Month: November 2018
GivingTuesday is today – a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. #GivingTuesday is an opportunity for you to show what values are important to you and connect with a community and an organization working together to make your values into reality – we’re most effective together.
This GivingTuesday, we hope you’ll choose to CelebrateHumanPotential by supporting the life transforming work of the REACH Family Institute and our vision of a world in which all children are valued, compassionate, and capable.
Starting at 8:00am ET (5:00am PT) on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 Facebook and PayPal will match donations up to a total of $7 million on a first come first serve basis. Please consider donating here to help us capitalize on this unique opportunity!
The REACH Family Institute is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching parents and professionals about the extraordinary human brain. REACH’s work applies to children across the entire range of function from little ability (profound brain-injury) to above average ability. International in scope, REACH works with individual families, professionals, and organizations to ensure a better future through more capable and compassionate children.
On April 9th 2018, after several years of hard work, the REACH Family Institute launched BrainFit Kids, our new online initiative designed to empower parents of young children with the knowledge and tools necessary to Parent with the Brain in Mind. BrainFit Kids consists of a website, a regular blog, and online consulting. As a service to all young parents in the world we created a free 7-day email course called “Make the first three years count”. Over the last six months more than 1,000 families around the world have taken the course and are raising their children with the brain in mind!
2018 was also a year of major anniversaries for our worldwide REACH family. We celebrated the
- 40th anniversary of Executive Director Charles Solis’s historic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
- 30th anniversary of our Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project in Venezuela
- 25th anniversary of the Casa de la Mujer (Programa Leopoldo) in Venezuela
- 20th anniversary of the founding of the REACH Family Institute!
So, you can see we have a long, proud history of serving children and families throughout the world. We’ve transformed the lives of a lot of children and a lot of parents. But there is still an awful lot to do. High on our list for the coming year is to produce a series of video courses about child brain development. We’d love to have your support in that effort. So, as you consider which organizations you will support this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will choose the REACH Family Institute.
Please Donate Now to help us capitalize on Facebook and PayPal’s generosity to match your gift!
There are many things I enjoy in life! Amongst my favorites is spending time with children, traveling, and cooking! Children say the funniest things and often arrive at brilliant conclusions. I love to watch them learn. I enjoy their contagious energy. I believe they keep us young!
Over the past 40 years of working with children, because our work is international we have been fortunate to travel and spend considerable time in other countries. When traveling I enjoy getting to know the people, how they think, and what they eat! We often make a point of going to their farmer’s markets, the best place to rub elbows with the locals and appreciate the products used in their cooking. I think that is where my love for cooking really developed.
It started in my childhood. Both of my parents cooked and my Dad was in the restaurant business. But learning about different cultures through cooking made it even more fun! I enjoy eating and cooking the foods of a wide range of countries. When I eat and smell foods from other countries I get transported right back to them! We all have memories that go with food. The smell of hot chocolate and a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies probably reminds you of something fun in your childhood. Perhaps coming in to a warm house after playing in the cold outside. The smell of popcorn and the sound of it popping reminds us of being at a movie theatre or watching movies at home. The smells and tastes will vary depending on the culture in which you grew up but your memory is always triggered by those tastes and smells and it brings you right back to your memories of growing up. And this is especially true with the holidays!
Every culture has holidays that are celebrated with meals particular to that celebration! The smells of a Thanksgiving meal brings Americans right back to their childhood and those smells make us feel at home. Turkey is almost always on the menu but each family has their special side dishes, their special way of making their turkey, and their preferred stuffing recipe! Am I right that our own family recipes are always the best to us?
My parents are from Portugal and I grew up eating the traditional Portuguese dishes for Christmas which always began on Christmas Eve. Christmas is not complete to me if I do not make those dishes. The warmth that meal brings to my heart is priceless. Although my husband and daughter are Americans, I found it important to share this part of my culture with them. So, at my home every year we begin our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve with a whole Portuguese meal. That includes what is put out for Santa and what is served for breakfast on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day we have an all-American meal. This has become our family tradition and to my daughter and her family those are the smells and tastes particular to our family’s Christmas holiday!
