Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The "Word Gap" is About More than Just Words

There has been a lot of attention in the media lately about the "word gap" between kids in higher and lower income families. Researchers have documented for years that children in families of higher socioeconomic status (SES) are generally exposed to many more words than children from lower SES families. This pattern most likely happens for a variety of reasons including education level of the parents, patterns of parenting passed through generations, and parenting stress. As you might expect, infants and toddlers who are exposed to fewer words tend to know fewer words by the time the reach kindergarten. Some studies have shown that the "word gap" emerges even as early as 18 months old. 

Beyond a disparity in vocabulary, new research is showing that the "word gap" actually has other implications as well. According to scientists, "listening to speech promotes the babies' acquisition of the fundamental cognitive and social psychological capacities that form the foundation for subsequent learning." In other words, listening to human speech actually helps infants understand human interpersonal interaction. Apparently there is something sort of magical about human speech for an infant's ears. Hearing speech, even more than hearing other sounds, helps babies figure out patterns of sounds, who is a possible interaction partner, and how to categorize objects. 

From this insight, we can see even more clearly why the "word gap" between higher and lower SES families is such an important issue. While a gap in vocabulary has been shown to have long-term educational consequences, a gap in the corresponding social interaction may have even more dramatic effects. 

In response to these findings, many legislators have called for the development of universal free (or subsidized) preschool. This is a good start, but the work really even needs to begin before preschool age. Many programs around the country have begun which involve training parents to encourage them to talk to their infants in ways that promote language development and human interaction. These programs are not widespread yet, but we all should support such programs as a way of helping all children start life on an equal standing.  

 Source: Northwestern University. (2015, January 5). Human speech's surprising influence on young infants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 17, 2015 from

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Beyond Time Out and Loss of Privileges: Creative Discipline Strategies that Work

By: Dyan Eybergen

What do parents do when giving a time out to a toddler, grounding a misbehaved teenager or taking away his/her TV privileges or cell phone doesn't work? Here are 5 tips for applying creative discipline strategies that teach kids valuable life lessons AND correct misbehaviour:

  1. Don't insist on an apology: We need our children to take action when it comes to making amends and not think they just have to say the word "sorry" to get out of trouble. Teach them to take responsibility for their wrong-doing and have them go back and correct their mistakes by doing the right thing. From the toddler who needs to wipe down the wall he/she just coloured on with black crayon to the teenager who owes you back the time you sat up waiting for them when they were late for curfew; children of all ages need to learn how to self-correct in order to know what is the appropriate choice of action the next time.
  2. Use the situation at hand to your advantage: Think of logical and natural consequences when it comes to disciplinary measures. For example: the school aged child who leaves his/her bike in the driveway after repeatedly being asked to put it in the garage and it gets stolen – there is nothing else the parent needs to do in this situation  the bike is gone. Do not negate the learning by running out and purchasing another bike. The child goes without or saves up and buys a new one him/herself. 
  3. Restitution through good deeds: A child who has misbehaved in a manner in which hurts someone else, either emotionally or physically, should be required to make amends through restitution. Using the opportunity to teach about empathy discuss with the child how his/her behaviour impacted the other person through feeling words and have the child come up with ways for how he/she can make that other person feel better. "Dad felt disrespected you blew off your curfew; more importantly he was worried about you". In this situation the child may be encouraged to stay home next Friday night instead of going out with friends and spend some quality time with dad.
  4. Owing back time: The 20 minutes it took a parent to drive a child to school who missed the bus, needs to be given back to the parent at the end of the day. The child will take on a duty that normally would be fulfilled by the parent: washing the dishes, doing a load of laundry, walking the dog etc. 
  5. Writing the wrong: When children invariably say hurtful things to parents, siblings or friends have them write letters of empathy where they acknowledge how they made the other person feel. You can have them list "the top 5 things" they admire or appreciate about the other person. I've even had the experience where my eldest son wrote a poem characterizing the great qualities of his younger brother. 

It is the responsibility of parents to teach children that behaviors and actions have consequences.Children who experience consequences that teach life lessons, learn that they have control over the outcome of their actions by exerting control over their behaviours. Parents who use natural and logical creative discipline measures are helping teach children valuable insights such as empathy and emotional regulation. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Raising Kids in a Violent World

With a distressing mix of strong emotions I watched as the TV images of the war in Eastern Europe and bombs falling in the Middle East passed before my eyes. Then yet another domestic shooting incident vied for my attention. Inwardly, the events acted together like a noxious overdose of worldly reality.
     I wondered if parents, or any other person for that matter, could be expected to respond to such things without fear, cynicism or panic, with the risk of passing on those feelings of anxiety to the next generation. I was badly in need of more light on these issues and so I decided to consult the writings of two beloved spiritual teachers: Kahlil Gibran and Edgar Cayce.

