they are misbehaving.

I have worked with hundreds of parents who have taught their children to be negative attention seekers. I have never met a parent who taught this deliberately. When you attend to the negative and ignore the positive, you teach your children to behave in a negative way. Your child will misbehave to get your attention in the future.

Do not wait for misbehaviour to happen. Do not take good behaviour for granted. We do this with teenagers. We come to expect good behaviour, and overlook their efforts. When a child demonstrates good behaviour, notice it. Look for it. The more you notice, the more you will find. You will get more good behaviour in the future. Anyone can catch children being bad. Turn this around. Catch them being good. It's not easy. It takes practice.

Statistics show that the average American parent spends seven minutes a week with each of their children. Do better than average. Telling your children that you love them is not enough. Show them that you love them. Spend ten minutes of quality time with each child every day. No excuses, like I was just too busy today, or I didn't have time. We are all too busy.

In many families, both parents work. Some parents work two jobs. Your most important job is being a parent. When you come home after work, give the first thirty minutes to your children. Do not be the parents whose only hour with their daughter this week was in the principal's office or at the police station. Write your children into your plan book. Make an appointment with each of your children every day. Go for a walk and listen to what is happening in their lives. Turn off the TV for an hour and talk.

How to Ignore

When you ignore misbehaviours, you are giving no attention. Because attention is rewarding to children, withholding attention can be an effective punishment. Withholding attention can weaken a misbehaviour. When your child misbehaves to get your attention, ignore the misbehaviour. Ignore your child's inappropriate demands for attention. You will weaken those demands and extinguish the misbehaviour.

Some parents find this hard to believe; they think that if a child is misbehaving, he must be punished. This is not true. Ignoring demands for attention is the best cure. When you ignore consistently, you will teach your child that these misbehaviours are not paid off with attention. Temper tantrums need an audience. Take the audience away, and there is no point to having a tantrum. Do not forget to redirect. Teach children appropriate ways to get attention.

"My ears do not listen to whining. Please ask in a soft voice."
When to Ignore

Ignoring does not mean ignoring the problem. It means ignoring demands for negative attention. There are many misbehaviours that you should not ignore. Some misbehaviours should be punished. Deciding when to ignore or when to punish is not easy, and there are no exact rules. It takes timing and judgment. When your child misbehaves to get attention, ignore it. If your child does not stop in two or three minutes, give him a reminder. Tell your child,

"I do not respond to whining. When you stop, we'll talk."
Wait another minute or two. If he still does not stop, then tell your child to stop or he will be punished:
"Stop now, or you will go to time-out."
Then, remember to follow through with the consequence.

If you get angry or let your child push your buttons, you lose. If you must use a punishment, dispense the punishment without anger. If you get angry, then your child has succeeded in getting the negative attention that he was after. If you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Cool off. If you give in, you will be providing your child with an attention payoff. You will be rewarding a misbehaviour.

Do not take good behaviour for granted: give your children positive attention when they are behaving. Ignore demands for attention such as teasing and whining; giving in to these demands encourages children to misbehave to get attention. Understanding these ideas is easy, but practicing them is difficult. You are worth it. Make the commitment. Your children are worth it, too.

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Seven Simple Holiday Sleep Solutions

Some of these ideas may be applicable not only over the holidays, but anytime, so hopefully, you’ll all find something useful from this article.

It’s fun to experience the holiday season through your child’s eyes, whether it’s his first Christmas, or the first one he remembers. But it can be challenging also as the excitement and change of routine lead many babies, toddlers and older kids to become sleep deprived and grouchy enough to out-grinch the Grinch.

Sleep challenges don’t have to end your family’s holiday fun. Try these tips to coax your reluctant sleeper to get some shut-eye:

1. A family get-together nixes your baby’s nap time

Some babies and toddlers find it difficult to settle down for naps when they’re in an unfamiliar place. If this seems to be the problem, do your best to carve out some downtime alone with your child. This way, you’ll both get a bit of a break, even if your child doesn’t actually fall asleep, suggests Vancouver mother of two Gwendolyn Floyd. “Having some quiet time built into your day can help to keep you sane!”

There’s usually no need to panic if your baby misses a nap now and again. But don’t make a routine of sacrificing nap time throughout the holiday season. “Most children will resist that strenuously,” says Wendy Hall, a sleep researcher and professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. If your child’s temperament is such that any missed nap means a very unhappy baby, make it a priority to carve out time for her to sleep.

