Archive for the ‘Child Development’ Category

Sign Language

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Long back I read this on The Mad Momma’s space. Now I have some information about it. Why this very late enlightenment? My simple brain was struck on interpreting, differentiating, comparing, analyzing and completely understanding physcho-analytical developmental theories from big shots like Freud, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner. All the heavy stuff made me doze off and by the time I finally woke up, a month had passed. We all know the pace at which MM writes. She averages about 5 posts a day and this one, though was just 30 days back, is buried deep in her archives. So MM if you are still interested here is the information.

Signing, in the US, is no longer looked down as something that is restricted to hearing/speech impaired. Of late signing is catching on big time. Day care centers have signing as a part of their curriculum. People are paying tons of money to learn signing with their children.

Advantages of signing – do I have to spell it out? How many days, have I spoken through clenched teeth to toddler/infant in an ominous tone, “Yenna venum-nnu solen? Yen yennai paduthare?” (Meaning: Just tell me what you want. Stop taunting me. Oh – the translation simply does not cut it folks. It does not capture the essence of the dialogue.) So if the child is able to communicate, lesser number of tantrums and life gets simple for the caregiver.

Now to the controversy that clouds signing. Some argue that signing delays speech. That is absolutely right. If your child can satisfy its needs through signs, what is the initiative to make words and sentences?

Now comes the twist. Delay of speech is nothing to be alarmed about. Speech/Language development has always been associated with cognitive (brain) development. So a delay in speech is portrayed with a negative connotation. But language is not just making words and sentences. Language must be viewed as a means of communication. So, the initiative to communicate (in any way, not just through words) must be seen as a cognitive milestone. Otherwise we all have to falsely conclude that all hearing/speech impaired people lack severely in cognitive development.

When a baby is born, she has a few schemas/patterns in her brain. Based on these schemas they react, like they know to root when they are hungry, they know to calm down when they hear their mother’s voice/touch, they posses a sucking instinct. As they grow, as they experience new things, they compare it with their existing schema. For example, when you bring a feeding bottle to the baby, she analyzes with her sense of smell and sense of taste, concludes, “It is milk all right, just in a different form. I already know how to suck from breast. So if I do the same, I must be fine”. So she compares the new experience with her schema and assimilates the new experience in to her schema. When you start feeding the baby from a cup and a spoon, though it is the same milk, it is a totally new experience eating from a spoon. She compares it to her existing schema, gets confused that there is no match and evolves a new schema incorporating the new experience. This is adapting to the new experience.

At one stage the baby realizes that every object in her wold has a ‘name’. THIS correlation is a major milestone and her little brain is working hard, to rewrite a new, slightly complex schema that accommodates this new realization. This correlation occurs irrespective of words+object association or words+sign association. This association takes place much earlier in a baby who uses signs. Also the communication and the gratification because of the communication enriches her experience and her schema is getting more and more complex. On a two year scale, sign language baby vs non-sign language baby, the sign language baby definitly has the cognitive edge.

Sign language baby, after some time realizes that objects can have more than one way of representation – words and signs. Then she rewrites her schema and incorporates words in to her schema.

The flip side to signing is that not many people know how to sign. As MM has pointed out in her post, the baby does get alarmed if she is not able to communicate to a person who is not able to sign.

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Are older siblings more intelligent?

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In comments to my previous post, S had pointed out this link about how research points out that first-born children have higher IQ. Well…. this post is not a rebuttal to that article, but I just wanted to point out a few things.

In one of the classes I am taking, the professor taught us to analyze research data. This is to teach us that we must take research data with a pinch of salt. Why should we do this? Because we must realize that statistics are statistics and they go only so far. So as long as we don’t put blind faith in to the numbers and are aware of other variables, we are fine.

When some one tell us that, statistics point out that children in the US cry more than children from other parts of the world ( which is a true statistic! ), what does that mean? Some thing wrong with the babies born here? The right interpretation of this data is that children all over the world cry the same amount, but in eastern societies we never let the babies cry. When we see a little crinkling of face, we immediately run to the baby and start pacifying the baby. Here in US, people believing in crying it out.

