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Staying sane during the toddler years

Babies turn into toddlers very quickly. And parents are surprised (and of course, happy) by how quickly the stages of night-waking, dealing with colic, and constant nursing have passed.

But they now have a new set of challenges to face as toddlers can be a handful. Raising toddlers and preschoolers is not for the faint of heart and even though elder parents might tell you that the phase goes by quickly, there will be moments when you will feel like losing your mind.

So how can you keep your sanity while your cute and adorable 3-year-old is throwing a fit, kicking and screaming at you for not cutting the cheese in the way he wanted? The good news is that with (a lot of) patience, stamina, creativity, determination, and sense of humor, you can sail past these days and actually enjoy the tantrums thrown by your “heart-melting” toddler. Here are some tips:

  1. Let children burn energy.

Kids have a lot of energy that needs to be released, and they need outside play time every day to do this. On rainy days or when the weather is too cold to go outside, set up some constructive play indoors where they can take part in physical activity. Obstacle courses, forts, Hide & Seek, and songs with accompanying movements will all help to quell temper tantrums by channeling energy into something positive.

  1. Remind yourself of what’s really important.

Keep reminding yourself that “all messes can be cleaned up.” Resist the urge to have a meltdown when you see your new lipstick being used as crayon or mounds of toilet paper trailed on the bathroom floor. While nothing can be done about ruined items, every action can be turned into a learning opportunity. Make a game of cleaning up and sing the song “Clean Up,” to make doing so part of the game, not a punishment.

And don’t forget to take a picture of your children when you catch them in mischief – after some years you all will share a good laugh over it.

  1. Teach children to respect “nice things.”

The Montessori method encourages parents to treat children as small adults. As such, you should be able to have knickknacks and decorative items around your home that you teach your children to handle carefully or not at all. Montessori kids learn that “this is china and will break, so we must carry it with two hands and be very careful.” They also learn that there are items precious to mom or dad that they shouldn’t touch without permission. While childproofing to remove any hazards is important, children can and should be taught how to handle various common household items.

  1. Arrange playdates.

Parenting can be lonely. But there are many parents out there who are looking for friends to share their days with. Join a Mom’s or Dad’s group or go out with friends who have kids the same age as yours. A little time out in a different atmosphere will be refreshing and fun for all of you.

  1. Don’t force them into milestones they are not ready for.

Respect the pace at which they are developing and don’t push them into reaching a certain milestone that they are not yet ready to reach. The key is to encourage discovery with a positive attitude but to recognize when a child is becoming frustrated and has reached his or her limit. At that point, step in and take a break. You can always revisit that task another time.

  1. Don’t compare.

This goes for the both of you. Just like your children are different from others, you are also not like the other moms. Just because one mom looks like she has her kids under control on social media doesn’t mean you are a failure (plus, she might not have it all under control).

The same goes for children. Children have distinctive interests, skills, and developmental speed.  Comparing them with other children will put stress on them and lower their self-esteem. It is likely that the comparison might lead them to shy away from social situations and make them reluctant to take part in activities.

  1. Take time out for yourself.

Most parents are so focused on their children that they hardly take time for themselves and their spouse. Children are your first priority but you still need to pamper yourself and spend adult time with your better half. Hire a babysitter at least once a week or, if finances are an issue, trade services with another parent. It doesn’t matter what you do with your free time; what matters is that you have it.

You might feel like you are fighting a never-ending battle but remember, the “little days” will go by quickly. Keep reminding yourself of this mantra and embrace each day with your toddler.

Happy parenting!

August 16th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education, Tips

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The value of art for preschoolers

art

Your preschooler is busy spreading different colored paint on paper. Trying to be encouraging, you ask her, “What are you making?” and she shrugs. Until you mentioned it, she hadn’t given any thought to what she was making or how it will end up.

Little kids are masters of the moment. They love the way different colors turn up on paper and unlike you and me, they are least bothered about the finished product.

Art – whether it’s in the form of drawing, painting, theatres, or music is a natural activity that allows free play in children. The unstructured play and the freedom to manipulate different materials give children lots of opportunity for exploration and experimentation.