2. It’s 10 p.m. and your toddler still hasn’t settled down for bed at her grandparents’ house

There are a number of possible causes for your child’s difficulty with drifting off. Sometimes children struggle to stay awake because they don’t want to miss out on the fun. Reassure your toddler that you’ll be heading to bed soon, too — and then follow through on that promise. “Be good to yourself,” advises Hall. Or it could be that your child needs some more wind-down time. Especially if you’re the party host, you may want to zip through your child’s bedtime routine and get back to the group. But resist the temptation, even if you’re the one hosting the party; excuse yourself for a few minutes to focus on your child and return when you can — your guests will understand. According to Toronto-area sleep doula Tracey Ruiz, your child may become anxious or upset if you read one story instead of two. Providing pre-bedtime reassurance will help him enjoy a better night’s sleep, and be in a happier mood the next day.

For kids who have trouble relaxing in unfamiliar surroundings, Toronto sleep coach Andrea Strang suggests toting along a set of unwashed sheets from your toddler’s bed, a well-worn pair of pyjamas and favourite blanket or stuffed animal, so your child’s borrowed bed looks, feels and smells more like home. Try using a white noise machine or run a fan to block out the unfamiliar sounds.

3. Your toddler insists on sleeping in your bed when you stay in a hotel

“Try to comfort your child in his or her bed first,” suggests Strang. “If your toddler is still in a crib, try moving the crib up against your bed and lying beside him.” If he still won’t drift off — and you don’t mind the company for a night — bed sharing could be your best option.

4. Your little one keeps waking up at the crack of dawn — even though she didn’t go to bed until midnight

This can be a sign of overtiredness. To head it off, avoid pushing your child past the point of mere fatigue and into the totally wired zone. That means watching for the biological cues your child is becoming sleepy (yawning and rubbing his eyes, staring into space, losing interest in activities he usually loves). Get him to nap (or tucked into bed) at the earliest possible opportunity, before he’s too wound up to be able to fall asleep quickly or easily, suggests paediatrician Michael Dickinson, a community paediatrician and head of paediatrics in Miramichi, NB.

Neurologist Shelly Weiss of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children agrees: “A well-rested child will settle down better and sleep better.”

Keep an eye on your itinerary too. It’s tempting to reconnect with every friend, relative and casual acquaintance, but it’s not worth it if you end up exhausted, with a totally wired toddler in tow.

5. Your son starts waking up in the middle of the night — even though he’s been sleeping through the night for months

“If your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night when you’re visiting relatives, keep things quiet and low-key, just as you do at home,” says psychologist Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. That will remind your child that it’s time for sleep, not for play. Using a night light and providing his teddy bear or blankie may help to soothe him back to sleep, adds Coren. If your toddler is really having trouble, you might consider bringing him into your bed or sitting in a comfy chair with him, closing the door and encouraging him to snuggle up beside you. Whisper stories or sing softly to him to encourage him to stay put so you don’t disturb the rest of the house.

6. You crossed time zones to visit relatives and now your baby’s sleep schedule is totally out of whack

Hall suggests switching everyone to the local time zone as soon as you arrive — advice that makes sense to Floyd, who has made at least 10 trips from Vancouver to Nova Scotia to visit family since the first of her two boys was born in 2005. Rather than allowing the kids to sleep in until 8 a.m. “their time,” she says, “we don’t close the blinds, so the sun wakes them up in the morning.” When you return home to your regular time zone,” Hall says, “switch your child right back to local time.”

7. The holidays are over, but your toddler isn’t showing any signs of giving up the anything-goes bedtimes he enjoyed

Not too many toddlers are going to sign up for an earlier bedtime on their own. Most will require some gentle persuasion to get back on track. So revert to your kids’ regular bedtime routine, starting at the usual time, but allow a little flexibility so that you can minimize the post-vacation pains at bedtime. The good news is that it doesn’t take long to get most kids back on track. “Proceed calmly and assume that the transition is going to go well. Remember, you’re doing your kids a favour by helping them to get the sleep they need.”

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Picky Eaters

A school day is busy enough. Add extracurricular activities, & no parent wants to deal with problems at the dinner table once the day is coming to a close. Getting children to enjoy their food is not impossible according to registered dietician, Gina Sunderland, mother of two, one of whom is a picky eater. She shares her tips for making food interesting & laying down the foundation for good nutrition habits from the start.

