Apologizing to Kids

My son came up to me the other day to tell me that one of his family members had pushed him and didn’t say sorry. The family member was within earshot and came right over to say that “No, no, no, I didn’t do that,” making my son feel embarrassed for telling me. It hurt me to see that my son was conflicted with telling the truth, feeling embarrassed, and learning that apologizing was seen as a ‘bad thing’ all within one single event. It was also a tough situation for me as I was then faced with criticizing an adult, taking the word of a preschooler over them, and scolding someone that wasn’t my child. It certainly wasn’t an easy situation for anyone, but what parenting moment is?

Look at Apologies in Your House

I recall when I was a child. I was no stranger to mistakes and I certainly stole a toy or two from my siblings. The instant I made a mistake, I was chastised for an apology and was expected to deliver one on the spot. Children today are treated no different but when an adult makes a mistake, especially wronging a child, they often delay or don’t offer an apology. The reasoning could be embarrassment, believing that it was too small of a mistake for an apology or that no one would notice. The reason could also be that they believe they are too old and wise for apologies or that children aren’t smart enough to understand the mistake made. It could also be due to adults believing that apologies are a sign of weakness and that children would no longer respect them or would start to take advantage of them.

Whatever the reasoning, the opposite is the case. All mistakes warrant an apology, children really do see everything, no one is ever too old to make a mistake, children are very intelligent and empathy is build right into them, and children do not view our actions as signs of weakness, only as moments to learn from and mimic.

The Importance of Apologizing

There are numerous benefits to apologizing to a child, so many that I’ve barely succeeded at summarizing them into a blog.

First of all, children watch our every move and aspire to be just like us. They learn much more from our actions than from our words. Recall building your child’s foundation, as discussed in so many other blogs? The ones about dental hygiene, sports, or proper nutrition? Empathy and kindness are no different when it comes to building connections and memories in your child’s behavioural blueprint. Your child will mimic your actions, so when you’ve used strong language, broken promises, or even accidentally bumped them to the ground, they won’t just remember what you did but how to responded after the fact. Build the blueprint to include a genuine apology, being the role-model for them and leading by example. It’s a guarantee they will use your guiding principle when they make their own mistakes.

Genuinely apologizing to children also strengthens the bond we share with them and lets them know we are listening and care about them and their feelings. They are people too and grow from positive self-esteem knowing that you think of them as an equal. This gives them, and you, the knowledge that everyone has worth and is equally human, no matter the virtue of their age or relationship to one another. By watching you apologize, your child learns to distinguish right from wrong. You also grow in the eyes of your child, and that cements the bond of mutual respect that you share.

Apologizing to children also helps them learn to take responsibility for their actions, just as you have done by modelling a sincere apology. It teaches them the virtue of honesty and how to be accountable. When adults accept their follies and apologize, it sends a very strong message – that everyone makes mistakes and the right way to make amends is to accept it and do what it takes to make it right. Hiding a mistake or lying about it sends the worst of messages to a child. It tells them you are above others and they will mimic this behaviour and feelings when interacting with others. Instead, be honest, own the mistake, apologize genuinely, and make amends by resolving it. No one is perfect, so show your child how you rise after you’ve made a mistake. Take responsibility, and be honest and accountable.

If you hadn’t guessed it yet, there are also benefits for the parent who practices apologies. It builds our self-esteem too by accepting one’s mistakes and doing the right thing by making amends. It also presents opportunities for adults to learn and grow. If you find yourself apologizing, take a moment to learn from the experience, whether that be learning how not to make a similar mistake or how to make the most of your apology.

What Not to Teach a Child

What your child will learn if you don’t apologize for a folly is shocking and not worth the risk. They will make the assumption that apologizing means you’ve done something bad, or that you are bad. They will assume there’s a feeling of shame attached to apologizing and will be hesitant to apologize when they make their own mistakes. They will also learn that it’s okay to damage a relationship and not acknowledge it or try to repair it. It’s likely that they won’t show or feel respect for others. They will also assume that when you apologize, you lose your status. A parent or adult has the most status in a child’s life and if you are scared to apologize for fear of showing weakness, a child will also fear the same and not show remorse. Lastly, a child will learn that apologizing is something you wouldn’t want to do unless you were forced to. This leads them to being dishonest and lack responsibility and accountability.

Don’t underestimate your child, they certainly do learn by example, so avoid making the additional mistake of not apologizing. You will gain more by taking the time and effort to do the right thing for your child.

How to Give a Genuine Apology

Apologize easily and often. Even for very small “Oops” moments where a short “Sorry!” is appropriate, be sure to admit it readily. Small apologies like this show your child that apologies are just a part of life, as are mistakes that accompany them. Anytime you act in a way that you wouldn’t want your child to, like accidentally interrupting someone who is speaking, offer an apology to show your child that it’s easy and natural to do the right thing.

“Oops! Sorry bud, I didn’t see you there!”

“Oops, sorry for interrupting you!”

Always apologize when you lose your cool. Grown-ups have tantrums too and it’s critical that we explain that we had an emotion, but the action that accompanied the emotion was not acceptable. There’s no need to apologize for setting limits, but it is important to enforce limits with a calm, respectful manner.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you for not staying in your bed. That was my mistake and I should not have gotten angry. I do need you to stay in bed at bedtime. How can I make it easier for you to stay in bed?”

If your child thinks something was a big deal and wants an apology, acknowledge that, even if you don’t think it was. There will certainly be times when you think an action was worth an apology but your child doesn’t. You will want to role model good behaviour at all times to ensure your child respects the feelings of others.

“I’m very sorry for stepping on your play-doh ball. I did not see it and I’m sorry. I know you’re upset. Is there a way I can help fix it?”

By apologizing for all shapes and sizes of mistakes, this also ensures your child will feel comfortable telling you any mistake that he or she thinks is afoot. This was particularly helpful to me as I struggled with leaving my children at dayhomes. Knowing that my child was comfortable telling me everything and never felt embarrassed to come to me was a huge emotional load off of my shoulders.

Also, always resist the urge to blame. Many of us start off by apologizing and then veering off to an excuse, like why you did what you did. This normally comes in the form of using “but.”

“I should not have thrown out your toy, but you should not have thrown it at your brother.”

Everything that was said before the “but” no longer has any meaning. Your child will not learn how to properly apologize without strong examples. It’s important to deliver a full apology after describing what happened.

“You threw a toy at your brother. Then I threw the toy in the garbage. I’m sorry, I should not have yelled at you or thrown out your toy. I am very sorry for yelling and for throwing out your toy. Please go apologize to your brother.”

It’s a very good strategy to explain the events leading up to a mistake, but do not let the explanation ruin a good apology by making excuses. A child needs to know that what you did was a mistake if they are to learn what they did was a mistake. By saying you threw out their toy because they deserved it for throwing it at their brother, they will in turn rationalize their mistake by thinking their brother deserved it.

The Take Away

When I was faced with my difficult situation, I am very proud to say that I took my son’s side, knowing what I know of the importance of apologies. I calmly told the accused that a real apology was required because it will show my son that his feelings are important and that all mistakes, even accidents, warrant an apology. It had the added benefits of showing the adults that mistakes do not have to be a big deal and that the littlest of children learn from the behaviours of adults. I was proud to stick up for my child and teach everyone involved, including him, that he has value.

