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the early years

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Q: We’d like to get our 4-year-old involved in gardening this summer so she can learn more about how plants grow and where food comes from. What are some pint-sized projects that would be fun and easy for her to tackle in the garden?

Q: We’ve all witnessed a toddler screaming in a restaurant or acting out while food is on the table. Now that our daughter is entering toddlerhood, what are some ways to not only prevent this bad behavior at dinnertime, but also teach her to have good table manners?

Q: When I’m trying to put together lunch or make dinner, my toddler is always climbing up my leg and it’s hard to get anything done with one arm. How can I get her involved in the kitchen? Are there any appropriate tasks she can handle at that age?

Q: My husband and I are concerned about our 2-year-old’s behavior. While on a recent playdate, he decided to embed his teeth in his playmate’s arm. We were horrified but not sure how to discipline our pint-sized vampire. Why do toddlers bite and what’s the best way to deal with the situation?

Q: My toddler is always shouting “Mine!” as she grabs any and every toy from her playmate. I’ve told her that she can’t keep all the best toys to herself when she’s with other kids, but she doesn’t seem to get it. How can I teach her to share?

Q: My 3-year-old is just starting to show an interest in arts and crafts, and I’m eager to encourage her creativity. Do you have any suggestions for activities that we could enjoy together?

Q: My 3-year-old daughter is interested in helping with chores, but the jobs she wants to do – washing the dog and vacuuming – are too big for her. What are some tasks that are just the right size?

Q: We’re planning to take a long flight with our very squirmy toddler. Any tips (or tricks) for stress-free flying with our tiny traveler?

Q: I think my son has social anxiety. He went to a birthday party – with a bouncy castle, games, costumed characters and balloons everywhere – but he still wanted to stay attached to my leg instead of joining in on the fun. Should I be worried? And are there any strategies I can use to help him get comfortable in a crowd?

Q: My son is a pretty good eater, but refuses to eat vegetables. What are some tips for getting toddlers to eat their vegetables?

Q: My 27-month-old daughter still hasn’t started talking, even though she understands almost everything we ask her to do. She’s smart, but should I be concerned that she might have a speech disability?

Q: I’m trying to introduce potty training to my 25-month-old, but it seems like she feels it’s more of a punishment to be on the potty than an exciting hurdle. Is there a way I can make this a fun experience for her?

Q: My child is having trouble with separation when I bring him to preschool. What are some ways I can mitigate his reaction when I’m about to leave?

We’d like to get our 4-year-old involved in gardening this summer so she can learn more about how plants grow and where food comes from. What are some pint-sized projects that would be fun and easy for her to tackle in the garden?

Make the garden a place of joy. Planting is fun but before even heading out to the garden, germinate seeds indoors. Bean seeds are big and easy to handle. They are especially spectacular when they germinate. Put the seeds on a moistened paper towel sheet. Roll them up and place in a plastic bag that you keep on the kitchen counter. Five to seven days later, I guarantee you will hear a huge exclamation of surprise when you unroll the paper towel to see if the seeds have sprouted.

Kids love dirt and rocks. Make sure to involve him or her in preparing the garden soil. Get child-sized gloves and tools, and let your budding gardener get dirty. A bucket becomes an indispensable tool. It can be used for picking rocks, moving soil or adding compost. Make sure it’s the right size for your child to handle.

Lay out garden pathways and plant in beds so that your youngster doesn’t have to worry about where to walk. Beds can be raised by raking soil from path areas. When the two of you plant, you make the holes for seeds to control spacing and let your child drop in the seed. Switch jobs when planting in furrows. You sow the seed and let your son or daughter pat soil over the top.

Your child will learn to garden by being in the garden with you. No good plant, bad plant lessons at this age. Weeding and thinning are out. Visit the garden regularly, especially when not planning to do any work. See if there are any butterflies or other pollinators present. Check on how tall the peas have gotten.

Exploring for vegetables that are ready to pick will teach your child where food comes from. When you’re a 4-year-old, digging for potatoes is like digging for gold. The best part? Children who grow their own veggies are more likely to eat them – a great way to sow the seeds of healthy eating.

Julie Riley teaches gardening for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Children have helped her to experience the garden from a fresh perspective.

We’ve all witnessed a toddler screaming in a restaurant or acting out while food is on the table. Now that our daughter is entering toddlerhood, what are some ways to not only prevent this bad behavior at dinnertime, but also teach her to have good table manners?