These artistic activities are not only fun but educational for children as well. Apart from increasing their chances of becoming the next Picasso, children can benefit from art in a number of ways, including:-

Fine motor skills –

Grasping pencils, making dots, mixing colors, cutting with scissors, rolling playdough, tearing paper, and controlling a glue stick – all these tasks require a lot of dexterity and coordination. Yet these activities are fun and children usually wish to do them again and again and that too without your encouragement – hence improving their motor skills over time.

Writing skills –

Scribbling is the precursor to writing. The random scribbling your child does on paper will able them to control the crayon better and with time, the doodles will turn into shapes and eventually alphabets.

Math skills –

Art helps the children learn and understand different mathematical concepts like sizes, shapes, counting, and making comparison.

Vocabulary –

When children create something, they like to show it to everyone. As they describe their artwork, their vocabulary also increases. You can also encourage their language skill by asking open-ended questions in return.

Problem solving skills –

Which color should I use? How to make the color darker, should I press harder on the crayon? How to stick the legs on the clay figure?

When children are given different materials to work with, they learn to solve their own problems and make a choice – which thus enhances their problem solving abilities and enables them to gain more confidence.

Outlet for emotions –

Art allows children to express their emotions in a safe way. They learn to control their emotions and recognize that they can express both – sad and happy feelings through a positive medium.

How to motivate creativity?

These were just some of the benefits your child can gain from art. Here are some tips on how you can inspire creativity in children.

  • Prepare for a mess
  • Don’t give direction
  • Don’t draw with your child
  • Ask them lots of questions about their artwork
  • Appreciate the final piece and avoid giving suggestions or changes.

Remember, children learn through trial and error. So as long as your child is playing in a safe environment, let them explore by themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2nd, 2017

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How to build gross motor skills

Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills involve using the large muscles of the body to perform everyday activities such as walking, running, and jumping. They are also important for sporting and playground skills such as climbing, catching and throwing a ball.

How do you know if your children are reaching important gross motor milestones? Children who have problems with gross motor skills are likely to:

  • Achieve sitting, crawling, and walking much later than average
  • Move stiffly
  • Avoid physical activities
  • Get tired frequently
  • Have trouble maintaining an upright position when sitting on a tabletop or mat
  • At an older age, have problems following instructions during physical tasks (e.g. stepping forward before throwing, maneuvering through obstacle courses)

Weak gross motor skills can get in the way of having fun. Children who lack gross motor skills also often lack fine motor skills that are necessary for formal school work and day-to-day tasks, so ignoring this problem can lead to other problems that affect every area of your children’s lives.

You can help children build strong gross motor skills by practicing these fun activities at home.

Hopscotch:

A game of hopscotch helps strengthen muscles along with balance and coordination. The one and two-boxed pattern will allow children to gain a sense of balance as they hop on two legs then one and vice versa.  The game can also be played indoors by using colored tapes.

You’re It:

The traditional game of tag requires a lot of running and dodging. It can be played indoors as well as outdoors and accommodates any amount of players present. You can vary the game rules and have kids run in pairs or have them hold hands.

Indoor obstacle course:

An obstacle course is a fun way to give children lots of physical exercise while also giving them goals to accomplish. Use furniture, pillows, blankets, and even cardboard boxes to create areas for children to crawl on and through. This is also a good way to teach children new vocabulary such as through, under, inside, and over.

 Ball play:

Whether it is throwing a ball, catching, kicking, or hitting with a bat, playing with balls is a fun way to improve concentration, aim, and coordination. Use a variety of shapes, sizes and textures from plastic to basketballs and even footballs to keep the games interesting.

Water play:

Most children love to kick, splash, and run around in water. While water play is a fun activity, it is beneficial for developing gross motor skills as well. And this is not limited to swimming only. Just running around the garden trying to dodge sprinklers or pouring water from one bucket to another can develop muscular and core strength.

Encourage children to take part in the above activities and with time and a little effort, you will be amazed at how quickly their initial clumsiness turns into coordination.

 

July 9th, 2017

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Building Fine Motor Skills

fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve using the smaller muscle of hands, finger, and thumb. Developing fine motor skills is essential for common activities such as writing, buttoning, using scissors, and zippering. These abilities gradually develop through experience and exposure to a variety of toys, materials, and even foods.

