Part four of our summer series on behavior:
- Behavior…one of the most common concerns
- Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain
- The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development
My last post, The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development, will take you and your child a long way on the road to success when it comes to behavior and social skills. But let’s face it, no matter what you do or how well you do it, there are going to be bumps in the road. After all, you and your children are human and there are bound to be situations where everyone feels tired, frustrated, and upset. So, let me give you my 4 Top Tips for those times when things are getting out of control.
1. Avoid Power Struggles!
Why? Well, don’t tell your child this, but it’s because your child will always, and I do mean always, win! When we enter into a struggle with a child with whom you can not reason, the child will always win the battle. So, avoid this by physically removing her if you are in a situation which can be disturbing to others or by removing yourself from the room if you are at home.
Actions speak louder than words, especially when you are dealing with a child who is developmentally immature. An 18 month old to 3 year old does not have the understanding or the maturity to listen to an explanation of why her tantrum is frustrating you. Trying to explain your frustration while she is upset is useless because it will just prolong the tantrum and frustrate you even more. You are better off doing one of three things – ignoring the tantrum, holding your child quietly (if allowed), or leaving the room. During those times you need to take a step back, count to 10 (or 100!), calm yourself, and practice patience!
Remember, it takes 2 to tango! Sometimes you just need to know when to retreat. If you withdraw yourself from the conflict, there is no longer a conflict. Leave the talk and teaching for later after everything is calm and your child is no longer upset. Only then is your child in a place to listen and learn better ways of dealing with situations.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an upset child is to use diversionary tactics. Change the subject, talk about something or someone else. Last summer, when Juliana and Jack moved to California their lives were very stressful because so much went wrong with the move. One day, I was traveling with them and after a couple of hours in the car 2 year old Adeline began to cry. We tried singing, changing the music on the radio, giving her a different toy, telling her that we were almost there, but nothing was working. All of a sudden, her 4½ year old brother Jack said in a lively voice, “Adeline where is Ceci (her friend from back in Chicago)? Is she in San Francisco?” Immediately Adeline stopped crying and with a big smile she said “No!” and he continued, “Is she on the top of our car?” and she repeated “No!” and that went on until we got home. We had a good 15 to 20 happy minutes at the end of the trip because Jack knew what to say. He diverted her attention by making up a fun guessing game using the name of the little friend she had just left a few weeks prior. We all thanked him for his help with his sister.
2. Use Natural & Logical Consequences, Avoid Punishment & Reward!
Punishing a child for “bad” behavior or rewarding a child for “good” behavior is not the way to go. Remember, children want attention and will do what is necessary to get it. They will not learn what is right or what is wrong by being punished or rewarded. When we punish or reward a child we are teaching them that we have control over them. Instead, we should teach them that their actions, their choices belong to them. At least that is the ultimate goal, right? We want our children to learn that their actions, their choices, have consequences and they are responsible for those consequences.
There are two types of consequences – natural consequences and logical consequences.
A natural consequence is something that is the natural result of an action or choice. Here’s a good example – if you touch a hot iron you get burned. Natural consequences are extremely effective! All you have to do is touch that hot iron one time! You get the message loud and clear and you know that the pain you feel is a direct result of something that you did. So you should use natural consequences whenever you can. Unfortunately, as you can see, many natural consequences are also often dangerous. So, although they are really effective, they are not always useful with children. That’s where logical consequences come in.
A logical consequence is something that logically follows an action or choice. You have to make sure that the logical consequence is a)enforceable, b) appropriate to the offense, and c) imposed with love and empathy.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by a logical consequence. Let’s say your toddler is playing with building blocks and she decides to throw a block. She knows that is not allowed. You first remind her that she must not throw blocks because she could hurt someone or break something. If she doesn’t listen and throws a block again you should pick up all the blocks and put them away where she can not reach them. No screaming, no “I told you so”. You simply, calmly, and with great empathy explain that because she threw the block she lost the privilege of playing with them. That is a logical consequence. This teaches your child a direct relationship between her actions and the result of those actions. You throw blocks, you lose the blocks.
