Category Archives: Toddlers

That’s a Bad Word

A few weeks ago the  Modern Family Episode “Little Bo Bleep” brought up the ever common experience of kids swearing.  While, I wasn’t impressed with the “realness” of Lily’s swearing escapade it did provide an excellent viewpoint of the options that parents tend to take when their child swears.  Cam found the swearing uncontrollably funny and Mitchell, true to character, found it inappropriate and vowed to teach Lily that it was bad to say that word. The lesson in the end is that children will swear, likely at inappropriate times, especially if they are as old as Lily is realize that using this word results in attention and laughter from others.

OK great.   Don’t laugh.  Lesson learned. We can move on to the next subject.  Yeah we all get that you aren’t supposed to laugh, but trust me, when a kid swears and it comes completely out of the blue, it will take more will power than most parents have NOT to laugh.  With a Ph.D. in child development, years working in a preschool, and decades babysitting children, most times when I hear a child swear, I have to either leave the room or shove a dish towel in my mouth to contain the laughter.  Literally just this morning I had to bury my face in a couch cushion, when out of nowhere, a friend’s 2-year-old daughter said, “No, that’s not a *BLEEPing* doll.”

To me, Modern Family failed in the realness factor with the arbitrary use of the swear word.  Most kids, actually don’t say these words completely out of the blue or without any sort of context, unless they are older and already have picked up on the fact that it is a bad word and will get some sort of reaction.  Language learning occurs through hearing adult speech and through repetition.  As children get older they begin to copy the sounds they have heard over the years. First it’s things like: “momma” “dadda” “doggie” “no”.  Then as they get older they begin putting two and three word phrases together “more please” “that’s mine” “doggie running.”  It can be around this stage when your kid might drop a swear word in a sentence they have heard before.  As children begin using full-sentences you may start to hear swear words used in an appropriate but novel context rather than a direct imitation.  We are impressed when our children hear us saying something like, “wow this dinner is delicious” and then on their own transfer it to a new context “wow, mommy, this ice cream is delicious”.  Great!  the word delicious was learned and is now being used in novel ways by our children.  Unfortunately for us, bad words are learned in the exact same way.

A good friend of mine (with a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology- so don’t worry it happens to all of us!) has a great story of when her 2-year-old went to the store with his father.  The father was in hurry and looking all over for diapers and the kid said, “Dad, where are the *Bleeping* diapers”.  The context was correct (frustration and stressed).  Placement and use of the word was correct in the sentence. Apparently the word was successfully learned.

So, word (sometimes bad word) learning happens and what’s amazing is how quickly and easily young children pick up on language.  Anyone else have a good “bad word” story they want to share to spice up our Fridays?

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Early Screening of Autism

Today in the New York Times there was a very brief article about the use of a Questionnaire to detect Autism earlier.  The New York Times did a very nice job summarizing the findings of the research.

The questionnaire used in this study was the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist (CSVS-DPIT-Checklist).  Despite the focus on Autism in this article, the questionnaire is actually used to assess a range of disorders including language delays, Autism, and global developmental delays.  In the study, pediatricians had parents complete the questionnaire for their child at the child’s 1 year pediatric check-up.  The staff at the pediatrician’s office then scored the questionnaire and reported to the doctor whether or not the child “failed” the questionnaire (indicating some sort of delay). If the child failed the parent was given a flyer referring them for treatment at the Autism Center of Excellence.

The main point from this study was that while there were some false-positives (meaning children “failed” the screening and did not end up being diagnosed with Autism later) the use of this questionnaire and screening did identify children as early as 12 months with developmental delays and got them into treatment programs earlier!   Generally, children are not diagnosed with Autism until they are over 2 years and therefore do not receive treatment until then, but with this screening tool children more children may be able to start treatment for disorders at earlier ages.  Also important to  note, the pediatricians that participated in this study are continuing to use the screening tool at the children’s 1 year old check-up.

The Autism Center of Excellence has wonderful resources including Early Warning Signs of Autism, Treatment, and general Toddler Development information.

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Video Chat

The other day I video-chatted with a friend’s daughters.  At first, the older daughter (age 5) thought it was cool to see me and talk to me, but then she quickly preferred to look at herself making funny faces in the camera.  Her sister (age 21 months), really loved the video chat and came right up to the computer and said, “hi”.  She lost interest after a few minutes but she clearly understood that she was speaking to me and came back over to say good-bye before we got off.  It seemed clear that even though this was her first video chat experience and she was less than 2 years old, she understood the concept that I was real and was speaking and interacting with her through the computer.

