Author Archives: Shannon Ford

What to do when the flu hits your program

by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator

You’ve done everything right to prepare for flu season this year in your child care program. Your staff all got their flu shots. All of your children’s vaccination records are up-to-date. You’ve been sanitizing like crazy. Yet – bam! – the flu is here! What do you do next?

BE AWARE OF THE SYMPTOMS

Flu is a tough bug to figure out sometimes. Many symptoms – like coughing, stuffy nose, and sore throat – can mimic the common cold. Other symptoms – like a fever – sometimes, but not always, present themselves.

Emergency warning signs also appear differently in children than they do in adults. If you notice any of the following, get medical help right away1:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
  • Infants who are unable to eat, have no tears when crying, or have significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

And, remember – you should be aware of symptoms in adults that come in contact with the children as well. Family members, staff, and other visitors are also likely to spread the virus.

WHEN SHOULD I SEND A CHILD HOME?

We’re all used to sniffles and sneezes and snotty noses. However, if a child has the symptoms of flu (ex. fever) AND these respiratory symptoms during flu season, you should exclude him or her from care2. Because the flu is so easily transmitted through little coughs and sneezes, this is one of the most common ways it spreads.

Sometimes, a little guy or girl is just too puny to do what everyone else in the class is doing. If he or she requires so much additional care from staff that the teacher isn’t able to attend to others, it’s time to consider a call home to Mom or Dad.

HOW SHOULD I MAKE FAMILIES AWARE WHEN SOMEONE IN MY PROGRAM HAS THE FLU?

Your first step is always to make the child’s parent or guardian aware when you suspect that he or she has the flu.

If a doctor or nurse practitioner diagnoses two or more children or staff members with the influenza virus,  Licensing3 requires directors to immediately notify all family members and staff that they have been exposed. To do this, you can post on the door or another conspicuous place something like, “Cases of Influenza have been diagnosed in someone who has been in this building.”  Or, you may give a personal note to each parent or staff member.

Have information pamphlets available on hand should family members or staff have additional questions. See the American Academy of Pediatrics website for suggestions.

WHAT ARE MY OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES WHEN CHILDREN OR STAFF ARE DIAGNOSED WITH THE FLU?

Directors’ jobs aren’t done when families and staff are notified. They also need to ensure that they are meeting all the licensing requirements3 to report the incidents of flu as necessary. Keep in mind that you must complete AT LEAST one of the following tasks. Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial for you to reach out to more than one resource for guidance.

  • Consult your local health department.
  • Call your licensing consultant.

 

It essentially all boils down to this sobering fact; the health and safety of little people are in your hands. Be aware, follow through, and do what’s in the best interest of the children in your care.

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Become a Children’s Mental Health Advocate

by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator

I am one of the millions of Americans diagnosed with a mental health condition. In fact, one in five of us are!1 Mental health problems are actually more common than heart disease, lung disease, and cancer combined.2   Anxiety disorder is something that causes me to worry a bit too much.  At times, I can be restless and wound-up. Other times, I can be easily fatigued and have trouble concentrating.  On top of this, I’m a single mother raising a teenage son dealing with depression and anxiety.  It’s easy to see why mental health awareness is a topic close to my heart.

Of course, early childhood topics are also an area close to my heart. I wake up each day, wondering how my work in the early childhood field impacts children. I am always looking for ways to grow my knowledge on all things early childhood. As our nation seeks to increase awareness about the importance of children’s mental health, I began to look at my own repertoire on the topic and find ways to increase my skill set on this important topic. Here’s what I found that may help you as a caregiver of young children.

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CHILDREN IN YOUR CARE

For our youngest children, we define mental health more along the lines of social and emotional development and wellness. Ask yourself these questions about the children in your care. Are they:

  • Forming close and secure relationships with adults and peers?
  • Able to experience, express, and manage a full range of emotions and feelings?
  • Able to explore the environment around them and learn?

We know early experiences matter.  Furthermore, they have a large impact on later mental and physical health. They also affect educational success, employment, and social well-being.

ASK YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR CURRENT APPROACH

It’s always good to evaluate your own practices. Take a look what you’re currently doing in your own program.

