Talking to Young Children about the Ukrainian Crisis

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For much of February, our family has enjoyed watching the Olympics with our 4-year-old, Weston, and 2-year-old, Kelsa. The events have prompted lots of great questions about the snow and cold, the mountains, all the cool sports and the different countries people live in. These unprompted questions led to conversations of culture and some of the different ways we do things. One topic that has been of particular interest to our children, especially Weston, is the concept that while we are getting up in the morning, people on the other side of the world are going to sleep. I didn’t intentionally introduce this idea to him, but when I was telling my spouse I wanted to watch an event that I already knew the results of, our son caught on. “Mom, how do you already know who wins!?” he asked in wonder. I thought, sorry buddy, I don’t see the future, I just listened to the news this morning. It has been fun trying to think of ways to explain the earth’s rotation to a 4 (almost 5) year-old and forced me to dive back into some elementary school science I haven’t really thought about in a long time. 

Then, a week ago, as we were going to bed, our sweet child asked me, “Mom, where’s Russia?” My heart sank. Had this been any other week, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I would have pulled out the globe and talked to him about how Russia is really close to China, and they are just starting to wake up as we go to bed. Weston has not been watching the news as we haven’t been watching it in our house. My mind quickly thought of the war happening and I began to wonder how I would explain this to him if he asked any questions about it. I told him Russia is a country by China and it was morning time there. Then I asked if he had any other questions. He did not.

As Russia started to bomb parts of Ukraine my mamma brain went on high alert. One  morning, Weston woke up and asked our Google Home to tell him the news. As soon as it turned on, the sounds of artillery fire blared. “Google, STOP”, I nearly yelled. Then I thought again, what is the right way to handle this? Do we block our children from this? How do we talk to them about it? How do I let my child know he is safe? Should children know about this war? What if he hears about it from somewhere I can’t control? This led me to consult some experts and share some recommendations.

Every family needs to think about how they want to have these discussions and if the recommendations are ones they agree with The recommendations I found and am sharing are based on what we know about young children’s thinking and their understanding of concepts that we ourselves often do not understand.

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What are ways to support young children (3-6 years) in talking about the war that is happening?

These past two years have been emotionally exhausting and particularly for young children a time of confusion and great uncertainty. Now we have the crisis in Ukraine.

Children are watching you, be mindful of your own reactions to the crisis. It is important for children to see you model feelings and reactions that are safe and do not overwhelm them.

Watch the news when children are not around: Young children often do not understand that when they see an image over and over again on TV, that the same tragedy isn’t happening again and again. They also may not understand that these scary images are happening in a place far away. When adults watch media coverage of traumatic and upsetting events it is related to their having increased stress and anxiety. In one study children had increased symptoms of post traumatic stress after watching televised impacts of violence of the Gulf War. For these reasons, among others, it is best to not watch these upsetting and even in some cases traumatic events with children, even if they are playing in the background.

Let children lead the conversation, ask questions, and offer Reassurance:

If your child is 5 years old and asks, “Daddy what is war? What is happening in the Ukraine?, Are we safe?” Most children at this age (and even older) want to know: Am I safe? Who will keep me safe? Will my day-to-day routine be affected?

It is most important that you reassure children that they are safe right now and what is happening is far away. Show them on a globe or map if you have one. Then ask them if they have other questions. Do not share more information then what they ask for. It is also important to be honest. It is ok if you say, “I do not know. I do know that you are safe right now.” With young children is it important to be simplistic. You can also share that there are people helping and trying to stop the conflict.

Let children express their feelings: If children express that they are worried and sad it is helpful to acknowledge these feelings. You can say, “yes what is happening in the Ukraine makes me feel sad. I remember that I’m safe and you are safe.” It is not helpful to say, “You don’t need to feel sad, your okay.” It is always helpful to let children know that having sad or unpleasant feelings is okay.  

