Monthly Archives: October 2009

Helping our kids with the things that go bump in the night

I took my
kids today to the doctor to get them some shots that they were missing. I told
them that they were getting new "superpowers" that would make them
even stronger and more powerful; that their bodies would now be able to fight
even bigger germs and other teeny tiny things that could make them sick. It was
silly, but they got SO into it and it worked to not only help them sit still
for a needle, but also to feel great about it afterwards. And that got me
thinking… What kinds of things do we do, and can we do, to try to lessen our
children's fears? I'm talking about those everyday fears, the reasonable,
relatively common, everyday fears. I thought I'd throw out some ideas and then
ask you, dear readers, to chime in with your own suggestions. Tell us: What are
your chidlren's everyday fears and what do you say to them, what do you do,
watch, read, play, that makes them feel better?

 This isn't going to be a heavily science-based post. I just
wanted to let you know about a few books that my own kids love and share with
you some others that my mom friends have recommended. If you have some others
you'd like to add to the list, please do…

There are some GREAT books out there that deal with
children's common fears. I think books are so helpful because they provide a
safe context in which a child can talk about her fears and face them in the
light of day, with your emotional support (if you read the book to her or
listen to her read it aloud). Books are once-removed from the actual thing that
is so frightening, so children don't feel overwhelmed by addressing them
(compared to trying to expose them gradually to something they fear, for
example, which may be too difficult for some kids). Books also give kids the
unbeatable feeling that their fears are shared by other people: Look! A book
has been written about it! Other children also have the same feelings! For many
children, part of the horror of their fears is that they feel so alone with
them; they feel like they're the only ones that are so scared and the only ones
that can't be brave enough or strong enough to deal with these things. I'm not
an expert in children's books, so I am in no way suggesting that this list is a
definitive, or even great, list. But see what you think…

For fear of the dark (and/or the monsters that lurk

What's that Noise?:  "This cheery tale proves
that there's safety in numbers, at least in the dead of night. With the lights
out, a chilly violet glow falls over the bedroom of Alex and his younger
brother, Ben and suddenly it feels as if the boys are hosting a veritable
convention of spooky noises ("aroo aroo aroo") and spectral shadows
(a branch outside casts a shape that's a dead ringer for a boy-eating dragon).
Ben wants Alex to come over to his bed and sing a silly song to buck up their
spirits…" (From Publisher's Weekly)

·  My kids love Can't You Sleep Little Bear? I think I've read it to them 200 times
now. It's a classic: Big Bear helps Little Bear feel less afraid by putting
bigger and bigger lights into his room to get rid of the dark. But what really
helps the most, in the end, is Big Bear snuggling Little Bear outside, by the
moon, the biggest light at night.


·      Scaredy Squirrel at Night: I have a thing
for this little neurotic squirrel. So do my kids.  “Scaredy is too terrified to sleep, and on lively pages
formatted as charts and diagrams, he presents potential night visitors
(unicorns, polka-dotted monsters) and how he will guard against them (molasses,
banana peels). Some vocabulary words will be a stretch for a young audience
(hallucinations, drowsiness), but kids will be amused by the lively, busy
compositions packed with silly details, and those who share Scaredy’s insomniac
tendencies will enjoy the reassuring outcome.” (From Booklist)

For children dealing with separation anxiety, particularly from mom:

  • Mama always comes home
    Mama Always Comes Home: 
    My kids LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book. And they request it like clockwork when I've been working too much or too late or when one or the other is just feeling like they want more mama time. It can help all mothers, but I think it's particularly relevant to moms who work outside the home and therefore have to leave their kids daily. The "Mama always comes home" refrain can often be heard when I'm heading out the door in the morning… and it does WONDERS for my boys.
    "Mama Bird… feeds her babies, then tucks them
    beneath a quilt in their nest before digging up more worms; Mama Cat
    leaves her kittens in the barn to have a sip of cream in the house;
    Mama Dog runs out to play with her boy. Each example ends with the
    refrain: "Mama always comes home." At the end of the story, the human
    mother explains to her little one, "I want to stay,/but while I'm gone
    have fun and play,/and soon, before you know,/time will fly right by,
    and then/I'll be coming home again." (From School Library Journal).

