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We Didn’t Start the Fire!

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 05/18/18

Reviewing fire safety with your kids can prepare them if a fire happens at home or at school. Below are five safety and prevention topics to review with your kids this month.

  1. Don’t play with matches
    Children should NEVER play with matches or lighters. Matches or lighters can burn children (and adults) quickly and start unnecessary fires. Be sure to tell your children to find an adult if they do find a match or lighter.
  2. Make a family fire safety plan
    Where do you go if there is a fire in the house? What do you do if a fire catches in your room? How can fires be avoided? These are just a few questions to go over with your kids. Create a family fire safety plan and practice it. This will help your kids be prepared and know how to react in the event of an emergency.
  3. Never go back inside a burning building
    Stress to your kids the importance of not running back into a burning building. Even if their favorite toy is left behind. The toy can be replaced, they can’t.
  4. Stop, drop and roll
    What do you do if your shirt catches fire? Stop, drop to the ground, and roll around until the fire is extinguished. Encourage children not to panic and follow these three steps.
  5. Review emergency phone numbers
    Who should your kids call if you get separated or they are home alone? Review 911, family and friends’ emergency contacts. It’s also helpful to post these numbers on the fridge or another place the kids can easily find them.

How to keep your kids busy over the summer

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 05/05/18

Keeping your kids busy over the summer can be a real challenge.

We’ve all felt the lure of just plopping them down in front of the TV or tablet, but we know that we can’t let that be their only source of entertainment. Here at Stonewall Day Care, we believe it’s important to not only keep your kids entertained, but also to help them take the steps needed to discover the joy of learning. Here are four activities that can ensure your kids never get bored this summer!

Explore the library

The library is a great resource for parents to find things to do with their kids. Not only can you kill a few hours in the cool comfort of air conditioning while finding and reading books that will stimulate your child’s brain, but many libraries often offer social and learning activities such as story time, art classes, and more. We think this is so important that we’ve partnered with Harford County Public Library, and a librarian comes to our center regularly to read to our children!

Get up and move!

It can be challenging to feel motivated to take your child to a playground or park when it’s so hot out. But they really need to expend their energy. Thankfully, there are some good indoor activities you might consider doing with your young one. Maybe try a little yoga or dance. Or even some basic Pilates and stretching exercises. Heck, even a friendly pillow fight can get them off the couch. By getting them to move even just for 30 minutes each day, you can help them spend that extra energy. Your child will likely sleep better, which also means you will likely sleep better.

Get in touch with your child’s inner artist

Arts and crafts projects are fun year-round, and summer is definitely no exception! Create some opportunities for your child to develop their sense of self-expression with some fun summer-themed art projects. For example, you may have them make and paint a fan out of construction paper or keep cool with ice painting!

Get cooking!

For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting  smilingstarsdaycare.com.

If You’re Expecting, Now’s The Time To Look For Childcare!

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 04/28/18

Attention parents-to-be: Don’t wait until your baby is born to look for childcare.

If you choose to wait, there’s a strong possibility that you won’t find an infant daycare program that meets your needs. Infant care tends to book up fairly fast and several months in advance. In order to find one that meets all your needs, it’s essential to start looking as early as possible, and not wait until the week before you head back to work.

Finding a daycare so far in advance can be challenging. While it might seem as “just one more thing to do” as an expecting parent, it’s a crucial step to ensuring your child’s earliest years are filled with the quality of love and care as good as what you give.

So what exactly should you look for in an infant daycare program? Here are some tips to help you find the one that’s right for you and your child.

Get philosophical

This might sound a little over-the-top, but how you raise your child—and how you expect caregivers to raise your child—is a very philosophical choice. Do you prefer an environment where your infant is stimulated by toys or by TVs? Do you prefer an environment where caregivers try to comfort crying babies, or where they let them cry until they’re quiet? Do you want a caregiver to read to your child or play soothing music during naptime? Whatever your philosophy is on parenting, it’s essential to find a daycare that aligns with it.

Put quality care over convenience

Time and again, we’ve seen new parents chose a daycare that’s right around the corner from them. As great as the convenience of having your childcare close to home, it shouldn’t be the only factor in your decision. Finding a place that actually provides the level of care you expect for your child should take a higher priority than whether the facility is easy to get to. Of course, it’s great if you can find a place that meets both criteria, but if you have to choose, we recommend going with the one that provides higher quality.

See the daycare for yourself

The best way to judge the quality your child will receive is to visit the daycare. Get a sense of how clean the place is, how organized it is. Are there toys scattered everywhere, or are they put away neatly. Are the infants cared for with older toddlers, or separately? Try to observe how the employees interact with and care for the children. Do they seem nurturing and loving? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their daily routines and schedules.

Check qualifications and references

Just as you would if you were hiring an employee, it’s a good idea to ask for and check a daycare employees qualifications and references. Is the daycare licensed and accredited, or is it in someone’s home? Don’t be shy about asking for references as well as questions about staff qualifications and turnover, but also be sure to look up reviews online. Lastly, be sure to check the Maryland State Department of Education’s website for any code violations or negative reports on the school (we’re proud to say Stonewall Daycare has none!).

