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Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens may pose unique parenting challenges – but there are some principles that apply across all those developmental periods that help promote good, compliant, social behavior. There are 2 constructs that have been shown in research to be key parenting strategies. They are:
1) Limit Setting. Every toddler, tween, and teen needs limit setting. They need to know their boundaries and how to respect them. Some things are off-limits. Some behaviors are not acceptable. Think of providing clear, consistent rules that make sense. A toddler can’t run around and touch every thing they want in a store. A tween can’t talk back to a parent disrespectfully. A teen can’t stay out all night. You can come up with a whole bunch across the ages – but the limits should be clear, to the point, developmentally appropriate, and enforced with consistency. And of course as kids age the limits change – but the principle remains the same. There are limits, they are set, they are adhered to, and there are (appropriate) consequences to not abiding.
2) Monitoring. As toddlers begin to assert their independence, monitoring becomes really important – and remains important through the teen years. Parents of toddlers need to keep an eye on them. Using the example from above, it’s one thing to say a toddler can’t run around a store and touch everything that looks appealing. It’s another thing to actually monitor them to follow through on that. Same principle down the developmental line. It gets hard – we can’t know what our kids are doing every second of the day. But it’s our obligation to be as informed as possible and to be proactive about the need to monitor. As kids get older, an open line of communication is essential as kids spend more and more time outside the home. Mobile technology – which is becoming commonplace – is certainly a tool that can be used in a good way to stay in touch with our kids and keep the lines of communication open to permit remote monitoring and aid limit setting.
Parenting can be tough. Consistency can be hard to achieve. But keeping in mind basic principles to guide our parenting strategies can help us keep the big picture in mind – and give us a framework that is applicable to nearly every developmental stage.
Find out what your parenting style is with our handy quiz. Then, browse through these no-fail tantrum tamers.
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Good Behavior, Health, kids, Kids Health, limit setting, Mobile Technology, monitoring, Parent-Child Communication, teens, toddlers, Tweens | Categories:
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Monday, October 14th, 2013
Reading to young kids isn’t always easy – especially when they don’t want to sit still. This guest post by Dr. Claire Elizabeth Cameron provides a unique perspective on what to do – and why it works!
While some children sit still when you read to them, others are wiggly and want to act up or speak out while reading. Aren’t they supposed to just be quiet and pay attention?
Actually, no! Acting out the parts of a story may help children remember what happened.
If children are given toys that represent characters in a story, and they act out the characters’ actions as they read, later those children answer more story questions correctly than those who simply reread the key sentences a few times. In small groups, even children who watch other children acting out the story remember what happened better. There are a few reasons this could be:
- Children may not know all the words in a story, but acting out the story may help them figure out the unknown words.
- Doing a movement along with saying the words that go with the movement creates multiple locations or “codes” in children’s brains for the information – whereas saying the words creates only one.
- When children read or hear a story, they create a mental model of what is happening, and acting the story out may help them create the model.
- Watching a sibling, or a peer, act out the story may work just as well.
A theory known as “embodied cognition” means that our brain works together with our body to help us learn. For example, children may learn new words or phrases by mapping the word they haven’t heard before to the action or object that they see when they hear the new word. They also gather information about the world by deciding how they might interact with a given object, like a sofa. Seeing the “sofa” as something fun to jump up and down on helps them understand and learn the meaning of that word.
So while it’s nice to try snuggling together to read books on the sofa, it’s okay to encourage the wiggle-worms to act out – or even imagine acting out – the story. And this approach may also be good for the book worms too!
Claire Elizabeth Cameron is a Research Scientist with expertise in early childhood development at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL). She received BAs in Honors Psychology and Italian, a MS in Developmental Psychology, and a PhD in Education and Psychology from the University of Michigan before completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Institute for Education Sciences at CASTL.
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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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18-month-olds, Child Development, Health, Kids Health, mimic, prosocial behavior, reciprocity, toddlers | Categories:
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Monday, April 8th, 2013
Such is a key take-home message from the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity - held in Boston on Friday, April 5th as part of the ongoing celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boston Children’s Museum.