For children
with general worries/anxieties:

·      Wemberly Worried: I really like Kevin
Henkes’ books. My boys are just getting into them, but they’ve loved this book
for a while, constantly asking “But WHY is she so worried?” and “What’s going
to happen to her?” Wemberly worries about really teeny things (shrinking in the
tub) and big, bad stuff (not fitting in at school). The book acknowledges that
all sorts of anxieties can come up in the course of a day and ends reassuringly

Finally, I’m
going to go out on a limb with this last one (and probably freak my co-blogger
out as I go all “psychoanalytic”). I think one of the biggest fears children
have is the fear of their own emotions, particularly the negative ones, and
more specifically their own feelings of anger. It can be a very intense
experience to feel the rush of intense anger that can take over children’s
little bodies. Often these feelings of anger are accompanied by scary or
violent images and “appraisals” or thoughts about wanting to destroy, hit,
bite, or just generally go nuts. (These ideas I'm putting out here now are heavily laden with principles
from psychoanalytic theory and, for once, I’m making no apologies.) Little kids’
anger can be particularly frightening when it’s directed at people they love –
it can really freak them out to feel the intensity of their desire to want to
hurt their little brother or annihilate their mother or to just GO WILD against
anything and anyone. We’re usually ok with trying to talk about concrete stuff
– fears of the first day of school, fears of the dark, fears of the funky
shadows, strange noises and bumps in the night. But the scary stuff that
bubbles up from children’s own little minds (and adults’, let’s be real), the
images and thoughts that are dark and shaming and overwhelming, those we’re not
so good with getting at with our kids. And that’s where another book, probably
my favourite, comes in handy. It’s not exactly a hidden gem; it’s probably the
most popular book in children’s literature (it’s certainly in the running). Of
course, I’m talking about Where the Wild Things Are. Max is sent to his room
for being wild and disobedient and his is PISSED. He takes off and battles with
his “demons,” lets his freak flag fly and then comes home to realize that it’s
all acceptable. Because inside all of us, is a WILD THING.

– Isabela

Why we fear and how to deal with the scared child

Halloween is a great week to talk about fears!  Just leaving home this
morning revealed a spookier neighbourhood than I remember seeing the
last time I looked up to take it all in on the way to work.

So why do we fear? Makes sense that one explanation appeals to evolution. The idea is that we have evolved a tendency to notice quickly potentially scary things. The sooner you can pick up on that snake in the grass, ferocious lion coming at you, or huge brown bear within swiping reach, the faster you can act to avoid it, flee, get help, make some noise etc. In other words, it's essential for your survival.

Some very cool recent research has shown that children as young as 3 years of age will notice potentially scary things more quickly than non-scary things (think snakes vs. flowers). Since we find the same pattern in adults, this suggests that the rapid response to potentially scary stuff kicks in rather early. Good thing, if you want to make it past early childhood!  Rather than summarize how the researchers came to these conclusions, take a look at the video and see for yourself. Just keep in mind that since they didn't actually measure fear (which you could do by say, looking at heart rate or other biological markers), the study is really getting at PAYING ATTENTION to fearful stimuli rather than being afraid of it. Still, it makes the point quite nicely that we may be equipped to pick up on that thing that just might be about to pounce fairly early on. Check it out.

My point here is to say that fear serves an important purpose. You want your child to notice potentially harmful things and to act accordingly. Thing is, not everything is a predator about to leap. So children need time to sort out what they should be afraid of and what they don't need to fear. Think of the differences between a cartoon snake on television vs. in a 3-D movie vs. a real snake in the zoo or in your back yard.

