If at first you don’t succeed…

learning to rideOur little one started to learn to ride a “real” bike this week. Goodbye tricycle! With this has come some failure – like when she tries to keep herself steady once we let go of the back of the bike. It has also meant a few new scrapes and bruises.

I recently read an interesting post by fellow blogger and parenting educator Kelly Bourne about providing encouragement vs. praise. That post, along with seeing Z experience failure with her first attempts at riding solo made me wonder what type of wording I should be using when our budding cyclist fails.

Turns out that well known researcher Carol Dweck (the guru about praise and growth mindset) and colleague Kyla Haimovitz recently published a paper with findings that demonstrated how parents’ views about failures can impact children’s views about intelligence.

Here’s the Main Dish: 

  • Children’s intelligence mindsets (i.e., their beliefs about whether intelligence is fixed or that it can grow) have a strong impact of their motivation and learning. What wasn’t known is how parent beliefs can impact their child’s mindset.
  • The researcher thought that parents’ intelligence mindsets might not be passed on to their children because they are not readily seen. What children might see and be sensitive to is their how parents feel about failure.
  • By comparing the reactions of 73 parent-child pairs to a series of questions they found that parents’ attitudes toward failure were linked with how their children’s attitudes about intelligence. Parents who viewed failure as a negative, harmful event had children who were more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed (a bad thing) and knew their parents were concerned about performance (vs. learning).
  • Several subsequent studies with additional participants confirmed that “parents who see failure as debilitating focus on their children’s performance and ability rather than on their children’s learning”. As a result their children tended to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than something that can be improved.

What Does This Mean for You:

Next time your child experiences a failure consider the following:

  • Discuss what your child could learn from the failure and how they might improve in the future. Focus on what they can learn from the experience! For example, “What might you do next time to help you stay balanced on the bike? What do you think might help?”
  • Continue to offer praise about your child’s efforts even when they experience failure, For example, “I can tell you were really concentrating! I’d love to see you try again and remember to try and keep the handles straight”.
  • When your child fails at something, try your best not to display anxiety, disappointment or that your feeling worried.

All of this will help your child to develop that gut reaction to want to try again, especially if at first they don’t succeed.

Managing screen time

toddler with ipad

In our house Tuesdays are currently known as “new Ro video day” – the day that YouTube star Rosanna (Ro) Pasino releases a new video. Our little one loves watching Ro create amazing baking creations and so do we.


Watching one video often elicits a request to watch another video followed by another. Managing the transition away from a device (tablet, phone or TV) can be a challenge!

A recent paper by researchers from the University of Washington shares what can help us parents manage screen time experiences with our toddlers and preschoolers.

Here’s the Main Dish:

  • 28 different families kept a diary that documented screen time experiences over the course of two weeks for their toddlers and preschoolers — “what their kids were watching, on what kind of device, what parents did during that time, what prompted screen time to end and how upset or amenable children were”.
  • Common reasons why parents children were exposed to screen time:
    • Chores or caring for other children
    • Co-viewing with child
    • Parent engaging in self-care (e.g., taking a shower)
  • How children reacted to screen time ending:
    • 59% of the time children had a neutral reaction,
    • 22 % of the transitions evoked a negative reaction,
    • 19% of the transitions evoked a positive reaction

What This Means for You: 

  • You may wish to try the following strategies that parents in the study reported as making the transition away from screen time easier:
    • When it was part of a routine (e.g., a know rule that when dinner is ready the device is turned off)
    • When there is a natural stopping point in the content
    • When there was an issue with the technology (i.e., lost WiFi signal, battery running out)
  • Interestingly, when a parent provided a warning, this did not make the transition away screen time go smoothly! The researchers imply it may be perceived as a threat to children’s autonomy. Here’s what you can do instead of giving that “2 minute” warning:
    • Use the technology itself (i.e., through use of a timer) to remind children when their screen time is done.
    • Ask your child how many more minutes they would like to watch for

We’ve managed to establish some boundaries regarding the amount of videos that get watched in the evenings. What is working for us is letting Z know up front how many videos she’ll be able to watch, finishing when the last video ends (that logical end point no negotiating!) and finishing up by a certain hour.

Hope something from the above list helps you!



What’s for dinner?

file_101892_0_Picky_EaterA member of The Brain Trust recently asked if I could share some information about how to deal with a picky eater. I’m happy to honor her request with this week’s post!

To start, I have to give a big kudos to Gwen Dewar over at Parenting Science for her great post on the topic of the science behind picky eaters and another on tips for getting kids to eat “good” food.

