Thanksgiving and Beyond: Gratitude All Year Long

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As Thanksgiving approaches, we often reflect on the things in our lives for which we are thankful, both big and small. Perhaps you have developed “thankful rituals” and passed those on to your children, such as making lists of all the reasons to feel gracious and thankful to share with the rest of the family during the Thanksgiving feast. How quickly that attitude of gratitude can turn into commercialization and mile-long wish lists of the holiday season. By the time we ring in the New Year, we have often forgotten about Thanksgiving and the thankful attitude that accompanies it. It is easy to lose thankfulness in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but there are some things we can do and things we can model for and encourage our children to do that will foster thankfulness all year long.

  • Keep a daily Gratitude Journal. At the end of each day, write down two or three things in your gratitude journal. Help your children to create their own journals, and encourage them to participate. This activity can be a great addition to the bedtime ritual, and it teaches your children to be reflective of the day. Very young children might need help with the writing, but they can certainly draw pictures to accompany your words. Feeling gracious every day for the good things that happen in our lives can help to foster an overall positive outlook and optimistic attitude. Once you have maintained a journal for a full year, it can be fun to read the things for which you were thankful the year before in addition to writing new things for the current year. You can also do a project as a family such as My Family’s Thankful Book.
  • Make “Thank You” a frequent part of your interactions. How often do we say, “Thank you?” We might ask our children to do things, such as pick up their toys or wash their hands before dinner; but, how often do we then thank them for following these directions? How often do we thank them for displaying proper table manners, for sharing their toys with each other nicely, or getting dressed by themselves? As parents, we have to model the kinds of behaviors we want to see in our children. Therefore, thank them sincerely and often! Reinforce them, as well, when they thank you and other adults, as well as when they thank each other.
  • Write real “Thank You” notes. Encourage your children to write thank-you notes for all gifts they receive throughout the year. Keep a box of thank-you notes handy, or create some out of nice paper and colored pencils. Stock stamps and envelopes as well. Point out those occasions when people treat either you or your child especially well, such as a waitress, a cashier, the mailman, a relative, or a teacher. Together, you and your child can recognize these “random acts of kindness” with a real thank-you note. It will brighten someone’s day and teach your child the importance of saying, “Thank you.”
  • Show Anonymous appreciation to local heroes. Two or three times over the course of the year, you and your child can pick a “local hero” to recognize with a token of your appreciation. An easy thing to do is have your child help you bake a cake, cupcakes, or cookies and deliver them along with a note of gratitude. The following list contains possible “local heroes”:
    • Police officers
    • Firemen
    • EMS workers
    • Postal workers
    • Workers at the animal shelter

In addition to brightening someone’s day, you can also teach your child a valuable lesson in the kinds of services these people provide, and why they deserve our thanks.

  • Practice self-appreciation. Appreciate your self by giving your bodies and minds proper care. We do this by getting enough sleep, eating balanced diets, getting plenty of rest, keeping our minds appropriately stimulated, and having time for play. Model these behaviors for your children and encourage them to take care of themselves physically and mentally.

These are just a few ideas for keeping an attitude of gratitude all year long, not just during the Thanksgiving season. Remembering often to take care of ourselves, to recognize the positive influences others have in our life, and to appreciate things that others do for us will not only keep us gracious, but will model these behaviors and attitudes for our children. 

Preparing for Kindergarten: The Importance of Non-Academic Readiness Skills

by Sunny Im-Wang, PsyD, SSP

Smiling teacher at the school class.

Academic standards for today’s kindergarteners are much more rigorous than they were for today’s parents. Nevertheless, research indicates that kindergarten teachers feel that “executive functioning” skills, or skills that allow a child to control his or her behavior and emotions in a variety of settings, are better indicators of school readiness in today’s five-year-olds than academic readiness skills such as knowing the alphabet or being able to hold a pencil (Dockett & Perry, 2003). In fact, 75 percent of kindergarten teachers polled by Heaviside and Farris (1993) felt that children who are in good physical health, who have the ability to verbally communicate wants and needs, and who are curious and enthusiastic about participating in new activities are likely to successfully transition to a formal school environment and be  successful during their kindergarten year. Fifty percent of the same group of teachers felt that behavioral control, empathy, and socialization skills were also important skills for students to possess prior to entering kindergarten. Teachers of preschool-aged children can directly influence and enhance the development of these skills that will help ensure school success.