As with everything in development, there are also individual differences in fear responses. Children vary in how sensitive they are to scary things, in how strongly they react and in what they find scary. They may also cycle through times of being scared and times when they are not. My advise?  First of all, acknowledge the fear. I hate snakes, but have no problem with heights. Others may not be the same. But telling me to just forget about it, or how so and so doesn't fear snakes will not help. So even if it's hard to understand what's scary about a Disney character, the fact is, your child finds it scary. It can be very reassuring to hear someone say, "it's okay to be afraid" or "I can understand how you feel, sometimes I feel scared too". Second, don't force the issue. There's no timetable for getting over your fears. I like to use a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy or talking my son through his fears. In other words, I try to get him to think differently about what he is afraid of in the hopes that it will affect his behaviour e.g. "That's something in your book, it's not here in your room. It can't come out of the page to hurt you.". We revisit the fearful thing every once in a while but I don't push it. Eventually, he moves on.

My little guy helped me pick out a witch's hat for Halloween, then made sure to stress that I should be a good and friendly witch. It's a small thing to ask for while we work through our fears. And hey, I kinda like to think of myself of as a good and friendly witch anyway.

Please share your stories on dealing with fears. I"m particularly interested in the first time you noticed a fear response in your child or children, the context, how old they were etc. On my next post, I'll talk a bit more about what might contribute to those early fear responses.

– Tracy

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s talk about children’s fears this week

This is such a rich topic and, given that Halloween is just around the corner for those of us in North America, it's a timely one. It's also timely because we just got a great question in a previous comment section about just this issue. Christy asked:

If you're
looking for questions for new topics, maybe something on fear? My 2.5
year old is going through a big "I'm scared" phase. Some of it seems
Halloween related (wanting to see the displays, saying he's scared and
wants to leave, talking for five minutes about how he was scared,
asking to go see it again. Repeat.) but he's also suddenly saying he's
scared of the kids at the playground, going down the slide, etc. and
talking about scary dreams, which seems to go beyond just the holiday

So, if you've been reading this blog for a while you will know that 2.5 years old will ring a bell for me immediately. That's because it is one of the developmental transition periods we've been talking so much about in the context of sleep (usually between 2.5 and 3 years old). As you'll see, all those developmental stages are equally important for a whole host of other social, emotional and cognitive challenges. If you want to know more about what's happening around 2.5 years old in terms of the cognitive changes, read this first. For the social and emotional implications, check out this post

OK, now that you're up on the developmental theory, you can see why the example that Christy gives of her son is SO VERY common at this age. Children at this age are obsessed with testing their power and control in different contexts. That's why they're always testing YOUR limits at this age — because you provide the ultimate litmus test of how very powerful your child CAN be, in a relatively safe context (it's why tantrums can be so horrible, why they seem to stop listening to any of your requests, why they are constantly wanting to "do it myself" and so on). So… when children ask to see something scary and then shy away from it immediately, and then go right back to asking for more, they're playing with this power and control boundary. They're testing just how strong they are and just how independent they can be; at the same time, they're rushing back to "touch base" with you to refill on the emotional security you can give them. The point is that new fears, and testing how "brave" they can be in the face of these new fears, is absolutely textbook at this age. So is the crazy-making "Help me/Get away from me!" behaviour. Again… they're working all this out because it's all new to them.

There's so much more to say about children's fears and there are different points to make across different age groups. But there is one thing we can generalize: New and seemingly overwhelming fears are most likely to come up during the sensitive periods in development, those transition periods I keep talking about (4-5.5 months, 8-11 months, 18-21 months, etc.). During these transition periods, kids are working out so much new information and mastering a whole set of new cognitive and emotional skills, so they're super vulnerable. And, obviously, vulnerability breeds anxiety and this anxiety can bring forth irrational fears, such as a recurring fear of the dark, or the worry that some person (or animal!) is angry at the child, or that the slide that used to be so easy to come down on may actually cause the child to break a bone. Bad dreams and even night terrors can pop up during these periods also. 

