April/May 2014 Parent Post

Week of the Young Child Events

Thanks for taking part...it was a fun week!

Fall Contracts, May Term Sign-Up, and Exam Week Sign-up

At the end last week a contract for fall care was posted on your child's locker.  The contract includes two areas: an area to sign up for care needed in the fall and an area including the dates for care needed from May 19 through June 6th.  Sign-up for care needed during exam week (May 12-16) will be on clip boards that you will find on the counter in the front entry.  Similar to previous protocol, if you need care during exam week or during the May interim, you sign up for it and pay for it.  If you don't need care, you simply don't sign up and you will not be charged.  If your child is not returning in the fall, but will be here during the May interim, please sign up on the bottom portion of the contract.

Baby Chicks???

Baby chicks...question mark???  Well...we never really know!  The incubator is up, it's warmed to 100 degrees, it has eggs in it, we are carefully tending to the eggs...and then it's a BIG surprise.  Sometimes we have a small hatch, sometimes no hatch, and sometimes a terrific hatch.  It really depends on the hens and the rooster :)  The count-down is on...April 23rd or 24th is the expected due date.

Program Evaluation

To those of you who took the time to complete a program survey - thank you!  The results are posted below.  Please glance at them when you have a chance.  We will be using these results as we make plans for the upcoming year(s) at our Annual Meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, May 8th at 4:00 p.m.  If you cannot make the annual meeting and would like to provide further comment, please feel free to catch me (or one of the teachers) sometime. 

Initial Report

Last Modified: 04/17/2014

1. The center staff maintains a safe and healthy environment that promotes my child's physical well-being.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

1

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

46

90%

2

Agree

 

 

 

5

10%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

4

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

5

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

2. Center policies are in place and followed consistently.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

39

76%

4

Agree

 

 

 

11

22%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

1

2%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

3. My child trusts his/her teacher.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

47

92%

4

Agree

 

 

 

4

8%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

4. Communication between the teachers and my family is effective.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

38

75%

4

Agree

 

 

 

13

25%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

5. Communication between the center director and my family is effective.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

37

74%

4

Agree

 

 

 

11

22%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

2

4%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

50

100%

6. The staff informs me of my child's progress and accomplishments.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

31

61%

4

Agree

 

 

 

18

35%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

1

2%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

1

2%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

7. I feel welcome at the center at any time.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

40

78%

4

Agree

 

 

 

11

22%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

8. I feel comfortable sharing my ideas and/or concerns with center staff.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

35

69%

4

Agree

 

 

 

10

20%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

2

4%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

4

8%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

9. My child is interested in the activities and materials provided at the center.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

42

84%

4

Agree

 

 

 

8

16%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

50

100%

10. Center staff members are strong advocates for children and families.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

38

75%

4

Agree

 

 

 

12

24%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

1

2%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

11. The program staff has built a sense of community at the center.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

37

73%

4

Agree

 

 

 

13

25%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

1

2%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

12. I found the newsletter series on the social growth and development of young children to be useful in my role as a parent.

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

5

Strongly Agree

 

 

 

20

39%

4

Agree

 

 

 

16

31%

3

Neither Agree nor Disagree

 

 

 

13

25%

2

Disagree

 

 

 

2

4%

1

Strongly Disagree

 

 

 

0

0%

 

Total

 

51

100%

13. One of our goals for this school year was to rotate the meeting times of our parent support group so that more parents had an opportunity for participation.  If the times had rotated, what would have been your chances of attending?

#

Answer

 

 

 

Response

%

1

No Chance

 

 

 

9

18%

2

Very Little Chance

 

 

 

15

30%

3

Some Chance

 

 

 

20

40%

4

Very Good Chance

 

 

 

6

12%

 

Total

 

50

100%

14. Please add comments you would like to share:

Text Response

We have loved our experience at the Center. The only true challenge we have encountered has been the inconsistency in expectations between the professional teaching staff versus the student staff in the afternoons. For our child consistency is key with relation to the rules/expectations. It seems that we ran into hurdles at the end of the day when more things seemed to "slide" or the communication wasn't there between the two entities.

Wonderful job! Our son loves coming to the school.

I think the Center and the staff do a great job. Our kids enjoy it there and the teachers and college staff are great. Minor item: First, I sometime see kids w/ runny noses and think that the staff should do a better job of giving kids tissues to blow their noses (and then wash hands). If I notice a kid w/ a runny nose, it appears to me that the staff should have already noticed and taken care of it. Potentially major item: Other childcare centers, and even ones on college campuses, have more advanced measures set up for security issues (i.e., a "gunman" incident). Although the center on campus has taken some measures w/ the sensor doors and has discussed the issue here and there, I'd like to see much stricter security set up that includes someone at the front who verifies each entrant. Better safe than sorry.

We are so thankful for campus child center and the relationships we have developed with staff!

