Speaking Nicely


It’s amazing how many times I have said to children “Who are you talking to like that?”  

I have said it after a toddler has refused to clean up and says something like, “I’m NOT cleaning up!  You clean it up!” with the stubbornness and attitude that only a “terrible 2” can exhibit. I have said it to 8 year-olds when they are yelling at their siblings.  I have said it to teenagers and tweens when they are demanding that life is not fair and they should be allowed to do whatever it is that I have just said “no” to.  

There are other people and times where I have wanted to but didn’t say, “Who are you talking to like that?!”

I haven’t said it at the supermarket when I have heard a father snapping and swearing at his kids for touching all of the cereal boxes.  I haven’t said it on the bus when I have heard a mom angrily telling her preschooler to “shut up”.  I haven’t said it to teachers who are fed up and yell at their classroom of middle schoolers who are acting up. And I haven’t said to to myself when I have had a bad day and snap unnecessarily at the people I love.  

But maybe I should.  The question of “who are you talking to like that?” is a good one and it’s one that we as adults need to remember to ask of ourselves too.  Children are tough.  They are going to push buttons, they are going to act out, they are going to explore the world at times when you don’t have time or don’t want them to do it (e.g. checking out all the cereal boxes at the supermarket).  But we need to check ourselves, continuously.  How are we speaking to our children and to other members in the family? Would we want our children or other people talking to us the way we are talking to them? Probably not.

A mom at meeting today said, “sometimes, as parents, we just flip our lid.”  She continued to talk about how she tries to remember to speak positively to her children even when she is the most frustrated.  She mentioned that she has a sheet of nice phrases to say to your child; things like, “you are fantastic” or “nice job!”.  She said she puts that sheet on her refrigerator to help her to remember to speak nicely to her children both when she is “flipping her lid” and when she she is not. This post is a reminder to speak nicely.  Especially to our children, and especially at the times when they really are pushing our buttons.



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Amazing Moms

I remember one mother’s day when I asked my  mom why she got a Mother’s day and I never got a Kid’s day?  She explained, “everyday is kid’s day.”  It’s true.  Everyday is kid’s day. Our moms deserve more than a lovely breakfast in bed or a huge bouquet of flowers… the problem is what our moms are owed cannot be bought, delivered, or made.  There is no way to give back and appreciate our moms the way they should be appreciated.   But every year for one day, we try to in some way say “Thank you mom.  You are the best. And I couldn’t have done any of it without you!”

Thank you mom.  Thank you moms for giving birth to us.  We know that probably wasn’t your favorite moment, but we should start there.  Thank you moms for all of the free-labor jobs you have taken on for us:  being our taxi driver, teacher, personal assistant, public relations person, coach, monster catcher, fashion designer, hair stylist, cheerleader, counselor, sounding board, emotional rock, alarm clock, personal chief, personal ATM, motivator…. the list goes on.  Thank you for your patience, your hugs, and your reminders that everything will be OK.  Thank you for waking us up for school, teaching us to love learning, and to always try our hardest and give our best.   Thank you for listening: when we were afraid  about monsters under the bed,when we were anxious  about starting kindergarten, when that mean girl teased us,  when we first got our hearts broken, when we were excited about getting into college, when we were panicked  about not finding a job, when all of life’s challenges feel like they are built up and about to crash.  Thank you for ALWAYS loving us even when we were at our toughest, most miserable stages.  Thank you mom.

You are the best.  Moms you are the best when we needed a hug, or a cuddle, or just a shoulder to cry on.  Moms you are the best when we just want someone to talk to.  Moms you are the best because you always know just what to say, and you always do the right thing, even when we tell you you are always doing it wrong.  Moms you are the best because you have patience, love, and giving unlike anyone else we have ever met.  Moms you are the best because you are able to give your everything for someone else. Moms, you are the best.

