"The Moments We Miss When We’re Busy Molding Our Kids" by Janet Lansbury

“The Moments We Miss When We’re Busy Molding Our Kids” by Janet Lansbury
Re-posted from Janet Lansbury’s blog.

“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.” – Magda Gerber

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Parents have often asked me some variation of the question: “How do we strike the right balance between molding our children and trusting them to unfold?” In my view, “molding” should be reserved for ceramics projects and dental work. In parenting, perceiving it our role to mold our kids and direct their development tends to make our experience far less successful and enjoyable. Teaching our children reduces possibilities to discover what they already know. It also risks giving children a you can’t unless I show you message, and with repetition that can become abbreviated in our children’s minds as you can’t.

For example, in the over twenty years that I’ve worked with children and raised my own, it’s become clear that every single one of us is born capable of drawing, painting, creating. While only a percentage might have what may be considered artistic talent, all are capable of using drawing, painting, molding, etc., as expressive, therapeutic tools. But we can easily discourage and limit this ability when we believe it is our job to show kids how it’s done, which children are inclined to perceive as the right way.

In her book It’s Not a Bird Yet: The Drama of Drawing, artist Ursula Kolbe shares why she doesn’t draw for children:

“Young children don’t approach drawing the way adults do, and they use different graphic strategies. Had I drawn a fairy for Louise, I would not have helped her solve a specific graphic problem (and would have denied her the pleasure of solving it herself). When children ask me to draw, say, a fire engine, I have no idea what sort of image they want. If I draw an object in an adult fashion, they can’t use this information to make their own drawings (although they might find watching me entertaining). If I draw in a simple cartoon-like manner, I’d be giving them a formula. This is likely to set them up for failure because it’s difficult to remember a formula invented by another.”

In “The Hidden Meaning of Kids’ Shapes and Scribbles,” Isabel Fattal’s fascinating article in The Atlantic, she describes how psychologists are evolving in their understanding of children’s drawings. Their observations have taught them that rather than aiming for an accurate depiction – which has always been the assumption — a child’s natural process is far more freely expressive, engaged and versatile. Kids draw to have experiences, tell stories and express ideas. Even when they scribble, they are often expressing energy, sound, or motion rather than just moving their arm along the page or making a primitive attempt at something more representative:

“For many kids, drawing is exhilarating not because of the final product it leads to, but because they can live completely in the world of their drawing for a few minutes (and then promptly forget about it a few minutes later). Adults may find it hard to relate to this sort of full-body, fleeting experience. But the opportunities for self-expression that drawing provide have important, even therapeutic, value for kids.”

None of us would wish to rob children of these precious opportunities. They bring joy to our kids and perhaps even more to us as parents. Wyatt shared his experience:

Not drawing for my son was one of the early RIE topics my wife introduced me to three years ago. I was immediately skeptical as I had not read much on RIE and still clung to my own upbringing as the “right” way to raise a child. But after much hard work and modeling on her part I became a convert, thankfully well before our son’s second birthday.

Recently, at our son’s 4-year-old wellness check, the paperwork I was filling out at the doctor’s office asked if my son could draw a person with at least three body parts. I had no idea! He had never chosen to draw one and we had never coached or encouraged him to. I got some paper and a pen, and asked my son if he would like to do some drawing.

He said, “Yes.”

I asked, “Do you think you can draw a person?”

“Yes,” he said, with a smile.

I then sat quietly as he worked. He narrated what he was doing all along the way. “These are feet. And these are legs.” Looking down at his own body, he went back to work.

“This is the belly.” Touching his own body parts and naming them before drawing, he drew his first person ever, complete with eyes, arms and the most beautiful neck this father has ever seen.

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My joy was through the roof. Not at him meeting some medical milestone, or some competitive streak in me that wants my son to excel. But at seeing the satisfaction on my son’s face, being present enough to experience it and the knowledge that everything beautiful about this moment was built on trusting in my son to develop at his own pace, at his own time.

Many heartfelt thanks to you, Janet, for helping make this moment a reality. It would not have happened without you.

Ultimately, what may be most revealing about kids’ art isn’t the art itself but what they say during the drawing process. They’re often telling stories that offer a much clearer window into their world than does the final product. – Isabel Fattal, The Atlantic

Do less, observe more, enjoy most! – Magda Gerber

"Want Nothing Time" by An Everyday Story

Republished by An Everyday Story. View the post here

“What is ‘want nothing time’?

“…when the parent doesn’t want to do anything with the [child], has no plans other than wanting simply to be with the child; just floor sitting, being available, being there with all senses awakened to the child; watching, listening, thinking only of that child…”

 ~ Magda Gerber

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I think so often we feel like we have to ‘do something’ when we are with our children; right, I’ve finished the washing, I’m here now. Let’s do something, when sometimes it is nice just to be with our children, just to sit and watch, play alongside and be there fully in the moment; not wanting anything, just being there.

It can be difficult; being fully there with our children, in body and mind; emptying our mind of all distractions. But when we sit with them, even for fifteen minutes, peacefully, asking nothing of them other than to be in their presence for a while, we are affirming a belief in our child that they are valued; that they are seen, not for what they can do for us in that moment but for who they are.

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Schedule some ‘want nothing time’ in your day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes. 15 minutes to clear your mind of distractions and be fully present with your children.”

"Rocking and Rolling—It Takes Two: The Role of Co-Regulation in Building Self-Regulation Skills" by Linda Groves Gillespieg

Republished by the NAEYC. View the article at the NAEYC website here

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Two-month-old Daryl cries softly as he wakes up from his nap. Jodi, his teacher, calls to him, saying, “I hear you, Daryl. Miss Jodi is coming as soon as she washes her hands.” Daryl quiets.

Four-month-old Charlotte rubs her eyes and begins to whimper. Her teacher, Jan, says, “You’re getting tired, aren’t you?” Jan sits in a rocker and begins to rock and hum to Charlotte. Charlotte calms, and Jan places her in her crib, gently patting her tummy before walking away. Charlotte fusses just for a minute before drifting off to sleep.

Ten-month-old Bess is sitting with a shape sorter. She is concentrating and trying very hard to push the round shape into the square hole. Vivian, her family child care provider, sits nearby, tending to a crying baby. Bess looks at the baby, catches Vivian’s eye, then goes back to concentrating on the shape-sorting task. A few minutes later, Bess moves her shape to the round hole and it falls in. Bess looks up and Vivian smiles: “You did it!” Bess smiles at Vivian before picking up the next shape.

Thirty-month-old Shane has the toy camera, one of the children’s favorite toys in the classroom. Kayla comes over and tries to take it out of his hands, and Shane pulls it away. Liz, their teacher, squats down and says to Shane, “Remember when Kayla was playing with that camera yesterday and you really wanted it? That’s how she feels now—she really wants it. Will you give it to her when you are done playing with it?” Shane looks at his teacher, then at the camera, and then at his friend Kayla. A few minutes later he takes the camera over to Kayla. “Thank you, Shane, that was very kind of you,” Liz says.

Each of these adults is facilitating the development of self-regulation, or the “conscious control of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (McClelland & Tominey 2014, 2). Another way of thinking about self-regulation is as a person’s ability to manage attention and emotions well enough to complete tasks, organize behavior, control impulses, and solve problems constructively (Murray et al. 2015). When children struggle with selfregulation, it is difficult for them to sit still, concentrate, and participate in learning activities.

Each of the educators above is supporting selfregulation skills by co-regulating with the children they care for. Co-regulation is defined as warm and responsive interactions that provide the support, coaching, and modeling children need to “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (Murray et al. 2015, 14). Co-regulating requires teachers and providers to pay close attention to the cues children send and respond consistently and sensitively over time with just the right amount of support. Let’s take a closer look at these emerging self-regulation skills and how they are supported and nurtured from infancy onward.

In the beginning, very young children’s capacity for self-regulation is limited, and they are very dependent on their teachers for co-regulation. For those working with infants and toddlers, warm and responsive interactions are truly foundational for the development of self-regulation—as we see in the examples with Daryl and Charlotte. The teachers’ prompt and caring interactions support each baby’s ability to begin to selfregulate and manage the tasks of waiting, self-soothing, and transitioning between activities. In these examples, Daryl is able to wait while Jodi finishes washing her hands, and Charlotte learns to soothe herself to fall asleep. Both babies have learned over time that their teachers will be there to offer support, if and when they need it.

When children’s needs are met in this way, the children grow to learn that they can trust the adults in their world to care for them. Having the expectation that their needs will be met allows infants to relax their demands and begin to develop self-soothing skills, like sucking on their fingers or thumbs, twisting their hair, and so on. Learning to self-soothe is a trial-and-error process as babies test ways to calm themselves. They continue to need adult assistance with soothing and regulating, especially when in stressful situations, but their dependence on others for help lessens as they get older. Learning selfregulation skills by experiencing tuned-in caregiving in early childhood is very important, as it is linked to greater success both academically and socially, through adulthood (Raby et al. 2015).

