Search Results: talking

Great communication from the start – 9 simple tips for talking to your little one

By Conceição Solis / February 28, 2019 / Comments Off on Great communication from the start – 9 simple tips for talking to your little one

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!

✨BrainFit Kids QuickTip: Through our last couple of posts we’ve reiterated the fact that it’s not just about hearing words but also how you talk to a baby that can have the most significant impact. Even with young babies, pause and give them time to respond when you are talking to them! It doesn’t matter that they cannot form actual words yet. Young babies begin by babbling and eventually will begin to imitate the sounds you make. This exercise of back and forth exchange is a lot of fun and it will begin to teach your baby conversational skills! 🙌*See our latest post, How to Develop Your Baby’s Understanding, for more tips. (https://brainfitkids.com/how-to-develop-your-babys-understanding/)***#parentingwiththebraininmind #brainfitkids #earlychildhooddevelopment #reachfamilyinstitute #childbraindevelopment #30millionwordgap #talktoyourbabies #talktoyourtoddlers #talktoyourkids #theartofconversation #nobabytalk #chattybaby #developingunderstanding #expecting #parenting #baby #toddler #earlychildhood #mitnews #startup #websitelaunch #nonprofit

Posted by BrainFit Kids on Thursday, April 19, 2018

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!

Have fun!

Free Consultations, Printables, and Live Streams!

By Charles Solis / May 7, 2020 /

We just completed our second week of our Facebook Live streams!

In addition to the great content we discussed, here are the printables from those sessions:

As a reminder we are offering free online parent coaching through BrainFit Kids and consultations through the Reach Family Institute for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges 

Click “Book Now” on our Facebook Pages:

More details on the live streams and free appointments below.

_____________________

BrainFit Kids Live Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes we will be streaming on Facebook Live. The focus will be on well-developing children from birth to six years of age, with the occasional detour talking about older kids and teens. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips on homeschooling – How to teaching anything with the brain in mind for maximum success 

Free Online Coaching – We will set aside time each day to provide free coaching sessions for parents who have specific questions about their child’s development. More details to come.

Membership Coaching Program – A comprehensive program of education and guidance to empower you to Parent with the Brain in Mind. More details to come.

Children with Developmental Challenges 

REACH Family Institute LIVE Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes, tentatively Tuesday and Thursday, we will be streaming live on Facebook. The focus will be on children, teens, and young adults with developmental challenges. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips for successfully working with your child at home
  • Tips for successfully teaching your child at home 

Free Online Consultations – We will set aside time each day to provide free thirty-minute consultations for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges with or without a specific diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc.

More details to come.

Discounted Home Program – Parents who have children with developmental challenges already deal with a lot of stress. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that. If that’s you or someone you know, we want to help. Starting today and until July 31st of this year, we are offering online Initial Evaluation and Programming appointments for our Home Program at a 30% discount for all new families who are struggling financially due to the current crisis. Getting an appointment is simple – families simply write to us at admin@reachfamilyinstitute.org to request an appointment and explain their circumstances. No family will be refused. 

Support for Parents & Children: Coping with COVID-19 Part 2

By Charles Solis / April 22, 2020 / Comments Off on Support for Parents & Children: Coping with COVID-19 Part 2

Hopefully, you are all safe and healthy after these first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. In my last post, I gave some general guidelines for decreasing the chances of becoming infected, bolstering the immune system to fight infection, and dealing with the fears and emotions that are quite naturally a part of any crisis of this magnitude. I hope that those suggestions have been helpful.

We are four full weeks into a widespread government shutdown here in the United States. It is estimated that more than one-third of the world’s population is under some form of restriction ranging from mandatory geographic quarantines to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home, close certain businesses, and ban public events and gatherings. A little more than a month ago we were doing business as usual! Now life is anything but usual! That’s an awful lot of change for a lot of people in a very short span of time.

So, what are we to do with that?

Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off
I am probably dating myself but here goes… With all of the craziness lately, I keep thinking back to a wonderful musical that packed the theaters in London and Broadway in the early 1960s. That musical was “Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off”. The title captures the sentiments that I imagine many of you are feeling.

Basically, the story follows the life of a character named Littlechap from birth to old age. Never satisfied with his lot in life he is constantly searching for something better. Every time he runs into difficulty he shouts ‘Stop the World!’ and turns to speak to the audience. Late in life, he realizes that all of his searchings were pointless because he already had everything he ever wanted. 

One of the classic songs from the musical is “Just Once in a Lifetime”. The lyrics are eerily appropriate for this moment we are living, and offer a glimmer of hope. Here is just the first stanza. 

Just once in a lifetime
There’s one special moment
One wonderful moment
When fate takes your hand
And this is the moment
My once in a lifetime
When I can explore
A new and exciting land

Hidden in that wonderful song is the clue to Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19. The million-dollar question is how can you seize the hidden opportunities in this crisis and come out the other end better than before? 

A Golden Opportunity

Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!!  Heaven knows how long that is going to last… a few more weeks, months… into next year? It already seems like it’s been forever but in terms of getting back to some semblance of normality, it could be just beginning!

So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? I assume you already took steps to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. The question now is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to many months? What the heck are you supposed to do with them all day?! How do you juggle working from home, homeschooling, childcare, meal preparation, house cleaning, etc., etc., etc. 

Take a deep breath… Read those lyrics again… slowly… let the words roll off your tongue… let them sink in…

Believe it or not, this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. As the song says, it may very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity, one special moment, one wonderful moment, when fate takes your hand…

Here’s a shortlist of some of the opportunities we see for you and your children.

  • An opportunity to spend serious quality time together as a family.
  • An opportunity to eat meals together. 
  • An opportunity to reclaim your role as your child’s first and most influential teacher.
  • An opportunity to focus on well rounded global development.
  • An opportunity to learn based on interests rather than a standard curriculum.

Most importantly, you have an opportunity to focus on developing the most important tool that every human being has to navigate through life… the human brain.

And the best part is that it’s not complicated. You and your children have everything to gain! You will all come out the other end of this crisis brilliant not broken if you seize the opportunity!

Uniquely Positioned To Help

Experience in Person and Online

For over 40 years, my wife Conceição and I have taught parents about the extraordinary human brain and guided them as they develop and educate their children at home. We’ve done this with parents of every social class, of every race, ethnicity, and religion, on every continent on the planet with the exception of Antarctica. We’ve done this with parents whose children range across the entire spectrum of functional ability from virtually no ability (due to severe brain injury) to exceptional ability. In between those two extremes are children with virtually every known developmental diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc… the list is long.

That’s nearly a century of experience… with all kinds of parents… with all kinds of kids… from all kinds of cultures and circumstances! There isn’t much we haven’t seen! 

