A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood
Print Friendly and PDF

Dr. Tovah Klein, affectionately called a ‘Toddler Whisperer’ by her many fans, shared her insights with Motherly about the science of early childhood development, how to navigate challenges like potty training and bringing home a new baby, and her advice for over-extended new parents.


Can you help us understand the science (biological & social) underlying the deep bond between mother and child?

Newborns are biologically set up to attach to a caregiver, ideally a loving, sensitive and responsive one.

Early bonding

Mothers also have hormonal systems in place that encourage and support this growing bond. This earliest relationship literally molds the baby’s brain and begins her journey of becoming a person.

Attachment

The relationship provides the context where the infant becomes attached to the mother as she responds to the infant’s cues for love, nurturance, comfort and care. The back and forth of the mother responding to and taking joy in her baby establishes the model for the child’s future relationships and sense of self.

Learning love

In a loving relationship, the child learns how to love and to be loved, the basis of both becoming one’s own person and learning to care for and be compassionate to others. Years of developmental research and newer neuroscience findings show the underpinnings of how this develops.

FEATURED VIDEO

Independence

During this early part of life, a baby’s brain is molded by loving care that forms the basis for the infant growing into the toddler who will be capable of separating and becoming independent (“my own person”).

Trust

The paradox is that the baby must be attached first in order to feel safe enough to separate and go out in the world. The reason a toddler can start to explore the exciting world around them is that they have built trust that “I am not alone in the world.”

Security

The young child can go out and explore knowing that they have a secure base (mommy or daddy) to return to for comfort and care. It is a powerful relationship and provides the key to the deeply forming self.

Recent research shows that 90% of a child’s brain growth is complete by age five. What are the most impactful things parents of toddlers can do to plant the seeds for lifelong success?

A loving, stable, caring relationship is the most important base a parent can provide. 

Needs

Before a child can be excited about learning, she has to feel safe and that her needs (emotional and physical) are taken care of. This happens starting at birth, and from there the child moves out in the world with curiosity and desire to learn. I don’t mean to worry parents by saying that so much of the brain growth happens before age five.

Growth

In fact, there is room for change and growth in the brain after five; but the base gets established. The firmer the base, the better able the child is to negotiate their environment, to handle life’s ups and downs, to grow and learn.

The early years

What it means is that the early years matter a lot. The most crucial piece of what matters is how the young child is treated, responded to and loved by the parents.

Emotions

When children feel secure and safe in who they are, they are set up to develop the ability to relate well to other people and care about them, to handle their emotions and control their impulses, to pay attention and try new things, to get back up when they fall down and to develop confidence.

These are essentials for growing up and for being part of a community.

“A baby’s brain is molded by loving care.”

Many children welcome new babies to the family while in their toddler years, what’s the best way to prepare a toddler for a new sibling?

This is both a joyful, exciting time for a family and a trying time, as it means big change. Toddlers are little, and it is hard for them to understand what is happening when a new baby comes into the family.

Preparation

In terms of preparation, I advise parents not to over-prepare the child. Yes, this is an exciting time and parents and grandparents are excited. But children have very little sense of time, so the earlier they know a new baby is becoming, the more anxious they can be. A child of four or five will be better about waiting for the arrival, but still can get worried.

Conversation

Don’t over-talk it; and if it is a child under age four, wait even longer to tell them. I work with parents who have waited until the final month of pregnancy to tell the two-year-old. It is hard for them to not say anything, but then they are so relieved they did, for the child’s sake.

Prepare the little one by saying something like, “in a while we are going to have a new baby in our family. But you (toddler) will still be our baby, and mommy and daddy will always take care of you.”

Toddlers are self focused, as they should be at this age, and the main thing is to assure them that they will still be with you. You will still be their mommy and daddy.

Reassurance

Close to the due date, let the toddler know that soon the doctor/midwife will help the baby come, mommy will be going to the hospital for a few days and tell your child who will stay with them and take care of them at that time. Then reassure them of the one thing they really want to know—that mommy will come back. (Dr. Klein shares more in a Baby Chat TV video you can watch here.)

