Texas Parenting News
Go easy on Halloween
Halloween can be downright scary for young children. Before you buy the latest superhero or princess costume and plan any trick-or-treating, consider your child’s basic needs.
Infants (birth to 12 months) need constant physical care and nurturing.
Ignore the holiday. Sing and rock your baby to sleep as you usually do. It’s OK to dress your baby in the pumpkin romper from Aunt Minnie but do that in the daytime and take a photo to share with her.
Toddlers (1 to 3 years) need consistency and security.
Stay home. Forget about a mask and costume. Gently greet trick-or-treaters who come to the door. If your home is off the beaten path, carve a pumpkin (an orange will do) or bake cookies together.
If you are offering treats, give sugarless, store-bought, wrapped candy. With today’s suspicions, your homemade brownies and popcorn balls will probably just be thrown out by safety-conscious parents. Other treat options are stickers, pencils, and glow sticks.
Preschoolers (3 and 4 years) need help knowing what’s real and not real.
Your church or a community organization may host a celebration the weekend before (Oct. 27 or 28). A party like this enables children to enjoy the fun without the safety risk. Talk with your child in advance about the purpose of masks and costumes.
Another weekend option is to gather a few of your child’s friends to play games and share treats.
Consider ignoring the latest fad costumes and invite your children to create their own. Dressing up in old clothing or making a costume from an old sheet encourages imagination. Just be sure it’s fitted for safety—short enough to avoid tripping, and without face-covering (and vision impairing) masks. Or forget the mask and offer face painting or makeup instead. Face painting is safer for seeing and moving around. For added safety, use light-colored fabric or reflective tape.
If you plan to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood or at a friend’s house on Halloween night (Wednesday, Oct. 31), walk with your child, keep the evening short, and get home before dark. Carry a flashlight.
If you are driving, turn on your car headlights earlier than usual so you can see and be seen.
Back at home, inspect the treats together and dispose of any unwrapped goodies. Debrief what you saw and heard so your child can settle down from the excitement and go to sleep.
If after enjoying a few treats you still have lots left over, freeze them for later use in cakes and cookies. Or give the treats to local firefighters, police, or senior centers.
Remember, Halloween trick-or-treating is more aptly suited to school-age children. If your children are younger than 5 or 6, relax. They have plenty of time to enjoy the fun—and the fright.
Is it kindness or over-helping? Finding a balance
Everyone would like to see more kindness in the world, and parents can help by teaching their children to be kind.
Teaching kindness often takes the form of doing things for others—making a casserole for a new mom, writing a cheerful note to a sick friend, and helping a neighbor look for a lost pet, for example.
But doing things for others can have its downside. The recipient of your kindness can begin expecting your kind acts and get upset when you change, such as when you stop helping your preschooler pick up toys, or a sister-in-law loads on the guilt when you show up without the cake you promised because you came home exhausted from work.
The key is to find a balance between teaching kindness and creating dependency. How can we teach balance?
Young children won’t be able to tell the difference until they grow older. As toddlers, they like helping because it often gets them the contact with you that they crave. Later they do it for praise. By about school age, children begin to understand that helping other people needs no reward and is valuable in itself. As teens, they begin to get clues about over-helping.
Remember that children learn best by following your example. Yes, go ahead and make a casserole for a new mom, but it’s not required when you’re worn out or sick. And you can change your mind without feeling guilty even after you’ve promised. Offer a rain check with an explanation.
Encourage teamwork. Children need to know that helping with household chores is a responsibility that goes with living under the same roof. Everyone can make a contribution and thus relieve the burden on Mom and Dad.
Remember that responsibility increases with age and ability. Small children are entitled to get more than they give because that’s what we as parents owe them. But as children grow, they can learn that others have needs and wants too.
Refrain from doing tasks that children and others can do themselves. Avoid taking over your 4-year-old’s chore of setting the table, for example, just because you can do it faster or better.
Avoid criticism. Children need time and experience before they can do something well.
Acknowledge effort. Tell your 4-year-old: “You really worked hard on that, and I appreciate it.” Occasional praise (“Good job!”) is OK, but the goal is for children to look inside themselves, not outside to other people, to know they did well.
Demonstrate courtesy. Before your child’s birthday, talk about getting gifts and showing gratitude. “You’ll get gifts, and we say thank you even if we don’t like the gift. We’re grateful that someone showed us a kindness.” Forcing a child to say, “Thank you,” “Please,” or “Excuse me” can seemed forced and create resentment.
Speak with kindness and respect to everyone, even those you don’t like. A smile and silence is better than responding to someone’s sarcasm or meanness.
When asked to help, ask yourself: “What’s my motive? Do I want approval or praise? Can I help without feeling resentful?” A gentle but firm “No” is better than a begrudging “Yes.”
When you decide to change a habit of helping, give the usual recipient a warning. “I’m not doing your laundry anymore,” you may tell your brother. If you’re met with a negative reaction, you don’t need to give a reason. It’s enough to say, “I’m confident you can do this yourself.”