In addition to that, we also have extensive experience in teaching families online. Ten years ago several families from Perth, Australia brought their children to us in southern Oregon. After their initial appointment, in order to try to save them the trauma of more thirty-six hour trips in each direction, plus the travel expenses, we decided to give online teaching a try. Since those early days the technology has come a long way and today it is almost second nature to teach online. Just three weeks ago we spent 24 hours online teaching a family from Lithuania!

Philosophy

Our entire approach to the development of children is different from the mainstream. Three incredibly important differences stand out. 

Children are children first. Children are not their labels. Some children have medical labels or diagnoses, some have popular labels or put-downs. The point is that the label does not define the child. Billy is not a dyslexic child. He is a child with dyslexia. Children are children first. The label really doesn’t matter. Here’s how that plays out for us. Our focus is first and foremost on ability. Everything else is secondary. We ask a simple question. What can Billy do? Then we ask another simple question. How can we help Billy do that better or do more? 

Focus on the brain. Our primary focus is on the human brain. It’s our obsession. It consumes our every waking hour. Why? Because all ability is the direct result of brain development and function. Poor brain development and function equal less ability. Better brain development and function equal better ability. It’s a good thing to have better ability, more ability. It makes life a lot easier. The obvious corollary to this is that optimum brain development and function are prerequisites to the achievement of one’s potential. It’s really not complicated. We should all be striving to achieve our potential. The brain is the key. 

Family-Centered. Throughout our careers, the family has always been at the center of our work. Why? It’s actually pretty simple. We’re really results-driven so we always try to do what works best. We ask ourselves what should we do to produce the best results in the fastest time. It turns out that the human family is tailor-made for achieving success with child brain development. There is no better or more dynamic learning team than the family. Parents are their child’s first and most influential teachers. Parents know their children better than anyone. Parents love their children more than anyone. Those things give parents amazing power! All they need is knowledge and guidance. We keep parents at the center of our work because it works! 

Parenting With The Brain In Mind

As our way of contributing to the global effort to deal with the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, we are opening up our toolbox and sharing our four decades of knowledge and experience with you, simple ideas that have a profound impact on brain development and therefore everything about your child’s life. Below are some of the first steps we are taking to support families throughout the world. To make this easy to understand I am dividing it into well-developing children and children with developmental challenges. 

Well Developing Children

BrainFit Kids Live Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes we will be streaming on Facebook Live. The focus will be on well-developing children from birth to six years of age, with the occasional detour talking about older kids and teens. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips on homeschooling – How to teaching anything with the brain in mind for maximum success 

Free Online Coaching – We will set aside time each day to provide free coaching sessions for parents who have specific questions about their child’s development. More details to come.

Membership Coaching Program – A comprehensive program of education and guidance to empower you to Parent with the Brain in Mind. More details to come.

Children with Developmental Challenges 

REACH Family Institute LIVE Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes, tentatively Tuesday and Thursday, we will be streaming live on Facebook. The focus will be on children, teens, and young adults with developmental challenges. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips for successfully working with your child at home
  • Tips for successfully teaching your child at home 

Free Online Consultations – We will set aside time each day to provide free thirty-minute consultations for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges with or without a specific diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc.

More details to come.

Discounted Home Program – Parents who have children with developmental challenges already deal with a lot of stress. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that. If that’s you or someone you know, we want to help. Starting today and until July 31st of this year, we are offering online Initial Evaluation and Programming appointments for our Home Program at a 30% discount for all new families who are struggling financially due to the current crisis. Getting an appointment is simple – families simply write to us at admin@reachfamilyinstitute.org to request an appointment and explain their circumstances. No family will be refused. 

We sincerely hope our efforts will be of service to many, many families around the world who need help at this time. We are all in this together. Wishing all of you robust health in this challenging time. Be well!

Now that you have gotten this far I have a little treat for you. Anthony Newley co-wrote the music and lyrics for Stop the World! I Want to Get Off. He was also one of the greatest artists to ever grace the stage in musical theater. He performed the part of Littlechap nearly a thousand times in London and on Broadway! He is said to have been a major influence on the early career of David Bowie. You deserve a break today. Take four minutes and watch a master at work performing the final song of the musical. This film clip is grainy but it nonetheless captures his brilliance beautifully… Anthony Newley as Littlechap singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” on the 1969 TV show Hollywood Palace.

Managing Health and Wellness: Coping with COVID-19 Part 1

By Charles Solis / March 29, 2020 / Comments Off on Managing Health and Wellness: Coping with COVID-19 Part 1

We get it! Your life has been turned upside down almost overnight by a microscopic organism. A microscopic organism, specifically a coronavirus that evidently didn’t even exist before November of 2019 and that almost nobody on earth had even heard about before the beginning of 2020. 

You’re afraid about you and your children becoming infected by this coronavirus. You’re afraid about infecting others if you or your children do become infected. You’re worried about your family members, perhaps older parents, grandparents. You’re concerned about whether you and your children can fight the virus if you do become infected. On top of that you may well be one of the millions of people around the world whose jobs have been affected by this and you worry about the impact that is going to have on you and your family. 

And as if all of that is not enough to worry about, you’re unexpectedly home with the kids and asking yourselves “What the heck am I going to do with them all day?!” We’ve got a bunch of things in the works to help you with that one but more on that in Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19.

Weathering the Storm

For the following thoughts I am deeply indebted to the work and inspiration of leadership expert, Michael Hyatt. You can learn more about his work at https://michaelhyatt.com/

So, for a few moments sit back, take a few deep breaths, and consider this. In any crisis, there are three main things you need to do to weather the storm and come out on the other side not just whole but better than you might possibly have imagined. First, you must recognize what has happened. Second, you must reassess where you are as a result of that. Third, based on your reassessment you must then respond to what has happened.

Here’s what that might look like in the current situation:

  1. Recognize – The first step is to acknowledge the challenge in all of it’s ugliness. This means looking at the threats posed by the virus itself – the threat to your health, as well as the threat to your economic well being. The second step is to carefully consider how you are responding to the crisis. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by all the bad news. To avoid that it’s critical that you are careful about the input you allow into your life. In an age of 24/7 cable news that is no easy task! But remember, your children are watching you and taking their cues from you. Your ability to remain calm and collected as you come to grips with everything will determine your ability to take the next two steps.
  2. Reassess – So here you are. Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!!  Heaven knows how long that is going to last. So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? Obviously, you need to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. There’s a lot we don’t know about the virus but there is also a lot we do know. So that may actually be the easiest part of dealing with this. The bigger question is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months? And that is where the silver lining lies in this crisis. It may have been completely unexpected, but believe it or not this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. It’s an opportunity to spend seriously quality time together, an opportunity to reclaim your rightful role as your child’s first and best teacher, and an opportunity to pursue an education focused more on your child’s interests and passions and less on a standardized curriculum. You and your children have everything to gain if you seize the opportunity!
  3. Respond – You have to act. Now that you have recognized the magnitude of what has happened and reassessed where you are as a result, the next step is to act. Decide how you are going to handle this. Devise a plan, rally the troops, tell them what you are going to do, and put the wheels in motion. 