Children use their growing ability to self-regulate in more complex ways over time. Look at Bess as she concentrates on putting the shape into the correct hole. She is exercising the cognitive aspect of self-regulation as she directs her attention to the task at hand. Bess uses her relationship with Vivian as a secure base when the challenge of this task approaches frustration. She briefly turns her attention to Vivian for support and is then able to return to her task.

At 30 months, we see Shane beginning to demonstrate understanding of his friend Kayla’s feelings. The relationship with Liz and her nurturing support help Shane make the connection between his own feelings and those of his friend—which is the root of empathy. His teacher, Liz, has acted as a bridge to assist Shane in this developmentally challenging task. This type of social-emotional learning can happen only in a supportive, nurturing environment where children feel safe and valued and where their needs are met consistently.

Self-regulation is influenced by external factors like the environment and interactions with others and by internal factors such as temperament. The particular temperament children are born with impacts how easily they are able to regulate themselves. Children also exhibit differences in emotional intensity—or how strongly they experience and express their feelings. We notice that children at very early ages respond differently to stimuli such as light, noise, scent, touch, and temperature. Children also differ in their ability to manage change and transitions. These are just a few of the differences among children that teachers may encounter. Each requires a calibrated response that matches the needs and temperament of the individual child. When teachers co-regulate, or tune their responses to the various needs of individual children, they support the skill of self-regulation in a group setting.

Here are some tips to promote self-regulation in very young children:

  1. Create an environment where each child can form a long-term, trusting relationship with a teacher she knows well. Adopt a primary caregiving system in which each adult is responsible for a small number of children.

  2. Provide responsive, consistent, and nurturing care. When you are responsive, you teach young children that their needs and preferences matter. When you are consistent, you teach young children they can trust others. When you are nurturing, you teach young children that relationships with others should feel comforting and joyful.

  3. Promote critical thinking by creating an environment where children feel safe to explore and are comforted if they become confused or scared. “Positive control, autonomy support, and responsiveness have been most often linked to the development of strong selfregulation skills in the research literature” (McClelland & Tominey 2014, 5).

  4. Model your ability to self-regulate. As adults, we need to exercise our own self-regulatory skills to co-regulate with the children we care for. When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, angry, or burned out, we need to learn healthy ways to manage these strong feelings. When we feel calm and even-keeled, we do a better job of supporting the children in our care.

Think about it

  • Reflect on your ability to regulate your own thinking and emotions. How does that ability change over the course of the day?

  • What might cause that ability to change?

  • Think about a time you noticed a baby’s or toddler’s cues. How did you use this as an opportunity to co-regulate?

 

Try it

  • Pay attention and respond to each child’s individual cues, and ask parents how they observe their children communicating needs.

  • Talk to children during the daily routines and experiences of each day, and describe to them what you are doing and how they are responding.

  • List some of the strategies you use to co-regulate with the children in your care, and share them with your colleagues or supervisor.

  • Take the time to sensitively respond to the individual children in your care. Doing so not only makes your job fascinating and rewarding, it also contributes to children’s learning the lifelong skill of self-regulation.


"With Blocks, Educators Go Back to Basics" By Kyle Spencer

Republished by the NY Times. View the article at the NY Times website here

Huddled together on the reading rug of a prekindergarten classroom on the Upper West Side, three budding builders assembled a multilayered church with a Gothic arch. Nearby, another block artist created a castle with a connecting courtyard. Meanwhile, a fifth toiled earnestly on a shaky tower, eliciting oohs and aahs from across the room when it came tumbling down.

These were not prekindergartners, but members of the Parents League of New York, who had crowded into an oversubscribed workshop on block building last month. The tower constructor, a lawyer named Matthew Hurd, was still wearing a suit.

Jean Schreiber, a self-described “block consultant,” advised the group to engage their children in building by photographing their work. “Don’t rush to help them with structural challenges,” she said. “You don’t have to ask them a million questions. Just sit with them and notice.”

As in fashion, old things often come back in style in education. The Parents League workshop reflects a renewed faith in unit blocks — those basic, indestructible wooden toys created in the early 1900s — sweeping through some elite swaths of New York’s education universe. While many progressive private and public schools have long sworn by blocks, more traditional institutions are now refocusing on block centers amid worries that academic pressure and technology are squeezing play out of young children’s lives.

Eva Moskowitz, the former city councilwoman who runs a fast-growing network of charter schools, said her schools had created a “religion around blocks,” and she proudly advertises their fully outfitted block labs alongside the chess program and daily science classes. The International School of Brooklyn is developing a program using blocks to reinforce foreign-language acquisition. And Avenues, the for-profit school scheduled to open next year in Greenwich Village, is devoting a large section of its kindergarten floor to a block center.

“If you talk about block program with parents these days,” said Libby Hixson, director of Avenues’ lower school, “they just light up.”

National school-supply companies like Becker’s and Lakeshore added more than a dozen block-related products to their catalogs this year. And at City and Country School, the West Village private school founded in 1914 by Caroline Pratt, who is credited with inventing unit blocks, there has been a marked increase in observers from local schools that do not have the progressive pedigree usually associated with block play.

Fretta Reitzes, who runs an early-education conference every November at the 92nd Street Y, said the block workshop sold out so quickly this year that she added a second one. “What we’re seeing,” she said, “is teachers really caught between these very prescriptive curriculums and their desire to give kids opportunities to explore.”

Sasha Wilson, co-director of the four-year-old Bronx Community Charter School, said his faith in blocks was solidified by a struggling second grader’s actions after an apple-picking field trip. “She went to the block corner and built an incredibly complex structure, a tractor engine, and she was able to talk about how all the parts moved,” Mr. Wilson recalled. He said he told his staff a few days later: “We need to be looking at this student in a very different way.”

Caroline Pratt’s original unit blocks were made of smooth, splinter-free maple, though cheaper sets are now available in birch, beech and rubberwood (experts say it costs about $1,000 to outfit a classroom). Sets usually include 5.5-inch-long rectangles as well as pillars, columns, triangles, curves and longer rectangles.

Studies dating to the 1940s indicate that blocks help children absorb basic math concepts. One published in 2001 tracked 37 preschoolers and found that those who had more sophisticated block play got better math grades and standardized test scores in high school. And a 2007 study by Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, found that those with block experience scored significantly better on language acquisition tests.

But perhaps the hottest pitch of late, particularly to high-stress, high-strung New York City parents, is that blocks can build the 21st-century skills essential to success in corporate America.

At the Chapin School on the Upper East Side, where educators have spent the last several years weaving a comprehensive block program into kindergarten and first-grade math and social studies, students toiled together on a grocery store and a fancy hotel one recent morning, beneath a sign that read: “When Partners Disagree They Try for a Win-Win Solution.” Nearby was another sign, outlining a seven-step building guide, that looked as boardroom as it did classroom.

Ms. Reitzes, who runs the youth center at the 92nd Street Y, said many educators were embracing blocks as an antidote to fine-motor-skill deficits and difficulty with unstructured activity, problems that they blame on too much time in front of screens and overly academic preschools. Sara Wilford, director of the “Art of Teaching” graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College, sees it as an obvious backlash. “There are so many schools where children are seeing less and less play,” she said. “And I think parents are getting that that is not going to help them.”

But many of the newfangled block centers go beyond unstructured play. Students are encouraged to continue working on the same structure, sometimes for weeks. Teachers seize on opportunities to connect what they are building to the curriculum. And technology is often involved.

Jessica Thies, a teacher at Chapin, said her students photographed their block extravaganzas with one of the school’s iPads. Last year, they made a documentary about blocks using a Flip video camera and edited it during computer class. “It is very low-tech/high-tech here,” Ms. Thies said.

At the 92nd Street Y preschool, teachers videotape students doing block work so they can review their process. And at the Packer Collegiate Institute, the Brooklyn Heights private school where educators have recently recommitted themselves to blocks by hosting workshops for teachers and moving block corners to more centralized locations, students often use classroom computers to search for images or watch videos that help them visualize something to build.

Rajul Mehta, who has two daughters at Chapin, fondly recalls playing with blocks during her own childhood in Mumbai and appreciates their applications in math, science, architecture and aesthetics. “These are very basic skills that our children can take back into their daily lives,” she said.

Riley Palmer, a second grader at City and Country, said that creating a series of Brooklyn Bridges, each about three feet tall, helped her class understand what it had been like for the original builders. “There is so much you can do with blocks,” Riley said. “You can stagger them. You can stack them. It’s fun and cool. And when we’re done, we’re going to be able to show everybody in school what we did.”

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"Playing, Exploring, and Discovering with Chores at Home" By Kristin Roberts

This article is republished from NAEYC. View the article here.

