In a Nutshell - Quick Tips To Grow Children's Skills

    Healthy Habits

    TIP: Use the words “safe and healthy” when teaching children about choices some adults make that could be harmful to children. “Wine is not a safe and healthy choice for children.”

    TIP: Have a dance party – it’s active and fun.  Take turns choosing songs.

    TIP: Encourage physical activity by making it a routine part of your day. Take a walk together after eating or do jumping jacks after napping.

    TIP: Grow it from seeds!  Children are more interested in trying food they plant, water, and tend.  Bean, tomato, and strawberry plants are hearty and can thrive indoors in a pot.

    TIP: Children love chopsticks.  Build fine motor coordination while they eat cut up veggies.

    TIP: A cookie cutter can make sandwiches more interesting to children.  Cutting and arranging sandwich shapes is fun to do together.

    TIP: Sometimes the foods children like can be surprising. Try offering black beans, rice balls, edamame, or whole wheat pasta.

    TIP: Kids love to “make it themselves.” Serve sliced apples or whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or soynut butter and provide a small spreading knife.

    TIP: Children like to dip foods.  Try pairing vegetables with hummus or fruit slices with a little bowl of yogurt.

    TIP: Whole-grain cereals mixed with raisins make a healthy, tasty snack.

    TIP: Celebrate with “treats” other than food.  Have children lead an activity or wear special clothing like a “birthday vest” or “cap of kindness.”  Reserve these privileges for special occasions.

    TIP: Don’t keep foods on hand that you don’t want children to eat.  Cookies, chips, and candy should be treats eaten on special occasions.

    TIP: Eat at a table when possible rather than while walking around or sitting in front of the TV.  This reduces “mindless” munching that leads to poor eating habits.

    TIP: Children are less likely to eat a well-balanced meal when they have milk, juice, or snacks beforehand.  Consider just serving water in the half hour before mealtimes.

    TIP: Pediatricians recommend a maximum of 4 to 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day. Offer some water or an apple instead.

    Supporting Self-Control

    TIP: After an outburst or poor choice, wait until the child is calm, and make a plan for next time. “If someone calls you a name - what could you do differently next time?”  If needed, offer an idea.

    TIP: Make an effort to use “feeling” words yourself.  Children learn watching adults.  “I am excited that you are starting kindergarten this year!”

    TIP: Validating children’s feelings lets them know you understand.  Try using the phrase “lots of children…”  “Lots of children feel mad when it’s time to stop playing and take a nap.”

    TIP: Practice appropriate words children can use to handle a recurring conflict with another child.  “If she grabs your shirt again, use a strong voice and say, ‘That’s bothering me!  Please stop!’”

    TIP: Comment when children are able to wait – in line, in the waiting room, or for a turn with a toy.  It’s hard for children.  “Wow, you are waiting so calmly for a turn on the computer.” 

    TIP: Prevent outbursts by stepping in early. “You look angry that it’s clean up time.  Would you like to take a minute to calm down?  You’ll feel so proud of yourself.”

    TIP: Notice when children use good self-control.  “I like the way you used your words when he took your marker.”

    TIP: Practice calm down steps with children every day at a designated time – right before nap or after playing outside.  “Take 3 Deep Breaths, Count to 5, Say ‘Calm Down.’” 

    TIP: Identify a “settle down spot” that anyone can use when they have “big feelings.”  Sit in the “settle down spot” yourself to show that adults can choose to be calm, too.

    TIP: Talk out loud about your feelings so children can observe how you handle them. “I feel frustrated, so I’m going to take a minute of quiet-time before I say anything else.”

    Initiating Independence

    TIP: Keep a stepstool in the closet or install child-level coat hooks so children can hang up coats by themselves every day.

    TIP: Children are more likely to be creative when they experience a little boredom.  Turn off the TV.  Turn off the computer.  Say “Let’s think of 3 things you could do now.”

    TIP: Young children can make meaningful contributions.  Give children age-appropriate chores that really help out – hanging up towels, matching socks, clearing dishes, etc.

    TIP: Keep water bottles where children can reach them.  Not only is drinking water a healthy habit – but easy access encourages children to take care of themselves.

