How to help your preschooler develop their handwriting skills

Don’t worry if your preschooler hasn’t mastered the basics of handwriting before kindergarten. But you can definitely practise the skills that will eventually improve their penmanship.

In the past week, my four-year-old, Maisie, and I have used cookie cutters to press various letters out of cheese, traced her name in shaving cream in the bathroom sink and crawled around the living room mooing like cows. Because the letter M is for “moo,” of course, and so far M is one of the few letters she can readily recognize.

Clearly, I’m trying very hard to spark some interest in the alphabet—and, in turn, writing. When her older sister started junior kindergarten, she could already write her name, but Maisie isn’t all that interested in handwriting. She would rather colour a unicorn, make a painting or very carefully change her outfit or the clothes on her dolls again (and again).

According to Nikki Martyn, program head of early childhood studies at the University of Guelph-Humber, this isn’t cause for concern. In fact, she says these types of play are excellent for developing pre-writing skills. “If your daughter can already do her buttons—and put on Barbie shoes—she’s that much closer to holding a pencil.”

As with most other early childhood development milestones, there’s a wide range of so-called normal. Some kids will master drawing and colouring and become proficient at penmanship early on, while others will keep building on these skills over the next few years, Martyn says. It’s important to resist the urge to compare their progress with other kids in their class.

Pre-writing skills are key to a child’s success with putting crayon to paper. For starters, they need good body control. “Sometimes when we’re talking about early writing skills, we forget that you first have to be able to sit and control your body,” says Martyn. In addition to muscle control, there’s also balance, attention and a bit of patience required. And the best way to develop these skills isn’t by sitting down with a workbook.

Building blocks, pegboard games, Play-Doh and Lego are excellent complementary play for almost-writers, says Martyn. “Another example that we’ve been seeing a lot of during the pandemic is cooking—having kids help to measure and mix ingredients,” she says. All of these activities involve developing fine motor control and using more precise movements, just like they’ll need for forming letters with a pencil.

In preschool or daycare, and then in kindergarten, cutting and pasting becomes a featured fine motor activity. “That novelty and physical sensation of cutting paper is really stimulating for them,” says Doug Ireland, a kindergarten teacher in Toronto. Another activity he uses in class to prep kids for handwriting is beading necklaces. “The act of holding a bead and putting it on a string requires a lot of fine motor skill,” says Ireland.

Kids will need to develop their grip a bit more before they can actually form their ABCs. Really young children, around 18 months, will start with a whole-hand grasp, but by age three or so, little kids are able to use their thumb, index finger and middle finger to pick up a piece of puzzle off the floor, for example, and that’s a big step closer to being able to write. Next it’s about holding a pencil, marker or crayon with those three fingers (called the tripod grip) in a more controlled way. You could also buy ergonomic pencil grips that may help.

The other parts of writing, like making the right shapes and spacing the letters, will come with practice over time, says Ireland. Children learn handwriting at their own pace, and most educators won’t worry as long as kids are making an effort and showing some progress.

If you want to spark interest and inspire your kid to try writing more often, create a variety of useful but playful pen-to-paper opportunities. You could keep a shopping list low on the fridge where they can add their requests, for example. Other ideas are writing short letters to a grandparent, or drawing and addressing a homemade card or gift tag for a friend’s birthday present. “If it’s something that’s real, it can be more meaningful, rather than an isolated activity like just copying their name,” says Ireland.

You’ll have even more success if you up the fun factor with scented markers, stickers or metallic glitter crayons—whatever it takes. You could also try writing names with bath crayons in the tub.

Someday soon, Maisie’s ABCs will come easily. But in the meantime, we’ll keep beading necklaces, creating her name out of chunks of cheddar and woofing together while “playing doggie,” because now she’s decided she likes the letter W in addition to the letter M.


Your kids NEED to play—here's why

When you think of what kids need for healthy development—nutritious food, education, a loving home—play might not make the list. But it should.

Melissa Stenhouse knows how play can positively impact a kid. She’s seen it time and again in her role as program coordinator at Hamilton-based Today’s Family Early Learning and Child Care, a non-profit that offers child care and parental-support classes. But her favourite success story is about a girl named Zoey* and her love of pies.

Zoey was a grade four student in Stenhouse’s after-school program who had zero interest in reading. “We started to notice she was creating elaborate apparatuses out of blocks,” says Stenhouse, “and we figured out that she was building a set for a cooking show about pies.” So Stenhouse and her colleagues took it up a notch by adding baking—pies, specifically—to the program offerings. After they talked about what she would need to make a pie, Zoey learned to write out a recipe and began to show an interest in cookbooks; this led to an increase in her desire to read. “It was incredible,” says Stenhouse. “Expressing herself through play expanded her reading, and she won’t put her books down now.”

But improved literacy is just the tip of the jungle gym when it comes to the benefits of play. It’s no secret that play is integral to a child’s overall development—researchers have been reporting this fact for decades. A 20-year study published in November 2015 out of Pennsylvania State University and Duke University found a correlation between social competence (one of the benefits derived from play) in kindergartners and their success as adults. Play is used in innovative ways for kids with cognitive, emotional and physical challenges and in treatment for trauma and grief. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared play a basic human right of every child at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child in November 1989.

When you think of what kids need—healthy food, education, a stable home—play might not make the list (but it should). Play is a kid’s most important job, yet it’s increasingly being threatened—by things like increased emphasis on academics, the proliferation of character toys over creative ones, and the trend toward overscheduling. But what is play exactly, and what can it do for your kid?

Play takes many forms, but at its core, it’s an activity that engages and challenges the mind. It can be completely child-directed, or it can be more ordered, with a set of instructions. It can be a solitary activity or a rousing game of make-believe with other kids. It can be producing and filming a YouTube video. If it gets your child to push the limits of the world they know, it’s play. And when given appropriate opportunities for it, it will help your kid grow in ways you would never have attributed to a set of LEGO® blocks or a sandbox. Read on for some of the key developmental benefits play can offer.

Illustration: Kinomi

Kids learn life skills

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University says children must be provided with chances for “scaffolding,” or activities that practise life skills. This includes engaging in creative play and having chances to direct their own actions with decreasing adult supervision and intervention. Unstructured play, especially, helps with the development of executive function—fostering self-regulation (such as a person’s ability to stay calm and focused in stressful situations) and emotional coping, as well as problem-solving and planning abilities.

“Executive function happens in the frontal cortex: Those are your most important skills for making your way through life,” says Melissa Healy, a child and family psychotherapist with Canoe Therapy in Burlington, Ont. “If we’re not able to offer experiences that help foster those skills, research has shown that children will fall behind developmentally.”