I couldn’t have done it without you.  Moms, we couldn’t have done it without you.  We wouldn’t have been dressed for school; our hair would have been all crazy and we would have gotten teased. We wouldn’t have arrived at soccer practice on time.  We wouldn’t have gotten our homework done. We wouldn’t have learned to be nice and kind and treat others the way we wanted to be treated.  We wouldn’t have applied for college.  We wouldn’t have learned to drive a car.  We wouldn’t have learned to be strong and powerful adults.  We wouldn’t have learned that we could do it all.  We wouldn’t have tried things that seemed too hard.  We wouldn’t have learned to love and give back without you.  Moms, we couldn’t have done any of it without you.

As my mother said, “everyday is kid’s day.”  Our moms get one day a year despite the fact they should be recognized, appreciated, and loved every moment of every day.  So on your one official day, moms, please remember that you are an amazing mother.  We thank  you.  You are the best! And we couldn’t have done any of it without you! WE LOVE YOU!

Send me pictures of you and your children or you and your mothers and I will happily add them onto this post: playlearnparent@gmail.com

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So many choices, how to decide?!

I feel this way about almost everything infant/kid related these days.  Need to buy a stroller? How do you decide when there are new top stroller lists coming out ever week that range from $25 to $1000!  Need a new car seat?  Good luck!  There are options for infants, toddles, preschoolers, elementary schoolers and then there are the “convertibles” car seats that can grow with your child, so you don’t have to buy a new one ever year.  What about children’s books?  We all have been taught not to “judge a book by its cover” so then how are we supposed to decide what books to get from the library- or an even more costly of a decision-from the store (don’t get me started on the question of whether we should buy e-books or traditional books for children!).  Diapers?  Its not just cloth diapers or not but what brand do you buy for either cloth or disposable?  The “so many choices, how to decide?” is an overwhelming issue for parents related to just about everything!

Likely there will be a post about each of this topics listed above in the future, but today I’m going to focus on children’s media.  Again, “So many choices, how to decide?!”  Here we have the problem of platform.  First, you have to decide whether your child is going to use a TV, DVD, book, movie at the movie theater, computer, touchscreen tablet (e.g., iPad), smartphone, etc.  That’s just decision number one.  Lets say you have made that decision.  Say you just got a new ipad and you want to download  a few good apps for your child. How in the world do you pick?  Well here are some things to think about first:

1.  Child.  How old is your child (think both about age and general developmental ability).  Is your child 2 but extremely verbal and speaking at an older level?  Is your child 6 but struggling with reading and numbers?  These are all things to think about before searching for an app.

2.  Content.  What type of content are you looking for?  Are you looking for a game that will help your child practice literacy skills? Addition and subtraction?  Social skills?  Are you looking for something that your child will be engaged in and willing/wanting to play for hours or something that he can play for 10 minutes and then put away and do another activity?

3.  Context.  Where will your child be using this app? In the car on a long trip? With a teacher at school? With dad while dinner is being prepared? With a younger sister in the living room? Or maybe playing virtually against a grandparent in a different state.  All of these contexts influence how your child will be using and engaging with this app.

(See ScreenTime by Lisa Guernesy and her article in Huffington Post: Screen Time,  Young Kids and Literacy: New Data Begs Questions)

Ok, now that you have thought about these difficult questions.  How do you decide what app(s) to download for your child?


1.  You can search the appstore (or playstore) depending on your device and see what are listed as popular according to the store.

2.  You can download a bunch of free apps and then play them to determine which one is best for your child, given the content you want to learn, and the context the child will be engaging with the app.

3.  You can ask other parents, read reviews, or check blogs that rate apps.

4.  You could look for a company that you like and trust and see if they have created an app and try that one.

All of these are valid options for selecting an app for your child, but here is another one that many parents might not know about.  Common Sense Media provides in depth reviews of media (all types of media!) on their website-which can be a great first stop when searching for children’s media.  Common Sense Media allows parents to search through their database of reviews based on their child’s age, the type of content (app, movies, videogames, etc) or by topic (e.g., internet safety, physical health, etc).  This is a great first stop when trying to answer the never-ending question of “so many choices, how to decide?!”

