Part four of our summer series on behavior:
- Behavior…one of the most common concerns
- Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain
- The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development
My last post, The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development, will take you and your child a long way on the road to success when it comes to behavior and social skills. But let’s face it, no matter what you do or how well you do it, there are going to be bumps in the road. After all, you and your children are human and there are bound to be situations where everyone feels tired, frustrated, and upset. So, let me give you my 4 Top Tips for those times when things are getting out of control.
1. Avoid Power Struggles!
Why? Well, don’t tell your child this, but it’s because your child will always, and I do mean always, win! When we enter into a struggle with a child with whom you can not reason, the child will always win the battle. So, avoid this by physically removing her if you are in a situation which can be disturbing to others or by removing yourself from the room if you are at home.
Actions speak louder than words, especially when you are dealing with a child who is developmentally immature. An 18 month old to 3 year old does not have the understanding or the maturity to listen to an explanation of why her tantrum is frustrating you. Trying to explain your frustration while she is upset is useless because it will just prolong the tantrum and frustrate you even more. You are better off doing one of three things – ignoring the tantrum, holding your child quietly (if allowed), or leaving the room. During those times you need to take a step back, count to 10 (or 100!), calm yourself, and practice patience!
Remember, it takes 2 to tango! Sometimes you just need to know when to retreat. If you withdraw yourself from the conflict, there is no longer a conflict. Leave the talk and teaching for later after everything is calm and your child is no longer upset. Only then is your child in a place to listen and learn better ways of dealing with situations.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an upset child is to use diversionary tactics. Change the subject, talk about something or someone else. Last summer, when Juliana and Jack moved to California their lives were very stressful because so much went wrong with the move. One day, I was traveling with them and after a couple of hours in the car 2 year old Adeline began to cry. We tried singing, changing the music on the radio, giving her a different toy, telling her that we were almost there, but nothing was working. All of a sudden, her 4½ year old brother Jack said in a lively voice, “Adeline where is Ceci (her friend from back in Chicago)? Is she in San Francisco?” Immediately Adeline stopped crying and with a big smile she said “No!” and he continued, “Is she on the top of our car?” and she repeated “No!” and that went on until we got home. We had a good 15 to 20 happy minutes at the end of the trip because Jack knew what to say. He diverted her attention by making up a fun guessing game using the name of the little friend she had just left a few weeks prior. We all thanked him for his help with his sister.
2. Use Natural & Logical Consequences, Avoid Punishment & Reward!
Punishing a child for “bad” behavior or rewarding a child for “good” behavior is not the way to go. Remember, children want attention and will do what is necessary to get it. They will not learn what is right or what is wrong by being punished or rewarded. When we punish or reward a child we are teaching them that we have control over them. Instead, we should teach them that their actions, their choices belong to them. At least that is the ultimate goal, right? We want our children to learn that their actions, their choices, have consequences and they are responsible for those consequences.
There are two types of consequences – natural consequences and logical consequences.
A natural consequence is something that is the natural result of an action or choice. Here’s a good example – if you touch a hot iron you get burned. Natural consequences are extremely effective! All you have to do is touch that hot iron one time! You get the message loud and clear and you know that the pain you feel is a direct result of something that you did. So you should use natural consequences whenever you can. Unfortunately, as you can see, many natural consequences are also often dangerous. So, although they are really effective, they are not always useful with children. That’s where logical consequences come in.
A logical consequence is something that logically follows an action or choice. You have to make sure that the logical consequence is a)enforceable, b) appropriate to the offense, and c) imposed with love and empathy.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by a logical consequence. Let’s say your toddler is playing with building blocks and she decides to throw a block. She knows that is not allowed. You first remind her that she must not throw blocks because she could hurt someone or break something. If she doesn’t listen and throws a block again you should pick up all the blocks and put them away where she can not reach them. No screaming, no “I told you so”. You simply, calmly, and with great empathy explain that because she threw the block she lost the privilege of playing with them. That is a logical consequence. This teaches your child a direct relationship between her actions and the result of those actions. You throw blocks, you lose the blocks.
Another example. Many can relate to this, especially now that it is summertime. You are at a party at a friend’s home playing in the pool. You explain the rules to your child – only walking around the pool because it can be slippery, no rough play in the pool because children can get hurt. Your child completely ignores your rules. Here is what probably happens most of the time. You keep telling your child over and over again not to run or not to play rough. Then either someone gets hurt or you lose your patience and grab your child for a serious talk. Then, as soon as your talk is over she is back doing whatever she wants. Sound familiar?