Another example. Many can relate to this, especially now that it is summertime. You are at a party at a friend’s home playing in the pool. You explain the rules to your child – only walking around the pool because it can be slippery, no rough play in the pool because children can get hurt. Your child completely ignores your rules. Here is what probably happens most of the time. You keep telling your child over and over again not to run or not to play rough. Then either someone gets hurt or you lose your patience and grab your child for a serious talk. Then, as soon as your talk is over she is back doing whatever she wants. Sound familiar?
Well, what would the logical consequence be in this situation? Removing the child completely from the pool, right? Of course the only guaranteed way to keep your child from the pool if she is being really defiant is to leave the party. This is a hard thing for parents to do because they are enjoying the company of their friends. But I promise you, unless your child has a developmental difficulty and neurologically does not understand consequences, you will not have to leave many more times before your child learns. You should not own her choices. It is for her to pay the consequences.
If you use natural and logical consequences and use them consistently your child will learn to own their actions, their choices, their behavior.
3. Practice Emotional Detachment!
This one is not always easy. The more you can detach yourself emotionally when imposing logical consequences, the better. Anger, lecturing, “I-told-you-so’s” dilute the power of logical consequences because the child stays focused on us rather than on the lesson the consequence is meant to teach. Think of yourself as a police officer pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance, please.” No screaming, no tantrums. What you want to teach your child is that she lost a privilege because she chose to break the rules. It’s not because you are mean or frustrated or stressed. If you allow yourself to become emotionally involved and you scream or go on and on lecturing her, you are in fact owning her actions and making yourself the “bad” guy for punishing her. Do you see the difference?!
4. Empathy Wins The Day!
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, which is to say the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. We were all children one day. We all misbehaved, broke rules, made mistakes. We all know what it feels like to be reprimanded, to lose privileges, to be punished. So, we’ve been there and, therefore, it should actually be quite easy for us to place ourselves in their place when our children mess up. And it is so unbelievably powerful and effective. Why? Because empathy is an act of love. Our love for our children takes precedence over everything. Our relationship with them is of the utmost importance. A screw-up in behavior, even a big screw-up doesn’t change that. Our children need to know that little fact about us and how we feel about them. We need to tell them regularly. So, when they do mess up we really need to let them know how much we “feel their pain”. When we show sincere empathy while imposing consequences it tells them that we understand, we’ve got their backs, we love them no matter what. That then allows the consequences to do the teaching.
If you apply our 7 principles and 4 tips and you are still struggling with your child’s behavior please contact us to schedule a 30 minute online consultation which we offer free of charge.
I have mentioned in previous blogs, the importance of reading books and talking to your baby from birth for the development of your baby’s understanding of language. The more you play with, speak, read, and sing to your baby the earlier he or she will understand language. One important aspect of this is that it must come from one to one human interactions and not from a device.
Here are my top 9 tips for speaking and behaving so your children will listen!
1. Have fun talking to your Baby
Provided your baby is getting good neurological organization (plenty of the right kind of stimulation to develop his senses and opportunities to develop motor ability) all you need to do at this stage is have fun talking to your baby. It is important to use language while having eye contact with your baby. But this stage is not just important for your baby. It is also extremely important for developing your habits around how you talk with your child. Why? Because it shows you the importance of physical closeness for attention. When you get into the habit of looking into your babies eyes when talking to her you are more likely to place yourself at her level as she grows into a toddler and a young mobile child. The first rule to get your child to listen is to address the child at her level. You should bend over so your face is in front of the child’s face. If you want your child to listen make sure you come to her when speaking and especially when you are giving her instructions. You should also do this as often as possible when your child is talking to you. This activity/action teaches your child how properly to communicate, how to converse. It also shows your child that you care about what she has to say, that you are listening, and you expect the same from her. This simple action creates habits that will pay off for years in how your child listens and communicates not just with you but with society in general.
2. Start with your Child’s Name
When wanting your toddler or young child to listen to your instructions begin by always calling her name first to let her know you are addressing her. “Susie!” Stop and wait for her to give you her attention, Once you have her attention continue to speak “Dinner is almost ready so I need you to please clean up the toys!” “As soon as you are done we can eat dinner”. By saying her name and waiting for her acknowledgment, you got her attention and prepared her to listen.