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The leaves in our front yard were piling up. Thinking my 10-month-old would enjoy getting some fresh air and watching neighbors pass by while I raked, I loaded him into the backpack and headed outside. Little did I know how much he would enjoy the leaf-raking itself. This chore that seemed so simple to me captivated my son. He listened carefully to the sound of the rake scraping the ground, watching as it moved back and forth through the leaves. After a few minutes, he was ready to hop down and join in. We picked up leaves to examine them, squished and smashed leaves together to find that they crinkle and crumble, tossed them in the air and watched them float to the ground, and, of course, tasted a few bits. What a great sensory experience!

Our afternoon of raking leaves opened my eyes to the opportunities everyday chores can offer for playing, exploring, and discovering. Here are some of the chores around our home that we have found to be exciting:

  • Weeding the garden: As warm spring weather comes early to our area, we have begun pulling weeds in the garden—which, we have discovered, creates lovely piles of loose, soft soil. While I weed, my son digs his fingers into the dirt, discovers sticks of all sizes, and pauses to observe and imitate the sounds of backyard birds, squirrels, and neighborhood dogs.

  • Sweeping the floor: Like any household with toddlers, we sweep the floor every day. My son has discovered that it feels great to brush his hands along the bristles of the broom, and that the bristles rustle softly when he moves them back and forth. (We make sure to wash our hands after playing with the broom.)

  • Folding laundry: Laundry is one of my least favorite chores. But it offers my son many ways to play. He adds socks to the sock pile, sees and feels a variety of colors and textures, tosses onesies into the air and watches how they fall, and plays peek-a-boo with clean T-shirts.

  • Watering houseplants: We have several floor plants around the house, and my son loves to examine them. While I water the plants, he watches and touches the stream of water pouring from the watering can. With a bit of help, he is able to do some of the pouring himself.

  • Washing dishes: I often put away the day’s clean dishes while my son plays independently in the kitchen. When he was smaller, he would watch me move through the kitchen and name the various dishes I was putting away. But now he can participate, too! He is in charge of the clean plastic storage containers—perfect for stacking, nesting, opening and closing, and putting away, one by one, into their drawer.

And, of course, we go out and rake leaves from time to time. Every time I pause in the midst of my chores and invite my son to join, I am reminded of the wealth of sensory, exploratory, and meaningful play experiences that surround us each day. I hope you and your children find some fascinating chores around your home, too.

"11 Things To Say When Kids Cry" By Renee Jain

"11 Things To Say When Kids Cry" By Renee Jain

Republished by GoZen.

It’s no secret that hearing our kids cry makes us uncomfortable. Just think about how anxious you feel when your little one tears up without an obvious reason. We know that a newborn’s main way to communicate is to cry, yet we still look at it as something to be “fixed”. Once that infant becomes a walking, talking toddler, we sometimes expect them to process emotion the way we do, rather than the way they have always done: through crying.

In fact, studies have found that our brains are hard-wired to have an instant reaction to a crying child, making us more attentive and ready to help — and fast! A crying infant triggers our fight or fight response, increasing our heart rate and pushing us into action… even if that child is not our own.

It seems we have to react to a crying toddler, but how?

Your Crying Toddler Is Not Necessarily Sad

For many toddlers, crying is not a reflection of sadness — it’s a way to process anyemotion. They may cry out of anger, frustration, fear, excitement, confusion, anxiety or even happiness. The trouble is, they may also lack the verbal ability and self-awareness to explain how they’re feeling. This means asking them, “What’s wrong?” will rarely yield a productive response.

Saying “Don’t Cry!” Makes Life Harder For You

You may think that making the crying stop will also stop your child (and your heart!) from hurting, but when you tell your toddler, “Stop crying!” or “Don’t cry!” they’ll immediately think that you don’t understand how they’re feeling. Their message is therefore likely to become louder and more persistent.

By asking or telling them to “stop,” you’re also telling your child that their emotions are invalid and unimportant. Regardless of how trivial the reason may seem to you, your failure to acknowledge how they are feeling in that moment deprives both of you of the opportunity to learn how to process that emotion in a more positive way.

Our goal as parents, no matter how tricky it can seem,  is to support our little one’s development of emotional self-regulation — something we can only do when we treat them with empathy and understanding.

As Tempting as it is, Don’t Distract

Many of us view distraction as the ultimate tool in our emotional arsenal. Figuring that if we can distract our crying toddler from whatever it is they are crying about, we can stop the crying altogether. We’ve all dangled a favorite toy in front of tear-streaked faces or sung a song through clenched teeth in high-pitched desperation!  Sadly though, distraction misses an opportunity to connect with your child and teach them how to deal with their emotions.

Yes, if he’s fighting over a toy with another child, distracting your boy with a second toy is completely appropriate. But if your child is crying because you helped them put their shoes on instead of letting them do it by themselves, distraction is likely to only make them respond louder and more fervently in order to be heard.

It’s true that sometimes distraction can work, but it’s often just a band-aid. It doesn’t help your child to learn how to cope with a similar situation or emotion in a more positive way in the future.

What to Say

The next time you’re faced with a crying toddler, try to take a moment to make sure you are calm. If you’re angry, stressed or frustrated, the things that you say will just add to your toddler’s distress. Take a breath or two, acknowledge how you’refeeling, focus on what’s going on inside your body (your heart may be beating a little faster; your jaw may be clenched; you may be feeling tense) and, when you’re ready, use a low voice, and try these 10 alternatives:

  1. “We’re on the same team. I will help you.” Even if your child says they do not want your help, they do want to feel as though you will back them up when they need you.

  2. “I can see this is hard for you.” This simple phrase acknowledges that you hear and see them.

  3. “I understand you’re sad/disappointed/scared/anxious/happy and that’s OK.” Reinforce the notion that feeling an emotion is what makes us human.

  4. “That was really sad/frustrating/disappointing.” Acknowledging the event that triggered your child’s crying helps them also see what triggered their emotion and figure out what to do next.

  5. “Let’s take a break.” Removing you both from the situation helps your toddler understand that sometimes you need to walk away in order to compose yourself. Your child may legitimately be tired or over-stimulated and simply need to have time in a quiet, soothing place before rejoining the activity.

  6. “I love you. You are safe.” This invites connection with your child rather than separation. They may need a hug, a snuggle, or to hold your hand in order to feel that you are indeed there to help them.

  7. “Would you like help/a break/to try again?” Many times when your child cries out of frustration, they need one of three things: help performing the task, a break from the emotional situation, or to try to do the task again, possibly with assistance. Asking them, not telling them, what they would like empowers your child, helping them to feel important and significant.

  8. “I can hear you are crying, but I don’t know what you need. Can you help me understand?” Even if your child cannot verbalize why they are crying at first, this can give them a chance to practice.

  9. “I remember when you…” While it may seem like a distraction technique, helping them recall a time when they felt happy and peaceful helps prepare their brain for rational thought. Trying to reason with a toddler who is in a highly emotional state is kind of like negotiating with a tiny dictator. They are not prepared to listen to reason when they are in the midst of feeling helpless or angry or sad or exhausted.

  10. “Let’s come up with a solution together.” Ultimately we want to help our children to develop problem-solving skills. Coming up with a solution that will help process their emotions teaches them how to look at the situation objectively and come up with possible solutions.

  11. Maintain silence and hold loving space for your crying child. Be a pillar of empathy and strength for them.

"How to deal with picky eaters" by Janet Lansbury, RIE Parenting Expert

"How to deal with picky eaters" by Janet Lansbury, RIE Parenting Expert

Republished by Kids In The House.

“Parents are sometimes concerned about having a picky eater and they might be encouraged to try all kinds of tricks or maybe even put for the parents… put their child in front of the TV while they’re eating, give them all this food so they don’t really know what they’re eating. These things all get in a way of what’s really important, which is the connection between the mind and the tummy, the mind and the body. The child needs to know and keep in tune with that sense of fullness, that sense of what I need to eat, what my body’s craving and we want to protect that. Children are born with this, but sometimes, we take that away from them with our well-meaning worries. I always say, “Don’t say one more bite. Give small portions, give a variety of foods. Don’t be invested in it. If the child doesn’t eat it, just let it go.” Because once they sense that you’re nervous about something, then that creates all this tension around eating. So keep it simple, keep it honest and let go. Don’t make Julia Child meals that you’re going to be mad if they don’t eat. Just let them eat what they want to eat. Trust them. Trust them. Trust them. You can’t go wrong.”

"Why Children Aren't Behaving, And What You Can Do About It" by Cory Turner

"Why Children Aren't Behaving, And What You Can Do About It" by Cory Turner

Republished by NPR.

“Childhood — and parenting — have radically changed in the past few decades, to the point where far more children today struggle to manage their behavior.

That's the argument Katherine Reynolds Lewis makes in her new parenting book, The Good News About Bad Behavior.

"We face a crisis of self-regulation," Lewis writes. And by "we," she means parents and teachers who struggle daily with difficult behavior from the children in their lives.

Lewis, a journalist, certified parent educator and mother of three, asks why so many kids today are having trouble managing their behavior and emotions.

