Parents can control, teach and fascinate a child at once

January 31, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Mommy, can we finger-paint?"

"Read me a story!"

"I just want you to play with me."

Ah ... life with a preschooler.

There are many things they want to do but can't without help from an adult.

So, if you're the adult charged with meeting a child's needs, days - particularly winter days - can seem endless.

A little planning and organization can assure that both yours and your child's needs are met, says Carol Baicker-Mc-Kee, a clinical psychologist and author.

It's easy to get caught up in the seriousness of parenting, helping little ones meet all those developmental milestones, then blip, children are grown and parents wonder what happened.


"Don't forget to have fun during the day," reminds Baicker-McKee.

To strike a balance between being engaged in your child's activities and fostering his independence, make the world accessible to him, says Baicker-McKee, who used to be a preschool teacher.

Put items at the child's level - lower a closet rod so he can reach clothes, put his dishes on a low kitchen shelf, have art supplies in a drawer he can reach. Easy access means easy cleanup. He can put things away.

Keep a list of "soother activities" for times when you feel overwhelmed. Then you can just look at the list and offer your child a choice between two activities.

Baicker-McKee, the mother of three children, ages 15, 12 and 11, has written two parenting books, "Fussbusters at Home: Strategies and Games for Smoothing the Rough Spots in Your Preschooler's Day" and "Fussbusters on the Go: Strategies and Games for Stress-Free Outings, Errands, and Vacations with Your Preschooler."

Here are some of her suggestions:

  • For a Play-Doh project, provide buttons, pieces of cloth, yarn or ribbon, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, beads, dry pasta and other items the child can use for decorating. For a wonderful aroma, put cinnamon in homemade Play-Doh. Children may enjoy kneading this into the dough themselves.

  • Provide a release for excess energy with a Popping Penguins game. Spread cloth napkin icebergs around a carpeted area and let your child pop from floe to floe. After a while, remove one "berg" and spread the remaining ones farther apart for more challenge.

  • Make a baby icicle. Tie a short length of string on a low branch on a cold day and let your child use an eyedropper or spoon to drip water down it.

  • Add a soothing ritual to your bedtime routine - kisses a la carte. Make a picture menu representing different kinds of kisses like "butterfly kisses" (flutter your eyelashes against your child's cheek), "eye kisses" (soft smooches on each eye), "Zlerberts" (raspberries on a belly) and Eskimo kisses (rub noses). Let your child select two from the menu each night. Have a similar non-rushed routine for wake-up time.

  • Give yourself and your kids alone-time. This can be for napping, silent reading or quiet play. It should be fun and appealing. Have toys set aside that the child can only play with during quiet time.

  • Visualize yourself as a reservoir of cold water that can put out the flames when your child is erupting. See yourself as calm and in control.

  • Invite a friend to come over, preferably another parent who has a child the same age as yours so you both have a friend. Adding another child into the mix could keep your child occupied.

  • Water play is a great way to relax your child. Fill a dishpan with warm water, place it on the kitchen floor with some bath toys and allow your child to play.

  • Put dried beans in a large bucket or dishpan. Ask the child to arrange a pattern on a place mat. For floor cleanup, allow him to use a Dust Buster.

    "There's a loud, satisfying sound when it sucks up a bean," Baicker-McKee says.

For information about the Fussbusters books, go to

Baicker-McKee also wrote a picture book, "Mapped Out: The Search for Snookums." Snookums is a lizard.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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