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How to Teach Kids to Set & Achieve Goals at a Young Age

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As parents, one time or another we have all experienced the frustration of knowing our children aren’t trying hard enough to accomplish we know they are more than able to do. While the initial reaction would be to harp and push, it’s important not to get overly excited about their lack of ambition and instead turn your efforts into teaching them how to set and reach goals – even at a young age.

It’s not as difficult as you may think to instill the importance of goal setting in your children. With a few simple steps you can plant the seed: 

  • Start by looking for ways your child already sets goals, even though they may not realize that’s what they’re doing. For example, if they are trying get their favorite video game and saving up any extra money he or she gets. Take this opportunity to discuss the steps that will need to be taken in order to get the rest of the money for the game. Explain how good it feels to work toward something and actually make it happen.
  • Start small – Help your child pick a small, fun goal that can be reached in a relatively short amount of time – maybe a craft project or finishing a short book. Starting with small goals is a great way to teach children to work toward bigger goals.
  • Let them be involved in choosing the goals they want to reach. Sure we want them to have straight A’s or make the honor roll each grading period or make the sports team but these may be more YOUR goals than theirs. Letting them choose what they want to achieve is often better because it allows them to take ownership of the steps needed to reach them, as well as the actual accomplishment.
  • Be supportive – as your child begins to work toward setting and reaching their goals, be the biggest cheerleader you can be for them. Applaud their efforts no matter how big or small and let them know you see how hard they are trying. It’s never too early to start instilling the importance of setting and reaching goals in your children.
  • And while these steps are a great way to get the ball rolling, remember that we are our children’s biggest teachers so be prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

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Family Fun on a Shoestring

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Blue Skies Exploration Academy

Have family fun on a shoestring budget!

It’s a common thing today: most families have two working parents. It’s a must just to survive, let alone for a family to have anything extra like even a small vacation. Even if you’re careful to watch every penny spent, there are still plenty of ways to have some family fun even on a shoestring.

• Season passes: Whether you’re heading to a theme park, water park or zoo, most will offer season passes at a decent discount. If you live close enough that you could visit one of these places often, don’t be put off by the initial dollar amount investment and buy the season pass. You’ll find that because of the discounted prices, most season passes pay for themselves in just a couple of visits. Although the passes only cover the price of admission it can still save you money on food by allowing you to leave the park to eat and be readmitted without being penalized.

• Do you have a second-run theatre near you? These are theatres that play new release movies, but after they’ve already been released in the big theatres. What’s the point? Well think about it this way: when you go to see a new release when it first comes out, you’re likely to spend $8-$10 per ticket, per person. With a family of 4 or more, you’re looking at $40 in tickets and that’s before you buy snacks and drinks. A second-run theatre will play the same movie in its entirety but a few weeks after it’s considered a “new release”. These theatres tend to charge $5 or less per ticket. Worth the wait don’t you think?

• Consider the minors. If you are a family of sports enthusiasts but can’t quite swing the cost of even general admission tickets to see your favorite sports team, consider checking out a local minor league game instead, or even a local high school or college game. These smaller teams have smaller venues and typically smaller audiences so they do what they can to fill the seats – even charge as little as $5 for a general admission ticket. Some will even offer a ticket and snack package. There are few better memories than snacking on a ball park hot dog in the cheap seats.

These are just a few ideas to get your creativity flowing. Just because you’re watching your pennies doesn’t mean you have to sit at home on the couch and watch each other. Get creative and I’m sure you’ll find something you, your family and your wallet can all agree on.

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Wellness Fair

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Blue Skies Exploration Academy is having a Wellness Fair–and you’re invited! Make sure you mark your calendars today!!

Wellness Fair flier

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Social Skills

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 The Top Three Social Skills Your Child Must Master

Have you ever found a colleague to be annoying, rude or too self-centered? Perhaps you have a colleague who is too easily offended or one who is always engaging in one-upmanship. Have you ever wondered why these people did not learn how to get along with others somewhere along the way? These people may never have been taught how to properly navigate their emotions and social situations.

Quality Early Childhood Educators value the role of great social skills as a crucial component of early education. A good Early Childhood Educator cares passionately about helping children learn to be socially successful. They do not want your child to grow up to be the co-worker that others avoid.