Learn the policies

Daycare policies can vary from business to business, so be sure you learn what the policies are before you enroll your child. This will help to ensure you understand what to expect from the daycare in the event your child is sick or needs special attention. It’ll also help you understand what your responsibilities will be to the daycare, in terms of supplies needed (diapers, wipes, food, bibs, etc.) and other important factors that contribute to your baby’s safety and comfort.

For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting  smilingstarsdaycare.com.

How To Get Your Child To Eat Healthy

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 04/21/18

Getting your children to eat right is a constant struggle for many parents. Kids can be picky eaters, and getting them to try new things or even eat generally healthy meals and snacks can be a real challenge. It’s often easier to give them something we know they’ll like, but that may not be as nutritious for them. However, developing good eating habits is essential to both a child’s mental development and long-term health.

Today, about one in three children in the U.S. are considered obese, triple what it was 45 years ago in the early 1970s. Obesity is linked to a wide variety of health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and others.

Here are a few tips for ensuring your child develops some healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.

Talk About Eating Healthy

One of the most important things we can do with our children is to talk to them about eating healthy. Even if they’re just learning to talk, it’s a good practice to tell your kids about your food choices and why you’ve picked them. Don’t worry if they don’t understand it all. Just talking about making healthy choices will help them develop a frame of reference and learn the behavior.

Sneak In The Greens

Now, we’re suggesting you lie to your child—like telling them broccoli is chocolate. However, it’s entirely possible to sneak more vegetables into their snacks, packing in an extra dose of brain-boosting nutrients, without sacrificing your child’s taste buds. For example, there are many easy-to-make recipes for zucchini bread. You can also mix veggies into homemade chocolate chip cookies. Or how about avocado chocolate pudding? Fruit smoothies are also pretty easy to make, and always a kid favourite. And if you don’t have time for these options, there are a number of healthy snacks on the market that are a good alternative to potato chips.

Read A Book About Healthy Eating

There are no shortage of books for infants and toddlers about healthy eating. Even reading a picture book with different vegetables and fruit in it will help your child develop an awareness of the healthier options out there. And the books for toddlers and older children will teach them about making good food choices in an entertaining manner. Plus, reading with your child is never a bad thing when it comes to development!


For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting  smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Common Vitamin Found to Reduce Autism Risk

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 04/14/18

Autism affects one in 88 children just in the United States!  So it's no wonder parents are always looking for ways to reduce their child's risk of being diagnosed.


A new Norwegian study has found that a common vitamin-- folic acid-- can help reduce an unborn child's risk of autism by nearly 40 percent when it is taken within the first few months of pregnancy.


The study found that women who took between 200 and 400 micrograms a day from up to one month before conception to two months after, had a 39 percent lower chance of their child having autism.


Although the findings are still in the preliminary stages, and scientists do not yet know how folic acid help protect against autism, the amount that needs to be taken for the protection, or if it needs to be taken as part of a prenatal multivitamin, but the findings are encouraging amid the skyrocketing autism rates every year.


The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending folic acid as part of a prenatal multivitamin regimen in the 1990s, since it was found to help protect against birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, including spina bifida. Since then, there has been a 26 percent decrease in spina bifida cases nationwide.


Although folic acid is not thought to be a magic pill that will guarantee protection against autism (genetics and environmental factors are also thought to play a role), it does serve as a precautionary step to help reduce an unborn child's odds of being diagnosed.


For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Help! I miss my child when she's at school!

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 04/07/18

You’ve probably put a lot of thought and effort into helping your child adjust to school for the first time. And maybe you’ve been looking forward to your new freedom. But if you’re like most parents, you’ve found yourself wiping away a tear or two as well. So for a little help managing your own separation anxiety, here’s my 12 Step Program for Moms (and Dads, too)!

1. Develop goodbye rituals.

They help your child know what to expect, so she feels more  confident. And they comfort you, as well as your child. Do the same thing, in the same order, every day. So maybe a hug and a rhyme: "I love you, you love me, have the most fun ever and I'll pick you up at three!" and you wave as you leave. 

2. Honor your feelings.

Your job as a mom is to be there for your child and protect him. You work hard to have a close relationship with him. Of course you feel sad when you separate, and a bit worried about whether he will be ok. Don't be embarrassed. Nature designed you that way!

3. Manage your own feelings privately...

So that you can reassure your child that there’s nothing to be upset about. Kids pick up our cues. You can’t expect your child to look forward to playing with the other kids in preschool if you have tears in your eyes as you say goodbye. If separating from your child triggers your own issues, use the opportunity to work them through with a counselor.

4. Help your child make a smooth adjustment.

Any parent gets upset when her kid wails and clutches her. But remember that most kids have some separation anxiety they have to work through, and don’t over-react. It makes things harder for your child, and for you. Don't tell your child you'll be in the parking lot in case he needs you -- that just makes it hard for him to settle into the classroom. Instead, say that you will be back to pick him up at a given time. You can always listen outside the classroom (without him knowing you're there) to see when he stops crying, and to hear how the teacher is dealing with his upset.

5. Have faith in your child, and in nature.

Nature designed kids to hang onto their parents for protection, but to start exploring once they feel safe. Worrying about leaving your child at school is a way of saying you don’t believe he can cope. As long as you have confidence in the caregiver – and why would you leave him with a caregiver in whom you don’t have confidence? -- then you can have faith in your child’s inner strength to rise to the occasion and grow.

