Month: February 2019
I have mentioned in previous blogs, the importance of reading books and talking to your baby from birth for the development of your baby’s understanding of language. The more you play with, speak, read, and sing to your baby the earlier he or she will understand language. One important aspect of this is that it must come from one to one human interactions and not from a device.
Here are my top 9 tips for speaking and behaving so your children will listen!
1. Have fun talking to your Baby
Provided your baby is getting good neurological organization (plenty of the right kind of stimulation to develop his senses and opportunities to develop motor ability) all you need to do at this stage is have fun talking to your baby. It is important to use language while having eye contact with your baby. But this stage is not just important for your baby. It is also extremely important for developing your habits around how you talk with your child. Why? Because it shows you the importance of physical closeness for attention. When you get into the habit of looking into your babies eyes when talking to her you are more likely to place yourself at her level as she grows into a toddler and a young mobile child. The first rule to get your child to listen is to address the child at her level. You should bend over so your face is in front of the child’s face. If you want your child to listen make sure you come to her when speaking and especially when you are giving her instructions. You should also do this as often as possible when your child is talking to you. This activity/action teaches your child how properly to communicate, how to converse. It also shows your child that you care about what she has to say, that you are listening, and you expect the same from her. This simple action creates habits that will pay off for years in how your child listens and communicates not just with you but with society in general.
2. Start with your Child’s Name
When wanting your toddler or young child to listen to your instructions begin by always calling her name first to let her know you are addressing her. “Susie!” Stop and wait for her to give you her attention, Once you have her attention continue to speak “Dinner is almost ready so I need you to please clean up the toys!” “As soon as you are done we can eat dinner”. By saying her name and waiting for her acknowledgment, you got her attention and prepared her to listen.
3. Allow for transition time
Give your child warning and time to transition from one activity to another. Young children have difficulty transitioning because their brains are immature. Since toddlers have no real concept of time it is helpful to use a timer. Tell your child how much time she has to finish her activity. Let her know that you are setting that amount of time and when the timer rings the time is up and you will move on to the next thing. This is helpful for two reasons. It gives her a clear sense of what five minutes means and it removes you from being the “bad” person. No sense in arguing with a timer. 😉
4. Take a deep breath and be patient
Be polite and kind to your child as you would be with your friends. Keep your tone of voice pleasant. Now, I know this is not always easy. When we are in a hurry and our children are not cooperating and not listening it becomes really difficult not to raise our voices. I get it!! But raising your voice does not encourage your child to listen. It actually does the opposite. It encourages her to tune out! In addition, children who are constantly frightened by yelling are being placed in the fight or flight mode often and this, over time, has a negative effect on the brain. Keep the raising your voice for times when they are truly in danger so you get their attention and prevent a disaster!
5. Meet your child at their current level
Be mindful of your child’s level of understanding. If your child can understand one step instructions, like the ones mentioned earlier, do not give her a bunch of instructions all at once. For example, if you say to your child “Go to your room, pick up your shoes and put them on so we can go out.”, and your child goes to her room picks up the shoes, brings them out but then stops to do something else it shows that she is not ready for multiple step instructions all at once. At this time give her fewer instructions at a time. Example;” Susie, go to your room and get your shoes.” Once Susie has her shoes, tell her, “Susie, put your shoes on so we can go out.” You get the idea!
6. Frame in the positive
Use language that tells your child what you want her to do instead of what you do not want her to do. For example, “Don’t leave toys in the hallway where we can trip and fall.”. Instead say “Put the toys in your room, so it is safe for everyone.” In other words use positive language.
7. Allow your child choices
Give your child choices when appropriate instead of giving orders all the time and she will be more likely to listen when you need her to. For example, “What dress do you want to wear? The blue or the red dress?”, “I can read you 3 books right now. What books do you want me to read?”, “After you eat dinner we can play a game. What game would you like to play?” There are certain things which you as a grown up and parent decide and there is no negotiation. However, if you allow and encourage your child to make choices and decisions you are teaching your child to think freely and also to experience appropriate control of her life. As a result she will be more willing to listen.
8. Be mindful that your child is always watching
Remember that your child is modeling your behavior. If you want your child to listen and to respond when called upon, you have to do the same thing. When your child calls you, you must answer immediately even if only to say “Susie I hear you but give me a moment” and as soon as possible ask what she needs or wants to tell you. Never ignore a child that is trying to tell you something. Don’t interrupt her when she is telling you something and expect the same from her. By teaching her to listen you are teaching her good communication skills.
9. “The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich
Remember that it is not about perfection, it is about talking and listening to your child in the same way you want her to talk and listen to you. Take the time to really converse with your child. Mealtimes are a great time to talk especially if you are sitting at the table at your child’s level. And if you find yourself doing most of the listening and your child most of the talking you will know you are on the right track!
