Communication is the cornerstone of emotional growth

Understanding, and being understood are essential to emotional development. We communicate with more than words: how we say them adds a layer of meaning. Our body language, tone, facial expression and actions are all part of our message.

Through the layers of meaning in words, actions, expressions, and tone of voice, we make our needs, preferences and desires known to others. And through these forms of communicating we get a chance to understand others better. Developing your skills at reading the message behind the acts and words means you can be a better friend, parent, spouse, or family member.

Even before children are born they begin the process of discovering and exploring themselves and their relationship with the world. The sound of mother's heartbeat, the rhythm of her walk, her cycles of waking and sleep, the distant sound of her voice, and those around her, the taste of amniotic fluid, the sensation of his thumb in his mouth, all are part of the unborn child's environment. He's already learning.

The newborn moves from this knowledge of the womb and his body within it, to a new environment of information, light, sound and actions. He's ready to start learning to be your child, but your adventure together has already begun.


Happy Thanksgiving

Whether you're heading over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house, or heading out for a vacation somewhere warm, and even if you're alone this year because it's your ex's turn to have the kids this year, I wish you all a warm and lovely Thanksgiving, and a peaceful and happy holiday season.


How expensive is a rich environment?

Whenever I hear a young couple fret about the cost of raising a child these days, I cringe a little. Sure, there are some unavoidable expenses, like a good sturdy stroller, a crib that isn't on a recall list, and of course, the right car seat. And a good doctor. And a trustworthy sitter. But what about the rich learning environment? How expensive are the best educational toys, and how many should you buy in order to keep your child on an optimum learning curve?

Oh, brother. You may not realize this, but you already have pretty much all the tools you need to help your child learn at his developmental stage. Look around the kitchen. Budding scientists love to play in the sink, so fill it part way with water, pull a kitchen chair over and stand with your toddler as he uses your measuring cups and spoons, filling and emptying cups and pans. What is he learning? Different size cups hold different amounts of water: that's the concept of "conservation" toddlers must learn in order to judge volume. But he's also learning other great scientific concepts, like the difference between solids and liquids, between warm and cold, on and off, fast and slow, and so on.

Make playdough with your child from the classic recipe:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or baby oil for a scent)
1 1/2 cups water
food coloring

Blend the dry ingredients together (even small children can do this with a wooden spoon in a plastic bowl), add the oil and slowly dribble in the water (or let your child ladle it in as you knead) until you get that playdough texture. Divide into 4 equal size balls and add a few drops of food coloring, and knead it in. Voila! As much fun to make as it is to model.

Even toilet training can get a low-cost boost from your household supplies. Cut a circular "target" out of colored tissue and drop it in the potty, and encourage your child to "hit the target" -- this works with girls too (it's just a tad more complicated, since she'll want to see where she's aiming).

Back issues of magazines can make a great sorting game for older toddlers. Cut out colors, shapes and sizes and let your child play a matching game. Or make it a lesson on emotional intelligence: cut out faces that express different feelings. Name and label these expressions, and talk about what they mean with your child. Ask your child what she thinks the person is feeling, which face matches how she herself feels.

Keep a box of old clothes for "dress up" games. There should be assorted outfits, accessories and shoes. Role playing games are a vital part of learning: kids not only learn how to imagine what other people do and act it out, they also learn vital thinking skills, including planning, decision making, memory or retention, and cooperation. It even helps your child's early literary and language skills.

Of course there are some great educational toys out there, but not one of them beats a good imagination and a little ingenuity.


The case against Princesses

It's understandable that parents want to give their daughters a sense of self esteem and self confidence, and there are many tools to do so. There are also some short cuts, and the "princess" trap is one of them. Unfortunately, short cuts in parenting often lead to trouble. It's one thing for a child to play princess as part of a game, but things get out of hand when the child comes to believe she's to be treated like royalty wherever she goes.

Children need to do for themselves, and that means parents are wise to avoid catering to them. They also need to learn that everyone around them has feelings and needs just like they do. The princess treatment works against this natural part of emotional development. Princesses don't play in the sandbox, share their toys or cooperate with commoners. They have extremely high expectations and demands.

It's better to let your daughter be the real child she is, with lots of roles to try out, and things to explore, than to teach her that she's better than anyone else (including you).

Remember, while that pretty princess is adorable as can be, she's also a tyrant. And that's not going to be so pretty when she's trying to land her first job.


Toddler Proofing

One of the easiest ways to develop a good discipline strategy with your baby is to make sure that wherever baby goes, the area is safe to explore and investigate. While some may tell you that there's no reason you can't just teach the child not to touch things that are dangerous or fragile, think about what that really means. You'd have to have your eye on your child every second, and follow behind them, moving them, warning them, essentially preventing them from doing the very thing they need to do most: learn. It may feel like you're teaching them to behave properly, but toddlers can't remember that many rules. When you baby proof, you simplify the environment to help prevent unnecessary negative interactions with your child. You can then focus on positive, encouraging words and actions, creating a space for your child to share her enthusiasm and discovery with you.

There are lots of things to think about for your baby proofed area, but the easiest way to do it is to just get down to your baby's eye level and look around. Sharp corners? Fragile or heavy things on shelves within reach? Even if your baby can't climb yet, think ahead as you look. Maybe he can't reach the top shelf, but can he get up onto the bottom one and reach up? Could he grab the table cloth and pull dinner down on his head? As your child grows you can adjust your methods to adapt to his new skills and height.


Can Toddlers Problem Solve?

One of the questions parents often ask is, how can a toddler possibly learn to solve things for themselves? Fact is, even babies are beginning to use reasoning skills, as they work by trial and error to master their world. It takes patience on a parent's part to encourage children to figure things out for themselves, but keep in mind, this is what your baby's meant to do! Whether it's figuring out how to bring that toy to his mouth, or how to get her choochoo train out from under the kitchen chair, your child is using the same problem solving processes that you do, and you can use these early lessons to help develop self discipline skills.

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies