Racism and intolerance are very much in the news here in the United States and around the world. People are discussing lots of ideas about how to address this deep-rooted problem and that’s a good thing. New rules of engagement, new laws are surely needed. However, we’ve already tried to change racism and intolerance by changing laws. Obviously, it’s not enough.
In the long run, societal change is always most effective when it begins at the most basic level of society, the family, and then move to more complex levels of society. This is known as the principle of subsidiarity. We parents are our children’s first and most influential teachers. Each of us, individually, must look in the mirror and examine our attitudes and behaviors; and, most importantly, what we are teaching our children. This issue is too important to leave in the hands of teachers, sociologists, and politicians.
BrainFit Kids is uniquely positioned to help with this shift because of our dual focus on human dignity and brain development. BrainFit Kids’ vision is “a world where all children are valued, capable, and compassionate.” This has been our vision from the very beginning.
Let’s take a look at that vision – what it means and how achieving it can diminish or eliminate problems related to racism and intolerance in the future.
- Valued: When we say children are valued we mean that they are valued simply for being a part of the human family. When we value a child for being a part of the human family we automatically love them unconditionally. When children are valued, each child’s uniqueness is celebrated with love and respect. Valuing a child affects not only the child but also the parent. That dynamic begins at conception and continues throughout life as any grandparent can tell you.
- Capable: Most people understand what we mean by capable. The dictionary defines it as “able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent.” At BrainFit Kids, our goal is for each child to reach their intellectual, physical, and social potential whatever that potential might be. We all want this for our children. Since intellectual, physical, and social ability is the result of brain development it is axiomatic that a high level of brain development will result in a high level of ability.
- Compassionate: This aspect of our vision surprises a lot of people. We include it because we firmly believe that being capable is simply not enough. The world is filled with highly capable people who lack empathy and compassion. It’s been that way throughout history, For us, the vision of the world we want to see must include more than simply a high level of intellectual, physical, and social ability.
Raising a compassionate child begins at birth. In order for a child to have the ability to become compassionate the part of the brain responsible for empathy must be developed and “wired” correctly. This typically happens early in life. When a baby is held and caressed often, when you respond to the baby’s cries in a timely manner, when you and your baby share a mutual gaze, you are developing the parts of the brain responsible for empathy. You are working on the foundation for compassion. An abused or neglected child often develops a brain that is compromised in its ability to feel empathy. Without empathy, there cannot be compassion. Unfortunately, many children experience neglect and abuse every day. This happens at all levels of society but is particularly true amongst the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. It is important that we recognize this problem and address it for the good of the children and our society.
As I sit here thinking about all of the protests and the pain related to racism, I can not help but think of the children we work with and a related, but broader, issue. The roots of racism might be different from the roots of discrimination based on ethnicity or disability but they have several points in common – disrespect for, intolerance of, and ignorance about someone who is different from you. Racists do not like, accept, or even understand differences.
Having spent my adult life working with children of all levels of functional ability I have seen up close the value they all bring to my life, the lives of their families, and their value to society. When our daughter, Juliana, was a little girl she spent a great deal of time with us while we were working with families and their children. Throughout her childhood, she was surrounded by children of varying levels of ability – blind children, immobile children, children with learning difficulties, hyperactive children, children who could not speak, children who had convulsions, etc. Juliana began almost every morning with the same two questions. First – who is coming today? Second – can they see, walk, talk? She wanted to know because the answer would determine how she would be able to play that day. However, for her it made no real difference. To Juliana it was quite simple – some children could see, some could not; some children could walk, some could not, some children could talk, some could not. She was no better or no less a person than they, simply because she could do more.
I wish I could say that we did all of this by design. We didn’t. But how incredibly lucky Juliana was because she was forever and irrevocably enriched by her experiences playing with those kids. She learned about patience, tolerance, dedication, service, success, failure, and compassion. Most importantly, she learned about the dignity and worth of human life and through those experiences, she became a better person. All children have that same potential.
Many parents are now asking how can I teach my child to respect, accept, and love people for who they truly are? How can I talk about racism with my children? How can I teach my children to embrace and celebrate the differences in everyone, no matter the color of their skin, ethnicity, religion, level of ability, etc.?
Here are some thoughts.
- Begin by giving your child the opportunity to develop a well-organized brain.
- Read our blog post on teaching the universal values of empathy and compassion.
- Teach with your actions!
- Teach compassion by showing empathy for others who are hurt or suffering.
- Read books about differences that are developmentally appropriate.
- Have age-appropriate conversations. Keep it simple and positive. Be honest. Leave room for your child to ask questions.
