Promoting Positive Youth Development In Children Ages 1-5!
By Shenee Omuso, MAT, MA, CCC-SLP
TOL Education Department Director
Because children are not attending daycare/preschool during this quarantine time, our child’s development falls on us in a tremendous way. However, as parents, we do not have to feel overwhelmed or ill-equipped. We just have to apply a little more effort and energy to be a better parent than we were the day before!
Young children are limitless in their ability to grow and develop. You may have witnessed this yourself. It seems like overnight your child gets taller, smarter and…more vocal. However, this may not always be the case. Your young child may be having difficulties in meeting developmental milestones such as potty training, dressing, communication, bedtime/sleeping through the night, social/emotional/behavioral, walking, eating/drinking. Using this quarantine time to boost your child’s development can go a long way.
(Examples below reference personal experiences with my two year old and four year old.)
KEYS TO BOOST DEVELOPMENT
Focus on Consistency and Structure: Children not only thrive in environments that have a sense of routine, but as parents, it improves our mental state and preserves our energy. The problem with introducing new routines is that we often give up on them too early, especially when we don’t see change soon enough. Routines do not have to be extensive, they just have to be what works for you. Consistency and structure also refers to the words we use to describe or explain things. Consistency and structure allow you to hold yourself and your child accountable in a greater way.
EXAMPLE: Prior to quarantine, my husband and I were SUPER busy during the week, always on the go. We decided that we couldn’t do the 8-step night time routine similar to our friends. Instead, we focused on a 3-step routine every night: put on pajamas, brush teeth and read a book. This routine aligned with our priorities of developing strong habits & independence, good dental health and literacy. It also taught our children the importance of transitions and completing a task before moving onto another. Transitions like cleaning up (ex. before snack) are important for reinforcing vocabulary and teaching responsibility, teamwork and organization/order. We also consistently use phrases like, “focus and finish” or “take a deep breath…calm down” (with a downward hand movement) to help our children regulate their behavior and emotions. Since our children were very young, we do daily affirmations to foster self-confidence and strong sense of identity.
The daily schedule we created for our children during quarantine provides structure (ex. set time for wake-up/nap, intentional learning activity**, snack/lunch time, potty time, bedtime) but also allows flexibility in the other activities we incorporate (ex. science time, free play, creative art, puzzles, walks). This way our children are active and productive and my husband and I get a chance to rest or get our tasks done without stress. **Refers to a specific, targeted skill I am working with my children to develop such as letter sounds or basic addition.
Model Appropriate Language and Behavior: What you value, your kids will value. That means if you value TV and scrolling on your phone for hours, so will your child. If you value reading, your child will too. Using clear, positive speech at all times shows your child how to explain their emotions, communicate their needs and be compassionate to others. This means the next time you want to yell, “No” or “Stop!”, really think about why you are telling them this. Is it because what they are doing is unsafe or has “No” and “Stop” become so automatic, you don’t really know why you’re saying no. Instead evaluate why and determine if letting them play in the Tupperware cabinet is that big a deal and instead allow them to explore. Creating a balance of freedom and restriction is important so that “No” and “Stop” aren’t the only responses that make up their world.
EXAMPLE: Use phrases like… “I don’t like it when…” or “when you did that it made me feel…” or simply “Honey, use your words” to help your child express themselves. Yelling, tantrums or throwing things are normal responses for small children, however, we want to model for them how to deal with frustration, anger and sadness the right way. We also consistently require our children to say please and thank you because we model this behavior. These phrases seem simple, but go a long way in developing positive social skills. We try to be aware of when we yell, slam a door, how we speak to others in the grocery store, talk on the phone and how often we show tiredness or sadness because we know it’s just a matter of time before they model that behavior.
Let Learning Happen Naturally: Learning does not have to come through a YouTube video or worksheet. Teach your child by using things in their world. If your not a “teacher”, you don’t have to be. Your daily activities (cooking, paying bills, cleaning) can be opportunities to teach your child valuable lessons. This means involving our children in tasks that we may typically want them to stay out of (smile). So the next time they say “But why?”… take the time to explain. Seek to incorporate “teachable moments” as often as you can.
EXAMPLE: As babies, when I would change my child’s diaper, I would count or sing the ABC song EVERY TIME. Not only did this help with language development and speech, now that they are older, they have a better understanding of letters and numbers that I can build on. When cooking, I teach my children about ingredients and sequence or ask questions like “What do you think will happen when I…?” Walking letters to the mailbox, we identify the numbers/colors on each house or learn how to follow directions like left, right, straight. When we change our clothes, I teach them body parts, articles of clothes, how to put their clothes away or ask questions like… “Let’s look outside…it’s rainy and windy. Should we wear rain boots or sandals?”
Use Observation & Data to Speed Progress: One of my close friends one day said to me, “Your child will teach you who they are.” Whoa. The question is do we impose our learned, self imposed “ways of parenting” based on who we were as children, how we were raised or expert opinion instead of what our children are showing us. If you have a goal you want to achieve during this time, closely monitor your child’s behavior and decide what creative changes need to be made for them to progress further.
EXAMPLE: I noticed that my toddlers took all day to eat one meal and I ended up having to feed them (which is ridiculous for a 2 and 4 year old). I got so frustrated! So I decided to observe what was really going on. The first thing I observed is they would eat while watching TV (I’m guilty of the same). The second is the type of spoon they were eating which was difficult for them to manage and the last was that they were taking one bite every five minutes. Once I turned off the TV, sat them at the table and changed their utensils, they were eating but were still taking a very long time and playing around. Simple solution… Put on a timer. I have them get the tablet (they feel a sense of control and involvement) and put on a timer. If they are not done eating, they have a clear, consistent consequence (which may look different for your child)!
- Each day we build foundational skills that will last a lifetime.
- There is no shortage of information online that can help you keep your child active and engaged, so take the time to find activities to engage your child.
For feedback, please email Shenee at firstname.lastname@example.org.