Category Archives: preschoolers

Halloween Costumes

Most children enjoy dressing up and pretending to be someone/something else.  This is a common part of play among preschool and early elementary kids.  Halloween is a great opportunity for kids to use their imagination.  

In general, costumes for very young children should be of familiar characters, people or objects and not cover or alter the face.  By second grade, most kids understand the difference between reality and fantasy.  Watching your cousin put on a scary mask can still be frightening for some of 6 year olds.  If Ursela and the Wicked Witch of the West are characters your child dislikes, be proactive in helping your child avoid interactions with big kids that might enjoy werewolves and mummies.

Thirty years ago, almost all Halloween costumes were home made.  Consider reviving the tradition.  A paper grocery bag can be cut into a vest and decorated as a police officer, native american, cowboy, etc.  Paper plates can be cut and safety pinned to the back of a shirt as wings for a fairy, angel, insect or princess.  Parents can help add glitter to the edges.  Paper or fabric letters can be pinned to a shirt to create an athletic jersey.  Spots can be added for a cow or dog.  Stripes can be added for a tiger or bumble bee.  The school glue that advertises it is washable is an easy way to attach ribbon for stripes and they conveniently come off in the wash.

Is Trick-or-Treat taking candy from strangers?

Trick-or-treating is an old tradition.  (The History Channel has a good explanation of its origins.)  Past generations of children took candy from strangers on Halloween.  You have probably already tried to teach your child not to accept candy from strangers.  Halloween is a good opportunity to see how well your child understands.

If you ask four year olds what a stranger is, many will not be able to answer.  Those who do will mostly fall into two categories: a person you don’t know and a bad person.  When I ask kids I have never met before if I am a stranger, many say no.  Some justify it because they know my name.  Others justify it because I have been talking with them a few minutes.  Some assume that if I know their parents then I am not a stranger.

Candy and rides are often mentioned when teaching children about stranger safety.  There are lots of other enticements that are used to lure children.  If your child is old enough to understand, give a quiz asking if it is ok to take specific things (money, candy, stickers, toys) from people they have never met, people their parents know, etc.  Just talking about it before Halloween can give you a great opportunity to reinforce the lesson when you Trick-or-Treat.  If you are going house to house, explain how you do or don’t know specific neighbors and qualify them a strangers or not.  If you are going to a trick-or-trunk event in a parking lot, explain how you know that the adults giving out treats are safe.  If you go from store to store in a mall or booth to booth at a fair, you can ask about who strangers are and what behavior is safe.

I don’t like new foods!

Some picky eaters are afraid to taste new foods.  This is often worsened by adults who insist the child try the new food.  Often, forcing a child results in a self-fulfilling prophecy of not liking the new flavor. 

Consider serving a new food but excluding your picky eater.  Let the picky eater know that she will not be asked to try this new food because she is not old enough, etc.  Tasting this new food is a privilege that the child has not earned.  If the child asks to taste, decline.  In a few days, serve the food again.  This time mention that the child might get the opportunity to try it but in the end do not allow a taste.  The third time around if your child asks for the food, allow only a tiny portion (smaller than an adult bite).  Again, this food is a privilege.  If your child does not ask for it after several opportunities, place a tiny portion (3 peas) on her plate.  Do not mention the new food.  Simply eat yours and perhaps ask someone other that your picky eater if they would like seconds.  Continue to place minuscule portions of these new foods on your picky eater’s plate being careful not to mention them.  Eventually, your child will either discretely try it or ask about it.  Your reaction is key.  Try not to care.  If eating is a way for your child to show his independance, appearing nonchalant is your best weapon.  The secret taster is trying not to loose face.  Do not mention that she tried something new.  Next time that food is served, give a larger but still small portion.  If he asks why he is being served such a small portion, gauge your reply carefully.  If she tastes it an still appears not to like it, then her avoidance is probably based on true preferences.  Each of us has foods we dislike.  However, research shows that children are more likely to accept a food if they have tasted it before.

“He won’t eat”

I regularly encounter children whose caregivers report that they “won’t eat” and I don’t mean while feeling ill.  The parents think the problem is chronic.  When I look at the child I know that this statement is not accurate because the child does not look under nourished.  In fact, some of these children are fat.  How can that be?  

1)  The child is expected to eat much more food than their body actually needs.  A toddler is not supposed to eat half as much as an adult.  One tablespoon for year of age up to a max of a half cup is a good rule of thumb for portion sizes for children.  That means a 2 year old might only eat half of a chicken tenderloin, 2 tablespoons of mashed potatoes and 2 tablespoons of veggies at a large meal.  The MyPyramid.gov website has a calculator for daily food portions for preschoolers.  (Use this one for ages 6 and up. )

2) The child drinks hundreds of calories of juice, milk or worse each day.  They fill up on what they drink and are not hungry.  Anyone who drinks 5 glasses of apple juice has consumed at least 500 calories.  Milk has at least a few more calories.  If you eliminate the juice, soda, etc and limit milk to 2 cups, the child’s appetite will increase and they will eat more.  Be ready for some tantrums though.  It is often easier to completely eliminate juice, KoolAide or soda than to moderate portions.  Then you can simply say “It is all gone.”  Some children go on strike and refuse to drink if their favorite beverage is not available.  Don’t worry.  Thirst is a powerful force.  Everyone will eventually drink water if they are thirsty enough.