In her therapy practice, Healy uses child-directed play, a method that’s also popular in academic circles. Many educators specifically reference the Reggio Emilia Approach when integrating open-ended play into their curricula. The Reggio Emilia philosophy says that this type of child-directed exploration is essential for development. The school of thought was developed after the Second World War in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy. A teacher named Loris Malaguzzi worked with parents to build schools that provided kids with a new way of learning that would encourage democratic thinking. He believed children are endowed with “a hundred languages” of expression—or a multitude of ways to relate to the world around them—and that for an education philosophy to be successful, kids had to have a degree of control and be treated as apprentices rather than the subjects of instruction. The philosophy is centred on respecting kids as resourceful individuals who can help guide their own learning; on positive relationships between kids, parents and teachers; and on treating the kids’ surroundings as a “third teacher.”

Stenhouse’s program is based on this educational philosophy. She and her colleagues treat the kids like they’re capable and competent, and try to give them real experiences—like Zoey having the opportunity to bake a pie—whenever they can. “It really is amazing,” she says. “We’ve found that, for most kids, when they’re doing something they’re interested in, behaviour issues often disappear.”

Communication comes from play

Learning to communicate effectively—to express thoughts and feelings, to learn how to gracefully insert yourself into a social situation or conversation, to ask for what you need or want—is vital to a successful adult life. “If a child just jumps into a group and takes a toy, the other kids are going to immediately expel him from that group,” says Daniel Chorney, a child psychologist in Halifax. “Learning to approach people and ask, ‘Can I play with you?’ is a huge communication skill that has lifelong importance.” Communication also includes the ability to pick up on social cues and to read facial and body language. All of this begins on the playground.

Chorney says giving kids a taste of all types of social situations —playdates, structured activities, free play—is important, but parents can also do skills training at home. “If a kid is really struggling with a specific thing (like asking to be included), a parent and child can role-play and practise acting out the problem. Then they can approach the dilemma in the real world and regroup after.”

Kids learn to resolve conflict

A long-term study from the University of Maryland found that between 1981 and 2003, children’s free time has dropped from 57 hours a week to 48, with outdoor play declining a whopping 37 percent. This type of unstructured, unmonitored play not only instills independence in kids but also helps them develop other important abilities, including developing appropriate problem-solving behaviours rather than always looking to an adult to manage circumstances for them.

Healy gives an explanation of how play, especially child-directed play, can help a kid learn lifelong skills: “Say you’re at the park, and another child pushes your child. The automatic reaction of the parent is to jump in and tell that other child to stop pushing, but that’s not helpful. It just proves that, ‘When someone pushes me, Mom’s going to swoop in and save me.’ But the reality is, Mom isn’t always going to be there.” You want kids to be able to handle these conflicts on their own. Children who haven’t had the experience to problem-solve in play situations will automatically look to an authority figure to take care of things, but children who have been faced with this type of confrontation during playtime are able to deal with it better.

Kids also learn the power of social censure on the playground. “Most of the time, if there’s a kid who’s consistently mean to others, that child is going to get excluded,” says Chorney. “If someone is too pushy, another child is going to correct that behaviour naturally. An understanding of logical social consequences should develop when we’re kids.”

TP09_Power of play_Secondary_660x660

Illustration: Kinomi

Play helps with bonding

Play is a proven means for parents and educators to connect with kids. Healy finds that play is essential to building rapport with her clients. “Often, sitting down to have a conversation with a child about how they feel just doesn’t work,” she says. In therapy, play helps build connection and trust. “If, through play, we can better understand a child’s thoughts and feelings, that’s successful therapy. It’s also successful parenting.”

Play can be an important part of the relationship between a parent and child, too. Chorney often advises parents with kids struggling with behavioural issues to set aside time daily to just play one-on-one with them. This is part of an evidence-based treatment called Parent Management Training (programs like The Incredible Years, or Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, fall under this approach). These therapies focus on strengthening parents’ bond with their child as a means of improving emotional and behavioural problems.

“I’ll often suggest taking at least 15 minutes a day, with no distractions, to play something together that’s co-operative, that doesn’t have rules attached to it, where you don’t have to ask a lot of questions or give a lot of commands or criticisms.” That means board games are out, but you could build with blocks, make crafts or even just colour together. This shared fun time strengthens the attachment between parent and child, which encourages kids to look for positive attention from parents rather than seeking the spotlight by misbehaving.

This shared time can be as important for parents as it is for kids. “I have parents who will say, ‘I love my kid, but sometimes I hate them,’” says Chorney. “I’ll often tell them to go home and try this method because they’re going to laugh; they’re going to connect; they’re going to feel like they’re five years old again. It will help to remind them why they became a parent in the first place. It’s the kid equivalent of date night.”

Play increases kids’ capacity for learning

A 2007 report in the medical journal Pediatrics focusing on the importance of play in promoting healthy child development says, “play is integral to the academic environment. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviours and problem-solving skills.”

The academic system in Finland—which is touted as one of the best in the world, with consistently high international assessment results—is a case in point. Because the Finns believe play is a valuable educational medium for young kids, children don’t start formal school until age seven (before that, they’re in pre-primary education, which has a focus on play). The school day is also typically structured in 45-minute blocks, with 15 minutes of free time between each period. The idea is that these breaks help kids stay focused during classroom time. But play is a form of education out of the classroom, too.

Deborah McCoy, a lifelong early childhood educator and the assistant vice-president for education at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY, believes in kids helping direct their own learning. The Strong, which is a history museum but also an institution with a mission to focus on development through play, also uses the Reggio Emilia philosophy when creating its programs.

“We feel that imaginative play, especially, is really critical to building representational abilities,” says McCoy, “which is just a fancy way of describing using one thing to represent another, which is the foundation of literacy. It’s really important for kids to think in stories and act out stories. To do this spontaneously through play is really the best way, because it’s innate in children. Our job is to set up environments to support that.”

Exhibits in the museum include opportunities for arts and crafts, science experiments, sensory play (one of the areas, called Build, Drive, Go, even has a giant gravel pit kids can muck about in), and dress-up and imaginative play.

The Strong also has a part-time preschool called Woodbury School, where kids engage in fun activities set in the museum’s exhibits and teachers hold storytelling workshops. The instructors use play as the first step in teaching kids how to create plot lines—they provide items like figurines as inspiration and the kids are encouraged to tell the stories they’ve come up with. Teachers then write them down, which opens up even more opportunities for learning.

“Kids can read their stories back; they can read stories to their friends,” says McCoy. “It literally translates into their ability to read and write.”

There are so many benefits to regularly integrating play into a child’s day. As Chorney says, “Play is practice for real life.” It doesn’t have to take long, and often it just means standing back and letting your kid take the wheel. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Or maybe a piece of pie.

Illustration: Kinomi

Illustration: Kinomi

Take 45 minutes to try

Unstructured play

Collect all of your empty cereal and tissue boxes, as well as paper towel and toilet paper rolls, or try to get your hands on a large appliance box. Set out the boxes, paint, markers, scissors (if the kids are old enough), glue, tape and jars of buttons and beads, and let your kids have at it. If they’re having a hard time getting started, give them a broad theme, like space or jungle.

Group or team play

Sit kids in a circle, and tell them they’re going to create a brand new game using a couple of balls, a skipping rope and a hula hoop (or whatever other active toys you have lying around). Each person is allowed to make up one or two rules. Write down the rules as the kids brainstorm and then try the game out. Decide together what works and what doesn’t.