Here are some of Gwen’s tips…

  1. Introduce new foods with old favorites – This comes from work that has shown that children were more accepting of new foods if paired with something they liked or something sweet (e.g., sugar – no surprise there!).
  2. The influence of others – Our little ones are more likely to eat food that they see us or see other kids eat.
  3. Under pressure – Try to avoid imposing too much pressure on your little one. Turns out that this may impact them later in life. 
  4. Keep trying – Repeated exposure to the same new foods is important, but it’s important that your little one actually tastes the food, that you don’t force them to taste it (try just describing it and presenting it in a positive way) and just introduce one new food at a time.
  5. Let them pick – Offer up a variety of foods at a time (see tip 1) and let them pick what they want to eat (even if it means they eat a lot of one food).

I also love this infographic of simple tips from www.pick-ease.com.

Happy eating and remember to take deep breaths when things are not going so great!

Put away the phone & play!

dad and babyAs I’ve mentioned in other posts, having some meaningful playtime with your little one can go a long way to improve their development.

Like me, I’m sure that you are guilty of sometimes pulling out your phone during playtime to check on work emails. An article I read this past week was a great reminder that this can be a distraction for both me and my little one.

A recent study from @indianauniv with 1-year-old’s is the first to show “a direct connection between how long a caregiver looks at an object and how long an infant’s attention remains focused on that same object”. This is super important because sustain attention is known as a strong indicator for later success in areas such as language acquisition and problem-solving.

Here’s the Main Dish: 

  • The researchers used head-mounted eye tracking to record parent and child eye-gazes during a “free play” session in a daycare or home like setting
  • Caregivers fell into two major groups: those who let the infants direct the course of their play and those who attempted to forcefully guide the infants’ interest toward specific toys.
  • The caregivers who were most successful at maintaining their children’s attention were those who “were sensitive to their child’s interest” and “let the child lead.” These parents didn’t need to try to redirect where the children were looking.

What This Means for You: 

  • To engage in meaningful playtime when your down on the floor with your little one, try not to sit back and not play along, or simply look elsewhere (like at your smart phone!). Put away that phone….even if it’s just for 15 minutes!
  • Lead your little one take the lead when playing with toys! If you put out a few different toys for them to pick from, see which one they go to first and then play away (e.g., start telling them what it is, what color it is, what sound it makes, etc.).

Happy Playing!


Honoring little artists

Art adviceWe all have those piles of art that come home from school sitting somewhere in our homes. That is of course unless you have discovered a way to display and organize your little one’s creations in a way that works well for your family (more on this later).

At our house we developed a system that we only keep and display art that is either meaningful to our little one or to us as parents (e.g., like hand prints that have been turned into flowers capturing that time when her hand were so tiny). However, I’m still faced with a pile of art that keeps growing and growing!

In looking online for ways to categorize children’s art, I came across some classroom management suggestions that share why it’s important to display children’s art in the first place along with some tips.

Here’s the Main Dish & What This Means for You:

  • The message it sends to your children. As parents, we value what you have created. This is their home as much as yours.
  • Give your child a say. It’s respectful to check with your little one which pieces they are comfortable putting on display. This shows respect for them as it sends the message that their opinion is valued.
  • Give each child their own space. If you can, create a display area for each of your children and let them each decide what to display.
  • Less is more. Covering every possible pieces of art will make any space cluttered and overstimulating. Leave a good amount of wall space bare and art pieces if you’d like.
  • Put it as close to eye level—the children’s eye level. Whenever possible, put displays close to children’s eye level. They may quickly learn to ignore displays above their heads.

I am still in search of the best way to keep the art after it’s been on display. Do I recycle them? Is there a great app I can use?

What’s your best advice? 

Where did that question come from?

The Limbic Reward System lights up when curiosity is piqued. (LA Johnson/NPR)

The Limbic Reward System lights up when curiosity is piqued. (LA Johnson/NPR)

This week has been filled with lots of questions for me, many of which have come from my preschooler. I’m noticing that the nature of her questions are changing, even when she is playing the game “20 Questions” with her Dad. A favorite was when she recently asked “Mama, who owns the city?” while we were driving around town. This prompted quite the discussion about mayors in our region!

Coincidentally, within a day of that car conversation I saw a great article link on Facebook to a post about “What’s Going on Inside the Brain of a Curious Child?“. Guess what? My curiosity was peaked and I started to do some reading.

