The Astor Blog

Strive to Thrive: How to Train Your Toddler’s Brain, Part 2

Strive to Thrive: Self Regulation-Part Two

In my last post, I talked about how you can help your baby be more confident in the world by developing self-regulation.  Self-regulation, or the ability to choose behaviors that are right for the context a child is in, is very important and we can all help our kids get better and better at it as they grow up.

Lots of different skills and abilities can contribute to good self-regulation, and they all start with the brain. So parents can “train the brain” of their toddlers every day to help these 1 and 2 year olds become better and better at checking out the situation, staying calm or getting focused, and communicating or acting in a way that works.  Let me give you an example:

If your 2-year-old is playing in the living room and you say, “time for dinner,” there are many steps that have to happen in her brain.

She has to stop playing and thinking about her play, turn her focus to you, hear what you are saying, and change her interest in her play to an interest in moving to the table.  Then she has to get to the table, know where to sit, sit down, and help her body calm down so she can sit and eat.  She also may have to sit and wait while you get the rest of the food ready.

Her brain has to do a lot of work! These are self-regulation, and they all start with the brain.  So parents can “train the brain” of their toddlers every day to help these 1 and 2 year olds become better and better at checking out the situation, staying calm or getting focused, and communicating or acting in a way that works.

Let me give you an example:

It may seem simple (and it may be frustrating when your toddler doesn’t listen to you right away), but, actually, your daughter does not know all the skills needed and you have to help teach her.  There are many opportunities in family life to help toddlers
learn all these skills.  Here are some of the ways you can do that:

  • Toddlers learn what to do when they know what to expect.  Try to have a schedule that is similar from day to day and keep sleep, meal, and play times regular.
  • Give your toddler a “heads up” when you are going to ask her to change her behavior (“David, it’s almost time for dinner.”  “Taisha, in a few minutes we have to pick up so we can go to Grandma’s house.”) Also, give a heads up when your toddler is going to experience something new.  (“We are going to the library.  When we are there, we are supposed to read quietly.”)
  • Show your toddler the behavior you want to see.  Sometimes, toddlers are still learning to listen but they already can watch and join in.  If it is time to pick up, help pick up.  If it is time to go in to dinner, walk up to your child and say, “Hold my hand.  Let’s go to dinner together.”
  • Use hints, cues, touch, songs, and gestures to let your toddler know what is right in the situation.  Gently rub his back if it’s time to quiet down, or nod yes and smile at your child if he or she is doing what is right in the situation.  Use your hand to wave your child in to dinner while you are using words to call her in.  Sing a “clean up” song while you are helping him pick up his toys.
  • Slowly turn more control over some tasks to your child.  Pay attention to what
    your child can and cannot do, and help where needed but give room for them to succeed when they can.  Maybe your child can get the milk out of the fridge but needs help with pouring, or your child can help you make the bed just a bit.  As your child learns to do new things with your help, back off a bit and let him show his independence but stay available to help.
  • Offer your toddler choices whenever you can.  If it is time to get dressed, for example, ask, “Do you want to wear your red shirt or you green shirt.” Learning to make small decisions helps the brain make better decisions.
  • Get your toddler plenty of exercise.  Going to a park, running around, and being active as possible allows your toddler to get their energy out and make calmer, better decisions when it is time to be still.

Self regulation is even more important – and even harder to teach – for preschoolers.  In my next post, I will talk about how you can ‘train the brain’ of your 3 and 4 year old child.