Emotional intelligence: Why Low-Tech Skills Will be the Key to Success in a High-Tech World

{Helping your kids develop emotional intelligence might be one of the most important things you can do to ensure their future success}


My older son (3rd grade) has a great social-emotional learning program at his school. Each morning, the class gathers and talks about how each student is feeling (e.g., the Zones of Regulation). Then they usually do a short lesson on some topic related to kids' emotional intelligence such as growth mindset, emotions, dealing with anger, getting along with friends, etc.

One day last week, he mentioned that had talked about empathy. I asked him what empathy was and he said, "it's trying to understand what another person is feeling."

I thought to myself, "great! he seems like he really understands this." While watching a movie later that night, he even said, "I feel so much empathy for that family" about a scene in which the family was in a dangerous predicament.

The next day, we had a new babysitter come over to meet our boys because she was planning to watch them the next day. While she was still present, that same son said, "she's boring."

I was so embarrassed! The girl was new at babysitting and you could tell she was a bit nervous. I couldn't believe my supposedly empathetic son had said that while she was still within earshot. 
I asked him later how he thought that phrase might have made her feel. He was a bit confused at first but then I reminded him that she was meeting all of us for the first time and she was new to babysitting. Then he realized how saying "she's boring" might have hurt her feelings. He said, of course, that he just hadn't thought about that at the time.

I explained that I understood that and we all do silly things like that from time to time. I just wanted him to be aware of it so he could see how he words might hurt other people's feelings. I think he got it.

emotional intelligence


This illustrates one key idea when it comes to the emotional development of kids--it's not a simple linear path. Like many aspects of development, kids' emotional intelligence comes in "fits and starts." They learn some new skill or perspective but then they are put in a new situation and have to re-learn lessons again. It's all part of the process. 

It's a bumpy developmental road, so why should we persist in helping our kids grow in emotional intelligence?

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

In recent weeks, there have been a number of high-profile articles floating around social media urging us to look beyond STEM skills when considering how best to prepare our kids for the world they will face in the future. Google came out with a big study of their employees and found that the ones that were most successful were not the ones with the best tech skills, but those with “soft” skills like communicating (and listening), being empathetic to co-workers, understanding others’ perspectives and critical thinking.

A Forbes article claimed that “that useless liberal arts degree” is now in high demand in the tech world. Why? Because those with these degrees often understand better how to work with others, understand the needs of customers, and help folks transition in a tech world that is rapidly changing. In other words, for the next generation of work, our kids not only need to know how to code but how to communicate and empathize. Emotional intelligence is now more important than ever before.

It's not all about the workforce, however. We know from our own experience that being kind and empathetic towards others just makes life better and helps make us happier too. Research bears this out. People with higher emotional intelligence tend to be happier and have stronger relationships. Just listen to Dr. Michele Borba, author of the awesome book Unselfie discuss this research. 

If you would like to hear more fascinating talks like this, please join me at the FREE 2018 Positive Parenting Conference on May 1-10. Dr. Borba will be there along with TONS of other wonderful speakers. All free, all online! Sign up HERE    



Emotional Intelligence is a Learned Skill

Unlike walking or talking, which normally develops naturally in a child with little assistance, emotional intelligence must be fostered. The brain development necessary for kids to understand the emotions of others does appear quite naturally, but caring adults must model empathy for it to really flourish.
Related reading: Gift Guide for Raising Kind Kids

You may have noticed this mental shift in your own kids. Ask a 3-year-old how another person feels about something (e.g., their favorite color), the youngster will inevitably answer what their own favorite color is. This type of egocentrism isn’t a fault of your parenting. It’s simply that in a child this young, the part of the brain used to read other’s feelings has not fully developed.

But, ask that same child the same question only a year later and you will likely get a totally different, less egocentric answer. The mental shift is remarkable. Suddenly, your 4-year-old can understand that what you like is different from what she likes. Researchers call this skill Theory of Mind and the video below shows how they test for this development in the lab: 



Pretty amazing, right?

