The Heart of a Parent

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This is not the typical blog that I write for The Learning Child, but I feel that all parents will benefit from hearing this message from the heart of a parent.

The school where my child attends hosted an all school assembly this month on bullying and cyber bulling. Parents and community members were invited to attend, so I took the opportunity to go and hear firsthand what the message was about.  I truly wish every parent could have heard this message from Mark and Joni Adler as they spoke from their hearts to tell the story of their son Reid, who was a victim of cyber bullying.

The Adlers introduced us to their family and told how they always strived to keep their children at the center of their lives. They described Reid as a good kid who followed the rules and befriended everyone he met.  He was the kid who always looked for the next fun thing to do.  Nevertheless, the Adlers also told us that Reid had made a mistake when he was in middle school.  Reid took a photo of himself on his phone that should never have been taken, and sent it to a girl. Reid never told anyone about this mistake, however, the girl ended up using the photo to blackmail and manipulate Reid, threatening to make it public.  The manipulation went on in such a way that Reid ended up taking his own life.

Reid Adler was close to his parents, and they could see that something was bothering their son. They opened the door for him to tell what was bothering him, and they had even sought counseling together after Reid had told his mom that sometimes he wondered if life was worth it. Still, Reid could not bear the thought of embarrassing his parents, friends and community, and did not tell about the photograph.

Suicide, according to the Child Safety network is the second leading cause of death of people age 15-24 in Nebraska. Mark and Joni Adler told me that they talk to student groups as Reid’s parents, not suicide prevention experts.  They hope to share this story to arm students with what to do if they are ever in a similar situation.

Joni told the students that day that we all make mistakes. Even your parents, who might seem to have it together now, have made mistakes.  She said she believes that we all experience different things so that we can learn from one another. As Reid’s mother, she gave this advice to our kids that day; do not take inappropriate pictures.  She also told them to follow their intuitions.  She said that she feels that Reid probably had that moment before he hit send that he second-guessed sending the photo.  She asked students to trust their intuitions, as they are usually what tells us that something is not right.

Joni’s next piece of advice was for students to pause before they say something, ask themselves, is it truthful and is it helpful. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. In her words, “Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to shut our mouths.”  She said to the group, that some of the kids in attendance might be the bullies. It’s human nature to hurt back those that hurt us, but she asked them to stop. Mrs. Adler stated, “If we keep up this idea of an eye for an eye, we will all go blind.”

This mother’s message is that we all have value and that it does not come from possessions or their family life. She stated, “No matter what has happened to you, or what you have done, you still have great worth, and no mistake is worth your life.” She advised the students that if they ever think of attempting suicide, talk to someone they can trust such as a parent, teacher or other trusted adult. She then said that parents can’t help you if you don’t let them in. She ended by saying that suicide is not the end of pain, but rather the transfer of pain to those who love you the most.

Mark Adler then took the stage to tell the students that this message is about leadership and courage.  Everyone has someone looking up to them, and at school, taking leadership means saying that you will not accept bullying, no matter what.  Courage is being able to step up and tell the bully that we do not do that here, and telling adults if we hear of bullying or someone talking of suicide. Courage is also telling someone if you are having those thoughts. Parents cannot help unless they know what is wrong. In closing, he asked the students to be the leaders and have courage. He asked them to remember that they can always reach a little higher and to go a little farther in kindness, leadership and courage.

I cannot begin to reproduce the powerful story that I heard at the school that day, but what I can say is that it has changed my life as a parent and as a professional.  I tell my parent education groups and childcare providers to be the hands that hold the child, be the hands that allow the child to go out and explore, and be the hands that also welcome the child back in when they are struggling with a need.  Last week in a parenting group I asked this question, “What do you hope for your children someday?” One of the parents said they hoped that their child would always feel welcome to come to them no matter what.

students texting

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From the heart of the parent who writes this blog today, my hope is for all families to communicate this openly so that our children will come to us with their joys as well as their struggles.  We have all made mistakes, learn from them and talk about them with your children.  Listen to your children when they come to you in delight, and when they come to you with the struggles, even if it is not comfortable for you.

