Megan Fields-Olivieri is Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a mother of two young children. Dr. Fields-Olivieri has specialized training in early childhood mental health, and her research focuses on child emotion, and how it influences both language development and parent/child communications. Since 80% of a child’s brain development occurs from birth to age 3, the work of Dr. Fields-Olivieri intersects with The Basics Guilford in two important ways. First, the Basics emphasize the importance of language development through concepts like Talk, Sing, Point or Read and Discuss Stories for example. Secondly, these concepts also zero in on parent strategies to Maximize Love and Manage Stress.
Because emotion is the language of a baby, emotion and language are interconnected communication systems. As children’s brains are developing with language skills, their emotional capacities to self-regulate are also developing, yet our culture doesn’t often consider the impact of emotion on language development (or vice versa). For example, emotions may directly impact how well the important ‘serve and return’ language exchange between caregivers and infants/toddlers operates.
Dr. Fields-Olivieri described previous studies, conducted by other researchers, finding that toddlers that have more negative emotions or may be considered “difficult” tend to have worse language skills or develop their language skills more slowly. Curious about why this might be, Dr. Fields-Olivieri and her team have examined how toddlers’ emotions might influence- or be influenced by- parent-toddler verbal communication. They found that toddlers’ positive emotions seem to encourage parents to verbally communicate with their toddlers, whereas parents tend to be less responsive to negative emotions like crying or whining than they are to language attempts. However, parents’ verbal responses to negative emotions appear to help toddlers shift from communicating with negative emotion to communicating verbally.
At the heart of this early childhood research happening right here in our community is work that may help parents understand how to better respond to a child’s negative emotions and to deal with their own stress. Dr. Fields-Olivieri wants parents to remember several strategies:
- Remember that frequent, intense negative emotion expression is expected and developmentally appropriate in the toddler period. Think of it as a developmental milestone just like learning to walk or talk!
- The middle of a tantrum is not the time to teach your toddler about emotions or emotion regulation strategies– no one, especially toddlers, has the capacity to listen and learn well when they are very upset!
- What can you do in the moment, then?
- First, take a moment to calm yourself down. Take a few deep breaths or use another strategy that is helpful for you.
- Next, briefly acknowledge your child’s feeling or the situation that seems to have triggered that feeling (even if you think it’s silly!). Try something like “Wow, you’re feeling so sad about that” or “You really wanted the blue cup”.
- Remember it is possible to acknowledge or validate your child’s negative emotions AND hold firm boundaries. You can say something like “It’s okay to feel mad. It is not okay to hit.”
- Remember that it is not your job to “fix” your child’s negative emotions. Sometimes the best thing to do is to be a calm presence for your child, and ride out the emotional wave with them.
- Take advantage of calm moments (without a meltdown) to connect verbally with your child. This can include talking about emotions using books and stories, or talking about past or future events in their life that may cause negative emotions.
- Don’t be hard on yourself – remember that anytime you get your child to engage in a back and forth conversation, you will be building their language skills – don’t worry what you actually talk about!
- Remember that every child is unique and develops both emotional and language skills at different rates, so there is no “one size fits all” strategy. Be creative and flexible in communications with your child- and have fun!
Want to learn more about this research? Visit TALK Lab (talklabuncg.com)
Hot Baby Summer
By Terry and Candace Martin
It’s summertime and we’ve been outside! Titus took his first dip in the pool; he was a little nervous, but once he got comfortable, he started splashing water everywhere. He also attended his first Greensboro Grasshoppers game. We pointed at players and clapped & cheered during home runs!
Titus has learned to use his voice – full of babbles! We’ve created Titus a playlist of music that covers the alphabet, colors, nursery rhymes and counting. He LOVES Gracie’s Corner music!
Titus is curious of all things; he reaches and grabs for anything that’s near him. We use Talk, Sing and Point to discuss what things are and how we use them. We also talk to him about various activities and daily routines. Whether it’s good morning when we wake up, to opening the blinds, picking out his clothes for the day and getting in the car to head to school.
