Your Toddler’s Brain and Memory
Your two-year old’s brain is three-fourths the size of his adult brain. By five years of age it will be nearly full size. As his brain grows, structures involved in learning, memory, motor control, and other brain functions are being developed.
Right now he has trillions of neural pathways, double the number he will have as an adult. The more often a pathway is used, the stronger the connections are. The development of these pathways is influenced by how your toddler’s brain is used, the variety and richness of the environment he is exposed to, and also genetics. Routine and repetition cause the brain to strengthen the most important connections. Less used pathways are treated by the brain as less important. The pathways that are not used or only used infrequently, will wither away. This is a normal process called pruning.
You strengthen your child’s brain development by talking to him, playing with him, and having a stimulating, varied environment for him. These activities must be balanced with opportunities to rest which allow the brain to reorganize itself.
Your two-year old remembers more and more every day. He is developing what is called symbolic thinking. This is the ability to see things in his mind’s eye. The more he experiences and develops habits, strong connections are being made in his brain. He is more able to recall captured images. He remembers the way to his friend’s house, what Grammy looks like, and which toys he played with at the gym.
You can help your toddler lay down memory tracks in his brain by asking questions about things he knows. Ask him questions about the next thing to happen in his favorite books. Ask him to tell you details about his food like, “Did you have milk or juice at lunch today?” At night, before he sleeps, review his day with him. See if he can tell you the order in which he did things and anything he noticed and wants to talk about. You help him to make sense of what he experienced.
His new ability with symbolic thinking may open the door to fears he never had before. He is beginning to be able to put memories together and remember sequences of events. That can lead to some weird associations and fear showing up unexpectedly. He may suddenly be afraid of taking a bath or petting a dog, or going to the doctor.
Acknowledge his fears. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Say, “I know it feels scary, but let’s try a shower instead of a bath tonight,” or “Let’s walk past the dog together.” Let him know he doesn’t have to face the thing that frightens him alone. Sometimes role playing will help allay his fears. Problem solving together can help. “Let’s figure out what makes that toy move by itself. Ah, there’s its motor. Motors make things move.” Allow him a comfort toy or promise him a reward for bravery (then keep your promise).
Wait a minute!
Now why would that simple statement trigger a meltdown? Although his memory is getting better, it still gets snagged by misconceptions. Your two-year old may remember some things very well, like the ending of a favorite story, then not remember banging into a wall every time he rounds a certain corner in your house. It may take weeks before he knows how to avoid hitting that wall.
His ability to remember is selective, so is his ability to anticipate the future. He can anticipate daddy’s arrival when he hears his key in the lock, yet be surprised when mommy knows he’s out of bed when he should be taking a nap.
The main reason he can’t wait a minute is that what he wants, he wants now! A minute seems like forever. His frustration of waiting makes it impossible for him to expect the pleasure of what he is waiting for.
You can help him to wait a minute or two by telling him what has to happen first and asking him to tell you when it is done. We’ll go for a ride soon. First you get your shoes on, then I get my shoes on, then we pick up the diaper bag. . .now we can get in the car. If his payoff is further away, don’t try to get him to anticipate what will happen. He doesn’t understand or enjoy pleasurable anticipation.
Do you worry about your child being shorter than average? There are a lot of factors that go into determining our height. The most common are inherited traits from parents or grandparents and being a late bloomer.
If your preschooler is significantly shorter than his peers or his growth suddenly seems to have slowed down or stopped, mention your concerns to his doctor. The doctor will check for any health problems that might be interfering with growth. Supply the doctor with a thorough family history including the approximate heights of siblings, parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts and any health problems that were associated with their short stature.
Only if there are not obvious reasons for his short stature, will a doctor have tests run to determine if there is any treatment to give. X-rays or lab tests that involve an injection and blood tests over a few hours time (taken from an IV that is left in place for the duration of the test) may be ordered.
If it is determined that there is some underlying medical condition, that will be treated. If it is determined that he has a growth hormone deficiency, your doctor will talk to you about the appropriateness of treatment.
Height is such an individual matter with so many variables, don’t get overly concerned at this early stage of your child’s life. Some of the tall children will turn out to be quite normal or short by adulthood. So don’t worry.
