Tag Archives: Parenting

Safety First: Teaching Safety Skills to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Child holding father's hand
If you have a child with autism, you know that safety skills are a primary concern. Your child can encounter situations every day—like crossing the street—that might pose a risk, or they might engage in dangerous behaviors such as wandering. It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to teaching your children best practices to avoid or how to respond to unsafe situations, but the strategies below can be applied to many common safety concerns that arise. Think about applying these steps to the scenario of your child getting lost in a store.

1. Assess: What is the safety issue? What does your child know about the situation?
Your child tends to wander or get separated when you’re shopping in a large store and you want to create a plan for what to do in that situation. Right now he doesn’t know who to seek help from or what information to give him if he gets separated from you.

2. Plan: Create a strategy for dealing with the safety issue at hand if and when it occurs.
In case of separation, make sure your child knows his full name, parents’ names, home address, and telephone number. If your child has very limited language abilities, he should have an ID card or bracelet with him at all times. If he gets lost in a store, he should go to the person or people you have indicated are safe to go to for help—e.g. police or security.

3. Teach a plan: Talk to your child about how she should behave in the situation.
Speak to your child about what might happen if she gets separated from you at the store. Explain how to respond when people call her name and to listen for an announcement on the loudspeaker. Also make sure she knows who to ask for help and to stay in one place if she can’t find help. Many children with autism respond well to having concrete rules and steps to follow.

4. Model appropriate skills: Demonstrate skills or activities in action using social stories, pictures, videos, and other helpful teaching tools.
Show him pictures online of the types of people he should ask for help (e.g. police, firemen, security). You can demonstrate the steps for him at home: pretend you are a lost child and go through the steps. You can also find videos online that demonstrate what to do when lost in a store.

5. Practice: Practice putting your child in the situation—in a safe, controlled environment—and allow her to practice the new skills in many different natural settings.
When you’re at a store, have your child point out people who could be helpers. Have her repeat what she would say to someone if lost, such as “I can’t find my mom, can you help me?” Then set up a realistic drill. Give the security guard at a store you’re familiar with a heads up that you’ll be practicing. Stay within earshot of your child—but not with her—and have her go through the steps you’ve explained. Generalization doesn’t occur easily, so repeat in a variety of settings with different kinds of helpers to ensure she can demonstrate her skills in unfamiliar situations.

Reward/give feedback: Praise and reward your child when he gets the skill right. You can gradually phase out the reward system as the skill becomes well-learned.
Tell your child how well he followed the steps of your plan, provide additional teaching where necessary, and reward attempts at learning new safety skills.

The most important step is to practice, practice, practice! Not only will it help your child stay safe, but it will help your peace of mind to know he has the skills to manage the situation.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Rebecca Doggett, Ph.D. is a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

A Love Song For the Ages: Science Confirms Power of Music for Bonding With Babies

f229646b-84aa-4287-876d-b516101f5cd7-oBy Renee Bock

Sometimes science confirms what we know already on a gut level, a truth that we live by every day. I’ve been singing with young children for over a decade. Babies, three year olds, five year olds. They come to me as strangers and immediately connect through song. I don’t yet know their names, but they relax, they trust me, they are present as a group.

This week, scientists at Oxford University revealed that singing bonds people together more quickly than anything else. Over seven months, researchers studied the adult relationships forged in singing groups vs. creative writing or craft making experiences. They found that music makes people feel closer to each other faster and has tremendous power as an “ice breaker” between strangers.

Scientists have long debated the evolutionary value of music to humans. What contribution does singing make to our survival as a species? It doesn’t help with reproduction or self-defense. Is it nothing more than “auditory cheesecake” as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker asserts?

Here we begin to carve out an answer, one that reminds us as parents, teachers, and caregivers, that singing is an incredible tool for bonding with children from birth, creating deep attachments and expressing love even before spoken language emerges.

Yes, classes in creative writing and craft making brought people together. Adult students shared stories, learned about each other lives, and relationships evolved as familiarity blossomed. Not so with music. When people sang together, they didn’t need time or stories, they just felt connected. Imagine what this means for tribes in early human history, large groups newly interacting, needing to forge immediate ties to find food, build shelter or fight enemies. They’d skip a lot of steps if singing inspired immediate affinity. Congruence, alignment, agreement, harmony, synchronization—the building of social networks. We don’t need to speak the same language to be a force, a community that moves and acts. Perhaps this is why religion is so often accompanied by song, and why we make music as we go into battle. Certainly this is why throughout human history we continued to sing and enjoy singing today.

As someone who sings with babies, this study feels like old but welcome news. We’ve known for a long time that singing generates good feeling, aligns our heart rhythms and produces endorphins. Singing changes our brains and makes us happy. Now we know that singing provides immediate glue between strangers. Babies, who can’t yet talk, share stories of their lives, communicate feelings in words, can bond immediately through music. It’s part of being human. Way more than “auditory cheesecake,” a dessert or afterthought of human evolution. Singing is elemental.

For those parents or caregivers who feel they can’t sing or who simply get embarrassed, the Oxford study reminds us to put those feelings aside and jump right into singing with children to deepen our relationship right away. Your special face, your special smell, and now your special song, will let them know that you are their special someone. The impact will be immediate, a love song for the ages.

Renee Bock is the chief academic officer at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan. She has a master’s in early childhood education and more than a decade of experience in the field.

1) http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/10/150221
2) http://mic.com/articles/127865/new-study-finds-singing-brings-people-together-better-than-anything-else
3) http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/
4) https://theconversation.com/how-music-helps-resolve-our-deepest-inner-conflicts-38531
5) http://mic.com/articles/124457/science-shows-how-singers-brains-are-different-from-everyone-else-s
6) http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334/abstract
7) http://mic.com/articles/110628/13-scientific-studies-prove-music-lessons-were-the-best-thing-your-parents-did-for-you




Parental Self-Care: Why We Need to Make Time For Ourselves

Peaceful woman relaxing at home with cup of tea or coffee
We’ve all heard the announcement as we’re settling into our seats for takeoff: “If oxygen is required, put on your own mask before assisting others.” Logically, this makes sense, but emotionally, it’s difficult to stomach the idea of taking care of yourself at the possible expense of others. As parents, we all experience the same mental tug-of-war, which can be exacerbated by well-meaning but guilt-inducing messages from family, friends, professionals, and the media. It can feel as if you need special permission to take time for yourself!

Parents of children with special needs may feel this pressure especially intensely given their additional commitments and expectations of their time and efforts. However, parental self-care is not about neglecting your child’s needs. For all parents, but particularly those of children with special needs, taking care of yourself can actually make you a better parent. When you tend to yourself, you have more emotional, physical, and psychological stamina for your child’s everyday care and the unexpected or crisis situations that inevitably arise.

But what IS self-care? Does it require unlimited time, money, and freedom? Luckily, it doesn’t. Self-care includes all of the things you do for yourself to keep yourself healthy physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Examples of self-care include:

Physical: Eating healthy food regularly; fitting in exercise; getting preventive and medical care; getting enough sleep; turning off or putting away electronic devices (TV, phone, tablet) for portions of the day and at bedtime.

Emotional: Expressing your emotions to a supportive person, not taking on too much; making time to connect with your spouse or partner.

Social: Keeping in touch with family or friends (this could be electronic, by phone, or in person); trying a new hobby.

Spiritual: Visiting a place of personal spirituality or worship; meditation; journaling.

This list may seem overwhelming, but the good news is that doing even one small thing for yourself will make a difference. Here are some ways to integrate self-care into your daily routine:

Prioritize: Your time is already scarce, so don’t feel guilty about saying “no” to, or postponing, additional commitments.

Commit to one non-negotiable self-care act: Schedule time into your daily/weekly routine for this activity and let your family know what the time is for. Your non-negotiable self-care does not have to take a lot of time or energy. It may mean getting up a few minutes earlier so you have time for a quiet cup of coffee, asking a caregiver to stay 15 extra minutes so you can take a walk around the block, or setting your phone to “do not disturb” at a specific time each evening.