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How kids watch TV

One of the goals of this blog was to bring child development research to the hands of parents, child care professionals, and others that are just interested in knowing what is happening with kids and research!    Well today I have some fun and interesting (and really well done) child development research!

In the most recent journal of Child Development there is a fabulous article about how people (infants, preschoolers, and adults) watch TV.  This study is fascinating!

Drs. Heather Kirkorian, Daniel Anderson, and Rachel Keen used eye-tracking software to examine where infants, preschoolers, and adults were looking on a television screen when watching a video. Their finding is pretty interesting- infants, kids, and adults do NOT watch TV in the same ways.  Maybe not surprisingly, parents are much more focused when they watch TV- they follow the cues from the program, like sound effects and various cuts and zooms very well and are able to direct their attention quickly and easily to the part of the screen that really is providing the most essential information.  This is not too surprising.  Adults have been watching TV for their whole lives and like everyone’s parents always say, “practice makes perfect.”  This seems to be true with TV viewing.  It takes time and practice for us to get used to the medium and how the information is presented.

That’s interesting, but generally very few people are concerned about adults’ TV viewing.  The hot topic issue (still!) is exposure to screens in infancy (see the NYT article about the American Academy of Pediatrics recent recommendation).  The questions about whether infants and toddlers can learn anything from a screen and whether they should be watching at all are important and challenging questions (that I’m not going to attempt to answer here).  Instead lets focus on the data!  This study shows that when infants (1-year-olds) watch TV their eye movements are more scattered and less focused than the movements of older children (4-year-olds) or adults.  (Preschool children’s eye movements seem to fall in between infant and adults- they are less focused than adults but more focused than infants!)

The authors also found that when there was a cut from one scene to another, adults and older children adjust and orient their eye gaze almost immediately to the new content whereas infants take a few seconds to get oriented to the new scene.  This is an important concept for parents and media creators to recognize.  If infants take a few extra seconds to just get their eyes in the right place on the screen when a program has cuts to new scenes it likely will take them a few more seconds to process what they are seeing on the screen.  By this time many programs have already changed to another new scene, causing this process to repeat! Therefore programs that have very rapidly changing scenes are likely going to be very difficult for these youngsters to follow both visually and in terms of learning.

Tip for Parents: Next time you are watching TV (either with or without your children) focus on scene changes.  See if you can count or keep track of how frequently the screen cuts or changes to a new scene.  It’s amazing when you stop and focus on this, you realize how complex TV viewing is and how challenging it might be for a very young brain to follow!


Age Differences in Online Processing of Video: An Eye Movement Study (pages 497–507)
Heather L. Kirkorian, Daniel R. Anderson and Rachel Keen
Article first published online: 30 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01719.x

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Executive Function

What I really love about child development is many of the concepts and ideas really, truly make sense to most people. Unlike many other fields, the terms that developmental psychologists use to describe concepts are usually pretty straight forward. For example, “Attachment” yep, it means exactly what it says, how well attached- or emotionally connected-is the child to an adult caregiver.“Reinforcement” and “punishment”, clear as day, reinforcement occurs when you do something to increase the chances of a behavior happening again (e.g., giving a child and M&M when they use the potty during toilet training) and punishment is something you do when you want to stop a behavior from happening again (e.g., time outs as punishment for hitting a sibling).
Of course there are quite a few concepts that have wacky names that don’t seem at all intuitive to most parents.  What am I talking about? Things like Executive Functioning… To me this sounds like something that is done in a large, stuffy board room, with a bunch of people dressed in suits, in order to get some big deal accomplished. (Much like The Apprentice Boardroom below)

When it comes to child development Executive Functioning, is actually a really interesting and almost overwhelming concept.  And actually the name is a pretty accurate description if you can disassociate the term “executive” from “businessperson”. Executive functioning is the group of mental processes that a child uses to achieve a range of goals. That makes perfect sense, right? No it doesn’t! Executive function is really hard to explain because it encompasses a whole bunch different mental processes (meaning things that you do in your head!).