Loose Parts Play

Have you ever heard of loose parts play? When I first heard about it, it sounded like a cross between messy play and outdoor learning, and it is! With a whole lot more…

The History

The theory of loose parts play was first proposed by an architect in the 1970s. It has since been the inspiration for many physical education teachers and play space designers! In a one sentence answer, loose parts play is a form of play that incorporates moving parts to allow children to move around their environment in a natural way and empower their creativity (click here). The loose parts can be natural or synthetic, for instance, both sticks and pinecones, as well as spoons and boxes, can be used as objects in loose parts play. The best objects for loose parts play, I’m sure is no surprise to parents, are objects that can be molded or adapted, taken apart and put back together, and irregularly shaped.

The P.E. Class

Physical education teachers use loose parts play to encourage children to be more active in everyday life, not just in the gymnasium! By bringing imagination into the classroom (or open outdoor space), children move away from organized sports and competition and towards natural, everyday movements, such as carrying, lifting, bending, turning, and fine motor skills. Along with the movement comes the inspiration to be creative and well-rounded social skills! By encouraged to use objects as they so choose, children can create a wider variety of play exercises than those that are purely adult led activities. The loose parts that can be moved, carried, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart help foster problem-solving and innovation skills required in later life. In other words, it helps them think outside the box! As for amazing social skills, teachers have noticed that rather than teaming up with their friends like they do while playing sports, children start to play together and interact based on shared interests! Collaboration at its finest! Click here!

The Play Spaces

Play designers utilizing this theory have started developing play spaces that are no longer a one size fits all kind of notion. By moving away from expensive play equipment that are one-type uses, they’ve started having loose items for children to manipulate as they please. It is most obvious in newer childcare centres, recreation centres, or preschools, where children have the opportunity to gather outdoor items, like rocks and paint them, or play kitchens with all the mini accessories (click here). I myself take my children to Millennium Place in Sherwood Park, where they have a large room dedicated to camping toys. Children are encouraged to build toy fires out of wood and cook over the stove.

The Con

So is there a downside to loose parts play? I myself have only noticed one – the clean-up! Just like messy play, with its many advantages and brain-developing powers, loose parts play can be a bit of a chore at the end. Personally, I like loose parts play outdoors so my children and I get the added benefits of sunshine and fresh air, and the clean-up is practically non-existent. However, in the winter months, I also preferred having boxes of sticks, pinecones, rocks, and dried flowers over the synthetic loose parts. My reasoning was I just had to scoop them all back into the box and do a quick sweep to get the debris. If using synthetic loose parts, it often meant washing my dishes after they’d been dragged across the floor a bunch. Plus it’s nice to have summer stuff to remind you winter doesn’t last forever!

The How To

Only two steps are required for loose parts play, gathering the materials and playing with your child! To engage your child in loose parts play, be sure to choose items that have no set purpose. If you give your child his toothbrush to play with, it’s likely that he won’t be as adventurous with it as he would something that doesn’t appear to have a defined use. Great choices that have worked for my children are:

Pinecones

Flowers

Seed pods

Nut shells

Leaves

Sticks

Rope

Baskets

Buckets

Sand

Shovels

Gravel or rocks

Larger stones

Old bird’s nests

Water

All of these items and more can be used for loose parts play, just let them roll with their imagination! However, be sure to choose items that are developmentally appropriate for your child (small objects aren’t recommended for littler ones).

Next, support your child when they make a change to the shape or object that they are pursuing. If they started out making a castle but it looks more like a sinkhole, let them adapt to their wishes. Resisting the urge to “fix” the project can be difficult for the more practiced creative types, but try to let your child follow their desires. For me, this can sometimes mean intervening when older or younger brothers try to “help.” I usually resolve the situation by saying “Oh, I love sinkholes! They are my favourite!” and both boys usually get a look of ambition and confidence when I compliment their work. It also helps the other brother understand that any project is worth admiring.

The Upkeep

Lastly, in order to keep loose parts play a success in your child’s play repertoire, be sure to keep them accessible for everyday use and keep the materials properly replenished and added to. My children don’t choose to play with their loose parts bucket everyday (thank goodness) but it is important that they always have the opportunity to! I also like to restock with different items that we find on outdoor walks to the park! This keeps items new and exciting for my boys, especially when they found the item themselves!

In Closing

Loose parts theory is best enjoyed with others in a fluid environment! Children gain more skills and confidence in fluid environments rather than static ones. Try loose parts play with your child and watch as their creativity, imagination, and self-assurance develop! As always, happy playing!

Diapering 101

The first time I changed my oldest son’s diaper was a very memorable experience. After watching him sleep for the first hour of his life, I saw the little yellow stripe on his diaper turn blue, an indication that he had just peed. Of course, this was very exciting because my midwife told me to watch his every bodily function. Count his bowel movements. Track his nursing. And call her if he wasn’t peeing.

Being a first-time-mom and over the moon in love with him, I scooped him up and chatted away to him as I prepared everything for his first diaper change. I laid him down on my bed, next to where his Dad was peacefully snoozing after the events of child birthing (I was too exhilarated to sleep). I took the old diaper off and wiped his parts clean. Before I knew it, the cool air and wet wipe must have triggered another episode. His little wee-wee shot pee high into the air and, like all priceless, memorable moments would predict, the pee coated my husband’s sleeping face, washing away whatever moment of tranquility  previously rested on the room.

I burst into silent giggles, trying to apologize through little squeaks of laughter as my husband removed himself from the room without a word.

Before We Do the Do-do

Before starting a diaper change, ensure you have everything you need. This is likely to include proper sized diapers, wet wipes, a change pad, diaper rash cream (if required), and a toy (for older babies). I also like to pack my diaper bag or change table drawers with extra pairs of pants and shirts in case things get out of control, like they did the first time.

The Dirt on Diapers

To ensure a diaper fits properly, check for signs it is too small or too big. Diapers that are too small will leave red marks around the legs or tummy. Too big, and you’ll notice the diaper isn’t catching everything, so to speak. You can use either disposable or cloth diapers. I’ve used both; cloth for my first baby when I wasn’t working and disposable for the second when I was. I found there are pros and cons for both. Cloth diapers are a hefty upfront expense (mine were $370 new) but last for years and through multiple children. They are easy to clean but take a lot of time because there’s the washing, drying, and folding involved. The best part is that they are adorable, soft, not harmful to your child, and good for the planet. Disposable diapers are a grocery expense. They don’t cost a lot at first, but if adding up from birth to potty training, it’s around $2,400. Quite the difference in price! Disposable diapers also come with fragrances and additives that can be harmful to sensitive skin. You will know if it’s irritating your little one if he or she develops a rash around the openings of the diaper.

Know Your Ointments

Zinc oxide creates an impermeable barrier to liquids. It’s actually preventing pee or poop from touching the skin it was applied to. My first baby did get a few diaper rashes and Penaten worked wonders for us! Other brands can be found here.

My second baby brought a different challenge. He was not prone to diaper rashes but did have sensitive skin. It would dry very quickly and needed moisturizing (all over his little body). For this, I used coconut oil! It worked wonderfully!

Tricky Changers

I have two tricks for my children if they are ever in the mood to put up a diapering fight! I have chewable toys to keep their hands busy and songs to help them stay calm. They rarely need the bribes but I’ve found they come in handy, especially in public washrooms.

