Tag Archives: toddlers

Starting Holiday Traditions with your Little Ones



It’s that time of year again! Young children are already full of holiday cheer and excitement at the prospect of presents, treats, and more family time. Making new holiday traditions with your toddler (or bringing them into your existing traditions) is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family bonds and promote their healthy development. Here are few toddler-centered milestones to consider when making your own family traditions for this holiday season.

Independence: To foster the independence that toddlers crave, try giving them a job that makes them feel central to the ritual and they can continue to do every year as they grow. For example, letting them light the candles (with supervision!) on a menorah, advent wreath, angel chimes, or centerpiece before a family meal can make them feel proud to be trusted with such a grown up responsibility. Toddlers just want to feel included and to be able imitate what they see you doing. Another fun tradition could be to bake special cookies together and make your toddler the “Chief Decorator” or “Sprinkles Fairy” to give them their special role. For families considering the long term goals of independence, gifting each child a new ornament every year to eventually move with them to their own homes as adults is a thoughtful and heartfelt tradition.

Empathy building: Toddlers are also the perfect age to learn more about empathy and civic mindedness. They will learn and embody these characteristics best by watching you model these values, and participating in the experience of giving back. Take them to buy a present and bring it to a local charity or event for children who do not have resources. Sing Christmas carols or spend time with the elderly at a local nursing home. Make meals for the homeless. Any volunteer opportunities that are family friendly will benefit the cause you are helping as well as your child’s sense of belonging to a community that values each other.

Family Bonding: Match your family vibe to a tradition that creates warm family connections. Are you a favorite movie with a big blanket and snacks family? A creative family that can make up songs or decorate ornaments together? A family who embodies “the more the merrier” mantra who can host a festive holiday get together? I know many families who create traditions that incorporate games and reading aloud during the lead-up to holidays. One family unwraps a new board game each Christmas Eve and they play all together in their pajamas while they snack on sweets. Another family asks each member to write a letter to the other members to express their love and gratitude for that person or something that happened that year (the two year old dictates hers). The letters end up in their stockings to be read aloud Christmas morning. What a wonderful lesson that would be for little ones learning about gratitude and love for others!

Making Good Memories: Whatever you decide to do to mark the holidays in your home, think about making a family tradition that will feel special and exciting to your little ones. It could be as simple as breaking routine at bedtime to stay up for a special treat or a family sleepover. You want a tradition to stand the test of time as your child grows up and ideally is something everyone looks forward to when the holidays roll around. (This may be a tall order for some adolescents who eye roll their way through family time). Make your traditions and rituals a multi-sensory experience that will make good memories filled with warmth, scents, sounds, tastes, and vibrancy. Fond memories of family holidays are treasured far longer than most gifts we receive. After all, it’s not just about getting matching family pajamas; it’s what you do together while you’re wearing them.

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

Lauren Knickerbocker, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.

The Real Deal on Toddler Behavior

Do you know any toddlers? You know, those little humans full of curiosity and energy who teeter around sharp corners, draw on anything but paper, make bizarre fashion choices, and exert a will that could stop a hurricane? If you do, you also know that toddlers can put the “No!” in “Yes” and the spaghetti in couch cushions. It’s difficult to know what they might be thinking and their budding language skills can definitely leave us guessing. Although parents often feel frustrated and even worried by typical toddler behavior, it may actually be a good sign that they are on target for developing some very important skills. Here are some facts to give you a fresh perspective on what to expect and how to deal with developmental changes during toddlerhood:

Wütendes Kind in der TrotzphaseFact #1: Independence is a major motivation for toddler behavior, don’t fight it!

• Give choices whenever possible during daily routines. For example, since your toddler must wear a coat during winter, give him or her choices about the act of wearing it. He or she can decide whether to put the coat on before or after putting on shoes or whether to zip up by him or herself after you start it. Or, your little one can pick out your gloves for you and help you get ready to go outside.

• Pick your battles. Figure out what your ultimate goal is in a situation with your toddler. Your little one may not make it pretty or do things efficiently, but when toddlers are given the flexibility to do things on their own they are more engaged.

• When your toddler does not have a choice, be clear and firm in your expectations. Do not get trapped by asking your toddler if he or she wants to do something because the answer can always be, “No!” For example, “You have to lie down for your nap now,” not “Are you ready for your nap?” Follow up with a choice they do have and what to expect or look forward to when naptime is over.