Use storybooks and storytelling to help children understand stressful or traumatic events: Storybooks are relatable and helpful ways for children to understand complex issues. Through the Nebraska Extension’s Read 4 Resilience program, storybooks have been identified  to support children’s coping and understanding of their feelings after experiencing a major stressor, disaster, loss, and/or grief. Visit the website for more ideas and learn how to use reading story books with children to help cope. https://child.unl.edu/read4resilience

Watch for any Signs of Distress: When adults and events are stressful, sometimes young children will express that they are having a  difficult time through behaviors. Things to look out for in young children who may be experiencing distress from seeing these events include regression (such as starting to have accidents when fully potty trained), wanting to be around parents or caregivers more than usual, worry that something bad will happen or issues with sleeping.  It’s not uncommon to see some of these behaviors happen briefly, but if they persist, consider discussing with your pediatrician.

Take Care of Yourself and Reach Out for Support: Finally, the Ukrainian crisis affects as all. Be sure to take care of yourself, limit your own exposure to these events if needed and don’t hesitate to reach out to family, friends or a mental health professional when you need to talk.

How to Help: Many organizations are available that can help provide aid to the Ukraine. Save The Children is accepting donations and will deliver humanitarian aid to children and families in this crisis. https://www.savethechildren.org/us/where-we-work/ukraine

Otto, M. W., Henin, A., Hirshfeld-Becker, D. R., Pollack, M. H., Biederman, J., & Rosenbaum, J. F. (2007). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms following media exposure to tragic events: Impact of 9/11 on children at risk for anxiety disorders. Journal of anxiety disorders21(7), 888-902.

Joshi, P. T., Parr, A. F., & Efron, L. A. (2008). TV coverage of tragedies: what is the impact on children. Indian Pediatr45(8), 629-634.

Hilt, R. (2013). Terrorism and Disasters in the News: How to Help Kids Cope. Pediatric Annals42(6), 226.


KATIE KRAUSE, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Holly Hatton-Bowers, Early Childhood Extension Specialist and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educator

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Be Well to Teach Well with Mindfulness Practices

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As a guiding teacher for Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators (CHIME) with Nebraska Extension, I have the pleasure of guiding early childhood teachers as they learn about, explore and practice the concept of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can change our behavior. – Dr. Amy Saltzman

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”  – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Why Practice Mindfulness?

  • Research suggests it may protect individuals from the effects of adversity on mental health and physical health
  • We can alter our perceptions and reactions through interventions that teach the practice of mindfulness
  • It may improve relationships and learning

Our nation is stressed right now with concerns over our health and well-being. Early childhood professionals are not exempt. Childcare is facing many challenges including workforce development, keeping up with COVID-19, managing staff shortages, overall health concerns, financial stressors associated with the childcare business, and personal concerns that accompany low wages in early childhood.

Children benefit from teachers who are mindfully present—consciously attending and responding to their needs (Jennings et al. 2017). In other words, teachers must be well to teach well.

Through frequent and consistent practice with mindfulness, one can build the capacity to be fully aware in the moment. We can then focus more intentionally on the children in our care and begin to discover what an infant or toddler is revealing to us. We begin to observe, notice, and reflect on what is happening both for the child and inside of us. These insights create a rich environment where relationships with children, families, and colleagues are nurtured (Siegel 2007).  

Isn’t being fully present with the children in our care what we all really want?

Research shows that for mindfulness to be effective with children, it must begin with the teacher. Thus, our CHIME class focuses on learning mindful practices to move teachers from reactive states of mind to being more reflective in their interactions with others. In CHIME, the practice is frequent and consistent over the course of 8 weeks.

The Benefits for Children:

Mindfulness has been shown to help children build skills for social awareness, self-management, strong relationships, and decision-making.

In her book “The Mindful Child,” Susan Kaiser Greenland refers to the “new ABCs of learning; attention, balance, and compassion.”  In practicing mindfulness skills children learn to soothe and calm themselves, paying close attention to what is going on around them. 

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) shares Recommendations for teachers

At home:

  • Experiment with being present during an everyday activity, such as washing the dishes. Notice the temperature of the water, the feel of the suds, and the sound the water makes on the dishes. Focus your attention on your physical movements.
  • Sit for five minutes during the day and close your eyes. Pay attention to the sensations of your breathing. Count your breaths up to 10 and repeat until the five minutes are up. If your mind wanders—which it probably will—acknowledge the thoughts and bring your focus back to your breath. Try not to judge your thoughts, feelings, or sensations.

