Category Archives: Family Matters

Young Children and Effective Communication

Young Children and Effective Communication

Written by: Catie Chun


Effective parent-child communication beginning in early childhood sets the stage for trusting relationships and development of self-esteem. Researchers have even been able to predict life satisfaction based on the strength of parent-child communication! 

When we communicate orally with children, we are not just saying words — we are also communicating our values, expectations, and beliefs. With this in mind, it is important to consider what unspoken messages we are sharing. When we set our children up for success, praise their strengths and show them that we are listening, they receive the message that they are capable and worthy. 

Using Effective Commands Tells Children “You Can Do It!”
Young children want to do a good job. As a caretaker, giving clear instructions makes it more likely that your child will follow through as instructed. We want to make our commands as effective as possible to set children up for success! 

Give direct commands to eliminate confusion and to make it clear that the child, not you, should complete the task.
• Direct: “Pick up your toys.”
• Indirect: “Let’s pick up your toys.”

State commands positively and tell the child what to do instead of what not to do.
• To do: “Sit in the chair.”
• Not to do: “Don’t climb on the table.”

Break up multi-step directions into several single tasks so it is easier for your child to remember. This also gives you more opportunities to praise your child!
• Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.
• Compound: “Put your shoes away and make your bed.”Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.

Be specific and let your child know exactly what is expected. This can make it easier to decide whether the child has followed through.
• Specific: “Please walk.”
• Vague: “Behave!”

How Using Specific Praise Tells Children “You Are Working Hard!”
Young children crave their caretaker’s approval! To sweeten the deal, be sure to name the action that you like. Naming the quality or action in your praise increases the likelihood that your child will repeat the action in the future. To promote a growth mindset, it is important to praise the process and the effort that your child puts into a task rather than the outcome.

Examples:
• “I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
• “Way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to a new friend! That is really brave.”
• “Thanks for giving your best effort at saying these numbers — I can tell you were working your hardest!”“I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
DO praise immediately: praise is most effective when delivered immediately after the action.
DO praise frequently: the golden ratio is five praise statements for each command.
DO praise enthusiastically: young children respond to energy and encouragement!
DON’T tag on criticisms, reminders of past failures, or requests for future performance: praise should be a celebration of the child’s work, period.
DON’T praise undesired or inappropriate behavior: this is confusing for children — wait for something more constructive, then praise positive behavior.
DON’T be vague: your child is more likely to repeat the desired behavior when they know what you liked!

Using Your Listening Skills Tells Children “You Are Important to Me!”
Consistently engaging in meaningful conversation with your young child shows them that their words and thoughts matter to you. Using some of these listening skills can help emphasize that you are listening.

Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to elaborate on their answers. Questions that begin with “what,” “where,” “whom,” or “how,” are helpful tools to start conversations with young children. 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know that it is okay to feel that way. Children need to have their feelings supported by their parents to feel understood. 

Let your child talk! One-sided lecturing and nagging is not a meaningful conversation. Use these communication builders to open the lines of communication: 
• “I’d like to hear about it!”
• “Tell me what that’s like.”
• “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
• “I understand.”
• “What do you think about… ”
• “Would you like to talk about it?”
• “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?”
• “That’s interesting.”
• “Explain that to me.”

Resources:
•  CDC’s Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers: Communicating with Your Child 
• The REACH Institute at Arizona State University has brief videos on Making Clear and Effective Requests and Using Positive Praise and Incentives
•  Boys Town Guide to Communication Skills



5 Tips for Blended Families

5 Tips for Blended Families

Written by: Catie Chun

In the United States, the term blended family has started to replace stepfamily to describe a family in which two existing families are joined through a new adult partnership. Some prefer the language of blended families because it avoids the negative associations that stepfamily holds. However, the language used to describe within-family relationships has not changed. The terms stepparent, stepchild, and stepsibling continue to be commonly used today. Growing up in a blended family is becoming more and more common –according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 16% of children in the United States are living in blended families today.

