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Professionals from Siskin Children's Institute have a wealth of knowledge to share on a variety of topics that might be of interest to parents and community members. Check back periodically for more information. Have a particular topic you'd like to have one of our experts to address? Let us know by emailing Sara Collier.

April 5, 2016
Who’s in Charge Around Here?  Parenting Principles for Managing Behavior in Young Children

Deidra Love, Early Intervention Behavior Specialist, Home &Community-Based Early Intervention  

Sometimes parenting young children can feel like a true battle and parents wonder if they REALLY are the ones in charge! As my good friend who is a nuclear engineer has aptly said, “Most days it’s easier to run a nuclear power plant than to parent these two boys!” While no one will deny the importance of setting and maintaining boundaries, it can also be helpful to realize that young children are wired to test some limits—it’s part of healthy development and growing independence. The good news is that there are specific things parents can do to give their toddler or preschooler some control without turning over the reins of the family to the youngest member!

First, be sure to understand what is developmentally appropriate to expect from your toddler/preschooler. For example, it isn’t fair to expect an active two year old to sit perfectly still in a restaurant for an hour. A few toddlers might be able to do this, but most cannot. Parents also sometimes believe young children should be able to remember lots of rules, but that isn’t the case. They need reminders, and even then, they may repeat a behavior (like getting into the DVD cabinet) because they have short memories and very little impulse control. Many times, offering two choices of activities your child CAN do at the time will distract from that thing you want him to leave alone. This can also give your child a feeling of control because while you decide the choices, he gets to make a decision about what to do next. That feels powerful to him!

 Next, an effective strategy when giving directions to toddlers and preschoolers is to tell them what you want them TO DO, rather than saying “no” or “stop” often. For example, if your child picks up your cell phone, you might tell her, “Put the phone back on the table”, rather than “Stop that!” When you give positive directions, your child can follow the direction and earn your quick and specific praise. If she does not place the phone on the table, you can calmly walk over and physically help her follow your direction. Then, she has learned two things—1) What the direction “place the phone on the table” means and 2) When Dad tells me to place something on the table, he will come over and make sure I do it. Parents who use this effective strategy find that, over time, their children begin to follow their direction the first time more and more often. Of course, a firm “NO” is very appropriate in safety situations or when a child becomes aggressive toward others. And, if children do not hear the word “no” numerous times all day long, it has more impact when it needs to be used in those serious situations!

Another important principle for parents to remember is the power of adult attention for young children.  Unfortunately, it is often negative behavior that gets a parent’s attention, and a young child (who is learning all about the world and what kind of control he has) will connect these dots quickly. And while most young children do want to please adults, many also like the fact that their actions can produce a BIG reaction from a BIG person! So, one great technique parents can use for minor negative behaviors (whining, shouting, tantrums) is active ignoring. This means the parent ignores the negative behavior while intentionally waiting for it to pause/stop and for the child to do something appropriate (return to playing, use words, wait quietly). Then, the adult should begin talking to the child and giving attention right away. This way, positive behaviors are reinforced with adult attention while the undesired behavior is eventually extinguished. Note that this process can take several days to weeks, and negative behavior might even spike at first simply because the child doesn’t understand what has changed and will keep trying to get the same reaction as before. 

No, parenting young children is not for the faint of heart! This stuff takes work and determination, and as with any new plan of action, these positive behavior techniques take time and effort to put into practice. But, with some persistence and determination, parents can feel confident-- knowing they are doing the important work of building healthy independence within safe boundaries for their young child.

For more information, visit the Center for Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning at Vanderbilt.

January 18, 2016 
Best of Winter Picture Books and Engagement Ideas

Karen Coleman, Family Support Coordinator, Siskin Children's Institute

Reading together is even more special in the winter, when the thought of curling up in a big chair with cocoa and blankets invites us to remember favorite childhood moments. Settle in with your favorite young children and share some well-deserved quiet time with these special, snowy gems:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost) – One of our best-loved poems, beautifully illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats) –The classic snow story for young children, now over fifty years old!

Snow (Uri Shulevitz) – A quiet story that builds with the excitement of an unexpected snowfall.

Snowmen at Night (Caralyn Buehner) – Our favorite of the popular series, giving us our first glimpse of what those snowmen are up to!

Snowballs (Lois Ehlert) – A creative and colorful recipe for the perfect snow family.

The Snowman (Raymond Briggs) and DVD – This brilliant wordless book led to the hauntingly beautiful children’s film.

Red Sled  (Lita Judge) – Newest on the scene, and winning accolades for its practically wordless portrayal of an animal sledding romp. Sure to be a toddler favorite!