The chewable Broccoli Bite toy I found at ToysRUs was simply marvelous! It’s 100% silicone, which means no harmful chemicals and feels just like a baby bottle. It only comes out during diaper changes too, which means it is special and not your average toy.

I also have a diapering song which I read off the wall of a washroom in a public library. It goes:

“One button, two button, three button, four,

Changing little one’s diaper like I’ve done before,

Four button, three button, two button, one,

Look we’re done! Nice clean bum! That was fun!”

Works every time!

Safety and Hygiene First

Always ensure your changing space is a safe environment. There shouldn’t be anything that can harm your child if he or she rolls off of the changing pad. Check the space. If you’re using a public change area, there should be straps to hold your child but never leave him or her unattended, even if it seems like he or she is secure. Keep one hand on the baby at all times. Never move away from your baby to get items. If you forgot to gather all of the necessary items beforehand, bring your baby with you to get them. It’s always fun to snuggle a naked baby and play the chance game that he or she won’t pee on your favourite shirt!

When thinking about safety, it’s also important to remember good hygiene. You are dealing with a lot of potentially harmful bacteria after all. Always wash your hands before and after the entire process. Also, wipe your child from front to back. This means that you clean the pee producing area before the poop producing one. Poop, if spread to other areas, can have negative impacts like rashes to skin or infections to the urinary tract (very painful and requiring doctor visits). Always practice good hygiene, if only to protect your loved ones.

Step by Step

Now down to the nitty-gritty! Ensure your hands are clean and lay your baby on his or her back. Fasten any safety belts, if available. Take the old diaper off the front and wipe around the baby parts with a clean, wet wipe, front to back, avoiding the umbilical cord stump, if present. If there are any red marks in the creases, apply your choice of ointment. If you’re changing a boy, the tale told by wizened mothers goes to cover “it” with the clean diaper. This is to prevent the unfortunate mishap that happened to my husband all those years ago. I find the clean diaper does not stay put very well. Either my son will reach down and pull it away or the pee will actually launch it into the air and have zero of the intended effect. I also found the adorable pee-pee teepees that were all the rage were a waste of resources. Cute as they were, they did not work for us. I actually place a wet wipe on the pee-pee. It doesn’t absorb the pee but it does contain it and sends it down into the dirty diaper that my son is still lying on. Hooray!

After the front is spic and span, covered, and innocent, move towards the back. Wipe front to back even if there’s no poop because bacteria isn’t visible to the naked eye. It’s still there. As you work, place the dirty wet wipes into the soiled diaper that is still open. Lift your baby’s bum into the air by holding into his or her ankles. Wipe the last of the area and remove the dirty diaper.

Place the clean diaper under at the same time. This is easy if using cloth ones. If using disposable ones, you can open it with one hand but it’s a little tricky and best to do beforehand. Apply the ointment to the bum now if needed and lay your child back down on the clean diaper. Secure the diaper and tell your child he or she did a good job!

Wrap the dirty diaper up and place it in the garbage if disposable or in your wet bag if using cloth. Keep the area clean for the next change or the next parent and baby.

So, What Did It Taste Like?

After finishing up my firstborn’s first diaper change, my husband walked back into the room. I could not help but ask! Amid attempts not to smile at the hilariousness of the situation, he murmured, “Exactly what it smells like.”

I hope your diaper changing stories are just as memorable with a hint less pee taste testing. If you need more tips on diaper changing, ask any of the KARA staff! The ladies and gentlemen that host the Books for Babies and Caring Families courses are very knowledgeable about young ones and are likely to have diaper changing stories to crack you up as well (pun intended)!

Bicycling Basics

Even in the dreary weather we’ve been having, I’m sure many of you are excited to start your little ones off on a new adventure – BICYCLING! Teaching a small child can be a fun, rewarding, and albeit, tricky experience. Also, don’t forget nerve-wracking!

First off, I want to point out a great resource I came across three years ago and still use today! It’s the best guide to correctly sizing your child, narrowing down your bike options, bicycle reviews and much, much more – Two Wheeling Tots (click here). I’ve used this website for all my bicycle information needs as they complete hundreds of reviews and give you all the safety info needed to start your child’s two wheeling adventures. The only thing I caution is their bike buying options though, as they are based in the US and product availability isn’t as great here in Canada. Otherwise, they are phenomenal and I mention them quite a bit throughout!

First Steps – Exploration and Understanding

First off, know that bicycling can be a challenging and even daunting task for children. They almost all want to do it, so they can be like the “cool, big kids,” but when faced with the actual task, it can be a little scary to move from two stable feet to two rolling wheels. So encouragement and patience are key.

At around 18 months, I let my kids explore bikes and the way they move while they were lying on the ground. Also, it helps to point out bicyclists just in your normal, everyday activities or in your child’s books. Let children become familiar with bicycles before getting them on one.

Before getting my son his first bike, I would point and OOO and AHH every time I saw a bike while we were walking , to reinforce a positive interaction and curiosity with them. I started this when he was a year so he would learn the words and become familiar with seeing bikes in a positive light. I was very careful to only draw attention to cyclists who were wearing helmets and other proper safety gear. I didn’t mention them and would pass them by silently if they weren’t wearing helmets, hoping my son was just looking the other way! I’m sure this helped reinforce the normality of helmets and how even adults wear them.

Next Steps – Measuring and Picking Out the Right Bike

While it’s fun to choose the colours and designs of the new bike, it’s more important to pick one that is a proper fit for your child. Bicycles come in all shapes and sizes, but the very best way to get the right bike is by measuring the inseam of your child’s pants and making sure the seat height of the bike is the same distance to the ground.

My son was a fairly squirmy toddler and so I picked his best fitting pair of pants, laid them down flat on the floor, and did my measurements in the relative peace of my own living room. I really caution parents not to do the measuring in the middle of the bike store because your child may be so overwhelmed and excited (or terrified) that you’re not likely to get the most accurate measurement (click here).

Use the measurement to narrow down which bikes will fit your child. You can do either balance bikes or a bicycle with training wheels.

Balance Bikes

Balance bikes all the rage now! They are bikes without pedals, training wheels, or any other do-dads. This makes them incredibly light, enabling an 18 month old to pick them up and move them with ease. They also fit children better, as they are designed more like adult bikes without the added accessories. And they help kids learn to balance on two wheels, which is the most challenging part of riding a bike. Some of them do come with handbrakes and you can add bells and streamers if needed!  The prices range quite a bit but the Nakamura 12 in bike is sold at Sportchek for $80.

For our two boys, we tried the new balance bike wave. While balance bikes may seem odd (they certainly did to me the first time I encountered one in the wild), the idea grew on us, and our children. They were light enough for my son to carry around and maneuver, they were comfortable for him to sit on, and they teach a child to balance! Huge bonus and extra points – when my son grew too tired to keep riding, the bike fit easily in the bicycle trailer used on the back of my bike. The bonus for my child, well he also gets to look like those cool older kids, without all the pressure! Click here.

Training Wheels

Bicycles with training wheels have been around for ages, and if you are sentimental, needing that exhilarating memory of letting go of your child’s bike as they take off for their first ride without their trainers on, then this is the bike for your family! These bikes would also be a great fit for those children needing a little extra encouragement as they have a sense of stability you won’t get with a balance bike. It’s harder for children to turn the bikes and move them because of their extra gear and weight. Bells, streamers, and spiderman stickers can be added to these bikes too!