6. Get to know the caregiver or teacher.

Naturally it’s hard to relax if you don’t really know the person with whom you’re leaving your child. Before you enrolled your child, hopefully you had a discussion with the caregiver about how they handle a child's separation sadness. (An experienced teacher knows that many children will naturally feel sad at saying goodbye, and those children need comfort. Once they bond with the teacher, they will feel much more comfortable saying letting go of parents.) Engage in brief chats as you pick your child up, send notes of appreciation, let her know about anything big that’s going on in your child’s life.

7. Make sure you’re a few minutes early to pick your child up at school.

Not seeing you immediately will exacerbate any anxieties your child has and may panic her altogether, which will set back your own adjustment. If your child cries when you pick her up, don’t worry. You’re seeing the stress of her having to keep it together all day. Your return signals that it’s safe to be her baby-self again. (We all have baby-selves, but as we get older our executive selves assume control in the outside world.)

8. Reinforce the bond.

Make sure you spend special time every day after school with your child so she knows she still matters to you. Take every opportunity to connect physically; she’s spent the day being as grown-up as she can, and needs the reassurance of snuggle time with a parent. Be sure you do some physical roughhousing to get your child laughing every afternoon; it helps both of you work through the tension of the separation.

9. If your child is having trouble adjusting, intervene.

You’re not likely to feel happy saying goodbye to your child if he seems to be dreading school. First, talk to the teacher or caregiver. See if she can give him a special job when he arrives. Suggest that he needs to bond with her more, and ask if there are ways she can make that happen. If the problem drags on and you don’t have confidence in the caregiver, consider other options. (For more on helping your child adjust to school and helping your toddler with separation anxiety.)

10. Get organized at night for the next morning and get enough sleep.

If you’re grumpy or rushing, you’ll be impatient with your kids. It’s hard for all of you to feel good about saying goodbye and heading off into the day from a mood of emotional upheaval. On the days when you're stressed and "can't be late" to make your big presentation, you can count on your child picking up your stress and clinging. So on those days, get up earlier yourself so you can be ready early, which will help you stay relaxed as you get your child out of the house. 

11. Make a list of things you can’t wait to do.

Make a list of things you can’t wait to do with any extra time you’ll have, like catching up at work, meditating, working out more or finally tackling that big project you've been putting off. Make sure you give yourself at least one act of true self-nurturing every day, whether that’s a long bath, lunch with a friend, or reading a novel before bed.

12. Get a life.

Most parents realize that we need other things we’re passionate about besides our children, so we aren't living through them. That's not good for the kids, or for us. But I would take this a step further and say that our most important responsibility as parents is to maintain a sense of well-being, so that we can be emotionally generous with our children.

Being a parent is the second most important job you will ever have (even if someday you are the President of the United States) because you are responsible for nurturing a human being, whose very brain is taking shape in response to your interactions.

So what’s the most important job? Nurturing yourself, because growing up is never finished, and sooner or later we all have to pick up where our parents left off. Sure, others can help, but you’re the only one who has the job of making sure you're well taken care of. How else will you keep growing and be the person and parent you want to be? Why not take this opportunity to become even more loving and nurturing with yourself?

For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting  smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Why Kids Need Routines

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 03/31/18

Why do kids need routines?

Because routines give them a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.

Humans are afraid of many things, but "the unknown" edges out everything except death and public speaking for most people.

Children’s fear of the unknown includes everything from a suspicious new vegetable to a major change in their life. Unfortunately, children are confronted with change daily, which is a growth opportunity, but also stressful.

The very definition of growing up is that their own bodies change on them constantly. Babies and toddlers give up pacifiers, bottles, breasts, cribs, their standing as the baby of the house. New teachers and classmates come and go every year. They tackle and learn new skills and information at an astonishing pace, from reading and crossing the street to soccer and riding a bike. Few children live in the same house during their entire childhood; most move several times, often to new cities and certainly to new neighborhoods and schools.

And few of these changes are within the child’s control.

Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives. As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes: walking to school by themselves, paying for a purchase at the store, going to sleepaway camp.

Unpredictable changes – Mom called away on an unexpected business trip, a best friend moving, or more drastic, parents divorcing or a grandparent dying – erode this sense of safety and mastery and leave the child feeling anxious and less able to cope with the vicissitudes of life. Of course, many changes can't be avoided. But that's why we offer children a predictable routine as a foundation in their lives--so they can rise to the occasion to handle big changes when they need to.

While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well. Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments.

Kids who come from chaotic homes where belongings aren’t put away never learn that life can run more smoothly if things are organized a little. In homes where there is no set time or space to do homework, kids never learn how to sit themselves down to accomplish an unpleasant task. Kids who don’t develop basic self-care routines, from grooming to food, may find it hard to take care of themselves as young adults. Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.

Won’t too much structure dull our sense of spontaneity and creativity?

Sure, if it's imposed without sensitivity. There are times when rules are made to be broken, like staying up late to see an eclipse, or leaving the dinner dishes in the sink to play charades. But even the most creative artists start by mastering the conventions of the past, and find the pinnacle of their expression in working within the confines of specific rules.

