iPadding Children. Critical Information for Parents

The title for this post is inspired by Linked-IN’s “BrainInsights”, a group about Brain Development and Positive Parenting.  There, a talented group of experts connected to discuss their strong beliefs regarding the perils of screen time in toddlers and infants.

“Inspire the Genius” and “It’s Cool to be Smart” are marketing messages of the Vinci Touch Screen Learning System (recommended age 4 and under).  These messages are designed to target the emotions of parents who then open wallets and recklessly spend $479 for the promise of “genius.” 

To Vinci’s credit some of their other products have earned awards and their website clearly states the following:  “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV watching before a child reaches the age of 2.”  But Vinci left out some very important sentences.

The full statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reads as follows:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or screen media such as computer games, videos, or DVDs for children under 2. For children over age 2, the recommendation is 1 to 2 hours per day for television or any screen media.  

Imagine that!  Vinci posted only part of the AAP’s statement because they don’t want potential buyers to know that their touchpad is on the banned list of “all” screen media for children under age two!

It comes as no surprise that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has awarded the Vinci Touchpad as their 2012 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) otherwise known as “the worst toy of the year.”   This organization gripes that the Vinci will “virtually lobotomize an infant.”

That allegation is likely made because research tells us that whether children are in infancy, toddlerhood, or of school age, that an unprecedented amount of screen time is thwarting healthy brain development.  While parents buy computer devices with hopes to make their child smarter they are overlooking other important parts of the brain growth that require the kind of nurturing that electronics simply cannot accomplish. 

Not only are excessive hours of electronic usage robbing children of emotional and social nurturing time through human contact, they are also poised to cause future damage.

A recent New York Times article cites numerous researchers warning that too much screen time actually decreases a child’s attention span, creates an environment where children “find the realities of the world underwhelming and under-stimulating” and may be a contributing factor to the skyrocketing diagnosis of ADHD.  Even childhood obesity has been blamed on children plastered in front of televisions for hours on end.

The research is boundless but enough said!  There are five suggestions below that parents can implement immediately to influence healthy brain development in children of all ages.

Follow the AAP guidelines no matter what it takes! 

Stubbornly refuse to let a child under age 2 get near screens of any type. Strictly limit screen time after age 2.

Replace screen time with play time as frequently as possible. 

Hurried lifestyles and adult dependence on screen time as “entertainment” have robbed children of essential play.  In a 10 page report, the AAP states “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights as a right for every child.”  Consistent play times with loving caregivers provide children with the right kind of brain development not just cognitively, but emotionally and socially. Kids can grow bonds and trusting relationships with their caregivers.  Play allows children to learn how to interact with real people and real situations. They learn to manage difficult emotions and learn competencies that will help them when they face future challenges.  For example, with an adult’s help, three year old Johnny learns how to manage when Steven swipes his toy truck.  18 month old Penny learns how to clap for herself by following the cues of her caretaker.  She’s building her confidence too!  The life skills required to successfully navigate the game of life are born out of play.  And playtime is free!  It doesn’t cost anything to stack plastic containers from a kitchen cabinet, or dance to music in a living room.

Do not use screens as a babysitter! 

Do not use screens as a babysitter!  Do not use screens as a babysitter!  CCFC was right.  You might as well “lobotomize” your child!  Developing brains need as much quality human contact as possible.

Be present when your child is using any kind of screen device.  

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the child’s brain that discerns “good from bad”, “right from wrong”, “risk versus safety” etc. and will not fully develop until the mid 20’s. This means children need adult guidance to help them make sense of concepts applicable to their real world.  So while a 5 year old hears a good message about values from the television show “Arthur”, he or she still needs a loving adult to help them apply the concept into reality.

Consider your grandparents’ ideas. 

Generations ago, there were creative solutions for passing time in a car or an airplane.  Coloring and story books created a new and brilliant generation in which you, dear reader, are included!  Today many parents covet travel time as an “electronics free zone” in which they can learn about “stuff” in their child’s world.  Yes, parents can actually start conversations in which they learn about their child’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, grievances, and joys about millions of possible subjects. Why not capitalize on this window of opportunity to share your commonalities, debate your differences, guide your child’s maturity, or simply bond.

