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Incredible Infants!

by Leslie - May 1st, 2013

Welcome to the start of a new blog series on child development! Each month I will focus on one developmental stage, what it looks like, how we can best support it, and some of the challenges that come along with it. I figured there’s no better place to start than with infants, so here we go.


Here are some of my favorite statistics and pieces of research on infants:

  • It is believed that the human gestation period is based on the biological mom’s metabolism. Female bodies can only burn so many calories in a day, and they give birth right before they hit that limit. Read more about this research here.

  • The prefrontal cortex–sometimes referred to as the “CEO of the brain”–is one of the last regions to reach maturation (typically in one’s early twenties). This implies that we should not be worried about disciplining infants or giving them too much attention, as they are not able to process these concepts. Instead, we should be responsive to their needs and teach them what it feels to have those needs met (i.e., spoil them like crazy).

  • Baby talk is important! It’s not what we say to infants, but how we say it. A big name in baby brain research, Alison Gopnick, has found that even if a speaker is using a foreign language, infants still respond to that high pitched talk, or “parentese”. Gopnick & Meltzoff’s book, The Scientist in the Crib, is a great place to learn more about this.

  • Conversely, infant’s babbles are very important. These babbles play a role in their socialization, as it can be a tool for interaction between caregiver and infant. But it is also a problem-solving activity: it helps them learn how to make specific sounds used in their native language. Research has shown that parents respond to infants’ babbles 50 to 60% of the time; however language development can be sped up when they are responded to at least 80% of the time. You can read more about some of the research being done on this topic here.

  • Ever wonder why your baby can sleep through the loudest of situations? While the inner ear canal is usually fully developed by the 20th week of pregnancy, infants don’t refine their listening skills until later on in the first year.

  • Have you heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”? Research has supported this by showing that kids who have at least three adult primary caregivers (Mom, Dad, Teacher, etc.) are better at reading facial expressions and perspective taking.

Thanks for listening! I’m looking forward to exploring more about incredible infants with each of you.


Sweet Potato & Feta Whole Wheat Muffins

by Leslie - April 21st, 2013

Disclaimer: I am a hoooooorrrrible baker, and to be fair, I practice at least every other week. But these muffins turned out wonderfully. So if I can do it, anyone can!


Stuck in a lunch rut? If your house is anything like mine, we get bored pretty quickly with food. Last week we had deli sandwiches, fresh carrots, and yogurt for lunch everyday. I spend Sunday mornings pouring over my cookbook collection, reviewing my favorite websites for recipes, and, of course, a big cup of coffee. When it came to lunches, I thought it would be interesting to replace the sandwich with savory muffins. After finding an inspiration recipe, I was ready to put my dismal baking skills to work.


Leslie’s Sweet Potato & Feta Whole Wheat Muffins

Time investment: About an hour, start to finish (including 20-25 minute baking time)

Makes 12 full-sized muffins



1 large sweet potato

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 green onions – use only the white parts (I like to keep the green parts in a gallon bag in the freezer. When I have enough items, I make vegetable stock with them)

1/2 cup of feta – I used a light version one from Trader Joe’s (it’s best to crumble the feta before baking; this would be a great job for little kitchen helpers)

3/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons of brown mustard

3/4 cup of skim milk (any kind will do, this is just what I keep on hand)

1 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour

3/4 cup of all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon salt



Preheat oven to 400F. Either spray muffin tins with cooking spray, or line with muffin/cupcake papers. While the oven is preheating dice your sweet potato into 1/4 inch cubes. I didn’t bother peeling my sweet potato first, just scrubbed it very well under running water. If you’re feeling less lazy than I, feel free to peel before dicing.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange sweet potato in a single layer. Spray again with baking spray and bake for 15ish minutes (you want to edges of the potato to start to brown).

While the sweet potato is baking, prepare your add-ins. Chop the white parts of the green onion and put them in a medium mixing bowl, and in the cheeses, and when the sweet potato has cooled, go ahead and add that to the bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. When thoroughly mixed (like you would for scrambled eggs), add in the milk and mustard. After that you can mix in the sweet potato mixture from above. Using the now empty mixing bowl, stir together both flours, baking power, and salt. Once these ingredients are together, go ahead and toss that into the egg-sweet potato mix.

Using two spoons (one to scoop & the other to scrape), fill your muffin tins. Then bake for twenty minutes. To see if muffins are done, insert a knife in the center of the muffin; if it comes out clean the muffins are done. If not, you may need to add about five minutes of cooking time. After removing from oven, let cool for a few minutes. Then pull them out of the tin to finish cooling on a rack (this isn’t necessary).