Show respect for your home, your neighborhood, and the earth. Invite children to participate as you clean up around the house, plant a tree in the park, and recycle paper, empty cans, and bottles, for example.
Consider the oxygen mask instruction given on airplane flights: “Place the mask on yourself first and then on your child.” You’re better able to help your child (or another person) if you handle your own basic needs first.
Sports: What’s best for your child?
It’s fall, and you may be thinking of signing up your preschool child for football or soccer. You may even be dreaming of your child as a sports hero, getting accolades as the high school quarterback or the Olympic gymnast.
Before putting a baseball mitt on your baby’s hand, get informed about how children develop physical skills. Consider whether your goals are driven by your own dreams or what’s best for your child.
Developing physical skills
In infancy, children learn to sit, crawl, stand, and walk. First they gain control of their large muscles, and gradually they begin to gain skills in the small muscles of the hands and fingers.
Between ages 2 and 5, children continue to develop physically, learning eye-hand coordination and body balance as well as fundamental physical skills such as running, hopping, jumping, skipping, kicking, catching, and throwing.
As preschoolers, however, they typically have difficulty with team sports because they don’t have the capacity to see and respond at the same time. They are easily distracted and are still trying to master physical skills. That’s why we see a 5-year-old picking flowers in centerfield during a T-ball game, for example, and all the 4-year-old soccer players ganging up on the ball.
Many children acquire the fundamental skills between ages 6 and 8, but every child is different. According to Paul R. Stricker, MD, “Not every child will acquire every skill equally or at the same rate, but most acquire them in the same order.”
When to specialize
Generally, sports experts suggest waiting until age 12 or 13 before specializing in a sport. At that time, parents need to consider how they feel about the following:
What is best for our child? Do we sense a real love of a sport in our child?
Which sport is it? Some argue that gymnastics, tennis, and golf benefit from early participation. Recreational running and cycling, on the other hand, can start in college.
What is best for our family? Do we have the money for equipment, uniforms, and travel to sports events? Do we have the time and energy as parents to devote to one child’s sport? What about other children in our family?
As in most activities, sports skills progress from simple to more complex. A preschool child may learn to catch a ball first by grabbing it with both arms against the chest, for example. The next steps might include using both hands or extending the distance between throw and catch.
Research shows that intensive lessons in a sport won’t always give a preschooler a head start as a future athlete. Of course, we’ve all seen stars like Steffi Graf (tennis) and Tiger Woods (golf) start their sport as young as age 3. But some athletes played several sports as children and found their specialty late. Tim Duncan started out as a swimmer and didn’t play basketball until his freshman year in high school, and Susan Francia didn’t start rowing until she was a sophomore in college.
As for the early starters, “we don’t always know the rest of the story,” warns Stricker. Many other factors were likely involved. Successful Olympians who started early “had support from their parents, were not pressured, and stayed in their sport because of the love of the sport….”
“Repetitive actions and long hours of training can overload the young growing body and cause overuse injuries such as tendonitis, growth plate injuries, and stress fractures,” Stricker says. Furthermore, if a child “is only good at one thing and then is injured or wants to change sports, she will find herself at a deficit.”
There’s also a social-emotional concern. “Lack of socialization skills can occur if a child is isolated from her friends and life outside that sport. If the pressure of competition is emphasized before the child is emotionally ready, the child can become burned out and have to retire from a sport before the teenage years.”
What parents can do
“The primary goals of sports activities for toddlers and preschool children should be playfulness, experimentation, exploration and having fun,” Stricker says. We want children to benefit from the exercise, make friends, and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives. Consider the following tips:
Allow children to just play among themselves. Ideally, they will spend at least an hour a day in unstructured play, such as tag.
Walk, run, cycle, swim, or dance with your children. Ideally, adult-led physical activity, both at home and school, will total at least an hour a day. When parents participate, children learn that exercise and fitness are part of everyday life.
Teach safety and health practices, such as drinking water, applying sunscreen, and getting enough rest, along with physical activities. Encourage children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid fried foods, and avoid sugar-added foods and drinks.
If you allow your preschool or school-age child to sign up for organized team sport, evaluate the coaches. Ideally, they will emphasize good sportsmanship and having fun over competition. They will let players try out different positions and give everyone a chance to play in games.
Focus on what players do right (not mistakes). Ignore the score.
If your child expresses dissatisfaction with a sport, talk about why. Does the child lack the skills? Does the activity cause pain and discomfort? Is there bullying or too much pressure to win? Is another sport more appealing?
Enjoying physical activity can influence children to stay active all their lives. It can sharpen their thinking, improve mood, and help prevent serious medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
For more medical opinions about preschoolers and sports, see articles in the Healthy Living section of https://healthychildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For an in-depth look at what science has learned about recognizing athletic ability early and the interplay of genetics and the environment in the development of elite athletes, see The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, a book by David Epstein, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, published in 2013.