Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? When the Big Bad Wolf got to the third little piggy’s house he huffed and puffed to no avail because that house was carefully built of bricks. It didn’t end well for the Big Bad Wolf! Developing the human brain is a lot like building a house. The more you pay attention to creating a strong foundation in the first years of life, the better the brain will function. You want that brain to be like a house of bricks! Let’s take a look at how we do that.
The most important thing that we can say about the human brain is that the brain grows through use. It does so most rapidly in the first year of life but continues to do so regardless of the age of the brain’s owner, which is good news for yours truly! The brain grows through use because of a basic law of nature that says that function determines structure. I wrote a post about this a while back and hope you found it interesting and informative. If you haven’t read that post yet I highly recommend you read it before proceeding with this post because understanding this law is critical to understanding how your child’s brain develops. You can find it here.
In this post I want to talk about what this law actually means in practice for your child. In order to do that I’ll focus on the function of mobility. There are two ways in which this law affects your child’s structure – the structure of the brain, a process that takes place unseen; and the anatomical structure of the body, a process that is very easy to see.
Function determines structure in the brain
First, let’s look at the brain. For our purposes, in order to keep things simple, we divide the human brain into four parts: the medulla, the pons, the midbrain, and the cerebral cortex. Every time your child’s brain is receiving stimulation from the environment, his brain is changing. Every single message (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory) that the brain receives actually changes the physical structure of the brain. Likewise, every time your child moves his arms, legs, hands, fingers and toes, and every time he makes sounds, his brain is changing.
When your baby is born the main parts of his brain are already formed but not every part is fully functioning. There are still trillions of connections to be made in order for the entire brain to be fully functional. This is a process called neurological or brain organization. The function of mobility plays a critical role in creating brain organization. Here’s how that happens.
In the beginning, all of the movements your child makes are the result of reflexes being triggered. As those reflexes are used the brain changes as a result of that use. As the brain changes, as new connections are made, your child’s level of ability increases. Bit by bit, provided he is getting the correct kinds of opportunities, i.e. tummy time, he will develop more and more physical ability. First, he will learn to hold his head up. Then he might learn to roll over. Eventually he will learn to crawl on his tummy and later creep on his hands and knees.
When a baby is crawling on his tummy and creeping on hands and knees the parts of the brain that are being stimulated, developed, and organized are the pons and the midbrain, two primitive but very important parts of the human brain. Your child’s pons and midbrain are literally growing as he uses these functions. His brain is developing a richer network of connections and it is getting bigger just like a muscle does when you exercise. And, just like a muscle, it is becoming more efficient and effective.
All you need to do is make sure that you are providing the right opportunities. Mobility is key to brain organization because the brain works as a holistic system. Everything affects everything else. Primitive brain structures (medulla, pons, and midbrain) are connected to higher level brain structures (cerebral cortex). As in any system, it is important that each component of the system functions well for the entire system to function well.
Function determines structure in the body
Now let’s look at how the function of mobility affects anatomical structure.
The most obvious example of this law in the human body is that regular exercise results bigger and stronger muscles. The more we use our muscles the better the structure and the more effective they become. So what does that have to do with your child and her development? More and more people are recognizing the important role that movement and exercise play in brain function. However, precious little attention is paid to how movement develops in children. Many parents focus on when their child will begin walking and are not aware of the importance of the mobility stages that lead to walking.
At birth a baby has little to no head control due to underdeveloped neck muscles. The more opportunity you give a newborn to be on his tummy (function), the earlier he will develop neck muscles (structure) and the earlier and better he will hold his head up. When a baby is on his tummy his head functions just like the weights you lift at the gym (you know, for those parents who still find time to make it to the gym!). Eventually, with plenty of opportunity to be on the tummy, he will start tummy crawling from one place to another.
When a baby is tummy crawling there is a lot that is going on. First, he is developing the muscles in his neck, back, tummy, arms, hands, legs, and feet. He will need these muscles to be able to sit up straight, to push away from the floor into a creeping position, and eventually to stand up and walk. Provided he follows the natural pathway to walking he will develop beautiful posture. This process is how the law “function determines structure” relates to your baby’s physical function and muscle development.
Second, in addition to muscle development, children who tummy crawl a lot develop bigger chests and more mature breathing. Breathing is important because it is the primary way that we get oxygen for our brain. And later it will play an important role in the development of language.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, today many babies skip the tummy crawling and/or creeping on hands and knees stages. Many babies spend hours sitting in chairs (Bumbo, etc.). Many spend a lot of time in walkers. All of these devices are detrimental to good brain development and organization because they deny the baby the opportunity to learn how to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees and therefore interfere with the process of brain organization.
Many babies roll as a means of transportation. Many scoot on their bottoms. These movements by themselves are not a problem. However, they do not provide the same neurological and structural benefits as tummy crawling and creeping on hands and knees. Because they sidetrack children from learning to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees, these forms of movement result in poor brain organization, less muscle tone and strength, poor coordination, and poor posture. This is because the opposite of the law is also true – lack of function results in lack of structure, poor function results in poor structure, abnormal function results in abnormal structure.
So, taking advantage of this law is actually really easy:
- Provide your child with the opportunity to go through the natural stages of mobility – tummy crawling, creeping on hands and knees, and then walking.
- Avoid all devices that deny your child the opportunity to go through these stages.
- Make sure that once your baby develops a function, he uses that function. In other words, your baby must practice! The more he uses the function, the more the structure will change, both in the brain and in the body.
The end result? Excellent brain organization and beautiful physical structure, just like a house of bricks. How cool is that?!
The REACH Family Institute and BrainFit Kids really exist for only two reasons… to celebrate human potential and to honor human dignity and respect for life. We celebrate human potential by empowering parents with cutting edge knowledge about child brain development and sharing our four decades of clinical experience with them. We honor human dignity by teaching respect for life, and by serving children of all levels of ability from all segments of society.