Fact #2: Emotional control is another toddler developmental milestone, help them achieve it!

• Go with your child’s temperament and provide more opportunities to test out his or her independence and emotional control.

• Label feelings out loud in a variety of situations, whether for yourself, a character in a book or TV show, or those observed in your toddler. Encourage the use of words to express emotional states and validate when he or she is having a tough time (or a great time) with mirrored facial expressions or level of enthusiasm.

• Don’t overload your toddler with long explanations or multi-step directions.

• Tell your toddler the appropriate thing to do instead of “No!” or what NOT to do. It is much easier to process positive instructions and then choose the appropriate behavior response.

• With all of the mental energy that goes into learning independence and emotional control, remembering how to behave all the time is tricky. As with people of any age, pay attention to the behavior you want to see more of and praise it—your toddler loves your attention more than anything else and will continue to do things that succeed in getting it!

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

Lauren Knickerbocker, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.

Tips for Thanksgiving Travel With a Toddler

toddler  boy sitting in the car seatWhile New York is where I live, work, and am happily raising a family, I’m originally from outside of Boston and love having the chance to go “home” for Thanksgiving, where my parents (and my husband’s parents) still reside. If your family lives out of town like mine, you can probably relate to the excitement of traveling to see family and having more than just a short weekend to spend together. But of course with traveling comes a whole host of stressful things to deal with—making sure to pack everything you need (but not too much), timing your trip just right, and making it to your Thanksgiving destination with a happy child in tow. After many successful trips and (many more that I would rather forget), I’m happy to share a few things I’ve learned to make travel with a toddler just a little bit easier.

Get the necessities now. When traveling with my now 22-month-old son for an extended period of time, ordering the necessities he needs and shipping them to my destination ahead of time has become an absolute must. Of course I could buy everything when we get there, or guestimate how many diapers to pack or if the bath soap we have will take us through the week—but why chance it? With the ease of sites like Diapers.com and Amazon, you can buy what you need, ship it a few days ahead of time, and have one less thing to think about. Plus, you’ll have extra room in your suitcase for the things you really need.

Time things just right. I’ve traveled a fair amount with my son and the one thing I’ve learned is that timing is everything. If your child is just a few months old and has an erratic schedule, timing might not matter, but if your little one has a very predictable routine (like mine), my advice is to keep to it. If you’re driving to your Thanksgiving destination, leave at bedtime when traffic should be a bit lighter and your child can sleep his/her way through the ride. This will make for a less stressful drive for everyone involved. Naptime is the next best option, as you’ll get at least an hour or two of peace and quiet. If you’re flying, leaving in the morning is key. After a full night’s sleep your little one is bound to be less cranky and more willing to cooperate during the long process of flying. My family once flew back from a vacation at the exact time my son should have been napping. He threw an enormous tantrum as we were preparing to take off—disrupting everyone to the point that the stewardess handed out free headphones (that you usually pay for) to everyone on the plane to block out the noise. Once we were at cruising altitude he proceeded to throw himself on the (absolutely disgusting) plane floor and nap for two and a half hours. I was totally that mom with the uncontrollable child, and wouldn’t wish a trip like that on my worst enemy.

Do whatever it takes to get there. Traveling is stressful enough when you’re by yourself, so adding a toddler to the mix can turn an exciting vacation into an anxiety-inducing chore. So whether it’s extra snacks, toddler tunes on the radio, or a movie on the iPad, do yourself a favor and do whatever it takes to keep your sanity in tact. In my case, living in city means my family doesn’t drive as much as suburban families, so my son is more irritable than the average child when he’s strapped in a car seat for hours. While he doesn’t watch a lot of TV when we’re at home, if Elmo the Musical on the iPad will keep my city kid happy for a long stretch, Elmo the Musical is what he’ll get. I use a special holder that sits on the back of the headrest so he can’t fumble around with the iPad, so all my husband and I have to deal with is Elmo’s high-pitched, cheery voice for three and a half hours. But believe me, during our long drive to Boston next week that furry, red monster will be the Thanksgiving gift that keeps on giving.

5 Tips for Feeding a Picky Eater

Baby eating the oatmealMy son is not exactly the best eater. I try and try (and try) to get him to eat new foods, but nine times out of ten he either automatically spits out said new food, or offers a matter-of-fact “no” and turns his head. Basically, if it’s not pizza, waffles, or grilled cheese (can you see a pattern here?) it’s a no.

