Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
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!
It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we look at human functional ability. In his landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to describe the change in thinking that precedes dramatic changes in scientific models. The shift in the field of physics from the laws of motion of Sir Isaac Newton to the theory of relativity of Albert Einstein is a good example.
Traditionally, the medical, psychology and education establishments have assigned human beings to categories according to functional ability – what they can and cannot do, as well as according to how well they do what they can do. This remains the dominant paradigm today. It is most commonly seen in the diagnosis of disabilities – children are placed into categories according to their lack of ability and are then placed into categories within those categories according to the severity of their lack of ability. But it’s been a pervasive idea throughout society for a long time.
Here’s a personal story that shows how this played out in schools when I was young. When I enrolled at Archbishop Wood High School for Boys sometime in the last century, I was assigned to a “track” based on my IQ score and previous academic performance in elementary school. There were three tracks – first, second, and third.
The “first” track was for the kids who had high IQ scores and really good grades in elementary school. It was generally understood that the kids in these classes were going on to college after high school graduation and that most of them would go to top-notch colleges and universities.
The “second” track was for the kids who had average IQ scores and average grades in elementary school. That’s where they put me. It was generally understood that the kids in my “track” would also go on to college but the push for us was to aim for the smaller state colleges where the admissions requirements were not as stringent.
The “third” track was for the kids with below average IQ scores and below average grades in elementary school. It was generally accepted that the boys in the “third” track were not college material and therefore would go on to learn a trade like plumbing or auto mechanics.
Nobody ever told us that the divisions between “tracks” were made along these lines, but we all knew it. And it had a significant influence on how we saw ourselves and our potential and also how we saw each other. It was, in a certain sense, a caste system based on the belief that intelligence is predetermined and unchangeable. So we all thought that if you were lucky and born smart, you were dealt a good hand of cards; and if you were unlucky and not born smart, you were dealt a bad hand of cards. Stanford University psychologist Carolyn Dweck calls this the fixed mindset and when I was growing up the fixed mindset ruled!
The idea that any ability, including intelligence, is predetermined and unchangeable has always been a lousy idea and it has limited the potential of untold numbers of people. But during the last decade or so there has been a movement afoot in neuroscience circles that deserves our attention because it represents a significant departure from the traditional way of assigning children to fixed categories. It is called “neurodiversity”.
Advocates of neurodiversity view neurological conditions like autism and dyslexia as being the result of natural variations of the human genome rather than pathologies or disorders. On that basis, they argue, the traits caused by genetic variations should be celebrated and that there is no need for or possibility of a cure. The neurodiversity movement has seen it’s most ardent embrace amongst the autism community.
Let me give some perspective. Forty years ago, there was no such thing as the autism spectrum. There were simply children with autism and they were categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. That’s it. Some years later, those terms were replaced with autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and Asperger’s syndrome. Today, those terms have been largely replaced with the blanket term autism spectrum disorder and the children are all somewhere “on the spectrum”. While autism spectrum disorder is still a medical diagnosis that categorizes children according to sets of symptoms (and is therefore not acceptable to neurodiversity advocates) it is a term that nonetheless was greatly influenced by the neurodiversity movement.
While I have fundamental disagreements with both of these developments (neurodiversity and the autism spectrum), they do represent an encouraging trend. These concepts represent ways of looking at human ability that seek to find some commonality amongst all people or at least people with those traits rather than focusing on their differences. And they also at least imply the possibility that performance amongst people who are “neurodiverse” or “on the spectrum” is somewhat fluid rather than static. That’s a big difference from the classical approach of diagnosing a child with a disability and placing him in a box from which he cannot escape.
Nonetheless, these changes do not go far enough because they are still mired in a concept of human functional ability that is essentially based on the idea that ability is predetermined by genetics and therefore is largely unchangeable. This ignores all of the extraordinary advances in our understanding of the human brain and neuroplasticity of the past forty years. So, I propose that we take this notion several steps further.
We have worked with children whose abilities span the entire spectrum of human performance for more than forty years. Since the late 1970s, we have taught a concept that we call the Continuum of Human Functional Ability. A continuum is defined as a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. The Continuum of Human Functional Ability ranges from little functional ability on the low end (as in a child in a coma) to superior functional ability on the high end. When we speak of functional ability we mean sensory, cognitive or intellectual, physical, emotional, and social ability. We mean ability in its most comprehensive or holistic sense. In between the low end and high end of the continuum, there are gradations of functional ability.
