Tag Archives: Social Skills

Old Cats, New Cat

Mali and Malta joined our family in July 2006 when they were just five weeks old;

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They were sisters and best friends and together adapted quickly to living in a busy childcare home.  They usually loved all the attention they got from the children but also knew they had quiet spaces to escape to when they had enough.  I often commented on their ‘synchronized sleeping’;

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Over the years they got bigger – too big actually – Malta carried a little extra weight but Mali was very overweight;

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They were put on a vet recommended diet and dropped down to a healthier weight.  They still sometimes beg for food from the children so ‘Don’t feed people food to the cats’ has been an important lesson for the children.  It has also resulted in many wonderful conversations about healthy diets for both children and cats.  Through it all Mali and Malta remained best friends and still enjoy playing with the children and having alone time too.

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Last winter when we first introduced a new cat into our family I was slightly concerned that the two bigger, bonded cats may pick on the little newbie.  Sure, Mali & Malta considered children, and even our old dog to be acceptable housemates but they had never lived with another cat.  I wasn’t certain how the ‘old’ cats would feel about another cat in the house but I optimistically envisioned that the old cats would teach the new cat all the house rules and everyone would live happily ever after.  I was wrong.

Although ‘Button’ was the name given to the tiny little cat at the humane society and is her official name on her license and other papers, she was soon renamed.  We call her ‘Monkey’ most of the time – sometimes ‘Monkey-Butt’ because she is a very mischievous, naughty, sometimes ornery little cat with a big attitude.

She taunts and torments the older cats.  She pushes boundaries – growling in protest when removed from places she shouldn’t be and then immediately returning – sitting there glaring as if to say ‘I go where I please, when I please and you can’t do anything about it’.  She opens doors and cupboards and has stolen whole sandwiches left unattended for just two seconds.  Her early life as a stray allowed her to perfect her hunting techniques and stealth mode – for the old cats there is no escape.

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Malta seems very afraid of Monkey – running/hiding from her and refusing to enter a room Monkey is in.  I wouldn’t say Monkey is mean – just more like a toddler who keeps poking you trying to get a reaction and then laughing.  Mali has become grumpy – like the angry old woman who yells ‘Get off my lawn!’ when the neighbourhhood children play there – Mali hisses and snarls and chases Monkey off counters and other places she thinks she shouldn’t be.  Places that include my lap – I have battle wounds from cat fights that have occurred on my lap.

Monkey is not longer the scrawny little stray she once was – she has become a little ‘chunky’.  Mali & Malta however have lost more weight than they ever did on their diet. I started giving them regular food instead of ‘light’ food and when they threw that up I gave them food for sensitive digestion.  They still had difficulty holding that down and were getting so thin that I was concerned about their health.

I took them to the vet and after a thorough exam and blood tests he ruled out any illnesses.  They are however very stressed and have developed stomach ulcers.  I now have to give them medication twice a day and they have prescription cat food.  I also have a plug-in diffuser that spreads peace & joy & love (cat pheromones) throughout my house.

Fingers crossed, so far there have been no more cat fights or vomit to clean up.  Mali & Malta seem more relaxed – we’ll return to the vet next month to see if they’ve managed to regain some of their lost weight.  Monkey (finishes licking all the dishes in the sink and leaves a trail of wet footprints on paperwork as she walks across my desk) hasn’t lost any attitude yet though.

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People & Pets

Throughout my life I have almost always had some type of a pet – some fish, a couple birds, a few dogs and many cats.  I believe that pets are a wonderful addition to almost any family including a childcare home family.

Here, even children who cannot have pets of their own can reap the benefits of having pets.  They get to play together;

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The children often include the animals in their dramatic play activities – ensuring everyone has a role to play;

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When playtime is over and it is time to relax – the pets often like to be there too;

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Sometimes they enjoy being the centre of attention;

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And other times they prefer to keep their distance;

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Our number one rule about pets is that if they come to you then you can play with them but when they want to leave you cannot restrain them or chase them.

