Half of the Whole-Brain Child

whole brain child

I’m about halfway done reading The Whole-Brain Child, 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, a book in which the authors provide a basic introduction to how a child’s brain develops and what parents can do to foster its healthy development.

In the first few chapters, the authors provide a brief description of the brain. They discuss the left brain (logical side) and the right brain (emotional side) in order to get us thinking about “horizontal integration,” or harmony between both sides. The authors also talk about “vertical integration” of the top and bottom of the brain, using the metaphor of a “mental staircase.” The bottom of the brain is responsible for basic instincts while the upstairs brain is responsible for analytical thinking. While our “downstairs brain” is pretty developed at birth, our “upstairs brain” develops our entire life and is not fully mature until our mid-twenties! All this talk of the brain is well and good but what do we do with this information?

Fortunately the authors give us background as well as how-to (they have to, it’s in the book title!). They offer us insight to real-life examples and twelve strategies of how we can engage our kids and their brains. These strategies show us how we can help our child tap into the different parts of their brain so that they “integrate” them, especially when emotions are high and logic is seemingly inaccessible.  

The strategy of addressing a child’s emotions, validating them, and then when they are calm, getting them to think logically about themselves and the situation is not new. However, for me (as a person with no background in child psychology) it was interesting to read how the authors frame or characterize the right brain and left brain. So in this strategy, they encourage the parent to “connect with the [child’s] right brain” and become attuned to your child’s emotion and then “redirect with the left brain” and use logic or critical thinking to teach and discipline.

In Chapter 4, the authors explain how memories work (my favorite chapter thus far). One example that I enjoyed reading was the conversation the author, Tina, had with her 7-year-old son about his anxiety over taking swimming lessons.

Tina and her son identify why he was anxious about taking swimming lessons. He had a bad memory of a previous swim class so he did not want to take them again. But then she helps him recognize that he also had good feelings and memories of swimming, especially when he swims with his best friend. So then her son recognizes that in general, he likes swimming. Finally, they come up with a plan for him to think of what he could say to himself when he gets that nervous feeling before lessons. OK, prepare yourself. Her son says he’d like to “kill the butterflies.” That’s right. Since he gets butterflies when he’s nervous, the phrase he came up with is “kill the butterflies.”

I think the point the authors are trying to make is that we should bring out our child’s memories (no matter how scary or painful) so we can better understand our children, and so our children themselves can become self-aware through a narration of these memories. The authors state this can bring about “healing.” That’s some pretty powerful stuff. I mean, how many of us adults are told to “forget the past” or throw away things that elicit bad memories? If we can get our kids to recall memories so that they can have power over their emotion and reasoning, that’s some pretty, serious, parenting.

All these parenting strategies have forced me to think about how I might approach a situation when it seems like reason has gone out the door. I feel better knowing more about the different parts of the brain and having strategies to engage my son in times when I would want to yell “No!” or “Because I said so!”

NC Nature With Your Tot

One of the first things I did during postpartum was to make sure that I took a walk every day. Since Lucas started walking, my husband and I enjoy taking our son to different gardens and parks throughout the Triangle Area. Here are three of my favorite places to walk and explore nature. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

William B. Umstead State Park has beautiful hiking trails for your tot, and the trails weave through the forests so the paths are dirt, not paved. (Make sure your tot has good walking shoes!) Although I was afraid my son would stumble on the uneven terrain his balance surprised me! We came across some natural streams and a bed of flat rocks that we could walk and sit on. Our son enjoyed running his fingers through the natural water.

NC Museum of Art Park is the ideal place to let your child run in open grass areas. Along the paths are fun works of art that you and your tot can marvel at! You can pack a lunch and eat on the park grounds, or during museum hours you can eat at the Iris restaurant which has amazing locally sourced food. (I now have photos up on my Birthday Trip to NC Museum of Art post!).

Sarah P. Duke Gardens are a must if you’re only in Durham for a few hours. My husband and I have taken our son to Duke gardens numerous times and discover something different each time! You can take your tot here to appreciate the flowers, birds, fountains, ponds, bridges, turtles, ducks, and fish, to name a few. The diversity and display of the flowers are spectacular. Right now the hibiscus are in bloom and are STUNNING!

Happy Trails!

The One Cake I Can Bake

When I have to bake a cake for someone special, my go-to cake is a hummingbird cake. It’s signature ingredients are banana, pineapple, cinnamon, and cream cheese frosting. I baked it for a friend’s birthday several years ago and it was polished off, every last bite! The recipe comes from Saveur magazine which you can find here; hummingbird cake recipes originate from Jamaica, and the cake “was named after the bird because it was sweet enough to attract hummingbirds” (source here).

Some additional notes:

For less sugar, follow the ingredients as written except instead of 1.5 cups of white sugar, use only 1 cup of white (also keep the brown sugar as 1 cup). Of course, if you like your cake sweet follow the ingredients exactly as written. Make sure your bananas are ripe but not too ripe; spotted bananas but not totally brown ones. You can mash bananas with a fork or whisk (kid-friendly activity).