And, you know, the random proliferation of ghosts and goblins, witches and gravestones all over their previously humdrum neighborhoods can't help the poor little dudes…

What are your kids afraid of? Does anyone else notice that children can go through these periods of increased fears and anxieties and then settle down again into a more secure phase? Were you a fearful child? If so, what helped or hindered your feelings?

We’re under construction… But still posting regularly!

This post will stay at the top of the blog until we're finished overhauling the look and organization of the blog. Check below for new posts! For those of you new to this blog, WELCOME! The blog used to be exclusively focused on children's sleep issues (hence the title, Bed Timing) but we've broadened it now to include all developmental topics. More information about what we're trying to do at this site here and here.

We're changing the name of the blog to Child of Mind: Developmental Science and Everyday Parenting.

Thanks to all of you who suggested titles; this was WAY harder than we anticipated. As many of you know, both Tracy and I are technologically-challenged. As a result, we are getting some talented folks to change the banner and tweak with the blog design for us. In the meantime, we'll still be posting regularly, so please join in the conversations and come back soon!

More on perseveration…

Check this out!


Are you back? Ok, that was another example of a
perseverative or repetitive behaviour from a task you can try at home with your
baby. The child watches as you hide an object in one of two identical covered
locations. You can create these by just putting two identical covers (cloths?) over
two identical cups or other containers. Show the hiding object to your child
(something small that will fit in the container), then make sure they are
watching while you hide it in one of the cups. Remember to replace the cloth. Repeat
this using THE SAME location (location A) a few times. Try 3 or 4 times. Then
the next time, hide the object (making sure your child is watching) in the
other cup (location B). Replace the cloth cover. What happens? A typical infant
of around 9-10 months of age is likely to search for the object in location A
again, and not in location B, where they JUST SAW YOU HIDE IT!!   What can they possibly be
thinking? You know their eyes work!

This is called the A not B error.  The A not B task was developed by the famous developmental
psychologist Jean Piaget. Piaget argued that the tendency to search again at
the A location on the first B location trial was related to the infant’s lack
of understanding of “object permanence” or the idea that an object continues to
exist even when it is out of sight. There has been some debate around why
children commit the A not B error. One of the biggies has
been that your darling, brilliant angel simply  cannot control the urge to reach at location A,
and  instead go with the new information that the object is now at location B.  Sound familiar?  It’s just like on the card-sorting task we talked about
earlier this week. The A not B error is usually overcome by 12 months of age.

Try it. You'll see. If you have a 7-10 month old at home, try it now and try again around 12 months of age. You'll be amazed at the difference. And I'd love to hear about it! For more on the practical implications of this stage, in particular, what it might have to do with sleep problems, check out these older posts.

Please, not that same book/game/song again! I can recite it in my sleep!


Okay, here's my first blogging challenge. I cannot get the author to change from Bella to Tracy. The post below is by me – Tracy. Anyone want to pitch in and help me get this sorted out? You can't say I did not warn you.

Every parent has heard the repeated request “Again!” to read
a favourite book, play a favourite game or sing a favourite song at one time or
another from their young child. How is it, we all wonder, that they can not
only stand, but insist upon, this incessant repetition when most parents are
driven to distraction by it? Turns out, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, that
some of the answer lies in what we know about the developing brain.

Children may like repetition, in part, because they have
trouble stopping it. Cognitive and neuro- scientists talk about a phenomenon
known as perseveration, or the
uncontrollable repetition of a particular
response such as a word or a behaviour. Although perseveration is often
associated with some type of brain trauma in later life (injury, serious
illness etc.), it is also characteristic of the developing brain, especially in
the preschool years. In fact, an important achievement of early childhood is
being able to control, or inhibit, your own behaviour (think: Simon Says).