The following are key social/emotional skills that children need as they begin school:

  • Self-confidence
  • Ability to develop positive relationships with adults and other children
  • Ability to communicate emotions and feelings
  • Ability to listen to and follow directions
  • Ability to solve social problems

Children who have not learned these skills often develop behavior problems that then need to be managed, so it is important to expose them to activities and experiences that will enhance the development of these skills prior to their first day of formal schooling.

Self-Confidence

In order to foster self-confidence in young children, it is essential to use positive language as much as possible. When giving praise, it is important to be specific and praise actions and behaviors. For example, “You are doing a great job sharing your toy with Bobby,” is a much more informative statement than, “You are being good right now.” Telling a child specifically what he is doing right informs him of how to behave again in the future. These verbal reinforcements of positive behaviors will naturally decrease negative behaviors, because children want to behave in ways that please their caregivers and provide themselves with positive attention. It is this positive attention that also increases their sense of self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Social Interaction

Prior to entering school, children should be exposed to a variety of social situations. Whether through team sports, group activities, lessons, preschool experiences, or extended family interactions, children learn how to get along with other children by being around other children. In order to successfully interact with others in these situations, preschool teachers should teach children how to initiate and maintain interactions with others, to solve problems, to communicate their emotions in appropriate ways, and to control their anger (Fox, et al., 2003).Take advantage of children’s personalities and activity preferences when engaging them in activities with other children. If a child is a very active child, engaging in physical activities with other children might be more beneficial for that particular child than, for example, taking a trip to the local library for story time. They are likely to find “kindred spirits” with whom to interact, and to experience these interactions as enjoyable.

Communicating Feelings

It is important that young children learn to communicate their feelings and emotions as specifically and correctly as they can, as well as to recognize the emotions of others. Children need a range of “emotional vocabulary words” in order to do this, and preschool teachers are in a great position to teach a variety of these words to children. It is important, for example, that children understand the meanings and implications of words such as frustrated, proud, afraid, excited, worried, and confused. Teachers can model the appropriate use of these feeling words by expressing their own feelings as specifically as possible, as well as by pointing out specific feelings that they observe in the children. When reading out loud to children, teachers can frequently stop to discuss the feelings of the characters involved, and also ask the children how they might feel if they were in similar situations as described in the stories. It can also be helpful to have children practice labeling the emotions and feelings of other children either during role-playing activities or by looking at photographs of other children.

Listening and following directions

The ability to listen to and follow directions is probably the most challenging behavioral skill that a five-year-old can accomplish. Children must direct and sustain their attention on someone else, understand what is being said, remember what to do, and then successfully execute the directive. To teach these skills, start slow and simple with easy, one-step directions. It can be helpful to cue children with an auditory signal, such as a clapping pattern, that alerts them it is time to stop talking and listen to the teacher. The children can repeat the clapping pattern back as an indication that they are ready to listen. Pairing auditory directions with visual cues, such as photographs or simple lists, can help children to remember the direction and stay focused while carrying out the specified behavior. Once single-step directions are effectively followed, two-step directions can be given. Again, visual cues such as photos in sequential order or a written list (for older children) can be very effective.

Problem-solving

In the school environment, children will be faced with a variety of social problems that they will need to be able to solve on their own or with minimal help from their teachers. Arguments on the playground, hurt feelings, frustration over what is packed for lunch, etc., are all potential minefields where a child can either learn to cope effectively or break down. Prepare children for these potential pitfalls by presenting hypothetical (or real) stories and scenarios to the children and then guiding them through the analysis and solution to each problem. Teaching a specific problem-solving strategy can be helpful: identify the problem, think of some solutions, discuss the pros and cons of each solution, choose a solution, and evaluate the outcome. The use of role-playing activities can serve as a great way for children to practice their problem-solving skills.

