Archive for Socio-Emotional Development

21 Jan 2013

How to Raise Compassionate Children

1 Comment Being Intentional, Parenting, Social, Socio-Emotional Development

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. – Fred  Rogers

As responsive caregivers we are setting the foundation for empathy right from the very beginning of a child’s life. By responding appropriately to them we are showing them that we are aware of their needs and feelings. Through our actions they learn that their caregivers provide what they need, whether it’s food, a change or simply love and comfort. When infants get older and become mobile we begin to see them display empathy. I’ve seen many older infants and young toddlers bring a crying child a toy or other comfort object. They are beginning to respond to others in an empathetic way. Clearly we are born with a need for caring relationships, a need to engage others and even to empathize with them and to help. We are born with the capacity for compassion.

So what then do we do to nurture this ability in children? How do empathetic children become compassionate adults? How do we help children to learn to help others? How old do we have to be to learn compassion?

I think that the best way that we can help children to have compassion and to help others is through our own actions. Many of us donate our money and our time to help those less fortunate than ourselves, however, how much of this do our children see? If we’re simply writing cheques, how will our children become aware of our contributions? For those who keep busy schedules, sometimes the only way to contribute is financially, and that’s fine. I would encourage you, however to try to do this in a way that your children are aware of your contributions. Use the labels and cards that charities often send to accompany a donation. Tell the children where these items came from and what the money you gave went towards. If they are old enough, have conversations with them about what charities you support and ask what charities they would like to support by asking who they would like to help or how.

Some others ways to demonstrate compassion would be to make it a regular occurrance to go through your home and gather clothes that don’t fit, toys or household items that are no longer used. Pack these items up and take them to the donation centre together. When children are old enough they can start to make their own choices about what toys to keep and which to donate. If you volunteer and it’s appropriate, take your child with you. They might be too young to make a significant contribution, however, simply being present to see the work that you are doing will impact them. If we model these actions and behaviours right from the start, children will grow up with this type of work as a normal part of their lives and I think that’s the goal. As they grow and develop, so will their involvement and I think that children can certainly surprise us with their capacity to care and desire to help others.

My hope is that the next generation will be more caring, more empathetic and more compassionate than ever before.

09 Jul 2012

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 2.3 Sense of Self
  • sucking fingers, observing own hands
  • showing preference for being held by familiar people
  • beginning to distinguish known people from strangers
  • showing pleasure in mastery
  • playing confidently in the presence of caregiver and frequently checking in with her (social referencing)
  • increasing awareness of opportunities to make things happen yet limited understanding of consequences of own actions
Hold the infant securely when she is meeting a new person. Look at the person and reach out to them.
This helps the infant remain secure with new people and build confidence as she expresses her preference for certain people.

 

Infants are people.

Take a moment and think about that. I know it seems obvious, but I think as adults and as caregivers we can forget that these tiny little humans who depend on us so completely are also individuals. They are unique individuals who are developing their own identities and personalities as well as their “likes” and “dislikes”. Infants are people, just like you and I are people. Now, being conscious of that, how does this affect the way that we engage with infants? How can we not only appreciate them as individuals, but support them in the early stages as they begin to develop a sense of self?

My first tip- allow babies some time to be naked. No joke. Infants are learning about their bodies; they are discovering their hands, their feet and all the different parts of their bodies, but to be able to do that they need access. How will they ever learn they have toes if their feet are always covered with socks or slippers? Additionally, bodies that are free from clothing have freedom of movement. There’s a reason babies love to be naked, so why not turn the heat up a notch and allow your infant some time to explore their bodies freely?

Another suggestion is to provide lots of opportunities for uninterrupted, child-initiated play. By this I mean allowing infants the freedom to select a material to explore and the freedom to explore that material however they choose for as long as possible. Infants learn about themselves and the world around them through exploration. When we allow them to make choices and take initiative in their play, we support their sense of self.

Thinking about your infants interactions with others, strangers in particular, you can support your infant by paying close attention to their cues. “Auntie” might want to hold your infant, but is your infant alright with being held by a stranger? Maybe they need a few minutes to get to know each other before your infant will want to experience close contact. Allow your infant to dictate the pace, which will help them to make choices, to feel secure and will allow this introduction of a stranger to be a positive, and not distressful experience.

