We all know that for children entering a preschool/ childcare setting for the first time it can be daunting enough. Add to this the introduction of a completely new language, and often a new cultural situation and you can see why settling in is more difficult for these children.

As parents from other cultures understandably value their child speaking their own language and aim for them to become bilingual it is often in preschool that children encounter English for the first time. It is important that we understand the value of bilingualism for the child, while supporting them to eventually use English on a daily basis in our services.

You will see below that there are some great practical resources available which you can use with children in your services.

For children who are encountering a new language there seems to be agreement that language learning goes through a number of phases:

– speaking the home language (the child realises it doesn’t work)

- the silent stage (listening to the new language and learning routines)

- repetition and language play, use of formulae, routines and single words

– more complex English or productive language use eventually follows


The NCCA stress that the silent phase is not something to be overly concerned about, it is normal for children to take time to observe and listen in a completely new environment/ with a new language. It is vital at this time to provide reassurance and encouragement. If possible some use of the child’s first language is helpful at this stage. Including the child in activities with small groups of children and giving as many opportunities for child to child interaction is helpful. It is through these interactions and those with the teacher that the child will eventually learn language. At first this is seen with the use of single words and phrases, singing rhymes are also among the first use of English to be seen. It may take longer for the child to gain in confidence to use more complex English but with good support we eventually see this happening.

In the Aistear guide Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years. There are the following suggestions for the early stages:

Speak slowly and clearly. • Use pictures such as a picture-timetable to explain what is going to happen next. • Use gesture, pointing and objects to help the child understand. Encourage the children to do the same. • Identify words you use often and repeat them, for example, toilet, lunch, book and home. Have pictures of these items displayed low down so children can point to them. • Make short comments and name things that the child is interested in or is doing. • Give children extra time to respond as they will take longer to think of what to say.

Finally, patience is required, it can take children up to two years to be able to have a conversation in English, and up to five until they are fully fluent (NCCA).

Practical Resources


Does your child speak more than one language at home? Some guides below to support the second language acquisition process. 

 Bilingual Leaflet - English

 Bilingual Leaflet - Gaeilge/ Bileog Dátheangach

 Bilingual Leaflet - Russian/ Двуязычный листок 

 Bilingual Leaflet - Portuguese/ Folheto Bilingue

 Bilingual Leaflet - Polish / Dwujęzyczna ulotka

 Bilingual Leaflet - Malay / Risalah Bilingual

 Bilingual Leaflet - Czech / Dvojjazyčný leták

 Bilingual Leaflet - Arabic / نشرة ثنائية اللغ

Integrate Ireland. English as a Second Language: Activities for very young Learners.

This activity sheet has some useful ideas for the early years’ practitioner to use with children learning English as a second language, which include:

Suggestions of play activities to learn basic language, including learning to answer ‘what is your name’, describing family, body parts, food, days of the week. Using puppets, playing games to help interact & express themselves.

Also, from the UK based Early Learning HQ, there are ideas for practical activities:

and here


Referenced in the blog:

NCCA Aistear guide. Supporting Children to Become Bilingual. Birth to 6 years.

NALDIC. Supporting bilingual children in the Early Years.

By Joanna Fortune


We have to distinguish between anxiety and worry.  All young children will experience worry, or the uh-oh feelings, as I like to call them.  When young children are in a situation that is unfamiliar, they do not know what to expect, they cannot predict with certainty what might happen and perhaps Mam and Dad are not around (if I am at school, a party, a play-date, starting at crèche etc) my body and brain fire up to recognise this as being dangerous and my worry alarm is set off.  When my worry alarm goes off, I get a sudden energy boost that is going to send me into either fight (stay around and work through it, or perhaps stay and act out behaviourally) or flight (run away and hide) mode.


You see when our internal worry alarm goes off it’s like our brains flip our lids.  This means that my cortex area (the more logical and rational part of my brain) is off line and I sink down into the back of my brain where it is very hard to think or act in a rational way.  Our feelings need for protection and general survival instincts are all located in this more primitive part of my brain. But worry is a good (albeit unpleasant) experience. Worry is a form of protection and a little bit of worry can keep them safe by stopping young children from taking dangerous chances or touching things they shouldn’t.