Everyone who knows us well knows that we really enjoy cooking. We spend a good deal of time in the kitchen preparing delicious meals. I like to be in the kitchen because it is a place where so much happens, a great gathering place for the family to talk and share their day while they cook a meal together. The kitchen is also the perfect place for hands on learning!
Here are some of my favorite learning activities in the kitchen.
Keep one bottom cabinet without a child-proof lock and keep non-breakable things in it (tupperware, plastic or stainless steel bowls, etc.). Let that be your baby’s safe space. When your baby is crawling around she will enjoy opening and closing the door, getting the containers in and out, stacking them, rolling them, and so much more. You will be amazed how much fun your baby can have just experimenting with these things while you are free to make dinner!
Another great thing to do in the kitchen is to present your child with opportunities for tactile exploration. When baking have her put her hands in the flour and tell her how soft it is, have her put her hands in the batter you made and feel how sticky it is. Yes, it can get messy, very messy! But, the more opportunity you give your child to explore and feel different textures the more she will develop her tactile sense and manual ability. All motor ability requires good tactile ability. And boy, cooking provides abundant opportunities to use and develop manual ability.
When I was raising Juliana, and now when my grandchildren visit us, I use a kitchen chair for them to climb on to reach the counter. At their home they use a learning tower which they call “the tower of power”! Once your child is walking and stable on her feet she can get up onto the tower and closer to the counter. Give your child lots of opportunities to join you in the kitchen and help you out. They don’t have to make the entire meal with you but give them little jobs or encourage them to join in for as much as their attention allows.
Here are a some examples of what and how you can teach in the kitchen:
Tactile and Manual Opportunities
- Have her scoop flour or rice or whatever you need with a measuring cup or measuring spoon.
- Have her stir with a wooden spoon or any other spoon you prefer.
- Allow your child to get her hands in the food – knead dough or mix the salad.
- Make homemade play-doh with your child. (There are lots of recipes out there – here’s the one we use! It smells delicious and lasts for months if kept in the refrigerator)
- Whip eggs or cream (by hand) or even just pretend and whip in an empty bowl!
- Spin the salad spinner. You might need to put the salad spinner on the floor, or a low stool if your child is little and is not able to reach the spinner well enough to put the force necessary to spin it. I prefer the floor because it has less chance of tipping over.
- Have your child push the buttons to turn on the blender, electric mixer, coffee grinder, etc.
- Have your child crack eggs and eventually teach them how to separate the yolks from the whites.
- Counting – When cooking there are lots of opportunities to count things in the kitchen. The eggs you are using in a recipe, the lemons, the avocados, berries, etc. Just get in the habit of counting things with your little toddler whenever possible.
- When eating fruit or any finger feeding type of food you can count backwards. For example, begin by counting how many berries are on the plate. As your child eats them say, “there were five and you ate 1 so now how many are left?” and count the 4 remaining berries. Repeat this as she eats all of them.
- In addition to counting, while you cook you can teach measurements, fractions, and so much more.
Understanding and Language
- Teach your child the names of everything in your kitchen. It will increase her understanding.
- Teach colors using your tupperware and metal container lids. You can also get measuring cups and spoons that are in different colors and use that as a way to teach colors and the different sizes of the cup measurements.
- Teach your child to sort things in containers or drawers – by family (all fruit in one basket), by color, by shape.
- Teach the concept of bigger and smaller. “The orange is bigger than the lemons and the lemons are bigger than the berries, etc.”
- Teach space concepts – inside/outside, on top/under.
- Since cooking requires doing things in a specific order it gives children the opportunity to practice following instructions.
- The more your child understands the more she has to say!
While you are having fun with your toddler in the kitchen your child will gain the additional benefit of having her first lessons in teamwork and the importance of helping each other. And you don’t even have to tell her, she’ll learn this naturally through the process of cooking! In addition, it doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t get much better than that. Who knows, you might end up with a little chef on your hands!
Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? When the Big Bad Wolf got to the third little piggy’s house he huffed and puffed to no avail because that house was carefully built of bricks. It didn’t end well for the Big Bad Wolf! Developing the human brain is a lot like building a house. The more you pay attention to creating a strong foundation in the first years of life, the better the brain will function. You want that brain to be like a house of bricks! Let’s take a look at how we do that.
The most important thing that we can say about the human brain is that the brain grows through use. It does so most rapidly in the first year of life but continues to do so regardless of the age of the brain’s owner, which is good news for yours truly! The brain grows through use because of a basic law of nature that says that function determines structure. I wrote a post about this a while back and hope you found it interesting and informative. If you haven’t read that post yet I highly recommend you read it before proceeding with this post because understanding this law is critical to understanding how your child’s brain develops. You can find it here.
