Posts Tagged ‘children’

Talking to Children About Race – Where to Begin

March 26, 2015

Originally posted on Nanny Magazine.

When we encourage children to ignore the ethnic and racial differences around them, we often hope that this will result in creating a “color-blind” child.   There’s nothing wrong with wanting children to recognize the shared humanity in one another, but this “color-blind” approach is flawed for several key reasons.  First, it ignores the fact that children notice difference all the time.  Young children often sort their toys and other materials into color groups, and children of all ages are asked to engage in this kind of sorting and categorizing in school.  The lack of open discussion around race can also inadvertently contribute to the formation of biases and stereotypes.  On the one hand, children are told that race is a superficial difference that should be ignored.  On the other hand, they observe real inequities across racial lines, such as more people of color living in impoverished neighborhoods in their communities.   They are left to draw their own conclusions, which will most likely not be based on a historic or systemic understanding of racism.   In order to promote equity and inclusivity, we would do better to give our children a basic understanding of race and racism from early on.

Developmental guide to talking about race for ages 3-8.

3-4 year olds

At this age, children are full of curiosity about the world. Read picture books that celebrate all the different shades we come in.  Some of my favorites are: The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka and Skin Again by Bell Hooks. Emphasize that the diversity of skin tones makes the world a richer, more beautiful, and interesting place!  Go to a paint store and get all different colors of paint chips.  Compare your skin tones to the paint chips and use these names as inspiration for poetry or artwork. Use the book Tan to Tamarind by Malathi Michelle Lyengar to explore poems about the color brown, a color often left out of children’s poetry and songs.  After reading the poems, use brown spices such as cinnamon, cloves, coffee grounds, and nutmeg to make art.  Help children come up with descriptive language around how these spices feel and smell.  The result is a collection of beautiful associations with the color brown, and this activity can work to combat and prevent any biases that may be forming. 

5-6 year olds

At this age, children begin to voice their questions about why we are the way we are. Read books that give a more scientific explanation of where skin colors come from, such as All the Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger.  This is also the time to give children language they can use to be inclusive with one another, and to build their empathy around differences.  For example, when a child expresses curiosity about a friend or classmate’s hair, take the opportunity to read books about different hair types in order to teach about why we have different hair and why it’s important to appreciate and respect this difference.  Two good books for this are Hair Dance by Dinah Johnson and Hairs/Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros.

It is also important to talk explicitly about racism, so that children can recognize situations of bias and racism when they occur.  Use puppets to act out scenarios of exclusion around skin color and engage children as problem solvers to come up with inclusive solutions.  As they learn about the Civil Rights Movement, help children make sense of the larger themes around social justice by connecting these themes to something familiar and personal.  Read children’s books that have “change-makers” in them.  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a good one!  Also, seek out stories of key figures of the Civil Rights Movement of all races, genders, and ages, in order to help children appreciate that diverse groups work together to bring about big changes, and to allow all children to find anti-racist role models.  Learn about Claudette Colvin, the black teenager who refused to sit in the back of the bus, James Reeb, the white pastor and Civil Rights activist in Washington D.C., and Ruby Bridges, the young black girl in New Orleans who attended an all white school in 1960.

7-8 year olds

At this age, children should have a basic understanding of where skin color comes from, how to be inclusive with one another, and how to recognize bias or racism when they see it.  If they don’t have this basic understanding, go back to the section on 3-4 year olds and start there!  Think of it as how you might approach helping a child gain a basic understanding of math in order to be prepared for higher math classes.  There’s no shame in “skilling up” in any important learning area, whether it be math or learning about race, racism, and empathy.

Help children find books to read that feature characters of all different races, and not just the books that tell stories around racism, though those are important.  It is also important that children see characters of all races in “every day” books, experiencing relatable problems and situations.  This will help expand their ability to empathize with all different kinds of people.  This is especially important as children begin to pay attention to, and receive more, messages about people of color in TV shows, advertisements, and movies that are not always positive or affirming.

It is also important to monitor the media that children are watching, and to point out instances of stereotyping when they occur.  Ask children to think critically about the characters in the movies, television shows, and music videos they watch, or the video games they play.  Are there an equal number of characters of color and white characters?  Who are the “good” characters and the “bad” ones?  Who gets to be the main character?  One of the best ways to prevent or combat biases is to become critical thinkers, rather than passive absorbers, of the often explicit, and at times, implicit, media messages about race.