Art or drawing

Place each child in front of a large mirror with a handful of dry-erase markers. Challenge the kids to draw their self-portraits by tracing their facial shape, features and hair. Add another element by encouraging them to enhance their image with items that reflect what they want to be when they grow up. Chef’s hat? Check! Stethoscope? You got it.

Role-play and make-believe

Find an old laundry hamper and fill it with a variety of old clothing and accessories. Tell kids to act out the characters they might find in a waiting room (or a restaurant, an office, a house, a classroom, etc.). Stand back and take pictures or videos or write down what the kids chose to be or do to remind them about it if they get stuck for ideas the next time they’re playing.

* names have been changed


A version of this article appeared in our September 2016 issue, titled “The power of play,” pg. 73-76.

Read more:
2o fun indoor games
4 classic playground games to play with your kid
14 fun games to play with your kids while lying down


20 stylish but warm winter boots for kids

Let your little ones kick off the winter the right way in these stylish boots.

Snowball season is almost here! Keep your kid’s toes nice and toasty this year with some high performance boots, which are just as warm as they are stylish. Here are 20 of our favourite winter boots for kids.

1. The LUKE Winter Boot

kids winter boots with bungee laces

Photo: Kamik

These cozy boots have a rubber bottom to keep feet dry and reflective patches for added safety after dark. The bungee lacing system makes them easy for kids to secure on their own. $77,

2. Original Big Kids Insulated Roll Top Sherpa Boots

pink winter boot with purple sole and roll top

Photo: Hunter Boots

Made from natural rubber and insulated neoprene, these fully waterproof boots have a roll down sherpa-look fleece lining for a cozy and stylish finish. $98,

3. Chamonix Child

winter boots with hologram print

Photo: Native Shoes

Coming in a new hologram colour way, these retro-style boots have bungee cord laces and recycled polyester insulation to keep toes toasty while playing in the snow. $90,

4. Timberland Chillberg Waterproof Mid Insulated Boots

heavy duty winter boots for kids and youth

Photo: Mec

Tough, durable and ready for building snow forts, these boots have a lightweight synthetic PrimaLoft insulation to keep feet warm and side zips for easy on and off. $115,

5. Youth Flurry Boot

heavy duty winter boots for kids

Photo: Sorel

These boots mean business—winter business! Made from a water- and wind-resistant fabric with a barrel-lock adjustable lace and thick rubber sole for traction, your biggest struggle this winter will be getting your kid to come inside. $75,

6. Little Kids’ Hoodoo III Waterproof Boot

kids winter boots

Photo: Keen

A waterproof leather and textile upper give these boots a stylish look while charcoal-bamboo insulation keeps feet warm in minus 32 degrees celsius weather. $120,

7. Toddler Girls’ Bungee Lace Snow Boots

silver winter boots for toddlers

Photo: Joe Fresh

With a Thinsulate lining and bungee cord laces, these boots are the perfect winter accessory for new walkers. $36,

8. Arcata Geo Kids’ Winter Boots

black winter boots with stylish geographic pattern

Photo: Bogs

Fashion and winter boots rarely go hand-in-hand, but these cozy boots are somehow pulling both off. Bonus: the Bloom eco-friendly, algae-based EVA footbed helps clean polluted water habitats. $130,

9. Olang Star Nero


cozy boots

Photo: Courtesy of Olang

A thick, grippy sole and warm upper with fur trim keeps your mini me looking stylish while staying warm. $96,

10. Merrell Snow Bank 2.0 Ice+ Waterproof


winter boots

Photo: Courtesy of Merrell

These sturdy boots are perfect for snowball fights. Fully waterproof with a temperature rating of minus 25 degrees celsius, tiny toes will stay toasty without compromising style. $110,

11. Columbia Powderbug Forty Boots

winter boots

Photo: Courtesy of MEC

Waterproof and super warm, these boots can handle anything your kid (or the blustery winter) throws at them. $80,

12. Snow-Cruiser V MTE

kids winter boots

Photo: Vans

These cool snowboard-style boots are warm, waterproof and easy to take on and off—and they still manage to embody the classic Vans style. $115,

13. Toddler Fur-Lined 2976 Leonore Chelsea Boots

kids chelsea boots with fur lining

Photo: Courtesy of Doc Martens

These classic boots now come in mini! With elasticized sides, little ones can easily tug these on and off and the cozy WarmWair interior will keep them warm when the mercury dips. $80, 

14. Kids’ Northwoods Boots

kids winter boots

Photo: L.L.Bean

These all-purpose winter boots are easy to take on and off and come with two sets of warm liners that can be removed to dry. $89,

15. Neumel II boot

lace-up kids winter boots

Photo: Ugg Australia

Keep those little toes looking cute while staying cozy in these chukka-style boots for kids. Made with Ugg Australia’s famous wool lining, these boots have a good tread to prevent littles from slipping. $110,

16. Blundstone 2091

indigo-coloured kids winter boots

Photo: Blundstone

Kids will love the easy pull-on nature of these classic boots while parents will appreciate giving their kids a boot that’s stylish to wear and built to last. $120,

17. Toddler Velcro Duck Boots

kids winter duck boots

Photo: Gap Canada

These faux leather boots have a rubber sole, cozy fur lining and velcro straps that are easy for little hands to open and close. $85,

18. Kids’ Crocband Winter Boot

kids winter boots with puffer legs

Photo: Crocs

For all of the Croc-loving parents out there, these winter boots feature a waterproof, lightweights sole with added traction and a puffer-style leg to keep kids warm this winter. $55,

19. Toddler Appenglow II

toddler boots

Photo: The North Face

With a toddler-friendly flexible design, these cozy boots will keep them toasty on their winter adventures. $65,

20. Baby Puffer Booties

baby winter boots

Photo: Stonz

Baby’s first winter? These classic boots are the best because you can slip them on over indoor shoes, so feet never get chilly. Waterproof with a non-slip sole, they’ll keep your little one cozy whether they’re just sitting in the snow or attempting to toddle. $55,


This simple hack makes kids way more likely to help around the house

With parties and extracurriculars cancelled and kids home more than ever, the house gets dirty so fast. Experts say this fun trick makes them more into doing chores.

Archie! Don’t run away… you should be in bed already and we still need to brush your tee-eeeth!

Your four year old runs down the hallway without his pants on, knocking over that leaning tower of washing.

Around the world, the impacts of COVID-19 have left some parents with more time with their children, but fewer resources to make it interesting as children go stir crazy.

Luckily, there’s a fun and evidence-backed way to get your kids to try harder at the things you ask them to do, persist at them longer, and be stimulated—you just have to pretend.

Without a minute establishing an imaginary narrative beforehand, it is a struggle to get my three year old to pack away his toys after play. So we end up being excavators dumping those “rocks” into the box. And there almost always has to be some interesting plot twist to keep it challenging—a villain with a wrecking ball, or a cat that gets trapped.