  • What are you doing to build and strengthen life skills in young children?
  • How are you promoting confidence in young children?
  • Are there opportunities for problem-solving and conflict resolution?
  • In what ways are you fostering empathy and compassion?

LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO PROMOTE CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH

This February, I became a Youth Mental Health First Aider through a course offered by the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY).  Being endorsed as a Youth Mental Health First Aider has given me the tools to assist and support a child showing symptoms of a mental illness. Its tools can also help me with those children experiencing a mental health crisis until someone can reach professional help.  Not only was this course beneficial to me as an early childhood expert, it has benefited me as a parent as well.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth

National Council for Behavioral Health, 2016

 

Cover image by Flickr user Aikawa KeCreative Commons license.

raising boys

Tips for Raising Boys: It’s All Right!

by Shannon Ford, MA, ECE  Professional Development Coordinator

If there’s something I knew about raising a boy solo, it was that I would need a mantra to guide me. Funny how things happen. My Jacob came into this world screaming and crying while the Beatles hit song, Here Comes the Sun was playing in the background. You know the one that goes, “And I say, it’s all right?”

Screaming his head off during a 12-hour road trip to Wisconsin? “It’s all right.” Dumping his milk into the VCR? “It’s all right.” Cutting his finger with his new pocket knife? “It’s all right.” Coming home covered head to toe in mud? “It’s all right.” Trip to the ER? “It’s all right.”

From the Hot Wheels to the sports to the stink, it’s our job as their parent to nurture the wonderful qualities our boys bring to the table. Here’s what I wish I had known 16 years ago:

BOYS WILL CONTINUALLY TEST THEIR MANHOOD BY TAKING RISKS.

Boys often misjudge their abilities. There is no tree too high, no bike too fast. Our first trip to the ER was the result of a bike crash. Helmets and knee pads come in handy–use them. As parents, we long to safeguard our children from mishaps in life. However, kids need healthy risk opportunities to develop judgment, character, resilience, self-reliance, skill, and confidence. Fear stops children from trying; often it’s our fear. Life in a bubble can be more harmful than taking a healthy risk.

BOYS GO, GO, GO.

As the saying goes, from SON up to SUN down, our boys never stop moving. One minute he’s building a track for Thomas the Tank and the next he’s getting stuck under the coffee table. He has two speeds—fast and faster.

Don’t force him to slow down. Instead, divert his excess energy into positive outlets. Individual and team sports begin at an early age and offer boys an outlet for energy and an opportunity for social interaction. Have him help around the house by assigning age-appropriate chores. His brain is far more active during physical activity than when sitting passively. An active brain is a healthy brain.

YOU WILL STEP ON A LEGO (AND YOU WILL SCREAM).

Enough said.

COMMUNICATING WITH HIM IS LIKE PULLING TEETH.

My afternoon greeting with my son used to go something like this: “How was your day?” “Fine.”  “Anything exciting happen?” “Nope.” “Did you get to go outside?” “Yep.” “Do you have any homework?” “A little.” “What did you have for lunch?” “A walking taco.” “Anything else?” “Apples.” Exhausting, absolutely exhausting, is how I now describe my failed attempts at connecting with my son.

Today, I utilize many more open-ended questions. We even have the tradition (going 7 years strong, I might add) of him telling me three things about his day. When we first started this, I would say “tell me three.” As he finishes up his sophomore year, he still “tells me three.” Additionally, boys are action-oriented; they communicate and bond by doing. Want an even better conversation with your son? Try chatting while playing a board game or shooting hoops.

HE HAS EMOTIONS, TOO (AND THEY NEED TO BE ADDRESSED).

Why do we comfort our daughters when they come to us crying with a skinned knee but we tell our sons to “buck up?” Research says we encourage our daughters to talk more about their emotions and feelings than we do our sons.

The result? Boys grow up feeling ashamed of their emotions and become men who don’t communicate well—holding it in or lashing out. That makes it hard for them to relate to their peers and develop, nurture, and sustain relationships. When it comes to young children, feelings are their world. Repressed feelings don’t go away–they go underground. Each feeling a young child has is an opportunity to teach him how to cope with the happy, the sad, and the mad. Acknowledge and accept his feelings just as you would want someone to do the same with you.