You’re not the only family...

...that is dealing with a picky eater. A recent survey by Kraft showed that more than half of Canadian parents (56 per cent) have one finicky diner at their table. Without a doubt, trying to get that child to eat their meals can be a stressful experience for the whole family. “Dinner times may take longer and that one picky eater can sabotage a whole beautiful meal but it is important to remember to stay positive at that time,” says Sunderland. “Remember it is a normal part of childhood development for children to be weary of trying a new food. A child has to be exposed to a food at least 15 times before a ‘yuck’ food becomes a ‘yum’ food”.

Incorporate a favourite food with a new one

You may think that hiding the spinach in the pasta sauce is the best way to get them to chow down, but kids are smart and will soon figure out your strategy. “My kids love Kraft Dinner Smart, which is high in fibre and then I use that as a foundation and also give them a glass of milk and some raw veggies with a little dip to make it fun for them,” says Sunderland. Another great strategy is to offer them a choice. Ask them whether they would like green beans or asparagus with their chicken dinner. “It gives the kids a sense of control when they make their own choice,” adds Sunderland.

Get them involved

It’s never too early to teach children the importance of a nutritious diet. A great method to make them less picky about their food is to involve them in the process of cooking and involving them in meal planning. “Something as simple as stirring or measuring is a great way to get them to help and it make it more likely that they will eat what they have helped prepare,” says Sunderland. “For older kids, get them to go to the grocery store and allow them to pick out the fruit and vegetables they would like to eat for the week.” And don’t forget, you need to eat your vegetables as well. “If parents turn up their nose at broccoli, children tend to imitate us and do the same as well. So be a good role model.”

Don’t give into them

That’s easier said than done when an hour has been spent at the table and food has gone stone cold. But before you start bribing them or taking orders of what they would like to eat, consider this. “Making two different meals will perpetuate the picky eating problems,” says Sunderland. “One way to get them to eat is to stick to regular mealtimes. Explain that if they don’t want to eat at this meal time they will have to wait for the next snack or meal time. I know it seems cruel, but setting some ground rules will avoid the ‘I’m hungry’ excuse if they have skipped a meal.”

Make the food exciting

The old adage of ‘you eat with your eyes first’ is applicable to children as well. “Giving them a beautifully presented plate is fun,” says Sunderland. She suggests making boiled egg boats and string bean people with noodles for hair. For her own children, she uses cookie cutters to cut different shapes of fruit, veggies and cold meats. “Cut the carrot into thin circles and ask them to eat a ‘carrot coin’ or a different shape like a circle from their plate,” advises Sunderland. “At home I also like to make them make their own meals like DIY pizzas and tacos. I’ll put out a whole selection of healthy toppings and get them to choose what they want.” Again, giving them a choice helps them feel more involved. “I’ll give them veggie sticks sometimes and get them to choose their own salad dressing.”

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Why is Reading Aloud to Young Children So Important?

The Importance of Early Literacy - and Early Intervention from

  • Children who live in print-rich environments and who are read to during the first years of life are much more likely to learn to read on schedule.
  • Reading aloud to young children is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory.
  • Early language skills, the foundation for reading ability and school readiness, are based primarily on language exposure - resulting from parents and other adults talking to young children.
  • Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child's vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4.
  • Books contain many words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children's books actually contain 50% more rare words than primetime television or even college students conversations.
  • The nurturing and one-on-one attention from parents during reading aloud encourages children to form a positive association with books and reading later in life.
  • Reading aloud is a proven technique to help children cope during times of stress or tragedy.
  • Reading difficulty contributes to school failure, which increases the risk of absenteeism, leaving school, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and teenage pregnancy - all of which perpetuate the cycles of poverty and dependency.
  • 20% of U.S. workers are functionally illiterate.
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The importance of the early years as related to children’s futures

Maria Montessori was a pioneer in placing an emphasis on children from birth to age 6 over 100 years ago, & the Montessori philosophy has always placed great value on the partnership between home & the classroom.

Kindergarten teacher Melissa O’Neil is taking a number of steps to ensure her 10-month-old daughter, Aylen, is ready when she starts school in a few years. “As a teacher, I have good knowledge of what she needs,” Ms O’Neil, a first-time mom and Holland Landing resident, said. That involves positive social interaction and plenty of daily reading. “Reading is the key,” she said. “We’ve been doing that since Day 1, two and three times a day.”

