Language Delays
January 4, 2011 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Therapy, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Language Delays

by Melissa Krantz

Melissa Krantz is a speech therapist with over 14 years of experience.  She is a partner at Language Lab, a private speech therapy practice on the Upper West Side.

Does this sound familiar? Every week when you take your two year old son to music class, you notice that the other children are talking much more.  Not only do they seem to have more words in their arsenal, but they are also putting words together to make short phrases like, “Mommy look!” or “More push.”  Your son, on the other hand, uses about five words and many hand gestures to communicate.  You find yourself feeling more and more anxious that something is wrong. Many parents of toddlers are confused about what constitutes normal language development.

Here are some general guidelines to find out whether your child falls within normal limits or if this would be a good time to get professional input.

Typically your 18 to 24 months old should be able to:

  • Name common objects: BallDoggy, ‘BaBa
  • Use simple pronouns: me, it, I
  • Use two or three prepositions: on, in, under
  • Say social words: bye bye, hi
  • Use two-word phrases consistently: “No night night!”, “More cracker!”, “Want juice!”
  • Has a vocabulary of 100+ words
  • Asks questions:“What’s that?”, “Where’s duckie?”

In addition, a familiar listener (caregiver, sibling) should be able to understand 50% – 75% of the child’s speech.

If your child’s ability to communicate is very different than the capacity listed, it may be helpful to have an evaluation by a speech language pathologist.

There are various ways to seek assistance. You might decide to get help from your state or city early intervention program. Here is the link to New York State’s site. If your child qualifies, based on the extent of the delay, services are often provided free of charge. The second suggestion would be to contact a speech and language graduate program at the closest university to your home. Another option would be to ask for a recommendation for a private practitioner from your pediatrician or toddler/preschool program.

Whichever option you choose, the evaluation itself should involve very similar procedures. The therapist will rely upon both caregiver report and professional observation.  Activities might include both pretend and structured play, reading books and completion of standardized testing.  Examination of your child’s mouth, including his tongue, lips and teeth help to inform the therapist of any structural issues that might be inhibiting your child’s speech development.  Regardless of the setting, the evaluation should be fun and engaging for your child.

At the end of the session, the speech therapist may discuss overall impressions with you, but be prepared to wait a week or more for a formal written report which should include goals and therapy recommendations.

Remember, you are the ultimate authority on your child. If you disagree with the evaluation of your child it is important to feel comfortable seeking a second opinion.

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Siesta Time
December 2, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

A mother in an ongoing group was discussing her “spirited” and adorable 3 1/2 year old. She had come to a decision that after preschool, no matter what, they were coming home, and having “Siesta Time”- two hours of down time. Since her little girl rarely naps anymore, the “Siesta” is spent playing quietly with toys, spending time on her own and generally chilling. Later in the afternoon, they might see friends, or go to the park or take a class together but “Siesta Time” has become sacred. The mom hadn’t correlated an easier and more enjoyable phase with the addition of this new routine, but as we talked she discovered it was definitely associated.

This mother is on to something. Children need plenty of downtime during the day.  They can go along with a hectic schedule of school and classes, playdates and outings, but notice how much more pleasant they are when life slows down. In this hectic and pressured world we need to safeguard our children’s need for unstructured time at home. It is nutrition for their body, soul and brain. Building it into the schedule, naming it and sticking to it yields benefits for all.

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Best Picture Books of 2010
November 25, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Best Picture Books of 2010

The New York Times Book Review has come out with Best Picture Books of 2010. Since we are in a time when picutre books as a medium are in decline we should support the industry, inspire our children’s love of literature and pick meaningful gifts for the holidays. Children learn so much from the intimacy of reading picture books. When you think back on the books you loved as a small child chances are images come up–not words. The Cat In The Hat, Pat The Bunny, Where The Wild Things Are all invoke enriching imagery for young children. So don’t fall into the academically pressured ethos of words, words, words and choose art and images for your children to enjoy!

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Peek-A-Boo As Medicine For Autism
November 11, 2010 · Posted in Autism, Infant Development, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Peek-A-Boo As Medicine For Autism

Autism rates in the US are 1 in 110 children according to the Center for Disease control. Lack of eye contact and smiling in babies and toddlers are signs of autism. In many ways autism is a disorder of social/emotional connection, so it makes sense that early symptoms are found in the arena of intimate face to face contact and play. The Early Start Denver Model is an intervention program of daily therapy involving social games and pretend play for children with a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Results of randomized trials of the therapy are reported in the journal Pediatrics and show gains in IQ and adaptive behavior.

