Posts Tagged ‘ Child Development ’

Mimic Your Toddler (Here’s Why And How)

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Newborns like to copy you – if you stick out your tongue at them, they might stick their tongue out too. Toddlers like it when you copy them – and it helps them develop socially according to a new study published in Child Development

What Did The Study Do? 18-month-olds were brought (with a parent) into a playroom / laboratory. An experimenter played with the toddler as they moved about the room (there were interesting things for them to play with, climb on, etc). Half of the toddlers were then “mimicked” in a “friendly” way – basically whatever the toddler did, the experimenter did. The experimenter left the room briefly and returned. Then the experimenter did something that could require help – dropping sticks or having difficulty opening a cabinet.

What Was The Effect of Being Mimicked? The toddlers who were imitated were significantly more likely to help the experimenter than those who were not copied. Mimicked toddlers were also more likely to help another experimenter (not the one who mimicked them) when they needed help.

What Does All This Mean? According to the researchers, it’s clear that mimicry sends a prosocial message to toddlers – or put another way, it’s a fundamental way to promote social connection and bonding. Now of course you are not going to spend your day copying your toddler. But when you on the floor playing with your toddler, go ahead and mimic them. They’ll not only like it – it will help develop their prosocial capacities and reinforce their instinct to help others in need. And of course this is just a specific example of a more general principle – promoting reciprocity between you and your toddler. Nothing is more reinforcing to a laughing toddler than to get that laugh back.

Laughing Dad and Child via Shutterstock.com

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Try This With Your Toddler: How A Particular Type Of Drawing Is Associated With Reading Achievement In Kindergarten

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Parents spend lots of time trying to ensure that their child is ready for kindergarten. Much of that effort is devoted to things we know are important – for example, reading. But it’s becoming accepted that fine motor skills are also a critical domain of development which intersects – in sometimes surprising ways – with cognitive development. And the results of an interesting study published in the journal Child Development hones in on one particular type of fine motor development – design copy or, more simply, copying shapes. 

A group of researchers recruited over 200 3- and 4-year olds. They studied the kids prior to entry to kindergarten, testing them on a number of things, including a variety of fine motor skills. They then collected data on the kids’ reading performance throughout kindergarten.

What they found was that design copy was an especially good indicator of reading skill and progress through the kindergarten year. Kids who showed higher design copy skills – being able, for example, to copy shapes like a square or a circle – had elevated scores on a number of indicators of reading achievement, including phonological awareness, decoding, and reading comprehension. This association held after accounting for a number of other factors, leading the researchers to speculate that design copy plays a unique role in the development of literacy.

All this makes sense when you think of what kids are doing in kindergarten – part of their language development is to learn how to write (copy) letters. The researchers speculated that, in part, when kids have good design copy skills, they can focus their attention more on learning the sound and meaning of words (as opposed to having to focus more on using a pencil). That said, they also suggested that there are probably unique cognitive skills that come from developing fine motor skills in general, and design copy in particular.

So, in addition to having fun reading to your toddler, spend a little time encouraging them to copy shapes. That’s fun as well – and it’s a nice way to help them learn a skill that will serve them well in kindergarten.

Image of adult and child drawing via Shutterstock.com 

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Link Between Childhood Obesity And Lower Math Performance

Friday, June 15th, 2012

A new paper (just published online in Child Development) reports that kids who are obese have lower math scores over a 6-year period. Here are the essentials. 

Why is this study important? It focused on over 6,000 kids, tracking them from entry into kindergarten through 5th grade. Data were collected from kids, parents, and teachers. Math performance was assessed directly via testing. These are all strengths that improve confidence in the results.

What did they find? They focused on 3 groups of kids: 1) a group that was obese at entry into kindergarten; 2) a group that became obese over time; and 3) a group that was never classified as obese. Both the obese group and the group they became obese showed lower math performance over time – at 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades. These results held up after accounting for a number of other factors (individual and family) that could have contributed to the results.

Why would obesity influence math performance? The study also examined other factors that were shown to help explain the results. Especially important were concurrent emotional problems (internalizing symptoms) in the obese group and the group that became obese. These early signs of symptoms of depression and anxiety are known to impact academic performance, and it may be that the kids with weight issues become more withdrawn in the classroom. This was especially evident for girls, as they were also reported to show lower levels of interpersonal skills in school – which again partly explained the link between childhood obesity and lower math performance.

What’s the take-home message? Childhood obesity is known to carry a number of health risks that increase in the school years. Some studies – including this new one – suggest that it impacts kids’ academic and emotional functioning. The chain of events may be that as kids who suffer from obesity become more socially and emotionally withdrawn over time, this also leads to less engagement in the classroom. This is not the first study to observe a link between childhood obesity and academic performance, so it’s beginning to look like this may be a real phenomenon. Other factors – not considered in this study – may also be important. For example, the authors of the paper speculate that sleep problems may play a role as well, as they are linked with both obesity and academic performance. What’s troubling here is that the effects are observed during such critical learning years – from kindergarten through 5th grade. Children who suffer from obesity not only need intervention in order to prevent long-term health problems – it may be that they could profit from emotional support to help ensure that they stay engaged both socially and academically in school.

Math Homework Via Shutterstock.com

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