By Jennifer Scotton
Until I became a parent, I never understood how much talking the role would involve (for me). I now know how important it is to narrate what I’m doing for my one-year-old because it helps her understand how her world works.
My daughter is just beginning to try sounding out words other than mama and dada, so I’ll tell her what I’m doing as I go along, pointing to objects and trying to entice her to say the word. One of our favorite activities is visiting the plants in our garden to check on how our vegetables are growing. We go out to the garden and she touches the leaves of the plants while I water them. I tell her “Mommy is giving our plants some water so they can grow big and beautiful! Can you say wa-ter?” We pick tomatoes together and I teach her that we leave the green tomatoes until they turn red so they will be nice and juicy, showing her how to gently pluck the fruit from the plant. I love watching her confidence grow with her understanding of the world around her.
Point and Repeat
By Lizzy and Colin Tahsuda
At 14 months, Eleanor is consistently mimicking words. She points at everything, signaling that she wants you to name the object. She then tries her best to repeat what you said, mostly just saying the first syllable at this point. Not only is it adorable, but it is fascinating how she watches how your mouth moves as you speak and then tries to imitate. We have a little parrot on our hands!
Eleanor started pointing relatively early, so we have been naming objects for awhile now. We try to use a lot of repetition and are always amazed when she points at something and states what it is without being prompted. Pointing and talking has made a big impact on her speech development so far!
Building on Communication
By Jasmine Faison and Jonathan Linton
Now that Jade is over 1 year old, her communication and social skills are growing each and every day. From using the sign language symbol meaning “to eat” to let us know she is hungry, pointing at objects she wants, letting out a great big scream when she’s excited, repeating phrases and learning new words, our little one has quite the personality accompanied with a unique and versatile communication style.
Talk, Sing and Point is in full play as Jade is discovering more about the things around her and eager to show/tell someone what she’s learned. As we enter into the second half of the year, it is important for us to pay attention to what she is showing interest in, so we can start to cultivate those interests on a deeper level. Talk, Sing, and Point is helping us do just that!
By Jennifer Scotton
Our daughter is nearly a year old and busier than ever. It’s a joy to watch her try out new skills and make discoveries on a daily basis.
Children learn by watching what we do, so we have begun to point out and identify objects for our daughter while we move through daily tasks. As she is discovering new items, I will name the object and describe its use for her while she turns it over in her hands: “this is a watering can, it helps us give our flowers water so they can grow big and beautiful.” I demonstrate how the object is used and then let her try it on her own. Her confidence is blossoming with every new skill she learns.
Pointing at Penguins
By Lizzy and Colin Tahsuda
Eleanor turned one a few weeks ago! We can’t believe our baby is officially a toddler. To celebrate, we took her to the Greensboro Science Center for the first time. She had a blast! We started in the aquarium. We talked about all the various colors of the fish and counted seahorses. The penguins were her favorite! She laughed as they waddled around and dove into the water. We probably could have spent the entire afternoon just hanging out with the penguins!
Outside, we spent time with the meerkats and the red pandas, but her favorite were the maned wolves. We think she thought they were dogs. 😊 She squealed at them just like she does when she sees our dog at home or dogs on walks! At the end of our visit, we rode the carousel. We identified the different animals, and she chose to sit on the tiger. All in all, it was a great day!
Maryrose Nelson of Voices Together recently spoke with WFMY about using song to build a connection with your child. She also spoke about how songs can help with early language development. Check out the segment here.
Exploring the Friendly Skies
By Lizzy and Colin Tahsuda
Eleanor recently took her first plane ride for a family wedding. As first-time parents, we were terrified! Babies can be unpredictable and we didn’t want to disturb anyone on our flights. Thankfully, at 10-months old, Eleanor is very “busy” and easily distracted.
We made the most of the opportunity by pointing out new things. We counted luggage, “read” the airplane safety manual and had a blast on the moving sidewalks in the airport. She ended up having so much fun waving at people, playing with (eating) the boarding passes, studying the “fasten seatbelt” light and observing her new surroundings. Turns out she didn’t even need all the toys we brought with us!