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Mar 29, 2010

Sharing & Helping - Recipe for happy toddler

Toddlers tend to have the reputation of having a hard time sharing and empathizing with others. It is definitely a tough concept to understand when they have spent most of their lives to date being the center of attention and getting everything they needed to help them survive the first couple of months/years.

At 2 years, it's time to learn to be less self-centered and to understand interactions with others. Daniel's daycare, the Children's Pre-School Center, does a wonderful job of teaching the kids to share, take turn and help each other. The daily reports focus a lot on the kids interactions with each other and how they are learning these basic skills.

Lately, it's been interesting to watch Daniel thrive when he is able to help and share. He progressively went from accepting he had to share/help (not an easy step to take!) to being eager to share and help.

Recently, we went to the zoo with another 2-year old friend of him, and Daniel was so excited to be able to share his snack with the friend. It was almost more important than being able to eat something himself (even though he had been saying he was hungry for about 30 minutes by then). At home, Daniel is always trying to share. He offers us some of his snack, or he tries to share his toys/pacifier with the soon to come baby (by pressing them on my belly - pretty cute although not very effective!). Sharing seems to make him so happy!

Daniel also wants to help. One of his favorite things to do is to bring my husband and me things that we left in another room and that he seems to think we really need right this minute (e.g. a sweater we left on the couch, my purse, shoes, etc...) It's cute because it's completely unprompted, and Daniel seems to be so proud of doing this... although in most cases we don't know what to do with what he brings.

The other day, Daniel really wanted to help as I was getting ready to leave home in the morning. He kept asking if I needed help. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything he could help me with. So he took it upon himself to go and close all the doors in the house. Not that we needed them to be closed. But Daniel felt so good about helping us get ready!

Another example happened tonight. I was preparing dinner and putting milk in Daniel's cup. Daniel really wanted to help prepare a drink for me too. He asked several times if I also wanted milk, or hot chocolate or orange juice. He pretty much went through the entire list of drinks he knew. I finally told him I only needed water. And this made him happy: he knew how to get my water (I usually have a bottle by my bed). As soon as I mentioned water, Daniel rushed to my room to get the bottle, and brought it to me. He was so excited to have been able to help!

It is so fun to watch how Daniel is developing his social skills and becoming so excited about helping and sharing. I hope this trend will continue for many years to come. It will be great when his helpful actions become more and more relevant for what we really need to help with. This could be so great!

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Mar 20, 2010

The problem with winter babies

Since being pregnant with my son Daniel, I knew that having a kid born in January wasn't optimal. After all, I was born in December and I experienced the typical issues of having a winter birthday: you can't celebrate your birthday outside, Christmas and birthday celebrations get merged, leaving little room to celebrate a birthday in style.
I thought that, when Daniel gets older, he would probably come to remind us that a January birthday was not fun. But, there wasn't much we could do at that point.

Little did I know that these considerations were minor compared with the other problems of having a winter baby.

The first learning came when Daniel was 6 weeks old. It was still winter and Daniel caught the flu. He lost appetite, and pretty much all the weight he had gained since birth. He was in a bad shape for several days. For us first time parents, it was a traumatic experience. As we visited the pediatrician several times during this tough week, she made a comment that pediatricians try to avoid getting babies in the winter. They know first hand that it's more risky. Why didn't anyone tell us before? Glad we applied the learning for our 2nd kid who is expected to be born in May, a much better season!
Fortunately, Daniel recovered from this episode and he has developed now into a healthy kid.

Recently, we had another reason to regret Daniel being born in January. It had to do with pre-school decisions.
Since we are trying to raise Daniel in French, German and English, it made sense for us to look for a school that could offer bilingual programs. It would help reinforce some of the languages and allow Daniel to have friends who are in the same situation.
We found a promising school called International School of the Peninsula in Palo Alto, which teaches in French and English, and we applied for Daniel to start with them in the summer.

The challenge was that the applications for this year were limited to children born in the year before Daniel. In theory, Daniel would have to wait until next year to apply and start in their young class, and we were told that there would be no exception.

However, at his current daycare, Daniel is currently in class with kids older than him, since the staff there rightly recognized that he is developing at the same level as kids 6 months older. Daniel is enjoying the challenging curriculum of the new class, and he will officially start in the preschool program along with his older friends in August. When thinking of our application for the International School of the Peninsula, we strongly believed that it wouldn't make sense for Daniel to have to wait another year to have the chance to learn the same things he will be learning this year at his current school.... especially because he only missed the cut off by 14 days!

So we applied, knowing that this might be a challenge. We sent all the documentation we had gotten from Daniel's daycare about his development since being an infant, which supported our position. We were positively surprised not to be rejected right away on this formality and to be invited to interviews. The process consisted of a parent interview and a kid interview, where the kids have to spend 1.5 hour in the classroom to be observed for their social and communication skills, maturity, etc...
It sounds like we didn't do too bad at the parent interview since we were told later on that we had the perfect profile for the community ISTP is trying to build. While I might be biased, I think Daniel did great at his interview too. I was concerned that he would still be somewhat handicapped with his age. But he behaved great: playing independently, interacting and following directions when asked to, being the only child actively involved when the teachers sang songs and danced at circle time. For sure, he didn't stand out as being behind the other kids.

So, we were a little bit surprised when, after all this, we were told that we would need to reapply next year. At the end of the day, Daniel couldn't be accepted this year, the only reason being his age. The director had made the decision that he wouldn't make an exception for him. While I understand that it's hard to set precedents like this, I am disappointed about the decision process. If, despite all the evidence about Daniel's development, the decision was made in a vacuum by someone who didn't even bother to see him or us, he could as well have rejected him right when we sent our application. Otherwise, why ask us for interviews if this won't make any difference? Why have 4 teachers and one admission manager talk to us if they have no say in the process?