All of us at REACH/BFK see all of you as part of our very large international family. Because of that, I want to share with you some of the highlights of this past year, some of the challenges we faced, and some of the lessons we learned. I’ll wrap up with a peek at what we have in store for you in 2019.
This past year was, in many ways, a remarkable year as we celebrated some fantastic milestones in our history.
A Few Milestones
40th anniversary – In 1978, REACH co-founder and Director, Charles R. Solis, Jr. led a group of six brain-injured young adults (the Appalachian Trail Challenge Team) on a successful thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Starting on April 8th at Springer Mountain in Georgia, they traversed 13 states, enduring extreme heat and humidity, freezing rain and snow, dense fog and howling winds. They suffered through painful blisters, hypothermia and physical exhaustion. And those were only the physical challenges! Most people who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail do so alone because it is far more difficult to hike for months on end with a group. Under Charles’ leadership, the Challenge Team reached the summit of Mt. Katahdin in northern Maine on September 15th, his 25th birthday. They were the first group (able-bodied or disabled) in history to successfully thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail as a group. Their record still stands today.
30th anniversary – In 1988, at Hacienda Santa Teresa in Venezuela, we launched the Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project, a volunteer effort to serve poor families with brain-injured children. Starting with just three families, the project quickly grew and within four years was serving 32 families with a waiting list of more than 500 families from all over Venezuela. In 1992, Programa Leopoldo officially began as a “train the trainer” program for Venezuelan professionals. From 1992 to 2002, Charles and Conceição trained more than 200 Venezuelan doctors (specialists in pediatrics and physical medicine/rehabilitation), physical, occupational, and speech therapists, psychologists, and special education teachers. Working together with Sra. Christine Vollmer, Association Provive, and the Alberto J. Vollmer Foundation they forged a unique partnership with the Venezuelan Ministries of Health and Education and opened 34 centers throughout Venezuela where children with developmental difficulties could be seen free of charge.
25th anniversary – In 1993, the mayor of La Victoria in Venezuela, Ismael Garcia, commissioned a study to determine the incidence of children with developmental difficulties in his region. Stunned by the high percentage of children with a wide range of neurological problems he sought our assistance in bringing badly needed help to them and their families. Later that year we inaugurated the Casa de La Mujer in La Victoria which was staffed by several recent graduates from our professional training program and funded by the city of La Victoria. This was the very first center opened in Venezuela where the initiative and funding came from the governing officials. Charles and Ismael, now a Deputy in the National Assembly, remain good friends to this day.
20th anniversary – In 1998, on the heels of a presentation on Programa Leopoldo at a conference at the Vatican, REACH was awarded non-profit status as an organization formed for charitable and educational purposes.
Launch of BrainFit Kids – In April of 2018, we launched our BrainFit Kids website, blog, and 7-day Free Email Course “Make the first three years count!” BrainFit Kids was years in the planning and creation and we are thrilled that hundreds of people are now taking our course each month.
This past year was also a year of monumental challenges for us, challenges that were personal but that were intricately woven with everything that we teach and have experienced throughout our professional careers.
The challenges involved family and stepping up when help was needed. Mom was suffering the effects of cancer and its treatment, Dad was in the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s disease. Because of failing health they could no longer care for themselves or live safely in their home unless someone could step in to care for them. The question was who? Without getting into the details (there are a lot of details!), after weighing all of the options, we told my mother that we would move in with her and my dad and care for them until the end of their lives.
So began a year of total devotion as Conceição and I took over responsibility for every aspect of their lives. Eventually this involved everything from cooking meals, administering medication, washing clothing, and cleaning the house; to bathing, changing diapers, dressing, and spoon feeding. We did this while simultaneously continuing our work with the children on the West Coast and in France, and traveling to Oregon to pack up our house for the move to the East Coast.
Once my mother knew that we were in it for the long haul, she was able to relax and give herself permission to let go. Mom passed peacefully at home surrounded by her sons and Conceição on the morning of January 22, 2018.
Caring for my father was a very different story. Over the course of the year, as his cognitive decline progressed we saw many different versions of him. At times he was like a hyperactive two year old. At times he was lethargic. Some days he slept until noon. Some days he was up at 5:00 am. Some nights he slept well, some nights he didn’t sleep at all. Most of the time he was very confused, occasionally he was incredibly lucid.
It was a constant roller coaster. Eventually, he no longer recognized either of us. When I would tell him I was Charlie Solis he would smile and say, “Me too!, How about that!” Winter turned to spring, and spring into summer. Dad slowly but surely lost more and more of his memory and his confusion got worse and worse. But, physically he was in great shape and so we planned on this being our life for the foreseeable future.
In July, Conceição went to California to help our daughter, Juliana, and son-in-law, Jack, and the grandchildren with their move from Chicago to the Bay Area. What started as a week or so long trip to help with the transition turned into a 6-week encampment as almost everything that could go wrong with the move, did go wrong. It was rough on everyone but it could have been a lot rougher if not for Vovó (grandmother in Portuguese). Conceição stepped in and lightened the load of caring for the children considerably, thus allowing Juliana and Jack to deal with the myriad issues confronting them.
And then summer turned into fall. In October, at a routine checkup with his cardiologist, we learned that Dad’s heart was failing. Still, he seemed to be doing well in general so life went on. I went to Oregon to pack our belongings for the move. Just as I was finishing up, on the day the movers loaded the truck for the trip to Pennsylvania, my father passed peacefully at home surrounded by my three brothers and Conceição on the morning of December 19, 2018. It still saddens me that I was not there but I have to believe that deep down Dad was OK with that. We had spent so many special moments together during the course of his last year. We had said what needed to be said.
Some Lessons Learned
- Principles are principles! – I spent a lot of time thinking about our decision and commitment to my parents and why, beyond the obvious reasons, we decided to do it. With time and reflection I realized that our entire careers involved work based on two fundamental principles – respect for life and honoring the dignity of every human person no matter their circumstance. We taught these principles for decades in many different situations from individual consultations with families to speeches at the Vatican and in Geneva. I came to understand that the real reason for our decision is that it was inevitable. If we were to remain true to our principles, we had to “walk the talk”!