Respect their space.

I have found that many children who struggle with social interactions with other children have a much easier time understanding ‘gentle’, ‘calm’ and ‘respectful’ when interacting with animals.  Pets are also wonderful at comforting children who are withdrawn, anxious or distraught.

Back in 2014 when we lost our nearly 15 year old dog Mindy there was some discussion about whether or not we should get another dog.  A new pet is a big commit so it is very important to take everything into consideration and I felt the requirements for another dog were too much.  Although Mindy had been a wonderful dog I am admittedly much more of a cat person.

Last month, out of the blue, my husband commented ‘We should get another cat’.

!?!?!!! 🙂

The seed was planted….

The search began….

Last Sunday our new family member came home…

She’s still in quarantine but soon the introductions will begin.  It will be a slow process, there are many new family members for her to meet and we don’t want to overwhelm her.

Soon though, it will be time to say hello…

 

The Train Debate

It has been just over three months since I last had the train tracks available in the block area.  There are several building sets that have not been our for over six months but the boys (there are no girls in my current group) had been begging for me to bring the trains out again.  I was hesitant because we have a new infant here now – babies are not usually very ‘helpful’ when it comes to building with train tracks but the boys were so insistent.

Last year I wrote about how wonderfully this group plays with the trains and tracks so I relented and brought the trains out again.  Even though all but one of these children were here last year, they are currently at different stages than they were before and the dynamics are much different.  Having the trains out now has been… interesting.

There is one boy who loves to sort and classify everything.  Now that the trains and tracks are available he arranges them all according to size and shape.  He creates groupings and lines the pieces up in straight lines.  He gets frustrated and very vocal when others come near or disrupt his methodology  in any way.

Another one just wants the train cars – ALL of them.  Upon entering the playroom he tries to pick up and hold all of train cars at once but that is impossible.  Instead, he makes a pile of train cars and sits on them.  If any other child has one or more train cars he will sit and whimper, complaining that they have ‘his’ trains.  If I suggest that maybe he should build a track for the trains he has, he will attach two track pieces together, pile his train cars on the track and then sit on them.

The third boy loves to create several small circular tracks.  He is an expert builder and can quickly select all the appropriate track pieces and assemble his tracks.  He excitedly shows everyone his accomplishment and then walks away.  When I remind him to put away his toys if he is finished with them he wails.  For each track section there is dramatic effort required to pick up and take it to the bin.  Each piece is so heavy that he couldn’t possibly carry more than one and often he is unable to even stand so he must slither and drag himself to the bin while sobbing “I CAN’T DO IT…I caaannn’tttt

The fourth boy is so concerned about and distracted by what everyone else is doing that he has difficulty settling into an activity.  He seems eager to play with trains, states his intentions and invites others to join him however it takes a very long time before he begins to play.  Often he hovers around the block area and complains about what the others are doing.  Once he does finally sit down and become engaged in the activity he can play cooperatively, it just takes so long to get there and there are so many disputes along the way that the others lose interest or we run out of time.

Boy five has little interest in building with the tracks but enjoys driving trains on the tracks that others have built.  He reenacts elaborate scenarios complete with narrative descriptions and sound effects but seems oblivious to the others playing around him.  He is fully engaged in independent play but will get very upset if others interrupt or ‘bother’ him.

Boy six likes to build complex track systems using as many of the track sections as possible.  He enjoys having the others watch him build but is easily frustrated if they attempt to assist – he has a plan.  He discusses his design plans with the others and explains how they will be able to use it once complete.  Occasionally he too plays with trains – briefly – but usually once finished building he loses interest and leaves the block are.  However, he cannot clean up because the others are still playing – they do love this massive track.  When finished playing the others will be overwhelmed by the prospect of putting away all those tracks – they would never have built anything that big.