New research is beginning to examine video chatting and it seems that it is a new fast growing phenomenon especially with very young children.  Parents in Washington, DC use video chat to introduce their new babies to their grandparents in New Zealand.  Sisters (one in New York one in Chicago) use video chat to let their infant sons see each other.  Mom’s watch their children on live video feeds at their daycares.  And toddlers in child care use video chat to stay in touch with a former student who recently moved out of the country. Video chat is popular and it’s changing the way adults communicate and the ways infants and toddlers understand screens and 2D presentations.

Most research has shown that until children are about 2.5 years old learn better from a live demonstration compared to a video demonstration1.  That means, if I wanted to teach a young child to stack blocks in a certain way, it would be easier for the child to learn if I was sitting in the room with him teaching him how to stack the blocks than if I showed him a video of me stacking the blocks. But learning from a video chat seems to be entirely different from learning from other screens.  In a study recently presented at SRCD, 24- and 30-month old children learned words from video chats and live demonstrations  better than children that watched a video that presented the new words.  So why can children learn from video chat but not from a video?

It seems the true interaction that occurs during a live video chat is more “real” and acts in many of the same ways as a live interaction.  The person on the screen can ask questions, pause for answers, point to different objects, just like they can in “real life.”  On a TV show or video, even in programs like Dora the Explorer where they producers tried to create an interactive feel (Dora will ask a question to the audience and stop and wait for a response), young children still struggle to learn. So, for young children all screens are not the same.  Learning from a video screen in which live interaction can occur, like on video chat, is much easier for young children than learning from even a computer than has only programmed responses.

Not only can young children learn from these video chat experiences, research has demonstrated that relationships can actually be maintained through such video chat sessions (even with children as young as 17 months old)3.   A study conducted in Australia demonstrated that children were much more comfortable in a room alone when their mother was present on a live video chat than when they were entirely alone in the room without the mother3 similarly children were more comfortable in the room alone when their mother was on video chat than when she was on a speaker phone4. Results from these studies suggest that video chats may offer both learning and emotional development opportunities for very young children and that they can be used to keep children in contact with family members that live far away.


1Anderson, D. A., & Pempek, T. A. (2005).  Television and very young children.  American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 505-522.

2Roseberry, S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Richie, R., & Golinkoff, R. M. (April 2011).  Blicking through video chats: Contingent interactions help toddlers learn language.  Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

3Tarasuik, J., Galligan, R., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Maintaining familial relationships via video communication. Poster presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

4Tarasuik, J., & Kaufman, J. (April 2011).  Almost like being there: Social interactions via video link between parents and young children. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Montreal, CA

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“Hold you too”

So I have been doing my research and have been getting help and resources from others about how to help parents help their young children develop language.

A Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist friend of mine commented on the original “Hold you” post (you all should read that comment it’s quite informative and helpful) and she provided the link to this website.

Here is some of the take home points from the research I have been reading:

1. American kids tend to learn and produce nouns earlier and in more novel ways that verbs (Tomasello, Akhtar, Dodson, & Rekau, 1997). Parent tip : American parents don’t practice verbs with their young children.  We like to label things.  “Look a boat” “Is that your shirt?” “Where are your toes?”  It’s far less often that you hear parents say, “Look you are going” “Your sister is running” “I’m cooking”.  Don’t be afraid to teach your children verbs while you are labeling and teaching your child nouns.

2. The reason young kids say things like “hold you” might be because they have created a sort of template for language. Initially they follow these global rules to create sentences, even when their rules are incorrect.  For example, kids might frequently hear sentences structures with the word “you”  at the end of the sentence, “Can I hold you?” or “she is going to hug you” so they begin to understand that “you” comes at the end of a sentence and then they just insert the verbs they know before the “you” like “hold you.” (Akhtar, 1999).  As children grow and experience more language they are better able to form grammatically correct sentences.  Parent tip: There is no harm in children saying things like “hold you” when they want you to hold them, but when you hear your child saying something like this take it as a teaching opportunity.  Demonstrate to the child the differences in what things mean.  Pick her up and say, “I am holding you” and “you are holding me”.  Then pick up her sister and say, “I am holding sister.” Then pick up a doll an say “I am holding the baby” and then give the child the doll and say “Now, you are holding the baby”  By providing different examples of how the verb “holding” and where the word “you” can be used you will further expand your child’s templates of how that verb and different objects are used together.

