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Depression: The Common Curse of Caregivers Like Us

By now, you all know that I am a family child care provider, which means I provide child care in my home. I work alone caring for up to 6 children at one time, up to 10 if I took on school age children. That is a lot, and while most days are wonderful, silly, and rewarding, some days I just feel down. I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a very long time, and recently, it has just dragged me down far enough that I have asked for help. What a tough thing that was! Here I am with an amazing family, safe and secure home life, and a thriving business, so what do i have to be depressed about?

Well, despite all the great things going for me, I have no control over this illness. Believe me, I have tried to “talk myself out of it” and guess what? That only makes me sink deeper and deeper into the darkness. And I’ve come to realize that a lot of us are in the same darkness. When we choose to care for others, we often neglect to care for ourselves, not always, but some of us are predisposed to it. And have you ever noticed that some of us who choose to provide care for others are trying to make up for a time we felt our needs were not met? It’s true for me…how about you?

So the other day, I was talking with another family child care provider and mentioned that I had been having a hard time lately. I mentioned that I just had no desire to do anything. She replies to me, “now that you mention it, I’ve been kinda feeling that way too.” Whoa…💡 moment here! She’s likely experiencing symptoms of depression and here is an opportunity to bring it to light. And suddenly, just like that, I am wanting to share my struggle and help others to see if what they are feeling is in fact depression. So here we go…

What does depression look like? Feel like? Lack of interest

  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability, feeling agitated and unsettled
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Empty mood or feeling
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Problems concentrating, making decisions, remembering things
  • Change in eating habits, weight
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Seeking isolation, wanting to be alone
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Physical ailments that do not respond to treatment, like headache, chronic pain, digestive problems
  • Changes in personal appearance
  • Frequent self criticism
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Procrastination
  • Difficulty maintaining boundaries
  • Substance abuse, including self medication with food

This is by no means a complete list, and please consider that I am NOT a medical professional. Please see your primary doctor if you are concerned that you suffer from depression.

What can we do about it?

First, let’s acknowledge the stigma that is associated with depression, anxiety, or any mental health condition. It doesn’t mean that we are damaged or broken. Feelings of depression just reveal that we are human, and that we have to work extra hard to be our best selves. If anything, it shows that we feel deeper and have experiences in a profoundly unique way.

Here are some of the strategies that can help you feel more like yourself, but please keep in mind that depression is a mental illness and can require treatment by a doctor. This list is not meant as a substitute, but more as a support or supplement to treatment.

Tips for Mental Wellness. Spend more time with friends

  • Go outside
  • Get good sleep
  • Eat more real food, and less junk food
  • Move your body
  • Drink more water
  • Laugh out loud
  • Remember your hopes and dreams
  • Create something…art can be a powerful tool
  • Listen to your favorite upbeat music
  • Engage in leisure activities like spa treatments or going to the movies
  • Invest in a full spectrum light to simulate sunshine
  • Be brave. Reach out for help when you need it, and know that you are not alone.

Once again, this is not a complete list, but it’s a start! I have used many of these strategies, with a varying degree of success. I am currently on medication and seeing a counselor, and I’m proud to report that I’m beginning to feel more like myself.

< a href=”https://m.facebook.com/jennifer.cyr.family.child.care”>As always, you can find me on Facebook < a href=”http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jennifer-cyr/99/943/a3a”>Or on LinkedIn < a href=”https://m.facebook.com/jennifercyrccpmentoring/”>And check out my new mentoring page for child care providers

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Stranger Danger and Your Instincts: how to talk to young children

We are very fortunate to live in a close community in which we feel comfortable and safe with our neighbors. The local recreation center is a revolving door of friends and neighbors throughout the week, with most attendees being familiar and friendly. My child care program children frequent the young children’s play time each week in which other families and children gather to socialize with each other and enjoy riding trikes and tossing basketballs at child size hoops.

