Category Archives: Developmental Stages

Helping Toddlers Understand Their Emotions

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It wasn’t so long ago that the conventional wisdom was that babies were pretty much blobs who didn’t think or feel much before they could speak in words around the age of two.  The idea that a six-month-old could feel fear or anger, no less sadness and grief, was preposterous.  But thanks to an explosion in research on infancy in the last 30 years, we now know that babies and toddlers are deeply feeling beings. Starting in the earliest months of life, well before they can use words to express themselves, babies have the capacity to experience peaks of joy, excitement and elation. They also feel fear, grief, sadness, hopelessness and anger—emotions that many adults understandably still find it hard to believe, or accept, that very young children can experience. Research has also shown that children’s ability to effectively manage their full range of emotions—also known as self-regulation—is one of the most important factors for success in school, work and relationships into the long-term. So a critical first step in helping your child learn to cope with her feelings is not to fear the feelings, but embrace them—all of them. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. Sadness and joy, anger and love, can co-exist and are all part of the collection of emotions children experience. When you help your child understand his feelings, he is better equipped to manage them effectively. One major obstacle in doing this which I see quite often in my work with parents is that they are operating under the assumption that having a happy child means he needs to be happy all the time. (Something I still have to keep reminding myself despite the fact that my children are in their twenties!) Muscling through difficult experiences, mastering struggles, and coping with sadness and grief builds strength and resilience, and is ultimately what brings children a sense of contentedness and well-being. What can parents and caregivers do?

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Importance of Tummy Time

Tummy Time for Babies

You’ve likely heard that ‘tummy time’ is important for babies to learn to push up and eventually crawl. But what can you do if your baby cries whenever you try to put her on her tummy?

Some babies love playing on their tummies and may even prefer it to being on their backs. Other babies, for whatever reason, just don’t like it and may need a little more encouragement to play on their tummies.

Until several years ago, most babies were placed to sleep on their stomachs. This meant a baby was not only accustomed to this position, but had ample opportunity to learn to lift her head and prop on her arms while on her tummy. The introduction of putting babies to sleep on their backs has greatly reduced the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or cot death), but now parents seem to be fearful about putting their babies on their tummies at all.

Also, for many babies used to sleeping on their backs, this can be where they feel most comfortable so they often protest loudly when they are placed on their tummies. However, tummy time is beneficial for many reasons.

Benefits Of Tummy Time

Tummy time during waking hours is important to the motor development of your baby as it allows her to gain head and body control. Motor control develops in a ‘cephalocaudal’ fashion, which means a baby first gains control of her head, then her shoulders and then her abdomen and so on down to her feet. Developing head control first allows your baby to visually explore everything around her.

Having tummy time also helps the development of your baby’s skull. With babies spending more time on their backs, paediatricians have noted an increase in flatheads or misshapen heads. Babies’ skulls are still quite soft and constantly lying on their backs without changing the head position can cause a flattened effect on the back of a baby’s head.

It also helps your baby strengthen her neck, shoulders, arms and torso muscles. This strength will prepare her for crawling as well as getting her ready to push up, roll over and eventually to stand.

As well as gross motor skills, tummy time encourages your baby’s fine motor skills. For example as she grasps at your clothing while you hold her across your legs or on your chest, or at a blanket she is lying on as she balances on one arm to reach for toys.

When To Start Tummy Time?

You can start tummy time from birth – with your newborn lying skin to skin on your chest. From there, small amounts of tummy time throughout the day is sufficient – even if only for a minute or two at a time – and gradually increase the time, as long as your baby is comfortable.

According to Dr Jane Williams, early childhood specialist and director of child development programs for GymbaROO, “ babies should be spending more time on their tummies than lying or being propped in ‘containers’ such car seats, infant seats, and high chairs.”

One tip is to roll your baby over on her tummy for a little while after every nappy change. It’s easy to remember to do this and your baby is likely to enjoy the view if she’s up on a changing table. But do hold onto her securely so she doesn’t roll or push off.

It is best to try tummy time when your baby is calm and respect her responses so she doesn’t associate this new experience with feeling stressed. Make sure she isn’t hungry or tired or, on the other hand, don’t place her on a full belly of milk as this could be uncomfortable.

If she becomes unsettled while on her tummy, try to coax her a bit longer by talking with her or playing with her. But, if she has clearly had enough, pick her up and try again later.

Tummy Time Tips

To encourage ‘tummy time’, place your baby on a firm, flat surface on his tummy with his arms forward – a rug on the floor is best, as a soft or padded surface makes it too hard for baby to move. To begin with, even on a firm surface, moving on their tummy is hard work for babies and they will tire quickly. The answer is short but frequent periods of play, allowing him to gradually build up his strength and learn to move more efficiently.