Well, what would the logical consequence be in this situation? Removing the child completely from the pool, right? Of course the only guaranteed way to keep your child from the pool if she is being really defiant is to leave the party. This is a hard thing for parents to do because they are enjoying the company of their friends. But I promise you, unless your child has a developmental difficulty and neurologically does not understand consequences, you will not have to leave many more times before your child learns. You should not own her choices. It is for her to pay the consequences.
If you use natural and logical consequences and use them consistently your child will learn to own their actions, their choices, their behavior.
3. Practice Emotional Detachment!
This one is not always easy. The more you can detach yourself emotionally when imposing logical consequences, the better. Anger, lecturing, “I-told-you-so’s” dilute the power of logical consequences because the child stays focused on us rather than on the lesson the consequence is meant to teach. Think of yourself as a police officer pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance, please.” No screaming, no tantrums. What you want to teach your child is that she lost a privilege because she chose to break the rules. It’s not because you are mean or frustrated or stressed. If you allow yourself to become emotionally involved and you scream or go on and on lecturing her, you are in fact owning her actions and making yourself the “bad” guy for punishing her. Do you see the difference?!
4. Empathy Wins The Day!
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, which is to say the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. We were all children one day. We all misbehaved, broke rules, made mistakes. We all know what it feels like to be reprimanded, to lose privileges, to be punished. So, we’ve been there and, therefore, it should actually be quite easy for us to place ourselves in their place when our children mess up. And it is so unbelievably powerful and effective. Why? Because empathy is an act of love. Our love for our children takes precedence over everything. Our relationship with them is of the utmost importance. A screw-up in behavior, even a big screw-up doesn’t change that. Our children need to know that little fact about us and how we feel about them. We need to tell them regularly. So, when they do mess up we really need to let them know how much we “feel their pain”. When we show sincere empathy while imposing consequences it tells them that we understand, we’ve got their backs, we love them no matter what. That then allows the consequences to do the teaching.
If you apply our 7 principles and 4 tips and you are still struggling with your child’s behavior please contact us to schedule a 30 minute online consultation which we offer free of charge.
As a follow up to our Mother’s Day post last week, and in light of some of the pressing problems our country is facing at this moment in time, I thought it appropriate to revisit a speech I gave a few years ago.
In March of 2016, my daughter, Juliana Gaither, and I represented the REACH Family Institute and BrainFit Kids as part of a delegation from Big Ocean Women at the United Nations for the 60th Commission on the Status of Women. We were there to advocate for the right of families to be an integral part of the development and education of their children. I was a lead speaker at a special meeting on refugees and gave the following speech on the subject of “Empowering Mothers to Parent with the Brain in Mind.”
2016 United Nations, New York
60th Commission on the Status of Women
We live in a troubled world… a world plagued by extreme poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, human trafficking, natural disasters, violence, terrorism, war and the related humanitarian crises and forced migration of entire populations.
It is for this reason that 193 nations negotiated for 3 years to create “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, a lofty set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The purpose is nothing less than a complete transformation of our world. I propose to you that this transformation will only happen if we first transform our children’s lives.
Imagine a world in which all children are valued… a world where every child, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or level of ability, is treasured as a precious gift.
Imagine a world in which all children are compassionate… a world where every child goes out of their way to help the physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another.
Imagine a world in which all children are capable… a world where every child is reaching his or her God-given potential, whatever that potential may be.
Our children are our future. They are the teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, public servants, politicians and leaders of tomorrow. Imagine those valued, compassionate and capable children as adults taking their rightful places in leading their communities.
Ending poverty, hunger, war and all of the other problems that the 2030 Agenda proposes to solve will only happen if those who are working to solve these problems value one another, have respect for human dignity, treat others with compassion, and are highly capable in every sense of the term.
I believe that is a world worth fighting for. The driving vision of the REACH Family Institute, the organization I co-founded and co-direct, is the creation of such a world… one in which all children are valued, compassionate and capable. It’s our purpose, our raison d’être, our why.
The good news is we already know how to transform children’s lives. In fact, we have 40 years of experience doing it with children of every level of ability, with families of every race and social class throughout the world, including thousands of families living in extreme poverty.
Goal #4 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Goal #4.2 is to ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
Since we are discussing “empowering the refugee family”, how can we do this in the context of the refugee crisis currently gripping the world’s attention? The key to success lies in the two greatest assets that every child has – the family and the magnificent human brain.
It is absolutely essential that we focus on these two things because refugees typically live in conditions of poverty. Their children are susceptible to the neurological consequences of poverty. Additionally, many refugee children suffer both psychological and neurological effects of their traumatic experiences. Given that they are living in a very different culture amongst people who speak a different language, the added burden of these neurological impacts places these children at significant risk.