For lunches I packed these muffins with the following: fresh green beans & carrots w/ white bean hummus and an apple.


Not a sweet potato family? I suggest trying, as sweet potatoes are one of the most nutrient dense foods we can eat. Here are some ideas and activities to get kids excited about them. If you really loved the muffins and want to try a variation, I have some ideas for you:

Replace the sweet potato with a squash (butternut & acorn are my favs)

Ham, cheese, & onion

Sun-dried tomato, mozzarella, & basil

Asparagus, mushroom, & Parmesan

Ham, swiss, & mushrooms

Broccoli & cheese

Pizza muffins: mini pepperonis, mozzarella cheese, diced cherry tomatoes

Really, the possibilities are limitless! My add-ins were just over two cups. So as you’re preparing variations, keep that in mind.


Some photographs for our visual learners

diced sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes, diced & ready to roast



The finished product cooling on a rack


sweet potato-feta muffins

The finished product!




Weekend Round-Up

by Leslie - April 17th, 2013

We are so fortunate to live in a community which provides our families with fun activities and events. Check out some of the fun things going on this weekend:



Take a tour of historic building, Downtown Home & Garden

Ann Arbor Farmers Market

Help the Huron River Watershed Council clean up the banks of the Huron River

Volunteer to help Nichols Arboretum clear out invasive plants that have snuck in over the winter months

Meet local author Sandy Schopbach, Miles Flies Off, at Nicolas Books

Celebrate Poetry Month at the Michigan Ave branch of YDL

See The Saline Area Players’ production of Willy Wonka (shows on Saturday & Sunday)



Earth Day Festival at Leslie Science Center

Showing of the original Freaky Friday at Michigan Theater – free for kids under twelve!

Shadow Puppet Show at Downtown Ann Arbor Library


What did I miss? And what’s on your family’s weekend agenda?

Redirection & Role Modeling in Effective Discipline

by Leslie - April 16th, 2013

This post will be the last in my series on effective discipline. I hope each of you have enjoyed my ideas. Most important though, I hope that they have been helpful to each of you. So to wrap up, I’m going to chat a little about redirection and role modeling.

Role modeling is very important when it comes to teaching children discipline. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

Kids learn a lot more from what you are, than from what you try to teach them. Be the kid you want to have.

I won’t discuss role modeling in too much detail, because I feel it’s fairly straight forward. But I would like to share a story with each of you. I was working closely with a family of a three-year old child. There were a number of behaviors we were trying to modify, but there was one in particular that was tricky. The child was telling classmates to “Shut up!” When I was relaying this information to dad, he was completely mortified, “But we don’t use that kind of language at home! Where could my child have heard something like that?!” We came up with a behavior modification plan, made sure that all caregivers were aware, and would then have a consistent response when the child used that phrase. The next day Mom picked up. She cautiously knocked on the office door, and came in looking ashamed. “I know where my child heard that phrase, we do use it at home, but not like you would think.” When Mom and Dad would talk about their day, and something outrageous would happen, they would sarcastically say, “SHUT UP! There is no way that would happen.” Well little ears were listening, and, well you know the rest. The moral of the story: kids pay attention way more than we tend to give them credit for.

On to redirection. This is when we, as the adults, recognize that a child is doing something inappropriate and then help them to channel it appropriately. This technique is very important in the younger years, and can be easiest to do then. However it’s necessary as a child gets older, but is a bit tricky to execute. So let’s say you have a two-year old who is throwing wooden blocks. Telling him, “We build with blocks, not throw them,” will likely not suffice. He has energy and wants to throw something, so let’s provide him with a safe alternative. “It’s not safe to throw wood blocks because they could hurt you. It is safe to throw these socks that are balled up, though.” You see, if we provided this child with a more sedentary activity, we would be setting him up for failure. He needs to throw something, because he has energy in his arms. Asking him to walk away from the blocks and go read a quiet story, is just going to create another problem, as he will probably try and throw books now instead of blocks. If you’re having a hard time coming up with an alternative behavior/activity, ask yourself, “Why is my child doing this?” When we truly understand the motivation behind a behavior, we can easily provide alternatives.

That’s a wrap on effective discipline. Once again, I hope that your families benefit from some of my ideas. This was originally a workshop on facilitated. If you’re interested in hearing more on this topic, let me know. I’d love to chat about it in person!