Ask for or enlist help: Schedule a qualified sitter or ask a family member or friend familiar with your child’s needs to provide extra support one or more days per week. Set aside that time to connect with friends or schedule a date with your spouse or partner.

Consider special-needs respite: Every parent needs and deserves a break. Respite services are available for a few hours, a weekend, or longer, and provide a safe, nurturing environment for your child with specially-trained caregivers, while you can take some time for yourself to recharge. In many places, respite is available to qualified families at little or no cost.

When parents aren’t able to take care of themselves, it can make the job of parenting that much more stressful and can lead to exhaustion, illness, and resentment. By taking small steps toward caring for yourself, you’ll notice a change in how you feel and cope with the unique challenges of parenting.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Ered Massie, LCSW, ACSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. She specializes in family therapy, mood disorders, oppositional and defiant behavior in children and adolescents, and autism spectrum disorder. She also has extensive experience in client advocacy and navigating the mental health, developmental services, and educational systems.

Thanksgiving Tips for Gluten-Free Families

09 30 15 Silly Yak Pizza Party Photo CollageTake a moment to think about your favorite Thanksgiving memories. Chances are your thoughts immediately focus on family—and food. If you’re one of the “chefs” in your family, you know that meal-planning can be stressful, from planning a grocery list to perfectly timing each dish. For families with special dietary needs, the stress of planning food for the holiday can overshadow the excitement that should accompany such a celebration.

The NYU Langone Pediatric Celiac Disease & Gluten Related Disorders Program helps gluten-free families balance the stress of meal-planning with the enjoyment of holiday gatherings. As Thanksgiving approaches, here are some new ways of celebrating and showing gratitude:

  • Focus on and nurture your relationships with friends, family, and your community.
  • Start a new family tradition. Try playing games, having a movie night, or reading a book together.
  • Find something to be grateful for each day. Keep a gratitude journal to commemorate all you have to be thankful for.
  • Make it a priority to smile and laugh every single day.
  • Send cards or letters to the important people in your life to let them know how much you appreciate them.
  • Volunteer for a cause that’s important to you.
  • Practice random acts of kindness. Do something nice for someone for no particular reason.
  • Give encouragement to someone who really needs it.
  • Be kind to yourself. With all the love you’re showing to everyone else, make sure you don’t forget yourself!
  • Get creative. Express your happiness and gratitude through art, music, dance, or whatever else helps you feel inspired.
  • Make a conscious effort to think positively and see the good in others.
  • Continue to celebrate all the wonderful things in your life all year long. If you ever need a reminder, check your gratitude journal!

Silly Yak Club Pizza Party 008 Diaz Fam 2And finally, connect with others and share your experiences. Join the Silly Yak Club at NYU Langone Medical Center! Kids ages 3-10 years old with Celiac disease (and even non-Celiac gluten-related disorders) are invited to join this special club that celebrates living life without gluten. The club meets regularly at NYU Fink Children’s Ambulatory Care Center for fun activities such as our back to school pizza party and our upcoming celebration of the fall season. Our next event is Wednesday, November 18, from 5-6:30pm. All “Silly Yaks” are welcome (along with siblings and caregivers) to join us for dinner, plus a fun gluten-free candied apple activity and art projects to take home! Note: all items served are gluten and peanut free, however only the items used for our candied apple activity will be kosher-certified (certificates available for verification).

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Janis Atty, MA, CCLS, ATR-BC, LCAT is a child life specialist and creative arts therapist at NYU Langone’s Fink Children’s Ambulatory Care Center. She helps pediatric patients and their families understand and cope with medical illnesses and experiences. By providing education, preparation, emotional support, and guidance, she promotes positive development and well-being in patients facing a wide range of challenging life events.

Hayley Adkisson, LMSW is the primary social worker for the pediatric gastroenterology, endocrine, infectious disease, nephrology, and rheumatology services, as well as Adolescent Medicine, at the NYU Langone’s Fink Children’s Ambulatory Care Center. She specializes in the areas of severe mental illness, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, sexual assault and recovery, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), emergency medicine, and mood disorders.

3 (Baby) Steps to Help Expectant Fathers Become Confident Dads

The adjustment to parenthood can be a stressful period of transition for new parents, especially for dads. Fostering a sense of readiness for fatherhood can be challenging in the maternal-centric world of visits to healthcare providers, online advertising, and marketing. While a woman’s changes in physical appearance during pregnancy signals a transition to motherhood, a man’s transition to fatherhood is not as visible. A woman’s body allows her to physically and emotionally bond with her baby from the onset of pregnancy. But, although dads cannot physically experience pregnancy, the expectant father experiences profound changes nevertheless. It’s very easy for an expectant father to feel sidelined when he enters the realm of pregnancy and birth. Connecting with his baby requires him to take steps to feel close to the baby before birth. Unlike generations long ago, fathers today are eager to take part in pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing. Research reinforces the benefits of a father’s early involvement in fostering happy and healthy children. As expectant fathers take their first steps along the unique journey of attaining fatherhood, expectant mothers should affirm their emerging roles, encourage them to participate, and praise them for their involvement.

Affirmation.  An expectant father’s needs are unique and equally important as an expectant mother’s. Talk to him. Ask him his thoughts and feelings on becoming a father. Help him to manage his emotions by making him feel valued and heard. Having open and honest conversations will facilitate his ability to find balance in his emerging nurturer-provider role and lead to greater confidence as a father. Knowing he can talk to you about being a dad is a great stress reliever and reduces anxiety and/or fears. Conversations will also help an expectant mother and father find balance as new parents.

Encouragement. Expectant fathers may struggle with finding stability in the unfamiliar world of pregnancy and childbirth. The fear of not knowing what to do or what to expect can limit his connection with baby. He may not instinctually know what to do or how, but every opportunity he takes to be involved is an investment in your family. Encourage his participation in all things baby. Whether taking a baby care class, going shopping for the nursery, or attending a doctor’s appointment, every step he takes to be involved will help him to feel included and closer to baby.

Praise. Shifting societal roles have freed men to be active participants in nurturing their children. No longer seen as sole providers, fathers are able to dust off the cobwebs and reignite their nurturing skills. As traditional views of what it means to be a father fade away, men are defining their new identities as involved fathers. Fathers’ unique ways of nurturing through play are essential to developing healthy children and families. Praise every effort your partner takes to connect with his baby. Whether it is changing a diaper, soothing the baby, or playing with the baby, praise him! Praise is a great reward and confidence builder.

Take these three easy steps and support his journey to fatherhood as you journey along motherhood. Make them a part of every day and soon you will be the parents you always knew you could be!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Gladys Vallespir Ellett, RN, MA, LCCE, CLC, is the Coordinator for Parent Education at NYU Langone Medical Center and oversees all prenatal and postnatal education programs for new and expectant parents. She also teaches prepared childbirth, cesarean delivery courses to expectant couples and is the group facilitator for the New Moms Group at NYU Langone. She is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and Certified Lactation Counselor and currently serves as chair of Continuing Education for Lamaze International. She is a graduate of NYU College of Nursing and holds a master’s degree in education from The American University. As current doctoral student at the NYU College of Nursing, her research interest focuses on supporting new and expectant families, specifically fathers.

To register for Daddy Bootcamp Classes at NYU Langone Medical Center click here!

Awesome Classes for Parents (and Parents to Be!) in NYC

Parenting is a tough job. While there’s so much that comes naturally about being a mom or a dad, there’s a lot that does not. Sometimes, you just need a little expert help and advice to get through the many ups and downs that come with raising a child. Luckily there’s an array of classes for parents available in NYC, where they can learn all about how to care for their kids—and themselves—and make the parenting process just a tiny bit easier. Check out some of these great options for parenting classes and programs in NYC!