While in the oven, you can peek on the cake once it starts browning, usually at 30 min. I usually bake it for only 40-45 min in my oven because for some reason it takes less time than the recipe calls for. The last time I baked this, I ended up covering the cake with aluminum foil at the 30-min mark. Like most cakes, you can do a toothpick or knife test by pricking through the cake in the center and seeing if the utensil comes out clean.

Pecans are great for extra texture and for those not allergic to them. I don’t like anything “in” the cake that’s crunchy, so I sometimes decorate the cake with pecans on the top and side. Crushing the pecans is another kid-friendly activity. You can crush pecans by putting them in a plastic bag and taking a heavy spoon to them. Pecans take it to a whole different level!

Can you smell that warm cinnamony, banana and pineapple smell? I think I have a leftover piece in my fridge for a midnight snack. Nom nom nom.

Wooden Blocks and Reasoning Skills

trains older

Like most children, Lucas’ room is overflowing with toys, and so is our living room! When Lucas was a baby, we had a generous outpouring of plush toys and books from our family and friends, but now we have a large array of toys. I’d like to think I’m a DIY person, like I located a tree, cut it down, carved a block, sanded it, and bestowed it into the cute palms of my toddler boy. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the tools nor time to do this.

We gave Lucas a wooden train during Christmas just after he turned one. When I was in a second hand store (Kid to Kid), I spotted the train behind the counter and asked the saleswoman what the recommended age range for the toy was. I believe she said around 2 years. This didn’t deter me, if I’m going to have my boy attend Stanford’s Design Program he must start playing with these right away!

I am in total support of wooden toys and blocks for two reasons: they grow with your baby and they develop reasoning skills (for 13 other benefits see here).

1) They grow with your baby! I have a short video of Lucas playing with the train at 14 months. Lucas had learned that if he toppled the train foundation, he could pull the blocks off the wooden peg. Now at 20 months Lucas is much stronger and has the ability to lift the blocks from the pegs.

David Elkind, author of the Power of Play, wrote: “A set of wooden blocks is a good investment, for example, because children play with them in a variety of ways–babies may use them to discover size differences; tots to construct buildings.”

2) They develop reasoning skills! Recently I watched Lucas stack the blocks from the train one by one, organizing them by color: blue on the bottom, then red, then yellow. Using his reasoning skills, he can also organize the blocks in different permutations on the pegs!

Bye Bye, Baby

Nature trail

I wish I could slow down the rate of my baby’s growth, but that would be like preventing a snake from shedding its skin. (Lucas was actually born in the year of the snake!).

Yesterday when I dropped off Lucas at daycare he didn’t cry. I put him in his chair at the table for breakfast, gave him a kiss, and slowly walked away. He looked worried but didn’t cry. I can’t believe he’s a big boy now.

I don’t know where to begin. Lucas loves Thomas the Tank Engine, tests our boundaries, and loves pizza like every other kid, but he also has his own individual personality that screams LUCAS. He LOVES dancing. I was watching a ballet documentary two nights ago and he tried to imitate the arms of the dancers! He likes broccoli, believe it. He loves bird-watching and already relishes in insect and bug hunting. He’s imaginative. He held a pool noodle in his hands and wielded it like a pole vaulter and yelled at the top of his lungs with a smile from ear to ear. And he LOVES his “Dada.” He sorts things and at daycare one day, he removed all the marshmallows from his plate and put them on his friend’s plate.

Some of his favorite books are “Goodnight Gorilla,” “Toot & Puddle,” “Giraffes Can’t Dance” and strangely, “The Gruffalo.” Before that it was “Little Owl Lost” or “Barnyard Dance.” And the one word that melts my heart every day when I pick him up from daycare is “home.” When I picked him up the first few times, I said, “Let’s go home now.” Now he says it every time he sees me when I pick him up, without fail. This morning as I held his right hand and walked him down the hallway, he reached for his father’s and said “hand.”

I could go on and on. I walked through the baby store, Buy Buy Baby, yesterday for the first time in perhaps half a year, and one of the first racks I passed had the onesies on them. Lucas doesn’t need those anymore, and I don’t need to buy baby items anymore. Lucas will turn two before I know it. As we say “bye bye” to our baby, and as we see more glimpses of “terrible” two, I don’t want to ever forget these moments of growth, joy, and babyhood.

Toddler’s First Swim Lessons

swim class

Babies and toddlers love water from the beginning of time, but a public swimming pool is not their mother’s womb! When we first introduced Lucas to a big pool last summer, he was tentative and scared, but eventually he acclimated. This summer, we signed him up for swim lessons at UNC-Chapel Hill. During the first two lessons he would not stop clinging full-body to his dad, but by the third lesson he started enjoying the water and participating in the swim activities and games! In our class, no one used any floaties or vests, but a group of lifeguards/instructors were in the pool and on the deck during the whole class (one source says that there should be a ratio of 1 instructor to 10 children). Here are few things you should remember to bring for your child’s lesson:

  • Swim diapers (Only put these on right before class. Swim diapers are not like regular diapers. If you put the swim diaper on too early and your tot does a number 1, the diaper DOES NOT keep it in. If your tot is potty-trained, try to have him/her go to the bathroom right before class starts.)
  • Bag to put wet clothes in after class
  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimsuit

Another suggestion is that it’s ok to feed your baby/toddler up to 30 minutes before class, but not a full feed/meal. You can bring a bottle/sippy of water and/or milk because your child will be very thirsty after the lesson!