We are very happy with the care; you have a great thing going here! But, sometimes, it seems the Center is resistant to change. For instance, cloth diapers are accepted at many Centers now, but not here. My understanding that cloth diapering is possible, but would require some rearrangement of space. It also would be helpful to have some summer hours, but the survey for summer care isn't sent out until mid-Spring when most folks have already had to make arrangements for the summer (if the survey was sent out in the fall, I'm guessing you would get more interest).

Our child(ren) have had very positive experiences at CCC, and we have appreciated all of their teachers. At times I have felt as though the director could be more receptive to feedback, but overall, we are very satisfied and thankful to have our child(ren) at CCC!

My boys and I are so happy with the services. My son is VERY VERY sad that he won't be continuing with the childcare in the Fall. You guys have always been there for us and we are so very blessed to have been a part of this childcare. We love everyone who works there and volunteer their time there, too. My children love it there and calls it home. This is the best gift a childcare place can ever give a child. Thank you, Sue, for fighting for me when I first started bringing my kids there. You are one heck of a woman. Please continue to give your love and warmth to all of our children who attend the childcare. Also, continue to teach us, the parents, about learning to be a better parent. I have learned so much from your newsletter about growth and development than I would have gotten anywhere else. So, thank you for your loving support and wisdom.

I couldn't be happier with our experience of the child care center. Claire clearly enjoys her teacher, peers and environment. It is clear that a lot of thought goes into the design of the environment and the experiences that she is immersed in. We are happy that the snacks are always healthy and reflect our values about food and nutrition. We hope to be more involved in gardening this summer.

I'm a little unclear about the wording of question 13 - I did not find the meeting times a problem, I just wasn't interested in participating.

We absolutely adore UWL Childcare staff and are so happy with our son's development at the center! Thank you Sue and all the caring folks who make this happen! I appreciate the sense of community and loving attention everytime I walk through the door.

Thank you for providing a safe and fun place for our daughter to spend her days and grow. Keep up the good work!

We've been very happy with our daughter's care and education at CCCC. Our only complaint is that cookies and cupcakes seem to be a regular offering--seemingly weekly. We understand that this is the culture we live in, but we hope this will change as people realize how unnatural and unhealthy these "treats" really are.

My son absolutely loves coming to the daycare center. He feels at home. He trusts and adores Kate and his other teachers. I honestly couldn't be happier with the center and everything it provides. I wish that everyone could experience a daycare of this caliber.

Thanks for all of the great work!

Best childcare in town!

Thanks for all that you do. We love that such a strong center exists at UW-L.

Everyone at the center does an awesome job with the children and communicating with families. I love sending my child to Campus Child Center, and she loves attending! I feel very grateful that we get to be a part of something so wonderful. If I have to work and put my child in daycare, this is where I want them to be! I appreciate the built in preschool aspect of the daycare as well so I know that my child is not only getting cared for in a safe and loving environment, but is also being stimulated and growing in all areas of development. Thank you!

You do a fabulous job. I know my daughter is in good hands, and she loves going to school.

We love Campus Child Center. We feel so lucky that our little wonderfuls have had the incredible opportunities and love that you provide for them. If we had to choose between sending them to college and sending them to Campus Child Center we would send them to Campus Child Center. We think it is so important for their development, and it is the best place to be loved and feel like part of something very important. They are all going to do and be great things because of you! We appreciate the amazing performances of all of the teachers, the high level of professionalism, and the love and amazing patience you have for the kids and the parents! How do you all do it so well? There is no place like Campus Child Center!

We are beyond blessed to be a part of this program and thank God for the outstanding care that our children receive when we cannot be there. The values that are instilled in our children starts at home, but the program at UW-L reinforces them to help our children grow into well-respected, mature adults. Thank you for all that you do for our family!!!

I often teach during the times that the Parent Group had set up for their meetings. Thanks so much for putting together the Parents' Group, but I just found it impossible to fit into my teaching schedule. Cindy and Kate have worked with us very closely to help our son work through some rough-and-tumble play issues. Thanks so much for all of your hard work with that!

If the parent meetings had included a late afternoon time, either my husband or I would have been able to attend. Meetings prior to 4:00 pm or in the evening, unfortunately, would not have worked for us. However, we are on a non-traditional "student"/teacher schedule. We very much appreciate the wonderful care that our son receives at the Child Center. We truly feel blessed that he has been able to learn and grow within your program. Thank you for all you do!

Great job everyone! CCC is the crown jewel of campus.

The Campus Child Center is WONDERFUL!!!

The childcare center has been a great place for my children to learn, grow, and develop relationships with all ages. They have learned and experienced so many neat things that I would never of thought exposing them to. I have been so impressed with the staff and student staff over the years. Being with the staff is a major perk of the experience for the children at the childcare center. Thank you for all you have done for my family. It will always be appreciated.

I am only sad that this is my son's last couple of months at the Campus Child Care Center before he "graduates" to Emerson next year. The Center has without a doubt been the absolutely best feature of moving to La Crosse. Cannot believe what a good job they do there.