In order to understand the continuum, one must first understand that all human functional ability is the direct result of the development and organization of the human brain. You are able to do what you do and do it as well as you do because of the degree to which your brain is developed and organized.
Essentially, the idea is that all human beings can be placed on a continuum that is based on the degree to which the brain is developed and organized. You can see this in any classroom. There is always a range of performance (i.e. ability) amongst the children. That range of performance is, to a very large extent, the result of a range in brain development and organization. Same thing on the soccer team. Same thing in the band. Same thing with children who are diagnosed with disabilities – take ten children with Down syndrome and you will find a range of functional ability, take ten children with cerebral palsy and you will find a range of functional ability.
Remember, these differences in ability are based on brain development and organization not on genetic endowment. Because of that, one’s position on the continuum is fluid. It can change! Improve brain function and you can move up the continuum towards the superior end. Suffer a loss of brain function and you might move down the continuum towards the low end.
We have seen this happen more times than I can count in our work with children who have developmental difficulties. Back in the days before the “autism spectrum” we saw children start our Home Program with a diagnosis of autism. Two years later they came back and their diagnosis had been changed to pervasive developmental delay. Two years later their diagnosis had been changed once more, this time to Asperger’s syndrome.
After you’ve seen this scenario play out enough times you have to say to yourself, what is going on here? If each of these conditions is genetically determined how is it possible that we are changing the diagnosis every two years. Was the original diagnosis wrong? Well, if this experience were only confined to children on the “autism spectrum” perhaps that might be the case. But, it’s not. We have seen the same pattern in children with every diagnosis we work with – cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder, ADD, ADHD, and on and on. Over and over again, we have watched children start at one point on the continuum and, as their brain’s developed and became organized, they moved up the spectrum towards a higher level of functional ability!
So, here is the bottom line. We are all, each and every one of us, on the Continuum of Human Functional Ability. I am on it. Conceição, my wife and colleague, is on it. Juliana, our daughter is on it. Same for her husband, Jack. Same for our grandchildren, Jack and Adeline.
You are on the continuum too, and so are your children!
If you have been a regular reader of this blog you know that, as a parent, you have a significant influence on your children and their development. What you do as a parent matters a lot! You can play a role in helping your child find a place high on the continuum.
Finally, and this is the key, ALL of the children who are diagnosed with some type of developmental challenge regardless of the name that the doctors, or psychologists, or teachers have given it, are also on the continuum.
We are all on the continuum! Where we find ourselves is determined by the degree to which our brain is developed and organized. And that, at least as far as functional ability is concerned, is really the only difference between us! I have a great deal in common with the child who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I also have a great deal in common with the child diagnosed with Down syndrome. Each of those children has much in common with the other. We are all so much alike!
The beauty of the continuum is that it represents the hope contained in the miracle of the human brain – plasticity, growth, potential. And, best of all, it does this while simultaneously erasing the stigma associated with so many of the antiquated ideas of the past. Diversity is a wonderful thing but so is brotherhood and sisterhood. When it comes to the human brain and functional ability we are all brothers and sisters!
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.
People will often ask our kids what their favorite television show is and get a blank stare back because they don’t really know any. They are certainly big fans of the various Disney characters, but that is because they know them from reading the stories. Screen time can be one of those polarizing parenting topics these days but it doesn’t have to be. As we have always said, we believe that each parent needs to make their own decisions as to what is best for their kids and what works for their family. We continue to stand by that. We also want folks to know that even though the use of screens is quite common with young children these days, that doesn’t have to be what you choose for your kids. Just because most people are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. We always encourage folks to make these types of decisions from a place of understanding with regards to effects on the brain, health, emotional wellbeing, etc. As with most parenting decisions, it can be an evolving process and what you think is going to work out in a certain way may not and you may decide to adjust. For those of you with babies or very young toddlers, perhaps today’s post will give you some ideas as you think about how you want to navigate this particular area with your children.
So what does this look like in practice for us?
When we first became parents we had talked about how we planned to avoid screens in the first two years because we knew that screentime isn’t great for a very young and developing brain. Beyond that, I don’t think we really thought more specifically about what our approach would be. There was even a Saturday morning shortly after our little dude was born that Jack sat down on the couch and decided to see what “Saturday morning cartoons” were on these days. He quickly realized that “Saturday morning cartoons” isn’t really a thing anymore. We can all have access to watch whatever we want whenever we want to and we can watch it wherever! That’s when we realized that keeping a child screen free would be a completely different scenario for us as parents than it was for our own parents when we were kids. When we were children you could only watch something at the time it aired and on the TV that was in your living room. If you missed it, you missed it. Now screens follow us (and our kids) everywhere. So once you open up that can of worms it’s a battle you have to be prepared to fight anywhere and at any time.