Ms O’Neil concurs with York Region health professionals and other academics who say a new Canadian Pediatric Society report, while a tad gloomy, offers opportune recommendations. About 27 per cent of our children may not be fully prepared to learn when they begin kindergarten, according to Are We Doing Enough?, the bi-annual status report on Canadian public policy and child and youth health. Further, the study stated one in four children falls short on at least one measure of physical, social, emotional or cognitive development.

The document is a public policy report card on how our provinces and territories rank in the realms of disease and injury prevention, health promotion and the best interests of children and youth. Canada lags far behind most wealthy Western nations, rated last in terms of support for family policy and early child development, the study said. “It may seem somewhat bleak, but it’s also timely,” Seneca College King Campus school of early childhood education professor Laila Shah said.

York Region’s chief nursing officer and child and family health director, Julia Roitenberg, lauded the society for its comprehensive analysis of key child health issues. “What has been identified as important to contributing to child health at an early stage is very much aligned with our public health-mandated programs,” she said. Based on her experience, the statistics didn’t surprise Southlake Regional Health Centre chief of pediatrics Dr. Charmaine van Schaik. Numerous factors contribute to developmental issues, the physician said, including poverty, genetics, social circumstances, population and newcomer growth. Canada’s children and youths are inheriting many of the challenges that face our world, the report’s foreword stated, and it is our collective responsibility to prepare them for a complex future.

The report highlights what governments need to do to support the health, safety and well-being of children and youths to better protect them today and prepare them for tomorrow. Readying her daughter is Ms O’Neil’s priority. She plans on caring for her child at home at least three days a week until Aylen starts school. “ Educators are instructed to evaluate their young students”, she said. As a public board supply teacher, she sees ranging degrees of development in the classroom. “When dealing with kids so young, development is varied. One four-year-old can read and another doesn’t recognize a letter or number. We’re always on the lookout for gaps.”

The fourth edition of the pediatric society report looks at 24-month intervals, measuring policy changes, improvements and shortfalls. For example, provinces and territories continue to strengthen anti-smoking laws that protect children. Legislation or policies have been introduced to improve the mental health status of children and youths and pull them out of poverty. But there is still much more to be done, the report warned. Among the new key issues evaluated in this year’s report are newborn hearing screening and an enhanced 18-month well-baby visit. The society is concerned too few improvements have been made since 2009. In fact, Canada’s children and youths may be losing ground on the public policy front. There is childhood vulnerability in areas including poverty, early learning and child care, mental health and immunization, the report contended.

Ms O’Neil, Ms Shah, Ms Roitenberg and Dr. van Schaik agree with the report’s thesis that the impact of the early years on a child’s chances of success later in life is indisputable. The same holds true for York Region District School Board education, student achievement and well-being associate director Dr. Denese Belchetz. The board looks at a continuum of learning, taking into account that it begins at birth, she said. The public board’s plan begins with parents, the child’s first teachers. The board encourages parental involvement and engagement in school life, including literacy centres, Dr. Belchetz said. Helping the child transition into kindergarten is another goal, as is supportive entry, a program whereby teachers and principals team with parents. A strong early childhood education is founded on a shared approach, she said. The schools also engage families through orientations. “The goal is interaction through home and school,” Dr. Belchetz said. “We strive for equity of access for all. We’re learning more and more about what it takes to build a successful continuum.”

The report’s claim that one in four kids isn’t prepared for the first phase of school didn’t shock Ms Shah. “I thought it might be higher,” she said. “I was a bit disappointed the report hook was on kindergarten preparedness. The problems run deeper. Each issue is stand-alone. There has to be more focus on prevention and early intervention on poverty and immunization, for example.”

Ms Roitenberg’s division within York Region public health provides various programs and services within the areas of dental health, pregnancy, breastfeeding, parenting, child growth and development, newborn care and perinatal mood disorder. “We try and get to families and children as early as possible,” she said. “The earlier the start, the better.” The region has dedicated and robust service offerings for children and youths and their families. The region’s Healthy Babies Healthy Children program, which served 9,432 families in 2010, is a confidential and voluntary home visiting program for families who are pregnant or have children up to age six. This program is your one-stop shop for information on a variety of topics.