This highlights the importance of interactive social games as the underpinnings for the healthy development of all children. What seem like the old and silly games of Peek-a boo, chase, and the slow, high-pitched “Parent-ese” speak may seem “babyish”, but this is exactly what all babies thrive on. If you are concerned about your baby’s social interactivity in the first year, consult your doctor, but on the home front the immediate presciption is for peek a boo.

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An Apple (iPhone) A Day for Your Toddler?
October 26, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Preschoolers, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (3)
My favorite toy is my iPad. My second favorite toy is my iphone. I have a hard time not playing with them – even when in a conversation with someone. I am 50. So what about little kids playing with their parents iPhones? In Toddlers Favorite Toy: The iPhone, Hilary Stout takes on the pros and cons of allowing young children to use these amazing gizmos. I have a lot of sympathy for parents today. When I was at the park with my young children, I didn’t even have a cell phone! I had no choice but to settle in and be there. Had I been able to whip out my iPad or make a call I am sure I would have. I feel thankful that wasn’t an option- it pushed me to either pay attention or at the very least use my imagination to occupy myself if I felt bored, annoyed or uncomfortable.
If grown ups have such a hard time limiting themselves, we have to acknowledge how addictive these devices really are. So the idea of toddlers playing with these “toys” is giving crack to a baby. Here’s some information and strategies to help you either prohibit or limit your young child’s time on an iPhone.
1. There is no way this is good for a kid’s brain. No child development expert, unless on Apple’s payroll will say that this is good use of a child’s time.
Jane M. Healy, an educational psychologist in Vail, Colo. said: “Any parent who thinks a spelling program is educational for that age is missing the whole idea of how the preschool brain grows. What children need at that age is whole body movement, the manipulation of lots of objects and not some opaque technology. You’re not learning to read by lining up the letters in the word ‘cat.’ You’re learning to read by understanding language, by listening. Here’s the parent busily doing something and the kid is playing with the electronic device. Where is the language? There is none.”
2. Imagine your parent saying, “Ok cutie, you play with the 500 dollar Tiffany vase. If it breaks we can just get a new one!” These are very expensive items! Use common sense.
3. Screens are so rivieting we can’t help looking at them. Consider what your child will miss out on if constantly glued to the phone.
Tovah P. Klein, the director of Columbia University’s Barnard College Center for Toddler Development (where signs forbid the use of cellphones and other wireless devices) worries that fixation on the iPhone screen every time a child is out and about with parents will limit the child’s ability to experience the wider world.
4. Your children will have their whole lives to use computers, phones and screens of all kind. They don’t need to have them as their little brains are developing.
Again, I have trouble limiting myself on these toys, so all power to you if you can not allow your children to use them. It is probably a healthier choice.
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Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away
October 14, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away

This is the sorry state of the MIS-education of our children. The New York Times article, Picture Books No Longer A Staple, October 8th, 2010, reports that publishers are scaling back a staple of early childhood, illustrated picture books.

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

The magic of learning to speak, let alone read, happens when words as a sounds and symbols come to represent objects. Much of the early intellectual dialogue between parents and children begins with a child on the lap and a picture book in hand.  From infancy into elementary school listening to, looking at and reading picture books with a grown up or alone sets the stage for the love of reading later in childhood. Do not drink the Kool-Aid. Read picture books with your children!

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Why Have Kids?
September 9, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Toddlerhood, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off on Why Have Kids?

by Bethany Saltman

One of Azalea’s best friends told her that Elvis ate too many cookies, then died. Every now and then, in a particularly contemplative moment, Azalea will ask, “Mommy, why did Elvis do that to himself?” It’s a good question. Why do any of us do what we do? Even though there are infinite and unknowable karmic causes to every action, I wish we could at least ask Elvis what he thought he was doing when he excessed himself into oblivion.

Even when people are alive and well, asking “Why?’ doesn’t seem to get very far. What can seem like such an open-ended, heart-in-the-right-place approach, actually, once it hits the air of a real conversation, feels like a dead-end, at best, or accusatory, at worst. Take me asking my mom why she married my dad (He was a good dancer. Say what?). Or why she had kids (Because, honey, I really wanted to be a mom). Actually, take asking anyone why they had kids, especially if they are in the midst of the dealing with said kids in the moment. Usefulness and appropriateness aside, I wonder about it all the time. Obviously there are many good reasons to procreate, not the least of which is the next generation of humans. But…well…it’s complicated, too.

