Empowering You to Parent with the Brain in Mind
Parents are the first and most influential teachers in a child's life... 85% of the human brain develops in the first three years of life so we want to help you with tips and tools to make every day count and help you maximize your child’s potential.
Our goal is to help you raise smart, capable, and compassionate children.
We hope these Simple Ideas With Profound Impact will make the difference in your child's life.
Welcome to the BrainFit Kids blog. We’re so happy that you found us. If you’re a new parent, congratulations on landing the most important job in the world! Our goal at BrainFit Kids is to help you raise children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. Children who have self-confidence, are not afraid to try new…Learn More +
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Yay, Spring is here… at least for many of us! If it is Autumn where you live, no problem. You can still apply what follows with your little one. Just call it Fall or Autumn cleaning. No law against that! 😉
With the change in seasons, we get the urge to make changes in our homes, especially when the weather begins to warm up and the days are longer. The flowers begin to come out, we all seem to get renewed energy, spend more time outdoors and revel in that happy feeling that good weather brings! With that comes an extra awareness of our environment. The “clutter” for some reason seems to be enhanced or we become more aware of it and then many of us get the urge to clean a bit deeper and to unclutter. Maybe because when we have less clutter we are more likely to stop to enjoy and smell the flowers. Whatever the reason, raising your young child in an uncluttered house is best for their development and learning.
This is a great time to look at your children’s stuff, especially the toys and games, and let go of the things she does not play with. Many children have way too much stuff that they don’t even look at, never mind play with. Take the time to unclutter your child’s room and make her a part of the decision of what she will keep and what will be donated or sold at a consignment store. When you unclutter, you provide your child with a better learning environment. When you involve her in the process, you teach her important social skills like sharing and give her the opportunity to learn about gratitude and compassion. Yes, you read that right. This simple action teaches all of those important lessons! Let’s explore how this works.
Babies and young children pay attention to literally everything that is going on around them. Unlike older children and adults, they do not have the ability to sort out what is important to pay attention to and what is unimportant. They simply can’t block things out like you and I can. So, they go from one thing to another as different things grab their attention. Everyone knows that children have shorter attention spans than adults. Right? The ability to pay attention for a long period of time comes with advanced neurological organization. The more organized a child’s brain becomes the better they can focus. This does not happen with the simple passage of time (chronological age) but instead is the result of the environmental stimulation and developmental opportunities that babies receive from birth. You can read more on brain organization here.
Because they are incapable of judging the value of the input around them, babies, toddlers, and very young children do not function as well in a cluttered room. To their brain, a cluttered room is complete chaos! So, obviously, a very young child will not do well in a room that is overloaded with toys. The younger a child is, the less you should give her to play with at any one time. Keeping her playroom clutter free and organized will promote learning and fun! You know you have too much in a room when you see your child go from one toy to another without truly playing with any of the toys. When this happens your child is not learning or benefitting from any of the toys she has. So, the first reason to spring clean and to unclutter your child’s room is to create a learning-friendly environment. An environment where your child will truly benefit from her toys.
The second motivation to unclutter is that it gives you the opportunity to teach your child to share what she has with others who are not as fortunate as she is. Point out to your child that some parents are unable to buy toys for their children and she will make another child really happy by giving away her toys! When you do that you teach your child to care for others. You are teaching her to be grateful and compassionate. Don’t forget to tell her how proud you are of her for giving away some of her toys to make other children happy! It is a fun way to teach the gift of giving!
Here is how you should approach your child so she does not feel you just want to get rid of her things. You have to involve her and give her a sense of ownership.
Here are some steps to follow:
1. I suggest you first decide, on your own, what toys/games are still age and skill appropriate and therefore should be kept. Then decide which are no longer appropriate and separate them.
2. Think about the toys/games that your child seems to gravitate to more often. What do they have in common? Do her present interests cause her to gravitate to them? Is it the ease of use? Is it just because those are the toys/games she can reach on her own? This will help you decide what pile they should go in and where you should place them when the room is uncluttered.