Maintaining Health + Managing Fears and Emotions

In the remainder of this post, I’m going to deal with two things related to your children and your role as parents, things that we deal with on a regular basis:

  1. Health – avoiding and fighting infections
  2. Fears and Emotions – dealing with them openly and honestly

Health

First, let’s deal with health concerns because without health everything else is meaningless. It’s important for me to point out that what follows is for educational purposes only. It does not substitute for or replace medical advice. If you have concerns about your health or that of your children you should seek the opinion of your family physician. 

Some of the things I will list have already been talked about at great length by others. I am providing a Cliffs Notes version. Remember our mantra… frequency, intensity, duration. These are messages that bear repeating. They might save a life! A big shout out to Dr. Elisa Song for her extensive treatment of both the health and emotional aspects of this crisis on her blog at https://healthykidshappykids.com/ 

The key to avoiding infections, including and especially infection by COVID-19, is common sense vigilance. The key to fighting infections, including infection by COVID-19, is a robust immune system. 

Avoiding infection – COMMON SENSE!

  • Keep your distance. All of the evidence gathered so far points to the importance of this. Experience demonstrates that social distancing slows the spread of the virus. Because COVID-19 is so virulent this practice, difficult as it may be, is critical. 
  • Wash hands frequently. With soap and water. For at least 20 seconds. Like, more frequently than you have ever washed them in your life. And, in the words of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young… teach your children well!
  • Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. It’s simple. Alcohol kills viruses. If you are washing hands frequently that should suffice but you can use an alcohol based sanitizer to disinfect the surfaces you come in contact with.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! I know… REALLY, REALLY, difficult especially for the kids. You have to try!
  • Irrigate your nose. I think this is a great recommendation from Dr. Elisa Song, one I have not seen from anyone else. Lots of ways to do this but XLEAR Nasal Spray works beautifully. 
  • Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Hello Captain Obvious!
  • Stay home when you’re sick unless you need urgent medical attention. Seriously? This should go without saying!  

Fighting infection – Requires a ROBUST immune system

  • Eat lots of foods and spices with antiviral properties. Think garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, star anise. 
  • Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Colorful veggies, especially red and yellow, are rich in Vitamin C. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, crucial for fighting oxidative stress brought on by infection and just the stress of daily living. 
  • Stay well-hydrated. Drink! Water! Lots of it! 
  • Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. This is ultra important! Even under “normal” circumstances, the single most important thing that anyone can do to improve overall health is to reduce or eliminate sugar from the diet. When confronted with the threat of the coronavirus this takes on special importance. Don’t eat sugar!
  • Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Sure, practice social distancing but get outside in the sunlight and get your heart pumping! Full spectrum light and Vitamin D all for free! It does a body good. 
  • Get adequate sleep. You’re home. No excuses. Get more sleep!
  • Minimize stress. Sure, you want to know what is going on. So go ahead and get your daily news briefing. But do yourself and your heart and brain a favor. Control your exposure to the onslaught of 24/7 news. In talking about children being diagnosed as “emotionally disturbed”, one of my most important mentors was fond of sarcastically saying “If emotionally disturbed means what I think it means, I can tell you that I get emotionally disturbed every afternoon when my daily dose of depression (the daily newspaper) comes flying over the wall in front of my house!” Keep that under control. You’ve already got enough stress!

Helpful supplements

These are things that we recommend for all of the children we work with and think that everyone should take because the average Western diet is woefully deficient in most of these vitamins and minerals. Makes sense to include them as part of an overall strategy to pump up your immune system at this time.

  • Fish oil 
  • Probiotics 
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin D3 
  • Zinc 

Fear and Emotions

I don’t need to tell you that your children come equipped with built-in radar and can read your feelings and emotions without the slightest problem. When you’re stressed, worried, or afraid… they know. It’s like a sixth sense. You can’t hide your feelings from them. Therefore, it is important that you recognize how you react to this crisis and that you are careful about how you talk about it.

Monitor your own reaction

  • Just covered this above. If you’re having a tough time, that’s OK, it’s normal. Cut yourself some slack. But deal with your feelings out of sight of the kids. Once you’re calm and collected, you’ll be in a better place to speak with them. 

Listen

  • Listen carefully to your children. We often think we know what our children are thinking only to find out later that we were projecting our fears onto them. So don’t make assumptions. Ask questions and let them ask questions. Try to put yourself in their shoes. 
  • Be respectful. Pay special attention to how you are reacting to their questions and thoughts. And by all means, don’t minimize any of their feelings because however trivial they might seem to you, they are very real to them.

Name it

  • Children often have difficulty clearly expressing things as abstract as feelings. It helps to make those feelings concrete by giving them a label or name. It just helps them verbalize the feelings and begin to deal with them. All feelings are fair game. Remember to put yourself in their shoes.

Talk with your kids

  • We’ve talked about this in another blog post as just a generally important way of being with children. But in this situation it takes on special importance. Talk WITH your kids, not talk to them. Do this and you’ll be amazed at how they respond.
  • Any discussion about the current crisis should be age-appropriate. 
  • Answer questions in a straightforward manner. Keep it simple.
  • Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything because remember, your kids have radar. They’ll know and then their imaginations can run wild. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.
  • Let your kids know how you feel but maintain your cool. Zen is the word.

Reassure

  • You don’t have to paint a rosy picture, but you shouldn’t paint one of just doom and gloom, either.
  • Let kids know that most people who have the virus don’t even know it because they have no symptoms or mild symptoms. This is especially true for children.
  • More than anything children need to know and feel that they are safe, and they look to their parents to provide that safety. 

Maintain routines

  • Routine helps us to know what we can expect. It provides emotional security. The younger one is, the more neurologically immature the more important this is. The simple fact that school is closed (and it’s not summer vacation!) and many parents are now working from home throws the usual routine right out the window. It’s essential that you establish a new routine for the duration of this crisis however long that might be.

Focus on the positive

  • So often how well we are able to weather a crisis is determined by our perception of it. Be a “glass is half full” kind of parent. Let your sense of optimism in the midst of trial permeate everything you do with your children.

