Discipline and your babe’s brain

© Dean Lipoff Photography 2011

Kids do the darndest things, which sometimes lands them in a bit of trouble. The developing brain is full of adventure, and children often don’t think before they act – not because they want to cause mischief, but because they are interested in seeing what will happen. And, what sometimes happens is a couple of minutes in time-out.

The child’s brain is hardwired to be creative and inquisitive. The desire to explore is innate and some might say present from birth. A child is a motivated learner, and often the best learning happens through trail and error. As a parent, figuring out the best way to deal with a child’s misbehavior can be challenging. Parents often turn to time-out or other shame-based discipline to encourage different behavior from their child. But, is putting a child in an isolated spot to think about their actions helping or hurting his budding brain? Often the child isn’t excited about participating in time-out, parents get more frustrated, and in the end, nothing seems to have been resolved.

The Child’s Desire to Explore

From birth, babies learn from clues they observe around them. You might even say that babies are beyond talented at paying close attention to facial clues – able to pick up on mom’s adoring smile or older brother’s frustrated face. Babies take this learning and turn it into understanding of emotion and the beginnings of behavior, which is often mimicked and returned. When children are neglected or left to cry it out, there is a chance the brain is not encouraged to develop in positive ways.  A recent article from The Guardian suggests that leaving babies to cry for extended lengths of time without a loved one’s nurturing could lead to long-term emotional problems. When stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which in large amounts can be damaging to a baby’s developing brain. And, anxiety in young children, in response to being isolated or left to cry for extended amounts of time, can potentially last through adulthood.

The brain is split into two halves, the right and the left. The right is in charge of creativity, with the left taking charge of logical thought. The brain works together to create a harmonious being, and behavior is part of the brain’s processes. Along with the right and left brain, the limbic system contributes to the brain (and body’s) behavior. It is not just the brain in charge of decision making – environment and genetics are part of the equation, too. If a child is exposed to positive modeling for making smart decisions, they are more apt to follow lead. That means when parents resort to spanking or talking down when bad decisions are made, it does not necessarily mean that the child will do the right thing next time, but just that he might follow in his parent’s footsteps by hitting or yelling. It can also cause stress in young children, resulting in long lasting psychological impact.

Behavior and Discipline

Keying kids into the understanding that discipline and punishment are not synonymous is a step in the right direction toward positive behaviors. Dr. Robert Brooks, Ph.D, writes in his essay Spanked With Words: More Damaging Than We May Realize, that through his conversations with children, punishment often teaches children what not to do rather than reinforcing what they should do. Strong consequences should be put in place when bad decisions are made, but should not in any way be enforced through humiliation, fear, or embarrassment. Instead, children should be instilled with the knowledge and understanding of self-discipline and that certain behaviors are unacceptable. Part of a parent’s responsibility is to find ways to effectively discipline a child without shame-based tactics.

So, the next time your child is pushing his exploratory limits, determine if it is yourself that might need a moment to think about your next behavior and not your child. Taking a big, long breath before disciplining your child may be the most important thing you can do in encouraging him to do the right thing. Here are a couple of other helpful hints for creating interactions with your child that will produce positive behavioral connections:

Redirect and change the situation. Most parents pick up on clues when their child is just about to misbehave. Step in and redirect the behavior by either asking your child what is happening or offering them another option or activity. Once your child is happily engrossed and has moved on, take a moment to talk about what just happened. Start the conversation with questions such as, “why do you think I encouraged you to do a puzzle instead of throwing the marker,” or, “what was making you so frustrated?”

Share a quiet moment. Grab a book, select a puzzle, or just sing a couple songs, but move your child to a quiet spot with less distraction and frustration than the situation he was just in. If you’re at the playground and your child has tossed sand one too many times, take him for a walk around the perimeter singing a couple soothing songs. Once again, ask him about his behavior along with offering reasons why throwing sand isn’t a good idea – with real reasons other than, “because I said so.”

Talk through it. Have a discussion with your child, almost like thinking out loud. You may feel like you are insane, but streaming about what is going on will soothe your misbehaving child as well as educate him on ways to behave better next time. Let’s say you are out for dinner and you know your child is about to have a temper tantrum over not being able to cut his own food. Begin explaining what you would like to see happen, such as, “I understand you would like to cut your own food, but I’m worried it will end up falling on the ground. Let’s cut your food together and see how it goes? I am going to use my knife to start cutting, would you like to cut with yours?” Yes, you may feel foolish, but might find your child encouraged to work with you instead of against you.