Memories from a Vietnamese Refugee
Recently, I met a Vietnamese woman who came to one of our workshops hoping to learn something that might help her brain-injured sister. After the workshop, she stayed to speak with me. Her story is a sad illustration of what can happen to refugee children and also a splendid example of the triumph of the human spirit.
On April 5th of 1975, her family became part of the wave of Vietnamese refugees who escaped to Guam. Her father was an infantryman in the South Vietnamese army so his family was at great risk. She was 5 years old at the time and her only memory of the experience is spending a long time on a grey, metal boat. Her youngest sister was born three days before they fled. She was a perfectly fine, healthy baby at birth. But within days of escaping, she developed severe jaundice. Weak and listless, she clung to life. Many died along the way and as they did they were buried at sea. Fearing she would be tossed overboard if she were discovered, her father wrapped her in newspaper and told his wife to hold her tight to her body. There was nothing else to do but hope and pray that she survived the trip.
Upon reaching Guam, the baby was given medical care, diagnosed with a severe brain-injury and her parents told she would never learn to speak or move. Unfortunately, the die was cast for her. Upon reaching the US, given no hope for her future, her parents did the best they could to care for her and settled into the task of assimilating into American culture and raising their other 8 children.
Today, 40 years later, this refugee family, now totaling 12, is a testament to the American dream. The children are grown adults living successful lives with families of their own. The parents, who sacrificed so much to protect them and give them the chance for a future, are enjoying their golden years.
Parent with the Brain in Mind
How might this child’s life be different today? If someone had empowered her parents with the knowledge and tools to unleash her hidden potential she might be very different.
The first key is to empower the family.
Placing the family, particularly mothers, at the center of early childhood development is crucial for several reasons. First, the family is ultimately responsible for and uniquely positioned to have the greatest effect on human development, including education. Second, because mothers and fathers are the most influential teachers their children will ever have. There is no greater or more dynamic learning team than that of the family. Mothers, in particular, when able to trust their instincts, know exactly what their children need and when they need it. The third and final reason is the power of love. Parents love their children more than anyone else in the world. That includes poor, uneducated parents. It includes refugee parents. Love knows no university and it knows no social class.
The second key is the magnificent human brain.
According to James Heckman, University of Chicago professor and 2000 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, “Early experiences can translate into school readiness, academic success, and lifetime well-being. Success builds upon success. When more children in a community are ready to learn, community-wide levels of human and social capital rise.”
The “Investing in Children” report done by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation concluded that resources focused on children early in life have a multiplier effect on society. The long term financial return on investments in children under the age of five is 400% – 800%, based on increased individual earnings, decreased government spending on special education, remediation and welfare costs, and those costs related to criminal activity.
Unfortunately, despite this recognition, for many children brain development happens by chance. Few parents, even affluent parents, demonstrate an understanding of the link between brain development and long-term outcomes. Most parents do nothing to actively promote brain development and learning.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! A child’s future no longer needs to be left to chance. Our 40 years of neuroscience research and practical clinical experience demonstrate that early attention to brain development pays big dividends. Through our work with the poor, we proved that any parent is capable of transforming their child’s life provided they have three things – knowledge, determination and, most of all, love.
I want to tell you one final story to illustrate what happens when we empower families, including poor families, with the knowledge and tools necessary for them to maximize their child’s neurological potential.
In Venezuela, we saw a family with a 6-month old girl born profoundly brain-injured. She was blind, deaf, immobile, and very sick, with frequent seizures and under heavy anti-convulsant medication. The mother was in a severe state of depression. We evaluated the girl, designed and taught a program to try to improve her function, and urged the parents to get counseling to help them through their grief.
Six months later with just one look in the mother’s eyes, we knew things were going very well. Mom and Dad looked 10 years younger. We discussed the changes – beginning to see, to hear, to move, reduced seizures, good health – all of which are absolute miracles the parents created. Then we talked about the next steps. As we concluded, Dad was telling us how happy they were with the changes in their little girl. His last sentence was “The best thing about this program is that now we know there will be a tomorrow”.
Now we know there will be a tomorrow! Hope for the future based on the concrete results of dedication, effort, and love applied in the present. God created mothers and fathers so that they can ensure their children will have a tomorrow. Let us not allow any professional or bureaucrat to take this greatest of all gifts away from them.
The gift of a child is also the gift of parenthood. It is a life-transforming gift, unleashing stores of love, devotion, and compassion of which people never dreamed they were capable. When these qualities are directed towards any child, particularly the brain-injured child, there is a ripple effect of change that goes well beyond the changes in the child. It changes the parents, the brothers and sisters, the extended family, the local community and, eventually, the larger society.
