Essential skills for well-rounded kids

In my last article I talked about what author Ellen Galinsky felt were essential life skills for children. So in this article I have listed a few activities for some of the skills; ones that parents and caregivers can do with young children:

Communication: TALK to them! From the very beginning, talk to your baby and your little ones. Research has shown that for those children who are talked to a lot, they have a larger vocabulary and speak clearer at earlier ages; and are more successful when they start school Explain what you are doing when a task presents itself; ask open-ended questions (ones that don’t have “no” or “yes” for an answer); be patient as it may take them longer to tell you something; and always try to get down to their level when they are talking to you, it lets them know that you want to hear what they are saying and that you are paying attention! Read to young learners. Regularly reading a variety of texts to children – stories, poems, factual books about animals and the natural world – can expose them to countless new words. It is even more fun by taking turns. If your child has started to read, one day you can read to him; the next day, he can read to you. Pre-readers can “read” a picture book out loud. Music – through learning new songs and singing, children can have fun while learning new vocabulary. The rhythm of music provides cues that can help children learn multisyllabic words more easily, and because young children don’t have to worry about pronouncing every new word correctly when singing with others, they can build their confidence.

Self-Control: teaching children self-control can be difficult, especially for very young children. But a few simple tips can help. From birth to 12 months, babies have very little self-control; however there are ways you can begin to help them manage their feelings and emotions. When your 9 month old picks up the remote and starts to play with it, just gently take it away and offer them another toy, such as a busy box instead. Tell them “the remote is not a toy but you can play with the busy box instead.” This helps them learn about appropriate behavior, how to cope with disappointment, and how to accept a substitute when their first choice is off limits. For toddlers and preschoolers; this is a time when tantrums can be difficult to deal with. If your child has a meltdown, remain calm and remove him to a quiet place for a time out. Teach him to take deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Never give in to your child’s tantrum. This only teaches them to get what they want by reacting this way. For the younger toddler that has a tantrum, you may have to hold them and help them through the episode. Tell them that you know they are angry (acknowledge their feelings) but also let them know that “they can’t have the toy today, maybe another time.” Help your child learn to wait. The younger the child the shorter the wait time should be. If your 3 year old is asking for something to drink and you are occupied try, “I know you are thirsty and I will get you some juice as soon as I fold these last two towels. Would you like to help so I will finish sooner?” Use games to help your child learn to wait. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Simon Says and’Mother May I? are very helpful in teaching children self control. Also, help them learn to label their emotions. “I can see that you are angry because we have to leave now, but hitting me is not okay.”

Critical Thinking: The art of teaching children to problem solve on their own is not as difficult as some parents may think. As young as infants, children start the critical thinking process; an 8-month-old has crawled under a chair and now can’t figure out how to get out. He wonders what to do or a two-year-old thinks: “My teacher put out tongs for us to pick up our chicken nuggets, but I can’t figure out how they work. Do I keep trying or just use my fingers?” These are all part of the problem solving technique. We can assist children in developing these skills by: Providing opportunities for play – It is during play that children test their thinking whether dropping a spoon over and over again off the side of a high chair tray or rolling two marbles down a chute to see which is faster; providing space for playing, including time for outdoor or pretend play, can provide open-ended opportunities to try something and see the reaction; try something else and see if you get a different reaction. Ask Open-ended questions – Rather than automatically giving answers to the” questions your child raises, help them think critically by asking questions in return: “What ideas do you have? or “What do you think is happening here?” Respect his or her responses whether you view them as correct or not. You could say, “That is interesting. Tell me why you think that.” or “How would you solve this problem?” And don’t solve all problems immediately for children. Instead, ask some of the questions above and provide enough information so children don’t get frustrated, but not so much information that you solve the problem for them. Also remember, children also learn from observing how you solve problems. However, when you can, taking time to allow your child to think through problems will be hugely helpful to developing your child’s critical thinking skills in the long run. (Bright Horizons)

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit