Browsing Tag

Language

Offended, Outraged? Parents, What are You Taking Personally?

By November 11, 2015 No Comments
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Everywhere I look on the interwebs, it seems like there’s an entire group of people getting seriously offended over something, and often they’re making an enormously big deal over it. I do it too, sometimes, I mean, I am human. There are things that fire me up that in the greater scheme of things, mean very little. For example: people chewing with their mouths open. It makes me practically murderous. It makes me cringe to even write about it! I could rant for an hour, easily (and the science is still out on whether that makes me someone who has OCD or just brilliant).

More recently, there have been a few public debacles that made parts of society go from mellow to ballistic in a matter of a few hours. I’m sure each of you could name a few that hit close to home, such as the recent Starbucks Red Cup Where-Are-You-Christmas outrage, for one. From our perspective at The Scientific Parent, some of the furious feedback we get in response to the content we post on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, for another. And the countless stories we hear about or are personally involved with surrounding politics, healthcare, crime, violence, parent-shaming, birth-shaming, in-law-shaming? The offense covers all areas, and goes on and on…and on. So much offense. So much outrage. It seems like there’s so little peace among us sometimes, doesn’t it?

I’ve thought on this long and hard while running this blog with Leslie, that it seems that everyone is really just looking for a group to belong to, for that sense of belonging that makes life okay, to do the right thing to make things turn out “right,’ and sometimes, to be part of a “right” team against a “wrong” team. I know I’ve done it. We probably all have at one point or another. As that goes, from our perspective, it seems that feeling personally offended is a natural defense mechanism to when you feel you’re being accused of being on the “wrong” side of something, or your choices are being judged as the “incorrect” ones to make. Hello, parenting 101. You will feel like this constantly, no matter what side of the mythical “right/wrong” line you’re on.

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Categories: Science 101 + Mythbusting

How to Survive When Your Toddler Throws A Tantrum in Public

By September 14, 2015 No Comments
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 Let’s face it: everyone is lucky if they survive the toddler years, parents and toddlers included. We’ve been lucky in that our son’s temperament is rather laid back, but we’ve had our fair share of breakdowns in the grocery store and family dinners out interrupted by unexplained temper tantrums.

One epic tantrum happened in our local grocery store while my husband was out of town for a week and I was about 25 weeks pregnant with our second baby. We needed groceries, leaving without food was not an option, and my son had a massive breakdown. Arms and legs flailing, and screaming. Getting down to his level and talking to him didn’t help, distraction didn’t help, he was unhappy and would not be pacified. I have to say part of me was impressed by the meltdown as it was sustained. That kid had stamina! It went on for about 10 minutes as I threw the last groceries into our cart and rushed to the checkout aisle.

As I rushed to check out, I apologized to everyone around me. I remembered judging mothers before I had kids, so I expected judgmental looks and whispers from passersby of “can’t she control her child?” Here we are, I thought to myself, karma has won, the shoe is on the other foot. I totally deserved this very public tantrum and any judgment I received from others in the store. But instead nearly everyone looked at me with pity and offered me the reassuring words, “don’t worry about it, we’ve all been there.” Thank goodness for caring strangers!

That helped me feel better about myself in the moment but didn’t help me prevent or stop the meltdown. So why do toddlers have tantrums in the first place and what can you do when a tantrum happens in public?

Unfortunately, temper tantrums are a normal and important part of toddlerhood. Yes, ear piercing screams and flailing about because you won’t let your two-year-old play with a knife is perfectly normal. Frustrating for both of you, but completely normal.

What causes tantrums is actually highly dependent on biology.  Worry not, your child isn’t having a breakdown in Target because you’re a bad parent or because you use the wrong parenting philosophy.  Despite what some claim, the children of Attachment Parents and Tiger Moms have tantrums too, because it’s normal and natural. While toddlers have developed some level of autonomy through walking and basic language skills, they haven’t developed two important cognitive factors: 1. The necessary language skills to express themselves and; 2. self-control.

In the case of the first, it’s important to know all communication requires both receptive and expressive language. Receptive language is the language that we understand, i.e: When someone says “cup,” we understand it means a thing that holds liquid and that we drink out of. Expressive language is the ability to communicate to others, i.e. to say to someone, “I want the cup” and to refer accurately to a cup (instead of saying “cup” but meaning “plate”).

Receptive language develops first, with expressive language playing catch up. Unfortunately for toddlers this means that they often understand much more than they can express and that, of course, leads to frustration. Alternatively, sometimes they don’t have either the receptive or expressive language to understand or express how they feel and that too leads to frustration.  Essentially, it’s really frustrating to be a toddler.

As a comparison, we’ve all had the experience of needing to communicate with someone when there’s a language barrier. It could have been at work, or in your personal life but we’ve all encountered someone who speaks a different language from us who we need to communicate with but can’t, or struggle to.  It’s usually a really frustrating experience, even as an adult.

prefrontal-cortex NIH

Image of the brain and prefrontal cortex, c/o NIH

Essentially the same thing is happening with your toddler when they’re struggling to communicate with you. Unfortunately for them they haven’t yet developed the all important skill of self-control, which prevents most of us from breaking into an uncontrollable rage when we get frustrated. The development of self-control is linked to the part of the brain that also regulates emotion. This part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex and it sits, appropriately enough, at the front of the brain. Unfortunately for everyone the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to fully develop. In fact, it’s not considered to be fully developed until age 12, with higher executive level functions not truly developing until we’re in our 20s.

As adults we’re used to being told “no” and for 90% of us we don’t fly off the handle when we hear the word. We might not be happy about it, it may frustrate us, but we don’t scream, yell and throw ourselves on the ground. This is because our prefrontal cortex has developed appropriately and we’re able to regulate our emotions and our reactions. For the other 10%, we’ve all encountered them in airports, on the subway and at customer service counters, and they’re usually acting like toddlers having a meltdown when receiving information they don’t like.

So take comfort fellow parents, if your child has a tantrum in public or otherwise, it’s not because you’re doing parenting wrong or have ascribed to the wrong parenting philosophy. It’s biology, pure and simple, and there’s nothing you can do to skip this developmental stage.

So now that you’re breathing a sigh of relief that your toddler’s public tantrum isn’t your fault, how are you supposed to handle it when the inevitable happens?  How do you manage your tiny, otherwise lovable ball of abject rage in the best way possible for them and for the sanity of those around you?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has great recommendations for handling tantrums and we use them in our home.  I would highly recommend you check them out, but I’ve summarized and organized them below as well.

Generally:

  • Catch Them Being Good: Praise is a powerful tool for any of us, but especially for children. Day-to-day when you catch your child being well-behaved, being patient and gentle, let them know you noticed and give them praise for behaving so well. This can help incentivize good behavior.
  • Zero Tolerance: Have a zero tolerance behavior for things like hitting, biting, kicking or throwing. Make sure your child knows that behavior isn’t acceptable as soon as it happens.
One of the "To Go Kits" Leslie and her husband keep available when they know their son is likely to have a tantrum. We use small toys, one with wheels, one soft, a book and triangle crayons. Triangle crayons are life savers, no rolling off the tables.

One of the “Go Kits” Leslie and her husband keep available when they know their son is likely to have a tantrum. Each has a toy with wheels, a soft toy, a small book and triangle crayons. Triangle crayons are life savers, no rolling off the tables.

Before heading out:

  • Set yourself up for Success: If you know your child is more likely to have a tantrum when they’re hungry or tired, before you leave make sure they’re rested and have eaten. Or pack a snack. We know our son throws tantrums when he gets bored, so we created these little “go packs” that we take with us whenever we’re heading to a restaurant, doctor’s office or any other place we know he’ll have to sit for a while. Pro tip: triangle crayons, they don’t roll away.
  • Know Your Child’s Limits: Just like adults, kids have good days and bad days. If you know your child is having “an off day” put off running your errand if you can.