Three factors, she says, have contributed mightily to this crisis.

First: Where, how and how much kids are allowed to play has changed. Second, their access to technology and social media has exploded.

Finally, Lewis suggests, children today are too "unemployed." She doesn't simply mean the occasional summer job for a high school teen. The term is a big tent, and she uses it to include household jobs that can help even toddlers build confidence and a sense of community.

"They're not asked to do anything to contribute to a neighborhood or family or community," Lewis tells NPR in a recent interview. "And that really erodes their sense of self-worth — just as it would with an adult being unemployed."

Below is more of that interview, edited for length and clarity.

What sorts of tasks are children and parents prioritizing instead of household responsibilities?

To be straight-A students and athletic superstars, gifted musicians and artists — which are all wonderful goals, but they are long-term and pretty narcissistic. They don't have that sense of contribution and belonging in a family the way that a simple household chore does, like helping a parent prepare a meal. Anyone who loves to cook knows it's so satisfying to feed someone you love and to see that gratitude and enjoyment on their faces. And kids today are robbed of that.

It's part of the work of the family. We all do it, and when it's more of a social compact than an adult in charge of doling out a reward, that's much more powerful. They can see that everyone around them is doing jobs. So it seems only fair that they should also.

Kids are so driven by what's fair and what's unfair. And that's why the more power you give kids, the more control you give them, the more they will step up.

You also argue that play has changed dramatically. How so?

Two or three decades ago, children were roaming neighborhoods in mixed-age groups, playing pretty unsupervised or lightly supervised. They were able to resolve disputes, which they had a strong motivation to because they wanted to keep playing. They also planned their time and managed their games. They had a lot of autonomy, which also feeds self-esteem and mental health.

Nowadays, kids, including my own, are in child care pretty much from morning until they fall into bed — or they're under the supervision of their parents. So they aren't taking small risks. They aren't managing their time. They aren't making decisions and resolving disputes with their playmates the way that kids were 20 or 30 years ago. And those are really important social and emotional skills for kids to learn, and play is how all young mammals learn them.

While we're on the subject of play and the importance of letting kids take risks, even physical risks, you mention a remarkable study out of New Zealand — about phobias. Can you tell us about it?

This study dates back to when psychologists believed that if you had a phobia as an adult, you must have had some traumatic experience as a child. So they started looking at people who had phobias and what their childhood experiences were like. In fact, they found the opposite relationship.

People who had a fall from heights were less likely to have an adult phobia of heights. People who had an early experience with near-drowning had zero correlation with a phobia of water, and children who were separated from their parents briefly at an early age actually had less separation anxiety later in life.

We need to help kids to develop tolerance against anxiety, and the best way to do that, this research suggests, is to take small risks — to have falls and scrapes and tumbles and discover that they're capable and that they can survive being hurt. Let them play with sticks or fall off a tree. And yeah, maybe they break their arm, but that's how they learn how high they can climb.

You say in the book that "we face a crisis of self-regulation." What does that look like at home and in the classroom?

It's the behavior in our homes that keeps us from getting out the door in the morning and keeps us from getting our kids to sleep at night.

In schools, it's kids jumping out of seats because they can't control their behavior or their impulses, getting into shoving matches on the playground, being frozen during tests because they have such high rates of anxiety.

Really, I lump under this umbrella of self-regulation the increase in anxiety, depression, ADHD, substance addiction and all of these really big challenges that are ways kids are trying to manage their thoughts, behavior and emotions because they don't have the other skills to do it in healthy ways.

You write a lot about the importance of giving kids a sense of control. My 6-year-old resists our morning schedule, from waking up to putting on his shoes. Where is the middle ground between giving him control over his choices and making sure he's ready when it's time to go?

It's a really tough balance. We start off, when our kids are babies, being in charge of everything. And our goal by the time they're 18 is to be in charge of nothing — to work ourselves out of the job of being that controlling parent. So we have to constantly be widening the circle of things that they're in charge of, and shrinking our own responsibility.

It's a bit of a dance for a 6-year-old, really. They love power. So give him as much power as you can stand and really try to save your direction for the things that you don't think he can do.

He knows how to put on his shoes. So if you walk out the door, he will put on his shoes and follow you. It may not feel like it, but eventually he will. And if you spend five or 10 minutes outside that door waiting for him — not threatening or nagging — he'll be more likely to do it quickly. It's one of these things that takes a leap of faith, but it really works.

Kids also love to be part of that discussion of, what does the morning look like. Does he want to draw a visual calendar of the things that he wants to get done in the morning? Does he want to set times, or, if he's done by a certain time, does he get to do something fun before you leave the house? All those things that are his ideas will pull him into the routine and make him more willing to cooperate.

Whether you're trying to get your child to dress, do homework or practice piano, it's tempting to use rewards that we know our kids love, especially sweets and screen time. You argue in the book: Be careful. Why?

Yes. The research on rewards is pretty powerful, and it suggests that the more we reward behavior, the less desirable that behavior becomes to children and adults alike. If the child is coming up with, "Oh, I'd really like to do this," and it stems from his intrinsic interests and he's more in charge of it, then it becomes less of a bribe and more of a way that he's structuring his own morning.

The adult doling out rewards is really counterproductive in the long term — even though they may seem to work in the short term. The way parents or teachers discover this is that they stop working. At some point, the kid says, "I don't really care about your reward. I'm going to do what I want." And then we have no tools. Instead, we use strategies that are built on mutual respect and a mutual desire to get through the day smoothly.

You offer pretty simple guidance for parents when they're confronted with misbehavior and feel they need to dole out consequences. You call them the four R's. Can you walk me through them?

The four R's will keep a consequence from becoming a punishment. So it's important to avoid power struggles and to win the kid's cooperation. They are: Any consequence should be revealed in advance, respectful, related to the decision the child made, and reasonable in scope.

Generally, by the time they're 6 or 7 years old, kids know the rules of society and politeness, and we don't need to give them a lecture in that moment of misbehavior to drill it into their heads. In fact, acting in that moment can sometimes be counterproductive if they are amped up, their amygdala's activated, they're in a tantrum or excited state, and they can't really learn very well because they can't access the problem-solving part of their brain, the prefrontal cortex, where they're really making decisions and thinking rationally. So every misbehavior doesn't need an immediate consequence.

You even tell parents, in the heat of the moment, it's OK to just mumble and walk away. What do you mean?

That's when you are looking at your child, they are not doing what you want, and you cannot think of what to do. Instead of jumping in with a bribe or a punishment or yelling, you give yourself some space. Pretend you had something on the stove you need to grab or that you hear something ringing in the other room and walk away. That gives you just a little space to gather your thoughts and maybe calm down a little bit so you can respond to their behavior from the best place in you — from your best intentions as a parent.

I can imagine skeptics out there, who say, "But kids need to figure out how to live in a world that really doesn't care what they want. You're pampering them!" In fact, you admit your own mother sometimes feels this way. What do you say to that?

I would never tell someone who's using a discipline strategy that they feel really works that they're wrong. What I say to my mom is, "The tools and strategies that you used and our grandparents used weren't wrong, they just don't work with modern kids." Ultimately, we want to instill self-discipline in our children, which will never happen if we're always controlling them.

If we respond to our kids' misbehavior instead of reacting, we'll get the results we want. I want to take a little of the pressure off of parenting; each instance is not life or death. We can let our kids struggle a little bit. We can let them fail. In fact, that is the process of childhood when children misbehave. It's not a sign of our failure as parents. It's normal”

"Let Kids Play" By Perri Klass, M.D.

Doctors should prescribe playtime for young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

By Perri Klass, M.D. Aug. 20, 2018

The most famous painting of children at play is  “Children’s Games,” the 1560 work by Pieter Bruegel the Elder of a town square in which children from toddlers to adolescents (scholars have counted 246) are playing a range of timeless games. There are dolls and marbles and tiddlywinks, ball games and climbing games and riding games (scholars have counted 90 or so). The children are the only ones in town, and their activities offer a kind of taxonomy of play.

But some worry that our current culture is less friendly to play, and that children may not be getting the chance to explore all its possibilities. To try to address that, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement on Monday titled “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.”

The statement characterizes play as intrinsically motivated, involving active engagement and resulting in “joyful discovery.” It summarizes extensive developmental and neurological research on play, and tries to tease out some of the specific developmental discoveries in peek-a-boo (repetitive games provide “the joy of being able to predict what is going to happen”) and Simon Says (builds impulse control and executive function). It also says that doctors should encourage playful learning for parents and infants by writing a “prescription for play” at every well-child visit in the first two years of life.

It’s a values statement because many who study play feel that it is under siege, even as new research emphasizes its importance in children’s development.

“We’re in a climate where parents are feeling like they need to schedule every minute of structured time, and 30 percent of kindergartens offer no recess,” said Dr. Michael Yogman, chairman of the A.A.P. committee on psychosocial aspects of child family health and the lead author of the statement. To some, he said, “play is seen as irrelevant and old-fashioned.”