Dining out with young children can be quite challenging, but it can also be fun! Come prepared with activities and options for your toddler. Toddlers are entering an age in which independence is realized and deeply desired; offering a toddler choices is a fantastic way to engage their interest while instilling a sense of self. Prepare easily manageable table activities ahead of time, and organize them in large Ziploc bags that slip easily into your diaper bag. Activities such as laminated sheets of paper with dry erase markers, lacing sheets with yarn, counting and sorting activities and books are just a few suggestions. We like to call these “busy bags”! It is important to keep your child occupied at the table as you wait for your food to arrive; boredom results in acting out.

Meal time is an opportunity for fellowship. When possible, enjoy meals served family style, so that the child is able to choose what is put on their plate and how much. A child’s interest in a meal grows tremendously when they are involved in the process. While serving or enjoying your meal, keep your child focused and engaged by talking with them about the food you are eating, where it came from and how it was prepared. Lead by example and demonstrate the table manners and positive behavior you expect from your child during social meal times. Remember to say please and thank your wait staff throughout the dining experience, encourage your child to do the same and speak with your voice at the same volume you expect them to speak at. Go prepared and public dining experiences with your child will be fun, exciting and educational!

Karlene Harris is the Program Administrator for Bright Beginnings Early Learning Centers. She has worked in early childhood education for approximately nine years and holds a National Administrators Credential from the National Institute of Child Care Management.
Visit brightbeginningselc.com.

When I’m trying to put together lunch or make dinner, my toddler is always climbing up my leg and it’s hard to get anything done with one arm. How can I get her involved in the kitchen? Are there any appropriate tasks she can handle at that age?

Mealtime can be one of the hardest times for toddlers and their parents. Children are hungry and parents may feel rushed. It is great when you can turn this around and make it fun. Preparing food together is a great way to spend meaningful time together. A first step is washing hands together to make sure your toddler begins with clean hands. Find a stable place for your toddler to work while you supervise. There are many things they can do to help in the kitchen:

  • Wash vegetables and fruit.

  • Cut soft fruits and veggies with a butter knife.

  • Tear lettuce, spinach and kale.

  • Help set the table.

  • Talk with you about what you’re making.

  • Fill measuring cups with ingredients.

  • Mix ingredients.

  • Spread jam or mayonnaise on sandwiches.

Before the meal, they can help you shop for ingredients. Toddlers can fill bags, practice counting with produce and find items on your shopping list. They can even help you grow a small container garden with lettuce or fresh herbs.

Of course, keep the little ones away from the stove/oven and knives. Sometime it really just does not work to have help in the kitchen for safety reasons or maybe you are in a rush. Try to have supplies handy at those times to engage your children in other activities they can do nearby while you work, like play dough, coloring crayons or building blocks.

Now that you have worked so hard together to create a meal, be sure to eat as a family. Turn off distractions and spend some time talking to each other. Many studies show that mealtime with families can help a child’s development.

Kari van Delden, M Ed., is an assistant professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. She works as the agent for Health, Home and Family Development and Youth Development programs for the Northwest District based in Nome.

My husband and I are concerned about our 2-year-old’s behavior. While on a recent playdate, he decided to embed his teeth in his playmate’s arm. We were horrified but not sure how to discipline our pint-sized vampire. Why do toddlers bite and what’s the best way to deal with the situation?

The good news is you don’t need to stock up on cloves of garlic to ward off a potential toddler vampire. You may be surprised to learn biting is a typical behavior of young children due to their lack of communication skills, impulsivity, and oral needs to relieve pain from teething. Knowing your toddler bit a friend on a playdate makes me think he was trying to communicate feelings of frustration or being threatened. He didn’t have the skills yet to calmly tell his friend, “Wait, I had that first,” or “Excuse me, you’re in my way,” so he used biting to convey this message.

To stop biting, you may have gotten the advice to bite the child back, but I disagree with this as it reinforces biting as an acceptable behavior. Instead, use the following strategies to prevent this behavior:

• Positioning yourself close to the children to have the ability to intervene quickly.

• State rules positively by saying “Teeth are for chewing food.”

• Ensure snacks/meals are offered frequently and include a variety of textures to chew.

• Provide items the child can chew on, such as teething toys or frozen wash cloths.

