Empathy and Mirror Neurons

Amazing video on how Mirror Neurons are such an important aspect in our life and development.  From babies modeling their parents, a toddler learning from observation, how it teaches us empathy and how we can spread that empathy to the world. The results of genetic studies that have proven that the 6.8 billion inhabitants of the world come from 2 humans “genetic Adam and Eve“.

Check out this post for ideas on how Mirror Neurons contribute to your baby’s development: Having Fun With Your Newborn


Communicating with your Child

Communicating with your Child

This article was featured in Mother&Child in English and Arabic

One of the things I’m most passionate about is helping parents communicate with their child. I realize it can be frustrating sometimes when you say things over and over again and your child ” just doesn’t listen!”. Your child is listening, his brain at this stage just works differently than yours. As adults we usually expect children to fit into our schedules, lives and world. Children are people too and sometimes we have to make changes in ourselves to accommodate our kids!

Some Things you Need to Know

  • You need to realize that children are different, even your own! Each child has a different personality and temperament which is apparent from birth. There is no “one rule fits all”.  As parents, you need to look at your child(ren) and adapt what works best with his character.
  • Your toddler or 3-year-old isn’t out to get you! It may seem that your child “just isn’t listening“, however you should know that at this age impulse control is still a developing skill and is very difficult for your child to control. That’s because the part in the brain (frontal lobes) necessary for controlling impulse is still developing and will not be well developed till age 7.
  • Take time to reflect on your parenting strategy; how is your current communication with your child? do you find your self saying “No” and yelling more than you would like?

How to Communicate Positively and Effectively

  • Get down to your child’s eye level. This makes it easier to get and maintain your child’s attention. Most likely when you’re shouting out something overhead your child will have completely missed that you’re talking to him.
  • Give your child a chance to explain and listen. If your child has misbehaved give him a chance to explain before jumping to conclusions. If your child doesn’t have the words to express himself you can supply him with short yes/no questions to understand what happened. Restate what you understood back to your child in short clear sentences to avoid misunderstanding. By taking his feelings seriously you’re showing him you care about his point of view and that his thoughts matter.
  • Avoid feelings of guilt or shame. At this age children are very sensitive of their actions. It may seem easy to shame your child into doing something “you make a mess every time you feed yourself, I’ll do it for you!” but this strategy may cause feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy in your child which may last into adulthood. Instead, try to offer help when in a difficult situation. Asking your child if you can assist instead of immediately taking over shows you respect his independence and less conflict is likely to occur.
  • Express yourself and offer alternatives. Use sentences that express how you feel. “I can’t read the paper when you crumble the pages. You can get your story and read next to me”. This way you’re expressing yourself positively and sending a clear message to your child. At the same time you are offering an alternative which will redirect your child to an activity that is appropriate for the moment.
  • Be ready to compromise. Your child has his own thoughts and ideas and may not be willing to say “Yes” every time you suggest something. Allow your child to state alternatives. Discuss that with him if you feel they aren’t possible or safe . Ask him what he thinks of his proposal? Does it fit with your household rules? Is it possible? How? If not then propose another solution. It may seem like a lot for a 3 year old but your child may surprise you! It’s a win-win scenario. Your child will use these negotiation skills for a lifetime.
  • Involve your child. When new situations occur try involving your child in coming up with a new rule or solution. It’s more likely your child will understand the reason for the rule and stick to it if he is more involved. He will also be more willing to accept consequences for misbehavior. You are also helping create an independent and responsible adult.
  • Offer Choices. Your toddler is going through a stage of independence and may become stubborn when you propose something. Giving your child choices fosters that feeling of independence and enables your child to make decisions. “You can have your bath now or after dinner”, “Do you want your blue T-shirt or the red one?”. Try to limit choices to just two items at this stage to avoid confusion.

To Avoid Miscommunication & Misbehavior

  • Set few clear rules. The more things are off-limits the more likely your child will end up misbehaving. Saying “No” all the time takes away from it’s effectiveness when you really mean it. Try to select few clear rules that cover safety and will allow your child to explore at the same time. Involve your child and use negotiation and compromise when you encounter a new situation.
  • Provide an appropriate environment. Now that you know why your child sometimes has difficulty controlling his impulses make sure your setting is child friendly. Put away tempting objects and bring along a story or box of crayons when going out to give your child age appropriate alternatives.
  • Label Feelings. Children often act out or misbehave because they still can’t express themselves or label how they feel. Use daily opportunities of crying, laughing, screaming, etc to label how you and your child feel. Singing and reading about feelings is another great way.
  • Try to avoid power struggles. It may be easy now to just give an order instead of taking the time to communicate and negotiate, but remember your child will soon grow into a teenager then an adult and the bond you create now can last a life time. Investing in these early years will help you both in your child’s rebellious teenage years and hopefully create a bond of friendship between you.
I hope this post give you some positive and practical ways to effectively communicate with your children. Please feel free to join the discussion or drop me a line if you have any comments or questions.
Photo By Mariam El Mofty www.mariamelmofty.com
Speech and Language in your Baby’s First Year

Speech and Language in your Baby’s First Year

This article was featured in Mother and Child magazine in English and Arabic

It’s an amazing discovery that babies’ language development starts in utero ! Although your baby isn’t saying much (in terms we can understand!) during her first year, her speech and language development has already started!

Researchers have discovered that babies as young as 2 days old pay more attention to words spoken in their native language and are able to distinguish language specific sound differences. During pregnancy your baby hears your voices and other sounds that become familiar to her and will be of comfort to her when she is born. Language development consists of two aspects ; receptive language which is understanding and listening skills and expressive language which is expressing thoughts, words and feelings. Try to provide your child with a word rich environment that fosters both aspects.

