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Great Habits for Super Young Children
Episode 1447th March 2024 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:37:39

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Here’s a thought for you – every interaction you have with your child will leave a trace – in the wiring of their brain. Repeated interactions of the same type will build permanent connections – so we want these to be helpful ones which build resilience rather than reliance.

In this episode I’ll share the five core skills we should be teaching our under five year olds to give them the best possible start whilst reminding you it’s never too late to start.

Here are the highlights:

(01:02) Our children are the house, and we provide the scaffolding

(03:41) Positive early development is critical

(06:26) Every interaction with your child affects the wiring in their brain

(10:13) Managing big emotions with good communication skills

(14:10) Activities to aid your child’s emotional literacy

(17:23) Help your children to problem solve

(20:50) Understanding emotions

(25:32) Building natural curiosity

(28:03) The freedom to ask questions

(30:43) I can’t do that… yet

Listen to Ep 82: Wiring our children’s brains

💚 Let's grow our village together, please share this episode with at least one friend

💚 You can purchase your ticket for the next 60-minutes with Dr Maryhan 'Let's Build Your Child's Self-Esteem'' at 8am GMT on the 1st June.

💚 Complete the listener poll to let me know what you'd like in future episodes

💚 You can watch the Bucket Emptying Episodes on Youtube

💚 Access the free resources mentioned in the episodes

💚 Join our campaign One Million Moments to reduce the number of children struggling with mental health challenges from 17% to 10% by 2025.



Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kids podcast. So what is Alpha Kappa? Find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 144. And today's episode, great habits for super young children, we're talking about ways that we can incorporate my top tips for raising confident, resilient children who were able to manage those big emotions, right from the outset when they're super, super young. So I'm talking about children younger than school age. Now, you might not know this, but my actual my doctorate research was all about children younger than three years. So I'll draw on the findings from my own research when I share these top tips. Now, of course, if you're listening to this podcast episode, and you have older children, then the tips are still there and still available and still useful and practical. But the episode is just geared for those of you are in a fortunate position of having found me when your children are really young, and you can start building those strategies in to their day to day. Now, for context, I think it's really helpful if I remind you about the analogy that I like to use about what our role is as parents when it comes to raising children. So you'll you'll be familiar, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, if you're new to the podcast, then this is a useful sort of starting point. And it's this notion that our children are a house, a building under construction, what that building looks like at the end, we don't know it's not down to us, it's down to our children. They're all individuals that all create their own home. But our role as parents is to provide the solid foundations on which this building will eventually rise and stand firm, tall and strong. So our role as parents is initially is to provide the solid foundations on which this building then rises. And then once those solid foundations are created, and are there and the building itself starts to kind of rise and erect properly, we then shift our attention to becoming the scaffolding in those early years. So from birth to five, our focus really needs to be on building those forts, solid foundations, so that when the building rises, it's able to rise strong. And the research shows us that time and time again, if we get those early years, right, when our children's brains are growing rapidly, and making lots of new neural connections, then we are likely to set up our children to do really well in the future doesn't necessarily mean that we protect them from everything. But those early years are supremely important. And if you're not aware of the centre, for the developing child at Harvard, are researching a lot of this and pioneering how, you know, what do we need to know about those early years in order to protect children? And particularly, they're looking at it from a position of how can we change policy, and particularly for children that may well grow up with adverse conditions, we can incorporate some of the kind of broad findings from that study. And I'll just wanted to share three before I start going into my my top tips, and three that I think are particularly relevant, they've come up with more, but I think, because they're also looking at adverse sort of outcomes and adverse situations as children are growing up is not necessarily going to be relevant here. These are the three that I think are particularly relevant. The first one is that positive, early social and evoke an emotional development is critical for life chances. So children who do better then in terms of adulthood, life, chances are have been happy having their own emotional well being being met. It's all related to those early social and emotional development, which we will talk about, too. That's number one. The second is what parents do


is more important than issue parents are and I think this is such a crucial thing. It is around this notion of what do we do day in day out children are much more likely to do what they see than what we say. So this is about making sure it's not about guilting. us it's not about making us feel that you know, everything we do is going to have this profound impact on our children. And I'll talk a little bit more about this and shortly, but it is remembering that what we do is really important than who we are. So it is it's that what are we doing? And then the third one is