- Our parents are HEROES! – Throughout our careers, we have always admired the incredible courage and dedication of the parents we work with who have brain-injured children on our Home Program. We often call them the “jewels” of society. They do heroic work with their children, with no recognition, often with little relief, often for decades. We had a taste of this many years ago during our training. We worked in a school with young adults and served as their surrogate parents. We lived with them, ate with them, served as dormitory supervisors, etc. When I took my group on the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I was responsible for them 24/7 for nearly six straight months with almost no time off. So, we had a sense for what our parents live with on a daily basis. Or so we thought! Our experience living with and caring for my parents multiplied our admiration for them a thousand fold!
- Family is what really matters! – Author Steven Covey was fond of an exercise where you imagine yourself at your own funeral. What will people say about you? How do you want to be remembered? Covey also often said that when on their deathbed nobody wishes they had spent more time at the office. When people have regrets they virtually always involve family. Nothing mattered more to my parents than their family. I had many occasions over the past year to meet people who knew Dad well and every one of them told me that he was always most proud of his four boys. He considered being our father to be his greatest calling and his greatest accomplishment. He was a wise man. Conceição and I cared for my parents until the end of their lives, providing them with the love and support that they so generously gave to me and my brothers when we were growing up. RIP Charles R. and Alma M. Solis. No regrets!
A Peek at 2019
We can’t say too much yet because we are currently transitioning from our role as full-time caregivers. But we can give you some hints. Expect to see a lot more online presence from BrainFit Kids this year. Some of the things we’ve got in the pipeline – Online Video Courses, Online Consultations, Mentoring Programs, BFK Podcast, E-books…
I’d like to leave you with a small but important piece of advice. Teach your children to be flexible. Flexibility is critical when it comes to handling changes in life and life often changes. Also, teach them what really matters in life. People, especially family and friends, are important. They should be treated with love and respect! The rest is just stuff! If we all teach our children to love and respect the people in our lives we will have a much more compassionate world. So, let’s all do our part by beginning at home.
Apologies for the length of this post today. It was important to me to share these thoughts with you as all of it is so woven together as if part of a cloth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. We have much to learn from each other! Share your stories, your struggles and triumphs. Send us your questions, and let us know what topics you want us to cover in the coming year.
Thank you everyone for your love and support this past year and cheers to a 2019 filled with promise and possibility!
Hopefully you are shifting gears from thinking about holiday purchases to what really matters – enjoying quality time with friends and family.
That said, if you are doing any last minute shopping or want gift ideas in 2019, save this post for reference!
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Toys
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
Also, you close out the year, please consider supporting the Reach Family Institute and BrainFit Kids!
- Via Facebook – help us reach our #Giving Tuesday Goal!
- Check out our Support BFK Page and Donate!
BrainFit Kids is a part of the Reach Family Institute and provides all of the online resources you have been enjoying free of charge. We are working on new information and resources for 2019 and look forward to continuing to share information with you and build community. If there are any particular topics you’d like us to address in the coming year please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and and peaceful end to 2018.
We can’t leave out you parents! You are the key to making your families work. This is a list of books that we think are great for all parents out there. We broke them down by books we think are great to give to those who are expecting and books that are useful at any point in parenthood.
Wonderful books for expectant parents:
- Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett – Let’s be clear. When you are first starting out there is nothing simple about breastfeeding! It is something that is unfamiliar and there are so many variables involved that for many it is a very challenging journey. A beautiful and important and natural journey, but often challenging. This book truly does help in so many ways though! It is a wonderful resource for any breastfeeding mama and good resources are extremely valuable when starting on your new breastfeeding journey. It is generally stated that the biggest key to success in breastfeeding is knowing others that have been successful. This is very true in that it is extremely valuable to have a tribe to turn to that has been there and been able to push through the challenges. I would add this book to that mantra though. The key to success is having a tribe of other moms AND this book.
- Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping by James J. McKenna – James McKenna is widely recognized as the guru when it comes to matters of mother-infant sleep relationships and the science behind cosleeping. Whether cosleeping is something you intend to do or not, this book is worth a read. It’s a short and easy read full of super practical information on cosleeping and how to do it safely whether it’s something you only do occasionally or whether it is your sleeping arrangement of choice on a nightly basis.
- Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu – Originally published in 1971, Montagu’s “Touching” is the Bible of work related to the critical role that the tactile sense has on human development. In the intervening years, medical science has proven Montagu to be quite prophetic in his assertion of the all encompassing importance of touch.
Books that are wonderful for every parent, especially those of young children:
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – Author Dan Coyle gets it like few others we know. By it we mean the extraordinary implications of the biological phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Our entire approach to child brain development is rooted in this fundamental reality. Coyle is a kindred spirit. You need this book. It will make you a better parent. Check out the full review we did of this book.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, M.D. – Unfortunately many, rightly so, have come to equate psychiatrists with the drugs they prescribe. Dr. Ratey uses medication when he thinks it will help but his first prescription for conditions like depression and anxiety may surprise you. It’s exercise! That’s right, Dr. Ratey proposes and shows that physical activity (mobility) should be at the heart of any attempt to improve human function. This book will get you off the couch and your brain will thank you for it.
- The Read-Aloud Handbook: 7th Edition by Jim Trelease – We are huge proponents of reading to children from the time they are infants. So this book is right up our alley! Trelease gives a splendid explanation of why reading to children throughout childhood is important along with a great list of books for all ages.
Hands-on play is critical because it provides the brain with real sensory experience and provides opportunity for the practical use of motor function. This holiday season we encourage you to focus on providing the young children in your life with gifts that will foster this. We’re talking – books, blocks, puzzles, musical instruments, and the like. Here’s a breakdown by age of some of the items we think are great for children and their development.
Expectant / Newborn – 12 months
Our favorite mat for tummy time: Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat – You can read all about why we consider this the best mat for tummy time in our previous blog post. Suffice it to say we probably consider this the best investment for a baby in the first 6 months of life in terms of a tool that will assist them in the most important aspect of their development in this time period. The mat is also a lot of fun as they grow older.