3. Allow for transition time
Give your child warning and time to transition from one activity to another. Young children have difficulty transitioning because their brains are immature. Since toddlers have no real concept of time it is helpful to use a timer. Tell your child how much time she has to finish her activity. Let her know that you are setting that amount of time and when the timer rings the time is up and you will move on to the next thing. This is helpful for two reasons. It gives her a clear sense of what five minutes means and it removes you from being the “bad” person. No sense in arguing with a timer. 😉
4. Take a deep breath and be patient
Be polite and kind to your child as you would be with your friends. Keep your tone of voice pleasant. Now, I know this is not always easy. When we are in a hurry and our children are not cooperating and not listening it becomes really difficult not to raise our voices. I get it!! But raising your voice does not encourage your child to listen. It actually does the opposite. It encourages her to tune out! In addition, children who are constantly frightened by yelling are being placed in the fight or flight mode often and this, over time, has a negative effect on the brain. Keep the raising your voice for times when they are truly in danger so you get their attention and prevent a disaster!
5. Meet your child at their current level
Be mindful of your child’s level of understanding. If your child can understand one step instructions, like the ones mentioned earlier, do not give her a bunch of instructions all at once. For example, if you say to your child “Go to your room, pick up your shoes and put them on so we can go out.”, and your child goes to her room picks up the shoes, brings them out but then stops to do something else it shows that she is not ready for multiple step instructions all at once. At this time give her fewer instructions at a time. Example;” Susie, go to your room and get your shoes.” Once Susie has her shoes, tell her, “Susie, put your shoes on so we can go out.” You get the idea!
6. Frame in the positive
Use language that tells your child what you want her to do instead of what you do not want her to do. For example, “Don’t leave toys in the hallway where we can trip and fall.”. Instead say “Put the toys in your room, so it is safe for everyone.” In other words use positive language.
7. Allow your child choices
Give your child choices when appropriate instead of giving orders all the time and she will be more likely to listen when you need her to. For example, “What dress do you want to wear? The blue or the red dress?”, “I can read you 3 books right now. What books do you want me to read?”, “After you eat dinner we can play a game. What game would you like to play?” There are certain things which you as a grown up and parent decide and there is no negotiation. However, if you allow and encourage your child to make choices and decisions you are teaching your child to think freely and also to experience appropriate control of her life. As a result she will be more willing to listen.
8. Be mindful that your child is always watching
Remember that your child is modeling your behavior. If you want your child to listen and to respond when called upon, you have to do the same thing. When your child calls you, you must answer immediately even if only to say “Susie I hear you but give me a moment” and as soon as possible ask what she needs or wants to tell you. Never ignore a child that is trying to tell you something. Don’t interrupt her when she is telling you something and expect the same from her. By teaching her to listen you are teaching her good communication skills.
9. “The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich
Remember that it is not about perfection, it is about talking and listening to your child in the same way you want her to talk and listen to you. Take the time to really converse with your child. Mealtimes are a great time to talk especially if you are sitting at the table at your child’s level. And if you find yourself doing most of the listening and your child most of the talking you will know you are on the right track!
Everyone who knows us well knows that we really enjoy cooking. We spend a good deal of time in the kitchen preparing delicious meals. I like to be in the kitchen because it is a place where so much happens, a great gathering place for the family to talk and share their day while they cook a meal together. The kitchen is also the perfect place for hands on learning!
Here are some of my favorite learning activities in the kitchen.
Keep one bottom cabinet without a child-proof lock and keep non-breakable things in it (tupperware, plastic or stainless steel bowls, etc.). Let that be your baby’s safe space. When your baby is crawling around she will enjoy opening and closing the door, getting the containers in and out, stacking them, rolling them, and so much more. You will be amazed how much fun your baby can have just experimenting with these things while you are free to make dinner!
Another great thing to do in the kitchen is to present your child with opportunities for tactile exploration. When baking have her put her hands in the flour and tell her how soft it is, have her put her hands in the batter you made and feel how sticky it is. Yes, it can get messy, very messy! But, the more opportunity you give your child to explore and feel different textures the more she will develop her tactile sense and manual ability. All motor ability requires good tactile ability. And boy, cooking provides abundant opportunities to use and develop manual ability.