Here’s the Main Dish:

  • Our brain chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.
  • In a study, when participants’ curiosity was piqued, the parts of their brains that regulate pleasure and reward lit up. Curious minds also showed increased activity in the hippocampus, which is involved in the creation of memories.
  • When the circuit (the one that is linked to pleasure & rewards) is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine which gives us a high.
  • Dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning. We tend to remember more when our curiosity is peaked!

What does this mean for you? 

  • Be encouraging when your child is asking questions, even if that means having to answer the “why” question over and over again!
  • Ask questions aloud yourself in front of your child to demonstrate what it means to be curious. For example, “I wonder why Jack is feeling that way today?”
  • When trying to teach your child something new, try and make a connection to something they are interested in.

Dear Sleep

DearDear Sleep,

How I miss you! We had a nice long get together on the weekend but we haven’t spent enough time together since. I promise to make more than 6 hours for you soon and to try to ensure that my little one gets to know you well too. I know you’re important for her future academic achievement, but you’re also important for my own mental well-being.




Here’s a recent Canadian study (!) that has contributed to our knowledge about the connection between sleep and performance at school:

The Main Dish: 

  • Researchers from McGill University and the Riverside School Board in Montreal created a sleep education program that involved experiential learning for 7- to 11-year-olds.
  • This provided students with skills needed for real-world success by addressing real-world problems and situations through teacher directed and facilitated learning. For example, students learned that their bedrooms needed to be calm environments to allow them to get a better night’s sleep.
  • The researchers evaluated the program using objective sleep measures and report card grades.
  • Children’s sleep and academic performance improved following participation in the program. Specifically, increases in sleep by 91 mins (18.2 mins over 5 days) was associated with improved report card grades in English and Mathematics.

What does this mean for you? 

  • It’s important for children to get their sleep behaviours “right” early on. Some tips on what this means “in action” include:
    • Include a 30 minute winding down period before bedtime
    • Do your best to stick to a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
    • Make the bedroom quiet, cozy, and perfect for sleeping.Tuck your child into bed snugly for a feeling of security.
  • We should do as much as we can to ensure that children are getting a sufficient amount of healthy sleep every night. This means (according to Kidshealth.org)
    • Toddlers (1-3 years): 12-14 hours (including naps)
    • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 11-12 hours (including naps)
    • School Age to Preteens (5-12 years): 10 -12 hours
    • Teens (13 years +): 9 hours

Kindergarten Prep

Photo credit: steadyhealth.com

Photo credit: steadyhealth.com

In a class we attended last weekend, there was lots of parent chit chat about which of our little ones will be attending Kindergarten in the fall. This made me think of a study was published last month.

A team from the John Hopkins School of Nursing found that “children who enter kindergarten behind in social-behavioral development are more likely to be held back, need more individualized supports and services, and be suspended or expelled”.

Here’s the Main Dish: 

  • The study examined the relationship between kindergarteners’ social-behavioral readiness and key educational outcomes in over 9,000 (!) elementary school students.
  • Social-behavioral readiness include children’s abilities to process, label and respond to their own and other people’s emotions, to attend to tasks, shift attention in response to expectations, inhibit socially inappropriate responses, and process, remember and use information; and to manage emotions such as frustration, anger, and stress. All of these skills are related to each other. For example, in order to comply with a classroom rule of “cleaning up when the lights are flickered”, children need to process and remember the rule, attend to the rules at the appropriate time (i.e., when the lights are flickered on and off”, and manage negative emotions they might experience in response to the rules (e.g., “I want to keep playing with these cars, not clean up!”).
  • By the time they reached 4th grade, students who were considered socially and behaviorally “not ready” for school were:
    • Up to 80% more likely to be retained in their grade
    • Up to 80% more likely to receive services and supports through an individualized education plan
    • Up to 7 times more likely to be suspended or expelled at least once
    • Boys were also more likely to be assessed as not socially and behaviorally ready in kindergarten and to experience all three academic difficulties.
What does this mean for you? 
Here are some things you may consider to help ensure that your little one is ready for kindergarten and/or Grade 1:
  • Have your bebe spend time either in preschool, daycare, classes and/or with various relatives or friends away from you (the parents) before they start school. There will be many benefits, but one important one is getting used to being in a situation away from you and your partner. It will also provide an opportunity to interact with other children.
  • Create situations where your bebe hears, understands and follows simple directions. This could range from putting away a toy to helping to set the table.
  • Talk, play, repeat! Talking and playing with your bebe in concentrated chunks of time (think 15 minutes without any checking of email or facebook) has so many benefits.