If you’re anything like me, flipping through the news each day can feel draining. There’s so much injustice and suffering, and even though we can donate and volunteer, it can feel as though it’s not enough. But what’s one way to make sure we’re helping build a better world? Raising our children so they grow up to be open, inclusive, and socially-conscious individuals.
I know what you might be thinking. This sounds like one of those crazy, snowflake-y ideas. But really, I’m just talking about values we should all agree on. Respecting others. A curiosity to learn. Empathy and kindness.
How do we do this? Can you just put on NPR and hope that your baby catches up on the news? Well, no. I mean, I encourage you to do what feels right, so if you feel like the soothing tones of Terry Gross are helping your baby learn, more power to you!
I believe you have to be more intentional. You have to model, talk about, and teach these ideas, those of feminism and consent and recognizing power imbalances and being open to diversity and SO MUCH MORE. And you have to do it on purpose.
In Raising Socially Conscious Children, I will choose a different topic each month, and give you some concrete ways to teach these skills. Because I believe it takes skills to embody these values, and the only way to help our country grow is to make sure the next generation is prepared to help.
What can you do in the meantime?
Model the behavior you want to see. Young children learn through imitation. So whatever they see you doing or hear you saying, they will learn to do and say.
Keep learning. Seek out articles, books, movies, poetry, art, or WHATEVER. Just look for things made by someone who comes from a different background than you. Make it a priority to see the world through someone else’s perspective.
Allow your children (and yourself!) to ask questions. Children are so perceptive, and often have such great questions. Yes, the 77th “but why?” question can feel a tid bit annoying. But trust me, it is worth it to keep answering them, to help cultivate little, inquisitive minds.
To go back to the idea of snowflakes, we’re honestly all snowflakes in a way! We’re all different. Even two siblings, raised by the same parents, in the same house, will have their differences. If we’re open and accepting, then we’ll find beauty in those differences.
Want to learn more about how to be raise socially conscious children? Want to spread the word to everyone you know? Contact me for a one on one session, or to speak to a group or event.
Occasionally, I get cranky.
I mean, really, very occasionally. Sometimes I recognize that I’m being a little bit snappier than usual, that my patience is a little bit shorter, and that everything seems to be a little bit more annoying. Most of the time, I don’t recognize it. My husband, however, has gotten pretty good at recognizing these moods, and very quickly brings me something to eat.
Yes, I get hangry.
Lucky for me, I’m an adult, and can (sometimes) use my words and actions to express what I’m feeling. Babies can’t! That’s where you come in.
Just because babies can’t talk yet, doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate their feelings. It’s up to us to figure out how to understand their cues and what they mean. Once you are able to do this, you’ll see that your baby is communicating all the time.
We know that one way that babies are able to figure out what’s going on in the world is by watching how the adults in their life react and respond to them. The way you respond to your baby's attempts to communicate is hugely important. By providing consistent response, you're showing your baby that they're safe, loved, and that you're there for them.
So what do these cues look like? I’d love to be able to hand you an illustrated list, like a baby cue dictionary. However, every baby is unique, so what applies for one baby won’t be the same with another.
That said, here’s some of the most common things to look for when reading your baby’s cues:
How they use their body. Babies may arch their back when they are uncomfortable or in pain, stretch out and attempt to reach for something that they want, or turn their head to the side and make a sucking motion when they’re hungry.
Their facial expressions. Babies may smile when they see someone they recognize or simply when they are passing gas, or frown when they are stressed or uncomfortable. They may avert their eyes if they are overwhelmed, or may hold steady eye contact if you are doing something they like.
What sounds they’re making. Sounds are often some of the easiest to interpret, especially once you’ve heard them often enough. Babies will develop specific cries when they are hungry, tired, wet, bored, or in pain. They will coo, that cute little baby sound, when they are content, and will start to laugh when something is particularly amusing.
So, what do you do now that you know what baby’s cues can look like?
Observe your baby. Really watch how they act throughout the day, and try to catch what they’re doing before specific activities such as feeding, diaper changes, or being picked up.
Act on what you think they need, and be consistent. This is perhaps one of the most important steps: you need to actually do what you think they’re asking for. If you recognize that wet diaper cry, then go ahead and change that diaper right away. This is how you teach children that you are there for them and that their attempt to communicate worked. Definitely comes in handy as they get older.