Image result for child worriedSome children start to worry even when there is no sign of danger or anything unfamiliar to trigger their worry alarm system.  It’s as though they have false alarms in that area. For children like this even a thought or an idea can be enough to trigger their alarm and send them into fight or flight mode.  This is called anxiety and it is different to worry because there isn’t always a reason for the child to feel like they do and so they will begin to see danger in situations where it doesn’t belong.  Anxiety can run in families, it can be cause by stressful life events and sometimes a blip in our brain chemistry can cause it. Anxiety keeps a child in a state of what is called anticipatory arousal and this means that they are on high alert all of the time.  They are always watching for signs that they are right to feel the way they do.  Being in this heightened state makes it hard for them to concentrate in school, to keep their friendships, to take in what you say to them (so you probably feel like you are saying are you listening to me? A lot)


When you see your child’s worry alarm go off it is great if you can step in as quickly as possible.  Respond to the feeling rather than the behaviour you are seeing.Image result for sitting with a worried child

  • Have them sit alongside you and look out of the window.  Together name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch and 1 thing you could taste if you were outside.  This can be enough to reset the brain

  • Sit facing them and gently take their hands in yours.  Holding eye contact, simply take slow in/out breathes and ask them to do as you do, at your pace. This helps their nervous system move from fight/flight mode back to rest mode.

  • Have them draw or write about the worry.  What is the worst part of it and what would need to change to make it better?  Have them draw/write this new scenario and focus on this. Tasks like this help to reengage the more logical and rational part of the brain.

  • Re-direct them to a play activity with you.  Play with them. Young children rarely say “I have something I would like to talk about” but they do ask, “Will you play with me” and in their language that is the same thing.  They are asking if you will help them to process something.

Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.

To date we have shared the experience of Early Days Montessori and Hillhouse Preschool.



This week’s service is “Shining Stars Academy” based in Athy. “Shining Stars Academy provides a Full day Early Years’ Service and a Homework School Age Childcare Service.  Shining Stars Academy aims to provide an excellent environment for children to develop their social, personal and educational skills and learn through a planned play-based curriculum influenced by the Montessori philosophy and underpinned by the national curriculum framework Aistear.”


Shining Stars Academy


Our outdoor day was enjoyable for both children and educators. We are making provision for outdoor play each day and it is evident in our setting. We value the play (indoor and outdoor) as it has benefits to children’s health, social, emotional and physical development.



The equipment in our back garden is relayed with children’s interest. On the day we carried our routine as always; we brought indoor outside. We carried the circle time in the garden and as they were investigating musical instruments the fresh air and the space allowed us to experience different tones and vibes created by guitar, violin, xylophone and many, many more musical instruments.


Some of us enjoyed obstacle course as the space allowed us to use tunnels, two spring games, using balancing stilts, throwing balls into the designated container. We all felt that it was beneficial as we tried to be team players and cooperate with each other.




Our younger friends enjoyed hopscotch, mark-making with chalk and sensory play with water, spaghetti and leaves. Educators provided activities based on children’s interests and on what could be beneficial to stimulate in natural environment. We feel that that the children gained skills such as co-ordination, balance, confidence and self-esteem. We noticed that the outdoor experience also allowed the children to express themselves freely, without the limitations of indoor space and “indoor rules”.

 As a general feedback we can say that outdoor learning has a positive impact on children’s well-being, they are more relaxed and keen to explore world around them.

 Written by: Shining Stars Academy Staff Team






If you already acknowledge and support the benefits of outdoor play for young children and participate in outdoor play on a daily basis, then this is a day to celebrate what you are doing and inspire other services to get involved.

If your setting is new or needs to develop more outdoor learning opportunities for the children, then use the Outdoor Classroom Day to act as a catalyst for more time outdoors every day.

It’s easy to get involved and there is something everyone can do!  Help build a movement that gets children outdoors to play and learn every day!

Sign up to be part of the Outdoor Classroom Day movement today! 

Sign up here:

Last week we shared the experience of Early Days Montessori.


This week’s service is “Hillhouse Preschool” based in Naas. “Hill House is a not-for-profit initiative that aims to support the role of parents as the primary educators of their children and offers a programme of parenting, family, faith formation and cultural activities as well as mother-and-toddler groups and a pre-school facility”.

Read their story and enjoy the Photo Video Gallery……….


