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Young children and the stresses of the long winter ahead

Posted by Liza Baron on November 15, 2019

With colder weather upon us and shorter periods of light outside, I’ve found myself thinking about the long winter ahead and what kinds of things I’ll do with my kids in the evening and during the weekends. That line of thinking often gets me lost in the Bermuda triangle of internet surfing and so I’m sharing a few articles that feel relevant. The topics are about screen time and young children, and how we respond to our children’s negative behaviors and the positive role we can play.

Best practices in early learning tell us to avoid using screens as much as possible. While there are occasions we take a screen out in the Early Childhood Development Center to complement an investigation children are involved in, we avoid using them as a means to anything else. You may have read this article already but if not, I do recommend the few minutes it will take to do so. In an article linking screen time to brain development in preschoolers, Dr. Jenny Radesky says of the study findings that they are “fascinating” but “preliminary” and that “early experiences shape brain growth, and media is one of these experiences.” She also says that the “results don’t show that heavy media use causes brain damage.”  What resonated for me was this: Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital who helped lead the study, says of those who participated in it that “perhaps screen time got in the way of other experiences that could have helped the children reinforce these brain networks more strongly.”

While I’ll be eager to follow future studies about brain growth and screen time, it makes sense to me to focus on what we certainly know young children and their developing minds need: Face to face interactions with trusted adults, social time with peers, and the encouragement to try new things and become strong problem solvers. These are important components of the daily experiences children have in ECDC.

At home, we’re working on creating clearer boundaries with using screens. Probably needless to say, we are getting a lot of attitude and resistance to these changes. What we do with our own feelings when our children are behaving in ways we don’t like or can’t understand is really important. This brief article, “How to be kind when you feel so mad,” had some wonderful messages. Angela Santomero, creator of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood writes “the pause is one of the smartest, most effective tools you can use in any challenging situation.” And I’ve found in the last several days that exercising my ability to do this has helped a bit. When our children engage in less than desirable behavior towards one another or towards us, sometimes what they need from us is a pause– maybe they need a hug or a snack or some space to be alone and relax. Pausing before reacting is helping me to consider my children’s needs and possible reasons for their actions.

I read this next article, “Stop Responding to Your Kid’s Chaos with More Chaos,” after seeing a variety of memes that talk about not responding to chaos with chaos. I think this is relevant for situations at home and in the classroom.

Recognizing the positive role we can play when children are experiencing some type of stress is necessary and by modeling our own calm we help them to return to their own calm, which is a better space to be in when things are out of sorts. In ECDC this is meaningful because classroom environments are inevitably chaotic at least once during the day! The way our educators respond to that influences the tone for the entire room and their understanding of how they impact their environment is essential.

Liza Baron is JCC Director, Early Childhood Development

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