What skills do fine motor skills include?

  • Pencil skills (writing, scribbling, drawing, coloring)
  • Cutting using scissors
  • Construction skills with Lego and puzzles
  • Doll dress-up
  • Tying shoelaces
  • Closing/opening zips, buttons, belts
  • Opening lunch boxes
  • Using cutlery
  • Brushing teeth and hair

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are important for performing everyday tasks. Without the ability to complete these daily activities, children’s self-esteem can suffer along with their academic performance. They are also unable to develop appropriate independence in their life skills, such as dressing and feeding themselves.

How to encourage fine motor skill development

Children don’t need much prodding to seek new adventures but it takes time to master a new skill. With some encouragement, patience, and support from your side, children will be more confident about the tasks and eventually surprise you one day with their abilities.

So the next time you hear “Let me do it!” try to step back and let children try their hand at simple tasks like getting dressed or spreading jam on a toast. It will require some patience on your part, but it will be well worth the wait.

Squeeze the sponge:

Set up two separate bowls – one empty and the other filled with water. Let the child soak up the sponge with water and squeeze it out in the other bowl. The simple activity will strengthen the hands and forearms.

Make macaroni necklaces:

Stringing necklaces is a great way to improve children’s creativity and improve hand-eye coordination. To start, use a thick piece of string and large pieces of pasta. Over time, you can add different shaped dried pasta along with big, colorful beads to enhance children’s creative skills.

Finger painting:

The idea of finger painting might sound a bit messy to you, but for children, it’s an important aspect of development. Finger painting allows children to improve fine motor skills by strengthening finger and hand muscles while encouraging precision and varied levels of pressure. Additionally, children learn more about colors, shapes, and patterns while showcasing their creativity.

If you are concerned about children marring furniture or walls during the art activity, set up an easel or a thick piece of paper in the yard, garage, or any other area that can be washed easily.

Playdough:

Don’t underestimate the power of the old-fashioned playdough. Manipulating playdough helps strengthen the muscles of children’s hands, improves creative skills, and develops hand-eye coordination.  So let them squish, roll, and flatten it as much as you want to. But make sure you use a non-toxic form of playdough or better yet, extend the activity by making your own playdough. Recipes abound on the Internet and allow children to create their own colors, to boot!

Remember, the skills that children master today will help them gain a steady position once they advance towards formal learning in kindergarten and beyond. With some effort, children will gain one of the most important skills that will ultimately help them reach many more milestones in the future.

 

 

 

 

June 20th, 2017

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Why Open Houses Are Worth Your Time

Open House

 

For many parents, choosing the right preschool for their child is as stressful as selecting the right college for a teen. There are so many schools out there with varying curriculum that it’s no surprise parents become overwhelmed.

Luckily, it’s a norm for most schools to hold open houses to give parents a glimpse of what to expect. Not just for new parents, these events are beneficial for parents whose children are already attending the particular school. By taking part in such events, you can see the children’s progress, meet up with teachers, and get a good look at the classrooms.

And of course, open houses are a great way to communicate with other parents. Regular school days are usually filled with the hustle and bustle of picking up and dropping off, but open houses provide a great opportunity to visit with fellow parents and share experiences.

To make the most of these events, follow these suggestions:

Go early: Try to reach the venue early so you have sufficient time to chat with other parents, teachers, and the leadership of the school. Sometimes, open houses follow a program and you don’t want to miss important introductions and information.

Talk to the teachers: Although these nights are not about individual children, they are perfect for getting to know the teachers, their expectations, and their personalities. This helps make future conversations more productive and pleasant.

Check out the curricula: The curriculum is a guide to what the children will be learning during the school year. Since different preschools follow different teaching philosophies, it may be a good idea to find out about them in advance.

Voice your concerns: Although an open house will not give you a chance to discuss specific issues your child is facing, you can still voice your concerns during the event. For example, if your child is complaining about not getting enough time to eat lunch, open house is the perfect place to get clarification on the duration of lunch time.

Volunteer: Most schools appreciate parent volunteers during trips, events, and with everyday classroom resources. As a parent, you might have your hands full, but remember, school is more than a pick-up, drop-off point. It’s a place where children spend most of their childhood. Seeing you there and helping out will go a long way in giving children a more meaningful school experience.

