Pre-primary Workshop: Preparing Your Child for the Primary Classroom

tncs-preprimary-workshopOn Wednesday, October 11th, The New Century School welcomed a very special guest to host a workshop on a topic she knows well, both professionally and personally: Johns Hopkins Child Clinical and Developmental Psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish. Dr. Perry-Parrish may already be known to many among the TNCS community, as she has presented on other topics over the past few years (see Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World) and has also hosted workshops for TNCS staff professional development days (see TNCS Teachers Get Mindful!). She also just happens to be a TNCS parent. On this occasion, her focus was on milestones that the 2- to 3-year-old child should be approaching, a topic that has special significance at TNCS because, at age 3, children are eligible to enter the primary classroom.

For those of you who were unable to attend (and those of you who want a refresher), Dr. Perry-Parrish generously shared her presentation and slides with Immersed, which are reproduced here.

About Carisa Parry-Parrish

Originally from Georgia, Dr. Perry-Parrish has been in Baltimore for the last 10 years. She introduced herself to the large group of pre-primary parents in attendance by explaining a bit about her professional expertise. “I have a lot of training with normal children, but also kids that have anxiety,” she said. “I do a lot of work with parents, mostly on behavioral challenges, with medical conditions, medical stress, and traumatic stress. On the developmental side, I have a lot of training on normal development. I lead [JHU’s] post-doctoral training program for child psychologists, so I have a lot of experience and interest in teaching and training new psychologists. I work with primary care physicians and collaborate with Hopkins pediatricians. I like training, I like kids, I like working with people who work with kids.”

Specifically, her titles are Licensed Psychologist; Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Director of Behavior Medicine (Psychology) for the Pediatric Burn Program, Pediatric Dermatology, and the Center for Sweat Disorders; and Director of Training, Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Her clinical service includes age ranges from birth through 20s, individual and parent therapy, behavioral medicine consultations, integration of behavioral health into primary care, and psychological testing.

She teaches psychology fellows and child psychiatry residents parent management training, mindfulness, and motivation enhancement.

Her current research areas include emotion regulation and psychosocial functioning across development, parental socialization of children’s emotional development, and parent and child adjustment to medical stress.

Milestones for the 2- to 3-Year Period

The changes that are happening in children at this stage are staggering in number and in scale. They are becoming people—becoming themselves—and a lot of work goes into that. This can be a difficult time for them and no less so for you, their parents. Therefore, you’ll be happy to hear that Dr. Perry-Parrish’s overriding message was that you have allies: your child’s teachers. Rather than viewing teachers as judges who determine if and when a child is ready to move up, or, worse, as the arbiter of a child’s entire scholastic career, she urges parents to embrace them as collaborators in a child’s development. They have the same goals as you do, that is, to guide children along their path, meeting milestones as they go. Although this makes perfect sense, until she said it, some of us had never thought of it in quite this way before. We’re in this together.

Dr. Perry-Parrish breaks milestones down into five categories; physical, cognitive, language, emotional, and social, as shown below, and they synergistically feed into each other. Her biggest priority, though, and the one she feels best serves children is emotional development:

There are a lot of things that are changing with kids. I feel as a parent, that once we’ve mastered one stage, they are on to another stage, so we’re always trying to keep up with them. Another interesting thing is that there are different aspects of development that influence the other ones. A big one for our kids at this age is language development. Language facilitates cognitive development, social development, and emotional development. They are all interwoven, so when you see new developments in one domain, they are anticipating development in another domain. One of the things I’m interested in my work is how parents socialize kids emotional development. I have a big interest in supporting kids’ social regulation and emotional regulation.