Add-on to question 13: We would have loved to be part of the parent group but the meeting times were very difficult in the middle of the day with work schedules. We would welcome a mid/late afternoon meeting rotation.

I was never able to make it to the Parent meetings but I recently found the facebook page for the Campus Child Center!

Rule of fever / sick kids should be enforced for the health of all kids at the center. Frustrating when sick kids come to ccc and parents tell teacher they are sick w fever. We keep our kids home when they are sick w fever. Others should follow that rule too. We would appreciate a more detailed bill for each month - # days/kid@rate. It would help for reimbursement, budget tracking, hold day tracking, etc.

Annual Meeting

As indicated in the information  above, we will hold our Annual Meeting on May 8th at 4:00 p.m., here at the center.  At the annual meeting we will discuss the results of the program survey and set goals for the upcoming school year.

Help Needed in the Garden

We have a few garden work-dates coming up in the next few weeks.  Please consider helping us if you can.  We have a lovely garden (it's hard to tell now...but it really is very nice) and that is only because of your help.  We plan to prep the soil, move a few structures, stain the shed and gazebo, and put together a new garden shed on Saturday, April 26th from 9:00-noon.  We also have Saturday, May 17th from 9:00 to noon set aside for planting.  Saturday, May 24th is our planting rain-date.  I'm not even going to put that in bold letters because I'm counting on a perfect day on May 17th!  Please consider lending a hand.

Social Growth and Development Series

2013-14 Series on Children's Social Growth and Development
(scroll to the bottom for the most recent addition to the series)

The Importance of Building Friendships - First of the Series

If you were with us last year, you may remember that we published a series on our vision for our children.  At our annual meeting, the parents in attendance suggested that we publish another series during the course of this year highlighting the social growth of young children.  We will do just that.  Only this year it will be a little bit different.  Instead of each of the teachers taking a turn at writing a portion of the series, I will be the sole author.  You’re stuck with me.  Of course I will pick their brains so that I can include their wealth of knowledge, but they will be off the hook in the actual writing of the series.

Although this series will be on the social growth of young children, you will probably find that the overriding theme will focus on friendship and relationships.  We will explore the importance of building friendships and relationships, look at the various phases of social growth, take a peek at what makes children socially competent, consider parental influence in this process, and talk a bit about the bumps one runs into along the way. 

So...starting at square one: why is this topic important?  One of the reasons to explore this topic is simply because your child is here with us.  When you think of it, placing children in a setting such as ours is the equivalent of us adults going into our daily work or social scene.  We are placing our children in a demanding social situation, and often doing it on a daily basis.  They are side-by-side with other children and they are compelled to get along with others.  And although they are expected to be respectful of all of the other children, in this very full social setting they will find those children they will choose as friends and those they don’t.  (Don’t be shocked…we adults do the very same thing!)  

Another reason for this exploration is the fact that friendship is so very important.  Friends make life more pleasant.  They help us think things through.  They teach us about right and wrong.  Our peers teach us what is and is not considered normal social behavior.  We learn loyalty through them (our children are more affected by hurting a friend’s feelings than by hurting their parent’s feelings!).   Socially successful children also fare well in other areas of life, particularly in school.  The fact is that friendships are exceedingly significant in life.  Parents have a tremendous influence over their children’s social lives (even during the teen years…don’t be fooled!).  And since social competence is important and parents have influence, it makes perfect sense to explore this topic.

Friends may also cause a wealth of angst or problems for you and your child.  When we place very young children together and ask them to do this dance of social competence without the dance lessons, there are plenty of hurt toes.  Competent parents respond to their child’s needs in socially competent ways.  Because of our deep desire for our children’s success, we sometimes respond in the wrong way.  It is truly worth exploring the ways in which parents can support social competence.

I think this topic will be interesting and informative and I hope you enjoy reading more about it.  Next month we will take a look at the various stages of social growth and development.

Stages of Social Development - Second in the Series

It’s probably not a good idea to take a look at how we can help our children navigate their social growth unless we have a better understanding of what that growth should look like.  This particular piece of the series will focus on the various stages of social development in young children.  The caveat always remains: within any stage there is a range of development.  There also exists a variety of rates in this growth.  Do you ever think: wow…my child is eating an incredible amount of food lately and then a week later wonder why she isn’t much interested in eating?  We normally nourish our bodies when we are hungry.  In a way, rates of development can proceed in a similar manner.  In our children we see leaps and bounds…and then we see periods of “rest.”  Ranges and rates are all a part of the typical development of young children.

Children, from a very young age, have the enormous task of developing connections with other people.  And this includes infants and toddlers.  As our adult eyes look through our toddler room window, we would say that our toddlers are not actually playing with or socializing with each other.  But look again.  They are really “tuned-in.”  (We also know this to be true through good, sound research.) Here’s an example…when someone’s “lovie” is misplaced and found, the toddler who finds it always shows concern in promptly returning the treasure to its rightful owner.  Although toddlers lack the skills to engage in meaningful play with each other for more than brief periods of time, they indicate through their awareness and curiosity of others, that they are indeed part of a group.  

