Behavior – noun – the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.
Perhaps no subject causes more grief for parents than how to deal with behavior. In our two previous blog posts on the subject we looked at two aspects of the behavior question – how a child’s level of neurological development and brain organization can affect behavior, as well as the effect that nutrition can have on brain function and, therefore, behavior.
As you can see from the definition above, behavior involves how one acts towards other people. Obviously, there are always two sides to that coin. As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango!” When we are guiding parents in how to raise their children to be cooperative and responsible we always eventually get around to the role that they (the parents) play in the dance of behavior. So, today we’re going to look at the parental side of the equation.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!
Since you, as a parent, are an integral part of the dance of behavior it is essential that you take an honest look at how you are behaving. We call that “the Mirror”. Looking in the mirror is important for several reasons.
First, we are all influenced by our parents and that influence includes how we deal with behavior in our children especially when we are under stress! Ever get that feeling that “Oh no, I’m turning into my mother (or father)!” ? Sometimes that influence is constructive and sometimes it is not.
Second, some approaches to behavior are more effective than others. It’s important to evaluate what is working and what is not.
Third, it is important to establish right off the bat that we are only human and that means we are going to make mistakes. We will make mistakes no matter how well intentioned we are and no matter how well thought out our approach to behavior is. We all, at one time or another, feel overwhelmed or stressed by everyday life and lose our patience. Life is full of ups and downs. How well you handle the down times is what really matters. That is when you are teaching the most important messages to your child. So, the first order of business is to cut yourself some slack! Looking in the mirror is not a blame game… no need to feel guilty.
Basic Principles to Guide Behavior
What follows is the result of many, many years of guiding parents of children and young adults with a wide range of functional ability. That experience has taught us a lot about the dynamics of human behavior and some of the best practices for helping children. My hope is that the following principles will give you some inspiration and confidence as you guide the development of your child’s behavior towards the objectives of harmony, cooperation, and civility beginning in your family and eventually extending to the communities in which you live and the wider society. Along the way you will find that these principles will lead to good communication with your child and the establishment of a healthy lifelong relationship.
1. Model the Behavior You Hope to See
Warning! Your child is constantly, and I do mean constantly, watching you and taking cues about behavior from you. All children, for better or worse, mirror their parents behavior. So, when your child is behaving in a way that is concerning to you, you must first ask yourself, “Is she behaving like this because of how I am behaving?”
2. Listen to Your Child
When you listen to your child and seek to understand, you are showing her that you care about her opinions and feelings. You are teaching her that what she says matters. You are telling her that you respect her. This is important because if you want her to listen to you, you must listen to her first.
3. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
The most common mistake we see parents making when dealing with the behavior of their children is inconsistency. If you want to avoid behavior problems it is extremely important that your approach be consistent. What do I mean by consistency? I mean that, however you approach a given behavior, it is essential that 1) both parents be on the same page and 2) their approach be applied consistently from day to day. Why? Because children need consistency in their lives to feel secure and comfortable. The younger they are the more this is true because young children (i.e. toddlers) have brains that are not yet organized and mature. Consistency helps the young child learn what to expect in any given situation. If the approach is constantly changing then the child does not know what to expect and that leads to problems.
4 . Set Limits and Establish Rules
Children need to know where the boundaries are. They want to know where the boundaries are. Children who are given clear boundaries have better social skills, are happier and can more easily make friends. Having boundaries gives them a sense of respect for things and for people. The younger your child is the more limits she needs because a young child does not know what is right or wrong and they can be in danger when limits are not set. As she grows you should ease up on the limits imposed by you. As her understanding, awareness, and self-discipline develops you can allow her more freedom to set self limits. We all learn from our mistakes and, unless the mistake puts your child or others in physical danger, you should allow her to make mistakes and learn from them.
5. Teach Responsibility and Encourage Independence
Responsibilities should be developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate but you can start at a very young age. As soon as your child can walk you can begin asking her for help with carrying things, putting things away, little things to give her a sense of responsibility. Increase the level of responsibilities according to her growth. Giving children responsibilities encourages them to be independent, which in turn makes them proud of their accomplishments and helps them feel good about themselves. This is true self-esteem! Plus they learn at an early age to become problem solvers. Our society needs people who are independent and who feel comfortable solving problems.
6. Teach Manners
Bullying amongst children is almost constantly in the news these days. When one looks at the overall decrease in civility throughout our society it should come as no surprise. Civility is a word that derives from the Old French and Latin for a good citizen. Far from being a quaint concept, it enables us to live in community and is the glue that holds a society together. It may seem old fashioned and outdated to talk about manners but that is where the seeds of civility are planted. Using words like excuse me, thank you, you are welcome, please, and so on all the time when speaking with your child and others will teach her manners and the polite way to treat others.
7. Recognize Positive Behavior
Children need and want attention and they will do whatever works to get it. We often ignore children when they are “behaving” because that is what we expect but as soon as they begin to misbehave we are quick to reprimand them. This teaches children that the best or fastest way to get our attention is to misbehave. If you want your child to have positive behavior you must recognize it. Give attention to your child when she is being nice, polite, patient. Get in the habit of pointing out and complimenting your child when she is listening or doing anything positive. I guarantee that if you recognize your child when her behavior is positive and give less attention to negative behavior you will see a decrease in negative behavior and an increase in positive behavior.
These seven principles are guideposts to light the way. In the next post I will develop these seven principles further by providing concrete examples of how you can apply them in everyday life. For now I hope this post helps you to set up a positive and healthy relationship with your child so that you can help her get ready to take her place in society.
Behavior is a complex subject. If you are experiencing struggles with your child remember you are not alone. We’d love to have you comment below and feel free to send us a private message or email.
Now go be positive! Cheers!!
In our previous scientific blog, “Where There Is a Need, There Is a Facility”, we talked about the importance of this third law of brain development. It’s an important law to pay attention to so as not to delay or interfere with the development of motor function in our children. It’s ultra simple. Take away the need for children to use motor functions and we deny them the opportunity to develop those functions.
Here are some easy to understand examples – if we carry a child all the time we deny the child the opportunity to learn to move, if we (or others) speak for the child we deny the child the opportunity to speak, if we always open things, button buttons, tie shoes etc. we deny the child the opportunity to learn to use his hands. Seems pretty obvious, right? Yet, you’d be amazed how many times we parents do things that deny our children the opportunity to develop just because we are not paying attention to our actions! So, first, be aware. Be mindful! The more opportunity (need) we give to a child, the better.
Today, I want to shine a spotlight on a function that this law applies to that is not so obvious, reading. That’s right, reading! Let’s look at why it’s important, how to create the need for your child to learn to read, and how to make sure she becomes a successful and happy reader!
We start with the fact that reading is a neurological function. That’s right. Reading is an ability that all human beings have the potential to develop because we all have a human brain. Along with understanding, speaking, and writing it is an aspect of our language ability, the sophisticated ability that we human beings developed in order to share our thoughts and experiences with each other.
In a pre-Stone Age culture, hunting and foraging for food are the most important survival skills that children need to develop. Most of the truly pre-Stone Age cultures in the world (sadly, there are not many left) have no abstract thinking and, therefore, no abstract language. Knowledge and tradition is transmitted orally from one generation to the next.
In our culture, the ability to read is the most important survival skill. It is not possible to be completely independent if one cannot read and those who read poorly face many problems as a result. For our children, the consequences of not learning to read are just as devastating as not learning to hunt and forage would be for a pre-Stone Age child.
So, how do you provide your child with the need to learn to read? How do you make learning to read fun? What are the first steps to make sure your child continues to be an enthusiastic learner and a good reader? In a future post we will give you specific step by step instruction on teaching a child to read. Here we just want you to begin creating the need and the love for reading. This is, in fact, the most important step! Here are some tips on how you can begin to introduce reading to your child without pressure.
- Read to your child starting from birth. Read to your child regularly. Read to your child frequently. Remember to keep the duration short.
- Read to your child with enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm when reading to your child is the beginning of them wanting to learn to read.
- Make sure you provide your child with lots of opportunity to develop good brain organization. A well developed and well organized brain is the first key to successful learning, especially learning how to read. For more information on how to develop a well organized brain see our free email course and previous blog post on Kickstarting Mobility.
- Provide your child with plenty of opportunity to converse. Ask her questions that are interesting. Ask not to “test” her, but to encourage her curiosity and to let her know that you care about her opinions and her feelings. Answer her questions no matter how simple or how sophisticated they are.
- Show her how enthusiastic YOU are to learn new things. Make learning together part of your “together” activities!
- Write little notes using big print in red ink and give them to your child. You can place the notes on their toys, in a snack box, by her meals, on her bed, and so on. Write one word per card. Keep the notes simple. For example, you can write the following words, one per card – LOVE, YOU, ROCK, SMILE. Read the word to your child. Do it frequently and she will begin to recognize the word and will become interested in learning other words. You will be creating/developing her need to read. As she learns the words LOVE and YOU you can combine them into couplets – LOVE YOU. Later you can teach MOM, DAD, SISTER and then combine them to form MOM LOVES YOU, DAD LOVES YOU, SISTER LOVES YOU, and so on.
- Read her favorite books over and over again. She will most likely memorize them and will begin to pretend that she is reading them. That’s wonderful! Compliment her when she does this and let her recite the book to you whenever she wishes.
Why is encouraging reading from an early age important? Because learning to understand written language is no different than learning to understand spoken language. It is a matter of opportunity. Little children want to do everything that their parents can do and reading is no different.
Again, when it comes to learning to read as well as all other learning, there should be no pressure and no testing! This experience should be just plain enthusiasm, celebration, and fun. I can not stress this enough! If your child learns to read and loves it, he or she will be an enthusiastic reader for life. In contrast, if your child feels pressured or judged when learning he or she will learn just to please you or “the teacher”, and he or she will only read when asked or forced to do so.
So, creating a need must not equal pressure. It means to demonstrate to your child just how much fun it is to understand written language in much the same way that they understand spoken language. It is an avenue to more growth and freedom for your child. Then get ready for the pure joy that comes with that. It is so much fun to see a young child realizing that he or she can read. First a word, then a couplet, a sentence and finally a paragraph! Begin by reading to your child and stay tuned for what follows!
In our previous blog, How to Best Develop Your Baby’s Understanding we discussed the fact that children who are spoken to a lot and from birth develop understanding earlier and generally have a more sophisticated and mature understanding of language. As a result, they tend to have better cognitive function. A key element to remember is to talk with your child not just to your child. In our last post, we noted a recent study at MIT in which they provide proof of the importance of conversation with adults in the development of understanding and language. While your child is a baby, the “conversation” is clearly more one-sided and it may feel like you are simply talking to them. Even for babies, however, be sure to give them time to coo and babble at you. In these very early stages you are beginning to teach them about the art of conversation. As your baby grows into a toddler that back and forth becomes more crucial.
Babies who are spoken to from birth and who listen to language that is varied and sophisticated will speak earlier, use a richer vocabulary and will more quickly develop proper sentence construction. Remember, garbage in – garbage out. The reverse is also true. Correct and sophisticated information into the child’s brain will result in correct and sophisticated language coming out of the child’s mouth!
In addition to having a bigger vocabulary and more sophisticated use of language, these children will have a greater ability to foster their curiosity about the world that surrounds them and they will ask more questions.
Enter the “Why?” stage. Do you remember that phase? Is your child going through this phase now? If your child is not there yet, just wait!
- “Why is the sky blue?”
- “What makes an airplanes fly?”
- “Why can’t people fly?”
- “How come this flower is yellow?”
- “Why is spinach good for me?”
- “Why do we have to go shopping now?”
- “Why is Grandma mommy’s mom and Nana is Dad’s mom?”
- “Why is it night time?”
- “Why is it day time?”
- “What makes the sun come up?”
- “What makes the sun go down?”
- “Why do slugs leave a slimy trail?”
- “Why do some birds eat worms?”
- “How long does it take to get there?”
- “How many stars are in the sky?
Here is one my grandson asked me during one of my trips to Chicago when he was 3 years old: “Vovó (Grandmother in Portuguese), why do clouds float?”
Me: “Hmm, I don’t exactly know why but let’s look it up!”
Him: “Maybe they have helium, like balloons?”. Pretty clever, actually! Here you also see the leap from simply asking questions to formulating his own hypothesis.
Sometimes you feel like the questions will never end! I strongly recommend that you not laugh and dismiss them or their questions. What a great opportunity your child is giving you. If you do not know the answer, look it up, and let them know in a way that they can understand. Yes, the constant “Why?”, “What?” and “How?” questions can wear on a parent. Believe us, we feel you! But it really is a wonderful thing for a child to be that curious. So find solace in the fact that you have an eager learner when you’re answering “why”, “what” and “how” for the millionth time.
Glenn Doman, a very important mentor of ours used to say, “The brain is the only container that the more you put in, the more it can hold!” This is so true. It means that the more you teach a child the more they want to learn, the more curious they become, and the more questions they ask! Another advantage to welcoming your child’s questions is that when a child asks lots of questions she is providing you with a great opportunity to learn about her interests and what she wants to learn. And it’s fun! Kids really do say the darndest things!
Here are some pointers to encourage your toddler’s natural curiosity and to keep those questions coming:
As your child grows, get in the habit of including your child when you are conversing with others. This doesn’t mean that your child has to be a part of all of your conversations. However, you should not carry on extensive conversations as your child just sits there being ignored, even when they are babies. By developing the habit of frequently addressing your child verbally you will get used to naturally including them in a conversation when appropriate. The message the child receives is that you are interested in what he has to say and ready to respond to his questions and to help him learn. Your children will learn to appropriately join in on a conversation and feel comfortable asking questions. Your child will learn the art of conversation because the message you are sending is that we listen to each other, and what you have to say is valued and important. Children who are ignored or dismissed get the message that they are to be seen and not heard. And that is certainly not the message we want to send.
In addition, by answering a child’s questions you are providing information while also continuing to encourage her curiosity and her excitement for learning! Why do most adults stop asking so many why’s, how’s and what’s? Is it because we take many things for granted? Is it because we were made to feel silly for asking so many questions? Is it because we were dismissed or ignored and concluded that it wasn’t important for us to know the answer? Or is it because we began to equate learning with performing on a test and not for the sake of knowledge and fun? It is likely a combination of factors. Most would agree, however, that innovation and development comes from people who continue to ask “why, what or how can I make xyz different or better?”. Answering a child’s questions with the same enthusiasm with which they ask, brings fun into the discussion, and it conveys to them that “Yes, learning is fun!”
Be sure to also remember what I told you in our previous post. When talking to your child, whenever possible make sure you place yourself at your child’s level so that you are face to face and not talking down to them.
And when it comes to the neurological benefits of conversation, remember what we said in our post, The Brain Grows Through Use – “Brain plasticity exists because function determines structure. The single most important thing you need to know about the brain is that the brain grows through use. It does so in much the same way as a muscle. Your child’s brain grows, it literally goes through structural and chemical changes, every time it is used.” What simpler way to achieve this than through good conversation that provides your child with new information?
So keep answering those questions and when you get to the point where you wonder if your toddler will ever stop talking and asking questions you will know you have done a good job! 😉
Oh, and one more benefit is that when your child asks questions they give you the opportunity to learn something new. Embrace looking at the world through a child’s eyes and you will both have a lot of fun learning together!
Just one more thing! In case you’re still wondering why clouds float – check out the answer from It’s Okay to Be Smart by PBS Digital Studios.
Children are born with a natural instinct to learn. They are constantly trying to figure out how something works: feeling it, picking stuff up, tasting everything! They love to learn. There is nothing better than looking at the world through a child’s eyes. It is a wonderful thing to experience. The more you teach a child, the more curious they become about the world around them, and the more they want to learn.
As newborns grow, the functions of vision, hearing and understanding, and tactile ability play an increasingly important role in how they learn. It’s important to take advantage of the visual, auditory and tactile pathways to begin developing your baby’s understanding of his environment.
Today, we’ll focus on the auditory/understanding function. Before we expect output we must give input. In other words, before you can expect your child to speak we must teach her to understand spoken language. The more direct language your baby hears, the earlier she will understand and the earlier she will follow instructions. As a result, children who are spoken to a lot throughout the day, and from birth, have a broader and more sophisticated understanding.
Two studies highlight just how important this simple practice is for a child’s brain.
- The first is a 1995 University of Kansas research study that focused on vocabulary and the number of words heard by children. The researchers discovered that poor children heard about 600 words/hour, middle class children heard about 1200 words/hour, and children from professional families heard about 2100 words/hour. By age 3 the poor children heard about 3 million less words than the children from professional families. This matters because in this study IQ and success in school correlated closely with the number of words heard early in life. Talking to children from the time they are born has a tremendous impact on brain development and future cognitive/intellectual function.
- The second study, just published in February 2018, builds on the U of K study and was done at MIT. In this study, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the importance of how we talk to children, not just how much we talk to them. This study provided clear proof that the critical factor in developing understanding is to actually engage children as you are speaking with them. The children who had the highest number of conversation experiences where there was give and take between parent and child were the ones who had the most brain activity in the language centers of the brain and the most brain growth. The study also found that these results correlated strongly on standardized tests of language skills, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.
So, hearing words directly from a person interacting with the child face-to-face is what has the most impact. Aside from other concerns, this means that putting a child in front of an iPad, smart phone, or TV is not the same thing as a live person talking to the child.