An infant who is still developing their sense of self, continues to rely on their caregiver to provide a safe and secure environment. They trust us to provide freedrom to explore, appropriate materials and a safe space. Infants learn how to be secure in themselves by being secure in their caregivers.

Photo from: MGD Photography

01 Sep 2011

Can you “spoil” a baby by picking them up?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 

2.2 Self-Regulation

Emotion Regulation

  • becoming calm when comforted by familiar adults
  • comforting self with thumb
  • recovering from distress and over-stimulation in a secure relationship
Respond to infant’s distress by supporting his self-soothing behaviours. 

When recovery from distress is supported by an adult, the infant’s attachment to the adult is reinforced. The infant learns that strong emotions can be tolerated and recovery is hastened.

The one thing that I wish that I could tell every new parent and caregiver is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up too often. I know that seems like common sense to many people but unfortunately that old way of thinking is still present in our culture today. I think that almost every person I have encountered with a young baby has had an older relative or neighbour tell them not to pick up their crying child.

What we know now, however, is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up. We also have a much better understanding of how important it really is that we respond to an infant’s distress. It is through our consistent responses to an infant’s distress that we reinforce our attachment with that infant. This  helps them to feel secure and is the foundation upon which a child learns to regulate their own emotions and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating to infant’s and young children that we will be there if they need us, they are able to learn to calm their own distress, knowing that their caregiver will meet their needs.

Understanding this, I also want to caution caregivers to “look before you leap”. What I mean by this is rather than rushing in to swoop up a crying infant, take a moment to determine why the infant is crying first. Do they have a physical need; are they hungry or tired? There are times when intervention is required by the caregiver, but there are other times when the infant simply needs comfort or support. This might mean engaging the infant in a different way. Rather than picking up the infant, you might choose to get down to their level, talk to them or place a reassuring hand on their arm or back, as you would with an older child or adult. We can offer this type of support, especially as the infant  becomes older and is learning to self-regulate.

It is through the consistency of our responses to children’s distress that we form secure attachment relationships and within those relationships, children are able to learn to regulate their own emotions. The way that we respond to children’s needs is so important and although there are no expectations that we will be perfect, our consistency and responsiveness is key to helping children’s socio-emotional development.

Photo by: Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

10 Jun 2011

The Power of No

No Comments Socio-Emotional Development, Toddlers

I’m working with a little one right now who is just turning two years old. Like many other children his age he is discovering the power of “no”. Being told “no” all the time can obviously become frustrating for his caregivers. However, what I’m now starting to wonder is how frustrating it is for him.

He’s going through a transition phase developmentally in which he is learning that he is his own person and can make his own choices. How scary and confusing that must be for him. I have  noticed that although he exercises his ability to say “no” regularly he doesn’t always seem pleased or certain about it. Thinking back to other toddlers that I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Although they will often say “no”, sometimes they indicate through their body language, facial expressions and even their tone, that they don’t neccessarily mean “no” and sometimes they say it even when they mean “yes”. I remember this used to be a regular occurence at snack time, toddlers practicing saying “no” and then showing displeasure at not receiving more snack.

This observation of this particular child’s seeming conflict with his use of the word “no” reminded me of how mindful we need to be in our observations and responses to toddlers and young children. It can be easy to see “no” as a frustrating response or even defiant behaviour when it shouldn’t be. We need to support toddlers as they develop their independence and support their need to begin to make decisions. We can do this by establishing an environment that is safe for their exploration, one which will limit the amount that we need to tell them “no”. We can also do this by providing them with simple closed choices, such as “would you like toast or cereal?” Allowing them to make small choices, and therefore providing them with manageable amounts of control will help them to feel safe and secure as well as to exert their growing independence.

Also, next time you’re with a toddler, take a moment to imagine how it would feel to discover you suddenly have power and control over things you didn’t before. What a great responsibility that would be and how overwhelming that would feel. In this stage of development, which Erikson referred to as “autonomy vs shame and doubt”, toddlers are experiencing the push and pull of wanting to explore and to be independent while at the same time wanting to feel safe and secure with their caregivers. Therefore we need to be mindful of how we respond in these situations so that we can support their explorations appropriately.

I hope that next time you hear “no” you’ll take a deep breath and try to keep these things in mind before you respond.