Continue to create space for children to ask their growing questions about race and racism.  And if you don’t know the answers or how to respond, it’s okay to say, “I need to think about that and get back to you,’ and then do some reading to increase your own knowledge.


Outdoor Winter Safety: Staying Safe During Winter Activities

January 12, 2015

116577-300x200-KidswintersafetyOriginally posted here.

As the weather turns chilly, new dangers for kids are appearing; but these winter safety tips for children can help keep them safe, warm and healthy through the coldest months of the year.

Why Winter can be Dangerous

Winter weather can be dangerous in several ways. The dropping temperatures and wind chills create climatic hazards, while the general indoor lethargy of winter can create health hazards due to overeating and less activity. Winter sports, holiday gifts and winter nutrition also present unique hazards that parents should be aware of in order to safeguard their children’s health and well-being. With careful planning and supervision, however, children can enjoy the fun and freedom of playing indoors or outdoors on chilly winter days without substantial risk.
Not every type of winter hazard is applicable to every child, but understanding the basic risks and how to minimize them can help parents protect their children from the ravages of winter.

Playing Outside

The cold temperatures and biting winds are the most obvious hazards when children play in the snow. Children who are not prepared for winter climates can suffer frostbite, hypothermia and severe chills that can lead to illness, poor judgment and even permanent injury. To avoid the dangers of cold weather:

  • Dress in multiple layers to play outside, including extra layers for legs, feet and hands.
  • Always wear hats and gloves when playing outdoors in cold weather; the biggest proportions of body heat are lost through the head and hands.
  • Limit the amount of time spent playing outdoors to safe intervals, and bring children inside periodically to warm up.
  • Remove all wet clothing immediately and change to dry clothes if going back outdoors.
  • Wear sunscreen on all exposed skin to guard against burns from bright sunlight and snow glare.
  • Do not permit children to play outdoors in poor weather such as snowstorms, extreme cold or high winds.
  • Wear brightly colored outer clothing that is easily seen from a distance.
  • Do not dress children in winter wear with drawstrings – they can cut off circulation and make frostbite a greater threat, and loose drawstrings may present a strangulation hazard.
  • Teach children to avoid playing near snowplow areas.
  • Do not permit children to dig snow tunnels or forts that may collapse and bury them.
  • Avoid snowball fights that can lead to injuries from dangerous projectiles.
  • Keep roofs, gutters and awnings free from snow and icicle buildup that could collapse and injure a child. Similarly, do not permit children to pull icicles from the roof.
  • Teach children never to touch or lick exposed metal (fences, flagpoles, etc.) in winter.
  • Do not allow children to eat snow. It may contain pollutants, dirt, fecal matter or other contaminants, and the cold snow can chill a young child’s body to dangerous levels.
  • Regularly de-ice or sand sidewalks, driveways, patios and other areas where children may play.

Winter Sports

Winter sports can be a great way for children to stay active and enjoy colder temperatures, but each sport presents it own unique hazards. These winter safety tips for children can help them enjoy sports safely and comfortably.

  • Always use proper safety equipment and gear, including sports gogglesand helmets, while playing winter sports.
  • Engage in safe sports behavior such as following the rules of the game and eliminating horseplay that can lead to accidents and injuries.
  • Enroll children in lessons from a qualified professional for advanced winter sports such as figure skating, skiing and snowboarding to ensure they learn safe techniques.
  • Only play winter sports in safe, approved locations rather than using seemingly frozen ponds, unknown hillsides or other potentially dangerous locations.

Staying Healthy

The long days of winter often keep children indoors, which can lead to hours of inactivity. Furthermore, children are more likely to contract illnesses during the winter months because they are in more confined spaces. To stay healthy during the winter, consider these safety tips:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.
  • Teach children proper hand-washing techniques to kill germs and bacteria or use hand sanitizer if necessary.
  • Keep children home from school and other public places if they are sick.
  • Ask a pediatrician about the necessity for flu vaccines for young children.