So I go into mealtime like a battle that has to be won—but I never ever do! I have, however, learned a few good tactics for getting my picky eater to get the nutrients he needs. Here are a few of my strategies for making mealtime just a little less stressful.

Eat as a family. Kids tend to eat pretty early, so it’s not always convenient to sit down and eat together. But, I’ve found that if I’m eating something my son can’t have, he wants it—whether it’s in his repertoire of foods or not. If my husband and I order sushi and he’s snacking on a good ol’ pb & j sandwich, he often throws his food aside for a bite of mine (although he doesn’t always like it in the end). As they say, you always want what you can’t have.

Pay no attention. If I put food in front of my son and immediately walk away, sometimes he’ll start picking at it. I think his reaction to certain foods comes out of wanting a reaction from me. I’m sure it must be hilarious to watch me dive across the room to catch the half chewed bite of chicken he’s decided to spit all over himself for the 15th time. Ignoring is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

Outsmart them. Besides his love of carbs, my son also loves meatballs—which are conveniently a good vehicle for veggies such as carrots and zucchini (like in this recipe). He also loves spinach squares, which mix spinach with lots of cheese, so the spinach goes pretty much unnoticed. If you’re not a creative cook (which I am certainly not) you can always mix two foods together and hope that the offensive food is overlooked. For example, roast some cauliflower and put a small piece on the same fork as a chicken nugget—your little one might not notice a thing.

Make it kid-friendly. Due to my own preference for healthy eating, I sometimes forget that my son is just a toddler and might not be up for eating the same things as me. Serving foods that are accessible and easy (even if they aren’t exactly to your liking) may be the path of least resistance. If chicken fingers are on the accepted list but a plain piece of grilled chicken is not, cut your losses and be happy that your child is getting some protein. And look for foods with fun packaging and lots of kid appeal. I especially love ProBugs kefir yogurt pouches. They’re bright, they’re healthy, and they taste really good too!

Don’t stress. The most important tip I can give, especially to parents just entering the picky toddler phase, is not to worry too much. When it comes to our kids we tend to get anxious when things don’t go exactly to plan, but things usually work out in the end. I look at my healthy, lovable little boy—who could stand to be a little more adventurous with his food choices—and realize that it will come with time; I just need to be patient. While I sometimes envy moms whose kids gobble up whatever is put in front of them, I guess my little guy is teaching me, once again, that the best things in life don’t always come easy.

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.

Skills Needed for Kindergarten

Skills Needed for Kindergarten (and how boys develop differently than girls)

 boys in mind.1

Boys from infancy need space to grow. Boys love to climb, dive off tables, move a lot, take things apart and try to put them back together. These are some of boys’ temperamental traits. However, many times boys are described with adjectives such as: bad, destructive disruptive, trouble maker, aggressive, un-cooperative etc. Are we destroying our boys during their infant/ toddler years? Many adults like to say boys are slower than girls. Some characteristics are natural with boys and they should be given the opportunity to develop. Just imagine if each time you attempt to climb on a table an adult is there saying “No don’t do that”. Would you want to try climbing again? Many of us sever a boy’s ability to feel a sense of accomplishment  during their infant /toddler years. What you need to do is make the space safe for him to climb on the table and when he gets on the table you should celebrate by clapping your hands and say “Yeah you did it!. You will see the biggest smile and observe how quickly he will do it again. His self esteem is taking root because of your approval. Try not to use the word “NO” with your boy. “NO” gives a sense of “I should not try anything because I will hear the word NO”.  When you are caring for boys you must give then space to grow. You should also help them through the different developmental stages when they tell you that they are ready. For example : if you are drinking from a cup and your five month old son wants to have some give him from a cup. Don’t say you are too young (let me give you your bottle). Infants and toddlers learn through repetition plus learning new skills takes practice. You can introduce the adult cup to your son at five months. He will get enough practice so by the time he is eight or nine months he will be able to drink from a cup. He should also have his sippy cup and a cup with a straw. Remember that your son’s brain is wired for learning; however you need to help him connect the wires.

