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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
Home Family Parenting Advice “More, Mommy!” - Dr. Debbie's Good Parenting

“More, Mommy!” – Dr. Debbie’s Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My daughter wears me out. Almost anything we do she insists on, “More! More!” This could be sliding down the slide at the playground, reading a board book, or climbing our hands up the  imaginary spider web while we sing, “The Eensy Weensy Spider” over and over again. She just turned two. Is this normal?

Enough Already, Please

—-

Dear EAP,

Your two-year-old is activating the best tool in her environment, namely you, to create a strong neurological structure in her brain.

Early Connections

At birth a baby’s brain has about 100 billion neurons. These are the cells that reach out to connect to one another to make thoughts and muscle actions happen. Amazing development occurs in this web of brain cells in the first months and years of life. In a newborn, chemical and electrical energy flows across the microscopic space between one neuron and the next along a chain of 2,500 neurons. With every new experience – every sound, touch, smell, sight, taste, or movement – new connections form. Remember, we’re talking about 100 billion neurons having these connections. The web grows from 2,500 connections per neuron to 15,000 connections per neuron during the first 2-3 years. Another way of calculating this phenomenal growth is to say that up to 1 million new neural connections are made every second.

The activities you mention – whole body movement on a sliding board (and coming to trust that you will catch her), language and visual stimulation from reading a board book together, and the rhythm, pitch patterns, and hand motions of a classic action song – are supporting essential early learning.

Repetition Fosters Learning

A new experience is understandably overwhelming for a very young child. So much of what she experiences every day is novel, or it may have occurred so long ago (weeks, months, or half a life-time ago) that she doesn’t remember it. Oft repeated experiences, however, such as the rocking motion of being carried up the stairs to bed, the sound of you singing the same lullaby each night, or the morning sunlight on her bedroom wall, give your child’s brain its structural strength. As a nerve pathway receives repeated stimulation, that is, from a familiar experience, the message-sending branches (axons) from the involved nerve cells undergo a thickening process. Sticky cells called “glial cells” (Greek for “glue”) wrap around each axon involved in the chain as the neuron to neuron transmission occurs. With each repetition, the coating thickens, acting as an insulator to increase the speed of the signal from cell to cell. The pathways that get repeated stimulation have the best conductivity. In fact, we can say that through repeat experience the brain readies itself to have that experience again.

When your child gets you to, “Do it again, Mommy!” her brain is getting what it needs to keep building itself. Repetition is a great way for young children to learn new things, and to reassure them that what they know is still true. 

Moving On

Try to structure your days so that there is plenty of time for your little one to repeat enjoyable activities to her brain’s content. One way to help her to move on with the day’s schedule when her interest (or your time) has run out, is to have routine transitions. Help your daughter’s brain learn to recognize that a change is about to occur with transition routines that are as repetitive as sliding down a sliding board.

  • Physical Connection

A simple technique to connect a young child to the next activity is to put something in her hand.  If the next thing after the sliding board is going home for lunch, have her hold a house key (always keep a spare on your ring!). This is tangible promise of something pleasant to come. Or let her choose a lovely leaf or pinecone to take to show Daddy. In this way, she can carry her present activity into the next one.

  • Capture the Imagination

A creative way to transition a child, especially when she is at play, is to use the theme of her play as a bridge to the next activity. For example, if you’re reading a book about birds, invite her to be a bird with you. Now you and she can fly upstairs to get ready for naptime. If you’re singing about the Eensy Weensy Spider, obviously the staircase to naptime becomes the waterspout the two of you climb up after the sun comes out.

Re-frame your daughter’s insistence on repetitive activities as opportunities for you to help to build her brain. When you realize how important a role you are playing in her life, you’ll want to do it again and again!  

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

She will be presenting a workshop for parents and professional caregivers entitled: Healthy Habits for Young Children, Sunday, March 13, 9 am – 12 noon on Zoom. Register in advance for this and other upcoming Zoom workshops.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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