Help Your Child Talk Part 3: Infant Concentration

Hello and welcome to this Friday’s extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter.

CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. I’ll post up one extract each Friday. At the end of each Friday post you’ll see a link to take you on to the next extract.

Attention skills: help your infant concentrate
Your newborn baby never plans. He reacts. He responds to loud noises with a startle reflex but relaxes when he hears your voice. By 3 months, he turns his head to the direction of the sounds he hears.

Soon, he watches your face closely as you talk. Make the most of this contact. Speak quietly to him and make happy faces. Watch him concentrate hard and copy your facial movements. When you poke out your tongue, he follows suit a few moments later.

His concentration is intense. This is natural. Everything is still new and he needs to understand it.

Sometimes you speak to him and he won’t look at you. He’s too busy watching a mobile, or the patterns of leaves against the sky, or he’s wiggling his toes. He may be aware of his own internal feelings. Maybe he’s getting hungry. He can only concentrate on one thing at a time.

Attention skills: baby’s short attention span
He can’t choose the subject of his concentration. It happens by chance. If a new toy catches his eye, he loses interest in what he is doing and puts all his attention on the new toy. If he bangs his hand, he forgets what he was looking at and cries, but you can distract him by giving him something new to see, hear, feel, smell or taste.

During his first year, his concentration span remains short and single-channel. He plays with one toy for a few moments, then moves on to something else. It helps him to have just one or two toys available at a time. Let him play with these until he loses interest, then put them away and give him something else. Avoid surrounding him with dozens of toys all at once. He finds it difficult to settle down with one toy if there are too many other things nearby.

Attention skills: baby activities: peep-bo
To play peer-bo, you hide your face from your baby, then pop your head out and say “peep-bo”. It’s a great attention builder. At the start of the game you make and hold eye contact with him. This captures his awareness and he watches you closely.

Then hide your face. This surprises him. It takes him aback. He sits for a second, puzzled. Maybe he feels a touch of anxiety. Then, you pop your head out again and give him a start. You smile; he laughs and has his reward for waiting.

He learns several lessons.

First, he learns that making eye contact with you is fun. Second, he finds that his bonus for waiting a moment is that you appear again. Third, he works out that your face might disappear but come back again: it hasn’t gone away forever.

That helps his intellectual development, as he learns that objects still exist, even when he can’t see them. As a bonus, he finds that you like laughing with him. This helps him feel secure and happy, providing the perfect environment for relaxed development.

Come back next week for the next extract to find out more about your child’s attention skills and discover more activities you can carry out yourself. CLICK HERE for the next extract.
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Problem Solving In Action: Build Your Own Communication Kit 7

Twenty-five people sat around a table. There was tension in the air: they had a problem to solve.. After years of fund-raising, their organisations had enough money to build a grand new building, for the benefit of the children in the area. Their expectations were high, because the architects were coming and each participant was determined to have her say.

They set the room out with tables making a square shape, so everyone could see everyone else; it was all very fair and equal. The chairperson, Jane, sat in the middle of one of the sides.

‘At our last meeting,’ she said, ‘we agreed on the aims and objectives for the centre. Now we need to look at the practicalities. What will the building look like?’

The nursery manager was the first to speak.

‘My nursery needs to have 12 children in each of two shifts,’ she said. The architect did the sums; there are rules about the space every child must have. He drew the room on a large piece of paper pinned to a board.

‘We need rooms where we can have private conversations with Mums and Dads,’ said the counsellors. The architect drew two rooms.

‘We need just as many,’ said the health visitor, her voice rising slightly. ‘We need them every day, because we will have contact with every single family.’ The architect drew two more rooms.

‘We need a space for our dental surgery,’ said the dentist. ‘Here’s my sketch of what we need.’ The architect added some more rooms.

The sketch grew and grew until it covered all the white paper. Everyone knew what she wanted. Everyone had a valid argument for her service and the space it needed. The architect added rooms here; toilets there; a kitchen at the back and storage areas everywhere.

Finally, the architect did some quick calculations. The building would need at least three times the funds that were available.

That was where the fun really started.

The midwife glared at the counsellor while the play workers got angrier and angrier as the dentist reiterated how important his service was to the public, and how he had the backing of the big guns in the NHS. The nursery manager looked as though she was about to burst into tears and the health visitor’s voice grew louder and shriller with every moment.

‘OK,’ said Jane. ‘Let’s break for coffee.’ Everyone got up, tight lipped. While they collected tea, coffee and biscuits, Jane and a couple of helpers moved all the chairs away from the table into a semicircle around the architect’s board. When people came back, cup in hand, it took them a few minutes to find a new place to sit.

Jane took up her chair in front of the board and said,

‘This is tricky stuff. Let’s look at it together. We know what each of us wants, but it’s clear that we can’t have it all. How can we sort it out? What are we going to do?’

There was a silence. She let it carry on.