Developmental psychologists have devised
several tasks for use with young children that provide a glimpse into their
developing capacity for inhibition. In one task, children are shown cards with say,
red and blue flowers and cars. They are asked to sort the cards into two piles,
either according to colour (red here, blue there), or according to shape
(flowers here, cars there). After several sorting trials, children are asked to
switch to sorting to the other dimension (so if they first sorted by colour,
now they have to sort by shape – BTW, it doesn’t matter which one you ask them
to do first). The results of numerous studies show that until about 4 years of
age, children continue to sort the cards according to the first dimension or
the first set of rules. In other words, they PERSEVERATE! What’s striking is
that younger children will perseverate with the first set of rules even when
they are reminded of the new sorting rules and even when they can produce the
new rules every time they are about to sort a card! The argument goes that the
young brain is not yet able to control itself, or to INHIBIT the first
behaviour (sort by the first set of rules) and switch to new a new behaviour
(use the other set of rules).

 Just in case you’re thinking that we have it
all licked by the time we’re 5, think again. It turns out that inhibition takes
some time to develop. And though it becomes easier and easier with age it still
requires effort. So you can inhibit answering that cell phone when you are
driving the car (especially if that might cost you a fine), but if you have a
lot on your mind or get distracted, the effort it takes to inhibit just might
be too much for the already taxed brain and you may find yourself reaching for
it. Sorry officer, it was a failure to inhibit.

The take home message? It’s actually harder TO
STOP doing things than it is to DO them, especially for the really young. So
what does this mean for parenting? Let me give you a couple of things to think
about. My son is 5 and I’m still relying on some of them (it takes time

Since it’s harder to curb behaviour, try to
provide instructions that emphasize what TO DO as
opposed to what NOT TO DO. So easy on the use of “No”, “Don’t” and “Stop”,
especially at the start of a sentence. E.g. When your little one seems bent on
pressing the power button on your computer on and off (I can hear the hard
drive crying now, or is that you crying…), instead of “No! Stop pressing that
button.” try “Look it’s like the buttons your toy laptop computer/cash
register/cell phone etc. See? Now you try.”. Or instead of insisting “Don’t
throw your coat on the floor” when you come in the door try, “Can you put your
coat on your special hook?”.

2.  2. Even when children know the rule or what they
should do, keep in mind that it is still very hard to stop a habitual behaviour
and in a sense, redirect the brain toward acting according to some other
knowledge. So try not to see the repetitive behaviour (e.g. always throwing his
or her coat down every time he or she comes in the door) as defiant. Be
patient. Repeat the rule. Eventually he or she will get it. No really, they
will. And you’ll probably have a better relationship that if you just persisted
with the “No!”s.

As for the pleas for “Again!” in very young
children, it could just be that repeating the same thing again and again feels
good. It’s as though it’s the brain’s natural inclination. It’s what it wants
to do. Keep that in mind the next time you feel lured into the “Wheels On the

Here’s Tracy! She’s awesome… you’ll see

Hi, I’m Tracy Solomon. Isabela Granic is a great friend and highly-respected colleague of mine. When she asked me to join this blog, I have to admit that there was some hesitation. For one thing, compared to Is, I am a cyber toddler. Blogging and social networking are two things I've actively resisted so far, for a number of reasons. But let’s face it, it’s the wave of the future and it’s where our children will be interacting soon enough (if they aren't already).  Spurred by Isabel’s enthusiasm, I started reading the blog and, you guessed it, I was hooked. I think what really struck me was how much the blog reads like the kinds of conversations she and I frequently have about motherhood, work, family life and oh yes, juggling it all!  