During a Tantrum:

  • Distract: If you can, change rooms or locations, sing a song, offer up a toy or point out something in the area that they might find interesting. If you’re in a store, leave your cart at customer service and take your child outside for a change of venue.
  • Offer Alternatives: If possible, give your child some measure of control over the situation but offer them a choice of alternatives. For example, “we can’t go to Nana’s house today, but we can go to the park or to your friend’s house after this, which would you like to do?”
  • Pick and Choose Your Battles: We all know that consistency is best, but some days it’s a case of survival. It’s OK to compromise or give-in a little if you’re in a situation where you know you can’t leave (ie: doctor’s office) and you know your child has reached their limit.

When All Else Fails:

  • It’s OK to Walk Away: Sometimes you have to pack up your things (toddler included!), and go home. Consider the errand or the event a wash and go home to nurse your wounds. If the tantrum happens at home, it’s also OK to make sure your child is in a safe place (preferably with another trusted adult) and take a 10-minute sanity break. I have had to do both of these things more than once.

On the bright side, temper tantrums are a temporary phase, even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Most children outgrow regular tantrums by the time they’re three or four, with the odd tantrum remaining through ages five and six. In the meantime, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Toddlers + Preschoolers

It’s Time to Stop Judging Mothers for How They Gave Birth

By September 7, 2015 3 Comments
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 I have sat down to write this particular post several times. Each time I’ve spent more than half of the post justifying why I had an emergency c-section, and the steps I took to avoid a c-section in the first place. But that’s not the point I actually want to make. I think it says a lot that in a post that I’ve intended to be about how we can support mothers no matter how their children came into the world, I felt the need to justify that I really wasn’t “too posh to push.”

First, I’d like to take the entire concept of “too posh to push” off the table, because statistically it’s not a thing. If anything it’s “I’m posh, therefore I push,” with white women of higher socioeconomic status having a significantly lower c-section rate than other groups. *

But, again, that isn’t the point of this post.

Having an emergency c-section was the single worst experience of my life. It was physically and mentally traumatic. After having an epidural administered approximately 20 hours earlier, its effects had started to wear off by the time the decision was made. For the safety of my son they couldn’t give me any more pain medication in the operating room. The anesthesiologist called a time out, concerned that I wasn’t adequately numb.  I remember the OB saying “we have to go” and then feeling the incision. Let me be clear, I was in pain. I felt everything. Once my son was safely out I asked to be completely knocked out, but not before the stitching began.   I don’t regret the decision to be completely sedated.  I would not wish an emergency c-section on anyone.

I did find it difficult to bond with my son after my c-section, but NOT because we’d been separated for the first 30 minutes of his life (we’d been separated when I requested to be completely sedated). It was because the trauma of his birth was so overwhelming that I had a hard time reconciling this round-headed, chubby-cheeked cherub with how he had come into the world, and that made it difficult for me to bond with him.

Leslie in labor.

Leslie in labor somewhere around hour 18.

What I’ve found since my son’s birth is that my experience was not unique. If you ask any woman who has had an emergency c-section, she will likely tell you that they wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. An emergency c-section is not the easy way out as it is often characterized. It is traumatic, it is painful, and it is scary. It is an emergency life-saving procedure where the comfort of the mother is secondary to ensuring mother and baby survive.

In public health we’re all acutely aware that private decisions often have public consequences. When I told colleagues that I had an emergency c-section, I was typically reminded of the increasing c-section rate, and then asked to describe in minute detail what lead up to the procedure. They were trying to figure out if my emergency c-section was truly an emergency, or if my OB simply wanted to go home and catch The Daily Show at 11pm. I became another data point, which as a data nerd I understand to a certain extent, but sometimes in public health we can forget that our data points are people.