Go back to that toddler room window and this time take a gander at how the children relate to the trusted adults in the room.  Children, at a very young age, seek adults for play.  They attempt conversations as they coo and babble and they play that perpetual game of “drop the spoon from the high chair so the adults in my world can play fetch.” Think of patty-cake – they are even involved in situations that have “rules.”  If we change the words or actions to patty-cake, infants and toddlers indicate by their  adjustment in attention that they know we’ve “twisted” it somehow.  Although their play is solo or parallel (side-by-side with another child, but without much interaction), they are truly becoming social beings.

Children proceed from solo/parallel play to dyad play.  Children start to develop friendships and will actually identify others as friends.  But most of the actual play is done with one other child.  They often mimic each other’s actions and remain together for some period of time.  But the play remains “loose,” (I don’t know how else to describe it) – it can and does change quickly and abruptly.  There isn’t a real rhythm to the play.  Think of the children in Dawn and Angela’s room.  They tend to play with one or two other children (more than that is too many) and the play is usually brief.  Although their play is indeed intentional, sustaining any one idea for a longer period of time is not yet in their play cache. 

Take a peek at Kate or Cindy’s children.  In those areas you may see five, or six, or seven children playing together.  As I watched outside today, there was a group of seven three-year-olds playing a chasing game.  This game had rules!  These rules were established by the participants and the rules changed as the play proceeded.  Remember I said that changes to play happen in Dawn and Angela’s room?  Changes to play for Kate and Cindy’s children are entirely different.  Before the play (or the rules) could change, it was agreed upon by the participants.  They are genuinely working together to sustain their play.  Their theme-building in play gets deeper and richer.  Their play takes longer – they have the desire to allow and nurture the flow of their play.  And not only do the rules of their play change, so do the participants.  Children involved in small group play are more successful when they are able to enter and exit play in what is viewed as an acceptable way by the other participants.  These children are now taking turns – they share not only toys and tools, but also different roles during their play.   

Earlier in this piece, I encouraged you to go back to the toddler room window and look at the ways in which the toddlers make connections with adults.  They actively seek adults for comfort, care, and socialization.  Take another peek at Kate and Cindy’s children.  They too, seek adults for the same reasons toddlers do…but not as often.  They seek peers.  The importance of peers becomes increasingly noticeable, as these children lean toward interactions with each other more often than they seek interactions with adults.

Because we have a commitment as a staff to offer direct teaching time (which we refer to as group time) to each of our groups of children, we have to concede that we encourage each of our children to be a part of what we would refer to as a large group social circle.  The groups get larger in size with the age of children in them.  Kim’s group is the smallest; Dawn’s a bit bigger, and so on, until we top it all off with Cindy’s large group of four-year-olds.  Each group time also gets a little longer.  Kim’s group time is brief, Dawn’s a bit longer, and it climbs in each area with Cindy’s being the longest.  Our children are successful in these large groups due to significant adult support at the time.  Although group time is child-centered and child-focused, it remains adult-led and guided.  Removing the adult from this particular social circle equates to challenges for the children.  Because the adult is integral to the equation, one may view this social situation as perhaps not belonging on this social scale.  But if you were to ask the children, they (at least those who are 2 ½ or older) will firmly tell you whose group they are a part of.  And for those who are younger, they physically band themselves together as “Dawn’s Group” or “Kim’s Group.”  Being a member of a much larger group is important.  It’s their first opportunity for building community – a community of which each is an important member. 

I simply love watching all of this as it unfolds around me.  And if you ever have the time to hang around sometime, I invite you to join me in watching something that is truly amazing.  Of course, it comes with joys and challenges.  And those are some of the things we’ll talk about as this series continues.

Skills in Self-Regulation - Third in the Series

At the start of our series we talked about the importance of building friendships and the stages of social growth and development.  In my mind, the next logical step in this series covers how parents support their child’s social competence.   I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two pieces to this.  One piece concerns the much broader ways in which we support our children’s social growth and development and one piece I refer to more as the “nitty-gritty” of competency in general.

Socially competent children almost always have socially competent parents.  As parents, we react and respond to our children’s nature, needs, and desires.  And when we consider their social development, we often respond in a way that fits our own social reality.  In other words, much of our own social mannerisms - the ways in which we navigate our own social world - appear in our reactions and responses to our children.  That’s part of the big picture.

But what I’d like to talk about this month is a part of the “nitty-gritty.”  Over the years, my work with young children has made me more and more aware of the importance of helping our children explore and master skills in self-regulation.