While temperament types (Flexible, Fearful or Feisty) are fairly well set from birth, social skills are best learned at a young age. Two of the most important skills a child can learn before entering kindergarten are to get along well with others and understand the rules of social situations.

Quality Early Childhood Educators care deeply about working with families to help children learn to operate in and be successful in many social situations by supporting children in learning how to manage emotions and negotiate with others.

Imagine being the child who enters kindergarten with few social skills. It is demoralizing to enter the classroom each day as “that kid”—the one who is frequently being redirected, scolded, avoided, or punished for not being able to negotiate social situations. Imagine being the child who can’t seem to figure out how to get along with others and make friends.

“That kid” frequently loses the enthusiasm and joy young children have about school much faster than their peers. They also have fewer friends and tend to have friends who also have difficulty with social situations.

An adult who is too easily offended is difficult to be around and has very little chance of long-term success at work and in personal situations. Some of these people withdraw or cry while others respond with anger and abuse. This is a person who needed positive support as a child to guide him/her in how to deal with criticism or teasing.

This support was lacking for this child who grew up to find frustration and fear when dealing with others. An adult who provokes others by bullying, taking credit for the work of others, and not taking “no” for an answer is often someone who struggles with self-doubt and has responded to that insecurity by being aggressive.

Your child’s pre-school and child care should place a high value on social skills as it is a strong indicator of future success at home, school and work. Ask your child’s teacher about how he/she is helping children identify emotions, deal with emotions and get along with others. Since different educational philosophies emphasize different skills consider if your child care or pre-school places a strong value on social skills.

Talk to your center director and your child’s teacher. Ask about your child’s temperament and how it helps or hinders social skills development. Ask about ways you might help your child be more successful in handling emotions and social situations.

The top three social skills for preschoolers are:

  • Getting along with others
  • Understanding the rules of social situations
  • Dealing with criticism or teasing

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The Three Main Temperament Types

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What temperament type is your child?

Understanding your child’s temperament can make your relationship much more close and rewarding. Your child’s temperament determines how you should help your child negotiate social situations.

While the majority of children fall into the “Flexible” temperament, your child might be withdrawn or very active placing them in a different category. Understanding your child’s temperament may help you ease your child’s time in child care or school as well as help with understanding your child at home.

As a parent, you might consider many issues about temperament. How do you know what temperament your child has? Why is it important to know? How can you use your child’s temperament to guide your discipline methods and foster social skills?

Read on for a brief description of the three main temperament types. Look for a general description that matches your child in most situations.

The “Fearful” child adapts slowly to situations and may withdraw. An older child may be fearful of taking risks such as answering questions or volunteering answers in class. The young child may play alone, engage in parallel play longer than is normal, or spend a lot of time watching the other children from the edge of the playground or from the safety of a care provider’s arms.

A Feisty” child displays several traits such as, being active, intense, distractible, sensitive, irregular in sleep patterns or appetite, and may be moody. A feisty child may lash out at others as it is often difficult for him/her to learn to control his/her feelings.

Fortunately, most children fall into the “Flexible” or easy temperament with traits such as regular sleeping and eating rhythms, generally positive moods, adaptability, low intensity, and low sensitivity. The young Flexible child may have a few moments of difficulty or withdrawal at times or in a specific environment, but he/she generally calm and steady.

A few children will have a mix of temperaments such as the generally Flexible child who can sometimes display the characteristics of a Feisty child when under stress. Another generally Flexible child might become withdrawn in very new situations but might warm up quickly if a friend appears or if the other children are inviting and positive.

Once you identify what temperament your child has it becomes easier to support him/her in social situations. It also helps to explain some of the behaviors or habits you might find confusing. It is entirely possible that your child has a different temperament than you do.

Whatever your child’s temperament may be, you can provide support for your child’s success at home and at school or child care. Talk with your child’s teacher to see what he/she sees as your child’s temperament at school (it can be slightly different than at home) and develop plans for supporting positive emotional expression and social skills.