Dr. Benard Dreyer, the director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and a past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “The old saying is, play is the work of children. Play is the way they learn and the way they develop. It’s important to understand how all of us, and especially parents, can encourage play.”

“Kids develop 21st-century skills in play,” said Dr. Yogman, who is chief of the division of ambulatory pediatrics at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. These include social and emotional skills and executive function, “skills that are crucial for adults in the new economy, that help them collaborate and innovate.”

A fundamental job in pediatric primary care is to strengthen the parent-child relationship, he said, and play is important in that area as well. Even with a very young child, he said: “When a 3-month-old smiles and a parent smiles back, those kinds of turn-taking activities are not only far from trivial,” but are actually important for developing language and social-emotional skills, such as taking turns.

The stable relationships with parents and other caregivers that are built through these interactions are also important for helping children navigate stress and trauma and preventing what we have come to call “toxic stress” from damaging the child’s development.

And the policy statement goes into detail on recent research showing that play can affect the developing brain, both in its basic structure and in function, with changes that can be traced to play showing up at the molecular and cellular level, as well as at the level of behavior and executive function.

“I think there’s a real pediatric role in pointing out the real profound importance of play on many levels,” Dr. Yogman said. “Parents are looking to us for what do I do with my child, how many activities do I get them in,” he said. “I’m really thrilled the academy was willing to endorse the idea of a prescription for play.”

“It’s not about fancy toys,” he said. “It’s about common household items that kids can discover and explore,” like putting spoons and plastic containers on the floor “and bang them and see what the child does with them.” Parents often tell him, “Gee, I always believed in that. Nice to have it validated,” he said.

“The goal is not to make parents feel guilty or to lord it over them as an expert,” Dr. Yogman said, but rather to look for moments during an office visit that a parent might build on, and to talk about what is coming up developmentally for the child — which is a basic imperative of primary care in pediatrics.

And there are ways to work play into the medical visit, like blowing bubbles to help fearful children, or using hand puppets to demonstrate what’s going to happen in an exam. It may help to take the family out to the waiting room and see what the child does with the toys there.

The statement is advocating for a balanced curriculum in prekindergarten that does not ignore playful learning and doesn’t regard time spent in the block corner as somehow beside the point, Dr. Yogman said. Playful learning means supporting young children’s intrinsic motivation to learn and discover, instead of imposing extrinsic motivations like test scores.

What parents need to do, Dr. Dreyer said, is be there to help their children with “scaffolding.” That means “you don’t control the play for your child, but when you see they’re ready to go to the next step, support that.”

For example, you wouldn’t do the puzzle for the child, but you might point out a clue to help figure out where the piece might fit. Giving parents positive reinforcement for what they are already doing is what helps most, he said, not criticizing them for what they aren’t doing.

I’ve spent a great deal of my own time in pediatrics thinking about how we can encourage parents to read with their children as part of the primary care visit. And I recently wrote about efforts to “prescribe” going to play in parks.

But can we successfully “prescribe” reading, playing, going outside and all the other essential pieces of a healthy busy childhood?

There are crucial underlying themes that connect all these different ideas; the importance of interacting with children, responding to their cues and questions, the value of the old-fashioned kind of face time, with parents and with peers, and the importance of helping kids find a variety of experiences that are not all about screens and screen time in a world that is increasingly virtual for both parents and children.

“Reading is also having kids imagine what their role would be, which is playful,” Dr. Yogman said. “Getting outside and getting physical exercise is playful.”

“A ‘prescription for play’ I might hand to parents at the end of a visit is really just saying, it’s O.K. to go back and rely on your common sense about where you think you can share some of the joy as your child is exploring the world,” he said. “The goal is really validating what I think parents might come to on their own but are feeling pressured by a culture that says no, they really need to do special video games on an iPad or they need to have every minute of structured time.”

“Play is the most important part of childhood,” Dr. Dreyer said. “It’s how they develop emotionally, cognitively and in language — the statement comes out to help pediatricians and parents understand the importance and how to even do it better.”

Republished by the NY Times. View the article at the NY Times website here.

"Singing With My Grandbaby" By Paula Span

Republished by the NYTimes.

Researchers say that singing is among the most meaningful activities we share with children.

I can’t explain the first song I crooned to my sleeping granddaughter, just hours old and bundled like a burrito in a hospital blanket and striped cap. Not Brahms, which would have been classy. Not a Yiddish folk tune, though I’d claimed the name Bubbe, Yiddish for grandmother.

No, it was a ballad I probably hadn’t deliberately listened to or thought much about in decades: “Surfer Girl,” by the Beach Boys. Maybe it welled up because of the lyrics (“made my heart come all undone”).

But lyrics can’t account for another oldie that materialized more recently: a 1957 doo-wop hit, “Mr. Lee,” by a girl group called (I had to look this up) The Bobbettes. It’s catchy, though hardly profound, and my granddaughter liked that little hiccup in the chorus. But even as I was singing, I wondered: Where did that come from?

Polling other grandparents about what they sang first, I heard about lullabies and children’s songs in several languages, about tunes learned from people’s own grandparents. “You Are My Sunshine” proved popular. Inspiration came from the Beatles, Dean Martin, Bob Marley and Barney.

My friend Dale might take the obscurity prize: She sang her still-tiny grandbaby “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” — a British pop novelty. Dale isn’t old enough to remember when it hit the charts in the United States in 1961; she learned it at camp, a lifetime ago. But here it was again, as her children gaped.

Some folks planned what to sing, but for many of us this music simply emerged, unbidden and unexpected. It made me wonder whether barely remembered refrains get stored in some compartment of our brains, waiting years for emotional moments to release them.

Researchers study such things, the neurocognitive aspects of music, so I tried out my hypothesis on a couple of leading scientists. They gently disabused me. No, there is no nook in the hippocampus where we stash old ditties; music engages many parts of our brains.

“It’s not like the brain is a hard drive, with one folder where we store all this stuff,” said Samuel Mehr, principal investigator of the Music Lab at Harvard. (His first song to his new son was Paul Simon’s “American Tune.”)

But my conversation with Dr. Mehr, and with the psychologist Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto, reinforced what many grandparents intuitively know: Singing to children, as people around the world do, is among the most meaningful activities we share with them.

Scientists have learned a lot about babies and music in the decades since I was a new parent, using inventive lab experiments that measure babies’ gaze, their behavior, even their heart rates and stress hormones. They report that tiny infants show sensitivity to rhythm and pitch and can distinguish familiar melodies.

“Their memory for music is shocking,” Dr. Mehr said. Across class and culture, “they’re incredibly perceptive listeners.”

His work has demonstrated that 5-month-olds whose parents sing them a song for just a week or two remember that melody eight months later. When they encounter strangers who sing to them in the lab, they pay more attention to someone singing the familiar melody than a different song, even one with the same words and rhythms.

Similarly, at 11 months, babies exposed to a song for one to two weeks will choose an object (a small stuffed lion, say) offered by a stranger singing the familiar song, preferring it to one presented by a stranger whose song they don’t know.

Infants pay more attention to singing than to speech, Dr. Trehub has shown, and that can pay off.

In a dim lab, 7- to 10-month-olds will listen to recorded singing for an average of nine minutes before they start fussing or crying, twice as long as they attend to recorded speech. “It’s a terrific distraction from a distressing event,” Dr. Trehub said. “You start singing and they’re completely transported.”

Babies confront a rush of strange new sights, sounds and experiences. That may explain why they respond so strongly to repetition. When we sing the same songs over and over, “infants have expectations about what comes next,” Dr. Trehub explained. “When their expectations are fulfilled, that’s rewarding and comforting.”

Eventually, they not only feel soothed by music but can use it to comfort themselves. I’m the Thursday day care provider for my granddaughter Bartola — a pet name that’s an affectionate nod to former Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon — and she frequently looks (and sounds) betrayed when I put her down for a nap. But then I often hear her singing about barnyard animals or twinkly stars, settling herself into sleep.

Dr. Mehr’s theory is that singing communicates that a particular grown-up — it could be a grandparent as well as a parent, and in many cultures probably is — is paying attention, something enormously important to vulnerable babies.

“It’s a signal of who’s a friend, a member of my group,” Dr. Mehr said.

Which helps explain why it doesn’t much matter how well or poorly you sing. It’s the attention, the feeling, that kids respond to. “You put all the gush into it and it’s the emotive quality that comes across, not whether you hit the right notes,” Dr. Trehub said.

Bartola and I have moved on to favorites by the Temptations and Pete Seeger, and to songs with gestures. Just as Dr. Trehub has written, singing brings us “pleasure, comfort, shared feelings and common purpose.”

And maybe other benefits.

"Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children"By Maxwell King

Republished by the Atlantic. View the article at the Atlantic website here

The TV legend possessed an extraordinary understanding of how kids make sense of language.