3) The child and parent argue over eating and the child views eating as a struggle for power.  Even 9 month olds can get in this battle for control.  The solution is easier said than done.  Stop showing an interest in what and how much your child eats.  When there is no grappling for control, the child will eat if they are hungry.  Depending on age, this process can take days to weeks.

How are Babies Born?

It is easy to teach that babies grow inside their mommy’s tummies and then they are born.  Children usually ask how the baby gets out around age four or five.  They may ask sooner if they are the curious type or their mom is pregnant.  A surprising number of children think birth is through the belly button.  After all, it is right in the middle of the belly!

If indicated, I first explain that the belly button is how the baby gets fed before it is born.  This is an oversimplification, but a useful one nonetheless.  I then state “the baby comes out a little tunnel called a vagina.”  Parents who rely on answers like “the doctor takes it out” are avoiding the question and will have to give a more clear answer later on anyway.

To explain a cesarean, I say ” if the tunnel is too small or won’t work, then the mommy has surgery to take the baby out.” I never use the word “cut”  because it has such a negative connotation.  A child whose mother is pregnant is going to be stressed out already.  “Cutting” hurts and will only increase the stress level of  the older sibling.  It can also cause the older sibling to resent the new baby because it caused their mommy to be hurt.

Please Quit Nagging

Why aren’t you ready yet?  (Because I really don’t want to go anyway so I am dragging my feet to delay the inevitable.)

Why did you hit your sister? (Because I thought she deserved it.)

Why can’t you sit still?  (Because you did not bring anything for me to play with and I am bored.)

If kids actually gave these truthful answers, they would be in trouble for mouthing off.  Instead they play it safe by ignoring the question or the old standby “I dunno.”

The actual answer to the question “Why do adults ask kids rhetorical questions” is most often because the adults want the last word.

Everyday I hear parents and grandparents ask kids ridiculous questions.  My favorite is “Do you want me to (insert punishment)?”  When I listen, sometimes I want to put mom in time-out.

If parents stopped asking rhetorical questions the amount of nagging would astronomically decrease.  Would it be easy?  Of course not!  Would it increase compliance? Definitely.  I never ask a child to do something more than once or twice.  If you haven’t complied, I help you do whatever I asked.  For example, if I ask a child to close the door and they continue playing, I help them comply by guiding their hand to the door and pushing it closed.  No punishment, just forced compliance with my simple request.  It doesn’t take many opportunities before the kids realize that when I tell them to do something, they will do it.

“What’s a cemetery?”

I had been thinking about a post on how preschoolers view death when the mom of a 4 years old asked for tips on discussing the cemetery near their home.  The definition of a cemetery is pretty easy.  It is a place to put people or things that we care about after they die.  Things that are not important go in the trash.  Things that are important are placed in a cemetery.  A tombstone is a marker so everyone remembers exactly where something important was placed.  Dead leaves go in the trash or compost because they are not important.  People and pets go in the cemetery.

Caring for fresh cut flowers is a good way to explain death.  The child should be asked to assist in the care of the flowers.  (Ideally, the flowers would live about 3 days.)  They are talked about as pretty and enjoyable.  The child is complimented on her ability to care for them.  The flowers get clean water and a vase but eventually they die despite everyone’s best efforts.   The death of the flowers is discussed.  Dead flowers can not be made alive again because death can not be “fixed”.  For the aforementioned 4 year old, the dead flowers might be appropriately placed just inside the cemetery gate.

Mom, I’m Bored!

I see bored children every day.  Often, their parent has brought nothing for them to do during an expected wait.  Occasionally I see very happy children who are disappointed that it is time to finish the activity that their innovative parent started while the family was waiting.  Portable video games, books and DVD players are an obvious choice but there are lots of other options, most of which are free and require only a little attention from you.

Colors:  Work on learning colors if your child does not know them all.  If your child knows several colors, you can ask questions about colors like What color is the sky?  grass?  the car?  and a firetruck?  Kindergarteners through tweens enjoy a good game of I spy.

Animals and their sounds are a fun game for toddlers.  If it is dark or you can turn off the lights and talk about animals that are more active at night with preschoolers.  Elementary students can take turns naming animals that fit into categories such as larger than a person, ocean creatures, walks on 2 feet, eats plants, etc.  Don’t forget about different names for males, females and babies.

All ages can enjoy a good game of “What am I?” (AKA 20 Questions).  Thinking of good objects for your audience is key with this game.  A dog is just right for a beginner and a platypus is a fair challenge for an advanced player.