Sensory Play…It Makes Sense (repost)

*This is a post I wrote for my old blog that I’m re-posting.

 Picture this: Ten kids under the age of six in bare feet and underwear, skating on shaving cream on the kitchen floor, falling down, getting back up, laughing and squealing! This was the scene I encountered upon entering my father-in-law’s house not too long after my husband and I met.  At that moment, all I thought was, “Ah, yes…this is totally the right family for me!”

By engaging in play that utilizes their senses, children (at any age) are using scientific inquiry.  To an infant or toddler, everything is new, so lots of questions develop which leads to exploration.  The child explores objects and materials using his senses, gathers information about them, and attempts to answer his own questions. 

Not only does sensory play create connections in your child’s developing brain, but it also serves as a calming mechanism and can help children release emotions that they may not yet be skilled enough to sort out verbally.  For example, the process of scooping and pouring a substance can feel very calming and relaxing (water, rice, sand); squeezing and pounding a material can help release anger and frustration (playdough, clay).

Consider this:

You hit the power button on your TV – it won’t turn on.  “Hmmm,” you think, “that’s strange.”  If you’re like me, you probably continue to hit the power button, harder each time, hoping it will eventually work.  It still won’t work so you follow the power cord and realize it is not plugged in. Duh.

When a toddler displays challenging behavior (biting, hitting, screaming…), I typically first ask myself if they have had enough access to sensory play (by first, I really mean after I stupidly keep trying whatever I am trying in the first place that isn’t working).  Often times, I find a connection between a lack of access to sensory play and the challenging behavior.  In this way, I liken sensory play for a young child to a power cord for a TV — just like the TV cannot properly function without the power cord plugged in, a young child cannot properly function without opportunities to engage his senses.  If your toddler is driving you over the edge with challenging behavior, consider implementing some sensory play into her day and see if you notice any differences.

That day in the kitchen, my nieces and nephews weren’t just participating in what will become an awesome childhood memory for them, but they were also creating valuable connections between pathways in their developing brains.  The feeling of soft, foamy shaving cream between their toes; their feet sliding around on the smooth, slippery floor; the fresh, musky scent; the sounds of laughter around them — the kids were engaged in a meaningful activity full of lots of sensory input — two things that are very conducive to appropriate brain development.  AND…the kitchen floor got a good “mopping” in the process!  See?  Good for everyone!

So go ahead…engage those senses and have some fun!  Your kitchen floor needs cleaned anyway, right?

few of my favorite sensory activities (it was hard to narrow my list down to a few!):

 Cornstarch + Water (touch) — this is just pure awesomeness…is it a solid or a liquid?! Try it.  You’ll love it, too.

— Texture Collage (touch):  gather materials of various textures (cotton balls, sandpaper, ribbon, beans, etc.) and let your child glue them to a piece of cardboard.

— Coffee Sand (touch and smell): mix coffee and sand together = fun texture and yummy coffee smell.

— Flubber (touch): Click here for recipe.

— Colored Rice (sight, sound, and touch): Mix a few drops of food coloring with a teaspoon or two of rubbing alcohol and add it to uncooked rice.  Let it dry and then get to playing!

— Plain Water (sight, touch, sound): add measuring cups for scooping and dumping, wash clothes and dishes for “washing,” water wheels, sponges…the possibilities are endless!

Links to other great sites with wonderful sensory ideas:

Lekotek: Sensory play ideas from Lekotek, complete with recipes. 

Mommy Poppins: This site has 99 great ideas for sensory activities. 

What’s your favorite sensory activity?

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Oh, hello energy – I’ve missed you!