Finding toys that keep baby interested during tummy time are always a good buy. Soft and colorful balls like the rolling rosa are great during the early months of tummy time. As they start to move around on their tummy in later months, anything that give them an an incentive to chase are ideal. Babies at this age also love tags and crinkly things so toys like this will easily last for the first 12-18 months.
We are also big fans of the Tobbles Neo Stacking Toy for similar reasons. During the early months it provides good motivation during tummy time since the stacking balls move around a bit when on their own. As they start to move you’ll find them harmlessly gumming on them. As they get a bit older, it is a great first stacking toy due to the forgiving nature of how it stacks.
Melissa & Doug makes some great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1.
Whenever you give your baby something to hold, make sure it is not a choking hazard. It’s not a bad idea to have a small object choking tester on hand so that you know exactly which items to keep away as you are baby-proofing.
Introducing children to music and musical instruments early on is so valuable. In the early months these items will simply be something that you use to engage your child, but as they approach 6-12 months they will begin to take charge of the instruments themselves. These are some of the musical toys we have loved for our kids.
- Maracas, tambourines, triangles – Small maracas like these are nice for little hands to grasp.
- Drumscan be a bit noisy, but are certainly a kid favorite.
1 – 2 year olds
This is the box set that we have and it has a good variety as a starter music set (we kept the triangle with it’s metal stick away until the kids were older) but there are a number of great Melissa & Doug box sets and instrument options available.
- Geometric stackers like this are wonderful for working on hand eye coordination and keep young toddlers busy for long periods of time. Children at this age love stacking.
- In addition to stacking, young toddlers experiment a lot with spinning objects (and themselves!) so this SpinAgain Stacking Toy from Fat Brain Toys is a great one.
- We love this bead sequencing set. While it is geared towards older kids (4+), the truth is that children beginning between 1 and 2 years old can benefit from playing with these as well. We simply recommend putting away the smallest beads in the set and letting your child explore this set under supervision. The beads are fun for them to feel and you can talk to them about the differences in the shapes, the colors, sort colors/shapes, and let them practice putting the beads on the rods.
- Melissa & Doug offer classic colorful wooden blocks as well as this architectural set. Both of these provide great hands on play and will grow with your child over time.
- Playmags are very fun and allow for children to build in different ways than they do with classic building blocks. While these are geared more for the 3+ age group children can begin experimenting with the magnetic tiles in the 1-2 age range. Eventually one can use these to work on combining shapes to make other shapes, hone concentration (and patience!), and add on the clickins to work on letters, spelling, numbers, and math.
- Melissa & Doug have great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1 and their wooden peg and chunky puzzles are great for young toddlers.
Balance Bike (yes seriously, you can start ~18 months):
Once your child is comfortably walking you can begin to introduce a balance bike to them. This one by Woom is our favorite! Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
2 – 3 year olds
Cooking with kids provides so many opportunities for hands-on lessons. You can introduce math concepts, feel different textures, talk about different cultures, etc. It is one of the best places for children to learn through all of their senses! We love having a learning tower in the kitchen so that your child can help you out and get up to your level and you aren’t worried about turning your back and having them fall. There are lots of learning tower options out there but we have the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper as we like the feature that allows it to be folded up and tucked away.
Remo drums are awesome for kids and they have a nice deep sound that isn’t annoying. This is the specific drum we have but they make them in numerous shapes and sizes. In addition to just playing the drums, kids also love putting smaller objects (like Duplos, etc.) on these drums and making them bounce around!
Many of the items we listed for 1-2 year olds continue to be fun at this age; however, the kids begin to use them in a different evolution based on their age.
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
A favorite addition at this age are Tents
- Tents are wonderful for imaginative play. There are endless options out there so go with something that fits your space and your child’s interests. This is the one we have and it works well because it folds down into a small bag that we can put away when not being played with. This was key for us when living in a small city condo – https://brainfitkids.com/rocketplaytent
If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 then you could start with that. Simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
3+ year olds
This glockenspiel is a wonderful instrument for introducing children to proper pitch and tone. It is also easy for them to play and experiment with.
Once you believe your child is ready we recommend getting them a nylon knife set that is designed to get them involved in cooking and cutting. These sets work really well and are designed to be easy for small hands to grip.
Toys that are still fun:
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
- Our kids love using combining many of the toys at this age blocks + duplos, etc
- For kids who have shown that they like building and creating with blocks we absolutely love KAPLA Construction wooden blocks as they offer a bit more of a challenge and more room for creative construction. It is incredible what can be built with these simple neutral blocks!
- This Pattern Play set is really beautiful and is great for working on more complex patterns with older toddlers. The listed age for this is 8 but we have used it can certainly be introduced as early as 3.
There are a couple games that we love to introduce around the age of three.
- UNO is a great game to reinforce colors and numbers. It’s a fairly straightforward game that young kids can pick up on quickly and it really works well to practice colors and numbers. Plus it’s one the whole family can enjoy! When first introducing the game we recommend playing without the “extra” cards (wild, draw two, etc) to make the game more simple and move faster. Once your child really gets the hang of how the game works then you can add those in. This is a favorite of ours to pass the time at restaurants or while traveling. It also makes an excellent stocking stuffer!
- Connect 4 is another one that has simple rules and can be introduced at this age. It will take a bit for your child to pick up the strategy but give them time and work together with them and you’ll soon find that they are legitimately planning ahead and strategizing and beating you!
Balance and Pedal Bike: If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 (or if they are ready to move to a pedal bike – without training wheels!) then you could start with that and simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
The age recommendations below are meant as a guide to when you should introduce the books. All of the books will continue to be enjoyed by your child and continue to be a good tool for the development of understanding for a long time.
Our criteria for choosing these books:
- It has to meet the neurological/developmental needs for each child’s stage.
- It has to be FUN.
- It has to be educational and the information has to be accurate.