How to Foster Emotional Intelligence

Now that your 4-year-old can actually consider the mind and feelings of others, true empathy and growth in emotional intelligence is possible. Now, our job as parents is just beginning! Like most “soft skills,” emotional intelligence takes modeling and practice. Here are just a few things we parents can do to help:
  • Talk the talk. Our conversations with our kids really matter! Studies show that kids whose parents who discuss how other people might be feeling have better perspective-taking ability than those who don’t. Perspective-taking just means being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes (the first step in empathy!). If your child sees another child being teased on the playground, ask how you think that makes that child feel. While watching a movie or reading a book, ask your child how the character might be feeling. Little discussions like this can really foster your kid's emotional intelligence.
  • Walk the walk. Conversations about emotions are helpful, but modeling empathy with your kids (and others) is the key to solidifying those brain connections that make empathy a life-long habit. It’s often challenging to show empathy to our kids when they’re behavior is…umm less-than-perfect, but it really does show them how empathy makes them feel. This, in turn, illustrates to them why empathy is important to show to others. In other words, modeling is key. Of course, you can also model EQ with others you interact with as well—spouse, family members, store clerks, etc. Young kids watch everything and absorb all these little interactions during the day.
  • Emotional guidance. In the wonderful book, The Yes Brain, the authors point out that one of the best ways we can foster emotional intelligence is by guiding kids through their own emotions. Our tendency as parents is to solve or fix an issue that causing our kids’ pain. For emotional issues, however, sometimes the best solution is to guide them through their pain or distress instead of immediately distracting them or trying to get them “back to happy” too quickly. If we allow our kids to feel sad or disappointed, over time, they learn to understand how others feel when they experience these emotions too. Sometimes, it is only through our own pain that we come to truly understand the pain of someone else. This is true for our kids as well.
Related reading: Top 3 Tips for Raising Kind Kids: Realistic Ideas for Parents

Ironically, as our economy shifts to a more high-tech, information-driven model, the need for emotional intelligence only grows. Simply put, computers can automate tech skills, but computers can’t automate emotional interaction
Even as algorithms dictate more of our daily life, its human interaction that still provides meaning to our lives. 
Fostering kids' emotional intelligence will not only give them an advantage over the computers, it will make for a kinder, more meaningful world.


Related Resources:


Wonder Crate subscription box that promotes emotional intelligence

Wonder Crate. A subscription/activity box that promotes the development of emotional intelligence with categories like Confidence, Empathy and Mindfulness


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Emotional intelligence: Why Low-Tech Skills Will be the Key to Success in a High-Tech World



How to Parent like a Child Psychologist {plus an Enlightening Author Interview}

Remember when you first brought home your newborn? You were probably excited, worried, tired and hopeful all at once. Then after the first few days went by, you started having questions--is she getting enough milk, how do I swaddle, what do I do when she cries all the time...the list could go on forever.

You probably wished there was one simple book or manual that would just tell you what to do to be a "good parent." Of course, we know there is no such best book for new parents. Each child is unique and it takes time for you to understand his/her individual preferences and patterns.

newborn baby


But this is where research can help us. Each child is unique but all children tend to follow a similar (within a range) developmental path. What is this range and how do I know if my child is developing in a typical fashion? What about all the details of parenting--food choices, sleeping arrangements, tantrums, etc. How do I know if how my child is behaving is in the range of "typical."

These are parenting questions but they are also really research questions. Research has already addressed many of these and tons more. We parents, however, usually do not have good access to this research. It's stockpiled away in academic journals in university libraries like a hidden treasure. This is why I started this blog--to bring that academic research out into the light of day where it can be used by parents. I want each parent to feel almost as prepared as a child psychologist when making decisions about their parenting.

That's why I am super excited to introduce Tracy Cutchlow, author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. This book is a practical guide for parents but it is all based on academic research. Tracy is a professional journalist who has done all the hard work for us of compiling and translating that academic research into useful information we can use to answer our most-pressing parenting questions.

The Best Book for New Parents

The wonderful point that she makes in this book is that you can rely on your parental instinct AND use research too. It's not an either-or proposition. We can't all be actual child psychologists but we can do the next best thing--understand the research on a given topic and then put that together with our intuition to make the best choice for our unique child. This book is the perfect starting point on that path.





