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Monday, September 30, 2019

7 Ways That Children Use Play to Express Their Emotions

Learning to handle big emotions is something that children will learn and relearn as they grow. Positive expression of emotions can help that learning process go a little more smoothly and using play as an opportunity to express emotion can be a good, non-threatening way for a child to open up and explore their feelings in a constructive way.

Messy play helps children explore their emotions. Messy play might not sound like the most emotionally in-tune option, but when dealing with strong feelings, especially feelings of anger and frustration, messy play allows children to convert some of those feelings into mess and releases some of their energy in a way that does not negatively impact them or others around them.

Role-play offers kids a safe way to express emotions. Emotions can be confusing, overwhelming, and scary. So much so that children may shy away from situations that trigger those emotions. This may be especially true for introverts and people-pleasers who have a difficult time standing up for themselves when faced with conflict. Role-playing allows children to experience emotions in a safe environment and allows that to practice their reactions to specific scenarios. That practice may serve them well in real life and help them to gain confidence and control over their own reactions.

Get outside and play in big spaces. It is just as simple as it sounds: Let children play outside and let them run in the open. Physical activity, especially running, is a great way for children to take to reflect and process emotions and scenarios. Teaching children to use exercise as an outlet from an early age may also encourage them to stay active and enjoy peak physical and mental health throughout their lives.

Use art as an emotional expression. Art, while not physical exercise, exercises different parts of our brain and allows us to create visual representations of our emotions. Actually seeing that emotion can help in the identification and processing of it.

Make music that mimics emotion. As with art, music can be created as a representation of emotion. Children can experience both strong and more subtle emotions through music and listening to music may be able to pick out different emotions and practice empathy for the emotions of others.

Read stories with strong emotions. Watching and listening to emotions experienced by others also allows children to build empathy. Stories can help children learn appropriate behaviors and make decisions regarding how they can express their own emotions.

Play with children of different ages. As with teaching children about cultural diversity, exposing them, first-hand, can be very beneficial to their learning and comprehension. Children playing with older peers may observe the reactions and coping skills around them and adopt what they see as they process their own emotions. Children playing with a wide age range of peers may also help to normalize emotions as they watch others experience and express difficult emotions in an age-appropriate way.

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Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

5 Reasons Why Children Need Down Time, Especially During the School Year

The start of a new school year can be stressful for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are the parent or the child; the change in routine, figuring out new expectations, and finding the rhythm of a new school year can be tough. During this time, it is important that we rest. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true: Rest and downtime are important, especially at the beginning of a new school year. Here's why:

1. High stress correlates with increased anxiety and difficulty focusing.

Stress and anxiety often go hand in hand. Students experiencing high stress-levels in September may be nervous about meeting the expectations of a new teacher or anxious about the course material, so much so that stress may evolve into anxiety over school. The anxiety may manifest in a variety of ways, including insomnia, headaches, and nausea. Difficulty focusing is also a byproduct of stress, as a student may be too focused on how prepared they are and what might be coming next that they aren't present or able to participate in the classroom.

2. Children experience burnout too, which may extinguish their passions for various activities and lead to boredom.

As an employee might experience burnout, so can students. If you stop to think about it, it makes sense that that is so: Being a student is, in essence, their full-time job. When a student is burnt out, they may lose interest in the activities they really enjoy because they simply have no energy left to put into those things. The mental and physical load of school is taxing and without consciously setting aside time to relieve some of the stress through healthy, fulfilling activities, they can quickly take a backseat to academics. Over time, the falling away of interests and activities may contribute to depression.

3. Children need time to be "bored", meaning they need the freedom to find ways to play and entertain themselves. This is important in childhood and in adulthood.

Boredom can be a powerful motivator and helps students to tap into their own natural creativity. Often times boredom is viewed as a negative, but when given the freedom and lack of direction that contributes to being bored, students may begin to explore their options to a greater extent. This strengthens them to think in different ways and approach problems in new ways without being led to an immediate resolution. The skill of problem-solving cultivated through boredom in childhood can serve them well into adulthood.