There's no reason structure has to be oppressive. Think of it as your friend, offering the little routines and traditions that make life both easier and cozier. Not only will your kids will soak up the security, they'll internalize the ability to structure their own lives.

Does this mean infants should be put on routines as early as possible?

NO! Infants tell us what they need. We feed them when they're hungry, change them when they're wet. Over time, they learn the first step of a routine: We sleep at night. But forcing an infant to accommodate to our routine is not responsive to your infant's needs. She is not capable of adapting to yours yet. If her needs aren't met, she will simply feel as if the world is a place where her needs don't get met, so she has to resort to drama to try to meet them.

As your infant moves into babyhood, she will establish her own routine, settling into a schedule of sorts. Most babies settle into a fairly predictable pattern. We can help them with this by structuring our day around their needs, so, for instance, we make sure conditions are appropriate for her nap at the time she usually sleeps. Gradually, over time, we can respond to her natural schedule of eating and sleeping by developing a routine that works for her and for the whole family.

Seven Benefits of Using Routines with Your Kids

1. Routines eliminate power struggles

Routines eliminate power struggles because you aren't bossing the child around. This activity (brushing teeth, napping, turning off the TV to come to dinner) is just what we do at this time of day. The parent stops being the bad guy, and nagging is greatly reduced.

2. Routines help kids cooperate

Routines help kids cooperate by reducing stress and anxiety for everyone. We all know what comes next, we get fair warning for transitions, and no one feels pushed around, or like parents are being arbitrary.

3. Routines help kids learn to take charge of their own activities.

Over time, kids learn to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc., without constant reminders. Kids love being in charge of themselves. This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence. Kids who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be oppositional.

4. Kids learn the concept of "looking forward" to things they enjoy...

...which is an important part of making a happy accommodation with the demands of a schedule. He may want to go to the playground now, but he can learn that we always go to the playground in the afternoon, and he can look forward to it then.

5. Regular routines help kids get on a schedule

Regular routines help kids get on a schedule, so that they fall asleep more easily at night.

6. Routines help parents build in those precious connection moments.

We all know that we need to connect with our children every day, but when our focus is on moving kids through the schedule to get them to bed, we miss out on opportunities to connect. If we build little connection rituals into our routine, they become habit. Try a snuggle with each child when you first see them in the morning, or a "recognition" ritual when you're first reunited:

"I see you with those beautiful gray eyes that I love so much!" or a naming ritual as you dry him after the bath: "Let's dry your toes...your calf...your knee...your thigh....your penis....your belly ..."

Rituals like these slow you down and connect you on a visceral level with your child, and if you do them as just "part of the routine" they build security as well as connection and cooperation.

7. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations.

If everything is a fight, parents end up settling: more TV, skip brushing teeth for tonight, etc. With a routine, parents are more likely to stick to healthy expectations for everyone in the family, because that's just the way we do things in our household. The result: a family with healthy habits, where everything runs more smoothly!

For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting smilingstarsdaycare.com.

5 Secrets To Nurture Intimacy with Your Child

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 03/24/18

Intimacy is the glue that holds families together. It's what connects us over the years, and across the miles. It's what gets us through the hard times. It's the grease that smooths the rough interactions of everyday life, and the honey that makes it all worth it.

Intimacy is hard to define, but we all know when we're feeling it. Whether it's snuggling in companionable silence with your partner or crying on your best friend's shoulder, intimacy is when we feel connected.

How we humans build connections with each other, how we deepen them, and how we repair them when they fray is both as simple as a warm smile and as mysterious as the way the ground lurches when we see a picture of someone we have loved and lost.

John Gottman, one of my favorite researchers, has distilled the creating of intimate relationships down to their practical essence. It turns out that the building blocks of connection are the small overtures we make to each other every day, and the way our loved ones respond. Gottman calls these bids, as in "bids for attention." We could also call them overtures, as in opening movements.

In happy relationships, whether between romantic partners, parents and children, friends, or coworkers, bids are made and responded to warmly. It almost doesn't matter what the bid is about; the process of reaching out and receiving a response builds the relationship. It also increases the trust level so that we are more likely to reach out to that person again, and the content of the bids deepens.

If we begin with "I'm worried about XYZ" and receive an empathic response, we're likely to elaborate and maybe ask our partner for support. Our trust in reaching out is rewarded with caring. We both end the interaction feeling closer. If, on the other hand, our comment is ignored, or greeted with anything that doesn't feel empathic, we're unlikely to make ourselves vulnerable, and the relationship loses a chance to deepen. In fact, we're hurt, so a little wall gets built.

The same process is enacted with our children in hundreds of daily interactions. If we ask our middle schooler about the upcoming school dance and receive an engaged response, we might venture further and ask whether she's nervous. If, on the other hand, her response is surly, most of us will back off.

And, of course, our children often test us by saying something negative to see if we'll empathize. If we don't, they hold those feelings inside.

So how can you create a closer relationship with your child?

1. Notice your child's bids to you.

The inconvenient thing about a bid from your child is that they initiate whenever they want to, and you can count on being busy doing something else. It takes real self-discipline to tear yourself away from your screen to answer a child's question, but how you respond to his overture is crucial in building closeness. Later, when you try to get him to tell you about what happened at school today, that's your bid, and by then, he's shut down. To support yourself, make it a practice to turn off your screens when you're with your child.