Another myth that really irritates me to no end is this. “In our times there weren’t so many miscarriages. Now you people are doing something wrong. That’s why there are so many miscarriages” and this ‘something’ might vary from computers to blasphemy. The logical interpretation of many miscarriages happening now might be

  • Our widening contacts. Seriously, 20 years back, how many people outside of their small circle of friends and relatives did women know?
  • Now we have all these EPTs which indicates pregnancy on the first day of missed period or even a couple of days early! So we are aware of conception and miscarriage. 20 years back the technology to detect pregnancy this early wasn’t there. Most of the miscarriages occur in the first few weeks of gestation, so 20 years back most early miscarriages must have gone down as a late period.
  • A decade back they found out that a higher percentage of women in Marine county suffered from cancer and people were intrigued. They started searching for hidden carcinogens in Marine county and weren’t able to find anything extraordinary. On a more careful analysis they found that the people in Marine county had really good health insurance and were visiting the doctor on a regular basis and their cancer was detected on time. In other parts of the US, because of insurance limitations, people weren’t getting health checkups and their cancer, if any, was not getting included in statistics.

    Now that I have irritated you all with my futile knowledge, do first born really have an edge over their siblings? May be, but I don’t trust this article (not the research, mind you) because the target audience were all males. They were from one single country – Norway. Their age group is a specific age group – 18/19 years. This sex specific, country specific, age specific data cannot be applied universally. There is no mention if the siblings were tested at the same time or at the same age. We don’t know in what context this test was conducted. Last but not the least IQ tests are coming under heavy criticism now a day. I can write one whole post on “Are IQ tests real indicators of intelligence?”. In the article, the conclusion states that, ‘….says the greatest challenge is to find other large data sets to investigate other possible explanations for the findings.’ In my personal view, it looks like WebMD just pulled out a research article gave it a attention capturing title and used it out of context. Sounds like a sensational headline in a magazine, “Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth butt heads”. On reading you will find out that they dropped something on the floor, reached for it and bumped their heads !

    All those first-born folks out there – stop strutting around. Not yet, nothing is concrete!

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    Well, this is a question that has been gnawing me since I got married. I am an only child and I grew up with my aunts(my mom’s sisters) and went to a girls-only school. I had few men friends in college but that was not good enough for me to look deep in to the male psyche.

    Ever since I got married, I discovered that hubby and self are yin and yang, not in the nice complementing each other way! We have the exact opposite reaction to any situation. He is calm, composed, balanced, never gets overly excited, a bit of a cynic and thinks with his head. I am easily excitable, swing from happy to sad before one can snap their fingers and think with my heart. Really how different are men and women? Are all men and women this different?

    With this in mind, I observe children at play. The four year olds I work with show clear segregation in terms of gender. They even want to stand in two separate lines, “the boys line” and the “girls line”, while they go to the play ground. I asked them why they want separate lines, the girls said, “The boys don’t use walking feet. Once he pushed me down and I got a boo-boo on my knee”, the boys just said, “No”, that’s all nothing more.

    I mean, there is a difference even in the style in which they answer. The girls have an elaborate answer, they run and we don’t like to run, so we will have our own line, thanks. The boys use very limited words, don’t explain all their actions, their attitude was like, “Isn’t it obvious, why do you even ask?”.

    Observing more, the boys played with toy trucks, each one holding a truck, ramming the trucks head on, repetitively. They played with blocks, each one holding a block, ramming them head on, repetitively. They played with (toy)garden equipments like shovels, rakes, lawn mowers, each one holding one piece of toy, ramming them and yes they did it repetitively. While playing dress-up(“No Ms.A, only girls dress up. We are wearing a costume.” was the response I got from a gentleman when I asked if they want to play dress up!) they picked fire fighter hats, spider man masks, police man uniforms and rammed their heads, of course, repetitively! They didn’t want anything to do with the so-called “girl toys”

    The girls loved to read books, played in the sand, danced to music, dressed up as princesses/cooks/nurses, didn’t mind playing with “boy toys”, wanted to paint and do more art work in class.

    There is more, the boys preferred repetition, the girls preferred variety. The boys wanted more out door activities, the girls wanted more in door activities. Girls preferred girls only groups, the boys didn’t mind a girl in their group as long as she was equally rough and tough. When there was a problem the girls voiced their complaint to an authority figure, where as boys dealt with it by them selves…and the list goes on.

    Such deep preferences and segregation in terms of behavior at such an early age? It makes me wonder about the reasons influencing this. First comes the biological differences, the second culprit is gender typing by parents and the third culprit is peer acceptance.

    As a sense of self develops, gender awareness also develops in a child. Apart from a few biological differences, which are mostly hormonal or genetic, there are no notable differences in terms of a boy’s brain or a girl’s brain or in the way boys and girls develop till they are 18 months.

