Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Tech 101 for Toddlers & Preschoolers

As parents, the information on how much screen time (and what kind of screen time) our kids should have seems endless. It’s challenging to keep up, much less sift through it all and figure out what’s real and current. I’ve taught technology to elementary and middle school students for more than 15 years, and have two kids of my own under the age of 6. These basic guidelines (based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics) can help you navigate the muddy waters and figure out what’s really ok for your child at different ages.

Good guidelines to follow are:
  • Children under 18 months should avoid any media unless looking at pictures or using video chat.
  • Children 18 - 24 months may watch high quality programming if you watch it with them (and talk about it with them).
  • Children 2 - 5 years may watch 1 hr./day of high-quality, co-viewed programming; at this age, it’s important for parents to help kids understand what they’re seeing and how it relates to the world.
  • Children 6 years and older need enough sleep, physical activity, and face-to-face social interaction first and foremost – it’s essential that these be priorities. According to recent research, once these are accounted for, children are not negatively impacted academically, socially, or mentally by moderate amounts of screentime.
  • A good rule of thumb is no screens half an hour to one hour before bedtime.

So, why are the guidelines the way they are? Children learn the most from direct parent interaction and connections with the real world around them (think of this as your fruits and vegetables). Next, they learn from co-viewing, which includes watching or reading with an adult. They learn the least from using media by themselves (think of this as junk food). You might have a cupcake once in a while, but you wouldn’t have it in place of your meals!

It can also be challenging to figure out which media is high-quality media. The best programs for kids are slower-paced, concrete, and real-world, with pauses for interactivity. PBS Kids has some good options including Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger, Mr. Rogers, Curious George, Doc McStuffins, SuperWhy, Wild Kratts, and Planet Earth.

Parents should be very careful with Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime. Content on these services is not filtered effectively for kids, and inappropriate content is just one click away; young kids should never view/navigate these channels by themselves. For example, on YouTube, videos that get a lot of attention bubble to the top; unfortunately, a video may seem like a cartoon initially, but a few minutes in shift to violent or other inappropriate content.

I’ll leave you with a few practical suggestions for helping your family navigate the technology-driven world that we live in:
  • Ask permission before taking pictures. This seems like a simple thing, but we don’t do it. A sobering statistic is that more than half of all girls will be asked for a nude photo of themselves by the age of 14. Our children need to be comfortable saying “no.”
  • It’s ok to have different rules for different kids. Kids are different from each other – one may need very firm limits, and the other may function well with more flexibility.
  • Treat media time the same as you would reading books – sit together, and choose content that is language-rich and interactive.
  • Re-enact things from a show; repetition and contextualizing things with kids help them process it. Talk with them about what they took away from a show.
  • Eliminate background TV.
  • If a smartphone is in the room, it’s affecting the quality of parent/child interaction; find a place to dump it.
  • Technology doesn’t have to be just screen media. If you have old pieces of technology around your house (keyboards, phones, etc.), use them as “take aparts,” or spend time playing with Snap Circuits or Makey Makey.
  • If you have an iPad for your child, keep one app on it at a time. When they get bored with it, they will naturally turn it off and go onto another activity. Periodically, change that app out for another one. Some good apps for young kids include Puppet Pals and Scratch Jr.

At the end of the day, parent-child engagement is key with media, as it is with anything. Following the practices outlined here will support your child’s development and set the foundation for a healthy relationship with technology in the future.

About the Author:
Steve Trust is Director of Academic Technology at Charles River School, an independent PreK - school in Dover, Mass., and father to a five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

3 Things You Can Do to Prepare to Be a Parent with a Disability

 3 Things You Can Do to Prepare to Be a Parent with a Disability

While new parents eagerly await the arrival of their bundle of joy, they busily prepare their homes and themselves for their lives to change in the best way possible. All parents try to prepare as much as they can, and parents with disabilities have special considerations to make before a new baby arrives. We share a few things you can do to prepare for your new role as parents, including how to handle the stress that comes along with your newborn.

1. Prepare Your Home

Preparing your home for a new baby does not necessarily have to include baby-proofing, since your little one won’t be crawling for some time. Many new parents feel they need to get their homes ready for baby by installing childproof locks on doors, windows, cabinets, etc., but you have a few months before you need to worry about your baby being able to get into potentially unsafe places. Save yourself time and stress by focusing on the most pressing preparations for a newborn.

For example, you need to choose a space for the nursery, find places for the swing and baby bouncer, and make sure that you have baby monitors in place to help you keep an ear or an eye out for baby at all times. Keep in mind that new parents with disabilities should purchase accessible baby gear.

Consider putting as many items on the main floor of your home as possible if you have mobility challenges. Put a changing station on both levels of your home so that you have the necessities handy. And, put a bassinet in your bedroom to keep your newborn close, so you don’t have to worry about maneuvering around your home in the dark when you’re exhausted and stressed.