Its easier to understand executive functioning by understanding some of the parts that make up the whole:

Attention: The ability to focus attention when needed is an important part of children’s executive functioning. For example, a child’s ability to sit still and read a book or their ability to attend to a long list of directions before starting an activity.
Working Memory: This is the ability to keep something in mind and to pull it out of memory when you need it. This can be something like remembering to take out the garbage after you finish your homework or remembering to complete all parts of multi-step math problem.
Task Shifting: This is the ability to switch between tasks and directions depending on the situation. For example, in music class children may play freeze dance. Children have to understand the rules of the game and shift and adjust their behavior depending on whether the music is playing (they can dance) or if it turns off (they must stop).
Inhibition: This is a child’s ability to STOP their behavior. For example, if you leave a cookie out on the table and tell a toddler not to touch it until you come back, you are testing his inhibition skills (same goes for adults!). (The image above of a child with 2 marshmallows is a classic executive functioning task)
These are just a few of the concepts that fall under the umbrella of executive functioning. Planning, flexible thinking, problem solving, and multi-tasking also play a role.

Why should parents care or think about executive functioning? Well, executive functioning skills tend to be highly correlated with a range of academic abilities. Kids who have better executive functioning skills (meaning kids who can pay attention, inhibit their behavior, plan activities, switch and adjust appropriately to directions, etc) tend to better in school (Blair & Razza, 2007;Bull, Espy, & Wiebe, 2008; Graziano, Reavis, Keane, & Calkins, 2007).

It is important for parents to understand that this is a developmental process.  Executive function skills develop over time- a long time!  Some research suggests that the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain behind your forehead that is largely responsible for controlling executive functions) doesn’t fully develop until your 20’s (Department of Health and Human Services)!  So parents, be aware of executive functioning skills with your children and  practice and reinforce behavior that is related to executive functioning (attention: sitting still; inhibition: no hitting, etc) but remember that these skills are developing and will be developing for quiet some time!

Note: Lindsay Lohan is 25 years old (DOB July, 1986).  Her prefrontal cortex and executive functioning abilities are likely not fully developed yet.

Blair, C. and Razza, R. P. (2007), Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten. Child Development, 78: 647–663. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01019.x
Bull, R., Espy, K. A., Wiebe, S. A. (2008). Short-term memory, working memory, and executive functioning in preschoolers: Longitudinal predictors of mathematical achievement at age 7 years. Developmental Neuropsychology, 33, 205-228.
Graziano, P.A., Reavis,R.D., Keane, S.P.,& Calkins,S.D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success, Journal of School Psychology, 45, 3-19.

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Child Care Options

Just the other day, I was talking to a soon-to-be father!  In the excitement of the new baby news we discussed the gender of the baby, the due date, and whether or not they were going to tell the baby’s name.  Very basic, “so you are having a baby” conversation.  And like most soon-to-be parents, they had figured out their doctor, birthing plan, and were now at the stage of figuring out childcare.  Yes, in America, it seems that planning for childcare is something that many parents do well before the baby is born and often times well before the baby is even conceived!

Sadly, that is the state of affairs for American families.  Before you have a baby you need to figure out who the heck is going to take care of that baby, likely for up to 50 hours a week!  So what are the options for new parents? Good public schools? Yes but unfortunately, public kindergarten doesn’t start for about 5 more years, if you are lucky to live in one of the few states with a universal Pre-K program you may have only 4 years to worry about… So what are parents to do for the first 4 years?

Best Option:.  Win the lottery, quit your job, and get a PhD in child development and an MD in pediatrics and stay at home with your baby.