Recent research shows why this works.

Imagination is challenging, and fun

If a child is acting out (doing the opposite of what they know they should be doing), they often need more of a challenge. According to Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, a leading theorist on child development, imagination drives children’s development at precisely the age when reality can no longer keep up with their curiosity. This age is from around two to seven.

Evidence suggests pretence can help children take on others’ perspectives and stay on track more. For example, two out of three seven year olds had an imaginary friend at some point. These children understand others’ perspectives and emotions better, and tell more complex bedtime stories than their peers.

Research shows the more preschoolers pretend, the better they are at controlling their emotions, irrespective of their other abilities. That’s important because kids need to inhibit unrelated emotions and ideas to persist with a task and remember its overall goal—whether it be packing away toys, doing homework or brushing their teeth.

It’s even more important because self-controlled children end up with better health, relationships, savings, even criminal records through adolescence and into mid-life.

Experiments have shown when three to to six year olds are told to pretend to be Bob the Builder or Dora the Explorer rather than themselves, they persist longer in mundane, chore-like tasks and they are better at the chore.

Other experiments show teaching three to five year olds how to pretend more imaginatively for 15 minutes for five weeks results in better memory and ability to focus their attention than normal classes or even non-imaginary play (like ball games). They’ll be more likely to clean up their spilt lunch if they can persist through boredom and see it in a new perspective.

And no, just watching Ben 10 on TV won’t have these benefits—your child needs to take on the pretend character’s traits.

Why they need a character

We recently replicated the experiments where children pretend to be a character, but we tested out different character types. We found children randomly assigned to be goodies (like Batman) exhibited more self-restraint than baddies, but wise wizards and witches were the most restrained of all. It was as if children took on the skills of their imagined character.

So, pretending to be a patient guard is likely to help your three year old wait longer while you brush her teeth, but diligent Bob the Builder might be better to help wipe down the toilet seat—as she “paints” the toilet with dry toilet paper.

Characters can also help a child calm down or show them what they’ve done is wrong. Imaginary characters seem to work because they allow children to appreciate a perspective that’s not their own. Instead of having a conversation directly with your child about what happened, try starting the conversation with Dolly instead. If it’s complex for your little one, you can use another toy to act out the bad behaviour.

Then, discuss the consequences of the behaviour for Dolly. Your toddler or preschooler may just want to watch, even several times—this is them processing the different perspectives.

Challenging your child using pretence may help homework too. Researchers are now turning to play-based teaching to improve problem-solving, literacy, numeracy and attention span. An analysis of 22 studies showed that teacher instruction is more effective for children under eight when combined with playful teaching, of which pretence is a major part.

So, perhaps before embarking on the next mundane household task, ask: “What about this is something my child likes to play?”

Putting on Archie’s pants will be swifter if he pretends his leg is Thomas the Tank Engine travelling through a tunnel than reminding him how many hours past his bedtime it is.The Conversation

Yeshe Colliver is a lecturer in early childhood at Macquarie University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


6 common medication mistakes parents make with kids

Before giving your kid that dose of antibiotics or cold medicine, make sure you read up on these common medicine mistakes.

Cough, cold and flu season is in full swing—it’s that time of year when medication errors are most likely to occur. Doling out liquid medication is especially tricky. In fact, researchers found that more than 80 percent of parents made at least one dosing error measuring out liquid medication for their kids in a study published in the October 2016 journal Pediatrics. And a previous study found that the younger the child, the more likely a medication mistake is to be made. Though the vast majority (94 percent) of these mistakes didn’t require medical attention, some lead to serious complications and even death.

Most medication errors happen with liquid pain relievers meant to reduce fever (likely because they’re more commonly used with little kids, but also because they can be tricky to measure out), such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, followed by antibiotic and allergy meds. The biggest jump in medication errors in kids has been seen with dietary supplements and homeopathic and herbal treatments.

Even the most conscientious parents make mistakes, but there are ways to cut the risk. Here are the most common medication errors and tips to help keep your children safe.

1. Giving the wrong dose

Always follow the dosage recommended by your doctor or pharmacist or as written on the package. Most children’s medication doses are based on the child’s body weight, which is the most accurate way to dose medication. (Over-the-counter medication doses sometimes provide dosing by age ranges, which are based only on estimates of weight by age.)

Liquids often come with dosing instructions in millilitres (mL) as well as in teaspoon or tablespoon measurements. While you may prefer the familiarity of a teaspoon or tablespoon, using kitchen cutlery can lead to errors because they vary so much in size, and baking teaspoons can be awkward to use. Instead, measure kids’ liquid medicines in millilitres (mL) with an easy-to-use oral syringe or a medicine cup with clearly marked millilitre lines for precise doses. Syringes and cups often come with prescription liquid medications but are also available in drug stores. (Some pharmacists will give you one for free if you ask.)

2. Repeating a dose

Accidentally repeating a dose is a common medication error, particularly with babies, who can’t tell you that they’ve already been given their medicine. Keep track of your child’s dosing schedule with a medication log on your smartphone, a programmable timer app, a printable medication log or even a sticker on the medicine bottle. Make sure that all of your kid’s caregivers use the same log and are communicating about what doses were given when. If you miss a dose, do not double up to make up for the missed dose—talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

3. Giving doses too close together

Follow the dosing schedule from your doctor, pharmacist or the package instructions. Don’t push doses closer together or exceed the maximum amount of doses per day instructed on the label. Alternating between two medications (as is commonly done to bring down a fever) isn’t recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society, as it can lead to over-dosing errors.

4. Confusing units of measurement

What’s written on your original prescription and the label on the medicine you get from your pharmacist may not necessarily match—and that’s OK. A prescription is a communication between the doctor and pharmacist, written by the MD in ‘medical-ese,’ then translated by the pharmacist into plain language on the label. Medications come in a wide variety of units, including milligrams (pills), millilitres (liquid), micrograms (inhalers/puffers) and more—a pharmacist may have to convert one unit to another (i.e., solid to liquid) to prepare the prescription. Don’t get hung up on what the prescription from your doctor says—it’s most important to talk to your pharmacist to make sure you understand the label.

5. Giving the wrong medication

Always read the label for instructions and expiry date to make sure it’s right for your kid’s symptoms and age and that it has not expired. Do not remove labels from medication bottles, put medications in other containers or bags, or mix medications together. Always return pill packets to their original container with instructions and dosing information. Make a habit of periodically checking your medicine cabinet for expired meds and bring them to your drug store to be disposed of. Expiry dates are not always listed on vials and bottles, so check with your pharmacist if you’re unsure. The concern is both reduced efficacy and safety, as the drug may lose its desired effect or change in some way over time.

6. Giving medicine in the wrong spot

Medicines are pretty commonly given orally, but they can also be given in the eyes or ears, up the nose, on the skin, etc. Always read the label to ensure you’re putting medicine where it’s meant to go.

