Ask the Savvy Parent – Dealing with advise or criticism

criticism_media_cycleAssalamu alaikum. I am a mom of three lovely girls under the age of ten. I am disturbed for a reason that whenever we socialize with friends or family, they always criticize my daughters like: her complexion is getting dark, she is gaining weight and so on and on. I do believe in grooming the personality, but feel it is way too early to start worrying about how my girls look, as long as they are healthy and within the average height/weight range of girls their age. But now, I am beginning to doubt myself, especially when everyone around me makes me feel inadequate. What are your comments?

Dear Parent,

I am sure that there are many parents, who can relate to what you are experiencing. It can be difficult to deal with such criticism, even more so, if it comes from close friends or family. At times, their comments can really have an effect on a parent. It can start the cycle of self-doubt and provoke one to start questioning whether he/she is doing the wrong thing. This is something you are already beginning to feel. The big question is: do you say something back? If yes, then what do you say?  How does one even say something, without offending the family members or friends?

Firstly, please, do not doubt yourself; you have the right attitude. The focus should be on nurturing a child’s personality and developing self worth. It is very important for children to love themselves just the way Allah (swt) has made them, without developing any self image insecurities. In this time and age, with all the glamorous media around telling one what to wear and how to look, is a serious problem, especially for girls.

I always give people the benefit of doubt and hope that they ask questions genuinely, wanting to know why one does or doesn’t do something; however, unfortunately, many a times this isn’t the case. So what do you do? Here are some suggestions that might work:

1. Set Limits

If you’ve already walked down this path with this particular criticizer, set a firm limit. Just because someone wants to dish it out, doesn’t mean that you or your kids have to take it. In some cultures, it is common for such things to be discussed or said in social gatherings. Sometimes people mean well, but remember there is a time and a place for such a discussion. Do not allow someone to criticize you in front of your children or in front of others.

2. Agree to Disagree

There are those who question us but are not open to hearing the reasons behind our decisions. We’ve all come across such relatives or acquaintances, who bring up a topic, just because they want an opportunity to tell us the many ways they think we are wrong or aren’t doing it right.

Often that comes from the concern stemming from their genuine love for the child, and I’m sure you can appreciate that. However, as a parent, you have a right to make your own decisions.

There may even be some issues, where you may never see eye to eye with certain individuals. In such cases, in order to preserve the relationship, it is best to find a way to agree to disagree.

Depending on the person, especially a family member, it can be difficult to say something without offending the person. Choose your words carefully. Perhaps work with statements such as “I can see that you feel strongly about this. I do too. You are very important to me but I humbly disagree with what you are saying. No heart feelings, we should better move on.”

3. Redirect/Subject Changer

One strategy for setting limits on critical conversations is to change the subject that is known in the west as “bean dipping”. For example, “Yes, Mrs. Busybody we are still ____. Can you please pass the bean dip?” Conversation over. That is it… hopefully.

4. Turn a Deaf Ear to Criticism

Finally, with some people, none of these things will work, and even if we make some excuse to redirect or leave the conversation, they will continue to criticize us. Somehow these people always find an ear willing to listen to them. It’s okay. Let them speak. You must find a way to remove yourself from the conversation. Don’t waste your time and energy on people, who don’t deserve it.

I know it hurts but their behaviour tells more about them than it does about you – and just think, if they are gossiping to someone else, at least you don’t have to listen to it.

In the wise words of Judy Ford, “What you think of me is none of my business.”

Insha’Allah I hope this helps and may Allah (swt) guide you to what is best. Ameen. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Ask the Savvy Parent: Positively Handle a Child’s Negative Emotions

muslim-motherMy 5-year-old son is a bit hyperactive. He can’t wait to get something done. He shouts and screams most of the time. He gets angry very quickly. Now, he’s fighting with the younger one too. When he plays with the other children, he is happy; but he can’t tolerate even small arguments. On the other hand, he is a fast learner, interested in learning new things, hearing stories, asking questions, and is also very sensitive. His teachers also say he is naughty but excellent in academics.

