Notes on Parenting

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Element of Surprise Helps Babies Learn

If you have been around babies or young toddlers for long, you know they love the element of surprise. Games like peek-a-boo bring squeals of laughter for many young children. Have you ever wondered why youngster love surprise and novelty? I had honestly not ever considered it much before but new research is showing us that the element of surprise may actually help babies learn.

In a new article in the journal Science, researchers explain how babies use the element of surprise as a moment of learning. They explain that as new little ones to the world, babies do not know what is important to focus on and what information could be ignored. To help sort through all this, they rely somewhat on the element of surprise. In other words, when an object or person does not act as they would predict (i.e. a surprise), they use this as an entry point to explore more.

Researchers conducted a clever lab experiment to test this hypothesis. Babies that were around 11 months old were give two events to view--a predictable event and a surprising event. A predictable event might be a ball rolling down a ramp and hitting a wall. A surprising event might be a wall rolling down a ramp but magically going through the wall (thanks to a little slight of hand by the researchers). The scientists discovered that babies were much more likely to explore and investigate the ball that did the surprising action (went through the wall). They not only picked up the ball, but they would try to test is abilities by banging it on the table or similar actions. Scientists believe these responses show that the babies are not just responding to a surprising event but actually using the unpredictable behavior to learn more about their world.

This research is not only fascinating but it does give us some greater insight into how babies learn. At times I think we as adults seem to think that babies learn things the way we do, but most research indicates they learn in different ways. Their little brains are so active and less focused (in a good way) than ours. This study illustrates how surprise and novelty play into babies unique learning style.

This also made me consider the role that toys can play in babies learning. Many baby toys do things or illustrate object movement in a way that is predictable. This is helpful in a way because it helps babies learn how things like gravity works. However, this study makes me wonder if some toys should cater to this attraction to surprise that babies seem to have. If some toys were created in this way, maybe they would hold babies' attention longer and encourage learning.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The 6 Do's and Don'ts of Parenting and Sports

By: Dyan Eybergen

"It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, as long as you are having fun". We have all heard that one before and for most of us we have probably said it once or twice to our own children; but do we really mean it? Especially in the arena of competitive sports are parents really practicing what they preach?

Here are 6 DO'S and DON'TS for being a good Sports Parent.

DON'T over-identify with your child. You naturally identify with your child, of course, but over-identification may lead you to ignoring your child’s wishes for how and why he/she is playing a sport and focusing instead on your own desires. It is normal as a parent to dream of your child’s future and who doesn't want the next Wayne Gretzky or Clara Hughes as a son or daughter? However, when the parent's dreams of what they want for their child in sport get projected on to their child the reasons why the child is playing a particular sport loses its meaning. Then it really isn't fun whether they are winning or losing.

DO allow your child to fail. The most successful people in and out of sports do two things that inevitably secure their happiness: First, they are more willing to take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Second, they use their failures in a positive way as a source of motivation and feedback to improve.

DON'T compete with other parents. Its tempting to get caught up in trying to keep up with the Jonse's; even in sport. Comparing your child's success, or lack thereof, to an other's, puts undue pressure on children. Refrain from those conversations with other parents that compare your children and stack them up against each other. We want our children to do well on their own merits, not in light of another child doing better or failing in comparison.

DO teach sportsmanlike conduct. Encourage your children to root for one another. The true definition of competition is a seeking together where your opponent is someone to revere, not hate! The better your child's opponent performs, the more chance your child has of having a peak performance.Teach your children to rise to the occasion of competition and strive to be the best they can be and learn from those who are better.

DON'T undermine the Coach. If you are on the sidelines shouting out instructions to your child that differs from what the coach is saying, your child may be more inclined to obey you the parent. The consequences of this from the coach's perspective might not bode well for your child. Even if you don't agree, the parent who remains calm and thoughtful in game situations models respect for the game, coaching and officials.

DO compliment the officials and coaches: Parents who resist the urge to criticize a bad call, who can even compliment the officials/coaches for their hard work after a game (especially if their child’s team loses), teach that playing organized sports comes with having to deal with winning and losing and that in life, things will not always go the way we want them to no matter how hard we try. Winning in sports is about doing the best you can do, separate from the outcome or the play of your opponent.

As a parent of a child playing sports, do your job of supporting and encouraging your child and let the coach do his/her job. Not everyone has an “ideal” coach or team situation. If you have concerns, make sure they are discussed with the intent of helping to find a solution and improve the situation. If difficulties remain, help your child use the situation as a growth experience. If the problems are serious (harassment, abuse, etc.), report them to the sport’s governing body or appropriate authority and remove your child from the program

Monday, April 13, 2015

The A to Z of Getting Fit with Your Children {INFOGRAPHIC}

Here comes an interesting infographic from Giraffe Childcare...


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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!




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