When I told friends how my son was born, I received one of two responses: 1. Empathy and commiseration from other women who experienced an emergency c-section or 2. Disdain from those who have given birth the old-fashioned way or who felt their c-sections were medically unnecessary. From the latter cohort, I’ve been told I did birth wrong, I gave up too soon, I wasn’t fully informed of the risks, I was taken advantage of by the medical profession. The most common and hurtful was that I took the easy way out. Let me assure you, after 26 hours of labor and feeling each individual stitch being made in each individual layer of my body, I can assure you that an emergency c-section is NOT the easy way out.

I have been in tears more than once after a well-meaning conversation with a friend or colleague who needed to tell me how badly I birthed my son. Something Julia and I say over and over again on this blog is that language matters. When we tell women that they didn’t do birth the right way, it breaks motherhood into two tiers: those who are “Mom Enough” and those who are not. The research shows that this judgment of mothers who have had c-sections is ripe among women, with mothers even judging themselves for giving birth the “wrong way.”

Perhaps the most stinging phrase I’ve heard since my son’s birth is one that mothers heap on themselves: their bodies failed them. This is usually accompanied by cries that their bodies let their babies down, fears that their children won’t love them as much because they weren’t able to birth them the “right way.” It breaks my heart when I hear women say it, because it says that their bodies were somehow less natural than other women. It says that at a base, biological level one woman is fundamentally less “female” than a woman who is able to give birth naturally.

This language cuts and we must stop using it against each other and ourselves.

Leslie and her son minutes after he was born.

Leslie and her son minutes after he was born.

It took me well over a year to mentally come to terms with my c-section.  I didn’t set out to do that.  In fact at one point I wasn’t sure I’d ever reconcile my birth experience, what others told me about it, and whether or not I had the mental fortitude to go through it again.  But several events eventually lead me to make peace with my son’s birth.

The first events were unfortunately tragic. A friend of a friend had a labor similar to mine, yet refused to consent to a c-section when it was recommended by the OB on-call. She was convinced the doctor was motivated to perform the c-section for selfish reasons. By the time she consented, her son was stillborn and couldn’t be revived. My friend reached to ask how she could support her friend who was wracked with guilt and grief. My only advice was to not judge her, because whatever my friend thought of her decisions, her friend’s own judgment would be ten times of what anyone could heap on her. The second event involved an acquaintance from high school who had a labor similar to mine. While she consented to a c-section promptly, the procedure was delayed and her son was also stillborn and could not be revived.

To be clear, these events were personally transformative, and that’s why I mention them here.  I don’t mention them to scare women into c-sections.  If you can safely push that baby out, then push that baby out! More power to you!  And it obviously goes without saying that c-sections and specifically emergency c-sections carry risks above and beyond a vaginal birth.  I say this because I know there is a contingency on the web that will be quick to accuse me sharing these two stories in an attempt to scare women into having unnecessary c-sections.  If that’s what you think, please re-read the third and fifth paragraphs of this post.

But, these two tragedies caused me to reframe my son’s birth from something I viewed as traumatic and less than ideal to “there but for the grace of god goes I.” These tragedies reframed birth in my mind from an end in itself, to a means to an end.

The next two events happened in close succession. I switched OBs during my current pregnancy and requested a copy of my medical records. When I read the c-section report it was like reading a hidden history. The first half read as I’d remembered the day progressing, but many of the details leading up to the procedure and the procedure itself I hadn’t been aware of. Those details made me realize the situation was much more serious than I’d been aware of at the time.  It also put my OB’s comment, “we have to go” into better context.  I’d always thought that his comment had more to do with wanting to keep to hospital policy and in/out times, but after reading the report I realized he meant that my son had to come out now, not five minutes from now.  Despite the trauma of the experience I’m grateful that he made that call.