 

Physical Milestones

  • Climbs well
  • Runs easily
  • Pedals a tricycle (3-wheel bike)
  • Walks up and down stairs, one foot on each step 

Cognitive Milestones

  • Can work toys with buttons, levers, and moving parts
  • Plays make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
  • Does puzzles with three or four pieces
  • Understands what “two” means
  • Copies a circle with pencil or crayon
  • Turns book pages one at a time
  • Builds towers of more than six blocks
  • Screws and unscrews jar lids or turns door handle

Language Milestones

By 2 ½ years:

  • Understands a lot more than can articulate
  • Will attempt to use over 100 words but cannot produce all the sounds needed to pronounce words, so many of them will be unclear
  • Talks while plays
  • Relies more heavily on words, rather than gestures, to communicate

By 3 years:

  • Can follow multistep instructions
  • Can be understood by strangers most of the time when talking
  • Asks many questions in order to understand the world
  • Listens to stories and will have favorites that need reading regularly
  • Enjoys imaginative play and often has a running commentary during play

Emotional and Social Milestones

  • Expressive behavior
    • Limited differentiation…extensive specific affective states
  • Regulation/coping
    • Dyadic regulation….independent regulation
  • Relationship building
    • Primary attachment….multiple, varied, diverse relationships
  • Influence of socialization figures
  • Cognitive understanding

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Emotional Regulation

“Besides language immersion, another important aspect of coming to this school is facilitating your child’s emotional and social development,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish.

There is a shift from infancy to 2- to 3-years-old, moving from a dyadic regulation to more of an adult/independent regulation. Also, in the pre-primary level, the child is moving from the egocentric to now engaging in more of a social way. Their social world is expanding, which brings new opportunities for intimacy, friendship, and connections but also lots of opportunity for conflict, frustration, sadness, and jealousy.  So we’re trying to narrate that landscape for our kids to help it make sense. To me, this is one of the most important building blocks toward long-term development that we have. A popular book by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, talks about children’s emotional regulation. It’s something that research suggests is predictive of long-term academic and social success.

For those of you who have never seen the Stanford marshmallow experiment, you’re in for a treat watching these children try to stave off their quite natural and intense desire to eat the apparently very fragrant marshmallow in favor of a potentially double reward.

Spoiler Alert: In general, fewer than half the kids “pass” the test. Most kids are unable to delay gratification and give into the marshmallow-y temptation. (Except, a recent study found, kids from the Nso tribe in Cameroon.) But this test has profound implications—researchers have followed the original participants for decades and discovered that those who did manage to wait were more likely to have better SAT scores and better jobs as adults.

Emotion Coaching Strategies

“There is so much that can be done right now, the shaping that you guys are doing right now is so critical and powerful and is going to shape the trajectory of your child in so many ways, in a good way,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. But, for many parents in the room, the idea that their whirling dervish—that is, toddler—could self-regulate to the extent that he or she could pass up a marshmallow (let alone not throw tantrums, hit siblings, bite schoolmates, or refuse to dress) was sheer fantasy.

It might take a while and hundreds of repetitions, but they will begin to get it. Their reactions are completely natural and appropriate given all the enormous transformations that are going on within their bodies and minds. “We are sowing so many seeds right now that are going to yield a harvest of self-regulation and social successes,” Dr. Perry-Parrish assured the audience. That’s not to say that consequences of disruptive behavior are not warranted. The key there is to be consistent with your choice of limit-setting, whether that’s a time out or separation from a favorite toy or activity.

“When kids’ challenging behavior is most bothersome to us is often when it has an emotional intensity,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish; nevertheless, our job is to stay calm and help guide them through what they are experiencing. She next shared some specific emotion-coaching strategies as well as recommended reading John Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

Rather than emotion dismissing, an all-too-common knee-jerk parental reaction (“there’s nothing to be afraid of”; “what are you crying for?”), it’s important to engage in emotion coaching.

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Different styles of emotion coaching/positive parenting exist, but the point is to validate what the child is feeling, by:

  1. Being aware of the child’s emotion
  2. Recognizing emotion as opportunity for intimacy and teaching
  3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings
  4. Helping the child verbally label emotions
  5. Setting limits while helping the child problem-solve
    1. Can include limit-setting around inappropriate behavior
    2. Setting limits on inappropriate behaviors associated with affect (hitting)

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Collaborating with Teachers to Support Development

Finally, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought the two threads of her discussion together by explaining how young children benefit from a collaborative, two-way parent–teacher partnership that includes robust information exchange. Again, teachers are your allies in the effort to turn out nice human beings, and your child is your shared priority.