Potty training is at the top of the stress list for most parents of toddlers. What are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid?

The mindset a parent takes into this process is more important than anything.

The biggest mistakes are thinking it happens right away or worrying it will never happen. Neither is true. Most parents seem to know someone who breezed through potty training.

It’s a process

Lucky for you if that occurs; but most often it is a process, with accidents and setbacks. It takes time for a child to make this leap.

There is no shame

The biggest mistake to avoid is shaming the child. Your child knows you want him out of diapers and he wants to please you. But it is a big step for a child to take. For some children, learning to use the toilet is harder than for others. Do not ever shame them for it.

Learning

Instead, let them know that accidents happen and you will keep helping them learn. If your child resists a lot, it may be a time to step back, let them know you will try another time. No shame. No blame.

You talk a lot about the importance of creating routine for toddlers in your book, what does that look like and how do we balance that with not creating a rigid or inflexible child?

Children have no sense of time. The toddler brain does not have the structures in place for time.

That is hard for an adult to imagine. We organize our lives around schedules, dates and time. The reason routines are important is they help organize the child’s day and also provide a feeling of security and control as in, “I know what happens next; I am part of this.”

Routines

Routines should be for anything you do daily: getting dressed, brushing teeth, mealtimes, bedtimes, getting out the door in the morning. That way, the child learns what to expect and does not feel as if suddenly things shift without them knowing what is going on. I view routines as a ‘roadmap,’ a set of goal posts that guide the child. They have an order but need not be rigid.

Rituals

For example, a bedtime routine can be bath (‘pick two toys to put in the tub’ gives a child some control), drying off, pajamas, books, cuddles and lullaby, kisses and good-night. Some children like to arrange their animals in bed or have a blanket put on them. That becomes a final ritual before sleep. What the routine does is help a child move forward in a similar way each night.

Flexibility

Flexibility comes from different parents having a slightly different way, or maybe tonight there is no bath so you do extra cuddles. The routine can vary slightly, such as when visitors are there. Going back to it the next night brings comfort and teaches the child it is okay to do it differently at times, the routine will return.

Change

Beware! Two- and three-year olds (and even older) can be very attached to a routine and thrown off it changes. They get better at flexibility in time. The more that routine is followed, the more flexibility will follow. Routine is ‘home base’ for them. It is what they know. And that brings comfort.

We’ve found that a lot of moms are overwhelmed with contradicting parenting advice on nearly every topic, what is the one piece of advice about raising toddler’s that you think is universal?

Your child is little now and that will pass quickly. Love and acceptance of your own ups-and-downs as a parent and of who your child is goes a long way in raising children. There will be good parenting moments and not so good ones. The world is not a perfect place, and that holds true for being a parent.

Relax

If you can step back, exhale and relax a bit, you will trust yourself more. I am a ‘parenting expert’ yet I can tell every parent that there is no one right way to be with a child.

Every child is different

I know this from my own experience as well of raising three children, each with different needs and personalities. There are hallmarks, such as loving, responsive care, but there is no single ‘how-to’ that fits every child.

Trust yourself

Try not to get overwhelmed by all the information and ask yourself what you feel will work, what you can trust yourself to do. Too much information can undermine trust in ourselves. Have humor, a lot of it. Kids are fun and funny. Enjoy them, knowing that whatever they are doing now that is driving you crazy will likely pass.

Is there anything else you’d add about the wonderful ‘toddlertopia’ of early childhood?

The toddler years are both wonderful and trying. It is because the child is new to the world, has so much to discover, and so much they want to do. But they are limited by their own inabilities and still developing skills, brain and mind as well as the reasonable limits and boundaries you establish.

Try to look at the world through their eyes, rather than adult eyes, and you will see the wonder and curiosity they experience.

It will help you enjoy this time more. It passes fast.