Shortly after reading the report, and with the knowledge that I was pregnant again, a friend began to lecture me on how I couldn’t let my OB take advantage of me again in this delivery. She repeated the phrases I’d heard before, that I could do it right this time, that with more time and patience my body could do what came naturally.  This time, instead of focusing on the other person in the conversation and trying to validate what they were saying, I stood up for myself. I let them know how her language made me feel, how I felt about my birth, and that their judgment was extremely hurtful.

I expected the friend to get angry, to tell me how she was just trying to empower me to stand up to the medical profession, but what I got instead was a sincere apology. I think the moment was a bit of a wake-up for her as well.  I don’t think she’d realized how much the language she was using to encourage vaginal birth actually stigmatized women who’d had cesareans.

This issue around the language and ranking of birth doesn’t just extend to women who have had caesarian sections, but also to women who became mothers through surrogacy, adoption, or by step-parenting. We must stop defining each other by how we came to be mothers and instead value each other as partners in a shared, wonderful, maddening, frustrating but joyful journey.

Leslie, her husband and son when he was only a few months old.

Leslie, her husband and son when he was only a few months old.

* To be clear this is a vast overgeneralization of the issue. There are many, many factors that go into both an individual’s risk of having a c-section as well as traits and behaviors associated with demographic groups including access to prenatal care, nutrition and underlying medical conditions.

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning

Teaching Kids to Unplug – A Parenting Battle Worth Fighting

By April 27, 2015 2 Comments
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The nature of blogging here at The Scientific Parent is that we typically write and post about issues that we’re tackling in our daily lives – or hot button topics that get us really revved up about science and health policy. Here’s one that’s happening in our home and gets me rowdy!

I recently posted Missy Keenan’s 10 Tips: Help Kids Strike A Better Balance With Tech on The Scientific Parent’s Facebook page, since my household features my tech-loving fiance and his young teenage sons, and we’re always looking for ways to balance tech time with real, human connection. In non-flowery language this means: teenagers + freedom + video games + pew pew pew + phones = countless hours of staring at screens syncopated with cranky chaos and fights. Oh, those boys. They’re wonderful. And when they’re tired, and we’re tired, we all just need someone to turn off those screens for us, shelve the protests, and send us all to our bedrooms for an early bedtime.

This non-stop tech time that the kiddos crave is generally unworkable (read: exhausting) in our lives for so many reasons, and from what it sounds like, many of yours too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids spend an average 7 hours a day on entertainment media such as TV, computers, and phones, which is slightly horrifying when you really think about the weekly tally on that one – an average of around 50 hours a week! I’m guessing many of you might be doing a mental tally to figure out how far below that total your kids might be to feel better about it. We did too – and you know what? It’s right. Ack.

I’ve first-hand watched a request to turn off the TV or to put down a phone after hours of use dissolve into an hours-long protest and tears, conflict that is supported by studies that show statistically significant positive associations between behavioral problems and media time. I’ve also seen the heavy impacts that late-night TV and video games have on healthy sleep patterns (theirs, and in turn, ours). There are late nights that the boys are both exhausted and wide awake, and hoping for just a bit more time on the Playstation, which is not surprising given that late-night TV, screen, and phone time is associated with decreased physical activity, increased physiological and mental arousal, and possible inhibition of the appropriate brain patterns and chemicals for effective sleeping.

The bottom line is, this battle of technology is a losing proposition for everyone if parents/stepparents/guardians don’t hold the line. And it’s really not a technology demon to battle; this generation is being raised seamlessly with technology and media that most of us didn’t have growing up, and it shows no signs of stopping. This is actually a parenting issue. As Leslie and I discussed this topic, we quickly turned to parenting styles and frustrations on how to parent and set structures for children based on their particular personalities and needs. Should we be doing what our parents did, do something else, or do helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, tiger parenting, attachment parenting, to name a few? How do we allow them freedom and time to relax with passive activities (TV, video games), and take those activities away when needed without harming them mentally or ruining their lives? Really, how do we not break our kids?