If your baby cries when you put him on his tummy, help him become more confident by playing some of these baby games:

  • While you are lying on your back or reclining, lie your baby on your tummy so that he will be encouraged to lift up and look at your face. Try gently rocking him from side to side as you hold him.
  • Lie down on the floor facing your baby and talk or sing to him.
  • Hold a rattle or a squeaky toy, wave a colourful silky scarf or a place a mirror in front of baby, for him to look at.
  • Sit on the floor and hold your baby on his tummy across your lap or thighs. Gently stroke him rhythmically down his back, making circular motions between his shoulder-blades.
  • Lie him on different textures: a (treated) lambskin or a ‘feelie blanket’ made of squares of contrasting fabrics such as soft velvet and corduroy, coarse hessian, shiny satin, and woollen, fleecy or fluffy fabrics. Curtain shops often sell sample squares of suitable fabrics in inexpensive bundles.
  • Place a toy within baby’s reach – perhaps a coloured ball or a plastic bottle with some bells or marbles and tinsel in it (make sure the lid is tightly secured and supervise).
  • Swish your baby through the air to music, supporting him with your arms and hands under his body and chest.
  • Lie baby across a beach ball or exercise ball, or a rolled up sleeping-bag, and rock him gently to and fro and sideways: this will also stimulate his vestibular (balance) system and help him get used to being in different positions.
  • Try lying your baby on your bed, near the edge, and sit on the floor with your face next to his. He might appreciate the softer surface, and you can talk and sing to him in this position.

If your baby can’t support his weight on his forearms, support him on a rolled-up towel placed beneath his arms, with his arms forward so he can practise mini push-ups or play with a toy. When he can get up on his forearms independently, remove the pillow and let him work on his motor skills without it.

Once your baby has sufficient head control — around age 4 months — you can play aeroplanes: lie on the floor and bend your legs. Put your baby’s tummy against your legs, his head at your knees –he will be facing you as you hold him. Now, bend your legs up and down while holding on to him firmly As he gets bigger and feels comfortable, you can bend your knees, lifting your feet off the floor so he ‘flies’ as you move your legs up and down. He’ll probably love the new view!

(source: http://www.bellybelly.com.au/baby/tummy-time-for-babies#.U5dsbi_mvkA)

Children & Video Games: A Parents Guide

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It begins early. With a plethora of video games and gaming systems aimed at children as young as two and three-years-old, and average screen times of preschool age children at well over the recommended limits. “A Common Sense Media Research Company” showed among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013. The percent of children with access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home (e.g., smartphone, tablet) has jumped from half (52%) to three-quarters (75%) of all children in just two years.

Having been in the field of early childhood education for many years, I’ve seen different generations of children with very different backgrounds come and go through my schools and I can say, unequivocally, that video games have a negative impact on preschool age children. Some people may feel that statement is controversial, that there are plenty of “educational” games and systems out there.. some may say that it’s a sign of the times and we live in a digital world and need to accept it. I will stand by my statement, though, for many reasons.

Developmental Psychologist and director of research for the National Institute of Media, Douglas A Gentile, Ph.D. wrote that among elementary and middle-school populations, girls play for an average of about 5.5 hours/week and boys average 13 hours/week. Playing games is not limited to adolescent boys. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that several companies are now designing video game consoles for preschoolers. Preschoolers aged two to five play an average of 28 minutes/day. The amount of time spent playing video games is increasing, but not at the expense of television viewing which has remained stable at about 24 hours/week.

Similar to earlier studies about television, the data about children’s video game habits are correlated with risk factors for health and with poorer academic performance. When video game play is analyzed for violent content, additional risk factors are observed for aggressive behavior and desensitization to violence.

Video games are natural teachers. Children find them highly motivating; by virtue of their interactive nature, children are actively engaged with them; they provide repeated practice; and they include rewards for skillful play. These facts make it likely that video games could have large effects, some of which are intended by game designers, and some of which may not be intended.

Simply put, the amount of time spent playing video games has a negative correlation with academic performance. Playing violent games has a positive correlation with antisocial and aggressive behavior (most researchers define violence in games as when the player can intentionally harm other characters in the game). Content analyses show that a majority of games contain some violence. A majority of 4th to 8th grade children prefer violent games.

The research also seems to show that parents have an important role to play. Children whose parents limited the amount of time they could play and also used the video game ratings to limit the content of the games have children who do better in school and also get into fewer fights. Regarding limiting the amount, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than one to two hours per day in front of all electronic screens, including TV, DVDs, videos, video games (handheld, console, or computer), and computers (for non-academic use). This means seven to fourteen hours per week total. The average school-age child spends over 37 hours a week in front of a screen. We all like to think our children are above average, but on this dimension it’s not a good thing. Regarding content, educational games are likely to have positive effects and violent games are likely to have negative effects. Almost all (98%) of pediatricians believe that violent media have a negative effect on children.

My personal (non medical) observation has been that when young children spend significant amounts of time in front of complex and fast moving digital images, that it seems to almost rewire their brains. They become use to the fast-paced, instant reactions and intense imagery and then have a difficult time transitioning into normal activities because they are still firing neurologically like the games. This causes an inability to sit still, to concentrate, to pay attention. I would not be surprised if video games have an impact on ADHD type symptoms. There have been surprisingly little research done on the relationship between the two, considering the common sense link that can be made, although neuroscientist Susan Greenfield of Oxford University said, “Our brains—or worse, children’s brains—could be rewired from the fast pace of modern social networking sites, TV shows, and video games.” 

I would definitely keep all young children off video games and limit older children to short and infrequent stints. There are too many digital distractions saturating our lives as it is. It is up to us as parents and educators to do our part in trying to balance it out.