At work:

  • Before entering work, take a few moments to intentionally refocus your thoughts. Notice what emotions you are feeling or thoughts you are having. Place a hand on your heart and take a deep breath while recognizing these feelings. Then enter the room.
  • Before picking up a baby, pause to take a few deep belly breaths, and slow down. Speak to the baby about what you are doing as you reach out and interact.
  • When changing or feeding a child, pause and notice your feelings and body. Then look at the child, make eye contact, smile, and talk about the present moment.

In our Cultivating Healthy Intentional Mindful Educators (CHIME) class this week, many of the preschool teachers were eager to share how they have been practicing mindful breathing and mindful movement, and how they have incorporated some of the breathing techniques into their classroom practices as well.

NAEYC shares the following strategies for adults

  • Deep belly breathing: put your hand on your belly and inhale deeply as you count to four, feeling your belly rise. Pause at the top of your inhale, then exhale for a count of six, feeling your belly contract. Repeat five times.
  • Progressive relaxation: intentionally contract all of the muscles in your body. Beginning with your toes and moving up to your head, relax your muscles.
  • Mental body scan: beginning with your toes and moving up to your head, notice any tension in your body and intentionally relax those areas. (This technique is especially helpful to ensure that you are calm and ready before attending to a task such as a diaper change.)
  • Intentional refocusing, take a few moments to bring your mind into the present. For example, without moving, notice 10 items of the same color. Or, using your five senses, notice the sensations you are experiencing.

Zero to Three shares Mindful practices for teachers and families to try when adults or children are experiencing big emotions. It is important to first practice these strategies when children are in a state of calm, in order to use them effectively when big emotions do arise.

There also many informal ways to practice mindfulness such as paying close attention to simple daily activities, like brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. For example, when you brush your teeth, notice the feel of the brush, the taste of the toothpaste, the temperature of the water. There is no single mindfulness activity or technique that works for everyone; whatever helps direct your attention to the current moment is a great way to practice.

As you begin your mindfulness practice, The CHIME program suggests asking yourself these reflective questions,

  1. What feelings am I having? 
  2. What am I sensing in my body?  Where do I notice it?
  3. What am I noticing about my thoughts?  My actions?
  4. What urges do I feel?  What do I feel pulled toward?  Away from?
  5. Do I feel in balance?  Out of balance? 
  6. How can this help me better understand the situation (as a caregiver, parent)?
  7. What will happen if I just lean back and take a deep breath?  Another?

May you be well to teach well. What practices do you think you would like to try?

LYNN DEVRIES, EARLY CHILDHOOD EXTENSION EDUCATOR | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged and Erin Kampbell, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Santa, Please Stop Here! 4 Santa Faux Pas and How to Avoid Them

Image Source: Katie Krause

I love the holidays. I love the traditions I grew up with – that I continue with my own family – like cutting down our own tree each year. I love the new traditions we have started, like taking my birthday off at the end of November to put up Christmas lights and decorate. Being able to share these traditions our young children (2 yo and 4 yo), makes this time of year seem even more magical. While all families have their own magical moments that are important to them, I thought of one I’d like to share that has shifted for me over the years – Santa. Not every family believes or celebrates this tradition, but for those that do I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about some of the Santa-related issues I’ve been asked my perspective on by others

Scared of Santa

One of our children’s favorite traditions is to visit Santa, multiple times! Since the photos are free, and it’s nearby, we usually go several times in December. While the screaming baby on Santa’s lap may bring a few laughs, consider what that experience is like for the child. When an adult places a child on a stranger’s lap and leaves them there when they are clearly upset what message is that sending? Did you know that the brain wires for trust and mistrust during the first years of life? We want our children to be able to trust that we will keep them safe, be responsive to their needs, and honor their feelings. Is this really a big deal? Well, when children have their needs met (like, being comforted after a scary situation) routinely, it ensures the wiring in the brain will be laid down for trust. Dr. Pam Schiller says it best, “One way or another, the brain is going about its work of wiring.”

“But you do not understand, it’s a tradition to get that photo.” I hear you. Here are some other ways to still get that photo, without reinforcing a negative experience.