2. Train yourself to respond with empathy, no matter what the comment is.

If your daughter climbs into the car after school and greets you with a negative comment like "Dad, you know I hate that music, can't we listen to my music?" or "Mom, I had a terrible day and it's all your fault because you...." that's a setup for an argument. But it's also a bid; she's asking if you'll commiserate with her, if you care about what matters to her, if you'll listen to her tale of woe so she can process all that upset. You're only human, so naturally you feel like snapping at her. But if you can take a deep breath and respond with empathy, you'll find you can turn the entire situation around. So you might say:"Really, you don't like the Rolling Stones? I guess this is a little loud....Okay, I'll turn this off and we can talk while we drive about what music to play so we can find something we both like."

"Wow, you sound like you had a really terrible day! Tell me about it."

Later, of course, you can ask if she really thinks her terrible day was all your fault. She'll almost certainly sheepishly apologize. In the meantime, instead of a fight, you've deepened your relationship.

3. If you don't get the response you want when you reach out, step back and watch how you initiate.

Are you inviting a positive response? If what you want is connection, don't start with correction. Always connect before you correct.

4. If you make an overture and are greeted with something hurtful -- disdain, sarcasm, or blankness -- try not to respond with anger. Instead, show your vulnerability and hurt.

Say "Ouch!" and turn away (before you give in to the temptation to lash out.) Your son or daughter (or spouse!) will almost certainly feel badly about having hurt you, especially since you haven't aroused their ire by attacking back. Later, when you aren't hurt and angry, you can tell them how it made you feel to get that response. Try to talk only about your feelings, not about them being wrong.

5. Make time for intimate interactions in your schedule.

Often, we go whole days or even weeks just moving our kids through the schedule, without taking time to really connect. And most parents can't imagine where they would find more time to connect. So look for opportunities that are already in your schedule, where you can slow down and create an opportunity for closeness. Maybe that's when you help her with her clothes in the morning, and take lots of time for hugs and kisses, or when you're in the car with just one child in the afternoon, or bedtime when you lie with your child for ten minutes. 

Intimacy is a dance. It deepens or is eroded by every interaction we have. The good news? That means that every interaction you have is a chance to shift onto a positive track and deepen your connection to your loved ones. Just paying attention for a week to how you respond when your children reach out to you can shift the whole tone in your family.


For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Games for Connection and Emotional Intelligence

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 03/18/18

"Play can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child. Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful Parenting is a way to enter a child's world, on the child's terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection." 


I know, you think you hate playing with your child. But what if I gave you permission to set a timer and forget about your To-Do list and just connect with your child for ten minutes? What if I promised that if you do this on a regular basis, your child will become more cooperative, and you will feel more energized? What if it helped you become a happier parent?

Children need to play. It's their work. All mammals play; it's their way of learning skills they'll need when they're full-grown, from finding food to getting along with others. It's also the way small humans process their emotions.

All day, every day, children have to manage complicated feelings: Fear (What if there IS something under the bed?), Jealousy (Maybe you do love their sibling more!), Humiliation (The teacher acted like he should already know that, and all the kids laughed!), Panic (What if she doesn't make it to the bathroom on time?), Anger (It was my turn!), Disappointment (Doesn't anyone care what I want?!).... The normal challenges of every day for a growing child of any age stimulate all kinds of feelings. Children release these emotions through play. Laughter, specifically, transforms our body chemistry by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones.

Kids are more physical than adults. When they get wound up emotionally, their bodies need to discharge all that energy. That's one of the reasons they have so much more energy than we do, so they wear us out.

But we can use this to our advantage, because when we play physical games with children, they giggle and sweat and scream -- and they release the same pent-up stress hormones that they'd otherwise have to tantrum to discharge. Playing is also how kids learn, so when you "teach" an emotional lesson by playing, your child really gets it. Best of all, playing helps parents and kids feel closer.

I realize that at the end of the day you might be exhausted. I personally would much rather snuggle on the couch than initiate an active game. The good news is that these games don't have to last long -- maybe 10 minutes at most, or even as little as 2 minutes.

And believe it or not, most parents find them energizing. That's because the tension and irritation we carry around makes us tired. When we play, we discharge stress hormones just like our kids, giving us a little more energy as we head into the evening.

So when your child asks you to play, make a deal. Sure, you'll play dollhouse, or build a train track. But first, will they play a roughhousing game with you for a few minutes? Don't be surprised if your child loves this kind of play so much, he begins begging for these games over and over.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

When your child is annoying, or in your face.

"Are you out of hugs again? Let's do something about that!" Grab your child and give her a LONG hug -- as long as you can. Don't loosen your grip until she begins to squirm and then don't let go immediately. Hug harder and say "I LOVE hugging you! I never want to let go. Promise I can hug you again soon?" Then let go and connect with a big, warm smile, and say "Thank you! I needed that!"

A more intensive version, for when a child has a new sibling, or you've been doing a lot of disciplining.

Convince your child on a very deep level that you LOVE him by chasing him, hugging, kissing, then letting him get away and repeating -- again and again. 