The Search for Meaning

Both Gibran and Cayce address evil and crime. They offer a hopeful perspective in the face of human barbarity. In fact, both argue that Day and Night, good and evil, are part of the human experience and serve a larger goal. A goal, I might add, that may be beyond our grasp if we don't explicitly seek to understand. If anything, the current events cause us to search for meaning. Now more than ever do we want to rise above our initial fear and embrace faith and hope anew.

Thinking in inclusive terms

Interestingly, Gibran and Cayce both stress the fact that we're all connected, that we're all in it together. This means we need to think in inclusive terms, rather than in terms of "them versus us." Both speak of mankind as being one organism. "A single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree." (Gibran in "The Prophet") But why, I wondered, staying with the metaphore, do leaves turn yellow to begin with, and what am I supposed to do in reply? 

     Here, one of Cayce's views provides an insight. He explains that in the beginning all souls were one with the Father. Endowed with free will, some of these souls chose to turn away, imagining a life in the shadow, and with that they brought evil into the picture. Not knowing that they were out of accord with blessedness, they were in need of a way to come to that awareness. This is what experience in materiality is for. In passing through various material experiences souls become aware of their separation from the spiritual world, according to Cayce. Through experience, through suffering, through conflict and conquest, through love and service, souls learn to differentiate between day and night, light and darkness, good and evil. Souls must learn to be able to place true values where they belong. The soul's purpose in the earth is to grow in understanding of the nature of its relationship to its Maker and thus walk more and more in the Light.

     And where in this picture are we, I wondered - how far still to the Light? 

God-self and man-self

Let's turn to Gibran's perspective on man's journey. Gibran explains that our god-self remains forever undefiled. He is quick to add, though, that our being does not just house our god-self. Much in us is still man, and much in us is not yet man, "but a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening." It is the man in each of us that knows crime. As long as we stay pigmies in the mist we don't differentiate between good and evil, between cruelty and compassion. But once we evolve toward man, we become more sensitive and discerning. Barbarities and atrocities begin to affect us. Maturing further and further, the day of our god-self will arrive for us all and we will see all deeds in the fullness of light. "Only then shall you know that the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in the twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self." (Gibran)

     So where do these perspectives leave us, parents and children in a world of cruel warfare and mindless killing? Cayce advises us to press on, because "God's plan for the world will never be overthrown." We were one with the Father in the beginning, and we will be one with Him in the end. 

Rising above fear

As parents, and yes, as a society that sends its children off to school each morning, we need to rise above the fear caused by the news of violent events. The darkness of these events should cause us to turn and appreciate the light, and place true values where they belong. When we understand the true nature of our relationship to our Maker and to each other, we enter the glorious dawning together.

Gibran, K. (1927). The Prophet. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
Cayce, E. (1942). A Search For God. Virginia Beach, VA: Edgar Cayce Foundation.

Image of the two girls courtesy of stockimages at
Image of the world by Vlado, courtesy of stockimages at

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Baby's Naps Foster Learning

If you have been a parent for any length of time, you know that naps are a beautiful thing--for your child...and you. Daytime naps are great for helping keep your baby or toddler in a good mood. We all know how edgy a non-napping baby or toddler can become. New research is also showing us how naps are important for babies' memory and learning.

In this new study, 6-12 month-old babies were taught a new skill (i.e. using a hand puppet). Then some of the infants napped for at least 30 minutes and the other group did not nap. Later, the babies were given the opportunity to replicate the new skill on their own. As you might expect, the babies who napped after learning the new skill were much better at remembering how to do the skill. Babies who did not nap, showed little evidence of remembering the new skill.

Interestingly, even after a 24-hour delay, the babies who napped where much more likely to show that they remembered the new skill compared to the non-napping babies.

The authors of the study suggest that the time period just before baby goes down for a nap (or night sleep) might be an especially good time for learning. It seems likely that the information learned right before sleep is easily organized and put into memory in the brain while the baby sleeps. This process may even work for adults. If you have ever studied for a test at night and then gone to sleep, you have probably experienced this memory burst the next day.