  • Let your child sit on a bench next to Santa (very common now), or stand next to Santa at a comfortable distance.
  • Join in – rather than handing off your child to Santa, hop in the picture too, keeping your little one safely in your arms.
  • Visit multiple times – The place we go offers a basic photo for no cost. If we go after school, there is never a line. If needed, we could probably spend a few minutes to get the kiddos a bit more comfortable.
  • Try to keep calm– the more stressed or frustrated you get, the less comfortable your children are going to be.
  • Ask your child what they prefer, “Would you like to sit or stand next to Santa? Do you want me to go with you?” Even children that are not yet verbal are able to make choices like this.
  • Prepare your child for the experience in advance. Show them pictures or videos and talk to them about what will happen. When you arrive, continue to narrate the experience for them.
Image Source: Katie Krause

Presents from Santa

Ever wonder why Santa brought you underwear, but he brought your neighbor a Nintendo?  Research has shown that children as young as four years old notice differences in social class (Heberle & Carter, 2020).  So children that are still young enough to believe in Santa may very well be able to notice the differences between the cost and quantity of presents ‘Santa’ has brought their friends. A great suggestion is that ‘Santa’ only brings one (not expensive) present and maybe fills the stockings.  Help your fellow families who might not be able to splurge over the holidays and give yourself the credit for that awesome present.

Santa is watching

We have been struggling with this one in my house lately. My husband has been doing a lot of the Santa threats, and I’ve been joining in. It might sound something like this: “Santa isn’t going to bring you presents if you don’t do xyz”, “Santa only brings presents for good kids”, “I’m going to tell Santa not to bring you a present this year”.  I even started singing ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town” the other day….yuck! What was I thinking?! I love Christmas…why on earth would I want to turn Santa into someone that can’t look past a bad day, or cancel Christmas?!

While these threats might produce a quick result, the Santa threats don’t work for long, and are often empty threats. They can also leave children feeling scared, sad, or confused. Are you really not going to give your children the present you bought them? And even if you did, young children are not old enough to connect a behavior they did a day, a week or even a month before Christmas to not getting a present Christmas morning. 

Is it not ok to cry, or be upset, or feel frustrated during the holiday season? Remember that negative behaviors are way children communicate a need and how they show us they are struggling with something. Also keep in mind, as an adult, you probably feel sad, frustrated, mad, scared, and a range of other emotions that we often view as ‘bad’ when children feel this way. You’ve had a bit more time to learn how to appropriately cope with those emotions (or sadly…how to punch them back down and put on a happy face, which is certainly not what we want to teach our children). 

Check out our other blog for some great tips on handling your kiddos Temper-tantrums and try to use Time-In J  https://learningchildblog.com/2020/05/01/temper-tantrums-and-time-in/

Is Santa even real?

There are lots of opinions for families and even from the experts regarding the idea of Santa.  Some of us just love the magic of Christmas, and Santa is a big part of that. I’ve got some friends that go all-out moving that darn little elf Every. Single. Day. However, some families are very much against the idea of Santa. Families feel that they are lying to their children if they include Santa in their holiday traditions. 

The key here is to really do what feels right for your family. Yes, some adults look back on their childhood and may have felt lied to or deceived by their parents about Santa. Others look back and have amazing memories of the magic. I’ll never forget being amazed the year I got a wooden desk with my name on it. Santa was truly magical if he could get in my house without a chimney, bring this huge thing along with him and he really did know my name!

We have no way of knowing if, or how, our children will remember these early years. We cannot stress out over trying to create ‘perfect memories’ of our children, or ourselves.  Each family needs to focus on what is meaningful for us, and be mindful of what our intentions are for the various activities we do – or do not – decide to participate in.

At the end of the day, or the end of the holiday season, the thing our children are going to remember the most is the love of their family and time spent together.

Here are some ideas you and your family might enjoy doing together.

Sesame Street: Kids Talk About Holidays

Sesame Street: The Power of We Holiday Party

4-H Holidays at Home

I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

KATIE KRAUSE EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

Resource: Heberle, A. E., & Carter, A. S. (2020). Young children’s stereotype endorsement about people in poverty: Age and economic status effects. Children and Youth Services Review108, 104605.

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Reading to Infants and Toddlers

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There are many benefits of reading to young children. Being read to helps children develop language and emotional skills. Reading also supports bonding between babies and their caregivers. The best part? It is never too early—or too late—to start reading to the children in your life! Sometimes, it can be intimidating to read to infants and toddlers. You may wonder,
“What’s the point—do they even understand?” or think, “They never sit still long enough to hear anything anyway!” However, many researchers argue that reading to children—and from a very young age—is the single most important activity you can do to prepare them to learn to read. Reading to infants and toddlers sets the stage for a later love of reading and the development of pre-reading skills.

