Posts Tagged ‘ toddlers ’

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

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Enrichment + Protection = Healthy Development

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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Is Preschool Essential?

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

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Cognitive Development: 2012 In A Snapshot

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Two areas of research caught my attention this year: 

Tips For Parents: We all know that it’s good for parents to play with their kids, and read to them. But new studies continue to point out specific methods that parents can use – like specific ways to talk to your toddler when reading to them, and ways to use your voice and fingers to promote reading skills. Other studies highlighted how basic kid activities – like drawing – are connected (in perhaps surprising ways) to later school achievement. While some of these findings may seem intuitive, parents of toddlers are flooded with all kinds of suggestions (including costly ones) on how to give their kids an academic “edge”. It’s very nice to see research demonstrate that parents can use some simple strategies that are fun (and cost nothing) which result in real promotion of their kids cognitive development – and also reinforce how beneficial it is for parents and kids to spend time together in an “old-fashioned” way.

Getting Kids Enough Play Time: In addition to parent-child interaction, kids need to play – and by play, I mean the running around kind. It’s good for their bodies, and it is directly and indirectly good for their cognitive development (both in the short and long term). Yet new studies continue to reveal that a number of barriers are reducing how much play kids get. The take-home message for parents is quite clear: make sure your kids have plenty of opportunities to play, and do what you can to ensure that this is the case in preschool and beyond.

Time For Review via

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Does Your Toddler Get 3 Hours A Day Of Physical Activity?

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

New guidelines are emerging – around the world – that toddlers need at least 3 hours a day of physical activity, according to a commentary published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

As explained by Drs. Russell R. Pate and Jennifer R. O’Neill, up until recently national advisory boards have not made specific recommendations for kids under 6 years of age. However, given the increasing rate of weight issues in toddlers—it’s estimated that over 26% of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 years are either obese or overweight—there is a need for developing guidelines on physical activity. They pull on guidelines being offered in Australia, the UK, and via the Institute of Medicine, all of which focus on 3 hours as the minimum daily requirement for physical activity for toddlers.

To make this concrete, they cite a recommendation offered by the Institute of Medicine, which suggests that toddlers in child care get 15 minutes per hour of physical activity.

All of these suggestions don’t specify whether the physical activity is vigorous or moderate. But we all know what it looks like to see kids running and playing and moving. So the idea for parents is to have a look at your kid’s daily routine—both at home and when they are in any form of care—and determine if they are getting the proper amount of physical activity.

I want to bring particular attention to your child’s preschool schedule. There is a growing trend for reductions in preschool play time – drawn in part from perceptions by parents that their kids should spend their time learning “academic” skills and not running around and playing (click here to see a prior blog post on this topic published earlier this year). This is misguided in two ways. First, lots of new studies are showing how physical activity is associated with better school performance for a number of reasons (e.g., burning off some energy can help kids concentrate better, physical activity promotes motor development which is linked with cognitive development). And second, kids simply need physical activity to stay healthy and combat the obesity epidemic which continues to affect more and more kids at younger ages.

Toddler on playground via


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