Click this link if you would like to hear more of  The Adler Family Story

Another great resource on bullying from Nebraska Extension is this Cyber Bullying Neb Guide

The University of Nebraska has also been a part of the Born This Way Foundation.  Check out this link for more information as well as the related articles on bullying available here.

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah Paulos, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Leslie Crandall, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Grape play dough made me want to become an early childhood teacher

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Have you ever heard this statement “So, I have a silly question.”

As an early childhood specialist, I listened to teachers ask this question only for it to lead into a richer discussion regarding their classrooms.  For many years, I coached infant and toddler teachers, and I used this statement as an opportunity to introduce the importance of responding to young children’s curiosity.  Whenever a teacher led with that comment, I would either start the coaching conversation or end the conversation sharing the following story…

When I was three years old, my mother attended ESL classes at the county’s local community college.  Adjacent to the college was a small childcare lab school that I attended for preschool.  It was an incredible program. Well-defined learning centers with warm, patient, and interactive teachers.  Now knowing what I know, the program was certainly a high-quality early childhood program.  I am confident my preschool experiences reinforced my aspiration to become an early childhood professional.

One day, I asked my preschool teacher if she was a magician.  Every day, my preschool teacher offered in the art center a fruit-scented play dough. I was perplexed by the possibility that play dough could smell sweet like grape juice, or citrusy like lemons. It was beyond my imagination.  I remember her response, and all these years I have carried it with me.  She said, “What a silly question, and I am so glad you asked it. Tomorrow you can help me make it, and I will show you the magical powder that goes into it.”  My preschool teacher met my curiosity responsively instead of dismissing it.  She relished in my joy; I can still hear her laughter as I helped her make the play dough.  That day my teacher taught me that play dough was not just pliable dough; it could be so much more.  It was beyond anything I could have imagined.  My teacher recognized this question as a teachable moment and an opportunity to strengthen our relationship by affirming my question instead of dismissing it.  This experience inspired the creation of my twitter handle @beyondplaydough (I invite you to follow me).

Have you ever wondered what it is like for young children when they ask adults questions? 

If we are hoping to instill a sense of joy in learning, it is up to us as early childhood educators to respond authentically to young children’s bids and questions, no matter how silly they may seem.

As the mother of a preschooler who is currently in this state, I can relate to my teacher’s delight many years ago.  The other night, while reading Duck on Bike by author David Shannon I paused on the hilarious page when all of the animals hop on the bicycles.  I wanted to focus on defining new words by using what he already knew about bikes and then conceptually map the different types of bikes while introducing new vocabulary.  As I pointed to each bike, I explained how Chicken was actually on a tricycle because it had three wheels.  I noted that Pig and Pig were on a tandem bike built for two!  Then, our son noticed one of the bicycles had a different shaped seat.  He pointed at it and I told him it was called a banana seat, and immediately giggling ensued.  He turned his head to look up at me and said, “You cannot sit on a banana Mama, it would be all mushy, that is just so silly. Why would anyone be so silly Mama and sit on a banana?”

Right on little guy, why would anyone be so silly?

What is the silliest question a child has asked you?  Did the question delve into a deeper level of learning? Were you able to use it to further a child’s understanding of a particular concept, if so how?

Comment below!

Source: Linda Reddish, personal image

Linda Reddish, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and

John Porter, Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator

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Teaching Kindness and Giving With a Holiday Twist

the-kindness-elves-kindness-is-contagious-pass-it-on-680x505Image Source: The Imagination Tree

The holidays are a perfect time to focus on the social emotional development of young children. We can take this time to focus on the giving, rather than receiving.  It may sound cliché, but as parents and teachers our goal is for children to develop healthy attachments and maintain secure relationships with caring adults.  We also want our children to lean to show awareness of and respond to the feelings of others.