"I need my Michael....You can't get away...I have to hug you and cover you with kisses....oh, no, you got away...I'm coming after you....I just have to kiss you more and hug you more....You're too fast for me....But I'll never give up...I love you too much...I got you....Now I'll kiss your toes....Oh, no, you're too strong for me...But I will always want more Michael hugs...."

This is my favorite game, guaranteed to transform your child's doubt about whether he's truly loved (and any child who is "misbehaving" harbors that doubt). (I call this the Fix game because it Fixes whatever's wrong. From a parent: "I'm kind of shocked how much my son is loving the Fix game!? I don't think I've ever heard my son say, "Let's do it again!" so many times :)"

A stepped-up version involving both parents.

Fight over your child (jokingly), vying to see who can snatch him up and hug him. "I want him!' No, I want him!" "But I NEED him so much!" No, I need him! You ALWAYS get him!"

When your child is grumpy.

"You seem to be in a NO mood. I have an idea. I want to hear you say NO as much as you want. I will say YES, and you can answer NO in the same tone of voice. So when I say YES in this low voice, you say NO in a low voice. When I say YES in this squeaky voice, you say NO in this squeaky voice. Okay?"

To a child who is getting over-excited or too revved up:

"You have so much energy right now. What can we do with all this energy? Do you want to spin around? Come over here (or outside) with me where it's safe to spin around, and I'll spot you."

Find a safe place where no other kids or parents are there to further stimulate him, and let him spin around, or jump up and down, or run in circles around you -- whatever he chooses. When he drops in exhaustion, snuggle him and say 

"It's so much fun to be excited. But sometimes you get over-excited and you need a little help to calm down. Now, let's take three deep breaths to relax. In through the nose, out through the mouth. 1.....2......3......Good! Do you feel a little calmer? It's good to know how to calm yourself down. Now, let's go snuggle by ourselves and read a book for a bit."

When you and your child seem to be having a lot of power struggles.

Give your child the chance to be the more powerful one and to outsmart and over power a terrible monster -- You! Swagger and strut and roar at your child about how you will catch him and show him who's boss....but when you chase him, always trip and bumble and let him outsmart you or over-power you and get away. Give him a remote and pretend he can make you stop, start, move forward and backward. When she high-fives you, pretend she almost knocked you over. Another version of this is giving your child a feather, or a pillow, to hit you with. Every time he hits you, fall over! Repeat as long as he's giggling. Acknowledge your child's formidable power: “You are so strong! You pushed me right over!”

When your child is cheating at a game.

Say "Looks like we have new rules now....But how come you always win?!...I hate losing!" Overdo your role as the "sore loser" so that your child gets to laugh at you.

When your child is super-clingy or has been experiencing separation anxiety.

Cling to your child, being super-exaggerated and silly. "I know you want me to let go so you can go play, but I NEED you! I only want to be with you. PLEASE be with me now?" Keep holding your child's hand or clinging to her dress. She will like the feeling that SHE is the one in charge of letting go, rather than feeling pushed away. If you act silly enough, she will also giggle and let off some of the tension around good byes. When she definitively pushes you away, say, "It's ok. I know you will come back. We always come back to each other."

When your child goes through a stage of only wanting Mommy (or Daddy).

Let the preferred parent sit on the couch. Get between your child and that parent, and boast 

"You can't get to Mommy! You are all mine! Only I get to be with you! I will keep you from getting to Mommy!"

As he tries to get to Mommy, grab at him, but bumble and be unsuccessful. When he reaches Mommy, she laughs, cheers, hugs him and then lets him go. You lament that he got through, but continue to boast and challenge him and try to grab him. Exaggerate your boasting. "You can't push around me to get to Mommy!" and then bumble and let him push past you. He should giggle and giggle, which means that he is releasing his fears and anxieties.

When your kids are fighting a lot:

When tempers are calm, say "Would you two please fight with each other now?" When they begin to fight, pretend to be a TV commentator. "We're on the scene tonight watching two sisters who can't seem to get along! Will they work things out or not? Stay with us while we observe this behavior live! Notice how big sister is bossy, but little sister is provocative! Both girls want the same piece of salami! Can they work this out? Are they smart enough to realize there's more salami in the fridge? Stay tuned..." Your kids will giggle and let off tension, and get to see how ridiculous they are.

When your child feels like a bottomless pit:

Every day, spend 15 minutes snuggling. Revel in touching your child. Don't structure this time. Just kiss him on the nose, nuzzle her hair, let him sink into the comfort of your lap. Even if your kid is eight, treat him as if he's a baby, just beginning to be verbal. Rock him in your arms. Play the physical games you played when she was tiny. Resist tickling, which can make kids feel invaded and out of control. Mostly, just snuggle and lavish attention. If you want some help getting into the mood, look together at old baby pictures: "You were so adorable, almost as adorable as you are now!"

When your child goes through a stage of whining a lot.

Remember that whining is an expression of powerlessness. Refusing to "hear" until they use a "big kid" voice further invalidates them. But of course you don't want to reward whining by "giving in" to it, either. Instead, express confidence that your child can use her "strong" voice and offer your assistance to help her find it, by making it into a game:

"Hey, where did your strong voice go? It was here a minute ago. I LOVE your strong voice! I'll help you find it. Help me look. Is it under the chair? No...In the toy box? No.... HEY! You found it!! That was your strong voice!! Yay! I love your strong voice! Now, tell me again what you need, in your strong voice."