Helmets

Before we go any further, always stress the importance of wearing a helmet! Never let your child on a bike without this crucial piece of safety gear! To get the right fit, measure your child’s head with a soft measuring tape one inch above his or her eyebrows (the thickest part of the head). A proper fitting helmet should fit squarely on the head, not tilted back or forward, and should not move when he or she shakes her head. Ask your child if they want broccoli for lunch to try this safety test! Click here.

A nice little tidbit – I also stole the chance to reiterate road safety and rules about walking hand in hand when crossing a road while forcing the helmet convo on my child! It worked great!

Other Accessories

Balance Buddy – For small racers who want to keep up with others but haven’t got the feel for balance quite yet, try a balance buddy! They are a long handle to attach to your child’s back axle. They ride, you balance. It can give them a bit of a confidence boost and some exercise for you! One $30 at Canadian Tire!

The Clicker – One interesting thing that many bike manufacturers have noticed is that hesitant riders are often incentivized to keep moving forward if they hear a ‘click, click, click’ sound from their back wheel. It prompts them to keep going to keep hearing the sound. Easy and cheap, just duct tape a card to your child’s rear wheel.

Strap – Some of the best balance bikes come with bags or straps to shoulder carry after your child ditches it to chase a butterfly. I myself bought our balance bike off of Kijiji and it didn’t come with a strap. Luckily, I found a very short bungee cord that worked perfectly as either a shoulder strap or to secure the bike into the stroller, wagon, etc. Worked like a dream!

And Off We Go!

It’s very exciting to bring all the gear home and encourage your child to hop on. But I caution all parents to be patient. Our oldest took almost two years of bumping into walls and falling down on his balance bike before things really happened. And some days he just did not want to practice. But it did eventually happen! Once your child finds his or her comfort zone, the feet come up and the magic begins!

One summer day last year, walking down a paved walking path, laden with a baby and a diaper bag, my oldest son got the feel for it all at once. He pulled his feet up while going down a hill, screaming, “I’m going to win the race!”

I dropped my bag (kept the baby) and took off after him! He was having the time of his little life! I was too, for the most part… Haha!

And now he is a natural! He is ready for his first bike with pedals (no trainers needed) and is doing just fine mastering his “death-defying maneuvers.” And a big bonus – his little bro is all ready to start on his new hand-me-down balance bike (with a few brand new flame stickers to increase it’s speed).

Last Gentle Reminders

Always remember to remind your children of the dangers of riding their bicycle (preferably without terrifying them!). Our children are small and hard to spot, so keeping them away from roads is certainly a good idea until they’re old enough to understand the dangers and do’s-and-don’ts of bicycle safety. And never forget your helmets!

It’s also extremely important for parents to have patience and understanding in this important step of their child’s development. Try to never discourage your child or pressure them to go too far outside of their comfort zone. While some gentle encouragement (“You can do it, just give it a try”), can be hugely beneficial, going too far (“Well, I can’t teach you if you’re not willing to try”) can have some pretty negative effects. Remember that with all things, learning to ride a bike takes time and everyone learns at a different pace.

At the beginning of our adventure, my husband and I were the gentle guides, but two years later and our child takes the lead, often winning the race!

Bumps and Bruises

Last night, I was reading my children some goodnight stories when my older son, Grizzly Bear, decides it’s a good idea to start a game of tag. He was quite overtired and in that giddy mood he gets in when he needs some serious ZZZs. He booked it for the door as I called to him to lie down on his pillow. With a giant grin, he turned back to me but his legs kept going, misjudging the distance and causing his little body to hit and bounce off of the doorframe, landing two feet from where it was moments beforehand. He looked like a cartoon character. I tried desperately to stifle my laughter while picking his crumpled body off of the floor, cooing that he was going to be alright and just needed some Mommy magic kisses.

However, after taking a closer look, I noticed he had actually cut himself and sustained bruising on his forehead.

Bumps and Bruises

If your child sustains a bruise, it’s important to assess the situation to make a healthy decision for your child. Alberta Health Services suggests to call Health Link Alberta at 811 or make an appointment with your pediatrician. Bruises may not be serious but the action that caused the bruise could have caused something more worrisome, like a bone fracture or concussion.  Always watch your child for clues, like pain, swelling, dizziness, tiredness, or slurred speech (not always that obvious with little ones but trust your instincts).

If caring for a bruise at home, follow the doctor’s orders, which could include pain medicine, ice packs, or keeping the body part elevated above the heart.

If the bruise is not serious, still watch your child for any indications that medical attention is needed. If the bruise starts off a blue-black colour but then starts to change colour, it is healing. If the bruise starts leaking or red streaks appear around it, it could be a sign of infection and you should seek immediate medical attention. To learn more on caring for bruises, follow this link.

Trips and Falls

My younger son, Polar Bear, recently caught his Mommy’s addiction to shoes. He loves to try them on and wear them around the house all day long. So when spring sprang into action and I pulled out some fancy new camouflage rain boots that lit up as he walked, his heart went all a twitter and he started to wear them everywhere, including down the stairs. His developmental skills had not caught up to his shoe fetish and I did not anticipate his tumble! To the hospital we went!

Children are naturally top-heavy. Their heads are disproportionately larger than their bodies, which makes them adorable but also prone to falls. Additionally, with larger, heavier heads, it also means their heads are likely to hit the ground first. Even more worryingly, falls account for the majority of childhood injuries in Alberta. This is largely due to the developmental stages of young children learning to walk and climb.

In the case of injuries from falls, the best action is prevention by managing risks. Caregivers need to assess their child’s developmental stage and adjust the activities accordingly. Young children need continual supervision and devices to keep them out of harm’s way, such as babyproofing stairs. As children age, the prevention methods should change to match their skills and development, such as teaching them the proper ways of doing activities, like holding the handrail on the stairs. Prevention should never reduce or take away from physical activities. Instead, prevention allows for activities to occur in a safer environment (click here).

If your child does sustain a fall, assess the situation. If your child is not old enough to tell you what happened, Alberta Health Services suggests to take them to their doctor or hospital, even if it was just a little fall. It’s just too difficult to determine internal bleeding or concussions in a young child and a medical professional can help.  Other signs of medical emergencies include constant crying, complaining of pain, vomiting, lethargy (won’t wake), difficulty walking/talking, and losing consciousness even for the briefest of moments. Additionally, if a child lands directly on the top of their head, such as falling from a great height, like a trampoline, take them to the hospital as a spinal injury is possible. Falls can be very serious; therefore, prevention is key! To learn more, follow this link.

Cuts and Burns

Last weekend we had the whole family over for a little campfire outside. Being proactive, we used a walled and roofed fire pit so there were no open flames. The walls and roof of the fire pit still get quite hot though. Low and behold, someone touched it and the older and wiser women in my family sprang into action! They held my child’s hand in a cup of clean, cold water for fifteen minutes to transfer the heat from his hand to the water. Quick thinking which greatly reduced my son’s pain and Mommy’s heartache. Next, we applied polysporin. Burns and cuts are very similar in that they both cause open wounds. Burns have just as great of a potential for infection as a cut, so it’s important to add an age appropriate antibiotic after cleaning the area. Lastly, we let him choose his favourite coloured band-aid!