3. Once you have the keep pile and the giveaway pile separated you should engage your child.
4. Let your child know that you are going to be tidying up her room and will need her help.
5. Begin with the toys/games you decided should be kept. First, tell her that you need her help to place the “fun” toys that you are keeping where she will be able to get to them whenever she wants to play. With her help put them away where they belong by encouraging her to put them at a level she can reach on her own. Give her one toy at a time if she is a toddler or if she is not accustomed to helping.
6. Keep a maximum of 5 toys at the child’s reaching level and the rest out of the her sight level. Occasionally rotate the toys. This will keep her interested and having fun since they will feel like new toys to her.
7. Now that all the toys you are keeping have been taken care of it is time to deal with the toys in the giveaway pile.
8. Let your child know that there are children whose parents can’t buy them things like toys and how happy she will make those children by giving them the toys she no longer needs. Go through the pile with her and if there are toys she absolutely refuses to give away agree to put them away for now. Whenever she agrees to give a toy away tell her how proud you are of her and how happy you are because some child who has no toys will be so happy and grateful for her kindness.
9. When doing this be mindful of your child’s understanding and maturity level. You can not expect a 2-year-old child to be happy about giving ten of her toys away all at once. Start small! One toy is a successful way to start! You can put the rest away for a while and if she does not ask for them after a few weeks or a month you are safe to give them away without her “consent” because most likely she will not even remember she had them! 😉 As your child gets more mature and comfortable with the idea of giving you can expect her to be comfortable with giving more toys away at once.
10. Now choose the organization to whom you are going to donate the toys. Organizations that work directly with children are best – foster care organizations, organizations working with single mothers, etc. For a young child, it makes her donation more real when she has some sense of who she is helping.
11. If your child is older and has a nice expensive toy, you might want to teach her the value of things. So, you can take her to a consignment store to sell her old toy. Have your child go with you so you can teach her how the process works. Talk to her about what she can do with the money if her toy sells. She could save the money to use at a later date or she could buy another toy she wants. It is important to know both options. Agree on it ahead of time.
12. Finally, make sure you and your child celebrate having an organized and clutter free playroom or bedroom! If she has donated toys, celebrate her kindness! If she sold a toy, celebrate the lessons she learned about the value of things. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!! 🙂
Now go for it!
In a recent blog post we talked about the importance of letting children learn on their own, make mistakes, and try again in order to grow up to become independent adults who are not afraid of failing. Independence is a wonderful thing in a child but if children are to become capable adults, independence and responsibility must go together. They are two sides of the same coin.
You can begin giving your children opportunities to be independent and develop a sense of responsibility when they are stable walkers and understand enough to follow simple instructions.
Here are 10 simple practical tips to foster independence in young children:
1. On my own! In general, it is a good idea to encourage your children to do things for themselves and for others as soon as they understand. For instance, have your child choose the clothing they are going to wear that day. If you must, you can give options to choose from.
2. Laundry Time: At the end of the day when your child is getting changed have them get into the habit of placing the clothing they wore that day into the laundry basket. My grandchildren have a laundry basket with a goat on it and so they have fun “feeding the the goat” – a fun little trick to get them into the habit of putting their clothes in the laundry basket each night. They also love helping to do the laundry!
3. Clean Up Time: From the time your little one can walk while carrying a toy or object begin encouraging them to put toys away when they’ve finished playing. In the beginning, keep it to just 2 or 3 toys and give one toy at a time asking your child to help you clean up. Let them know how much you appreciate the help and remember to say ‘Thank you for your help’ when they’ve done it! If you search on your favorite music service for “Clean Up Song,” you’ll find many options. Pick a few and make a playlist to make it fun and a cue for your children to start cleaning up.
4. Walk the Dog: Walking the dog is a great responsibility for a little toddler as long as you have a well-disciplined dog. It is a way to begin teaching a child to care for others and it is a fun outdoor activity! OK, maybe not so fun when snowing or raining!