Your toddler’s swim class covers the basics: holding breath, kicking, learning how to blow bubbles; but won’t likely include putting his/her head under water. It’s more about getting your tot comfortable in the water, learning the proper positions to hold your child while they kick or scoop water, and above all, having fun!

Toddler Travel 101

Inside Out photo(image from Disney)

“I don’t know how you do it,” a friend said when I finished telling her we just got back from a short “vacation” to see family in NY and NJ. About a week before, an anxious parent on Facebook asked for recommendations on how to travel with a toddler. I’ll tell you how we did it with a 20-month old! I’ll start with a barebones packing list. You can get any comprehensive packing list if you google it, I’m just adding my two cents here.

Carry-on items to start with:
1) iPad. My friend Cindy supports this, too. Download your child’s favorite movie, music, or a doodle app (don’t forget to charge it)! More on screen time later.

2) Diapers, etc. One friend suggested that you should carry whatever baby/toddler supplies you need for the road trip or plane ride, but don’t pack the whole shebang! If you’re off to visit a friend/family member, ask them to buy diapers, etc. and have them ready for you when you arrive (etc: formula, baby wash/lotion); and you can also buy things as needed at your destination.

3) Snacks. Before I became a mom, I once witnessed a scene at the airport where a mother was asking her child which of the three snacks did he want. Three different kinds of snacks? Yes, you need plenty of snacks for your travel, but perhaps give your child only one option at a time so you don’t overwhelm your child (or stress yourself out!).

4) Toys. Someone once recommended the “thinking” toys like the ones where you push the blocks into the box. This parent said his child was occupied for hours. We brought Lucas some Mega Bloks pieces as well as his “lovey”=”plush toy”=Elmo.

5) Bring an empty sippy cup/water bottle for your child (of course you can get a cup anywhere but it’s still nice to have one handy). Remember to hydrate your child and yourself. I heard on NPR recently that most children are dehydrated during the school day. See here.

6) Extra plastic bags (sorry Eco-friendly parents!). Bring them for anything and everything. For upchuck, for poo, for your own clothes if these end up on you! Speaking of which, pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on for yourself.

How did it go for us?
1) iPad was a lifesaver. We ended up relying on it too much, however, and have vowed to cut off screen time these next few weeks. NY Times actually just published another article on screen time here.
2) Diapers. We had enough diapers, that wasn’t the issue. However, our son drinks a ton of milk and we did not have the opportunity to change him as often, so we had a few accidents! If you think your child is in between sizes or imbibes a surfeit of liquid, consider testing the next diaper size up before you travel. We finally did this after our trip was said and done and discovered that yes, all he needed was a size up.

3) Snacks. Never neglect this necessity. When my son started getting fussy, avocado saved the day (and avocado goes down smoothly)! And yes, I will eat my own words! On one occasion, I offered more than one snack at the same time and what happened? Goldfish and Wheat Thins flew everywhere. Thankfully my husband and I did not overreact and we attributed this moment to his being overtired/uncomfortable by the end of the flight. (Quick note on liquids. If you have an infant, you can breastfeed or offer the bottle during the flight’s ascension/descent and this will help minimize ear discomfort).

4) Toys. The Mega Bloks worked for a little while (we used the iPad mostly).

5) The sippy and bottle were regularly used during our whole trip. Not all restaurants have kid cups. Or maybe you’ve forgotten your own water bottle. I took a sip from my son’s water bottle at least once, ha!

6) Plastic bags. Used ’em all and got more throughout.

Suggestions for keeping your mommy cool:
1) TAKE BREAKS and BE FLEXIBLE.

2) Vary your schedule between doing new things and doing familiar things. If you’re brave to venture into NYC like we did, we did something new and went to Toys R Us during the evening, then the next morning we went to a public park to mimic a ‘normal’ day. I found that my son was more himself and smiled a ton while playing in the park.

3) I know it’s common sense but I’ll say it anyway: Communicate with your spouse or partner, especially if you’re visiting friends or family. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

4) Remember to enjoy your “vacation.” Try not to get caught up in being the Energizer Bunny. If you notice your toddler appreciating water fountains, tree roots, a special dessert item, whatever it is, allow them the time to enjoy it. You don’t have to be anywhere but right there in the mindful presence of your family.

5) Try your best to get a good night’s rest! You’ll always have more patience when you’re well-rested.

6) Try to get one date night in! (We were SO exciting and watched the movie Inside Out).

Safe travels!!!