It’s no secret that I think my son, Maximus, is brilliant. (I have yet to read any research that supports the idea that having low expectations for your kiddos helps them out.) Yes, I believe it is my right as a mother to endorse them shamelessly! This is a quality that I most definitely inherited from my father. Despite it being horrifyingly embarrassing in my teenage years, I always secretly loved when I would show up at my dad’s office and all of his coworkers would know all about my latest and greatest. My exploits were never truly that exceptional or noteworthy, in my opinion, but to my father, every move we (his four children) made was as good as gold. This has always instilled a deep, inner confidence in me that, despite what the world thinks, someone out there believes wholeheartedly and unabashedly in my abilities, my character, and my uniqueness. My father passed away in October of 2007 from brain cancer, but I know to this day that he would be unequivocally proud of me. This continues to be a driving force in my life. I want to instill that same driving force in my children.
To that note, I have the same brazen belief that my children (all of them – present and future) are wonderful in their own unique ways and will be successful in their own ways. I will do my absolute darndest to foster their minds, their creativity, and their spirits. At just about 28 months, my son does some pretty amazing things. He can count to 10. He knows all of his colors, and he can name an exceptional number of animals – including “hippopotamus” – which is quite a mouthful for a two-year-old. He blows me away. I do not begin to take full credit for anything that he does, because honestly, his father is brilliant, but I do some things on a daily basis to encourage his development. These things are intentional. I don’t do everything perfectly – far from it – but I thought it might be helpful for other mamas to hear some of the things I am striving for. I am also extremely curious to hear from you all about the things that you do to encourage your children’s brains and spirits, so please share!
- Read. Read. We go to the library once a week. There are obviously weeks that this is not possible. We relocated recently from Omaha, Nebraska to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During the move, this schedule was upset. However, one of the first things that we did while getting settled was to go explore a few local libraries. Every week we get 5 books. This might change as he grows, but for now, it helps my frazzled mom brain to know each week exactly how many books I’m looking to collect for this week’s drop-off. We try to read every day. To help with this, I keep a basket of books accessible in the living room. I don’t keep many toys out at all times, because I prefer to keep things minimal, but this is important to me. Maximus loves books! He will often grab them and insist on climbing into my lap (or anyone’s lap nearby!) to read.
- Talk and Listen. Even since Maximus was old enough to babble, we have back and forth chit-chat. I honestly cannot even tell you what we talk about. Everything. Nothing. I just try to respond when he vocalizes anything. Right now, it’s a lot of me repeating what he says, because he’s two, for clarity or for encouragement… a typical conversation while driving in the car sounds like: “Mommy! Mommy! Excavator!” “Yes, baby, excavator!” “BIG Excavator!” “Yes, that is a huge, yellow excavator!”
- Keep Things Fresh and Interesting! This is not always easy. There are a few simple things that I do that help. Firstly, we get out of the house. I actually do not like the term “Stay at Home” mother or parent, because that isn’t even close to what we do. We don’t “stay at home” exclusively. Most days, more days than not, we go OUT. We go to Target (a lot lately with the move!), we go to the park, we go to different attractions in the community, we go for walks, and we just generally go (This is also for mama’s sanity as well!) This is important because he sees and experiences new things all the time. He’s very social, “strangers” love him, and he makes friends wherever we go! I also try to bring new things home. I get that on a tight budget, this may seem overwhelming to constantly have new toys. I LOVE the Target dollar bin for this very reason! It’s easy to grab stickers, or little books, or even flashcards with interesting pictures. They have had their back-to-school selection out, and I have grabbed more than my fair share of goodies lately. These are easy things to toss in the backpack or diaper bag and keep them entertained! We also subscribe to a magazine – we do the Highlights Hello/High Five right now. He loves getting mail, and it’s something new to look at every month. I have heard about these development baby brain boxes – like BarkBox for your baby – but I haven’t tried them yet. It sounds right up my alley.
- Limit Screen Time. I know, I know, I know. I know how easy it is. I am guilty as well, sometimes. Recently Maximus threw a giant tantrum, as I was trying to run out the door to meet his father for a cooperate dinner, and I carried him out the door with the iPad in hand. I knew that turning on his “Sinosaurs” (Dinosaurs AKA Land Before Time) would buy him (and his sitter) an hour of calm and quiet. However, I usually try everything else in the world in my distraction bag of tricks. In the grocery store, this means countless snacks and appropriate expectations. (He will not stay in the cart, I know this, so I just try to keep him in the cart as long as I can and he hops in and out!) I don’t generally turn the TV on during the day. I save screen time for the half hour to an hour after dinner when mama is too pooped to do anything else and I frankly just need a freaking break. Some days we don’t do screen time at all. Some days I sit down and watch a movie with him. The big thing is that I don’t rely on this as my go-to problem solver, and I firmly believe in no screen time for babies. This is backed by the AAP’s recommendations. We didn’t introduce the iPad/iPhone until Maximus was about a year and a half. This is a hot topic, so I’m sure I’ll return to this in my blog. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx
- Hugs, Tickles, and Love. When children are growing, their brains grow faster when they are getting healthy doses of affection from key caregivers. The best thing that you can do as a caregiver is to be gentle, responsive, and loving towards the little one in your life. This does more than make them feel good – it helps them to grow and develop, too.
This is just a snippet of information about some of the key things that I try to do as a primary caregiver for my little. Feel free to post questions or commentary! Again, I’m excited to hear more about what others do, too!