By now you might be saying – OK I get it, you like cooking! But the holidays are already so stressful why should I add more stress by trying to cook with my child? Why should I care about cooking with my child? What are the benefits that warrant me doing something with my child that I don’t love? You might even been thinking – How often do I need to cook with my child for it to be of benefit to him or her? If you have been following us you know that our objective is to teach you the best practices to better develop your child’s brains through simple actions. So let’s take a look at how cooking fits in. How can cooking with your child benefit them and what materials do you need?
When you are cooking with your child she is receiving sensory stimulation to all five senses – visual, auditory, tactile, smell, and taste. You and your child are literally experiencing all of the human sensations all at once. Cooking also gives your child the opportunity to use all of the motor functions – language, mobility and manual activities. You are taking advantage of brain plasticity! For your child it is just fun hands-on “play” but in fact you are growing and developing your child’s brain in a major way. The benefits to your child are worth your effort and, who knows, you might begin to find some enjoyment in cooking! So, the kitchen and cooking provide lots of benefits for your child. Another precious benefit for both of you is the memories it creates while making something delicious together!
You do not have to cook with your child every day. Of course, the more often you do the better your child becomes at it. Like everything else, practice makes it better. Yes, cooking with children slows you down. Actually, everything you do with children slows you down! Right?! Plan ahead. Decide what will be your special day to cook together and put it on your schedule. Especially when there is so much going on during the holidays, if you do not schedule making Christmas cookies or whatever other specialty you make for your family holiday, it will not happen.
Rather than age we like to focus on level of ability. You can begin as early as the toddler age. Have your child watch you cook as soon as she can safely stand on her own. When she has become a safe walker so she can safely stand in a learning tower or a sturdy chair you can begin.
Start by having your child help you scoop and pour, push buttons, press down on a salad spinner. If you are making dough begin by having the child squeeze or knead the dough. Have her mix something with a spoon or with her hands. Increase the complexity according to what she safely can do with her hands. As her ability develops and matures you can continue to increase the sophistication of the cooking task and allow for more independence.
Be aware of what is on top of the kitchen counter. Make sure you keep things that can hurt your child out of reach at all times. Also, consider your child’s level of understanding. Make sure your child can follow simple instructions that will keep her safe and involved in the activity.
When I was the parent of a toddler I used a chair and I still do when my grandchildren come to visit, but now you can buy towers designed especially for this purpose. They are safer as there is less chance that a child can fall out. Some towers are collapsable, which gives you more space when the tower is not in use. Also, when collapsed there is no chance a child can open the tower when you don’t want them to be able to reach the counter. My grandchildren love their tower and call it “The Tower of Power”! Anything else you need is determined by the recipe you use.
Choose recipes with ingredients you know your child will like. Begin with simple recipes that have few ingredients and do not involve actually putting things on the stove. Like cold cereal – with help your toddler can pour the cereal, the berries and the milk or yogurt. If you like hot cereal like oatmeal you can have your child put the ingredients in the pot and you do the cooking part until they reach the age when they can safely handle a cooking pot on top of a stove.
Recipes that require mixing are great because you can have your child mix the ingredients with her hands. Instead of tossing a salad with tongs, mix it with the hands. Kale or spinach salad that requires massaging the kale or the spinach to wilt it is a winner. Bake something that requires mixing with the hands. Also, recipes that require whisking with a whisk or a fork, or mixing with a spoon. There is plenty of opportunity to use an enormous variety of movements.
Make sure that during this time you are talking to your child, describing the movement that needs to be used (what whisking looks like), the name of the tool, etc. Describe the flavors and the smells. Talk about the categories (fruit, vegetables,etc.), the importance of foods that are good for us, and so on. If you are cooking meat or chicken or fish, encourage your little toddler to feel the texture. The same with the produce. Teach your child when something looks good and fresh and when it doesn’t. If you want your child to eventually be aware of and appreciate what she puts in her mouth begin by teaching her about fresh ingredients!
Teach your child the pleasure of eating! It begins with the ingredients, followed by the cooking, and finished by the plating. When we eat for pleasure it is not the quantity of food that matters to us, it is the quality! This is a good thing to teach a child.