He loves books – the only way to keep him sit silently is with books but it is not possible always.

About me, I really enjoy teaching new things to him and clearing all his doubts scientifically. Also, I tell stories whenever he asks. I used to advice him according to Quran and Sunnah. I love him soooo much but the problem comes when he starts irritating me for silly things: crying and crying. I lose my control; then he starts to apologize. He says sorry and starts crying again; then I also feel sad. This happens daily 2-3 times.

I need your help very badly.

Dear Parent,
It sounds like you have a wonderful, active and bright child who just needs a little help with dealing with his emotions, Insha’Allah.

Losses and disappointments can feel like the end of the world to a child, and kids will do anything to fend off these intolerable feelings. So they cry and rage and lash out.

Many parents may be tempted to send an angry child to his or her room to ‘calm down’. It’s important to remember that we can’t reason with them when they are furious. It’s not the right time to teach lessons or ask for an apology. He needs to calm down. Remember tantrums are nature’s way of helping children let off steam. Their brains are still developing and they don’t yet have the neural pathways to control themselves as we do. (And please note that we don’t always regulate our anger very well, even as adults!)

Some parents, not knowing what to do or how to deal with their children, send the child to his or her room. The problem with this is that he will calm down eventually but unfortunately he will also learn that his anger is unacceptable, and that he is on his own when it comes to managing his feelings. No wonder so many adults develop anger-management issues, whether it is yelling at kids, arguing with the spouse, or overreacting to avoid acknowledging angry feelings.

Here are some simple tips and things to remember and will help your child manage his anger.
If kids feel safe expressing their anger, and we meet that anger with compassion, their anger will begin to melt. That’s when they can access the more upsetting feelings underneath:

1.      Take a Deep Breath. If your child is angry, it is even more imperative that you stay calm. If you are one of those people who get angry yourself, take a few deep breaths to calm down before attending to your child. Not only are you modeling emotion regulation, but by remaining calm he too will become calm. I have even taught children to take a deep breath and count to 10 when they feel angry. Counting gives them something else to focus on while their heart rate settles down.

2.      Set limits on actions not feelings. For example: “You’re so angry! You wish you could get what you want right now. I’m so sorry, but you can’t have that. You can be as mad as you want, but hitting is not OK, no matter how upset you are. You can pout or stamp your feet to show how mad you are, but you may not hit”.

It is also important for your son to understand that what is acceptable behaviour for him may not be the same as for his younger sibling.

3.      Empathize. Don’t try to reason or explain. When his emotions and adrenaline is high, it is not the time to explain why he can’t have what he wants. Acknowledge the fact that he is upset and reassure him that you will talk to him when he has calmed down.

 For example: “You really wanted that; I’m so sorry.” or “I’m so sorry you can’t have the _____ you want. I know this is so hard.”

Once you recognize the feelings under the anger, he will probably pause and get calmer. When you empathize and understand his anger, he collapses into your arms for a good cry. And all those upset feelings just evaporate.

Gradually, your child will internalize the ability to deal with disappointments, and learn that while he can’t always get what he wants, he can always get what he needs: someone who loves him, all of him, even including the unpleasant parts like rage and disappointment. You’ll have taught him how to manage his emotions. He’ll be more resilient over time. And you’ll have strengthened your relationship with him. Remember, you won’t always be able to pull it off. But every time you do, you’ll be one step closer to helping him handle his emotion.

Now about the other part about him bothering you for small things and needing you to be with him and keep him busy. Find activities that he can do independently on his own. Sometimes the problem arises because children don’t know what to do with themselves and look to the parent or another adult to help relieve their “boredom”. As parents, it’s important to spend time with your children but at the same time, children need to understand that you may be busy or need time for yourself and aren’t always able to keep them engaged in activities.