The good news and bad news is… I don’t have any official answer for you, since my parenting handbook got lost in the mail like all of yours did, too. What I can tell you is that the science says that kids need time to connect with each other, their parents, and their world to develop key social skills and instill a sense of curiosity and interest in their lives. The Ten Tips provided some great starting points to alter the relationships that kids have with technology, and they come just one week before International Screen Free Week (May 4-10) this year, a celebration where families put away digital entertainment and spend time together.

logoforsite

A celebration of families disconnecting from electronics and reconnecting with each other

In our home, currently we’re moving away from technology-heavy activities and trending toward things that bring us face-to-face. We put in a table that is far enough away from the TV that the TV isn’t visible from it – an incompatible behavior trick we learned from What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage. We eat dinner there, we do homework there, we have fun, and eat our latest snack experiments there. We created phone-free zones, and created video game “relaxation” time limits that they’re able to use however they see fit, since micromanaging is the pits for everyone. And we make sure that physical activities like sports, karate classes, and 4-person living room dance parties take precedence over screen time.

It doesn’t stop all the fights, but I suppose if they’re not arguing with you and complaining at you sometimes, you’re probably not doing it right. After all, we generally want to raise independent, capable, thinking human beings who can go live their lives well. So I’d urge that the battle of the tech is a battle worth fighting – it’s our job to make sure their brains and bodies have the best chance possible during these key developmental stages. And that means unplugging while also learning how to connect.

 


Resources:

Amy Sutherland. What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage. New York Times. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Missy Keenan. 10 Tips: Help Kids Strike A Better Balance With Tech. Des Moines Register. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Media and Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Media Kit: Children and Media. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Nuutinen, T., Ray, C., Roos, E. Do computer use, TV viewing, and the presence of the media in the bedroom predict school-aged children’s sleep habits in a longitudinal study? BMC Public Health 2013, 13:684. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA. Children’s Television Viewing and Cognitive Outcomes: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Data.  Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2005;159(7):619-625. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.7.619. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Ginsburg, K., et al. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics. Vol. 119 No. 1 January 1, 2007. pp. 182 -191 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-2697). Accessed April 25, 2015.

Lillard, A., Peterson, J. The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function. PEDIATRICS. Vol. 128 No. 4 October 1, 2011 pp. 644 -649
(doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1919) Accessed April 25, 2015.

Özmert E, Toyran M, Yurdakök K. Behavioral Correlates of Television Viewing in Primary School Children Evaluated by the Child Behavior Checklist. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 2002;156(9):910-914. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.9.910.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers

Hitting Language Development Milestones: Stop Stressing and Start Talking!

By April 6, 2015 1 Comment
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“Why is Christopher not saying anything yet when Abigail couldn’t stop talking at that age?”

I hear this type of question often when working with parents on their children’s language development plans. Their thinking is not unusual – society has placed expectations on when it’s developmentally appropriate for children to communicate. Parents often worry and want to know why their child is not pacing others their age based on these norms, but as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I can tell you that milestones that use exact ages should be taken with a grain of salt. I personally was one of those people asking why my nephew wasn’t speaking at 12 months, even though I professionally knew better than to expect him to conform to those standards.

So what are the general expectations?

A true vocabulary word means that they look at the person and say the word with intent (i.e. look at Mom and say “mama”). It’s believed that by 12 months of age, children should have one or two words that they say meaningfully (i.e.: “hi!” “mama” and “dada”) and a vocabulary of about 50 words at the age of 24 months. But these aren’t set in stone, nor are they appropriate for every child. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website has an extensive listing of those milestones to review, and is a great place to look for further information about the development of language.

What concerns me is the way some statistics and guidelines are taken very literally, and how language development studies can be misinterpreted in a way that causes parents undue worry. For example, a UC Berkeley study recently published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences indicated that language skills of Mexican-American babies lag behind their white peers by the age of two. This research found that lag occurred for babies whose parents lived below the poverty line and had not attained high school diplomas, whose mothers were generally born outside of the U.S. Unfortunately, for non-clinicians, it is easy to misinterpret this study as something resulting from strictly cultural or bilingual origins, as opposed to the myriad of factors that affect a child’s language.