ZERO TO THREE offers suggestions for types of books and tips  for shared reading at different stages during infancy and toddlerhood. Here are some guidelines for reading to infants and toddlers.

  • Don’t worry about finishing every book, or even reading all of the words. Focus on the bonding experience.
  • Try to read together every day.
  • Ask questions while you are reading, even if your child can’t yet respond.
  • Read new books, and also read the same books over and over. Babies learn from repetition.  
  • When books aren’t available, talk. Describe the things around you. Narrate what you are doing. Make up a story.

Common Concerns

My baby thinks the book is a snack. This is not only common, it is also appropriate! Babies learn about their environment by putting objects in their mouths to explore the taste and texture. It is also common for babies to explore by ripping. If you can, provide sturdy books that will hold up to biting and tearing. You can also provide books with flaps, mirrors, and new textures to explore.

My baby won’t sit still. This is also developmentally appropriate. Continue to read out loud, even as they move away and explore other parts of the room. Show excitement when they show interest in the book.

We don’t have access to books. Start talking! Oral storytelling is a great way to expose young children to new words and ideas. It is also a great way to share family traditions and to help children learn about their cultural identity.

My child doesn’t enjoy reading together. Be flexible. Try new ways of exploring books, such as looking at the pictures together or flipping through to the pages your child likes. Don’t force your child to sit and focus only on the book; allow them to crawl around or engage with other toys. The goal is to keep the reading experience positive.

Resources


AMY NAPOLI, EXTENSION SPECIALIST | UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA

Peer Reviewed by Jackie Steffen and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators

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Gratitude is Always in Season

Image Source: Lynn DeVries

What is Gratitude

Let’s pause for a moment to examine the definition of gratitude. The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, practicing gratitude supports social emotional learning competencies for social and self-awareness.

Research has shown there are many benefits to practicing gratitude. In a study by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, they asked participants to journal on specific topics over the course of 10 weeks. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). The people who journaled about gratitude were found to have improvements in health and well-being, including increased energy levels, improvement in sleep quality, lowered blood pressure, less symptoms of pain, and feeling a greater sense of joy. Click here to read more on how Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness.

Gratitude as a Mindful Practice

Practicing mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabit-Zinn). Another definition states, “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity, so that we can choose our behavior” (Dr. Amy Saltzman). Practicing gratitude can bring you to a more present-moment awareness and similarly, gratitude can lead to living in the present.

Mindfulness in Gratitude is the topic of the week for a class I am teaching for childcare professionals, Cultivating Healthy, Intentional, Mindful Educators (CHIME). The CHIME Program provides education and guidance on how to incorporate mindfulness and reflective practice into your daily routine, teaching and care giving. Engaging in mindfulness and reflective practice has many benefits for health and well-being of both providers and young children — including reduced stress, improved emotion management, better sleep quality, increased focus and attention, and enhanced relationships.

In my CHIME class, participants kept a gratitude journal for two weeks. After the two weeks, the early childhood teachers also noted a sense of greater happiness amongst themselves and others in their workplace. Another activity I modeled in the CHIME class was to make a gratitude necklace or bracelet. We selected beads that resembled a person or thing we are grateful for and shared among the group as we strung the beads. For example, I chose the blue bead as I am thankful for the fair weather and clear blue skies. The teachers will replicate this activity with preschool children.

Harvard Medical School suggests Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier and “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

WAYS TO NURTURE GRATITUDE

Writing Thank-you-Notes or Emails

This practice can cultivate your relationships with others and help you to feel happier too. Don’t forget to send or deliver the message personally. I keep a bulletin board in my office, and it has pinned to it the special thank you notes that others have written to me. This little gesture of gratitude is a gift to the heart.

Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal

Keep the journal where it is handy to reach at a specific time each day, perhaps in the morning or in the evening. Write down 1, 2, or 3 things you can be grateful for each day. The things you write about do not have to be grandiose things or events, it can be the little things, hidden often in plain sight. It is important to stop and reflect on how this practice is going after about 2 weeks. What do you notice about your health and well-being?

