10 Tips to Grow “In-Sync” Kids


10 Tips to Grow “In-Sync” Kids by Carol S. Kra­nowitz, M.A. the author of The Outof-Sync Child and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun

A mother tells me how excited she is about her toddler’s “edu­ca­tional” com­puter game. Just click the mouse and presto — one, two, three oranges bound into a bucket. Click again, and they reap­pear, one, two, three. Isn’t that a fab­u­lous way to learn count­ing? What is my opin­ion, as a preschool teacher?

How about giv­ing him a bucket and three oranges?” I ask. “Then he can touch and hold them, smell them, toss them, and enjoy a real experience.”

Picture of Sara L . Henry, MA, LMFT

Sara L . Henry, MALMFT

That seems so old-fashioned!” she says.

Old-fashioned is right! And often, old-fashioned is bet­ter. Times change, but chil­dren don’t. They still need the good old expe­ri­ences that kids have always rel­ished. They need to run and play out­side, take risks, and try again when they stum­ble. And they still need thought­ful, avail­able parents.

Want to raise a con­fi­dent, com­pe­tent child? The kind of kid who loves to learn and play? Who actively par­tic­i­pates in the world around her? Who thinks inde­pen­dently while still con­sid­er­ing oth­ers’ points of view? In three decades of work­ing with young chil­dren and their fam­i­lies, I’ve found these 10 tips most help­ful for rais­ing “can-do” kids.

#1 Pro­vide con­crete experiences.

Chil­dren are sensory-motor learn­ers. Sensory-motor means that sen­sa­tions come in, and motor (move­ment) responses go out. Thus, play­ing with an orange engages most senses and encour­ages the child to try dif­fer­ent motor responses. She can squeeze and sniff it, roll it across the floor or around in a pie pan, play catch with you, and maybe peel, sec­tion, and savor it.

Many phys­i­cal, hands-on activ­i­ties like these nour­ish the brain. You can enrich your child’s play by pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful sensory-motor expe­ri­ences. For exam­ple, fur­nish footwear to play “Shoe Store.” Your child can sort shoes by shape, size, tex­ture, and how they fas­ten (laces/Velcro/buckle). Sequence them (sneaker, pump, boot; sneaker, pump, boot). Sort them accord­ing to size. Try them all on. Box and stack them. Be the “cus­tomer” and “salesperson.”

Hide the videos. Ban TV. Jane Healy, PhD, of Col­orado, an edu­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist and expert on brain devel­op­ment, advises that chil­dren should sit before an elec­tronic screen no longer than 30 min­utes a day. Video time deprives chil­dren of the sensory-motor expe­ri­ences that build healthy brains and bodies.

A Chi­nese adage says: “I hear, and I for­get. I see, and I remem­ber. I do, and I understand.”

#2 Get phys­i­cal with your child.

Every­one needs 12 hugs a day for opti­mum emo­tional health,” claims a wise col­league. Hugs are ther­a­peu­tic — not only emo­tion­ally, but also phys­i­cally. Research shows that at-risk infants who are cud­dled are more likely to thrive than babies who are not.

While you’re at it, rough­house with your child — espe­cially your girl! Baby girls arrive with the same phys­i­cal require­ments as boys. Every child needs to move through space. So, get on all fours and play Horsey. Play Up and Over: hold her hands, let her scale your legs, and flip her over and down. Play Heli­copter: hold her at the waist or under­arms and swing her through the air.

Learn­ing and active move­ment go together. For instance, the first time your child plays Horsey, she may feel unsteady. She must judge how to stay bal­anced, how hard to clench her knees, and how not to choke you! Sub­se­quently, she’ll be more con­fi­dent and relaxed because she has inte­grated count­less body-brain con­nec­tions. Some­day, she’ll gen­er­al­ize these lessons about bal­ance and body posi­tion when she mounts a real pony or bicycle.

#3 Get his mus­cles moving.

Fine, or small, mus­cles, which mature grad­u­ally, con­trol the hands, fin­gers, toes, lips, tongue, and eyes. To encour­age small mus­cle devel­op­ment, first you need to get your child’s big mus­cles work­ing. Before they can sit and write, chil­dren need count­less oppor­tu­ni­ties to climb, bal­ance, swing, and play catch.

For lit­tle kids, think big: large Legos, foot-long trucks, life-size baby dolls, thick paint­brushes, chubby chalk and crayons. After preschool­ers prac­tice manip­u­lat­ing big toys and tools, they can grad­u­ate to smaller ones, such as Match­box cars and water­color brushes.

Get your child’s eyes rov­ing. Play flash­light games, such as chas­ing each oth­ers’ beamed zigzags on dark­ened walls. Lob beach balls back and forth. Play tether ball and ping pong. Lie out­side on sum­mer nights and watch fire­flies. Point out things in the dis­tance. These visual exer­cises help young eyes track mov­ing objects, change focus from far to near, and func­tion as a team.

Get your child’s tongue wag­ging. Play mouth games with your baby: mimic the ways you curl, shake, and poke your tongue. Stretch your lips in great “O’s” and wide grins. These games strengthen speak­ing skills.