Holiday Safety Tips

The holidays are a time of fun and excitement, but they can also be dangerous. Inappropriate toys, indulgent foods and unsafe decorations can create hazards that may cause injuries to children of all ages. These safety tips can help avoid the greatest risks:

  • Do not use “candy” style ornaments or holiday decorations that may fool young children.
  • Limit the amount of holiday sweets and treats children are allowed to eat.
  • Choose unbreakable ornaments for safe tree decorations, and be sure no ornaments are small enough to be swallowed.
  • Only give age-appropriate toys and gifts to children.
  • Check toy recall notices for any holiday gift items.

Heating Tips

The natural reaction to falling temperatures is to raise the heat, either through external, supplemental heaters or by turning on a fireplace or other open flames. These safety tips can keep away the winter chill without risk:

  • Keep candles, kerosene lamps, and other open flames out of reach of children at all times.
  • Do not put a space heater in a child’s room.
  • Teach children fire safety procedures, including how to spot potential hazards.
  • Do not allow children to play in fires such as roasting marshmallows in a fireplace.
  • Practice family fire drills to reinforce safe behavior.
  • Do not use electric blankets for young children.

In Conclusion

By following the proper winter safety tips for children, parents can ensure that their sons and daughters will be warm, happy, and safe during the coldest months of the year, and seeing them enjoy winter safely will warm any parent’s heart.

USDA Dietary Guidelines for Children

July 21, 2014

girl-eating-watermelonOriginally posted here.

If we are what we eat, then American kids are Fritos. That’s just one of the major findings from the new USDA Dietary Guidelines. Fries and chips are the only “vegetables” on the list of top 25 calorie sources; fruit juice is the sole “fruit” to make the leaderboard.

The prevalence of these foods plays a big role in the childhood-obesity epidemic, which affects far more than our children’s waist sizes. Many chronic conditions are on the rise among kids, including asthma, allergies, diabetes, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And all of these conditions have been linked to what kids eat. Improving children’s diets in the following three areas that were addressed in the report would go a long way toward helping our kids stay healthy:

Go low when it comes to salt. Most kids over 2 consume too much sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure. White bread is kids’ biggest source of salt because they eat so much of it. Excess sodium is also hidden in many processed, frozen, and restaurant foods. The fix: Go with low-sodium whole grains when choosing bread. Eat at home more often, and choose fresh foods over frozen or processed products.

Get off the SoFAS! This acronym may be the next buzzword in the childhood obesity discussion. SoFAS—“solid fats and added sugars”—make up a whopping 35 percent of our calories and have almost no nutritional value. These unhealthy fats, which are solid at room temperature, are found mostly in butter, stick margarine, and red meat. That means they’re in many children’s-menu staples: pizza, hot dogs, bacon, French fries, and desserts. The fix: Whenever possible, avoid these foods and use oils to replace solid fats when cooking.

Watch the added sugars. Sugars are healthy in whole foods like fruits and milk because these foods also contain nutrients that signal the body to use the sugar correctly. But when they are added to nutritionally empty foods (like many desserts), the natural process is thrown off. The fix: Make sweets an occasional treat in your family. Most important: View these findings as a road map to dietary change. Your children’s health depends on it.

What Does it Take to Be a Nanny of Special Needs Children?

May 16, 2014

Written By Dr. Lindsay Heller, Psy.D. and originally posted here.

Your child’s safety and well-being are the most important thing, and you rely on your nanny to care for your child when you are unable to be there. If you have special needs children, whether the special needs are behavioral, developmental, emotional, or medical, you need someone who knows what they are doing.

Being a nanny for a child with special needs means having the ability to have a lot of patience. The nanny needs to understand the big picture, and understand the child’s behavior as it relates to the larger picture. As with all children, she needs to be able to put the child’s behavior within developmental context and decide what is this child capable of? And what can I expect of this child?

Sometimes these questions really affect the decisions a nanny makes regarding discipline. For example, if a child has a lot of impulse control problems or involuntary muscle movements, that behavior should be put into context and not seen as misbehavior. Look for someone with experience and knowledge.

Esther B. Hess, Ph.D., Executive Director Center for the Developing Mind, says: “Nannies who make the decision to be part of the lives of families with special needs children need to understand the critical importance of the relationship that they will need to create with that child.”