Your child’s care givers should be very interested and concerned about providing temperament-specific care. Understanding your child’s temperament leads to a rich, supportive relationship at home and creates a more confident learner and community member when your child moves into child care or school.

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Superheroes!

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BIFF! BAM! POW!

Is it wrong for little boys and girls to love superheroes? Is it wrong for parents to share the superheroes of their past with their young children? Are the superheroes portrayed in the same way? Why does it matter?

While many parents of today grew up reading superhero comics and watching the 1970’s versions of superheroes cartoons, the comics and cartoons of today are far more graphic and realistic and are marketed to unprecedented levels.

In 1984 the guidelines for what was allowable on children’s television were relaxed and our young parents of today were exposed to increasingly violent and explicit programming that was remarkably different than the programming of the 1970s.

A Generation X parent and a Generation Y parent had very different exposures partially due to deregulation of advertising rules for children but also due to the rapid increase in technology making cartoons far more realistic and dynamic.

Yet, superheroes remain as popular as ever—perhaps even more so. Children of all generations love superheroes—as far back as Homer and even further back to Gilgamesh and on into the distant past, heroes have been adored. Is there something wrong with this?

Our Millenial children not only have fantastic computer animation which creates a very graphic and realistic quality to the programming, but there is ready access to video using smartphones, DVD systems in cars, televisions in children’s bedrooms, ipads and massive orchestrated marketing campaigns making it almost impossible not to be exposed to the superhero culture daily. So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter?

While it seems that it is generally known that the glorification of superheroes and exposure to media portraying superheroes is generally harmful to young children, preschoolers and young elementary children are coming to school and child care with great knowledge of and interest in superheroes.

Enthusiastic parents who loved the Batman of yesteryear are showing the modern versions of superhero shows to their young children but due to the improvements in computer animation and the availability of shows through widespread access we have created a whole new world for the developing child. The brain is still developing the same way it did before the advent of books, comics, tv and movies, so how does the brain make sense of our highly media exposed lives?

Did you know that young boys, under the age of 8-10 years are generally not able to separate fact from fiction and reality from fantasy? The young child’s brain is simply not developed enough to do this. While an older elementary student or teen understands that a superhero and his/her feats of strength are fictional a young child is unable to truly comprehend that the hero is not real or that the acts (usually fighting) in which the hero engages are at best highly improbable (if not impossible) and are not safe or appropriate to copy.

Boys and girls worldwide normally play games involving chase, capture and rescue. This seems to have happened throughout time and must have some sort of primal link. Young children have always been fascinated with heroes of all sorts, kings, queens, knights, police officers, fire fighters, etc.

They always have and probably always will: however studies are showing that the increase in superhero (fighting) games and role-playing imaginative games in young children have had an increasingly violent trend since the mid-1980s. So what does this mean for your young child?

After working with young children for many years, I am very concerned about the early exposure of young children to the modern and often PG or PG13 or R rated movies the children talk about seeing. It is not unusual for a preschool to have a few children in each class who have seen the modern Batman, Ironman or other superhero movies as well as many “classic” horror movies such as, Poltergeist.

Unfortunately, the children who have seen these movies re-enact them with their more innocent peers. The peers then develop a fascination with superheroes, fighting games, role-playing superhero games, and parents wonder where it all comes from. All too often, I have parents who tell me their child has not seen a particular movie however; their child knows all about it and is acting it out.

This is happening in most schools and care centers across America. What we don’t realize is the mass marketing of products and shows is everywhere, at the gas station, the grocery, restaurants, and more. Most teachers understand the need for chase, rescue and capture games, but are increasingly bothered by the increase in violence levels in play due to superhero play.

How do you know when your child is ready to be exposed to superheroes in more than just a casual way? When your child begins to seriously question in a critical manner the existence of a certain holiday personality who is scheduled to appear with gifts every December, your child is able to separate fact from fiction and to critically think about what is real and what is not. Typically it happens between age 8 and 10 which is also the time period in which it is more appropriate to allow your superhero enthusiast to be exposed to the more modern programming.

If your young child is already hooked and begging to see superhero programming, focus on the oldies as they are better designed for the young brain. Better yet, tell them that they may start watching when they are older.

