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24 Jul

20041aLife with a toddler is busy. Getting out of the house, mealtimes and bedtimes are each a full production involving several steps. Does it make your head spin to imagine these productions getting even longer because your toddler wants to do things like put on his shoes, feed himself, and pre-brush his teeth before you do the actual job?

Encouraging age-appropriate self-care tasks can test your patience, but it’s essential for your toddler’s emerging sense of independence. Independence gives us a sense that we are not helpless, but rather in control and responsible for ourselves and our actions. Even the simple act of putting a dirty shirt in the hamper helps your little one feel capable, builds his self-esteem, fuels his desire to learn and grow, encourages self-reliance, and let’s him feel like a contributing member of the family.

Self-care tasks also benefit other areas of development, like executive function and fine motor skills.

Tips for Encouraging Self-Care Independence

Depending on his personality and changing moods, your toddler may be motivated to do self-care tasks on his own, or he may need a little push. Here are some tips for supporting his burgeoning sense of do-it-himself:

Learn about age-appropriate self-care tasks. Chances are your toddler will let you know when he wants to do something by himself. As long as it doesn’t involve kitchen knives or another perilous activity, follow his lead and offer help if he needs it.

This article is a great resource for self-care activities through age 2. You can also scroll through our BabySparks app for self-care tasks by month, as well as independence-promoting activities you can do with your toddler.

Offer choices. Part of a child’s drive to do things on his own is a desire to feel in control. If he wants to wear shorts outside on a cold day, you may be able to avoid or diffuse a meltdown by offering him reasonable choices: “Do you want to wear these blue pants or these green pants?” That way he can still take ownership of the final decision.

Make self-care accessible. Put your toddler’s pajamas in a low drawer in his room so he can pull them out himself at bedtime. Or put some of his plates and cups in a low cupboard in the kitchen so he can retrieve them himself at mealtimes.

Allow extra time. If your toddler’s bedtime routine usually takes 30 minutes, try starting a little earlier. This is a win-win for both of you: He’ll have time to successfully complete a task and you’ll have room for patience while he does it. This goes for mealtimes, picking up toys, and any other daily routine in which your toddler can play a role.

Balance stepping away and stepping in. You may have to sit on your hands to keep from grabbing your little one’s fork as he tries again and again to stab a piece of banana, but give him a chance (or several). Tasks like these involve fine-motor skills that take a lot of practice to master.

There will also be times when you want him to do something by himself and he fights it. Try compromising: “I’ll take off this sock and you can take off the other one.” Sometimes he will flat out refuse and you’ll have to choose your battles. He may be tired, or simply having a bad day. Like so many other areas of parenting, overall consistency is what matters.

Be supportive. Learning to do things by himself will involve frustration, messes, spills and mistakes. As he tackles increasingly difficult tasks, you want him to persevere. Support and praise send the message that mistakes are part of learning and can be overcome.

The self-care learning process can feel long and tedious, but remember that little everyday tasks teach your toddler big lessons about self-reliance, helpfulness, and responsibility.

24 Jul

20040aEncouraging your toddler’s burgeoning independence sets her on a path towards self-reliance, builds her ability to plan and accomplish sequential tasks, and strengthens her fine motor skills.

Here’s a guide of age-appropriate self-care tasks to help you support your little one during this important phase of her toddlerhood.


Getting Dressed

  • 11 months: Your toddler can remove her socks, and she moves her body and limbs to help you while you dress her.
  • 14 months: If you start undressing her, she can finish by pulling out her arms and legs.
  • 17-20 months: She fully participates in getting dressed and undressed with your help, and may be able to pull on pants with an elastic waistband.
  • 24 months: Get ready to chase your naked toddler! She can take off her clothes by herself now (shirts with sleeves may take more time to master). She may be able to put on slip-on shoes or ones with easy closures, like velcro straps.

Mealtimes

  • 6 months: If she’s sitting independently, she’s ready for solid foods and interested in feeding herself. At this stage she’s eating purees, so this is fun for her and messy for you!
  • 13 months: Her improving fine motor skills allow her to experiment with using a spoon. Get your camera ready so you can capture her with yogurt all over her face! She’ll get better and better at using a spoon, and will get most of the food into her mouth by about 20 months.
  • 15 months: You can start teaching her to drink from a cup with no lid. She’ll need your help at first, and will do it solo by 17-20 months.
  • 17 months: She can start experimenting with a fork, although it will take until close to her second birthday to get better at using it.
  • 22 months: She can use a napkin to wipe her own face, and she can peel a banana or other easy-to-peel fruit.

Chores

  • 16 months: She can work alongside you to pick up toys, but needs reminding about where things go.
  • 17 months: She can put her dirty clothes in the hamper, and her shoes away.
  • 20 months: She can help clean up a spill, and bring her dirty dishes to the kitchen after a meal.
  • 21 months: She has a better understanding of where things belong, and can more independently pick up toys or help put away clothes.