Boys love action oriented activities. Many childcare programs tend to have boys sitting too long when their temperament does not allow for that. Boys often stop focusing and the caregiver may become frustrated. Boy(s) may be removed from the circle and placed in the time out chair. His peers are looking; he is internalizing that negative feeling. Plus whatever comment the caregiver added. It may sound like this, “Johnny I am tired of you disrupting the class. This is every day. I am going to tell your mother that you were not a good boy today.” (This is told to him in the morning, this child has the rest of the day to feel that he is not good). These words may be repeated so many times that these boys begin to internalize it (and believe they are bad). The caregiver did not solve the problem because she /he put him in a time out. Now his brain is not being stimulated in a positive way.

It is very important for caregivers to be trained in child development. During these critical years many of our boys are not given the social and emotional readiness that are needed for school and noted below:

1. Skill: Understand the difference between right and wrong and recognize and respect authority figures. Why It’s Important: When your child gets to kindergarten she/hey will be in a bigger class plus the will not be able to get individual attention. Your child should be able to self regulate.

2. Communication: Your son should be able to communicate his needs and feelings verbally in a socially appropriate manner and understand/show empathy for his peers. Why It’s Important: Kindergarten is where children begin to practice their ability to make friends, show empathy, work in a group and socially interact with others. Children who continue to express anger and frustration by hitting, yelling and throwing objects will not only have a difficult time making their needs understood, but may also socially isolate themselves. Knowing that there are more productive ways to express themselves and what they say and do affects other people plays a key role in making friends and being a part of the learning community.

3. Independence:  Can play independently or in a small group without needing to be constantly supervised. Why It’s Important:  With 20+ children in a class, all of whom learn in different ways and at different pace, it’s not possible for a kindergarten teacher to supervise every individual child all at the same time. As kindergarten progresses, group and independent work time is increased and children need to be able to work on their own without constant redirection. Not only does this prepare a child for future schooling, these are life skills that he will take to the work world. Your son should feel competent-he should feel that he can have an impact on the world.

4. Relatedness: should be able to take turns, share, converse, use polite language and play with other children without needing to be reminded. Why It’s Important: Your son will be able to engage with his peers and also understand his peers.

5. Self discipline: In kindergarten there will not be a toy or book for everyone. Your son needs to learn how to share materials, toys and attention before he gets to kindergarten. He’ll need to be able to do so in a socially acceptable way. This is also called self-regulation.  Why It’s Important: Your son is building the foundation for interacting with others, this skill will be useful throughout his life. It also teaches him patience.

6. Curiosity: Your child should be able to think independently, explore new things and be willing to take risks. Why It’s Important: Going to kindergarten is a major transition for your son. He may experience separation anxiety. You should ask the school to arrange a trip to the kindergarten class to allow a smooth transition.

boys in mind.2

By Daseta Gray, an educator with over 20 years experience and can be found at www.SabreeEducationServices.com and  www.SabreeHarlemParents.com.  Twitter @KinderSuccess  and on Facebook KindergartenSuccess.

Touring an Infant Toddler Center: Questions for the Director

Touring an Infant Toddler Center: Questions for the Director

When touring a child care center, most of us feel unprepared to assess the quality of education and care provided to children. We all want a center that compliments and even enhances what we teach children at home; we want individualized love and attention, a clean, safe place, a home away from home. We want to be sure that caretakers are professional and the center provides families with knowledge about raising children and how to fill our days with growing experiences.

As an educator, and a mother of three boys, I have had the opportunity to be a parent, teacher and Director at many centers. Here is what I’d ask when visiting an infant/toddler or preschool center:

1. Embrace the Mission — Does my family share the center’s vision of children and educational values?

The most important aspect in selecting a center is finding a place that shares your family’s educational outlook, a place where you feel at home philosophically. Do you believe that play and friendship are central to learning? Do you think it is important to do worksheets and learn to read before three? The school’s mission determines how children spend their days and what they learn. Make sure you embrace the mission before you sign your contract.
On your tour ask the following question:

  • What is the school’s mission and how does it impact what the children do everyday?

2. Professional Background — Are teachers prepared to work with children of this age?

Teacher preparation is the single greatest indicator of a professional educational environment, one that is safe, nurturing and sets appropriate goals for students. Teachers must understand child development and have an understanding of best practices. They must have experience taking care of very young children, and be able to love and relate to them no matter what the mood or need.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • Do Head Teachers have a Master’s in Early Childhood Education?