*Sigh*  By the end of the first week of train play I was ready to pack them up and put something different in the block area.  It is not that anyone is using the toys ‘wrong’ but that they are all using them differently.  It wouldn’t be a problem if they would sometimes play with other toys but for the whole first week they all wanted to play with trains – only trains – together but not in agreement.  Essentially it was a week long argument.

I know that dealing with disputes is an important skill to learn but personally I’d prefer to avoid all confrontation.  It would be easier for me to put away the trains and say it is a consequence due to the incessant fighting.  It might be easier for me to create a chart and assign each child a specified time slot where they can each have an equal amount of uninterrupted independent play with trains. However it is probably better if I let them work it out themselves.  I can tell them what I see.  I can facilitate conversations and mediate physical disputes.  I just don’t like to.

At the moment I really don’t like trains either.  Yet, during train week two there were a few moments of hope.  I few fleeting periods when I thought maybe – just maybe they had figured it out.  We are now beginning train week three and the debate continues….

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Rough & Tumble

Many parents and childcare providers are uncomfortable allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play or ‘fighting games’ for fear that someone may get hurt.  However, the problem isn’t the type of play but the ‘environment’ – both physical and emotional – in which that play takes place.

I firmly believe that rough and tumble play is very beneficial but in my program I do enforce some basic guidelines.  The first ‘rule’ involves location.  ALL play involving chasing, wrestling, jumping etc is discouraged when we are indoors.  Our main indoor play space is just 150 sq ft and when you add toys, shelving and up to eight children there is simply not enough room – the risks are greater than the reward.

That changes when we get outside.  Although my yard is not a large open space I did design it for gross motor play. There are still some rules like ‘If someone is in front of you, you have to slow down/stop’.  There are many obstacles and the walkways are narrow so when two or more children are trying to maneuver through the same space pushing someone out of your way  is not allowed.

One of the greatest benefits of chasing games and rough and tumble play is that they require/teach awareness and self control.  If you are unable to avoid colliding with another person it is not ‘an accident’.  The problem is NOT that ‘they got in your way’ or ‘they were too slow’- it IS because you were not watching where you were going or you were going too fast for the conditions.

The consequence for knocking someone down isn’t yelling ‘Sorry’ over your shoulder as you continue running away.  The consequence is that you need to stop, help them up and make sure they are OK before you continue playing.  If that is not something you are willing to do then you are not ‘playing’ you are being mean.  If you got hurt too then getting angry and blaming the others isn’t the solution – you need to be more observant, adjust your speed, or find another game to play.

Another ‘rule’ I have is that we only use imaginary weapons.  Now, this is not because I’m totally against weapon play with toy weapons but I have concerns about using toys as weapons in a mixed age group setting.  Yes, I have seen a group of older children involved in a wonderfully cooperative and respectful fighting game using toy weapons.  I have also spent hours/weeks/months teaching toddlers that hitting hurts.  The children and I have many conversations about how super heroes ‘help’ others.

Certainly most school age children can visualize an imaginary scenario, understand the difference between soft and hard objects, regulate the amount of force they use and aim appropriately but the  toddlers are not developmentally equipped to do all this.  The little ones watch, they see hitting and laughter but they don’t understand all the concepts involved and someone will get hurt. So, the imaginary weapons allow the older children to play their game without encouraging the little ones to hit with toys.

The third and most important ‘rule’ is that ALL the children involved in any type of rough and tumble play or fighting game must be willing participants.  This includes ‘shooting’ non-players even with imaginary weapons – in fact, I usually say ‘no people as targets’.  Each player must agree to their role in the game.  If at any point someone says ‘STOP!’ – even if they are laughing – the activity must stop.  If someone cries or gets upset then the game play stops until the problem is resolved.  Stop always means stop or the game is not respectful.

If someone wants to play and agrees to the game rules the others may NOT exclude them. If someone doesn’t want to play there has to be some type of mutual time/space agreement so  multiple activities don’t interfere with each other.  If someone says they want to play but cannot/will not follow the group’s game rules then that person may have to find another activity.