When I was raising Juliana, and now when my grandchildren visit us, I use a kitchen chair for them to climb on to reach the counter. At their home they use a learning tower which they call “the tower of power”! Once your child is walking and stable on her feet she can get up onto the tower and closer to the counter. Give your child lots of opportunities to join you in the kitchen and help you out. They don’t have to make the entire meal with you but give them little jobs or encourage them to join in for as much as their attention allows.
Here are a some examples of what and how you can teach in the kitchen:
Tactile and Manual Opportunities
- Have her scoop flour or rice or whatever you need with a measuring cup or measuring spoon.
- Have her stir with a wooden spoon or any other spoon you prefer.
- Allow your child to get her hands in the food – knead dough or mix the salad.
- Make homemade play-doh with your child. (There are lots of recipes out there – here’s the one we use! It smells delicious and lasts for months if kept in the refrigerator)
- Whip eggs or cream (by hand) or even just pretend and whip in an empty bowl!
- Spin the salad spinner. You might need to put the salad spinner on the floor, or a low stool if your child is little and is not able to reach the spinner well enough to put the force necessary to spin it. I prefer the floor because it has less chance of tipping over.
- Have your child push the buttons to turn on the blender, electric mixer, coffee grinder, etc.
- Have your child crack eggs and eventually teach them how to separate the yolks from the whites.
- Counting – When cooking there are lots of opportunities to count things in the kitchen. The eggs you are using in a recipe, the lemons, the avocados, berries, etc. Just get in the habit of counting things with your little toddler whenever possible.
- When eating fruit or any finger feeding type of food you can count backwards. For example, begin by counting how many berries are on the plate. As your child eats them say, “there were five and you ate 1 so now how many are left?” and count the 4 remaining berries. Repeat this as she eats all of them.
- In addition to counting, while you cook you can teach measurements, fractions, and so much more.
Understanding and Language
- Teach your child the names of everything in your kitchen. It will increase her understanding.
- Teach colors using your tupperware and metal container lids. You can also get measuring cups and spoons that are in different colors and use that as a way to teach colors and the different sizes of the cup measurements.
- Teach your child to sort things in containers or drawers – by family (all fruit in one basket), by color, by shape.
- Teach the concept of bigger and smaller. “The orange is bigger than the lemons and the lemons are bigger than the berries, etc.”
- Teach space concepts – inside/outside, on top/under.
- Since cooking requires doing things in a specific order it gives children the opportunity to practice following instructions.
- The more your child understands the more she has to say!
While you are having fun with your toddler in the kitchen your child will gain the additional benefit of having her first lessons in teamwork and the importance of helping each other. And you don’t even have to tell her, she’ll learn this naturally through the process of cooking! In addition, it doesn’t cost you anything. It doesn’t get much better than that. Who knows, you might end up with a little chef on your hands!
Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs? When the Big Bad Wolf got to the third little piggy’s house he huffed and puffed to no avail because that house was carefully built of bricks. It didn’t end well for the Big Bad Wolf! Developing the human brain is a lot like building a house. The more you pay attention to creating a strong foundation in the first years of life, the better the brain will function. You want that brain to be like a house of bricks! Let’s take a look at how we do that.
The most important thing that we can say about the human brain is that the brain grows through use. It does so most rapidly in the first year of life but continues to do so regardless of the age of the brain’s owner, which is good news for yours truly! The brain grows through use because of a basic law of nature that says that function determines structure. I wrote a post about this a while back and hope you found it interesting and informative. If you haven’t read that post yet I highly recommend you read it before proceeding with this post because understanding this law is critical to understanding how your child’s brain develops. You can find it here.
In this post I want to talk about what this law actually means in practice for your child. In order to do that I’ll focus on the function of mobility. There are two ways in which this law affects your child’s structure – the structure of the brain, a process that takes place unseen; and the anatomical structure of the body, a process that is very easy to see.
Function determines structure in the brain
First, let’s look at the brain. For our purposes, in order to keep things simple, we divide the human brain into four parts: the medulla, the pons, the midbrain, and the cerebral cortex. Every time your child’s brain is receiving stimulation from the environment, his brain is changing. Every single message (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory) that the brain receives actually changes the physical structure of the brain. Likewise, every time your child moves his arms, legs, hands, fingers and toes, and every time he makes sounds, his brain is changing.