Hillhouse Preschool

Outdoor Play and Learning at Hill House Preschool

At Hill House Preschool, situated on Tipper Road, Naas, Co. Kildare, we appreciate the benefits of having outdoor play central to our daily routine. The children are at their happiest and most energetic at outdoor play. We see it as an extension of the classroom which compliments indoor learning. It is the children’s favourite part of the preschool day.


At Hill House Preschool we are extremely fortunate to have such an expanse of outdoor space, which allows physical movement for the children on a grand scale. It encourages exploring, creativity and imagination. It gives them the freedom to shout and make noise that they could not do indoors.

Hill House Preschool is a Country House setting. This makes it the most interesting outdoor environment to play and learn in. The children enjoy nature walks on its private grounds amid mature trees and interesting hedgerows. They get to live the seasons, connect with nature and respect, love and care for the environment. We have snack outdoors on fine days. The outdoors satisfies all their senses.

The children plant flowers and vegetables, adding colour to their outdoor space and learning where food comes from. The three classes do outdoor play together and so the children cross the divide of the classrooms and build on these friendships each day.

Hill House Preschool provides the children with a wide range of valuable outdoor experiences. They play in sand, water and mud. They search for insects and explore plants. The children build and construct. They jump on logs, chase bubbles, draw with giant chalks and play in tents/houses. Basically, they run, skip, hide, carry, pour, plant, dig, and play ball. They take turns and take risks with new things such as ride- ons, cars, trikes scooters and slide. They co-operate, share, problem solve, follow game rules and direct their own learning and play.

We were very enthusiastic, therefore, about getting involved in the Outdoor Play Day with Kildare County Childcare Committee. The children were so excited at doing the entire morning of preschool outdoors. A lot of planning went into the day. Tables, chairs, kitchen play areas, book areas were moved outdoors. The children never looked to go indoors throughout the morning. It proved to be an invaluable experience as the children moved between the different areas of play and learning. We realised there is nothing in the preschool routine that can’t be done outdoors. The visit from Kildare County Childcare Committee on the day, provided us with some great new ideas to add to our outdoor play going forward.

Year round the parents feel the value and appreciate the benefits of daily outdoor play at Hill House Preschool and they see how happy and fulfilled their children are as a result.

Written by: Valeria Larkin, Manager





If you already acknowledge and support the benefits of outdoor play for young children and participate in outdoor play on a daily basis, then this is a day to celebrate what you are doing and inspire other services to get involved.

If your setting is new or needs to develop more outdoor learning opportunities for the children, then use the Outdoor Classroom Day to act as a catalyst for more time outdoors every day.

It’s easy to get involved and there is something everyone can do!  Help build a movement that gets children outdoors to play and learn every day!

Sign up to be part of the Outdoor Classroom Day movement today! 

Sign up here:

Last week, KCCC began our series on Kildare Early Years Services and their experience of participating in Outdoor Classroom Day in May 2018.


What is Outdoor Classroom Day?

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outdoors and prioritise playtime. In 2017, over 2.3 million children worldwide took part, more than 580,000 of those were in the UK and Ireland.


The Outdoor Classroom Day was a day to celebrate what Kildare Early Years services are doing outdoors and inspire other services to get involved and practice and promote outdoor play as an authentic everyday learning experience, rain, hail or shine!



Kildare’s Early Years Services Experiences


Kildare County Childcare Committee (KCCC) invited and encouraged early years services in Co. Kildare celebrate outdoor learning and play by participating in Outdoor Classroom Day on the 17th May 2018.

Early Days Montessori: Kilmeague, Naas, Kildare

Hillhouse Preschool: Tipper Road, Naas, Kildare

Shining Stars Academy: Coneyboro, Athy, Kildare


Our first service sharing their experiences is “Early Days Montessori Playgroup” based in Kilmeague, Naas.  Early Days is a sessional based early years’ service that caters for morning and afternoon sessions for children aged 2.5 years to 6 years and are “committed to providing: A high quality service based on the Principles of Síolta, the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education. A developmentally appropriate play-based curriculum based on the themes of Aistear, the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework”.

Early Days Montessori

Outdoor Play at Early Days    

The smell of turf fires from surrounding houses in the autumn and winter, the smell of fresh grass in the summer, the sound of the birds busily gathering to build their nests, the sound and sight of aeroplanes overhead, the shape and speed of the clouds, the taste and sensation of raindrops on their tongues, the sound and sight of the crows as they gather on the steeple of a nearby church and the rustle of leaves underfoot.