Self-regulation is being able to manage one’s emotions and behaviors.  It’s being able to refrain from doing something we really, really want to do and to do something we really, really don’t want to do.  Self-regulation means understanding that our actions have consequences (both positive and negative); it’s knowing what is and is not culturally acceptable; and it’s understanding that we – not our feelings – control our behavior.  Children who have skills in self-regulation can remain focused and attentive, they can manage feelings of frustration, and they have more resiliency and self-confidence.  Children who have skills in self-regulation are less impulsive – they are able to wait, share space, and deal with change.   Think about these self-regulation skills.  Aren’t they the same skills and behaviors you really want to find in your friends?  And if that is true, isn’t it what your friends also hope to find in you?  And if you buy into this, shouldn’t this be one of our very first considerations for our own children’s growth and development?  The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that skills in self-regulation are absolutely essential not only for the social growth of our children, but for their development in general. 

So what does this all mean for us as the adults in our children’s lives?  It means we are exceedingly important!  Every human has to learn to regulate feelings, thoughts, and actions and this learning begins in childhood.  It is our role to model, shape, and guide and this role is a big one. 

Children learn little in the skills of self-regulation when the adults in their lives are harsh, inconsistent, impatient, demanding, and controlling.  But when we establish expectations and boundaries and consistently remind the children of them, we establish a secure and trusting environment in which children feel loved, comfortable, and safe.  In this type of environment, children know the limitations and expectations.  They see adults modeling even temperament, patience, and respect for others and they come to a better understanding of the positive results of being patient and in control of their actions and responses.

Our words are powerful sources of help.   When we say things such as, “When you pushed, Macy got hurt.  Let’s check on her to make sure she’s ok,” we are helping children understand cause and effect, the feelings of others, and our expectation to make things “right.”    When a child is crying and we say, “What do you need to help you feel better?” we are modeling patience and respect for others.  Sometimes we can make it better – we can honor the request.  Sometimes we can’t make it better and when this happens, we are helping children gain a deeper understanding of emotions (that everyone has times when things don’t go our way) and how to manage them.  When we say, “First pick up the blocks and then we can go outside,” we are reaffirming expectations while also helping a child learn more about waiting.  When we remind children that it is currently another child’s turn to use a much-wanted toy and that their turn is soon approaching, we are again reaffirming the ability to wait and also helping them learn to share space and materials with others.  Sometimes I find myself saying, in the presence of the children, things such as “I’m waiting right now…I’m practicing being patient,” or “I wish I could ___ right now, but it’s not time to do that.  I’ll have to think of something else to do.”  Not only does this reinforce my self-regulation skills for our children, it also reminds me that I can indeed manage my emotions and behaviors!

Children also learn little in the skills of self-regulation when the adults in their lives are hyper vigilant, smothering, and overly affectionate.  When we respond in a sensitive and reassuring manner, the children know we are keeping them safe, but that we are also encouraging them to take on new challenges and experiences.  They know they can try things out and have a safety net (trusting adults) to fall back on and they know they have the support and encouragement needed to try new endeavors.   There are going to be many bumps along the way – frustrations, disappointments, and challenges – these are a part of life.  When we teach our children to “brush themselves off” and move on they will gain skills toward persistence and resiliency.

I guess that if I was to sum all of this up in a few words, I’d say: model resiliency, practice patience, encourage persistence, and display respect for oneself and others.  In the end…this will support self-regulation skills and the skills needed to establish and maintain friendships.

Parental Support - The Big Picture - Fourth in the Series

Last month I shared with you that I believe there are two ways in which parents support their child’s social growth and development: one being a general “big picture” of support and one being the more “nitty-gritty” support toward competency in self-regulation skills.  Since we already took a look at supporting skills in self-regulation, let’s take a step back and look at the “big picture.” 

You are already well-versed in the ways that parents foster their children’s social competency.  But it’s worth mentioning again. 

Parents of socially competent children help their children feel secure about themselves.  These parents help their children know that they are willing to listen and help as needed.  They help their young children understand that the world is safe (when you’re a short distance from your parent or other trusted adults) and that it is indeed ok to explore and investigate it.  These parents know when it’s best to “leave it alone” and when it’s best to intervene.  They set boundaries, yet they encourage independence.  They are appropriately in control, while also monitoring from a distance.  

Parents of socially competent children set up play-dates: they make sure their children have opportunities to be with other children.  They also allow for the children to make their own version of fun.  In other words, these parents don’t lead the play-date!  And this often translates into many parents’ version of trouble: the children actually argue and fight when the adult isn’t in the mix.  Play-dates involve tension – that’s how our children learn and grow socially.  This doesn’t mean that parents establish the play date and then leave the scene entirely.  It means that they stand back and intervene as needed and in appropriate ways.  These parents help the children understand the nuances of the play, they make appropriate suggestions so the play can continue, they encourage cooperation, and then they step back again, ready to assume their role of indirect supervision.

Parents of socially competent children help their children think through friendship issues.  These parents understand that there will always be struggles to enjoying a life filled with friendships – this is inevitable for children as well as for adults.  They help their children see the points of view of others, process and reflect upon friendship issues, and generate solutions to friendship concerns and problems.  They also go just a little bit further: they distance themselves by encouraging their children to think of alternate solutions to friendship issues.  They help their children think of the next step – what to do when the first plan fails.  Or…in the bigger picture…what to do when a parent isn’t there to help.

