Category Archives: Family Matters

Interactions Matter!

Interactions Matter!

Written by: Hannah de Vries

Everyday interactions between caregivers and children build the foundation for children’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Research shows that when caregivers are responsive, warm and sensitive to children’s needs, children develop confidence, resilience and communication skills. These skills help to prepare children for interactions with others and to work through problems, manage stress and form healthy relationships. Caregivers who engage children in different opportunities and experiences help them to develop a love of learning. For example, caregivers might encourage shared book reading, constructive play, independent exploration and participation in decision making. Children also benefit academically when caregivers engage them in conversation, use new vocabulary words, provide a literacy rich environment and embed problem solving in everyday family activities

What do high-quality interactions look like? Here are some simple and effective strategies to promote meaningful interactions:

Engage in responsive, warm and sensitive interactions.
• Attend carefully and listen actively when your child speaks to you by using eye contact, head nods, caring facial expressions and encouraging gestures that demonstrate empathy, engagement and validation. Allow enough time for your child to share, and avoid interrupting. 
• Provide toys and activities that are appropriate for your child’s development and understanding. Check the labels on toys to see if they are age appropriate.
• Be available when your child needs support, and recognize that all children have different needs. Perhaps your child needs your help with a transition routine, or to get ready for bed time. Perhaps your child needs you to arrive a bit early for school pick-up so they do not wait nervously. As you consistently identify and meet your child’s needs, they learn to trust and respect you. 

Follow your child’s lead.
Engaging in intentional number play with your child can help them to learn numeracy skills and get excited about learning more! Research shows that number play is more effective for a child’s skill-building when an adult guides the play. 
• Let your child take the lead in conversations and play by supporting their ideas. Avoid the temptation to direct all interactions, but instead show acceptance. For instance, if your child is pretending that stuffed animals are alive or wooden blocks are food, that is okay.
• Notice your child’s interests and play preferences. Suggest doing what your child enjoys and have fun together!

Engage in turn-taking.
• Establish predictable, back and forth verbal and social interactions with your child to enhance their language and cognitive abilities.
• Be patient and provide time for your child to take a turn. For instance, if you are working on a puzzle together, give your child enough time to explore how to place a puzzle piece in a space before helping. Talk your child through the interaction by modeling and prompting with statements like, “First it’s my turn to place a puzzle piece. Now it’s your turn.”

Challenge and support your child’s learning.
• Try elaborating on your child’s communicative attempts by repeating, rephrasing and expanding on your child’s words and non-verbal cues. 
• Use phrases that build on what your child is thinking about and contribute to what they want to investigate. Support your children’s language development by introducing and defining new vocabulary. 
• Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” When you ask children to provide detailed responses, you support their developing thinking and comprehension skills. 
• Model, encourage and build trust with your child to develop their independence. Practice different skills with them. For example, model how to tie a shoe, brush teeth or fold a shirt and then say, “Now you try by yourself.”
• Encourage and comment on your child’s interests. For instance, if your child is pretending a cardboard box is a car, ask “Where are you driving?” or “Should we draw wheels on your car?”

Be a good role model.
• Be aware of your own emotions because children look to you for ways to express and regulate their emotions. For example, if you model self-talk for calming yourself when you are angry, you will model for your child how they can use the same technique. If you control your voice volume when you are excited, you will show your child how to experience intense emotion and use self control at the same time. 
• Children attend to everything you say and do and may imitate words and actions – try to be your best self. However, it is okay to make mistakes. Consider it an opportunity for modeling. If you make a choice you regret, take responsibility and help your child understand what you wish you had done instead.

These strategies can be used anytime and anywhere. You can create high quality interactions during transitions, travel time, daily routines, meals, bath time and play time. Everyday interactions matter!

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

Written by: Jessica Anderson

As the new year begins, many parents make resolutions, set new priorities and shift routines. But how many of these changes in daily living include increasing children’s imaginative play?

Imaginative play, or pretend play, happens when a child uses his or her imagination to act out a situation based on their experiences and interests, and often includes props.During this type of play, children act out events in a scenario (e.g., restaurant, safari, pirate ship) but there are no set rules or goals. The focus is on creativity.

Research shows there are many important reasons for children to engage in pretend play. Here are a few reasons to prioritize play this year:

1.Play Gets Kids (and Adults) Moving
Child-directed play promotes movement. During play, children constantly move, run, crawl, climb and jump. In a day and age where it is so easy to live an inactive life, researchers suggest that taking time to play can encourage healthy activity and get everyone in the house moving!