4. When children spend too much time on schoolwork and sports practice, they miss out on crucial family bonding time.

When school begins, soon follows football season, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball. Whichever sport a student plays, it means time spent at practice and games, both of which may take away from family dinners and time spent catching up with kids. The loss of family time may strain the family dynamic. In order to make sure the family stays connected, it is important to sit down weekly and coordinate schedules to find a day and time that works to catch up. Sports seasons are also great opportunities to come out in support of each other. Make it a point to show up games whenever possible.

5. Freedom and play give children time to process what they have learned throughout the day in a functional, healthy way.

The freedom to play affords children the opportunity to stretch their imaginations in a safe way. Dynamic play/pretend play is when children play out different roles and scenarios. This type of play can help them to process real-life events and builds their confidence in their decision-making skills. If a child is anxious, dynamic play can also help them work through potential outcomes and prepare to accept real-life outcomes in real life.

Learn More:

Is Your Child Overscheduled?

Overscheduled Kids

Play at School

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 23, 2019

Tips for Being a Great, Supportive Sports Parent

I love being a parent for many reasons; one of which is the opportunity to experience so much through our children's eyes. As parents we are fortunate enough to share so much with our little ones. We watch them learn new things, explore the world, and overcome the obstacles that are put in their path. One of the many things we get to experience together with our children is sports. Whether it is baseball, softball, soccer, or figure skating, each sport offers our children - and us - the opportunity to grow and learn much more than the technical skills required to excel. Sports are a wonderful way for children to gain confidence, learn the importance of dedication and hard work, and how to work well with their peers in a respectful way.

As a parent, of course we want to see our children excel in whatever they are interested in. But there is a fine line between passionately encouraging and bullying. It is important for us to model good sportsmanship, even when we're not the ones on the field. Our athletes also look to us as a barometer of importance and to learn how they should react in a given situation on or off of the field. Take your opportunity as the parent of an athlete to show them what it means to be a team player and encourage them to work toward their goals in a healthy way. Here are some of my tips for being a supportive parent to your young athlete this season.

Avoid bad-mouthing

Our children are watching us for their behavioral queues. Whether they are right next to us or on the field, they see how we treat those around us at their practices and games. Treat all coaches, referees, other parents, and opponents with respect and courtesy.

Focus on the effort rather than the win

Win or lose, it is important to praise the efforts of your athlete when they have given their all. That is not to say that empty praise should be doled out, but that recognizing an athlete who continued to show up throughout the game with focus and skill helps them to recognize that regardless of the outcome, their best efforts matter.

Respect the authority of those running the practice or game

Along with treating others with respect, we also need to support our coaches and referees. They work hard to facilitate a healthy and fair game for our athletes and many of them are as invested in their success as you are. Even if you don't agree with a call, it is important to maintain perspective and respect for those running the game.

Respect your child's shifts in interest

We know that it is important for our athletes to honor the commitments they have made to their teammates and coaches by signing up for a sports team. If at the end of a season, your athlete decides that they do not want to continue to play on a team, respect their shift in interest and allow them to try a different activity.

Create a healthy balance of school, fun, family, and sports

Sports practices, games, workshops, and camps can take up a considerable amount of time in your athlete's schedule. Make sure that there is a healthy balance between school, home, and their sports team. Doing so may stave off burn out and allow your athlete to recognize that their identity does not lay within their sport.

Challenge your athlete

Keep your athlete engaged and challenged by encouraging them to explore their range of ability. This might mean taking on a different position within the team or switching teams to benefit from opportunities for advancement within their sport. Moves like that can be daunting, but worth the time, effort, and sacrifice in the end.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why It is Healthy and Normal for Children to Play Alone

Socialization is an important aspect of childhood, but equally important is learning how to play alone. It can be very tempting to encourage our kids to play with their peers whenever the opportunity presents itself, but let's remember, too, that there are important lessons to be learned from solo play. Decision-making, creativity, imagination, and independence are all important traits that can be developed through time spent playing alone.

Many of us parents can vividly remember the days when our small toddlers needed and wanted every moment of our attention. "Play with me, Mommy" are words that many of us love to hear, but they can also wear us thin as we try to balance our children, chores, careers, and so much more. But those days went by all too quickly, and pretty soon those toddlers were confidently exploring their own spaces, making their own decisions on play, and becoming the strong and engaged individuals we'd hoped they would be.