Always Remember:

An open house is neither the place nor a setting to discuss your child’s unique needs. If your child is attending the specific school and you have a concern about his development or behavior – schedule a meeting in the future where you and the teacher can talk about the problems at hand.

May 31st, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education, Tips

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Montessori Education for Children with Special Needs

There are many ways in which the Montessori classroom can benefit a child with special needs. Special needs children may have developmental, social, and academic needs that differ from the average child. The materials, setting, multi-age groups, and calm focus of a Montessori education are just a few examples. Montessori education is beautifully beneficial for any child, especially those who might need a little more support.

Hands-on Materials

The Montessori classroom is jam-packed with beautiful hands-on learning materials. This gives special needs children the opportunity to work with their hands and explore their environment. Montessori learning activities are also focused on enhancing fine motor skills as well as developing independence. Students are encouraged to follow their own interests when it comes to all academic subjects such as reading, writing, math, and science. It is this peaceful freedom that allows special needs children to thrive and flourish.

Working at Their Own Pace

Just like any other Montessori student, special needs children are encouraged to work at their own pace. No child is alike in their development. It is important that each child is given the freedom to learn at the pace that makes them most comfortable as well as providing a rich educational experience. This eliminates the worry and stress that many children face in a traditional education setting. Students are given the tools to build self-confidence and a positive self-image.

Multi-Age Groups

Children in a Montessori classroom are paired with students of a three-year age gap. This encourages a sense of community and hones social skills. Multi-age groups also eliminate the anxiety of needing to “keep up” with peers. Special needs children will worry less about keeping up and more about participating and enjoying classroom life. Older students can help a special needs child who is struggling and an older special needs child can build confidence by teaching younger kids.

Emphasis on Respect

Children are highly respected in a Montessori educational setting. There is no separation between “special needs” and “normal” children. Here, we work as a family and help each other learn and evolve as human beings. All Montessori children are given the tools to become helpful, respectful, confident, and loving people.
A Montessori learning environment is beneficial for ALL children, including those with special needs. Having a wide-ranging and developmentally diverse group of children working together is what Montessori education is all about.

May 29th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

How to stimulate even the youngest infant

infant-stimulation

Many of us have heard the term infant stimulation but don’t know what it is or why it is important.

Infant stimulation is using specific activities to arouse babies’ senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. This helps in improving their attention span, curiosity, and memory which enables them to reach developmental milestones faster.

Recent research on children’s brain development has shown that infants’ environments have a dramatic effect on their growth. This impacts how well they think and learn as both children and adults.

There is no need for special training or products to stimulate the young mind. As parents and caregivers, we have several simple, free opportunities throughout the day to satisfy children’s natural desire to learn.

Make eye contact. Infants start recognizing faces much earlier than you think. You can make the most of the time when their eyes are open by maintaining eye contact with them. Talk to children while changing diapers and make funny faces. Remember, every time they stare at you they are building their recognition memory.

Interact with them. Instead of leaving children with their stuffed toys in the crib, make stuffed animals come to life. How? By giving them a voice and moving them around. This will enhance their imagination and encourage their creativity.

Play peek-a-boo. Lightly cover the baby’s face with a blanket and talk to her, so she can hear even when her eyes are closed. Pull the blanket away with a “peek-a-boo!” This will not only bring a few giggles but will also teach her that Mom may disappear for a while but she always comes back.

Grab a tissue. Most young babies love pulling out tissue from the box. It may be a few cents’ loss for you but tissues are one of the best sensory play items. Young children can crumple them, tear them, or smooth them out. The key is to allow them to explore their environment safely.

Read books. No one can disagree with the importance of reading. Young infants might not be able to follow the story but they will definitely enjoy seeing the colorful pictures and the sound of your voice. Plus, reading is a great way to connect with children and spend some one-on-one time with them.

Point out differences. Choose two pictures that are similar but have a minor difference and display them. Even the youngest infant will go back and forth between the pictures trying to distinguish the similarities and differences. Simple games like this one engage the mind and babies’ natural curiosity.