5. Clear the table: After breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner have your child clear their plate, cup, or silverware to the dishwasher or to whatever place you assign that is within their reach. You might begin with just one meal. Choose the meal that you consistently have at the table at home. Eventually, it should be their ‘job’ to clear their place completely.
6. Clothes: When your child starts to develop the ability to use both hands together it is a good time to begin encouraging them to undress on their own. Children first learn to undo things before they learn to put them together. Undressing comes before dressing. Have your little one pull their socks off, or shoes, or pants. At first, you might need to pull the item of clothing off half way and then have them finish. Give the necessary help to encourage them to finish but not so much that your little one doesn’t have to put in an effort to take it off. It is a matter of trial and error for both of you. The important thing is that, as your child learns to undress and dress, it becomes their “job” and you should only do it for them on very few occasions when you absolutely must.
7. Snack time! Whenever possible set up a snack station at a place and height where your child can serve themself when they’re hungry. Containers of dry fruits, nuts, granola bars, or whatever you choose. Keep everything necessary for the child to serve themself (the food, the bowls and whatever they need to serve) on the same shelf or close to each other. Also, have your child serve their own water to drink. Having smaller pitcher is handy for this so that they have a vessel that is manageable for them.
8. Feed the dog: Let your little one be responsible for feeding the dog, cat, or whatever pet you might have. Begin when they are a new walker by just giving a few nuggets of food that they can give to the pet. As they grow and develops better control of their manual ability and better understanding you should increase the degree of independence necessary to feed the pet. Eventually, probably around 2 – 2 ½ years old they should be able to scoop the food from the container, pour it in the bowl and put it down in the appropriate place. Your child should be able to do this independently with just some verbal guidance and reminders until it becomes their own responsibility.
9. Around the house: There are many activities a child can do at home that teach independence and the importance of helping each other. They also help develop tactile ability, manual ability, help teach them colors, counting, and much more. In addition, as your child is learning they are helping you get some household tasks done. Yes, it will slow you down but it will be more fun for both of you! Examples of such tasks are – dusting, wiping a small table, sorting laundry, helping to set or clear the table (teaches quantity by counting), making a sandwich, folding kitchen towels, etc. Keep the duration of the task short in accordance with your child’s attention span. For example, if you are folding kitchen towels with a very young child, 3 towels is a good start.
10. Encourage your little one! Last, but not least, encourage and expect your child to be helpful around the house. The more opportunities you give them to be independent and helpful to others and the more you praise them for the help and effort they are putting in the more aware of their ability your child will become and the more willing to help others they will be. When children are given these opportunities they learn to be less self-absorbed and more aware of the needs of everyone around the house and in society.
To summarize, be aware of all the things you are doing for your child that they could be doing for themself. Stop and encourage them to do those things on their own! All children want to be independent. They want to be allowed to do things for themselves. We grown-ups are often the ones who stop or discourage them when they are very young. Later, when we want them to begin helping they have lost their young child’s desire. They have developed an attitude of entitlement. It becomes a struggle to get them to help. They still want to be independent but without any responsibility. Unless it is unsafe, let your child try and learn by doing things independently right from the young toddler stage! Remember, once you have given your child a responsibility you must not do it for them or you are giving the message that it is not important or necessary for them to do it!
Finally, ALWAYS be thankful for their independence and their help and make sure you let them know how happy you are and how proud you are of all the effort they are making.
People will often ask our kids what their favorite television show is and get a blank stare back because they don’t really know any. They are certainly big fans of the various Disney characters, but that is because they know them from reading the stories. Screen time can be one of those polarizing parenting topics these days but it doesn’t have to be. As we have always said, we believe that each parent needs to make their own decisions as to what is best for their kids and what works for their family. We continue to stand by that. We also want folks to know that even though the use of screens is quite common with young children these days, that doesn’t have to be what you choose for your kids. Just because most people are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. We always encourage folks to make these types of decisions from a place of understanding with regards to effects on the brain, health, emotional wellbeing, etc. As with most parenting decisions, it can be an evolving process and what you think is going to work out in a certain way may not and you may decide to adjust. For those of you with babies or very young toddlers, perhaps today’s post will give you some ideas as you think about how you want to navigate this particular area with your children.