In sum, research has indicated that skills related to children’s successful behavioral and emotional control are considered more crucial to their successful transition to kindergarten than their mastery of pre-academic reading and math skills. Teachers of daycare centers and preschools are in an excellent position to help foster the development of these skills for children, ensuring that they will be emotionally and behaviorally ready for the challenges of the formal school environment.

© 2013 lilSprout Press. For permission to reprint, please write to: Permissions@lilsproutpress.com

References
Dockett, S., & Perry, B.(2003). The transition to school: What’s important? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 30-33.
Fox, L., Dunlap, G., Hemmeter, M. L., Joseph, G., & Strain, P. (2003). The teaching pyramid: A model for supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children. Young Children, 58(4), 48-53.
Heaviside, S., & Farris, S.(1993). Public school kindergarten teachers’ views on children’s readiness for school. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Celebrate Mother’s Day: Activities to do with kids

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Make this Mother’s Day Special!

Flowers and cards are nice, but there are as many ways to show appreciation as there are moms. It’s time to give Mom a break and some special attention. From baking treats to taking over chores, here are some ways to make Mother’s Day memorable.

Deliver a Tasty Bouquet

Instead of getting Mom flowers, kids can make a delicious “bouquet” of treats! Barbecue skewer stems can sport a variety of flowers. For example, cookies that have a hole in the center can be held on the skewer with a gumdrop above and below. Skewers can be pushed into slices of refrigerated cookie dough and baked in. Pieces of fruit such as grapes, strawberries, and melon balls can be skewered as well. You might wrap the stems in green florist tape from a craft store and even add leaves. Flower shapes and colors can be varied using different cookie cutters and icing tinted with food coloring. Or instead of flowers, make the cookies into smiley faces or balloons.

Make a Keepsake

To celebrate good memories with Mom, have children choose some of their favorite pictures and make a family collage. (They can make color copies or print out pictures on the computer.) They should arrange the pictures on paper or poster board, then decorate the collage and/or write something about the pictures. Another way to gather favorite pictures is to make a photo book. Children could also draw pictures about Mom, make a video saying thank you, or take a special new picture. They could decorate a dollar-store frame or even make a frame (for example, using craft sticks).

Fix Mom a Meal

One of the nicest things kids can do for Mom is to take over preparing a meal. It’s not as hard as it sounds! Dad might cook something on the grill, and kids can help make other items. Sandwiches are easy to fix, and they can make mini-pizzas with bagels or English muffins, pizza sauce, and shredded cheese. Combine raisins, nuts, and a favorite cereal to make snack mix. You can get vegetables already cut up for salad. For dessert, make cookies using a mix (and decorate them), or make made-to-order ice-cream sundaes. Be sure kids clean up and put things away in the right place. Mom will be delighted!

Fill a Gift Basket

A gift basket is a fun gift with lots of options. Mom will love “opening” her basket and finding all the surprises. Have children think about Mom’s favorite things. How does she relax? Is there a hobby she enjoys? Get things for the basket that will help her enjoy some of those things. You might get coffee or tea, a book, candy or other treats, beauty or craft items, a plant, or a scented candle. You could put in a movie and some popcorn! What you buy doesn’t have to be big or expensive. (Pay attention, though, because little things can add up!)

Also be creative about the container. It doesn’t have to be a basket – it can be a big bowl or a decorative storage box, for example. Make sure it is big enough to hold the things you want. You can put shredded paper, wrapping paper, or even cloth napkins in the bottom of the basket. Put your gifts in, with tall items at the back. You may want to add a bow.