Just last week, I was over at the recreational center’s gym with three of my child care kids. There were other families and a couple of nannies with their charges present. Kids were happy doing their own thing, and adults were engaged in their usual hovering and chatting. And then in walks a middle aged man with a basketball…not too unusual for the gym, but not typical for this time of the day. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, and I had a feeling like a rock in the pit of my stomach. He was unfamiliar to me, but otherwise no obvious reasons for concern. He proceeded to change into his basketball shoes and walk over toward the hoop with the smallest crowd. On his way over to the hoop, he crouched down and started to talk to my kids, got down low and close. I immediately stepped in and told him that he should not be talking to the children, since he doesn’t know them. He says, “its fine”. My response was to turn around and say, “it’s time to go kids.”

Now typically, when it’s time to go, the kids take their time cleaning up and get distracted. Not this time, they walked right to the door and followed me out with no problem. I think they felt it too…that uneasy feeling. It’s quite likely that this man offered no threat whatsoever, likely a friendly person who enjoys talking with kids. But I chose to listen to that feeling, and I have no regrets. (I later contacted the local police and provided a photo of the man. The officer had some knowledge of this person, and felt something was off as well.)

So my point…how do you talk to kids about this? First things first, get safe. For us, this meant going into the hallway. I sat the kids down and told them I was sorry we had to leave early. I told them about having a bad feeling in my tummy when the man tried to talk to them, and then I told them that I felt like I had to listen to my tummy. The children were satisfied with this for the moment. We got all of our gear on and left, and when we got back to the program, I asked the kids if they had any questions. They seemed to be fine, and talked about the man a little bit. I tried to instill the idea of trusting your feelings as opposed to making a a visual assessment, since that’s a natural reflex for some.

Interestingly enough, the next day we went back to the gym and encountered the very opposite type of feeling. A woman playing with her granddaughter came up to me and asked if she could talk to my kids. I looked to the kids and asked them what their tummies were telling them. They said it was okay. She asked them how old they were, to which the kids just smiled and became shy. She then said goodbye and went on her way. Afterwards, I asked the kids about it, and they said even though she was a stranger, they felt safe and their tummy felt good. How amazing is this? Now it is completely possible that this grandma might do them harm if that was her goal, after all, you just never know. But this was an opportunity for the kids to explore their intuition and that feeling in their gut.

Let me know what you think! Have you and your children ever had an experience like this?

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“My child stays awake so late after a nap at school”

We’ve all heard this before…parents want their kids to be woken up or kept awake at rest time because they just won’t go to sleep at night. It can be incredibly frustrating for all involved, but we have to keep the focus on the child. So here to help navigate this conversation, here are some points that will help you, whether you are a provider or a parent or guardian.

FOR THE PROVIDER

*What are the rules? Every state has child care regulations that must be followed by the child care, preschool etc. What are those rules and how do they relate to the child’s need for rest. And are rest policies clearly outlined in my handbook?

*Given the age of the child and developmental stage, does the child show a need for sleep? Is the child acting tired (use common cues like eye rubbing, yawning, loss of coordination…)

*Think about the needs of the children in your program. Is it feasible for this child to stay awake and still meet the needs of all children? If not, imagine that the child is not sleepy. How would you meet the child’s changing need?

*Are your own needs dictating the expectation that all children nap? We have all been there…those days when we are in desperate need of peace and quiet. And that’s okay, we just have to make sure that our needs are not being met at the expense of the children. I know this sounds obvious, but many of us work alone, and it can become difficult to balance the needs of all.

FOR THE FAMILY

*Is your child sleepy at rest time? Is your child sleepy at bedtime? Each day is different, and keeping a calendar may prove helpful. You may notice a pattern that relates directly to child care days, extra busy weekends, or family activities. It can’t hurt to check it out.

*What time is bedtime? Why? Sometimes the time we set has little to do with the child, more to do with ourselves as parents. And there is nothing wrong with that, but let’s be thoughtful about how it impacts the routines and the child’s changing needs.