Newborn to 6 months
High Contrast Books Ideal for Newborns:
- Baby’s Very First Black and White Library – A great price value. There are 4 books. There is only 1 picture per page and the pictures are simple, clear, and contrasting. These books have all the elements for good visual stimulation for young babies. These books are smaller so great to throw in a diaper bag or take along with you on a trip.
- Look, Look! – Another book that we like for it’s high contrast images and red writing. We have a full book review on this one if you want to learn more about why we like it.
- On the Farm – This book is listed as 9 months + but we recommend it for newborns because the pictures are simple and contrasting. Black and white contrast is important to develop the immature vision of the newborn. It is made of thick cardboard and opens like an accordian which is perfect for tummy time. And later to learn the animals.
- 1 2 3 Counting – Like the On the Farm book, it is perfect for Tummy Time and as baby grows the counting becomes the fun.
Books with Ideal Images and Information for 3 months – 6 months
- Animal Noises – A great price value. Your 3 month old baby will enjoy hearing the animal noises and the simplicity of the pictures. And later on will join you in making the animal sounds himself.
- Baby’s Very First Little Library – A great price value. The simple, big, and contrasting primary color pictures make this book series (4 books) perfect for the vision of a 3 month old. The subjects covered (Animals, Mealtimes, Colors and Bedtime) make it perfect for the 6 month old and up.
- Baby’s Very First Noisy Book Series – A good auditory stimulation for your little baby with fun, farm sounds, trains, nursery rhymes, jungle and zoo to choose from. As your baby grows the push buttons are good for manual development.
- Baby’s Very First Touchy-Feely Animals Book – A great book to help develop awareness of third dimension by touch and appreciation of pleasant touch. I chose this one because of the simplicity of the picture which is attractive to this age range. But I do recommend any of the Touchy-Feely Books of the Series.
- Flip a Face – Colors – The large simple faces in this book have great appeal to young babies.
- That is not my… Series – All of these books are great for tactile exploration and a fun read for this age range. There are many in the series to choose from!
6 – 12 months
- Animal Hide and Seek – Provides lots of fun feeling and learning about animals. Each page has multiple touchy feely textures and flaps!
- Baby’s Very First Slide and See Series – All of the books in this series have beautiful vivid colors and are very inviting of child participation. At first you will need to move the flaps but your child will soon take over.
- Big and Little Box Set – There are 4 books in the box set. The large pictures are attractive for a 6 month old and the rhymes keep baby engaged. These board books are sturdy for little hands and the information is good for the growing baby.
- Haiku Baby – The poetry and sweet illustrations of this book are sure to capture the attention and peak the interest of your little one.
- Tip Tip, Dig Dig – This is a great one for little construction enthusiasts. It’s bright colors and large text give a simple introduction to different parts of of the construction site. It’s one your child will quickly come to memorize and recite.
1 – 2 years old
- All Better! – This book comes with reusable bandage stickers to put on the animals. The book helps children understand and accept treatment when they hurt themselves and they LOVE putting the bandages on each of the animals! They will soon be rushing to help take care of anyone they see that gets hurt.
- B is for BEDTIME – This sweet bedtime story also provides a good introduction to letters with wonderful cute pictures and short sentences. It is ideal to increase child’s everyday vocabulary while walking your child through a lovely a-z bedtime routine.
- Duck and Goose Series – All of the books in this series are sweet and your young toddlers are sure to become fast friends with Duck, Goose, Thistle and Bluebird. The bright, simple illustrations are great for young children and the books cover a wide array of relevant topics for children at this age.
- Very First Words Box Set – This set includes 10 books (10-14 pages each) that introduce a wide array of words into your child’s vocabulary. A B C, 1 2 3, Colors, Animals, On Vacation, At Home, Bedtime, My Body, Things That Go, and Nursery Rhymes.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever – This book is wonderful for introducing young children to a huge array of vocabulary in a fun way. You can read our complete book review to learn more about why this is one of our household favorites.
- 1, 2, 3… By the Sea – This counting book has nice rhyming flow to it and provides a game of searching for the items talked about on each page. This book can be introduced early on to learn numbers but can also really grow with a child as they interact more with the pictures and eventually use it as an early reader book. It also comes with the Storytime App for more interactive fun with the book.
2 – 3 years old
- Cars and Trucks and Things That Go – Another favorite Richard Scarry book of ours. Kids will love searching for Goldbug and following the pig family through their adventures. In truth we love all of the books in the Richard Scarry Series!
- Bears Don’t Read – We recommend this book because it teaches love for reading, kindness and perseverance.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site – This is one of our bedtime favorites. It’s done in a very clever way and provides a nice wind down for bedtime, especially for construction lovers.
- Telling the Time – I have listed this book in this age range because the story has concrete activities that happen at specific times and most importantly in an order. This allows the young child to begin understanding the concept of time. As they grow the clock becomes more useful.
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings – This is one we recommend at an earlier age than the publisher. It’s a beautiful book that introduces children to all of the human emotions. You can read our full book review on it to learn more about why we love this one!
- Lift the Flap Very First Questions and Answers Series – Why Do Animals Talk, What is Sleep, What are Stars, What is Poop, etc. These books increase a child’s curiosity and start to address questions they may be beginning to ponder at this age. It’s series that helps you and your child talk about the many questions they are asking and the books are beautifully presented.
- My Very First Books Series – Our World Book, Space, Dinosaurs, and Animals to choose from. The books in this series have lots of information and are great for increasing a child’s vocabulary as well as knowledge about the various topics.
3 years old +
- Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo – This quirky book is on the longer side but it’s full of adventures and silliness. It’s one our kids have loved and a great one when they’re in the mood to snuggle in with you and really sit down for a story. They also love the song at the end!
- Jessica’s Box – This story details a young shy girl trying to make friends at school. It’s a sweet story that opens opportunities for a wealth of valuable conversations with young toddlers. A charming book that speaks to the desire of all children to be liked for who they are (School Library Journal).