Until a few days ago, I hadn’t had a drop of energy since before Christmas.  It was beginning to become rather depressing.  I knew that pregnancy was going to make me tired, but I had no idea it would be to that extent!  I hardly even cooked a meal between the time I became pregnant and last week.  I wasn’t motivated to exercise.  I didn’t even bother to clean the house (don’t judge me).  So, not only was I tired and lazy, but add to that the guilt I felt from not eating very healthy and not exercising, plus pregnancy hormones, and my house being in somewhat of a state of disaster, and I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be too fond of being pregnant.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, BAM!  My energy is back!  I want to bake, I’ve motivated myself to clean house, healthy foods sound tasty again, I’ve been exercising, and I even gave the dog a bath! Yay!  I don’t think I could have taken it any longer.  I hear the lack of energy will return later though, so I’m trying to enjoy it while I have it.

Maybe it’s because I know it won’t last, or maybe it’s due to the fact I’ve basically been in a state of laziness for three months, but now that my energy is back, I want everything to be done and I want it done now!  Mostly, I want the baby’s room put together and finished.  We need to paint the walls, get a crib, fix up some furniture, find a dresser or buffet to double as a changing table and probably paint it, and DECORATE!  After all, we only have like six months to do everything!  Okay, okay…by “we” I really mean “my husband.”  I can’t paint the room when I’m pregnant and I’m certainly not handy when it comes to fixing things (I wish I was!)…so that leaves my wonderful, helpful, patient, willing husband!  But, I’m sure I’ll be up to the decorating part 😉

Other things I’ve been obsessing over: organizing the cabinets, cleaning out my closet, de-cluttering every room of the house.  Is this what they call “nesting?”  I don’t know why, but I really hate that term and I hate it even more now that it might apply to me.

Yet, here I am…nesting.  *Cringe*

“I was spanked and I turned out fine!” Uh…let’s talk.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a strong opinion on spanking. It’s something that matters to me. I have been meaning to write a post about it but have been putting it off because I know it’s a highly controversial parenting practice and, to be honest, I’ve been afraid of how people would respond. Too often, I stay silent about things that matter to me because I don’t like to argue or upset anyone. With yesterday being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I saw the above quote multiple times and made a pact with myself to be more vocal about “things that matter.” I decided it’s time to put my fear of being ridiculed aside and advocate for kids like my education should compel me to do.

In church last Sunday, (in a sermon totally unrelated to spanking) my pastor mentioned that when he used to be a youth pastor, their goal was to “scare the hell” out of the kids. They would have them watch videos, tell them stories, etc. that would basically scare them into believing in God and following His word. He was recalling this practice with an attitude conveying he knew it was no longer considered a useful way to teach children. He said, “It worked.” Then, he held up his hand and spaced his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, “For about this long,” he said.

“Yes,” I thought. “Exactly.”

We no longer teach with fear anything we expect children to learn. Would you use fear to teach a child to read? What about math? Do you think scaring a child would make him learn his multiplication facts? Is that how you would want to be taught? No, of course not. Had I been taught that way, I would have hated school and resented my teachers.

We expect everything else — reading, math, science, social studies, art, religion — to be taught with kindness, compassion, understanding, patience. This is interesting, because the way we want our children to be taught is also what we expect their behavior to reflect — kindness, compassion, understanding, patience. So why then, when it comes to children’s behavior, do we, the adults, often lash out in a manner that contradicts the very way we actually want our children to behave?

I would argue that people do it because they are simply uneducated and inexperienced in appropriate and effective discipline practices for young children. I think many people spank because it’s how they were disciplined as children and it’s what they know how to do. It’s the “quick and easy” solution; it requires little thought.  Do I think parents who spank their kids are mean-spirited? Bad parents? Ruining their children? Of course not. I think most parents who spank genuinely believe they are doing the right thing for their children and I understand that mindset.

But, I also believe, based on evidence-based research and my own education of child development, that there are more effective ways to discipline a child than spanking and that spanking can do more harm than good.  Please don’t misunderstand.  Discipline is very important.  Our society just needs to understand that “discipline” is not synonymous with “spanking.”

I have outlined below some reasons why spanking is an undesirable and ineffective form of discipline:

1.  “Spanking” is a euphemism for “hitting.”  People call it “spanking” because it justifies the act for them.  They are conscious of the fact that calling it “hitting” would sound terrible.  It is what it is, no matter how instructive you try to make it sound.

