The Puzzler

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Guest Post from Emily Mullen, CCLS 

After breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning, I opened up a new toddler puzzle leftover from Christmas. My 2 ½ year old son was thrilled to see this new play item before him. He already understood the link-pieces-together concept of puzzles from watching me in the past and immediately zoned in with intent. His toddler instinct to imitate was in full force. With a smile on his face he used phrases like “oh this one goes here” and “oh maybe not” and “there it goes!” He picked up piece after piece linking them together, rotating them and moving them to new spots.

As I sat with him, in awe of his focus and determination, I decided to put “teaching” aside for the moment to let him work. I resisted the urge to reach for puzzle pieces, but gladly accepted those that he handed to me. I kept myself from offering suggestions or redirecting his behavior while he played. Instead, I described my observations of his play (“You found a spot for the frog piece!”) and made statements that reflected the content of his own comments (“You’re looking for a new spot for that one.”)

We soon found ourselves deep in the midst of a child-directed play session. He had the steering wheel, and I was enjoying the ride. After a short while he had his own finished product. With a smile from ear to ear he exclaimed, “Mom look! There’s there puzzle!”

A quick glance at the photograph below is enough to see that the arrangement of puzzle pieces did not match the product’s intended image. Yet my son applauded his efforts and walked away with an obvious sense of accomplishment. In this morning’s moments of toddler play, he decided the goal was simply giving each puzzle piece a home. (As he had previously observed the purpose of a puzzle to be!) He chose his goal, and directed his behavior accordingly. As a result, he left the play experience with increased confidence to face a challenge and practice in problem solving (for example, rotate a puzzle piece until it fit).

We will find many moments for “adult directed” learning experiences; my son has plenty of opportunity to follow instructions from me all day. On this Sunday morning, though, he learned important skills to apply to any future challenge – adult or child driven. So we ended our puzzle play and celebrated his way because as my son proclaimed, “ There’s the puzzle!”

Engaging in child-directed playtime can have great benefits for children’s development. As children grow they follow constant instructions from adults to guide their learning of basic skills (how to brush teeth, how to wash hands), basic knowledge (counting, colors, shapes) and basic cultural behavior (saying please and thank you, using indoor voices). Providing children with safe opportunities to be in control of play allows them time to think about how the world works, explore their own ideas, and experience self-discovery.

More About the Author:

Emily is a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and full-time mom to a wonderful 2 ½ year old boy. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Psychology from Stonehill College in Easton, MA and an M.S. in Therapeutic Recreation with a Child Life concentration from Springfield College in Springfield, MA . She worked full-time teaching Therapeutic Recreation and Child Life courses at Springfield College through the summer of 2012 when her son was born. She has recently returned to Springfield College as adjunct faculty. She additionally worked in the field as a CCLS at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, CT for 4 years.

Tips For Helping Kids Handle Their Emotions

I am excited to introduce you to a guest blogger today, Holly Easterby with her helpful tips in helping children handle their emotions. These are some great tips that I use as both a parent and child life specialist. I am sure you will find them resourceful too.


Holly Easterby wants to help parents raise balanced kids. An avid kids’ fashionista and blogger, Holly regularly contributes for Bonza Brats and other blogs to share her expertise on children. In this article, she dishes out tips on how to help our kids manage their feelings.

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All parents have their share of emotional outbursts from their kids. Your kids, toddlers and preschoolers especially, don’t know yet how to stay on top of their feelings or control their impulses. A lot of tears can be shed over a slight disagreement, when they’re afraid, or when just about anything else doesn’t quite go their way. As the parent, your role is to teach your child effective ways of sorting things out when they are emotionally strung out. Here are some tips you can follow to help kids work through their emotions successfully.

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Stay calm yourself

But first, you should stay calm yourself. It can be difficult especially if you find yourself dealing with an emotional meltdown on top of other chores. However, if you keep your cool, you set an example for what you want your child to achieve, for one. For another, you will find a harder time dealing with a frustrated kid if you are frustrated yourself. By keeping calm, you are letting your child know that his/her problem is not too big to get fixed. Your calm behavior teaches your kid that cooling it is the best way to work through any problem.