Keep at it! If you misread a cue, that’s okay. Just try again, and keep trying until you figure it out. You will figure it out. Pretty soon you’ll have built your own dictionary of baby cues in your head.
You’ve totally got this.
Check out this resource from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning if you’d like to read more about what baby cues may look like, and reach out to us here if you need more support figuring out how to read your baby’s cues.
This series will take a deeper look at different areas of child development. Hopefully this can help you recognize what typical development may look like, and give your family some ideas on how to integrate development into your daily lives.
Everybody wants their baby to talk. Since this is such a big milestone in childhood, this is often one of the first things that family members notice may be delayed. But there’s a difference between communicating and speaking. Let’s break it down.
When I look at communication, I typically focus on the function of a child’s skills, rather than what is “typical.” So for communication, this means that your child is able to get their wants and needs met. This might be by signing, using words, pointing, using pictures, or getting it themselves.
For our purposes, language is referring to the actual method a person uses to communicate, typically verbal language. It can also include things like sign language, picture communication, and use of an alternate communication device. So when I talk about language, assume all of these modes are included.
Yes, we want children to use language, be it verbal language or not. But to me, delays in communication are usually of more concern than a child with a language delay who has great communication skills.
So what can you do if you suspect a communication or language delay? Here are some easy tips to get you started.
Talk all the time. Children need to hear language from actual, live people in order to be able to repeat it (so no, playing NPR all day doesn’t really work). It can really be that simple. One of my favorite speech therapists tells families to pretend they were a sportscaster, and just narrate everything they were doing. Yes, it may feel silly, but I promise it helps.
Talk to your child in the language that’s most comfortable for you. This goes back to that idea that children are going to repeat what they hear. Because of this, you should be speaking in a language that’s easy for you to speak fluidly throughout the day. So, if you are a native Spanish speaker, speak to them in Spanish! Not only will they be learning about their family’s native language, and hopefully also something about their culture, but studies show that being raised in a multilingual household can have benefits on various areas of development.
Use simple language. When you want your child to repeat something or use language to request or comment, use easy language. For a 2-year-old, its going to be a lot easier to repeat “more water,” when you simply say, “more water.” It's going to be a lot harder to do when you ask them “Can you say more water? I want you to say ‘more water, please!’ if you want me to give it to you!” Adjust the words you use to what your child already knows.
Give enough wait time. Oh, have you heard me say this before? Well it’s because I really want you to do it! Children take longer to process things sometimes, especially when they’re learning new things. If you want them to repeat something, say it once, using simple language and give them a few seconds of silence. Usually, they will repeat it after hearing the word or phrase a few times. But you really have to wait!
Let’s try this: Count to 10 right now. I’ll wait. Longer than you’d think, huh? That’s how long I want you to wait before you repeat the phrase again. Here’s how it could go:
Family Member: Ball? (wait 5-10 seconds)
Child: (stares blankly at you)
FM: Ball? (wait 5-10 second)
FM: Yes, ball! Here’s the ball (give the child the ball)
Remember that although all children develop at their own pace, there is a range of what is considered “typical.” There are lots of things you can do if you suspect a delay, and many resources you can check in with.
If you think that your child is having challenges with functional communication, reach out for support.
Have a question about a particular area of development not covered yet? Suggest one by reaching out to us.
When I was a little girl, I loved watching ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ in the mornings. I would sit cross-legged in front of the television, with whatever my mother had cooked up for breakfast that day, and settle in to watch Mr. Rogers. I would watch him come out and start the show the same way, changing into his iconic sweaters and house shoes. I couldn’t wait to see that little train go into the land of make-believe, where I watched Daniel Striped Tiger ask questions that, as an incredibly shy little girl, I was too nervous to say out loud. And I loved hearing Mr. Rogers sing about how much he enjoyed being my friend, because I was so very glad he was mine.
When I heard about the documentary, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Fred Rogers and ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ I was pretty excited. Not just for the nostalgia factor, but I was excited to hear about Mr. Rogers’ philosophy on working with children with respect and kindness.