    Around 18 months, the child learns the concept of self and visualizes its role in the society through it maleness or femaleness. Irrespective of whether the parents believe in gender segregation or gender equality, they promote gender typing. The degree might be different, but it is present in all families. Sometimes parents are very cautious not to fall in to gender stereotypes, they might get an easy bake oven for their son or a construction set for their daughter. By telling that it is okay for a boy to play with girl toy, is a type of gender typing in a convoluted way! Research indicates that fathers are more likely to gender type than mothers! Can you believe it? Apparently fathers consciously or unconsciously interact with boys through rough play and are more sensitive to girls. An adult in this house, who shall not be named at this time, once commented that he will teach the girls sports like tennis, basket ball, cricket and bring them up as boys. Understand the subliminal gender typecasting folks?! Plight of boys is even worse. They are very strongly gender typed than girls. At least girls have a level of freedom in their choice of dresses, games and playmates. Imagine how much the parents will be freaking out, the father more than the mother according to researches, if the boy dresses in pink, plays with dolls and only with girls and likes wearing his mommies jewellery?!

    As the child grows, gender gets more and more defined by interacting with peers and other adults. This basically seals the issue once and for all. At this point of time even if there is a little bit of femaleness in a boy (the other way around is accepted, it considered tomboy-ish-ness) he gives it up or masks it. A child is quick to take up gender labels for the sake of peer acceptance.

    Phew, now what does this means for us parents? Even if you believe that men and women are equal, your child will definitely learn about gender inequality, may be a little later, but it is something we cannot avoid.

    If you want to raise a rough and tough girl or a sensitive boy, don’t push it on the child. Be sensitive to what the child wants. Once in a while it is okay if your boy plays with dolls. It does not mean anything. And if your girl is too girl-ish, just go along with it.

    If your three year old boy makes a sexist comment, don’t freak out. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. Children learn from lots of places beside home – TV, school, friends, other adults. Correct him and be a role model. The child is merely going through a phase. He will eventually learn.


    Toys And Their Significance

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    I was reading my textbook and found the chapter about children at play to be very interesting.

    The authors are talking about how to arrange the environment for children to play. They call each activity area as a learning center. They also explain how the toys develop the child physically, cognitively and socially. Typically when we look at toys, due to the way we are raised, subconsciously we classify them in to “girl toys” and “boy toys”, at least that’s what I do. Some times I consciously avoid cooking sets and pink princesses stuff and pick up the so-called boy-toys to make sure that my girls are not subjected to gender stereotypes. But after reading this chapter I learnt that every kid must have an opportunity to explore all kinds of toys because every toy has its own significance.

    Blocks: Develop motor skills, enhance imagination, increases skills in abstract representations(lays ground work for reading and writing skills), lays ground for early mathematical skills(they realize that two square blocks can be arranged to be the same as one rectangular block…etc). A must from toddlerhood.

    Dramatic Play Area: Very important for young children. Children imitate the actions of the grown ups in their lives. When they take on roles and use materials to pretend they learn to symbolize day to day living. The term dramatic play area might sound intimidating, but it can be as simple as playing doctor with your child, using a teddy bear as the patient or playing tea time.

    Toddler likes to sit in the backyard and play with sand and small pebbles. She tells me that she is mixing concrete like Bob The Builder. I am still high on caffeine from the 200 gallons of pretend tea she made for me yesterday. Of course she picks up any pointy thing and starts playing doctor with infant as her patient. Infant pretends every small speck of dirt on the floor is food and eats it.

    I try to ease toddler’s anxiety about doctor visits by playing doctor with her and showing Elmo Goes To The Doctor. She does wonderfully at home, but she goes to the doctor’s office and invariably kicks him in the crotch! We are still working on it!

    Sensory Play: Even if you don’t provide an outlet, the kids somehow manage to find a way to explore with their senses. Day cares and childcare centers have things like sand boxes and water tables. But you can bring sensory experience to your children with a little bit of tolerance to mess. I preach, but I suck at practice. I shudder at the thought of play dough or sand in my house! (Note to self: Got to let go!)

    A bucket of water, chapathi dough, flour, sand, blowing bubbles, finger paints, play dough.

    Toddler has taken to watering the plants. She picks up the small watering can I bought for her, steps on every vegetable hubby planted with lots of love and care and makes sure that every weed in the garden is watered. A week back she painted infants shaved, bald head pink and blue and told me that she put lispick* for infant. Infant is making severe attempts to drink cleaning detergent, this is her ultimate sensory goal for now. Infant also has an eye on the beautiful, white wonder seat filled with water called THE POTTY. I can see the love in her eyes.

    Manipulative Toys: Puzzles, beads, legos. They give hand-eye co-ordination. Prepares them for writing, teaches concepts of colors, shapes, teaches problem solving.

    Art/Writing/Library: This we all know. Read to your child every day. Encourage children to put their emotions in to writing and drawing. This gives them a positive outlet to their feelings. As a part of art supplies show them works of great artists and encourage them to think.