Children have a huge opportunity to experience these simple things by being afforded the chance to spend time outdoors and while we are based in a rural village, these are the wonderful experiences children are having in our service.  Our outdoor environment is a space where children can explore, imagine, investigate, create, mix and concoct, construct, smell, touch, climb, balance and dig amongst other things. 



They have the opportunity to engage with small world through our beach, farm, jungle, dinosaur and construction themes.  They engage in water play from our water wall, our under the sea small world area to fishing for rainbow fish, sharks and mermaids.  Their imagination is endless.  


The children create structures in our larger construction site, digging sand, mixing cement, stacking bricks, transporting stones while using wheelbarrows, lorries, diggers and excavators, buckets and shovels.  In this space they can be whoever they wish.

In our reading den, an area separated from the rest of the space, they can be observed reading stories, engaging in another fantasy world, or just setting the world to rights with their friends.  In our little outdoor house, resources are available for them to create their own artistic masterpieces and there are instruments to enable them to be musicians.  This space at times also becomes a coffee shop, a vets’ office, a doctors’ surgery and a supermarket amongst many others.

The children are encouraged and supported to express themselves by painting on our wall, mark making with chalk on the board or on the ground. They are challenged to climb, balance and develop their many other senses in addition to taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. 




In our sensory garden, children can smell and touch various different types of plants and are encouraged to be responsible for all of the small trees, plants and flowers we grow together. 

Our outdoor space while not huge, has been created with love, care and attention – all materials where possible are completely natural and recycled, and this encourages children to engage in many types of play such as symbolic, imaginative, superhero, solitary and collaborative.  For example, a simple stick can represent many different things to a child.

Being outside brings a new, added, very valuable dimension to children’s learning.  We offer seamless provision (for most weeks of the year) for outdoor play where the children are free to choose where they want to be and what activities they wish to engage in.  The environment as the “third teacher” can most definitely be observed here as one which supports the children to explore learning which cannot be taught but one which is experienced and lived through the senses, in nature for each and every child.

The benefits of our outdoor play space for children as described above far outweigh the challenges of lack of funding and health and safety requirements such as; risk assessment twice a day, ensuring all exposed areas of small world and sand are covered at the end of each day, removing these covers each morning, cleaning and sweeping up sand and mud that the children endeavoured to clean up with all their might, ensuring that resources and materials are appropriate and safe.  Having applied for capital funding twice and having no success, this space has been created by rummaging in sheds, kitchen presses, kindly asking a landscaper for logs and discs from trees being cut down and working in partnership with parents, accepting resources they may no longer need and can add.  Ultimately this journey to creating a warm, inviting and engaging outdoor play space was and continues to be a labour of love, ensuring that we create this space with the children in mind where they are free to engage in play and learning through nature.

Written by: Sinéad Early O'Brien, Owner/Manager







If you already acknowledge and support the benefits of outdoor play for young children and participate in outdoor play on a daily basis, then this is a day to celebrate what you are doing and inspire other services to get involved.

If your setting is new or needs to develop more outdoor learning opportunities for the children, then use the Outdoor Classroom Day to act as a catalyst for more time outdoors every day.

It’s easy to get involved and there is something everyone can do!  Help build a movement that gets children outdoors to play and learn every day!

Sign up to be part of the Outdoor Classroom Day movement today! 

Sign up here:

By Joanna Fortune

It is hard to be a parent. It is really hard to be a parent who also works outside of the home. It is even harder to try to strike a balance of how to maximize quality time with your child when you don’t have quantity time! Parents are usually exhausted after a day at work and come evening time just want to fall down on the couch and relax...But this isn’t a reality for parents, unfortunately.


As a parent your time will either be spent on basic needs: Related image

• Feeding

• Bathing

• Sleeping

• Clothing

or on the over-and-above kind of needs:

• Having a chat

• Playing a game before bedtime

• Bedtime Story

• Riding bikes together on a Sunday afternoon


Every child needs both sets of needs to be met and responded to.  While they will survive on the basic needs being met they will thrive on the over and above kind of needs being met. It’s about you being tuned in and putting everything else aside to spend time with your child, not just about you fulfilling a basic need. Sometimes you will need to prioritise to make this work...leave the dishes in the sink and attend to the bedtime story. 