Here are some tips for seeking out the right nanny for your needs.
1) Seek out a nanny with early childhood development units or other classes/certifications.
2) Hire a nanny who has had experience working as a nanny for a child with special needs.
3) If necessary, ask your agency for a nanny who has a medical background such as nursing.
4) If your child has a special diet they need to adhere to, make sure you have a nanny who is open to that approach.
5) Special needs children often attend multiple therapies. If the family agrees, it is important for the nanny to not just drop off the child at the appointment, but if possible go into the therapy and be part of the process.
6) With family’s agreement, seek out clinicians who train all of the adults in the family on how to better create opportunities for reciprocal relationships.
7) Parents with special needs children are often overwhelmed with the magnitude of the responsibilities associated with the disorder. Early in the relationship, nannies need to sit down with the parents to find out how they can be of best support.
Nannies for children with special needs are usually very passionate and look to partner with the family on a big level. These nannies can be extraordinary!

Dr. Heller is a mother of two sweet girls. When she’s not playing “tea party,” she’s a professional nanny consultant known as The Nanny Doctor. She blogs, tweets and facebooks endless nanny wisdom. Check her out here or on Twitter @thenannydoctor.

Kids in Transition

July 25, 2013

By: JoAnne Barrow, INA’s 2013 Nanny of the Year
Originally posted here.

Joanne-Barrow-headshotTransitional periods in a person’s life differ depending on many circumstances. They can be exhilarating and filled with optimism to some and can be equally scary and loaded with anxiety for others. As adults we have the fortitude to see an end in sight, a light at the end of the tunnel. For children it’s not always so clear and instead of recognizing as we do that it’s just a matter of time and we’ll adjust they see no end to the change at hand and therefore these “transitional periods” feel permanent and weigh heavily. I wanted to pose the question of what we as nannies can do to ease these times of uncertainty.

First let’s look at a few examples of transitions children may face. Perhaps one might be the arrival of a new sibling, their beloved nanny might be moving on, or perhaps they’re facing a house move which inevitably means a new neighborhood,  new school, new friends.  Harder still might be the loss of a loved one or family pet, separating or divorcing parents.

Wherever there’s change, there’s more need than ever to provide stability in daily routines. At the same time we can’t be rigid and need to adapt to whatever transition is taking place. Sound like an oxymoron? Well, it is a little; that’s where intuitive thinking, empathy and an unlimited capacity for patience comes in. The list of possibilities where change occurs in life is endless but there are a few universal methods we can all use to help a child in our care cope a little easier.

  • Listen – Reassure them that what they’re feeling is normal and that you understand. Validate their feelings by letting them know you’re sorry they’re struggling, and that you know it must be hard. Kids, like us, feel better just knowing they’re being heard and understood and your patient listening ear goes a long way to providing comfort. You don’t have to try to “fix” the problem, just listen and encourage them to tell their story as often as they feel the need to.
  • Pay extra attention – to noticeable changes in the child’s physical and emotional behavior, sleep, eating and even play patterns. You are a valuable source in recognizing subtle shifts and while it’s never a nanny’s job to diagnose a child, it is her responsibility to bring anything and everything to the parents’ attention so they can take the proper measures to best help their children.
  •  How are YOU coping? – Are you showing fear and worry or hope and optimism?  Nannies are always modeling and times of transition are perfect opportunities to exhibit positivity and resilience.
  • Grieving is a process – There are no right and wrong time frames for dealing with it. You don’t have to guess your way through this challenging time and no one expects you to innately have all the answers. Do some research online; there are many helpful resources available. For those of you who took Dr. Deborah Gilboa’s workshop at conference, Helping Children Cope With Grief, you’ll recall her saying that grief offers opportunities. She went on to tell us how it can help kids form deeper connections, develop self-understanding and reach out for help; and she finished in true Dr. G form by reminding us again that grief builds resilience. So many great take-aways, but my personal favorite was to tell a child who needed a break from their sadness, “Put your worry in my hands for 20 minutes and go play. I’ll hold it for you.” Think about that for a moment…. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone offered to hold your troubles for 20 minutes? What a break!
  • Laughter – A great way to reduce stress and anxiety. Have a good supply of jokes in your repertoire and pop them in at just the right moment. Obviously you’ll need to gauge the situation to be sure a joke’s appropriate, but humor can be a great stress busterDon’t be afraid to be silly either; kids love it when you are and a good belly laugh goes a long way to providing relief in tense situations.
  • Read about it – Visit the library and find an age-appropriate book that addresses the transition in a way your child can understand and relate to.
  • Show empathy – Children aren’t born understanding empathy. It’s a learned skill and they appreciate receiving it when they’re struggling. The more we exhibit empathy, the sooner they learn to pay it forward.
  • Teach them to breathe – When stressed it takes kids all they have to maintain composure. Learning to manage frustrations and emotions with simple breathing techniques can often save a child long before they face the added upset of a meltdown.