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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
Happy Earth Day!
Earth is a magnificent place when seen up close and magical when seen from space. I don’t know anyone, grownups and children alike, who is not in awe when seeing pictures of Earth from space! You would think everyone would want to care for it, and keep it clean, pristine, and healthy so it would be capable of hosting us forever.
Modern convenience did not equal sustainability for the planet.
We now know that because of many inventions and practices of the recent past we have polluted and destroyed a lot. Many things were developed to make our lives easier. Plastic, microwaves, frozen prepared foods, chemicals to make our fruits and vegetables grow faster and bigger, automobiles, etc. We were in love with the new technology that was making our lives more “modern” and easier. We no longer had to spend an hour making dinner. We could pop dinner in a microwave and have a meal within a few minutes. Plastic was a great thing and helped make our lives easier. But did anyone consider that some of those inventions might be damaging our environment while making our lives easier? The answer is no, or at least not many, and not for a long time.
Now that we have realized how much trash we create that is not biodegradable, and how much we have polluted the air we breathe and the water we drink, we are rightfully concerned. Now we are making changes in how we live even though some of those changes are at times inconvenient. We are doing this in order to protect the Earth. We are now focusing on developing products that are better for the Earth and that will hopefully stop or reverse the damage we’ve created in the name of progress. We are focusing on creating solutions to restore the Earth back to health. That is a great thing and it really makes me happy because the future of our children and humanity depends on it!
Modern convenience is impacting our children’s brain development.
So, what if I tell you that there is something else that is just as important, just as magnificent and magical as our Earth, and that we seem to be just as unaware that we are polluting it? That magnificent, magical, and important thing is called the human brain. Yes, our children’s brains! Are do you find this statement surprising? Some of our “modern” practices and gadgets are damaging and polluting our children’s brains and, just as what happened with the Earth, we are distracted by the fact that those “modern” practices and gadgets make our lives easier! The lack of awareness and concern for this makes me very sad and very concerned because the future of our children and of humanity depends on it.
Having taught parents how to improve the function of their child’s brain and accelerate their child’s development for over 40 years, I have seen up close the potential of this beautiful organ!
As a parent, I know parents love their children more than they can express in words. Every parent wants their child to be happy, healthy, and successful. In order for parents to achieve this we need to pay attention to how we are treating our children’s brains. We created BrainFit Kids for exactly this reason – to teach parents about brain development and the best practices to help their children reach their potential. As part of that teaching we must sound the alarms when parents are following practices that are detrimental to good brain development even if those practices make parents’ lives easier.
Three negative practices impacting children’s development.
Now that I have you thinking about your child’s brain and the need to give it the same care and attention as we give to the Earth, let’s talk about some of the “modern” practices that are negatively affecting our children’s development.
1. Lack of access to tummy time: Babies do best, in every sense, when they learn to tummy crawl. It is an extremely important function for a baby to learn as it promotes good brain organization, amongst many other things. In order for a baby to learn to crawl on his tummy he must be placed on his tummy early and often. In today’s busy world, kids are often placed in car seats, swings, laying on their backs, or sitting for most of the day. In doing this we prevent them from learning how to tummy crawl which has a negative affect on the development and function of that magnificent brain. You can read more about the importance of tummy crawling in an earlier blog here.
2. Poor nutrition: The human brain needs proper nutrition in order for it to develop to its highest potential and function at an optimal level. The brain needs protein, fat, the right kind of carbohydrates, and certain vitamins and minerals. When we feed children mostly foods that are high in sugar, contain chemicals (food colorings, flavorings and/or preservatives) we are negatively affecting brain development. You can read more about the importance of good nutrition for the developing brain in an earlier blog here.
3. Technology: Last, but not least, when we give our toddlers and young children smartphones or tablets we are, in fact, “polluting” their brains. This may seem like too strong a statement to you because so many parents are allowing, if not encouraging, their children to use these devices. It quiets them down and keeps them distracted. This is a perfect example of a practice that is used because it makes parents’ lives easier. Let’s face it, kids get completely hypnotized by these devices leaving parents free to do whatever they desire for that time.
This practice is painful to me because you see it happening everywhere and with very young children! You cannot go to a restaurant, walk in a city or a store, fly on a plane or go anywhere else where children are not connected to digital devices. Sadly, most often, so are their parents! This practice is wiring our children’s brains in ways that they were not meant to be wired and the result is a lack of concentration, inability to focus, learning difficulties and poor social skills.
