Monday, January 30, 2012

Children and Friendships

Ahh, the memories of childhood and friends.  Social interaction begins at a very young age, and even as newborns, your baby is watching and observing how people interact with one another and learning from them.  As toddlers and preschoolers they soak up everything they see and what they witness goes right into school age and then into adulthood.  As parents, we set the stage for them.

I was recently approached by an amazing website, called Childs Work ( that specializes in counseling children by providing great articles on counseling topics and they also sell therapeutic products.  They offered to guest post on my blog about friendships and I gladly welcomed the opportunity.  So, today, we have a guest post from Dr. Lawrence Shapiro, founder of!

The Secrets of Making a Really Good Friend

By Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D.

 Between the ages of 7 and 12 most children identify one or more of their peers as a “best friend.”  Children may talk about having best friends as early as three or four, but they really don’t have the emotional capacity for making and keeping friends until around the first or second grade.  By this age, most children have an inner need to seek out and explore a relationship with another child, usually of the same sex.  Developmental psychologists believe that during the elementary school years, children are hard wired to learn the skills inherent in all intimate relationships, including empathy, the ability to listen and make one’s self understood, the ability to resolve conflicts, and much more. Having a best friend gives children an opportunity to learn and practice these lifelong skills.


Having a best friend is different for different children. Some children are almost inseparable from a best friend during the elementary years, and think of their friend more like a brother or sister.  For other children a “best friend” is more of a concept.  A child might not actually spend too much time with a particular friend, and yet he may feel that he is close to that other child.


While friendships are complicated with lots of ups and downs, ultimately we judge the quality of a child’s friendships on two dimensions: the amount of time children spend with a friend, and the degree of reciprocity between the two children.  Good friends typically have contact almost every day, by phone, text, a social media site, and of course in school.  They usually spend three or more hours together a week, in a play date or other activity (such as sports, theater, or hobby), and at least some of this time is unstructured.  There is no hard and fast rule about how much time friends spend together, and certainly there may be a week or two when friends don’t spend time together outside of school.  But when this happens, there is sense of absence, between childhood friends, much like in a close adult relationship.


Reciprocity between friends means that each child is invested in the friendship, although not necessarily to the same degree.  In a close friendship you would expect both children to contact each other to keep up on daily events, to invite the other over for play dates and activities, and to remember important days like birthdays or holidays with cards or gifts.


While most children have at least one good friend between the ages of 7 and 12, as many as 10 to 15 percent of children find it very hard to create an active social life.  Children on the Autism Spectrum, children with ADHD, and children with various anxiety disorders, may all have a hard time forming friendships, but for very different reasons.  Most psychologists believe that friendship-making skills can be taught, although the teaching methods will vary depending on the child’s emotional and behavioral repertoire.   But teaching children social skills is well worth the effort.  Besides the obvious joy of sharing childhood experiences with a friend, social isolation in childhood and adolescence is a serious risk factor for many problems, including school drop out, depression, and a variety of behavioral problems.


Lawrence E. Shapiro, Ph.D. is the President of Childswork/Childsplay, a leading publisher of child therapy materials to meet the social and emotional needs of children.  He is also the creator of, a website that teaches children social skills and the author of many books on raising the emotional and social intelligence of children.


LarryLawrence Shapiro: Lawrence Shapiro, Ph.D. has written many books for parents and children in the area of emotional intelligence, including The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids (New Harbinger Publications, 2009). His work has been translated into over 25 languages.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Closet 'Holder'

credit: La Leche

Where has the time gone? How did my child get to be 20 months old already?  I know, I've heard from veteran moms out there that the time will fly by super fast, and that one day your child will be 3 and then next she will be 13!  So cherish the moments you have with them they say and the hugs they still give you.  I'm trying, I'm trying, seriously I am.

Remember those early newborn days when you held your child while she slept in your arms? I wish I could have just a few of those now, just to hold my toddler a little bit longer, because I know that there will be an age soon where they won't want you to hold them anymore.

There have been times where I wish my child could take a sweet little nap with me in my bed and hold her like I used to, but the times we have tried it, all she wants to do is play and thinks my bed is all fun and games.  She sleeps better on her own unfortunately.  Her crib is her haven and it's like her little womb, safe and all snug.

I remember reading such a sweet passage in my La Leche book about a mom who was a 'Secret Closet Holder.'  She used to hold her little 6 month old while she napped and never told anyone for fear they would think she was spoiling her.  When my child was 6 months old I realized she needed to learn to sleep on her own and in her bed, so I was not holding her for the 2 hour naps she was taking, well, maybe just a few times I did.  But, I look back now and of course wish I could have a few of those times again where I can stop time and be more of a 'closet holder' myself. Sigh. Well, maybe with our next baby:)

For those new moms out there, old moms, veterans and moms to be, I thought this 'Closet Holder' story was just too sweet not to share, so enjoy!

          "Some people are closet nursers of older children.  However, it is naptime that I have yet to 'come out' with. I tell people that Lauren naps fine.  What I don't tell them is that I hold her during her naps.  That's right, I'm a closet holder.  I can't help it.  My heart melts when she falls asleep in my arms nursing, her breathing becoming slow and heavy, her face relaxed and beautiful.  How could I possibly miss a minute of that?  It's intoxicating and I can't give it up.  Not yet.     

        I have missed parties, movies, dinners, and hours on the treadmill because I can't lay Lauren down and get away while she naps.  I've made up countless excuses to avoid confessing, but it has all been worth it. When Lauren is an adult and on her own, I will have the memories of the hours I spent smelling her hair and feeling her breathe while she slept peacefully on my chest.  I will always remember watching her drowsily wake up with hot rosy cheeks only to look at me lazily and snuggle back into my neck or into my breast to nurse again into dreamland.

       Lauren will soon outgrow my arms, especially with a new baby on the way.  This has made me hold on to and treasure our naptime even more.  I have well-meaning friends who tell me, 'try not to pick Lauren up so much. If you keep picking her up all the time, she'll have a hard time adjusting to the new baby' I just nod.  If only they knew."

Saturday, January 21, 2012


If your home is anything like mine, you've got smartphones, laptops, iPads, iPods, video games, or reading tablets laying around, as well as the gigantic big screen TV's in most rooms of your house.  We are for sure a high-tech generation.  But what I realized the other day was that it was just maybe, what, 3 years ago that a lot of that changed? Our homes went from boring texting phones to a smartphone.  There was no such thing as a Kindle or an iPad and laptops were just for work related things (nothing our children were interested in).

And yes, I am a mom/child counselor, BUT I am NOT the perfect parent. That's right, when my child was a newborn, I had the Today show on in the mornings and Ellen on in the background while nursing.  I still turn on the Today show in the morning to hear the news and weather, so I'm not going by the strict no TV guidelines.

I have also used some Baby Einstein videos when my child was colicky and would not stop crying (and I have to say that the kids I used to nanny had parents who told me to let them watch these Baby videos and they are now super smart teenagers :) I also turn on Elmo during the times my child is having major meltdowns and nothing seems to calm her down.  Hey, gotta do what works in desperate times, right?

I know that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO TV or media contact for children under 2.  There are days when my child has no TV exposure but when she does, I try to limit it to under 30 minutes a day.

BUT with all this new technology, I also have to take into account the exposure to the new tech devices.  When I used to babysit even just 2-3 years ago (yes I still babysat while I was pregnant and married), the parents only had to worry about the exposure their children had to TV and video games.  Now, we have to factor in all these other techy gadgets.  I've heard that when your toddler stares at these screens (iPads, iPhones and tv included) and gets transfixed, that their brain is actually shut down and gone to sleep.  Uh-oh.

At first I didn't think it was such a big deal and was so excited to download some amazing Elmo apps for our iPad and iPhones. I thought it was so cute when my daughter finally learned how to swipe the pad with her finger and start the apps all by herself (note her fast finger swiping action in the photo above!).  And it seemed educational that she was learning the alphabet from Elmo.

But then it became an obsession with her whenever she found our iPad or iPhone.  She just had to have whatever tech device she found and it was hard to redirect her.  So we now have to hide them and put them away.