Alberta Health Services defines three different kinds of burns. First, second, and third degree burns are evaluated based on their size, area of the body, and age and health of the child. If you are unsure of the severity of the burn, go to the hospital.

First degree burns and sunburns are usually treated at home with cool cloths, cool water, and aloe vera gels. Be certain to always read the label and choose age appropriate applications. If your child is under two, always visit the doctor to determine what can and cannot be used. And always protect a  wound that is in the process of healing. Keep it from getting dirty and keep it out of sunlight – use a colourful band-aid!

For any second or third degree burns to your child, go directly to the hospital. Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth. Do not apply any medicines. Do not apply ice as it could greatly damage the skin (click here).

Treat cuts and scrapes in a similar fashion to burns. Assess the size, location, and child. Use clean water and age appropriate antibiotics for small, superficial wounds. My rule of thumb, if it’s too big to cover with a child-sized band-aid, of if blood is leaking out, indicating it’s deep, we go see our doctor!

Follow-up

The best defense is prevention! Try to make your child’s play spaces safe from bruises, falls, and burns. Summertime is usually jam-packed full with fun in the sun activities – let’s keep them safe! Use sunscreen, trampoline nets, and teachings to help your child develop in a safe environment. Pick up some age appropriate antibiotics and colourful band-aids too. You will never know when you’ll need them next – apparently not even Mommy’s bed-time stories are safe!

Vaccines

Vaccinations are one of the most important defenses against dangerous diseases. They protect our bodies by giving our immune systems a glimpse at the diseases that are really out there. And this little sneak peek makes all the difference!

My son loves to play “fight-to-the-death” imaginary games. He will take his little foam sword and hide behind a curtain, under a desk, or behind a couch and pop out when I’m least expecting it – or so he thinks! I know what my son looks like and his favourite hiding spots. It’s not that hard to find him and anticipate those little jabs. Now, imagine that my son was disguised as furniture, and I was searching for him but couldn’t distinguish him from the other furniture. It would be so much harder to find him because he looks like everything else! Kapow! That little foam sword is sharper when you didn’t see it coming! This is what our immune systems deal with every day.

Vaccinations come into the mix. Vaccinations are literally made up of pieces of viruses so our immune systems can learn to recognize the virus without getting sick. Yes, our bodies are tricked into thinking it’s the real deal, so we get immune response symptoms like fevers, but not the symptoms associated with the disease – like vomiting! Vaccinations peel back the disguises so our immune systems are that much more prepared because they are given the power of recognition. We fight off diseases much more effectively, experience less symptoms, and don’t carry diseases to other people.

Once our immune systems are given this glimpse of the potential disease, it carries the memory forward, enabling us to build up a resistance to the actual disease, which could be very dangerous otherwise (click here).

Herd Immunity

There are some folks out there that can’t get vaccinated. I know one of them! She is a nurse (no joke!) and she is unable to be vaccinated because she has a certain allergy to the metal in the needle. Now, thanks to the vast majority of the population that is vaccinated, the chances that she will run in to someone carrying a very dangerous disease is slim (but not impossible!). She is lucky, thus far, and also has the power of being the right age and having a healthy body. If she does contract something, she is likely able to fight it off with a few days in hospital. Others, like babies or the elderly, are susceptible to more detrimental effects, so it is that much more important that everyone who can, get vaccinated to protect others (click here)!

Where to Get Vaccinations

Now that you know the benefits of vaccinations, you’re probably wondering where to go! The Immunization Program in Alberta is free to those with Alberta Health Care cards. To find the location nearest to you, call Health Link at 811. Likewise, your doctor will give you the location information of the one that applies to you and your children. When you have a new baby, it’s likely that there will be a location designated to you based on where you live.

Routine Immunization Schedule

When I had my first child, I ensured he was immunized right on schedule, practically to the day that was recommended. With my second, being a busier Mom, we ended up doubling up on appointments after missing some scheduled days. We were very fortunate that we did not cross paths with a virus during this time of catch-up. This is because the vaccination schedule has been adapted from years of research by hundreds of doctors and virologists. The range of dates given to have a child vaccinated is based on the child’s likeliness to contract a virus as well as their ability to combat the vaccine (the immune systems response). If you’d like to read more on the prescribed vaccination routines for children, there is a very long book called The Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety. Not shockingly, a very long synopsis is also available, and can be found here.

Immunizing on schedule ensures your child gets the maximum possible protection from vaccine-preventable diseases and gives your child the best immunity possible.

The schedule outlined below has been in effect in Alberta since January 1, 2019 (click here).

2 months (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis B, Polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal conjugate, and Rotavirus)

4 months (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis B, Polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal conjugate, Meningococcal conjugate, Rotavirus)

6 months (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis B, Polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b, Pneumococcal conjugate, Rotavirus)

6 months and older (annual Influenza 2)

12 months (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella (Chickenpox), Meningococcal conjugate, Pneumococcal conjugate)

18 months (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Hepatitis B, Polio, and Haemophilus influenzae type b)

4 years  (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Varicella (Chickenpox))

Grade 6                (Hepatitis B, Human papillomavirus)

Grade 9                (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Meningococcal conjugate)

When listed out like that, it certainly does seem like a lot! However, usually only one needle is given at each appointment – lucky for those wee babes and the heartbroken parents!

Immunization Records and Statistics

If you are reading this and can’t recall your child’s last vaccine – don’t fret! Immunization records are kept by Alberta Health Services (AHS) at the health zone level. However, this has only been recently done and records for us older generations are unlikely to be found. If it has been more than 7 to 10 years since your last immunization, AHS may not have a copy of the record. But the records will be available for your child or children! If you have questions about your immunization records, contact Health Link at 811.

A Moment to Consider

“And when I knew that that’s what they had, and I knew that there was a fairly recent vaccine for rotavirus, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. Maybe we didn’t have to just suffer through this.’” – Kirsten O’Meara, Mother of three

Hope you and your family benefit from this info! Please share your comments below!

Back with Summertime Tips

It’s Wednesday, May 29, 2019, at precisely 6:00 pm. It also happens to be 32 degrees Celsius outside. It appears that summer is, at long last, officially upon us!

While this is exciting, it begs the question: how am I going to occupy my children with fun, safe, affordable outdoor activities?

The first activities that come to mind for me are KARA summertime programs. These are free, drop-in programs running from the start of July to the end of August. They are largely spent outdoors and follow weekly themes and adventurous outings around the city. Until these programs start up though, you can usually find my family at Drop-In Fun, Creative Play & More, and Playtime Drop-In. These programs are also a blast – the ladies and gentlemen running the drop-in programs put in a lot of effort to make family time fun and educational! Connie’s cooking is also worthy of the long trek it takes to get there!

For those who are as familiar with KARA’s wonderful resources as I am, here’s a bit more about our great city:

Edmonton is home to 70 completely free to access spray/water play parks! These are typically my go-to and they are easy to find close to any home. They always provide a way for my family to cool off on hot days as well! Some of these sites are still under construction, but to find one near you and see their availability and hours, visit the City of Edmonton’s website here.

Another fun water activity (my kids LOVE the water) is Edmonton’s several outdoor pools. Edmonton has announced that, for the third year in a row, all of its outdoor swimming pools will be open to the public with no cost of admission! If you happen to live near KARA, the Borden Natural Swimming Pool is where you will want to be this summer! It is the first of its kind in Canada – a man-made natural pool surrounded by sand and disinfected without chemicals! This pool is set to open June 22 – just in time for the really hot weather! For more information on the Borden Natural Swimming Pool, including hours of operation, special facility guidelines, and how it is cleaned, click here. Interested in other free pools? Click here.

Did you know that Edmonton has the second largest metropolitan park in all of North America? It’s second only to the famous Central Park in New York City. Conveniently, a river runs straight through ours, and the Riverboat Queen is accepting passengers 6 and under for free this summer! Enjoy the cost-effective boat ride or a free bike-ride in the park!

Want more hot tips??? Edmonton is known as “The Festival City,” for good reason. While attending the theme parks can be quite expensive, Edmonton also plays host to many festivals and parades accompanying these events – which can be free to watch! Most notably, and hosting their 35th anniversary starting on July 5th, the Edmonton Street Performer’s Festival is certainly one of the most beloved festivals in Edmonton! Featuring approximately 1,500 performers and having a long tradition of accommodating free shows for infants/toddlers, how could it not be? Note that tips to the performers are encouraged, but in no way expected. More information can be found here.

Don’t forget Edmonton’s parades! Many of these parades stretch for long distances throughout the city – the most notable being the K-Days parade! Set to happen on July 19th, your family will surely enjoy the musical theme this year as they set the stage by partnering with Alberta Music! Your children are sure to love all the charismatic performers and talented musicians. Mark this one in your calendar – click here.

Raising late-night owls rather than sun-loving salamanders? Check this one out! Perhaps a lesser known program because it just started, but still a super value – Edmonton offers the “Kids Bowl Free” program. Located at the Bonnie Doon Bowling Lanes and Gateway Entertainment Centres, find all of the info here. Please note that sign-up is required.

Or perhaps your little one is more of an “intellectual”. My family seems to be raising a grown up rather than a child – last Wednesday, he shook his soccer coach’s hand rather than giving him a high-five (I suppose that’s better than what his brother tried to do, which was head-butt him). If a sophisticated aura appears to be wafting off of your child too, have I got news for you! The beautiful Art Gallery of Alberta is offering free admission on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8 pm! Children are always free at this majestic museum but on Thursdays, consider yourself a child too! You’ll certainly feel like one after you get in for free and start discovering the secrets of King Tutankhamun or exploring your fascination with dinosaurs. It’s sure to be a treat so check them out here!

Anything else spark your or your children’s fancy? Leave a note for other families to check out! Hope to see you at KARA and cheers to a wonderful summer!

Pets and Families

When I was little (littler), I had many pets and adored them all. I grew up on a farm, one of the luckiest kids in the world I thought, and cherished each of my companions. I had herding dogs named Emma and Kirby, a brawny mousing cat named Socks, a cow named Mable, pigs named Beans and Bacon, and about a hundred chickens, all named Sue. Despite constant wonderful interactions with all of the animals, my most meaningful companionship was with a kitten I rescued from a nearby highway culvert. I named her Ginger to match her (and my) hair.

My early memories of rescuing animals and caring for them, I believe, has given me the compassion and patience I exhibit now as an adult. It led to my course choices during my post-secondary education and to the organizations I choose to volunteer with. It probably also helped me in the choice to become a parent.

“Nothing less than alchemy is involved when animals and children get together, and the resulting magic has healing properties that work well.” – Elizabeth Anderson, The Powerful Bond Between People and Pets

Are Pets Beneficial?

After pondering my upbringing, I wondered if pets have been proven to show benefits to a family. Turns out having a pet in the home may have remarkable positive effects on people. Studies have shown that by having a pet you: are less likely to have depression, are more likely to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, are more likely to be calm and relaxed as a result of good hormones, and are more likely to live longer. I believe these attributes would help create more positive family relationships.

If you’re excited about the idea of the benefits of a companion but would rather a creepy-crawlie over a snuggly one, it’s no problem! The science even shows that the pet doesn’t have to be a cat or dog. Even watching a fish swim has shown the positive benefits indicated above.

There are a few other benefits that are more lifestyle benefits than health (although they are intertwined). Pets can help you get exercise (by demanding it themselves). They can help you meet new people (by running up to strangers and licking their faces). They can even help regulate sleep by forcing you to build a daily routine (what’s Saturday?).

Health benefits for kids; they have them too! Unlike some family members or friends, pets are never critical or bossy, so they are a great source of support for rough days. They can also provide a sense of security and ease separation anxiety. Pets can help teach a child responsibility and how to build relationships. It’s also been shown that pets can help children with attention deficit disorder, autism, or with overly aggressive attitudes, but that is dependent on proper pet and child training.

 

To learn more about the benefits of pets, click here.

Should We Get a Pet?

While everything sounds wonderful and easy, it can certainly be challenging to raise a pet while raising a family. Pets don’t “grow up” like children do. They do learn but not in the same astonishing and exponential way kids do. A pet will never be able to clean up after itself or get its own food. In this way, pets can be thought of as perpetual toddlers that will need care for their entire lives, which could be a while.

If considering a pet, it is recommended you scrutinize your lifestyle and living situation before taking the plunge. It’s best to assess your living situation. Do you have the room and finances to support a pet, particularly a large or energetic one? Assess your family; are you unanimously decided on adopting a furry or scaly companion and are your children ready to make room in their lives and hearts? Does anyone in your family have allergies to pets? Assess your lifestyle and unconditional devotion for the lifespan of your pet; are you willing and do you have the time to give a pet the attention it needs? Do you have a vet close by? Dogs in particular need daily exercise provided by humans. Cats need daily litterbox cleanings. All animals need food, baths, regular vet checkups, and love.

If you’d like to discuss or read more on how to determine your family’s pet-readiness, contact the Edmonton Humane Society or another local SPCA. They can provide plenty of information to prepare and help you. Also visit this site with advice from Canadian pediatricians (here).

We’re Ready, Let’s Do It!

When a pet first comes home, it can be stressful on both the animal and your children – and YOU! The change in the environment leaves everyone feeling distinctly out of place. In order to minimize risk, it’s usually best to keep children and new pets separated until the new pet has settled into its new environment. It’s important to give your new family member time to adjust by allowing them to explore undisturbed and in a quiet environment.

After your companion has had a chance to explore, you’re ready to introduce them to their new friends – your children. Children tend to make erratic movements, and this startles many animals. For this reason, it’s commonly recommended to introduce children to new pets whilst outdoors or in large, open rooms. Just remember to keep dogs on a leash!

It’s important to encourage any curiosity on behalf of either party but take care to notice the signs that anyone may be feeling uncomfortable. Common signs for dogs include a stiff posture, stiff tail, and raised hair on his or her back. The most common sign of alertness for cats is typically a stiff and bristling tail. Animals make themselves look larger when uncomfortable or afraid. This is an evolutionary tactic to scare off unwanted visitors. If your pet is trying to make itself look larger, it’s a sign he or she is uncomfortable.

Once the introductions are complete, it’s important to teach children that animals aren’t the same as their stuffed toys. Children should know to respect the boundaries of their animals – they’re your children’s responsibility too! It’s very important not to leave children and pets alone together until both are comfortable and your children are of a responsible age. The Edmonton Humane Society has Pet Sitter Courses for kids to help them learn the best ways to interact and care for pets (click here).

