Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Electronic versus Traditional Toys: What They Mean for Infant Playtime

Happy New Year! As a parent, you may still be experiencing toy overload at your house. Between holiday gifts from friends, family, grandparents, and others, your child may have received an abundance of toys. In this barrage of items, they undoubtedly received many electronic toys in the mix. You may wonder if these electronic toys offer any added benefits than the traditional toys or books that kids typically receive.

Luckily, some new research is examining this topic. This new study from Northern Arizona University looked at the following:

- 26 child-parent pairs
- children were ages 10-16 months old
- the authors compared three types of toys: (1) electronic (e.g., baby laptop); (2) traditional toy (e.g., blocks or sorting toy); (3) board books

The researchers fitted the families' homes with audio recording equipment to monitor how language changed as they interacted with each of the toys.

The results showed some interesting findings: when playing with electronic toys there were fewer adults words, fewer back-and-forth conversation between parent and child and fewer parent responses to the child. As compared to playing with books, children also vocalized less when playing with electronic toys.

When comparing playing with traditional toys versus books, it was also found that parents used fewer words with traditional toys than books.

Overall, most of the differences in word use were:

-  between electronic toys and books,

- followed by electronic toys and traditional toys

Okay, so why is this important? Is it really important how much a parent talks to their child during play with toys? Not surprisingly, the clear answer is "yes." The language interaction between children and parent (especially infants on the cusp of learning language) is crucial not only to language development, but social skills and interpersonal interaction.

Electronic toys, however, are pretty much ubiquitous. Young children are very attracted to them. So what is a parent to do? Electronic toys can be helpful if used sparingly. We all need a few minutes to do dishes or cook a meal and these toys can be good distractions for a few minutes. It's good, however, to keep in mind that you as a parent are the best "toy" for your infant. Talking to him/her over toys and books is the best way for her/him to learn language and interaction skills.

Most infants do not have the attention span to listen to a book for long but if you get in the habit of doing dialogic reading, or as one article put it, "dialogic living" then the ongoing flow of words just comes naturally. This simply means narrating to your child what you are doing as you go about your daily routine--you can describe how you work the washing machine or how you cook an egg. This "dialogic living" is great entertainment for your infant and makes things more fun for you too.

ResearchBlogging.orgSosa, A. (2015). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication JAMA Pediatrics DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Naughty and Nice: The Origins of Compassion

With the holiday season upon us, I'm thinking about compassion today. As parents, most of want to instill an understanding of compassion and kindness towards others in our children. It raises the question, however, of whether compassion is innate or learned. What research tells us is that we humans do have a tendency toward compassion but it has to be fostered and practiced.

I explore this more in my post at Notes on Parenting. But first, consider this video in which babies seems to understand the difference between naughty and nice characters.

Amazing isn't it? Based on studies like these, researchers believe that children do have some innate sense of good and bad. To keep this sense of kindness and foster compassionate acts, we have to reinforce and promote it in our homes and schools.

Again, research can inform this process too. Harvard's Making Caring Common project tells us what we probably already know, but many of us have trouble practicing: parents' example is far more powerful than our words.

  • Kids learn kindness best by watching our example. 
  • Our modeling needs to come in the form of both: (1) kind acts towards others and (2) modeling how to control difficult emotions like anger that often provoke unkind acts
  • Kids need to practice being kind to become good at it--just like learning a new language or a new sport

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Thoughtful Parent in Print

It's starting to look a lot like the holiday season wherever you go. My little town has all sorts of Christmas activities planned. Since our town is growing, we have recently had a local resident start a digital magazine all about our town and local activities. I'm excited to share my article with you that was included in the inaugural issue.

The article focuses on the media-hyped research study that was released a few months ago. It claimed to compare "quality time" and "quantity time" that parents spent with their kids. As you read the article you will find, that's there is much more to the story than what the mainstream media portrayed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book Review: How to Keep Your Helicopter

If you have been reading for awhile, you know that I occasionally do book reviews. In the past, I have done reviews of child development books, but today it's time for a children's book. Author Ben Greene asked me to take a look at his book, How to Keep Your Helicopter and share it with my kids.

From the title, it's a bit of a mystery as to what the story, How to Keep Your Helicopter is all about. After a few pages of reading, however, you soon realize that it's all about sharing. Great topic for a children's book! Most kids, even into elementary school, have trouble sharing at times. Sharing with siblings seems to pose an especially tricky problem, if my kids are any indication of what commonly happens.

In the story, big brother Benjamin is not keen on sharing his special toy helicopter with his little sister Sandy. Now, that's a common problem for us, isn't it? Most children have a favorite toy (or a few) that they do not like to share, even if they are otherwise good at sharing. So the mother in the story helps show Benjamin a clever way to interact with his sister that does not really involve him having to give up his helicopter. In the process, he learns to play well with his sister and everyone is happier. At the end of the story, he actually becomes more interested in playing with his sister (in this new way instructed by his mom) that he actually forgets about the helicopter. Ultimately, this poses a new sharing challenge, as Benjamin and Sandy want to both play with a new object. Luckily for the mom, there happens to be more than one of this new object so each child can play with one.

Overall, I felt the story had a good message. Learning to play with one's siblings in a way that entertains both children is a great skill to learn. This can often be difficult for the older sibling to learn, but with help from guiding parents (as shown in the book) it can be a good approach that helps solve problems with sharing and general sibling disagreements.

One aspect of the book that I did not find particularly helpful was the point at the end where the mom pulls out two objects for the kids to use during play. To me, this seemed to just undermined the whole point of the book, which was to teach about playing well when there is only one object. Parents cannot always provide multiple toys for kids so that they are not required to share.

The book is written in a kid-friendly way, that parents can appreciate too. I will say that I was not a fan of the illustrations. They are a cartoon style that kids might enjoy, but not my personal favorite style, That, however, is just a point of personally preference.

If your children have trouble sharing, this is a good book to explore with your child. It is, however, really less about sharing than about interacting with younger children in a way that lets all children play well together.  That is a useful skill for all children to learn too, but if you feel that sharing everything (even favorite toys) is an important message, then I would choose a different book.