- Look Inside Series (Your Body, An Airport, Space, Our World, Jungle, etc.) – Kids love the lift a flap books and this series starts to delve a little deeper than the Peek Inside series and the Questions and Answers series for those whose curiosity and attention span is allowing them to dig a bit further into these topics.
- Shine-A-Light Series – This is a great interactive series because when the child shines the light behind the page it reveals a hidden image and brings the story to life. You have 19 books to choose from depending on the child’s interest. Because the information appears like magic, it is a great series to broaden your child’s interests and knowledge.
- Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep – This is a bedtime favorite in our house. Kids are sure to giggle at the misadventures of poor big bear as he stumbles around mis-understanding the words of old man winter.
- 5-minute Stories Series – There are MANY different 5-minute stories available. You can find pretty much all of the Disney and Pixar stories along with classic characters like the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, etc. If there’s a character your child is in love with there’s probably a 5-minute story book available. Some super eager little book-lovers may enjoy these stories between 2-3 years old but most will probably get the most out of it starting around 3. We will often choose to just bring one of these along with us for a trip as it then provides about 10 or so stories while traveling.
- 100 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly– This book provides 4 different models to perfect. It is a great parent/child do it together activity book for the little ones and it encourages “practice makes better”! There is also a 200 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly for your Kindergarten/First Grader or up. In addition there are versions that include Birds to Fold and Fly, Bugs to Fold and Fly, Dragons to Fold and Fly, etc.
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.
GivingTuesday is today – a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. #GivingTuesday is an opportunity for you to show what values are important to you and connect with a community and an organization working together to make your values into reality – we’re most effective together.
This GivingTuesday, we hope you’ll choose to CelebrateHumanPotential by supporting the life transforming work of the REACH Family Institute and our vision of a world in which all children are valued, compassionate, and capable.
Starting at 8:00am ET (5:00am PT) on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 Facebook and PayPal will match donations up to a total of $7 million on a first come first serve basis. Please consider donating here to help us capitalize on this unique opportunity!
The REACH Family Institute is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching parents and professionals about the extraordinary human brain. REACH’s work applies to children across the entire range of function from little ability (profound brain-injury) to above average ability. International in scope, REACH works with individual families, professionals, and organizations to ensure a better future through more capable and compassionate children.
On April 9th 2018, after several years of hard work, the REACH Family Institute launched BrainFit Kids, our new online initiative designed to empower parents of young children with the knowledge and tools necessary to Parent with the Brain in Mind. BrainFit Kids consists of a website, a regular blog, and online consulting. As a service to all young parents in the world we created a free 7-day email course called “Make the first three years count”. Over the last six months more than 1,000 families around the world have taken the course and are raising their children with the brain in mind!
2018 was also a year of major anniversaries for our worldwide REACH family. We celebrated the
- 40th anniversary of Executive Director Charles Solis’s historic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
- 30th anniversary of our Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project in Venezuela
- 25th anniversary of the Casa de la Mujer (Programa Leopoldo) in Venezuela
- 20th anniversary of the founding of the REACH Family Institute!
So, you can see we have a long, proud history of serving children and families throughout the world. We’ve transformed the lives of a lot of children and a lot of parents. But there is still an awful lot to do. High on our list for the coming year is to produce a series of video courses about child brain development. We’d love to have your support in that effort. So, as you consider which organizations you will support this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will choose the REACH Family Institute.
Please Donate Now to help us capitalize on Facebook and PayPal’s generosity to match your gift!
There are many things I enjoy in life! Amongst my favorites is spending time with children, traveling, and cooking! Children say the funniest things and often arrive at brilliant conclusions. I love to watch them learn. I enjoy their contagious energy. I believe they keep us young!
Over the past 40 years of working with children, because our work is international we have been fortunate to travel and spend considerable time in other countries. When traveling I enjoy getting to know the people, how they think, and what they eat! We often make a point of going to their farmer’s markets, the best place to rub elbows with the locals and appreciate the products used in their cooking. I think that is where my love for cooking really developed.
It started in my childhood. Both of my parents cooked and my Dad was in the restaurant business. But learning about different cultures through cooking made it even more fun! I enjoy eating and cooking the foods of a wide range of countries. When I eat and smell foods from other countries I get transported right back to them! We all have memories that go with food. The smell of hot chocolate and a warm batch of chocolate chip cookies probably reminds you of something fun in your childhood. Perhaps coming in to a warm house after playing in the cold outside. The smell of popcorn and the sound of it popping reminds us of being at a movie theatre or watching movies at home. The smells and tastes will vary depending on the culture in which you grew up but your memory is always triggered by those tastes and smells and it brings you right back to your memories of growing up. And this is especially true with the holidays!
Every culture has holidays that are celebrated with meals particular to that celebration! The smells of a Thanksgiving meal brings Americans right back to their childhood and those smells make us feel at home. Turkey is almost always on the menu but each family has their special side dishes, their special way of making their turkey, and their preferred stuffing recipe! Am I right that our own family recipes are always the best to us?
My parents are from Portugal and I grew up eating the traditional Portuguese dishes for Christmas which always began on Christmas Eve. Christmas is not complete to me if I do not make those dishes. The warmth that meal brings to my heart is priceless. Although my husband and daughter are Americans, I found it important to share this part of my culture with them. So, at my home every year we begin our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve with a whole Portuguese meal. That includes what is put out for Santa and what is served for breakfast on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day we have an all-American meal. This has become our family tradition and to my daughter and her family those are the smells and tastes particular to our family’s Christmas holiday!
By now you might be saying – OK I get it, you like cooking! But the holidays are already so stressful why should I add more stress by trying to cook with my child? Why should I care about cooking with my child? What are the benefits that warrant me doing something with my child that I don’t love? You might even been thinking – How often do I need to cook with my child for it to be of benefit to him or her? If you have been following us you know that our objective is to teach you the best practices to better develop your child’s brains through simple actions. So let’s take a look at how cooking fits in. How can cooking with your child benefit them and what materials do you need?
