Copyright 2011 or Lyons
Monday 18th of February 2019
Issue 3042 / zero cents

Preschool Readiness For Both Children and the Family

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 |

Featured talk at Bump Club & Beyond Lecture Series, September 15, 2011

Your child is now preschool aged! What an exciting time of change and transition. You want your child’s first experience of school to be a positive one and want to make sure they are ready for the first day of preschool. While children can have many feelings about starting school, it’s natural that parents would have an emotional reaction to this change as well. Some positive feelings involving pride in your child’s growth and independence as well as some bittersweet feelings as your child leaves your immediate care for likely the first time ever.

The stress of deciding on the right preschool can be daunting, particularly if this is your first child or if you did not grow up in a large city. There can be the pressure of wondering if your child will be accepted, if they will do well on the school’s “play date,” if you can financially afford a private school and if the school will expect donations above and beyond tuition. And then there are outside pressures; solicited and unsolicited advice from family and friends, competitive pressure from other families. All of this can evoke much anxiety for parents.

It is important that your child be emotionally, physically and academically ready for the challenges as well. One of the important tasks of early childhood is learning to regulate emotions and manage feelings of frustration or anger. Children look to their immediate caretakers to learn how to manage their own feelings. They often mirror what they see in others so it’s important for parents to reflect to the child that they are competent and will be successful. Even though young children have not yet developed the linguistic sophistication to fully explain how they are feeling, they are very good at picking up on others’ feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Part of building a child’s confidence involves letting them make mistakes and then start to solve problems on their own.

In thinking about preschool readiness, the following points are important to consider:

1)    Potty training – On a practical note, most preschools require that children be potty trained. Potty training also indicates that a child has gained an awareness of his or her body.  The child is now capable of controlling both their body and some of their emotions. Potty training shows that the child has gained some self-sufficiency. This then leads to other tasks that the child can master such as putting on shoes and coats, washing their hands and playing alone for a period of time.

2)    Does your child enjoy playing with friends? A child should be excited to see other children and be able to play in a semi-supervised manner. Exposure to other little ones can be formal through toddler classes or informal through play dates set up by parents.

3)    Preschool children should have developed an interest in letters, numbers and music. If your child is excited by learning, he or she is likely ready for preschool. Learning these pre-academic skills also requires that your child have the ability to sit and work quietly. It’s important for children to have opportunities for solo play (not watching the television!) in order to develop concentration and to improve attention span.

4)    Separation from parents. Can your child tolerate being left with a sitter or another family member? It’s important to have a transition routine involving saying goodbye and then reuniting. Children gradually learn that when you leave you will always come back. Tell your child in “kid terms” when you will return i.e.; after naptime, after snack, after playtime etc. Giving your child lots of opportunities to be independent and to gradually separate from you will make the transition to preschool easier.

5)    An ability to focus on group activities. Participation in playgroups can help children develop this skill. Encourage your child to work on a group project with one or two friends.

6)    Is your child comfortable with routine? Having a routine helps a child feel safe and sends the message that the world is predictable. Although preschool classrooms can seem busy and sometimes chaotic, children learn the routine of transitioning into the classroom, saying goodbye to you, having a snack, play time, reading time, napping etc. Before your child starts preschool, make sure that the routine at home is predicable and consistent. While children can push the limits, they feel safe when they know exactly what those limits are. Consistency is key for emotional growth and behavioral control.

7)    Stamina. A day in preschool can seem long and taxing to a young child. You can expect that your child will be very tired during the first weeks of school. It’s important to be realistic about how much school you think your child can handle. Some schools offer half versus full day programs. Others offer half week or full day options. If you are unsure, start your child in a program that meets for less time rather than more. As your child’s stamina increases you can up the amount of time that they are in school. This is important as we want to make sure that children are successful and continue to be excited about learning.

8)    It’s a good idea to have your child visit their new school, classroom and teacher prior to the first day of class. This will increase their comfort level and ease the transition to school.

Congratulations on launching your little student into school! Enjoy this wonderful time of growth and remember that your confidence in your child will lead to your child’s growing self-sufficiency and excitement in learning about the world around us.

Kids with Special Needs: Impact on the Family System

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 |

Featured in Families In The Loop, October 2011

Kids with Special Needs: Impact on the Family System


I find myself feeling angry, even disappointed, that my child isn’t developing “typically.” How can I suppress these emotions in a way that doesn’t hurt my family?