Medicine safety tips

  • Keep a list of all your child’s current medications. If your child is taking one medication, always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting another (whether it is prescription, over-the-counter, nutritional supplement or herbal medicine).
  • Keep all medication (including over-the-counter, prescription, creams, vitamins or natural/homeopathic) up high, out of reach and out of sight of children in a locked cabinet or tackle box. Put medications away after every use, even if you plan to use it again soon, and ensure the child-safety lock is secure.
  • Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any drug/medication allergies or other allergies.
  • Make sure to store medications as instructed on the label and by your pharmacist.
  • Talk to your kids about medication and never refer to it as “candy.”
  • Ask house guests to keep bags, purses, cosmetic cases and coats containing meds up high, out of reach and out of sight of kids.
  • If your child has taken too much of a medication, call your local poison centre immediately. Program the local poison centre number into your phone and post it somewhere visible for caregivers.

Joelene Huber is a paediatrician and assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Toronto and is affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children, specializing in development and autism spectrum disorders. She appears regularly on TV and is a mom to two small children. Follow her on Twitter at @DrJoeleneHuber.

Special thanks to James Tjon, pharmacist at the Hospital for Sick Children.



5 morning problems solved

Weekday mornings suck for almost every parent, for all kinds of reasons. Try these solutions to common-but-painful morning-routine killers.

Weekday mornings are primed for failure, just by their very nature: There are countless to-dos but not a lot of time to do them. Add little people to the mix, and it’s no wonder the experience can leave you weary. We can’t promise there won’t be tantrums (from kids or parents), but we can offer strategies to get past some of the common morning dilemmas.

1. There’s never enough time

If every morning feels like a mad rush because your kid’s a late riser, don’t revamp your routine until you consider whether he’s going to bed early enough. “If they’re falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking at eight, they’re not waking up late—they’re just getting their full sleep,” says Julie Romanowski, a parenting coach in Vancouver. (The American Academy of Pediatrics says one- and two-year-olds need 11 to 14 hours of sleep, while three– to five-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours; those figures include daytime naps. Kids ages six to 12 need nine to 12 hours each night.)

If there’s not enough sleep happening in your household, then you should obviously work on getting the kids to bed earlier. But during the transition—or if you’ve just got one of those kids who needs more than the average amount of sleep—the key to a smooth morning is to have everything ready the night before or, at least, before they get up. That’s the only thing that has worked for Luisa Magalhaes, a mom in Peterborough, Ont., who wakes her five- and three-year-old up at 7:30 to be out the door by 8 a.m. “We make lunches, pick clothes and pack bags the night before,” she says. “We also have a set of toothbrushes and hair clips in the downstairs bathroom, to save us a trip back up the stairs.”

Also, even if it’s the last thing you have time for, try to take just a minute to connect with your kids, says Sarah Rosensweet, a Toronto parenting coach. “Before you rush into, ‘Come on! Get up! We don’t have much time!’ give them a hug and a snuggle,” she says. This quick moment of connection can go a long way toward getting co-operation during the morning dash.

What if you’re always running late, and it has nothing to do with wake-up times? You may need to get real about how long it takes for kids to complete tasks. Sure, your kid should only need two minutes to put on his shoes, but if it’s taking 10 minutes every morning, maybe account for that instead of fighting it.

2. My kid refuses to eat breakfast

We all want to see our kids off on a full stomach—after all, they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what if your kid just won’t eat?

There are two possible issues at play here, says Romanowski: the kid who isn’t hungry right away and the one who just doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to sit down at the table.

To get through either scenario, make breakfast a part of the morning routine, whether your kid typically eats or not. “Just ignoring it or skipping it can spur them into a more negative habit,” she says. But that doesn’t mean you should force your kid to eat. Instead, take some time to explain why you want her to have a nutritious breakfast, set expectations for the morning routine and then create a list of favourite foods together. In the morning, ask her what she’s hungry for from the list. 

If you consistently offer breakfast but your kid simply won’t eat much—or any—of it, try not to worry, says Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian in Toronto. Give her a nutritious snack to have in the car or at morning recess. Kanchan Jindal, a mom of two in Burlington, Ont., makes smoothies for her breakfast-averse kids to drink on the way to daycare.

3. My kids wake up way too early

When your kids are up at the crack of dawn, the problem—besides the fact that, well, they’re up at the crack of dawn—is there’s almost too much time to fill before you need to leave for school or daycare. How do you motivate them to get ready when there’s no real rush? And if they’ve gone off to play, how do you drag them away without having to ask (OK, yell) over and over again? The key here, says Romanowski, is to minimize the number of times your kid has to switch between the boring, get-ready-for-the-day tasks and whatever fun activity she would rather be doing. “As adults, we see it as, ‘Just go brush your teeth and come back,’ but for a kid, transitioning between something fun and something not as fun will require a lot of time and guidance from parents,” says Romanowski. And who’s got the patience for that in the morning?

She suggests making sure your kids are completely ready—teeth brushed, clothes on, bag packed—before letting them play. This way, you’re not nagging at them to put down their toys to eat breakfast and you don’t risk running out of time. If you’d prefer to let your kiddos chillax in their PJs until it’s time to get ready, then try using a timer—or any audiovisual cue you like—to signal when playtime has to stop and the routine must begin.

If you’re having trouble keeping your kid occupied while you’re getting ready, and you would prefer to avoid screen time, Rosensweet suggests creating a morning activity box, filled with age-appropriate toys and activities that only come out when mom and dad are getting ready. Be sure to switch out the toys or add a surprise every once in a while to keep up the interest.

4. My kid is a morning grump

If your kid is consistently in a bad mood when he wakes up, he may not be getting enough sleep. But some kids are grouchy in the a.m. regardless of how many hours they clocked the previous night.

Being barked at by your kid at the start of each day is super frustrating, but experts say the best thing you can do is to acknowledge the feelings and show compassion. “We want to put our defences up and say, ‘Why are you being so difficult!?’ but that just closes off communication,” says Romanowski. The fact is, most kids don’t want to be in a bad mood, she says.

If this is a new behaviour, look for reasons for it, like lack of sleep, not eating enough or an illness whose more obvious symptoms haven’t shown up yet. Also consider what’s going on in your kid’s life; he might be having a hard time with something at school or daycare, or struggling with the addition of a new sibling or other change in the family. A little empathy won’t necessarily solve the problem, but it might get you out the door just a little faster.

5. My kid can’t seem to stay focused on getting ready

How many times do you have to ask your kid to put his shoes on in the morning? A lack of motivation after waking up is a common complaint from parents. And it’s no surprise. You’re asking a kid to leave the cozy comforts of home and go somewhere that might feel less safe or less fun, and their favourite person in the world—you!—won’t be there with them.

First things first: Validate their feelings, says Romanowski. For example, if they’re playing with a toy, say, “I know you’re having fun playing with this. It’s hard to leave home and Mommy and Daddy, isn’t it?”

To help your kid focus on the tasks at hand, post a list of what needs to be done, like eating breakfast, getting dressed and brushing teeth. For younger kids, draw pictures or cut out magazine images to create a visual list. Then, instead of nagging, keep going back to it and asking, “Where are you on your list?”