• Redirect biting to the appropriate item they can chew.

• Read to the child simple board books about biting.

Another strategy to use when your son bites again, because it will happen, is to focus the attention on the child who was bitten rather than give negative attention to your son. You can tell him “biting hurts” and include him in caring for his friend so he will eventually learn empathy for the child who was injured.

Understanding what occurred prior to the biting helps you recognize what may have influenced the behavior and allows you to view the behavior as age appropriate. If the biting increases in frequency, it may help to document what occurred along with the date and time. You may be able to find patterns, such as biting occurs shortly before lunch because he’s hungry. This information can further support you in preventing biting in the future.

Cassie Hulse, M.Ed, has been involved in the early education field for over 25 years and in addition to a master’s degree in adult education has an undergraduate degree in early childhood. Currently the Director of Professional Development at thread, Cassie advances the quality of early care and learning through training and consultation services for those working in the early education field. Visit threadalaska.org.

My toddler is always shouting “Mine!” as she grabs any and every toy from her playmate. I’ve told her that she can’t keep all the best toys to herself when she’s with other kids, but she doesn’t seem to get it. How can I teach her to share?

Given that each child is different, here are some strategies that may prove helpful.

Talk it through. Have a conversation with your child about how they feel when someone takes a toy from them. Do they like it? What do they want to happen when a friend takes a toy from them? How do they feel about the friend? About the toy? Explain that we don’t take toys from our friends when they are playing with them. The child may not like sharing, or want to share, but we all have to share, even as adults.

Take turns. Set a time limit for each child to take turns with the toy. If they each know that in two minutes the favorite toy will be theirs again, they will watch how the friend plays with the toy and try playing in different ways with the toy when it is their turn. Maybe the kids can play together with the toy. If the favorite toy is a car, maybe they can each have a car and play cars together, taking turns with the favorite.

Distract or redirect. When it is the other child’s turn with the toy, give your child a different toy or activity to do while they are waiting for their turn. Sing a song or read a book to keep your child actively engaged instead of focused on their friend playing with the toy.

Practice, practice, practice. Have your child practice sharing every day. If your child is an only child, have them share their toys with friends, dolls, stuffed animals, adults – anyone, EVERYDAY. Consistency is key.

As with all things related to children, please remember that this is just a stage. This too shall pass. Soon you will have a new challenge to overcome with your child.

Marcy Richards lives in Eagle River and is the mother of three girls, ages 10, 4 and 19 months. She is Co-Director of the Joy Greisen JEC which provides infant and toddler care, preschool, pre-K, camp and after-school for children ages 3 months to 15 years. jecalaska.com

My 3-year-old is just starting to show an interest in arts and crafts, and I’m eager to encourage her creativity. Do you have any suggestions for activities that we could enjoy together?

There are several ways you can encourage creativity with your toddler through playful activity. Crayons and watercolors are perfect for this age. Scribbling is our very first communication, even before words. As adults, we tend to look at scribbling as a waste of paper, but if you consider that art is motivated by emotion, your child’s scribbles will begin to communicate her feelings to you. When a child finishes a picture, instead of asking, “What is it?” use a more open-ended question, such as “Tell me about your picture” to encourage communication. I would also suggest getting a pair of safety scissors and showing your toddler how to use them – with their thumb through the top loop, little fingers in the bottom loop – and make chomping noises as the scissors open and close. You can add a level of difficulty by drawing wiggly, jagged lines or circles on paper and having them cut on the lines. Once your budding artist feels confident with these activities, you can combine them to make projects! One project idea is to glue down bits of paper to create a collage, which is a precursor to a mosaic. If you sprinkle sea salt over a wet water color painting, the salt will draw the color in and create an interesting effect. Circles can become faces, squares with a triangle on top become houses. Enjoy this time with your toddler and embrace your creativity while you help foster hers!

Jennifer Stratton is the owner of Kaleidoscape Play Studio and a nationally recognized Play Advocate. Her mission is to strengthen families through playful activity in a space where creativity is more of a focus than rubric. kplaystudio.com

My 3-year-old daughter is interested in helping with chores, but the jobs she wants to do – washing the dog and vacuuming – are too big for her. What are some tasks that are just the right size?

What a great question! There are many jobs around the house that your 3-year-old daughter can take part in. These small tasks can help her feel included in daily activities and can help build her self confidence and self-help skills.