I had the opportunity to work with an amazing professional preschool teacher who was a master at setting up a caring community of learners.  It was very apparent that a lot of intentional planning was done to set up her classroom environment in a way that children trusted the adults and were nurtured and accepted.  Many opportunities were provided for children to develop an awareness of their own feelings as well as the ideas and actions of others.  During the holidays, the class was introduced to the “Kindness Kids” and daily were involved in decisions and planning thoughtful ways they could show kindness to others through-out the school.

Check out this article that explains The Kindness Kids, an Alternative to Elf on the Shelf Tradition.

And for you busy parents and teachers here is a site that provides Free downloadable kindness elves messages.  I hope this idea will help you to model kind words, thoughtfulness and giving.  I think you will be amazed at the ideas the kids come up with on their own to thank and appreciate others in their lives.

What are some of the ways you encourage awareness of others during the holidays?

Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Schedules And Routines

Little girl waking up routinesDay after day we get up, get ready for work, drive to the office, work all day, go home and do it all over again tomorrow… Some adults do not like their routine life but if you are a toddler or preschooler, routines and schedules are one of the best things in the world!

Routine ChartThe terms routines and schedules are interchangeable. Schedules represent the big picture and routines represent the steps done to complete the schedule. For children, routines can influence a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development. Children feel safe and secure knowing what is going to happen next in their day. Schedules help them understand expectations and can actually reduce behavior problems along with having a higher rate of child engagement in activities.

If you are having some challenging behaviors with your children. Take a step back and look at their daily routine. If you are not seeing some consistency then a change may be in order for your family. Children thrive on simple daily routines. Check out these tips from eXtension on Establishing Predictable Routines in a Child Care Setting.

Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Positive Relationships For School Readiness

Mom and daughter positive relationshipHave you seen all of those back-to-school pictures on your Facebook feed? This time of year is exciting, but can be a tough transition for Kindergartners. This is their first time they have been to school or even away from their family. Emotions can run high for both children and parents during this transition. Many children need comfort items or words to get them through the day, but all children need a positive relationship with an adult to make them feel safe and secure so they can venture off to school and be ready to learn in this new environment. For many years, researchers have discussed the importance of attachment in early childhood. It is widely accepted that relationships are an important part of the healthy developmental processes.

Adults must support children’s social and emotional development in addition to their cognitive skills. They also must assist children to navigate conflicts with peers, easing the transition from home to school each day, and helping children identify their feelings and needs. An adult who is responsive to the emotional needs of a child will be rewarded with a child who is excited, interested, and engaged.

Supporting a child’s healthy social and emotional growth takes commitment from all the primary caregivers in a child’s life. This includes mothers, fathers, grandparents, teachers, and other key adults. It’s important to remember that children in the primary years observe and learn from our relationships. What they observe shapes their Clifford Goes To Kindergartenexpectations of how people treat others and therefore influences their developing social skills and emotional competence.

A great book to introduce your little one to the kindergarten transition is “Clifford goes to Kindergarten.” The book shows how Emily goes from the comfort of her home into they new world of school.

Looking for more information on supporting children’s healthy social and emotional development? Check out our publication The Role of Relationships in the Primary Years for tips on building relationships.

Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

(This article was originally published in NebLine by Poppe. It is republished here with permission)

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What’s Bugging You?

what's bugging youYoung children go through a variety of emotions every day. Sometimes they have problems relating their emotions to their behavior and all adults see… is the challenging behavior that is exhibited!

Take time to talk with your children about what is really bugging them. What has happened to them that is making them feel upset? How does their body feel when this happens?  What can they say to the other person?  How should they react?

We need to explain these feelings to our children and give them simple ideas of how to deal with their emotions. One way to teach this is by using bugs themselves.  Summer is a great time to have a lesson on bugs.  Incorporate bugs into the discussion of emotions too.  First take a large piece of paper and draw a bug right in the middle.  Title the paper with “When something is bugging me, I can say…”

Give the child plenty of ideas on what to say….. This poster can hang in their room, on the refrigerator or anywhere the child spends a lot of time. It is a constant reminder of how the child can start to regulate their own emotions and deal with conflict.

