Engagement is a Two-Way Street

For kids to really learn, we need to respond to them rather than just talk or project information at them. Your responses to them are powerful, even when they’re infants that may not seem to be responding or learning as quickly as you realize.

In NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss studies on the sounds that infants learn and their ability to learn language. Studies by Tamis-LeMonda highlight the importance of the parental figure responding when a child spoke or acted. It’s the responsiveness of the parent that encourages learning, not just the baby hearing a lot of words or vocabulary; just speaking to them or having “educational” videos on won’t initiate a learning process.

When we keep in mind that engagement is a 2-way street, we may realize some opportunities that we are passing up perhaps without realizing it, because it’s habit, or just because we’re tired. When riding in the car, for instance, are we speaking with our children? If it’s been a long day and I’ve driving my daughter home, it can be very easy to just have music going on the radio. But, even if we’re just listening to music, we can chime in with questions about the child’s day, what we see, etc. In the mornings in particular, I drive my daughter to daycare and am listening to NPR news on the radio. That creates a great opportunity for talking with her about what we’re hearing. She is young, and certainly a lot of it is beyond her, but she’s gotten to the point that she’s asking questions in a wonderful way. Even, “What’s a president do?” or “Who are those groups?” (referring to Democrats and Republicans) are simple questions that she’s asked that create opportunities to talk with her about things that are important for her to learn.

Erin Leyba has a great article on other simple ways to stimulate engagement in daily life: “10 Ways to Use Walks to Teach and Bond with Young Kids”  from Psychology Today. When I go for walks with my daughter, especially when walking the dogs around the neighborhood, I like pointing out the holiday decorations. It’s a way to talk about holidays, cultural practices, ways that people are different in how and what they celebrate, and even weather changes.

There are simple ways to facilitate engagement that promote learning. Goldstein showed in studies that active responsiveness could increase learning significantly within just 10 minutes of engagement. That’s a powerful thing.

We don’t always have to be “on” as parents – no one is perfect, and we are humans with limits – but if we keep in mind what matters, engagement (talking with and reacting to our children) over simplistic exposure (propping them in front of educational videos or just talking at them), we increase the likelihood of their having higher quality experiences and potentially greater quality relationships with us as well.


For Further Reading

Goldstein, Michael H., et al. “The Value of Vocalizing: Five-Month-Old Infants Associate Their Own Noncry Vocalizations with Responses from Caregivers.” Child Development. May-Jun 2009. Vol. 80, No. 3. pp.636-644.

Tamis-LeMonda, et al. “Maternal Responsiveness and Children’s Achievement of Language Milestones.” Child Development. May-Jun 2001. Vol 72, No.3. pp.748-767.

Children Lie – Why, the Effects, and What We Can Do

No one likes being lied to, but children have a special relationship with and understanding of lying.

According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in NurtureShock, children “are much more disapproving of lies and liars than adults are; children are more likely to think the liar is a bad person and the lie is morally wrong” (p.81). The intention behind the lie is almost irrelevant to kids. It doesn’t matter if an adult lied as a result of a mistake (“Oops, I forgot that we have to go to the grocery store on the way home, so we won’t be able to go straight to the park” = lie if told that we’d go to the park first thing).

“Any false statement – regardless of intent or belief – is a lie” in the eyes of a child (p.81).

Children also start lying earlier than we may want to believe. By the time they turn 4, almost all kids have started to experiment with lying. I have a 3-year-old, and she’s been lying to me in a teasing way for quite a while now. She holds the power to lie to me, and I have no doubt that she will use it to her advantage quite frequently. “…four-year-olds will lie about once every two hours, while a six-year-old will lie about once every hour” (p.80). That seemed astounding to me when I first read that.

As a result of not wanting to acknowledge that lying is happening, we as parents may not be emphasizing problems with it. If we do not confront the lies but let them pass, thinking that kids will grow out of it, we may be allowing children to think that it’s okay. “The irony of lying is that it’s both normal and abnormal behavior at the same time. It’s to be expected, and yet it can’t be disregarded” (p.90).