For the millions of adults who grew up watching him on public television, Fred Rogers represents the most important human values: respect, compassion, kindness, integrity, humility. On Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the show that he created 50 years ago and starred in, he was the epitome of simple, natural ease.

But as I write in my forthcoming book, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, Rogers’s placidity belied the intense care he took in shaping each episode of his program. He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely, because he knew that children—the preschool-age boys and girls who made up the core of his audience—tend to hear things literally.

As Arthur Greenwald, a former producer of the show, put it to me, “There were no accidents on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He took great pains not to mislead or confuse children, and his team of writers joked that his on-air manner of speaking amounted to a distinct language they called “Freddish.”

Fundamentally, Freddish anticipated the ways its listeners might misinterpret what was being said. For instance, Greenwald mentioned a scene in a hospital in which a nurse inflating a blood-pressure cuff originally said “I’m going to blow this up.” Greenwald recalls: “Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.”

The show’s final cuts reflected many similarly exacting interventions. Once, Rogers provided new lyrics for the “Tomorrow” song that ended each show to ensure that children watching on Friday wouldn’t expect a show on Saturday, when the show didn’t air. And Rogers’s secretary, Elaine Lynch, remembered how, when one script referred to putting a pet “to sleep,” he excised it for fear that children would be worried about the idea of falling asleep themselves.

Rogers was extraordinarily good at imagining where children’s minds might go. For instance, in a scene in which he had an eye doctor using an ophthalmoscope to peer into his eyes, he made a point of having the doctor clarify that he wasn’t able to see Rogers’s thoughts. Rogers also wrote a song called “You Can Never Go Down the Drain” because he knew that drains were something that, to kids, seemed to exist solely to suck things down.

In 1977, about a decade into the show’s run, Arthur Greenwald and another writer named Barry Head cracked open a bottle of scotch while on a break, and coined the term Freddish. They later created an illustrated manual called “Let’s Talk About Freddish,” a loving parody of the demanding process of getting all the words just right for Rogers. “What Fred understood and was very direct and articulate about was that the inner life of children was deadly serious to them,” said Greenwald.

Per the pamphlet, there were nine steps for translating into Freddish:

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. 
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

Rogers brought this level of care and attention not just to granular details and phrasings, but the bigger messages his show would send. Hedda Sharapan, one of the staff members at Fred Rogers’s production company, Family Communications, Inc., recalls Rogers once halted taping of a show when a cast member told the puppet Henrietta Pussycat not to cry; he interrupted shooting to make it clear that his show would never suggest to children that they not cry.

In working on the show, Rogers interacted extensively with academic researchers. Daniel R. Anderson, a psychologist formerly at the University of Massachusetts who worked as an advisor for the show, remembered a speaking trip to Germany at which some members of an academic audience raised questions about Rogers’s direct approach on television. They were concerned that it could lead to false expectations from children of personal support from a televised figure. Anderson was impressed with the depth of Rogers’s reaction, and with the fact that he went back to production carefully screening scripts for any hint of language that could confuse children in that way.

In fact, Freddish and Rogers’s philosophy of child development is actually derived from some of the leading 20th-century scholars of the subject. In the 1950s, Rogers, already well known for a previous children’s TV program, was pursuing a graduate degree at The Pittsburgh Theological Seminary when a teacher there recommended he also study under the child-development expert Margaret McFarland at the University of Pittsburgh. There he was exposed to the theories of legendary faculty, including McFarland, Benjamin Spock, Erik Erikson, and T. Berry Brazelton. Rogers learned the highest standards in this emerging academic field, and he applied them to his program for almost half a century.

This is one of the reasons Rogers was so particular about the writing on his show. “I spent hours talking with Fred and taking notes,” says Greenwald, “then hours talking with Margaret McFarland before I went off and wrote the scripts. Then Fred made them better.” As simple as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood looked and sounded, every detail in it was the product of a tremendously careful, academically-informed process.

"The Magic of a Cardboard Box" By Alexandra Lange

Republished by the New York Times. View the article at the New York Times website here

By Alexandra Lange

On April 20, Nintendo released a new line of accessories for its best-selling Switch game console. Rather than being digital add-ons, they were physical ones: punch-and-fold parts engineered to turn the Switch console into a piano, a fishing rod or a robot. All are made of cardboard.

On March 4, Walmart ads shown during the Oscars centered on shipping boxes. The writer and director Dee Rees, nominated for “Mudbound,” created a 60-second ad in which the threat of bedtime gets incorporated into a sci-fi wonderland a little girl has imagined inside a blue cardboard box.

In June 2014, Google handed out kits for a low-cost virtual reality headset to be used with a smartphone. The headset was named Cardboard, for what it was mostly made of, and users assembled the units themselves.

In April 2012, “Caine’s Arcade,” an 11-minute short featuring a boy named Caine Monroy, was widely shared on the internet. Caine had spent his 2011 summer vacation building an arcade in the front of his father’s East Los Angeles auto-parts store out of the boxes the parts came in. He had the freedom to create an environment because cardboard comes cheap, and his father gave him space.

These 21st-century storytellers turned to cardboard for the same reasons that children have long preferred the box to the toy that came in it: cardboard is light and strong, easy to put up, quick to come down and, perhaps most important, inexpensive enough for experiment. Cardboard constructions can be crushed, painted, recycled and stuck back together. Cardboard furniture can be adjusted as children grow, and cardboard creations become more sophisticated as children gain skills: It is as malleable as the body and the mind.

Technology companies’ embrace of cardboard’s cool suggests something parents and teachers never forgot: The box is an avatar of inspiration, no charging required. Cardboard is the ideal material for creativity, and has been since the big purchase, and the big box, became a fixture of American postwar homes.

Corrugated cardboard boxes were introduced in the 1880s, and slowly replaced wooden crates as the shipping method of choice. Robert Gair, a paper bag manufacturer in Brooklyn, realized that he could slice and crease paper on his machines in a single step. A box could quickly be cut out and scored, creating a flat blank ready to be assembled as needed, the same construction method exploited by Google and Nintendo. Because flattened boxes were easier to ship and distribute, manufacturers could buy them in bulk, assemble, and then ship their own product to consumers.

As household objects grew larger, the play potential of those boxes increased. The purchase of a new washing machine was a cause for celebration in my neighborhood as a child, as it meant access to a new playhouse in somebody’s yard. Dr. Benjamin Spock praised the cardboard box as an inexpensive alternative to a ride-on car or a readymade cottage. In 1951, Charles and Ray Eames mocked up a version of the packing boxesfor their Herman Miller storage furniture with pre-printed lines for doors, windows and awnings: When the adults bought a bookshelf, their kids would get a free toy.

Cardboard was considered such a wonder material during this era that Manhattan’s Museum of Contemporary Craft (now the Museum of Arts and Design) devoted a 1967-1968 exhibition, “Made with Paper,” to the medium. With funding from the Container Corporation of America, the curator Paul J. Smith turned the museum galleries into a three-dimensional paper wonderland. The CCA also funded a cardboard playground created by students at the Parsons School of Design that included pleated trees, an enveloping sombrero and a movable maze for children to explore.

James Hennessey and Victor Papanek’s “Nomadic Furniture,” published in 1973, was part of a renaissance in DIY instruction, one that emphasized the cardboard’s open-source bona fides, as online instructions for making your own Google Cardboard did. The “Nomadic” authors demonstrated how to create an entire cardboard lifestyle, one that could be tailored to different sizes, ages and abilities.

Cardboard sets you free from the average, as Alex Truesdell discovered when she began to design furniture with children with disabilities. Truesdell, inspired by another 1970s cardboard carpentry book, developed play trays, booster seats, high chairs and other assistive devices made of corrugated cardboard that could help children with disabilities participate fully in society. As founder of the Adaptive Design Association, Ms. Truesdell was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow for her work. Her organization offers classes and consultation in design and methods at no and low cost, and expects participants to pass on their knowledge. Cardboard, as a material, wants to be free.

Cardboard’s central role in childhood has not gone unnoticed: in 2005, the cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. “We were particularly motivated by the exceptional qualities that cardboard boxes hold for inspiring creative, open-ended play,” says Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections and chief curator at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester. Nirvan Mullick, the filmmaker who made “Caine’s Arcade,” went on to found a nonprofit group, Imagination.org, that organizes an annual “global cardboard challenge” — one taken up by over a million kids in 80 countries.

At a time when toys have become ever more complex and expensive, it is worth returning to the box, seeing it not as trash but as a renewable resource for play.

For my daughter’s seventh birthday, she requested a cardboard-themed party. (I swear, I had nothing to do with it.) “Cardboard creations” is a highlight of “choice time” at her school, where kindergartners and first-graders have an end-of-day craft session with shoeboxes and paper towel rolls.

We gave up recycling for several weeks before the party and accumulated an embarrassingly large pile in the center of the living room. When the kids arrived, I waved them toward the boxes and bins of glue sticks, washi tape, paint, wrapping paper scraps and stickers.

“Make whatever you want,” I said, and they did.

