Monday, 17 December 2012

Talking to Children After a Crisis

In light of the tragic events in Connecticut, I am posting some links about talking to your children after a crisis.  My heart goes out to all those directly and indirectly affected by the tragedy. (this one includes age specific recommendations).


Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Now for the first contribution from another author…  This entry was written by Julia Peters.  She currently works in IT/Healthcare integration and has 2 beautiful children, a 3-year old girl and a 1-year old boy.  Not only is Julia familiar with technology, but she also has graduate training in developmental psychology and stays up-to-date with current research. So, who better to talk about technology and child development than Julia?! I hope you enjoy her entry.    
I use to have an iPad. Now my toddler has one! But personally, I don’t mind the change of ownership, especially now that I have invested in a protective cover to ensure extra durability of my beloved device.  Generally, I don’t really consider myself a techy, despite working in IT, but I do love myself a gadget and so far, I am still 'out-teching' my toddler (not sure how long that will last though). 
Understandably, a debate rages around technology and toddlers; how much is too much, and how young is too young?  The American Pediatric Society suggests limiting screen time for kids under 2 years and suggests no more than 30 minutes for children 3-5 years.  As you can imagine, there has been an abundance of backlash from parents suggesting that reality dictates that with technology everywhere, limiting technology to zero in this busy world may not be realistic. To date, there is no evidence of long-term developmental problems; though experts agree that children learn more efficiently through real-life interactions as compared with interactions with technology gadgets.  There are valid points to be made on both sides of the discussion (which is worthy of a blog devoted entirely to it), but as with most things, I personally believe the key to success lies in the quality and quantity of consumption.  Bottom line:  All families are different, and what is right for one child may not be right for another, and parents need to make a judgment call on what is best for them.

With that in mind, I have fully embraced technology with my children, though I work to ensure that screen time (whether it be television, computer, smartphone, or leapfrog) does not replace free play and often, my favourite part of the day is curled up with my 3-year old using the iPad together.

What I love the most about apps for kids is that there are so many options, you surely can find something that is geared directly at what interests your toddler most and with an inexpensive price tag, it’s easier to keep up with their constantly evolving abilities and interests.  For any other parents that have had their iPad pilfered by their toddler, or for those who are considering introducing the technology, here is a glimpse at some of my current favourite apps (specifically for 3 years and under).  If you have some other suggestions, I would love to hear them, so I can start my Christmas shopping.

Make Me Smile. I love this app because it teaches children to recognize different emotions (in adorable monster form) which is necessary for emotion regulation and provides the perfect opportunity for parents to discuss how to deal with influx of emotions that their toddlers are experiencing. A neat extra is that parents have the option of setting up the app to take photos of your child empathizing with the cute monsters. Price tag: $1.99
There’s a Monster at the End of this Book.  My kids already have a library of picture e-books, but this is one of the most popular from our collection.  The hard copy version of this story is a classic, and the app version only makes endearing Grover more lovable.  It’s fun, interactive and super cute.  And with the opportunity to either read or be read to, this app grows with its audience.  Price tag: $3.99
Juno’s Piano.  Kids love to make noise, so this app is a sure winner.  Although there are many fun piano apps that are readly available for free, I enjoy that this one has the ‘learn a song’ feature that begin to teach your blossoming Beethoven to play a few purposeful notes.  Price tag: $0.99
Talking Rex the Dinosaur.  This is my kids’ all-time favourite app (all-time = she's 3 years old). Though it doesn’t provide much in terms of educational value, if you are looking for a way to provide much needed entertainment (perhaps on a long car ride), this app is for you.  The kids will get an enormous kick out of hearing their words get repeated back in a scary dinosaur voice.  A bonus, my son has been a fan of it since he was 8 months, and my 3 year old still loves it.  Price tag:  Free
Sound Touch.  This app is a modern take on the flashcard.  There are literally hundreds of variations of toddler flashcards available on the market, but I particularly like this one because the focus is on pictures with sounds rather than the usual naming convention.  You can download the free version, which is good enough, or spend $ to get all of the compelte themes.  Price Tag: Free (Lite version) or $4.99 (full version)


For those of you have been reading my blog entries so far, thank you!  I hope you find the information useful.  In order to keep you interested, I have decided to spice it up a bit and I have asked some very good friends and fellow mental health professionals to contribute to the blog.  So, from now on, all of my blog entries will be written in black.  When someone else contributes, their entries will be in blue.  Hope you find their information useful as well :)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Nightmares and Night Terrors

As every parent knows, sleep is so important.  Sleep allows children to develop and consolidate memories.  It also helps prevent negative things from occurring such as becoming grumpy, fussy or clumsy.  Although kids usually have uneventful periods of sleep once they fall asleep, it is also common for children to have occasional nightmares.  Nightmares occur when a child is in REM sleep. When a child has a nightmare, it is important to comfort and reassure them so they feel safe.  The best way to prevent nightmares is by practicing good sleep hygiene.  This includes having a consistent and predictable bedtime routine (bath, brush teeth, books and bed) and having a safe and comfortable place for your child to sleep. Children who are fearful before bed because of previous nightmares may benefit from having a nightlight. If your child experiences a number of nightmares, you may need to consider their daily activities.  Perhaps they are watching a television show that is too scary for them. Maybe they are feeling stressed about something at school. Limiting potential stressors and discussing things that scare them may help reduce the number of nightmares.  Also, having children think about positive things before bed may also help reduce nightmares.
Night terrors are different from nightmares.  Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur during non-REM sleep.  When a child has a night terror, he may sit upright in bed and appear scared and panicky.  His breathing and heart rate may increase and the child may scream.  This usually lasts for a couple of minutes, but it feels like hours! Although you may try comforting your child, he probably won’t realize that you’re even there.  However, it is important to keep him safe.  If your child experiences many night terrors, you make want to examine your child’s routine.  Is he getting enough sleep during the day? Is he getting enough fresh air? Does he have a consistent bedtime routine? In addition to examining his routine, you may also try prompted awakenings if night terrors become very frequent.  Prompted awakenings involve monitoring when your child is likely to have a night terror and waking them up before they are most likely to have one.  If your child continues to have frequent night terrors, you may need to consult with your family doctor.
Since I should practice what I preach, I am going to end off with a positive thought.  Although nightmares and night terrors can make bedtime very scary for children, nighttime can also be very peaceful.  I love peaking in and seeing my boys when they are fast asleep.  They look so peaceful and so angelic.  On that note, I am off to bed.  Sweet dreams to you and your babies J