Most importantly, remember that children are not born racist or prejudiced or afraid of others who are different from them. That is something they learn from the environment around them. You can help break the cycle. It’s really not that difficult.
One last thing… a little exercise in decreasing stress if you will… take a few minutes to sit quietly with your eyes closed and imagine a world in which all children are valued, capable, and compassionate… it’s a beautiful thing!
Some great books: You can order books online or pick them up at a local bookstore.
- Mixed: A Colorful Story
- We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)
- All Are Welcome
- This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World
- A Is for All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book
- I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
- The Colors of Us
- ¡Me gusta cómo soy! / I Like Myself!
- Say Something
- Strictly No Elephants
9 year old, Rylei created a children’s/teen’s bookstore featuring books centered around brown characters. You can also follow her @thebrownbookcase! Some other accounts worth following to diversify your child’s bookshelf are @booksofmelanin and @blackbabybooks.
Take the time to watch the conversation held by PBS Kids for Parents about talking to children authentically about race and racism.
Hopefully, you are all safe and healthy after these first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. In my last post, I gave some general guidelines for decreasing the chances of becoming infected, bolstering the immune system to fight infection, and dealing with the fears and emotions that are quite naturally a part of any crisis of this magnitude. I hope that those suggestions have been helpful.
We are four full weeks into a widespread government shutdown here in the United States. It is estimated that more than one-third of the world’s population is under some form of restriction ranging from mandatory geographic quarantines to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home, close certain businesses, and ban public events and gatherings. A little more than a month ago we were doing business as usual! Now life is anything but usual! That’s an awful lot of change for a lot of people in a very short span of time.
So, what are we to do with that?
Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off
I am probably dating myself but here goes… With all of the craziness lately, I keep thinking back to a wonderful musical that packed the theaters in London and Broadway in the early 1960s. That musical was “Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off”. The title captures the sentiments that I imagine many of you are feeling.
Basically, the story follows the life of a character named Littlechap from birth to old age. Never satisfied with his lot in life he is constantly searching for something better. Every time he runs into difficulty he shouts ‘Stop the World!’ and turns to speak to the audience. Late in life, he realizes that all of his searchings were pointless because he already had everything he ever wanted.
One of the classic songs from the musical is “Just Once in a Lifetime”. The lyrics are eerily appropriate for this moment we are living, and offer a glimmer of hope. Here is just the first stanza.
Just once in a lifetime
There’s one special moment
One wonderful moment
When fate takes your hand
And this is the moment
My once in a lifetime
When I can explore
A new and exciting land
Hidden in that wonderful song is the clue to Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19. The million-dollar question is how can you seize the hidden opportunities in this crisis and come out the other end better than before?
A Golden Opportunity
Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!! Heaven knows how long that is going to last… a few more weeks, months… into next year? It already seems like it’s been forever but in terms of getting back to some semblance of normality, it could be just beginning!
So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? I assume you already took steps to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. The question now is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to many months? What the heck are you supposed to do with them all day?! How do you juggle working from home, homeschooling, childcare, meal preparation, house cleaning, etc., etc., etc.
Take a deep breath… Read those lyrics again… slowly… let the words roll off your tongue… let them sink in…
Believe it or not, this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. As the song says, it may very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity, one special moment, one wonderful moment, when fate takes your hand…
Here’s a shortlist of some of the opportunities we see for you and your children.
- An opportunity to spend serious quality time together as a family.
- An opportunity to eat meals together.
- An opportunity to reclaim your role as your child’s first and most influential teacher.
- An opportunity to focus on well rounded global development.
- An opportunity to learn based on interests rather than a standard curriculum.
Most importantly, you have an opportunity to focus on developing the most important tool that every human being has to navigate through life… the human brain.
And the best part is that it’s not complicated. You and your children have everything to gain! You will all come out the other end of this crisis brilliant not broken if you seize the opportunity!
Uniquely Positioned To Help
Experience in Person and Online
For over 40 years, my wife Conceição and I have taught parents about the extraordinary human brain and guided them as they develop and educate their children at home. We’ve done this with parents of every social class, of every race, ethnicity, and religion, on every continent on the planet with the exception of Antarctica. We’ve done this with parents whose children range across the entire spectrum of functional ability from virtually no ability (due to severe brain injury) to exceptional ability. In between those two extremes are children with virtually every known developmental diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc… the list is long.
That’s nearly a century of experience… with all kinds of parents… with all kinds of kids… from all kinds of cultures and circumstances! There isn’t much we haven’t seen!