Finally, keep in mind that there is much to learn and see in their toddler world and that can overwhelm them, too. They need you.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

It's 5 pm. You just got home from a busy day at work, dinner is nowhere close to being started, and the afternoon shenanigans have taken ahold of your little ones. They need some time to decompress from their busy day and, let's be honest, you need a few moments to transition into the last part of yours, too.

Your child asks, "Mooooom? Can I watch a show?"

Cue parenting inner-dilemma.

You want to say yes, but you also have fears about technology. How much is too much? Is it bad for my children? Will it isolate my children from me?

Sara DeWitt, the vice president of PBS KIDS Digital, said in her TED Talk that this last question is a big concern for parents. We desperately want to be connected to our children, and for our children to be connected to the world.

Unfortunately, she says, the "fear and skepticism about these devices hold us back from their potential." The truth is, high-quality educational screen time can actually build connections (more on that in a minute). Even more exciting, did you know that the right screen time can help your child develop empathy?

Empathy is a skill, but as a society, we are losing it. A shocking study found that empathy drops by about 40% by the time kids get to college. In a world fraught with inequities, divisiveness and conflict, rebuilding empathy is paramount. Motherly mamas agree. In the 2019 State of Motherhood survey, you told us that your top priority was to nurture kindness with your children.

But how do we do this? Telling our child to "be a kind person" is great, but in order to truly understand, they need to see empathy in context. By using digital content as a prompt for communication and conversation, it becomes one of the many tools we have at our disposal to help guide our children on the path to becoming empathic, kind people.

Enter PBS KIDS.

Raun D. Melmed, MD, FAAP, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, and author of the Monster Diary series told us that, "our children have unprecedented access to wonderful educational opportunities through digital media. Interactive, nonjudgmental apps can enhance cognitive development (processing and organization, visual-spatial awareness, pattern recognition and even reading), social and emotional awareness, and even moral development."

When we control technology—and not the other way around—the potential is enormous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that "media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it's critically important that this be high-quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS."

Researchers looked at the impact of watching PBS KIDS' series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, and the results were pretty inspiring. Children who watched the show for 30 minutes each day for two weeks demonstrated improved empathy, the ability to recognize emotions and increased social confidence.

But, here's the catch: In order to experience this growth, children needed to have recurrent conversations about what they saw with their parents.

Nicole Dreiske, Executive Director of the International Children's Media Center and author of The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart encourages parents to utilize screen time "in the same way that they would use story time: to build trust, emotional intelligence, and empathy." By spending just 10 minutes discussing what happened in a show, children can experience significant benefits.

Knowing the science behind the benefits of screen time is great. But when that afternoon struggle hits, it can be hard to remember exactly what to do, so DeWitt encourages parents to make a plan—here's how.

How to make a screen time plan for your family

Ask yourself the following two questions:

1. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time?

Do you want them to have an opportunity to be creative and think outside the box? Pull up PBS KIDS ScratchJr. Is there something going on at home or in school that requires learning about sharing? Share the "Daniel Shares his Tigertastic Car" episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with them.

Consider your goals, and then choose media accordingly.

2. What do I want my kids to get out of their digital media time? How can it support our family schedule and priorities?

It is okay to factor your needs into the equation, mama. Deriving benefit from your child's screen time is no need to feel guilty. Go ahead and start dinner, or send that email, or yes (gasp), put your feet up and relax for a bit.

Once you've figured out your 'why,' it's time to consider the 'how.'

1. Communicate the plan to your kids (and be clear about limits).

Kids do best with clear boundaries and expectations. This will be especially important if you are implementing changes to how screen time is done in your home.

You could say, "You can play the Wild Kratts game for 30 minutes while I work on dinner, and then we are going to go outside and flap our wings as bats do! Do you think we should eat mosquitos for dinner like they do?!"

Before you start the show, Dreiske recommends planting the communication seed: "Today we're going to notice what we're feeling and what the characters are feeling."

