Michelle was recently quoted in the February/March 2010 Little Treasures Magazine, in the article “Give-it-a-go Kids” on raising independent young children.
Little Treasures Magazine
Do you do too much for your preschoolers? Experts say the best way to raise independent kids is to step back and let them give things a
We all want to see our children learn new skills and become independent – but when your child is faced with life’s challenges does she give things a go, or simply give up?
Many toddlers are missing out because their parents are unwittingly
doing too much for them – often because they’re in a rush to get out the door, or they think they’re being “super mum or dad” by helping as much as possible, say the experts.
The downside of being so hands-on is that children quickly learn an adult will always come to their aid and do the hard work for them.
Vanessa – a primary school teacher based at a high-decile school in Canterbury – says up to half her combined Year 3 and 4 class suffer what she calls “learned helplessness”. “They automatically put a lot of tasks in the ‘too-hard basket’ and have learned that if they sit and do nothing, or cry, then someone will come and do it for them,” she explains. “It comes down to parenting styles and often it’s the parents who have time to mollycoddle their children. If a child is not doing something fast enough or good enough, the parent will usually take over. Mum or Dad think they’re helping, but they’re actually doing the exact opposite in the long-run.”
Christchurch-based child psychologist Michelle van Dyk agrees that parents who are over-protective or short on time can unknowingly thwart their child’s attempts to gain independence. “If the morning is a mad rush, children are not given the time to learn to do things such as dressing themselves, cleaning teeth, putting some of their clothes away. If Mum takes over and does all things, the child learns that she doesn’t need to,” van Dyk says. “This can result in a child acting ‘helpless’ later on and refusing to try to accomplish tasks for themselves.”
Such behaviour can also be a form of attention-seeking, she says. “The whining and refusal to comply is not pleasant, but the reward for the child is that they get some attention and time with the parent. It is far more appropriate to have positive interactions that involve the parent taking time to prompt the child to attempt tasks, give them minimal assistance and then praise them for doing a good job.”
Van Dyk says a child’s personality does play a fairly significant role in the amount of independence they show as a youngster. However, parents have the power to either encourage or discourage this trait.
“Generally around 18 months to two and a half years most children are demonstrating a determination to do things their own way. They need to learn that the adult has to help and guide them but part of this is related to the child’s innate drive to learn to be independent. “Initially they can struggle to master their emotions, hence the temper tantrums.
Self-regulation is a skill that needs to be learned over time as adults help them to cope with frustration and persist with tasks that are difficult.”
Van Dyk says children aged between two and a half and four need to learn to problem-solve. Parents should ask kids what they think needs to be done in a certain situation rather than supplying all the answers for them.
Learning to be independent also involves teaching children to be responsible for their own actions, van Dyk says. “If little Jimmy opens the door on the canary’s cage and the bird flies away, going out and buying another bird and pretending that the same bird just happened to fly back into the cage is not doing your child any favours. Part of growing up is learning some hard facts.”
Wellington mother-of-three Kat Chandler believes the key is providing children with as many opportunities as possible to be independent. She let her two eldest children (now aged three and 20 months) feed themselves as soon as they were able to hold a spoon, and encouraged their desire to dress themselves. “It was about me not interfering and wanting to do everything for them. Their rooms can be messy at times with clothes everywhere but it doesn’t bother me!” Her middle child, Charlotte, insists on walking down the stairs, opening the car door and trying to buckle herself into her car seat, but Chandler has learned the benefits of letting this process unfold rather than trying to interfere. “Seeing the look on her face when she accomplishes something herself is so rewarding, and in the long run it’s actually going to make my day so much easier once she can do these things easily.”
Since being interviewed for the story, Kat gave birth to baby Macklan, just two weeks before her oldest child Grace turned three, so Charlotte’s independence was a big help as Kat coped with a new baby. As a former primary school teacher, Kat can recall plenty of children who were incapable of performing simple tasks in the classroom because their parents had always done things for them. “So many mums of today are worried about the ‘perfect parenting’ thing that we do get caught up with making our kids do things correctly instead of letting them have the independence and the confidence to make mistakes,” she says. “If we were always being corrected and told we weren’t doing things right, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t keep trying to do things either, so it’s about having that freedom to get it wrong and the opportunity to make it right – by themselves – which is much more satisfying.”