Parents of socially competent children model social competence themselves.  They are playful, friendly, and emotionally expressive.   And for many, many children, being physically playful, such as tumbling and wrestling with a parent or trusted adult, is exactly the playful nature they need.   As children get a bit older, this playfulness also translates into a bit of friendly joking.  Parents who are comfortable expressing their emotions, who help their children understand that feelings are normal and encourage the appropriate display of them, help mold children that others find to be engaging and empathetic. 

Parents of socially competent children understand the need for building and maintaining friendships.  They know that both joy and pleasure and frustration and disappointment accompany this journey.   And they actively reflect both for their children…with a big “tip” of the scale toward reflecting joy.  I hope this finds you imbedded in joyful friendships…more next month.

Supporting Social Competence Age by Age and Stage by Stage - Fifth in the Series

Last fall, when I wrote the second piece in this series, I introduced you to the idea of stages of play.  We talked about solo and parallel play, dyad play, and small group play.  We talked about how children move from playing alone to playing with a group of friends; from playing with no “real rules” to playing with the “rules” that those involved have established; and to going from limited interactions with others to almost constant interactions with peers.  It’s time to take another look at all of those stages and look a little deeper, because there truly is so much to discover.  And it’s exceedingly interesting!  (At least I think so!)

So…what are the nuances of play?  What goes well?  What goes wrong?  And what can parents do to help?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when I hear the words “all you do there is play,” I want to say “thank you – you noticed!”  Our free-choice play time certainly looks like play and in reality, so does our more structured direct teaching time.  All learning here happens in a playful manner.  That is what is right for young children.  But the “nod” has to go to pretend play.  Research is indicating that those children who are well-versed in pretend play also achieve high levels of academic success.  And…pretend play is the prime tool for gaining social skills.  In pretend play, children make decisions, solve problems, take on roles, make rules, cooperate, take perspectives, and communicate…all in a highly creative manner.  The skill for parents to learn is to value this play – it is truly the essence of development at this age. 

But sometimes things go “sour.”  You may have noticed that children can go from laughing to arguing in an instant.  And surprisingly, flip back from arguing to laughing just as quickly.  What is the cause for this behavior?  It’s not because they are mean, cruel, or naughty.  The cause is their age.  At their age they generally see the world through only one set of eyes…their own!  “Mine” is a mantra here.  They own people, things, and space – even if they aren’t currently in possession of such.  Sharing is difficult, if not impossible, to understand.  Almost all of the disagreements here involve shared space or property.  One of the biggest mistakes that we make is considering this an attribute of toddlers, when in reality, all of our children in all of the age groups we serve fall into this egocentric category.  That’s simply the way it is. 

How can adults help?  Sometimes children are able to solve disagreements on their own.  That’s fabulous.  If your child can do that, encourage your child to continue to solve problems on his own and acknowledge his efforts to do so.  For those who are gaining skills in solving space and property disputes, parents can help in a variety of ways:

·         Play turn-taking games.  It’s so much easier to learn to take turns (rather than to share – which is a very confusing concept).  Using space or an object, actually take turns with your child.   Saying, “It’s my turn, now it’s your turn,” reinforces the idea for the child.  It’s also much easier to take turns here at school since we have “shared ownership” of the property here.  At home, it can be much more difficult to take turns with favorite items.  If that’s the case, put the very favorites away when another child comes to visit.

·         Help your child learn the words needed for turn-taking.  We continually model and reinforce phrases such as, “May I have a turn?” or “Can you bring it to me when you’re done?”   We also reinforce phrases such as, “I’m still using it,” or “I’m almost done – I’ll bring it to you soon.”

·         Remind your child that being a generous playmate is a good idea and that when one acts in a particular way (kind, caring, generous, thoughtful, etc.), it is often reciprocated.  We continually help children learn that their actions affect others – both for the good and for the bad.  Sometimes this concept is understood, sometimes it isn’t.  None of our children are too young to listen to these early lessons in perspective-taking.

·         Remind yourself that children don’t automatically know social expectations.  They learn through trial and error how to get along here at school and how to entertain a friend in at home. 

Sharing property and space is a challenge for our children.  Another challenge is the task of joining in.  Just how does one go about entering a play situation?  When children don’t know how to enter play, they often resort to the wrong method.  They “bulldoze” their way in, taking over materials or space.  Of course, this wreaks havoc and the entire situation goes from sweet to sour.  Others, unsure of how to enter, don’t even try.  They stay on the periphery and watch from afar.  Again…up steps the adult for support and guidance:

·         Similar to learning turn-taking language, we also help our children learn words for entering a play situation.  “What can I do?” or “How can I play?” are very appropriate phrases for gaining access.