2. Spanking says, “It’s okay to hit.”  It’s unreasonable to spank your child, yet expect her to not hit others.  Children mimic the behavior you model.

3.  Spanking too often leads to abuse.  Since spanking does not work to change behavior, parents often feel that since it’s not working, the solution is to spank harder.  Continuing with that cycle, spanking or hitting often gets out of control and results in abuse.

4. Spanking teaches compliance through fear, not responsibility — “It’s not wrong if I don’t get caught.”

5. Spanking doesn’t work.  It may seem to work in the moment, but the disciplinary effects of spanking are not long term.  The emotional effects, however, can be.

Consider this scenario: A five year old child, Johnny, is interacting with another child, Billy, on the playground. Johnny gets upset about something and, because young children lack impulse control, he hits Billy, knocking him to the ground.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Johnny is a child who is disciplined by being spanked. He has learned that certain behaviors are wrong only if an authority figure witnesses them. After hitting Billy then, Johnny quickly looks around, realizes no one saw him do it, and leaves Billy on the ground crying while he runs away to play with something else, happy he didn’t get caught.

Now let’s pretend that Johnny has been disciplined using positive discipline.  His parents have talked with him about his actions and emotions and have helped him understand right from wrong.  In this case, when Johnny hits Billy, his moral code tells him he has done something wrong.  He walks over to Billy, apologizes and helps him up.

The child in the spanking scenario is different from the child in the positive discipline scenario because he doesn’t understand why his actions are wrong.  He thinks he has done something wrong only if he gets caught. The child in the positive discipline scenario, while still acting with the lack of impulse control of a five year old, understands his wrongdoing after he hits the other child and makes an effort to correct his behavior.

I think it’s worth repeating — “spanking” is not synonymous with “discipline.” There are many ways to discipline a child that do not include spanking. Here are a few:

1.  Use natural and logical consequences.  An example of a natural consequence would be, if a child throws a ball over the fence, he doesn’t have the ball to play with anymore.  An example of a logical consequence would be, if a child dumps his milk on the floor, he has to help clean it up.

2.  For the very young child, redirection works well.  A young child cannot relate a punishment, like spanking, to whatever they did to receive the punishment.  It doesn’t make sense to them.  For example, let’s say a one-year old is playing with something he shouldn’t be.  Your best bet is to remove the child from the situation and direct them to something they can play with.

3.  Talk about it.  Explain to a child what they have done wrong.  Give them words for their emotions so they can learn to use words instead of actions.  For example, a three year old pushes another child out of anger.  You can say to the child, “I can see that you are angry, but it is not okay to push.”  Help the child find the words he needs to convey his feelings.

4.  Use positive guidance.  Instead of constantly punishing a child for doing wrong, notice what she does right.  Your children want to please you.  Help them know when they are doing so and they will strive toward that kind of behavior more often.

5. Model the behavior you desire.  You simply cannot expect your child to display behavior that you, yourself, do not model for him.  If you want your child to be kind to others or use a quiet tone of voice or eat their vegetables, you have to first show them what those things look like.

Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. That’s okay. We all have our own personal opinions and I’m not asking you to abandon yours. I’m just asking you to set aside any defensiveness you may feel or emotions you may have surrounding the topic and look at the facts, the research. Don’t take my word for it. Consider the educated opinions of those who have dedicated themselves to researching how a child’s brain works and how a child learns, like Dr. Sears or the American Academy of Pediatrics. I strongly recommend Dr. Sears’ articles, “10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child” and “Top Ten Discipline Principles.” Also, click here to browse through many other articles on the topic of discipline.

Tell me how you feel about spanking and why you feel the way you do. But, be warned — any reasoning similar to, “I was spanked and I turned out just fine” will be difficult for me to take seriously. Research has come a long way. You don’t paint your home with lead-based paint. You don’t use a drop-side crib. You make your child ride in a car seat. Let’s take the same proactive, educated approach when it comes to discipline.

