An Essential Thing You Forget To Do When Getting Kids Ready For School

With schools just around the corner, several parents are becoming preoccupied with getting their kids ready for the new academic year. This includes buying uniforms, stationaries and of course the new school bag. While this routine excites children and is by all means necessary, parents fail to acknowledge the most critical form of preparation; the emotional one.

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By emotional preparation I specifically mean mapping out what your child can expect from the new school year. This process is overlooked by many and instead, perceived that children will easily transition smoothly from one year to the next, when this is rarely the case. Once trouble starts, parents begin to question, what went wrong? Why is he acting out this year when he was great the year before? Why is she finding it difficult to make friends now? Why does he hate his new teacher so much?

download (2)Children accustom themselves more easily in new situations and events when they know what to expect. Speaking to your child about what to anticipate prior to change allows them to feel more emotionally secure by providing them with stability through a perceived controlled environment. Better yet, if you have the ability to provide visual images before beginning a new school/ classroom / teacher, children are more likely to accept and encourage the change by familiarizing themselves with it once put in the situation.

The more detail you can provide the better for your child; down to the nitty-gritties. Here are a few suggestions on what to talk about before your new term begins:

  • What should your child expect this year at school in academic and social terms. Outline what your child will be exploring in class this year, what new skills they will learn and which friends are continuing with them in class.respect
  •  “Why” questions are very important to be asked from your child and answered by you. Leave room for their questions and while answering as honestly as possible. Describe why their classroom is changing, why they will be meeting a new teacher this grade and why it will be expected of them to begin doing homework for example.
  •  How will your child be expected to behave this year that is different from the year before? What new responsibilities will she/he have? Are they expected to become more independent than the year before, if so how? How will their routine at home change too once school starts?

“Children accustom themselves more easily in new situations and events when they know what to expect”

If I had to pick the MOST important question to ask though it will have to be, ‘How can I help you this school year?’ This question really empowers children to feel belonging and significance within their family. By feeling valued, this encourages children to make more confident day-to-day decisions while ultimately, reciprocating the respect being given to them to those around them. Finally, always end your conversations by reminding your littles if they think of any more questions, any at all, you are right here to answer them.

3 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Before Loosing Their Temper

The way you choose to communicate, respond and attend to your child has a direct impact on their development. Parent responsiveness interactions are the process in which parents are positively present while meeting the child’s emotional, physical and psychological needs. Recent studies have suggested that rich parent responsiveness skills have a weighted influence on social and cognitive skills of children as well as facilitate in developing positive relationships with others. Giving clear calm instructions, exchanging warmth and encouraging confidence are all examples of rich parent-child interactions. Such methods of communication nurture children’s’ self-regulatory skills which help to inhibit impulsive behaviour as well as provide the according tools to cooperate with others.

Maintaining a balanced healthy relationship with children is hard. Children are constantly learning discovering their environment making a parent’s role that much more challenging to ensure they feel security and love. Their explorative nature more often that not may lead to power struggles, disciplining and several battles.

“Children like to be told what to do rather what not to do”

Below are 3 set of questions that every parent needs to know and ask themselves right before they choose the words they are about to use with their child, especially, during times of low temperament, disagreement and frustration.

  1. Am I in control of myself? Am I displaying the qualities I want my child to be: patient, respectful, kind, thoughtful, curious, and resilient?

parent controlThis may come to a shock for most but what I have come to realise with experience is when parent’s loose their temper and choose to use their ‘strength’ to discipline their child (whether by shouting or using slight physical touch) almost 80% of them have reported that this is when they feel weakest and lack control. This says a lot about how loosing our temper really plays with our logical reason. The less you are in control of your reactions, the less you will be able to regulate and guide your child positively.

  1. Is this going to strengthen our relationship? Will my child know that she/he is loved?

maxresdefaultSetting rules and boundaries is a necessity for children, however this does not contradict with achieving so with constant KINDNESS. It is a common misconception that in order to discipline, one must only be firm when communicating with the child. While firmness is essential, it is only beneficial to your parent-child relationship when coupled with kindness. Go down to eye level when speaking, calm your tone of voice whenever possible, express your understanding of their feelings, remind them they are loved are all examples of showing kindness that do not contradict with your firm guidelines e.g ‘(eye level) I know you feel sad because you want to play with your friends and I understand you wish you could stay longer, but it’s night and it’s time to sleep, I love you and know this is hard for you but we have to go now.’

  1. Am I teaching my child how to do better next time? Am I looking for long-term solutions or looking for blame and expressing my own feelings?

loveI left best for last, as I undoubtedly believe this is pivotal. A lot of the times parents come to me with the problem saying ‘my son/daughter KNOWS its wrong but still decides to go back and do it anyway.’ Sound familiar? Rest assured this is by no means simply because your children want to ‘annoy’ you but rather are seeking guidance from you. Children like to be told what to do rather what not to do. They like to hear ‘play with you brother gently’ rather than ‘don’t hit your brother’ or ‘walk slowly’ instead of ‘don’t run’ and ‘play in this room’ instead of ‘you are not allows to play here.’ What is the difference in approaches? You are providing salutations and guidance on what you want your child to actually be doing allowing them to form a clearer picture in their head of what is expected of them.


“I don’t know how to talk to my kids about children with special needs” Expert Christine Haddad’s kid-friendly guide on what to say

“With understanding we can come closer to creating tolerant, accepting and inclusive environments for everyone. Different is not less.”
A big part of my role as an art therapist and RDI Program consultant is to educate parents on the experience of their children. I do this for several reasons:
  1. I need them to understand the internal struggle that their children are facing in order to better cater for their needs.
  2. By understanding their situation better, parents will be able to support their children to reach their fullest potential and to find the coping strategies that work best for them.
  3. I provide the parents with a very digestible and clear description that they could use to advocate for their child and themselves.

“A lot of the times I work with families that want to live typical lives with their children that have special needs and there are many factors that may stand in their way. They might feel embarrassed when out with their child because of the people staring, especially in the middle of a breakdown. We all know that if for one second our own children did something inappropriate in public we would immediately assert a, “Stop that immediately” attitude.”

child downPeople stare, point and might even be judging parents of children with special needs for not being able to “control” their child, especially those who have no or little understanding about children with special needs. There may be adults who understand and can sympathize with those parents, yet children are typically curious and will most likely ask questions and make comments that, although they are innocent, can be very hurtful. This is why advocation is tremendous. Beyond being able to identify their child’s experience to support them in making better decisions for themselves, understanding their child’s experience can help parents teach other parents who will then hopefully raise a better educated, accepting and tolerant generation.

Below are some of the most common descriptions I use, for the top four special needs – I try to make it as kid-friendly as possible. Bear in mind that not one individual with a diagnosis has the same experience as the next and these descriptions are very generalized and tend to lean towards more sever examples. 

  • AUTSIM SPECTRUM DISORDER: List all of the things that you hear. (Cars outside. Electricity buzzing. The fridge. People talking in the next room. Your breathing. Your clothes moving. etc.) List all of the things that you see. (The screen. The ad that’s moving. Someone moving near you. The light reflecting off of the table. The trees moving outside the window. The texture in the carpet. etc.) List all of the things that you feel. (The phone your hand. Your back on the chair. The hair on your shoulders. The food being digested in your belly. The temperature. etc.) These are just a few things that you might experience through only three of your senses. Imagine you experience them all at the same intensity and it is really difficult to focus on one thing. The whole world is attacking all at once! Taking it all in and making sense of it can take a lot of effort and even more time. Listening to one person’s voice and making sense of it and finding an appropriate way to respond can be an incredibly difficult task. Remember to be patient and considerate of all of the stimulus that could be attacking their nervous system all at once.
  • CEREBRAL PALSY: An article I once found while writing my thesis was written by an individual with CP who tried to explain their struggle by saying, “Imagine you’re trying to tie your shoe laces but there are oven mitts tied to your hands.” CP happens when their is a lack of oxygen flow to the brain for an extended period of time in the early years of child development. This lack of oxygen creates a “disconnect” with certain areas of the brain and the nervous system. As a result, the effected nerves are incapable of communicating with the brain and therefor are difficult to feel with and the corresponding muscles become spastic (tense). We use muscles to move, eat, look, digest. etc. The extent to which the child’s muscles and nerves are effected can range massively, but always remember that even if their body looks like it can’t do very much, that is no reflection on how powerful and useful their brains can be.
  • ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVE DISORDER: A colleague’s client, who has ADHD once told him, “I have a Ferrari engine for a brain, but a tricycle for a body.” That is a wonderful depiction of what the experience of a child with ADHD might look like! In our brains we have neurons. They connect to help us think, make decisions and absorb the information around us. When we are not thinking of much and we are calm, the neurons are connecting to each other less. When we are thinking about a lot of things and also moving our bodies, the neurons are connecting a lot – it looks like a laser show in our brains! Those with ADHD have really excited neurons and so a lot of them are connecting a lot of the time. This makes it difficult for them to sit still (because the neurons could be telling the body to keep moving) or to concentrate on one thing at a time (because there are so many different neurons connecting all at once). Being allowed to fidget or take many breaks can help address the experience happening inside. Consider them not to be rude or uninterested when their focus keeps shifting, remember the laser party in their heads.
  • DOWN SYNDROME: In our blood we carry our genes, they are made up of 23 chromosomes that are the recipe for who we are; what we look like, how big we are, our colors and almost everything else that makes us physically us. People with Down syndrome were lucky enough to get a bit more of the 21st chromosome in their genes. This effects their physical appearance, but not all look exactly the same! Having Down syndrome will effect the physical traits of a person, but does not necessarily effect their cognitive ability, however, cognitive and intellectual disabilities often occur, but can be very mild or very severe. One thing is for sure, no one smiles wider than those with Down syndrome!

Each and every person, whether they have a special need or not, has something important to contribute and potential to succeed, but they must be given the chance. With understanding we can come closer to creating tolerant, accepting and inclusive environments for everyone. Different is not less.

17671371_10154931864580225_246370483_nChristine “Kiki” Haddad Zaynoun MPS ATR is an art therapist who received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the American University of Cairo in 2012 and her master’s degree in creative arts therapy from Pratt Institute in New York in 2014. Kiki is currently working as an art therapist and RDI© Program consultant at Therapeutic Approach to Growth in San Diego, CA. She worked at Imagine Academy for Autism and The League Education and Treatment Center in NYC as well as the Advance Society and the Learning Resource Center in Cairo, Egypt where she practiced art therapy and DIR® Floortime therapy with children and their parents with a wide range of special needs of ages 2 to 30. Kiki features in “Art Therapy: The Movie”, a documentary about art therapy across the globe and has written a chapter in the upcoming book “Art Therapy in the Middle East”. Kiki has 10+ of experience supporting those with special needs, which she is immensely passionate for. But also loves art, music, traveling and reading!

Mispronunciation in children: The latest on speech milestones and letter development

While language is detected very early during infancy, the process of projecting speech first begins between ages of 1-2 years. From then onwards, toddlers pick up language quite quickly, yet it is not always a walk in the park. Several times toddlers will mispronounce words or misuse words during their speech, while this may be cute in the beginning and great entertainment during family gatherings, how you act and react to such a situation is critical.

It is important to note that with every stage in a child’s developmental age, new sounds are being introduced to their speech. For example, while a two year old can pronounce several letters, usually the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds are later developed around the age of 5-6. Children should fully develop all their sounds accordingly by the age of 7. Speech specialist Eric K Sander created the following illustration to demonstrate the speech sounds that typically develop by age.


However, until children do reach that developmental stage, it is important to guide their speech accordingly, especially if certain words are being mispronounced. Several mothers replace the original word to the word their child pronounces in their daily language so for example; they would ask their child ‘do you want a nana?’ Instead of using it’s proper noun, ‘do you want a banana?’ Here, you are encouraging mispronunciation and instead, hindering a child’s speech development by teaching that the incorrect ‘nana’ is in fact, a correct word used by mammy and daddy.

“The reaction of laughing when a child mispronounces a word, is in it’s own way, a form of reward to your child… the frequency of mispronunciations will increase.”

A client recently was complaining that her 2.5-year-old child says ‘macaconi’ instead of ‘macaroni.’ She mentioned that both she, as well as several family members, found this very cute the first few times, and would usually ask the child to repeat ‘macaconi’ on purpose so as to have a laugh about it. Recently, she realized this is a problem when her son  would randomly say ‘macaconi’ to several strangers just to wait for their laugh. Do you think the mother handled the situation well?

The reaction of laughing when a child mispronounces a word, is in it’s own expression, a form of reward to your child. By doing so the child is correlating that with every mispronounced word, a reward will follow, in the usual case this is the laughter and attention. Accordingly, the frequency of mispronunciations will increase, in order to gain more attention as the reward.


Heres 3 steps to help end this cycle, or even prevent it in the first place:

  1. Limit negative reactions

imgres-1When a child mispronounces a word, whether they are developmentally capable of pronouncing all letters or not, it is best to ignore. Provide neither a positive reaction as laughing nor negative reaction by bringing it to their attention such as ‘your saying it wrong.’

  1. Respond

If the situation allows, respond to your child using the correct pronunciation. E.g ‘Mummy can I have open the figerator’ you can reply by saying ‘Sure you can open this refrigerator.’ Here, my not brining it to the attention of your child, you are indirectly providing correction through modeling.

  1. Be a good role-model

No matter how cute your child may sound with their mispronunciations, always use the right words when you talk to them. You can even sometimes exaggerate or elaborate on a certain syllable or sound that they seem to not pick up during sentences.

It is important to listen to your child’s speech and check to see if there is improvement over a certain period of time. By the age of 3, a child’s speech should be mostly understandable to others. If you do feel like your child’s speech development raises a red flag, it is best to seek for professional opinion and guidance.