In this post I want to talk about what this law actually means in practice for your child. In order to do that I’ll focus on the function of mobility. There are two ways in which this law affects your child’s structure – the structure of the brain, a process that takes place unseen; and the anatomical structure of the body, a process that is very easy to see.
Function determines structure in the brain
First, let’s look at the brain. For our purposes, in order to keep things simple, we divide the human brain into four parts: the medulla, the pons, the midbrain, and the cerebral cortex. Every time your child’s brain is receiving stimulation from the environment, his brain is changing. Every single message (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory) that the brain receives actually changes the physical structure of the brain. Likewise, every time your child moves his arms, legs, hands, fingers and toes, and every time he makes sounds, his brain is changing.
When your baby is born the main parts of his brain are already formed but not every part is fully functioning. There are still trillions of connections to be made in order for the entire brain to be fully functional. This is a process called neurological or brain organization. The function of mobility plays a critical role in creating brain organization. Here’s how that happens.
In the beginning, all of the movements your child makes are the result of reflexes being triggered. As those reflexes are used the brain changes as a result of that use. As the brain changes, as new connections are made, your child’s level of ability increases. Bit by bit, provided he is getting the correct kinds of opportunities, i.e. tummy time, he will develop more and more physical ability. First, he will learn to hold his head up. Then he might learn to roll over. Eventually he will learn to crawl on his tummy and later creep on his hands and knees.
When a baby is crawling on his tummy and creeping on hands and knees the parts of the brain that are being stimulated, developed, and organized are the pons and the midbrain, two primitive but very important parts of the human brain. Your child’s pons and midbrain are literally growing as he uses these functions. His brain is developing a richer network of connections and it is getting bigger just like a muscle does when you exercise. And, just like a muscle, it is becoming more efficient and effective.
All you need to do is make sure that you are providing the right opportunities. Mobility is key to brain organization because the brain works as a holistic system. Everything affects everything else. Primitive brain structures (medulla, pons, and midbrain) are connected to higher level brain structures (cerebral cortex). As in any system, it is important that each component of the system functions well for the entire system to function well.
Function determines structure in the body
Now let’s look at how the function of mobility affects anatomical structure.
The most obvious example of this law in the human body is that regular exercise results bigger and stronger muscles. The more we use our muscles the better the structure and the more effective they become. So what does that have to do with your child and her development? More and more people are recognizing the important role that movement and exercise play in brain function. However, precious little attention is paid to how movement develops in children. Many parents focus on when their child will begin walking and are not aware of the importance of the mobility stages that lead to walking.
At birth a baby has little to no head control due to underdeveloped neck muscles. The more opportunity you give a newborn to be on his tummy (function), the earlier he will develop neck muscles (structure) and the earlier and better he will hold his head up. When a baby is on his tummy his head functions just like the weights you lift at the gym (you know, for those parents who still find time to make it to the gym!). Eventually, with plenty of opportunity to be on the tummy, he will start tummy crawling from one place to another.
When a baby is tummy crawling there is a lot that is going on. First, he is developing the muscles in his neck, back, tummy, arms, hands, legs, and feet. He will need these muscles to be able to sit up straight, to push away from the floor into a creeping position, and eventually to stand up and walk. Provided he follows the natural pathway to walking he will develop beautiful posture. This process is how the law “function determines structure” relates to your baby’s physical function and muscle development.
Second, in addition to muscle development, children who tummy crawl a lot develop bigger chests and more mature breathing. Breathing is important because it is the primary way that we get oxygen for our brain. And later it will play an important role in the development of language.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, today many babies skip the tummy crawling and/or creeping on hands and knees stages. Many babies spend hours sitting in chairs (Bumbo, etc.). Many spend a lot of time in walkers. All of these devices are detrimental to good brain development and organization because they deny the baby the opportunity to learn how to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees and therefore interfere with the process of brain organization.
Many babies roll as a means of transportation. Many scoot on their bottoms. These movements by themselves are not a problem. However, they do not provide the same neurological and structural benefits as tummy crawling and creeping on hands and knees. Because they sidetrack children from learning to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees, these forms of movement result in poor brain organization, less muscle tone and strength, poor coordination, and poor posture. This is because the opposite of the law is also true – lack of function results in lack of structure, poor function results in poor structure, abnormal function results in abnormal structure.
So, taking advantage of this law is actually really easy:
- Provide your child with the opportunity to go through the natural stages of mobility – tummy crawling, creeping on hands and knees, and then walking.
- Avoid all devices that deny your child the opportunity to go through these stages.
- Make sure that once your baby develops a function, he uses that function. In other words, your baby must practice! The more he uses the function, the more the structure will change, both in the brain and in the body.
The end result? Excellent brain organization and beautiful physical structure, just like a house of bricks. How cool is that?!