Even though children lie, though, the effect of lying can have a big impact on their psyche. Adults asked in a study to recount serious lies often told stories of lies from childhood. According to Dr. DePaulo, “For young children, their lie challenged their self-concept that they were a good child and that they did the right thing.” This is why the memories of the lie stayed even decades after the event itself.

Tip: Don’t trap children in a lie, backing them into a corner so that the lie seems the only way to respond. If you know that a child did or did not do something (draw on a table, not brush teeth before bed), don’t say, “Did you do that?” in a way that they know they did something wrong. Instead, remind the child to draw on paper instead of tables, to brush teeth before reading a book, etc. We can take steps to reduce how often children lie and thus how comfortable they are doing it.

Even though ‘white lies’ can be useful, children seeing adults use them see that the parent is dishonest. If we teach them to use white lies, we still encourage children to be comfortable with being dishonest, even if the intention for the lie is kindness, like trying to spare someone’s feelings. Telling Grandma that the meal she made is delicious may be a lie, but if you’re lying because you want Grandma to feel good, to spare her feelings, there is a kind intent like noted in the video “Can Lying Ever be Kind?” embedded below. The lie protects the relationship and results from your valuing your relationship more than you value having to tell the lie. Side note: videos from School of Life are quite fascinating if you have time to browse. 

The reasoning for the lie is complex, and lying itself is complex. Being able to lie earlier is linked to better academic performance because of the thinking that lying requires. You must conceive of alternate realities and be able to try to persuade someone else of that alternative (p.82).

Lying is by far not the only topic discussed in NurtureShock. I’ve been enjoying it and would recommend it.


Stop Publicly Griping about the Normal Effects of Being a Parent

A Short Backstory

Once upon a time, I had a home office that was just the way I wanted it. I had walls painted a pale shade of blue with white trim. A purple lamp and other purple accent pieces scattered throughout. A rustic cream settee with matching pillows, coffee table, side table, desk, and desk chair. In all fairness, the desk was technically a child’s desk. I am petite, and when I saw it on sale in the store, I said, “Why not?”

Then, one of the dogs ‘nibbled’ a bit of the back of the settee. But, since the damage was in the back, I set the settee against the wall, and no one noticed.

Then I had a baby, and the office that had been just mine became used also as a play area. Gradually, more and more childish things became visible, and shelves that had just had my books on them became used for children’s books as well as toys.

Today, my office looks like the image below. This is the untidy corner where all of the toddler things tend to be moved so that the dogs can still lay down on the rug when not being used for dress up, tea parties, and building airplanes. She really loves her power drill and taking apart her plane.

My office used to be tidy

Messy is Just Fine, Thank You Very Much

This is not the way that I imagined my office would look, but I love it because of the imperfection. The mess makes this office far from magazine perfection, and certainly at a certain point, the mess must be cleaned or I simply cannot get to the things I need in the corner. But, a mess to some degree is natural, the symptom of joyous playtimes and an active child. It is a natural symptom of having a little one. If everything were perfectly placed and ordered, that would be somewhat disturbing.

Each of us has a limited amount of time, so how we choose to spend our time at the end of the day matters very much. After I put my daughter to bed, is it more important for me to make sure that my office/playroom is super tidy or that I have some time to pay bills, take care of other necessary items, and get a chance to relax? I’m going to opt for the latter, preferably the far latter of actually getting in some time to relax if I can. Fifteen minutes even of just being able to read a book is bliss at the end of the day.

The Point

I often see headlines and Twitter comments from people complaining about the messes and ‘dreadful’ things that come along with parenting. There certainly can be some terrible things, like if your child is born with a disease or illness that is incapacitating, deadly, or otherwise detrimental to the quality of life. I find it very off-putting, though, to read about people complaining about the normal, unimportant side effects of having a child. If you choose to have a child, you accept the consequences of such things as…. having a house that is harder to keep tidy, having more spots or stains on clothing, maybe having to get up early on the weekends and actually parent rather than sleeping in and then grabbing brunch with your buddies all day.