So I was intrigued when New York magazine recently ran a cover story called, “All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.” In the piece, Jennifer Senior, herself a parent, refers to many of the recent and well-publicized studies indicating that parenting is very low on the list of what makes us happy (one particularly stunning study shows that Texas moms rated childrearing number 16 on their list of pleasurable activities. Housework was among the 15 that were more fun). While this data is not new, what was interesting to me was how Senior developed the question: Are people deluded into thinking that parenthood will make them happy, or is there something about parenting itself (expectations, guilt, etc.) that makes it such a significant hurdle to happiness?

One of the most intriguing parts of the discussion came from a conversation Senior had with Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness. He had this to say:

“‘When you pause to think what children mean to you, of course they make you feel good…The problem is, 95 percent of the time, you’re not thinking about what they mean to you. You’re thinking that you have to take them to piano lessons. So you have to think about which kind of happiness you’ll be consuming most often. Do you want to maximize the one you experience almost all the time’—moment-to-moment happiness—‘or the one you experience rarely?’”

In other words: What is it about parenting (or anything for that matter) do we thinkwe are drawn to? Or repelled by? Is it the idea of parenting that we like, the happiness that we “experience rarely,” or the actual work of raising children that gives us a good feeling? And, I would add, can we just schlep the kid to piano lessons, or do we have to think about that, too? It’s another way of asking: Who am I? Really! Are some parents “hating” it because they don’t like the activity of raising kids or is that they are not, in fact, experiencing it all? Because they are so busy thinking about whether or not it makes them happy?

I made the decision to have a child because I was curious. Initially drawn to monastic practice, which in the Mountains and Rivers Order requires childlessness, I realized after two years of residential training that this was not the path for me. However, I felt like my body had this other, equally compelling capacity for exploring humanness that I would be crazy to ignore. And luckily T was on board. So we went for it. Which was the easy part. Staying curious is more difficult. Does being a mom make me happy? As my late teacher Daido Roshi used to say, “Only you can make you happy.”

And since Azalea was born, it has been clear that this life would be a challenge to the ways I had always made myself happy. The love and connection I felt with Azalea was immediate and profound (and is the most stable love I have ever known), but the vocation of being a mom did not come as easily. As we know, babies and children need constant attention, and this was difficult for me to give freely. In fact, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized the depth of my own needs, and saw that I had pretty much constructed my entire life as a way of protecting some boundary that felt critical to keeping me, if not happy, at least not actively freaked out. At the same time, I knew I really, really wanted to become more flexible, to open my heart as wide as it could go. And that letting go of my self-concern required more than a weekend retreat about compassion, which is another reason why I had wanted to be a monk. I needed to sign myself up for life.  So instead of committing myself to a life of service to a sangha, I made a vow to Azalea. Either way, the practice is the same: devoting myself to the life of another. Realizing who it is that gets in the way.

Right now, Azalea is in her grandparents’ car, driving back from the beach, smelling like sunscreen and sweat, maybe asleep. Hopefully happy. But who knows? At any moment, she will arrive and this happiness I feel, sitting alone, writing, thinking of her, will transform. My attention will shift away from my ideas of parenting to the thing itself. I may resist it, and even ask why—why did I do this, why is it so hard? If I believed in God, I would pray to be returned to my vow. But no such luck. I have to do it myself. And I will. And my questions will continue, through the sand washing and feeding, the negotiating and the playing, and all the answers I need will run through the house, begging to be chased.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, July 28, 2010.

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A Love Poem for Azalea
August 10, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on A Love Poem for Azalea

by Bethany Saltman


Sitting on our deck in June,
you are surrounded by green
as if it comes from you, this outrageous life
of grass and sun and sprinklers, and the combination
of all three, plus you, marking this territory as divine, this funky cedar
table and these rotting benches, some burgundy pansies, spindly, drying up, in a too-small pot,
the entire effect just off enough to make it ours, and not someone else’s.
And your body, too, is real, bruised down the shin, elbow scabbed,
dried blood in a little chunk just above your ear, an old bug bite hidden in the depths of your hair,
so soft, so yours, so tendriled from all this humidity.


Watching you bite into a tomato sandwich
with mayonnaise and salt, it is like I am the one who has arrived.
That is one way I love you, and it.


This morning I woke up and heard a bumble-bee
pass my window. I thought of Emily Dickinson and how
much I love to be alone in a room with wooden furniture,
and how sometimes I worry about it.
How can I care so much about two things?

Instead, I lifted my body from sleep, feeling the length of these mountains,
the depth of my longing, the unlikely-ness of being alive at all.