So in the end, parents can certainly choose to splurge on the $479 Vinci touchpad. If used as the only screen resource within the recommendations of the AAP, maybe, just maybe, it might serve a little short term value.  Used between ages 2 and 4 it ends up costing 66 cents a day monetarily. How much will it cost if parents allow it to become a babysitter? 

Reader comments are cherished. 


How Parents can Help Toddlers with Bedtime Fears

Many parents seeking sleep for their toddlers (and themselves) want to know, “what do I do about my child’s nighttime fears?”  One mother who recently posed this question said she didn’t want to put a band- aid on her toddler’s fears but actually wanted him to have coping strategies.  What a smart mom!  She may not have realized it, but she sought to put an emotional intelligence tool in her child’s life skills toolbox.

Quite simply put, Emotional Intelligence is first, acknowledging the presence of an emotion, and second, managing it effectively.  Research has shown that kids who have these skills boast notable benefits.

As parents we are tempted to jump in and fix common problems for our kids.  It is a noble gesture but what if we could teach them to fix it instead?   We are now empowering them with a potentially lifelong skill.

Let’s go back to nighttime fears as an example.  Three year old Jacob is afraid of monsters under his bed.  They come out at night when the lights are off and his parents are absent.  Telling him that there are no monsters doesn’t work.  In his case, neither does a nightlight or giving him “magic spray” to spray the monsters away. He wants his mom or dad to stay with him until he falls asleep.  Sound familiar?

Here are some suggestions that are not meant to be “one size fits all” advice.  Take what works and toss what doesn’t.

1.  Rest assured that Jacob is behaving very normally.  Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton states that fears appear during times of rapid development toward independence.  As if this wasn’t enough, toddlers are also struggling to balance their perceptions of reality and make-believe.  The subtle stressors in their world show up in their room at night.

2.  Jacob’s fear is very real to him. Validate his emotion. This might sound like “Wow, Jacob, I can hear how scared you are.” When Jacob is validated, he learns that he can trust what he is feeling inside.  We want our kids to be able to trust their own emotions rather than having someone else label them with one.  (This is important for all kids including teens.)  With his parent’s validation, Jacob learns that his parents “get it” and he feels increasingly comfortable in approaching them with new problems.  What a beautiful technique to show our kids that they can come to us for anything.

3.  Jacob’s parents might consider sharing their own childhood fears so he doesn’t feel alone.  Dr. Brazelton suggests doing this briefly and lightheartedly so as not to accentuate the child’s fears.

4.  Young children in particular often need help in developing a vocabulary to express what they are feeling inside.  Older children might just need to be reminded to actually use the right words to express themselves.  Jacob might need help to learn words such as “afraid”, “scared”, “nervous”, or “lonely”.  With these words he can communicate more effectively.  Both parent and child are on the same page and problem solving can begin.

5.  Allow Jacob to be a part of the solution.  Ask him open ended questions such as “What would you like to do about those monsters?”  Or, “How can you scare the monsters and make them run away forever?”  If he’s stumped for ideas, give him three of your own and ask him which one he thinks is the best one.  Besides dealing with the monsters, Jacob is being taught the art of decision making and problem solving.  Done repeatedly, he could become very creative with his solutions.

6.  Consider following up with Jacob during daytime hours when his fear is lessened.  Be careful not to over discuss the problem or you may very well re-ignite it.

7.  Congratulate Jacob for his efforts and or any positive results in overcoming his fear.  “Look what you did!”  “You’re not afraid anymore!”  A sincerely toned parent will be rewarded with genuine pride in their child’s expression.

It is important to note that all children are unique.  Some react more frequently or intensely to their fears.  It won’t help to compare your child with another unless of course they are both brainstorming on how to get monster’s out of their bedrooms!

Reader comments are cherished.  What ideas would you add to this list?