I was not prepared to feel SO MANY FEELINGS. As I sat ugly crying in the theater, because Mr. Rogers had taught me that it was okay to have big feelings, my mind jumped from one thought to the other. I was thrilled that Mr. Rogers and I shared so many ideas about how working with young children can help heal our current culture, which prizes our own advancement more than the well-being of others. I was anxious about how I could continue to share Mr. Rogers’ legacy of love with the young children and families that I work with. But mostly I was overwhelmed by the sheer goodness Mr. Rogers’ exemplified.
So aside from urging everyone and their mother to go watch this amazing movie, I thought I’d share some ways you can immediately start living like Mr. Rogers would want us to. Although they are aimed at how to work with children, these are things that we can, and should, do with everyone.
Treat everyone like they have inherent value. The films shows clips of TV segments and columns by people who thought that Mr Rogers was an evil person because he told children that everyone is special. First off, that is bonkers. Second, everyone is special. Everyone has their own unique background, experience, and self that makes them who they are. Honor that, and tell your children how special they are.
Be consistent. I’ve said this one before, and I’ll say it again. Children feel safe to explore and learn when they are around adults that are predictable and environments that are secure. Mr. Rogers did this by opening the show in the same way every day; you can do this by giving your child consistency in their routines and interactions.
Talk about feelings. Children, especially very young children, don’t know what all of the emotions they are experiencing are, or how long they are going to last. Talk about the feelings you see them going through. During a tantrum, say, “I see that you’re mad. I like to take deep breaths when I’m mad, like this.” When they are sad, tell them “You feel sad. Sometimes I feel sad, but it goes away after a little while.” It’s never too early to start labeling emotions.
Model the behavior you want to see. One of my favorite quotes in the movie is something that Mr. Rogers says during a commencement speech at Middlebury College in 2001:
“In fact, from the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving.”
As parents of toddlers know, children are always watching and copying what you do. You are responsible for showing children how you want them to act, and how you want them to love.
Give children enough time to process. We all need time to think sometimes. Children need more. Revel in the quiet moments; give children enough time to listen to what you’ve said or done, process it, and then respond. Waiting is hard, I know, but we all need it.
It all comes down to treating others with empathy and being kind to others. And young children deserve to be taught these things in an intentional manner. Run, don’t walk, to go see this movie. And remember, as our good friend Mr. Rogers would say,
“I hope that you'll remember
Even when you're feeling blue
That it's you I like,
It's you yourself
It's you I like.”
Comment below with how you encourage empathy and kindness in your children. Need some help figuring out how to live Mr. Rogers’ legacy in your own life? Contact us here!
So you’ve noticed that your little one is not doing things like other little ones around them. Maybe they aren’t using words like other children at the library, or walking like their older sister did. Maybe they don’t want to play with other children at all.
First, I want you to take a deep breath, in and out. Did that? Okay, take another one.
The fact that you are noticing these things and asking questions is great. This is the first step to getting the support you need for you and your child. And, trust me, there is a lot of support available!
Let’s get one thing clear: every child develops at their own pace, and there is a wide range of what is typical. Just because that one kid at playgroup knows his colors and loves to sing doesn’t mean that your child should be doing the same thing. There are a lot of great resources where you can see what’s typical for a child that age. Do a little bit of investigating and make sure you are doing good research! Just please, please, please stay off the message boards! If you must, take everything with a grain of salt.
Here are some good ways to check what typical development looks like:
Ask your pediatrician. Don’t wait! Go ahead and ask your pediatrician to do a developmental screening like the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) or the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT). These screenings will ask questions about what your child is doing in different areas of development, like how they are getting your attention or playing with others.
Go to a trusted website. Try ones that are research-based, like the CDC’s or Zero to Three’s milestone pages.
Reach out to your state’s early intervention or Child Find programs. They will often know who to refer you to and do a screening if necessary. The people at these programs will ask about what your concerns are, and may do a screening or evaluation like the ones mentioned above.
I don’t want you to freak out until you’ve done one more of those options.
Scratch that. I don’t want you to freak out AT ALL.
Know that you are doing your best as a parent, and asking for help is not only okay, it’s encouraged. Please trust your gut and reach out. Two things will happen: either you’ll be told not to worry and that your baby is on track, or you’re going to start getting the support you need.
Worried about your child’s development or need help getting resources? Know that your baby is delayed and want to get the support you need? Contact us to schedule a free consultation!