I had the privilege of interviewing Tracy and I wanted to share this interview with you all. I think you will find it enlightening, authentic and helpful...just like her book. Enjoy!

Don't forget her book Zero to Five is coming out in paperback on March 13 so you can grab a copy to throw in your diaper bag to read in between play dates or at naptime.

Interview with Tracy Cutchlow



Question 1: You mention in the book that you can never really be prepared for parenthood. I think most of us that have kids would agree. Is there one piece of advice (or research) that you would give an expecting parent that you wish you knew before you had kids?


Yes. Your intuition is not lost. It is just very quiet. You’re going to experiment a ton as you figure out who this little person is, who you are, and how you fit together. You’re going to react in ways that surprise you, just because your parents reacted that way or because other people are watching. And you’re going to do things you wish you hadn’t. Don’t become stuck on that. It’s all part of your own process of growth.


Pay close attention to what feels right to you and what doesn’t. That’s your intuition whispering. Listen, so that it can grow louder. Act on your intuition and you will find your way as a parent -- the way that works for your family.


Question 2: I loved the part in the book where you discuss envisioning your baby all grown up and the types of qualities you’d want her to have. How do you think this helps parents in their parenting decisions?


That’s a powerful exercise. It’s not about trying to determine who your child will be, which would be rough for everybody involved. It’s really about naming your values and getting clear on your priorities--like a lighthouse cutting through the fog of options.


For example, say you’re at a big open park. How far ahead of you can your child run? It’s kind of a touchy situation where we often feel unsure of how to react. For me, I value independence pretty highly, so keeping that value in mind, I’m able to let my daughter go farther than most would. If I’m over here and she wants to play over there, I’ll do things like have her point out to me how she would get back to where I am. We talk about how to recognize people who can help and what she would do if she felt lost. Which did happen one time! I lost her in the clothes at REI, and she just calmly went up to an employee and asked for help, and they found me nearby. She must have been 3; it blew me away. Anyway, yes, thinking about that value has definitely influenced the decisions I make as a parent.


Thinking about your values also helps you take a long-term view of your child. That releases you from the anxiety trap of placing so much importance on what you do or what your child does in any one moment.

For example, my daughter doesn’t do everything I ask her to do. Shocker, right? That’d be so much easier! But I deeply value her ability to know what she wants, what she likes, and what her body is telling her. So like today when it’s cold out and she strips off her coat, I’m able to say, “You know your own body.”

I’m released from making a big deal about my own opinion or being annoyed that she didn’t do something I wanted her to do, or spending another second worrying about whether she’s cold. That’s the long-term view kicking in, that value being more important than whether she wears a coat for the next hour or not.

There have been times where I’ve overridden her, certainly. “You know what, I just don’t feel good about this. It’s snowing; you’ve had a cough. My job is to keep you safe. You must wear your coat this time for us to stay outside.” She knows I mean it, because it’s so rare that I do that, and it’s not a problem.

Question 3: What do you see as some of the most prominent challenges for parents of kids ages 0-5 today?

Screen time is one of the biggest challenges for parents today. It’s probably the one challenge that spans ages 0 to 5. The guidelines are no screen time before age 2, then make it social: watch with your kids. But that’s rarely happening. Parents want the break from their kids. In my view, the real issue is that parents need far more support.


kids and screen time
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When you have many hands making light work, when you get enough sleep, when your oxygen mask is on first, patience for your child is so much easier to come by. Our society isn’t set up to support parents right now. Right now it’s like you’re supposed to get yourself enough sleep and be in charge of self-care and be all the hands doing all the work and be patient and engaged with your child. iPad, please.


Related reading: A Day in the Life of a Child Under 4: New Guidelines for Sleep, Movement and Screen Time

I believe that we need to be very intentional about building our support networks. I’ve written about this on my site, Zero to Five, and in the Washington Post:


What’s just as glaring as the time our kids spend on screens is the time we parents spend on screens. Our near-constant distraction is almost certainly harmful to our kids. We can feel our addiction, and it doesn’t feel good even to us.

Willpower isn’t strong enough to limit ourselves when it comes to screen time, and there are neuroscientific reasons for it, but you already know this if you’ve ever had your phone within reach while driving. Or if you’ve angrily told your child to hold on one more sec and quit trying to grab your phone or close your laptop. We’re learning more about how social-media algorithms ensure our addiction and keep us in a loop of negative emotional reactions. The intent is positive and without malice--to drive engagement--but the result is creepy. It’s unsettling.

All of this is worth all of us taking a very long pause.

What do you want your morning, afternoon, and evening to be like? What entertainment do you want to surround yourself with? How do you want your relationships to feel?
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Download this free printable called, In Our Home to help remind yourself of the priorities around relationships and tecchnology in your family
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It’s easy to make fun of concern over the latest technology because every generation has been concerned over the latest technology … and we all turned out fine. The New Yorker had a funny piece about Paleolithic parents fretting about their kids’ use of fire.

The truth is, you can’t lump all screen time into one bucket like that. Think of technology in terms of the individual ways you use it. For each use, does it give you energy or drain your energy? Are you using technology to create and connect and discover, or are you using it to distract from feelings?

When it’s the latter, that’s a serious message we’re sending ourselves and our kids. I believe we need to be very intentional about fighting the urge to use screen time in that way.

The steps to thoughtfully manage screen time--and emotions--are definitely a part of my book, Zero to Five.

Question 4: You mention the importance of make-believe and other play for kids’ learning. There is so much pressure nowadays for parents to put their kids in more academic-focused programs or preschools. How can we encourage parents to see play as a valuable part of learning?

It is hard. I was reading at age 3, and I kind of expected that of my daughter, but I let it go. Then, as soon one of my friends’ kids was reading, it was hard not to want to jump into action. (Yes, I need to take the advice in my own book about not comparing kids.) So we just need to recognize that comparative or competitive urge, and let it be without acting on it. Then remind ourselves of the long list of benefits of play--and act on that. Some things I think about:
Life is long. Children in Waldorf schools and in Finland don’t learn to read until age 7, and they catch up to other kids by age 11. Then they’ll be reading for the next, what, 80 years? There’s time. Not everything needs to happen right now.
What are children missing out on? Think about how a child confuses the letters b, d, and p, because their excellent spatial-thinking abilities tell them that’s the same shape. You can train their brains early on to see the letters in only one direction, but I wonder what flexibility it hinders. It’s actually important that children think in the creative way they do. Their brains are designed that way to allow our species to survive in unpredictable future environments. There’s no true benefit to training them to think in structured adult ways earlier and earlier. Especially given the creativity they’ll need for their own unpredictable futures--creativity we’ll all need. We’d do well to think more like children.


play-based learning

Learning encompasses the whole person. My daughter attended an outdoor, play-based preschool for two years. If they’d had a kindergarten, she’d still be there. It’s amazing what she learned about the natural world, experimentation and asking questions, emotional awareness and regulation, and being with others. She left with her curiosity in full force. Now she attends a kindergarten that we chose because testing does not drive the curriculum, the kids get three recesses a day, and the philosophy encompasses both project-based learning and social-emotional awareness. I want her to be in the kind of environment where the brain learns best. I know that goes way beyond academics.
 
Play is how children learn. The benefits of play include language development, executive function, social interactions, emotional self-regulation--all highly correlated with later academic success. So a play-based school is actually the best choice for academic success. You just can’t see it yet.


Related reading: Top Questions to Ask on a Preschool Tour: A Parent's Guide

More important than the labels of “play-based” or “academic-focused,” though, is what actually happens in the classroom and how teachers respond to emotional situations, so ask about specific scenarios when you’re considering a school.

Logic says to follow the way the brain really works. Brain-development research tells us that learning happens within relationships, that taking breaks and moving the body gives the brain specific boosts for learning, and that play is how children learn. When a school ignores brain-development basics to squeeze in more worksheets and tests, they’re teaching to children’s ears instead of their brains. It’s so ingrained, though!
Go back to your values. Make thoughtful choices that align with them. Don’t just go with the flow. Swim strong in your own direction.
Tracy Cutchlow is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.