When your baby is born the main parts of his brain are already formed but not every part is fully functioning. There are still trillions of connections to be made in order for the entire brain to be fully functional. This is a process called neurological or brain organization. The function of mobility plays a critical role in creating brain organization. Here’s how that happens.
In the beginning, all of the movements your child makes are the result of reflexes being triggered. As those reflexes are used the brain changes as a result of that use. As the brain changes, as new connections are made, your child’s level of ability increases. Bit by bit, provided he is getting the correct kinds of opportunities, i.e. tummy time, he will develop more and more physical ability. First, he will learn to hold his head up. Then he might learn to roll over. Eventually he will learn to crawl on his tummy and later creep on his hands and knees.
When a baby is crawling on his tummy and creeping on hands and knees the parts of the brain that are being stimulated, developed, and organized are the pons and the midbrain, two primitive but very important parts of the human brain. Your child’s pons and midbrain are literally growing as he uses these functions. His brain is developing a richer network of connections and it is getting bigger just like a muscle does when you exercise. And, just like a muscle, it is becoming more efficient and effective.
All you need to do is make sure that you are providing the right opportunities. Mobility is key to brain organization because the brain works as a holistic system. Everything affects everything else. Primitive brain structures (medulla, pons, and midbrain) are connected to higher level brain structures (cerebral cortex). As in any system, it is important that each component of the system functions well for the entire system to function well.
Function determines structure in the body
Now let’s look at how the function of mobility affects anatomical structure.
The most obvious example of this law in the human body is that regular exercise results bigger and stronger muscles. The more we use our muscles the better the structure and the more effective they become. So what does that have to do with your child and her development? More and more people are recognizing the important role that movement and exercise play in brain function. However, precious little attention is paid to how movement develops in children. Many parents focus on when their child will begin walking and are not aware of the importance of the mobility stages that lead to walking.
At birth a baby has little to no head control due to underdeveloped neck muscles. The more opportunity you give a newborn to be on his tummy (function), the earlier he will develop neck muscles (structure) and the earlier and better he will hold his head up. When a baby is on his tummy his head functions just like the weights you lift at the gym (you know, for those parents who still find time to make it to the gym!). Eventually, with plenty of opportunity to be on the tummy, he will start tummy crawling from one place to another.
When a baby is tummy crawling there is a lot that is going on. First, he is developing the muscles in his neck, back, tummy, arms, hands, legs, and feet. He will need these muscles to be able to sit up straight, to push away from the floor into a creeping position, and eventually to stand up and walk. Provided he follows the natural pathway to walking he will develop beautiful posture. This process is how the law “function determines structure” relates to your baby’s physical function and muscle development.
Second, in addition to muscle development, children who tummy crawl a lot develop bigger chests and more mature breathing. Breathing is important because it is the primary way that we get oxygen for our brain. And later it will play an important role in the development of language.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, today many babies skip the tummy crawling and/or creeping on hands and knees stages. Many babies spend hours sitting in chairs (Bumbo, etc.). Many spend a lot of time in walkers. All of these devices are detrimental to good brain development and organization because they deny the baby the opportunity to learn how to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees and therefore interfere with the process of brain organization.
Many babies roll as a means of transportation. Many scoot on their bottoms. These movements by themselves are not a problem. However, they do not provide the same neurological and structural benefits as tummy crawling and creeping on hands and knees. Because they sidetrack children from learning to tummy crawl and creep on hands and knees, these forms of movement result in poor brain organization, less muscle tone and strength, poor coordination, and poor posture. This is because the opposite of the law is also true – lack of function results in lack of structure, poor function results in poor structure, abnormal function results in abnormal structure.
So, taking advantage of this law is actually really easy:
- Provide your child with the opportunity to go through the natural stages of mobility – tummy crawling, creeping on hands and knees, and then walking.
- Avoid all devices that deny your child the opportunity to go through these stages.
- Make sure that once your baby develops a function, he uses that function. In other words, your baby must practice! The more he uses the function, the more the structure will change, both in the brain and in the body.
The end result? Excellent brain organization and beautiful physical structure, just like a house of bricks. How cool is that?!