Happy mother hugging little daughterNYU Langone Medical Center. One of the best hospitals in NYC, NYU Langone Medical Center offers an array of informative classes to get you through every stage of being a parent—from prenatal to postnatal, to the second-time around. If you want to brush up on CPR and first aid, there are courses for that too, and you can even attend sessions for buckling your little one safely in a car seat—a must for any parent on the go.

92Y. The 92Y has classes for everything—you have probably seen a variety of their kiddie programs on the site, which include everything from music and sports to robotics and cooking. But what you might not know is that we have some amazing options for new and experienced parents as well—both semester classes you can join for a season and drop-in workshops on various parenting topics. Expecting parents can check out classes like Lamaze Complete Childbirth Preparation and Caring for a Newborn, and newbies to the job can get back into shape with Shape Up with Baby or learn the basics of breastfeeding with a weekly Breastfeeding Workshop. Even experienced parents have their pick: learn to navigate the stresses of parenthood with workshops like Planning Your Child’s Early School Years and Motherhood and Your Professional Identity.

Beautiful pregnant woman working out isolated
Prenatal Yoga Center
. When you’re pregnant you have a very important job to do—not only must you care for and nurture your growing baby to be, you must also take excellent care of yourself, and prepare your body for the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth. Prenatal yoga is the perfect way to keep your body in tip-top shape, and Prenatal Yoga Center is the place in NYC to do it. If you’ve never taken a prenatal yoga class you can purchase a one-time drop-in to try it out, or you can treat your self to multiple classes and save with an unlimited monthly pass or eight pack. Plus, these multi-packs can be used on Prenatal Yoga Center’s postnatal and baby classes, which include Postnatal Yoga, Mommy & Me, Music for Babies, and Infant Massage.


The Truth About Dental X-Rays

Pediatric dentist explaining to young patient the x-ray

Dr. Julie Cernigliaro of NYC’s Happy Smile Pediatric Dentistry is back with another important post about dental health! In this post, she’ll focus on dental x-rays and why they’re important for your kids.

Many parent express concern about taking kids’ dental x-rays (or radiographs); however, they are valuable in providing information about a patient’s oral health. This includes diagnosing early-stage cavities, gum diseases, infections, or some types of tumors in infants, children, and adults. Many dental problems simply cannot be diagnosed based on a visual exam alone.

This does not mean that children need x-rays taken at every visit. Your pediatric dentist will determine when it is advisable to take x-rays. Typically, as long as a child will cooperate and his or her back teeth touch together, x-rays will be taken. If x-rays are not taken, it is impossible to diagnose cavities in between the back teeth until it grows—and if a cavity grows, so does the potential for it to get closer to the nerve and to cause significant pain and infection. Typically children get upper and lower front x-rays to rule out cavities, to make sure the permanent teeth are developing normally, and to make sure there are no extra or missing teeth. Two back x-rays or bite wings are also taken to determine if there are any cavities between the back teeth. Unless a problem is detected, the x-rays are usually repeated once a year.

Every day, we are exposed to radiation in our environment—this constant exposure is called natural background radiation. While there is no conclusive evidence that cancer is caused by dental x-rays, every precaution is taken to minimize radiation exposure. According to a study conducted by Medscape:

“The amount of radiation received from dental radiography is so low that it is highly unlikely that it results in a measurable risk. Dental radiographs provide a very useful tool in the dentist’s diagnostic armamentarium. Although radiograph benefits outweigh radiation risk, a reasonable and prudent dentist should be cognizant of such a risk. It is the dentist’s responsibility to consider carefully and justify every radiograph and to employ the means and procedures to optimize radiographic imaging to gain maximum diagnostic information with the minimum radiation.”

Most pediatric dentists use digital imaging that significantly lowers the exposure. The settings on the x-ray device are adjusted depending upon the child’s size and a lead apron with a thyroid collar is used for additional protection. Most often children need significantly less x-rays to diagnose disease than adults. Your pediatric dentist will determine the minimum amount of x-rays needed to make a diagnosis and will always weigh the risk verses benefit before deciding to take an x-ray.

Dr. Julie Cernigliaro is a board certified pediatric dentist at Happy Smile Pediatric Dentistry in NYC. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in 2001, where she received the community service and pediatric dental health award. She continued her studies, completing her pediatric dental residency at Northwestern’s Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago in 2003.