‘Well,’ said one of the counsellors, Kathy, eventually. ‘I wonder if Susan (the health visitor) and I could share a room sometimes.’ She turned slightly to Susan who was sitting next to her. ‘Sometimes I go out on home visits, and I know you do too. What do you think? Perhaps we could have a rota?’

‘I suppose I don’t need the room everyday,’ said Susan, in a less shrill voice.

‘Could we use it sometimes to talk to our parents?’ asked the play worker, nervously.

Slowly, amazingly, the battleground, where everyone fought his corner, became a market place, full of haggling and bargaining. At last, the architect drew a smaller building, one where spaces were flexible and shared. He clicked away at his laptop for a few minutes, then looked up and grinned. They could afford it.

Susan and Kathy left the room together, bubbling over with a new idea they had, to hold a joint clinic where people could see them both in one visit.

What happened?
Jane made a few changes to take the heat out of the situation. She let everyone have her say first, so they all recognised the problem. When she saw that it was hard for them to resolve their differences straight away, she called a halt. She stopped the meeting and made everyone stand up and walk about. They had a chance to ‘shake off’ some negative emotions.

Getting coffee together evokes feelings of cooperation and bonding. Most cultures in the world will prefer not to eat or drink with their enemies. By simply agreeing to eat and drink together, some of the tension between the people in the room disappeared.

Jane then changed the layout of the room. Instead of sitting round a table, glaring at each other, the participants found themselves sitting side by side, facing the same way.

Sitting face to face can be confrontational. In Jane’s new setting, people literally looked at the problem together. They began to take on some of the attributes of a team.

They felt they were engaged in a joint enterprise. They were a bright bunch. Jane had confidence that they would be able to solve their problems.

She was right.

Help Your Child Talk Part 2: Attention Skills

 Attention Skills.
The more help your child gets from you, the better his language skills will be. You’ll have a real treat, seeing how well he progresses, and knowing you’re giving him the best start possible.

Nevertheless, some children have problems learning language. Sometimes a child takes longer to reach language goals, or he becomes stuck at one stage and can’t seem to move on. Read the Monitoring section towards the end of the book, to check on the language goals you can expect your child to reach at different times during his early life.

If you think his progress in reaching these stages is slow, then get help straight away from your healthcare provider. Don’t delay.

Don’t “wait and see.” Early intervention is incredibly important, as it lets you, and the right professionals, help your child while his brain is at its most receptive. The first 3 years of your child’s life are precious.

If you have to wait for an appointment to assess your child, make sure you use the time to keep working on the five keys to your child’s success, by playing language games.

Just be sure that you carry out activities that he can manage and enjoy. Don’t rush, or try to push him on faster than he can go. Let him progress at a pace that feels comfortable for him. That way, you’ll go on giving him the best opportunities you can, even before professional help kicks in.

First Key: Attention Skills
Attention skills: infants
Your baby has all his five senses in place at birth. He can already see, hear, touch, smell and taste. He spends three busy years, growing and developing at an amazing rate. He uses his senses to take in the world around him, becoming familiar with this new place.

From the moment he enters the world, he has access to vast amounts of information. He can easily be overwhelmed. He needs to sort out all the new stimulation around him, and learn to attend to one thing at a time.

Later on, he learns how to shift his attention deliberately from one single thing that captured his interest, to something else, so he can listen and learn. Children who fail to control their own attention find it difficult to learn when they arrive in school. Nursery, preschool, kindergarten and infant schools surround a child with a busier, noisier environment. Help your child learn to attend to one task at a time to make it easier for him to cope at school.

Attention skills: the infant brain
Your baby has a billion brain cells at birth. These are just about all he needs for the rest of his life. However, he needs to connect the cells to each other, linking each neuron to a number of others. Links establish themselves as he finds out about new things and develops new skills, and myelin sheaths grow over the connections, stabilising and protecting them permanently.

Once the sheaths are in place, the rate of growth slows. As a result, your child has “critical periods” of development, when different aspects of his growth and learning increase most rapidly.

Scientists agree that your child’s first three years are the most critical for language learning, although he continues to develop his language skills rapidly until he reaches 10 years of age. Make the most of the vital first three years by understanding how best to help him make the brain connections that lead to the best possible language abilities.

Start as soon as he’s born. Use his five senses to build his language, beginning with the simple task of looking at your face.

Attention skills: baby activities: singing
Your newborn baby hears and enjoys music. He turns to gentle sounds, and moves his body. Use this sense of hearing and his natural instinct for rhythm and tune to help him develop his ability to concentrate.

Rock him or bounce him gently on your knee as you sing to him. No matter how croaky your voice may be, sing nursery rhymes or pop songs; whatever you enjoy most. Your baby doesn’t mind what you sing, but he loves to hear your voice and listening to you will help him focus his attention on sound. Much of his experience in the early months is visual or through his senses of touch, taste and smell. Singing helps him concentrate on his hearing.