But I think it's particularly relevant is that parental mental mental health is closely linked to early childhood inequalities. So when our mental health is poor, we're not taking care of our own mental health, we're struggling with our own challenges, then that usually then builds in these inequalities. I don't want you listening to this, if you are a parent who struggles with anxiety, you struggle with depression, that doesn't mean that because you have it, that your child is then going to have challenges. It's much more a case about actually, what do we do about supporting our own mental health. And if we're putting in all the framework, we're putting all the right support for ourselves doing the right things, taking care of ourselves, then we don't necessarily see that. So I think, for context, we've got this idea about our children are building under construction. And we might not always sort of make that connection when our children are really, really young, they're under five. But if we can start with that, and really think about what are those foundations that we're going to be building on, and I'm going to talk to you about what I think are the five crucial foundations that we should be putting in place, from the word from the get go, I think that'd be helpful. What was also understanding that this backdrop about around these early experiences, these early years, these first five years, can really be supremely pivotal for our children. So a thought for you, just before I started recording this podcast was, I've been consuming lots of reading lots, and just a thought for you, every interaction you have with your child will leave a trace in the wiring of their brain. Now, if you haven't already listened to Episode 82, wiring our children's brains, and I would highly recommend you go and listen to this episode after you've listened to this one. But in essence, we know that repeated interactions of the same type will build permanent connections, we talked about this idea that our brain is a muscle, and I'll talk about it a little bit more on these five skills. So we want those to be helpful these interactions, helpful ones which build resilience, this notion of I can pick myself up and try again, rather than reliance on us to solve their problems. So let me talk to you about my five, what I think are the five crucial things that we should be looking at doing in terms of building that foundation for our children. Now part of that foundation of that building is going to be things like moral values, which I'm not going to touch on, I really want to touch on these five competencies that I think really equip our children to be resilient, to be confident to be able to manage those big emotions. And the first one is build communication skills. This is so crucial. And I know because I was thinking about this the other day, when my children were younger, and you're worried about them speaking and learning their first words. And obviously, that comes in time. And it may well be you have a child who's an early talker, you might have a child who's a late talker, or they'll be somewhere in between. But what I'm talking about with communication skills isn't just the words that they use, because you could be listening to this, and you want an eight month old, but it is much more about that ability to communicate, which goes beyond just words. Researchers talk a lot about this notion of serve and return style play. So you may well have come across this, but maybe not necessarily the term. And it's this idea that if we it's turn taking we serve, our child returns, sometimes our child serves, and then we return. So it's this notion of play interactions, the serve and return interactions which build our children's brain architecture. So simply put, these are the things that build the neuronal connections that build that muscle in our children's that helps with those connections. That wire this idea that every interaction we have with our child, if we've had an interaction with our child, the structure, the architecture, the wiring in their brain, is going to be completely different after we've spent time with them. And this even with us as adults, but as we get older, the wiring just takes that bit longer. So repeated patterns of serve and return are absolutely crucial in terms of building our children's brain development, and building back those communication skills. So at the basic level, if you're listening to this with a really young baby, it's things that you probably have read about already. So when our children babble, it's babbling back to them. It's having that kind of communication because our children will inherently look to us and seek to communicate with us in some ways. If we then return a commute, return that communication through whatever means if our children are using words, then let's use words. If they're not they're babbling or they're making noise.