Last note: another important point that many adults don’t realize is that dogs and cats alike have extremely sensitive whiskers. While they may look cute to a baby or toddler (or you!), disturbing them can be extremely uncomfortable for your new friend.

Already a Pet Family and Bringing Home a Child?

Pet introductions to new babies or adopted children can also be challenging. A pet can see the new baby as competition, just as they would another pet. They are animals after all.

It’s very important to keep careful watch over your child at all times and never to leave him or her alone with your pet. Your pet can get jealous, which can quickly escalate into a disaster.

To help your pet adjust, there are some steps to complete before you bring home your new addition (3 weeks beforehand is recommended):

If you have a dog, ensure they are trained to follow basic commands such as sit, stay, no, and are willing to complete a solid recall. If this is not your dog’s forte, obedience training classes may be well worth the price.

Make gradual changes to your pet’s routine before the new arrival. Change where they will be sleeping or when they will be playing/walking beforehand so they don’t associate the changes with the new child. This also includes decreasing the amount of attention they get to the amount they will have when the new child arrives. It’s not nice to think about, but you won’t have much time for your pet with a newborn, so prepare them! Don’t make the mistake of lavishing them with last minute attention just to take it away when the new child arrives.

If you have a nervous or grumpy-type animal, it’s advisable to play recordings of a baby crying. Just jump on Youtube and play new baby crying sounds – it could help you and your partner to adjust too!

Help your pet acclimatize to new baby things and odours (the good ones) by letting them explore new furniture, check out new clothes and toys, and smell baby lotions.

If you have a dog, teach them where his “bed” is. This will help a dog with any type of personality, from excitable and jumpy to older and uncomfortable. This “bed” or “place” is a safe place for your dog or cat, acting as a buffer for commotion and a place for them to reset. I’m sure we all remember being “grounded” or having “time-outs” as children and having to stare endlessly at the ceiling above our beds. This is the same type of zone for your dog. Praise them when they are let out of their bed. If training, praise them when they get into their bed too to encourage the behavior.

Now for the arrival of your child! When you bring the baby or child home:

Greet your pet alone, if possible, to avoid them jumping on the baby or child.

Allow your pet to adjust to the sight, sound, and smell of the child before making a closer introduction. What this looks like is allowing your pet to take his time to come and go freely into the room you and the child are in without calling him over.

After a few days, allow the pet to get close enough to smell the baby. If you have an adopted child, this length of time is more dependent on the comfort of the child. Most pets adapt easily but some pets require more precautions, such as a leash or muzzle. Never approach the animal with the child, always allow the pet to approach you. This will keep the pet calm and you in the stable seat, able to jump into action if needed.

Give your pet attention when the baby or child is around to prevent them from thinking they are in competition. Also, never scold the dog from touching things that belong to the baby, like toys or food. If you have an adopted child, this also has the additional benefit of teaching the child to share with the pet.

When the new baby starts becoming more mobile, this will be the time for the dog or cat to learn his bed is his refuge. Teach your baby or your adopted child that when the pet is in his bed, he’s tired and does not want to play. This will help your pet relax and prevent potential bites or scratches.

Never leave a pet alone with a baby or small child! Even the most trusted animals that you’ve had for years can be a danger. They are animals!

To learn more, click here.

A Pawsitive Ending

If you find yourself adopting a pet, please be mindful of the feasibility of your family to care for them and consider the wellbeing of your children. Remember that pets do not make good gifts, as they are not toys. They are animals that need the same care and devotion as another child. Also remember that not all families are suited to having pets. If anyone in your family has allergies to pets, it won’t be feasible or fair to either party.

Pets can make wonderful additions for the right families though and can have positive effects! So after careful consideration, take the plunge and enjoy the benefits of a furry or scaly creature! My family and I have a wonderful pet, a dog named Wylie Coyote. She’s been in my children’s entire lives and mine for eight years. She is well loved in this household and properly looked after. We could never imagine such a full, well-rounded family without her – I wish the same applies to you and your family!

We Are Experts

Now that you’ve entered into the parenting realm, it’s a guarantee that you’ve mastered a skill that you never imagined would occupy your time. You’re likely so good at it that it’s a shame to keep it off of your resume. I too came to this realization as I wielded a Q-tip through the slots of a computer modem, removing the remaining remnants of the smoothie that was poured over it. The art of cleaning up after toddlers, now that’s a fine skill to be proud of!

I asked my husband, “Now that you are a parent, you are an expert at (what)?”

My husband claims to be an expert in all things poop. His nose can pick up a whiff of waste from a different household floor. He even claims that each baby facial expression during the act indicates what type of poop he will find in the diaper. A hard one, a soft one, a green one – it’s a practiced art. With having been peed on in the first 24 hours of being a Dad, this parenting scouts badge should not have come as a surprise to me.

My family had some interesting answers too!

My Mom indicated she is “an expert at taking care of my grown children’s pets after they move into a dorm or a boyfriend’s place.” I could hear her grumbling as my sister choked on a nervous laugh! I do remember my Mom also being very practiced at having a split personality (which I have thankfully adopted and hope to perfect soon). She could be furious with one of us one moment, a venomous tone that could freeze and petrify, and then next minute, cool as a cucumber, answer the phone with a calm, collected voice, “Hi Susan, so glad you called!”

My Dad was always skilled at fixing broken toys and electronics. He must have been an expert with patience as well while he removed a grilled cheese sandwich from the VCR. Now that his kids are grown and gone, he claims to be an expert at relaxing but the jury may still be out on that one!

My sister-in-law is an expert in all things baby food! She was always a great chef but now the meals are of a frozen green bean variety. What accompanies this skill is my brother’s ability to Tetris his way through the freezer to get to his meaty portions.

The hilariousness of the answers I came across were so great that I pursued more!

Friends of mine indicated their amusing expertise avenues:

“I’m an expert at finding the bathroom in shopping malls, immediately”

“I’m an expert at sewing a stuffed animal’s ear back on over and over and over”

“I’m an expert at eating cold supper”

“I’m an expert at sharing slobbery sippy cups”

“I’m an expert at memorizing children’s books and spouting them off by heart”

“I’m an expert at contradicting myself.”

“I’m an expert at getting full from imaginary food”

“I’m an expert at wondering why my kids are always talking”

“I’m an expert at turning away from my kids when they are in trouble because I’m silently laughing”

“I’m an expert at having my own temper tantrums”

“I’m an expert at admitting I was clueless before I had kids – a TV is not a babysitter, KD is not food, kids should never backtalk”

“I’m an expert at holding down my child with an arm and leg to give them medicine”

“I’m an expert at ignoring siren imitations while driving”

“I’m an expert at finding terrible hiding places during hide-and-go-seek”

“I’m an expert at deluding myself into thinking I’ll clean the house tomorrow”

I asked my husband, “what am I an expert in?”

He responded, “ you’re an expert in everything other than negotiations. When the kids ask for a cookie and you say you can only have half of a cookie, they are winning, Marn.”

I also pondered what my kids will say when they are older. This evening they likened me to a “Sharptooth,” the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Land Before Time collection, while running away cackling. Perhaps I’m an expert at non-threatening dinosaur imitations – a truly lost art!

 

If you’re a practised raspberry-belly-blower or invisible-tea-party-host, please share your gifts with us! Who knows, you may be the best favourite-toy-locator in the world and you never knew it!