  • Parents help teachers learn about their child (e.g., temperament, preferences, expectations)
  • Teachers help parents learn about their child in a new social setting
  • Teachers and parents can support each other in their interactions with children
    • Sharing important information about your child
    • Receiving information about school and social behavior
    • Exchange strategies that work well in each setting

What can you specifically do to support preprimary teachers?

  • Learn about the routines at school
  • Observe your child in class—volunteer!
  • Identify shared goals of school and home
  • Attend parent–teacher conferences
  • Share concerns with teachers to support your child
  • Invite teachers to share observations to inform your understanding of your child at school

Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World

Dr-Carisa-Perry-Parrish-TNCS

Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, specializes in emotional regulation strategies for children and adolescents.

Last month, The New Century School hosted the latest workshop in Head of School Alicia Danyali’s parent enrichment series. This helpful, enlightening presentation on Mindful Parenting was given by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—and a TNCS mom herself! The workshop was very well attended, but many who expressed interest were unable to be there. This synopsis of the event includes lots of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s published research, with her permission.

“Dr. Perry-Parrish specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation, parent management training for childhood noncompliance and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression.” For this particular presentation, she shared mindfulness practices to help children and parents alike cope with life stressors and improve their interactions, thereby decreasing the stress in the whole family’s life. Although she does focus clinically on emotional disorders, these positive parenting techniques are applicable and promise enormous benefits to everyone along the continuum of emotional experience.

For a bit of background, “mindfulness training is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as a way to reduce stress, improve attention, and cope with challenges,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “This form of awareness training is being taught to adults, parents, and youth with promising results.”

So let’s get to it, right?

Emotions

The presentation began with an eye-opener right off the bat, which is that emotions are not simply arbitrary reactions to catalysts or reflections of our inner states but serve real functions. We evolved to be emotional beings, after all. So when our kids display emotion, they really are telling us something about their current needs. In a nutshell, we consciously and unconsciously use our emotions to fulfill particular goals. Emotions are social cues. Kids face a lot of stress—academically, socially, recreationally—but that stress, and the emotions it elicits, can be positive in some ways. “Every day is full of emotional challenges and opportunities for emotional growth,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. Here she drew a parallel between TNCS’s emphasis on child self-advocacy and independence, noting that mindfulness is certainly a very complementary practice.

Slide09When emotions are not regulated, or cognitive disruptions lead to intense emotional states, these disorders not only present tremendous challenges for the child, but the parent also, who is, for example, trying to get the child out the door to school on time.

Even in the absence of a so-called “problem,” parenting is stressful for any number of reasons, including that on-time-to-school bugbear. Dr. Perry-Parrish next described three parenting styles we commonly adopt in such situations: Dismissive (“Get over it!”), Disapproving (“You shouldn’t feel that way.”), and Laissez-Faire (“Anything goes.”). The message implicit in the first two examples is that the child’s feelings are not valid; however, recall that emotions serve very important functions. What underlies the emotion is what is important here (for example, “I don’t want to do what you’re asking me to do.”). In the third approach, no limits are set for misbehavior, which does not help the child sort out his or her feelings.

A fourth style, called “Emotion Coaching,” validates and accepts kids’ feelings while balancing the need for limits. This philosophy is backed up by decades of research and testing by psychologist John Gottman (among others), who found that children who were emotion coached were more successful as adults in peer friendships, gainful employment, and academic performance than were children parented in ways that focused on misbehavior without taking the emotions and why they were happening into account. A parent using emotion coaching is empathetic without condoning negative behavior.

Inherent in the concept of emotion coaching, as the word “coaching” gives away, is that regulating our emotions is a skill we can be guided in and cultivate. Heard of Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Study? In it, kids who were able to delay the gratification of eating a gooey, delicious marshmallow for a period of 14 minutes, grew up to be socially and professionally well adjusted, have a lower body mass index and greater psychological well-being, and be less likely to misuse substances.