On the subject of addressing youth poverty, the Human Services Planning Board has developed the Making Ends Meet document, which is an important initiative for inspiring change and providing resources for economically vulnerable individuals, including children. The number of children, up to age 17, eligible for dental screening for the children in need of treatment program and preventative oral health services is 234,103. Last year, the region received 1,133 calls for early intervention services and five times that amount for family and children’s services.

The report ranks and makes recommendations on a range of issues, including snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle legislation. Ontario rates consistently high on all report subjects with mostly excellent status, including its efforts to reduce child poverty. Internationally, however, Canada ranked 20th out of 30 developed nations in child poverty rates as recently as 2007 and has the regrettable distinction of being one of a few nations in the group where child poverty rates were higher than overall poverty rates over the past two decades. To facilitate enhanced child and youth well-being, more funds need to be put into early childhood education facilities and programs, Ms Shah said. “We have to increase the (salaries) of early childhood education professionals, know the importance of prevention and early intervention and support the society’s recommendations,” she said. “We need to move all provinces and territories to an excellent rating. It comes down to dollars. Over time, there’s a far greater return and benefit to society and individuals’ trajectory is higher.”

Ontario is relatively on track in meeting the society’s recommendations, but there are hurdles, Dr. van Schaik said. “Resources and funding are the biggest issue. Our challenge is connecting pre-schoolers to the appropriate resources.” Canada’s bottom-rung ranking among developed nations caught Dr. van Schaik off guard. “I knew we were in the bottom half,” she said. “There are not a lot of big steps forward. Our early childhood advocacy lags behind. The report highlights the need for all people to continue their efforts to approach the federal aspect and bring advocacy for all children, especially on behalf of those unrepresented groups that don’t have a voice.”

Ms O’Neil’s advice is to be a dutiful parent. “It’s so important to give a child a good base going into school,” she said. “That involves eating well, sleeping well and time with parents. I believe that makes a well-rounded child and is the basis for success at school.”

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25 Ways to Talk So Children Will Listen

A major part of discipline is learning how to talk with children. The way you talk to your child teaches him how to talk to others. Here are some talking tips we have learned with our children:

1. Connect Before You Direct
Before giving your child directions, squat to your child's eye level and engage your child in eye-to-eye contact to get his attention. Teach him how to focus: "Mary, I need your eyes." "Billy, I need your ears." Offer the same body language when listening to the child. Be sure not to make your eye contact so intense that your child perceives it as controlling rather than connecting.

2. Address the Child
Open your request with the child's name, "Lauren, will you please..."

3. Stay Brief
We use the one-sentence rule: Put the main directive in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your child is to become parent-deaf. Too much talking is a very common mistake when dialoging about an issue. It gives the child the feeling that you're not quite sure what it is you want to say. If she can keep you talking she can get you sidetracked.

4. Stay Simple
Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen to how kids communicate with each other and take note. When your child shows that glazed, disinterested look, you are no longer being understood.

5. Ask Your Child to Repeat the Request Back to You
If he can't, it's too long or too complicated.

6. Make an offer the child can't refuse
You can reason with a two or three-year-old, especially to avoid power struggles. "Get dressed so you can go outside and play." Offer a reason for your request that is to the child's advantage, and one that is difficult to refuse. This gives her a reason to move out of her power position and do what you want her to do.

7. Be Positive
Instead of "no running," try: "Inside we walk, outside you may run."

8. Begin your Directives With "I would like."
Instead of "Get down," say "I would like you to get down." Instead of "Let Becky have a turn," say "I would like you to let Becky have a turn now." This works well with children who want to please but don't like being ordered. By saying "I would like," you give a reason for compliance rather than just an order.

9. "When...Then."
"When you get your teeth brushed, then we'll begin the story." "When your work is finished, then you can watch TV." "When," which implies that you expect obedience, works better than "if," which suggests that the child has a choice when you don't mean to give him one.

10. Legs First, Mouth Second
Instead of hollering, "Turn off the TV, it's time for dinner!" walk into the room where your child is watching TV, join in with your child's interests for a few minutes, and then, during a commercial break, have your child turn off the TV. Going to your child conveys you're serious about your request; otherwise children interpret this as a mere preference.