While we have lots in common, we are also lucky enough to have some complimentary differences. Isabela has twin boys as you know, I have one 5-year-old son. He is a child of passionate interests and some unusual abilities that really keep me on my toes. Isabel’s expertise in developmental psychology is more in the social and emotional development arena, mine is in cognitive development. My key interests are in symbolic reasoning (how children learn to decode media from pictures to videos – fiction and non- to books and eventually school texts) and spatial reasoning (how children learn to navigate) and also at the intersection of these; children’s comprehension of maps, scale models, graphs, rulers etc. All of this is, of course, related to more formal learning which is how I came to my current research in early mathematics education. Although these areas are where my own research is focused, as a developmental psychologist, I'm pretty much interested and reading up on all aspects of development; basically, anything that changes over time for children. After all, you cannot just slice the emotions or the thinking and reasoning out of the child and study it in isolation. The challenge, or the puzzle, is that it’s all going on together!

It’s been an interesting journey weaving this knowledge into parenting. Funny what happens when your emotions are involved and the stakes are so very high. I may give advice, but I just as often ask for it. Frankly, my parenting and my research are that much richer since my son was born largely because of everything I've learned from other parents. I'm very excited about the chance to be interacting with you on this site. I’ve already learned a lot from what I’ve read. I hope that you too continue to find the blog useful in all sorts of ways.

Friday Link Love: Brain plasticity

I'm thinking of the organization of the new blog (and writing a whole lot… I promise the posts will become much more frequent in the coming weeks). Now that the blog is going to be so much more broad in terms of its topics, I feel a little wiggy about how open-ended that leaves things. So… I'm thinking I need to be a little more structured about the TYPE of posts, if the CONTENT will be so far-ranging. Here's my first attempt at thinking about the organization of the week's posts. Of course, this may completely change as we get going here, but your thoughts are, as always, very welcome.

I'd like to start off with one theme every week. Many themes will be far too large to keep to just a week, but we can always return to them later or go for a few weeks on any single topic (for example, I can imagine that discipline could be a HUGE topic that would require more than a week and maybe needs to be organized by ages and so on). This Monday, I'll "introduce" you to my partner in crime who will be regularly contributing to the blog. But after the preliminary 2 weeks or so, here's what I'm thinking:

Monday: Theme introduction with a substantive post and some links to research (led hopefully by a reader's question, but I suspect at first, we'll call for specific questions about the theme that we can subsequently answer throughout the week).

Tuesday: Readers' questions about the theme addressed and a call for commenters' perspectives

Wednesday: Second substantive post about theme

Thursday: Um… not sure. We'll keep this open.

Friday: Link love. (There's always so many COOL sites I come across or great articles that I read online and I'd love to be able to share those with you. Since Friday is notoriously a slow-read day for many people, the links will allow people to visit the site on Friday or over the weekend and read more about whatever the theme of the week was. I'd like to include links to substantive articles, but also light-hearted posts by other writers, some videos, jokes, pictures and whatever else just seems to connect to what we're talking about).

So… here goes. The first Friday Link Love. Here are some cool articles I've been reading which are either directly or at least tangentially related to brain plasticity:

  • Here's a fascinating summary of a study published in Science that hints at new discoveries that will allow us to understand how new memories are formed (and what else is memory if it's not about  about "learning" after all?); how the brain is plastic enough to incorporate new stuff all the time, but all the while maintains some level of stability (so you remember who you are from day to day).
  • And here's the abstract (summary) of an article in Psychological Science about early language acquisition and how the brain "holds on" to these experiences, even when we're not aware of it. EVEN when we don't use the language anymore, as long as we learned it early in life, we still retain traces of those memories. SO cool (although not directly about plasticity as much as "stability").
  • Lastly, I leave you with two opposing pictures of the brain — one scientific and one more like how I'm feeling now, as the work-week comes to a crashing halt…

Thoughts, comments, reactions, criticisms, complaints or whatever else you've got, always welcome. Happy weekend, all.

What are they BUILDING in there?

 If anyone actually gets the musical reference to this title, I have found my new BFF (not that it has ANYTHING to do with what I'm about to talk about). 

So… let's consider this the first post of the "new" blog. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm going to be changing this blog to cover topics of all sorts in developmental psychology, not only sleep issues. The new look will actually take a few more weeks because I am a graphics dunce and completely clueless about blog design, so I'm hopefully getting some help with all that soon. Until then, let's just forge on and the pretty pictures around the posts will soon be more consistent with the actual content.


