Parenting, self-esteem, self-regulation, Social and Emotional Learning bullied-300x200

Managing the Disappointment of Perceived Failure and Other Critical Skills

Elizabeth Wilcox

At Beginnings, we accept feelings of failure and frustration. We acknowledge that children are sometimes sad or angry. We respect their right to be disappointed.

Parenting, Early Childhood Education, News, T. Berry Brazelton

A Tribute to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

Elizabeth Wilcox

Reading to children at night, responding to their smiles with a smile, returning their vocalizations with one of your own, touching them, holding them - all of these further a child's brain development and future potential, even in the earliest months. – Dr. T. Berry Brazelton 

March marks the passing of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a world-renowned pediatrician who according to a tribute by Boston Children’s Hospital Chief Executive Sandra Fenwick “redefined how generations of pediatricians and parents view the physical and emotional well-being of children, worldwide.”

Dr. Brazelton was an acclaimed child development expert who revolutionized child-rearing. Noted an obituary in The Washington Post: “He bucked prevailing notions of his time by arguing that babies are not ‘lumps of clay’ but rather expressive beings whose behavior conveys their needs. Rather than instructing parents on child-rearing, he sought to help them read their babies’ cues.”

In addition to his work as a pediatrician, Dr. Brazelton was Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and widely considered one of the most influential scientists, clinicians, and advocates in pediatrics and child development of the twentieth century. According to Brazelton Touchpoints Center, the institute he founded, he was a prolific writer with over 200 scholarly papers and 30 books on pediatrics, child development and parenting. In addition, he developed the now widely used Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale that also bears his name. Recognizing that a baby is already highly developed, the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale evaluates a newborn’s strengths, adaptive responses and possible vulnerabilities.

Touchpoints points out in their tribute to him: “Dr. Brazelton was able to take his scientific findings, and those of his colleagues, and help parlay them into dramatic, nationwide changes in practice, service delivery, and policy.”

Beginnings School and Child Development Center Founder Dr. Donna Housman remarks that Dr. Brazelton's work has deeply influenced the caregiving approach used at Beginnings.

“Dr. Brazelton’s work has been instrumental in informing the development of begin to...ECSEL,” she says. “Our approach is predicated on the knowledge that the early years are critical in a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development and that a responsive, attuned, and sensitive caregiver can foster that growth from birth.”

Dr. Housman adds: “The importance that Dr. Brazelton placed on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children from birth and his recognition of the foundational and reciprocal role that caregivers play in that development was groundbreaking.”

With Dr. Brazelton's death, pediatrics has lost a great clinician, public educator, and ambassador in this important field. His legacy will live on at Beginnings School and Child Development Center and throughout the world.

Parenting, Early Childhood Education, News 2015.06.10_BeginningsSchool-0358-e1458675303159

Parent Endorsement of Beginnings

Elizabeth Wilcox

Dear Beginnings,

First, congratulations on the article in the International Journal of Child Care and Education. Really wonderful to see your research highlighted here!

And, it was a nice reminder of feedback I have been meaning to share with you. Simply, our son is thriving at his new school. His teachers love him and consistently express how impressed they are with his maturity, his ability to read and adapt to the needs and emotions of his classmates, his patience, and his ability to get along with everyone. In all honesty, because he is a September birthday, I discounted some of this to the fact that he might be older than most of his peers. However, I recently learned that more than 50% of the class is already 5 (some before school started) and therefore, it is truly a testament to his growth.

Our son has always been in tune with emotions and empathy and that is one of the reasons the Beginnings approach and philosophy resonated with us. Now, seeing where he is in relation to his peers as well as how seamlessly he made the transition, only reinforces the importance of this work with children. It is HUGE and I wanted to thank you and his amazing teachers for all of the great work here.


Mom of Beginnings Alumnus

Parenting, Early Childhood Education, News

Prepare Your Kids for Daylight Savings

Dr. Donna Housman

With the approach of daylight savings, I always have a few parents reach out to me as to how best to handle the daylight shift. In my experience, I have found children’s adjustment often varies by age. The disruption to the young baby’s sleep schedule is worse than the disruption to older children’s who are sleeping through the night.

This article by Anisa Arsenault on the provides some sage advice. Arsenault draws from the expertise of Kim West, a sleep expert, clinical social worker and author of Good Night, Sleep Tight. "With younger babies, you want to gradually make adjustments to their schedules, starting four or five days before daylight saving," says West, “Move meals, naps and bedtimes a little later; 15 to 20 minutes each day."