Mom’s Helper Coupons

One great way to show appreciation for Mom is to give her some help! Have children do a little detective work and notice the things she does every day. Jobs may include making meals, vacuuming, and washing clothes. Have kids make a list of things they could help with and make “coupons” good for those chores. Maybe they could set the table or put dirty dishes in the dishwasher, help put away groceries, sweep the floor, or help make lunches. They should also think of things Mom likes that they can support – promise not to interrupt her workout or reading time, for example. They could even make a blank coupon for her to fill in! To make coupons, use a mini photo album or cut slips of paper and staple them together. Kids can write coupons by hand or make them on the computer (a large label format works well).

Coupons can also be made to look like flowers! You can put construction-paper flowers in a paper pocket “vase,” or use craft sticks for stems and put them in a real flowerpot. Make sure the stems are long and thick enough for kids to write a chore on each one.

Happy Mother’s Day!

New Release: A Children’s Book About Feelings

HappySad&EverythingIt’s finally here!  A book about emotional literacy for kids!!

Emotional literacy is one of the key ingredients to success in school and life. In her new book Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist, shows kids how to identify and manage their feelings—and have lots of fun while becoming emotion savvy 

With all the emphasis on preparing our kids to succeed in a high tech, competitive world it’s easy to forget one of the most essential life skills—emotional literacy. HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN: ALL ABOUT MY FEELINGS (lilSprout Press, April 2013, Hardcover) by Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., offers kids (ages 4-8) a fun and easy program to learn how to identify and manage their feelings.

THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION

“Did you know that your feelings and your body are connected,” asks Kai, the narrator of HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. She goes on to explain how various emotions feel in the body and how we can change our emotions by addressing our physical sensations. This not only provides kids with critical emotional literacy tools, but it also helps them identify feelings that they may not be able to articulate in words. This is an example of mindfulness in action.

Each page of the book addresses a different emotion, including silly, jealous, shy, excited, loving, and lonely, and offers age-appropriate guidance for understanding and appropriately expressing all the feelings on the emotional spectrum. This book also includes kid-friendly, research-supported skills for relieving and managing difficult emotions, such as anger and frustration. These skills include mindfulness, which is the practice of being in the moment and recognizing physical and emotional sensations in a nonjudgmental way. This includes recognizing how emotions feel throughout the body—not just how they register on our faces.

HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN helps kids understand the complex concept of emotions and gives them age-appropriate tools for managing them.

Why Emotional Literacy?

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Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others in appropriate and healthy way. It is easy to label emotions as good or bad, but it is important to help children understand that all emotions are valuable in that they can inform us of situations that we might want to change or avoid.

Emotional literacy is essential to long-term success at home, in school, and throughout life.  It can improve quality of life for children as they will feel more empowered by understanding emotions, which can sometimes be confusing, even for adults.

Emotional literacy is not just about knowing the definition of each emotion.

It involves:

  • Identifying the emotion
  • Recognizing emotions in oneself
  • Knowing ways to manage and regulate emotions, and
  • Empathizing with others

See how Happy, Sad, & Everything In Between: All About My Feelings can help you introduce emotional literacy to your child!

Coming April 30th: A book on emotional literacy for kids

Emotional literacy is one of the key ingredients to success in school and life

HappySadFrontCoverOnlyIn her new book Dr. Sunny Im-Wang, a pediatric psychologist, shows kids how to identify and manage their feelings—and have lots of fun while becoming emotion savvy.

With all the emphasis on preparing our kids to succeed in a high tech, competitive world it’s easy to forget one of the most essential life skills—emotional literacy. HAPPY, SAD & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN: ALL ABOUT MY FEELINGS, offers kids (ages 4-8) a fun and easy program to learn how to identify and manage their feelings.

Each page of the book addresses a different emotion, including silly, jealous, shy, excited, loving, and lonely, and offers age-appropriate guidance for understanding and appropriately expressing all the feelings on the emotional spectrum. This book also includes kid-friendly, research-supported skills for relieving and managing difficult emotions, such as anger and frustration. These skills include mindfulness, which is the practice of being in the moment and recognizing physical and emotional sensations in a nonjudgmental way. This includes recognizing how emotions feel throughout the body—not just how they register on our faces, which too often is the only way kids are taught to identify feelings.

Look inside the book!