says it's that serve and return, you say something in whatever that language might be, I returned back, I say something, you return back, wait, listen, turn taking and knees are really, really crucial. So it may well be when they're younger, it's that babbling as they get older. It's that conversation of that interaction and games that we play with our children around that. Now, what I will say, as part of the research that I did when I did my doctoral is this notion that it's really crucial when we're talking about managing big emotions, and we'll talk about that in a moment. But what the research has found is that there's lots of idea about these toddler tantrums, and children might go through them at different ages and stages. Some children don't necessarily do that. But what the research has shown is that if we can give our children if we can equip them with new means of communication, what we usually find is those really big emotions that are really young age, generally tend to disappear. Because if you think about it, what is generally happening is, our children's brains are being wired, they're making all of these incredible connections, there's so much going on, but they don't necessarily what's happening in their developing brain doesn't always match their ability to communicate with us. There needs to there's lots of research evidence that supports this notion of if we can find other ways for our children to be able to communicate when they are pre verbal, so they're not able to say I'm hungry, I'm tired, I'm bored, these sorts of things, then if we can give them other ways to communicate that. So it's looking at potentially aspects of sign language, or ways that we communicate with them. It may be our own sign language that we make up. But it's been really aware that quite often with young children, preschoolers, they're not five, a lot of the challenges, I've got these feelings, I've got these ideas, and I cannot express them, I cannot communicate with you precisely what I need, the words won't necessarily come out, or I don't, I can't haven't got the combination of words. So building those communication skills, through that serve and return but also through listening and finding mechanisms with which we can teach our children to be able to communicate with us is the first step to helping them in terms of managing those big emotions. So the first one is around this building communication skills and play, you will find across all of the five areas that I'm going to talk about in terms of building these great habits is a crucial part, because play is our children's work, we have a job we will go to work will have certain tasks that we need to do as part of that role play is the exact same thing for our children, it's what fundamentally helps make those connections, builds up their muscle in their brains and helps them assimilate information about their environment, and then helps them interact within their environment in that confident and resilient way. So it's really crucial that the, we have those interactions with our children around play. But it doesn't mean we, you know, don't get me wrong, we'll talk about this as well. It's not about playing with them all of the time. But just making sure that when we do play, we're fully present. So the first one is about building communication skills. The second one is around emotional literacy. So this, these are all this is all about the building blocks to being able to what we might call emotionally self regulate. So in other words, it's about being managing those big emotions, without needing an adult to do it for you. So it's crucial at the very, very basic levels, even with our super, super young, pre verbal children. So they're not communicating in words, but it's really crucial. We talk about emotions, it's really crucial. We label emotions, I can see that you're happy, I can see that you're sad. So at those basic levels, I'm happy, I'm sad, exaggerate those emotions, wait for your child to then you know, the serve and return let them come back? Why are we feeling sad? How can we make you know, how can we change how we're feeling? So it's that conversation. So at the basic level, we want to be labelling our emotions, and there's lots of games and things that you can do. So I'm going to share some specific activities that I've done, that will help to build that kind of emotional literacy at that basic level, and then we can move on to that sort of problem solving. So you can get things like paper plates, and you can draw eyes and a nose and then you can use plasticine playdough, some sort of sticky substance and to then draw the mouth expression. So really young children, they can then make it into a happy smile. They can make it into a sad downward turn mouth. They can make it like surprised, whatever that might be. It helps our children in terms of that manipulation. We can then play around with what might that what might that in


th of April:


You won't be angry. It may well be not angry well, although actually some children when they're sad can get frustrated, but it's helping them up be able to understand when I feel an emotion, whatever that emotion is, I may, how would an onlooker be able to tell that you're feeling that emotion? And then the crucial part, the next part is I need. So in that moment, what do you need helping children understand what they need, because if we can help them, work out what they need, this is part of the self regulation. Now it may well be in the instance of sad, it may well be that they say I need a hug. And that great, amazing, that's what you need at that moment. But then I would encourage your children to think beyond that. Okay, you might need a hug. But what happens if mommy daddy, sister, teacher, Nanny, child minder, preschool key worker is not able to give you that hug, what else might you then be able to do to make you feel less sad, because we're encouraging our children to be able to look inwards for what they might need. Now, obviously, the language will change in terms of how you use that. But you can use this on really young children, it may well be that you begin the first layers, because that's what we're doing when we're observing when we're playing with Play Doh and, and these paper plates, it's helping them begin to recognise what emotions look like. And as our children get older, get really diverse with the emotions that you that you use, because a lot of the research shows that we quite often restrict the number of emotions we talk to our children about about happy, sad, angry or cross, we don't expand, that we can feel frustrated, annoyed, angry, irritated, jealous. So let's begin to diversify those. And obviously, with young children, we may not necessarily go into all of those subtle nuances. But we certainly want to expand the more emotions that our children understand, the more they understand those subtle differences, the easier it is for them to be able to self regulate. Because the reality is quite often with anger. There are aspects within anger isn't just anger, it may well be sadness, there may be shame, there may be embarrassment. So it's how can we begin to build some of those subtle things, because if we can help our children in those moments, where they're not experiencing a big emotions, by being able to understand and label them, when they experience those big emotions, we can then help them with that self regulation, because they might have their we can then create a special box or a basket or something that they can go to when they're feeling sad, when they're feeling angry, that helps them dip into that box, what might they need. And this is where certainly when we're talking about emotion, where the glitter jar can be so so helpful, because they can see that these big emotions are like the glitter swirling and swirling around. And that they it feels big, and that's a great activity for them to see. Shake that glitter jar, see how that glitter is swirling around, and then being able to observe that it then settles and calms. So to our that I've covered so far is build communication skills. The second is around emotional literacy. The third one is building problem solving skills from an early age because problem solving skills and some of the things we're going to look at for problem solving might not seem to be obvious ones in terms of helping our children's self regulate. But if we, if our children regularly feel that they get a choice that they get to choose that they are beginning to solve some simple problems when they're younger, it means that they're much more likely to then solve bigger problems, because they're used to that process of making a decision, and then see living with what that outcome is. So problem solving skills. It's about let's help our children make decisions where we possibly can. So do you want peas and carrots? Or do you want peas and broccoli, it can be as basic as that where possible, encourage our children to make choices, give them those choices, sharper on this, this, she wants. When our children are dining on this foot or this foot, you know which feet you're gonna give me. It doesn't even need to be when our children are able to necessarily communicate, it's where possible, let's hold up choices for them. Let's say we can play this now or play this. Or this one. We can play that later. Or we can play this now give our children those choices. So they can regularly see that they're empowered to make choices. But then then they can then because they're making those decisions and they see the consequences of those decisions, not in a negative way. But they see what happens. They then feel much more empowered. So it's really encouraging those are children to