If your son loves books and being read to, designate a time during the day for book reading. If he wants you to play with him, set a time in the day for that too. As you have two children make sure you set times to spend with your other child too. Create a schedule and hang it up

Have a go-to basket with activities that he can go to when he doesn’t know what to do. Another option would be to have a “Busy Box”. Sit together with your child and come up with activities that he likes to do and most importantly can do without you. Write each idea on a strip of paper, fold it so that what is written cannot be seen and place it in the box. When the time arises that he’s unsure what to do and comes to you, direct him to “The Busy Box”. This helps him figure out what to do and at the same time frees you from the responsibility of entertaining him.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps.

Happy parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Ask the Savvy Parent: Best Age to Send a Child to School

school1Dear Savvy Parent,

What is the best age to start school for kids – is it a good idea to send them to a playgroup from 1.5 years onwards?

Dear Parent,

Islam says that a child should not begin formal learning till age seven. This does not mean that the child should not learn at all. There are many things one can do to prepare a child for school in their formative years (under the age of 7). Keep in mind to present things in a way that is fun. People this day and age tend to focus on academics, and often pressure and push their child into rigorous educational training at an early age. Why are such parents so eager to rush their children? I know a child who learned to read at the age of 9. How does this compare with a child who learned at the age of 4(probably because their parents/schools pushed them more) for example? Has it or will it hinder him in any way? Certainly not! This 9 year old child is now 11 years old and on the honour roll. So why must we put so much pressure on sending our kids to school as early as possible? It’s the same when it comes to Islamic education. Parents push their sons at such a young age to be a Hafiz of the Quran; meanwhile their child throws tantrums and doesn’t respect or listen to his parents. What is the point of being a Hafiz, which is amazing Masha’Allah, when he hasn’t learned how to behave appropriately? We need to shift our focus on the important things first, which is to lay the foundations to prepare them for formal academic learning. Begin by focusing on the basics of our Deen in terms of personality and attributes of a good Muslim. The academic stuff will come later. Laying a good, solid foundation is much more important and WILL have an impact on them in the future.

As for sending a child to a playgroup, the important thing to remember is that a young child needs to have social interactions with their peers. It has many benefits such as learning appropriate ways to interact with others, sharing, conflict resolution, appropriate language, respect for others etc. One doesn’t necessarily have to send a child to a playgroup. You can go to weekly mother and me programmes, or plan play dates. Also, keep in mind to expose your children to families that are like-minded and people of good character. This will ensure that your child will benefit from their influence in a positive way.

Besides making sure your child has the opportunity to play and explore. Here are some things as parents one should focus on with their children at an early age, before they reach school going age:

1. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Be a role model to your children in the way that you treat them and others. Be honest and fair. Treat your children kindly by showing compassion towards them. Be mindful of what you say and do. Establish good habits such as what one says before and after eating, or reciting the Dua of travelling for example. Say them out loud so your children hear it. You will be surprised how quickly children catch on.

2. Instill the love of Allah. Children should both  fear and love Allah, but teach them about love first. They can learn about fear when they get older. I have noticed in some cultures people often use a negative tone and fear to get children to listen. For example telling a child if they don’t listen, Shaitan will come get them. Why must we focus on the fear and negative side? Why can’t we train our children to do something out of LOVE for Allah (swt). For example, “Let’s put these toys away. I’m going to help you because Allah loves those who help others.” Doesn’t this sound so much nicer than threatening Shaitan on a child? To be honest, in my opinion, one should not even teach a child about Shaitan till at least age 7. You can also lead by example. Practice acts of kindness such as helping other, visiting sick friends or relatives for example. Giving Sadaqah in front of your child, or better yet, involving your child in regular but small acts of Sadaqah, is another example. Explain to them in simple language why you are giving Sadaqah. You will be surprised how quickly children pick up these good habits.

3. Expose your children to the Qur`an. By this I don’t mean sit there and force them to keep reciting and repeating. Just make sure that there is recitation of the Quran in your home. Let them hear Quran being recited in beautiful voices. Read the Quran yourself regularly, and make sure you read aloud so that your children can hear. Being in an environment where one regularly listens to and recites the Quran has a strong effect on the child’s life. This also helps to create a connection between them and the Arabic language, and instill a love for it in their hearts, because it is an important key to understanding and loving Islam.