Photo By Mariam El Mofty

Your Baby 0-3 Months

As soon as your baby is born the one way she can communicate with you is by crying. Yes, crying is a form of communication, she’s telling you when she’s upset, tired or needs a diaper change. By 6 weeks she’s cooing and laughing as well. She’s also learning about voices by listening to you. By the end of this stage your baby will recognize familiar voices and smile when mom or dad speaks, startle upon hearing loud sounds, and cry differently for different needs.

What you can do: Sing and talk to your baby often. Your voice is a source of comfort for her as babies of this age prefer low vowel sounds. Your baby may start repeating your cooing sounds.

Your Baby 3-6 Months

Your child begins noticing people’s conversations. She starts moving her eyes in the direction of sound, starts responding to “no” and changes in tone of voice, notices toys that make sounds and starts responding to music.

At this point she’s also started to babble and making gurgling sounds. By the end of 6 months her babbling should include many different sounds, including p, b and m. She also starts to enjoy repeating syllables, such as “ba, ba, ba” and uses her voice to express when she’s happy or upset instead of crying.

Baby can also be using sounds or gestures trying to tell you that she wants something or wants you to do something

What you can do: Sing songs that add to her vocabulary. For instance, sing about body parts while holding her foot,hand,fingers,etc.. in turn. Start reading books that include big pictures of people’s faces, talk about their eyes,ears,etc.. with enthusiasm. Read rhymes, this helps develop the listening discrimination skills necessary for pre-reading. Sing silly songs about your day (during diaper changing) to familiar tunes.  Engage your baby in “conversation”, talk to her with enthusiasm and pause for her to respond, this can be really fun!

Your Baby 6-12 Months

Your baby’s language development is progressing fast now! She starts listening when spoken to, turns and looks when called by name and recognizes words for common items like “cup”, “book”, or “juice”. Babbling has also become more speech like, includes more consonants and she’s linking words together “bababab tata bibibi” . She’s also relying more on non crying sounds to get your attention and is using gestures to communicate (holding her arms up to be picked up)

By 9 months she knows what you’re talking about even if she can’t repeat the words herself, she recognizes familiar objects like “cup,eyes,spoon”.She should be responding to requests like “Come here” and “Want more?” and may run ahead to the table when you mention it’s time to eat.

By 1 year she should have one or two words like “mama, dada, hi, look, bye-bye” although the sounds may still not be clear. She should be capable of these consonant sounds “b,d,g,n,m,h,t,k,w”. She may also understand simple instructions, such as “Please drink your milk”.

What you can do: Start finger painting with your baby, this will give her a great time full of new new experiences where you can talk to her about colors, her body parts and narrate what she’s doing. Read Lift-the-Flap and Touch-and-Feel books, this will help engage your child during story time and allow her to participate and express herself by touching and pointing. Start talking about animal sounds “A cow says ‘moooooo!'”. Teach your baby social interactions like waving bye-bye. Practice counting fingers and toes and label objects and body parts while doing so.

Important to Remember

  • Children develop at different rates. Don’t feel alarmed if your child is not following these milestones precisely. For more information on language and speech milestones you can check out the Mayo Clinic’s site as well as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
  • If you have concerns, check your child’s ability to hear, and pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially if they are repetitive.
  • Provide your child with a supportive environment to develop these skills. A baby who spends a lot of time indoors in a car seat or in a position where she can not turn to see where sounds are coming from, may lose interest in new sounds and stop noticing them or turning her head,
  • Give your child a word-rich environment but remember that her expression is just as important as yours! Give her a chance to “talk” and answer back. Provide different forms of word-rich activities that include singing, talking, listening, reading and conversing!

A Quick Note on Bilingualism

I won’t go into detail in this post. However, I want to assure parents that learning more than one language at a time does not cause language delay. In fact, researchers are investigating bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Other benefits may exist such as better cognitive abilities since bilingual children have to deal with two languages which puts more computational demands on the brain therefore exercising it more. It’s important to note that second (or more) languages should be spoken by a native speaker so that children acquire the proper vowel,consonant and language sounds.  Usually, one parent is a native speaker of one language while the other is a native speaker of the other so each parent speaks a different language to the child. However, in some cases the parents are also bilingual. Bilingual parents should  keep in mind not to mix two languages in the same sentence! It’s OK to speak two languages, just make sure you complete the sentence or conversation in one language.

Reading with your Baby

I always like to include a reading list which parents can use with their children.

That’s not my Puppy! (Board Book) other series also available 

“Wonderfully entertaining with textures. This is a great, sturdy board book that very little readers will enjoy multiple times.
And, when you’ve explored all you want about the dogs, you can always discuss that cute little mouse who seems to appear on every single page!
Cute, educational, and very, very entertaining.” (Parent Review from Amazon)

Where is Baby’s Belly Button?

“This is a nice sturdy book with colorful drawings of babies with some part of their body hidden. Each page asks, “Where is baby’s …?” Toddlers delight in lifting the flaps to find the hidden pictures. The pictures are bright and cute with eye-catching fabric and wallpaper patterns. A very attractive book, and perfect for that stage when toddlers become fascinated with their belly buttons! My 17 month old has really enjoyed this book. It can be very helpful in getting kids to name body parts, and it’s fun for both the baby and the parents to read. Highly recommended.” (Parent Review from Amazon)