I've recently had a few emails asking about the effect of one thing or another on a baby's "brain" (for example, certain types of music, diet, lack of sleep). Neuroscience is so hot right now, both in the scientific world and the "lay person's" everyday world. There are tons and tons of new titles that seem to crop up everyday about how the brain is involved in all sorts of things we care about. I have a two-pronged reaction to all the neuroscience interest. On the one hand, I think it's great to integrate what we know about psychology, evolution, and biology, with what we could and should know about how the brain works. How could we go wrong with that general stance? On the other hand, I'm not all that starry-eyed about the results from brain research thus far on the most important issues in child development. In part, that's because we know SO VERY little about the most important processes in the brain and even less about those processes in children's brains. And I don't think we necessarily NEED to always go to what lights up in the brain to answer some of our most pressing questions about how children grow and flourish.

With that caveat in mind, let me tell you what DOES excite me about some developmental (child) neuroscience research. These ideas are not restricted to understanding children, but they're fascinating to think about in that context. 

Brain Plasticity and Development

The general idea is that all of us are born with a very "plastic" brain; one that can be, and is, shaped by our everyday experiences. This may seem really obvious to some people, but for a long time, many scholars believed that we are born with a done-deal sculpted brain architecture. But that is SO FAR from the truth. The actual structure of the brain changes over development (not only how it functions, which also undergoes incredible changes). Some parts of the brain thicken in some places, other parts thin out or stretch out and so on. Even more importantly, the connections between neurons in the brain grown and change over development BASED ON EXPERIENCE. These changes begin at birth but they keep going until well into adulthood. During
the first couple of years of life, about 700 new neural connections are
formed EACH AND EVERY SECOND (the connections are called synapses). At the very beginning of life, there's a huge outpouring of new connections that are formed but, over time, these connections
are reduced (a process called "pruning"… think about your bushes and you'll get a good sense of this). What's really cool is that it is by this pruning process that we become more efficient thinking machines (just like when you prune bushes to try to get more nutrients to certain parts of a tree more efficiently). There's been a whole lot of emphasis recently by developmental psychologists on how important it is to provide children with rich early learning environments (both in the home and in daycares and nursery schools) and this is because these early experiences lay the foundation for the circuits that will be strengthened and those that will die off. In short, if young babies and toddlers aren't provided contexts in which they use certain brain circuits, they'll lose them, or those connection will weaken considerably. This isn't as scary as it might sound though. The VAST majority of parents and teachers are already providing these rich environments.

Here's one of the take-home messages about brain plasticity (there are many, and some are absolutely incredible): Early experiences lay the foundation for later ones and the more "basic" connections get built up to more complex ones. So, for example, from the very simple sensory (sight, sound) experiences and physical experiences (coordinating legs and arms, thumbs and mouths), children build more complex cognitive skills that get interlaced with emotional capacities in this incredibly intricate web.

This is seriously only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can talk about when it comes to the developing brain.  In the weeks to come, I'd like to show you some really amazing videos of the brain developing over childhood and adolescence and talk about what this means for how we structure our children's lives. HINT: I am not from the camp that believes you should be throwing a bunch of ultra complicated books, letters, numbers, Mozard CDs and French/Spanish flashcards at your babies so that their brains "develop" faster and more efficiently. In fact, playing (in its various forms of tickling, peek-a-boo, rattles, blocks, dolls, leggos, and so on) may be the best way young children develop the physical, cognitive and emotional skills they'll need throughout their lives.

If you're interested in reading more about brain plasticity (but not necessarily in the context of children), some of the better books out there, in my opinion, are Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself, Schwartz & Begley's The Mind and the Brain, Freeman's Societies of Brains, and Taylor's My Stroke of Insight (the last one I'm not happy with the "self help" aspect, but it's a FASCINATING story and the hard science is great).