Children who spend a lot of time in front of a screen, any screen, do not learn to play creatively, have difficulties playing independently, and often become “addicted” to the device. The more they use it, the more they want it. If you want to increase the chances that your child will be a good learner do not “pollute” your child’s brain by putting these devices in their hands.
The American Academy for Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 18 to 24 months. The only exception to this is occasional video chatting (FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.). They recommend no more than 1 hour per day of screen time for children between 2 and 5 years of age. They also recommend that when children do have exposure to screen time it always be viewing together with the parents.
I’ll take that a few steps farther. My recommendation is no screen time other than occasional video chatting) before 3 years of age. For children between 3 and 5 years old, I recommend you limit screen time to 30 minutes at a time and not everyday. What your children don’t know, won’t hurt them. If you do not show them games on the phone they will not know to ask for them. For some insight into how this can be done in practice check out our previous post here. You can read more about the effects of screen time on the developing brain here and here.
Get outside and enjoy our beautiful Earth!
Instead, give them plenty of time for free play. Get them outside to enjoy this wonderful planet we live on. Encourage them to get their hands dirty, to jump in puddles, to climb things, etc. Their brain will benefit so much more from these activities.
I sincerely hope that all parents take this advice to heart. In the same way we need to respect our Earth and pay attention to what we do to it, we must respect our children’s brains and pay attention to what we do to them. The young brain is the most valuable resource a child has and it is worth our time, attention and investment!
Yay, Spring is here… at least for many of us! If it is Autumn where you live, no problem. You can still apply what follows with your little one. Just call it Fall or Autumn cleaning. No law against that! 😉
With the change in seasons, we get the urge to make changes in our homes, especially when the weather begins to warm up and the days are longer. The flowers begin to come out, we all seem to get renewed energy, spend more time outdoors and revel in that happy feeling that good weather brings! With that comes an extra awareness of our environment. The “clutter” for some reason seems to be enhanced or we become more aware of it and then many of us get the urge to clean a bit deeper and to unclutter. Maybe because when we have less clutter we are more likely to stop to enjoy and smell the flowers. Whatever the reason, raising your young child in an uncluttered house is best for their development and learning.
This is a great time to look at your children’s stuff, especially the toys and games, and let go of the things she does not play with. Many children have way too much stuff that they don’t even look at, never mind play with. Take the time to unclutter your child’s room and make her a part of the decision of what she will keep and what will be donated or sold at a consignment store. When you unclutter, you provide your child with a better learning environment. When you involve her in the process, you teach her important social skills like sharing and give her the opportunity to learn about gratitude and compassion. Yes, you read that right. This simple action teaches all of those important lessons! Let’s explore how this works.
Babies and young children pay attention to literally everything that is going on around them. Unlike older children and adults, they do not have the ability to sort out what is important to pay attention to and what is unimportant. They simply can’t block things out like you and I can. So, they go from one thing to another as different things grab their attention. Everyone knows that children have shorter attention spans than adults. Right? The ability to pay attention for a long period of time comes with advanced neurological organization. The more organized a child’s brain becomes the better they can focus. This does not happen with the simple passage of time (chronological age) but instead is the result of the environmental stimulation and developmental opportunities that babies receive from birth. You can read more on brain organization here.
Because they are incapable of judging the value of the input around them, babies, toddlers, and very young children do not function as well in a cluttered room. To their brain, a cluttered room is complete chaos! So, obviously, a very young child will not do well in a room that is overloaded with toys. The younger a child is, the less you should give her to play with at any one time. Keeping her playroom clutter free and organized will promote learning and fun! You know you have too much in a room when you see your child go from one toy to another without truly playing with any of the toys. When this happens your child is not learning or benefitting from any of the toys she has. So, the first reason to spring clean and to unclutter your child’s room is to create a learning-friendly environment. An environment where your child will truly benefit from her toys.
The second motivation to unclutter is that it gives you the opportunity to teach your child to share what she has with others who are not as fortunate as she is. Point out to your child that some parents are unable to buy toys for their children and she will make another child really happy by giving away her toys! When you do that you teach your child to care for others. You are teaching her to be grateful and compassionate. Don’t forget to tell her how proud you are of her for giving away some of her toys to make other children happy! It is a fun way to teach the gift of giving!
Here is how you should approach your child so she does not feel you just want to get rid of her things. You have to involve her and give her a sense of ownership.
Here are some steps to follow:
1. I suggest you first decide, on your own, what toys/games are still age and skill appropriate and therefore should be kept. Then decide which are no longer appropriate and separate them.
2. Think about the toys/games that your child seems to gravitate to more often. What do they have in common? Do her present interests cause her to gravitate to them? Is it the ease of use? Is it just because those are the toys/games she can reach on her own? This will help you decide what pile they should go in and where you should place them when the room is uncluttered.