be able to do that. And if they do, sort of if something comes up, it's really trying not to jump in straightaway. And I know that this can be a really difficult one, because particularly when our children are quite young, and they're falling over when they're learning to walk, or they're getting supremely frustrated, because they're trying to learn how to do something, whether that's, you know, do some Velcro, or post some, you know, a square peg in a square hole, is that really try to make sure that we don't jump in, and that we encourage our children to keep going and problem solve, and just help in certain ways, so that they can then experience that success, because it's so much more powerful for them. If we do that, so is about just, you know, encouraging decision making processes through problem solving, and not jumping in straightaway. And that's kind of that's a really crucial, and it's also about sort of using language of sort of, like, you know,


rather than, you know, so that it's, it's light, rather than our children feeling that they've made this huge, huge error or huge mistake. So build those communication skills, build that emotional literacy, encourage problem solving skills by giving our children decisions, and those decisions. And those choices will obviously change as they get older, they can get that we encourage them to do more choices. And it's within the framework of we fundamentally know what we want our child to do, we know what those parameters are. But what we want to make sure that we do is give them choices within those parameters and making sure that they do that. The fourth one is about building natural curiosity, our children's brains are developing at a phenomenal speed, phenomenal speed. So if we encourage our children to be curious, so when our children ask questions, sometimes we can respond to those questions, we can give them specific answers. But sometimes it's actually better to say, I wonder that isn't such an interesting question. How could we find out? So it's about looking at ways that they might then be able to answer those questions. So sometimes that might be experiments. So I remember very vividly, which children took I think, when I can't remember which child it was, was asking about, why do we have to wash our hands? And of course, you know, you want to do that while germs did. In the end? It was just like, well, that's really interesting. I wonder, Well, why do we wash our hands. So we then got pieces of bread, and we cut them out with a cookie cutter. And you know, we washed our hands and put our hands on the bread? What we did, we did, obviously, first one we did without washing our hands, and putting our hands on the bread. And then other one, we're washing our hands. And then we just literally put them on plates on the windowsill and saw what happened. So it's that you don't necessarily have to do that. But sometimes it's about thinking about how can I children have got such inquiring and inquisitive minds? And sometimes, from a time perspective, we just answer and respond because that's the right thing at the time as sometimes. There's so much it's so much more powerful to help them go through that learning process. So it won't our children go through those periods of time. Maybe it was just my children where they didn't want to take a coat with them. They didn't want to wear their cardigans, or they don't want to either, raincoats, you then give them that decision, you're helping them be curious. Well, I think we probably ought to put the raincoat on and I know it feels a bit itchy and annoying. Because I think if it rains, you're going to get wet. But if you think if you want to see how it goes, then that's fine. So we're helping them be curious and learning from their environment. And sometimes Absolutely, it's about us giving them the answer. But I think if we can help them explore, rather than us restricting and saying no, no, you mustn't do that. We can talk about, you know, well, what might happen if we did that, and really kind of help them understand. But where we were possible, it's helped them to kind of work through that curiosity, and find ways of them learning and being that and that's really about us being creative. And sometimes we don't have the opportunity. We don't have the time we don't have the space. But I think where we where we do. I think that that's a really crucial one. It's about encouraging that curiosity, encouraging children to sort of feel textures of things, learn different things, take different steps go down different routes that we know are not necessarily going to be fruitful. But let's see, let's be curious, I wonder whether this person might be doing this. I wonder if that's how they're feeling. I wonder what might happen if we do this. So it's really encouraging them because that helps them again, with you know, what's so crucial is that they are so malleable their brains are so open to discovering and finding things that it is so crucial that we kind of build and encourage that curiosity about what might happen if I do this. This might be what I should do, but what might happen if I do that


