Birthday Parties


Tips for Children’s Birthday Parties That Encourage Proper Development

by Lisa Moore

We begin attending birthday parties at a very young age and keep up with the social tradition till the end of our lives. It’s one of those cross-cultural, social traditions that it is important to feel comfortable with from early on in life. When your child is the host or when your child is the guest there are certain social norms and behaviors they need to learn how to follow. Here are a few things to discuss with your child before they attend or host a birthday party, and a few ways to deal with problems that may arise.

Before Going to a Party Preparation:

  1. Monitor the blood sugar. If the party is at a strange time or they are sure to serve pizza, soda, and ice cream there is a blood sugar variable that as a parent you need to monitor. A solid breakfast, wholesome snacks, and plenty of water paired with a good night’s sleep will help prevent mood shifts from insulin spikes and crashes.
  2. Talk about what to expect at the party and read over the invitation together. Remind your child that the party is about the birthday boy/girl and that when their birthday comes around then it will be their turn to have a special celebration for their birthday.
  3. Remind them about the importance of “please” and “thank you” responses and other good manners. Manners put other people at ease, mastering them at an early age will make a huge difference in life.

Before Hosting a Party Preparation:

  1. The same techniques from above can be implemented for blood sugar, telling your child what to expect, and for good manners.
  2. Childhood parties are our first forays into a lifetime of hosting, so discuss matters of etiquette; hosting guests is an art and something to be proud of. Talk about ways that you and your child can make sure your guests will be comfortable. Also, explain to your child that even though he is the birthday boy, considerate and unselfish behavior is still expected.

Going to a Party:

  1. Offer to help at the party or chaperone so you aren’t just abandoning your child.
  2. Watch for any potential conflict and do your best to either prevent it altogether or step in before escalation. Fights over toys or taking turns are the most common.
  3. if your child is old enough, make-up a signal in advance that you can use with your child to alert them of inappropriate behavior without embarrassing them in front of the group.

Hosting the Party:

  1. Have structured activities planned.
  2. Keep a movie on hand in case the kids need some quiet time.
  3. Keep your energy relaxed, kids pick up on your anxiety and can’t help but be affected.

Birthday parties are wonderful if you can keep them running smoothly. It is important for kids to learn how to handle these social interactions when they’re young, because they certainly aren’t going to lessen in frequency as they get older.

About the Author: Lisa writes about throwing successful birthday parties with the help of Mario birthday party supplies, proven hosting techniques and fun activities and crafts.


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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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Happy Birthday!

PlayLearnParent has turned 1 (DOB: 1/9/2011)!  Amazingly, just one year after the launch of this website, research has  come out to back up the importance of a space like PlayLearnParent where parents can get child development information!  Zero To Three, a wonderful organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of infants and toddlers by informing policy makers, professionals, and parents, just reported in their Journal of Zero to Three about a survey they conducted to understand the complicated world of parents today.

The findings from this survey indicate that parents have a better understanding about the importance of reading, singing, and communicating with their children than they did 10 years ago, but parents still struggle to grasp the importance of babies earliest experiences.  Additionally, parents still struggle with common challenging situations like: temper tantrums, controlling emotions, and sleeping and eating issues (Hart Research Associates, 2010).

Other findings from the survey indicate the value and role that technology has on parenting today.  Parents frequently turn to parenting websites, especially when their children are very young.  About 25% of parents use parenting blogs, chat rooms, and other social networking sites to find information on a regular basis.

In response to these findings, Zero To Three has created a new podcast series Little Kids, Big Questions to provide parents with more information on important topics.  And of course PlayLearnParent is here to help translate some of this complicated research and information for parents too!


Hart Research Associates.  (2010).  Parenting infants and toddlers today: A survey among parents of children birth to three years old in the U.s.s. for the period June 4-11, 2009, Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.

ZERO TO THREE website:

University of Minnesota: Parenting Education

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Infant Memory


Babies are so incredibly impressive.  They come into this overwhelming and overstimulating world with a “lets figure this out” attitude.  Without fear they just jump right to it.  They begin to explore the world and people around them using whatever capabilities they have at those young ages. Through their explorations they learn all sorts of things and remember many things as well!