Other ways to spend quality time with your children


Double up with your chores

If you have to wash your car, put one child in it with you and use the time sitting in the car to play a game of thumb wrestling or pee-a-boo or make a handstack together.  If you have to go to the supermarket, bring one child with you and make them their own shopping list so that they are engaged in the activity rather than just following you around.


Have a day out

Have a day out (or a morning/afternoon/evening) with your child that is just you and they and spend the time doing things that they like to do while connecting and talking together. This should be one to one time and it can be with Mum/Dad (ideally alternate so that your child gets this special time with each of you). This shows your child that you know the things that they like and are prepared to share in these with them.


Plan your week ahead

Tuesday/ Thursday is story night; Friday is make-your-own-desert night, football or outdoor play on Sunday afternoon. In this way time won’t fly away with all your good intentions.


Make a point of having dinner or breakfast together

Make a point of having dinner or breakfast together and don’t be in a rush. Talk about your day and ask about theirs, what is everyone’s best bit of the day and the day they wish they could do differently.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.


By Joanna Fortune

Premature and prolonged access to screen based devices can have a negative impact on developing children across all areas of their development including sleep, weight, behaviour, mental health and even motor skills development.  The research tells us that the best advice for parents of young children is no screen time under 18 months old and a limited amount thereafter with a maximum of an hour a day beyond 2 years old.  This is largely because the critical period for brain development in young children is 0-3 years old.  Young developing brains cannot process the multiple forms of stimuli screen based devices deliver and as such young children get over stimulated and are unable to process or regulate their brains resulting in behavioural meltdowns.


In reality many children are spending much longer than this on such devices and this is impacting on the very skills most parents are seeking to work on with their young child. Their ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s emotions and connect with them, to build a large vocabulary are all negatively impacted upon with excessive screen use at this young age.


Schools report that young children are having difficulty gripping and holding a pencil or developing handwriting skills because their fine motor skills are under developed as a result of too much screen time.  If you read this and are concerned about that in your child you can start to address it now with simple and small changes.  Limit the screen time and introduce access to play-doh, have them use and pick up other items using a grip tweezers (under your supervision), practice pulling the zipper up and down on coats, painting with cotton buds because the grip is small and tight, or lacing up ribbons or shoe laces.


Develop some screen play alternatives.  Create a treasure map either around your house (if raining) or outdoors and have your children follow clues (drawn or written) to track down a treat at the end.  The treat can be a baking session with you or a nature walk. 

Develop a check-list before they are allowed onto the screens.  Such as 

  • Have you shared a story with someone today?
  • Have you told and been told a joke today?
  • Have you spent at least 20 minutes playing outdoors today?
  • Have you done two chores to help around the house today?

The answer must be yes to the above before screens are handed over.  With very young children you can ask and answer the questions of them saying “Have I shared a story or a laugh or been outdoors with my child today” etc.


Screens are an unavoidable part of our lives these days and they are not going away so it will help you in your parenting to develop a proactive plan about ensuring they are a small part of you and your child’s daily activities rather than the main activity they engage with.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.


Sensory play is very important for all children.  Up until the age of 3 ½ or even 4 years old children are still working out where they end and the world and people outside of them begins.  Sensory play allows them to grasp that they have a skin that contains them.  This type of play is all about exploration through the senses: touch, taste, hearing, smell and sight.  This is a stage of messy play where you often can identify what they have been playing with simply by looking at them. It is very important for their development and in helping them begin to develop an emotionally expressive language as they grow.
Here are some clever ways to achieve sensory play in your home. Remember that when hands are busy and engaged on the outside, it is often much easier to talk about or just express what is going on inside. Children of this age cannot always express what is going on emotionally for them. When your child needs help to regulate their emotions, you might find that using this type of play can help them to calm down, when other methods may not work.
Make play-doh: If you make it together there is the added sensory experience in the making it…it also means if they eat it, it is safe and you know what is in it.  Allowing them to get messy as they mix in food dye to make different colours is something young children love to do, especially if doing it with you.  Another benefit of making it in different colours is that you can assign a feeling to each colour (red = angry; blue = sad; yellow = happy; green = excited etc).  Then, when they are feeling a certain way they can reach for the colour that fits their feeling, or they can mix up different amounts of each feeling to best describe how a situation is making them feel.