2. Discuss what your kid played or watched.

When screen time is over, strike up a conversation. Dreiske suggests open-ended questions that help to "[create] a special space in which your child feels safe enough emotionally to confide in you about their experiences. Let the child's emotion or feelings 'lead' the talk rather than being obscured by your feelings." You can try the following starters:

  • How did you feel when… ? Why?
  • How do you think that character felt?
  • What if that happened to one of your friends?

3. Find a balance of activities.

Like everything in life, screen time is best in moderation. It is important that children know that screen time is one of the many options they have for activities. Exercise, outdoor play, reading, coloring and more are also incredibly important.

If there is a show or game your child particularly loves, DeWitt suggests finding the non-screen time version of it. "For example, if the kids in Dinosaur Train start a nature collection, suggest a nature walk through your neighborhood after they've watched. If your child likes Ready Jet Go!, use the Ready Jet Go Space Explorer app to look at the stars together and then continue exploring the night sky away from the screen. In other words, we can make digital media as a jumping off point for family fun!"

Sara DeWitt writes, "It helps to remember digital media is simply a tool, just like books, toys and art supplies. As parents, we have the power to decide how and when to use these tools with our kids."

When used thoughtfully, and with love, high-quality screen time is an incredibly powerful way to foster empathy and kindness in the next generation.

This article is sponsored by PBS KIDS. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

On Tuesday Connecticut became the eighth state (including D.C.) to pass and enact a paid family and medical leave program when Governor Ned Lamont signed the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill into law.

Today was a win for family leave advocates in Connecticut, as it's been a long road to getting this bill passed. At one point it was even suggested that Lamont would veto the bill, but in the end, lawmakers came to a consensus that it is in the best interest of parents, babies and basically everyone in Connecticut.

"We all agreed on the need to pass this landmark support for working families so they don't have to choose between the job they need and the family they love, or their own health," Lamont said earlier this month.

On Tuesday, he spoke again about how this was a victory for lawmakers and workers.

"Adopting this program means that workers who need to take time off for a new baby or recover from illness are not punished financially, and businesses do not risk losing good workers during those emergencies," he said.

Connecticut's plan is widely regarded as the most generous in the United States because workers will get 12 paid weeks of work to take care of a new baby, sick family member or take care of themselves. The benefits cover 95% of lower wage earner's pay, up to $900 a week.

Oh, and anyone experiencing complications from pregnancy can take an extra two weeks of paid leave to recover from that.

👏👏👏

Workers in the state will be able to start collecting these benefits in 2021 and the plan is funded through a 0.5% payroll tax, much like what other states and countries do.

In a statement to Motherly, Catherine Bailey the Deputy Director or Campaign for Paid Family Leave at Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund explained the campaign (a coalition of more than 75 organizations that has fought for paid family and medical leave) applauds the paid family and medical leave plan.

"Paid leave is a critical step forward for women's economic security, especially for low-wage workers and women of color who are an increasing number of primary breadwinners to their families."

She believes the plan will "provide economic stability when women and families need it most - when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, or welcome a new child."

Good job, Connecticut.

[Correction: A previous version of this post said 12 weeks is 4 months, it's not quite 3 months. We regret the error.]

You might also like:

News

There are many heartwarming stories out there about people with different disabilities defying the odds. So many that Leigh Merryday Porch, mom to a 10-year-old autistic boy from Florida, felt the need to share her story—which paints a different perspective—on Facebook.

Merryday Porch told People in an interview "the accomplishments are beautiful, what's disturbing are the lessons people try to take away—that if you just follow the formula someone else did, that any child with a disability can do the same. It's oversimplified and ultimately hints that any other outcome is less worthy."

The facebook post, which has been shared over 250 times, reads:

"If you have an autistic child, you've seen the stories. Friends tend to tag you in them or PM you to share. They're stories of autistic kids who didn't talk but do now, children who sing the national anthem, young women who compete in beauty pageants, and those on the spectrum who graduate from college. And you don't mind the stories, because human beings persevering in the face of adversity is a beautiful thing.