Discipline and the Balancing Act
Like a tightrope walker we try to balance discipline between too strict and too permissive. When should we allow a behavior to continue and when should we stop it? Will our child be a brat or a sullen, mousy child because of our discipline? There is a comfortable middle ground that allows our children to understand boundaries and to be respectful and still know how to have fun.
Discipline is teaching how to live. Our goal is to help our child toward self-control. So, here are a few principles that are helpful in raising caring, well-behaved children.
We are a family— That means everyone works together. We are a mutual support system. Everyone must learn what they can to help the whole family. Everyone helps and everyone needs help from time to time.
Practice mutual respect— As you expect your children to respect you, you must respect them too. When they are trying to tell you something, stop what you are doing, look at them, and listen carefully. We show respect by listening. If you listen to your children now, they will listen to you when they are older.
Be consistent— Choose a chore that your child can do and insist that they do it regularly. Choose a few simple rules in your home and consistently require obedience to those rules. Your rules may be, “Eat food at the table.” “Use your words, instead of hitting.” And, “Don’t jump on the furniture.” When these rules are obeyed without reminders, add other ones appropriate to your child’s age and abilities. Whatever rules are in place, always require obedience.
Life is not always fair— Don’t be afraid of upsetting or disappointing your child. Children need to learn to deal with frustration and disappointment in order to learn skills necessary for their future happiness. It is OK to tell your child, “I know it doesn’t seem fair to you, and I’m sorry you are unhappy, but life isn’t always fair.” (This is not an excuse, however, for not keeping your promises or for showing favoritism.)
The Time Out Strategy
This is a good strategy, if not over-used. Use Time Out as a brief cooling off period for both you and your child. When you feel tensions rising and defiance setting in, cool off with your child for a minute or so.
Choose a safe, calm area for Time Out. When anger is mounting, tell him Time Out is necessary. Lead him to his calm place and sit nearby for a minute or so. When he is no longer angry, explain what he should have done, don’t linger on his bad behavior.
If you use Time Out, also use Time In. Whenever he is being especially good or cooperative, give him an extra cuddle or read a book or give him some other small treat.
Signs of a Bad Babysitter or Nanny
Your child is not always able to tell you in words that he is having a very bad time with a baby sitter or nanny. But he can show you in some ways and you can confirm for yourself that his babysitter or nanny is not good.
- If your toddler seems afraid, anxious or withdrawn when he sees the caregiver, you should take special note. Your child should love and trust his babysitter or nanny. If he is afraid or worried, he is not properly bonded to this person and will not be learning the way he should.
- If your child is having too many accidents or is dirty, he may be left unattended too much of the time. Careful attention and basic hygiene are minimal requirements for a babysitter or nanny.
- If your babysitter or nanny does not follow your directions or seems critical of your choices for your child, she cannot keep her side of the partnership you are in to raise your child. You are the one ultimately responsible for your child.
- If your nanny or babysitter is secretive or her stories don’t add up, she may be poor at communicating with you or has something to hide. She should share how she and your child spent the day so you can know better how to take care of your child in the evening. You should never tolerate a babysitter or nanny who steals, lies, or deceives you in any way. They are a poor, if not dangerous, person to care for your child.
Here are some hints to making dining out with your toddler a good experience for all of you.
- Pick a family-friendly restaurant. Choose one that caters to kids, is casual, and serves food quickly. Arriving early for a meal usually shortens the waiting time for a seat and allows quicker food service.
- Pack a special bag. Include books or quiet toys you know he loves, a new small toy to catch his interest, and a few favorite snacks (in case the food is delayed or he doesn’t like the restaurant food). A small video or electronic toy that is only used when he goes out could be well worth the cost for peace while waiting.
- Having the same rules about meals at home as out makes eating out easier. No throwing food and using his indoor voice are a couple examples.
- Make eating out a reward. Allow a special food or drink that he seldom or never gets at home.
- Don’t linger over your meal. Your child cannot be expected to sit still in a restaurant any longer than he can sit still at home. As he gets older you can take more time and go to nicer restaurants.
- Be considerate of your servers. Cleaning up as much as possible, means less work for them after you leave. This could mean better service next time you take your family there.
Heavenly Father, help me to know when to be strict and when to be more relaxed with my discipline. I want to raise my child to know both respect and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.