*And on that note, your child may need a later bedtime. Keep in mind that as they get older, especially age 4 and 5, but always, they have more and more thoughts that they need to process. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think about the events of the day as I am trying to settle in for the night. Children do this too, and it makes sleep hard to come by.

*Another thing to keep in mind is that keeping up with a bunch of other children during the day can be exhausting. Maybe your child cannot stay awake at rest time because they are just plain tuckered out. It’s a good thing! I know it changes up the evening routine, but just remember that your child does not have a diabolical and evil plan to mess with the sleep routine. He or she is just tired after a busy morning and hearty lunch.

*Finally, a later bedtime is an opportunity, not a monkey wrench. Spend some extra time reading a story, snuggling, baking together, or cleaning up together. And don’t be afraid to say, “I’m really tired and so you need to rest in your room.” Because guess what? It is an opportunity for your child as well. Maybe they wanted to play with a deck of cards but they forgot. Maybe there is a book that they can’t get enough of or maybe their stuffies have been neglected for a bit.

I hope this helps all of you, goodness knows we have all been there! Sometimes it stinks, but they are only little once…enjoy!

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Kids and their Questions!


So I’m attending the VAEYC conference once again, and our keynote was about the power of questions.  Dr. Lindsey Godwin from the Appreciative Inquiry Center, an internationally renowned speaker and author, shared her work and perspective on questions.

Did you ever notice that we, as adults, often get annoyed by kids asking us questions?  We are busy, and it takes time and energy to stop and explain things, and quite honestly, why is it important to answer a “silly” question that isn’t important to us?  

Well, it’s valuable to respond so to encourage more questions.  Why on earth would we want to do that?  To cultivate creative thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and open minds!  Dr. Godwin states, “As children, we get messages from adults that they want answers, not questions.”  And she’s right, we are always asking kids to tell us things, when we should really invite them to find their own answers by asking more questions.  

Dr. Godwin has two lessons for us to take back to our classrooms:

1. Inquiry is intervention. Inquiry leads to change.  Our questions set the stage for what we find, they determine what we pay attention to, and ultimately the direction of what comes next, whether it is curriculum plans and activities, or your next fundraiser or parent meeting.  Inquiry has the power to inform and shape opportunities for all of us.


2. What we ask about “grows”.  If you ask a question based on a deficit, that will be the focus.  Instead, shift focus from your biggest challenge to your most unique assets to  “magnify and learn from moments of highest engagement and enthusiasm.”  

This is how we accelerate the positive changes that we need to grow and learn, and ultimately how we grow the curious minds of the youngest members of our communities.  

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Messy Play: not just for fun!

  
I used to detest messes…still do in my mommy brain.  My teacher brain loves it though!  The value in it is limitless and cannot be missed. Clothes and hands can be washed.  The house will get messy too, but with a little planning, you can minimize any lasting effects.

Fun is always important, after all, it makes learning meaningful to children and facilitates deeper connections.  But why is messy play so important?  It is essential to brain development! Every time a child touches wet paint or squishy goo, new connections are forming in the brain.  The stimulation provided by a mud pie or runny oobleck can’t be replicated by a computer game, flash cards, or stories.  The act of skin coming in contact with tactile discovery stimulates new connections and learning.

Children learn through their senses, and all areas of learning are impacted.  In my experience, the more messy play children get to do, the more relaxed they are.  They are also more flexible in routines and quite creative in their thinking. 

Here are some tips that may help you in your messy play adventures:

  • Take it outdoors
  • Get a vinyl tablecloth and tape it to the floor to contain the mess
  • Provide clear expectations for the children’s messy play
  • Use simple materials like snow, water, ice
  • Plan ahead to make sure you have enough materials for the number of children you have
  • Get in there and get messy! It’s more fun than trying to stay tidy and clean

  
Try this Simple Slime Recipe for lots of fun that’s edible and not sticky!

Enjoy!

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Not Your Typical Fundraiser

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*this fundraiser has ended
  

  

   
 I am not trying to raise money, though it would appear that way.  I want to encourage people to think about childhood play differently.