"What's Going On In Your Child's Brain When You Read Them A Story?" By Anya Kamenetz

By Anya Kamenetz

Republished by the nprED. View the article at the nprED website here

"I want The Three Bears!"

These days parents, caregivers and teachers have lots of options when it comes to fulfilling that request. You can read a picture book, put on a cartoon, play an audiobook, or even ask Alexa.

A newly published study gives some insight into what may be happening inside young children's brains in each of those situations. And, says lead author Dr. John Hutton, there is an apparent "Goldilocks effect" — some kinds of storytelling may be "too cold" for children, while others are "too hot." And, of course, some are "just right."

Hutton is a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital with a special interest in "emergent literacy" — the process of learning to read.

For the study, 27 children around age 4 went into an FMRI machine. They were presented with stories in three conditions: audio only; the illustrated pages of a storybook with an audio voiceover; and an animated cartoon. All three versions came from the Web site of Canadian author Robert Munsch.

While the children paid attention to the stories, the MRI, the machine scanned for activation within certain brain networks, and connectivity between the networks.

"We went into it with an idea in mind of what brain networks were likely to be influenced by the story," Hutton explains. One was language. One was visual perception. The third is called visual imagery. The fourth was the default mode network, which Hutton calls, "the seat of the soul, internal reflection — how something matters to you."

The default mode network includes regions of the brain that appear more active when someone is not actively concentrating on a designated mental task involving the outside world.

In terms of Hutton's "Goldilocks effect," here's what the researchers found:

In the audio-only condition (too cold): language networks were activated, but there was less connectivity overall. "There was more evidence the children were straining to understand."

In the animation condition (too hot): there was a lot of activity in the audio and visual perception networks, but not a lot of connectivity among the various brain networks. "The language network was working to keep up with the story," says Hutton. "Our interpretation was that the animation was doing all the work for the child. They were expending the most energy just figuring out what it means." The children's comprehension of the story was the worst in this condition.

The illustration condition was what Hutton called "just right".

When children could see illustrations, language-network activity dropped a bit compared to the audio condition. Instead of only paying attention to the words, Hutton says, the children's understanding of the story was "scaffolded" by having the images as clues.

"Give them a picture and they have a cookie to work with," he explains. "With animation it's all dumped on them all at once and they don't have to do any of the work."

Most importantly, in the illustrated book condition, researchers saw increased connectivity between — and among — all the networks they were looking at: visual perception, imagery, default mode and language.

"For 3- to 5-year-olds, the imagery and default mode networks mature late, and take practice to integrate with the rest of the brain," Hutton explains. "With animation you may be missing an opportunity to develop them."

When we read to our children, they are doing more work than meets the eye. "It's that muscle they're developing bringing the images to life in their minds."

Hutton's concern is that in the longer term, "kids who are exposed to too much animation are going to be at risk for developing not enough integration."

Overwhelmed by the demands of processing language, without enough practice, they may also be less skilled at forming mental pictures based on what they read, much less reflecting on the content of a story. This is the stereotype of a "reluctant reader" whose brain is not well-versed in getting the most out of a book.

One interesting note is that, because of the constraints of an MRI machine, which encloses and immobilizes your body, the story-with-illustrations condition wasn't actually as good as reading on Mom or Dad's lap.

The emotional bonding and physical closeness, Hutton says, were missing. So were the exchanges known as "dialogic reading," where caregivers point out specific words or prompt children to "show me the cat?" in a picture. "That's a whole other layer," of building reading Hutton says.

In an ideal world, you would always be there to read to your child. The results of this small, preliminary study also suggest that, when parents do turn to electronic devices for young children, they should gravitate toward the most stripped-down version of a narrated, illustrated ebook, as opposed to either audio-only or animation.

"In Lullabies, a Chance for Parent and Child to Bond" By: Perri Klass, M.D.

By Perri Klass, M.D.

Republished by the NY Times. View the article at the NY Times website here

When you sing a lullaby to your baby, you convey love and language and dreams of the future — and also, of course, you are trying to help your baby to a more immediate future of being asleep.

Singing helps calm both the baby and the parent, experts say, and creates a bedtime ritual to signal a transition from the day’s activities.

Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute created a lullaby project to help mothers bond with their babies. Tiffany Ortiz, the manager of the project, said it started in 2011 with a pilot at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, where staff members noticed that some teenage parents were having trouble attaching to their children. It has expanded across New York City, with artists working with parents at different sites, including high schools, hospitals, clinics, shelters and the Rikers Island jail, and is now being replicated nationally and internationally.

Teaching artists work with parents, who draft a letter which speaks to their hopes and dreams for the child, Ms. Ortiz said, and the lyrics emerge from those messages. “Then there’s a discussion about the musical side of it, how they want it to sound,” she said. “Usually, parents will start to hum.” After the lullaby is created, it is recorded for the parent to keep, to refer to, to sing again and again.

“I am surprised by how rich and complicated parenting is, and how much music making in parenting is that way too,” said Emily Eagen, a musician and songwriter who has been a teaching artist in the program since 2011.

When the project started, Ms. Eagen was pregnant. She is now getting her doctorate, and does research on lullabies from around the world, noting that lullabies can reflect many of the complexities of taking care of children, “how hard it is to exercise a certain amount of structure, how painful it is that they have to go through something hard,” like the separation and solitude associated with going to sleep.

Anita Collins, a music educator who researches brain development and music, said that babies are born with relatively undeveloped sight but, under most circumstances, with perfect hearing.

“Babies’ auditory processing or hearing sense is actually the most important sense they have for the first two years of their lives, the sense that gathers the most information about their world,” said Dr. Collins, an associate fellow in music, mind and well-being at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the author of the forthcoming book “The Lullaby Effect.”

On April 20, the Carnegie Hall project released “Hopes and Dreams,” a recording of 15 original lullabies written by parents in New York from 2011 to 2015, performed by a range of artists, including Joyce DiDonato, Fiona Apple, Lawrence Brownlee and Patti LuPone. The goal of the project, though, is for parents to sing themselves, Ms. Ortiz said, to “embed more singing into daily practice and into parents’ lives, shatter that notion they might not be able to sing or they’re out of tune — for a child, their voice is going to mean the most.”

“Lullabies are very natural, but there’s not the perfect list of lullabies,” Dr. Collins said. “It’s about holding that child, looking them in the face, rocking them so they get the sense of the rhythm and the movement.”

Researchers have looked at the ways that infants respond to maternal singing. But in research studies comparing babies who were held and talked to or left in their cribs and sung to, she said, the babies went to sleep more quickly if they were sung to. “It’s about having that connection they feel when someone sings to them.”

Ms. Eagen recalled working with a mother who talked about the connection she felt to her baby when she saw the heart beating on the sonogram. “The doctor said, you’re the only one who will have this baby’s heart beat inside you, you’ll know each other’s heartbeat,” and that became the lullaby: I’m the only one who knows your heartbeat, and you’re the only one who knows my heartbeat.

For a family with a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, “we wrote a song: ‘We’re waiting for you to come home, and we’ll celebrate with all the balloons in the world’ — we were all in tears,” she said. “It’s very transformative. You don’t know how much singing and writing a song is going to feel like you have agency — it really does make a difference to do this.”

Lullabies are important for the babies who hear them, but also for the parents who sing them, said Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, the principal researcher on the project, who put together research summaries on the importance of making music and on lullabies and wellness.

“Most of the mothers we worked with in New York live under very stressful conditions,” such as having a sick baby in the NICU or being homeless. “Restoring a sense of positive well-being is extremely important; unless parents have that to draw on, it’s hard to be consistent and emotionally available for their children.”

“For a lot of women it’s the first time they’ve written a song or even written poetry,” said Ms. Eagen. “They’re love songs and they’re work songs. There’s a lot in lullabies about letting yourself do the work of parenting, calming yourself down,” she said. “The mothers get a lot out of being able to sing the song to themselves as well as to the child.”

"MIT Brain Study: Back-And-Forth Talk Key To Developing Kids' Verbal Skills" By Carey Goldberg

By: Carey Goldberg
Republished by wbur. View the article at the wbur website here

New MIT research finds that for children's brain development, parents don't just need to talk to their kids — it's important to talk with them, in back-and-forth exchanges.

"What we found is, the more often parents engaged in back-and-forth conversation with their child, the stronger was the brain response in the front of the brain to language," said cognitive neuroscience professor John Gabrieli.

That stronger brain response, measured as children ages 4 to 6 lay in a scanner listening to simple stories, reflects a deeper, more intimate engagement with language, said graduate student Rachel Romeo.

On average, a child from a better-off, more-educated family is likely to hear 30 million more words in the first three years of life than a child from a less-well-off family.

That finding from 1995 helped explain some school achievement gaps. Now, the MIT researchers have illuminated how more talking actually changes a child's brain — and it's not just about the number of words a child hears, Romeo said. It's about interaction, the number of conversational "turns" that parents and preschool-aged children took while wearing recorders that taped their every word over two days.