When you are cooking with your child she is receiving sensory stimulation to all five senses – visual, auditory, tactile, smell, and taste. You and your child are literally experiencing all of the human sensations all at once. Cooking also gives your child the opportunity to use all of the motor functions – language, mobility and manual activities. You are taking advantage of brain plasticity! For your child it is just fun hands-on “play” but in fact you are growing and developing your child’s brain in a major way. The benefits to your child are worth your effort and, who knows, you might begin to find some enjoyment in cooking! So, the kitchen and cooking provide lots of benefits for your child. Another precious benefit for both of you is the memories it creates while making something delicious together!
You do not have to cook with your child every day. Of course, the more often you do the better your child becomes at it. Like everything else, practice makes it better. Yes, cooking with children slows you down. Actually, everything you do with children slows you down! Right?! Plan ahead. Decide what will be your special day to cook together and put it on your schedule. Especially when there is so much going on during the holidays, if you do not schedule making Christmas cookies or whatever other specialty you make for your family holiday, it will not happen.
Rather than age we like to focus on level of ability. You can begin as early as the toddler age. Have your child watch you cook as soon as she can safely stand on her own. When she has become a safe walker so she can safely stand in a learning tower or a sturdy chair you can begin.
Start by having your child help you scoop and pour, push buttons, press down on a salad spinner. If you are making dough begin by having the child squeeze or knead the dough. Have her mix something with a spoon or with her hands. Increase the complexity according to what she safely can do with her hands. As her ability develops and matures you can continue to increase the sophistication of the cooking task and allow for more independence.
Be aware of what is on top of the kitchen counter. Make sure you keep things that can hurt your child out of reach at all times. Also, consider your child’s level of understanding. Make sure your child can follow simple instructions that will keep her safe and involved in the activity.
When I was the parent of a toddler I used a chair and I still do when my grandchildren come to visit, but now you can buy towers designed especially for this purpose. They are safer as there is less chance that a child can fall out. Some towers are collapsable, which gives you more space when the tower is not in use. Also, when collapsed there is no chance a child can open the tower when you don’t want them to be able to reach the counter. My grandchildren love their tower and call it “The Tower of Power”! Anything else you need is determined by the recipe you use.
Choose recipes with ingredients you know your child will like. Begin with simple recipes that have few ingredients and do not involve actually putting things on the stove. Like cold cereal – with help your toddler can pour the cereal, the berries and the milk or yogurt. If you like hot cereal like oatmeal you can have your child put the ingredients in the pot and you do the cooking part until they reach the age when they can safely handle a cooking pot on top of a stove.
Recipes that require mixing are great because you can have your child mix the ingredients with her hands. Instead of tossing a salad with tongs, mix it with the hands. Kale or spinach salad that requires massaging the kale or the spinach to wilt it is a winner. Bake something that requires mixing with the hands. Also, recipes that require whisking with a whisk or a fork, or mixing with a spoon. There is plenty of opportunity to use an enormous variety of movements.
Make sure that during this time you are talking to your child, describing the movement that needs to be used (what whisking looks like), the name of the tool, etc. Describe the flavors and the smells. Talk about the categories (fruit, vegetables,etc.), the importance of foods that are good for us, and so on. If you are cooking meat or chicken or fish, encourage your little toddler to feel the texture. The same with the produce. Teach your child when something looks good and fresh and when it doesn’t. If you want your child to eventually be aware of and appreciate what she puts in her mouth begin by teaching her about fresh ingredients!
Teach your child the pleasure of eating! It begins with the ingredients, followed by the cooking, and finished by the plating. When we eat for pleasure it is not the quantity of food that matters to us, it is the quality! This is a good thing to teach a child.
So bring your child in the kitchen and have some fun making something simple and delicious! Choose a few family holiday recipes that are special but simple enough that your child can be a part of the preparation. Please share your experience with us in the comments below. We would love to see some pictures of your child cooking with you this holiday season!
Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!
This past September after completing our work teaching The Reach Family Institute’s French families we were lucky enough to meet up with Juliana, Jack, and the kids. They joined us in France to celebrate the 20th anniversary of REACH, the 30th anniversary of the pilot project that became Programa Leopoldo in Venezuela, and the 40th anniversary of Charlie completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with a group of young adults with special needs.
While at a train station waiting to go to Versailles a French couple with a baby girl sat by us. The kids were chatting and singing while waiting when they they noticed the baby and walked over to say, “Bonjour!” The baby girl was 9 months old. The mother asked how old Adeline was and when she heard she was just over 2 she said, “Is it true what they say? Do the terrible twos really exist?” Juliana gave her a quick answer as the train approached and I immediately felt bad that we could not answer her question more completely. I told her to check out the BFK blog and promised that we would answer her question. I loved how she put it! Do the terrible twos really exist? Are the terrible twos a myth or real?
The terrible twos can most definitely be real but it doesn’t have to be the long miserable year that many make it out to be. The “terrible twos” expression has been around for a long time. No one actually defines or describes the terrible twos. It is just understood. It’s the frequent tantrums and defiant behavior of the average 2 year old. Right? In addition to the terrible twos, many now refer to three year olds as “threenagers”, an expression that was not used 30 years ago when I was a young mother. Many parents now find the behavior of their three year old child to be more difficult than the 2 year old stage. So, real or myth?
Yes, the behaviors that drive parents to describe them as the “terrible twos” or the “threenager” stages do exist. And they are one and the same! In both stages parents are describing the same behavior. In some children it is mostly accentuated when they are 2 and in others is more apparent at the age of 3. For some this “difficult” stage can last for a couple of years whereas others move beyond this stage quite quickly. Why? Let’s talk about some of the reasons.
Let’s begin by understanding that what determines the timing of when you’ll start to see these outbursts relates to the child’s neurological age, not the child’s chronological age. They are not always one and the same! Chronological age has to do with time alone. Everyday the child is one day older. Neurological age is based on the child’s level of function. Neurological age therefore relates to the level of brain development achieved as a result of exposure to stimulation and developmental opportunities. When it comes to behavior and how a child relates to the world, her level of understanding and language are the most important neurological factors.