Vacations–the new timeouts?

by Leslie - April 11th, 2013

To start off today’s post on timeouts, I’m bringing in an assistant: Miles the Cat. Miles joined my family this summer as a young kitten. He is a very adventurous, curious, and playful kitten. One afternoon my husband and I were trying to play a board game which included many small pieces and cards. Miles thought it would be very entertaining to play “soccer” with the small pieces, and to run around with the cards in his mouth. We were getting near the end of the game and decided to put Miles in the bathroom so we could finish the game in peace. Here is what happened when we put Miles in “timeout”:

1.) He cried and mewed for about three minutes, and most likely felt very sad, lonely, and isolated.

2.) Then he got quiet. My husband and I breathed a relaxing sigh, and happily finished the game, interruption-free.

3.) Once the game was complete, I went over to the bathroom to “free” Miles. As I opened the door, I found…well, why don’t you just see for yourself:


In case you can’t tell, that’s toilet paper…the whole roll of toilet paper.


Let’s recap what Miles the Cat took away from this experience: he was trying to play (something that comes naturally to a kitten); he was doing so in an inappropriate way, so he got locked up; this made him feel sad, lonely, and isolated; then he forgot why he was there, and entertained himself with the roll of toilet paper…the whole roll of toilet paper.

Yes, I get that kittens and kids can be very different. And I’m certainly not trying to say that my kitten is just like your kid. However, in this case, they are very similar. When we isolate a child for “bad behavior” they feel sad, lonely, and isolated, and then they figure out ways to occupy themselves until an adult tells them it’s time to go play again. What do children learn from these types of “timeouts”? In my opinion, not a darn thing.

I’ve said this before in the blog, and I’ll say it again. It is our obligation to teach children how to behave, and not punish them when they don’t know how. Miles’ time out, that was a punishment, not a teachable moment.

But when used correctly and with intention, timeouts can be very valuable and present us with teachable moments. So rather than approaching a timeout like I did with Miles, think of a timeout like a vacation. Think about how important it is for your mental well-being to get away from work and the normal routine, and just regroup. You know what? Vacations are just as important for our kids as they are for us. Here are the two ways we use “vacations” around our school:

1.) When a child is so worked up that he cannot communicate or be receptive to dialogue, then it’s time for a vacation. He needs to step away from the situation, and as soon as he calms down, then a rational discussion can occur. Children must learn how to regulate their own emotions. Teaching them how to recognize when they need a timeout or a vacation is the first step in this very important process.

2.) Sometimes timeouts/vacations are a great logical consequence. For instance, a young woman was throwing woodchips on the playground the other day. Our students know that this breaks our “Be Safe” rule. After she was given one reminder and continued to throw the woodchips, she was asked to take a break from the playground. When she came into the office I said to her, “Girls who don’t know how to play safely, don’t get to play.” We then had a discussion about ways to keep safe. She and I then wrapped up the discussion by talking about things she could safely throw outside. When we help children to use their behaviors in appropriate ways, we are “redirecting” them.

The next topic in our effective discipline series is on redirection and the important role it plays in teaching children discipline.

Consequences & choices

by Leslie - April 5th, 2013

The great thing about consequences is that they have a lot to do with the choices the child makes. At every opportunity we get, we ought to provide our children with choices. “Do you want to wear the green outfit or the red outfit today?” Often times we’ll hear something like, “I want to wear the grey outfit!” When we are in a situation like this, we need to reiterate what the acceptable choices are, while also letting the child know what the consequence is for not selecting one. “Grey is not an option, you may pick between green and red. I can make the choice if you’d like, but you probably won’t like mine. Right now you have your choice of red or green.”

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what color outfit the child wears, what vegetable she chooses for dinner, or what bedtime story you read. It’s about presenting your child with rational choices that will set her up for success. When we present our children with opportunities like this, we are forcing them to rationalize and weigh options. What we’re teaching them is that they always have a choice, and we want to challenge them to consider the consequences of their different choices.

How many of you have heard, “I hate you!”, “You’re not my friend.”, “You’re the bad daddy.”, “I don’t like you anymore.”? When a child tells us things like these, he’s blaming us for the consequences. So it’s important that we make clear to him that it wasn’t us that made the decision to get there, he did. “I’m sorry that you are upset right now, I love you very much. But I didn’t make the choice to get here, you did.”