I see children all the time on their phones, tablets, and computers.  The little ones play “TV” and set up a couch to sit on.  

I see parents who are working hard, keeping busy, and shuffling kids around in a hurry. Adults are always on their phones, myself included, and we’re often distracted.

I think back to my childhood, and times I spent playing in the woods.  I feel happy when I think of the fast sledding “track” we made, the big rocks we used to climb on, and the stream we used to wade in.

Let’s send our kids out to play!  It is critical to connect our children with nature in this hurried time in which we live.  Your child will feel more peaceful, in touch with the earth, and be a more creative thinker.

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New shirt design is available till November 12th!  Tees are $13 and the hoodies are so soft, you’ll want to wear them everyday!

Share the link and help me out if this is a message you believe in! Thank you! 

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What’s the big deal with play?

  So I’m attending my annual conference and I finally have time to write. Sorry it’s been so long, though thankfully I have lots of renewed energy tonight so let’s talk about play.  It’s such a popular word in early education these days, but what are they all talking about?  Isn’t just about kids using toys? 

No it’s not, it’s much much more. It’s the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky.  It’s the method by which children are living their lives, their anchor, their work.  The definition of play in our field is usually described in a paragraph with so many terms and variations.  The common threads are enjoyment, participation and engagement.

Different types of play occur throughout a child’s development.  There’s no schedule or order, no wrong or right, though some patterns exist.  There are natural shifts in the kind of play as children’s environment, community, and minds take shape.

  • Solitary: a child plays alone
  • Parallel: a child plays alongside another child without interaction
  • Cooperative: children interact as they work toward a goal
  • Symbolic: a child uses one object to represent another
  • Sociodramatic: pretend play in which a child takes on a role
  • Games with rules: children follow guidelines dictated by an established game
  • Mature: a child will dive deeply into their play, staying with it for an extended period of time

Please keep in mind that each type of play serves a purpose, and has its own value.  For example, a child who pretends a ball is an apple will later be better equipped to visually represent quantity.  A child taking on a role is learning to self-regulate, practicing self-control.  

I’m interested in hearing what children say when asked, “what is play?” You probably wouldn’t hear words like problem-solving, achievement, creativity, imagination, identity, or persistence.  But if you observe carefully, you’ll see these qualities and more.  And they make for amazing adults; adults which will one day take care of us, our planet, and the children to come.  So next time you think play might just be a simple word with little meaning, think of all that is gained from it.

  
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Adventure Playgrounds

   
  

 What is an adventure playground anyway?  Well, it looks a little like a junkyard, with lots of loose parts. I recently attended a screening of “The Land” by Erin Davis.  This event was put together by a local group, MUD, encouraging discussions in our community. It explores the concept of an adventure playground in Wales.Click here for Erin Davis interview.

The idea is that children are free to take risks with a variety of materials and experiences, with limited guidance.  Play workers are there to remove hazards, but offer no interference or intervention unless there is a request or hazard. (A hazard refers to something that the children are unaware of like broken glass or nails).

After the film, there was a bit of discussion about this concept and how to make it work here. One of the questions that came up was how to circumvent legal issues that could arise.  The panel answered this by saying that the adventure playgrounds in use are offered primarily to children age 6-11.  There are fewer rules and restrictions in this age group.  A fence with a lock is also traditionally included so that play workers are there to prevent hazards from harming the children, and to encourage risk taking in a physically and emotionally safe space.

A large portion of the audience were families, and while there were a lot of great conversations among parents, the early educator perspective was not present. That’s why I’m writing this…I have something to say as always.

We want to encourage risk-taking too. Unfortunately, we have state regulations and insurance liability to worry about.  I’m speaking mostly as a home provider, because if our insurance company doesn’t like our space or practices, they will drop us as clients-not just the childcare policies, but home and auto as well.  So that means no fires, no water deeper than 24″, and no heights greater than 36″.  That’s just to please my insurance company, the state regulations aren’t as tough, but no standing water, all sand covered when not in use…so basically our play space has to be picked up every afternoon.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt some basic concepts of the adventure playground: risks are encouraged with minimal redirection and interference, loose parts are offered, and children are able to experience and witness disappointment, failures, achievements, and successes. 