It also makes me question one of the key principles ISTP claims they follow: supporting each child's development individually and paying attention to their unique needs to help them thrive. Daniel's current daycare, CPSC, also has a similar policy about when kids are accepted in which classroom. However, they were willing to be flexible for Daniel, because they recognized that this was the right thing for his development. They didn't make a big deal out of it (and I am very thankful for it!)

From what I am seeing, ISTP is not at that level. They might offer a bilingual education. But if they ignore other important information about a child's development, I am wondering if the benefit is worth it. In any case, it sounds like Daniel's current daycare might after all be just what he needs. At least, his development needs are met.

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Mar 11, 2010

Some challenges of raising a trilingual kid

Since deciding to raise our son Daniel with 3 languages, we have expected some challenges. We were familiar with the issues that affect the typical trilingual child, such as confusing languages and slower language acquisition. While Daniel only seems a few months behind his peers in language acquisition (at least for English... French and German have taken a step back recently), we have definitely experienced various challenges related to the language confusion.

However, we have encountered a few new challenges that we hadn't thought about. At this point, it's unclear to me how much these are affecting Daniel. But they are definitely raising some questions for us.

I already talked about the fact that neither my husband nor I are familiar with English children songs and so we usually don't recognize the songs Daniel brings back from school. Even when we finally decipher the song, we still need to learn the lyrics and any tradition that goes along with the song.

Recently, Daniel has started to be interested in and to learn the alphabet. He is very proud of recognizing "D for Daniel" in pretty much any word he comes across that contains the letter D. He also knows O and V. We obviously want to continue encouraging him to learn, and we have a couple of books or iPhone games that are meant to help with letter recognition. However, these resources are in English, so they match the letters with images of the corresponding English words (e.g. "B" for Butterfly). It is creating a challenge for us as we try to keep the language consistent and we are not supposed to speak English with Daniel, to help with his ability to differentiate French and German. But in most cases, the name of the image in French or German doesn't match the letter shown (e.g. butterfly is papillon in French, starting with P). So we are left with having to switch to English for these exercises, or quickly finding similar books/games in French and German. But even then, the names of the letters themselves are different. And will Daniel be confused to learn spelling using words for the same things in different languages?

Another challenge we face is determining which language to use when talking to Daniel and his English-speaking friends at the same time. I have talked earlier about how self-aware I am when talking to Daniel in French in an environment with English-speaking people. So far, though, there was limited interaction between Daniel and me and the other people. So, we could at least keep the language between us consistent. Now, when I pick up Daniel at daycare for instance, both Daniel and his friends usually come to greet me and they might show me a toy they are playing with or something they just found interesting in the classroom. This is creating a new challenge: when Daniel is present, I would prefer to speak French with him; but when the friends are involved in the discussion, it doesn't work. So far, I have reluctantly used English in these circumstances, trying to repeat some of the sentences in French, so that Daniel continues to hear me speak French. As these situation get more and more common, no wonder his English is getting much better than his French or German. It looks like the solution here would be to find a French or German-speaking playgroup or school... This challenge in itself will be the subject of a future post.

Any parents with experience dealing with these challenges? Any thoughts on how to address?

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Mar 1, 2010

Winning the pacifier battle

Daniel has been addicted to his pacifier from the earliest age (as early as 1-2 weeks). While it was a great solution to calm him down when he was a baby, we have tried to limit the use of the pacifier in the last 6-9 months, with various levels of success..

Overall, we are trying to teach Daniel to only use his pacifier to fall asleep, and not during the day time. This would be a good goal for now, hoping that eventually he would learn to fall asleep without help. Unfortunately so far, it felt that every time we made some progress towards this goal, something came up that sent us back (Daniel becoming more assertive in his requests, tantrum phase, dog bite accident, international travel and jetlag, a difficult transition at daycare, etc...). These episodes meant that Daniel needed his pacifier during the day to cope for the difficult situations. Every time this happened, it felt hard to start teaching the "rules" again.
We had considered going through the very harsh measure of removing all pacifiers at once without any compromise. But there never seemed to be a good time for it. I couldn't take it upon myself to potentially create an ongoing crisis for several days. I was not ready, and I was always hoping we could achieve a smooth transition. Crossing my fingers that this is what we are witnessing right now.

Recently, being in a smooth phase, we tried to be a lot more specific in our discussions about the pacifier. We have explained for a few months now that pacifiers are for babies, and Daniel isn't a baby anymore. It helped that Daniel is getting a new baby sister soon, so we have had to address the baby/big brother discussion. Also, with the recent transition at daycare, we have had to emphasize that Daniel is now becoming a big boy. That's why he had to change class, and he should go enjoy big boy activities now.

For the several weeks, nothing happened. But in the last 2 weeks, Daniel (25 months now) seems to have finally embraced the explanations about him being too big for the pacifier. All of a sudden, he started saying to himself that pacifiers are for babies, and offering his pacifier to my belly (so nice to share with his little sister already!). When getting up in the morning, he makes a point of not only leaving the pacifier in his bed (he has done this for a while now), but also explaining that he isn't a baby anymore. Even when he somehow gets access to a pacifier during the day, he seems to resist the temptation to take it on, again explaining that he is big now.

Daniel has recently started bringing a stuffed toy Elmo with him when going out. This might also help reduce the need for a pacifier: There is now another alternative for comfort. Or maybe he is just getting mature enough to be able to deal with the daily frustrations without a pacifier!

In any case, we are very excited about the development. If it could really be how Daniel is going to handle a transition away from his pacifier, it would be great. Major crisis avoided! Let's hope this trend continues, and that we don't have to go through another difficult period that could set us back.

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