11. Give Choices
"Do you want to put your pajamas on or brush your teeth first?" "Red shirt or blue one?"

12. Speak Developmentally Correctly
The younger the child, the shorter and simpler your directives should be. Consider your child's level of understanding. For example, a common error parents make is asking a three-year- old, "Why did you do that?" Most adults can't always answer that question about their behavior. Try instead, "Let's talk about what you did."

13. Speak Socially Correctly
Even a two-year-old can learn "please." Expect your child to be polite. Children shouldn't feel manners are optional. Speak to your children the way you want them to speak to you.

14. Speak Psychologically Correctly
Threats and judgmental openers are likely to put the child on the defensive. "You" messages make a child clam up. "I" messages are non-accusing. Instead of "You'd better do this..." or "You must...," try "I would like...." or "I am so pleased when you..." Instead of "You need to clear the table," say "I need you to clear the table." Don't ask a leading question when a negative answer is not an option. "Will you please pick up your coat?" Just say, "Pick up your coat, please."

15. Write It
Reminders can evolve into nagging so easily, especially for preteens who feel being told things puts them in the slave category. Without saying a word you can communicate anything you need said. Talk with a pad and pencil. Leave humorous notes for your child. Then sit back and watch it happen.

16. Talk the Child Down
The louder your child yells, the softer you respond. Let your child ventilate while you interject timely comments: "I understand" or "Can I help?" Sometimes just having a caring listener available will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him.

17. Settle the Listener
Before giving your directive, restore emotional equilibrium, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in when a child is an emotional wreck.

18. Replay Your Message
Toddlers need to be told a thousand times. Children under two have difficulty internalizing your directives. Most three- year-olds begin to internalize directives so that what you ask begins to sink in. Do less and less repeating as your child gets older. Preteens regard repetition as nagging.

19. Let Your Child Complete the Thought
Instead of "Don't leave your mess piled up," try: "Matthew, think of where you want to store your soccer stuff." Letting the child fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting lesson.

20. Use Rhyme Rules
"If you hit, you must sit." Get your child to repeat them.

21. Give Likable Alternatives
You can't go by yourself to the park; but you can play in the neighbour's yard.

22. Give Advance Notice
"We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the girls…"

23. Open Up a Closed Child
Carefully chosen phrases open up closed little minds and mouths. Stick to topics that you know your child gets excited about. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no. Stick to specifics. Instead of "Did you have a good day at school today?" try "What is the most fun thing you did today?"

24. Use "When You…I Feel…Because…"
When you run away from mommy in the store I feel worried because you might get lost.

25. Close the Discussion
If a matter is really closed to discussion, say so. "I'm not changing my mind about this. Sorry." You'll save wear and tear on both you and your child. Reserve your "I mean business" tone of voice for when you do.

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Stopping a Temper Tantrum in its Tracks: What to Do When Kids Lose it

by Dr. Joan Simeo Munson

It’s a familiar scene: You’re standing in line at the grocery store, almost finished checking out. For the fourth time in a row, your child asks for a piece of candy strategically placed at kids’ eye-level in the checkout line. You’ve repeatedly said no, when suddenly, the tantrum starts. His legs and arms flail, and then he lets go with an ear-piercing scream and begins hitting the floor. Meanwhile, between muffled apologies and frantic bagging, you attempt to get as far away from the store as possible.

Why do children have such loud and embarrassing temper tantrums? And what can you as a parent do to help make them stop?

One important fact to recognize is that we all have temper tantrums occasionally. Think back to the last time you felt frustrated trying to get your printer to work. You may have thrown something, yelled out loud, or even sworn at it. This is basically an adult tantrum. The screaming, crying, and hitting that your young child shows is their version of a tantrum. Kids are no different than us; they get frustrated and angry too.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your child’s temper tantrums are not directed personally at you. Temper tantrums usually occur between one and three years of age, a time in your child’s development when they see themselves as the center of the universe, but older kids have temper tantrums too. Between the ages of four and seven, it’s not uncommon for children to yell, throw things, or just plain fall apart when they don’t get what they want. In both cases, your child’s tantrums are all about the perceived lack of control of their surroundings, so try not to personalize them. While this may be difficult to do, remember, your child lacks the daily self-control that we adults take for granted. Temper tantrums are the only way your child knows how to express their frustration with the world around them.