Take action

  • Nothing helps to relieve the mind of the weight of dealing with a crisis like this better than taking action. Brainstorm with your kids how you as a family can make a difference in this time of need. Children LOVE to be part of making a difference. Two favorite quotes related to this: From German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”; and from neuroscientist Robert K. Cooper “Care as if everything depends on your caring, and raise a banner where a banner never flew.”

We know these are tough times for everyone. We are very busy here figuring out for ourselves how to move forward in this new reality. Life for us is changing too. But, when faced with the right attitude, change is good. It’s invigorating.

We are working on a number of new initiatives to help you take the best advantage of this totally unexpected and golden opportunity that you now have by having your kids at home! In Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19 I will talk about why this is such a golden opportunity for you and your children and give you a peek behind the curtain at what we have in the works.

In the meantime check out some of our archive post categories to help you at home:

Contact us here if you need any help or advice… practice social distancing… and stay healthy!


Behavior…one of the most common concerns

By Charles Solis / June 5, 2019 / Comments Off on Behavior…one of the most common concerns

Oh boy, BEHAVIOR! One of the most common concerns that parents ask us about is behavior. Mostly, parents want to know how to guide their children in how they behave with them (the parents), with other children, with other adults, and with society in general. So, let’s take a look at how to best address our children’s needs so we can more calmly and confidently deal with each stage of the development of behavior. This is the first in a series of three or, perhaps, four blog posts on behavior.

Parents often worry about how to teach their children how to socialize and how to relate to others without crushing their individuality and creativity. We all want our children to be themselves, be confident and independent, and be comfortable in social situations. Right? We also want our children to be kind and compassionate. No one wants to raise a bully! So, finding a balance between raising a well behaved “nice” child who, at the same time, is not a pushover is something most parents hope to achieve. I think we can agree that for most parents the objectives regarding behavior are harmony, cooperation, and civility beginning in the family and eventually extending to the communities in which we live and the wider society.

The Big Three of Behavior
We’ve been guiding parents in how to handle behavior issues with children and young adults of all levels of ability for a long time. Over the years, we learned that dealing with behavior involves three really important things.

1 – Neurological Organization, or more simply put – brain organization

2 – Physiological issues affecting behavior

3- Parental behavior, or what we like to call “The Mirror”

Today we will focus on brain organization because it is the basis for all human ability including behavior.

As we have covered in past posts here, here, here, here and here as well as in our 7-day Email Course, our brain controls everything we do. It is impossible to have good functional ability without a well developed and organized brain. The more developed and organized a child’s brain is, the better their function will be. Behavior is no exception!

So, when it comes to teaching behavior you need to consider where your child is at neurologically because this determines her level of understanding. Most people tend to use chronological age when talking about what to expect from a child. We prefer to talk about neurological age. Why? Because a child who is experiencing difficulties is not necessarily functioning at her chronological age.

So for the child who is experiencing difficulties, when it comes to dealing with her behavior it is more appropriate and more effective to look at her actions in terms of neurological age. We want to work on improving brain organization so she can get to the point where her neurological age meets or surpasses her chronological age.

Neurological Organization and Behavior

Now, from now on let’s assume that the child I am talking about has a chronological age and neurological age that match. What should you expect from her behavior? Where is she in terms of understanding and behaving? If you understand this you will be one step ahead with understanding where your child is coming from, what is normal to expect, and therefore how to respond.

1 – Birth to 1-year-old – Awareness leading to Center of Attention

In the first year of life, a child begins to develop understanding by first becoming aware of her environment and then learning basic communication skills. The important thing for you to understand and be aware of during this stage is that during the first year of your child’s life, as her brain develops and becomes organized, she is learning that what she does results in a reaction from you. We often think that we are the ones learning how our children behave and that is certainly true, but at this stage, your child is learning a lot more about how you respond or behave to what she does. As she becomes more aware of everything around her she will develop more and more ability to affect your behavior. Children at this stage think, and they are right, that the world spins around them. They feel like the center to everything. So, during this first year of basic brain organization, keep in mind that your child is constantly learning how her actions cause certain actions or responses from you or from the person who spends the most amount of time interacting with her. She is beginning to learn what to do to get or keep your attention when she wants it!

2 – 1-year-old to 2-year-old – Understanding and Using Language

From the age of 1 to 2 years old your child’s understanding of spoken language takes off provided that the process of brain organization is taking place. Your child is beginning to follow instructions and the sophistication of the instructions will keep getting more and more complex. Because the understanding of language is more developed the child begins to respond more to the words she hears than the actions she sees. She also begins to use language to express her likes and wants.

3 – 2-year-old to 3-year-old – Attention and the Terrible Twos

Neurologically, now your child is beginning to follow more sophisticated instructions but because her attention span is still not yet not fully developed she goes from one thing to another and seems to not be able to focus on anything for very long. The reason for this is that the organization of the brain is still in the process of developing. As she matures and her brain becomes more organized, her attention span will increase. But she will be more demanding in her wants and needs because she now knows exactly what to do when she wants your full attention and how to use language to get it. At least that is what she thinks! Thus, the reputation of the terrible twos!

As her understanding and brain organization develops she will begin to explore how she can get her way, what she wants to do as opposed to what you want her to do. This stage can be difficult because your child is learning in a more sophisticated way “who is in charge” and she will be testing the boundaries. Nowadays, many people refer to this stage as the “threenager”. This is the stage that many parents become concerned about what to do because they are afraid to break the child’s “spirit”, their individuality or personality. Remember, your child does not know what is appropriate behavior or inappropriate behavior. She doesn’t know what is dangerous behavior or safe behavior. She doesn’t know how to be considerate of others. If you do not teach her she cannot learn. Her behavior at this stage is indirectly asking you for guidance and it can be done without causing harm to her “personality”.

4 – 3-year-old to 5-year-old – Learning Cooperation

This is the stage when your child is learning about cooperation. How to play and get along with others. This can also be a challenging stage because, as children begin to play with each other as opposed to side by side, there will be more disagreements between them and hurt feelings. This can be difficult for parents because now the behavior issues are not just between you and your child but between your child and their peers. Remember, your child is just learning these skills and she needs the opportunity to learn how to best respond to and relate to others. In reality, this is just the beginning of a lifelong issue so give her the opportunity to learn and only get involved when it is becoming harmful to either child. You will help your child learn some of these skills by encouraging her to help you with tasks of everyday life at home.

5 – 5-year-old to 6-year-old (and older) – Independence and Responsibility

This is the age when your child should become more independent, more aware of the likes, dislikes, and feelings of others, and more responsible around the home. At this stage, giving your child responsibilities that are age appropriate and allowing and encouraging her to be more independent will promote better behavior and result in less conflict.