Pray or Consider Thanking a Higher Power

Consider the practice of thanking a higher power to cultivating gratitude.

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a Gratitude Meditation Practice centered on what you are grateful for.

GRATITUDE PRACTICES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN


Julie A Reiss, author of Raising a Thankful Child from NAEYC says, “Teaching manners is a fine art of modeling but not always the making of meaning. Raising thankful children is a fine art of helping them make their own meaning.” We can model manners and ways to say thank you when appropriate, but it may not have meaning for children until later. Reiss suggests that learning to say thank you is not the same as being thankful, and that our role as caregivers is to model appreciation and reflect those genuine feelings back to the child.

What Does Modeling Gratitude Look Like for Young Children?

Here are some suggestions from Rebecca Parlakian and Sarah S. MacLaughlin, Nurturing Gratitude (Zero to Three, 2020)

  • Show appreciation to your children. Slow down and observe more closely. You’ll see things you appreciate about your kids—then tell them! Appreciation can be an even more powerful motivator than praise. Sharing appreciation is a strong way to feel connected to one another.
  • Show appreciation for others. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions. Your children are paying attention to the way you treat others, whether it’s friends, neighbors, a teacher, or the cashier at the market. They hear your tone with the salesperson on the phone. You set a great example when you model kindness, generosity, and gratefulness in your own everyday interactions.
  • Use the word “grateful.” Children need to learn what this new word means. Explain that being grateful is noticing something in your life that makes you happy. “I’m grateful that it’s sunny today because it was raining yesterday.” Mention gratitude when you’re doing an everyday pleasant activity, like hanging out at the playground or eating watermelon on a hot day. Pause and say, “I’m so grateful for this day!” or “Wow, this is fun!” Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
  • Make a Thankful Tree. Cut a tree trunk from cardboard or construction paper. Tape to a wall or window and cut out some leaf shapes. Ask your child to think of something they are thankful for and write one on each leaf. Then tape the leaf to a branch. Add your own “thankful things.” Have your child ask family members what they’re grateful for and add them to the tree.
  • Share stories of thankfulness, gratitude, and generosity.

As with any mindfulness practice, mindful gratitude practice does take time. The benefits may not emerge immediately, but rather gradually occur over time, and children will need to be exposed to genuine appreciation and to feel appreciated themselves. How do you practice gratitude?


LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Amy Napoli , Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist and Kara Kohel Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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GETTING ACTIVE AFTER PREGNANCY


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Regular physical activity is important for everyone’s overall health and well-being, including that of new mothers. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), physical activity after childbirth may help prevent postpartum depression, provide for higher quality sleep, increase energy, and decrease stress.

When can I introduce physical activity after giving birth?

If you recently gave birth and feel ready to increase your physical activity level, it is important to gain approval from your doctor before engaging in your desired type of activity. It can take time for muscles and tissues to heal after giving birth. Women who experienced a pregnancy and vaginal delivery free of complications may find that their doctor approves them for gentle activity quite soon after birth. Women who had a Caesarean section should be in contact with their doctor about a timeline for introducing physical activity.

My doctor says I am ready for physical activity. What type should I do?

Ask your doctor for tips on what types of activity or exercise are best for you and if there is anything you need to avoid or build up to more slowly. Aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity are both important for health.

Aerobic Activity

An example of an aerobic activity is walking. Walking while pushing your baby in a stroller is good for both you and your baby and serves as an excellent place to start. You can easily adjust speed and distance to match how you are feeling.


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Muscle Strengthening

Examples of muscle strengthening activities are weightlifting, Pilates, or sit ups. Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial and should be introduced with thoughtful consideration. Be aware that many traditional abdominal exercises can be a bit too strenuous soon after pregnancy. Seeking modifications for muscle strengthening exercises is important for the first few months after giving birth, even if you are feeling strong enough. Muscles and connective tissue can take weeks to heal and regain strength. Be kind to yourself and start slow—your body needs time.

How much and how intensely should I exercise?

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. It can be helpful to break down the time into 10, 20, or 30-minute intervals most days. Use how you are feeling as a guide for determining length of time. Begin with 10-minute intervals of lighter-intensity activity like slow walks. Gradually working up to moderate intensity exercises like brisk walks will help you safely increase your fitness.