2.Play Connects Children and Caregivers
Research shows that play is important for building emotional connections between children and parents, allowing them to build healthy relationships that are a necessary part of child development. These positive connections built through play help both children and parents manage stress well. The moments that caregivers and children spend together stampeding through the living room on horses or playing restaurant servers can make all the difference in building strong and safe bonds.

3.Play Builds Confidence
Play is a safe way for children to practice being adults. Children constantly imagine they have new roles and often pretend they are adults. In the world of pretend play, children can drive the local bus, give their stuffed animal a wellness checkup, parent their baby doll or talk on the phone to a good friend. This kind of play is important for children to take on new roles, practice resiliency and master new skills, routines and ideas. Play gives children a safe place to practice life and build confidence.

4.Play Boosts Social-Emotional Skills
Unstructured play with peers is important for boosting children’s social skills. For example, when two children pretend they are in a bakery, one child might be the cake decorator and the other the customer or the baker’s assistant. Maybe they will decide to switch roles, or in a change of events, they will host a cake party. Even in a simple game, children practice taking turns, figure out what happens next, make decisions and solve problems. Research shows that these skills are important for a child’s development and lead to strong social skills as adults.

5.Play Gets Kids Talking
Research shows that creative play can help children to learn new words in a new setting. For example, when children pretend they are dinosaurs, a unique scene unfolds. In the land of dinosaurs, the kitchen table becomes a cave or the bookshelf a volcano ready to erupt at any minute. Maybe there are dinosaur nests, teeth or tails to talk about. Creative play gives children and parents a unique way to use new words and strengthen language skills.

There are so many strong reasons for giving children time to engage in pretend play. We hope you all have a playful and fantastic 2019!

Coping with Holiday Stress

Coping with Holiday Stress

Written by: Caitlin Courshon

It’s the holiday season. Anna is filled with hope and excitement about having her children at home for two weeks during their school’s winter break. Anna’s home is picture-perfect – filled with winter warmth and holiday cheer…and chaos. Her children are running at full-speed through the kitchen, excited about the days off from school and a routine-free schedule.

Anna’s thoughts are swirling about how to create a “perfect” winter break with her children. She thinks to herself, “How do I reduce their noise and focus their attention? How do I plan exciting and interesting days that don’t break the bank? How can I increase our family connection and happiness while still having time to enjoy the season myself? How do I turn ‘wild’ into ‘wonderful’?” Collecting her thoughts, Anna finds a quiet space and takes a few minutes to write a list of activities and events that she hopes will accomplish her goals for family fun.

Does Anna’s story sound familiar?
Research shows that the holidays are a joyful time for many families. However, around 38% of people also say that their stress increases at this time of year. This isn’t surprising considering the many demands the holidays bring, like hosting guests from out of town, planning special activities, finding the perfect gifts and being able to afford all the holiday fun.

Luckily, research also reminds us that there are simple ways to de-stress the holiday season.

Top Tips for Handling Holiday Stress
1. Plan ahead. Research shows that planning and managing your time are key ways to handle stress.

Think ahead this holiday season about your family’s goals and consider which ones are top priorities. You don’t have to do it all, and that’s okay! Does your family love to go ice skating every year? Plan the outing in advance so you know you’ll have time to go. Does last-minute shopping overwhelm you? Plan ahead and get your shopping done before the holiday events. Remember to set aside some time for yourself this season. Try baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie or going for a walk. Dust off your old planner or family calendar if that helps you to stay organized.


2. Pay attention to the positive. Research shows that people who regularly pay attention to the positive are better able to cope with stress.

It’s understandable that the holiday season might stress you out, but try to focus on the parts of the holidays that you love! Things don’t always have to be perfect. Instead, set realistic expectations and look on the bright side if things don’t go exactly as planned. Think ahead about positive ways to manage the many events at this time of year. If plans change at the last minute, focus on turning this into an opportunity rather than a disappointment.


3. Spend time strengthening your social connections. Research shows that building and maintaining positive relationships with others is a key way to manage stress.

Plan time with your family to enjoy each other’s company! Spend an evening driving around to look at holiday lights, visit a neighbor, take an afternoon to create a craft, cook or bake together or visit local holiday events. Check out Imagine Children Museum’s event calendar for upcoming events like Polar City and the New Year’s Eve Pajama Party!

Happy holidays to all!