As a parent, sometimes we simply need to remember “it’s all right.” There is no manual. There is no report card. We are all doing the best we can. Sixteen years later, the words “Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right” are always just a hum away.

Cover image by Flickr user Allan FosterCreative Commons license.

American Academy of Pediatrics updates its position on Screen Time

by Shannon Ford, Professional Development Coordinator

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated and revised its position statement on media and technology usage by children. Up until recently, their recommendation to parents was no screen time for children under the age of two. Taking into consideration new research and new habits, the AAP is now shifting their focus from what is on the screen to who else is in the room.

For littles under the age of 18 months, the AAP still says no screens are best, with the exception of live video chat with loved ones. Many families use a live video chat app like Skype to stay in touch with relatives far away. While live social interaction trumps virtual visits with Grandpa, there is some research that says infants as young as six-months old are emotionally-engaged by playing live peekaboo with Grandma on Skype (AAP, 2016).

What about older toddlers? Aren’t they learning new words and increasing their vocabulary with the Peekaboo Barn and other phone apps? While there can be minimal gains in language development through educational apps, this happens only if adults are sitting alongside them and engaging in app dialogue with their toddler; again, it’s not so much what is on the screen, it’s who else is engaging with the toddler.

When it comes to preschoolers, content plays a crucial role. Shows like Sesame Street, which address the evolving health and developmental needs of children have been shown to improve cognitive, literacy, and social outcomes for children ages three to five (AAP, 2016). Nonetheless, many preschool apps which are filed under the category of “educational” have no curricular basis, target only rote academic skills, and offer little opportunity for parent-child interaction.

So, what can parents take away from this progressive revision about screen time?

  • For children under 18 months of age, no screen time is still best.
  • Adult interaction with children during media use is crucial, especially if you are hoping for positive child development outcomes.
  • Just because you’re looking in the “education” category in the Apple Store, doesn’t mean it’s an educational app.
  • One hour of high-quality screen time should be the maximum for children older than age two.
  • Set limits on screen time for older children. Setting limits teaches children how to gain self-control, which in turn allows them to regulate their behavior so that it is socially acceptable.
  • Keep mealtimes, bedrooms, and play times screen free.
  • Turn the screens off at least one hour before bedtime. Exposure to screen media in the evening is associated with shorter sleep duration than those with no evening screen media.

Reference: American Academy of Pediatrics COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA. Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics. 2016; 138(5):e20162591

Let’s Put a Ban on Sharing

by Shannon Ford, MA, ECE Professional Development Coordinator

Here’s one of my all-time favorite scenes playing out in preschool: seeing a child run up to another and happily handing over a toy. I don’t mean just any toy, but the same toy these two kiddos were wrestling and crying over just five minutes ago. Happily, did you say? Yes, happily. These children have learned to take turns and wait. They haven’t learned to share. The notion of true, altruistic sharing doesn’t begin until elementary-school age according to William Damon, author of The Moral Child.

While sharing is the desired behavior in our society, it’s ineffective to force it at the preschool level. We expect children to be “nice,” but in the process we are teaching them the wrong lessons. Here’s an example:

Three-year old Johnny is playing with a train. His classmate, Alex comes up and reaches for it.

Johnny: “Hey, that’s mine!”

Alex: “But I want it!”

Johnny: “I had it first!”

Alex (crying to his teacher): “He’s not sharing!”

Teacher: “Johnny, be nice. We have to share. Alex hasn’t played with the train yet. If you can’t share, I will have to put the train away.”

What was learned by each child in the above scenario? Johnny learns sharing means giving up something he likes. Sharing makes him mad. He also learns his classmates get what they want when they grab. Alex learns that he gets what he wants when he whines and grabs something.  If he demands, he shall receive.

However, in today’s society especially, this doesn’t mean that children don’t need to learn delayed gratification skills. On the contrary, they need them now more than ever. Children who must wait until the other is done playing with a toy are learning just that—I will get what I want, but I can’t have it now. I must wait.