Dr. Lyons’ Response:

I recommend talking through everything – the good, the bad and the ugly – with an experienced family psychologist who can help you process these feelings. Meeting with a professional will allow you to make better sense of the situation, which can benefit the family as a unit and each member individually. Consider going by yourself, in addition to bringing along the entire family.  Chances are you’re not alone in your emotions, and opening the lines of communication is a crucial component, as each member of the family learns to lean on another for emotional support. There are no feelings that are “wrong,” but without open dialogue, resentments can build.


My daughter has special needs, but my son (her brother) does not. Do you have any advice for fostering a healthy, happy relationship between them?

Dr. Lyons’ Response:

Absolutely. First, explain the disability in “kid terms” to the sibling. It’s likely that other children will ask questions, and the sibling needs to have the right language in order to answer them. The sibling should know, for example, that a sister with ADHD has trouble focusing; a sister with an Autism spectrum disorder has difficulty understanding other people’s perspectives; a sister with cerebral palsy has difficulty controlling her muscles.

Second, it’s important to explain that you can’t “catch” the disability. As the child with the disability is often visiting a variety of doctors, it makes sense that the sibling may think that this is a sickness that he could get, too. It’s equally important that other children in school understand that they cannot catch the disability.

Third, be extra-sensitive to the idea that the typically developing sibling needs special, one-on-one time with parents. Because children with special needs receive a lot of attention, a sibling may feel neglected.

Finally, allow the sibling to express his feelings. He may feel guilty (for being typical) or resentful, even if he cognitively understands that his sibling needs more care. Some children also experience “survivor guilt” or the question of “why did this happen to my brother or sister and not to me?” A feeling of embarrassment in public if a sibling is acting out is also normal.

It’s important for families to address and validate these feelings so that the typically-developing sibling can find ways to appropriately cope. Sometimes the sibling of a child with a disability can be put into or adopt a caretaking and protective role for his/her brother or sister, both at school and at home. In most cases, these siblings are often very responsible, empathic and independent young people, qualities that will benefit them in the rest of their lives.

Handling Separation Anxiety In Your Child

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 |

Featured in Neighborhood Parents Network, August 2011

As children experience new activities and places, parents may notice an increase in their child’s anxiety or difficulty separating from a parent. Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s emotional development that helps a child distinguish between safe and non-safe environments. Peak times for separation anxiety are around eight to 10 months and again at 18 months.

Here are some tips to help ease times of transition:

1. As children learn to identify and manage their emotions, they take their cues from important adults around them. If you seem anxious or worried, your child will also feel anxious and unsafe. If you are confident, you are conveying your confidence in your child to handle a new situation.

2. Explain in “kid terms” what is going to happen at the new activity—for example, circle time, swimming, snack, pick-up. Be prompt about pick-up times.

3. While children need to be prepared for new activities, don’t “over-explain” what is going to happen. Too much information can lead to a child feeling anxious that the new activity is a “big deal.” Again, a child may sense your anxiety over a transition, which could lead to them feeling anxious.

4. Develop a special goodbye routine, such as “two kisses and one hug”, and use this during all times of transition. Stick to your routine and let your child know when you will be back in “kid terms.” For example, not that you will be back in 45 minutes, but that you will be back after play time or snack time.

5. Tell the teacher or instructor what your special goodbye routine will be. This way the teacher will know the appropriate time to invite your child to join the group.

6. Consistency with routines helps a child learn that he/she is safe, protected and loved. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Think of how you may feel when you don’t know what to expect (for example, a flight being delayed or canceled, getting a flat tire, losing your cell phone—all unpredictable and anxiety-provoking for us grown-ups!).

Keeping to your basic routines around goodbyes will help your children enjoy new adventures!

Hot Tips For Helping Children Manage Angry Feelings During Summer Months

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 |

Featured in Families In The Loop, August 2011

Everyone, kids and grown ups included, feels angry from time to time. Children’s experiences of feeling “mad” can be overwhelming for both themselves and for the grownups who are trying to help manage a child’s anger. And in the summer months, with changes in routine and schedules (both good and bad) families tempers can be on edge in particular. Not to mention the sticky Chicago weather. A child’s temper tantrum can set off frustration in a parent, teacher or counselor. So what are some tips to help manage hot, hot, hot feelings in the summer months?

1)    It’s normal and natural for us all to react to other’s feelings and emotions. It’s important however to keep in mind that children learn how to behave from adult models. If a parent or adult models how they can manage anger this sends the message to a child that a situation is not overwhelming. Keep your cool and you will be encouraging your child to keep theirs. Adults can give themselves “time-outs” on occasion! Giving yourself the change to “chill out” will help you manage a child’s anger in a more meaningful fashion.

2)    Anger rarely gets us anywhere except for more angry and frustrated. And those around us more upset.  Children learn more from what adults do than what they say. This applies to both positive and negative emotions. So try hard to manage your subtle reactions to frustrating situations. Children pick up on more than we give them credit for!

3)    The things we can control versus the things we cannot control. What a hard lesson to learn! And often a lifelong struggle! But there is no use getting upset over things that are out of our control. Showing children that the world won’t end if we don’t get our way, if there are delays in travel plans, a play date is canceled. The only thing we can control is our own reactions to situations. Have a mantra “Can we control this situation? Or is this situation out of our control?” No use getting upset over spilt milk. Modeling this behavior for children can go farther than lecturing them on the subject.

4)    Everyone feels angry and that’s ok. What’s most important is to talk about it. Consider having your child make a list of Anger Rules. For example:

  1. It’s OK to feel angry but:
    1.              Don’t hurt yourself
    2.              Don’t hurt others
    3.              Don’t hurt property
  2. DO talk about it.

5)    If you or your child has an angry flare up consider the following:

  1. Remove your child from the situation (this includes the grocery store, camp, a friends house.)
  2. Give your child an opportunity to express their anger first. For example, punching a cushion, tearing up paper, crying
  3. Reflect how your child is feeling “I can see you feel angry……still angry? ……How do you feel now?” Don’t “over talk” about the situation until your child has had the chance to calm down.
  4. Don’t make your child say he or she is sorry until they have calmed down sufficiently.

And most importantly – focus on the positive memories you are creating with your child during summer vacation. Share some of your childhood memories, take time to play, to have lazy afternoons, to eat ice cream.

Managing the Early Intervention System

Posted by on December 19th, 2011 |

As a new parent it can be difficult to know what is “typical” development in your child. New parents get advice from trusted grandparents, preschool teacher, pediatricians and other parents. Often the advice that is given is “your child is fine, don’t worry about it, they will grow out of it.” And often this advice is correct and comforting, but when is it time to consult with a professional such as an early intervention specialist or child clinical psychologist about your child’s development?

First, my biggest piece of advice is that consulting with an early childhood specialist cannot hurt and may be able to help. Even if this help is just in the form of reassuring you that everything is fine. But if there is something delayed in your child’s development, this assessment is paramount for best outcome. And if delays linger, the family is already hooked into the special education services of the school system because of their participation in early intervention services.

So when should you have concerns about your child’s development?

General guidelines are as follows:

For speech/ communication skills: a child should be able to speak in single words by age one, be combining two words by age 2 and combining 3 words by age 3.  By age one the child should be imitating sounds. By age two they should follow simple directions and by the age of three they should name people seen less than weekly and name 20 pictured items.

For physical motor development: is expected that children have the physical skills to walk by age 16 months (although the average age for walking is around the first birthday.) Walk up stairs by 2 years and throw a ball and stack 8 blocks by 3 years.

For adaptive behavior: a child should be able to change positions to pick up something and pick up a dropped object by their first birthday. By age 2 they should be able to hold out their arms for dressing and take off shoes and socks. By age 3 children should be able to put things away and take off their shirt.

For social-emotional behavior: a child should look at a talking adult and show negative reactions by their first birthday. By age 2 they should be able to explore new places and express fondness for relatives. By age three they should be able to respond to familiar adults and understand what “my” means.

For cognitive skills: a child should bang objects together and imitate gestures around their first birthdays. By age 2 they should be able to point to body parts and use pencil or crayon.

And what exactly is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention is a service offered by the government to provide early speech, occupational therapy, or family support to children aged 0-3.  Their website ( gives important information about how to have your child evaluated and how to start the process of therapies.  Many times parents do not know that this sort of support exists. Developmental specialists come to your home, free of charge to work with a child on anything from for example feeding issues, low motor tone, suspected autism, cognitive delays or sensory oversensitivity.  Sometimes children who are born prematurely or with clear developmental delays are referred directly into the program from the hospital and a development specialist will be at your home within days to help.