I have noticed with my little ones, that they are often most verbal and attentive first thing after waking up from sleep. Especially when they are first learning words, you can almost see their little brains "waking up" with an explosion of new words after sleeping. To me, this is first-hand evidence of the important role sleep plays in the helping solidify new memories and learning.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
ResearchBlogging.orgSeehagen S, Konrad C, Herbert JS, & Schneider S (2015). Timely sleep facilitates declarative memory consolidation in infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112 (5), 1625-9 PMID: 25583469

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let Every Day be Valentine's Day: Model Good Relationship Habits for Your Children

By: Dyan Eybergen RN

As a parenting couple, you have a unique responsibility to model what a healthy relationship looks like for your children. Stand united in the way you raise your family through mutual respect and support. Take measures to show your children how to effectively communicate with one another: how to argue in fairness, and treat each other with mutual understanding for having your needs met. These communicated messages will have a huge influence on your kid's future success in the relationships they choose to have. 

This Valentine's day make a special effort to model good relationship habits for your children. Make a vow to make every day Valentine's day for you and your spouse. 

Here are five tips for how to model healthy relationship habits:

  1. Demonstrate the art of forgiveness. Learning how to resolve conflict without the cruelty of punishing each other with long silences and revenge tactics is paramount in teaching your kids a better way to resolving conflict and restoring order and peace within a relationship.
  2. Have mutual respect. In your relationship, it is important to show love in the manner that meets the needs of your partner; find ways to speak a love language your partner understands. The 5 Love Languages, a book written by Gary Chapman, details a proven approach to showing and receiving love through language that is in synch with your partner’s understanding and definition of what love is.
  3. Have each other's back. Especially in parenting—present as a united front and don't say or do things to undermine each other. 
  4. Support one another's dreams. Encourage through words and actions that support one another's pursuits. Help each other to find balance and happiness.
  5. Spend time together. Nurture your relationship; take the time necessary to stay connected. Show your children that the most important relationship you have, other than being their parent, is the relationship you have with each other. Date your spouse on a regular basis. There is no better time to start than this Valentine’s Day!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Kids and Chores

When hearing the story of Little Red Riding Hood going through the woods all by herself in order to take a batch of freshly baked cookies to her grandmother, we are usually too much involved in the story to notice specific details, especially when the storyteller sprinkles it with tidbits of their own imagination. Hardly anyone will linger on the fact that Little Red Riding Hood was, in fact, sent on an errand by her mother.

What's the Point of Chores?

What about errands and chores? Should kids be required to do chores around the house at all, and if so, why? 

When families require their kids to do chores they may do so for the following reasons:
  1. Participating in a family chore schedule says to a child: you are part of this family and your contribution matters. In this household the work is shared fairly.
  2. It stimulates kids to become receptive to the needs of other people and of the group they are a part of. It takes them out of their own little world and literally imposes a broader perspective on them from which to view their own life.
  3. Doing a variety of chores around the house enhances their skills and thus prepares them for life on their own or with a partner once they leave the nest.
Needless to say, I am a fervent proponent of house chores for kids, say from the age of six or eight, all the way through high school. The way parents handle a chore schedule determines whether or not the above benefits will actually be realized. Here are some pointers to help you should you decide to incorporate chores into your family life:


No one likes being presented with a dead end street. It's much more empowering if you have a choice, even if it is between two things you don't particularly fancy doing. The fact that you have a choice, puts you at the steering wheel. In our family there were always a bit more suitable chore choices than the number of kids. They could choose and my husband and I would take the ones left over. Each month the chores were split up anew, with each child in turn given the first choice.


Make sure the chores you present are age appropriate. A sixteen-year-old can be expected, with a little help, to handle washing the car, while a six-year-old cannot. For that age sweeping the kitchen floor would be a more fitting task. When introducing a new task to the child, take your time showing them the ropes. This may take more than once. It is vital that you are in a positive mood when you do, and that you show you have the patience of a saint, even if you don't.

Parental Involvement

Stay involved. By that I do not mean that you should control and supervise each activity. What I mean is that as a rule, you, the parent, are present physically and mentally when the chores are being done. It is much easier for a child to focus on a task when they see their mom or dad involved in another task themselves at the same time. This also puts you in a position to sense how the child is getting along and you will be able to lend a helping hand when needed. This will strengthen your bond.


Make sure that for each period of a month or a few weeks you have a list of chores with names and dates. Put it up in a central spot so kids can put crosses next to each item as soon as they have completed it. That will give them a sense of accomplishment and will allow you to keep track of who has done what and when.


It is vital to praise your children whenever there is the slightest reason to do so. Don't go over the top, though, and exaggerate. A genuine smile with a simple 'Thank you, Peter, for doing the toilet bowls. Now we're all set for the next few days,' will adequately communicate your appreciation for their having taken responsibility.