Sensory tables offer a wealth of benefits for all children and especially for those with special needs.  Engaging in sensory experiences like running fingers through dried rice or pouring water can distract and calm a child who is feeling over-stimulated or anxious. It promotes self –discovery and encourages a child to explore new textures, which in turn supports social and emotional development.
Offering textures like dried beans, sand or cotton balls promotes hand-eye coordination and gives the opportunity for a child to pinch, grasp and enhance fine motor skills.  As children discover new textures and objects, they tend to have a verbal response.  Engaging them in a sensory table is great way to work on language development.
NOTE: Be aware of potential choking hazards with these and supervise your child appropriately when engaging in this type of play


Sensory Basins - for a wet sensory basin you half fill a bowl with warm (not hot) water.  Add a squirt of washing up liquid (don’t mix just add it in).  Add in a teaspoon of cinnamon or ginger.  Add a handful of glitter (diamond glitter is best in water).  Give your child a handheld whisk and allow them to stir the water.  This will form bubbles while they see the glitter sparkle and smell the cinnamon/ginger giving them significant sensory stimulation.  Depending on your child’s capacity you can take a straw each and when you say GREEN LIGHT everyone blows into the water, making bubbles grow bigger and bigger.  When you say RED LIGHT everyone stops blowing and pops the bubbles with their straw or their finger.  Your child might also like to put some small toys into the basin and play in the water.
              For a dry sensory basin you can fill a bowl/basin with (uncooked) red and green lentils, add in some (uncooked) bow tie shaped pasta because it looks like butterflies.  Get two small cups/follower pots (the tiny seed planting size) and have your child run their hands through the contents of the bowl, pour from one cup into the other and you may even bury something in the bowl that they must burrow through with their hands to find. You can, of course, improvise depending on what you have available on the day, other dry materials they might enjoy include: rice, barley etc.

Music (rhythm and synchrony-based activities) activates every subsystem in the brain, including areas that regulate emotion and motivation.  Setting aside specific time to sit together and make music allows children to bond with family members and gives them a sense of containment.
Music time can be especially beneficial to children who are non-verbal.  For them, music can be a way of expressing themselves and interacting with their peers.  Provide children with instruments, like egg shakers, bells or toy drums…you can make your own instruments such as pouring dried peas into an empty Pringles tube and sellotaping the lid on (decorate the tube or wrap it in colourful paper) to make a shaker, equally, using an empty baby formula food container with a burst balloon stretched over the open top and secured in place will make a great finger drum.  Encourage them to make noise with their instruments and move their bodies to the music.  Sing songs that incorporate the name of each child so that everyone feels like they have an individual role in the activity, e.g. “James is here today, James is here today, clap our hands and shout Hooray that James is here today” and repeat for everyone’s name…even if there are just two of you doing it.
Additionally, incorporate music in other activities of the day.  Sing songs while cleaning up and transitioning into new activities like nap or snack time… “We are cleaning up our toys, we are cleaning up our toys, it’s fun to sing and make some noise while cleaning up our toys” or something like this to the tune of your choosing.

Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues.
Joanna recently hosted a series of successful talks for Kildare County Childcare Committee.


Our guest blogger, and parenting expert, psychotherapist Joanna Fortune shares her practical ideas on how you can calm down when your young child pushes your buttons – so you can help them to regulate their own behaviour!

This is not what you want, but we have all been there!

Anyone who has attended my talks, or clinical consultations, knows that I’ve never been an advocate of the Time-out. I prefer to talk about how, in order to be most effective, discipline must aim to teach the behaviour parents want to see from their child, rather than punishing the behaviour they don’t want to see.

However, giving yourself a 5-10 minute “time-out” before you react to your child’s negative behaviour may well be a good idea.  It can be very difficult to stay calm yourself when your child or children are acting out.  Their behaviour may even be pushing an emotional button in you, making it more likely that you will snap and yell at your child.  This will not diffuse the situation, moreover, it will only serve to escalate it.
Our children, especially the littler ones under 7 years old, will struggle to self-regulate their emotions.  They look to their parents and caregivers to co-regulate their emotions with them.  What this means is that if your child is “losing it” and they manage to make you “lose it” with them, they cannot co-regulate with your rage and as such their behaviour will likely escalate until one or other of you lash out, verbally or otherwise.  This will not help anyone and will leave you both feeling pretty rotten afterwards.  Now, none of us are saints but we are the grownups in charge and need to take steps to ensure we stay in this role.  This means we have to spot when we feel our tempers rising and ensure we do not react in those moments - but remove ourselves until we are calm enough to respond in a more positive way.  This is the value of a parental time-out.  Never just walk away from your child but say “I don’t want to lose my temper with you, so I need 5 minutes on my own to take deep breaths and then I am coming back to talk about this with you”.  If you feel you can take the 5 minutes breathing in front of them, better again as you are modelling a positive self-soothing behaviour.