·         Help children learn the use of body language.  When children come closer to the situation and “inspect” what’s going on, they are often noticed by those already engaged in play.  Teach your child to come closer to the situation and to use her body language to show an interest in and an awareness of the play that is going on.  Then the verbal language to teach is to those already engaged in play and goes something like, “Do you want to join us?”  or “Can you be the (fill in the blank)?”

If I could change anything about our day, it would be the opportunity to offer children a time to be alone.  There is really no opportunity to be alone here and for some of our children, that has to be a struggle.  Not everyone always wants to play with someone.  Solitude can be wonderful!  Children involved in constructive solitary play are probably doing just fine.  None the less, the adult role is to:

·         Observe.  If your child likes solitary play, don’t rush to compare her to others.  Many grounded adults prefer solitude or a small circle of friends. 

·         Encourage your child when you feel he is on the “fringes” of play.  When he watches others and you know he wants to be a part of it, provide and model the words needed for entering play.

The last challenge is “rough and tumble” play.  In many, many cultures boys, more so than girls, take part in rough and tumble play.  It becomes a challenge for two reasons: most adults don’t understand it and sometimes it disintegrates into taunting or a test of physical ability.  Although it may look like fighting, the children know the difference and very often know where and when to draw the line.  Rough and tumble play is a very active, physical play.  You may remember it as “Superhero” play from your own childhood.  For those engaged in appropriate rough and tumble play, it is probably the highlight of their day.  Yet it raises concerns in most adults.  Rightfully so – and then it becomes the adult role to:

·         Observe (imagine that!) to find out how the play is proceeding and to find out if those engaged are happily involved or threatened. 

·         Help children understand the rules of rough and tumble play: what is acceptable, what is unacceptable, when it needs to stop, and in which settings or situations it may not even begin.  At the center we allow a bit of rough and tumble play for the older children during outdoor play.    We don’t allow this type of play inside and it typically involves only the older group of children.  We help the children look at the body language of others.  If their faces signal “ok,” then the play can continue.  If their faces indicate fear, the play must stop and take a different form.

·         Monitor rough and tumble play and stop it if it becomes aggressive or mean-spirited.

Friendships are truly one of life’s greatest treasures.  Giving the gift of becoming a good friend to our children is a tireless, thankless, frustrating task that is worth every ounce of energy placed into it! 

Challenges in Our Social World - Sixth (and last) in the Series

This is the last edition in our series, and unfortunately my planning wasn’t so soundly designed.  In this particular article, we’ll take a look at some of the challenges social situations may bring.  This is not the most pleasant way to the end the series.  We’re not really leaving it on a high note.  Yet it’s important information to have and we can take solace in knowing that for the vast majority of children, social growth and development and forming friendships enfolds quite nicely. 

Most of us know, from first-hand experience, how wonderful life is when touched by friendships.  And many of us also know, again through experience, how awful it is to struggle through difficult times with a friend and/or the pain an unfriendly or uncomfortable interaction brings.  Helping our children through these challenges goes back to something we already talked about: competent parents. 

We have already determined that, by and far, socially competent children almost always have socially competent parents.  Not only do socially competent parents interact well with their own peers and model acceptable social skills for their children, they also “key into” their children’s developmental needs and respond to them.  These parents are aware.  They know the nature of their children – their tendencies, adequacies, and inadequacies – and they react by providing the support needed for social competence.

Children typically fall into three categories, and for lack of better words, I’ll label them as: average, aggressive, and withdrawn.    Think of the child that is appropriately involved with others.  He gets along with his peers, shares ideas and accepts ideas from others, is helpful and kind, and simply is a part of the play situation.  This is your average kiddo…and most often, this is the case.  On the other hand, there are children who constantly have trouble controlling their anger and impulses.  They do not acknowledge the perspectives of others, are very uninhibited, and usually need to be in control.  These children fall into the category of being aggressive.  Withdrawn children have trouble controlling their fear.  They are extremely inhibited, tense, and anxious.  Children who are truly aggressive or withdrawn face challenges in their social growth and development – challenges that can be reduced through proper adult help and support.

Before we continue, please understand that all children occasionally display behaviors that we would use to describe an aggressive or withdrawn child.  The word “occasionally” is the important word here.  Truly “aggressive” and “withdrawn” children fall on the ends of the curve.  Most children fall into the average category.  But those “average” children benefit from adult guidance too, and any of the suggestions that we can use with a truly aggressive or withdrawn child, can also be used with an average child.

Let’s look at aggressive children first.  These are the kids who have a “short fuse.”  They are easily angered and frustrated.  We’d probably define them as rude, oppositional, and difficult.  They have little control over their impulses – they simply cannot stop themselves.  They are typically very active and have limited ability to gauge the social situation.  All is fine when they are in charge, but the moment they are not in charge, their fuse is ignited. 

