Can You Trust Your Child’s Health Complaints?

sick-childDr. Corinne Masur

A few weeks ago a mother came in wondering if her daughter’s complaints in the night were real.  Her daughter had had a virus but was now largely over it. And yet she kept waking up and complaining that she was scared.  Was this a manipulation designed to get mom to sleep in her room again as she had when she had been so sick? Or was something else going on?

The little girl, who was 4, had clung to her mother and said she was scared over and over. Finally and with a great deal of questioning, the little girl told her mom that she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.

Again, the mother wondered: Is this real? Or does she just want me to stay in her room?

Continue reading

Helping Young Children Build Friendships

group_of_young_kids.pngElizabeth Hartman is the mom of two young boys and has a background in non-profit management. She lives in upstate New York and when she’s not busy with her family, she serves as an educational advocate, holds leadership roles in two local non-profit boards, and volunteers at a local community center.

If you have ever worried about your young child making friends, you are not alone!  While some children are social butterflies who make friends effortlessly, many others are slower to make friendships with peers.  Fortunately for us parents, our children have many years to hone their developing social skills and have us as their allies and guides in navigating the waters of new relationships!

As a mom of a preschooler and kindergartener, I have found the following things to be invaluable in supporting new friendships for my sons:

  1. Find the right match: Some children don’t mesh well, and that’s okay!  Think about your own life and friendships. You may notice that you gravitate towards outgoing people, quiet people, silly people or serious types.  The same is true of our children. A quieter child might enjoy spending time with another who loves directing activities or that same gentle soul might find a more outgoing child to be overwhelming.  By talking to your child, observing her with other children, and speaking with her classroom teacher, you can gather ideas for potential new friends.

  1. Set a date: Once you have a new friend in mind, contact the other parent to set up a playdate.  Planning can be a challenge but meeting up at a school playground at pickup time, or getting the kids together for lunch on a weekend day or dinner on a school night are all options that can fit into busy schedules.

  1. Plan for success: Talk to your child ahead of time about the playdate.  What can the kids do together? If you have a list of ideas that your child has pre-approved, it can be easier to make a helpful suggestion in the moment.  If you are hosting at your home, put away any toys that your child isn’t comfortable sharing and set out some easy favorites that are age appropriate. Thomas trains, arts and crafts, sensory play like play doh or slime, and dress up are big favorites for sharing with friends at my house! No need to plan elaborate projects – just let the kids play.

  2. Update your routine: Make talking about friends a regular part of your child’s day.  Questions like, what did you do at recess today? Who did you sit with at snack/lunch? Did anything funny happen at school today?in addition to asking about specific children you’ve already heard about can be helpful conversation starters. For preschoolers who are less generous with words, the classroom teacher or assistant can be a huge help in sharing hints about what to ask your child and who your child has been spending time with.  Try to keep conversations with your child short, pleasant and low-key. Show enthusiasm when they talk about their day (but don’t overdo it!) and remember details they share so you can ask more specific questions next time.

  3. Role play & reflect with your child: If you notice your child struggling with something at a playdate or you hear about a challenge at school, wait to bring it up until you can find a quiet moment at home or in the car.  Ask neutral and open ended questions like “I noticed/heard about x, can you tell me more about that? How did you feel when that happened? How do you think your friend felt? What do you think you’ll do if that happens again?  You can even role play with your child if it’s comfortable for her! Let her choose whether to take the role of her friend or herself.

  4. Trust your child:  If your child says he or she would like to invite a particular friend over, follow up!  If your child tells you he or she likes a particular child at school, make it a point to call that child’s parent to make a date for the children to get together.  Even 3 and 4 year olds know who they like and who they don’t. Support their choices!

  5. Model friendships: Let your child see you interacting with your friends.  Have people over to the house and model what being a good host looks like.  Enjoying being with friends is a value that can be demonstrated to your children in your own ways of socializing and treating friends.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there’s no rush or pressure to build these skills.  Each child will learn at a different pace and have a different level of interest in making new friends.  Just position yourself as the relaxed and supportive guide and let your child drive the process!

Continue reading

The Importance of Pets

Cara Piccerilli is a fourth-grade teacher in Hoboken, NJ. In her career as a teacher, she has had numerous class pets, including two bearded dragons, ten guinea pigs, and numerous fish. Her two sons, Loki (4 year old shih-tzu/poodle mix) and Eli (8 month old human), regularly make classroom appearances to help teach kindness and empathy to the students.
At my school, I’m known as “that teacher” – the one with the hamsters/gerbils/rats/
rabbits/guinea pigs – the one with the spiky lizard. I’m the teacher drawing a small crowd at dismissal because of the bearded dragon on my shoulder. I’m the teacher whose dog makes regular visits to each classroom. Need a topic for creative writing? I’ll happily “lose” a guinea pig in your classroom. Found a praying mantis on your carpet? Call that fourth-grade teacher! Numerous colleagues and parents have come to me for advice on getting a pet, and I’m proud to say that I can count at least 20 families who have acquired pets because of their experiences in my classroom.

Animals have always been important to me, and upon becoming a teacher, I knew I wanted to have as many animals as I could in the classroom. Many of the benefits of pets (including classroom pets) are well known: pets teach children to respect other living things, help instill responsibility, reduce stress and blood pressure, and teach life lessons about birth, illness, and death. However, as a teacher, I’ve seen many other benefits from having pets that are not often mentioned, but just as valuable. Children who grow up with pets or who have regular interactions with animals are often more adept at navigating the social world than children without pets. And first born or only children are provided with a social companion when they have a pet that they would otherwise have been  lacking. Continue reading

Easy Holiday Gift!

barkDr. Corinne Masur
Here is a recipe for the easiest holiday gift EVER – and one that even the youngest kids can help you make.

Holiday Bark
16 oz of your favorite chocolate chips
2 or 3 candy canes
Nuts, raisins or anything else you want to include
  1. Melt chocolate chips over a double boiler or in the microwave  (if you melt on the stove without a double boiler do so at your own risk – you do not want chocolate to burn).  This is the part you need to do without your child’s help as hot chocolate hurts and makes a big mess if it spills).
  2. Pour chocolate into a brownie tin (8×8 or larger if you want thinner bark).
  3. Have your child mix in any nuts or raisins you want included in the bark or save for the top.
  4. Have your other child crush peppermint sticks by pounding on them in a zip log bag.
  5. Have your child/children sprinkle these peppermint crumbs over the chocolate.
  6. Sprinkle any almonds, raisins or other nuts over the peppermint if you want them on top.
  7. Put pan in refrigerator.
  8. After several hours, take pan from refrigerator and remove chocolate from tin. Let your child/children break it up (and eat some) and then package in smaller tins or plastic bags tied with a ribbon.

Less Is More

Gift boxes
Dr. Corinne Masur
When it comes to the holidays and children, less IS more.
Whether we are talking about gifts or holiday activities, how about trying to do LESS this year?
Everyone seems to feel the need to do more – more parties, more decorations, more and better gifts for each other. And with the constant online media presence of everyone, we have to see what other people are doing and compare ourselves to those airbrushed portrayals of life (and by the way, does anyone ever post about their failed attempts to shop/bake/decorate? Their lack of time or energy?).

Continue reading