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.
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.
Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for many children and provides them the freedom to explore on their own. As our children became confident on their balance bikes we were quickly able to eliminate the need for a stroller on longer and longer distances. Most importantly, kids just think riding a bike is A LOT of fun. So let’s get started on how to learn to ride a bike!
Start by buying a helmet.
Before we can ride, we need a helmet – this is afterall a blog about child brain development. When I was 9 years old I went out for “one ride” without my helmet and crashed head first into the trailer of a truck, which required 10 stitches and has left me with a visible scar on my forehead nearly 30 years later.
Introduce a helmet BEFORE they start riding so they won’t know any different. They will be excited to wear it and won’t find the helmet a distraction as they start to learn to ride. We introduced our helmets to our kids around a year old when they began riding in our Burley Bike trailer; however, you can just as easily put the helmet on your child around the house. In fact our daughter liked her helmet so much she wore it around the house mimicking her older brother for a couple months before she really began consistently riding her balance bike.
Both of our children wear the Giro SCAMP MIPS helmet. There are many children’s helmets on the market; however, we love the Roc Loc system which ensures a snug fit. This is a small adjustment wheel on the back of the helmet that allows you to fit the helmet to the curvature of each child’s head. As somebody who fitted helmets on kids for years while working at a bike shop, please DO NOT get any helmet that uses different size “pads” to try to attempt to create the right fit. The fit will never be the same and is not adjustable as your child grows. The MIPS version is $20 more than the standard and includes Giro’s Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. The idea is to provide further protection for the child in a crash, though admittedly sometimes this system pulls the kids hair when taking off their helmet. That said, we looked at a lot of helmets and felt there was no compromise.
For a long time running I sold the most helmets at Deerfield Cyclery as parents took one look at my scar and knew they didn’t want the same to happen to their own child. Please use common sense and buy your child a quality helmet that they love to wear. If you don’t know how to fit the hemet, visit your local bicycle shop. An improperly fit helmet is nearly as worthless as none at all. Lastly, set a good example and wear one yourself!
Ensure your child is physically and mentally ready.
As we discussed in Bicycle Riding Made Easy, your child needs to have developed enough coordination and strength required to get started on a bike. Our daughter expressed interest in balance bikes from the time she could walk (anything my brother can do, I can do) and at 14 months I let her give it a try. It was too early, she was frustrated, and she had a meltdown. At 15 months she could walk a bit with the bike, but it wasn’t until she was 18-19 months that things really started to click for her. While you can start earlier than 1.5 years, I’d keep that as a reasonable target to when you might be able to begin. Regardless of whether you start at 2 or 10 make sure that you remember that you are looking for high frequency and low intensity and duration when starting out. This will ensure that your child is able to get comfortable with the concepts of balance on a bike without getting frustrated.
Start with a balance bike
Assuming your child is comfortable with their helmet and physically and mentally ready, it’s time to introduce them to the balance bike or if they are older than 3, a pedal bike that you have taken the pedals off of. The younger they are, the more you want to just get them comfortable with the bike before even getting them on the bike. For example, if the bike has a bell, let your child start by playing with the bell. Initially this may seem frustrating because they will be more into the bell than anything else, but over time they will learn that the bike itself is actually more fun than the bell.
Next introduce them to standing over the seat while holding the handle bar. If they can hold the bike upright you can walk in front of them and see if you can get them to “waddle walk” forward with the bike. The next time period is a critical time of learning, but is most often where I think parents give up and say my kid doesn’t like the balance bike or it didn’t work. It may take dozens of bike rides over weeks to get your child to start moving forward at more than a snail’s pace. Be patient and mindful for your child. Stop BEFORE they start to get frustrated. I am often guilty of over extending the kids because they say they want more, without internalizing that they are bordering on a meltdown. As they gain confidence they will want to keep riding; however, we found that especially with young kids, they expend a lot of energy and then may get upset. I would recommend trying to get your child on the bike nearly every day even if only for 5-10 minutes while they are going through this initial phase.
