What local child development experts want parents to know

Tina Bryson, co-author of books including
Tina Bryson, co-author of books including "The Whole-Brain Child," was one of four local child development experts who shared their knowledge with an audience of parents and educators at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum.
Quincy Surasmith/KPCC

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Not that long ago, science told us that 1,000 or fewer neural connections were made each second in a baby's brain. Now we know babies' brains actually make one million neural connections every second until the age of 3.

As our understanding of the brain and child development seems to expand by the minute, there’s a constant flood of new research and information about how to raise children. To help parents sort through it all, KPCC assembled a panel of local child development experts to share information they want parents to know. 

Tina Bryson, founder and executive director of the Center for Connection and co-author of "The Whole-Brain Child" and a forthcoming book called "The YES Brain," shared ways to connect the dots between neuroscience and toddler behavior. 

Ashaunta Tumblin Anderson, attending physician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and health policy researcher for RAND Corporation, discussed her research on the links between racism and increased rates of ADHD, anxiety, and other health issues in young children. 

Joan Maltese, founder and CEO of Child Development Institute, talked about how little babies can sense stress in their parents – particularly when they are arguing – and how parents can maintain calm. 

Marlene Zepeda, professor emeritus at the Department of Child and Family Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, spoke about the capacity of little children to learn multiple languages and what parents might expect as they go through that process.

The panelists shared a wealth of information on topics including supporting children with developmental delays, choosing preschools, and helping children through parental separation and divorce. 

Grab a pen and paper and watch the full event, or read on to find answers to some audience members' questions:

How can I deal with a 'bossy' toddler without being that 'mean mom' I see in movies?

Bryson shed some light on what might be happening in a child's brain during those bossy moments. The brain is either in a reactive state (the red zone), where we may be defensive and aggressive, or we’re in a receptive state (the green zone), where we are open to listening and can make good decisions.

A lot of kids’ bad behavior – tantrums, reactivity, aggressiveness – are because our children are in the red zone. If we really need our children, they have to be in the green zone and we have to be in the green zone. So in the name of discipline, one of the most important things we might need to do is soothe them and comfort them first, until they’re back in the green zone, and then we address the behavior and hold them accountable and enforce boundaries and all of those things.

What are your thoughts on the new recommendations around screen time limits?

Technology has become a bigger and bigger part of our lives and the American Academy of Pediatrics has guidelines for how to regulate screen time among young children. The panel acknowledged that, though the tablet can be an easy distraction, talking and interacting with adults in vital for development in the early years.

Maltese reminded parents to be aware of how they use devices in the presence of their children.

Before they even have language, [babies are] wanting to imitate what’s going on around them because they’re striving to take in what it is you are doing. So if we don’t become aware of our own actions, you will get children who are desperate to be on their iPads and they don’t even know what they’re looking for.

In a household with multiple languages, what's the best way to minimize a baby's confusion?

One common thought about multilingualism is that children will become confused, so it's better to teach them one language. Zepeda says that is a myth. Young children can understand and communicate in multiple languages and the bilingual brain becomes more cognitively flexible and capable of multitasking. As they are also trying to process everything about the world around them, a little bit of confusion is normal. Learning language takes time.

Think of a monolingual, English-speaking child. How long does it take for that child to become fluent? It’s gonna take time for a child to process two languages simultaneously. We know from research that children who are in high quality, dual immersion programs, overtime will outperform monolingual, English-speaking children, but there’s a commitment on the part of the program and the parents to have that child in the program for an extended period of time.

You can download and dig through a detailed report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, "Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English: Promising Futures."

With the recent headlines around sexual harassment, has really prompted me to think about how to raise my 1-year-old daughter to feel strong and confident saying no. What type of strategies can I use to instill that in her?

Panelists talked about the importance of modeling the behavior we want children to have and that now is an important time to think about the varying expectations we have for boys and girls. Anderson says she thinks of the issue of gender socialization in a similar way to how she thinks about racial and ethnic socialization. In the same way that parents can reinforce cultural pride and prepare their children for how they might be viewed in the world, they can help children to have boundaries. 

At the clinic, when I’m seeing a family and it’s time to do the full well-child check and we get to the part, where we have to examine the private parts, I usually check in with the parents and say, ‘How have you been talking to your child about these issues? Good touch and bad touch? And have you started to begin to have a conversation?’ It something that you talk about and it changes as they grow older and they become better able to understand what's going on. 

How can I get my child past the bed time blues?

When it comes to routine, Tina Bryson says it's important to remember that "the brain is an association machine." So if something is unpleasant – like, separating with mom and dad each night, they might have a negative association. Parents can frame the idea of bed time as a relaxing, pleasant and positive experience.

For children who consistently fight giving in at nap time or bed time, Bryson suggests parents try a sensory approach. If a child always asks for a snack before bed time, it could be a delay tactic, but he or she could also be seeking oral input. Try giving the child a crunchy snack a half hour before bed time. 

Find a full list of ideas on how to consider sensory needs at bed time here.

Have more questions about early childhood? Submit them below!