Creating game rules is an important part of the activity and all the children who want to play must be able to participate in this process before play begins.  When only one child is in charge of  creating the game, assigning roles, making the rules, and determining the ‘winner’ then it is not a cooperative game.  This ‘do as I say’ type of activity often enables bullying behaviour and allows the ‘leader’ to change game play in order to control outcome.

One wonderful example of a cooperative rough and tumble game was ‘Fight Club’.  The group of children who created and engaged in this activity were all between five and eleven years old.  They set boundaries for play area.  They chose opponents or teams based on physical abilities and size. They set rules for entering and exiting the game including the option to tag in/out when you got tired. They only played this game outside when there were no little children present. This particular group engaged in this activity on/off for more than a year and never needed me to intervene.  It was perfect.  And it never would have happened if there were no fighting games allowed.

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What’s on Your Shirt?

I can’t begin to count the number of time’s I hear the children ask some version of “What’s on your shirt”.  No, they’re not wondering what someone (usually me) has spilled on their shirt.  They want to see the picture, logo, or any words that are printed on the fabric.  If there are words they need to know what they say.  This whole conversation is repeated every time anyone comes in the room.

I decided to start documenting this activity by taking photos of all the children’s shirts, printing them and creating a book.  So far we have forty four shirt photos like this;

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The album full of shirt pictures has been extremely popular.  There have been a few minor disputes over it because there is only ONE book but that may change soon because we’ve nearly run out of space so we’ll need a second album. 🙂

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Even the youngest children can name the owner of each of the shirts in the album.  There have been some really amazing conversations here as the children look through the book together.  The conversations have continued at home too – I hear stories about struggles to get dressed in the morning because ‘I can’t wear that shirt, Cheryl already has a picture of it’.  Some are even demanding shopping trips to get NEW shirts to add to the album.

It is important to keep families involved in our daily activities 😉

Mine!

Anyone who has a toddler should expect to hear them screech ‘Mine!’ many, many times.  It’s normal. Working with a group of toddlers it is a regular occurrence to which I am accustomed.  For months now there has been an interesting daily ‘dispute’ between two of my toddlers – I will call them Bunny and Bear for this post.

It started with the felt ice cream cones.  Bunny claimed the pink one and always had to have it nearby when she was in the playroom.  If Bear saw the pink ice cream cone unattended he would pick it and Bunny would begin to scream.  Bunny would grab the green ice cream cone and offer to trade and Bear eagerly accepted.

Both these toddlers are completely agreeable throughout this process  but they sound very upset.  Their actions are frantic and there is near constant wailing “My ice cream! My ice cream!”  A gentle reminder to just ask and say please would usually decrease the intensity of their ‘conversation’.

However, problems arise when others in the group become involved.  The ‘Defender’ considers Bunny to be their ‘best friend’ and refuses to allow others to touch Bunny’s ice cream cone. The ‘Collector’ wants all the best toys.  Anything deemed ‘special’ by anyone else is a must-have item for the Collector.  The Collector rarely plays with any of the toys but doesn’t want anyone else to have them either.

When Bear picks up the pink ice cream cone the Defender will tackle him and try to rip the pink ice cream cone from his hand.  Bear will never release the ice cream cone to the Defender or the Collector – it ‘belongs’ to Bunny and he wants to give it to her.  Bunny is not involved in the physical battle but is wailing ‘Miiiiinnnnne‘.

The ‘Defender’ and the ‘Collector’ usually choose physical aggression instead of words – they seem to thrive on it and sometimes they even initiate it.  If a defender notices the unattended pink ice cream cone they will pick it up and not give it to Bunny.   Instead, they taunt Bear with it and the battle begins.

These daily brawls were becoming more intense and disruptive so I removed the ice cream cones from the toys available for play.  That’s when the situation became even more interesting.  On learning that the ice cream cones were ‘gone’ Bunny and Bear chose plastic doughnuts instead – strawberry for Bunny and chocolate for Bear.  Whichever one of these toddlers entered the playroom first would immediately take the two doughnuts and wait for the other toddler to arrive and then give them ‘their’ doughnut.