3. Once you have the keep pile and the giveaway pile separated you should engage your child.
4. Let your child know that you are going to be tidying up her room and will need her help.
5. Begin with the toys/games you decided should be kept. First, tell her that you need her help to place the “fun” toys that you are keeping where she will be able to get to them whenever she wants to play. With her help put them away where they belong by encouraging her to put them at a level she can reach on her own. Give her one toy at a time if she is a toddler or if she is not accustomed to helping.
6. Keep a maximum of 5 toys at the child’s reaching level and the rest out of the her sight level. Occasionally rotate the toys. This will keep her interested and having fun since they will feel like new toys to her.
7. Now that all the toys you are keeping have been taken care of it is time to deal with the toys in the giveaway pile.
8. Let your child know that there are children whose parents can’t buy them things like toys and how happy she will make those children by giving them the toys she no longer needs. Go through the pile with her and if there are toys she absolutely refuses to give away agree to put them away for now. Whenever she agrees to give a toy away tell her how proud you are of her and how happy you are because some child who has no toys will be so happy and grateful for her kindness.
9. When doing this be mindful of your child’s understanding and maturity level. You can not expect a 2-year-old child to be happy about giving ten of her toys away all at once. Start small! One toy is a successful way to start! You can put the rest away for a while and if she does not ask for them after a few weeks or a month you are safe to give them away without her “consent” because most likely she will not even remember she had them! 😉 As your child gets more mature and comfortable with the idea of giving you can expect her to be comfortable with giving more toys away at once.
10. Now choose the organization to whom you are going to donate the toys. Organizations that work directly with children are best – foster care organizations, organizations working with single mothers, etc. For a young child, it makes her donation more real when she has some sense of who she is helping.
11. If your child is older and has a nice expensive toy, you might want to teach her the value of things. So, you can take her to a consignment store to sell her old toy. Have your child go with you so you can teach her how the process works. Talk to her about what she can do with the money if her toy sells. She could save the money to use at a later date or she could buy another toy she wants. It is important to know both options. Agree on it ahead of time.
12. Finally, make sure you and your child celebrate having an organized and clutter free playroom or bedroom! If she has donated toys, celebrate her kindness! If she sold a toy, celebrate the lessons she learned about the value of things. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!! 🙂
Now go for it!
In a recent blog post we talked about the importance of letting children learn on their own, make mistakes, and try again in order to grow up to become independent adults who are not afraid of failing. Independence is a wonderful thing in a child but if children are to become capable adults, independence and responsibility must go together. They are two sides of the same coin.
You can begin giving your children opportunities to be independent and develop a sense of responsibility when they are stable walkers and understand enough to follow simple instructions.
Here are 10 simple practical tips to foster independence in young children:
1. On my own! In general, it is a good idea to encourage your children to do things for themselves and for others as soon as they understand. For instance, have your child choose the clothing they are going to wear that day. If you must, you can give options to choose from.
2. Laundry Time: At the end of the day when your child is getting changed have them get into the habit of placing the clothing they wore that day into the laundry basket. My grandchildren have a laundry basket with a goat on it and so they have fun “feeding the the goat” – a fun little trick to get them into the habit of putting their clothes in the laundry basket each night. They also love helping to do the laundry!
3. Clean Up Time: From the time your little one can walk while carrying a toy or object begin encouraging them to put toys away when they’ve finished playing. In the beginning, keep it to just 2 or 3 toys and give one toy at a time asking your child to help you clean up. Let them know how much you appreciate the help and remember to say ‘Thank you for your help’ when they’ve done it! If you search on your favorite music service for “Clean Up Song,” you’ll find many options. Pick a few and make a playlist to make it fun and a cue for your children to start cleaning up.
4. Walk the Dog: Walking the dog is a great responsibility for a little toddler as long as you have a well-disciplined dog. It is a way to begin teaching a child to care for others and it is a fun outdoor activity! OK, maybe not so fun when snowing or raining!
5. Clear the table: After breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner have your child clear their plate, cup, or silverware to the dishwasher or to whatever place you assign that is within their reach. You might begin with just one meal. Choose the meal that you consistently have at the table at home. Eventually, it should be their ‘job’ to clear their place completely.
6. Clothes: When your child starts to develop the ability to use both hands together it is a good time to begin encouraging them to undress on their own. Children first learn to undo things before they learn to put them together. Undressing comes before dressing. Have your little one pull their socks off, or shoes, or pants. At first, you might need to pull the item of clothing off half way and then have them finish. Give the necessary help to encourage them to finish but not so much that your little one doesn’t have to put in an effort to take it off. It is a matter of trial and error for both of you. The important thing is that, as your child learns to undress and dress, it becomes their “job” and you should only do it for them on very few occasions when you absolutely must.