(If this doesn't work, it's because your child needs more tenderness and maybe a chance to cry. See the article on whining.)

To help a child fall asleep at night.

Say goodnight to each part of your child's body, touching each part in turn gently, with a little massage.

"Good night shoulder...good night arm....good night elbow, good night forearm, good night wrist, good night hand, good night fingers."

Take your time so your child relaxes each part of her body as you "recognize" it. The more you can simply relax and connect with your child, the more you are helping your child be in her own body and be fully present.

When your child has stolen something.

Get him laughing about this by enacting a stuffed animal "stealing" things from all over the room. Meanwhile, the stuffed animal mother is searching for the stolen things-- "I can't find the dog dish anywhere! Wherever did it go?!" Of course, the pile of stolen things is right in front of her. (You'll still need to have a conversation with your child about how he wishes he could keep what he stole, but it must be returned, and that in the future he can ask you if he wants something. But playing a game like this first will take the shame and anxiety out of the situation for both of you, and will help your child be open to making amends.)

When your child has been screeching or complaining:

Give permission.

"Ok, there's been so much complaining (or loud screeching)! This is your last chance to complain (screech) for the rest of the day. I'm setting the timer and putting on my earphones. I want you to complain (screech) as loud as you can for the next three minutes. You only have three minutes so make the most of them. After that, we're all back to normal inside voices. 1, 2, 3, GO!"

To help a child who's coping with a challenging issue, like the start of school, or playground struggles, or being sick:

Have one stuffed animal be the parent, and one be the child, and act out the situation. Using stuffed animals removes it one step from reality so most kids find it more comfortable, but some children like to actually act the situation out themselves (as opposed to using the proxy of dolls or stuffed animals).

"Let's pretend we're in the sandbox and I want your truck but you don't want to share" or "Let's pretend you're the teacher and I'm the student" or "Let's pretend you're the doctor and I'm sick."

Playing out these situations that cause so much stress for kids helps them to feel more in control of their own emotions, and lets them be the powerful one in a situation where they might have felt powerless and humiliated in real life.

To work through a problem that keeps coming up, such as a child who dawdles in the morning or at bedtime.

Sometime on the weekend, grab a mom and baby stuffed animal. Have them act out the morning (or bedtime) routine. Have the little one resist, whine, collapse. Have the mom "lose it" (but don't scare your child by overdoing it. Have the mom be a funny, incompetent bumbler.) Your child will be fascinated. Then, hand your kid the "mom" and play out the scenario again, with you being the kid. Make it funny so you can both giggle and let off tension. Make sure to include scenarios in which the kid goes to school in his pjs, or the mom goes to work in her pjs, or the kid has to yell at the mom to hurry up and get ready, or the mom says

"Who cares about that meeting? Let's tell the boss it's more important to find your toy car!"

Give him in fantasy what he can't have in reality. You may learn something about how to make things work better. Almost certainly, you'll see more understanding and cooperation from your child on Monday. At the very least, you'll defuse the tension get a great chance to see how your kid perceives you!

To reconnect.

Start a pillow fight, or a snowball fight, or a wrestling game in which you take each other’s socks off (an excuse for hugs). Or give your child a pillow to hold, and try to steal it from her. Always let your child win. Kids need to rough house. You might even find you like it too!

As long as your child is laughing, that game is working to alleviate anxiety and increase well-being. Don't be surprised if your child wants to play these games over and over. They relieve stress, help your child master emotion -- and believe it or not, they're fun!

*These are games I often recommend to parents, and while I have adapted them over the years, I didn't invent them. Some originated from the rich tradition of play therapy or were invented by my clients; some were inspired by the work of Lawrence Cohen (Playful Parenting), Becky Bailey (I Love You Rituals), Patty Wipfler (Hand in Hand Parenting) and Aletha Solter (Attachment Play.) For more ideas on using play to connect with kids and help them resolve challenges, I highly recommend their books, below.


For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Getting Your Child Out the Door In the Morning

by Smiling Stars Daycare on 03/10/18

What does a four year old need in the morning? Well, everyone is different, but most of us need some time to make the transition from sleep into busy activity; most kids balk at feeling pushed. Most four year olds need to "do it myself." Most four year olds want to make their own decision about when their body needs to pee. And I've never met a four year old who understands why that meeting Mom has to get to is more important than whether he can find his toy car.

Wouldn't it be amazing if all parents could have flextime, so there's more time in the morning for small humans to have a more humane start to their day? But that's not possible for many families.

So what's the answer? Re-frame your idea of the morning routine. What if your main job was to connect emotionally? That way, your child would have a genuinely "full cup." Not only would he be more ready to cooperate with you, he'd be more able to rise to the developmental challenges of his day. How?

1. Get everyone to bed as early as possible.

If you have to wake your kids in the morning, they aren't getting enough sleep. Every hour of sleep less than they need sets them back a year in access to brain function, meaning they act a year younger. So if you're dragging your child out of bed, start bedtime earlier. 

2. Get yourself to bed earlier.

If you have to use an alarm, you aren't getting enough sleep. (Sorry.) The morning routine requires infinite creativity and energy from parents. Your kids depend on you to start your own day with a "full cup." There's no way to stay patient when you're exhausted. And if you're running around trying to shower and get yourself ready, you can't give kids the patient connection they need from you.