Whenever I grab my computer or phone to check something like an email, my child instantly wants it.  So I've come to a new conclusion that I don't want my child to learn from me that my life revolves around my phone, iPad or laptop.  That I am not joined at the hip to these things and life does go on outside of gadgets.

One thing that I have witnessed in public and I swear I will never do (hopefully), is be that family sitting at dinner at a restaurant where each child is glued to their tech device.  Their heads never look up from the table.  And mom and dad are staring at each other or worse, I've seen the parents glued to their phones too.  Such a sad picture to see.

I want my children to learn the art of conversation at the dinner table or at a family function, or party.  Now, for preschool aged children, it's not realistic to expect them to sit there for an hour and join in the conversation, so having some real toys (little figurines) or coloring supplies with you on hand is a good plan.  Artistic expression and play is way better developmentally than being glued to a video game.  I know sometimes it's hard when they are out in public and bored, but hey, I had to learn these things as a kid so I know it's possible :)

What are the other risks you ask?

I found this article and this one that talks about how too much tech stimulation increases obesity, affects their sleep, increases aggression from violence as well as fears, and can encourage behaviors witnessed on TV such as smoking, gender and racial stereotypes and sexual behaviors.  For children under 2, it can decrease brain development and leaves less time for play.

This article wrote an alarming statistic that for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play.

And I'm not even going to go there about the internet influence in this post, or how to plan for their safety as that is on a whole other level!  But if you are looking for some tips for parents on how to limit school aged kids on TV, video games and internet, click here.

So, I know we all have our kids watch some TV here or there. Hey, it can be educational to learn about the alphabet and other lessons on some of the educational programming, as well as the wildlife and nature shows.  Video games can also teach children creative and strategic thinking.  And aps can be educational too.

But I guess the big picture is making sure to not have TOO much time of any of the high tech devices.  As a parent, I am going to hopefully convey the message that life does not revolve around them.  That I'm not glued to my phone.  Yes, life does exist outside of these fun stimulating 'toys.'  More books and more free play please!

How about you all, any thoughts on how to handle tech exposure?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Attention Span

Sorry for the long delay in posting!  My Macbook took a turn for the worst and trying to get into the Apple store Genius Bar after the holidays was no fun.  Anyway, I am thankfully up and running again!!

As a first time mom, I think I sometimes over strive to involve my child in enriching and fun activities. I know, as soon as I have a second, my time will be limited, but for now it's so much fun taking her out to explore the world!  Our activities range from storytime at the local book store to Kindermusik to playtime at a friend's house.  And what is the common denominator in all of her play?  A super short attention span. I always joke that she has the attention span of a gnat.

Attention spans at the toddler age are super short.  She moves so fast these days, that it's hard to keep up.  My husband had a "Dad and child" night at our Mother's Day Out last week and he said he was barely able to talk to the other dads because our child was going to activity to activity.  Her attention span is about, oh, 2 minutes in length or so.

Is this realistic? Most definitely.  In fact, it brings me to a good point that I have touched on before- that as parents adults, it's hard sometimes to remember that children can't sit still.  It doesn't mean they are all hyperactive, unruling little monsters.  As a parent, do you remember life before kids and how you would go to the mall or a restaurant and wonder why the kids were running all over the place? Or wonder why the toddler was tossing things off a table? Did you ever wonder why they couldn't just sit still?

I used to hear from many non-parents, "when I have kids, they most certainly will not act like that!" Only to have them all have kids that did act exactly like that :)  Why? That's because they are supposed to be jittery in their chairs. Yes, you can teach your child manners and how to act in public, but for an adult to expect a 3 year old to sit perfectly still at a restaurant for an hour is not very realistic.

Children are supposed to get bored.  Remember, their little brains are not cognitively able to process and comprehend what ours are able to do.

What is normal then?  Typically attention spans are anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes per year of a child's age.  Here are a few guidelines of what is in the normal range (source from

Ages 8 months - 15 months: They can usually attend for one minute or a little longer to a single toy or activity.

Ages 16 months - 19 months: Your child might be restless, but is able to sustain attention to one structured activity for 2-3 minutes. Your child might not be able to tolerate verbal or visual interference.

Ages 20 month - 24 months: Your child is still easily distracted by sounds, but can stay attentive to an activity either with or without an adult for 3-6 minutes.