THEY SHOULD BE CAPABLE OF:
About two years: Feeding themselves, asking for what they need (verbally and/or non-verbally), sleeping through the night.
About three years: Simple jobs such as laying the table, putting their shoes on and lunch box away, tidying up toys.
About four years: Dressing themselves, sharing and turn-taking, drawing simple pictures.
About five years: Using a knife and fork, peeling fruit.
Source: Michelle van Dyk and Plunket
Article by Jo-Marie Baker
WELLBEING – PARENTING - CHILDCARE
Sunday Star Times, 3rd May 2009, Oliver James.
Happy babies make happy adults, writes Oliver James, thanks to a natural drug triggered by love.
Although there is overwhelming evidence that if children are maltreated in the early years it affects their brain adversely, the good news is that the reverse is also true: supportive, loving nurture does cause desirable brain chemistry. In particular, as an important new book, The Compassionate Mind, by the psychologist Paul Gilbert, explains, levels of neuropeptide oxytocin are critically affected for the better.
Its main effect is on our relationship with other people. Although it is not as extreme as the drug ecstasy – which causes strangers to wrap themselves around each other – it greatly increases feelings of love and affiliation. Loved-up on oxytocin, natural opinoids are released, creating a sense of relaxation, a reduction in the tendency to interpret others as threatening and an increase in confidence that they will be nice to know.
Christchurch-based child psychologist Michelle van Dyk is well aware of the effects of oxytocin. “Not only does it have a key role during the birth and in later mother-infant bonding throughout the early neonatal period but it turns out that this neuro-hormone has a critical role to play in early childhood that will determine how well a person is later able to relate to others, form attachments, have a successful life partnership and then parent their own offspring,” she says.
It starts in pregnancy. Unstressed mothers who report positive feelings about the pregnancy and foetus before the birth have higher oxytocin levels. These are probably passed to the baby through the placenta. Postnatally, mothers with high prenatal levels tune into and bond better with their infants.
Breastfeeding mothers have more oxytocin. If stressed half an hour after a feed, they secrete less cortisol, being less easily thrown into a flap.
“In the human infant, it is very apparent that without a sensitive, responsive and devoted primary care-giver in attendance day and night, the infant would fail to thrive,” explains van Dyk. “From birth onward, social interactions are essential for normal development. Young infants and toddlers lack the ability to self-regulate and must learn this skill from repeated reciprocal interactions from a responsive, caring adult.”
We know all about the cycle of emotional deprivation, and its effects on the brain's electrochemistry are becoming better known by the year – abnormal cortisol levels, probably similar depletion of dopamine and serotonin, quite apart from the decreased brain growth that is the result of severe maltreatment.
“Promoting a society where parents are supported to be able to devote the necessary time and love to their infants and young children without the necessity to return to work prematurely is a vital step that will be necessary to foster the sort of caring, co-operative and pro-social communities we would all like our children to grow up in,” says van Dyk.
TOP TIPS FOR ACTIVATING OXYTOCIN
Sunday Star Times, 3rd May 2009, Michelle van Dyk.
Use gentle loving parental voices. Talk to your baby in a warm, affirming tone of voice.
Respond quickly and sensitively when your baby is distressed. This will help her develop feelings of security and trust in you as a parent.
Pay attention to your baby's cues. If he averts his gaze, turns away from you or yawns, it can indicate that he is getting over-stimulated and needs a break from interaction with you.
Have robust, regular routines for young children so that there are structured, predictable routines around meals, bath time and bed time. This helps children feel safe. It also teaches them to regulate their own behaviour.
Limit the amount of time in front of the TV. Young children need to learn how to socialise with real people.
Use animated, happy facial expressions and tone of voice.
Massage your baby. Give him lots of eye contact and smiles as you do so.
Play relaxing classical music at a moderate level.
Engage in rough and tumble play when your child is receptive. Let them use your body as a jungle gym to promote close physical play and enhance gross motor skills.
For an older child, set aside a regular time when you get down on the floor and become a totally attentive play partner for at least 15 minutes. Follow your child's lead and describe what they are doing rather than take over and ask lots of distracting questions.
Have quiet-time snuggled up in a blanket just reading stories or talking to each other.
Look for fun, warm, creative, gentle and playful times for you and your child. This teaches the art of how to be in a relationship.
- Michelle van Dyk
Guardian News & Media and additional reporting