Challenging our little kids to make their own fun is so important. Through solo play, especially play that does not include an element of technology, children can learn how to entertain themselves and find their own joy in activities. There is value in boredom because it forces children to think harder about the options available to them. Whether inside or outside, children can surprise us with their creativity and ingenuity when challenged to create their own entertainment.

Imagination can also be strengthened through ingenuity. So many of the activities children engage in today are created in a way that allows a child not to be required to think too hard. But thinking hard and stretching one's imagination is just like stretching any other muscle; it gets stronger. The ability to use one's imagination and really taking the opportunity to flex that muscle is something that can also serve them well in life and empower them to think creatively as they grow, explore, and learn.

Confidence is also gained by playing alone. Children can gain confidence in their ability to problem-solve and create when they don't have another person there to actively steer them in one direction or the other. Playing alone, children are responsible for making their own decisions, and while that may feel daunting to some children, once they practice their decision-making skills through play, they will be better equipped to make decisions within a group and outside of play.

New hobbies and interests can also be born out of playing alone. Without the influence of others and peer pressure to like or dislike specific activities, children may be more willing to try something new and find that they really enjoy it. There is so much to be said about "dancing when no one is watching", and lifting the social obligations felt by many, both children and adults, in a group setting. Playing alone, children can try new activities unfettered by public opinion.

So, as your little ones grow and social pressures push socialization and group play, don't forget the value in playing alone. Build up their independence and confidence through solo play and those skills will serve them very well in so many different ways.

Psychology Today on the Benefits of Alone Time

Playing Alone Promotes Creativity and Self-Esteem

School-age Play Options

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

Monday, September 2, 2019

9 Ways That Play Preps Children for Healthy Self-Expression

Raising my two kiddos, I have dealt with a wide spectrum of behaviors. I've handled the happiest of moments with a heart full of love and the terrible temper tantrums that make every parent want to pull their hair out. And through it all, I have come to find that as children learn how to express themselves in a healthy, productive way, the extreme emotions and extreme expressions become less. My kids are not toddlers anymore, but I remember it well and I would like to share with you all what I've learned about the importance of healthy self-expression and how to encourage it in children in the hopes that something will click with you and your toddler or preschooler.

Dynamic/Pretend Play

Dynamic play is a type of play in which children accept and apply roles and act out scenes and scenarios, either realistic or unrealistic. Playing out scenarios offers children the opportunity to explore different possibilities while feeling in control. That control may make the scenario feel safe and encourage self-expression. Through dynamic play children can explore different "what ifs" and the emotions that go along with them. For example, a group of children playing out a scenario involving a firefighter, all assume different roles and react how they feel their character would act. One child might explore the feeling of being brave as a firefighter, while another child playing a parent might explore the feeling of being worried, and another child playing a child in the scenario may explore the feeling of being scared. All are opportunities for the children to use their self-expression to convey emotion. Dynamic play is important because it encourages emotional exploration that can be applied to real life. It also helps to develop social skills, such as empathy and offers children the opportunity to apply their emotional knowledge to different situations.

Challenge Children through Trial and Error

It is tough for any parent to watch their child fail and become frustrated. We naturally want to help them, to make it easier, less frustrating. But, and I say this having made my fair share of parenting mistakes; failure is something we as parents and they as children need to learn to be more comfortable with. Failure is an incredible learning tool and the emotions that come along with failure can be strong. Practice and patience in learning to express disappointment, sadness, and anger are important. Next time your preschooler is learning something new, resist the urge to repeatedly step in or divert attention to a different activity. Allow the failure and subsequent growth to happen. Developing the ability to express disappointment and negative emotions can be especially helpful for children interested in playing competitive sports.

Encouraging the Arts

Art in all of its forms offers the opportunity for self-expression and emotional growth in children. Whether your child is interested in reading, painting, dance, or music, encourage their involvement in the arts as a way to explore and express their emotions. For example, dance offers children a safe way to explore movement and their body as a tool to express emotions. The may lead to greater awareness of one's body.

Promoting Self Expression in Children

Self Expression Through Art

Sesame Street on Self Expression

Preschool-Appropriate Play Equipment

Musical Play for Kids

Find more about the author: Kim Hart