Bullying

I take my boys to an indoor playground once in a while. A few weeks ago, we were playing in the ball pit when one of my boys, Polar Bear, made a break for it (he’s a bit of a runner). I chase after him and on my way back through the mesh that separates us from my other son, Grizzly Bear, I see another boy push Grizzly Bear down to the ground.

Not only was I upset, but Grizzly Bear was devastated. It was our first negative encounter with another child. I probably reacted a little strongly by lecturing the other child before letting him leave, making him give an apology, but I learned very quickly that my child needed support and love before being able to interact with that child again.

 

Bullying or Dispute

Now, I’ve seen my two youngsters go at it over a toy, and at times, I’ve made an impeccable referee. But there is a difference between a dispute or fight between kids and an act which can be a form of bullying.

You may be thinking that children so young, within the preschool age category, could not possibly be bullies. They are just kids being kids, correct? Sadly, this isn’t the case, and all parents should be aware that kids three years and up have the cognitive ability to feel empathy, meaning they are able to understand another’s point of view, and meaning that they should know better. Please never dismiss an act of bullying as “kids being kids.” Ignoring it will certainly have an effect on the victim, as they are extremely vulnerable to confidence and self-esteem issues, as well as the bully, who will likely develop issues regarding any kind of friendship or relationship in later years. Intervention is required during the smallest of incidents, not only to prevent immediate escalation, but to teach lessons and prevent life-long issues.

So how to recognize bullying? Not all confrontation is a form of bullying. Kids are impulsive and have disputes over objects all of the time. They have wrestling matches and friendship squabbles. My two kids are the best of friends one day and the worst of enemies the next. These forms of disputes make kids stronger, help them learn the ins and outs of relationships, and teach them compromise and forgiveness. However, bullying does the exact opposite. Bullying lowers self-esteem and confidence through systematic acts of aggression such as negative physical or verbal behaviour.

To determine if an action was a form of bullying or not, the best way is to scrutinize the intent of the action. Tug-of-war over a toy is purely for the possession of the toy. Stealing the toy and threatening further harm after possession of the toy implies the child intends harm. If two children are squabbling and both are upset, that is likely conflict. If one child inflicts harm and smiles while doing it, that’s bullying, a very serious kind in fact.

Sneaky or secretive behaviour also implies bullying. This signals that the child knows he is doing something wrong and does not wish to be caught. Recruiting other children to aid in the negative act, such as shunning, is also a sign of bullying.

It’s also hard to recognize bullying if the victim strikes back. If after being taunted, the child retaliates, it is hard to identify if the confrontation was a squabble between the two or a reaction from the victim.

To learn more, click here.

 

Discussing Bullying with Your Child

The ball pit incident was a very minor event in comparison to systematic bullying, but knowing that children are very vulnerable at all ages, I felt setting up a structured course of events expected to occur even after a small event would help him in later situations. Therefore, I showed and completed actions that would follow greater bullying experiences (click here).

The important thing to do after your child experiences any bullying is to listen to him. I witnessed what happened but it was still crucial that Grizzly Bear should talk about what happened and know that I cared about his account of the story. He was given the opportunity to tell me everything that was on his mind, and feel and know that it was okay to show his emotions. I helped him recount the story by trying to summarize the event (as he is still quite young and doesn’t have the vocabulary to identify everything that occurred), praised him for not retaliating, and let him know that I would do everything I could to help and support him.

After he had successfully told me everything he felt he needed to share, and letting him know he did the right things, I proceeded to give him a few other pointers on what he could do the next time it occurred. I told him to stand tall and tell the bully to go away in a loud voice. Just acting brave and drawing attention to the situation is sometimes all it takes to discourage a bully. I even had him practice on me a few times. I also told him to tell an adult right away. It’s the best way to get support and stay safe. Other ideas I will share with him as he grows are to ignore bullies as some bullies only act a certain way to get attention, and to stick with friends to avoid being isolated with a bully.

Grizzly Bear did encounter the same boy again during our playdate together. I did notice his stance seemed stronger and he did stand taller, eyes narrowed in, and the other boy did keep his distance. I admit to being mother vulture hovering over the situation (while Polar Bear made another attempt at freedom), but was endlessly proud of my son, and told him so later in the car.

 

Discussing Bullying with Your Preschool/Dayhome

After discussing bullying with your child, it’s important to bring the situation to the attention of the other adults involved. If that involves an organization, set up a meeting with the teacher or dayhome staff. Calmly present your concerns and be specific about your knowledge of the facts. If the others are unaware of the situation, it’s not necessarily a sign of a bad caregiver, just a good bully. Ask for the caregivers views, the plan going forward, and the organization’s teachings on emotions and treating others. By being assertive, not accusatory, you will likely see the ultimate result, a safe place for your child. Additionally, keep in touch with the caregiver. While picking up your child, ask how everything went that day. This will keep tabs on the situation and let your child know he has your full support.

The child that pushed Grizzly Bear was unaccompanied by an adult in the ball pit. I did watch him for some time move about the jungle gym. He knew I was watching him and deliberately avoided his parents so that I would not know who they were. It was about 25 minutes before he finally made contact with them and I did go over to tell them what I had seen. Fortunately, his mother was a very kind woman, very embarrassed about the situation, and did correct it by having a talk with her son. I could tell my son was watching me and felt better emotionally. He also seemed to understand the consequences of being a bully were negative, which I felt was a fringe benefit of the event.

 

Recognizing the Signs

After reading this blog and you’re not quite sure if this applies to you or your child, here are some things to think about while reminiscing about past conversations you’ve shared. Preschool children can’t quite articulate what they are going through (and older kids just don’t want to for that matter). A few scenarios that may indicate your child is facing bullying outside of the home are: previously liking preschool or dayhome but now he no longer wants to attend, even making excuses not to go; no longer wanting to play with a child he used to; says that a child is bothering him or bugging him; suddenly becomes fearful, clingy, quiet, or depressed; makes negative comments about himself; or, cannot explain bruises or marks on his skin.

Similarly, here are a few scenarios that may indicate your child is being a bully: your child likes feeling powerful and in control of situations, often telling adults what to do; he is quick to resort to anger or aggression; he does not apologize and feels he has not done anything wrong; he shows little empathy for others; or, he has shown aggression towards adults.

If you feel like your child may be a bully, don’t fret. There are methods to improving a child’s behaviour and helping him move away from negative actions. Firstly, talk to him about playtime and continually remind him what it is like to feel someone else’s feelings. Empathy may be a great way to discourage bullying. Discuss consequences such as other children not wanting to play with him and how teachers will view him. Always make your child correct wrong actions. If he stole something, make him give it back and apologize. If he pushed someone, make him give them a hand up and apologize. Always praise his positive actions and encourage new and existing relationships.

 

Moving Forward

I’m sure Grizzly Bear knows his personal vulture won’t be around forever, but I feel he is confident with his new tools to discourage bullies and his support network at home. If your child indicates not liking another child or not liking a certain place, don’t dismiss it, follow up on it. It could be their little kid way of identifying a bullying situation. Give them the tools and support they need to prevent and diffuse negative situations. Then follow up with the other adults involved.

If you need further help to prevent bullying, Alberta has helplines and online chats with trained counsellors. Find them here.

Likewise, call on your social support network. If you are surrounded by love and support, so is your child.