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Surprisingly Helpful Calming Activities for Super-Active Kids

{Slightly unconventional ideas for calming strategies when the usual suggestions don't work with super-active, sensitive kids. Helpful for emotional calming and after after-school meltdowns.}


I could tell the minute my third-grader came home from school it had not been a good day.

He already almost had tears in his eyes and an angry expression was on his face.

"What's going on?" I asked hesitantly.
"It was the worst day ever!" he said. He soon pulled the football out of his backpack and threw it across the room.

I knew I had to handle this situation carefully or it would end badly.

Surprisingly Helpful Calming Activities for Super-Active Kids


He went on to explain how the boys he normally plays football with at recess were not playing the way he wanted. They didn't throw the ball to him. It may sound unimportant to us, but to an 8-year-old, these are the interpersonal interactions that make or break a day at school.

He continued to be upset. We talked about it as much as we could but he broke down into an angry cry. After having a snack and relaxing for a few minutes, he seemed to calm down. However, as soon as I asked him to do one of his usual chores, he lost his temper and control again. That's when I knew the afternoon was a loss. I guess I just need to let him relax, I thought.

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After a while, little brother (age 4) came to the kitchen asking to "make potions." Since it was cold outside and there was not much else for us to do, I agreed.

In our house, "making potions" means pulling out several big bowls, filling them with water and throwing in any spices, food scraps, food coloring, glitter, etc. that I will allow them to get their hands on. Soon my 8-year-old wanted to join in. I was surprised. I thought he would think this activity was too "babyish." He loved it! He made a different "potion" and the boys competed as to which one looked the grossest or smelled the worst.

Here's the best part: after this little potion-making activity, the 8-year-old's surly attitude had (mostly) turned upside down. He was chatting with his brother and making jokes. This simple calming activity had actually worked!

Related reading: 5 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2017


The Science Behind Emotional Calming

Why did this little session of "potion-making" work to help my son calm down and uplift his mood? As with most things, we can turn to science to help us understand this. It turns out that repetitive tasks, especially activities that don't require a lot of brain work, are especially calming. Scientists tell us that these repetitive tasks that often involve fine motor skills help focus our mind away from anxious or troubling thoughts, thereby reducing stress.

Other similar examples abound--some people knit or craft to cope with symptoms of PTSD; others paint or do crossword puzzles to cope with anxiety. Personally, I've found that baking helps me cope with stress. Something about the rhythmic motion of measuring ingredients, mixing and having a product to show at the end is relaxing (and yummy).

Calming Activities for Super-Active Kids
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blog at no added cost to you.

Need help understanding your child's behavior? Download this FREE book--Understanding Your Child's Temperament. It's a game-changer for parenting.

The other aspect of this that amazed me is that it actually worked for my super-active son. He talks almost non-stop, he's always moving and so I've found that the typical calming techniques that many professionals recommend don't work for him. Many counselors recommend activities like reading, coloring books, or calm down bottles when kids need help with emotional calming. These probably work great for many kids, but for my super-active, always-on-the-go kid, they just caused frustration. He was just too overstimulated in most cases to make any of these strategies work.

Related reading: Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

Calming Activities for Active Kids

This made me realize that other kids probably have trouble calming down too, especially after school. After observing my son's behavior over a few weeks, I've come up with a list of several activities that seem to work for calming super-active kids.

1. Legos. This is number one on the list for a reason--they are awesome for calming! We all know Legos are wonderful educational tools, but who knew they could be such a calming influence too. Even David Beckman agrees with me on the calming influence of Legos. My son will sit in his room surrounded by Legos on all side and just build for long stretches. When he finally comes out, he's usually refreshed and has some awesome creation to show us.

My younger son is just now getting into Legos. We got these great books from the great folks at Sofie and Nate to help him get started on learning to follow instructions. These simple, easy-to-follow books were perfect for him to learn how to build. Once he has these down, I'm sure he'll go on to build creations of his own design in a few years. The nice thing about these books is that they are simpler than typical Lego sets but still teach spatial skills, colors, and shapes. Now he is starting the use the calming (and educational power) of Legos.