So bring your child in the kitchen and have some fun making something simple and delicious! Choose a few family holiday recipes that are special but simple enough that your child can be a part of the preparation. Please share your experience with us in the comments below. We would love to see some pictures of your child cooking with you this holiday season!
Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!
This past September after completing our work teaching The Reach Family Institute’s French families we were lucky enough to meet up with Juliana, Jack, and the kids. They joined us in France to celebrate the 20th anniversary of REACH, the 30th anniversary of the pilot project that became Programa Leopoldo in Venezuela, and the 40th anniversary of Charlie completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with a group of young adults with special needs.
While at a train station waiting to go to Versailles a French couple with a baby girl sat by us. The kids were chatting and singing while waiting when they they noticed the baby and walked over to say, “Bonjour!” The baby girl was 9 months old. The mother asked how old Adeline was and when she heard she was just over 2 she said, “Is it true what they say? Do the terrible twos really exist?” Juliana gave her a quick answer as the train approached and I immediately felt bad that we could not answer her question more completely. I told her to check out the BFK blog and promised that we would answer her question. I loved how she put it! Do the terrible twos really exist? Are the terrible twos a myth or real?
The terrible twos can most definitely be real but it doesn’t have to be the long miserable year that many make it out to be. The “terrible twos” expression has been around for a long time. No one actually defines or describes the terrible twos. It is just understood. It’s the frequent tantrums and defiant behavior of the average 2 year old. Right? In addition to the terrible twos, many now refer to three year olds as “threenagers”, an expression that was not used 30 years ago when I was a young mother. Many parents now find the behavior of their three year old child to be more difficult than the 2 year old stage. So, real or myth?
Yes, the behaviors that drive parents to describe them as the “terrible twos” or the “threenager” stages do exist. And they are one and the same! In both stages parents are describing the same behavior. In some children it is mostly accentuated when they are 2 and in others is more apparent at the age of 3. For some this “difficult” stage can last for a couple of years whereas others move beyond this stage quite quickly. Why? Let’s talk about some of the reasons.
Let’s begin by understanding that what determines the timing of when you’ll start to see these outbursts relates to the child’s neurological age, not the child’s chronological age. They are not always one and the same! Chronological age has to do with time alone. Everyday the child is one day older. Neurological age is based on the child’s level of function. Neurological age therefore relates to the level of brain development achieved as a result of exposure to stimulation and developmental opportunities. When it comes to behavior and how a child relates to the world, her level of understanding and language are the most important neurological factors.
Understanding and Language
So, let’s look at understanding and language in relationship to behavior. A child who cannot follow multiple step instructions and who has no concept of time will not understand when you try to reason or negotiate with her. First, your child needs to have moved from understanding simple one-step instructions to more complex multiple-step instructions. The child should also be able to reasonably follow simple conversations that are not directed to them.
And finally, the child needs to have some concept of time. It will not work to say to a child, “You cannot have this candy now but I will give it to you later” if she doesn’t know what later means. This will most likely result in a temper tantrum. The child who does not understand “later”, wants it and she wants it right now! Immediate satisfaction is all that she understands. If your children is at this stage it is pointless to try to negotiate with them as they simply do not have the understanding level necessary for negotiation. All you can do is divert her attention to avoid or diminish tantrums.
In previous blogs, I have talked about the importance of speaking with your child from birth. Speak often and about everything that surrounds her. Sing songs, read books, and provide lots of opportunity for hands-on play. These are the best ways to develop understanding.
In order to begin negotiating with your child you first need to teach time concepts. You can do this by using concrete concepts. “Later” is too vague. Later can mean 5 minutes or 30 minutes from now to you, and 2 minutes from now to your child. So, how do you make it more concrete? Tell her “when we get to the car you can have it” or “after you eat lunch you can have it.” Relate it to a clear physical activity that is not too far off in time.
As your child’s understanding is developing, provided she has been given the right opportunity for good brain organization, her language will also be developing. Children who do not develop the language to express their feelings and desires will often have more outbursts out of frustration. Related to language development, the “terrible twos” are often more pronounced in two types of children.
