Frequently Asked Questions - Parent Support

It depends what you do with them. Often the most productive way of using a computer with children is for you to be with them, sharing something together, perhaps `helping' you with your work. There is a range of software packages targeted at young preschoolers. Look for ones that promote creative thinking skills and avoid ones that are often nothing more than glorified colouring in sheets that don't promote thinking skills and creativity. Playing with computers should not be an activity where children are alone at the computer for any lengthy periods of time. For preschool aged children, experimenting with a computer should mostly be about a social time with another adult.

As a general rule, children under 2 years should really not need to watch TV at all unless it is a program designed for their stage of development. Children aged 3-6 years may watch about 1 hour per day maximum, and for primary aged children, not more than about 1.5 hours per day maximum. Additionally, children in their early childhood years and primary years should not be exposed to any violent or aggressive programs.

It is very normal for sibling rivalry to occur at various stages in children's lives. Some adults continue to have sibling rivalry!! For a first-born child, who has had constant and total attention from parents, to begin to realise that the new addition actually demands time and attention away from them, is often quite a challenging experience. It is helpful to remember that a change to a group, family or work place, always changes the dynamics and interactions between members. Once two or more children are in the family, the way we interact as adults, parents or grandparents undergoes change, and so does the behaviour of a child. Despite claims by the older child that they love their new baby, they will also at times find it frustrating and challenging and usually they will not possess the ability to think through this experience in an adult type way. Therefore, they may revert to baby like behaviour themselves, and they may become quite physical with the baby. These behaviours are not because the child has suddenly become a monster, but because they are finding the new situation difficult. Often the first few months won't bring about much change. It is often when the baby starts to be more obvious and demanding that things can become challenging for the older child. There are no quick fixes for sibling rivalry. However, ensuring the older child still has special times alone with parents, and for parents not to over react to the rivalry, helps everyone work through this period.

As discussed in Chapter 1, it is important not to jump to the conclusion in the first place that the child's behaviour means they have a medical condition such as ADHD. It may be worth thinking through current lifestyle, contextual changes in the home, the age and stage of the child, and the expectations being held of the child before going down the path of a label such as ADHD. Parenting courses, speaking with a teacher or doctor may also provide additional information. It is important always to seek more than one opinion about issues such as ADHD and not just from one source.

One of the important issues to remember about helping a child to learn appropriate behaviours (as discussed in Chapter 3) is that we need to remember that children learn most about appropriate behaviours through modelling others. It is a contradiction in terms to have adults physically punishing children as a form of deterrent when at the same time, teaching children through our verbal instructions, not to physically hurt anyone else. Whilst some adults claim smacking does no harm and is an effective strategy, the act of smacking does convey at the very least, a confused message to children. There are many more productive strategies that are not only effective, but also model desired and acceptable behaviours.

It is important that whilst families and adults are able to carry their own value systems to guide and direct the way they chose to parent, supports, resources and suggestions are available to parents in order for them to make informed decisions about how they guide their children through childhood. Effective parenting skills, just like other skills within the community, are not inborn and natural. Attending parenting courses, reading books, talking with others are all important issues. At times, this may lead to feeling confused about what to do. In the end, parents and carers need to feel they have thought about a range of options and then make some informed choices about what to do. When parenting seems to become too difficult or extra challenging at times, (which is quite normal), seeking the support of professionals trained to work alongside parents is very important.

It is worth noting that most partners have experienced different ways of being parented and raised throughout their own childhoods. We often assume that the way we were parented was the only or correct way, or we find ourselves repeating strategies that our parents used. Some of these may not necessarily be appropriate or consistent with those of our partner. Therefore, spending some time proactively discussing issues such as parenting styles and discipline techniques is a very important element of parenting. Attending parent workshops, reading books together, talking with other parents, asking teachers for ideas, are all ways in which a family can develop a proactive range of strategies that hopefully are as consistent as possible. It is very confusing for a child if two parents differ significantly or if one parent seems less consistent than the other. Consistent styles of interactions and expectations are most helpful for the child. Sometimes parents may have to compromise along the way in order to provide as much of this consistency as possible.

Another fairly common challenge that may arise at some stage early in the child's life is when eating and meal times become an issue. Trying to minimise the issue and not turning it into a battle is a very first important step. If a child senses that the food issue is an anxiety or battle of wits, then this may exacerbate the issue. One of the most effective strategies is to set the time for a meal, present the food, and if the child doesn't eat it then ask once if they wish to finish it and then if not, just take it away gently and without a fuss. A child may well complain of being hungry later and you can then decide either to let them finish or wait until the next mealtime. Sometimes the consequence of feeling a bit hungry may motivate them to eat more quickly next time. It is very important not to make eating and food a battle or a punishment.

It can be quite embarrassing for some parents when a child has a tantrum in public. One of the best strategies in the first instance, is to not worry about everyone else who may be looking, having an opinion or trying to help or judge. The first step is to use a consistent approach to the behaviour - one you would use in your own home. Often if a child is having a tantrum that is not hurting anyone else or themselves, the most effective strategy is to ignore it and let it pass. This may take some time but it does always stop. Trying to reason with an enraged child, trying to bribe or threaten them or yelling at them, is a complete waste of your time. Perhaps as they start to calm down, acknowledging they feel angry or upset because you didn't buy them what they wanted etc., may help them to learn that they could use their words next time rather than having a tantrum.