West goes on to point out that an hour's difference may be manageable for older children who already sleep through the night, but for toddlers at risk of waking too early, pushing bedtime later 30 minutes on Friday and another 30 minutes on Saturday can help. She goes on to suggest a few tools that can ease the transition, such as light bulbs in the nursery that don’t emit blue wavelengths and room darkening shades.

Consistent follow through remains important in making the transition smooth. Stick to your goodnight plan, even if your child resists. If your child wakes early, don’t break your routine. Attend to the child as you normally would in the middle of the night and then return to your bed. As I often repeat, knowing how to set limits with your child is an invaluable tool in parenting which is one of the most important yet difficult jobs you’ll ever do!

Parenting, emotion knowledge, emotion regulation, emotional competence, News

It's Okay to Tell Your Children You're Angry

Dr. Donna Housman

As a psychologist and founder of a child development center, I work with young children on building emotional competence. Emotional competence, research shows, is a critical foundation in achieving lifelong academic and social success, as well as overall wellbeing.

Emotional competence is comprised of emotion knowledge and emotion regulation. Advances in neuroscience show that by three years of age, 90% of a child’s brain has been developed and that during this time, the maturation of the brain is intricately connected to the ability to manage and control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child noted in 2004, “When feelings are not managed or well regulated well, thinking can be impaired; when the brain is dealing with unregulated emotion, it cannot learn.”

In order to teach children emotional competence, we as adults also need emotional competence. As our childrens’ primary socializers, we need to know how to permit and promote appropriate expressions of behavior so that they can learn through the observation, imitation, modeling, guidance, and responsive reaction that emerge out of our close relationships with them.

But the reality is that permitting and promoting appropriate expressions of behavior in ourselves can sometimes be difficult, particularly when it comes to expressive language. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard adults mislabel emotions, especially when it comes to anger. While Ryan hitting his sister might make Mommy angry, Mommy, perhaps for fear of being too harsh, tells Ryan instead his actions made her sad.

Granularity of language matters, especially when it comes to emotion. A recent article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, points to studies that show that emotional granularity allows people to be more agile at regulating their emotions.

“People who achieve it are also likely to have longer, healthier lives,” she writes. “They go to the doctor and use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness. Cancer patients, for example, have lower levels of harmful inflammation when they more frequently categorize, label, and understand their emotions.”

Feldman Barrett also points out, as we know so well at Beginnings, that schoolchildren who learn more emotion concepts have improved social behavior and academic performance.

Recognition and identification, expression, understanding and regulation are all important parts of emotional competence. To develop it in our children, we need those same skills ourselves. So the next time you are mad at your child for bonking the dog on the head or pulling a sibling’s hair or dumping that lasagna you just burned on the floor, please don’t say you’re sad, if in fact you are angry.

Your child will be better off for it.

Parenting, News

10 Ways Creative Play Helps Kids

Dr. Donna Housman

As adults, when we typically think of play, we embrace the thought of escaping from work, relishing the fantasies of just being able to have fun. Unfortunately for us, we tend to believe that play and work are mutually exclusive. To children, however, play is their "work," and they take it very seriously. As a result, play enables children to acquire some critical developmental skills that can serve them for the rest of their lives.

There are many definitions of play, but play here refers to creative, imaginative recreation created and directed by children (such as make-believe play, block play, etc.). Allowing children to self-direct their play gives them creative control and ownership of their domain, allowing them to express themselves in an uninhibited manner. In turn, their curiosity is fed, stretching their minds and promoting further learning.

Here is a top 10 list of the benefits of play for young children.