4. Develop an attachment to the mosque. Take your children (especially sons) to Jummah if/when possible. You can go as a family or you can have your husband take them. This is a great time to introduce and teach proper mosque etiquette. Encourage them to sit quietly beside you, rather than allowing them to run up and down the rows disturbing others. It may be helpful to bring a quiet activity such as a puzzle or books to keep your child busy.

5. Pray and practice your Ibadah in front of them. The Prophet (sa) has told us to teach those who reach the age of seven to pray and to make them do it; before this age they may be taught but not by way of making them do it. A child that young doesn’t have to pray, but develop a habit of having them beside you when you pray. Lay out a prayer mat for them to sit on while you pray.

Be mindful that young children absorb everything around them. Their ears and eyes are always listening and watching and taking everything in, even when you think they aren’t. Include them in your acts of Ibadah.

Insha’Allah I hope this helps! Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Ask the Savvy Parent: Homework Hercules

homeworkMy son is around 5. Getting him to sit down for homework is a Herculean task. Please suggest proactive tips. I want him to love the process of learning, not dread it.

Dear Parent,

I’m surprised that kids as early as 5 years old get homework. Where did the fun go? I could write on end about the issues I have with homework and why, as a teacher for the most part, I dislike it, but let’s stay on the task at hand.

First off, you are not alone in this and it’s important to know and understand that the problem is not with your child. The homework is the problem. Homework is a constant for most children; it is always there. And for many children, it is often a chore. Just the concept of “homework” can cause multiple anxieties and negative feelings. Students may struggle with and/or resist homework for a variety of reasons. These may include any of the following:

  • The child is experiencing some aspect of a learning disability or learning difference.
  • Your child doesn’t understand or have a strong grasp on the knowledge foundation related to what is being asked of him or her.
  • The child lacks or is not using appropriate strategies or tools.
  • Your child is experiencing fatigue, either processing fatigue or general fatigue.

So how can you work around this? How can you turn that chore into a fun challenge?

Here are 7 strategies that can help:

 

  1. Fun: Bring fun back into learning by finding creative ways to accomplish the task and try to add more hands on components. It’s a known fact that young children respond well to games as motivational aids. Use Mnemonics, poems, games etc. to make it more exciting. Use a timer. It makes the passage of time more concrete for your child. Identify a reasonable time for your child to complete an assignment or section of the assignment. Turn it into a fun game/race. Make home as much of an enjoyable experience as possible
  2. Consistency: Set up a regular schedule and time for homework. For example every day at 5:00 pm. Stick to this schedule even if, on the off day, there isn’t any homework. Use it as ‘study or review time’ instead. The key is consistency.
    If you live in the America, the “10-Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association, which recommends that kids should be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. In other words, 10 minutes for first-graders, 20 for second-graders and so forth
  3. Chunking: Sometimes the amount of homework given can be daunting. Break down the homework into smaller, more achievable tasks. If you have to, spread it out during the day.
  4. Incentives: Some children need external motivators to help maintain focus on the task. Let your child know that they will have access to certain privileges when they have completed their homework. For example, you might say, “Once you’ve completed your homework time, you may go watch a TV programme.” Be clear with your child about the consequences for refusing to complete his homework, or for putting his work off until later. Remember, consequences should be short term, and should fit the “crime.” You might say, “If you choose not to finish your homework during the scheduled time, you will not be allowed to play with your Legos. Tomorrow, you’ll get another chance.” The next day, your child gets to try again. Do NOT take away privileges for more than a day; it is unreasonable and unfair and your child will lose any incentive to do better the next time.
  5. Behaviour vs. Motivation: Kids don’t place as much importance on schoolwork as you do. When you focus on their behaviour, not their motivation, you will begin to see some improvement in their homework skills. You can use your child’s motivation to your advantage if they have something they’d like to earn. For example if your child has been asking you for a pet gold fish. “I know you want to get a goldfish. You need to show me you can be responsible and finish your homework before we can talk about getting a pet.” By doing this, you sidestep all the arguments around both the homework and the permit.
  6. Encouragement: This is one of the most important things a parent can do. Provide encouragement frequently throughout the task, helping your child move forward to finish the assignment. For example, “I know this is hard, but I’m sure you can do it with just a little help. Let’s just start with one small part.”
  7. Practicing Skills for Success: Tying homework compliance with your child’s desires isn’t about having your child jump through hoops in order to get something they want. It’s not even about making them take something seriously, when they don’t see it that way or the same way you do. The goal is to help your child learn the skills they need to live life successfully. We all have to do this. We all have occasions where we have to follow a rule, even when we disagree with it. When you create mandatory, daily homework time, you help your child practice these skills. When you tie homework time to daily, practical incentives, you encourage your child to succeed.