Once calmer, return to the situation and try to hold in mind that the most effective discipline is discipline that seeks to teach the type of behaviours you want to see -rather than punishing the type of behaviours you don’t want to see. 
Give do-overs: Say something like “I think you forgot how we behave towards each other.  Do you want to try that again?” and if they do it correctly/better second time, praise that and move on.  If they don’t you will have to issue a consequence.
Consequences: Make these logical yet creative and try to deal with them in the moment.  For example, if you have two children squabbling, separate them and have them make each other a card with 3 things they like about each other and exchange the cards.  If they do this quickly or choose to take a long time, it is up to them. Your aim is to switch them from thinking about what they don’t like about each other to what they do like.


Help them understand the feelings behind the behaviours: Young children need us to help them make sense of their emotional experiences.  ACT is a good way to do this.  For example:
Acknowledge the feeling “I know that you are angry because your brother grabbed your toy”.
Communicate a limit “We do not hit people in this family”.
Target an alternative behaviour “If you want to hit something, hit that cushion over there”.
Use distraction over discipline: Very young children (under 4 years old) struggle to ‘do’ cause and effect, so they struggle to connect your disciplining them with their behaviour.  Instead use distraction, which does not mean ignoring the behaviour.  So, come to their eye level (holding their hands), in a firm yet gentle voice clearly say “no hitting” and then (still holding hands) bring them over to the building blocks and ask them to build a structure just like the one you are making, for example.


Joanna Fortune is a Clinical Psychotherapist specialising in child and adolescent Psychotherapy, with over 12 years experience working with children and families. She regularly writes in national media on parenting and family issues. See
Joanna recently hosted a series of successful talks for Kildare County Childcare Committee.

Do you find it difficult to communicate with parents on sensitive subjects?

Are you afraid to bring up such subjects with parents for this reason?

You are not alone, anecdotally lots of childcare service providers feel this way.

Here are some tips on how to handle these issues:

  1. Always respect the parents position – this is their child you are talking about, it is natural for them to feel defensive and difficult for them to see the matter objectively.
  2. Try not to seem ‘condescending’ towards parents – for example use language parents will be familiar with, rather than technical terminology.
  3. Address the issue when it first arises. Use your policies and procedures/ parents handbook to back you up where necessary, hopefully this will help prevent issues from escalating in the first place.
  4. Try and find an appropriate space for the discussion, for example discussing a sensitive matter at the door at collection time may not be appropriate and puts the parent under stress if the child is there/ if they are in a rush. Try to schedule a suitable time and find a quiet place to talk.
  5. If the issue is regarding behaviour, for example, try to help the parent – offer support and suggestions as to how the parent can help deal with the issue. A useful strategy is if the service and the parents can agree on how to deal with the problem, ensuring consistency between home and the childcare/ playschool setting.
  6. Make sure you listen to the response of the parent and try to find common ground (*as suggested in ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs’, link to article below). Reassure the parent that you both have the child’s best interest at heart.
  7. Try to leave the discussion with a plan if possible or at least an understanding between yourself and the parents.


Useful Resources

Have a look through these articles, they contain some good practical advice as well as general ideas:

Aistear; the early childhood curriculum framework ‘Building partnerships between parents and practitioners’:

Barnardos ‘Parental involvement, a handbook for childcare providers’

*Childcare Resources Inc ‘Tennis Balls and Slippery Eggs: How to Communicate with Families’:

Clouducation ‘10 Best Strategies for dealing with difficult parents’: 

Illinois Early Learning Project ‘Resource List. Communicating with Parents During Sensitive or Difficult Situations’: (particularly useful on broaching developmental delay and other related topics)

Siolta Research Digest ‘Standard 3. Parents and Families’:

Zero to three ‘How to communicate with parents’:


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