Age 25 - 36 months: Your child can generally pay attention to a toy or other activity for 5-8 minutes. In addition, they can shift attention from an adult speaking to him and then back to what he was doing if he is prompted to focus her attention.

Ages 3 - 4 years: Your child can usually attend to an activity for 8-10 minutes, and then alternate his total attention between the adult talking to her and the activity she is doing independently.

Ages 4-5 years: Alone, the 4-year-old may spend 7-8 minutes on a single activity, or as much as 15 minutes if the activity is new and especially interesting

Ages 6-7 years: Alone, they will focus on a single interesting activity for 10 or 15 minutes and on an assigned task for 4-6 minutes if it's easy and interesting. A small group of children can work or play together without interruption for 10-25 minutes.

Ages 8-12 years: At this age, attention spans may vary.  They can be anywhere from 30-50 minutes depending on the task.

How can you improve their attention span?

If you feel your child may have a shorter than average attention, you can get them involved in something that really peaks their interest like a project in the creative or expressive arts.  A fun activity such as drawing, painting or sketching. This requires them to sit and focus for an extended time as they work on them. Other activities that could increase their focus are putting together model cars or airplanes, woodworking, stringing beads or cross-stitching.

I know one fast way to increase attention span, limiting “technology time." I've read a lot of studies that have shown cause and effect of video games, and other techy play devices decreasing attention span.  But I'll save my tech soapbox for another post :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ode to Play

As enrollment time is nearing once again for Mother's Day Outs, preschools and kindergartens, I am reminded about the importance of play in school.

Back when I was in college we learned the importance of play in my child development classes.  We were taught the NAEYC method which is an accreditation agency that also publishes textbooks on early childhood education.  I love their philosophies on play and wish more schools were able to follow their methods.  As I've been researching preschools and deciding which is the best fit for my little girl, I came across this cute poem NAEYC wrote about the value of play and had to share, enjoy!

When I am building in the block room, please don't say I'm "just playing". For you see, I'm learning as I play, about balance and shapes. Who knows, I may be an architect someday.

When I'm getting all dressed up, setting the table, caring for the babies, don't get the idea I'm "just playing". For, you see, I'm learning as I play; I may be a mother or a father someday.

When you see me up to my elbows in paint or standing at an easel, or molding and shaping clay, please don't let me hear you say, "He is just playing". For, you see, I'm learning as I play. I'm expressing myself and being creative. I may be an artist or an inventor someday.

When you see me sitting in a chair "reading" to an imaginary audience, please don't laugh and think I'm "just playing". For, you see, I'm learning as I play. I may be a teacher someday.

When you see me combing the bushes for bugs, or packing my pockets with choice things I find, don't pass it off as "just play". For you see, I'm learning as I play. I may be a scientist someday.

When you see me engrossed in a puzzle or some "plaything" at my school, please don't feel the time is wasted in "play". For, you see, I'm learning as I play. I'm learning to solve problems and concentrate. I may be in business someday.

When you see me cooking or tasting foods, please don't think that because I enjoy it, it is "just play". I'm learning to follow direction and see differences. I may be a cook someday.

When you see me learning to skip, hop, run and move my body, please don't say I'm "just playing". For, you see, I'm learning as I play. I'm learning how my body works. I may be a doctor, nurse or athlete someday.

When you ask me what I've done at school today, and I say, "I just played", please don't misunderstand me. For you see, I'm learning as I play. I'm learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. I'm preparing for tomorrow. Today, I am a child and my work is play.

Monday, January 2, 2012

All these new holiday toys, now what? Filial Play!

Happy New Year!  Now that the holiday rush is over and the taking down of decorations has begun, it's time to organize all of your children's new toys and play things.  Where to put them, what to return and most importantly, how to play with your child and all their new possessions!

I love this time of year.  I've been looking forward to my daughter opening her presents, and for us playing with them together!  As I've mentioned on here before, children learn through their play and communicate through play, so it's important as parents to also learn how to 'play' with your children.

There is something play therapists teach parents called Filial Play Therapy.  What is Filial?