Insha’Allah I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

 

Dear Savvy Parent – Jekyll and Hyde

handprintDear Savvy Parent,

I have two questions:
1. At times, it seems my son has two personalities: a well-behaved one (in front of his father) and the typical toddler behaviour (in front of me and any female relatives). Is this normal?
2. He behaves fairly well at home, but at grandparents’ and in public (when his father is not there), he constantly pushes the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. It almost seems he wants to check how far he can go before I snap… Again, is it normal for boys his age?
Thanks

 

Dear Parent,

It is very common for young children to behave differently at home from when away from parents or away from the home. Do not worry that your child has a case of the “Jekyll and Hyde” behaviour, it is normal and I’m sure many other parents can attest to this.

Unfortunately, it’s usually the worst behaviour that is saved for parents and generally it tends to be the mothers that get the brunt of it.

How does one deal with this?

First of all find a strategy to deal with your anger. Ask yourself, what is your breaking point and how can you prevent yourself from reaching it? Figure out what works for you. For example, take a few slow breaths while reciting some tasbih quietly to yourself when you start to feel yourself getting angry.

When a child insists on something or is unwilling to comply with your wishes, it can be tempting to give in, especially if it means avoiding a tantrum, but all children need boundaries, and the best thing you can do to encourage positive behaviour when your child acts up around you is to be vigilant about setting and enforcing boundaries. Do not get into a power struggle with your child. Generally, in the case of a power struggle, parents feel that their power is being tested and challenged by the child.

The more the parent tries to exert power, the easier it is for the child to win simply by saying “no” or making some excuse and then the focus becomes more about who’s in charge rather than the misbehaviour itself. I am sure many parents out there have found themselves in this exact situation. Remember whatever is going on, whatever your child is doing, losing your temper won’t help. It may feel good or like it’s working in the short term, because you have enforced your parental authority and power, but in the long run the child has learned an ineffective lesson about managing conflict. Ask yourself, “How can I best handle that situation and how can I make this work without fighting?” You’ll have a much better chance of resolving this situation effectively.

Your child is old enough and I’m sure has a pretty good handle on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour, hence the button pushing and testing of boundaries. Again, yes, it is all very normal.

Next, lay the ground rules. Remain firm and consistent; set clear and most importantly FAIR consequences for unacceptable behaviour. For example, if your child doesn’t clean up his toys, then you take those toys away (set a reasonable time limit, such as 2 days). Another example would be, if your child has a nasty attitude around family members, you will send him away to another room (for example). If he can’t be nice to others, he must be alone. Before going out or visiting grandparents, discuss what is expected from him before hand. When deciding on a consequence, avoid situations that put your child in control of others, such as: “We can all go get ice cream after you clean up your toys.” This allows your child to control all family members and does not put any real consequences in place for their behaviour. It will only exacerbate their passive aggressive behaviour.

Lastly, remember the intent of consequences. They should not be to punish your child for the sake of punishment. Consequences should be logical and a form of discipline that parents should use to teach their child a lesson. So when you remove and reinstate privileges, in a calm manner be sure to explain to your child why/how he misbehaved and what you expect of him next time.

Make sure both you and your husband (and any other family members you may be living with) are on the same page with regards to unacceptable behaviour and it consequences. Consistency is the key!

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!!