7. Snack time! Whenever possible set up a snack station at a place and height where your child can serve themself when they’re hungry. Containers of dry fruits, nuts, granola bars, or whatever you choose. Keep everything necessary for the child to serve themself (the food, the bowls and whatever they need to serve) on the same shelf or close to each other. Also, have your child serve their own water to drink. Having smaller pitcher is handy for this so that they have a vessel that is manageable for them.
8. Feed the dog: Let your little one be responsible for feeding the dog, cat, or whatever pet you might have. Begin when they are a new walker by just giving a few nuggets of food that they can give to the pet. As they grow and develops better control of their manual ability and better understanding you should increase the degree of independence necessary to feed the pet. Eventually, probably around 2 – 2 ½ years old they should be able to scoop the food from the container, pour it in the bowl and put it down in the appropriate place. Your child should be able to do this independently with just some verbal guidance and reminders until it becomes their own responsibility.
9. Around the house: There are many activities a child can do at home that teach independence and the importance of helping each other. They also help develop tactile ability, manual ability, help teach them colors, counting, and much more. In addition, as your child is learning they are helping you get some household tasks done. Yes, it will slow you down but it will be more fun for both of you! Examples of such tasks are – dusting, wiping a small table, sorting laundry, helping to set or clear the table (teaches quantity by counting), making a sandwich, folding kitchen towels, etc. Keep the duration of the task short in accordance with your child’s attention span. For example, if you are folding kitchen towels with a very young child, 3 towels is a good start.
10. Encourage your little one! Last, but not least, encourage and expect your child to be helpful around the house. The more opportunities you give them to be independent and helpful to others and the more you praise them for the help and effort they are putting in the more aware of their ability your child will become and the more willing to help others they will be. When children are given these opportunities they learn to be less self-absorbed and more aware of the needs of everyone around the house and in society.
To summarize, be aware of all the things you are doing for your child that they could be doing for themself. Stop and encourage them to do those things on their own! All children want to be independent. They want to be allowed to do things for themselves. We grown-ups are often the ones who stop or discourage them when they are very young. Later, when we want them to begin helping they have lost their young child’s desire. They have developed an attitude of entitlement. It becomes a struggle to get them to help. They still want to be independent but without any responsibility. Unless it is unsafe, let your child try and learn by doing things independently right from the young toddler stage! Remember, once you have given your child a responsibility you must not do it for them or you are giving the message that it is not important or necessary for them to do it!
Finally, ALWAYS be thankful for their independence and their help and make sure you let them know how happy you are and how proud you are of all the effort they are making.
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!
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.
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.
There are many things I enjoy in life! Amongst my favorites is spending time with children, traveling, and cooking! Children say the funniest things and often arrive at brilliant conclusions. I love to watch them learn. I enjoy their contagious energy. I believe they keep us young!
Over the past 40 years of working with children, because our work is international we have been fortunate to travel and spend considerable time in other countries. When traveling I enjoy getting to know the people, how they think, and what they eat! We often make a point of going to their farmer’s markets, the best place to rub elbows with the locals and appreciate the products used in their cooking. I think that is where my love for cooking really developed.
It started in my childhood. Both of my parents cooked and my Dad was in the restaurant business. But learning about different cultures through cooking made it even more fun! I enjoy eating and cooking the foods of a wide range of countries. When I eat and smell foods from other countries I get transported right back to them! We all have memories that go with food. The smell of hot chocolate and a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies probably reminds you of something fun in your childhood. Perhaps coming in to a warm house after playing in the cold outside. The smell of popcorn and the sound of it popping reminds us of being at a movie theatre or watching movies at home. The smells and tastes will vary depending on the culture in which you grew up but your memory is always triggered by those tastes and smells and it brings you right back to your memories of growing up. And this is especially true with the holidays!
Every culture has holidays that are celebrated with meals particular to that celebration! The smells of a Thanksgiving meal brings Americans right back to their childhood and those smells make us feel at home. Turkey is almost always on the menu but each family has their special side dishes, their special way of making their turkey, and their preferred stuffing recipe! Am I right that our own family recipes are always the best to us?
My parents are from Portugal and I grew up eating the traditional Portuguese dishes for Christmas which always began on Christmas Eve. Christmas is not complete to me if I do not make those dishes. The warmth that meal brings to my heart is priceless. Although my husband and daughter are Americans, I found it important to share this part of my culture with them. So, at my home every year we begin our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve with a whole Portuguese meal. That includes what is put out for Santa and what is served for breakfast on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day we have an all-American meal. This has become our family tradition and to my daughter and her family those are the smells and tastes particular to our family’s Christmas holiday!