We never really set out to have a 5-year old who doesn’t watch TV. We did decide that we wouldn’t use an iPad with our kids because we didn’t want them to get used to the idea that one could have access to a video anywhere. What we were comfortable with was allowing them to watch a few short learning videos in our house while they learned about whatever topic interested them on a given weekend morning. Yes, only on weekends. It became a fun tradition and even now our son will come up with ideas throughout the week of something he wants to learn about. On a Monday he might say, “Hey Dad! Can we watch a video about how marbles are made next weekend?!” – in fact, he asked this very thing on Monday. This tradition started when he was about 2.5 years old.
At 3 we allowed him to watch movies with us every now and then. Movie nights became a special treat with homemade popcorn, sometimes a bit of candy, his favorite blanket and some quality one on one time (staying up later than his baby sister!) with Mom and Dad. We’ve also made an exception for a certain college football team and other special sporting events like the Olympics / World Cup / Superbowl. Because this is about #parentingwithapurposenotperfectparenting. 😉 So the game will be on when the kids are around. And they will usually watch some of it and then get bored and start playing their own version of football or building a football stadium with Duplos, etc. Outside of that, they really don’t watch videos. Our TV is used to play music FAR more than it is to screen any other content.
A lot of people say they limit screen time to travel. This is also something we have resisted. You can check out our #TuesdayTravelTips on Instagram and Facebook for lots of ideas on how to keep kids entertained while traveling without resorting to a screen. We travel A LOT with the kids. We have done international flights and LONG road trips and the kids have never asked to watch something on an iPad or phone. Why? Because it never even occurs to them to ask. For a bit, we felt like we were trying to hold off because we didn’t want to start it and then have it be something we’d have to regulate. One more fight to avoid. But now it’s just a non-issue. This isn’t to say that we haven’t had travel troubles. Of course, we have! They are inevitable. But because they’ve never known a screen as an option for distraction they don’t ask for it and instead have other ways of keeping themselves busy.
We do a lot of story-telling, we listen to podcasts, we sing songs, they color, we play Uno, they play together and come up with random games. Does this mean that they have never ever seen a TV show? Of course not. If we are visiting with friends and all the kids decide to watch a show for a bit, that’s fine. If we’re at a restaurant and there are TVs everywhere they will get hypnotized like any other kid if we let them. But it’s just not something that we turn to at home or on the road. And I truly don’t think it’s something they miss or that they’re missing out on. They have great imaginations and are really able to entertain themselves for good amounts of time. And we have yet to have an argument over screen time! Something for which I am very grateful.
Screens are everywhere! If you have a baby and are trying to decide what your approach to this topic will be I strongly encourage you to hold out and work to keep your little ones screen free for as long as possible. It may seem like a challenge at first because it’s just so prevalent now. When you find yourself tired and impatient and about to reach for that remote or grab that tablet to distract your young toddler, take a pause. Think of what your mom or dad might have done instead when you were little. Try one or two other things to get you through that moment. Over time you’ll start to realize that your kids will have other go-to’s for distraction and it will be easier and easier as you (and they) won’t think of a screen as the necessary distraction piece.
Last week we posted an interview with Christine de Marcellus Vollmer about teaching universal values to young children. It was a particularly timely post because it came on the heels of a breaking news story about wealthy parents engaging in all kinds of illegal and immoral activities to pave the way for their children’s acceptance into elite colleges and universities here in the United States.
Today, I want to talk about another aspect of the story that is also quite topical, the phenomenon known as lawnmower or snowplow parenting. I prefer the image of the snowplow moving massive amounts of snow to clear a path so I’ll go with that one. These are parents who believe they must pave the way for their child’s success in life by removing all obstacles to failure. The parents involved in the college admissions scandal are snowplow parents par excellence!
Before leaving the workforce to devote herself to raising her children, Juliana Gaither (my daughter and a big part of BrainFit Kids) was the Associate Director for Study Abroad at one of America’s elite universities. In her role she sometimes dealt with these kinds of parents. In preparing to write this post I asked Juliana to tell me about her experience.