But invariably, somewhere in the story is a quote that goes something like this:

"When experts told her her son would never talk, never have friends, never graduate, she declared 'Over my dead body.'"

FEATURED VIDEO

Those quotes are all sorts of inspirational—for some. But if you have a child whose disability is severe, such quotes are felt like a slap. Because some disabilities cannot be overcome. They can be accepted, worked with, planned for, and accommodated, but no amount of parental love and determination can erase them. Callum is not going to go to law school. He's simply not wired for that, and I can't rewire him. The fact that I can accept that and love him unconditionally does not reflect him having not been raised by someone willing to try harder.

Because—over my dead body—will he be relegated as somehow less worthy for not doing the unexpected and unrealistic. The presence of an autistic adult in the world who doesn't make the newspaper is not a statement of failure. Not of society, not of his family, and certainly not of himself. And other than steadfastly insisting he be given every reasonable opportunity any other person has to live, learn, and grow, no other declarations need be made—and no dead bodies required."

Thank you for your honesty mama.

You might also like:

Life

You can write up a birth plan and pack your hospital bags well in advance, but here's the truth: Having a baby doesn't always go according to plan. You can anticipate a vaginal delivery and wind up having a C-section, go into labor before you've completed your nursery, find yourself very pregnant days after your due date has passed...or, in rarer cases, you could end up having your baby before you've made it to the hospital or birthing center where you'd planned to deliver.

Take Jessa Duggar Seewald, for example. The Counting On star recently gave birth to her third child, a little girl named Ivy Jane Seewald. But while the TV personality didn't plan on having a home birth, that became her reality when she went into labor ahead of her due date.

"My water broke right here in the kitchen," Jessa explains in a video from TLC. "Our birth plan through this whole pregnancy was that we would deliver at a birthing suite at the hospital with a midwife there. However, the morning that my water broke was the morning that my midwife had left town for a week."

Jessa and her husband, Ben, go on to explain that she was about 10 days ahead of her due date and wasn't expecting to have the baby early at this point. When Jessa and Ben realized they'd inevitably deliver before they could proceed with their plan, they decided to call another midwife in and go for a home birth. At that point, Jessa opted to speed up her labor with the help of a castor oil smoothie (note: You should chat with a medical professional before trying this at home) and some light exercise.

The video follows the mother of three through much of her labor and, eventually, the birth of her baby girl... which happened right there on the Seewald's couch. Don't worry: The sofa was covered with pads before the big moment!

Home births are totally an option for some moms 

Unfortunately, Jessa encountered something pretty scary after she delivered: Her bleeding wouldn't stop, which prompted the family to call 911. Luckily, all appears to be well with both the mama and her sweet daughter now.

Jessa's home birth wasn't like most home births, which can be a totally viable option in specific situations.

"Home births are a wonderful option for women with low-risk pregnancies, who want to have low intervention births in the comfort of their own home," says Diana Spalding, Digital Education Editor for Motherly, who is also a pediatric nurse and midwife. "ACOG [the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] states that while they believe hospitals and in-hospital birthing centers to be the safest place to have a baby, women should be supported when they choose home birth in the presence of [a qualified midwife]. If you are considering a home birth, a bit of research is involved. Reach out to local home birth midwives to have in-depth conversations about your specific scenario. And don't forget to contact your insurance company—it's not always covered."

As wild as her birth experience was, Jessa isn't the only celeb mom to have had a home birth—she follows in the footsteps of fellow mamas like Hilary Duff. It just goes to show that delivering a baby looks different for each mama, but whether it goes according to plan or not, it's all pretty beautiful.

You might also like:





News

Some women are more at risk than others when it comes to being pregnant. Black moms are up to four times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and another group, Native American and Alaska Native women, are also dying from complications in childbirth at a disproportionate rate.