If you’re still thinking, “Well, I was spanked and I turned out fine,” I’ll leave you with this quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“It is true that many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted and caring people today. However, research has shown that, when compared with children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. These adult outcomes make sense because spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re frustrated or want to maintain control—even with those you love. A child is not likely to see the difference between getting spanked from his parents and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn’t get what he wants” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012).

Read the full article here.

Wait…I feel immaturity coming on.  I have to say it — I wasn’t spanked and I turned out fine!  Okay, now back to adulthood. 😉

Let the comments begin! I’m interested in your opinion.

Note:  If you think your discipline may be out of control, click here for a list of signs that you may need help. You may be surprised.

The End of Trimester #1

This week, I will be 13 weeks pregnant, which means we are free and clear of the first trimester!  The risk of miscarriage decreases significantly after the first trimester, so I feel like this is sort of a pregnancy “milestone!”

I’m also excited because the baby can start to hear sounds within the next several weeks and shortly after that, I will also be able to feel it moving inside of me.  Right now, even after hearing the heartbeat, I worry and wonder if the baby is growing (as do many pregnant women, I’m sure).  I think feeling the baby move will not only be fun and exciting, but also very reassuring for me.  I’m excited for what the next few months have in store!  Bring on trimester #2 🙂

Here are pictures of me at weeks 6 and 10:Image

If you’re looking at the photo above and thinking, “Aw, she’s already showing a little at 6 weeks pregnant,” well…I hate to break it to you, but you’re very wrong.  That’s definitely not a baby bump. As much as it pains me to admit, I’m pretty sure it’s just fat that’s always been there.  Now I just have an excuse for it 😉  Just thought I had better throw that out there before someone commented on it and unintentionally insulted the pregnant lady.  No one wants that…which my husband can attest to.

Image

I don’t see much of a difference between 6 weeks and 10, but I know a rapidly growing belly is likely in store for me now!   Like I said, bring on the second trimester!

Food, Water and Attachment (re-post)

*Note — This is a post I wrote for my old blog, but I think it is worth sharing again.

Yep, it’s that important.

There are few, if any, aspects of infant/toddler development more important than the child’s attachment relationship to his parent or other primary caregiver.  Secure attachment provides a healthy and secure base for the child to learn how to appropriately respect, relate to, and interact with others.

“But,” you wonder, “what exactly is attachment?”

Attachment theory is credited to child psychiatrist, John Bowlby, and psychologist, Mary Ainsworth.  To learn more about Bowlby and Ainsworth, click here.  Here’s a very brief breakdown of what they discovered:

Attachment is the emotional bond that forms between an infant and her primary caregiver (typically the mother).  An attachment figure provides the baby with feelings of security, comfort, consistency, and happiness.  As the infant grows into a toddler, she uses her attachment figure as a secure base from which to explore the world she’s discovering.  When the baby is separated from her attachment figure, she typically experiences distress and fear.

Secure attachment is what you want for your child.  There are three other types of attachment: avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized.  These are insecure and unhealthy attachment patterns and often result in emotional issues in later childhood and adulthood.  They are not conducive to optimal development.  If you want to learn what these patterns look like, this website gives a brief breakdown of them.

In short, a secure attachment relationship during early childhood is crucial in order for your infant to develop healthy relationships over the course of the rest of his life.

No pressure, right?  🙂

Relax.  You are likely already engaging with your infant in ways that help create a secure attachment — picking him up when he cries; feeding him when he’s hungry; changing his diapers; talking, reading, and singing to him; holding him (babies thrive when they have physical contact); and picking up on his cues.  These things (the things you’re already doing...go you!!) are the best ways to create a secure attachment with your infant.  As long as you are responding to your infant consistently, appropriately, and lovingly, you’ve got this attachment thing down. Click here to read, “Bonding with Your Baby,”(a great article!) for more information about ways to create a secure attachment with your infant.