So what does this look like in practice for us?
When we first became parents we had talked about how we planned to avoid screens in the first two years because we knew that screentime isn’t great for a very young and developing brain. Beyond that, I don’t think we really thought more specifically about what our approach would be. There was even a Saturday morning shortly after our little dude was born that Jack sat down on the couch and decided to see what “Saturday morning cartoons” were on these days. He quickly realized that “Saturday morning cartoons” isn’t really a thing anymore. We can all have access to watch whatever we want whenever we want to and we can watch it wherever! That’s when we realized that keeping a child screen free would be a completely different scenario for us as parents than it was for our own parents when we were kids. When we were children you could only watch something at the time it aired and on the TV that was in your living room. If you missed it, you missed it. Now screens follow us (and our kids) everywhere. So once you open up that can of worms it’s a battle you have to be prepared to fight anywhere and at any time.
We never really set out to have a 5-year old who doesn’t watch TV. We did decide that we wouldn’t use an iPad with our kids because we didn’t want them to get used to the idea that one could have access to a video anywhere. What we were comfortable with was allowing them to watch a few short learning videos in our house while they learned about whatever topic interested them on a given weekend morning. Yes, only on weekends. It became a fun tradition and even now our son will come up with ideas throughout the week of something he wants to learn about. On a Monday he might say, “Hey Dad! Can we watch a video about how marbles are made next weekend?!” – in fact, he asked this very thing on Monday. This tradition started when he was about 2.5 years old.
At 3 we allowed him to watch movies with us every now and then. Movie nights became a special treat with homemade popcorn, sometimes a bit of candy, his favorite blanket and some quality one on one time (staying up later than his baby sister!) with Mom and Dad. We’ve also made an exception for a certain college football team and other special sporting events like the Olympics / World Cup / Superbowl. Because this is about #parentingwithapurposenotperfectparenting. 😉 So the game will be on when the kids are around. And they will usually watch some of it and then get bored and start playing their own version of football or building a football stadium with Duplos, etc. Outside of that, they really don’t watch videos. Our TV is used to play music FAR more than it is to screen any other content.
A lot of people say they limit screen time to travel. This is also something we have resisted. You can check out our #TuesdayTravelTips on Instagram and Facebook for lots of ideas on how to keep kids entertained while traveling without resorting to a screen. We travel A LOT with the kids. We have done international flights and LONG road trips and the kids have never asked to watch something on an iPad or phone. Why? Because it never even occurs to them to ask. For a bit, we felt like we were trying to hold off because we didn’t want to start it and then have it be something we’d have to regulate. One more fight to avoid. But now it’s just a non-issue. This isn’t to say that we haven’t had travel troubles. Of course, we have! They are inevitable. But because they’ve never known a screen as an option for distraction they don’t ask for it and instead have other ways of keeping themselves busy.
We do a lot of story-telling, we listen to podcasts, we sing songs, they color, we play Uno, they play together and come up with random games. Does this mean that they have never ever seen a TV show? Of course not. If we are visiting with friends and all the kids decide to watch a show for a bit, that’s fine. If we’re at a restaurant and there are TVs everywhere they will get hypnotized like any other kid if we let them. But it’s just not something that we turn to at home or on the road. And I truly don’t think it’s something they miss or that they’re missing out on. They have great imaginations and are really able to entertain themselves for good amounts of time. And we have yet to have an argument over screen time! Something for which I am very grateful.
Screens are everywhere! If you have a baby and are trying to decide what your approach to this topic will be I strongly encourage you to hold out and work to keep your little ones screen free for as long as possible. It may seem like a challenge at first because it’s just so prevalent now. When you find yourself tired and impatient and about to reach for that remote or grab that tablet to distract your young toddler, take a pause. Think of what your mom or dad might have done instead when you were little. Try one or two other things to get you through that moment. Over time you’ll start to realize that your kids will have other go-to’s for distraction and it will be easier and easier as you (and they) won’t think of a screen as the necessary distraction piece.