Let them smell YOU. Avoid exposing young children to artificially scented perfumes and deodorants. Instead, let them get used to your unique smell.  Hold them, cuddle them, and give them lots of kisses in order to enhance their oxytocin, aka the ‘love’ hormone.

Include them. Whether you are going somewhere or trying a new food, engage children by telling them everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. You may not realize it, but this gives children endless vocabulary-building opportunities.

Always remember, stimulation works best when babies are alert and giving you their complete attention. If you find your infant losing interest or acting tired, it’s time for less stimulation and a rest.

By applying these simple tips regularly, your baby will not only grow intellectually but will also grow more in love with you. Nothing can replace quality time together, so make the most of your time with your infants.

 

May 19th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

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Encouraging Independence – 9 Tips for Parents of Preschoolers

Preschool shoes

“I’ll do it myself!” If you’re a parent of a preschooler, you’ve likely heard this a thousand times.

Of course, it’s usually when you are running late that 4-year-old Cathy decides to put on her own socks and shoes. So you help her – but this time only!

Preschool experts say that children should be encouraged whenever they wish to exert their independence. Even though they may need plenty of parental help, preschoolers are typically able to do more than we expect from them.

So how can we as parents encourage their independence?

According to Diane Kinder, PhD and a professor at the University of Washington, “It takes more time in the beginning to teach independence, but in the long run, it benefits both parent and child.”

Here are some tips to encourage independence in young children:

  1. Expect more. At Montessori Kids Universe, children are expected to clean up after themselves, hang up their jackets, and pour their own water at snack time. However, when they leave the classroom…they change! The thumb goes in the mouth and the lunch bag is handed over to the parents. Maybe it’s a good idea to raise the expectation bar a bit more and allow children to stretch and meet it.
  2. Resist doing it for them. It might be quicker and easier for you to help them put on their shoes, but in the long run it won’t help children become more self-sufficient. Instead, ask them if they can do it themselves or if they need help. The words will work like magic and most children will take pride in doing it on their own.
  3. Assign chores. Assigning children age-appropriate chores not only builds their confidence but also helps them feel more capable as contributing members of the family.
  4. Don’t redo. Resist the urge to help children between tasks or “fix” their work. Praise them for what they have done well. If you redo their work, you might discourage them from trying in the future. If you find your child getting frustrated with a task or having difficulty, don’t just take over. Instead, say, “Wow, you did a great job and we’ll do it again tomorrow.” Don’t let them give up. You want them to learn perseverance and dedication to a task.
  5. No ifs. Most of us have a habit of saying, “If you clean up your books, we will go to the park.” How about saying, “When you are done cleaning up, we’ll go to the park.” Give it a try and see how a minor change in the sentence transforms children’s attitude.
  6. Let them work it out. Kids often get into mini squabbles about petty issues, and you won’t always be there to referee. Stand back and let kids work out their own problems (unless the mini tiff has turned into a beating competition).
  7. Involve them. If your daughter has colored on the walls, have her help wash it off. If she knocks over her friend’s block tower, tell her to reconstruct it. Include her in righting her wrongdoings.
  8. Lighten up. We parents also get frustrated easily. It’s okay if your children are not perfectly setting the table or buttoning their shirts. They are young and still learning. Let them learn at their own pace and make mistakes along the way.

As parents, we struggle when our children struggle. But have patience, take a step back, and watch from the sidelines so your children can learn new skills – regardless of the time it takes.

May 3rd, 2017

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The Hands-On Approach to Learning

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Hands-on learning is one of the attributes that distinguishes a Montessori classroom from a classical educational environment. Students are encouraged to learn by touching, feeling, and doing rather than typical mundane worksheets. Dr. Maria Montessori said; “The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” Useful information can be better committed to permanent memory by learning hands-on than in any other way. Repetition and manipulation is key!

The Traditional Approach

In a traditional learning environment, children sit in rows of desks and listen to the direction of their teacher. They are given very little choice as the mindset is collective – what is best for the group as a whole. They are told what to complete and when, making learning a dull and forced experience. When it comes time to take a test, students dump what they have recently learned onto a piece of paper and forget much of it soon after. But education is not “one size fits all.” Each child learns differently and develops on a unique spectrum. A Montessori classroom provides the apparatus for this to take place.