Dr-Carisa-Perry-Parrish-TNCS“Children were most successful when they tried to occupy their attention with something else—make up a song, say, or turn their back on the marshmallow—or transformed the object of desire in their mind, perhaps by imagining it as a piece of cotton or pretending it was smelly or dirty. How children were paying attention could mean the difference between an automatic response and a delayed response reflecting self-regulation,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “We each have different capacities, but I think there’s a way to optimize what we’re naturally endowed with . . . And that’s where I think mindfulness can play a nice role,” she said.

 Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, basically, practicing awareness/paying attention with three key components: it’s moment-by-moment, it’s non-judgmental, and it’s intentional. It is in sharp contrast to the mindlessness of automatic responses and assumptions, which is a waste of our already limited resources and energy. To illustrate, she walked us through a brief mindfulness exercise—noticing all of the sensations involved in eating a raisin very slowly and using all of our senses to experience it. This not only helped us see how much of the experience of eating a lowly raisin we were probably usually missing, but also demonstrated how challenging paying attention can be when we are so used to our brains spinning like hamster wheels during the waking hours. “But specific exercises give us opportunities to practice noticing without judging,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish, who was emphatic about not liking raisins or dried fruit in general.

She proceeded to explain a much broader application for this exercise. “There are things I look forward to in my day and things I don’t look forward to, like diaper-changing. Starting to notice that I’m pulled to want to do some things and pulled toward not wanting to do others is very helpful on a primitive level. But if I look at it through the lens of parenting, if I’m overly focusing on how much I don’t want to do x, how does that change the dynamic between me and my child—does it help me to be more effective? Or . . . not?”

Slide28“When we are not fully present in the moment, we miss opportunities to discover what works,” she continued, followed by providing the list of mindfulness qualities shown at right, that we can try to cultivate. “Beginner’s mind” is akin to looking at something with “fresh eyes,” but the other terms are self-explanatory (albeit not all that easy to practice regularly!).

From there, she led us to motivation. When we like what we are doing, it’s easy to put forth the effort, but it’s hard to find the motivation when it’s a task we perceive as boring or unpleasant. The same goes for kids, naturally, so how we pay attention to them is the trick—notice and appreciate their efforts while acknowledging that some tasks are just difficult is going to increase their desire to keep trying. But, let’s face it, sometimes we are caught up in our own problems or can’t get off the hamster wheel, and we resort to a more reactionary response, what Dr. Perry-Parrish calls “parenting traps”:

  • Repeating commands (How many times do I have to tell you to…!)
  • Focusing more on negative behavior than positive
  • Praising and punishing the same behavior (Well, it’s about time you cleaned your room!)
  • Lack of consistency
  • Empty threats
  • Arguing
  • Unfair or delayed consequences
  • Letting stress dictate parenting style

Mindfulness in Parenting

Dr-Perry-Parrish-TNCSAnd here’s where it all comes together: interrupting our habitual reactions to stress to communicate in a chosen and more effective mode. “Stress hijacks the moment and cuts us off from our internal sources of wisdom,” she said. “Mindfulness is going to be the best supporting actor for what we already know how to do as parents.” She used yelling as an example. We already know that yelling isn’t effective, so why do we do it? Mindfulness can give us the reset to handle the situation calmly and attentively.

Dr. Perry-Parrish gave some very useful techniques to begin cultivating your mindfulness skills, including starting a “meditation diet,” pausing to attend to your child with all of your senses, putting yourself in your child’s shoes, deep breathing, having 10–15 minutes every day of one-on-one time with your child, and doing yoga together.

She also provided this very helpful reading list:

  • Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Everyday Blessings, Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents), Eline Snel
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: Heart of Parenting, John Gottman

Immersed also offers several mindfulness websites and articles under the Resources and Links tab. When parents engage in healthy human interactions, children reap those benefits and then pay it forward. The implications for society are huge. . . and quite wonderful.

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