Some people tend to believe that in order to foster independence in an infant or toddler, they must limit how quickly they respond to the infant’s needs and avoid consistently responding to all  of their needs.  They think they will “spoil” the baby.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Research proves that babies whose needs are met in consistent and loving ways develop a more positive self-image and become more independent and more secure adults than babies whose needs are met inconsistently or unreliably (who tend to act out in ways we might define as “spoiled”).

 To sum up, I basically just told you that there is no such thing as holding your baby too much (as if you needed a reason to hold your baby) — so go ahead and ignore those people who tell you you’re “spoiling” your infant…that’s really pretty hard to do.  In several years you can prove them wrong anyway with the secure, independent, caring little human you’ve raised.

Baby has a heartbeat!

We had an appointment today and were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time!  Wow!  What a touching moment.  Hearing the heartbeat just makes the pregnancy feel so much more real because it’s like actual proof that there is a living being inside of me!

We really like our doctor, but since I plan to have a natural birth, we told him that we would like to have a midwife as well.  We are lucky that the center where my doctor practices also employs two Certified Nurse Midwives, both of whom I have heard great things about.  Throughout the rest of the pregnancy, we will meet with our midwife and she will consult with the doctor if there are any complications or concerns.  She will be present during delivery, which is important to me because I feel more comfortable delivering naturally  knowing I will have the assistance of a midwife.

My decision to deliver naturally is not one that took a lot of consideration.  I really want to be able to feel the whole process and I have faith that my body was made for this and that it will do its job.  I am, however, flexible.  I understand that issues and complications can arise and I certainly won’t be opposed to talking about other options with the doctor if an issue comes up.  I am just hoping that everything goes as it should and that I can have a natural birth.

My husband and I are reading a book about the Bradley Method to prepare ourselves and we plan to take childbirth classes as well.

Any other preparation suggestions from moms who have delivered naturally?

Adopting a new definition of “clean”

We all know the basics of what pregnant women need to avoid — alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, etc.  But, we don’t often think of the other potentially harmful things we eat or otherwise come into contact with that could effect our unborn babies.  Deli meat, for example.  Pregnant women are now advised to avoid deli meat  (unless heated until steaming) due to possible exposure to the listeria bacteria which can cause preterm labor, miscarriage, or stillbirth.  I mentioned this to a friend of mine who has a 4 year old and she didn’t remember this being a recommendation when she was pregnant just a short time ago.

New research is surfacing and things are constantly changing.  It makes me wonder what other “common” activities, foods, and chemicals are harmful that we just aren’t yet aware of.  Bringing a baby into the world makes me even more concerned about it.

This concern is what has prompted me to switch to organic cleaning products.  I’m currently reading the book, “Green This!” by Deirdre Imus.  Did you know that some chemicals used in household cleaners have been found in umbilical cord blood and have the ability to cross the placenta?  That really freaks me out, because the placenta is kind of a big deal.  It protects our babies from all sorts of harmful things, but some substances are just too much for it and they can cross it and harm a baby.  These super harmful substances include things like alcohol, drugs, and cigarette smoke, so it’s interesting that we are “cleaning” our homes with chemical-based products that can prove just as harmful as the substances that most of us wouldn’t dream of exposing ourselves to during pregnancy.

I’m beginning by getting rid of all the non-organic cleaners in my home, which, admittedly, is most of them.  I switched to using Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products, which I love.  However, while some of the products are reasonably priced, some are a little too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis.  So I am also exploring making my own cleaning products out of all natural products like borax, lemon juice, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, olive oil, and baking soda.  It’s amazing how much less expensive it is to make my own cleaning products and I have the added benefit of peace of mind knowing that I can clean my home without posing any unnecessary harm to my family.

The first homemade product I made was laundry detergent and I love it!  Here’s the recipe:

1 cup Borax

1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (in laundry aisle)

1 bar Ivory soap, grated

a few drops of essential oil (optional) – I used lavender

Mix all of the ingredients and store in an airtight container.  From what I understand, this detergent will work in high efficiency washers, too.  You only have to use 1 tablespoon per load, so it lasts a really long time!