A guide to determining the intensity of your favorite activity is to notice your heart rate and breathing. Moderate-intensity exercise will increase your heart rate and breathing. You may notice you can talk normally but singing would be difficult. When engaging in vigorous-intensity exercise, you will begin to notice that it is hard to speak without taking a pause for breath. If you were exercising at a vigorous level before your pregnancy, you will likely be able to gradually increase your exercise until you return to pre-pregnancy levels.

To enjoy benefits from physical activity like decreased stress, higher quality sleep, and more energy, after your pregnancy, choose activities that you enjoy and do them regularly. Take it slow, listen to your body, and have fun!

Click here to read about exercising during pregnancy.

https://learningchildblog.com/category/family/exercise/

Click here for ideas on being active with your family.

https://food.unl.edu/free-resources/newsletters/family-fun-on-the-run

Click here for a guide on child development, learning, and more.

https://learningbeginsatbirth.org/resources/

References

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-after-pregnancy

USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, p. 119

https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf

ERIN KAMPBELL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Jaci Foged, Jackie Steffen, LaDonna Werth, and Lynn DeVries Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Adaptability and Stability: Changing and Maintaining Traditions, Rituals, and Routines During a COVID-19 Holiday Season

Image Source: by K Kohel in Canva

Traditions, rituals, and routines are good for all of us. They contribute to a shared sense of meaning, increase our connection to others, and can even support resilience in difficult or stressful times. The winter holiday season is one that is looked forward to by many families and young children. Various traditions bring family and friends of all ages together to share meals, exchange gifts, and simply be in the presence of loved ones.

The 2020 holiday season is not exempt from the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this holiday season may be experienced differently by many of our readers, and we want to acknowledge any feelings of confusion, frustration, sadness, or anger that you may be experiencing. We hope this blog provides encouragement and a few ideas for connecting with loved ones and making this a meaningful holiday season.

Young children are often more perceptive of adult emotions than we expect. They may not understand why the adults in their lives are upset, but they can sense that something is not quite right. As adults, it is important that we model emotional awareness and self-regulation for young children and invite them into conversations about emotions. Read for Resilience is a Learning Child program that is free and available to all through our website. This program aims to help adults and children share conversations about difficult topics through the process of reading and discussing storybooks.

If this holiday season is made more difficult due to loss or feelings of grief, sadness, and frustration, consider a ritual that acknowledges those feelings and helps your family share them together. For example, if you have lost a loved one this year, consider making a special ornament to hang on your tree with their picture or a symbol that reminds you of their life. Use the hanging of this ornament as a special time to share memories of that person.

Although your traditions may look different this year, it is still important to connect with loved ones. If you are “gathering” with your family online, consider having a conversation with your children about why your traditions are important to you and your family. Ask older members of the family to share how some traditions have been passed down and others have changed over the years. Encourage older family members to reminisce about the holidays when they were children, and have young children talk about how things are both the same and different than they used to be. Have all members take time to share what they are grateful for. These intentional conversations help build relationships among the many generations in your family.

Finally, many families and communities of different backgrounds have special celebrations that occur throughout the year. In addition to celebrating your family’s treasured traditions – perhaps in new ways – consider taking the time to learn about the traditions and holidays of others.

Image source: by K Kohel, in Canva

For more on routines, rituals, and traditions during the holiday season, check out these other Learning Child blog posts:

  1. Teaching Kindness and Giving with a Holiday Twist
  2. Connect with Your Children this Holiday Season
  3. Tips to Manage Holiday Stress
  4. The Power of Storytelling
  5. Keeping Routines is the Secret to a Calm Holiday

And these additional resources (also linked in the blog):

  1. How Important is Thanksgiving Soup to a Child’s Wellbeing?
  2. Creating Routines for Love and Learning
  3. Let’s Use this Time to Strengthen, Not Weaken, Bonds Between Generations

Staying Connected During Social Distancing

KARA KOHEL, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, , Lisa Poppe, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educators, The Learning Child

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Exercising While Pregnant

Image source: iStock.com / jacoblund

In the past, pregnant women were told to take it easy when it came to exercise. However, now that there is more known about it, exercising while pregnant is shown to be good for both the mom and baby.

What are the Benefits?