If that doesn’t work out for you here are your alternatives to consider and evaluate in  your area:

1.  Center Based Care.  An expert in child care Beth Meloy posted about the details of childcare on PlayLearnParent back in February of 2011.  There are a lot of options and a lot of resources out there for helping you to pick a quality child care program.  Child care programs can introduce your children to other kids, teach lessons about sharing, encourage social-emotional development, etc.  But with very little ones be sure to ask what the teacher to infant ratio is.  At  under 1 year of age, love, comfort, attention, and interaction by a caring adult is crucial for healthy development, so make sure the center can offer lots of one-on-one time for your baby.

2.  At Home Child Care.  These programs can range dramatically so be sure to spend time to learn as much as possible about the specific family center that you are interested in.  Generally at home child care is offered at someone’s home.  Usually, the provider has fewer children in her care than a center based program but there is often a larger range of ages of children in her care.  Many programs will have 1 infant, a couple toddlers, and a few preschool-aged children all in the same room for the day.  Whereas center based program usually break kids into classrooms based on their age or developmentally ability.  Most at home child care centers will only take 1 or 2 infants at a time whereas centers can have upwards of 15 infants.  Again, ask about adult to child ratios and be aware that infants and toddlers need more one-on-one attention.  At home child care centers are usually at someone’s home so it is important to ask about the facilities available.  Are there separate rooms for sleeping? What type of outdoor area is there for playing?  Remember that children of different ages have different needs.  Ask how the program maintains safety for each of the different children (for example, infants and toddlers can easily fall down stairs where as 4 year olds are much more capable of maneuvering around these obstacles).

3.  Nanny.  If staying at home full-time with your baby is not an option for you, consider hiring a nanny to spend that time with your child.  Your child will become attached and comfortable with a nanny (don’t worry your child will not love the nanny more than you!) and the nanny can offer many of the affordances that you would have if you stayed at home with your child.  Some benefits include: more individual attention, interaction, and care as well as keeping your child in your home so they can sleep in their own crib and play with their own toys.  Nanny’s of course can be quite expensive depending on where you live, between $15 and $25 an hour is not unheard of (that can cost more than $600 per week!).

4.  Nanny Share.  This is the new hot thing in many metropolitan areas and is exactly what it sounds like- families with babies will share a nanny. Rather than each family paying $600 a week for a nanny, two families get together, generally with children of similar ages, and hire a nanny to watch both kids.  Prices vary for the nanny but this can often save families up to 50% on childcare costs.  Nanny shares can offer benefits beyond just monetary ones.  By sharing a nanny you can rotate who’s house the nanny comes to, which increases your child’s access to new toys, parks, and experiences.  Of course sharing a nanny with another kid can also help your child develop their social emotional skills like sharing and patience like they would get in childcare but with a 1 adult to 2 kid ratio which provides lots of interaction and time for hugs and kisses!

5.  Get Creative.  Yes, babies do well when they have routines but that doesn’t mean you cannot be creative with your child care schedule.  Some creative things I have recently heard about. A friend of mine did a different kind of nanny share, she only needed childcare for 2 days while her friend needed child care for 3 days, so they split the nanny that way and kept the nanny busy 5 days a week but still got one-on-one care for their babies.  My mom nanny’s for twins in the middle of the day during the week, the mom goes into work early and comes home early, and the dad goes into work late and comes home late, to decrease the amount of child care time/costs.  Another friend is a dentist and is going to opt to work Saturdays instead of a workday so she can be with the baby at home one day a week and the father can stay with the baby on Saturday.  Share child care time with friends and family.  Offer to watch a friend’s kids on Tuesday evenings when they have late meetings in exchange for them watching your kids monday mornings when you have to teach a class, etc.  Bring on the family members!  If you have family in the area (especially retired grandparents) see if they want to participate in child care responsibilities (but please do not drop this expectation on them!).

 *REMEMBER* In all cases be sure to ask for multiple references! You want to ask a range of parents about their experiences leaving their children in this person’s or center’s care.