Just don’t expect your kid to be able to run off and get it done on his own. Even kids who are fully capable of putting their pants on might need you nearby sometimes. “Intellectually, you know they can do it, but emotionally, it’s still too much to process to be sent upstairs to get dressed,” says Romanowski. “The physical disconnect from you is not very motivating.” So take a deep breath, go upstairs and support him as he goes through his routine—and remind yourself you won’t still be putting his pants on in college.

Read more:
11 ways to salvage a bad morning
Handy printable morning routine checklist
9 easy make-ahead breakfast recipes


11 ways to salvage a bad morning

School mornings can be a sh*t show. Here's how to turn things around.

It’s 7:54 a.m., and we have six minutes to leave the house before we’re doomed to be late for school—again. My eight-year-old son, Pierce, is lying on the floor, his pants soaked with the orange juice he knocked over while stealing his sister’s waffle. Ten-year-old Marley is still wearing pyjamas, and her hair looks like a rat’s nest.

I’ve (calmly) asked them both to change and brush their teeth and hair at least four times. Instead, they’ve performed an impromptu dance routine with the hamster, placed their foreheads against the radiator to convince me they have fevers and argued with each other over every little thing.

My last ounce of patience drains as they make fish faces in the bathroom mirror, ignoring their toothbrushes. The clock ticks closer to our inevitable lateness. Even Jack Bauer doesn’t cut it this close. They giggle, and I lose it. “I said now!” I scream. Their bodies become rigid. Their eyes look frightened and hurt as they rush to do the things I asked. A pang of guilt stabs my chest. We drive to school in silence, each of us brooding over perceived injustices. As we hug one another goodbye, I apologize for being cranky and squeeze them a little tighter, feeling horrible about having lost control.

We’ve all been there. Bad mornings happen, and they leave us feeling guilty, angry and frustrated. Calgary author of Parenting With Patience Judy Arnall says these crappy feelings can stay with us during the day, making it difficult for kids to concentrate at school and for parents to focus on work. While the occasional morning yelling match is inevitable, if it happens more than once a week, she says we could be unintentionally making our kids feel incompetent and damaging their self-esteem.

But before you award yourself the Worst Parent of the Year trophy—again—Arnall says to give yourself a break. “You can turn it around at any time.”

When we’re stressed, it can be hard to see how vulnerable and innocent our kids are. It helps to remember they’re not maliciously trying to throw off our schedules. “This is a stage,” says Arnall, adding that, up until age seven, kids are egocentric, which makes them natural dawdlers.

So the next time your morning is off to a stormy start, try these tips from our experts to put everyone’s day back on a happier track.

1. Get them moving

Stop the chaos in its tracks with a quick stretching session, which helps relax the body and mind, and is a great distraction tool, says Halifax psychologist Andrea Cook. Have everyone take three deep yoga breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) while reaching for the sky. Then have them touch their toes, jump up and down, and wiggle their fingers before getting back to the task at hand.

2. Turn on some tunes

Listening to music can change your mood, says Arnall. Whether you put on something slow and relaxing to create a sense of calm or blast a tune that makes everyone want to groove and sing along, music can help alleviate stress and make you feel good, she says. An impromptu lip-synch or dance party will guarantee smiles all around—but set a time limit, as you still need to get out the door on schedule.

3. Be happy (even if you’re not)

“When you’re frustrated, try smiling,” suggests Ottawa psychologist Sandy Ages. Smiles are contagious (as is a calm voice) and make a huge difference to everyone’s mood. If you aren’t too irritated, tell a funny joke or do the Chicken Dance to make kids laugh. Better yet, try singing everything you say. You might find the kids more willing to put their shoes on when asked in an opera voice.

4. Try a do over

Cook suggests restarting the day if you feel it going off the rails. Say good morning again or physically rewind by spinning in a silly way. Change the topic to something you’re all looking forward to, like having ice cream for dessert tonight.

5. Notice good behaviour

Catching kids being good can change the entire mood of a morning, says Cook. It can make a cranky child feel valued and therefore more co-operative. Telling kids you love them, giving them a kiss and praising them for little things can help them realize that behaving well has its benefits. On the way to school, rehash the good behaviour so they walk in feeling confident and happy.

6. Say yes

Give your inner control freak a vacation and say yes to something he wants, suggests Arnall. Wearing a pyjama top or mismatched socks to school isn’t going to hurt anyone but will let your kid feel empowered (and therefore happier) about making a choice on his own. Bonus: one less argument to deal with!

7. Listen to your kid

He may just be angry because you cleared his cereal bowl before he finished. Tell him you understand how he feels, and then give the bowl back (if you can) and set a timer for two minutes, making it into a game to see how quickly he can finish. If you can’t, tell him he can choose his favourite cereal tomorrow.

8. Squash sibling rivalry

When your kids are fighting, acknowledge their feelings (“I see that you’re upset with your brother for stealing your waffle—would you like another one?”), and then write the issue on a whiteboard to be discussed after school or at your next family meeting, says Arnall.

9. Take a time out…for you

When tensions are high, stop what you’re doing, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself what you need to calm down, says Arnall. Whether it’s a few sips of water or three minutes alone in the bathroom, find a way to regain control.

10. Give a hug

When your kids are moving at a snail’s pace and your impulse is to snap, go for a hug instead. “If a parent has the self-control to switch gears from yelling to hug mode, that’s great,” says Arnall. Better yet, incorporate cuddle sessions into your evening and morning routines: It helps develop an emotional and physical connection, says Ages, and a hug or a morning high-five will boost your mood and your kid’s.

11. Look at the big picture

Stop and ask yourself, Will this matter in five years? suggests Arnall. If not, try to accept that you’re going to be late, the cat is covered in syrup and your son hasn’t finished his homework. Letting go will help take the pressure off and allow breathing room to get things done sanely.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, your kids will throw tantrums, your house will be chaos and you’ll speak louder than you want to. Try not to worry about it, says Edmonton-based psychologist Jeanne Williams, as long as your mornings run smoothly most days. And remember, there’s always tomorrow.


How to help your preschooler finally ditch the pacifier

Babies sucking on soothers are pretty cute. But if your kid is three or four years old and still using a pacifier, it's time to break the binky habit.

“Mama, can you email the Soothie Fairy?” Maisie, my three-and-a-half-year-old, asked during her bedtime story one evening. Was this a sign she was ready to finally stop using the pacifier? We hugged and I praised her for being a brave girl. But my elation quickly morphed into a sinking feeling. She was a soother-reliant sleeper, so I was picturing tear-filled bedtimes and it’s-too-early-to-even-check-the-clock wake-ups. But I knew it was time—all attempts to wean off the pacifier as a toddler had failed, and now we had an almost-JKer who still wouldn’t go to bed without her “soo-soos.”

Pacifiers are designed to satisfy a baby’s natural sucking reflex and provide comfort. But they’re not really meant for toddlers with a full set of teeth. For kids who are forcefully sucking on a soother (even just at nighttime) or keeping it in their mouths for extended periods of time, changes can occur to the structure of the roof of their mouth and the alignment of teeth.

“After age four, as permanent teeth start to come in, there’s an increased risk of alteration of the bone structure in the front of the mouth, which is difficult and costly to correct,” says Aaron Burry, an Ottawa dentist who works in public health.

At our last checkup, I proudly told our dentist that Maisie had cut back to just bedtime soother sucking. She wasn’t impressed. “Every night Maisie is basically doing DIY orthodontics—but pushing the teeth out of alignment,” she told me.

Some toddlers will give up their paci on their own, without a big fuss. And much like potty training, you’ll have the best chances of success if you wait until your child is showing signs of readiness, like using the paci less often anyhow.

But if they’re pushing three and still sucking on a soother during the day, it’s probably become their primary way of managing stress, says Linda Martin, a registered ECE and director of two Toronto child care centres. This can make the breakup a bit trickier. By age two most kids are able to develop alternative strategies for self-soothing or calming down after a tantrum.

Martin recommends transitioning your child to a different comfort item instead of the pacifier. She’s seen success with silicone jewellery (sometimes called “chewellery”), which gives kids something to hold and even put in their mouth when they want to. Other kids easily switch to a stuffie or blanket they can hug. Having an item to turn to gives little ones a bit of control, which Martin feels is at the core of a toddler or preschooler’s prolonged preoccupation with a paci. “They have so few things they can control in their day-to-day life, at home and at daycare. This is a way to be respectful and give them an option.”

It’s wise to wean a child off their pacifier before big changes, like starting daycare, the arrival of a new baby or a household move. “These life events may increase your child’s need for the soothing they receive from the pacifier,” Burry says, so try to phase it out beforehand.

Burry warns parents that they might need to take multiple soother-weaning approaches. Some resort to soother sabotage, cutting off the end little by little until it’s not fun to suck on anymore. Others simply throw the pacifiers away. But the experts seem to agree that a positive approach tends to work best.

“You can do it gradually, by leaving the binky in the daycare cubby, then in the car in the morning, then eventually not removing it from their bed [in the morning],” says Martin. Some kids really go for the idea of pretending to donate them to a new baby you know. Others like planning a pacifier party, with cake and presents.

Because Maisie has an older sister who’s already been visited by the Tooth Fairy, she was taken with the Soother Fairy idea. We told her the fairy would bring her a gift in exchange for her soothers, and she was on board. We sent the fairy a link to her wish list and she started counting down the sleeps to the special night. (I happen to know that the Soother Fairy splurged on expedited shipping.)

In the end, Maisie was quite brave about tucking her two soothers in a cloth bag and ceremoniously hanging it on her bedpost. The next morning, she was ecstatic to find the new doll she’d requested, wrapped and delivered right to her room.

In the weeks since, she’s woken up a few times in the night asking for her soo-soo, and there have been a few (mostly manageable) tears. I won’t say that breaking up with binky didn’t suck, but like most seemingly enormous changes with little kids, it wasn’t such a big deal after all.

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Age-by-age guide to getting your kid to talk to you

We don’t need to be our kids’ best friends, but something more than a grunt when we ask about their day sure would be nice. Here’s how to kick-start the conversation.

One evening before dinner, I noticed my four-and-a-half-year-old son, who is in full-day junior kindergarten, sitting glumly on the kitchen floor. I sat down next to him and asked, “Was today a good day or a bad day?” In a sudden burst of candour, he told me it had been a good day, but it turned bad when the girl who had professed her love to him the week before told him she now wanted to marry somebody else. While I hadn’t expected to have the marriage talk so soon, I was secretly high-fiving myself for getting him to open up. Most days, when I ask how school was, he just grunts “fine.” If I can’t get him to say much now, how can I make sure he talks to me about girl troubles—or whatever else is on his mind—when he’s a teenager?

It turns out the connection a kid needs to feel with his parents in order to open up and talk to them is cemented long before the teen years. Julie Romanowski, a parenting coach in Vancouver, says communication skills are built even in infancy and toddlerhood. When your baby cries and you pick her up, you are showing her you’re someone she can count on. Being that trusted confidante isn’t as straightforward, though, when your kid’s daily life experiences grow to include things like academic pressure, friendships, bullying and other social issues. But it’s vitally important we maintain that bond, says Jennifer Kolari, a Toronto therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid. It’s our job as parents, explains Kolari, to help our kids sort through and process the things that happen to them during the day. “They don’t have the higher-order thinking to do it on their own yet,” she says. You may not hear about every single triumph or trial, but these ideas can get your kids to open up to you at every age.


It’s a classic scenario: You pick your kid up from daycare or preschool and ask what he did that day, and the answer is, “I don’t know” or, “Nothing.” According to Kolari, that’s because preschoolers can understand a lot but are still developing the language skills needed to really express what they want to say. “It’s honestly a lot of work to explain how your day went. You have to funnel and synthesize all that information and put it into a succinct sentence that’s going to make mommy or daddy happy. So it’s much easier to say, ‘I don’t know.’”

To help your kid zero in on an anecdote or detail, Romanowski suggests asking specific questions that include a prompt, like, “What did you like better today, snack time or circle time?” Laura Bicknell, a mom of two in Calgary, says that technique works well with her four-year-old, who is in preschool a few days a week. “This is the first year I’m not with him the whole time,” she says. “But I’m familiar with what generally happens during his program, so I’ll ask questions like, ‘Did you go in the forest today, or did you play in the sandbox?’” More general questions, such as, “Who did you play with?” or, “Did you sing any songs today?” can also work.

If you want to know how your kid is feeling, rather than just the details, Romanowski advises observing her behaviour and then asking about it. For example, you could say, “When I picked you up, you had a bit of a funny face. What happened?”

If your kid does mention something negative from her day, you should of course show concern, says Kolari, but make sure you don’t overreact. “Kids shut down if our reactions are too much,” she explains. “A kid will have a fine day, but one thing happened that they’re upset about. You hear this and panic, thinking, Oh my god, we’re at the wrong daycare—everyone is picking on him.” Kolari says if you show alarm on your face, your kid might stop sharing this type of information, thinking it makes you too upset. Instead, empathize with your kid, tell him how crummy it must have felt to have that toy grabbed from him, and then move on.

Little Kids

Don’t start an interrogation as soon as you arrive for pickup or the moment you all walk in the front door, advises Romanowski. With some kids, this may be a mistake. “Parents pick up their kids, and it’s 20 questions. After being ‘on’ all day at school, that’s the last thing some kids want.”

She suggests spending a few minutes reconnecting with your kid just by being present. “If you say something simple like, ‘Hey bud, I missed you. Let me take your backpack,’ now your kid is thinking, My mom has got my back, and that’s when he’ll start to open up.”

