In our science blog earlier this month, we talked about the progressive nature of brain development and the importance of understanding and paying attention to this core principle. Now, let’s take a look at the development of understanding as a practical application of this principle.
We grown-ups often pay a lot more attention to a child’s ability to give us information (output) rather than how much information a child is receiving (input). The development of understanding, like all other functions, goes from simple to complex. It is very progressive. At first a baby only understands your tone of voice and sounds in the environment. Then comes the understanding of simple words, then simple sentences, followed by simple orders or instructions (Wave bye-bye!) that then lead to more complex multiple step instructions. This then leads to the beginning of an understanding of time (soon, later, etc.) and space (up, down, over, under, etc.) which makes it possible for the child to understand deals or negotiations. At first, a child will only have concrete understanding. Then, as her understanding develops and matures she will begin to understand simple abstract concepts and so on.
How well a child understands, where she is on the progression, will impact her behavior and how well the child relates to the world around her. We will dive deeper into the topic of behavior in a future post but let’s talk a bit about the relationship between understanding and behavior.
People often talk about the infamous “terrible-twos”. This is the stage where a child is beginning to test the waters. This is when your child wants to get what they want when they want it. Usually that means, right now! There is no negotiating on your part. The child wants something and they want it immediately. If they do not get it they will cry, throw a tantrum, or perhaps have a full-blown meltdown. The degree of the outburst will depend on how badly she wants it, how often you have given in, and how much attention she is getting when she is “being loud”.
Have you ever seen a child throwing a tantrum at the checkout counter in a supermarket? You know the drill. She wants the candy/toy/whatever that is purposefully placed near the checkout so your child will see it. What a perfect place to have a tantrum! You are horrified that your child is screaming and you are getting judgemental looks about your parenting skills from the people around you. Or at least that is how you feel! And then there is the occasional person who asks your child “What is wrong? Don’t cry!” which gets her to scream even louder because she now has a sympathetic audience which might result in her getting what she wants. You might end up giving in just so you can keep the peace. Right? Does this scenario sound at all familiar? Are you getting anxious just reliving this scenario?
So, you might be asking, how can I minimize this kind of behavior in my little darling and make my trips to the store a bit more pleasurable? First, remember that how you go about this will depend on your child’s level of understanding, where she is in the progression to mature understanding. Second, remember it is impossible to negotiate with your child if she does not have some understanding of time concepts. If you say to your child “you can not have it now but I will give it to you later (or tomorrow, after lunch, etc.)” and your child does not understand time she will not understand you trying to reason with her.
Here are some tips to make your shopping experience more enjoyable:
Set yourself up for success
Avoid going to the grocery store when your child (or you!) are tired. I know, I know – as a parent you are pretty much always tired, but you know what I mean. Also avoid going if you’re in a hurry. It just sets you all up for frustration and struggle. Whenever possible, make a shopping trip part of your weekly routine. The consistency will help your child as it will be a part of their routine. It will also allow you to plan for the trip and not be rushed which always adds stress to the situation.
Establish rules beforehand
Make sure your child is aware of the rules before you even go into the store. For example, children should not run around the store. There are too many ways they can get hurt. This should be rule number one. Let her know that the store rule is that everyone always walks or rides in a cart while in the store. Anyone who runs is denied the fun of shopping.
Engage your child
Always try to engage your child. Talk to her about what you need to buy. Tell her how great it would be to have her help. Make it fun so she wants to participate. Young toddlers may not have time concepts but they want to do everything by themselves. They are beginning to experiment with independence. So, take advantage of this by requesting their help! Make her think you need her help because you really do if you are going to get anything done!
Keep your child busy with little tasks
Whenever possible, give your child the item you are purchasing so she can place it in the cart or basket for you.
Use the little carts when available
If you are shopping in a store that has little carts for children, let your child push her own cart with the understanding that your shopping will take longer. When children are pushing their own carts it is a good idea to place heavier items in the cart to slow them down. This way you can avoid your child running down the aisles and crashing into someone or worse into breakable bottles! So, start your shopping by placing the heavier items into her little cart. She should still be able to push it but will have to make an effort thus slowing her down. This will also make it easier for you to direct her and avoid crashing. Once, I was in Trader Joe’s with my grandson and I placed the 6 wine bottles in his cart. I told him that since he had the bottles in his cart he had to be very careful. While we were walking through the store I wondered how many people thought I was crazy as we were getting quite a few smiles as people looked into his cart. I assure you he was very proud that I trusted him with the breakables and was extremely careful as we strolled through the store. Of course, I reminded him a few times of his “responsibility”.
Be consistent and stick to your established rules
Finally, accept that sometimes you just have to leave the store. At this stage, if your child does not understand your words or does not “believe” them, you will have to show it by taking action. Calmly. If you have told your child that the rule of the store is that everyone walks (i.e. no running) and she insists on running and screams or cries when you place her in the cart, it is best to stop your shopping and leave. No complaining, no yelling, no berating. Just take action. This is not because of what others are thinking but because you want your child to learn that this rule is followed consistently. It happens to everyone and it’s not a failure on your part if you have to abandon a shopping trip. By sticking to your established rules, you are being consistent in your messaging to your child and helping her to know what to expect and what the boundaries are surrounding such an outing.
The ability to reason is a result of a much more sophisticated level of understanding than most 2 years old have. So there are many things that affect or relate to a child’s behavior (brain organization, nutrition, parenting style, etc.) but understanding is high up on the list. The more sophisticated your child’s understanding is, the easier it becomes. Well… not always, because the more sophisticated your toddler’s understanding becomes the more she will try to negotiate with you as well! In the end, that is a small price to pay. So, pay attention to the progression of brain development, keep giving your child information through language, keep engaging her in conversation and the activities of daily life, and enjoy the rewards of her output!
There is a lot to discuss when it comes to dealing with children’s behavior and we look forward to more blogs on the subject in the future. For now, let’s keep increasing their level of understanding. Enjoy the ride!
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.