What if your young child has already seen every superhero show and has a bedroom floor littered with superhero figurines? Try prying his superhero lunch box out of his/her hands and exposing him/her to a variety of positive role models and age appropriate programming and books. There’s still room for Batman or Spiderman in a young child’s life, but balance it with other positive non-trademarked influences and a lot of discussions about true heroes.

One interesting study showed that boys who are highly interested in superheroes and have a strong positive relationship with their mothers remain less negatively impacted by superhero fascinations. So moms, talk with your sons and remain close over the years and you will create a super-son who will grow up to be a hero in the eyes of others.

Fathers, do the same with your daughters to help her develop into Wonder Woman!

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Is your child care center making your child fat?

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The Journal of Pediatrics thinks so 

They also think that children who are primarily cared for by extended family members and child care centers are being made fat.  As a matter of fact, children in child care centers, in home day care, and who are cared for by ”extended family members are 50% more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of 4-10 years compared to those cared for at home by their parents” according to Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy, lead author of the study which formed the basis of the article in the Journal of Pediatrics.

After reviewing research from the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine-Hospital Research Center, the Journal of Pediatrics determined that the type of care a child gets significantly impacts body weight but the University did not research why.

As a parent, a teacher and owner of a child care center, I believe that diet, exercise, socio-economics, climate and many more things impact obesity.  We all know that America is a fat nation and study after study shows that the children of today are expected to have a SHORTER lifespan than their parents.  I am scared for my children and their children.

If you have children who are cared for by others, it is time to sit down and ask them about diet and exercise.  At Blue Skies Exploration Academy and our sister center, Creekside Kids, we chose to use Revolution Foods for our meals.  Not only do they taste good, they are low in fat, sugars and salt and are fresh, partially organic and often locally sourced.  Fresh fruit is provided with every meal.  We take leftovers home because they are so good we hate to throw the leftovers away!

No matter where you send your child for care, the food should be fresh—not canned or from boxes and should be nutritionally balanced.   While organics are a plus, fresh foods, a wide variety of foods, low fat and low salt recipes will go a long way toward improving your child’s health.  Ask what meals are prepared for your child and inspect the kitchen.   Look for juice, cans, boxes and packets—if they are present, consider the impact of this on your child’s health.

Next, ask about exercise.  Does your center have a rigid recess schedule or do classes flow in and out depending upon the curriculum, weather, the needs of the children and the interests of the children?  The more outside time for children to be active, the better for overall health.    If each class has an assigned time and does not waiver from the schedule, you might want to consider how this affects your child’s health.

Our children are our future.  By not caring properly for their physical needs when they are young, we rob them of their future health and wealth.  Personally, I want my children to be healthy enough to dote on me when I am old and need help.  Please pass the peas……..

Citation:  Christine Kearney. (2012, November  19).  “Kids In Daycare Are More Likely To Be Obese.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252979.php

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Seat Belts, Car Seats & Safety

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I recently watched a mother riding past me in the front passenger seat of a mini-van.   She looked cheerful and had just picked her child up from child care.  Unfortunately, the child was sitting on her mother’s lap sharing a seatbelt in the front passenger seat…… If I call the police, they can’t drive around town looking for them so what could I do?

We’ve all seen them….people driving around with young children crawling around inside the car.  Every day with people waiting to get into the drop off lane at our elementary school I see kids moving around inside the car.  When I was a public school teacher, I would do crosswalk duty and watch parents pull into the school from neighborhood streets with their own seatbelt on but no seatbelt on the children.  It’s unbelievable.

Recently the news was filled with the miraculous survival of a 1-year-old thrown from a car in Russia.  The child was thrown onto the road and narrowly missed being run over by an oncoming truck.  That child was lying on a blanket on the back seat of the car.  Where was that child’s car seat?

Earlier this week a young woman made a very dangerous left hand turn right in front of me as I was driving straight and almost killed herself, her passenger and possibly me too.  I have a big car and she has a little car!  Fortunately, I was not looking at my radio, sipping my tea or even sneezing.  We each ended up with scrapes on our cars where she scraped across my bumper as I was just able to stop before the impact.  If I had delayed my reaction by a couple of seconds it likely would have cost at least one person her life and possibly more.  If my children had been in the car, they would have been buckled into their booster seats and sitting up straight.  They hate it, but I actually want my children to survive to adulthood!