3. Accesibility — Are Administrators and Teachers available to me?
As a parent, you will have many questions, concerns, and hopefully compliments to give at the center. You must be sure that when you need to talk to someone, the staff is available either in person, by phone, via email or able to make an appointment within 24 hours.  Before you sign your contract, meet the Director and make sure you feel comfortable with their expertise and ability to support your family.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • If I have a concern who do I speak to first and how do I reach them?

4. Intention — Teachers should work with a plan, set goals, and have a mindful approach to all of their interactions with children and materials.

There are several ways you can determine if the school has a culture of intentionality. When visiting the classrooms, does every object seem to have its own place? Are materials presented to children in an orderly, relaxed manner? Do teachers seem to be thinking with the children, considering what they do and say? Are they listening and observing as they work?

On your tour ask the following questions:

  • Do teachers keep a plan book? What is recorded there?
  • Do the teaching teams meet weekly with administrators? What do they discuss?
  • Do teachers document the children’s work? Are there artifacts that keep track of children’s work and growth over time?

5. Tone — Do adults in the center listen to children and speak with respect at all times?
When visiting the center take note of how teachers listen and how they speak to children. Children need to hear their own thoughts, to process what is going on around them, and have time to contemplate. There should be a mix of engagement and auditory space throughout the day.
When teachers speak to children, they should use a natural voice. They shouldn’t speak too fast, loud, in angry tones, or silly voices. Young children should be treated like they have important ideas to share, and are competent, creative people with greatness inside them.
Teachers and administrators should speak to each other with respect, as children are impacted by emotions of adults around them.

On your tour ask the following question:

  • What is your approach to listening to children? Can you describe how teachers should talk to children?

It can be challenging to select your first center, as you entrust strangers with your most precious and incredible child. Ask as many questions as you can, call the Director and reconnect until you are comfortable. The center should teach and support the whole family and elevate the learning for everyone.

Renee Bock is a dedicated early childhood educator, who is currently the Educational Director at Explore+Discover, a social learning center in Manhattan that is dedicated to setting the standard for infant and toddler care and education. Renee has more than a decade of experience in the field and holds a Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in New York. In her present position, she is helping Explore+Discover open the first of 27 New York City centers focused on children from 3 months to two years old. She can be reach at Renee@K3Learn.com.

Benefits of Kids Music Classes

As someone who grew up studying music from a young age I stand by the belief that music can have a major impact on a person in many different ways.  For instance, in school I rarely had anxiety before an exam as I had experience performing with an ensemble group and going through auditions.  Music helped me think abstractly which was very helpful in school and outside of the classroom.

My personal relationship with music began when I was introduced to the piano at the age of 4. Thanks to my parents who encouraged me to take private lessons and also to teachers who challenged me to see my potential, my personal and educational life was changed because of my music.

kids music classes

Luckily in 2014, the arts go beyond Broadway plays and music lessons!  Now music classes are available to those who are even younger than 4!  These classes generally are very nurturing and in a non-formal setting. Classes such as singing simple songs and gestures, that just seem like silly fun, are in reality generating many benefits for small children.

Benefits of Kids Music Classes

Lets look at some of the positives that have been found in children being exposed to music and/or taking music classes at a young age (each article link has been added below, in case you’d like to do a little more reading!):

1) Brain Development

Music stimulates both sides of the brain, which can lead to increased creativity and fine tuning of reasoning abilities including problem solving. Research has also found that a child can be more likely to do well academically because of involvement with music.

2) Motor skills development

By playing with instruments or participating in dance that involves even the simplest movements, a child’s muscle strength and coordination can be increased. Each dance is requiring a certain amount of control from different muscles, fine-tuning skills that will help with every day activities.

3) Social skills

As early as 1-2 years a child may begin to show signs of self- consciousness, becoming more aware of his own feelings as well as observing the feelings and expressions of others. Up until now, most children have already developed close relations with only perhaps you as a parent or caregiver. Being in a social situation where he can interact with others his own age may be less intimidating if he is also able to have you there to help define positive or negative behaviors.

If you think music classes may be a good fit for your little one, feel free to come to any of our classes and just mention this blog entry for a complimentary class that day! For all information on us, please see our bio section!

There are tons of kids music classes available on KidzCentralStation.com – and you can search by age and location to find the best, and closest option in the city for your child!

We hope to see you soon!