In addition to that, we also have extensive experience in teaching families online. Ten years ago several families from Perth, Australia brought their children to us in southern Oregon. After their initial appointment, in order to try to save them the trauma of more thirty-six hour trips in each direction, plus the travel expenses, we decided to give online teaching a try. Since those early days the technology has come a long way and today it is almost second nature to teach online. Just three weeks ago we spent 24 hours online teaching a family from Lithuania!
Our entire approach to the development of children is different from the mainstream. Three incredibly important differences stand out.
Children are children first. Children are not their labels. Some children have medical labels or diagnoses, some have popular labels or put-downs. The point is that the label does not define the child. Billy is not a dyslexic child. He is a child with dyslexia. Children are children first. The label really doesn’t matter. Here’s how that plays out for us. Our focus is first and foremost on ability. Everything else is secondary. We ask a simple question. What can Billy do? Then we ask another simple question. How can we help Billy do that better or do more?
Focus on the brain. Our primary focus is on the human brain. It’s our obsession. It consumes our every waking hour. Why? Because all ability is the direct result of brain development and function. Poor brain development and function equal less ability. Better brain development and function equal better ability. It’s a good thing to have better ability, more ability. It makes life a lot easier. The obvious corollary to this is that optimum brain development and function are prerequisites to the achievement of one’s potential. It’s really not complicated. We should all be striving to achieve our potential. The brain is the key.
Family-Centered. Throughout our careers, the family has always been at the center of our work. Why? It’s actually pretty simple. We’re really results-driven so we always try to do what works best. We ask ourselves what should we do to produce the best results in the fastest time. It turns out that the human family is tailor-made for achieving success with child brain development. There is no better or more dynamic learning team than the family. Parents are their child’s first and most influential teachers. Parents know their children better than anyone. Parents love their children more than anyone. Those things give parents amazing power! All they need is knowledge and guidance. We keep parents at the center of our work because it works!
Parenting With The Brain In Mind
As our way of contributing to the global effort to deal with the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, we are opening up our toolbox and sharing our four decades of knowledge and experience with you, simple ideas that have a profound impact on brain development and therefore everything about your child’s life. Below are some of the first steps we are taking to support families throughout the world. To make this easy to understand I am dividing it into well-developing children and children with developmental challenges.
Well Developing Children
BrainFit Kids Live Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes we will be streaming on Facebook Live. The focus will be on well-developing children from birth to six years of age, with the occasional detour talking about older kids and teens. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn
- The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development
- The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development
- How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
- Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
- Tips on homeschooling – How to teaching anything with the brain in mind for maximum success
Free Online Coaching – We will set aside time each day to provide free coaching sessions for parents who have specific questions about their child’s development. More details to come.
Membership Coaching Program – A comprehensive program of education and guidance to empower you to Parent with the Brain in Mind. More details to come.
Children with Developmental Challenges
REACH Family Institute LIVE Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes, tentatively Tuesday and Thursday, we will be streaming live on Facebook. The focus will be on children, teens, and young adults with developmental challenges. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn
- The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development
- The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development
- How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
- Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
- Tips for successfully working with your child at home
- Tips for successfully teaching your child at home
Free Online Consultations – We will set aside time each day to provide free thirty-minute consultations for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges with or without a specific diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc.
More details to come.
Discounted Home Program – Parents who have children with developmental challenges already deal with a lot of stress. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that. If that’s you or someone you know, we want to help. Starting today and until July 31st of this year, we are offering online Initial Evaluation and Programming appointments for our Home Program at a 30% discount for all new families who are struggling financially due to the current crisis. Getting an appointment is simple – families simply write to us at email@example.com to request an appointment and explain their circumstances. No family will be refused.
We sincerely hope our efforts will be of service to many, many families around the world who need help at this time. We are all in this together. Wishing all of you robust health in this challenging time. Be well!
Now that you have gotten this far I have a little treat for you. Anthony Newley co-wrote the music and lyrics for Stop the World! I Want to Get Off. He was also one of the greatest artists to ever grace the stage in musical theater. He performed the part of Littlechap nearly a thousand times in London and on Broadway! He is said to have been a major influence on the early career of David Bowie. You deserve a break today. Take four minutes and watch a master at work performing the final song of the musical. This film clip is grainy but it nonetheless captures his brilliance beautifully… Anthony Newley as Littlechap singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” on the 1969 TV show Hollywood Palace.
We get it! Your life has been turned upside down almost overnight by a microscopic organism. A microscopic organism, specifically a coronavirus that evidently didn’t even exist before November of 2019 and that almost nobody on earth had even heard about before the beginning of 2020.