I grew up with a girl who became a quadriplegic due to a car accident and have lost three friends over the years in car accidents.  My father-in-law lost his only biological child in a car accident in the days before car seats.  He buried his son on Christmas day.  I’ll bet just about everyone knows someone who has had a terrible car accident, so why do we think it won’t happen to us?

If you do not have a car seat for your child, GET ONE.  There are assistance programs for car seats.  WIC has programs for free seats and your local fire department that has car seat checks can help you find a seat.   The local fire departments often have free safety seat checks.  As a person who works with infants and small children, I see a lot of misinformation about car seats from people who are otherwise quite smart.  It’s often surprising.   Did you know that as many as 90% of car seats, boosters and belts are not used properly according to Peak Vista Community Health Centers?   This doesn’t mean just those who use government services but it includes data from every socioeconomic group.    It probably means you and me too.

Have your child’s seat checked as soon as you can!

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3 Tips to Start Your Infant Off Right When Transitioning Into Child Care

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“It takes a village to raise a child”

All over the world, infants have an inborn need to interact with others.  This need and bond is especially important with an infant’s caregivers.  The Bernard van Leer Early Childhood Focus Series on the Developing Brain discusses “The Social Brain” of infants.

#1  Before infants learn to sit up, they learn to trust and enjoy others.  Parents are their children’s first teachers.  In the early months of infancy, babies should learn that they will consistently and calmly have their needs met in order to create trust and bonding.  Human interactions are guided by goals and beliefs so parenting styles differ across the world and even in your own neighborhood, but consistency is important.  Some parents are willing to let a young infant cry for a certain amount of time or in certain situations due to their beliefs and goals while others will not let an infant cry for even a short time due to their beliefs and goals for the child.  Babies learn from the consistent actions of parents and caregivers regardless of which parenting style is used.  What are your beliefs and goals for your infant’s next few months and first year?

If you plan to have help from a child care provider, make sure you discuss your beliefs and goals with her so you can both be consistent with your child.  How long to let a baby cry and how to comfort should be discussed as well as addressing how to help the child to go to sleep or learn to self-soothe.

#2  Babies love to look at faces and listen to people talk to them.  Many young babies prefer people to toys most of the time.  If young infants are given an active social life with a lot of eye contact, talking, singing, movement and gentle touch, babies establish trust and are able to develop the social part of their brain structure rapidly and deeply.  Small babies do not need a wide social network and to know many people, but those they are in contact with should provide rich social experiences.

Parents who need to have a caretaker help with their young infant should be sure the child care provider believes in providing eye contact, lots of talking and singing and touch.  Social interaction builds strong brains.

#3  Until about 5 months of age, infants have an extremely short attention span.  At the 5 month mark, most infants begin to recognize and respond to social cues such as repeatedly calling a child’s name and/or using a sing-song voice.  Interestingly, this is universal with parents all over the world engaging their infants in the same way.  Brain studies show the prefrontal cortex “lighting up” when a 5 month old begins to recognize these social cues.

When your child begins to respond to these cues, he/she has already developed the beginnings of trust and connections to his or her social world.   Continue the development by continuing to sing and talk, dance and hug, and add in books and quiet time routines.

Ask your child care provider if she reads to the children and provides them with books to chew on and look at.  Ask if she talks and sings to the children and observe interactions.  Talk about what is important to you now at 5 or 6 months and see if that meshes with her beliefs about infant development.

It does “take a village to raise a child” and differences among caregivers are normal and healthy for children to experience as long as each caregiver is consistent and open to discussion and thought.

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Which love language does your child speak?

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Did you know that there are five basic “love languages”?

Dr. Gary Chapman has written extensively on the five basic love languages of adults, teens and children.  Years ago I researched the basic love languages of adults and I was able to identify myself (Gifts and Quality Time) and my husband (a sub-category of Gifts and Acts of Service).  It was not until later that I realized I might be able to identify my children’s love languages and improve my relationship with them.