Remind them often too that their feelings will change over time and that there will be good times in their life again.

“Blue skies around the corner” as my Nanny Flo would have said. I should note that “Nanny” is what we call our grandmothers in South East England.

Till next time,
Joanne Barrow

Helping Children Cope With Tragedy Related Anxiety

December 20, 2012

This past Friday we witnessed a devastating tragedy as gunman, Adam Lanza, murdered innocent children and some their school’s administration at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. It is hard to find words for such an event when there is no explanation; it is even harder to try to explain it to children.  How do we communicate truth and still allow children to feel safe? How do we answer questions that we don’t know the answers to ourselves? The following article will give you a few tips as you talk with kids at different age levels about a tragedy like this one.

Helping Children Cope With Tragedy Related Anxiety
Original Post from Mental Health America 

Children sense the anxiety and tension in adults around them. And, like adults, children experience the same feelings of helplessness and lack of control that tragedy-related stress can bring about. Unlike adults, however, children have little experience to help them place their current situation into perspective.

Each child responds differently to tragedy, depending on his or her understanding and maturity, but it’s easy to see how an event like this can create a great deal of anxiety in children of all ages because they will interpret the tragedy as a personal danger to themselves and those they care about.

Whatever the child’s age or relationship to the damage caused by tragedy, it’s important that you be open about the consequences for your family, and that you encourage him or her to talk about it.

Quick Tips for Parents

  • Children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they’re safe make sure they get it.
  • Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
  • Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
  • Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.


Behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb sucking, baby talk, or a fear of sleeping alone may intensify in some younger children, or reappear in children who had previously outgrown them. They may complain of very real stomach cramps or headaches, and be reluctant to go to school. It’s important to remember that these children are not “being bad” –they’re afraid. Here are some suggestions to help them cope with their fears:

  • Reassure young children that they’re safe. Provide extra comfort and contact by discussing the child’s fears at night, by telephoning during the day and with extra physical comforting.
  • Get a better understanding of a child’s feelings about the tragedy. Discuss the tragedy with them and find out each child’s particular fears and concerns. Answer all questions they may ask and provide them loving comfort and care. You can work to structure children’s play so that it remains constructive, serving as an outlet for them to express fear or anger.


Children this age may ask many questions about the tragedy, and it’s important that you try to answer them in clear and simple language. If a child is concerned about a parent who is distressed, don’t tell a child not to worry–doing so will just make him or her worry more.

Here are several important things to remember with school-age children:

  • False reassurance does not help this age group. Don’t say tragedys will never affect your family again; children will know this isn’t true. Instead, say “You’re safe now and I’ll always try to protect you,– or–Adults are working very hard to make things safe.” Remind children that tragedys are very rare. Children’s fears often get worse around bedtime, so you might want to stick around until the child falls asleep in order to make him or her feel protected.
  • Monitor children’s media viewing. Images of the tragedy and the damage are extremely frightening to children, so consider limiting the amount of media coverage they see. A good way to do this without calling attention to your own concern is to regularly schedule an activity–story reading, drawing, movies, or letter writing, for example–during news shows.
  • Allow them to express themselves through play or drawing. As with younger children, school-age children sometimes find comfort in expressing themselves through playing games or drawing scenes of the tragedy. Allowing them to do so, and then talking about it, gives you the chance to “re-tell” the ending of the game or the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Part of keeping discussion of the tragedy open and honest is not being afraid to say you don’t know how to answer a child’s question. When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that tragedys are extremely rare, and they cause feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that, even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.


Encourage these youth to work out their concerns about the tragedy. Adolescents may try to down-play their worries. It is generally a good idea to talk about these issues, keeping the lines of communication open and remaining honest about the financial, physical and emotional impact of the tragedy on your family. When adolescents are frightened, they may express their fear through acting out or regressing to younger habits.

  • Children with existing emotional problems such as depression may require careful supervision and additional support.
  • Monitor their media exposure to the event and information they receive on the Internet.
  • Adolescents may turn to their friends for support. Encourage friends and families to get together and discuss the event to allay fears.

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