This meeting brought together leaders from pediatrics, developmental science, public health, the non-profit sector, and top business leaders in the Boston region. The focus was on sharing new ideas about the challenges that some kids and families face, along with possible creative solutions to ensure that kids have early experiences that serve as a platform for healthy and adaptive development. And the idea of thinking about “enrichment” and “protection” as critical components of a child’s rearing environment particularly resonated with me.
This idea was offered by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, who is the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. As discussed by Dr. Shonkoff, “enrichment” refers to all the good things parents should be doing in the early years to promote social, emotional, and cognitive development. These are the fundamental building blocks of parenting, including spending lots of time talking to babies and toddlers, being emotionally responsive and engaged, and promoting and supporting curiosity and play. But Dr. Shonkoff emphasized – using the platform of neuroscience research – how critical it is that babies and toddlers also be protected from the toxic effects of excessive stress. Overexposure to harsh rearing environments – including those characterized by overt discord, anger, hostility, and criticism – can take a psychological toll in the early years which can have lasting effects due to the neurodevelopmental sensitivity to extreme stress. Even babies and toddlers can show stress responses that get turned on too much – and don’t shut down quick enough – which predicts a host of problems down the road, both in terms of cognitive and social functioning as well as physical health.
Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Harvard University
By integrating the concepts of enrichment and protection, we have a framework that simultaneously emphasizes both the good things that parents should be doing lots of, and the bad things that parents shouldn’t do much at all. For those of us who study kids – and in particular track kids from infancy through adulthood – we keep seeing more and more evidence that those early years matter greatly in terms of influencing brain development at a critical period of life. Putting effort into enrichment and providing protection against toxic stress is indeed an equation that predicts healthy development (physical and psychological) from the early years all the way into adulthood.
Photo of Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, addressing the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity meeting (April 5, 2013, Boston, MA) courtesy of Gus Freedman
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babies, Boston Children's Museum, Brain Development, Childhood Play, Childhood Stress, Harvard University, Health, Kids Health, Parenting, toddlers | Categories:
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Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
No, it’s not essential … but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing for toddlers.
Think about it this way. Here’s a short list of things that should be part of a toddler’s life:
Opportunities to Play: Play is a broad concept. Toddlers need time to play alone, and also play with other kids. They need to manipulate things to develop their fine motor skills. Being very inclusive here, we can extend this perspective to activities like drawing – which is known to support the later development of cognitive skills. They need to run around and be active. Pretend play is often thought to be at the root of creativity, but recent research shows that it has a large social benefit when done with others.
Opportunities to Socialize: Toddlers need to be around other kids. It’s fun for them. It’s a way to start to learn how to be social creatures and function with peers. They also learn a lot when they disagree with each other, when they don’t share, and when they don’t get along (as long as there is proper guidance from adults). They learn that they are not the only person in the world and sometimes need to take turns – which means waiting their turn now and then.
Opportunities to Regulate Their Emotions: Toddlers have to continue learning how to regulate their emotions. Whether it’s a full blown tantrum or just handling being mad or angry or scared, kids have to experience their emotions in multiple social contexts and develop ways of regulating themselves and functioning around others.
Opportunities to Talk: Yes, talk. Kids can develop their language by being around different people – it helps them learn how to use language to communicate socially (which requires integrating behavioral and emotional and cognitive skills). They should also hear a lot of talking.
If you consider this list, you have a sense of the richness that should characterize a toddler’s life. It’s another way of saying that lots of experiences are needed to give a well-rounded platform for social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Notice I haven’t said anything about getting a leg up academically, or ensuring top grades later in school. I’m talking about fundamental developmental goals. And kids need to have fun. A lot of fun. A lot of the time.
Now, a toddler doesn’t need to go to preschool to achieve all this. If a preschool isn’t focused on the developmental tasks that characterize toddlerhood, then there is not much utility to it. But a great preschool is a great way to give your kid opportunities during the week to be around other adults and other kids. It’s not essential. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good if you choose to go that way and you find the preschool that delivers what you should be looking for.
Preschool Children via Shutterstock.com
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Emotion Regulation, Health, Kids Health, play, preschool, Talk, toddlers | Categories:
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