Annie and the Wild Animals/The Hat/The Mitten (Jan Brett) – Jan Brett is the queen of the snowy picture book, inviting us into her wintry world with these favorite animal stories.

Bear Snores On (Karma Wilson) – This much-loved bear first burst on the scene in this cautionary tale of the dangers of hibernating through an animal cave party.

Not snowy outside? Add a sensory component to the experience by making your own snow! Just mix baking soda or cornstarch with shaving cream, or find other options online.

Remember that the book is just the beginning of a delightful conversation with your child, one that you may revisit again and again (and again!) to retell, ask questions, laugh and wonder about – anything to relate it to your child’s world. Soon enough your child will be telling these stories to you!

November 16, 2015
Planning for a Happy and Stressful Holiday Season? 5 Quick Tips for Parents to help Minimize Holiday Stress
Brandon Rogers, PhD, LMFT, Siskin Center for Developmental Pediatrics

For many families, the holiday season entails festive decorations, gatherings of friends and family, special traditions, delicious food, and unfortunately, a significant amount of stress.  Although perhaps intended to be a time of fellowship, sharing, and reflection, the holidays can elevate feelings of anxiety and tension in even the most balanced of individuals.  Below are a few strategies and tips for parents that may be helpful to keep in mind as we embark upon a new holiday season.    

1. Plan Ahead

The anxiety issues of time, perfectionism, and even attempts to please others are much easier to handle without the added stress of navigating holiday traffic during rush hour, squeezing through crowded malls and shopping centers, and the overwhelming feeling of being rushed that too often comes with the month of December.  Early identification of your primary commitments, organizing your monthly schedule and finances, and getting started on your holiday task list earlier than normal, may help to relieve several of your last-minute pressures.  

2. Maintain Some Schedule Consistency 

With changes in our school schedule, work schedule, eating schedule, and sleep schedule, the routines that many parents and children rely on and take for granted throughout the school year drastically change over the holidays.  Communicating the schedule of daily and weekly events, along with helping children prepare for unexpected changes, can often help minimize transitional stress.  Additionally, although the immediate benefits of staying up late and skipping dinner for a half dozen of Nana’s cookies may feel wonderful at the time, the frustration later found with sleep deprived and hungry kiddos (and their parents) can often add a level of irritability and stress to an otherwise normal day.  Accommodations and flexibility are a must during the holiday season, but striving towards maintaining some sense of structure and consistency in our basic day to day habits of sleeping and eating can go a long way towards sustaining us through the holiday season.  

3. Arrive Socially Prepared

For many children and adults, holiday gatherings and parties are a great time to meet up with old friends, colleagues, and family.  However, I think most of us have experienced an event where we arrive at the gathering only to immediately begin looking around the room for just simply someone we know or can carry on a conversation with for more than five minutes.  If we think social gatherings are awkward at times for adults, just think about our kids.  Reviewing a few simple items with your family prior to arriving at a gathering may help decrease the social anxiety that may arise.  A quick review of basic social skills with your children (e.g., practicing introductions, conversation topics, manners, etc.), informing them who will be at the event and providing them ideas for what and where they may be able to play, reminding them what to do if they need an adult, etc., may help to reduce some of the stress associated with the new situation.  Additionally, preparing your significant other with a brief review of the names of individuals at a party, the particular interests of each individual, the expected length of time you plan on staying at the party, and perhaps a secret signal to indicate that you are ready to leave, may also be quite helpful. 

4. Embrace Appropriate Expectations

At times, we may feel like our family must attend every possible holiday event, movie, recital, gathering, musical, party, extravaganza, and light display each and every year to truly embrace the season.  Additionally, let’s not forget the pressure some parents feel with the obligation to travel and see every last relative in the ten surrounding states.  Although we can have high expectations, we must be reminded that there are realistically only so many hours, mileage, and dollars in a day.  Sitting down with your family, reviewing the holiday season options, and highlighting the events your family would most like to participate in, may help avoid several potentially stressful situations.  Pre-planning and prioritizing these activities often helps to avoid something of true importance being left out, lessen financial burdens, and reduce the potential stress associated with attempting to pack too much into a limited number of days. 

5. Plan Your Time to Relax 

Too obvious…right? Although it may seem apparent, think back to how many times you’ve heard individuals come back to work saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”  A basic component to stress reduction is self-care, and for many individuals it’s figuring out how to recharge yourself.  Some individuals (and families) are revitalized from a night out on the town, while for others it may be yoga, painting, reading a book, watching a movie, running, hiking, walking around the neighborhood, or simply playing a board game with your kids.  Relaxing can appear in several different forms and it can often be unique to each person.  However, finding the time for you and your family members to recharge, individually and/or together, often requires actually scheduling in time to make it happen.