    TIP: A tangible token like a lipstick kiss on a piece of paper or a small photograph tied to ribbon can help children cope with being separated from parents.

    TIP: Encourage persistence.  Even when they don’t succeed, children learn that continuing to try is important. Gently invite a child, “Let’s try one more time.”

    TIP: When children are struggling, offer only part of a solution – like a stepstool to reach something high or place one piece of a puzzle.  “Can you try the rest by yourself?”

    TIP: Try to resist the urge to “redo” what children have done imperfectly.  The process of doing it themselves is more important than how perfectly a shirt is buttoned or napkins are placed.

    TIP: Some children are motivated by a friendly challenge.  “Let’s see if you can get your shoes and coat on ALL BY YOURSELF!”

    TIP: Children learn by “doing it themselves.”  Try to allow an extra 5 minutes so you have time for children to zip their own jackets or fasten their shoes.

    Building Brainpower

    TIP: “Old school” toys like blocks, cardboard boxes, dress-up clothes, and crayons cultivate children’s creativity much more than anything battery-powered.

    TIP: Before an outing or activity, invite children to make predictions about what they might see or do.  Write these down and see which predictions come true.  “What do you think we’ll see at the park?” 

    TIP: Once or twice a week ask children to draw a picture about their day in a special notebook.  As they explain their drawing, print a few sentences under the picture. Children love to read these journals.

    TIP: Comment positively on qualities and work ethics that can be cultivated – like effort or persistence rather than on “fixed” traits like smart or pretty.  “Wow! You worked really hard on this.”

    TIP: Create turn-taking stories with children.  Start a story, like “Once upon a time there was a small brown bear…okay now it’s your turn to say what’s next…”

    TIP: Read your book while children read their books.  Ask them to tell you about their book. Talk about your book.

    TIP: Read – Read – Read to children.

    TIP: Recycle junk mail for creative play.  Children love the post cards, blank credit cards, and stickers adults usually throw away – and they’re playing with print and language!

    TIP: Instead of turning on the TV, pull out an art box with glue sticks, yarn, greeting cards, old magazines, washable markers, buttons, cotton balls, paper, and round-edge scissors.

    TIP: Save cardboard boxes for “creations” before recycling them.  Offer markers or crayons and round-edge scissors.

    TIP: Brainstorm with children “after the fact.”  What else could have made that tower taller?”

    TIP: Brainstorm with children while waiting in line.  “What are things that make you happy?” OR “Let’s think of things we could make with play dough.”

    TIP: Point out the print that is all around.  Invite children to guess what is written on signs or labels.  Ask what “clues” help them figure out what is printed.

    TIP: Limit “baby talk” and overly simple language.  Even throw in a few bigger words! Children’s vocabulary increases as they figure out what words mean in context.

    Cultivating Cooperation

    TIP: For smoother routines – like getting ready for bed – create a 4 or 5 step checklist with simple pictures.  A fun activity like reading together should be last.  Hang the checklist at child’s eye level.

    TIP: Play music while children clean up. It will become a cue that children respond to and it makes the job more pleasant.

    TIP: Do not repeat rules over and over. If a problematic habit is forming, state a consequence and follow through.  “If you throw the books, I will take them.”

    TIP: Tell children ahead of time about changes – little or big ones. “Ten minutes until clean up time.”   Or “Tomorrow, a plumber will be here all day and we may have to do some things differently.” 

    TIP: Thank children for cooperating.  They love it and it models good manners. “Thanks for getting your coat on quickly.  It’s so helpful.”

    TIP: Distract children with humor if you see resistance coming on. Sing a silly song or talk in a funny voice. Children are cooperating before they know it – and laughing!

    TIP: Turn chores into races. “Let’s see if you can get all these toys in the basket before I count to 20.”

    TIP: Instead of asking over and over, help children respond to requests the first time. Walk over, rest a hand gently on their shoulder, and speak in a quiet, firm tone.  “Please put on your shoes.”

    TIP: Establish some predictable routines that don’t change.  For example, when meals are finished everyone takes their plate from the table to the sink.

    TIP: Explain “why” to children. “Putting shoes in the basket keeps us from tripping over them and makes it easy to find them next time.”

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