When you’re shuttling your kid from school to an activity and then home for dinner and homework, or you’re working full-time and don’t see your kid until 6 p.m., you might find it hard to fit in a few minutes to connect. Romanowski suggests working some parent-kid time into your day, like right after dinner. Sitting down to do a focused activity together—even just 10 minutes of colouring or a puzzle—can create that space where your kid starts to feel like talking. “You’re giving them the message that you’re available for them,” says Romanowski. Also, take advantage of regular moments you do have together, like car rides, walking to school in the morning and bedtime for casual, low-pressure chats. Consider sharing a few details from your own day to encourage conversation—it shouldn’t feel like a one-sided interrogation. This also teaches kids that everyone has good days and bad days, no matter how old you are.

Bicknell finds that keeping in the loop about the curriculum and who her grade-two daughter is playing with helps her bring things up in conversation. When she wants to dig deeper into what’s going on in her daughter’s life, she uses their shared journal, where she can write down questions that her daughter can think about and answer when she has some quiet time. “I’ll ask questions like, ‘What made you feel the happiest while you were at school today?’ or, ‘What do you wish was different?’ and ask her to write me back.” Bicknell can then use her daughter’s responses as a springboard for more conversation if she feels their communication has stalled.

Keep in mind that if you ignore or brush off your kid when he’s rattling on about the latest video game or a guest speaker that came into his classroom that day, you’re missing an opportunity to show you are a good listener, says Kolari. “When you’re really connected, your body is leaning in and your phone is down. You’ll find that if you do a really good job in those moments, they will come to you for the hard stuff.”

Big Kids

It’s inevitable that as your kid gets older, you won’t be as physically present in every aspect of her life. But you are still needed for emotional support. If you want a window into what’s going on in her day, the key is to keep up the listening and, as hard as it may be, focus less on results or solutions. “A lot of times, as parents, we want to be the problem solver,” says Romanowski. (For example, if your kid is having an issue with a friend, we might be tempted to suggest she find someone else to hang out with.) “But as soon as we start problem solving, judgment happens. And people don’t want to be judged.”

Kolari says the car is a great place to talk with kids this age—they don’t have to make eye contact with you, which can make some kids uncomfortable. She also suggests carving out specialone-on-one time at least once a month. Even watching a favourite TV show together once a week lets you share an interest and get some quality time.

Pay attention to your kid’s body language, too, suggests Kolari. “They’re always talking to you, whether it’s with words, shrugs or tears—or looking away when they see you. You can say, ‘I love you, and I can see from your body language that something has happened and you’re not ready to tell me. When you’re ready, I’m here.’”

When your tween does open up and talk to you—especially if your kid tends to be fairly closed off with his feelings—make sure to stay neutral. “If you start looking panic-stricken, they’re going to think, Oh my god, this is worse than I thought,” says Kolari. “It’s important to be that calm, constant, neutral voice.”

Ultimately, you want your kid to enjoy talking to you. “The more they walk away from any interaction—whether they are telling you something fun or they’re telling you something they’re scared about—and think, I feel better, the more likely they are to come back,” says Kolari, “which is your only hope for finding out more about what’s going on in their lives.”

A version of this article appeared in our February 2016 issue with the headline, “Look who’s talking,” p. 42.



Don’t worry, your child’s learning doesn’t stop just because they’re not in child care

Research shows children’s development and learning never actually pauses. They will continue to make meaning of their world as they think, question and play at home.

At childcare and preschool, children experience belonging to a community and engage actively with their learning.

They also collaborate in groups, which helps them learn how to negotiate, listen and engage together.

Learning in this sense is layered and complex in that children aren’t just taught knowledge, but participate in constructing it. And because of this, a child’s learning never stops.

Even if your child has paused attending childcare or preschool due to COVID-19, they are still learning, every day and in every moment.

Parents are the most important teachers

Play is central to children’s learning experiences. It’s how they make meaning in their world, create, build and maintain relationships, and explore and engage with theories and questions.

Early childhood teachers work with children to create daily moments of play that ignite wonder, inquiry and surprise.

They do so by using ordinary moments—such as a group of children drawing a map of the community or a toddler reaching out to catch the rain—as the foundation for creating experiences that further children’s thinking and ideas.

The children and teachers are co-participants in the learning process. They collaborate to understand and make meaning of the relationships between each other, with the other children in the setting and with the environment.

These same collaborations of meaning-making and discovery occur in families.

Even the Early Years Learning Framework—the national guide for the early childhood curriculum—states that parents and families are “children’s first and most influential educators”.

And research shows children’s development and learning never actually pauses. Children will still learn, grow and develop despite not attending preschool and childcare.

They will continue to make meaning of their world as they think, question and play at home, or as they walk with a parent, or eat breakfast with their family.

Even ordinary negotiations with a child and parent can be learning experiences.

Imagine your child wants to play with you while you are busy answering emails. Stopping for a moment and listening to your child’s request, then responding with a simple, “I can play with you in 15 minutes,” offers an opportunity for the child to act with patience and empathy.

Listening, collaboration and compromise are all part of this very ordinary moment and become how child and parent learn in relationship with each other and build knowledge together.

Here are some other ways parents can create learning experiences at home.

Learning opportunities at home

Your home is full of rich materials for children to explore and through which they can understand the world.

For example, give young child a small bag and ask them to fill it with things like fallen leaves, old buttons, bottlecaps, string or small bits of paper.

Then clear a space, empty the bag, and give the child time and space to play with the gathered materials.

You might be immediately inclined to give your child a task or tell them what to do with the materials. But instead, wait and trust the child to find their own way.

Slowness is part of the process. It gives children time to question: where did this button come from?; what happens when I stack these bottlecaps?; how can I use this string to create something else?

Listen to what your child is saying and doing. Then see how you might support your child to think deeper about the materials.

You may notice how your child is grouping the materials, so you could ask: “how are you deciding which items go together?”

You can place some empty containers in the middle of the space as a response to grouping and see what happens.

Spend time listening again and thinking about what your child is theorizing during the grouping of materials.

Is she grouping the objects into a particular shape, or by certain amounts? Perhaps your child will manipulate the shapes into a sculpture.

In this shared example, categorizing (making groups) moves to theory building (how items are grouped) to creating and building new knowledge (how items come together to create something new).

You can keep this collection to play with later, showing your child how to recycle materials.

You can find more ideas for what to do at home at Reggio Children

Building relationships with a place

Learning happens in relationships—relationship with families, animals and insects, plants, oceans and mountains, pens, pencils, paper and paint, and places.

Find a place close to your home you can visit regularly, like a nearby park. Help your children notice a tree’s bark, or follow the tree with their eyes from ground to sky.

Get them to look at the things around them.

What made you and them want to go to this place? Was it the colours, sounds, smells, memories? Who are the Traditional Custodians of the Land on which this place is located?

Be slow in this place and help your children discover something new.

  • does the creek change after it rains?
  • do they see something new if they follow an ant?
  • do buildings make different shadows when it is sunny?

In these complex times, these relationships are how we can empower children to understand and contribute to their new reality.

You can find more ideas about building relationships with places in Out and AboutThe Conversation

Jeanne Marie Iorio is a senior lecturer for Early Childhood Education at the University of Melbourne.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.