This study helps illustrate the first law of brain development, “Function determines Structure”, which we explained in our previous blog post. When we speak to children using a rich, varied, and sophisticated vocabulary, and engage them in the dance of interactive communication, we literally grow the brain by creating new auditory pathways and reinforcing the pathways that already exist. The result is better understanding and eventually better cognitive skills in all areas of communication. Such a simple action with such powerful results!
So, how do we develop understanding?
It is actually very easy, especially for those of us who like to talk and to be around children. But it can be a bit of a challenge for those of us who are more on the quiet side and are not so sure what to say to a child. First, let’s not ignore the fact that we are all too often connected to our own devices and they take time away from us truly being with our children. So, you need to discipline yourself regarding time spent on your smartphone or other device when you are with your baby or toddler. Once you get this out of the way, you just have to be conscious of your surroundings and use this opportunity to talk.
One of the simplest ways to teach babies is to talk to them about everything that is around them. Here are just a few examples of what to say:
- When your baby wakes up – “Good morning beautiful! Did you sleep well? Let’s get you changed…”
- When you are nursing her – “I love you so much! Your skin is so soft. Your toes are so cute (as you stroke her toes)…”
- When you are changing his diaper – “Phew, you stink! Let’s get you cleaned! While changing him take advantage to touch his nose and tell him “nose”, touch his mouth and tell him “mouth”, touch his ears and say “ears” if touching both or “ear” if touching one ear and so on…
- When you are wearing her – Point out things that are close to her and name them. Stop by a flower and say “flower”, “This flower is so beautiful!”, “It is a yellow flower”…
- When you are taking a walk with baby in a stroller talk to your baby – “Let’s go for a walk”, “Look at that dog!”, “He’s a big dog”, “Wow, there are so many cars on the street!”, “Is the sun bothering you?”, “Let me put the cover up to get the sun out of your eyes…”
- When you are driving somewhere – “Let me put you in the car”, “Here is a “toy” for you to look at!”, “Isn’t it pretty?!”, We are going to visit daddy at work”, “I am taking you to daycare and after that I am going to work” and so on.
- Sing! When you are cooking, cleaning, driving or just cuddling with your child. Children love music and as they grow they love to dance! Sing children’s songs and other songs you and your child enjoy listening to.
Opportunities for talking are everywhere. You can make the most of your engagement with your child by paying attention to the following points:
Provide New Information
In order to change the brain we must regularly provide new information. If we keep teaching the same thing over and over again, past the point where the child has learned the information, eventually the brain just tunes out. But, when we provide new information the brain is at attention and it grows and develops!
Provide Correct Information
You also want to make sure that the information you provide is correct information. Another basic law is that when we put garbage in, we get garbage out. Make sure that you are giving correct information. “Baby talk” teaches language that will need to be corrected later. Best to teach it correctly right from the beginning.
Place yourself in the best position
When speaking to your baby make sure your face is facing his and that you are close to him. This is especially important for babies in their first 3 months of life when their vision is immature. As your baby grows you can begin to distance yourself but make sure your baby is aware that you are talking to her. If she is not, you are too far away.
When speaking to a toddler and young child it is best if you get down to the child’s level whenever possible. By this we mean, bend down or get down on one knee so that you are face to face with them. This puts you both on more even ground as opposed to you literally talking down to them. It makes a child more comfortable and draws their attention to what you are saying while also encouraging a response. It shows them that they have your undivided attention and that you would like the same attention from them. It is a lesson in communication and listening skills. Believe me, your child will appreciate this simple act! My grandson at 3 years of age said to my daughter, “Vovó (grandmother in Portuguese) always kneels down when she talks to me and I really like that!” I was very happy to hear that he noticed this small act and even happier that he appreciated it!
In addition to talking to your child about everything, be sure to read lots of children’s books beginning from birth.
Playing with your child gives you a great opportunity to talk and different games provide you with varied vocabulary to use. When building with legos or blocks talk about what you are doing, describe the shapes of the blocks, the colors and so on. Make up a story to go with the game! When playing outdoors you have all of nature to talk about. Be sure to bring in all the senses and talk about how things feel, smell, etc. The more you play, the more opportunity you have to use language.
Keep this in mind when you welcome your baby home – she is an empty vessel ready to learn and grow. By speaking to your child about the world that surrounds her and by using rich vocabulary you are laying the foundation for a child who will have a sophisticated level of understanding and be an enthusiastic lifelong learner.
Keep talking to and with your child no matter their age!