Author: Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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Fun With Shadows

May emotions

Our friends at Still Playing School have a great idea to use shadows to teach children about their emotions.  This is a great way to play outside in the sun to learn about spatial relations and make shadows. Children can use sidewalk chalk to draw different emotion faces on the shadows. They can also learn about social cues when they move their bodies in different ways to show anger, happiness or sadness. This is a great way to begin the conversation of emotions and what they look like.  Even toddlers can get in on the fun!

Author:  Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator | The Learning Child
Image Source:  Still Playing School

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Enhancing Emotional Literacy: Tips For Early Childhood Professionals

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.24.43 AM.pngWe know that supporting children’s social and emotional development is key to school readiness and overall healthy growth and development. One critical component of a child’s social and emotional development is their ability to experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways. We call this emotional literacy. According to research, children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy:

  • tolerate frustration better
  • get into fewer fights
  • engage in less destructive behavior
  • are healthier
  • are less lonely
  • are less impulsive
  • are more focused
  • have greater academic achievement

On the other hand, children who don’t learn to use emotional language have a hard time labeling and understanding their own feelings or accurately identifying how others feel.

There are many strategies you can use as an early childhood professional to help support children’s emotional literacy.

Indirect Teaching

One technique that works with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is indirect teaching, which would be when a teacher provides emotional labels – “you’re happy” or “you’re frustrated” – as children experience various affective states.

Teachable Moments

Another example of indirect teaching is building on teachable moments. When children are in the dramatic play area and acting out a scenario, comment on the character’s feeling. For example, the children are “playing house” and the child being the baby is crying. You may then respond, “Why is the baby crying? I think she is sad. What do you think?”

Modeling

Also you are a model for helping children identify and appropriately express their emotions. Therefore, model your own feelings when you are talking with children: “I’m excited that the fire fighters are coming tomorrow in their truck to visit us!” “I’m sad that Melissa is leaving our group and moving to Maine.”

Want to learn more about how to enhance children’s emotional literacy? Visit our website and our Emotional Literacy Lesson

Lisa Poppe, Extension Specialist | The Learning Child

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Enhancing Children’s Emotional Literacy: Tips For Families

Mother soothing young childDid you know that a child’s social and emotional development is key to school readiness and overall healthy growth and development? As a parent of an infant, toddler or preschooler, you are your child’s first teacher on how to regulate and control their emotions. Young children look to you for guidance on how to respond when they are angry, happy, surprised, frustrated, fearful and so forth. In early childhood education, we refer to this as helping young children to develop emotional literacy.

Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and express emotions in a healthy way. It is also is the capacity to recognize, label, and understand feelings in oneself and in others.

Emotional literacy in very young children develops as a result of having respectful, caring, supportive relationships with adults. When children have a strong foundation in emotional literacy they tolerate frustration better, engage in less destructive behavior and generally have greater academic achievement.iStock_000012707089SmallSpecial Note two month.jpg

On the other hand, children who don’t learn to use emotional language have a hard time labeling and understanding their own feelings or accurately identifying how others feel.

How can you help your child develop his or her emotional literacy? One technique is to verbally acknowledge and label emotions expressed by your child. A gentle positive tone of voice communicates to children an understanding and acceptance of whatever emotions they are exhibiting. Check out how the mother assist her child in regulating his emotions:

“Oh Ethan, sweetie, you bumped your head and it hurt. Let me hold you for a few minutes. Aw, it hurt, didn’t it, and made you mad. We will go away from that counter and find something else to play with. Are you feeling better?”

To learn more ways you can help support your child’s emotional literacy, visit our website and The Pyramid Model.

LISA POPPE, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

This article was previously published for Nebraska Extension by Lisa as a PDF. It is re-published here with her permission.

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