I would suggest looking at your daily schedule and incorporating small tasks or chores into a routine. In the morning small tasks may include putting PJ’s in the hamper or helping set the table for breakfast. At lunch time she could help spread peanut butter on the bread or take dishes to the sink when done eating. In the evening she could scoop food into the dog’s bowl or help water house plants or the garden outside.

Get creative in thinking of ways of including her in your activities around the house. If you are folding laundry, she could help fold two socks together and then throw the socks into the laundry basket. If you are vacuuming the floor, maybe there is a small broom that is reserved just for her so that she can sweep while you vacuum. The more she feels included in daily activities the more her self confidence and self-help skills will grow. And remember to have fun! The more we can turn parts of our daily routine into a fun time spent with our kids the better!

Anna Maguire is a Certified Home Visitor in the Parents as Teachers Curriculum and Parenting Coach at the Resource Center for Parents and Children. For information, visit rcpcfairbanks.org.

We’re planning to take a long flight with our very squirmy toddler. Any tips (or tricks) for stress-free flying with our tiny traveler?

Flying with small children is going to be stressful, no matter how well-prepared you may be, but there are a few tricks parents can deploy, especially for long flights.

First, consider purchasing your small child (under 2) his or her own seat. While the cost may seem prohibitive, it may pay off in the long run with a toddler who understands the “car seat rule” and remains relatively quiet for longer stretches of time. Alaska residents are fortunate to have the option of mileage plans with companion fares and special deals; look for these at Alaska Airlines (alaskaair.com).

Pack wisely. Add more snacks than you think you’ll need, small toys like stackable cups, board books, pipe cleaners, rubber bath toys (they are durable and quiet, usually). We packed necklaces made of cereal “o’s” and passed them out at random moments. Our son also enjoyed listening to stories via portable DVD player (or tablet). Most kids have a “lovey” they will insist flies, too, and a favorite blanket and small pillow might make for a more comfortable experience. Flight attendants will do what they can to help make a trip more bearable for parents; ask for assistance if you need it.

If there are two adults in the party, have one adult take advantage of pre-boarding with car seat and extra carry-on luggage while the second adult waits behind and boards near the end of the line. Toddlers can then stretch their legs and not have to sit for nearly an hour before actual departure.

Make sure all children have something to suck on (lollipop, pacifier, bottle or nursing) during take off and landing, as pressure changes in the ears can make kids miserable, no matter their age.

Above all, remember that every single individual on that airplane was once a toddler. None of us can predict how our children will react to new situations, so stay calm, smile a lot and don’t rush. You’ll get there.

Erin Kirkland is the author of Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children. She is also publisher of AKontheGO.com, Alaska’s only family travel resource.

I think my son has social anxiety. He went to a birthday party – with a bouncy castle, games, costumed characters and balloons everywhere – but he still wanted to stay attached to my leg instead of joining in on the fun. Should I be worried? And are there any strategies I can use to help him get comfortable in a crowd?

Some children have a more introverted personality. They are born that way. In this situation I would walk with my son to the various activities and engage the children in a brief conversation; perhaps even consider doing the activity with your son. He has fear about the interaction with peers. So without telling him to do anything, start to interact yourself so he can see that the kids won’t eat him alive. Let him see what great fun you are having joining in. He may want you nearby as he goes down the slide or enters the bouncy house. That’s okay. Remember it is gradual exposure that will do the trick; nothing sudden or harsh.

Sheila Smith has worked as a licensed clinical social worker for 25 years, treating children, adults, couples and families, and specializing in anxiety disorder. For more information, visit fairbankscounselingassociates.com.

My son is a pretty good eater, but refuses to eat vegetables. What are some tips for getting toddlers to eat their vegetables?

Toddlers can be a bit frustrating at mealtimes. You want to make sure they eat nutritious foods and yet some seem to stall at every effort. Three of the most important tools you have as an adult is patience, persistence and role modeling. Offer those foods your toddler doesn’t seem to like off and on. Be careful not to make a big deal about them or create an uncomfortable atmosphere. Be enthusiastic about eating them yourself, showing delight in the color, the texture and the taste. Act it up if you want. Always ask if they would like to try just one bite but again try not to turn it into an uncomfortable situation. Avoid bribing. That sends the message that vegetables require something fun to eat them, therefore they must not be good. If you bribe with dessert, it puts more focus on the dessert rather than the nourishing vegetables. If your toddler refuses one day, it doesn’t mean they will refuse forever. Try again in a few days. Try a particular vegetable in different ways. Sometimes it is simply the presentation. Try introducing a new food or vegetable with something they enjoy.

