What Children Need....
from the desk of Liz Billings-Fouhy
Director of Lexington Children's Place
As we begin the new school year, we all face a series of new experiences and the corresponding schedules that accompany new experiences. As caring, attentive and supportive parents it is our tendency to schedule a variety of challenging, interesting and stimulating experiences for our preschoolers. Many preschoolers go to school either part of full day and THEN have a variety of after school activities. As we schedule activities for our preschoolers, it is very important to remember that for many preschool aged children, more is not always better. You know your child better than anyone and should be the judge, but please keep in mind that small children often need time to make transitions and that real creativity does not happen for any of us if we are busy rushing from one task to another. If a child is constantly rushing from task to task, he or she has no time to stomp in puddles, watch a butterfly or master that puzzle at home. Children need some down time ( not screen related time) in order to regroup and regulate their attention and behavior.
Sleep and good nutrition are as essential to young children as are food and water. Please make sure that your child has a proper sleep schedule and eats a balanced diet and appropriate intervals is essential to eliciting good, positive behavior. Tired, hungry children do not generally transition, or even behave, appropriately much of the time. And you must be in charge of their bedtimes, not them. Food and eating patterns are worthy of a whole workshop and will be addressed in future notes but suffice it to say, do not let your child graze, have a seated meal with your child( even if you are snacking or just having tea or coffee.. sit down while they eat)and present a variety of choices to your child. DO NOT make them it, that is a recipe ( excuse the pun) for disaster. Encourage and support and when time has passed, take the food away and do not give them a snack later because they are hungry. If they really are hungry, present their dinner to them again. Making children eat and making too much of a fuss about food backfires. Children need very small amounts of protein and carbs each day. Unless your pediatrician is concerned, your child is probably not starving, just picky. Hungry kids are generally less picky than non hungry ones. Present, present, present, it will pay off later.
Part of a balanced day for a young child is a balanced schedule. Balanced does not mean rigid but rather some time in a group, some time alone ( with adult supervision of course), some structured time, some unstructured time. Young children need to know what his happening next in their lives. Drawing small icons on your calendar for swimming ( some "waves"), or lips for speech therapy, or a school house icon/sticker for school days. Reviewing the schedule each morning with your child helps them understand what is happening that day. Small children do not have a strong concept of time so talking about one day at a time works best. If a big event is coming, grandparents visiting for example, it may help to put that on the calendar ( picture of grandparents) and cross out each day as they happen. Children need warnings before transitions so make those 15 min warnings part of your day. Letting young children in on what is happening to them each day is an essential part of making all the transitions they need to make go smoothly.
Once you decide what the schedule should be for your child, write it down with pictures or icons and stick to it. Your child may love swimming, speech therapy or school for many, many visits and then, one day, say that he or she does not want to go. If you are sure that your child is healthy and feeling well, it is essential to stick to the schedule. Young children cannot be in charge of too much. They may want to be at times, and struggle with you to be the one in charge, but they are in charge of whether they have a sandwich or mac and cheese for lunch, they are not in charge of when they go to school, swimming or speech therapy. You do not need to make this a struggle between you and them... Just go to the schedule and point- "Look, the schedule says today is Tuesday and it is after lunch so we have swimming." Stick to your guns and don't argue with your child, just keep repeating "time for swimming". If he or she yells or balks, stay calm and keep the transition moving. If the child sits down and refuses to move, gently help them keep going. These are small battles and may be easy to give in to, but you will want this pattern more established as your child gets older and you can't "move them" yourself. Believe it or not, giving in now too often will lead to trouble when our child is older.
The preschool years are a time of magical development but this development does not occur without a lot of hard work for both your child and you. Enjoy these years, those of us with older children will tell you the time flies by faster and faster as they mature. BUT also know that the work you are putting in now is laying the foundation for your child's later years.