Highlights

So, here are the main points I want you to understand for now:

  • Good brain organization is the key to good function in all areas of development, including behavior.
  • The earlier you focus on brain organization, the better off your child will be and the smoother your child’s transition from one stage to the next will be. That helps to avoid getting stuck in a difficult stage.
  • If your child is experiencing difficulties or delays this may be because her brain is not properly organized. That’s not a big deal because thanks to brain plasticity this can be addressed and changed.
  • No matter what, at one time or another, every parent deals with behavior issues. It is not about never having bad behavior, it is about keeping it to a minimum and both you and your child learning from it.
  • Successful parenting is a constant learning process. Education, education, education!

We look forward to diving more deeply into the subject with you in the following weeks.

Cheers!

Dig, plant, build relationships – 5 hands on activities

By Conceição Solis / May 16, 2019 / Comments Off on Dig, plant, build relationships – 5 hands on activities

Spring! For those of us who live where there are clear changes in the seasons, it is a beautiful time of the year. Spring has such wonderful displays of color and it is hard not to get that special feeling when the season really reaches its peak. The trees and bushes are blooming and the perennials are coming up! Your favorite flowers have just shown themselves or are in buds. The weather is warming up and we are spending more time outdoors. If you are anything like me you are feeling more energized and a sense of renewal after the long winter!

Spring is a great time to take your children outside, let them run around, climb a tree, look for snails or worms or whatever bugs they can find. It is also a great time to dig and plant! It is best if you plant herbs, fruits, or vegetables so that you all can enjoy the “fruits” of your labor. When gardening with a little toddler you don’t need much space and you don’t need to be a good gardener. All you need is the desire to do it!

Gardening can teach your child about relationships

First, let’s talk about why I am encouraging you to dig and plant with your child. What is in it for them? The obvious answer is that it offers good tactile stimulation and opportunities to develop good gross and fine manual ability. Gardening also provides an opportunity to learn new vocabulary and teaches kids how to follow directions and therefore increases understanding.

But “gardening” can provide so much more. You are not just going to teach your child how to dig and plant are you? Of course not! That is just the beginning. Once you and your child plant her little plant, you will teach her how to care for it. How often will she need to water it, how much light does it need, how often do you need to feed it?

When teaching your child to plant and care for a plant, you are teaching your child the importance of caring for something well so that it grows healthy and flourishes. And with this comes the lessons your child will learn that are not so obvious and that, in the end, might be the most important lessons. Consider the question of light. All plants need sunlight but the amount is not the same for every plant. Some plants need sun all day while others prefer shade to grow healthy. When you teach your child this she is learning to respect differences. Not all plants are the same! Often parents ask me “How can I teach my child to be caring and nice to others?” “How can I teach her to respect others feelings and not bully them?”

One of the hardest things for a parent is when their child is hurt, perhaps because their friend ignored her on a playground because they were playing with others and didn’t bother to include her. Most parents experience this and it is difficult when your child is crying because someone ignored her, said something hurtful, or outright bullied her. You might understand what happened and why but your child doesn’t and therefore doesn’t know how to deal with it. As a mother and grandmother, I know that sometimes we just want to solve problems for our children, right?

While solving problems or interfering in these situations may make your child happier in the moment it does not teach her how to handle these types of situations herself and she will just keep getting hurt in the end. The best thing you can do is teach your child to be kind, caring and understanding of others feelings and differences so she learns how to choose friends, how to be a good friend, and how to stand up for herself. It does not happen overnight or without getting hurt or making mistakes and you should be there to hug and kiss her when it happens but you will be doing her a favor, in the long run, to let her learn by trial and error.

Having said that, I suggest that you begin to teach her these lessons by having her learn to care for a plant. Why? Because you will provide your child with something concrete as an example. Here is how what your child learns from caring for a plant can be used as a lesson for her own life.  Let’s go back to the example in the park. Your child was just ignored by her friends and is pouting. When you are alone with your child (sooner is always better than later when dealing with a young child), say to her, “Remember how plants have different needs? How some plants need a lot of water and others don’t and some need a lot of sun and others prefer the shade?” Let your child answer. Then translate that to a human relationship and what just happened in the park.

You now say, “Do you know that people are like plants? Some of us like a lot of water and others like less water. Some like to play with one friend at a time and others like to play with many friends at once. What do you prefer?” Let your child answer. Let’s say she says she prefers playing with just one friend at a time. Then you say, “You do? Why?”

Do you see what is happening here? You are encouraging your child to express her feelings, her likes and dislikes without pressure or judgment on your part. Now it is time to talk about her friends and how they might be, act, and feel different. You might ask, “What about Mary? Do you think she likes to play with one friend at a time or with many friends?” If she says many friends, you might say, “Oh, that’s interesting. Is that why she was playing with 2 other girls and you did not join them?”

Then go back to the plant. “Do you know, just like plants have different likes and dislikes, so do we. I can see that you were upset that Mary was playing with the other girls and you were all by yourself. Mary likes to play with lots of kids at once so you could have gone to play with her even though you prefer playing with one friend at a time. If you ignore or eliminate the other girls from the group that might make them feel hurt and sad, don’t you think?”

This conversation obviously has to be age appropriate. You have to be tuned in to your child’s level of understanding but the relationship between a plant or animal and human beings can be easily made when it comes to their needs. When a child can see that plants have different needs and learn to care for them, you can draw on that when talking about feelings and relationships. That is probably the biggest benefit your child will get from learning to take care of a plant. The lessons of caring, being different, and understanding not just our likes and needs but those of others as well. You also have a wonderful opportunity to begin teaching your child that nobody can or should control what others feel or do, but that she can control what she does and how she responds.  

Science of Gardening

And the last benefit your child will gain from gardening is that while playing she can learn about the parts of the plant, the life cycle of a plant (seed>plant>flower>seed), the nutrients needed, how plants drink water (how does it go from the root to the leaf), why light is important, how they produce the oxygen we breathe, the seasons and much more. Start simple and be age appropriate. At first, it is all about playing with dirt and then bit by bit developing the knowledge.  

Simple hands on activities!

Now that I covered the benefits let’s look at some simple activities you can do:

Bean Sprout

  • Put a bean (black bean or whatever bean you prefer) in a dish over a wet paper towel. Place it by a window or in a room with good lighting. Make sure you keep it moist and watch it sprout. You can plant it or eat the sprout.

Sponge House

  • Have your child cut up sponges (or do it for your child if she is too young to use scissors), to build a house or whatever structure she chooses. Have her wet the sponge and place different seeds on different areas of the sponge. Spray it daily to keep it moist. Watch it sprout. Have her taste the sprouts!  

