Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Power of Words...a Follow Up

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, "The Power of Words" in which I described studies showing that the gap in academic achievement between economically disadvantaged children and their more economically privileged counterparts can be reduced by interventions that encourage parents to talk to their infants frequently. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it is but I thought I'd follow up with more description of the types of talking and reading that are very helpful to kids' development. I recently read an article that introduced me to the term "dialogic reading." To be honest, I had never heard this term before, but once I understood what it was, it seemed to be a natural thing that most parents probably do. I think just about all parents know the importance of reading to your child, but how do you read together? Dialogic reading involves not just reading the book from cover to cover, but asking your child questions about the characters, what they are doing, their colors, etc.

What researchers are finding, however, is that this type of dialog should be extended to everyday life experiences as well. Developmentalists encourage parents to narrate their everyday activities to their child. This can mean talking about anything--how you are washing the dishes or shopping for apples or combing your hair. This language-rich environment helps the child learn language sooner and expand their vocabulary and literacy. The impact these skills can have on a child's future is dramatic. Here's an excerpt from the article that sums it up well,

But we need to expand our conceptions of dialogic reading to include the everyday interactions and experiences of young children. The talk that occurs in the course of regular activities (e.g., doing laundry, cooking, walking the dog, watching television) can be every bit as important as the talk that occurs while reading a story. Simply put, we should promote "dialogic living." This concept should extend beyond parents to all those who care for young children -- early learning teachers, home-based caregivers, baby-sitters, and grandparents.

Without dialogic living that centers on rich, positive, and consistent talk, very young children almost surely will not make a strong start toward emotional engagement and early literacy. And early literacy is, perhaps, the single best predictor of later success in school, college, and life.

At a time when the public debate in the United States is riveted on the importance of fixing our underperforming education system, this simple truth -- that helping lower-demographic parents understand the value of talking -- may be as central to educational improvement as any other single move our society could make. As Hart and Risley and other researchers have shown, early talk plays a major role in language and vocabulary development, which has a dramatic impact on literacy, which in turn is a major predictor of long-term academic and professional success. The links in this long, continuous chain of learning and development start to form at the very beginning of children's lives.

Words really are power.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Blog Design

The Thoughtful Parent has a new look! I think the header better captures the goal of the blog. Thanks to Lena at Premades for a Purpose for the great design. Hope you all like the new, cleaner look.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

About.com Readers' Choice Awards

Warning--shameless self-promotion coming up! The Thoughtful Parent has been nominated for About.com's Readers' Choice Awards for Best Live and Learn Parenting Blog. If you have a moment, please take the time to click a vote for me.

Thanks for reading and your continued support of The Thoughtful Parent!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When Does Merchandising Go Too Far?

I recently read an article in the New York Times that reported how the Walt Disney company just started a new division called Disney Baby. Big surprise, right? I thought this must already exist given the plethora of baby items with Disney characters on them. It turns out that Disney has just been licensing their characters to other producers of baby items. This new division, however, this is a little different. One of the main thrusts of this new division is to partner with 580 maternity hospitals in the United States to provide new moms and babies with free samples/products while they are still in the hospital. Disney Baby goes so far as to send a representative to the new mom's hospital room to demonstrate the products' features (mostly clothing like onesies) and to encourage them to sign up for emails from the company. Really?

I can't help but think this is over the top. As someone who can still clearly remember those early hours and days in the hospital with my newborn son, I can tell you the last thing I wanted was for another person to enter my room for any reason other than the care of myself and my son. I think a lot of new mothers feel this way. I know that it has been customary for years for hospitals to provide "swag bags" to new moms full of products from companies, especially those who make formula and bottles. I'm not a big fan of that either, but at least that is somewhat subtle. No one comes to your room to promote the formula or bottles they're pushing.

Personally I feel this is a symptom of a larger issue involving the merchandising of children's lives. I have become much more aware of this recently as my son (19 months) is becoming more aware of characters, brands, etc. For example, we let him watch part of Toy Store exactly 2 times for a total of maybe an hour. Since then anytime he sees anything with Buzz or Woody on it, he goes crazy. Lesson learned--characters (especially Disney characters) are "addictive." Since then, we haven't let him watch it anymore. Granted, it's not just Disney that is a pro at this marketing; Thomas the Train, PBS Kids, and any number of children's media do it too. I, for one, am a little concerned about my son wanting to have toys, clothes, food products, etc. all be centered around a mass-marketed character.

I know we live in the United States and this is just part of our consumer society but I resent the underlying assumption that mass marketing to kids at every age (now even birth) is acceptable. Little children have very little power to resist this type of marketing, but we, as parents do. I think it's important to at least be a savvy consumer and really think about these issues before buying the next character-based item for a child. I know I cannot shield my son from all this marketing, but I feel it is my job to help him see (as he grows) the value of "plain" toys and eventually understand how to thoughtfully manage his own consumption of such products and media. Come to think of it, I think that's one of my major goals as a parent in many areas--not to shield him from everything, but teach him how to discern which ideas, media, products, behavior are appropriate for his life and that reinforce the values we hope to instill in him.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Has Disney gone too far with their marketing to new moms?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Resources for the Journey

Every once in awhile I like to share great parenting resources that I have recently found. Given my child development background (and because I'm sort of nerdy), I'm always on the lookout for good, insightful parenting information. Here are some of my most recent finds:


- Parenting with Reason by Esther Strahan, Wallace Dixon, Jr., and J. Burton Banks--I've only read a few chapters of this books but I can already tell it's going to be good. They succinctly summarize the child development research on a variety of topics like potty training, discipline, sleeping, and family structure. This is a good starting point if you are looking into a new topic.

-Babble.com's column Science of Kids by Heather Turgeon--Heather is a writer after my own heart. Like me, she tries to keep parents updated on the latest child development research.

-Notes on Parenting--Ok, this link is a little self-serving since I am a contributer to this blog, but really has great articles. The authors are primarily grad students or recent PhD in fields like child development, psychology, and education.

-Regarding Baby by Lisa Sunbury--Lisa is an early childhood professional who provides great information about parenting in the early years.

-Baby Shrink--Dr. Heather is a psychologist and mother of four who writes from both a research and mom perspective. A great combination!

-University of Waterloo Centre for Child Studies--I recently found their director, Daniela O'Neill on Twitter and I'm so glad I did. She leads up research on children's language and thought development. Even parents less nerdy than me will find the links and resources on their website interesting.

-Center for Media and Child Health--If you have any concerns about the role that media plays in your child's life, this is the organization for you. Their feature called "Ask the Mediatrician" is particularly helpful.

If you have parenting resources that you enjoy, please let me know!