Much of the technical assistance I offer in preschool classrooms involves guiding children through the process of taking turns. Here’s what Johnny and Alex’s scenario should look like:

Three-year old Johnny is playing with a train. His classmate, Alex comes up and reaches for it.

Johnny:  “Hey, that’s mine!”

Alex:  “But I want it!”

Teacher:  “Alex, I see Johnny has the train right now.  (To Johnny)  Johnny, are you finished playing with the train?”

Johnny:  “No.”

Teacher (to Alex): “Johnny is not finished playing with the train yet.  You can ask him if you can have it when he’s finished.”

Alex (to Johnny):  “Can I have it when you’re done?”

Johnny nods his head yes. The teacher guides Alex to another play experience. She will check in with Johnny and remind him Alex is waiting to play with the train when he’s finished.

By utilizing the “can I have it when you’re finished” turn-taking strategy mentioned above, children build trust, and they learn delayed gratification skills and how to control their impulses. They strengthen their conflict resolution skills and increase their emotional intelligence. They learn that it feels good to give something away to a classmate. In the last scenario, the seeds of true generosity are being planted.

We can wish all day long our three-year olds could share, but developmentally, they simply aren’t ready. Instead, encourage them to take turns and watch the spontaneous generosity blossom.

Cover image by Flickr user SEIU Education Workers UnitedCreative Commons license.

Teaching Children the Meaning of “I’m Sorry”

SAYING ”SORRY” SHOULD BE ABOUT OBSERVATION AND ACTION

by Shannon Ford, MA, ECE   Professional Development Coordinator

Every day, scenes like this unfold in preschools around Indiana, but saying sorry rarely makes the situation better.  Plus young kids are rarely truly sorry.  Instead, “I’m sorry” is being used like a magic wand—say it and I’m off the hook!  Knock over a block tower?  Steal his swing?  Write on her paper?  Just say “sorry” and I’m free to continue on my way.As I walk into the preschool classroom, I see two children actively engaged at the water table.  All of a sudden, Hannah starts screaming and crying, “She splashed me!”  Erica immediately chimes in, “I’m sorry.  I said that I’m sorry,” and continues dumping and filling in the water table.  The teacher rushes over and asks Erica if she said her sorry as she guides Hannah to the paper towels so she can dry her face.

In her book, It’s OK Not to Share, Heather Shumaker suggests instead of forcing “sorry”, we need to teach children to stick around, take responsibility, and understand that their words and actions can impact other children.  Which is more meaningful?  Erica could say “I’m sorry”, or, Erica could get a paper towel, help Hannah dry her face, and say “I will try my best not to splash you again.”

Preschoolers are still learning about cause and effect.  They are egocentric.  They do not have the cognitive ability to feel empathy or understand the true meaning behind “I’m sorry.”  Sure, we want a classroom of children who are caring.  However, forcing children to say “sorry” before they understand its meaning only gets in the way of teaching empathy.  William Damon, author of The Moral Child, says moral awareness in children needs to be guided, but it cannot be imposed.  When teachers demonstrate empathy, it helps children develop compassion.  When teachers give children the scripts necessary to observe and take action, they are developing compassion in a way that is real and meaningful for them.

Let’s imagine our situation differently this time.  As I walk into the preschool classroom, I see two children actively engaged at the water table.  All of a sudden, Hannah starts screaming and crying, “She splashed me!”  The teacher rushes over and says to Erica, “You splashed Hannah with your scooper.  She is crying because she didn’t want to be wet.  How can you make it better for Hannah?”  Erica thinks for a second.  “I can get her a paper towel.”  Erica gets a paper towel, hands it to Hannah, and she dries her face.  The teacher then says, “Tell Hannah you won’t splash her again.”  Hannah says this to Erica and the teacher repeats, “Erica says she won’t splash you again.”  Hannah feels safe now; her feelings and emotions have been addressed.  Erica took responsibility and came up with a way to make it better.

Compassion unfolds naturally.  Eventually preschoolers will say “sorry” and really mean it.  Until then, lead them towards deeper skills by encouraging them to observe and take action.

Shumaker, H. (2012).  It’s OK Not to Share.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group.

Cover image by Flickr user Donnie Ray JonesCreative Commons license.