- Those who do not have enough language to communicate and who learn that screaming or “acting out” is the only way to get their point across.
- Those who have very sophisticated understanding and language and who learn how to “turn the tables” on their parents. In these cases, the issue has more to do with how parents respond to the child rather than with the child’s level of understanding. They become so good at negotiating and reasoning that their parents too often give in to their wants and needs and when they don’t “win” they have a tantrum.
In all cases parents need to be aware of what could be causing their child’s challenging behavior which will determine how one should respond to them in order to minimize the tantrums and frustration.
Consistency in Actions
As parents you need to be consistent in your actions! Do not say one thing and then change your mind and do a different thing. You will be confusing your child and inadvertently encourage bad behavior. It is hard for your child to know how to respond to your requests, instructions, or wants if you are not consistent. How can they?
Let me use an example. Today you are in a good mood. Let’s say you are on the sofa reading something and your child comes running in and jumps on you. Because you are in the mood to play, you put your reading down and you begin to tickle your child. That was fun, right?
OK, now the next day you are tired and feeling a bit stressed. You are on the sofa reading something and your child comes running and jumps on you. He is expecting the same thing to happen. His assumption is that you will put your reading down and tickle him but instead you get angry because he jumped on you and could possibly hurt you. Do you see the picture?
We all have a tendency to be inconsistent in these types of actions with our children and it can be very confusing to them. This inconsistency can result in more problems especially with little toddlers who are just learning. They are constantly taking cues from us and mixed messages like this can be unsettling and confusing. We parents are human (gasp!) and we do and will make mistakes. We need to learn from them and do our best to be present and consistent with our children. And remember, you always have the option of walking away to take a breather for a minute if the stress is too much.
When dealing with a child who has immature understanding and/or language development (and therefore more difficulty expressing her needs and wants), you need to be even more attentive and sensitive to her. Pay closer attention to her actions. Is she throwing tantrums because she learned that it is the way to get your attention? Children at every level will do what works to get what they want. If acting out gets your attention they will use it every time to get what they want. So, if your child is in one of these stages pay attention to your actions and ask yourself, “Am I encouraging this behavior by giving it attention?”. If the answer is “Yes”, all you need to do is change your behavior. Change how you respond and your child will change how she behaves.
Each Child is Unique
Our last post had to do with the final core principle of brain development, Each Child is Unique. Each and every child is unique and that is a beautiful thing. So, when you are behaving with each child in your life in the same way but getting different results remember that Each Child is Unique and pay attention to the differences in your children! Again, be consistent, be observant, and most of all, be truly present and you will begin to see the gift that each child has within him or her and you will know how to best respond to them.
I would not be addressing all children and helping parents if I excluded this one. Tantrums are a normal part of development up to a certain point. However, if your child is having many tantrums per day on a regular basis and you are concerned please do not ignore your concern! We see many children whose parents refer to their tantrums as “meltdowns”. Frequent uncontrollable tantrums (we’re talking many in a day on a daily basis), are often of immature brain development and often problems of a physiological nature. Children who experience these types of tantrums are not brats. They simply cannot control it and they need help. In this case, changing your behavior or trying to change the child’s behavior by punishing or any other method will not stop them from having tantrums. In these types of cases children often have a neurological need that is not being addressed. When we fulfill those needs the tantrums go away. If your child is experiencing this and you want help please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to talk with you. We offer a free 30 minute online consultation to talk through your concerns and give initial advice.
All children have tantrums and not just when they are two or three years old. All children are trying to figure out where they have control and what to do in order to get their way. That is true throughout life, right? Aren’t we all trying to keep control?!
Now that the holidays are approaching, parents are feeling more stressed and so will the little ones. When stress is up, behavior is down! In a future post I will give some tips on how to keep you more in the “Zen Zone” to help you deal with the behavior issues of your little ones. In the meantime, begin by truly paying attention to how you act and react when your child wants something or is being testy. I bet you will be surprised how much you encourage the behavior that you are trying to stop by giving it so much attention! Begin by changing how you respond, and watch her changing how she acts. And remember, be kind to yourself and your child! We are all human and it is not about being perfect. It is about wanting and trying to do better! Give yourself grace. Give your child grace. Hug each other a little more and take a breath. We all have bad days from the littlest ones on up. Be there for each other and work to be better for each other. Those little eyes are always watching and learning.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
– Mr. Fred Rogers
We’ve finally arrived at the third core principle that we see playing out in child brain development. This principle says that each child is unique.