So, what do you all think of this idea of brain plasticity? Is it sort of an obvious insight to you? Does it make you think differently at all about your little growing brain(s)? Does this stuff bore you to pieces? I realize that starting the first non-sleep post off with the brain is not the most "sexy" way to begin, but that's just what was on my mind today. What's on yours?

New directions and a contest: Or please HELP because I am incapable of being witty or pithy or creative in any meaninful way

Why do I post these things on Friday when probably no one will read the post for days, at best?  That's how things are working out this week, so I'm rolling with it. I'm actually on the first 3-day trip away from my kids WITH my husband (Gah!). We're in New York City celebrating our 10th year anniversary and I'm trying desperately not to imagine the second-by-second activities of our boys back home (left with their grandparents so what the HELL is my problem?!).

So, let me first tell you that the blog IS going to change. In a few meaningful ways, I think. Here's the plan, open COMPLETELY to suggestions and revisions as this thing develops.

1. The blog is going to go bigger and better (hopefully). We'll broaden the topics we cover to any developmental issues — that means anything that you and I are concerned about when it comes to our kids' healthy (and not-so-healthy) development. Sleep will still be included, but just not the only focus. The topics we'll cover will really hit a large spectrum of issues that developmental psychologists and parents have been thinking about for decades and in some cases, centuries. Some of these topics include: discipline (across the ages spans), friendship relationships, language development, physical development, emotional "intelligence", empathy, aggression, bullying, daycare considerations, bilingual educations/upbringing, diet, potty training, attention problems (ADHD), cognitive milestones, the acquisition of mathematical concepts, kids' perceptions of all sorts of stuff (parents' arguments, emotion faces, teachers' behaviours, this list is HUGE), the function of crying, strategies to teach kids to have fun reading, doing math, playing word games, kids' abilities to understand rules, children's understanding of spatial relationships (think leggos and how children go from building one way to building in more sophisticated ways and why), and so on and so on. There's so much out there that there's no way I can put up an exhaustive list. What I can say is that this list can be as wide open as you'd like.

2. I'm going to be inviting a close friend and fellow developmental psychologists to join me in writing and keeping this blog up and running. She's a fabulous woman with an equally fabulous son and I'll make more "formal" introductions soon, but for now, you should know that her area of expertise are very different from mine. While mine are generally in the area of emotional and social development, hers are in the area of cognitive development. Cognitive development is a HUGE area that encompasses many of the topics I listed in #1 above, and much, much more. She'll explain it to you better soon, but her job here will be to deal with topics that are about how children learn to think in more and more complex ways, how developmentalists have learned to understand the child's mind, what research can tell us about how our children perceive space, time, language, etc. And all of these topics have huge implications for the education and well-being of our children.

3. The general approach will remain the same: Our posts will be largely backed up by good scientific research with a healthy does of "case studies" from our own parenting experience. 

4. We'll post much more regularly than I've been able to manage, with Q & As interspersed with research-based posts about one topic or another.

Now for the contest:  PLEASE help us figure out what to call this darned blog. I am at a loss and if we're going to put up a new banner and intro page that represents the changes we want to make, we'll need and actual NAME to call this new blog. Believe it or not, this has been the biggest challenge of putting up the new "look" of the blog. Any ideas? Something short but something that still accurately describes what we want to do here; something punny is fun, but not too cheesy is hard; something about kids, development, questions, answers, a community of parents, research… Gah! Like I said, I'm at a loss.

So, if you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments section. We'll randomly choose one of them to receive a free Bedtiming book. I'll keep the contest and comments open for one week and then do the random selection. So, notice, you don't get the free book for choosing the title we love best — for that you will get my everlasting gratitude. So you can leave funny or silly titles as well and still be entered into the contest.

Now I'm off to enjoy my getaway! Thanks ahead of time for your help and I hope you'll continue visiting when the site has had its overhaul!