Being bilingual is an asset – for example,  children with bilingualism have been found to obtain increased metacognitive skills (i.e. self-awareness) due to their understanding that an object may have more than one word to label it. Further, according to an article from the Journal of Cognition (summary here), monolingual infants expect that an unfamiliar person would only understand one language, whereas bilingual infants understand that all speech would not communicate to all people.  So to answer a question brought forth by a concerned parent to The Scientific Parent’s Facebook page asking if speaking more than one language affects a child’s ability to learn to speak, the simple and short answer is no.

Let’s break it down. There are two types of language skill sets that every person utilizes. Receptive language (where one takes in what others are saying and is able to understand what is being said) and expressive language (how we are able to get our thoughts, feeling and ideas across, either through nonverbal/verbal language or written expression). Babies begin developing receptive language at birth when infants learn that crying will bring them food and comfort and by hearing the environmental noises around them. They begin to comprehend the various speech sounds of which their native language is comprised. It is vital to assess infants’ hearing to ensure that they are able to hear speech sounds and environmental noises. This normally occurs early on however should be reassessed if the child suffers from chronic ear infections. By the age of 2, a child should be able to increase their vocabulary every month, point to a couple body parts, point to pictures in a book when named, and ask a two-worded question, for example, what’s that? But also remember, when it comes to speech and language development there are many things that you can do at home:

Structured Parenting Activities:
Regularly read to your child.Children pick up that words have different uses and the visual of the picture book help children comprehend what the word means. Limit media time.According to the American Academy of Pediatrics television and other media should be avoided by children under 2. See the journal link for more details.
Limit the amount of toys that make noise.These often overstimulate children. Your words as a parent are more powerful than sound from a toy. Provide positive reinforcement when your child attempts to communicate. There is nothing like seeing a child smile and excited because you responded to them!

 

Regular Verbal Exercises:
Have your child imitate your sounds. (i.e. mamamama, papapa). This helps children produce the sound as they are being given a visual. Also, practice making these sounds on their cheeks to give them the sensation. Teach your child to imitate your actions.Use gestures to help convey meaning (i.e. waving bye, blowing kisses). Many children will use gestures to help them communicate (i.e. point to the juice and say please since they can’t produce the word juice.)
Talk as you complete everyday routines.Expose the child to everyday vocabulary (doing the dishes, taking a bath, folding laundry). Identify what you see around you (see the white cat?), count items (I see 1, 2,3 fish!). Sing songs. (i.e. Old MacDonald, The Wheels on the Bus, Hokey Pokey). Repetitive words and sounds help children remember vocabulary and correlate the sounds/actions with words (i.e. sheep says baa, dog say woof).
Expanding any language opportunities.If the child says “doggie,” the parent responds, “yes I see the little black doggie.” This will convey the message to the child that there is more that can be said to get their point across. Use hand over hand cuing to point to items in a book.I.e. place your hand on your child’s when pointing to an apple and say “apple” while touching the item. 

If you are concerned that your child has not reached developmental milestones you should contact your pediatrician and explain your concerns and observations. They can refer you to a professional for an evaluation to determine if a child has a developmental delay, and if they do, a program called Early Intervention (EI) provides services in support of children from birth to age three before they enter the school systems. I have seen children benefit greatly from the services through EI, not just because I work in EI but through the growth of my nephew’s expressive language when he was little. EI is parent-centered, and is able to work with children who experience delays in physical (reaching, rolling, crawling, and walking); cognitive (thinking, learning, solving problems); communication (talking, listening, understanding); social/emotional (playing, feeling secure and happy); and self-help (eating, dressing). Therapists that work in EI such as myself want you to participate in therapy and also strive to leave you with customized strategies to help enhance your child’s abilities.


 

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Toddlers + Preschoolers