If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you know that the three laws that govern child brain development along with the three core principles we can easily observe during that development comprise the scientific underpinning of everything we do at BrainFit Kids.
If you are new to BFK then here’s a quick recap. I recommend you read through these in order so you understand what follows.
- First law – Function Determines Structure.
- Second law – Frequency, Intensity, and Duration.
- Third law – “Where there is a need, there is a facility”.
- First core principle – Brain development is Progressive.
- Second core principle – Brain development is Synergistic.
- Third core principle – now you’re all caught up!
So, the third core principle tells us that each child is a unique individual. And this sets up a bit of a paradox! The science of child brain development is universal. It applies to all children at all times. It has done so since the beginning of our species, Homo sapiens. It will continue to do so in the future because it is built into our biology. And yet, despite the fact that we all follow the same ancient pathway during the course of our development, there are a multitude of outcomes! Why is that?
The answer is found in the third core principle. Each child is a genetically unique individual. Never before in human history has that child’s combination of DNA been seen… and it will never be seen again. Think about that! Ever get the feeling that you are not so special? Well, get over it and take a bow! Human history may not be so ancient in geologic terms but we’ve been around for a pretty long time, about 300,000 years. And yet, not once in all of that time has there been another you. The you that is you has never been seen before and will never be seen again.
Each child’s unique genetic inheritance results in certain biological and physiological strengths and weaknesses that exist only in him or her. Sometimes, especially when looking at children who struggle with developmental challenges, we have a tendency to blame the difficulties on genetic weaknesses. Genetic inheritance is often seen as a prison cell trapping the child in a cycle of failure from which he cannot escape.
Science and forty plus years of clinical experience tells us that this is wrong because it ignores the reality that child brain development, and the resultant development of functional ability, is dependent on the interaction of genetics with the environment. So, while it is true that a child may inherit certain vulnerabilities, it is also true that everything in the environment and every developmental opportunity has a direct effect on the development and organization of the brain. We must always remember that biology is not destiny.
Genetics is a starting point. It is a springboard, not a prison cell. Genetics must interact with the environment and therein lies the possibility for a more compassionate response to the pain that children with developmental challenges experience. We can’t change genetics but we have complete control over the environment. There is no need to look for a magic bullet because the magic is already in the brain of every child.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
– Dr. Seuss
Of course, there is more than just our genetics that makes each of us unique. That is simply the starting point. We are each born into different families with parents who are unique in their own right. Some of us have lots of brothers and sisters, some a few, some none. For those born into a family with several children there is the matter of birth order. The developmental experience of child number one is not the same as the experience of child number two, or three, or four. How can it be?
So, the point here is that each child will start with his or her unique genetic blueprint, mix that in with his or her unique set of environmental opportunities, and develop functional ability in such a way that it expresses his or her unique personality, interests, and gifts.
It’s instructive to look at this in terms of the development of mobility. We can take two children and give each of them the same amount of opportunity to learn how to move, and the same amount of opportunity to use the various stages of mobility (tummy crawling, then creeping, then walking) to get around.
While each child will follow a path that we all follow, provided we do nothing to interfere, how each child follows that path will be unique to each of them. For example, how long it takes for a child to learn to walk will be unique for each child even though there is an expected time frame for the development of that ability. Some children spend a few weeks creeping before they walk, some children spend a few months. Of course, what is important is that children follow the process, not how quickly they get to the end result.
Now, extrapolate what we see in this example from the development of mobility to the development of all of the other functions. Think of it in terms of the development of vision, hearing and understanding, tactile ability, language, and manual ability. I think you can easily see that, while each child is born with extraordinary potential, how each child manifests that potential will be determined by the delicate interplay of their unique genetic endowment with their unique environmental experience.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You! That’s a beautiful thing!