So there are three types of consequences:

1.) Natural consequences: this is, of course, when things happen naturally as a direct result of our behaviors. The hard part about natural consequences is that we have to be patient, and sometimes we have to sit back and allow a child to fail. But studies have show that we learn best from these types of consequences. We can be very quick to jump in and help to bail her out of sticky situations. But when we do so, we eliminate the possibility of a natural consequence occurring.

2.) Positive consequences/rewards: this is when there is an incentive for modifying behavior. These can be tricky, because in the grown-up world, we don’t always get something for our good behaviors. Furthermore, we want our children to be intrinsically motivated, not doing things for the reward. Therefore, I recommend using these infrequently. Let’s use “potty training” as an example. The first few times your child uses the toilet, she gets a reward (Cheerio, marshmallow, etc.). After that, the reward ought to taper off. Maybe the fourth time she uses the toilet, she doesn’t get the reward, but we start to randomly give it to her when she uses the potty. If you are interested in learning more about this concept, I recommend checking out the book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. TBDC has a copy of it, too. I’m more than happy to lend it!

3.) Logical consequences: logical and natural consequences can be very similar. While natural consequence are something that occur, logical consequences are something we implement as an alternative to punishment strategies. They help children to learn that their actions have consequences, whether they be positive or negative. The example in the first paragraph is a logical consequence, “If you don’t pick from the choices I present, then I will make the selection.” Positive Discipline A-Z by Nelson & Lott is filled with great logical consequences.

Now that we have talked a bit about consequences, I’d like you to revisit that document from the earlier post (here it is again if you can’t find it). Once you have the expectations side filled out, take a close look at the consequences. This is a great tool to keep yourself in check, and to help all of your villagers be on the same page. Stay tuned for the next post on timeouts…they deserve their own post!

Resource Sharing

by Leslie - April 3rd, 2013

Since I’ve been doing the daily pieces on effective discipline, I’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations with our families on the topic. Here are a couple of articles that have been passed my way:

Hyperactive Kid? Help the Parents

Why Not Apologizing Makes You Feel Better

Teaching Kids to be Kinder at Home

Keep it coming, my friends!

Verbal give & take

by Leslie - April 3rd, 2013

Verbal give and take becomes really important in the later years, starting around seven-years old. But we want to establish this as a habit at a young age—showing our children that we value what they have to say. As far as effective discipline is concerned, verbal give and take is where we encourage discussions about rules, limits, and behaviors.

Let’s say we have a child who can ride his bike only in front of the house, but he would like to have the freedom to ride all the way around the block. We could say something like, “Convince me why you should be able to do that?” or “What tells me that you’re ready for that responsibility?” His response is what will tell us if he’s truly ready. If it’s something along the lines of, “Well, Suzy’s mom lets her.” Well…that’s your answer, it’s not time. When we have discussions like this, we are forcing them to think about that reasoning that we taught them from yesterday’s post.

When we have verbal give and take with children we foster very rich discussions with them, and show them that we respect their ideas and opinions. I know that the parents of young children will have a hard time believing this, but when our kids hit the pre-adolescent years, they have a tendency to stop talking. So, again, it’s very important to establish that mutual respect at a young age.

What do you think is the number one indicator of a healthy family? The one thing healthy families do on a regular basis?



That’s right, healthy families eat together, and they eat at least five meals per week together. It doesn’t have to be dinner, and it doesn’t have to be long. If you spend fifteen minutes together, five times a week, you’ll foster that rich dialogue. Turn the TV off, put away the phones and tablets, and talk.

One of my favorite ways to get children talking about their days is to say, “What was your favorite part of the day?” Ten times out of ten, this gets them talking about something that excited them. While it’s super important to have our children share parts of their days, it’s also important for their adults to share about their days. We can tell them how we handled stressful/upsetting/difficult situations. Also, it can really help children who are experiencing separation anxiety.

I was working with a family whose daughter was in kindergarten at the time. They were in a fortunate place that allowed Mom to stay home with Daughter up until this point. Well when Daughter started kindergarten, Mom started working again, and Daughter had a really hard time separating from her. We tried every tool in our resource kit to help Daughter (family picture books, drawing hearts on her hands to remind her that Mom loves her, special bracelets, etc.), and nothing was working. One day I was talking to Daughter, and it dawned on me: for the first five years of her life, she knew exactly what Mom was doing and where she was. “Going to work” was such an ambiguous concept for Daughter, and part of her anxiety was related to not knowing what Mom was doing while she was “at work” all day. So Mom had a co-worker take some pictures of her at the office, and we even set up a “phone conference” between one of Mom’s co-workers and Daughter. Guess what? Daughter’s anxiety went down significantly after this. So the take-away: it’s just as important for children to hear about our days, as it is for us to hear about theirs.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s topic: consequences & choices (which will include a bit on appropriate ways to use “time out”).