Emotionally Intelligent Potty Training

C’mon parents! Are you buying that Batman or Barbie underwear for your kids or for that aching need in your own heart to purge the Pamper? Admit it! You are over the diaper! But, “gasp”, what if your tinkling toddler isn’t?The internet contains countless pleas from fraught parents wanting to potty train their toddlers. Timelines vary from a single day to a more leisurely schedule counting up to the first day of preschool. Aaarrgh! Can’t those preschools change a diaper? Why must kids be potty trained to enter? Don’t parents have enough pressure?! I like to reach out to these parent predicaments with an emotional intelligence perspective that promotes peace and practical policy to the potty. Whoa, lots of p’s in that sentence. Now let’s get some “pee” out of your kid! Here is what I recently shared with a parent who asked on the internet for help. But first my disclaimer! How any parent pursues potty training their child is their own choice. You have the right to accomplish it in a day (as some books promise) and to cover your child from head to toe with stickers. With respect for my readers, my purpose is not to tell you what to do, but to share ideas that you can pick and choose from. Most importantly, I am an advocate for emotional intelligence skills in children. Potty training is a huge milestone with an array of emotions, and I believe it can, and should, be accomplished with a child’s self esteem intact if not outwardly enhanced. For reasons you’ll understand in # 3, I’ll use “he” for the remainder of this blog! No offense to the girls! 1. Many parents view potty training solely as a physical task and innocently forget their child’s deep feelings or emotions on the subject. The first step for your child to be emotionally intelligent is for him to be aware of his feelings. Parents are the perfect people to promote this awareness, and also promote the self management of those feelings (which is the second step). Allow for expression of feelings and be cautious about forcing or bribing your child to use the potty before he is emotionally or physically ready (more on this later). According to experts (including pediatrician T. Berry Brazleton), there are other strategies to try first. 2. Buy him a potty seat of his own. Take him to the store with you and let him pick out one he likes. If you need to stay within a budget, give him a choice of two or three and let him choose from those. This will help to get his emotional buy in and build his own excitement. A child of any age is more likely to work toward a goal if it he is involved in all its aspects as opposed to being instructed what to do. And while you’re shopping, let him choose his big boy underwear too. Let him know his opinion matters. With these steps you are also exposing your child to basic decision making skills and promoting this aspect of his independence. 3. Invite him in to the bathroom whenever you or your spouse use it. Take his potty in with you and ask him if he would like to try too. Whenever possible, allow him to make the choice instead of making him follow your command. This gives him ownership of his decisions, and potentially a sense of pride. Let him observe you and take his time to process those observations. Be prepared for a question about “size” if he notices that dad is bigger than him. This is normal and parents can simply point out that all of daddy’s body parts are bigger! 4. Many children have the emotion of fear when flushing because of the loud sound, but mostly because they are afraid of losing a part of themselves, especially when they see a formed “poop” exit their body! Some kids are so scared that they hold poops for days and spur on constipation. Of course common sense tells us to soothe our child’s fears. Remember however that it’s not what you say but how you say it. Soothe him and comfort his emotional health by soliciting his questions and lovingly alleviating his fears or other negative emotions. Sometimes it helps to point out that animals (including your own pets) also “poop” and that this is normal for all living creatures. A great book to read together is called “Everyone Poops”. 5. Encourage your child when he TRIES as well as when he succeeds. If he is successful in using the potty, congratulate him but be careful not to overdo the praise. And please do not scold! If for some reason his body is not able to cooperate with his efforts, you don’t want him to feel bad about it, or make him feel that he is disappointing mom, dad, or himself. A child’s confidence and self esteem must be built at this age, not dented by disappointments or indirect demoralization because he cannot pee or poop on command. Your child wants to be a “big kid” and is trying hard. Do not mistake any inability as a child’s defiance or a challenge to your parental authority. A toddler cannot necessarily articulate his emotions of frustration with himself or with external situations / people, so he will need your help. Ask him about his feelings, help him with labeling his feelings with words, and give him the necessary support. This is a fundamental approach that parents can use to build emotional intelligence in their kids. 6. As far as using stickers or other incentives, I’m wary because of what I mentioned above. A child has to be ready to perform a big task like bladder /bowel control. This readiness has to be both on a physical level and an emotional level. Not being able to “earn” a sticker because this readiness hasn’t developed, or because he regressed, just doesn’t seem fair. Loving encouragement, heartfelt congratulations, nurturing hugs, and patience are the best gifts a parent can give a child who is working hard to gain physical control and emotional independence.

If you are planning to or are currently potty training consider giving yourselves plenty of time before preschool deadlines and be ready for accidents or even full regression. This can be triggered by a new baby, preschool trauma, major household changes, or by something as simple as a strenuous day, fatigue, or deep sleep. Solicit your child’s emotions, and assure and comfort him if this happens. Realize that some kids will accommodate teachers at school but not parents at home. Rest assured that your child will not be in diapers when they are 20 and that this moment in time shall pass. No pun intended!

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