  1. Dramatic play develops self-control and self-regulation. While play is often associated with freedom, dramatic play is actually self-regulated. Take the example of children playing firemen: if a child begins crying, another child will point out that firemen don't cry and self-control must be exercised if the child is continue to play that role.
  2. Role-playing increases a child's concentration and attention span. Research shows that a child's ability to control their impulses is stronger when imaging a dramatic scene rather than a non-play situation. When asked to stand still for as long as possible, four-year-old children typically did not make it past one minute. But when asked to imagine themselves as castle guards, the children stood still for as long as four minutes.
  3. Play is one of the vital signs and contributors of health in children. Many health professionals see a direct link between the decline of active outdoor play and the increasingly alarming rise in childhood obesity.
  4. Engaging in active and creative play gives children a place to vent their stress and pent-up energy. Many experts feel that the rise in childhood anxiety and aggression can be linked to the increased focus on kindergarten curriculum on standardized testing and the corresponding decrease in indoor and outdoor creative playtime.
  5. Different types of play cultivate different fundamental developmental skills. "Large-motor" play, more commonly known as playground romping (sliding, climbing, swinging, etc.) develops coordination, balance, and a sense of self-awareness and of the space around oneself. Small-motor play, such as puzzle-making and stringing beads, develops fine-motor control, as well as dexterity. Rules-based play requires children to exercise self-control, as well as perform the social negotiation skills needed to adapt rules to changing scenarios.
  6. Role-playing promotes observation skills and increases verbal expression. Creating and filling out a fully-fashioned character requires children to drawn on their observations of the world around them. To communicate these observations, they further expand their vocabulary, connecting rules of effective communication with social interactions.
  7. Through play, children form hypotheses and play the processes to test them. Initiating special projects such as the production of a play or construction of a pillow fort provides invaluable venues for learning at many levels - learning that involves math, literacy, and even the basis of scientific method.
  8. Play teaches children the importance of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion. Play allows children to internalize critical concepts and act out real life in an enjoyable, flexible manner that focuses on the process of learning, not the product.
  9. Play is linked to academic success. Research directly correlates play to children's ability to master such academic content as literacy and numeracy, problem-solving strategies, and group participation.
  10. Play fosters a child's social and emotional development. Play develops a child's executive center, which controls the higher brain functions associated with social and emotional abilities.

As a whole, research proves that creative play helps to develop, strengthen, and heighten children's creative, cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills. It further promotes and enhances concentration, self-control, and regulation--all critical in achieving academic, social, and personal success throughout life.

Parenting, News

How to Deal With Your Child’s Tantrum

Dr. Donna Housman

We’ve all been there – you’re in public and suddenly your child becomes uncontrollable. People are staring, store managers are whispering, and flight attendants are being complained to.

What can be done?

When people see an unruly child, the general response may be: “That kid is a brat” or “Lazy parents, why don’t they discipline their child?”

Well, tut-tut to the judgmental masses.

There is no degree for parenthood, no online certification or weekend crash-course for the soon-to-be parent. Raising children is difficult, and raising healthy, socially aware and well-behaved children is one of the great challenges of life.

In fact, parenthood is likely the hardest job you’ll ever do, and you don’t even get an intro YouTube video for it. But parenting strategies can help, even with a tempter tantrum. Below is an example of one common scenario of a troublesome tot and a four-step process to help you respond. Read it and then think through a similar approach to the situations below it. With practice, you too can learn how to better cope with those inevitable tantrums.

Situation: It’s the end of the day and you need to go grocery shopping, but your child is tired. Cranky and disagreeable, he starts crying and running around the aisles.

What you can do: Develop an alternative solution. At the heart of this temper tantrum is a clash of parent and child agendas. Instead of imposing your agenda – the need to finish shopping without tearing down the aisles – try following these steps:

  1. Describe the problem to your child and give reasons.

    “I don’t like what is going on – It’s disturbing to shoppers when children  run in the aisles.”

  1. Talk about your child’s feelings.

    “Tired, huh?”

  1. Involve your child in finding a solution.

    “It would be helpful if you picked out three big lemons for us.”

  1. Reinforce the lesson: When you next go shopping and your child wants to go with you, try the following dialogue:

    Child: “I want to go too!”

    Parent: “Not today.”

    Child: “Why not?”

    Parent: “You tell me why?” (Prompt for correct answer if necessary, but do not supply it wholesale.)

    Child: “Because I ran around the store?”

    Parent: “You guessed it. There will be plenty of other chances to go, but today I’m going by myself.”

Now think through the below two situations and come up with your own response, based on the above four-step process.

  • Your eldest child is having a birthday party at home. While opening presents, your younger child grabs the box and rips the paper off and throwing it around the room. What you can do?
  • While on a play date, your child demands to use the one swing, pulling it away from the other children. What you can do?

Remember, when raising toddlers, don’t forget to set limits. Limit setting is a parent’s best friend. The process of setting limits offers structure and teaches the connection between actions and consequences. When consistently followed, setting limits helps.


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