It's a Child-Parent-Relationship Training (CPR) where parents are taught in a group setting that is usually a 10 week course. The goal is to basically teach parents some of the play therapy techniques we use so they can take it home with them and use forever.  But there are a few things you can implement on your own right now without taking the class.  Oh, and your child does not need to have some 'mental health problem' to benefit from Filial, it works with every family and child.

What is the benefit of Filial:

-Filial builds a different relationship with your child where the child learns they are capable, important, understood, and accepted as who they are

-No judgments, put-downs, requirements or evaluations from their parents

-It releases any tensions, burdens or feelings your child may be exhibiting at home or school

-Your child begins to feel better about themselves and learn to discover their own strengths and increased self esteem

-The best benefit out of all is that it strengthens the parent child relationship!  I have had dads break down crying in the group stating that they thought they knew their child and were good dads, until they learned how to really 'play' with their child and 'listen' to their play.  Amazing and so touching to hear :)

What age can you start? 

Well, you can start some of the fundamentals at any age.  Right now my child is 19 months old and our play still involves a lot of learning such as, "this truck is blue," or "this is a cow, can you say cow?"  But I always set some time aside to practice some attentive filial/play therapy techniques.  I recommend filial techniques from an average age of 15 months up to the teenage years.  The class group setting is typically more for ages 3-12 years of age, and for older teens, you can provide a board game to play.

What are the techniques?  Again, these are the basics you can implement now and if you need any additional assistance or want to join a group, you can contact me to find an area class for you.  These techniques are adapted from the 10 week module:

The Set Up:

-Set aside 30 minutes of playtime once a week at a minimum

-During this 'special' playtime, make sure the TV is off, the phone is off, no computers, and all distractions are gone (other siblings not around if possible). Make sure it is a quiet space. For older children, you can even make cute appointment cards so they know when to expect their 'special time.' And no answering the phone! :)

-As for toys, we typically recommend a bag of special toys that parents use for the class, but for at home play, use your child's new toys and any favorites they have.  Make sure there is a good mixture of aggressive, nurturing and pretend play type toys available.  (if you have a young child around 12 months of age, feel free to use whatever you have on hand)

How to play during the sessions:

-THE CHILD LEADS THE PLAY.  This means they choose what to play with, how to play with it and what to do.  The parent follows and the child leads.  NO suggestions from the parent and no asking questions or showing them how to do something.  You play 'dumb' and let them tell you the apple is blue. If they want the apple to be blue, then gosh darn it, it's going to be blue :)

-During their play, try to point out a feeling they are showing to make them aware of feelings

-How do you respond to them?  Basically just reflect what you see them doing, what you think they are trying to do and get that feeling word in there!

Examples: "You are giving your dinosaur something to drink," or "You just threw your dog on the floor, he must be feeling hurt right now."

-Again, no changing the play and making them play with something else.  If they hand you a toy, let them lead and show you what to do with it. If they are not used to leading, ask them what they want you to do with it.  For example, if they hand you a bus/car, let them tell you where it is going, don't just starting driving it across the floor.

-If they start acting strange or think you are talking strange (which happens a lot), just reflect that "you think mommy is talking weird."  You can also reflect that things are different during the 'special play time' together such as toys, play, etc.

-If they try to break a limit, set a limit on not hurting themselves, you or the toys.  "I know you want to color on the wall, but the walls are not for coloring on,"  or "You look mad at your truck, but remember that toys are not for throwing across the room because they might break."  (If this happens a lot in your home, provide some safe aggressive toys to release that pent up aggression-those plastic toy punching bags are great for that!)

-At the end of the 30 minutes, announce 5 minutes before (1 minute if they are super young) that time is about up.  Then at the end, stand up and state that special play time is over.  For older kids, schedule the next special time and for younger, just let them know you will play with them later.

You can play with your child as much as possible outside of this time, but this special time is a set scheduled time that is uninterrupted and free of learning, lessons, judgments, leading, etc.

Of course there is A LOT more that goes into this, but these are some of the basics.  So with all of their new toys, just remember to give them that special one on one parent attention for 30 minutes, no interruptions and let them lead the play.  Having their parent give them all this attention without telling them what to do, believe me, they will be shocked amazed and grow a whole new love for you! :)