3.  The power of overhearing.  While it is important that you speak to your child frequently for their language development, young children also learn words by overhearing others speaking (Akhtar, Jipson, & Callanan, 2001).  Older toddlers learned verbs and object labels equally well when overhearing the words as when they were addressed directly with the words.  Younger toddlers (2 year olds) were better able to learn object labels when overhearing them than action verbs (Akhtar et al., 2001).  Parent Tip:  It’s always important to speak to your child directly but remember than the conversations that are occurring around the child are also providing your child with learning opportunities to successfully learn new words too.

4. Parents tend to repeat the grammatically incorrect utterances of their children (Hirsh-Pasek, Treiman, Schneiderman, 1984).   This is not surprising to me because I completely understand how tempting it is to repeat the cute things that kids say (whether they are said correctly or not).  When a child says “hold you”, we don’t always correct them, instead we repeat what they say “hold you” which said by us is grammatically correct but by repeating it we are providing rewards for the way it is said.  This particular article didn’t’ look at the impact of mother’s repeating incorrect grammer said by child but just found that in fact, mother’s do repeat incorrect phrases.  Parenting tip: As with swear words and other “bad” things that children will spontaneously say, we have to be careful to not reward their behavior (despite how tempting it is to laugh or to repeat it).  While children will say things incorrectly and will learn on their own without parents correcting them, by repeating their mistakes you are generally rewarding the behavior.

Language learning is complex but the moral of the story is that talking to your children is important for their language development.  By speaking to your children frequently you are providing them with multiple examples of how speech is constructed and a variety of words that they will eventually incorporate into their vocabularies, plus talking with your children has emotional benefits as well.  Clearly the little girls on the train yesterday (see yesterday’s post) were just looking for someone to talk to.  Even when your children are older they are still learning and perfecting their language, so please keep talking and teaching your children!

Note that while I did do a lot of research for this post there is so much information about language learning that in no way did I do this topic justice in such a short blog post.  I’m sure there will still be more to come!


Akhtar, N. Jipson, J., & Callanan, M. A. (2001).  Learning words through overhearing. Child Development, 72, 416-430.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Treiman, R., Schneiderman, M. (1984).  Brown & Hanlon revisted: Mothers’ sensitivity to ungrammatical forms.  Journal of Child Language, 11, 81-88.

Tomasello, M., Akhta, N., Dodson, K., & Rekau, L. (1997).  Differential productivity in young children’s use of nouns and verbs.  Child Language, 24, 373-387.

Tomasello, M., & Olguin, R. (1993).  Twenty-three-month-old children have a grammatical category of noun.  Cognitive Development, 8, 451-464.


Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

“Hold You”

A friend of mine has a toddler; a very verbal toddler.  She can and will repeat anything you say, both when you are trying to get her to say it and when you aren’t.  In the car the other day, she spontaneously said, “shut up” (something she has overheard being said to the dog at home) and later that afternoon she worked her way through saying “Purplicious!”

This same little girl is in the stage of putting together 2 or more words.  She says things like “more please”, “sit down”, and “hold you”.  She uses “more please” and “sit down” correctly but she says, “hold you” when she wants YOU to hold HER, she should say, “hold me”. Hearing her say, “hold you” sparked these two questions: how do little kids go from simply repeating words and phrases to making sentences and accurately using language? How can parents help with this transition?

This is a question that I truly didn’t know how to answer so I had to go digging through the literature on language production and development.  The results of my search further solidified the need for this type of blog.  First off, there is nearly nothing that can be found about language development online that has been created for parents of typically developing children (this is psychological political correctness for “normal” kids).  Most of what you find online is how to determine and what to do if your child seems to be delayed with his or her language development.  There are charts about milestones and the numbers of words that children are supposed to say by certain ages, but there is hardly anything about how parents can help their children learn language… I could go on forever about what is not out there, but the point is I dug into the literature (the millions of research-based journal articles that have been published in journals that most of the public doesn’t have access to without paying a hefty fee) and found some very wordy, complex, research about language development that I have been struggling to understand.  How in the world a mother with a full time job and two kids could find the time and energy to possibly dig up, read, and understand all of this is beyond me.  So I’m doing it for you. That is the point of this blog and I’m really glad that I can help translate some of this jargon-filled research into information that parents can actually use and understand.

Since I  have been reading a lot of research articles on this topic (and struggling through some of the particularly complex ones), it’s going to take a couple days for me to actually answer this question, but until then here is a very basic “how to” video about teaching your child to talk- but unfortunately it doesn’t answer my original question.  And  here is another very interesting, scientific video about young children learning to speak- at 3:45  he starts talking about his son’s language development. (Note this video is very long but really interesting if you have the time to watch it)


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Lets Read!

Reading is undeniably one of the most prominent and accepted “good parenting” practices in the United States.  In a country that loves to debate the quality of everything, literacy has really never been questioned. Pregnancy books tell you to start reading to your child before the baby is born and you are expected to read to your child forever and always!  The US Department of Education Reading is Fundamental has a nice article about Reading with your Child that talks about when to start and how to make reading a part of your child’s life.
I find that many parents understand the importance of reading to their children, but there is very little advice about what to read, how to pick books, how long to spend reading, etc.  So here is my quick Reading Guide to reading with your pre-reader. (I will post later about working with your child to learn to read.)
What makes a kids book a good book?
The good thing with children’s books is they are generally short so you can, and SHOULD, take the time to read through books before you select one and check for some of the following criteria:
  • Age Appropriate.  This can be hard to determine, but a good place to start is to look at the age recommendations that often appear on children’s books or on   Also, consider the number of words per page and the type of vocabulary used in the book.  Too many words will test the attention span and interest of a young child and books filled with words that are too challenging for the child (or the parent for that matter) will disrupt the flow of the story and will potential hinder comprehension.  The nice thing about technology is that you can now “look inside” books online before purchasing them online.  This will give you a better idea of the words per page and the vocabulary in each book.  Also ask your librarian about what books might be appropriate for your child given their age and developmental abilities.  Parenting Magazine offers books for Building Baby’s First Library.
  • Comprehensible Storyline.  If the book you choose doesn’t seem to make any sense to you, it’s likely not going to make sense to your child.  Part of the reasons reading to your child is so important is it helps build language and literacy skills.  One important literacy skill is reading comprehension so begin to build on this skill early by selecting books that your child can understand and by asking questions about the book to ensure the child is “getting it”.
  • Interesting topics.  Kids like what they like.  Some kids love cars, trucks, boats, and planes others love princesses, worms, dinosaurs, or stories about food.  Find books that are about things that interest your child but don’t be afraid to try new ideas or story lines.  If your kid is obsessed with cars make connections between cars and other things like animals.  For example, get a book about animals and show your child that elephants move slowly like big trucks and instead of saying “beep beep” lions say “roar”.
Where to find good books?
  • Go to the Library!  Librarians offer all sorts of knowledge about new good kids books and the kids rooms at libraries around the country are really fantastic.  Also libraries and bookstores often offer story times when children can all sit together and have a story read to them. This is a great opportunity to find new books and to make new friends.
How much should you read reading?
  • There really isn’t one set answer to this question, although the Children’s Reading Foundation suggests 20 minutes a day.  Really the best answer is to try to make a routine out of reading and make sure you do it daily.  Many families like to read books as a downtime activity before a child goes to bed.  But kids often love books and reading can be sprinkled in throughout the day with other activities.  Keep books in your playroom and your children’s room at a level where your child can reach them so they can take them out as they please.  In between coloring and building a tower suggest reading a book or even bring a few books with you to the park and read when your kids need to cool down or are eating a snack.

What are some benefits of reading?

  • Positive impact on children’s language and cognitive skills (See SRCD report).
  • Reading aloud with your young children has positive effects on bonding between parent and child
  • Builds listening and attention skills


Fletcher,K. L. & Reese, E. (2004).  Picture book reading with young children: A conceptual framework. Developmental Review, 25, 64-103.

University of Michigan Health System YourChild Development & Behavior Resources.  PDF on Langauge & Literacy Development

Reading Rockets  Reading Tips for Parents.  This resource provides Tips for Parents of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and 1st- 3rd graders.

Reach Out and Read Reading Tips.  This resource offers very basic reading tips for parents.

Scholastic offers advice on picking age-appropriate books for slightly older children here.

Huffington  Post Article on Reading IS Fundamental by Christal Watts Deb 29, 2010.

National Education Association Read Across America

Parenting Magazine Building Babies First Library

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Intro to Childcare

Guest Blog Post

by Beth Meloy

Often, as a Child Care Researcher, I get questions from friends, family members, and sometimes even total strangers about the benefits of childcare for their children and how to pick a childcare arrangement.  The truth is, as with most parenting decisions, there isn’t one correct answer.  Luckily there is plenty of research on the topic, and we do know a couple of things that can help guide parents as they make this important decision.

What are the benefits of childcare for your child?  The answer to this question largely depends on the alternatives. We know that child care, especially preschool/ pre-Kindergarten programs boost cognitive test scores, increase school readiness, and can even impact long-term outcomes (visit these sites for findings from a few high profile studies: The Carolina Abecedarian Project, High Scope Perry Preschool Study, Gormley, Phillips, Gayer, 2008. However, most of this research is derived from samples of low-income children, and when studies compare children by family income, they find that more disadvantaged children derive greater benefits from childcare and pre-K.