And the effect didn't depend on parents' income or education, she noted, so it's not as if lower-income children are "doomed" to weaker verbal abilities.

"It seems to suggest, instead, that if they're provided with a rich verbal environment early in life, that that can predict great language and cognitive outcomes," Romeo said.

The finding is an important addition to work over the last 20-plus years on language development, said Dr. Marilyn Augustyn, a behavioral pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who was not involved in the study. She praised its use of brain scanners and recording devices to move the research forward.

A previous study turned up similar MRI findings on children who were read to by their parents, she said, "But what's really revolutionary about this study — and why I think it's really important — is it did both: It looked at the conversations, the words that children heard, and then also looked at the brain activation."

It strengthens a two-part message, she added. "One, we need to talk to our children from the moment they're born, and probably in utero. And two, that language needs to come out of a relationship — and that's what this study really cements. It isn't about streaming tape to a child through the course of a day with thousands and thousands of words, because those become meaningless. It's really about the relationship."

The next step in the research, Romeo said, will be to study an early intervention that gives toddlers more back-and-forth conversations.

"Obviously a two-year-old is not going to debate philosophy with you, but just a back and forth with them, whatever their capabilities are, is really valuable," she said.

The study found a broad range in how many conversational "turns" parents and child took in the course of an hour, from just 90 to as many as 400, Romeo said.

Families under more stress — say, with parents holding down more jobs — may have a harder time changing their conversational interactions with children, Gabrieli acknowledged. "But it is a thing — a very specific thing — that any of us could do with the right encouragement and support," he said.

Passively watched screens clearly do not bring the same sort of interaction as real conversation. But could a smart speaker use artificial intelligence to develop a child's brain much as a conversational parent would?

That question will require more study, the researchers said. Some initial research suggests that if devices can really respond to what a child says, they may offer added benefits, Romeo said.

But Dr. Augustyn is skeptical. Children can become very connected to technology, she said, but even if they develop some sort of relationship with a smart speaker, ultimately, "Alexa doesn't have a lap."

"Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior and Attention" By: Perri Klass, M.D

By: Perri Klass, M.D
Republished by the NY Times. View the article at the NY Times website here

It’s a truism in child development that the very young learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when parents read to their children. A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.

“We think of reading in lots of different ways, but I don’t know that we think of reading this way,” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, who is the principal investigator of the study, “Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development,” published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers, many of whom are my friends and colleagues, showed that an intervention, based in pediatric primary care, to promote parents reading aloud and playing with their young children could have a sustained impact on children’s behavior. (I am among those the authors thanked in the study acknowledgments, and I should acknowledge in return that I am not only a fervent believer in the importance of reading aloud to young children, but also the national medical director of Reach Out and Read, a related intervention, which works through pediatric checkups to promote parents reading with young children.)

This study involved 675 families with children from birth to 5; it was a randomized trial in which 225 families received the intervention, called the Video Interaction Project, and the other families served as controls. The V.I.P. model was originally developed in 1998, and has been studied extensively by this research group.

Participating families received books and toys when they visited the pediatric clinic. They met briefly with a parenting coach working with the program to talk about their child’s development, what the parents had noticed, and what they might expect developmentally, and then they were videotaped playing and reading with their child for about five minutes (or a little longer in the part of the study which continued into the preschool years). Immediately after, they watched the videotape with the study interventionist, who helped point out the child’s responses.

“They get to see themselves on videotape and it can be very eye-opening how their child reacts to them when they do different things,” said Adriana Weisleder, one of the authors of the study, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University. “We try to highlight the positive things in that interaction — maybe they feel a little silly, and then we show them on the tape how much their kid loves it when they do these things, how fun it is — it can be very motivating.”

“Positive parenting activities make the difference for children,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, a professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who was the senior author on the study. He noted that the critical period for child development starts at birth, which is also a time when there are many pediatric visits. “This is a great time for us to reach parents and help them improve their parenting skills, which is what they want to do.”

The Video Interaction Project started as an infant-toddler program, working with low-income urban families in New York during clinic visits from birth to 3 years of age. Previously published data from a randomized controlled trial funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that the 3-year-olds who had received the intervention had improved behavior — that is, they were significantly less likely to be aggressive or hyperactive than the 3-year-olds in the control group.

This new study looked at those children a year and a half later — much closer to school entry — and found that the effects on behavior persisted. The children whose families had participated in the intervention when they were younger were still less likely to manifest those behavior problems — aggression, hyperactivity, difficulty with attention — that can so often make it hard for children to do well and learn and prosper when they get to school.

Some children were enrolled in a second stage of the project, and the books and toys and videotaping continued as they visited the clinic from age 3 to 5; they showed additional “dose-response” effects; more exposure to the “positive parenting” promotion meant stronger positive impacts on the children’s behavior.

“The reduction in hyperactivity is a reduction in meeting clinical levels of hyperactivity,” Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We may be helping some children so they don’t need to have certain kinds of evaluations.” Children who grow up in poverty are at much higher risk of behavior problems in school, so reducing the risk of those attention and behavior problems is one important strategy for reducing educational disparities — as is improving children’s language skills, another source of school problems for poor children.

But all parents should appreciate the ways that reading and playing can shape cognitive as well as social and emotional development, and the power of parental attention to help children flourish. Dr. Weisleder said that in reading and playing, children can encounter situations a little more challenging than what they usually come across in everyday life, and adults can help them think about how to manage those situations.

“Maybe engaging in more reading and play both directly reduces kids’ behavior problems because they’re happier and also makes parents enjoy their child more and view that relationship more positively,” she said.

Reading aloud and playing imaginative games may offer special social and emotional opportunities, Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters,” he said. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”

“The key take-home message to me is that when parents read and play with their children when their children are very young — we’re talking about birth to 3 year olds — it has really large impacts on their children’s behavior,” Dr. Mendelsohn said. And this is not just about families at risk. “All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they’re helping them learn to control their own behavior,” he said, so that they will come to school able to manage the business of paying attention and learning.

"Today, Go Say an Overdue Thank You. It’ll Make You Feel Better" By Tim Herrera

By Tim Herrera
Republished by the NY Times
. View the article at the NY Times website here

A few years ago The New York Times ran a story that said expressing gratitude — even if you’re faking it — can measurably improve your overall happiness and life satisfaction, and it can sometimes even improve the happiness of those around you. Imagine!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because in March I encouraged you to knock off the one thing from your to-do list that has been hanging over your head.

Hundreds of readers wrote me emails and tweets sharing the one thing they accomplished, and a few themes emerged: taxes (of course), job and career stuff, financial tasks, some house cleaning and other parts of everyday life.

But I was surprised at how many people said they were moved to express gratitude to people in their lives.

Sometimes it was for a specific purpose, like the dozens of readers who finally finished writing holiday thank you notes. But often it was to say thanks for ongoing support or for just being there — like the reader who was inspired to write a friend who had faded from her life, or the reader who got the push she needed to send a note of thanks for a friend’s support after a parent’s death.

The overwhelming feeling that people said they came away with was this: Expressing long-overdue gratitude had a meaningful, positive impact for both sender and receiver.

"A Case for Finger Counting" By Youki Terada

By Youki Terada
Republished by Edutopia. View the article at the Edutopia website here

New research suggests that young children may make gains in math by counting with their fingers.

Teachers generally start telling children to stop counting on their fingers around the end of first grade—they’re learning to do math in their heads, and finger counting is sometimes seen as a crutch or even a sign of weak math ability.

A new British study published in Frontiers in Education suggests that this may be a mistake because finger counting seems to boost math learning when paired with number games.

In the four-week experiment, 137 6- and 7-year-old children were split into five groups. One group participated in finger-counting exercises such as counting from 1 to 10 using each finger, showing the correct number of fingers when told a specific number, and doing simple addition or subtraction problems using their fingers. The second group played number games (e.g., dominoes and card games). The third and fourth groups did both—they performed finger-counting exercises and played number games. The final group was the control and didn’t participate in either the exercises or the games.
 

Children who did only the finger-counting exercises improved their finger sense (the ability to mentally differentiate between fingers), while those who played number games were better able to visually gauge the relative size of pairs of dot groupings. And children who participated in both activities outperformed the control group in multiple math-related skills, including counting, ordering, comparing, and adding.

In other words, while number games slightly boosted one math skill, children experienced larger gains on a range of tests when they also used their fingers.

The authors of the study, Tim Jay and Julie Betenson, suggest an intriguing explanation for the boost: The “part of the brain that responds to number lies in close proximity to the area that is activated whenever subjects perform pointing and grasping activities.” So when we use our fingers, we also activate the areas of our brain associated with counting. This parallel processing may explain why young children benefit from finger counting.

While older students should eventually move past finger counting, there’s now a strong case to let younger students continue.

The takeaway: Don’t discourage young children from counting on their fingers—it may actually boost math learning, especially when paired with number games.