How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter

Hello and welcome to this first Friday extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter.

You can read the extracts in sequence. I’ll post up one extract each Friday.

At the end of each Friday post you’ll see a link to take you on to the next extract.

About Language
Hold your newborn baby close and dream of the happy, fulfilled life you want for him. Maybe you feel determined he’ll grow up smart, happy and resilient, close to family and surrounded by a circle of friends.

It’s amazing to think of this tiny scrap as a real grown up person, with his own personality, living out there in the real world with all its stresses and strains.

Maybe you pause and wonder how to make sure he’ll be smart and successful. The world can be a difficult place. He’ll have your love and support as he grows, you’ll look after his hunger and thirst, keep him warm, pick him up when he falls down, hug him and cuddle him.

However, you long to know what else you can do to help.

Imagine a beautiful golden chest with your child’s name on it. Inside that closed, locked chest nestles a hoard of wonderful language treasure. That hoard is just about the greatest gift you can give your child and he needs your help to unlock the chest so he can use the treasures of language he’ll find inside.

You can help him find the keys to his own golden treasure chest so he can use the skills inside to become the best, smartest, most accomplished person he can be.

This book tells you how your child develops language and exactly what you need to do to help. Start now to give your child the keys to his own treasure chest, and a head start on life.

Language: a hidden treasure
Smart people have something in common. They may be different from each other in many ways. Some are engineers or writers. Some win prizes for science or make millions by selling products the world wants. Some broker deals that end wars and bring peace to warring parts of the world while others paint, sculpt or make music.

Some come from wealthy families, others from poverty, and they all have effective language skills.

Language is more than speech, reading and writing. Language is the foundation that underpins all of those skills. It allows people to talk, to plan, to share ideas and to communicate their thoughts to the rest of the world.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Sculptors and engineers? Do engineers have strong language skills? Surely, some of these groups of people are famous for their lack of verbal ability. Don’t sculptors sculpt instead of talking?”

Maths language
Think of the archetypal mathematician from books or the movies. You may know someone like him. Let’s call him John. John is difficult to get on with. He’s taciturn and unable to make relationships. People say he has poor language skills.

What they really mean is that he has poor communication skills. His language is actually highly sophisticated. He understands the language of number: a complex, abstract tool that lets him think conceptually and express the most complicated and subtle of thoughts, and he writes them down in a set of detailed equations that mean nothing to those of us without his language skill.

Yes, John’s communication skills could use some work. If he understood non-verbal cues better, he might not stand so close when he’s talking and he might learn not to spoil your best story by walking away, just because he’s had a sudden idea. He’s bad at non-verbal communication and social skills.

Nevertheless, his language skills function at the highest level. Without the language of maths, he would still be piling up building blocks and watching them fall down.

There are Five Keys to Language Learning:

  • attention skills;
  • listening;
  • understanding;
  • play;
  • speech.


Smart Kids: Three Ways Parents Help Their Child Talk and Learn

Your child learns fast before he even begins to talk. Billions of brain cells already exist, and during his early months, he starts building pathways between them. That’s how he learns. Follow three rules to encourage his brain to develop during his early months and give him a head start in language skills by offering him:

• a safe environment;

• opportunities for enriching experiences;

• close attachment to you.

Reduce your baby’s stress by helping him feel secure. Respond when he cries, make sure he feels safe and introduce a routine, so he knows what is going to happen. If he feels stressed and anxious for a long time, his brain produces high levels of cortisol. This chemical is fine in small doses, but too much of it for too long appears to slow brain development. A calm baby can learn more easily.

Keep sound levels low and avoid sudden bursts of noise, movement and action. Use quiet, soothing music and gentle voices to relax him and help him sleep, building a secure routine that makes him feel safe. Let him sleep when he needs to.

Offer him new experiences, one at a time. Take him with you on trips to buy groceries, talk to him as you change him, dress him and play with him. Use the times when he’s awake and alert to introduce him to new experiences, so he can build on his knowledge over time.

Repetition matters to your baby, as his brain establishes new pathways, so include familiar things in his day as well as new ones. Try a daily walk in the park, or round the corner, so he can experience a mix of regular and new events. Talk about the things you see and hear together. Name his clothes, his food, parts of his body, animals and cars in the street.

Play with him, kneeling down and getting close to him, playing baby games and singing together. Every experience is new and interesting, and time spent with you is the best of all.

Enjoy the unique relationship you have with your baby. Learn to recognise his needs: see if you can recognise how his hungry cry differs from his tired cry, for example. You won’t get it right all the time, but fulfilling his needs just one third of the time is enough to build a bond. A baby learns most in his first year from one adult, who he spends time with and grows attached to.

Make sure your baby learns to trust you, by being reliable. You may not be with him all the time, the when you are, give him your full attention. Ensure that anyone who cares for him when you are elsewhere understands the importance of responding to his needs.