The Montessori Approach

There are no desks in a Montessori classroom. In this learning environment, children are encouraged to move around the room and choose from the vast array of activities available to them. Once they choose an activity, they bring it to a floor mat or child size furniture and complete their work comfortably. They are free to explore their materials and make discoveries for themselves.

When children work with their hands, information becomes concrete and difficult to forget. Learning is designed to be an enjoyable experience instead of something children dread. Instead of relief when a lesson is completed, students find excitement in moving on to the next level.

Hands-on Materials

While any subject can be learned with a pencil and paper, the Montessori classroom presents educational subjects through colorful, engaging materials. Examples include:

  • Math. Rods, beads, and sandpaper numbers are used to learn basic counting and arithmetic. Students use their hands to manipulate materials and work out problems in a sensory way.
  • Reading. A moveable alphabet allows children to move letters around and learn their sounds. They can choose what words they would like to learn and gradually evolve their reading ability.
  • Writing. Montessori classrooms use painting and tracing exercises to fine tune the pincer grasp and integrate reading and writing.
  • Science. Challenging hands-on experiments allow children to learn about the world around them in a beautiful and sensory way.

When it comes to a rich education, a hands-on approach is the way to go. This is the most effective as well as enjoyable way for children to learn. When a student moves up in their education they will remember what they learned through their experiences and apply those lessons throughout their life.

April 20th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

How to stop kids from hitting and biting

kids fighting

You are enjoying a sunny afternoon at the playground when suddenly you hear a loud wail. Imagining it is your toddler, you rush to the area where children are playing and are horrified to find your child’s playmate sporting a teeth-imprinted arm while the mother of the victim gives you (and your kid) cold stares.

As much as you want to sink into the ground with embarrassment, you remain (somewhat) calm, apologize, and remove your child from the scene.

Surprisingly, biting and hitting are normal parts of childhood development. By the time children are in preschool, most of them have bitten or hit at least once and have also been on the receiving end of an unfriendly blow.

Why Children Bite And Hit?

Children become aggressive for a number of reasons.

  • Expressing emotions: Since young children can’t talk, they use biting and hitting to express anger, fear, frustration, or even love.
  • To seek attention: When children feel ignored, they use biting, hitting, or other aggressive measures to get noticed – even if the attention they receive is negative instead of positive.
  • Coping with change: Has another sibling entered the family? Are you moving or have you started a new job? Children become frustrated when they are coping with change and ultimately resort to hitting and biting as a way to express their fear over the changes happening around them.
  • For defense: Young children hit and bite for defense. If another child is hitting or biting them continuously, you can’t expect your toddler to stay quiet, right?
  • Teething: If your baby is teething, then it’s likely that he or she is biting to get that irritable itch out from their gums.

How To Stop Biting and Hitting?

In all instances, don’t throw a tantrum or spank children when they behave negatively. Using the retaliation protocol can teach children that violence causes violence. But of course, don’t leave the issue as it is – children should know that their behavior is wrong and should not be repeated.

  • Remain calm: We know it may be difficult but don’t lose your temper. Take a deep breath, make sure the other child is okay, and take your children away from the scene. No blaming or punishing during the first phase!
  • Talk it out: When you feel that your child has simmered down, ask about the cause behind the biting. Explain that it hurts their friend and we don’t hit/bite when upset.
  • Teach them problem-solving methods: Use imaginary play to teach children how they can resolve issues. You may pretend to be a friend with your child’s favorite toy. Teach them to express their emotions with words like, “This is my toy” and “Please give it back.”
  • Give attention: If you feel that your children are acting out due to lack of time with you, give them plenty of love and attention throughout the day. If you are a working parent, set aside an hour or two each evening for uninterrupted one-on-one with them.
  • Talk to the teachers: Make sure that the behavior is not being repeated at your child’s preschool. Talk with the teacher and find out about the preschool’s environment and whether or not some other children are biting, hitting, or teasing your toddler.

Even with the best prevention methods, incidents will happen until children grow out of the phase, which most children do after a certain age.  So stay firm and keep teaching children empathy. Give your kids the tools to deal with conflict constructively.

 

 

 

 

April 17th, 2017

Posted In: Tips

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