When you are making a decision for your own child, it is important to consider the alternatives.  Childcare can be beneficial for children if it places them in a more stimulating, sensitive, and/or secure environment.  That said, if your child is very young (under 3) and the alternative is staying home with you—the sensitive and instructive primary caregiver- then there is no rush to put your child into childcare.

The most important factor is the quality of the experience for your child (See Burchinal, 1999).  For young children, the highest quality experience may be staying at home with a parent.  For older children, it may be a preschool program.  And for parents who work, cannot stay home, or want their child to enter childcare, the goal should be to find the highest quality arrangement, and the best fit for their child.

Not sure how to find a “high quality” child care arrangement or preschool program?  Here are some helpful guidelines and tips:

(1)  Research. Currently, twenty-three states have implemented Childcare Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS).  Like the rating systems for hotels or restaurants, QRIS assesses childcare settings based on program standards. A full list of states that have these systems and their websites is available here.   For example, if you live in Illinois and are considering childcare for your child you can go here and click on Licensed Child Care Centers & School-Age Programs and it will give you a 10 page pdf document listing all of the centers by county.

In addition, several states have public pre-K programs.  Find out if your state has one, and how they measure-up by visiting the National Institute for Early Education Research.  If your state isn’t on either of these sites, a simple google search, asking other parents, and looking at local parenting websites for advice is always a good place to start!  Another great resources is Child Care Aware which provides information about locating high-quality child care, parent information, helpful tools, resources, and newsletters.

When you find a center that you are interested in, you should also ask to tour the facilities and meet the prospective caregivers.  Again, trust your gut, if something feels off when the facility ought to be putting its best foot forward (to get your business), you could be picking up on something important that you don’t want to expose your child to.

(2) Child’s Age. Your child’s age may be particularly important when making the decision of where to place your child.  For young children, informal arrangements, such as those with relative caregivers, nanny care, or home-based childcare may be best.  Lower adult to child ratios are associated with higher quality care for infants and toddlers (NICHD ECCRN, 2007).  As your child gets older, it becomes more important to help them get used to school-like settings.  Childcare centers, and especially high quality preschool programs may be a good way to do this.   Think about it this way—you wouldn’t throw your child in the deep end of a pool without first teaching them to swim.  Kindergarten is a scary place with lots of rules and expectations.  High quality center care and/or preschool programs, like swimming lessons, will help teach your child the skills they need to succeed in school  (See Pre-K Now).

(3) Center Care vs Home-Based Care. Both center-based and home-based child care offer benefits and disadvantages. Home-based care may be more flexible with your work hours and are more likely to mix age groups (more sibling interaction).  However, center-based childcare is usually higher quality than family day care.  Childcare centers also tend to be more educationally focused… they are geared more towards learning and preparing children for school, so they are particularly beneficial for older children when compared to home-based day care options (Loeb, Fuller, Lynn, & Carrol, 2004). That said, parents can usually trust their gut on these things, not all childcare centers are better than all family care centers, and most importantly, not all child care centers are high quality (Love et al., 2003, Fuller. Kagen, Loeb, & Chang, 2004).

(4) Stability.  Find a childcare arrangement that works for you and stick with it.  From the childcare research we know that stability matters!  Stability in childcare can be defined in terms of stability of the childcare center (the physical building) and stability of the caregiver.  Ideally, the arrangement you choose for your child will be stable for both. Each arrangement has different expectations (rules and routines) and entering a new arrangement involves navigating new relationships (with the caregiver and with peers).  Switching up the game too often will be stressful for your child.  When you are choosing a childcare program, it is important to find a good fit, so that you are less likely to move your child mid-year.  Consider the center’s policies.  If your child will age out of the center after a few months, or even a year, you may want to look for a different arrangement. Read all about childcare stability and its potential impacts on your child’s development by going here.

So, what is the take home message?  Choosing childcare is all about considering the alternatives, finding a high-quality program—and one that is a good fit for you—and sticking with it.  There are tools out there to help guide your decision, but in the end it’s all about knowing yourself, knowing your child, and going with your gut.

About the Author:

Beth Meloy is a fifth-year student in the Dual MPP/PhD program working with Deborah Phillips at Georgetown University. Her research interests include the effects of early education (child care) programs on subsequent cognitive development (particularly for minority and low-income children), as well as the effect
of involvement with the child welfare system on child development. Her current research focuses on the effects of type, stability, and quality of childcare on young children with special needs and young children in foster care. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005 and her MPP from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in 2008. Email Beth at

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