Grooming

  • 16 months: She can practice brushing her own teeth before you do the actual job. She’ll get the hang of this when she’s 3 or 4 years old, but your pediatric dentist may recommend you help her until she’s even older.
  • 18 months: She can participate in hand washing, but still needs help. By her second birthday she’ll be able to wash her hands alone.
  • 22 months: At bath time, she can help lather the soap, wash herself, and dry off.

Encouraging your toddler’s self-care independence adds time to your already busy day, but when you step back from doing for her what she can do for herself, you send the message that she is capable and provide her first opportunities to feel like a contributing member of the family.

03 Jul

20039aYou’ll have your first conversation with your baby long before her first word. Babbling starts around 5 months, and research shows that responding to your baby’s babbling in a meaningful way can boost her language development.

Language is So Much More Than Words

When we think of language development, babies saying first words comes to mind. Speech, though, is just one aspect of language, which encompasses three main areas:

Receptive Language: Understanding language that communicates thoughts, feelings, ideas or concepts.

Expressive Language: Using language to communicate thoughts, feelings, ideas or concepts.

Pragmatic Language: Using language to navigate social situations, including nonverbal cues.

When you respond to your baby’s babbling (whether with babbling or actual words) in a meaningful way, you expose her to all three areas of language. You can have full conversations—complete with varying tones of voice, facial expressions, and gestures—long before she says her first word!

What is a ‘Meaningful’ Response?

Researchers at The University of Iowa found that in order to reap the language-boosting benefits of responding to your baby’s babbles, your responses must be thoughtful: Listening, trying to figure out what she’s communicating, labeling, elaborating and using nonverbal cues like eye contact, facial expressions and gestures.

Here are some of the ways meaningful responses to your baby’s babbling can maximize her language learning:

Encourages Back-and-Forth Communication

Speech-language pathologist, Mandy Alvarez, highlights that responding to your baby’s babbling reinforces the reciprocal nature of communication.

“When your baby says ba and you say ba back, she thinks, I did that! I made her say ba!” says Alvarez. “She learns that she has the power to initiate communication and elicit a response.” This is motivating for her, and she’ll likely keep going as long as you keep responding. Keeping her talking is great for her speech development, because she gets a lot of practice experimenting with new speech sounds.

An additional benefit of back-and-forth communication is that it introduces your baby to pragmatic language skills like eye contact, turn-taking and listening.

Gives Meaning to Words

If your baby looks at her cup and babbles, a meaningful response might be: That’s your cup. Are you thirsty? Here you go! You can drink. Mmm.” Figuring out what she’s “talking” about and building on that teaches her that words have meaning and can be used together to express something.

Labeling and elaborating in this way helps build your baby’s vocabulary. Because receptive language develops before expressive language, she will understand many words before she is able to say one. 

Builds Nonverbal Language Skills

Nonverbal language is an enormous part of human interaction. Tone of voice, facial expression, body position, and gestures all communicate much more than the words we say. For instance, the word hello means something completely different if you say it with a smile while leaning in than if you say it with a straight face and stiff body.

Engaging responses to babbling teach your baby that non-verbal cues have meaning (Mom’s making eye contact, that means she’s listening; Mom’s smiling, that means I should keep going). You will notice her mimic and eventually use nonverbal language herself. 

Alvarez emphasizes that learning how to read and use nonverbal language is one of the key elements of social communication, or being able to relate to others and navigate the complex nuances of social interactions.

In addition to teaching your baby invaluable language skills, your responsiveness to her babbling also helps optimize her brain development. Repeating ba or going on and on about the cat she sees out the window are powerful tools in your parent toolbox! 

03 Jul

20038aLong before your baby utters his first word, he will speak by babbling. These adorable, non-sensical sounds are actually his way of making sense of using his voice box, mouth and breath to form sounds. It’s practice for speech, which is a precise skill not only requiring hundreds of muscles to work together, but also the coordination of breathing, voice, articulation and resonance—all at lightning speed. Incredible!

The foundation for speech begins with crying and cooing, and moves through predictable stages of babbling.

The Stages of Babbling

The evolution of babbling roughly follows the timeline below. The most important thing is that these stages occur in order. If your baby is lagging far behind, your pediatrician or a pediatric speech-language pathologist can offer guidance.

  • Months 0-2: Cries & Coos

During this stage, your baby communicates that he’s hungry or uncomfortable through crying. He coos and sighs, and begins to make sounds that require his voice box to vibrate, like gurgles.

  • Months 3-4: “I’m Talking to You, Mom!”

As he begins learning to coordinate his lips and tongue, your baby makes simple speech sounds (goo) and directs them at you or objects. Engaging him by babbling or talking back encourages eye contact and simple imitation of sounds.

  • Month 5: First Babbles

Simple babbling begins with single-syllable speech sounds, like ba, da and ma. Your baby experiments with volume, tone, pitch and intensity. Life gets noisy as he squeals, yells, growls, and blows raspberries.

  • Months 6-7: Reduplicated Babbling

True babbling begins with reduplicated babbling. This will sound like ba-ba or na-na. Your heart may explode when he says ma-ma, but actually understanding what he’s saying comes later. Towards the end of this stage, increased coordination and control of his mouth and voice box opens the door to clear sounds and more defined articulation and resonance. He says the same syllable over and over (ba ba ba ba), and mimics turn-taking as if he’s having a conversation.  

  • Months 8-9: Variegated Babbling

Your baby begins variegated babbling, or mixing different sounds (ba de da). He also attempts to imitate noises produced by objects. If you build him a block tower and knock it down, he may say boom! He may also shake his head and say no.

  • Months 10-11: Jargon

Your baby begins speaking in jargon by using complex babbling dotted with a few simple words: baba da ma ball da. This jargon is adorably animated as he imitates inflection, conversational rhythm, facial expressions and gestures.

  • Month 12: Drum Roll…First Words!

Starting around now and continuing for several months, real words gradually take over. At this stage he has about 3 words that he uses correctly, although his receptive language (what he understands) is much further along.

How to Encourage Babbling

Introduce different types of solid foods at the right times. Your baby uses the same oral muscles to speak as he does to eat. Each time he graduates to a new category of solid foods, he uses his oral muscles in stronger, more coordinated ways. This, in turn, helps him make more complicated speech sounds.

Shelf the pacifier when your baby is awake, alert and fed. Pacifier-free time will allow for plenty of babble practice.

Babble back! Aside from building important pathways in your baby’s brain, a recent study found that responding to your baby’s babbles in a meaningful way can have profound positive effects on his language development. Key takeaways from the study were to make eye contact, respond enthusiastically, and label and elaborate on what your baby is babbling about. If he babbles at a car, say: “Yes, that’s a car! It goes vroom vroom.”

For more about the benefits of engaging in conversation with your baby, long before his first word, see our article Babble Back: How Meaningful Responses to Babbling Boost Language Skills.

26 Jun

20037aWith toys named after famous geniuses, baby-friendly smartphone games, and baby classes galore, raising a smart baby may seem like a sophisticated and expensive task.

The truth is, science does not support claims that certain toys, electronic activities and classes boost intelligence (IQ). What science does support is the idea that intelligence depends on a mix of genetic and environmental factors, and moving the needle may be simpler and less expensive than you think.

How You Can Give Your Baby a Smart Start

  • Develop a Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is linked to higher IQ (as well as many other benefits) and is characterized by a reliable, responsive and warm relationship between a baby and her primary caregiver(s).

  • Interact Often

As part of healthy attachment, responding to your baby’s cues to interact can boost her intelligence. Engage consistently in meaningful back-and-forth with her through facial expressions, gestures, sounds, words, actions and play.

Interestingly, research has shown that in families with more than one child, the oldest tends to have a higher IQ. Researchers think this may be because parents often spend more time inter-acting with their first babies before siblings divide their time.

Research also shows that playing interactive games that promote executive functioning can, in turn, enhance intelligence.

  • Talk to Your Baby, Long Before Her First Word

Language skills are correlated with IQ, so talk and read to your baby as often as you can right from the start. A large part of language is receptive language, or what we understand, and this develops sooner than expressive language, which includes words. From the beginning, your baby is listening to you and acquiring receptive language. Those early monologues are valuable for your little audience of one!

Research shows that thoughtfully responding to your baby’s babbles and first words can boost her language skills as well. For example, if you’re driving and she says, “Cah!” You can respond by saying, “Yes, that’s a black car! It’s going fast. Vroom, vroom.”

  • Feed Your Baby Nutritious Food

A nutrient-dense diet in early life has been linked with higher intelligence. For premature babies at risk of lower IQ, a nutrient-dense diet containing zinc, iron, folate, iodine, B12 and protein has shown to reduce those effects. There was even a study showing that 3 year-olds who ate a significant amount of processed food had lower IQs at age 8 than their same-age peers who ate diets rich in fruits, vegetables and fish.

  • Encourage Music

Introducing music to your baby has many benefits, including supporting IQ-related brain functions. Listen to music with your baby, sing and dance with her, and include a set of toy instruments in her playthings.

We may never know whether nature or nurture carries more weight in determining intelligence, but all of these suggestions may play a role in enhancing it. What’s more, each of them can positively affect other areas of your baby’s development as well.