Do you have a child who is grabby, hugs too hard, kisses or blows too vigorously with “raspberries” or delights in slurpy wet “funny” kisses? Does your child love to play rough and wrestle more than other children?   Is this child snuggly when tired and fond of back scratches or massages?  Your child might speak the love language of TOUCH.  People who speak TOUCH often grow up to be hand holders, huggers, and are generally affectionate even in public.  If your child speaks the language of PHYSICAL TOUCH and you don’t, it can be difficult as you will find yourself admonishing your child to behave or keep her hands to herself.

Does your child spend a lot of time making things for others or talking about what he/she could buy or make for others?  When you take a trip does your child expect a gift?  When you return from a trip does he/she ask “what did you bring me?” as soon as you get back?  Does your child want something from each and every store you enter?  If your child is focused on buying things for him/herself and also on giving to others, your child might speak the language of GIFTS.   Warning: there is an interesting little sub category of GIFTS—which only a few children fall into—they are savers.  They prefer to save things—especially money–as they get older.  These kids grow into very budget-aware adults who are cautious about spending money but LOVE to get money as gifts.  They put cash gifts into the bank and rarely spend them.

Some children ask you to do things for them.  These children really appreciate the fort you built or the cookies you made them.  They appreciate the fact that you took time and energy to create something for them.  They do not necessarily have an interest in doing the task with you but appreciate the end result and brag about the thing Mommy or Daddy made them.  They might want a picture of it to share with others or they might take the item you made and show it to others.  These kids are speaking the love language called, ACTS OF SERVICE.  These kids grow into adults who value people doing things for them and express love by doing things for their spouse.  These children might try to show you love by unloading or loading the dishwasher without being asked.  They might “clean” your room or redecorate the living room while you are elsewhere.  If you don’t notice they have done something for you they will usually tell you in order to gain praise.

A child who values QUALITY TIME likes to spend time with you doing just about anything.  These kids often prefer to be with others rather than play alone.  They might wander around after you and try to “help” a little too much or they might chat constantly while you do something.  While they love to be taken to movies and on ski trips, they also like to make cookies with you or go hiking with you.  They have activities they like more than others but they will often do a non-favorite activity just to have one-on-one time with you.  This is a child who will grow into an adult who typically tries activities that his/her friends like and spends a lot of time with others.   Some of these children are shy and prefer quality time to be with a small circle of friends or family and others are outgoing and spend time engaging in activities with many others.

Finally, some children will seek WORDS OF AFFIRMATION from you.  She wants to know if you saw her spelling test score, her goal at the soccer game, or her wave from a distance.  He might ask if you thought his sports practice was good that day or if his new shirt looks good.  She might ask what you think of her artwork or her cooking.   These kids frequently seek advice, feedback and praise through verbal interactions.  They might treasure thank you notes and birthday cards more than your other children.  As adults, these people often write nice notes to friends or make positive comments or phone calls.

While most children (and adults) are predominately one style, many have a strong secondary love language.  Hopefully your love languages match those of your child so your child will feel understood and loved naturally.   A child who is loved in the way he or she can understand is a child who feels loved and has a deep sense of security.  One of my children is a GIFTS and WORDS OF AFFIRMATION and it is so easy for me to connect with her.  As a teacher these styles come naturally to me.

Sometimes though, we do not speak the same language as our children.  At our house, we have to be very mindful of our younger daughter’s primary love language of PHYSICAL TOUCH.  Since my husband and I are not huggy, touchy-feely people, we have to make ourselves recognize her need for rough housing and extra hugs.   She needs more wrestling and “raspberry” kisses than I would like, but I make myself do it anyway as it tells her I love her.   I have managed to steer her toward back scratches, hand and foot massages and “high fives” as she has matured and I know that with time, the “butterfly” kisses will end and I will miss them when they are gone.

Dr. Chapman’s book is available at the public library and in stores and there are also countless websites and Youtube videos about The Five Love Languages of Children.  As a parent and teacher, I highly encourage you to evaluate your love language and that of your child.  Being aware of how to show your child that he/she is loved in the most effective way creates the possibility of a deep life-long emotional bond which goes beyond the typical parent-child relationship.

Happy Valentine’s Day!