The best way for children to learn socially acceptable rules of behaviour is to see their significant carers, parents or teachers, modelling it themselves. If we make a huge deal about saying hello then it often becomes a battle or an issue that doesn't need to occur. Under the age of 6 years, not buying into it too much is a useful strategy. Over the age of 6 years, perhaps a gentle prompt or reminder, without it becoming a huge issue. We tend to notice that most children grow up knowing how and when to acknowledge others, and so the anxiety we feel when they are young, is usually short lived.

Gaining or sustaining a child's attention, particularly at a time when they are concentrating on something else, or are being told to tidy up, or to stop doing what they want to do, can be a challenge. It is often best to try to make eye contact, speak slowly and avoid yelling out from the other side of a room. Prefacing the statement with, "I need you to listen to me for a minute", sometimes helps. Trying to gain a child's attention whilst they are playing with a computer or watching TV or video is at times almost impossible, and so pausing the show or game for a moment is also helpful.

This is one of the most asked questions of all. The answer depends, in part, on the age of the child. Either through the medium of TV (or other people), most children in their preschool or first year of school will overhear certain words that are deemed inappropriate for children to use. One of the most effective strategies for stopping swearing is to ignore it. If a big issue is made of a particular word, then children will often sense that this gains a reaction and use the word even more. Often, ignoring and not making a big deal out of it, can be most helpful with this age group. For children aged 7 years or over, swearing may become noticeable and at this age, parents may prompt in a low key way with comments such as, "Our family doesn't use those words", or "I don't like that word and want you to stop using it please". Again, a low-key approach is important so that the issue doesn't turn into a huge battle. The other strategy that is important for all ages, is to ensure that parents and other family members do not swear in front of the children, as this is often where children pick up such words.

This is an interesting question. Some cultures encourage children to sleep either in the same room or bed as the parents for the first few months or even first year. There is no definitive right or wrong answer to this issue. The question is really about what you (as a family) want. If you don't want your child to end up in your bed, then those limits and expectations need to be reinforced very consistently. Often parents complain about children spending each night in their bed but do not reinforce any alternative. Sheer persistence in helping the child understand that their bed is not your bed, is an important first step if that is what you want. Sometimes children experience fears or nightmares or anxiety. It may be preferable for a parent to sit with the child in the child's room until they fall back to sleep, or to keep a night light on so that the child comes to see there is nothing to fear about their own room. Consistent reinforcement is important in this issue.

Unfortunately, it is quite a common occurrence for households to experience a child who seems to take forever to get ready in the morning. Distractions, dressing slowly, forgetting things, eating breakfast slowly, are a normal part of childhood and family life from time to time. One of the most effective strategies is to provide more time for the leaving the house routine. Whilst this may mean getting up or starting the whole procedure earlier, it can often avoid stress and anxiety. It also provides time for children to have to take some responsibility for getting themselves ready without feeling highly pressured. Employing a consequence, (as discussed in Chapter 3) if you feel the child requires some additional prompting or encouragement, may be appropriate.

Children are able to start dressing themselves from about 2 and a half to 3 years of age. It may be as simple as pulling on a sock or jacket. Giving them practise is useful without it having to become a regimented ordeal for the child. By 4 or 5 years of age, children can be expected to be able to dress themselves but may still require help with buttons and zips etc. Children are not expected to tie shoelaces until about 6 or 7 years of age.

This is discussed in detail in Chapters 1 and 2, however for a child aged 4-8 years, one or two additional activities each week would be plenty in addition to child care, preschool or prep.

A great deal has been discussed and written in recent years about `quality' versus `quantity'. In essence, each family has its own particular routines, work commitments and time restrictions. The aim is to spend time on a regular and consistent basis, where the child can predict there will be time to spend with their parents. Whether it be each night before bed, in the bath, reading a story, playing outside or in the park, having time where conversation and general chatting can occur in a relaxed way, or enjoying and playing together regularly, is important for each child.

Some major points to consider are: Other than reading at home, homework for children in their first years of school should be very minimal or non existent. Secondly, a homework for older children should be relevant and of interest to the children and an extension of the learning occurring in the classroom. The first step is to consider whether too much is being asked of the child. Secondly, after discussion with the teacher, organise some time before dinner, where homework needs to be completed. Children often need time to unwind when they first get home, so making a time after a break (but before dinner), is often the most effective time before the child is too tired. Often sharing this time with the child, showing an interest and being involved can also help.

There are many issues involved in this educational debate. The most useful way to consider preferences for your child's education is to think about the processes of selecting a school. Education is not as simple as public or private being better than one or the other. Class size, quality of the teacher, options within the learning environment, the philosophy of the school, the nature of the child and the values of the family, are all individual components. Equal amounts of studies can be found that indicate one type of school is better than another and I advise parents to consider their child and the family values first.

Early literacy and numeracy is very important for young children. However, as discussed in Chapter 2, it is the nature of how you promote early literacy and numeracy for young children that needs to be carefully considered. Provide opportunities for rich language practice, through nonsense rhymes, story telling, songs, playing with dress ups, making pretend cars, pasting, noting numbers on letter boxes, car registration numbers or words on shops. All of these ordinary experiences are far more meaningful and interesting to children than being forced to colour in a letter or number.

It is always important to speak with a child's teacher and to find out as much information as possible regarding the behaviours of your own child as well as what is happening at school with other children. Asking questions such as, "Have you seen evidence of this?" "What strategies are being used?" "How is my child being helped to feel safer?" are all issues that need to be discussed with your child's school.