Legos as calming activity for super active kids


2. Crafting (boy style). There is a stereotype that boys don't like crafts once they get past preschool age, but that is not necessarily true. My 8-year-old still loves working with his hands and finds it relaxing. The science behind this is real--for centuries people have used knitting, sewing, or painting to deal with everyday stress as well as serious trauma. Scientists describe the "flow" experience while crafting as similar to meditation in that time sort of stands still. This allows your brain to suspend the "fight or flight" feeling of stress. 

So what crafts will boys actually do? Some things he's loved recently are origami, making anything out of cardboard, Perler beads (hello Minecraft creations), and comic-book making. He went through a phase with his friend where they actually spent most of their free time making origami swords, planes and fidget spinners--so cool!

origami as calming activity for super active kids


3. Sensory activities. Now you may think sensory bins are just for toddlers, but not necessarily. Older kids can enjoy them too if they help come up with the ingredients or ideas. Recently my boys enjoyed an afternoon of pouring and playing with dry beans. Now, I'm not going to lie--there was a fair amount of "bean wars" and potty jokes, but they enjoyed the sensory aspect too. Plus, now they are old enough to clean up the mess themselves. The potion-making activity was all of their own devising and they loved the smells and mess involved with that. When it's warm outside we often do mud pies or "panning for gold" with water, sand and hidden pennies.



Sensory items as calming activities for super active kids


4. Kid-friendly demo day. It may sound odd, but I let my kids destroy things. I never knew this was something they needed until they actually asked to tear up boxes. I thought it was silly, but why not? We all know that exercise can be a great way to release endorphins and release some stress. Those of you who do yoga may know the "woodchopper pose." Well, demo day isn't exactly yoga but they do use the same position which is great for releasing stress. Since it's been cold outside, we've been doing our own version of "demo day" in our house. Instead of tearing down walls, I let the boys tear up stuff from the recycle bin. They pull out their toy swords and rip up cardboard boxes, milk cartons, paper bags, etc. They have a blast every time and feel happy and refreshed afterward.

Calming activities for super-active kids


For sensitive kids like my son (and many others), school can be stressful. There are many interpersonal relationships to manage, school work to pursue and emotions to keep under control. It's not surprising that many kids "meltdown" after school. As pointed out in this lovely article, it is our job as parents to allow for emotional rest while they are at home. This need isn't always communicated to us in the most lovely way, but we can respond with love in meeting that need. These calming activities may seem silly but they can provide kids with a much-needed outlet to ease into a more peaceful emotional state. 

"When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos." --L. R. Knost 

Related Resources:





Wonder Crate

Wonder Crate. I Can Quiet My Mind : Mindfulness Box








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Surprisingly Helpful Calming Activities for Super-Active Kids








Classic Baby Books that Boost Brain Development

Remember when you read to your baby for the first time? Maybe she was so little she couldn't even hold her head up. You knew he wouldn't understand much of what you were reading but you knew reading to your baby was important. Plus, he loved the sound of your voice.

What book did you read? I honestly do not remember what I first read to my boys. We had a children's book-themed baby shower for my oldest son so we ended up with TONS of classic baby books like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny. I loved all of them and I loved reading to him.

Classic Baby Books that Boost Brain Development


Once they were old enough to be more aware of what I was reading, I was naturally attracted to "labeling" books. You know those board books for babies that label all the animals, cars, and shapes. Like most parents, I wanted my kids to be able to learn words early and labeling books seemed the obvious choice to help them. My boys did seem to enjoy these books, especially once they were old enough to name the objects themselves.

New research, however, shows us that another type of book might be even better for babies' brain development. A recent study of 6-9 month-old infants considered how babies learning was influenced by being read books that had either category labels (e.g., dog, cat, rabbit) versus individual-level labels (e.g., Jack, Pat, Cindy).