The Savvy Parent

Ask the Savvy Parent: Kids Bored at Home

im-bored-cover-e1372184590438Dear Savvy Parent,

My kids complain that I am always asking them to study. They feel bored at home and with me. What should I do?

Dear parent,

First of all, your children are all aged 10 and under. They are still very young. Why do they need to study so much? Constantly pushing them to study isn’t helpful at all. Some parents put way too much pressure on their children from an early age to succeed academically. I understand that in some countries this is considered to be a cultural norm, but as a teacher, I can tell you that pressure and constant study is NOT an effective method for learning, regardless of culture.  Education should not be just about memorization and forced learning; it should be about understanding the material. Memorizing and understanding are two completely different concepts. It is important as parents and as educators to instill a love of learning without pressure.  Learning shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. Make it fun; be creative; make it into a game and most of all, be encouraging! Remember, a child is more successful when the experience is enjoyable.

Encouragement versus praise

Most parents enjoy praising their children with words like “Well done!” and “That looks great!” However, research shows that encouragement (not praise) has a more significant effect upon a child’s motivation. So what is the difference between praise and encouragement, you might ask. Though they sound like the same thing, they are not. The difference is that words of praise lead the child to rely on YOUR assessment of his or her accomplishments, while words of encouragement lead him or her to form THEIR OWN positive assessment of himself or herself. Examples of encouragement are: “Look at that drawing; I can tell you have spent lots of time on it. It must be a great feeling knowing you worked so hard on it,” or “It didn’t work out the way you planned, did it? I can tell you are upset about it, but it’s okay. I know you will try again next week. What could you do differently next time?”

Next, you say your children feel bored at home and with you. Do you spend time with your children just having fun? If not, set some time out in the day and spend some quality time with your kids, as a family. Have fun, play with them or do something with them that they enjoy. One of the best and most obvious things about spending quality time with your children is developing stronger and positive relationships with them. Be sure that both parents also spend individual time with each child. This will help build memories as well as trust. This is an integral part of having a healthy family dynamics as well as happy children. The benefits are endless, so set aside one-on-one, quality time with your kids.

Quality Time Ideas- What Does It Look Like?

  1. Cook or bake together.
  2. Play sports.
  3. What are their hobbies? Do some with them.
  4. Have a family movie or games night (age-appropriate, of course).
  5. Go on a bike ride or walk together.
  6. Read a book together; this works great for younger children.
  7. Make a craft or start a project together.

These are just seven of the hundreds of things you can do together. Start making quality time for each child. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make!

Insha’Allah I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Ask The Savvy Parent: Overcoming Shyness

handholdingMy son aged 5 years is very fussy with eating. Secondly, he is very, very shy and reluctant at school. Kindly suggest some ideas that can be helpful in resolving these issues peacefully.

First off, you are not alone in this. There are many parents who face similar challenges. We have covered fussy eating last week; you can check it out here: Mealtimes are Wartimes.

Here is the answer to the second part of your question. Shyness is a personality trait/temperament. There is nothing wrong with being shy. First, recognize that you are blessed with a sensitive, deeply caring, reserved child, who is slow to warm up to strangers, approaches social relationships cautiously, but generally seems to be a happy person. It is very common for parents to respond very apologetically to excuse their child by saying, “He’s shy,” especially in front of your child. This is the first thing one should stop doing; in many ways this makes you an enabler vs. empowering your child. Here are some tips:

  1. The more you push the more he will retreat: It is natural for a child to feel socially awkward when meeting adults and especially new people/children. It is a very common practice amongst parents to try to coerce a positive response from the child but in doing so, it is more likely he will retreat and clam up. It is best to help create a comfortable environment that lets his social personality develop. For example, if you are going to visit a friend and you want your child to make a good impression, avoid the standard: “Don’t be shy; say Salam to aunty.” This is guaranteed to make him even more recluse. The child is already self-conscious and this will make him even shyer. Talk to him beforehand about what is expected of him and keep your expectations reasonable, for example, a simple ‘Salam’. Another option would be to have him bring along a toy or activity. This can act as a communication bridge with aunty. It essentially distracts the focus and attention off him, allowing him to ease into the situation and get comfortable on his own.
  2. Avoid putting him on the spot: Your relatives are visiting and you are excited to show them that your son has memorized a short Surah, for example. Rather than putting him on the spot when they arrive, prep him beforehand. Talk to him in a gentle tone saying, “You recite the Surah so well. Can you please recite it for grandma when she visits today?” Some children are natural born performers; others are cautious and need time to become comfortable. Think about, for example, if you were put on the spot to recite Surah Yasin you just memorized in front of a group, with all eyes on you, how would you feel? Even for a social person like myself, it would not be easy; so cut your child some slack.
  3. Create smaller social settings: As a teacher, I have discovered that it helps for parents to have one-on-one play dates with fellow classmates. Are there any children that your child seems to gravitate towards or you feel would be a good companion for your child? Ask the teacher for suggestions. This allows your child to form bonds with other children in a more intimate setting and will help him come out of his shell at school.

How do I know if it’s just shyness or something more?

Mostly, shyness or quietness is not a serious problem. However, in some rare case, it may indicate that your child needs professional attention. Ask yourself the following questions. Does your child cry or throw a tantrum on a regular basis before or at school? Is he significantly withdrawn most of the time, making little eye contact? Does he act violently in school, hitting other kids or teachers? If the answer to these are no, you have nothing to worry about.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

Catch more tips by Farah Najam in her article: Working with Shy Students.

Do you have questions for The Savvy Parent? Click here to submit them.

Ask the Savvy Parent: Mealtimes are Wartimes

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Image courtesy http://mommabird.net/

Dear Savvy Parent,

How do I get my 4-year-old son to not be such a picky eater, and also eat on his own without my husband or I having to feed him?

Dear parent,

First off, you are not alone in this. There are many parents who face similar challenges. It is important to remember that picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school-going age.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Here are some proactive things you can do to deal with fussy eating and help your child learn to eat on his own and try new foods:

  1. Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t be a “short-order cook,” by making a different meal for your child. Never cook something for your child that you would not eat yourself. Most children like to eat the meals their parents are eating.
  2. Make sure your child eats with the whole family. There is no point making him or her sit and eat, while no one else is. You would end up fighting a lost battle.
  3. Most kids like to try foods they help make. Encourage your children to help you prepare meals and snacks. Let them help you with the grocery shopping. Teach your child to tear lettuce or add veggie toppings to pizza, for example. You will be surprised what you can get children to eat if they have helped to prepare it.
  4. Try to make meals a stress-free time. Talk about fun and happy things. If arguments often happen at mealtimes, your child may develop unhealthy attitudes toward food.
  5. Offer two choices. Rather than asking “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask: “What would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?”
  6. Use the Bowl of Bites Method to decide the number of bites the child must eat.  At times, trying to negotiate the number of bites can be never ending and lead to arguments. This is where the bowl comes in (explained below).
  7. Your children will be okay even if they don’t eat a meal now and then. Children never starve themselves. If they are not eating, leave them be. Make sure snacks are out of reach, though. Carry on with your meal. Eventually when they do get hungry and want food bring out the plate of food that was not eaten during mealtime. Eventually they will give in and eat it. At this time, give them verbal reinforcement.

Bowl of bites
For some parents, establishing a required number of bites can help. Select a reasonable number of minimum bites, for example, five. Two or three bites are not enough. In a bowl, keep about 10 pieces of small paper, folded in half, with a number written inside them. Have a variety of numbers ranging from the minimum (in this case, six) to about nine. During mealtime say, “Let’s see what the bowl of bites decides for us.” Allow your child to pick out a piece of paper and read the number on it. Whatever the number says is the number of bites that are required to be eaten. If your child is the type to go back and forth negotiating to get his way, the best way to get around such a situation to remove yourself out of the negotiation. These “bowls” can also be adapted to be used in many other situations.

For a child who will not eat on his or her own, the bowl of bites can also help by establishing the number of bites the child has to eat on his own. In this case, the numbers could start smaller such as three. Alternatively, taking turns can help. Your child takes a bite on his or her own and then you feed them the next bite and so on. Eventually, as they get comfortable with this, you can feed less and less bites.