Likewise, the Defender and Collector continued to try to control ownership of the preferred toys.  There were only two ice cream cones but there are three donuts and there are still battles over the two ‘selected’ ones.  When the doughnuts were removed then the bubble bottles became the chosen toys. There are several bubble bottles but Bunny & Bear each have a favourite one. The battles continued.

For Bunny & Bear it’s not really about the specific toys – it’s mostly about the friendship.  As the various toys come and go the one thing that remains consistent is that there is one chosen for each of these two children.  Bunny & Bear enjoy each others company and these toys are an invitation to ‘come play with me’.

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The Collector is all about the toys and the other toddlers just get in the way.  The Collector is most content when playing independently – with ALL the toys.  The Defender is focused on ownership too but their most desired ‘possession’ is power.

I’ve been working on this post on and off for a few weeks now and I struggled with how to end it.  That is probably because the ‘situation’ hasn’t ended.  This isn’t a ‘we had a problem and this was how we fixed it’ post.  It is my observation of one small part of the daily interactions within this group of toddlers.

The conflicts will continue and I will continue to observe.  I will step in to redirect behaviour that may be dangerous.  I will experiment with the room arrangement and toy selection.  I will offer to mediate disputes if required but mostly I will allow the toddlers to solve their own problems.  The conflicts are a normal – a necessary part of toddler development.  The process of learning social skills to interact with others and make friends.

Screen Time

Yesterday I read an interesting CTV News article about children and screen time.  I thought it was wonderful to compare screen time to nutrition – an analogy that puts the focus on the content of the programs.

Recently I was asked to speak to a group of Red River College students who were just completing their ‘Introduction to Family Childcare’ course.  As part of my presentation I included a slideshow of the past and present learning environments in my childcare home.

Screen time was briefly discussed during my presentation and the subsequent question period.  Yes, I used to have several computers available for the children in my program to use – and I did not even restrict the amount of time they engaged in the activity.

No, I don’t currently have any computers, tablets, or televisions that are available for the children to use at any time during the day.  The reason for the elimination of the ‘computer area’ was due almost entirely to the quality of content available and the fact that the children had no interest in ‘healthy’ content once they had experienced the ‘junk’.

Years ago when I first started my blog I wrote about the use of computers in my childcare program and their gradual elimination.  It is not that I don’t value technology – I use it all the time.  When the children have questions that I can’t answer we can find the answer on the internet – it is an invaluable resource in addition to their hands on experience.

Unfortunately I think the content of children’s media today has far too much focus on competition instead of collaboration.  The smaller screens further emphasize the ‘individual’ over the ‘group’.

I once had a discussion with the staff at my son’s school.  My son was extremely slow to engage in new situations and had a tendency to withdraw from social interaction.  They were concerned because he refused to use a new program they had recently introduced in their computer class.

I suggested that they should let him sit with and watch another child until he felt comfortable enough to try it himself.  They said that was not possible because it would be considered cheating and would not be fair to the other child. Seriously?!?! What were they hoping to teach?

The children and I have discussed the use of screen time – they all have access to screens at home.  They’ve described how they like to use their hand held devices when they are bored – it is easier than finding something else to do.  They’ve retold me all their favorite parts of the movies and shows they’ve recently watched.  If there are any ‘good’ parts in these shows I haven’t heard about them, the children  focus on the violent, destructive, mean or rude segments – that’s what they remember.

As I write this there are two children here – they are reading the label on a cereal box and debating the nutritional value.  Maybe I’d have screen time as part of the program if there were ‘nutrition’ labels on the content of every program.  However, I’m not sure I have the energy to break through their addiction to the junk so instead my program will continue to be screen free and really they don’t complain about the absence of screens when there are healthier options available.

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