“We often had parents call and ask what their son or daughter needed to do to be accepted into a program instead of the student calling us or coming in to speak with us themselves. We even had the occasional parent wanting to meet with us in place of their child to find out more about the programs and the procedures for acceptance because their children were ‘too busy’ to do it themselves. ”
Remember, these students are 18 to 21-year-old young men and women! Unfortunately, many folks working at all levels of education have run into these types of parents. The problem is that in the long run, this kind of parenting has the opposite effect. Rather than helping children succeed, it sets them up for failure.
It is important for me to deal with this because some people believe that the things we teach at BrainFit Kids will lead parents to become “helicopter” parents or “snowplow” parents. If parents understand what we teach and apply it correctly nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s a direct quote about the goal of BrainFit Kids from Day 1 of our free email course, “Make the First Three Years Count.”
“Who are BrainFit Kids? BrainFit Kids are children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. They are children who function at a high level physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally. They are children who are curious and have a love of learning. They are children with self-confidence who enthusiastically tackle new challenges. BrainFit Kids are kids who have many options from which to choose. By the way, other than the fact that they are children who are raised with the brain in mind, they’re just like other kids. In other words, every well-child has the potential to be a BrainFit Kid. We’d like nothing better than to see a zillion of them!”
It is not possible for us to achieve that goal if our parents become either helicopter or snowplow parents.
So, how can you help your child to succeed in life?
First, ensure that that wonderful gift of the human brain is well developed and functioning optimally. Remember, all ability is the direct result of the development and organization of the brain. There’s plenty of information about that in our free email course and on our blog.
Second, take a cue from Dr. Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, about how to interact with your child as they confront the many challenges of life.
Dr. Carol Dweck, has spent decades researching the factors that lead to achievement and success. Her research eventually led her to pinpoint two beliefs that people have about themselves that affect how they approach challenges. She labeled those beliefs the “fixed mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability are predetermined and unchangeable, and the “growth mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed and improved through effort and determination.
Children begin to develop a mindset about themselves by around 3 or 4 years of age. Parents and teachers play a significant role in which mindset children develop because they are constantly giving feedback to them. Dr. Dweck discovered that the nature of that feedback is critical. Simply put, children who are praised for being smart tend to be children who shun challenges and opt for the easy way out, whereas children who are praised for their effort tend to be children who enthusiastically embrace challenges.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? But think about it. If Billy believes that his success is based on his intelligence, he is unlikely to do anything that might alter that perception of him. Billy doesn’t want to fail because that will prove that he’s not smart! On the other hand, if Susie believes that her success is based on her effort and perseverance, she is more likely to give challenges a shot. Susie sees failure as a part of the process of learning. Check out this video of children attempting to do puzzles for a clear demonstration of this concept.
Of course, as with many things in parenting, there are nuances in how one gives praise even when it is “effort” focused. In an article in “The Atlantic”, Dr. Dweck explains,
“If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, ‘Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,’ the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed.”
“But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.”
“So, with praise, focus on “process praise” – focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning.”
Dr. Dweck’s research has implications for all of us in our role as parents and in our own lives as we face the challenges of life at work, in our communities, and at home.
So now you have two pieces of the puzzle. There’s one more left.
Third, get out of the way and trust your child!
Let’s face it, nobody learns to walk without falling down and getting a few scrapes and bruises. The road to true success is a bumpy one. We take a few steps, lose our balance, and down we go. But then we dust ourselves off, regain our bearings, and try again. Try, fail, adjust, try again. With effort and perseverance, we eventually succeed. Failure is a part of life. It’s impossible for any child to develop successfully without it.
One final thought. We teach three basic laws of brain development. The third law says that “where there is a need, there is a facility”. Basically, it means that in order for any ability to develop there must first be a need for that ability. It’s an incredibly important law to understand. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read our post on this law here. I promise you, if you understand it well you will never turn into a helicopter or snowplow parent.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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?
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.
What are the values that are shared universally across a wide range of cultures?
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.
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?
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.
At what age do kids start to understand these more abstract ideas such as justice, loyalty, etc.?
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.
What are age-appropriate ways to start introducing these themes?
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.
Besides setting a good example, how do you teach things like empathy?
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.
Do you have a list of favorite books, by age, that highlight these values?
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 email@example.com.
What are the most important values to teach a young child/toddler and older child?
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.
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?
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.
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!