Capillary action

  • Materials needed: A handful of white carnations. The same number of glasses or vases. Food coloring.
  • What to do: Fill the glasses or vases with water and put a few drops of food coloring into each glass. Place one carnation in each glass. Observe the flowers after 2 hours, 6 hours, 10 hours. The flowers will begin to turn the color of the water that they are in. You can also cut down the bottom half of the carnation stem and put half the stem in one color and the other half in another. This way your child will observe half the flower turning one color and the other half turning a different color! They’ll also be able to see that the inside of each side of the stem has changed colors. If you plan to split them stems make sure to save the carnations that have thicker stems for splitting.

Importance of light and water.

  • Plant 2 small plants in 2 different pots of the same size. To learn how much water the plants need, place them side by side. Using the same amount of water (i.e. 1 cup) water one plant as frequently as recommended and the other plant twice as often.
  • Observe how the plant is doing and increase or decrease the water amount and frequency until you find the right amount so both plants are doing well. Once the correct amount of water is determined, move one of the plants to a dark place and observe how the plants behave with light and without. When the plant begins to show signs of “stress”, move the plant back to where it was when doing well.

Teach!

  • The names of the parts of a plant.
  • The different categories of plants –  fruit, vegetables, legumes, citrus, etc.
  • The different types of plants – succulents, perennials, annuals, deciduous, conifer, etc.

The sky’s the limit. Go have some fun in the garden!   

Developing Universal Values of Compassion and Empathy

By Charles Solis / March 14, 2019 / Comments Off on Developing Universal Values of Compassion and Empathy
Christine de Marcellus Vollmer

It is my great joy to feature a guest post today by one of our dearest friends in the whole world, Christine de Marcellus Vollmer. I first met Christine and her husband, Alberto, forty-some years ago when they brought their profoundly brain-injured son, Leopoldo, to the clinic where I worked. I became responsible for Leopoldo’s development and over the next ten years he went from cortical blindness to vision, and from deafness to hearing and understanding. He developed good tactile sensation where he had none. He went from paralysis to tummy crawling and then creeping. He eventually communicated his feelings and needs with sounds. He enjoyed good health and dramatically reduced seizures. Leopoldo became a bunch of miracles in one little body. Christine and her family made that happen.

Christine and Alberto became strong advocates and supporters of our work. With their help, we began seeing children in Venezuela in 1983. In 1988 Leopoldo died, having lived thirteen years longer than all of his doctors had predicted. Shortly thereafter we began a pilot project to bring our work to the poorest of the poor in Venezuela. That project was a huge success and became known as “Programa Leopoldo”. Eventually, through Programa Leopoldo, we trained more than two hundred professionals (doctors, therapists, teachers) in our methods and opened thirty-four centers all over Venezuela where poor families could get help for their children free of charge.

Christine is the mother of seven children and grandmother of 26 grandchildren.

She is the president of Asociacion PROVIVE in Venezuela and the Latin American Alliance for the Family. Christine is also a former member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. As if all of that is not enough, Christine is one of the authors of and the principal engine behind ALIVE TO THE WORLD (Aprendiendo a Querer in Spanish) a comprehensive program of education in universal human values designed for the classroom from K to 12. ALIVE TO THE WORLD has reached over 1 million students in selected schools since 1990. Christine can be reached at christinedemv@gmail.com.

Today’s guest post is about teaching universal values to young children. Every day we are bombarded with news reports about corruption, crime, and all sorts of other misbehavior. The very recent scandal of rich, privileged parents scamming the college admissions system is a case in point. It is being portrayed in the media as a problem of the wealthy. It is much, much more than that. It is a problem of values, ethics, and morality. I can’t think of a more timely post.

We decided to try out a different format for this post since Christine is so good at answering questions on the fly about her work. So, we collected questions from some young parents and a few teachers of young children and then posed them to Christine in an interview. For clarity, BFK is BrainFit Kids and CdMV is Christine de Marcellus Vollmer.

_______________________________

BFK:

Part of the vision of BrainFit Kids is a world in which every child grows up to be compassionate. We know that in order for anyone to be compassionate the parts of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy must be properly developed. We attempt to do this with the information we share in our blogs. What or how do you recommend parents teach and model to best develop empathy and compassion in their children?

CdVM:

Of course, teaching through example is very important. The gestures of compassion that parents can make to those whom they come across who are in difficulties are of prime importance. Certainly, too, the explanation that parents can give as they make these gestures will help greatly. However, I believe (as did Aristotle) that stories and books are the world’s best resource. One difficulty today is that many schools now only recommend the books written that year, and the wonderful classics, such as The Little Princess, or The Secret Garden and so many others, which lead the children to live the acts of care for others, are totally forgotten. I am shocked to see that many excellent young teachers have never heard of these books and stories. We must get back to the classic books whose very existence was to teach values.  Our school curriculum, Alive to the World, uses a story to help children and adolescents to interiorize and make their own, the virtues of compassion, solidarity, and integrity. Stories are very effective.

BFK:

What are the values that are shared universally across a wide range of cultures?

CdVM:

Courage, loyalty, veracity, generosity, perseverance, compassion, patience and grit are shared by all humanity and at all stages. Even when cultures were quite cruel, compassion was admired and included in fables of heroes. I believe that these values are written on the subconscious in some way because we have seen how they are even admired by the members of gangs of delinquents. Their opposite vices of cowardice, betrayal, lying, meanness, etc, are universally despised.

BFK:
How can sound values best be integrated into the child’s worldview and way-of-life without imposing on them where they might rebel and do the opposite?

CdVM:

Certainly through stories. Adolescents, particularly, are very averse to being told what is right and wrong. They want to discover it by observation. This can take too long in real life. That is why reading (and to a lesser degree, films) are the ideal way for them to ‘learn by observing’ the characters in the books.

BFK:

At what age do kids start to understand these more abstract ideas such as justice, loyalty, etc.?

CdVM:

Justice is one of the earliest. Just try giving two candies to two three-year-old children and only one candy to a third child. A sense of justice will immediately make itself known. Loyalty is more subtle but very present in small children. Responsibility comes later, of course. Dr. David Isaacs has written about the ‘windows of opportunity’ for the learning of virtues. But in general, these are natural feelings, as expressed in the second question and the important thing is to consistently point out virtues, praise the child for practicing kindness, generosity, sharing, and being considerate. It is also important to avoid saying “you are so kind, generous, etc.” But, rather, to exclaim over the action, “That was so kind!”,  in order for the child to understand the action is good, and not feel that he or she has now attained goodness.

BFK:

What are age-appropriate ways to start introducing these themes?

CdVM:

I feel that pointing them out from the beginning, say 18 months. At first, very simply, insisting on “Thank you” and then on “Please”.  This is truly the beginning of virtue as it is the start of knowing that all is not “due”, but we must be grateful. Gratitude contains many virtues, principally humility. As the child grows in understanding of what is going on around him or her, good actions should be pointed out. And selfish actions as well.

