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Toddler says, “Do it again!” — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Toddler says, “Do it again!” — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m the proud grandfather of an almost two-year-old. He’s a lot of fun, however, my patience isn’t what it used to be — if it ever was. If I play “Pat-a-cake” with him, or stack up blocks for him to knock down, he says, “Again” more times than I care to do it. He looks so disappointed when I say, “Enough” and try to distract him to a new activity. Is this wrong?

How Many Times?

Don’t miss last week’s column A child won’t listen

Dear HMT,

Repetition is a great way for young children to learn new things, and to reassure them that what they know is still true. So much of what they experience every day is novel, or occurred so long ago (weeks, months, or half a life-time) that they don’t remember it.

Each time you repeat a sequence of actions — such as the activities you mentioned — a neural pathway in your grandson’s brain is stimulated. A pathway is made of neurons or brain cells which are comprised of a cell body with an axon on one end (picture a taproot) and many dendrites (ultramicroscopic limbs with branches) on the other. With stimulation the axon sends a tiny amount of neurotransmitter, a chemical, to a dendrite of the next neuron in the pathway. The gap between the axon of one cell and the dendrite of the next is called the synapse. With each repetition, the axons in that particular pathway actually thicken, adding weight to the growing brain. Incidentally, one brain cell can have tens of thousands of synaptic connections, making an incalculable number of neural pathways possible. It’s the pathways that are repeated that become our learned behaviors.

Each child is born with a genetic potential for intelligence, but it’s the early stimulation — talking to and singing to your baby, playing “Pat-a-cake” and other nursery rituals — that build a good network for all future learning and problem solving.

Synaptic connections are being made since before birth. Through the last months of fetal development and into the first couple of months after birth, external sensory stimulation is critical for helping a pathway to get started. (Babies actually recognize music and speech that they were exposed to before birth!) Up until the age of about 6 years, your grandson will develop more synaptic connections than he will the rest of his life. And his brain will be about 98 percent of its adult weight.

So, yes, it would be wrong to bring a session of “Pat-a-cake” or “Knock down the blocks” to a halt before your grandson had quenched his thirst for brain building.

Read more about what you can do to support your grandson’s thinking skills in this article by Zero to Three.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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