What do they gain from this type of play?

Freedom in their play

Ownership and pride

A deeper sense of self

Rich social environment

To be challenged everyday

Become better problem solvers

Children develop resilience factors

So think about your experiences with playgrounds in the future, and maybe adjust your thinking a little.  Children are capable of so much, let’s see how far they can go! And as always, I welcome your comments!

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“Is the Game Over Yet?” How to survive team sports with your athletes siblings

  

After spending the morning cheering for my son and his lacrosse team, while observing a mom struggling with two younger kids, I decided to write this post.  The mom kept her cool, but I could tell she was aggravated with her other two children.  She spent most of her time telling them not to go anywhere, stop fighting, and no, the game isn’t over.  In all fairness, they brought a blanket and that was it. I’d be bored too. 

Now, I can look at this a couple of ways: how irritating to have the constant disruption for those of us trying to enjoy the game, and then there is the perspective of the mom who is trying to support one child while the other two are bored and behaving in a way that makes mom feel like people are judging her.

Bottom line: it made the morning kind of miserable for everyone, especially the mom with the two bored kiddos.  So, as a child care provider who is trained to prevent behavior issues ahead of time, here’s my two cents (or 20 since I tend to ramble).

1) set the expectations before your arrival. Just make it very clear to the children what they are to expect for the outing and how you would like them to conduct themselves. 

2) be prepared. Have each child pack a small bag of things to do.  This can include a frisbee, coloring book, or deck of cards.  Even a pair of binoculars will provide engagement.  Remind them that the bag is theirs to carry and keep track of. This builds a sense of ownership, responsibility and pride.  (And don’t forget snacks!)

3) include the siblings in the athlete’s activity in some way. Encourage the siblings to make a banner to cheer on their athlete.  Give them jobs like gathering a water bottle or cleats.  Remind them why you’re there, and engage their interest: “did you see how she kicked the ball?” Or “look how fast he’s running!”

4) give them a little freedom. There are many other families at these games, and plenty of other bored siblings.  Set some limits, but let them go play together on an empty field when possible.  Just situate yourself so your kids are in your sight line, and let them roll around in the grass with other kids.

I hope this helps! 

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Start the Conversation Early

 

 When thinking about your two, three or four year old, I bet the last thing on your mind is talking to them about drug and alcohol use.  I’ve just blown you away, right?   Here’s the thing: if you talk to them in response to their questions or comments about it, it means more to them than a lecture 12 years later.  

I’m not saying to sit your two year old down for a substance talk-that wouldn’t be age appropriate and certainly not effective.  However, when you hear a toddler, a very verbal two year old, say, “I have cigarettes from the store,” you are presented with an opportunity.  This happened with my program kiddos the other day while engaging in dramatic play.  I didn’t want to give it too much attention and/or judgement so I was thoughtful in my provocation. I simply asked her to tell me about them.  She talked about the smoke, and came around to coughing.  I asked if cigarettes were okay for her to have: “I’m not a grown up yet, I’m still growing so I can’t have them.” 

Seems like the conversation has begun at her house.  As a mom of a ten year old son and the granddaughter, niece and daughter of family members with substance problems, I think it’s important to talk with kids early about things like drinking and driving.  For me, teaching my son about responsible consumption is as important as teaching him how to tie his shoe or zip his coat.  If these values are ingrained early, he will be better equipped to make decisions as an adolescent and adult.

Yesterday evening, while out for a bike ride with his wife, a man I’ve known for many years was killed after being struck by a drunk driver.  He left behind two children and his wife.  He was a valued colleague to many and he was committed to making the community a better place.

I wonder if that drivers family ever talked to him about drinking and driving?  Maybe they did, and he still wasn’t responsible with his choice.  But maybe they never got around to it…

Please feel free to provide feedback…

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