BFK:

Besides setting a good example, how do you teach things like empathy?

CdVM:

Explaining situations empathetically is most effective. Children tend to be very judgmental and look down on all that is done differently in other homes. To explain that others don’t do things the same way for ethnic, religious, or cultural reasons is helpful. “Joey is having a difficult time because he has no daddy. We can help him by having him over to our house” type of thing.

BFK:

Do you have a list of favorite books, by age, that highlight these values?

CdVM:

Theresa Fagan, a mother of eight, issues one every year called “A Mother’s List of Books”. It is wonderful! Parents can order a copy by writing to Theresa directly at tafagan@juno.com.

BFK:

What are the most important values to teach a young child/toddler and older child?

CdVM:

Gratitude, compassion, and grit are the winners at all ages. Gratitude is absolutely essential, from the beginning. Grit needs to be eased in slowly, but early.  This is done by praising bravery over those first falls and scratches. Our series, Alive to the World, works them into each book, from K to 12, putting emphasis on the most age appropriate. All of the virtues are needed, and they are quite intertwined and interdependent.

BFK:

If talking about values isn’t really something that’s in your comfort zone as a parent what resources are available to help the parent navigate these waters and to help children learn values?

CdVM:

The Alive to the World Series*, now available as digital books, will do the trick if the parents read them as well so as to keep up. Apart from that, “The Book of Virtues”, an anthology of stories that embody the principle virtues, by William Bennett is very helpful, as well as “Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories” by William Kilpatrick. And again, the books on Teresa Fagan’s list.

_______________________________

Thanks again to Christine for her time and insight.

Information on ALIVE TO THE WORLD can be found at http://alivetotheworld.org/en/. Excerpts from the books in the series can be viewed at www.blinklearning.com/editoriales/alafa. The books can be purchased at https://shopusa.blinklearning.com/en/194_alafa-editores.



2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Toys

By Juliana Gaither / December 11, 2018 / Comments Off on 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Toys

Hands-on play is critical because it provides the brain with real sensory experience and provides opportunity for the practical use of motor function. This holiday season we encourage you to focus on providing the young children in your life with gifts that will foster this. We’re talking – books, blocks, puzzles, musical instruments, and the like. Here’s a breakdown by age of some of the items we think are great for children and their development. 

     

Expectant / Newborn – 12 months

Our favorite mat for tummy time: Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat – You can read all about why we consider this the best mat for tummy time in our previous blog post. Suffice it to say we probably consider this the best investment for a baby in the first 6 months of life in terms of a tool that will assist them in the most important aspect of their development in this time period. The mat is also a lot of fun as they grow older.

Toys:

Finding toys that keep baby interested during tummy time are always a good buy. Soft and colorful balls like the rolling rosa are great during the early months of tummy time.  As they start to move around on their tummy in later months, anything that give them an an incentive to chase are ideal. Babies at this age also love tags and crinkly things so toys like this will easily last for the first 12-18 months.

We are also big fans of the Tobbles Neo Stacking Toy for similar reasons. During the early months it provides good motivation during tummy time since the stacking balls move around a bit when on their own. As they start to move you’ll find them harmlessly gumming on them. As they get a bit older, it is a great first stacking toy due to the forgiving nature of how it stacks.

Melissa & Doug makes some great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1.

Whenever you give your baby something to hold, make sure it is not a choking hazard. It’s not a bad idea to have a small object choking tester on hand so that you know exactly which items to keep away as you are baby-proofing.

Music:

Introducing children to music and musical instruments early on is so valuable. In the early months these items will simply be something that you use to engage your child, but as they approach 6-12 months they will begin to take charge of the instruments themselves. These are some of the musical toys we have loved for our kids.

       

1 – 2 year olds

Music:

This is the box set that we have and it has a good variety as a starter music set (we kept the triangle with it’s metal stick away until the kids were older) but there are a number of great Melissa & Doug box sets and instrument options available.

Toys:

  • Geometric stackers like this are wonderful for working on hand eye coordination and keep young toddlers busy for long periods of time. Children at this age love stacking.
  • In addition to stacking, young toddlers experiment a lot with spinning objects (and themselves!) so this SpinAgain Stacking Toy from Fat Brain Toys is a great one.
  • We love this bead sequencing set. While it is geared towards older kids (4+), the truth is that children beginning between 1 and 2 years old can benefit from playing with these as well. We simply recommend putting away the smallest beads in the set and letting your child explore this set under supervision. The beads are fun for them to feel and you can talk to them about the differences in the shapes, the colors, sort colors/shapes, and let them practice putting the beads on the rods.
  • Melissa & Doug offer classic colorful wooden blocks as well as this architectural set. Both of these provide great hands on play and will grow with your child over time.
  • Playmags are very fun and allow for children to build in different ways than they do with classic building blocks. While these are geared more for the 3+ age group children can begin experimenting with the magnetic tiles in the 1-2 age range. Eventually one can use these to work on combining shapes to make other shapes, hone concentration (and patience!), and add on the clickins to work on letters, spelling, numbers, and math.
  • Melissa & Doug have great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1 and their wooden peg and chunky puzzles are great for young toddlers.

Balance Bike (yes seriously, you can start ~18 months):

Once your child is comfortably walking you can begin to introduce a balance bike to them. This one by Woom is our favorite! Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.

               

2 – 3 year olds

Cooking/Kitchen:

Cooking with kids provides so many opportunities for hands-on lessons. You can introduce math concepts, feel different textures, talk about different cultures, etc. It is one of the best places for children to learn through all of their senses! We love having a learning tower in the kitchen so that your child can help you out and get up to your level and you aren’t worried about turning your back and having them fall. There are lots of learning tower options out there but we have the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper as we like the feature that allows it to be folded up and tucked away.  

Music:

Remo drums are awesome for kids and they have a nice deep sound that isn’t annoying. This is the specific drum we have but they make them in numerous shapes and sizes. In addition to just playing the drums, kids also love putting smaller objects (like Duplos, etc.) on these drums and making them bounce around!

Toys:

Many of the items we listed for 1-2 year olds continue to be fun at this age; however, the kids begin to use them in a different evolution based on their age.

A favorite addition at this age are Tents

  • Tents are wonderful for imaginative play. There are endless options out there so go with something that fits your space and your child’s interests. This is the one we have and it works well because it folds down into a small bag that we can put away when not being played with. This was key for us when living in a small city condo – https://brainfitkids.com/rocketplaytent

Balance Bike:

If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the  Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 then you could start with that. Simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.

3+ year olds

Music:

This glockenspiel is a wonderful instrument for introducing children to proper pitch and tone. It is also easy for them to play and experiment with.