What’s a parent to do?  Exactly the opposite of what you probably want to do!  These children will gain nothing when adults demand compliance, are highly controlling, or harsh.  Children who react quickly and angrily need the adults in their lives to respond in the totally opposite way: with patience, warmth, and support.  They need to know that there is an adult to lean on for soothing support or for the offer of a helping hand.  They need adults to provide structure and consistent parameters in a firm and solid way – high expectations rather than demands.  They often thrive when given task-oriented “jobs” that they can complete with success.  They need help with self-regulation skills.  They benefit when they practice waiting for something.  Start with a very short wait, incrementally increasing the wait time with practice.  We often “soften” wait times with the children by using phrases such as “First we’ll ___, and then we can ____” or “I’m going to quickly ____ and then I will _____.”  These children need practice in understanding the perspectives of others and the only way to do this is to actually discuss the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and emotions of others.  Adults who take the time to have these very healthy and helpful discussions with their children, help their children become good friends, good classmates, and eventually -  good colleagues.

Withdrawn children are shy, anxious, and fearful.  They don’t know how to join into play.  Social interactions cause a great deal of discomfort and they often surround themselves by things and objects instead of peers.  These children are easily distressed and worried and have a difficult time calming down.  They are extremely tentative and often become stuck in inaction instead of being part of something that would and should be enjoyable to them. 

What’s a parent to do?  Again – probably the opposite of what it is you really want to do!  Our first response is kindness and tenderness – we want to swoop in and provide that type of affection that will make it all better for the child.  But that type of affection sometimes verges on smothering.  Our ability to be ever alert and vigilant as parents and protectors can truly hamper and hinder our children’s growth and development.  What these children need is encouragement and reassurance.  Secure children become secure because the adults in their lives have responded appropriately.  They meet their child’s needs for protection, comfort, and support and they also provide reassurance by signaling to their children that it’s ok, wise, and pleasurable to explore the world a safe distance from a trusted adult.  These children need extra encouragement to try things out.  They often need the adults in their lives to create “opportunities” for them.  Creating a play situation with only one friend for a short period of time and increasing to a smaller group of friends and/or extended time after meeting success, can be very beneficial for a child who struggles with this sort of fear.  

And this series will probably not be complete without a mention given to bullying.  I must be very honest about two things: I know little about what we would refer to as true bullying  – what I have to share is from limited research.  And…I believe there is a marked distinction between true bullies and typical “kids-growing-up” behavior.  I sometimes find myself thinking that a child is being labeled a bully when in fact he or she is showing some typical childhood behaviors (think brain development here…these brains are still evolving!).  After working with children for a number of years, after being a parent myself, and after looking back at my own childhood experiences, I know there are struggles between children.  There always have been and there always will be.

The research I found indicates that bullying has four markers: there is an imbalance of power; there is intent to harm; there is a threat of further aggression; and when it escalates, it includes persistent terror.   Bullies have characteristics – they are aggressive, they lack skills in self-regulation, they lack compassion, and their power comes through their bullying.  Their bullying comes in several types.  It may be verbal, such as spreading rumors, teasing others, name-calling, or indulging in insults.  It may be physical, such as pushing, kicking, and hitting.  It may be emotional, such as excluding others from a group or spreading lies to ruin another’s reputation.  

Research also indicates that many of the victims of bullies also have characteristics:  they tend to be cautious and sensitive, they have difficulty asserting themselves, and they are often socially isolated.  However, victimized children are not willing participants in this situation and in no way should we, as adults, ever conclude that they “bring it upon themselves.”  We have to understand this and we also need to understand that there are ways we can help a victim react to make the situation better.  But why think in those terms?  Why not think about preparing all of our children with a set of useful skills?  Let’s help our children learn to keep their heads up, to walk with assertiveness, to move away from people who cause trouble, to look others in the face and stand up tall and say, “Stop!  I don’t like what you’re doing.”  Research also indicates that few victimized children tell anyone what is going on.  Encouraging our children to talk with us is essential. 

What do we do here?  First and foremost, we distinguish between truly aggressive and hurtful behavior and the “I’m still developing my social skills” behavior.  Our children are still young.   As one of our mom’s put it the other day: “They have only been on this earth for a few years!”  We have young children…children who are still learning social skills.  They push, they kick, they hit each other.  They are just beginning to learn how to talk things through and frankly, they are often not very good at it.  We are in a continued pattern of working on social skills and this work includes:

·         Setting clear limits: verbal and physical hurting is never appropriate

·         Modeling skills in problem-solving in a calm and effective manner – remaining neutral and allowing both parties a chance to work through a problem

·         Encouraging children to help one another – to actually gain satisfaction (and - in a way - power) through helping others

·         Creating leadership roles for all of our children

·         Addressing  children’s need for power in positive ways by providing opportunities for them to make good choices

·         Acknowledging positive behaviors

Certainly our work will never be done.  As I stated before, our children are growing and gaining in their social development each and every day and our role is to support them.  It’s an immense and important task!

In the end, the one item that I kept finding over and over and over as I worked on this series is that for most children, finding that one special friend makes all the difference in the world.  I’ll leave you by encouraging you to enjoy some thoughts of those special people who have been in your own life…