One of the best things to do is curtail those tantrums before they ever begin. This may not always be possible, but below are some strategies that can help you nip tantrums in the bud:

· Give your young child some control over his life. Many times kids act up simply because they want a little more independence from you. From the time they wake up, begin giving them choices for little decisions such as whether they want toast or cereal for breakfast, or allowing them to choose which shoes to wear outside for the day. One thing to avoid, however, is giving your child an open-ended option to do something such as, “Do you want to brush your teeth?” because the answer will almost always be a resounding “NO!” Instead, consider offering your child two options, such as, “Would you like to brush your teeth now or after you put your socks on?”

· Think of ways to distract your child. Young children have a very short attention span. The average two year old will change the focus of their attention approximately every minute, so you can use this to your advantage if you feel a tantrum brewing. If you are at home, redirect your child to a new task or toy and calmly talk about something new. Before going out, bring a bag of distractions in case your child begins to squirm or reach for items you are not going to buy. When you feel a tantrum coming on, take something out of the “fun bag” and offer it to your child. Examples can be a colorful notepad and a bag of bright markers, a small sack of their favorite action figures, an interactive picture book, a small musical recorder or radio, or, when all else fails, a small snack. Remember to rotate these items regularly so that your child does not tire of them. By using a steady, cheerful voice, you can distract your child from the object of their desire.

· Keep it quick. Understand that your child is not going to do well if you drag her on twelve errands in a row. Kids get tired and bored easily, and no amount of distractions will ward off a tantrum if they are tired, hungry or need a change of scenery. Be aware of the signs that your young child is heading towards a melt down, such as whining, crying, or complaining. These behaviors are the red flags you will need to learn to recognize. When they occur, respect that your child may be unable to continue as planned and curtail your plans for the day. Consider hiring a babysitter or trading off play dates with another parent so you can get through your weekly errands quickly.

· The attention factor. Lastly, remember that kids often have temper tantrums because they are not getting enough attention. Children are smart and know that even negative attention, including a parent scolding them, is better than no attention at all. Work hard at recognizing the times when your young child is doing something well and comment on it. If you can, set aside some special time each day for an activity--even if it is a short one--whether it be doing a puzzle together, story time or taking a short walk with your child. This rewards your child for their positive behavior and makes them strive for better behavior in the future. What to Do When a Tantrum is in Full-Swing Despite all of your attempts to avoid a temper tantrum, know that they will occur anyhow. What do you do when your child is in the middle of a tantrum and you’re stuck feeling helpless? Below are some tips to help:

· Do not give attention to the tantrum. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to try to help their child “work through” their tantrum. Behaviors associated with tantrums should not be acceptable to you or your family. As adults, we would not sit back and accept a person screaming, swearing, or throwing things at us, so we should not accept this from our children either. Children need to learn early on that when this behavior starts, they will be isolated from the rest of the family until they find more appropriate ways to act. When your child is done with their tantrum they may feel embarrassed or sad. This is a good time to talk about why their behavior was wrong and also ways to do better in the future. A lot of love, patience, and hugs can go a long way at this point.

· Take control of the situation. When a child is having a tantrum, they are signaling to you that they are out of control and helpless to rectify the situation. Although you may also feel helpless, this is the time to take control of the situation. Your child needs to see that you are confident and able to handle things. If you are at home, and the tantrum will not stop, place your child somewhere to ensure his safety until he can calm down. Pick the same place and put your child there each and every time they cannot calm down. If you are in public, calmly tell your child you are leaving, even if that means your shopping doesn’t get finished or you have to leave a play date. Children need to know that their parent is handling the situation for them when they are unable to do so themselves.

· Teach your child the importance of the word “No.” Don’t waffle when your child acts up as a way to avoid a confrontation or to stop a tantrum. Your child is brilliant at knowing how to get what they want from you. If you hesitate and give in even once when a tantrum starts, they have learned that tantrums will get them whatever they need in the future. If your child is in full tantrum mode, tell them, “You can’t always get everything you want.” Follow up by removing them from the situation or isolating them temporarily until they calm down. Be firm and consistent and your child will learn that having a tantrum will not get their needs met. Temper tantrums are a part of all of our lives, whether we are children or adults. Your job as a parent is to help your child recognize that the behaviors associated with a tantrum are not acceptable ways to act either at home or in public. A loving parent also helps their child through this phase by setting firm boundaries, creating consistent rules, and modeling for their child appropriate ways to act, both at home and in public. You may not be able to eliminate all temper tantrums from your lives, but you can create an environment that allows both you and your child to get through them together.

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