2. Find Support

Becoming a new parent is an exciting, stressful, and scary time for anyone. But, people with disabilities may fear that they will struggle in their new role as a parent and not know where to turn for support or encouragement. If you’ve struggled with addiction in the past, especially because of your disability, it is crucial that you find support before you cope with stress in an unhealthy way or put your sobriety at risk. Attend a meeting, talk to your sponsor, or meet with a counselor or therapist to remain in recovery.

Another way you can help yourself handle the stress of being a parent with a disability is joining a support group to talk with other parents who face the same struggles. It will help you realize you are not alone and provide additional resources and encouragement from people who are in your position and have healthy, happy families. Talking with other people will help you combat feelings of isolation and depression, and it will give you an outlet for sharing your emotions and relieving stress.

3. Prioritize Self-Care

It may seem counterintuitive to make yourself a priority when you have a new child, but you cannot be the best parent possible if you fail to care for yourself. Practicing self-care involves taking time for yourself to exercise, relax, read, or practice mindfulness. Anything that makes you feel good, relieves stress, and relaxes you will energize you and help you handle the pressure of being a new parent.

It’s easy for parents to feel selfish or guilty if they put some of their needs first. But, mental health professionals agree that new parents need downtime for self-care because they have such a demanding job. Say yes when friends and relatives ask if they can give you a break. Use the time to take a nap, take a hot bath, or read a book (one that is not about parenting) for a few minutes. Ask your spouse to take over while you get outside for some fresh air. Allow people to drop off food for you, or ask a friend to pick up take-out for you on her way home from work.

People with disabilities can prepare their homes and their lives for parenthood by purchasing accessible baby gear, finding support, and prioritizing self-care. The more you prepare, the less stressful having a newborn will be.

Image via Pixabay by jakobking85

Ashley Taylor is a disabled mother of two wonderful, amazing, energetic children. She met her husband, Tom, while doing physical therapy. Tom had suffered a spinal cord injury due to a car accident and uses a wheelchair for mobility. Ashley and Tom knew they wanted children and knew they would have to adapt their lives and home in order to make this dream come true. Ashley is happy to say that they are the proud parents of two healthy, wonderful children and their disabilities haven’t stopped them from leading a happy, fulfilling life.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Setting Compass Points for Children

Parent Talk is grateful to Dedham Country Day School for their sponsorship and willingness to share information and inspiration.  In this guest blog post, Allison Webster, shares her analysis of two books and applies it experiences children have every day in the course of their school days.  

Setting Compass Points for Children

Allison D. Webster, DCD Head of School
I wrote in my last blog post about peak moments and all they do for a child’s memories and well-being; last week we had a peak moment for both children and adults at DCD. Mr. Clifford, wearing a top hat and tails, led a parade of students and penguins through the Lowell Center, which was packed with students and families.

Nearly 50 penguins waddled in, each pushed by a proud pre-kindergarten or kindergarten student artist who had been hard at work since September on their creation. We all sang an original song by Ms. Glaser, 8th graders shared penguin facts, and children from the upper grades raised their hands with enthusiasm when asked if they could remember their own penguin experience. Each penguin maker learned about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication through the process of making and presenting their penguin.
These skills – known in education as “the Four Cs” – are ones we value deeply at DCD. I recently read the book Whiplash by Joi Ito, and in it he makes the case for the importance of these skills, especially as we prepare children for a world that will inevitably be different from our current one. He suggests that we need to abandon the idea of providing children with a detailed map of how their lives will progress, and instead instill in them a compass that can guide them as they find their way into adulthood. He writes,
"...a map implies a detailed knowledge of the terrain, and the existence of an optimum route; the compass is a far more flexible tool and requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path. The decision to forfeit the map in favor of the compass recognizes that in an increasingly unpredictable world moving ever more quickly, a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go."
As we develop children’s skills and capacities, we also set the compass points of DCD’s values. In one short penguin parade, children experienced many of our compass points as a school: all students have a voice and participate; hard work and persistence are expected; we value the continuity and meaning that comes from traditions; we celebrate together as a community. Throughout the process, children experienced the delight of learning, especially at times when creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication converged. 
The learning that occurred for each child during the months of penguin creation and celebration was extraordinary, and the social context in which it occurred was a critical part of the process. I recently read a passage in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing that captured what experiences like the penguin parade provide children and how it builds a well from which children can draw. In Ward’s extraordinary book, the grandmother and grandson have a special relationship. She tells the grandson, Jojo, that she hopes he saved up the emotional sustenance she has provided during their years together. She says, “I hope I fed you enough. While I’m here. So you can carry it with you. Like a camel…Maybe that ain’t a good way of putting it. Like a well, Jojo. Pull that water up when you need it."