Cooking:

Once you believe your child is ready we recommend getting them a nylon knife set that is designed to get them involved in cooking and cutting. These sets work really well and are designed to be easy for small hands to grip.

Toys:

Toys that are still fun:

    

New additions:

  • For kids who have shown that they like building and creating with blocks we absolutely love KAPLA Construction wooden blocks as they offer a bit more of a challenge and more room for creative construction. It is incredible what can be built with these simple neutral blocks!
  • This Pattern Play set is really beautiful and is great for working on more complex patterns with older toddlers. The listed age for this is 8 but we have used it can certainly be introduced as early as 3.

   

   

   

Games:

There are a couple games that we love to introduce around the age of three.

  • UNO is a great game to reinforce colors and numbers. It’s a fairly straightforward game that young kids can pick up on quickly and it really works well to practice colors and numbers. Plus it’s one the whole family can enjoy! When first introducing the game we recommend playing without the “extra” cards (wild, draw two, etc) to make the game more simple and move faster. Once your child really gets the hang of how the game works then you can add those in. This is a favorite of ours to pass the time at restaurants or while traveling. It also makes an excellent stocking stuffer!
  • Connect 4  is another one that has simple rules and can be introduced at this age. It will take a bit for your child to pick up the strategy but give them time and work together with them and you’ll soon find that they are legitimately planning ahead and strategizing and beating you!

Balance and Pedal Bike: If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 (or if they are ready to move to a pedal bike – without training wheels!) then you could start with that and simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.

The Gift of Time, The Best Holiday Gift for Kids

By Conceição Solis / December 5, 2018 / Comments Off on The Gift of Time, The Best Holiday Gift for Kids

The race to get ready for the holidays has begun! This is such a very busy time of the year! There are so many holidays and celebrations. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in late November. Muslims all over the world celebrated the Prophet’s Birthday (Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif) on November 20th/21st. Jewish people all over the world  are celebrating Hanukkah from December 3rd to the 10th. Christians all over the world will celebrate Christmas on December 24th and 25th. Those are just a few celebrations. Then, of course, there are also those non-religious folks who join in on the “Santa Claus” spirit of celebrating with gift giving.

It’s a wonderful time of year but it comes with a lot of extra stress and, for children, often a lot of disruption in their daily routine. There is a feast to be made, a house to decorate, family to visit and/or receive, parties to attend and gifts to be purchased. It is during times like this that we often see children’s behavior head south! Children are sponges and they are a reflection of their parents. When you are stressed, so are they!

So, for our end of the year blogs we will focus on tips, ideas, and suggestions to help you manage your stress so you can focus on what is important to you, your children, and your family! We will also offer you our BFK recommendations for best gifts for the children and for parents.

I will begin today by talking about the most important gift you can give to your children, your family, and your friends. The gift of TIME and memory building! There is no better gift you can give than sharing yourself and your time with someone. Truth is, children appreciate this more than anything else you can purchase. The best thing is that it does not have to cost you anything!

You and your children do not need added stress in your life. Think about it! Toys come and go, material things come and go, but memories and feelings are there forever! I love the saying “People may not remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel!” That is even more important and true with children. And even more important today when our lifestyle is so connected to electronics. Often, we are physically with our children but we are not emotionally connecting with them.

So, I highly recommend that you consider making it a priority this holiday to give the gift of time and memory building. This gift will not only be enjoyed and appreciated by the person who receives it but also will be enjoyed and appreciated by you. It’s a win-win situation! It will warm your heart and relax your nerves! 😉

Here are some suggestions of what this gift can look like, ranging from free things you can do with your children to more expensive ones.  

Free gifts:

Pretend Indoors Camping:

Make a card by hand on which you write: Dear (child’s name), I love you and I want to give you a gift of playing pretend camping together this Friday (or whatever date you choose) from (this time to this time). Enclosed are some of the things we will need to build our tent. The rest will come from our imaginations! Love, Mom or Dad. In a box, add what you will use to build the tent. It can be bed linens or blankets that you will drape over chairs, sofas, or beds. The most fun toys are the pretend ones, the ones we build using things we have around the house. Make a stove from real bricks or from pieces of wood. Make a bed for the dolls using pillows. The fun comes from just being with your child without the smartphone or any other interruptions. Include all of your children in the game. So, the card might be addressed to all of the children unless you want this to be a special time with just one child.

Dress Up Date: 

You can include this as part of the camping date or at another time. It could be Tea Time and as part of that you get dressed up in some fun clothes!

At Home Movie Night:

Choose a special movie to watch together. The movie is not really the important part here. The important part is the ritual you design and go through before the movie comes on and during the movie. Decide what treats you will have during the movie. Choose something that you and your child can make together. Popcorn for example. After all it is movie night! Have your child help you make the popcorn with whatever steps are safe and age-appropriate. It might be as simple as putting the popcorn in pretty individual bowls. In our family, Juliana and I always liked hot tamales in our popcorn. She continues that tradition with her children. So, decide how many hot tamales can be added to each bowl of popcorn and, with your guidance, let your children put that together. Whatever treats you choose, make the presentation pretty as this teaches your child that this time together is really special to you. By making it nice you are telling your children how much you value your time together with them. The attention you place on the little details demonstrates how much you value being with them.     

Other more costly but valuable gifts that build memories for both you and your kids are:

Scheduled visits to children’s museums, plays, ballets, sporting events. Places that you would like to attend with your children make great holiday gifts. You can even make some a yearly event. And those memories will multiply. If you remember our blog on the importance of frequency, intensity and duration and its relationship to brain development, you will appreciate the importance of having traditions.

In our family, when Juliana was growing up, we began our Christmas celebration by attending the matinee showing (11:00 am) of the Nutcracker Ballet on Christmas Eve. We got dressed up in our nicest clothing and went to the ballet. Afterwards, we went out to lunch before then returning home to begin preparing our traditional Portuguese Christmas Eve meal.

That is how we build valued memories! The best memories, the ones which your children and you will remember and value, are created during those special times you spend doing things together. It isn’t the movie that matters, it is the time you spent snuggling together while watching the movie! The gift of undivided quality time talking, sharing, and playing with your children, your spouse or partner, your friends is the best gift you can give them and yourself!  

I hope you take my suggestion to heart. Give yourself and your kids a break and focus on what is important in life! Give your kids the gift of your time! It is truly a priceless gift.

Cooking with Children – Holidays are a perfect time!

By Conceição Solis / November 22, 2018 / Comments Off on Cooking with Children – Holidays are a perfect time!

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?

 

Benefits

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!

 

How Often

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.

What age

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.

 

Materials

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.

 

Choosing Recipes

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.

 

Teaching

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!