Maybe some day you will rise like this, too.
And you will remember how to look in any direction for yourself,
the creek at the bottom of the hill, the owl calling out in the night,
and you will gather whatever shape hope takes into your hands,
offering every mistake, every good thing, into the curtain-calmed morning light,
releasing something, who the heck knows what it is, and giving it up
for good.

This poem first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, June 28, 2010.

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Bid Adieu
July 13, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Bid Adieu

The best way to help your child move from one situation to another is to teach them how to say goodbye. From playing with toys to going in the tub, leaving the park to getting in the stroller, small children have a hard time moving from activity to activity. They really know how to “be in the moment”. They are so involved in what they are doing that moving to a new place and stopping their play is hard and upsetting.

Modeling “saying bye bye” — to the truck, to the park, to the bath tub, gives them a sense of control and closure. It may feel silly to say “OK, Janie say goodbye to sand box, bye bye sandbox” while you are waving to a mound of sand — but parents attest to its magic. Transitions become a little less fraught and kids are more willing to let go of an activity because they themselves have bid a fond farewell.

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Will Your Kid Be An Outcast If They Don’t Watch TV?
June 10, 2010 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

dora_the_explorer-5238Dora Who?: On Raising a Weirdo

by Bethany Saltman

I was listening to the radio the other day and the uber intellectual Susan Jacoby was being interviewed about her new book, The Age of American Unreason, which is essentially yet another book outlining how Americans have become so illiterate. She was discussing the section of her book which dealt with the so-called educational toys and videos for babies and toddlers and how they are being so overused and abused that research has shown that children who are overexposed to these forms of “entertainment” actually develop vocabulary less readily than other children. This is not particularly new or noteworthy. What I found surprising was how she then commented breezily that people may assume she is some kind of weirdo who thinks children shouldn’t watch any television or videos. And of course, she laughed, she doesn’t believe that. She then went on to describe her own personal TV usage and how difficult it was for her to experiment not watching any during National Turn off the TV Week.

As I listened to her talk, I thought of the last time I visited the doctor with Azzie. As usual, Shirley, the super-friendly receptionist, offered her a sticker for being such a trooper. “Do you want Dora?” she asked. Azalea was blank. She nodded politely. Whatever you think about TV, cartoons and consumerism, can’t we at least give our kids a little breathing room? Can’t we at least ask if kids know who Dora is? For some reason, the idea of questioning the assumption of media-generated childhood connections is very disturbing to even the most educated  and well-intentioned people. Take my in-laws, for instance. When I was pregnant, we told them we were quite happy to remain tv-less, and they reacted as though we were planning on getting rid of our indoor plumbing. Both of my in-laws are hyper-smart Ivy-league trained physicians. These are not media-junkies! But something about the idea of keeping children away from mass-culture makes people uncomfortable. Last time we left Azalea with said in-laws for the day, a Sesame Street DVD was placed, front and center, on their agenda. What is this? Of course we didn’t say anything. We may be OK with raising a weirdo, but we want her to be a well-adjusted weirdo, and arguing over a couple of hours of Big Bird is just silly.

Of course there is no escape from pop culture — and, alright already, it’s not all bad! —  just as there is no escape from cancer-causing chemicals and artificial growth hormones. But that’s no reason to hook the kids up to pesticide pumps and say, well, this is how I was raised, and I turned out ok (and who do we know is really, by the way, ok?).

The truth of the matter is this: we don’t have a TV. I guess this really does make us strange. We live in the woods and go throw rocks into the river for fun. Literally. But Thayer and I love to download LOST episodes and watch them on Friday nights. And we work out to Tony Horton DVDs as often as possible (AB Ripper, Yeaahh!!!). And a couple weeks ago, Azalea was the sickest she’s ever been with a super-high fever and no interest in anything but lying on my lap. So what did I do? I called my friend and asked to borrow some DVDs. We watched those. Then I found Harold and The Purple Crayon on You Tube, and we watched that. Then we sat through Malti Malti from the Dan Zanes website at least 20 times. And I offered poor little Azzie ginger ale and nilla wafers, wanting her to eat something, anything!  She slept on the couch for the first time ever. It was all, actually, really sweet, a kind of nostalgic reenactment of what was tender in my own childhood.

Then the fever broke.

For a couple days after the sick-spell, Azalea asked to watch “bideos,” and I just no. “But we can listen to music,” I said.

“Ok,” she said. And now she doesn’t even ask.

Checking out of TV land is really not a big deal. But it sure does make a difference.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, April 25, 2008.

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