When your child is able to start moving about as fast as they can walk, raise their seat again until their heels are just barely off the ground when standing over the seat. This will encourage your child to stride on the bike. With a balance bike, initially it is NOT important to introduce a slight incline, which is often recommended with a pedal bike. My recommendation is to introduce inclines once they move from waddling to walking / striding on the bike.
Before you know it they’ll be moving practically as fast as somebody pedaling a bike of similar size. In our last post we talked about our favorite balance bike, the Woom 1. If you have it or a similar balance bike with a hand break this is good time to start introducing it.
As they grow with confidence and ability to stop, let them start doing more and more challenging terrain, hills, and bike parks. Seriously, kids can rip it on balance bikes!
Learning to ride a pedal bike is quick and easy if you have already mastered balance. It took our son about 5 minutes to get the hang of pedals and about 15 minutes before he was pedaling around a parking lot on a regular pedal bike.
As when I was growing up, most people still learn to ride on a tricycle or with training wheels and then attempt to transition to two wheels. The problem with this, as we discussed in Bicycle Riding Made Easy, is that the ability to successfully ride a two-wheeled bicycle hinges completely on the ability to balance oneself. Neither tricycles nor training wheels teach this skill, which is why so many people struggle to learn to ride.
If your child is starting to learn to ride on a pedal bike without having ridden a balance bike, take the pedals off, follow the instructions above in Start with a Balance Bike, and only move onto a pedal bike once they have mastered balance and striding. They should be able to coast down a long hill, pick up their legs, have no trouble balancing, and control stopping with their feet or a hand brake. Also consider our thoughts in Our Favorite Kids Bikes and why we recommend a pedal bike without a coaster brake.
Please do not go from a balance bike to a bike with training wheels. We see this all too often. Even Giro’s website talks about how the Scamp helmet will grow with a child from balance bikes to training wheels. The ENTIRE point of a balance bike is to teach balance, thus eliminating training wheels, which doesn’t teach balance.
Bike Walk Through
With balance mastered, the critical part of learning to ride a pedal bike is the pedaling. Like with the balance bike, before you start trying to ride, walk them through the bike. Start by showing your child the pedals and explain to them how it is different from their balance bike. Lift up the bike by the seat with your left hand, use your right hand to pedal the bike and get the rear wheel spinning, then transition your right hand to the rear (right) hand brake and stop the wheel. While doing this you should be able to explain how pedaling makes the bike move and the hand brake stops the bike.
Next, have your child sit on the bike and ensure that the seat is adjusted properly. Their heels should just slightly come off the ground while standing over the seat. This should be the same position they were comfortable striding in with a balance bike.
With your child sitting on the seat, lift the rear wheel off the ground and have them begin to pedal the bike, then have them use the right hand brake to stop the bike. If you have removed the coaster brake, do the same thing, but have your child pedal backwards. Explain how the bike only moves forward if they are pedaling forwards. Repeat until you think your child has grasped the pedaling motion.
Time to ride
They know how to balance, they know how to pedal, it is time to put it all together! Find a parking lot or open space that has a very slight downward incline. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want a hill. The purpose of the incline is to maintain forward momentum, which makes it easier to balance, while the child is trying to master combining balance with pedaling.
Stand behind your child with your hand under the seat of the bike. Ask them to place their feet on the pedals and begin pedaling. Your purpose is NOT to provide the balance for them, but rather to guide the bike. Guiding the bike means adding forward momentum if they are not moving fast enough to balance, slow them if they become distracted, and help keep them from truly toppling. Falling is okay as it encourages learning, but mitigating your child getting hurt will keep morale up. Remember to call it quits BEFORE your child starts getting tired.
You are looking to get your child comfortable with the process of pedaling. They will likely master this going down the hill, then try to turn and lose momentum because they aren’t pedaling fast enough. This is 100% okay. Repeat starting at the top of the incline until they are comfortable pedaling fast enough to overcome the hill.
If they have mastered balance before trying to pedal you should be able to teach your child this stage within a few days if not faster. Again, I would recommend trying to find several consecutive days when you can get out for 10-15 minutes and practice.
Now enjoy the magic of exploration!
Check out our YouTube playlist more how to videos in the coming weeks.
One warning. Your kids may become obsessed. Our son received his pedal bike from Santa, which means that we were out in sleet and snow as he insisted on riding every day. 🙂