By now you might be saying – OK I get it, you like cooking! But the holidays are already so stressful why should I add more stress by trying to cook with my child? Why should I care about cooking with my child? What are the benefits that warrant me doing something with my child that I don’t love? You might even been thinking – How often do I need to cook with my child for it to be of benefit to him or her? If you have been following us you know that our objective is to teach you the best practices to better develop your child’s brains through simple actions. So let’s take a look at how cooking fits in. How can cooking with your child benefit them and what materials do you need?
When you are cooking with your child she is receiving sensory stimulation to all five senses – visual, auditory, tactile, smell, and taste. You and your child are literally experiencing all of the human sensations all at once. Cooking also gives your child the opportunity to use all of the motor functions – language, mobility and manual activities. You are taking advantage of brain plasticity! For your child it is just fun hands-on “play” but in fact you are growing and developing your child’s brain in a major way. The benefits to your child are worth your effort and, who knows, you might begin to find some enjoyment in cooking! So, the kitchen and cooking provide lots of benefits for your child. Another precious benefit for both of you is the memories it creates while making something delicious together!
You do not have to cook with your child every day. Of course, the more often you do the better your child becomes at it. Like everything else, practice makes it better. Yes, cooking with children slows you down. Actually, everything you do with children slows you down! Right?! Plan ahead. Decide what will be your special day to cook together and put it on your schedule. Especially when there is so much going on during the holidays, if you do not schedule making Christmas cookies or whatever other specialty you make for your family holiday, it will not happen.
Rather than age we like to focus on level of ability. You can begin as early as the toddler age. Have your child watch you cook as soon as she can safely stand on her own. When she has become a safe walker so she can safely stand in a learning tower or a sturdy chair you can begin.
Start by having your child help you scoop and pour, push buttons, press down on a salad spinner. If you are making dough begin by having the child squeeze or knead the dough. Have her mix something with a spoon or with her hands. Increase the complexity according to what she safely can do with her hands. As her ability develops and matures you can continue to increase the sophistication of the cooking task and allow for more independence.
Be aware of what is on top of the kitchen counter. Make sure you keep things that can hurt your child out of reach at all times. Also, consider your child’s level of understanding. Make sure your child can follow simple instructions that will keep her safe and involved in the activity.
When I was the parent of a toddler I used a chair and I still do when my grandchildren come to visit, but now you can buy towers designed especially for this purpose. They are safer as there is less chance that a child can fall out. Some towers are collapsable, which gives you more space when the tower is not in use. Also, when collapsed there is no chance a child can open the tower when you don’t want them to be able to reach the counter. My grandchildren love their tower and call it “The Tower of Power”! Anything else you need is determined by the recipe you use.
Choose recipes with ingredients you know your child will like. Begin with simple recipes that have few ingredients and do not involve actually putting things on the stove. Like cold cereal – with help your toddler can pour the cereal, the berries and the milk or yogurt. If you like hot cereal like oatmeal you can have your child put the ingredients in the pot and you do the cooking part until they reach the age when they can safely handle a cooking pot on top of a stove.
Recipes that require mixing are great because you can have your child mix the ingredients with her hands. Instead of tossing a salad with tongs, mix it with the hands. Kale or spinach salad that requires massaging the kale or the spinach to wilt it is a winner. Bake something that requires mixing with the hands. Also, recipes that require whisking with a whisk or a fork, or mixing with a spoon. There is plenty of opportunity to use an enormous variety of movements.
Make sure that during this time you are talking to your child, describing the movement that needs to be used (what whisking looks like), the name of the tool, etc. Describe the flavors and the smells. Talk about the categories (fruit, vegetables,etc.), the importance of foods that are good for us, and so on. If you are cooking meat or chicken or fish, encourage your little toddler to feel the texture. The same with the produce. Teach your child when something looks good and fresh and when it doesn’t. If you want your child to eventually be aware of and appreciate what she puts in her mouth begin by teaching her about fresh ingredients!
Teach your child the pleasure of eating! It begins with the ingredients, followed by the cooking, and finished by the plating. When we eat for pleasure it is not the quantity of food that matters to us, it is the quality! This is a good thing to teach a child.
So bring your child in the kitchen and have some fun making something simple and delicious! Choose a few family holiday recipes that are special but simple enough that your child can be a part of the preparation. Please share your experience with us in the comments below. We would love to see some pictures of your child cooking with you this holiday season!
Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!