There are unique joys and challenges associated with combining families. While these big changes are often new and exciting for adults in the home, research shows that it can be a difficult adjustment process for children. Here are some things to keep in mind as your family begins this new chapter of life: 

  1. Blending families takes time and teamwork. Parents need to work together to blend family norms, expectations, and discipline practices. In addition, children require time to adjust to new family members and to build connections with them. This process requires patience and time.
  1. Make time for parent-child bonding. It is important to maintain regularly scheduled parent-child time to reassure children that they are not losing their special connection with their parent to new family members. Assuring your child that they are still important to you can ease this transition. 
  1. Additionally, stepparents and stepchildren should spend one-on-one time together to discover their common ground. Consider activities where the stepparent teaches the stepchild something they want to learn, like baking a cake or riding a bike. Alternatively, the activity can be one where the stepchild teaches the stepparent a new skill such as playing computer games. 
  1. Sometimes children are hesitant to accept a new stepparent because it feels like betraying their first parent of the same role. Conversations that proactively address these concerns can ease confusion regarding this difficult topic. 

For example, you might say, “These big family changes can be confusing. Your mom will always be your mom, and she will have a permanent place in your heart. I hope that someday your stepmom can have a place in your heart too… If she does, her place will be separate from mom’s. Accepting your new stepmom doesn’t mean that you can’t love your mom anymore.”

Similarly, it can be helpful for stepparents to assure children that they will never take the place of their other parent. These conversations can free children to care about all people in the family. While adults would prefer for stepparents, stepchildren and stepsiblings to love each other, it is difficult to require strangers (who did not choose each other) to love one another. For these new relationships, love might not be a reasonable expectation. Civility, however, is a reasonable request. Children should still be expected to treat others with the same respect they would like to receive.

In summary, blending families presents big changes for both adults and children. With patience, planning and time, your family can adjust to this new stage of life.


Additional Resources:
7 Tips for Parenting, Stepparenting, and Discipline in Stepfamilies

Videos with Dr. Patricia Papernow, ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours

National Stepfamily Resource Center: Understanding Stepfamilies Free Online Training


The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

Written by: Swee Harrison

How are families involved in a child’s literacy development?
A child’s literacy skills begin at home before they are old enough to attend school!

Children whose parents are more involved with their schooling and at-home learning tend to feel more confident in their own literacy skills. This is no coincidence! Family involvement can influence a child’s success in their school and community contexts as well as the home environment. So, why is this important? It means that you, the parent, and other family members can really help your child improve their literacy skills!

Why is literacy important in early childhood?
Early engagement with literacy is important because challenges with literacy development can impact a child over time, even well into adulthood. Children who struggle to develop literacy skills in elementary school are more likely to have difficulties with reading later on. Challenges in school are linked to behavioral problems. This site provides resources and benchmarks for early literacy development and milestones (infancy to age 5): https://www.pacer.org/ec/early-literacy/parents-play-a-key-role.asp

We also know that family income levels can be related to children’s literacy development. Parent and family involvement are especially important in low-income families. If you are interested in learning more about the role of literacy on children from low-income backgrounds, check out this summary of a study on family involvement and children’s literacy for low-income families: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/08/05/family-involvement-and-childrens-literacy

How to support your child’s literacy development:
The term “family involvement” includes a variety of actions both in school and at home. Here are ways you can be involved in your child’s literacy development:
1. Help with homework and other school-related activities at home
2. Participate through classroom volunteering and communicating with teachers (i.e. attending parent-teacher meetings, keeping up with their child’s progress)
3. Access your child’s school community and discuss education with other families and community members
4. Educate yourself on topics and skills your child is learning in school

Siblings can help each other improve reading skills too!
Studies show that siblings who participate reading or language learning together also improve together! Younger siblings benefit from observing and learning from their older sibling(s). Plus, older siblings learn from teaching younger siblings and demonstrating their own knowledge. Take a look at this website for information on sibling roles in literacy development: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/books-and-reading/raise-a-reader-blog/siblings-reading-together.html

Check out these resources for more information! 
These websites provide suggestions for activities to improve literacy development: 
Kid’s Academy: bit.ly/2N0qbsT
Edutopia: edut.to/3qqDtN2
National Center for Improving Literacy: http://bit.ly/3bxQX5A