Explanations & Reasons–Effective Discipline

by Leslie - April 2nd, 2013

This portion will be immediately useful for parents of children older than three. So younger parents, store this away! As our children get older, we start having rich conversations and dialogue. It’s a way to explain to them why we behave differently at school than we do at home, for example. Explanations and reasons are also a way for us, as adults, to ask ourselves, “Why?”, and make sure we’re keeping ourselves in check, too.

Explanations and reasons help children to understand the effects their behaviors can have on others. This is the first step to learning how to be empathetic.

My pet peeve is when I hear adults forcing children to say, “I’m sorry.” Here’s an example of why. The other day I had two four-year olds, I’ll call them Johnny and Neil. Johnny pushed Neil, and Neil came over to recruit my assistance in solving this problem. Johnny saw this, ran over and said, “But I said I was sorry!” He was thinking that by using this phrase, he had exonerated him from his impulsive decision to push. I sat down with the two of them and asked Neil to tell Johnny how he felt. Neil explained that he felt sad and that Johnny really hurt his feelings when he pushed him. I then asked Neil to explain how Johnny could make the situation better. Neil thought about it, and decided Johnny should draw him a picture.

So Johnny and I sat together, and we talked about what he was drawing, and as he explained, I wrote down his words. His picture was filled with blocks and cars, “because that’s why Neil is my friend.” He and I then discussed why we don’t push our friends, and Johnny added, “because it hurt Neil’s feelings when I pushed.” Once the drawing was complete, Johnny and I walked into the class to deliver the picture, and the two happily ran off to play cars.

There are two important take-aways from this:

1.) I hope that I taught Johnny how to show people that he’s sorry, rather than relying on the words.

2.) I also hope that Neil walked away with a bit more confidence in himself, knowing that if he speaks his mind, there will be results.


Next, explanations and reasons serve as a guide for children. If we’re teaching them good discipline, they know what we want from them and why. And from the discipline stand point, we can’t feel bad when delivering consequences. When a child goes against a rule or expectations, we can simply say, “We’ve had this conversation before.”

After I give an explanation, I like to have the child repeat what I said. During this time, I’m listening and watching for cues that she genuinely understands, not that she is just regurgitating my words. Children who are truly listening will take a moment before responding. They will put their own words or ideas into it. Those who don’t have a genuine understanding will either tell you blankly, or they will take a few of the words you said and put them in a sentence, not necessarily making any sense. When this happens, we have to have further discussion and/or reevaluate our approach.

As a general rule, we don’t want to repeat ourselves. If we have made the expectations clear to a child, maybe given him a reminder, then he must deal with consequence. Again, at that point in time, it’s not our problem, it’s his. He made the decision to get there. Sometimes this means we will have to deal with screaming, crying, and fits. But we have to show them that we’re going to carry through with what we said we would do—and they’ll pick up on that very quickly.

The last reason we provide our children with explanations and reasons, is that it encourages verbal give and take. And this is exactly what we’ll discuss tomorrow!

Responsiveness & effective discipline

by Leslie - April 1st, 2013

How you respond to your child effects their discipline. The biggest thing to take away from this section is that yelling and screaming do not work. I’m going to say that again, because it’s that important, yelling and screaming do not work. We reserve this approach for when a child’s safety is jeopardized (for example, if she runs out into a street of oncoming traffic).

So when we are approaching children we always want to use a calm and soothing voice, while making eye contact with them. We either want to bring ourselves down to their levels, or bring them up to ours. When we are on the same level as children, it’s much more difficult for them to get distracted. Also, it’s not very comfortable to spend a period of time looking up—their little necks get stiff! We also want to be succinct. When we spend too much time talking, they become deaf to our words! Try to say what you want in five to ten words.


Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scanImage from wikipedia.org

We also need to consider time when we are talking about responsiveness. The quicker we respond, the better. This is especially true for young children. There are going to be times where you are really angry, and won’t be able to stay calm in your approach. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m too upset to talk right now. I am very (disappointed, hurt, angry, etc.). I’ll be back in a moment.” It’s important that we model appropriate  coping mechanisms for children. There is certainly nothing wrong with taking a moment to calm oneself down, especially when it will show a child the proper way to deal with an emotion.

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about responsiveness and the importance of providing our children with explanations and reasons.