    The authors also classify every toy as open-ended and close-ended toys. Close ended toys like puzzles have only one purpose and there is only one way to play with them. Either you get it right or you get it wrong. Open-ended toys like building blocks, where there is no right or wrong way to do them. Open-ended toys teach children to think out of the box and close-ended toys teach them that certain things in life cannot be changed, teaches them conformity.

    So moms, when you pick up a toy put some thinking in to it unless the toy is a gift to annoy the parent. In that case just go for the loudest toy that cannot be turned off!

    *lispick – lipstick

    PS: The book I am referring to is “Who Am I In The Lives Of Children?” By Stepahine Feeney, Doris Christensen and Eva Moravcik.


    The five W-s of toddler learning

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    This happened about three months back. It was a Saturday, I was trying to get ready for the rest of the week, grinding dosa batter, doing laundry, making chapathi dough, prepping and cutting my veggies…etc. Toddler was pestering me for attention. She wanted me to sit next to her and show her pictures of Bharathiyar, M.S, Gandhi thatha* from google images. I did it a couple of times, but I had to get back to my chores. So the next time she came and asked me for Bharathiyar’s pictures, I told her that Bharathiyar is sleeping and we can’t see him. Then she asked me for M.S, I said that M.S amma I sleeping and we can’t disturb her now. After a few minutes she came back and asked for Gandhi thatha. I said that Gandhi thatha is sleeping, and we will see him later. This routine went on for another hour and then she eventually gave up. I finished my chores and went to check on her. After a few minutes I asked her if she wants to do penguin, penguin for me(she keeps her hands next to her hips and does a cute dance singing “penguin, penguin what do you see?” ). She tells me, “Amma, penguin is sleeping. No dislulb**”.

    I was going to post this is on my blog and categorize it under “Humor For The Day”. Then I stopped to think. I did tell my friends and hubby about this, but I never analyzed my toddler’s thought process at that particular moment. Was she trying to get back to me? ‘Amma, you were so busy that you couldn’t spend some time with me. Now I am giving you a flavor of your own medicine. Eat it woman’. Naahhh. A typical two year old is very fickle. They have very short memory. They are very trusting, especially towards parents. On top of all this their brain is not capable of forming the required correlation between (I want some thing) -> (mom gives me the run around) -> (Now she wants something) -> (I give her the run around) ->(Message sent: Mom don’t mess with me)

    Then I realized that my toddler was learning. This is a typical example for how children learn. I could analyze the five W-s of learning from this example.

    What, Where, When, Why, (From) Whom does a child learn?

    What – They learn what they see.
    Where – At a non threatening environment. Most of the children feel the most ‘at home’ at home. So they learn a lot at home. You can send them to the best school, still they learn A LOT at home.
    When – All the time.
    Why – Why not?? They learn because they can! They are good at it.
    (From) Whom – At a tender age nearly every thing from parents. After they grow up, from the people who inspire them.

    (Just for the heck of it I will throw a H in to the theory)
    How do they learn? At this age, quite a bit from repetition.

    At the end of this analysis I was happy that I got an article for my portfolio on child development, but it also scared me. It is tough being a role model and do the right things at all times. So a big cheer for all of us parents!

    *thatha – grandfather
    ** dislulb – that toddler for “disturb”

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    Hubby and self believe in introducing things that we value most dearly to our kids. Bringing up the kids in pardes, exposure to kids from families with different value systems, eating foods other than Indian food, celebrating typical American holidays, all this scared us that kids might loose their roots. We decided to start introduction to Indian Mythology, you know Gods, stories, slokhas…etc.

    Our older child, who is only 2 years and four months, can already identify life letters in tamil, count till 50 in tamil, recite a few tamil rhymes, tell the names of the months in tamil, identify most of the Gods, recite a few slokhas and religiously puts viboodhi (the holy ash) and kum kum (sindoor) on her fore head every evening after she comes back from day care. As parents we are very proud of it, but hubby and self decide to take things to the next level.

    So on our recent trip to India we picked up few amar chitra kathas, few animation movies that tells the stories of Hanuman, Shiva, Ganesha and Krishna. We started with the amar chitra katha about Krishna. This is how things proceeded.

    Hubby started telling “Kamsa was a king, Kamsa’s baby sister Devaki and Vasudeva got married. At that time a voice told Kamsa that Devaki’s babies will kill Kamsa. So, Kamsa decides to kill all the babies”. At this point of time hubby realized that he had to use kill at least twice and he was still in the first page.He didn’t feel like telling a two year old about killing, that too killing of babies.So he decided to take a little poetic license and tells the child that Kamsa is giving all the babies a time out. Hubby and self look at each other and smile that we have evaded an uncomfortable reality of life for the time being. Then comes the part where Boothagi comes to Aayarpadi to nurse Krishna and kill him. This part, considering the fact that my children regard me as the Boothagi of Kaliyug, they have no problems relating to! When hubby tells child that Boothagi is trying to give Krishna milk, her eyes automatically turn in my direction and I can see that she is quite relieved that I don’t have anything edible in my possession or within my arms reach. We try telling her about Kalinga Nardhanam(how Krishna danced on a snake) and Govardhanagiri(How Krishna protected Aayarpadi by holding Govardhanagiri as an umbrella). We see bursts of interest as she hears familiar words like Aayarpadi, mountain, snake, dance, but we realize that we are slowly loosing her.

    On another day we started with the story of Ganesha. She was quite enthused at the beginning. She was quite discouraged when we explained that Lord Shiva is not carrying a mop, but it is a thirisoolam (weapon with three sharp edges). When we showed her a picture of Ganesha with a normal human head as opposed to the elephant’s head, she refused to sit and listen any more. Anyways the story was already quite uninteresting because Parvathy was giving Shiva a time out and Shiva was giving Parvathy a double time out, then all the ganas jumped in to the scene and were giving each other time outs of their life times. We lost her again.

    But we are very persistent parents. We introduced Hanuman. When a talking, flying monkey is the hero all other minor glitches are forgotten. After becoming familiar with Hanuman’s story, she started pointing to the characters and identifying them. All was fine, Hanuman was a super hit, but one day she pointed to Kesari (the monkey prince Anjani married) and said “Hanuman’s appa”, then she looked at Lord Pavan (the wind God) thought for a second and said, “Hanuman’s another appa”. Then she looked at hubby and said, “My appa. Where is another appa?”. We refrained from telling her that Hanuman is also considered as Shiva’s son as he was born with Lord Shiva’s blessings, because we didn’t want her to go looking in the garage for her third father.

    More than the child we as parents were very confused how to tell her a mythological story without worrying too much about peripheral details. You all know what I mean right? When grand moms and aunts told us that Krishna stole butter, we some how accepted it because Krishna was a God, he can do anything he wants to do. We didn’t interpret that stealing is good because even Gods do it or Krishna cannot be considered as God because he steals. Now that I think about it I am not sure when that enlightenment came, but growing up in a place like India with grandparents and aunts, doing pooja every day, where every Tuesday and Friday was celebrated like a festival, where every day temple visits were a very common thing, listening to stories of Krishna or Rama while amma feeds her rasam sadham( rice and rasam ) and urulai kizhangu kari ( potato curry ), that enlightment, kind of enters your heart pretty quickly!

    Here we are sitting in a foreign country or for that matter even in India where every day is becoming a rat race, I am really skeptical how long will it take for the enlightment to come?! In the mean while there are going to be lots of confusions and questions in the minds of our children. If we want our children to always remember their roots and if we want them to be proud of their lineage these are the few things I think we must do(at least this is what Iam doing right now. Whether it worked…we will know by 2020! ):

    • Talk to the children about your childhood and how you did things as a family.
    • Celebrate every small and big festival. India’s independence, diwali, ramajayanthi, hanuman jayanthi, (or what ever religiously appropriate festival there is, you know what I mean), don’t leave out anything. Celebration doesn’t have to be a grand affair. Plan it out in the weekend and do something small that signifies the occasion. Typically in our house hold we celebrate even ammavasai (no moon) day and karthigai every month. Though they are young to understand, I keep telling my kids that in India typically we go to the temple, we don’t eat leftovers and we do pooja at home. Though I don’t follow everything to the dot, due to practical difficulties, I make sure that I keep at least a couple of bananas or a small glass of milk and do a small pooja.
    • Take time to pray together. Make a time, for instance, get up in the morning and convene before a deity’s picture and some heart felt prayer, “Dear God, make my day a great day. Make every around me happy”.
    • Talk to your children’s teachers. Explain to the teachers the significance of a festival like diwali, holi, rakhi…etc. Ask them if a few moms can join together and make a small presentation about the festival. This gives the other children in the class to understand what our culture is all about. That is a big validation to our children.
    • Call India and make the children get the blessings of the elders in the family on the day of festivals.

    In a nut shell make the effort. Remember if you don’t take things to heart neither will the kids.


    More suggestions are welcome.
    I am a Hindu and I have given my perspective. Iam sure people from other religions face similar problems. I would love your comments on the issue.



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