Validate their feelings

In dealing with kids’ emotions, let your child know in clear terms that you understand what they are going through and why they are upset. Telling them to stop crying is equivalent to telling them that they are wrong for feeling that way. Instead, allow them to tell you without interruption why they are upset. Let them know that you understand, or if they got hurt, that you would also feel hurt if it happened to you. Your child will feel safer if you show them you are an ally and eventually calm down.

However, don’t tell your child to bottle up. This is a poor precedent to set for a child about feelings. Feelings are inherent in a person and going through them is natural. What is unnatural though is preventing them from getting themselves expressed, which worsens the initial problem of not knowing how to handle them.

Teach them a few calming tricks

There are many tricks parents can use in handling emotions for kids. When kids just can’t cope, you have to help them sort through it and lessen their distress, if not now, then in due course. Here are some that will work.

Label emotions

To kids, emotions are confusing to sort out. They need you to talk them through the different emotions and teach them the words. With your help, kids will gradually learn to verbalize what they are feeling. It doesn’t matter if you use big words or come up with your own terms as long as you can help them understand what they are going through. This doesn’t lessen the frustration now, but teaching them to recognize their feelings is a step taken towards handling emotions for kids.

Draw it out

Is your child overwhelmed and unable to express it? Ask him/her to take it out on paper with some crayons and make a picture of what he/she is feeling. When he/she is done, gently ask your kid to tell you all about it. The output may be an angry bunch of scribbles, but you actually just helped your child sort through an emotion in a creative way and settle down in the process. Neat!

Swap bad thoughts with good thoughts

Children easily get frustrated with even the simplest things, like a tear in a newly drawn picture. When they start focusing on negative thoughts, try providing a positive alternative. Do you think we can fix it with tape? Will it feel better with an ice cube? Teaching your child to swap bad thoughts with good thoughts is a great method of instilling positive thinking. You are teaching them to look for the good in a situation, which is a great way of emotionally equipping your kid to handle future frustrations.


Meet basic needs

There is a simple equation that can cause kids’ emotions to balloon into outbursts and tantrums: tired + hungry = cranky. Indeed the crankiness factor can shoot up when kids experience hunger and exhaustion. One way of avoiding emotional events is making sure that your child takes meals at regular intervals and gets enough rest between waking up in the morning and bedtime.

Learn when to ignore

When your toddler enters the terrible twos stage, expect him/her to have temper tantrums as part of his/her development. These are not problems – yet – but do know how to handle tantrums to keep them from turning into a behavioral issue. While you do need to take certain steps to prevent children at this stage from becoming frustrated, you should ignore them when acting out just to get attention. Providing any form of attention during this temperamental display will tell the child to continue behaving that way to get what he/she wants. Although you should pretend you don’t notice your child acting out, don’t let him/her out of your sight to prevent him/her from doing any potential harm.

Ignore the public

When a child stages an outburst in public, it’s easy for a parent to react out of embarrassment. Hopefully, you don’t say or do something to save face at the expense of your child. Although you should care some about your public image, you should be ready to trade that up for actions that can better benefit your child in the long run. Besides, public outbursts by your child are temporary hitches that will go away once you’ve taught him/her how to cope with strong feelings.

Final thoughts 

There are many ways to go when it comes to teaching handling emotions for kids.There are no overnight fixes, and what works with one child may not work with another. Some children are more emotional and easily frustrated than others. Get to know your child’s tendencies well so that you can decide what’s best for him/her.

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Author: Holly Easterby

Holly’s love for children has seen her featured in many education and children websites, whether talking about healthy snacks, motivating students, or children’s fashion at Bonza Brats. Holly loves reading books, and shopping is her way of spending time with her young family. If you would like to catch her, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @HollyEasterby.

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