You’re afraid about you and your children becoming infected by this coronavirus. You’re afraid about infecting others if you or your children do become infected. You’re worried about your family members, perhaps older parents, grandparents. You’re concerned about whether you and your children can fight the virus if you do become infected. On top of that you may well be one of the millions of people around the world whose jobs have been affected by this and you worry about the impact that is going to have on you and your family.
And as if all of that is not enough to worry about, you’re unexpectedly home with the kids and asking yourselves “What the heck am I going to do with them all day?!” We’ve got a bunch of things in the works to help you with that one but more on that in Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19.
Weathering the Storm
For the following thoughts I am deeply indebted to the work and inspiration of leadership expert, Michael Hyatt. You can learn more about his work at https://michaelhyatt.com/.
So, for a few moments sit back, take a few deep breaths, and consider this. In any crisis, there are three main things you need to do to weather the storm and come out on the other side not just whole but better than you might possibly have imagined. First, you must recognize what has happened. Second, you must reassess where you are as a result of that. Third, based on your reassessment you must then respond to what has happened.
Here’s what that might look like in the current situation:
- Recognize – The first step is to acknowledge the challenge in all of it’s ugliness. This means looking at the threats posed by the virus itself – the threat to your health, as well as the threat to your economic well being. The second step is to carefully consider how you are responding to the crisis. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by all the bad news. To avoid that it’s critical that you are careful about the input you allow into your life. In an age of 24/7 cable news that is no easy task! But remember, your children are watching you and taking their cues from you. Your ability to remain calm and collected as you come to grips with everything will determine your ability to take the next two steps.
- Reassess – So here you are. Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!! Heaven knows how long that is going to last. So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? Obviously, you need to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. There’s a lot we don’t know about the virus but there is also a lot we do know. So that may actually be the easiest part of dealing with this. The bigger question is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months? And that is where the silver lining lies in this crisis. It may have been completely unexpected, but believe it or not this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. It’s an opportunity to spend seriously quality time together, an opportunity to reclaim your rightful role as your child’s first and best teacher, and an opportunity to pursue an education focused more on your child’s interests and passions and less on a standardized curriculum. You and your children have everything to gain if you seize the opportunity!
- Respond – You have to act. Now that you have recognized the magnitude of what has happened and reassessed where you are as a result, the next step is to act. Decide how you are going to handle this. Devise a plan, rally the troops, tell them what you are going to do, and put the wheels in motion.
Maintaining Health + Managing Fears and Emotions
In the remainder of this post, I’m going to deal with two things related to your children and your role as parents, things that we deal with on a regular basis:
- Health – avoiding and fighting infections
- Fears and Emotions – dealing with them openly and honestly
First, let’s deal with health concerns because without health everything else is meaningless. It’s important for me to point out that what follows is for educational purposes only. It does not substitute for or replace medical advice. If you have concerns about your health or that of your children you should seek the opinion of your family physician.
Some of the things I will list have already been talked about at great length by others. I am providing a Cliffs Notes version. Remember our mantra… frequency, intensity, duration. These are messages that bear repeating. They might save a life! A big shout out to Dr. Elisa Song for her extensive treatment of both the health and emotional aspects of this crisis on her blog at https://healthykidshappykids.com/
The key to avoiding infections, including and especially infection by COVID-19, is common sense vigilance. The key to fighting infections, including infection by COVID-19, is a robust immune system.
Avoiding infection – COMMON SENSE!
- Keep your distance. All of the evidence gathered so far points to the importance of this. Experience demonstrates that social distancing slows the spread of the virus. Because COVID-19 is so virulent this practice, difficult as it may be, is critical.
- Wash hands frequently. With soap and water. For at least 20 seconds. Like, more frequently than you have ever washed them in your life. And, in the words of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young… teach your children well!
- Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. It’s simple. Alcohol kills viruses. If you are washing hands frequently that should suffice but you can use an alcohol based sanitizer to disinfect the surfaces you come in contact with.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! I know… REALLY, REALLY, difficult especially for the kids. You have to try!
- Irrigate your nose. I think this is a great recommendation from Dr. Elisa Song, one I have not seen from anyone else. Lots of ways to do this but XLEAR Nasal Spray works beautifully.
- Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Hello Captain Obvious!
- Stay home when you’re sick unless you need urgent medical attention. Seriously? This should go without saying!
Fighting infection – Requires a ROBUST immune system
- Eat lots of foods and spices with antiviral properties. Think garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, star anise.
- Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Colorful veggies, especially red and yellow, are rich in Vitamin C. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, crucial for fighting oxidative stress brought on by infection and just the stress of daily living.
- Stay well-hydrated. Drink! Water! Lots of it!
- Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. This is ultra important! Even under “normal” circumstances, the single most important thing that anyone can do to improve overall health is to reduce or eliminate sugar from the diet. When confronted with the threat of the coronavirus this takes on special importance. Don’t eat sugar!
- Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Sure, practice social distancing but get outside in the sunlight and get your heart pumping! Full spectrum light and Vitamin D all for free! It does a body good.
- Get adequate sleep. You’re home. No excuses. Get more sleep!
- Minimize stress. Sure, you want to know what is going on. So go ahead and get your daily news briefing. But do yourself and your heart and brain a favor. Control your exposure to the onslaught of 24/7 news. In talking about children being diagnosed as “emotionally disturbed”, one of my most important mentors was fond of sarcastically saying “If emotionally disturbed means what I think it means, I can tell you that I get emotionally disturbed every afternoon when my daily dose of depression (the daily newspaper) comes flying over the wall in front of my house!” Keep that under control. You’ve already got enough stress!
These are things that we recommend for all of the children we work with and think that everyone should take because the average Western diet is woefully deficient in most of these vitamins and minerals. Makes sense to include them as part of an overall strategy to pump up your immune system at this time.
- Fish oil
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
Fear and Emotions
I don’t need to tell you that your children come equipped with built-in radar and can read your feelings and emotions without the slightest problem. When you’re stressed, worried, or afraid… they know. It’s like a sixth sense. You can’t hide your feelings from them. Therefore, it is important that you recognize how you react to this crisis and that you are careful about how you talk about it.
Monitor your own reaction
- Just covered this above. If you’re having a tough time, that’s OK, it’s normal. Cut yourself some slack. But deal with your feelings out of sight of the kids. Once you’re calm and collected, you’ll be in a better place to speak with them.
- Listen carefully to your children. We often think we know what our children are thinking only to find out later that we were projecting our fears onto them. So don’t make assumptions. Ask questions and let them ask questions. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
- Be respectful. Pay special attention to how you are reacting to their questions and thoughts. And by all means, don’t minimize any of their feelings because however trivial they might seem to you, they are very real to them.
- Children often have difficulty clearly expressing things as abstract as feelings. It helps to make those feelings concrete by giving them a label or name. It just helps them verbalize the feelings and begin to deal with them. All feelings are fair game. Remember to put yourself in their shoes.
Talk with your kids
- We’ve talked about this in another blog post as just a generally important way of being with children. But in this situation it takes on special importance. Talk WITH your kids, not talk to them. Do this and you’ll be amazed at how they respond.
- Any discussion about the current crisis should be age-appropriate.
- Answer questions in a straightforward manner. Keep it simple.
- Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything because remember, your kids have radar. They’ll know and then their imaginations can run wild. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.
- Let your kids know how you feel but maintain your cool. Zen is the word.
- You don’t have to paint a rosy picture, but you shouldn’t paint one of just doom and gloom, either.
- Let kids know that most people who have the virus don’t even know it because they have no symptoms or mild symptoms. This is especially true for children.
- More than anything children need to know and feel that they are safe, and they look to their parents to provide that safety.
- Routine helps us to know what we can expect. It provides emotional security. The younger one is, the more neurologically immature the more important this is. The simple fact that school is closed (and it’s not summer vacation!) and many parents are now working from home throws the usual routine right out the window. It’s essential that you establish a new routine for the duration of this crisis however long that might be.
Focus on the positive
- So often how well we are able to weather a crisis is determined by our perception of it. Be a “glass is half full” kind of parent. Let your sense of optimism in the midst of trial permeate everything you do with your children.
- Nothing helps to relieve the mind of the weight of dealing with a crisis like this better than taking action. Brainstorm with your kids how you as a family can make a difference in this time of need. Children LOVE to be part of making a difference. Two favorite quotes related to this: From German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”; and from neuroscientist Robert K. Cooper “Care as if everything depends on your caring, and raise a banner where a banner never flew.”
We know these are tough times for everyone. We are very busy here figuring out for ourselves how to move forward in this new reality. Life for us is changing too. But, when faced with the right attitude, change is good. It’s invigorating.
We are working on a number of new initiatives to help you take the best advantage of this totally unexpected and golden opportunity that you now have by having your kids at home! In Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19 I will talk about why this is such a golden opportunity for you and your children and give you a peek behind the curtain at what we have in the works.
In the meantime check out some of our archive post categories to help you at home:
- Introductory Posts – Refresher on who we are
- Practical – Tips, tricks, and bits of knowledge to incorporate into your day to day.
- Science – Learn how the brain works and how it can help you parent better!
- Product Reviews
Contact us here if you need any help or advice… practice social distancing… and stay healthy!
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.