Day Care: Choosing a Good Center FamilyDoctor.org

Choosing a Day Care Provider ivillage


How to Hire a Baby Nanny



About Nanny Shares:

BabyCenter Nanny Shares

Nanny Network Nanny Share


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Valentine’s Day, Teaching About Love

Valentine’s Day, much like Halloween, is a holiday that kids love, primarily for the candy.  But the nice thing about Valentine’s Day is it’s about love and kindness and these are two very important concepts for children to learn about while they are young and throughout their life.  With all of the conversation about preventing negative behaviors (e.g., bullying prevention) it seems like we, as parents and teachers, get caught up in telling our children how not to behave rather than focusing on encouraging and empowering them to behave in a way that we want them to.  So here are a couple of ideas to teach your kids about love and kindness (both today and throughout the year) and I’m going to throw empathy in here as well because it’s just so important for acting with kindness.

Making Cards.  Valentine’s day cards are a very popular activity and one that can be a wonderful teaching opportunity when it is done with thought and care.  Kids generally have to send cards to everyone in their class, work with your child to think about each child as you address the card for each classmates.  Depending on the age of your child, have your child either write or say one nice quality about that classmate.  For example, “I like how Naomi shares the blocks with me.”  Making cards for friends and other people for other occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or first day of school is a nice way to remind your children about the importance of thinking about other people’s feelings and working to make them feel special and happy.

Get Creative.  Help your child think of novel ways to tell their friends and family that they love them.  Encourage your child to draw pictures, write a story, or make up a song of a time when they were nice to a friend or when a friend was especially nice to them.  By working with your child to create something you open up the opportunity for conversation and discussion about the different behaviors or experiences that make people feel happy as well as the ones that make people feel sad.

Gifts.  I’m not a big proponent of gifts just for the sake of giving gifts but of course that is one way in which people do show and demonstrate kindness.  A gift can be anything and does not need to be purchased at a store. Talk to your children about the many different types of gifts that exist and some of the best “presents” you have ever received to help them understand that kindness and thoughtfulness is often a wonderful “gift”.  Also talk about the importance of thinking about what type of gift you may want to give to someone based on the other person’s interests rather than your own. This is something that is often hard for young kids to understand.  They may think that because they love the color blue that they should get all of their friend’s blue gifts, even if they know that their friend Sophia loves the color purple.  Understanding that other people may think differently than you is a very complex task for young children to understand so be sure to talk to them about this often.

Do Something Special for Someone Else.  This is something that many families think about during Thanksgiving or Christmas-time, but tend to forget to do as much as the year goes on.  Valentine’s day could be another great holiday to give back and give kindness to people in need.  Whether that means giving a piece of chocolate to a homeless man on the street or singing a song for children in a hospital.  Valentine’s day is about showing love and kindess both to people in your life who you love and care for but you can also share love and kindness with others to make them feel special.

Model Love and Kindness.  As parents it is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day activities and forget to go out of your way to show kindness to your children, your spouse, or your friends.  Remember that your children are learning from your behavior so make a conscious effort to discuss acts of kindness that others have done and the ways in which you acted kindly to others.  Also talk explicitly about acting kind at home, explain that it was really nice that Daddy picked up the carton of milk that the family needed or that it was really kind and thoughtful of your son to clean up his toys without being asked.  Talking about these events and recognizing good behavior is sometimes hard when we feel like we constantly have to remind kids about what not to do, but try to take a few minutes each day to talk about the nice things that people did for you or that you did for others, maybe over dinner or before going to bed.

These are just a few ideas to think about.  I hope that everyone gets a chance to share their love and kindess today, either because it’s Valentine’s Day or just because it’s another Tuesday.


The Baby Center. The Caring Child: How to Teach Empathy.

Sesame Street.  Empathy in Children by James Herzog & Katherine Ross

Kaboose.  Top 10 Tips to Share with your Children.
This also includes some book suggestions as well

Reading Rockets Valentine’s Day Writing Ideas

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