So what happens if I maybe put cheese with my broccoli? What happens if I might try this food combination in it? It's that sort of thing. So it's really trying to promote and encourage curiosity within our children, because that just helps with their kind of the next step, which we're going to talk about is this idea about growth mindset. So this is very much by the work by Carol Dweck and her incredible TED talk the power of yet. So we really want to promote our children's growth mindset which links into curiosity which links into problem solving and growth mindset, simply, and Carol Dweck work basically comes from this premise that we can learn to do anything, we just need to put the work in, rather than a fixed mindset, which tends to see abilities as very much innate, you are good at maths, or you're not, you're a great communicator, or you're not you manage your emotions, or you don't, it's this idea. And growth mindset is simply this notion that our brain is a muscle, which absolutely is. And if we exercise it enough, if we repeat certain patterns of behaviour, those muscles get stronger, and those connections get faster. And so we can learn. And we can do anything, riding a bicycle learning to swim, all of these things that we tend to teach our children when they're really young. So it's about how can we as parents begin to foster and create this growth mindset with our children? Well, the, the simple answer is by praising process, so it's being really supremely aware of what we praise in our young children, because that will then feed in to their mechanisms, and then we will get more of that. So if we praise process, you know, this idea of you've worked, you've tried really great trying with your communicate with your your words, or whatever it might be, or trying to put build something or make a connection with something, or learning to ride their bike, if they all fall over and they graze themselves and they pick themselves up. It's praising the effort that our children put into things. Rather than great job, you were able to achieve this, you're so smart, you've managed to do this puzzle, or it's the process that they go through. It's the trying the puzzle and the different combinations. And that's the thing that we want to be praising. So it's being aware of the language that we use. And this, I just love this idea, cow's notion of the power of yet. So I often talk about this idea that I can't fly a plane, I can't. But if I add the word, I can't fly a plane yet, I give myself the option that someday, if I choose to, I could learn to fly a plane. So it's even at those really young ages, when our children say I can't do it, then we can add the word yet, I can't do it yet. So let's try let's practice so that our children understand that everything is within their reach anything, whether it's managing those really big emotions, or whether it's that puzzle, or that learning to tie their shoelaces, or do a button or whatever that might be building something. And that frustration that that build those tower block keeps falling over, is that it's that process they're learning, you know, it's not there yet. And it will be because that's such a crucial part. So it's, it's making sure that we don't get caught into this rabbit hole of our children ticking certain boxes and being able to achieve certain things great. They're now doing this. But actually, it's reinforcing constantly around that process, rather than always necessarily praising that final outcome. So let me just quickly recap these five. So the first one is around building communication skills. It's that notion of this servant return play, which comes into every single one of the five crucial areas that I think we need to be working on. When our children are super young. It's that notion of how can I help my child and whatever developmental age they are not actual chronological age because children learn to communicate, and their ability to communicate their needs, and their feelings is going to be different. There isn't a by the time your child has to, they're going to be able to communicate because some children are communicating really effectively to some are not really communicating effectively till six or seven. It's not an issue. It's what does that look like? So build those communication skills, through the servant return style play, build that emotional literacy to help our children's self regulate, again, with servant play, understanding those different levels of helping them self regulate, they need to be able to label their emotions so that when they experience these big emotions, eventually they're then able to problem solve, but they're not going to problem solve in the heat of the moment of those big emotions. They're going to problem solve through the activities that we've done with them around building that emotional, literal.


See, it's about encouraging problem solving skills by giving our children choices from super, super early. As soon as we're able to give them the options of things, then let's do that. So that we can give them choice. And they can see how their choices empower them. And what then happens in terms of outcome is Building Curiosity. Let's not always jump in and give our children the answers to things. But maybe ask about how we might find out, build up, you know, make little experiments where it's possible. And it's feasible to do so our children learn through experience, that experiential learning is so important, but build that curiosity around them about cause and effect and what might happen. And then this final one, about this growth mindset. It's being really mindful of the language that we use with our children so that we encourage this notion of trying an effort and praising the process rather than that outcome. And using this power of yet simply adding the word in yet to absolute statements, and being mindful of the language that we use about ourselves and adding yet to what we say, because children are much more likely to do what they see than what we say. So it's about remembering that what we communicate how we take care of ourselves, has a profound impact on our children. So my gift this week is going to be these top five strategies, again, in my usual checklist with gaps so you can start reflecting on which are the areas that can I currently work on, depending on how old your child is, where is that emphasis and that you know, I've almost kind of listed them in the order you know that communication is crucial, and that serve and return that's what we should be doing at the absolute basic level. And then we can start layering these up. As usual, head over to my free resource library, Dr. Mary forward slash library where you'll find the link to download the resource, all you need to do is pop in your email address, and you'll get instant access not only to this week's resource, but all the other free resources across all my other episodes. As ever, if you have enjoyed this episode, I would be so grateful. I would love it if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love. So until next time...





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