Now this distinction between category and individual labels may seem unimportant to us adults but to babies that are just at the cusp of learning language and understanding how words work, these categories represent different types of learning.
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Want more information on common child development myths? Download this free cheat sheet: 5 Common Child Development Myths...Debunked. It addresses frequent questions about attachment, "spoiling" your baby and more.
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You may wonder how scientists study babies learning since they cannot yet talk or even identify objects. Well, thanks to modern technology, researchers can use fancy eye scanning cameras to track how the babies' eyes move. For researchers, eye movements indicate what the babies are attending to and interested in. Similarly, researchers also use those cool caps with sensors to measure the babies' brain activity. This was another part of this study.

Which Books Help Babies Learn

If you are a science nerd like me the results of this study are pretty fascinating, but they have real-life implications for all of us parents too. The study showed that babies who were read books with individual-level labels (e.g., Jack, Pat, Cindy) spent more time attending to the images. Secondly, looking at the brain activity showed that these babies were more likely to be able to differentiate between the images after being read the story.

In other words, babies learned more from the books with individual labels than category labels. They could tell the difference between the images better. Pretty amazing for 6-9 month-old babies!



Related post: More Evidence that "Difficult" Babies are Most Influenced by Parents

Research-Backed Examples of Baby Books that Boost Brain Development
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What Talking and Reading Does for Babies' Brains

We all know that reading to children, even babies, is important. This research further delineates what the reading actually does for the babies' brains. In general, it helps them learn to put together an image and a word. Furthermore, any reading (not just individual-level labeling) helps babies by exposing them to lots and lots of words.

Have you heard of the "word gap?" Studies have shown that one of the primary reasons for the disparity in academic achievement between low-income and higher-income students is due to the amount of time parents spend talking to their young children. In a 1995 study, researchers found that low-income children heard about 600 words per hour, compared to 2,100 words per hour in a higher-income family. It became clear to researchers that exposure to language was one of the key factors to help close the achievement gap they were seeing in these children years later.

It turns out that besides reading, one of the best things we can do for babies is just talk...a lot! Many parents do this naturally--we talk to our babies all day long about what we are doing, what we are seeing, etc. Some researchers have called this "dialogic living." In other words, we narrate our day to our child. 

This too, is why studies indicate that babies vocalize less when playing with electronic toys compared to books. With books, parents are prompted to read and discuss the pictures. With electronic toys, parents tend to let the toy do all the "work" and they don't talk as much. Now that's food for thought!

Imagine, however, if you are under a lot of stress, your mind is racing with how to get to your job or how to pay the bills. Do you think narrating your day (or your stresses) to your baby is on the top of your priority list? Maybe not. This is just one example of how the stress of poverty impacts children, even the littlest babies. Fortunately, many programs have begun across the country to help low-income families learn more about talking to their babies in this playful, narrative way. Hopefully, these, along with equitable access to preschool with help alleviate these economic disparities. 

Related post: The Power of Words

Brain-Boosting Baby Books

I've done (some) of the work for you by searching through lists of baby books for ones that use individual-level labels (rather than category-level). These are just a few examples, but also be aware that any reading with your baby is beneficial. These books might just help add to the variety of your growing library. Enjoy reading these classic baby books with your kids!


Pat the Bunny--the classic tale loved by many babies. It has all those cool "touchable" pages with different textures.


Is Your Mama a Llama?--Lloyd the llama is on a search to figure out if other animals have a llama for their mama. Nice rhyming and a lovely story.


Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear--like all little ones, Jesse Bear has some trouble figuring out what to wear (and how to put it on). Great for toddlers who want to do all the dressing themselves.


Corduroy--who doesn't love this book! A sweet story of a bear's search for his missing button and a home. (Plus it's super-cute to hear your toddler try to say "Corduroy!")


My Very First Mother Goose--these may seem "old-fashioned" but there is a reason they have stood the test of time. Babies love the rhythmic sounds and fun characters. Still a must-have in any children's library.



Gossie--kids can help Gossie the gosling find her bright red boots.



The Snowy Day--a simple, beautiful book about young Peter exploring the snow. Plus it's one of the first children's books featuring an African-American lead character in an urban environment.



Blueberries for Sal--another classic that maybe you read as a child. Kids love the "kerplunck" sound as the berries fall into the bucket.








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Research-Backed Examples of Baby Books that Boost Brain Development