I know that today’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will one day parade out of DCD, carrying diplomas rather than pushing penguins. When that time comes, they will have a strong and trustworthy compass to steer them, and a deep well of emotional reserves which they can “pull up” when needed. Penguins live in groups known as rafts or colonies, and last week was a time when we were all reminded how fortunate we are to be a part of our “raft” at DCD.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Playdate

The Playdate

I love my daughter and enjoy her company; she's smart, affectionate, and frequently hilarious.  That being said, I REALLY do not want to spend my Saturday afternoon playing Ana to her Elsa. I will if I have to, but the effort required to muster the demanded enthusiasm leaves me drained. Happily, there are some totally valid, unselfish reasons to get me off the hook - the biggest one probably being plain old social emotional development. For kids to learn how to interact with others, resolve disputes, and have a good time in the process they need to spend some time with their peers. Luckily, we have the option of arranging playdates with other kids. Especially during the winter months, when making a friend at the local playground isn't frequently an option, playdates are a great way to keep our kids to entertained without losing our minds or dying of boredom in the process.

The Golden Rules

Keep to a reasonable, pre-determined, agreed upon time limit.
This should be age appropriate - an hour tops for babies, 2-3 max for toddlers and preschoolers. Decide and agree upon the details before you arrive. If it's a drop-off playdate, be punctual for pick up.

If your child attends a playdate at a friend's house, make sure you offer to host the next one.

Be flexible.
Your household rules do not apply in someone else's house, and every family does things differently. Unless you feel your child may be at risk, try to suspend judgement. If you do feel your child may be at risk, don't arrange the playdate. In your own house, the rules are up to you. So if you are very sparing with screen time and a playmate arrives bearing a tablet, nothing wrong with holding it for her until the playdate is over. That being said, if you relax the rules temporarily you will not lose the kingdom; just use your better judgement.

Show gratitude.
Make sure you thank the host, and your child thanks the host. Offer to assist with clean up, with the kids' help of course.


Snacks - offer but don't insist
Unless your child has a food allergy or other dietary restriction, don't send them with a snack. If your child does have limitations on what she can eat, definitely DO bring the snack, and bring enough to share. Establishing the habit of arriving for a visit with a small gift for the host isn't such a bad idea - gluten-free pretzels today, a nice bottle of Malbec tomorrow.

Never a bad idea to have a few prepared options available, but committing to an intricate craft idea you found on Pinterest is a risky venture. You could spend hours setting it up and either have the kids burn through it in 10 minutes or decide they'd rather pretend to be dogs for 2 hours. Unstructured play is healthy, and in today's world there is less and less of it. I like to set up a few DIY activity stations the kids can use or ignore, and keep a fun idea or two in my pocket as an emergency distraction. I have a shoebox of bits and clippings from wrapping paper, magazines, and crafty odds and ends; I have glue sticks, I have paper and markers - voila, it's an art station. I have play dough. I have flashlights, and a blanket and kitchen chairs, which apparently make a much better fort than the ridiculous circus tent I bought thinking it would serve the same purpose.

Supervision - should be age appropriate 
Babies obviously need to be watched very closely, but toddlers and preschoolers can be monitored from a safe distance. Stay nearby enough to know what's going on and be able to intervene if necessary, but for the most part, just let the kids play. Isn't the point here that you DON'T have to entertain your child?
TIP : prior to the playdate, check in with your child to decide what toys she does NOT want to share with her friend, then tuck those things away until after the playdate.

Clean up 
Offering to help clean up at pick up is good manners, but if your host declines the help, let it be. If you are the one hosting, a good idea is to enlist the help of the kids in cleaning up BEFORE the visiting kid's parent arrives for pick up. This not only teaches good behavior, it also signals the impending pick up transition, which may make that transition go a little more smoothly. Unless your house has been utterly destroyed, or you are in a hurry to go somewhere and really don't have time to clean up the remaining mess on your own, take care of it yourself. Remember, next week it'll be someone else's house that gets trashed.

Should I stay or should I go?
Under 3 years old? Stay.
First playdate? Stay.
Your child isn't ready to be on her own? Stay.
Other than that, if the host suggests you take off, feel free. She might have a few things she'd like to get done while the kids play too. Just pick up on time and show your gratitude.

What if my child misbehaves?
It happens to EVERYONE. Even your perfectly-parented, well-adjusted little angel. It's hard to hear, but try not to be defensive. This is information about how your child behaves when you aren't in the room, and short of bugging your own house, how else can you get that?

What if someone else's child misbehaves?
It's not your place to discipline anyone else's child, so leave that to her parents. If there's a problem and you need to intervene, it's fine to explain your house rules calmly and to separate fighting children so they can calm down. One really effective tactic is to divert their attention from the situation entirely - snack time beautifully serves this purpose, as well as taking care of any testy attitudes brought on by hunger. Then when the other parent arrives for pick up, go ahead and tattle - with respect, diplomacy and politeness. Pretending things went beautifully when they didn't helps no one. Take the parent into another room (a.k.a. out of earshot) and let them know what happened. Try not to assign blame. Kids are just kids, and sometimes somebody gets bitten.

About the Author:

Laura Perras is a mom and Realtor who grew up in Needham, where she now works as part of the Perras Group at the William Raveis Needham office. In addition to mom-ing and selling houses, Laura enjoys djing, yoga, and arts and crafts. She’s involved in Parent Talk as Board CoChair of Marketing and Communications, Blog Coordinator, and Sale Committee Member.  Please reach out if you would like to submit a post to the blog or have feedback or ideas regarding what you’d like to see here :

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