Understanding and Language
So, let’s look at understanding and language in relationship to behavior. A child who cannot follow multiple step instructions and who has no concept of time will not understand when you try to reason or negotiate with her. First, your child needs to have moved from understanding simple one-step instructions to more complex multiple-step instructions. The child should also be able to reasonably follow simple conversations that are not directed to them.
And finally, the child needs to have some concept of time. It will not work to say to a child, “You cannot have this candy now but I will give it to you later” if she doesn’t know what later means. This will most likely result in a temper tantrum. The child who does not understand “later”, wants it and she wants it right now! Immediate satisfaction is all that she understands. If your children is at this stage it is pointless to try to negotiate with them as they simply do not have the understanding level necessary for negotiation. All you can do is divert her attention to avoid or diminish tantrums.
In previous blogs, I have talked about the importance of speaking with your child from birth. Speak often and about everything that surrounds her. Sing songs, read books, and provide lots of opportunity for hands-on play. These are the best ways to develop understanding.
In order to begin negotiating with your child you first need to teach time concepts. You can do this by using concrete concepts. “Later” is too vague. Later can mean 5 minutes or 30 minutes from now to you, and 2 minutes from now to your child. So, how do you make it more concrete? Tell her “when we get to the car you can have it” or “after you eat lunch you can have it.” Relate it to a clear physical activity that is not too far off in time.
As your child’s understanding is developing, provided she has been given the right opportunity for good brain organization, her language will also be developing. Children who do not develop the language to express their feelings and desires will often have more outbursts out of frustration. Related to language development, the “terrible twos” are often more pronounced in two types of children.
- Those who do not have enough language to communicate and who learn that screaming or “acting out” is the only way to get their point across.
- Those who have very sophisticated understanding and language and who learn how to “turn the tables” on their parents. In these cases, the issue has more to do with how parents respond to the child rather than with the child’s level of understanding. They become so good at negotiating and reasoning that their parents too often give in to their wants and needs and when they don’t “win” they have a tantrum.
In all cases parents need to be aware of what could be causing their child’s challenging behavior which will determine how one should respond to them in order to minimize the tantrums and frustration.
Consistency in Actions
As parents you need to be consistent in your actions! Do not say one thing and then change your mind and do a different thing. You will be confusing your child and inadvertently encourage bad behavior. It is hard for your child to know how to respond to your requests, instructions, or wants if you are not consistent. How can they?
Let me use an example. Today you are in a good mood. Let’s say you are on the sofa reading something and your child comes running in and jumps on you. Because you are in the mood to play, you put your reading down and you begin to tickle your child. That was fun, right?
OK, now the next day you are tired and feeling a bit stressed. You are on the sofa reading something and your child comes running and jumps on you. He is expecting the same thing to happen. His assumption is that you will put your reading down and tickle him but instead you get angry because he jumped on you and could possibly hurt you. Do you see the picture?
We all have a tendency to be inconsistent in these types of actions with our children and it can be very confusing to them. This inconsistency can result in more problems especially with little toddlers who are just learning. They are constantly taking cues from us and mixed messages like this can be unsettling and confusing. We parents are human (gasp!) and we do and will make mistakes. We need to learn from them and do our best to be present and consistent with our children. And remember, you always have the option of walking away to take a breather for a minute if the stress is too much.
When dealing with a child who has immature understanding and/or language development (and therefore more difficulty expressing her needs and wants), you need to be even more attentive and sensitive to her. Pay closer attention to her actions. Is she throwing tantrums because she learned that it is the way to get your attention? Children at every level will do what works to get what they want. If acting out gets your attention they will use it every time to get what they want. So, if your child is in one of these stages pay attention to your actions and ask yourself, “Am I encouraging this behavior by giving it attention?”. If the answer is “Yes”, all you need to do is change your behavior. Change how you respond and your child will change how she behaves.
Each Child is Unique
Our last post had to do with the final core principle of brain development, Each Child is Unique. Each and every child is unique and that is a beautiful thing. So, when you are behaving with each child in your life in the same way but getting different results remember that Each Child is Unique and pay attention to the differences in your children! Again, be consistent, be observant, and most of all, be truly present and you will begin to see the gift that each child has within him or her and you will know how to best respond to them.
I would not be addressing all children and helping parents if I excluded this one. Tantrums are a normal part of development up to a certain point. However, if your child is having many tantrums per day on a regular basis and you are concerned please do not ignore your concern! We see many children whose parents refer to their tantrums as “meltdowns”. Frequent uncontrollable tantrums (we’re talking many in a day on a daily basis), are often of immature brain development and often problems of a physiological nature. Children who experience these types of tantrums are not brats. They simply cannot control it and they need help. In this case, changing your behavior or trying to change the child’s behavior by punishing or any other method will not stop them from having tantrums. In these types of cases children often have a neurological need that is not being addressed. When we fulfill those needs the tantrums go away. If your child is experiencing this and you want help please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to talk with you. We offer a free 30 minute online consultation to talk through your concerns and give initial advice.
All children have tantrums and not just when they are two or three years old. All children are trying to figure out where they have control and what to do in order to get their way. That is true throughout life, right? Aren’t we all trying to keep control?!
Now that the holidays are approaching, parents are feeling more stressed and so will the little ones. When stress is up, behavior is down! In a future post I will give some tips on how to keep you more in the “Zen Zone” to help you deal with the behavior issues of your little ones. In the meantime, begin by truly paying attention to how you act and react when your child wants something or is being testy. I bet you will be surprised how much you encourage the behavior that you are trying to stop by giving it so much attention! Begin by changing how you respond, and watch her changing how she acts. And remember, be kind to yourself and your child! We are all human and it is not about being perfect. It is about wanting and trying to do better! Give yourself grace. Give your child grace. Hug each other a little more and take a breath. We all have bad days from the littlest ones on up. Be there for each other and work to be better for each other. Those little eyes are always watching and learning.