Toys and learning

Kind of “a day late and a dollar short” after Christmas–let’s discuss best toys for child learning and development.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published new data on this (we are not directly addressing toy SAFETY here).

Firstly, if you like computers and tech–great.  However, recall that extended screen time has numerous disadvantages–limits imagination and creativity, can disrupt sleep and cause headaches.  To say nothing of expense! AAP guidelines suggest NO screen time < 2 years, 1 hour/day thereafter(excluding screen communication like Facetime with grandparents!).  Many of these toys claim to be “educational” but that is of questionable validity.  How are we defining the term?   Increased screen time may compromise impulse control, critical thinking, problem solving, and imagination (the program often does things for you) as well as language skills development.  Humans learn to interpret language in conjunction with cues like tone, volume, facial expression, body stance and position(“body language”).  Staring at a screen provides nothing here and may even inhibit that learning.  As so much of screen time is still a solitary endeavor it adds little to social interaction learning as well.

A related issue is “bells and whistles.”  Toys with lots of lights, sounds, actions/movements can be fascinating; but can do “too much”–distracting the child and preventing free imagination and creativity, again, doing those things for the player instead of the player doing it himself.  Often the fewer moving parts/components the better.

So what do good toys do?  Basic principles like cultivating good fine and gross motor function, language and social interaction skills are a good starting point.  It should allow her to play, explore, stimulate imagination and creativity, cultivate problem solving and critical thinking skills. Principles like “imitation” and “approximation”–aka “make believe” –mimicking adult daily activity and functioning skills are beneficial.

More specifics?  Blocks, shapes, balls of all sizes, push/pull/ride on toys promote gross motor development.  Puzzles, interlocking objects, toys with sand and water benefit fine motor skills.  Art objects are terrific–paint, crayons, colored pens and pencils, coloring books, play-doh, “silly putty”–provide endless possibilities to explore and create.  Traditional board games (“Chutes and Ladders”, “Candyland” checkers  for younger kids, “Monopoly”, “Clue”, “Life”, chess for older kids–lots of others) and old fashioned playing card games can enhance math, strategy, even team work as well as social exchange.  Imitation objects like tea and/or kitchen sets, make believe cleaning objects (brooms, vacuum cleaners),  toy tools, dress up objects, even SIMPLE action figures like toy soldiers and cowboys or dolls are flexible and versatile play enhancers/stimulators.

See?  Look how much you’ve done without logging on or using any electricity!

Bottom line? The key component to make a toy “educational” is YOU.  I always say–you are your child’s best teacher and their best toy.  So whether a computer or just a cardboard box–the more you engage, interact, participate in their play, the more educational the toy becomes.  Best of all-you’ll HAVE FUN, and create happy memories for you both while doing it.

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for following.

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Discipline: Do’s and Don’ts

A “disciple” is a student, and “discipline” is “teaching”–not “punishment.”  Doing it properly is straightforward, but hard.  Implementing effective methods vary with a child’s age, development, and temperament.  Support for the statement “a good hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child” has dropped from 84% in 1986 to below 70% in 2012, and <50% of parents <36 years report EVER having spanked their child.

This is a positive trend.    The American Academy of Pediatrics officially opposes all forms of corporal punishment(CP)–parents should NEVER hit, slap, threaten, insult, humiliate, or shame their child.  There is sound reason for this.  A 2016 study found no evidence of long term benefit to the child from CP and only one study from 1981 could demonstrate any short term advantage.  A 1998-2000 study of >5000 children showed increased aggressiveness among 3 year olds subjected to CP with increased externalized behaviors and lower vocabulary scores by 9–they acted out more and communicated less.  Other studies associate depression in either parent with more negative appraisals and increased frequency of CP.  And there were these increased risks:

  • physical injury
  • more negative parent/child interactions
  • increased–not decreased–levels of defiance
  • mental health and learning disorders
  • child abuse
  • conduct problems in adolescence
  • adverse events(suicide, substance abuse) in adults

There were even biologic consequences–decreased brain volume(both white and gray matter) as well as higher cortisol levels (toxic stress hormones).

So what does work? Basic principles for younger children, but with applicability across the age spectrum include:

  1. “Show and tell”–explain “good” behaviors.  Note that this should be done at a “calm time”–when parent and child’s tempers are under control–NOT when the offense has just occurred and everybody is upset.
  2. Consequences should be clear, relevant, and explained at the same time and in the same way–calmly, when things are under control.  Emphasize the situation and not the child (“if things go well/badly”–NOT “if you are good/bad”)
  3. Appropriate intervention–“the punishment should fit the crime”(so to speak).  Don’t overdo.  If the child breaks something they must make restitution–simple. The intervention should have a beginning, middle, and END. Adjust attitude and MOVE ON.
  4. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Threats are counterproductive, especially when not fulfilled.  “If you don’t hurry we aren’t going to Grandma for Christmas.” STUPID–you ARE going to Grandma’s, of course.  So you cannot back up that statement.  You just lost the battle, and the war. The kid now KNOWS he can call your bluff. And threatening the same thing repeatedly without desired result is similarly foolish–if that intervention did not produce success before, time to think of a new strategy, not just repeating the same thing LOUDER.
  5. Never lose an argument: don’t start something you cannot finish. Example–you cannot make her eat, so don’t endlessly argue over it.  But she cannot make you give her dessert, so when she melts down just ignore her, saying “tomorrow if you eat a good dinner you can have dessert.”
  6. Be prepared–many adverse behaviors are predictable.  You often know when/where they will misbehave.  Yelling and hitting is usually a tantrum on the parent’s part. Know what you are going to do when it happens, explain it (as above) and then calmly implement it when necessary. This is CONTROL.
  7. Ignore tantrums–NEVER try and”get them out of it.”  You cannot–they are unreachable then.  Put the child in a safe place(playpen, bedroom)–“when you calm down we will talk.” Let it blow over.  Then deal with the problem.
  8.  Nobody is perfect about discipline, and everyone will do better and worse at times.  It’s a daily process. So do your best, every day.

Finally–perspective, and humility.  They are children; misbehavior happens. They’ll NEVER be as perfect as we were back then, right? Just ask Grandma!

Thanks for following.

Holiday Safety

Happy Holidays to all! As a Jewish American, I still, like everybody else, so enjoy seeing all of the holiday decorations coming out. Who doesn’t get excited about this time of year?

Let’s review some highlights for indoor holiday decoration safety.  My advise about outdoor decorations is actually very simple–the younger the child, the less involved in the decorating process, the better.

  1. Trees
  • if using “artificial” make sure they are “fire resistant”
  • For live trees–fresh trees are green, have some sticky resin on the trunk, needles don’t snap in half when bent and don’t fall off if the tree is shaken.
  • Cut off approximately 2″ from the base and keep in water
  • Keep away from fire or heat source like heaters, radiators
  • Keep away from traffic areas like doorways.
  • Secure to walls with thin wire for stability

2. Trimmings

  • use only non-flammable
  • avoid sharp or breakable objects
  • avoid leaded materials (note–besides patriotism, “Made in America” is usually, but NOT ALWAYS, best)
  • Avoid small parts
  • avoid artificial candy or food

3. Candles

  • Keep away from trees
  • Keep away from paper
  • Non-flammable holders
  • Extinguish all flames if you go out or retire for the evening (this means YOU, fellow Jews celebrating with the Hannukah menorah!)

4. Lights

  • Check for broken or cracked sockets
  • Check wires
  • Never use electric light on metal tree–the tree can conduct electricity causing shocks or fires
  • Shut off all electric ornaments upon retiring for the evening
  • Do not overload sockets–no more than 3 standard light sets per extension cord

5. Paper

  • Don’t keep paper by open flame like fireplace or candles (DUH!!)
  • Do not burn used wrapping paper in fireplace

6. Spun glass–“angel hair” decorations of sprayed artificial snow can be inhaled and              cause serious lung injury

7. Poinsettias are poisonous–is it really necessary to include them in decorating your              house when there are young children around?

Bottom line that I remind all patients : Christmas decorations, and in particular, the tree, are the definition of “attractive nuisance”–little kids are drawn to them.  I mean–that’s the point, isn’t it?  So you cannot keep the child away from the tree.  You must endeavor to keep the tree away from the kid.

Please keep all of these things in mind.  And let’s make this the Happiest and HEALTHIEST Holiday Season yet!!

Send along questions and comments and thanks for following.