Parenting can be difficult. It’s definitely an effort, but it’s also rewarding, similar to a job. If you think about parenting as a profession, and some people do consider that their real full-time job, would you want to only be publicly demeaning your work or complaining about normal aspects? Not likely. I don’t see doctors complaining about the “gross stuff” they had to deal with during a surgery or how nasty it is to see blood. Maybe it was gross or nasty, but they have the courtesy not to be publicly demeaning their patients. Let’s not demean our children by making them feel like they’re inconvenient or ruining our lives. Even if they can’t see what’s being said now, they may grow up to see, and if we’re saying that sort of thing publicly, we’re likely saying similar things so that they can hear. We’re better than that, and I’d like to see our children growing up in a more positive world.

Embrace the normal side effects of parenting, and see the beauty in what could be seen as ‘negative.’ We can always strive for perfection, but realizing that we can never really reach it gives us the freedom to embrace our humanity and accept ourselves as we are.

We All Need to be Babied Sometimes

Wanting to be Babied Isn’t Always Developmental Regression

My daughter recently turned three and is transitioning from the toddler to preschool class at daycare. She’s also been wanting to sleep in my bed several nights a week. Are the two related? Signs point to “yes.”

When we face big challenges or changes, we may revert to babyish tendencies. As my daughter is facing that big transition in her life of going to an older classroom, she may actually be really worried about it, even if she doesn’t voice it like an adult. Her insistence on sleeping with mommy may be a way for her to find comfort in this uncertain time.

“Your child may also have some questions or concerns about starting preschool, either before or after the program begins in the fall… In fact, letting children be “babied”… often leads to them returning to their “big kid” selves sooner. Remember that your child is facing—and managing—a big change in her life. She may need more support, nurturing, and patience from you while she makes this transition” (Lerner & Parlakian, 2016).

In Brazelton’s Touchpoints: Birth to Three, he discusses the different opinions on the subject of co-sleeping. Working parents can be more likely to agree to let a child sleep in the same room for their own reasons, feeling guilty over not having been around as much during the day as a non-working parent, but for a clue as to whether it’s really good for the child or counterproductive to his/her development, he recommends examining the child’s behavior during the day. Is the child independent during the day or reverting to babyish behavior during the day as well? If it’s limited to the nighttime sleeping arrangement, there isn’t a problem and the child is progressing normally with gaining independence. Needing comfort and coddling occasionally is nothing to be ashamed of or pushed aside.

bath salts
Bathtime for mommy! WHOOT! Treat yo self.

Having been in rather stressful situations myself recently, you know what, I can appreciate and understand that. I can be the independent professional during the day, but in the evening, I want to take care of me a bit. Snuggling someone I love, taking a bath, reading a book, or watching some trashy television may not seem like regressions in adult behavior perhaps, but they are things I do for myself as comfort actions. So what if I want a piece of chocolate or to sulk in a tub for a bit? It makes it easier to get through the next day.

The Power of Peers

When I took my daughter to the aquarium a few months ago, there was a touch tank where people could touch small sharks. My daughter refused to acknowledge that she was at all afraid of the sharks, but she never would touch them. She voluntarily went to the tank area several times over the course of the day, and each time she got closer and closer to the tank and putting her hand in. I could tell she was nervous or scared, but she refused to admit it.

What is it in society that has already told her that there’s something unacceptable about being scared? Using the term “baby” as a negative term may contribute. Certainly her school friends influence her. However she’s getting the message, it was powerful to her.

And that makes me worried and intrigued about the other messages that she’s getting. Children are influenced more by their peers than by their parents in many cases (Paton, 2007).

So, while my daughter’s wanting to sleep with my may get me kicked in the ribs a few times, I cherish the snuggles I am able to get now before her peers potentially turn her into a terrible teenager.


For Further Reading:

  • smiling man holding an infantBrazelton, T. Berry. Touchpoints: Birth to Three. 2006 (Note: I highly recommend this book. Find it in a library or get your own copy if you can. It’s invaluable.)
  • Lerner, Claire and Rebecca Parlakian. “From Baby to Big Kid: Month 36”. Zero to Three: early connections last a lifetime. 2016 May 16 https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1277-from-baby-to-big-kid-month-36?
  • Paton, Grame. “Children ‘learn most from peers not parents'”. 2007 Apr 26 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1549711/Children-learn-most-from-peers-not-parents.html



Messes are Awesome!

Messy is Good! But, Yeah, It Can Be Gross

Getting messy is fun. A perfect house is a house that has not experienced the highs, and yes, lows, of joy, love, and utility. Great sex isn’t exactly always clean and tidy either. You just have to be willing to wash everything after the exuberance. And hopefully the process or outcome was worth the stains. (If it isn’t, you may want to change how or what you’re doing.)

Plan for the Messes

I bought a simple carpet for my daughter many months ago. Theoretically she can play with the images on it (pretending it’s a city street for her toy cars), but it can also just serve the purpose of containment. I put it under her craft table and chairs. When she paints on Saturday or Sunday mornings, I don’t care if paint drips onto that carpet. I wipe up what I can, but I’m not slaving over making sure that no drop shows up as a stain.

If a bit of green paint gets on the carpet, oh look, it’s a shrub near the highway image on the carpet! Even if the stains can’t be turned into something funny, so what if there’s a smudge? I’d rather my daughter enjoy her painting than care about something that cost less than $40 and will definitely get worn out in a variety of ways anyway (dogs laying on it, feet walking all over it, Playdoh getting ground deep into it, etc.)

Carpets like this are cheap and replaceable. Replace them every so often if you feel the need, but I encourage you not to let fear of imperfection get in the way of enjoyment.

Why Let Kids Make a Mess?

Kids are tactile learners. Working with Playdoh and clay are key ways to build muscle strength in little ones. I learned that by attending a  live webinar of “The Essentials of Learning through Play” with Ann Gadzikowski through Bright Horizons (the recording is available below and elsewhere online). She encourages messy activities too as a way to engage in a meaningful, educational way with the world. I encourage you to browse the webinar below if you have time.

More from the Webinar’s Presenter

I enjoyed the Gadzikowski’s webinar and added one of her books, Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms to my to-read list. If anyone has already read this, I’d be interested in your perspectives.

Invest in Yourself

So, why watch a webinar? That seems like an investment, and I work full-time. Is that really a good way to spend my time? Yes, it is.

A Chance to Learn

Webinars like this aren’t just to learn something novel. Of course I knew that playing with Playdoh is a good thing for a child to do. That’s why I keep lots of Playdoh around, and I use it every weekend constructing things with my daughter. I didn’t actually know that it could help with muscle development in that way. It makes sense when I think about it, but sometimes having something directly pointed out can make a difference.

Webinars, reading parenting books, talking with other parents, and really any way to engage the parenting part of yourself and your brain is a way to consciously focus on how you can be a better parent. Like meditation, it focuses you for just a few minutes, an hour, or more.

Consciously Practice Being a Better Parent

It may not seem like it makes a big difference at the moment, but as a conscious practice, reaching out to better ourselves in specific ways (ex. to become a better programmer, speaker, or parent) allows us the practice that leads to better, even if we never attain perfection.

We keep telling kids to practice, practice, practice. But where is our practice to be better parents? I block off time on my calendar to encourage myself to dedicate that time to focused activities like webinars, writing this blog, and more. I scheduled viewing this webinar during work time and blocked off the hour on my work calendar. My job encourages work-life balance, so this was a feasible thing to do. Do whatever works for you, whether it’s during the day or at night, videos or reading.

Focus on the Important Thing, the Child, Not the Mess,

Focusing on the end result (the pictures that are drawn and the smile on my daughter’s face) keeps me from worrying about the mess along the way (the stained carpet)


More Stuff

At-home Activity:

To make clay at home to play with, simply mix salt, flour, and water into a consistency that you find easy to handle.

For Further Reading:

Ann Gadzikowski’s blog includes an article on “Hack That Code-a-Pillar!” The article discusses ways to make the code-a-pillar silent. A friend gave my daughter one of these toys for Christmas, and I acknowledge that they can be loud. If noises drive you nuts, you may want to take a look at her instructions for how to deactivate the noisy features.