Currently she is an associate director of the Pediatric Dental Residency Program at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. She became a diplomat of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2006 and has given both national and international presentations on Pediatric Dentistry.

Packing (and Picking) Healthy Back to School Snacks

Photo: Jane Feldman

Photo: Jane Feldman

Packing snacks is often a last minute to-do during a hectic morning routine. Most people dash to the pantry, grab something quickly, and throw it in their child’s book bag just before heading out the door. But snack time is an important part of the day that deserves a few more moments of your time. The right snack will do exactly what it’s supposed to do—nourish and satisfy kids and give them the fuel and focus they need to make it until lunch.

Avoid putting your child on an energy roller coaster while at school with processed snacks—full of sugar and refined carbohydrates, which turn immediately to sugar in the body. These snacks may provide a temporary energy boost, but they also cause a major sugar crash, leaving kids lethargic, unfocused, and moody. Fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, maintain blood sugar and provide the necessary energy to ensure kids’ success.

So save the granola bars and crackers for weekends when the mental demands aren’t as high and physical activity is increased. This goes for big kids too (a.k.a. adults!). Instead, here are a few great ideas to add to your basic repertoire of baby carrots and celery sticks. They’re all great to have on hand for after school snacks too!

Fruit Kabobs. Kids love fruit right? Choose a few of their favorites (melon, grapes, strawberries, etc.) and mix in a few veggies to make a kabob! Vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers are all great options. Especially baby bell peppers—they’re particularly sweet, in season, and at their colorful best in the fall. And a great tip—instead of bamboo skewers, use popsicle sticks to make a safer fruit kabob.

Photo: Jane Feldman

Photo: Jane Feldman

Dipped veggies. Fill a small container (a 2 oz. baby food jar is a good size) with your child’s favorite dip—hummus, guacamole, pesto, salsa, or a creamy dressing. Then, cut veggies into short bite-sized pieces and pack them tightly in the container so that the ends of the veggies are in the dip. This makes the snack easy to eat and also saves you from keeping track of two containers.

Funny fruits. Have a little fun and play with your fruit! Instead of using post-its, write notes or jokes, draw pictures or smiley faces, or just say “I love you, now eat me” on bananas, oranges, nectarines, and clementines. Jokingly draw an arrow pointing to the nub end of a banana and write “Open this end.”  Draw black lines on an orange for your young sports fan with the phrase, “Slam dunk your day.” Anything fun will do!

Cinnamon sticks. Toss thin slices of apple or pear into a plastic baggie or container and sprinkle generously with cinnamon. The extra touch of spice goes a long way! It’s simple and easy and can be prepared and kept in the fridge for a couple of days.

Nature’s candy bar. Open a medjool date—keeping it together on one side like a clam shell—and remove the pit. Fill the date with nut butter (if allowed at school), sunflower seed butter, pumpkin butter, soy butter, or coconut butter (also called coconut manna or coconut creme). Other great filling ingredients include raw almonds or dried coconut. For a special treat, add a few chocolate chips or a square of dark chocolate. Squish together and enjoy.

Don’t forget the water! Give your child a special BPA free water cup or thermos with his or her name on it. Find one with a squiggly straw or a fun shape—there are options with footballs, dinosaurs, cartoon characters, and more! Kids are much more apt to drink water if they have special cups that are fun and personal.

Healthy families snack together. If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, you have to eat more too! When preparing back to school snacks, pack them for the entire family—if your child is getting fruit kabobs, pack them for mom and dad too. When your kids see that you’re excited and looking forward to the snack, they will be too. You can even make a fun game out of it, and have your child pick each day’s family snack. This goes for stay-at-home parents as well—if your snack is made ahead of time, you’re more apt to eat it rather than grabbing a chocolate bar or bag of chips on the go.

3 Ways to Kick Toddler Tantrums (and Save Your Sanity)

Pretty baby girl crying while her mom tries to calm herToddler tantrums are the worst. Little did I know, the so-called “terrible twos” start way earlier than advertised. Lately, pretty much anything can set off my usually cheerful and giggly 18-month-old son. Can’t hold my iPhone? Check. Wants his milk, then throws his milk, then gets mad when I won’t give it back to him? Check. Pretty much when I say no, he says yes, and then a tantrum ensues. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a perfectly happy kid, but at this age, his inability to fully communicate what he wants gets in the way. So when tantrums start, what is a mom to do? Here are a few ways I’m coping with the terrible tantrum phase.

Ignore them. I really think this is the number one rule. The more attention you pay to the yelling and screaming (as unbearable as it can be) the more the tantrums seem to escalate. As soon as I ignore my son’s yelling and screaming, he pauses and looks at me like “wait, why isn’t she paying attention to me?”

Distract them. When ignoring your little one doesn’t work—since every child and situation is different—distraction is key. My son is in LOVE with our dog, so as soon as a tantrum starts, I find her and put her to work! Often times, my son forgets what all the fuss is about and starts happily playing fetch and petting my (superhero) dog.

Give in. While I wouldn’t necessarily start with this tactic, sometimes you have to pick your battles. When we’re running late, about to walk out the door, and my son starts screaming about sitting in his stroller, there are times when I’ll give in and let him walk so we can go on our way. Sure the stroller would have been easier, but sometimes I just don’t have it in me to fight.

And sometimes the best solution—and my favorite—is to simply give a big understanding hug. Sometimes all my son needs is a little empathy and affection in order to stop, take a deep breath, and go back to being the sweet, silly little toddler I know and love.

Beyond Twinkle Twinkle: What Do I Sing Next?

Mom Singing to BabyWhen my three sons were little, we spent hours singing together. Songs like Little Black Bull, Leatherwing Bat, Old Blue, and Abiyoyo were just a few of our favorites. Each day, whether my kids were sitting in high chairs or walking down the street, I’d sing and they’d pay attention, giggle, and ask for more. It was a daily ritual and one of the most intimate activities we did together.

New moms and dads may know that singing to their babies is important, but many are stuck singing the same old songs over and over again. Twinkle Twinkle, ABC’s, Wheels on the Bus, and Itsy Bitsy Spider—these are like “old friends” that we learned from our parents and pass along to our own children. But there’s a whole world of children’s folk songs waiting to be discovered that will bring you and your baby hours of fun!

The Seeger family—Pete, Ruth, Peggy, and Michael—is the “first family” of American folksongs for children, and their albums are a treasure trove of songs to sing together. Pete Seeger, who passed away this year at 93, spent a lifetime teaching songs for young children, and his recordings are filled with vibrant melodies, a range of emotions, and rich vocabulary and story. Several recordings focus exclusively on children’s music, such as Pete Seeger Children’s Concert At Carnegie Hall; Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes Little And Big: Animal Folk Songs; Stories and Songs for Little Children; and American Folk Game and Activity Songs for Young Children. I would start with Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes—that was always our favorite!

Here are some other great artists and collections to consider:

Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection: An assortment of artists, such as the great Ella Jenkins (whose work is worth exploring on its own). You’ll also find songs in Spanish, Yiddish and Swahili. Such a treasure!

Songs from the Old School: A funky, soulful collection by Ivan Ulz, which includes the new favorite tune “Fire Truck” and musical accompaniment to the classic Ruth Krauss book, The Carrot Seed.

Leadbelly Sings for Children: This album features the sounds of classic blues master Leadbelly, who plays the twelve string guitar for adults and little folks too.

Going to the Zoo: Tom Paxton’s wonderful world of soothing kids’ songs for kids, which is also a great book written by Paxton and Karen Lee Schmidt.

Peter and the Wolf: Narrated by David Bowie, this is can’t-miss album is a great way to expose your child to classical music and great storytelling.

So go beyond Twinkle Twinkle the next time you sing to your children—although I wouldn’t erase the classics from your repertoire. Whatever you choose, music is crucial for well being and language development and a simple pleasure your children will enjoy for years to come.