Another tip is to avoid letting your child eat too many snacks. If they really aren’t very hungry at mealtimes they will tend to be more picky. If they absolutely refuse any vegetable, you can add shredded carrots and cabbage to meatloaf. See if a soup would be more appetizing for them. Dice the vegetables small so they are easy to manage. Add finely diced vegetables to pasta.

Again patience, persistence and role modeling in a supportive, positive atmosphere, in my opinion, are the best tools to have.

Marsha Munsell is the health, home and family development program assistant at the Tanana District Cooperative Extension Service School of Natural Resources at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. For information, visit uaf.edu/ces/hhfd.

My 27-month-old daughter still hasn’t started talking, even though she understands almost everything we ask her to do. She’s smart, but should I be concerned that she might have a speech disability?

Typically children will begin saying their first words by 12 months of age. By 24 months, children usually have a vocabulary of more than 50 words, using 2-3 words in a phrase when talking with you or while playing. Although your child’s lack of speech isn’t typical, it may not be a cause for great concern. Try not to jump to conclusions such as disabilities and disorders! Some children seem to wait until they have a deep understanding of language before they begin talking. However, if you are concerned about your child’s development, contact your pediatrician. In this case, your pediatrician will direct you to a local speech-language pathologist for an evaluation. The earlier a speech delay is detected, the easier it is to treat and the greater the progress will be. In the meantime, there are some things that you can do during play with your child to help: sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child, teach animal sounds, introduce single sounds such as “b-b-b” and “mmmmmmm” during routines or while eating, and use small and simple words that are easy to repeat. It is a good sign that your child appears to understand what you are saying; this means that their receptive language, or how much of what you say is understood, may be developing normally. With your continued support, and the support from a speech pathologist, your child should begin to develop functional communication and experience no lasting negative effects.

Lindsey Kennedy, CFY-SLP, is a speech therapist with All for Kids Pediatric Therapy where she loves working with children. For more information, visit allforkidsalaska.com.

I’m trying to introduce potty training to my 25-month-old, but it seems like she feels it’s more of a punishment to be on the potty than an exciting hurdle. Is there a way I can make this a fun experience for her?

Every child is not ready to potty train at the same age. I would recommend stopping efforts to potty train her if she thinks it is punishment. Instead, praise her when she tells you she is wet or messy so you can change her as soon as possible. To get her more comfortable with the potty chair, have her sit on it (with clothes on) when you read to her. When she seems more comfortable, you can try offering rewards, but some children are just not interested until they are closer to age 3 (or sometimes older). We don’t potty train our children, they potty train themselves when they are ready.

Dr. Martin Beals has more than 35 years experience working in general pediatrics. He joined the Alaska Center for Pediatrics in May 2001. For more information, visit akpeds.com.

Easing Separation Anxiety

My child is having trouble with separation when I bring him to preschool. What are some ways I can mitigate his reaction when I’m about to leave?

It is not uncommon for children to experience some separation anxiety at drop off, especially if it is a new environment. There are a few things that you can do to ease the transition. Have conversations with your child about their preschool; for example, ask them what their favorite activity during the day is and what their favorite toy is. Use these references during drop off: “Look Sally, here is the truck you like.” Try to follow a morning routine at home and drop off at the same time each day. Let the child bring a comfort item; it could be a picture or a stuffed animal to remind them of home. Establish a routine with the caregiver so that when you are ready to say goodbye, the caregiver is able to step in and comfort your child while you leave. When saying goodbye stay calm and speak matter-of-factly: “I love you and will pick you up after you eat snack.” Try not to linger during this process as that often creates more anxiety. Resist the urge to “sneak out” without saying goodbye. Children are often more frightened and more upset when they look for you and you are gone without realizing you left. Feel free to give the preschool a call during the day to check in and see how your child is doing. Most often the child has stopped crying moments after drop off.

As the enrollment administrator at Bright Beginnings Early Learning Center, Ashlee Jendrusina works with new families on a daily basis to place and assist them into the Center’s five locations in Anchorage and Eagle River.

For information, visit brightbeginningsELC.com