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween!

How could I possibly write a blog about parenting without talking about Halloween! If your kids are like mine, they barely slept last night and jumped out of bed this morning (if only every morning could be so easy, sigh…). Although Halloween is an exciting time for children, it can also be very scary.  I can still remember one year, when I was about 5, we were trick or treating in our neighbourhood when I heard scary music in the background.  I had no idea where it was coming from (I know now that it was my neighbour playing it on a tape recorder –remember those?! ). But when I was 5, it was incredibly scary for me because I couldn’t understand what was going on.  When young children have gaps in their understanding (e.g., I hear strange music, but I don’t know where it’s coming from or why it’s being played), they try to figure it out themselves.  Sometimes that can lead to additional fear and anxiety (e.g., maybe I hear that music because the house next door is haunted). However, if we can help them fill in the gaps, it can help reduce anxiety.  If your children look scared tonight, take a moment to explain what they’re seeing.  If your children are older, have them explain it to you and help them out if necessary.  Without explanation, the child may feel a negative reaction (fear, anxiety, etc.).  The reaction may not be immediate and it may actually be expressed before bed or even during their dreams!  More to come on dreams and night terrors in the next blog entry…  Until then, have a safe and happy Halloween!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Convince Me!

When children are young, we make decisions for them.  However, over time, we want them to be capable of making decisions by themselves.  How do children learn to make sound decisions?  We teach them!  When you make a decision for your child, explain to them why you’ve come up with your decision.  For example, “you can’t stay up later because you’ll be too tired for school tomorrow and you won’t be able to focus”, or “sure, you can have a small dessert because you’ve already given your body some good food”. As children get older, ask them to explain to you why decisions are made (e.g., “why do you think you need to do your homework?”). Early in my Ph.D., I attended a lecture by Barbara Coloroso and I learned a technique that I still use today. Although she may have labeled it differently, I call it “convince me”.  This technique is appropriate for older children and teens, and it is a great way to help kids develop their reasoning skills. When children ask you for something reasonable, say “convince me”.  The child then has to think about reasons why the parent should give them permission to do what they’re asking.  Here’s an example:
Teen: mom, can I go to the community centre this Saturday for the Halloween dance?
Mom: Convince me
Teen: All of my friends will be there
Mom: That’s not a good enough reason.  Tell me more.
Teen: All of my friends are going to be there and I know it will be so much fun.
Mom: Tell me more
Teen: It’s also in a safe place and there will be adults supervising the dance.
Mom: I’m convinced.  I will drive you and pick you up.
Although this is an amazing technique to help children and teens develop reasoning skills, I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you know the answer will be yes.  Therefore, if it is an unreasonable request (e.g., your 11-year old asks to sleep over at her friend’s house because her parents will be away for the weekend), you need to make the decision for them and explain your answer. However, if the request is reasonable and age appropriate, having older children and teens think about the reasons they should be able to do something allows them an opportunity to practice their reasoning skills in a safe place (with you there to support them).  After doing this for years, you’ll feel confident that they will know how to make a sound decision when they’re on their own.  

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Play Time And Time For Play

One of the most significant things kids do is play.  Play is so important because it allows children an opportunity to develop and practice their language skills, motor skills, social skills and creativity. Although our days are already jammed pack with school, homework, supper and after school activities, it is also really important to make time for play.  In addition to the developmental advantages play offers, it is also a really good way to connect with your child. Taking a few minutes every day to play with your child has been shown to help build a secure attachment. It can also help reduce negative behaviours. However, there are a few things you need to consider in order to have the most successful play experience with your child.
1.       Set aside some time a daily basis.  Studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes is needed to help build attachment.
2.       Make it one-on-one. If you have more than one child, it would be easier to play with all of your children at the same time. However, it is important for each child to get some individual time.
3.       Let your child choose the game.  Although it is tempting to structure their activities, it is important to let them choose the game.  Not only will it help develop their confidence, it will also show your child that your interest in him is genuine.
4.       Let your child lead.  We spend a lot of time teaching our children.  We label things, explain how things work and help them understand concepts.  Although educating our children is important, children also need time to just play.
5.       Get on the floor next to your child. If you’re not beside your child, you are not really engaged.  You’re more of an observer.  Being on the floor next to your child allows you to be completely hands-on.
6.       Have fun!  When was the last time you were able to escape your world and play? Not only will you get to see the world through your child’s eyes, you may also have a little fun yourself.
Although it is extremely difficult to fit one-on-one playtime into your day, it may actually take less time than correcting a negative behaviour.  Children will look for attention any way they can, even if the attention they’re getting is negative.  If your child has figured out that the only way he can get your full attention is to climb on the counter or throw things on the ground, you’ll be spending a lot of time disciplining.  However, if your child learns that he will have your individual attention on a daily basis, his negative behaviours may decrease.  Try it consistently for a week and see for yourself!