Stay positive. Find ways to explain instead of just saying “no.” Give lots of positive reinforcement when your child shows good behaviors, encouraging him to continue to seek your praise. Be direct and specific, trying to avoid blanket statements, such as, “good job.” Tell your child how they are doing an outstanding job and why you are proud of them.

Your young child’s brain is ready for positive reinforcement and encouraging information on how to work through challenging moments. Take the time to model positive behavior to help create a healthy home environment for the whole family.

*This is an article I originally wrote for Funderstanding.com, a great site with a wealth of information for educators, students, and parents – go check them out! And, thanks to the hubs for the awesome picture of our wee tot!



Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

© Sarah Lipoff 2010

The hubs and I had a serious discussion the other night. To get a tree, or to not get a tree. Last year we used a big plant in the corner as our holiday tree for fear our hobbling babe would pull the whole thing down. This year, our daughter’s a bit older (not so much wiser) and we’re wanting to create a festive home for the holidays to enjoy – but how to do it safely?!

I know, I know. There are other mamas and daddies out there chuckling at my concern. Yes, she’ll survive, and she’s not going to pull the tree down. But, I am worried she’ll spend countless hours putting on and taking off those colorful and shiny ornaments! Do they make rubber christmas ornaments? Ones made from un-breakable plastic?!

Someone told me to just do it – get a tree and not worry about what the wee tot does. We’ll love the pictures and she’ll enjoy looking at them later in life, too. I always remember having a tree and enjoying the sparkling lights and, of course, the presents underneath of it Christmas morning. It’s all about tradition, isn’t it? And I guess it’s time to get over my Christmas tree concerns and go out and get one.

Will that someone come over every time one of those shiny ornaments gets smashed to the floor?


The messy eater

The last couple weeks have been challenging at our house, full of clothing changes, wasted food, and cleaning. Lots of cleaning.

My child is a messy eater.

I have come to grips with this, and actually can’t really blame her. If I were a small little thing getting acquainted with the world around me, textures, smells, and tastes would rule. So, the experience of eating has turned into a complete package of fun.  A panacea of sensory overload.

Anything that can be mushed is turned into the texture of guacamole. Foods that make fun noises when they hit the floor, such as beans, are tossed with glee. Favorites that taste good are screamed for, which include cheese and grapes.

Cheese and grapes.

Yes, a bib could be dispatched to assist with the frontal mess, but bibs have turned into implements used for self-strangling. Wiping the babe while she eats is pointless, and cleaning the floor after each meal is extremely time-consuming.

So, I have resigned to feeding my child cheese and grapes.

We had a short reprieve with the turkey pineapple meatballs, a very short reprieve.

Diaper drama

Every morning I hope to encounter a happy and excited baby that is ready to take on the world. Most mornings I find a wet, ornery, and wailing baby. She is soaked through, sometimes up to her armpits. It literally breaks my heart.

The diaper drama has been ensuing for several weeks now. Through experimenting with various diapers, changing the amount and time of liquid ingestion, and just crossing my fingers, I have found that nothing works. The baby still wakes in a puddle of pee.

I have layered diapers on her, purchased super-expensive-extra-absorbent diapers, and withheld liquids after dinner. I have scaled down the final bottle feeding of the day (and considered eliminating it altogether), and avoided watery dinner items. I am about ready to duct tape a towel around poor baby hoping she will be dry as a bone come morning.

So, the diaper drama saga continues on. Maybe using three diapers will be the solution.

I’ll try that tonight and let you know how it turns out.

How DOES baby learn to dance?

© Sarah Lipoff

My adorable innocent babe was doing the bump and grind in the living room to some groovy tunes I had playing. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I stopped what I was doing and stared at her. Who taught her this? How did she figure this out? I can’t even move my hips that fast!

While I clapped insanely and laughed as she continued butt shaking and grooving out she tossed in a couple handclaps and “raise the roofs” before finishing her amazing dance routine. I was dumbfounded. She didn’t learn this from the other babes at preschool (she doesn’t go), or the bad girls at the park (we haven’t been in awhile) and I don’t make a practice of prancing around the house hoochy dancing every chance I get. How did she learn how to do this?!

I googled “how does a baby learn to dance” and found some interesting results, most I am not going to share. But it does look like getting our groove on is actually hard wired in our brains. There have been times you couldn’t help your toes tapping or your head from nodding along to the music. Well, baby has that in her too!

The minute my husband walked in the door after his long day I pumped the music and watched him watch the baby bump away. Once the music was over and all our laughing died down he uttered, “you know she isn’t allowed out of the house until she’s 18, right?”