Most people, and many researchers, were convinced that infants went through something called infantile amnesia, meaning that they couldn’t remember experiences that occurred prior to the toddler years.  More recent research has begun to show that infants, even very young infants, do store memories (Peterson, 2011) and that most likely their memory capabilities are very similar to those of older children and adults (See Rovee-Collier, 1999).

How in the world do we know that infants have memories?  A series of great studies by Carolyn Rovee-Collier  has demonstrated that infants as young as 2 months are able to remember and that with age their ability to remember increases (Rovee-Collier, 1999).  So, for example, kids at 2 months will remember something but for a much shorter amount of time than 18-month-olds.  How does she test something like this?  Well, one way is to use a behavioral test of memory (since you can’t ask a 6-month-old what they remember).  Rovee-Collier used a mobile in a crib (similar to the one in the picture above) and she tied a ribbon to the baby’s foot and connected the ribbon to the mobile.  This way, if the baby kicks his legs the mobile moves-teaching the baby that this movements can control the movement of the mobile.  The child is trained (training is just repeatedly letting the child do this until she learns) that kicking causes the mobile to move.  Once the child has learned this the child leaves the lab setting for a period of time.  To test the child’s memory, the child returns a few days later (or longer depending on the age of the child) and is returned to the crib, but this time the ribbon is not tied to the mobile, so the baby has no control of the mobile’s movement.  If the child kicks when placed back in the crib (more than he did prior to being attached to the original mobile a few days before) the experimenter determines that the child remembers and is attempting to move the mobile by kicking his feet. (See Rovee-Collier, 1999).

So what does this mean for parents?  Does it mean if you slip-up once and a you swear in front of your infant that she will remember forever and it will be the first word out of her mouth?  Luckily, probably not.  But it does mean that infants and toddlers are remembering from experiences they have at very young ages.  Once your child is verbal it’s amazing to see how much their remember.  If they were started by a firetruck when at an aunt’s house, the next time you go over there the child may be saying “fire truck” more often than usual.  Since your infant is learning, imitating, and remembering, you can try to test them out at home too.  Bring out a novel, age-appropriate toy and demonstrate how to use it with your infant, put it away for a few days and bring it back out and see what she does with it.  Don’t panic if they don’t remember, some things are more memorable than others and just like adults children will forget or won’t be interested enough initially to process and remember what you are doing.  Keep trying and just take note of times when your child imitates something you did a few days ago -it’s impressive to see what they do remember!


Faull, J. & Oliver, J. M.  (2010).  Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind with Games, Activities, and More.  Berkley Books: NY.

Peterson, C. Warren, K. L., & Short, M. M. (2011) Infantile Amnesia Across the Years: A 2-year follow-up of children’s earliest memories.  Child Development, 82, 1092-1105.DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01597.x

Rovee-Collier, C. (1999).  The Development of Infant Memory.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 80-85.



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Wrap an App

When I was younger the high-tech toy that children desperately wanted Santa to bring was a Teddy Ruxpin, a toy that could move his eyes and mouth and would read books to children when they put an audio cassette into the hard tape player he had in his back.  Today kids want an iPad; 31% of kids age 6-12 according to a new Nielsen Survey.

Now, I never got a Teddy Ruxpin, so this isn’t a push for parents to buy iPads for their children.  But if you are going to buy one, or if you have some type of touchscreen app-using device (like an iPhone, iTouch, Amazon Kindle, or android phone) that you let your children use, it’s helpful to know what types of apps to look for. Unlike the days of Teddy Ruxpin with a handful of tapes you could purchase, today new apps are being introduced daily and just like websites, they can be created by almost anyone!

Here are some resources to check out before downloading:

Common Sense Media provides reviews, age appropriateness, and some description of the content.  For example, “Eddy’s Number Party! HD” is reviewed as “A hidden gem!” for 4 year olds.  It receives 5 stars.  It gets 4 A+ for its educational value and 5 controllers for ease of use.

Parents’ Choice 2011 Holiday Gift Guide posted a blog by Warren Buckleitner, Ph.D. Editor of Children’s Technology Review about best apps for kids.  For example, Doodlecast is listed for Preschoolers and Cinderella Nosy Crown Animated Picture Book for Elementary Schoolers. (Two of my favorites!)

Of course there are also apps to help you find apps:

KinderTown (free) is an app to help parents find appropriate apps for their children.  You can search apps by platform, age, subject matter, and price.  This app doesn’t offer much beyond a searching service (meaning it doesn’t review the apps) but it will link you to the app’s page where you can read more about the app from the app developer.

Moms with Apps App  (free) allows you to search apps based on general categories (e.g., art, games, geography, parents), books, developers, apple pics, new releases, etc.  Again, this app doesn’t offer reviews of the apps, just another way to search for them.

Lunchbox Reviews provides reviews and ratings on a variety of apps both for kids and for parents.  Ratings are provided using a star system and users can rate the apps and include comments for others to read.  Lunchbox reviews also categorizes the apps by age group, platform,  categories, and device.

While all of these systems are helpful ways of organizing and helping parents find apps for their kids, from a research perspective we are very far off from actually understanding what kids are learning from these various apps. As a parent here are some other things to consider when buying your child an app:

1.  Child.  Think about your child specifically.  How old is your child?  How developed are her fine motor skills (e.g., controlling her finger movements on small objects)?  How well does she understand different types of content? Try to pick apps that move slowly, allow the child to set the pace, and are relatively simple.  Children will likely only be playing each app for a few minutes, there is no reason that the app needs to teach them EVERYTHING!  Think about the activities your child can do outside of technology – if he likes coloring, look for coloring apps that can allow him to expand his coloring experiences by mixing colors, etc.

2.  Content.  Think about the areas in which your child excels (e.g., running, counting, colors, drawing) and which areas she needs more help.  Also consider the topics that interest her (e.g., soccer, coloring, building) and topics that she hasn’t been exposed to yet but might like (e.g., travel, history, art).  Try to look for apps that push her to further develop her understanding and interest in topics she already likes and ones she may not have experienced yet.  Make sure the content is age-appropriate and help her to understand what she is playing with (the same way you help your child understand the content of a book when you read it!).

3. Context.  Before you buy apps think about how you want it to be used by your child.  If you plan on playing and engaging with your child while you use the app, look for apps that encourage interpersonal interaction (e.g., Toca Tea Party).  If you are looking for apps to keep kids busy in the car, look for ones that provide the interaction through the app (e.g., Sesame’s The Monster at the End of this Book).  How you engage with your child while they are using apps will influence how/if they are able to learn from the experience.

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Huffington Post Article

Please take a second to read this piece I wrote for Huffington Post about Child Sexual Abuse.  It’s too important of an issue to ignore.

Huffington Post: Child Sexual Abuse: It’s Bigger Than Penn State


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Protect Your Children

I established this website to provide parents with child development resources.  The sexual abuse at Penn State that sparked headlines like “Penn State Scandal” made me realize how little parents, or the public for that matter, actually know about child sexual abuse.  Unfortunately, something this huge and outrageous has to occur to get public attention to this issue. While the world is talking about this, I want to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about child sexual abuse and how to protect your children, because clearly the people we trust with our children are not necessarily going to protect them.

With such an important topic, I decided to go to an expert in this area for help with this post.  Dr. Anna Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard and is the author of the Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children.  Dr. Salter agreed to write the following guest post about child sexual abuse.  At the end of her post I have included additional resources for parents.  A number of organizations have created fact sheets about child sexual abuse and ways to help protect children.  The post below by Dr. Salter and the websites listed provide essential information that every parent should know.

Key Facts about Child Sexual Abuse:

Child sexual abuse is something that every parent needs to be concerned about.  According to studies, somewhere between 20 and 30% of girls are sexually abused as children and 9 to 16% of boys.  Abusers are almost never strangers.  They are typically family friends or acquaintances, for example, youth group leaders, teachers, pediatricians, children’s choir directors, camp counselors, coaches and others whose vocation or avocation gives them access to kids.  No profession that works with kids is safe from the infiltration of child sex offenders.  Parents need to understand that these men, and occasionally women, look and act like everyone else.  The successful ones are almost always personable, even charming.  What makes them successful is their likeability.  They act very different in public than they do when alone with children.  They often do extensive “good works” and many have excellent reputations in the community.

About Sex Offenders:

I interview such men for educational films that I make on how sex offenders fool people.  Every offender I have ever interviewed of this type was caught one or more times before the time that it went to authorities.  Kids often disclose; adults walk in on it.  But over and over offenders have relayed to me how parents did not believe the disclosures because they trusted the offender so much.  Even when someone walks in on it, they typically confront the offender – who promises to never do it again – and extract a promise that the offender will “get help.”  They then do not report it to authorities.  This typically happens multiple times before someone finally reports it to police.  Every offender I have ever talked to who had this happen takes this as permission to continue to abuse.  They view it as proof they are invincible, that they can talk their way out of anything, that it really wasn’t that big a deal or someone would have gone to police.  It isn’t just that it doesn’t stop them; it actually gives them permission to continue and emboldens them.  What happened at Penn State doesn’t surprise me.  It just saddens me.

Dr. Anna Salter, PhD

Dr. Salter received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Public Practice from Harvard University and obtained a Masters Degree in Child Study from Tufts. She was a Teaching Fellow at both Universities. Dr. Salter has lived in Madison Wisconsin since 1996 and consults half time to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.  In addition, she lectures and consults on sex offenders and victims throughout the United States and abroad. She has keynoted conferences on sexual abuse in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and England. In all, she has conducted trainings in 49 states and 10 countries. Dr. Salter also evaluates sex offenders for civil commitment proceedings and other purposes.

Resources (all links go directly to the website/fact sheet).

American Humane Association.  Stop Child Abuse.  Fact Sheet includes the following section on protecting children:

Protect your children. Teach your children what appropriate sexual behavior is and when to say “no” if someone tries to touch sexual parts of their bodies or touch them in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable. Also, observe your children when they interact with others to see if they are hesitant or particularly uncomfortable around certain adults. It is critical to provide adequate supervision for your children and only leave them in the care of individuals whom you deem safe.”

American Academy of Child  & Adolescent Psychiatry   Fact Sheet: Child Sexual Abuse states the following recommendation:

“Parents can prevent or lessen the chance of sexual abuse by:

  • Telling children that if someone tries to touch your body and do things that make you feel funny, say NO to that person and tell me right away
  • Teaching children that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults and to authority, for example, don’t tell children to, Always do everything the teacher or baby-sitter tells you to do
  • Encouraging professional prevention programs in the local school system”

National Center for the Victims of Crime.  Child Sexual Abuse.  Website focuses on definitions of sexual abuse, symptoms of abuse, how to report it, and how to cope if it has happened.

American Psychological Association.Understanding Sexual Abuse: Education, Prevention, and Recovery. Page 6 has the following tips for protecting children from sexual abuse:

“What is Child Sexual Abuse?

  • The typical advice “Don’t Talk to Strangers” doesn’t apply in this case. Most sexual perpetrators are known to their victims.
  • Do not instruct children to give relatives hugs and kisses. Let them express affection on their own terms.
  • Teach your children basic sexual education. Teach them that no one should touch the “private” parts of their body. A health professional can also help to communicate sex education to children if parents are uncomfortable doing so.
  • Develop strong communication skills with your children. Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their experiences. Explain the importance of reporting abuse to you or another trusted adult.
  • Teach your children that sexual advances from adults are wrong and against the law. Give them the confidence to assert themselves against any adult who attempts to abuse them.
  • Make an effort to know children’s friends and their families.
  • Instruct your child to never get into a car with anyone without your permission.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own. That it is OK to say they do not want a hug or that certain kinds of contact make them uncomfortable.
  • It is important to remember that physical force is often not necessary to engage a child in sexual activity. Children are trusting and dependent and will often do what is asked of them to gain approval and love.”

Bivona Child Advocacy Center. If you Suspect a Child is Being Abused.  Excellent tips for how to talk to your child if you think they have been abused.


Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders: Who They Are, How They Operate and How We Can Protect Ourselves and Our Children. By Anna Salter (2003) New York: Basic Books Amazon Link

My Body Belongs to Me. By Jill Starishevsky


ABC News: Talking to your kids about sexual abuse.





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