Change will not happen overnight. It will take some time for you to see any changes or improvements. Don’t give up and always be consistent. Relax and take it easy. The key is consistency.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

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Ask The Savvy Parent: Aggression in Toddlers

Dear Savvy Parent

My 2.5-year-old son is unable to express himself. He hits continuously till others respond and others think he’s a bully. All I want is to help him but how? How to stop him and what should I do to help him express himself with words, not actions?

When he’s not bothering others, give him lots of attention and praise so he eventually learns that negative behaviour will not work and will not get him any needed attention.

Dear parent

First off, he is not a bully. He is just 2.5 years old and is still learning. He’s not trying to be mean; rather, it sounds like attention-seeking behaviour. If this is the case (and you know best), one should not give any attention when he behaves this way. He seems to be doing it because he can’t get the attention he wants by behaving well; so he misbehaves to get attention. Children will get attention any way they can. They prefer positive attention, but if negative is the only way to get it, they will purposefully do perform actions to get that negative attention. The way to nip this in the bud is to give no attention when he misbehaves. He knows he is doing something wrong; use minimal words and remove him from the situation. When he’s not bothering others, give him lots of attention and praise so he eventually learns that negative behaviour will not work and will not get him any needed attention.

If you are in a public place, such as a park, you have to be more mindful and keep an extra eye on your son. Intervene if he starts to hit another child. Use language such as “Be gentle” and show him how. Sometimes children at a young age don’t mean to be aggressive; sometimes they touch out of love and because they are still learning to control their body it can be rough. So give him a chance to be gentle. If he is really being disruptive, redirect him away from that area of the park to some other area. If he has had several chances and is still not listening, then it’s time to let him know that if he cannot behave, you will take him home. Making sure you follow through with this.

If he is hitting without any reason, then you need to take him away from the child or children he is hurting and find something else for him to be busy with. 

As far as hitting or bothering other children, since they are also young, the adults (you in this case) need to intervene and may need to remove your son from this situation. First of all, try to identify why he is hitting. Did the other child do something? Did he hit him first? If this is the case, then you need to teach your son the appropriate language, such as “Please stop!”, “I don’t like that” and resolve the situation together.

If he is hitting without any reason, then you need to take him away from the child or children he is hurting and find something else for him to be busy with. Have a brief and calm conversation and let him know that this is not kind; if he hits someone again, you will remove him and he will not be able to play with the other children. Don’t elaborate any other reminders; when it happens, you can simply say, “You are hurting (name of child), so now you have to leave and do something else. Redirect him towards something else that he can be busy with. The next time after that, you don’t need any words. After a few times of doing this, he will learn that you are not giving him attention for this negative behaviour.

Yelling at your child will not resolve the issue. One has to be calm and level-headed. 

Remember to give him LOTS of positive attention when he’s not doing this. This way he learns that he gets attention ONLY when he’s behaving well. When he’s misbehaving, don’t say anything and don’t make eye contact because all of this is attention and the point is to NOT give attention in ANY FORM when he’s trying to seek it doing something inappropriate. Depending on the situation you either need to help resolve the conflict or redirect the behaviour. Be mindful of your reaction and tone as well. Children learn by example. Make sure you are using a calm manner to discipline your child. Yelling at your child will not resolve the issue. One has to be calm and level-headed. It is difficult, I know, but take a deep breath before you act and Insha’Allah, it will get easier to handle.

With regard to your son learning to express himself, he is still young and learning language. Teach him appropriate words and the correct language. Be a role model of positive language and help elicit the words from him. For example, short phrases like “Milk, please” “I don’t like that”, “No, thank you”, “I want ____”, “More, please” etc. Have him repeat after you before you do what he wants. Do this throughout his daily route; this way he will begin to pick up the language. Encourage him to use the language and reward him when he does. It is even more important to make sure he at least attempts to use his words, when upset.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps. Happy parenting!

The Savvy Parent

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