Native American and Native Alaskans make up just 2% of the total U.S. population but account for the second highest number of maternal deaths in the only industrialized country where maternal deaths, overall, are rising. They are approximately 3.3 and 2.5 times more likely, respectively, to die while pregnant or as new moms than white women are.

Alarming statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May 2019 show that between 2011–2015, black women had the highest maternal death rate at 43 deaths per 100,000 live births, followed by American Indian and Alaska Native women at nearly 33 deaths. Thirteen white mothers died in the same time period.

"Racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering" 

"More women die in the US from pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states on its website. According to the ACOG, the "racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering…"

According to the CDC, 60% of maternal deaths are preventable. The leading causes of deaths during pregnancy, birth and the first year after childbirth include cardiovascular conditions, infection, and hemorrhage, but preventative strategies—including improving access to care and how it is coordinated and delivered—could save lives.

And in order to save lives, we have to acknowledge that Native American and Native Alaskan moms are dying because the health care system is failing them.

Meet Nicolle Gonzales 

Nicolle Gonzales is a Dine' Nurse-Midwife and the founder of the non-profit Changing Woman Initiative (CWI), in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Native American-centered women's health collective, CWI aims to improve the health of expectant mothers, but Gonzales tells Motherly that she's been frustrated by a lack of information around native women's health available to medical professionals.

"When I attended conferences where they claimed to focus on Native American women's health, I found them sharing data that did not tell the full story about why our health outcomes were so bad," said Gonzales. "Further, blames seemed to be placed on native women and that it was their behavior that was the cause. I also saw the same old health frameworks being used to address known health disparities and then they would sit back and wonder why the outcomes were still terrible."

Gonzales witnessed many Native American women struggling with navigating the western medical healthcare system throughout her career. She saw assimilation practices from birth and on, that stopped Native American families from "bringing their loved ones into this world in a culturally supported and ceremonial way."

The disconnect helped inspire Gonzales to launch CWI in the fall of 2018.

Prenatal care can be culturally centered and accessible

It's on a mission to renew cultural birth knowledge, promote reproductive wellness, to support healing through holistic approaches and to strengthen women's bonds to family and community. The non-profit organization also provides training to increase the number of Indigenous midwives and encourage policy advocacy related to native women's health.

Gonzales believes some of the reasons behind the higher rates of birth mortality in Native American women are socio/economically and culturally linked. There are longer wait times to see obstetricians and/or midwives in native communities because of the remoteness of some reservations, she explains. Sometimes it's a lack of having a Medicaid card at the time of appointment, having no transportation or not making prenatal care a priority, Gonzales continues.

She believes taking the initial steps to seek medical care are crucial and wants to see moms better supported to do so. "First-trimester prenatal visits are very important. They identify health risks early, genetic screenings can be done sooner, and social circumstances and resources can be brought in," Gonzales says.

According to Gonzales' expertise, native women are at higher risk for adverse birth outcomes due to higher rates of gestational diabetes, hypertension, obesity, blood clotting disorders, drug addictions and limited access to healthcare education.

A less talked about cause of birth mortality rates for Native American women is intimate partner violence, she added. "There are limited places Native American women can go for safety and they are more likely to experience this or die from violence during their pregnancy."

The Changing Woman Initiative

The CWI also provides expectant mothers with access to healthy foods, plants and traditional medicines and time with a traditional doctor commonly called 'a medicine person.' It's a one-of-a-kind approach to a serious problem and the CWI is working to change the statistics from within its own community.

In the next three years, it aims to provide an Indigenous doula and peer counselor training to over 100 women in New Mexico.

The CDC study states that reducing pregnancy-related deaths requires reviewing and learning from each death, improving women's health, and reducing social inequities across the life span, as well as ensuring quality care for pregnant and postpartum periods, and for providers and patients to work together to optimally manage chronic health conditions.

America cannot save the lives of Native mothers if it doesn't understand why they are at risk, and supporting women who can provide culturally appropriate care—and listening to them—is vital.

You might also like:

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.