  • Not only does exercise benefit the body, but the brain, too! It increases the amount of blood flow, which leads the body to create more blood vessels. In turn, the brain is then given more access to oxygen and energy.
  • The moms who exercise will usually be more physically fit and will potentially be less likely to have a C-section and possibly will recover more quickly after the baby arrives.

Cardio or Weights?

  • Some of both is great, but if you are short on time, stick with the cardio. Aerobic exercise has a better effect on the brain. One great way to get a work out in is swimming. It works your entire body and the water helps by supporting your weight. Simply walking around in the pool will make you feel better, and your swollen ankles will, too! If you are more of a runner, that also totally works. The main thing is that you are getting some sort of exercise to better you and your baby’s health.

How hard should I push it?

  • The number one tip is to simply listen to your body. Don’t be afraid to push yourself and get some sweat dripping, but make sure to stay in tune with your body and know when it is time to lay off a bit. As the pregnancy goes on and you get closer to your due date, your body will probably be ready for a little easier workout, but it varies for every pregnant woman so that is why it is so important to listen to your body.

In the end, it is simply important to be active to help better your health and your baby’s. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise or physical activity.

Source:

Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Culturing Creativity

Image source: Lynn DeVries, Learning Child Educator

In a world that is filled with devices and such to prevent boredom and children spending more and more time inside looking at a screen rather than outside playing, children have started to lose time for creativity. The imagination is such a wonderful thing when it is used, and as parents, it is our job to push our children to expand their imagination. With that, here are a few easy ways to culture creativity.

Painting Station

Now, I realize giving a young child paint is not always the most appealing idea, but this can either be done outside where you don’t have to worry much about the mess, or get paint that is easily cleanable. Having a blank paper sheet forces them to paint whatever comes to mind and it can help them express themselves though art. You can even grab a sheet for yourself and paint with your child!

Sidewalk Chalk

Another great way to use art for your children to show their creativity is sidewalk chalk. It gets them outside which opens doors to so much creativity. Like painting, they can use the chalk to portray what they are feeling, thinking, or dreaming about. Not to mention, it easily comes off with water and that’s good news for us!

Nature Walk

A nature walk is exactly what it sounds like: taking a walk in nature. Strolling through your neighborhood or even just sitting in your lawn serves as a way to strengthen your child’s listening skills and offers growth in creativity as they try to decide which animal, vehicle, etc. made the noise they heard.

I know it can be easier to just hand over the social device to your child simply because we, as parents, need some quiet time, but are we doing that so much to as limit our child’s creativity? I’m not saying we cannot ever do it, but it’s important to keep a good balance so they can develop their imagination.

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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Parenting Style 101

Image Source: Lynn DeVries, Learning Child Educator

There are four well-known parenting styles, all of which can lead to a different type of child. Now, using a specific parenting style doesn’t guarantee a certain type of child because we only have so much influence, but it definitely has an effect on the outcome. There is one parenting style that tends to produce children who are more self-confident, more socially competent, and less anxious, and that style is referred to as “democratic.” Here are some of the tactics and results of each style:

Authoritarian Style

  • firm but not warm
  • expect their orders to be obeyed no matter what (“Why? Because I said so”)
  • children usually well-behaved, but less able to form self-regulation skills
  • children tend to lack in moral-reasoning abilities due to their sense of right and wrong coming from external forces rather than internal beliefs

Democratic Style

  • firm and warm
  • model respect
  • promote individuality and self-assertion (they create boundaries and when those are crossed, they find out why and work together with their child to solve the problem)
  • goal is to guide, not punish
  • aim to raise a young adult who has self-control, problem-solving skills, emotional awareness, and solid internal beliefs

Permissive Style

  • warm but not firm
  • nurturing and communicative, but also lenient
  • avoid confrontation and hesitant to stand by their rules
  • children tend to have inflated sense of self
  • children are often more impulsive, more likely to cause trouble in school, and more likely to be a victim of drug and alcohol abuse

Uninvolved

  • neither firm nor warm
  • provide basic necessities for children, but otherwise unconcerned
  • children most likely to be delinquent

As I said before, one style won’t automatically result in a certain type of child, but it is something to consider and reflect on. Now that you know what each consist of, what kind of parenting style do you use?

Source:

Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

LA DONNA WERTH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Leanne Manning, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

Make sure to follow The Learning Child on social media for more research-based early childhood education resources!

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