3. Build in extra time.

Get up earlier than your kids so you're dressed and emotionally centered before you interact with them. Plan on routinely getting to work fifteen minutes earlier than you're due. Half the time, you won't make it but you also won't lose your temper at your kids because you won't actually be late. The other half of the time, you'll have a more relaxed start to your work day so you'll be more effective at work.  

4. Prepare the night before.

Backpacks, brief cases, lunches made, clothes laid out, coffee pot prepared, breakfast planned. Involve kids the night before too, so they choose their clothing and find that toy car.

5. Make sure you get five minutes of relaxed snuggle time with each child as they wake up.

I know, it sounds impossible. But if everything else is already done, you can relax for five minutes. That time connecting with your child will transform your morning. You fill your child's cup before the day starts, and you re-connect after the separation of the night, which gives your child the motivation to cooperate instead of fight with you. This is the best way to prevent morning whining and resistance.

6. Use Connection Routines to make transitions easier.

Kids find transitions hard and the morning is full of transitions. So if getting her out of bed is a challenge, end your morning snuggle by holding hands as you go downstairs together, and make that a meaningful connection time for your child, during which you both come up with something you're grateful for, or something you're looking forward to today. (Naturally, yours will relate to your child.)

7. Realize that kids need your help to move through the routine.

If your goal is to give your child a good start to his day, then you need to see your job as helping him move through the morning routine happily, not just barking orders. That might mean you bring his clothes downstairs with you and he gets dressed next to you while you're feeding the baby so you can acknowledge him: "I notice you picked your blue shirt again. You like that shirt....You're working so hard on figuring out which shoe goes on which foot...Today you're humming while you get dressed." Remember, getting dressed is your priority, not his. Your presence is what motivates him. He's borrowing your "executive function" to keep himself on track.

8. Keep the routine as simple as possible.

So, for instance, you may want to rethink breakfast. I know, you want to serve your child a hot breakfast at the table. Me too. But I have one kid who just wasn't ready to eat as soon as she got up, so there were times when she regularly ate a sandwich in the car. No less healthy, more peaceful -- a better start to the day.

Worried about brushing teeth? I handed her a toothbrush and sippy cup of water after her sandwich. No toothpaste in the mornings for a few months. If you consider that too much of a compromise, you'll need to find a solution that works for you, but my point is that there are no rules. Why can't they sleep in the teeshirt and leggings they'll wear to school? Why can't you just put her hair in a ponytail instead of brushing it, or braid it after her bath, let her sleep with it in the braid and wear it to school without brushing?

9. Give Choices.

No one likes to be pushed around. Does he want to brush his teeth standing on the stool at the kitchen sink while you're getting the baby out of the high chair, or upstairs in the bathroom? Does she want to put her shoes on first, or her jacket on first? Cede control whenever you can. You may think he should use the bathroom as soon as he gets out of bed, but he wants to be in charge of his own body. As long as he's not wetting his pants, it's better to let him make that decision for himself.

10. Play it out.

Sometime on the weekend, grab a mom and baby stuffed animal. Have them act out the morning routine. Have the little one resist, whine, collapse. Have the mom "lose it" (but don't scare your child by overdoing it. Have the mom be a funny, incompetent bumbler.) Your child will be fascinated. Then, hand your kid the "mom" and play out the scenario again, with you being the kid. Make it funny so you can both giggle and let off tension. Make sure to include scenarios in which the kid goes to school in his pjs, or the mom goes to work in her pjs, or the kid has to yell at the mom to hurry up and get ready, or the mom says "Who cares about that meeting? Let's tell the boss it's more important to find your toy car!" Give him in fantasy what he can't have in reality. You may learn something about how to make things work better. Almost certainly, you'll see more understanding and cooperation from your kid on Monday. At the very least, the laughter will defuse the tension.

11. Ruthlessly prioritize.

If both parents are working full time while children are small, there is simply no way to do anything "extra" during the week. This is the only way you can go to bed early enough to stay in a good mood in the morning. And your child depends on your good mood to regulate her own moods. Don't worry, these years don't last forever. You're laying a wonderful foundation for her to take more and more charge of her own morning routine.

Modern life puts pressures on kids and parents that undermine our connection to our kids. But we need that connection to smooth the speed bumps of life. Our kids need it, not only to cooperate, but to thrive. Luckily, when we make connection our priority, everything else gets a little bit easier.

12. Make it fun.

Here's a note from a mom who decided to transform her mornings from stressful to connecting. What would it take for you to do that? Why not try it?

 

I find myself looking forward to the busy time in the morning when we're getting on coats and shoes and leaving for school because we've made it a time for fun and connection. The 3 children take turns running into my arms to get a big hug from me, then I help them with shoes/coats after I catch them, then we race to get in the car or bike and we pretend that it's a plane or boat...we laugh and have so much fun ...and we start our day happy... that used to be a stressful time of day when I would yell at them, they would not cooperate, and I'd get angry and stressed out. What a difference!


For information about our child daycare services in North Vancouver, Smiling Stars Daycare, please call (604) 986-3380 or email us by visiting  smilingstarsdaycare.com.

Smiling Stars Daycare