Chores and Allowance

Families differ when it comes to linking a weekly allowance to doing chores. In some families chores are part of being in the family and no money is involved. In other families the quantity and quality of chores is in direct relationship to payment. There is something to say for each of these two approaches. In our family chores and allowance were only linked in the calendar. My kids had a week to complete their task. If on Saturday night the task had not been done, no allowance was given. - Okay, Sunday or Monday were catch-up day :-)

     I'm sure that if Little Red Riding Hood's mother had followed these steps the little girl would not have been swallowed whole by a wolf. The mother would have given her a choice between more age-appropriate tasks and she would have stayed involved. But then, the fairy tale with its delightful twists wouldn't have come down to us through the ages the way it has.

Pictures by author's children
Image of doing the dishes courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to Teach Morals to Young Children

Teaching moral lessons to young children can often be a difficult thing to do. With the recent celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. day last week, and yesterday's (01/27/2015) 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, my wife and I were struggling to find an appropriate way to help our children understand why some people hate others. We also wanted to point out how silly it can be to hate others based on the way they look or what they believe. Thankfully, Dr. Seuss came to the rescue. In fact, one Dr. Seuss book contains four stories that each teach a very different, but important moral. In great Dr. Seuss fashion, The Sneetches and Other Stories, teaches very clearly a variety of different morals in such a way that keeps a young child's attention. After reading the story about The Sneetches to our children, they were able to see that sometimes people are judged by how they look, even though in most other aspects there is no difference.

This experience with my own children got me wondering about what other morals or lessons are hidden in plain sight within Dr. Seuss books. While, teaching morals in a fun, engaging way is not exclusive to Dr. Seuss, because his books are so readily available, I have listed below the various books and morals taught in them for others to use:

  • The Sneetches  - Discrimination
  • The Zax  - Hard-headedness
  • Too Many Daves - Think before you act
  • What was I Scared of? - Get to know others before judging
  • The Lorax - Be kind to the environment
  • Happy Birthday to You - You don't always get what you want
  • Yertle the Turtle - We all have our own strengths
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck - Stand up for what's right
  • Gustav, the Goldfish - Follow instructions
  • Horton Hears a Who - Do what is right, despite persecution
  • The Bippolo Seed - The problem of greed
  • Hunches in Bunches - Making choices
  • Hurray for Diffendoofer Day - Be different
  • I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew - Push through hard things
  • Hooper Humperdink...? Not Him! - Be kind to others
I'm sure there are many others, what books or stories have you used to teach lessons or morals to your children? 

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bedwetting, how parents and caregivers can help a child

Before I get too into this subject, I need to apologize to my son, who I am sure at some point in his life will see this and be embarrassed that I am sharing this experience with the public.

I had a dream once that I was playing and splashing around in warm water, and then suddenly a storm came in and dumped cold rain, leaving me feeling chilled and damp. When I awoke, I was indeed damp and chilled. My four year old son had come into my room for cuddles and wet the bed.

He’s been day-time potty trained for some time now, but is still adjusting to waking up and going to the bathroom. Since he wakes up knowing something isn’t right, he comes and seeks comfort. Many times he is so sneaky coming into my room that I have no idea he is there until I awake, which sometimes is too late to avoid his bedwetting accident.

I have found though that there are preventative tips can help a child who is struggling with bed wetting.
  • First and foremost, do not embarrass or shame your child. The experience is uncomfortable enough with having to change pajamas and sheets, that pointing it out more with anger will just add to the discomfort. Simply acknowledge with empathy that accidents happen. If you as a child struggled with bedwetting, be brave and share.
  • Limit, not eliminate, fluids after dinner. Eliminating fluids is trying to avoid the problem; as with all things, avoiding the problem does not fix the problem. Limiting fluid intake is risk reduction.
  • Take your child to the bathroom at the beginning of their bedtime routine and at the end of it, just before hopping into bed.
  • When you go to bed, if you haven’t already fallen asleep putting your child to sleep, take your child to the bathroom.
  • If there seems to be a consistent time when your child is waking up after wetting the bed, take them to the bathroom prior to that time. For example say there is a theme of a 3 a.m. bedwetting, wake them up at 2 a.m. to go to the bathroom.
These are all preventative measures. If these problems persist with your child for a prolonged period of time, consider taking them to the doctor to rule out anything medical.

As for me in my house, it has been about two weeks since I have had a cold dump of rain alter my dreams.

By Josh Lockhart, MC, CCC, PHEc
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