#4 Encour­age crit­i­cal thinking.

Won­der and hypoth­e­size together. Why do mel­ons float and pota­toes sink? What may hap­pen if we run out of gas? What snack will Grandma serve?

Ask­ing, “What do you think?” may elicit pro­found insights. Kids give thought­ful answers when we ask thought­ful questions.

Sup­pose your child is curi­ous about a car­toon his school­mates dis­cuss. You’d pre­fer to read sto­ries, but he wants to watch TV. Relent; in the long run, watch­ing a mind­less show is less dam­ag­ing than feel­ing left out by classmates.

Seize this oppor­tu­nity to guide him into think­ing crit­i­cally. Crit­i­cal thinkers are not com­plain­ers, but peo­ple who eval­u­ate sit­u­a­tions with dis­crim­i­na­tion and care.

Watch the show together. Later, ask ques­tions: Would the hero make a nice friend? How does he treat less pow­er­ful char­ac­ters? Does he have a plan, or just let stuff hap­pen to him? When things go wrong, does he “use his words” to solve the prob­lem? What helps him suc­ceed — fancy equip­ment, mag­i­cal power, or his own wits?

Do not accept “Dunno.” Get an opinion!

#5 Let your child speak for herself.

You and your daugh­ter go to the ice cream par­lor. The famil­iar clerk says, “Hi!” Your daugh­ter freezes.

Before you jump in with, “Say ‘hi’ to Mike,” give her time to respond. A child capa­ble of speak­ing may sim­ply need a few extra beats.

And sup­pose Mike inquires what fla­vor she wants today, and she just stands there. Don’t give the answer your­self; you may not know your child’s pref­er­ence. You weren’t asked the ques­tion, any­way. Pro­duc­ing “lan­guage on demand” is a pre­req­ui­site for school suc­cess. A child must learn to respond to direct ques­tions and to ask for what she wants. If you do the talk­ing, the dan­ger for your child is “learned help­less­ness.” Why should she make an effort, if you always take over? Model friendly con­ver­sa­tion to encour­age her to be respon­sive and considerate.

#6 Encour­age good read­ing habits.

A car­toon shows a boy hold­ing a book. He regards his father, who is simul­ta­ne­ously using a lap­top and watch­ing tele­vi­sion. The child says, “Daddy, can you read?”

Take time to read. When you show an inter­est in books, you teach your child that read­ing is a life­time plea­sure. Let him catch you at it. Talk about what you are learn­ing from the book. A preschooler doesn’t need details about front-page news or the plots of best-sellers, but he can ben­e­fit from under­stand­ing that all kinds of chal­lenges beset all kinds of folks. Chil­dren learn empa­thy from their par­ents. Dis­cuss how prob­lems may be over­come when peo­ple care about one another and work together.

#7 Cham­pion chores.

Chil­dren love and need heavy work. It acti­vates the large mus­cles in the arms, legs, and torso; puts the brain in gear; and pre­pares them to pay atten­tion to the sur­round­ing world.

The eas­ier we make life for our kids now, the harder their lives will be in the future. With­out suf­fi­cient motor activ­i­ties, they may have low sta­mina, poor mus­cle tone, and scant expe­ri­ence in accom­plish­ing sim­ple tasks. Insuf­fi­cient move­ment can also lead to poor sleep pat­terns and appetites.

Hav­ing your child help with chores is a great first step. He can rake leaves, shovel snow, dig in the gar­den, brush the dog, wash the car, push the stroller and vac­uum cleaner, carry laun­dry upstairs, and haul non-breakables (rice, plas­tic soda bot­tles, and cans) from gro­cery store to car and from car to kitchen.

Not enough heavy loads? Make some! Recy­cle those plas­tic bot­tles as “Bot­tle Babies:” fill them halfway with water, tinted with food col­or­ing or tem­pura paint; tighten their caps; and hand them over. Out­doors, your child will lug them around, roll and kick them, hide them under the bushes, bury them in the sand­box, wrap them in blan­kets and pre­tend they are babies, and con­sider them a per­fect toy.

#8 Make meal­time memorable.

Sit down and share a fam­ily meal, every day. Din­ner is best; break­fast will do.

With you as a model for meal­time deco­rum, your child can learn self-help skills such as cut­ting and pour­ing, as well as more com­plex life skills such as patience, shar­ing, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the give and take of conversation.

Should con­ver­sa­tion get stuck, ask each fam­ily mem­ber to relate one inci­dent of the day. Or say, “Tell us some­thing funny (con­fus­ing, scary, incred­i­ble) that hap­pened today.” Make sure that every­one has a turn to lis­ten and comment.

Food, like move­ment, is essen­tial nutri­tion for grow­ing bod­ies. Around the table, your child can also be nour­ished emo­tion­ally, so she feels a sense of belong­ing and learns to be mind­ful of the needs of oth­ers; socially, so she learns to func­tion in a group; and cog­ni­tively, so she learns to meet chal­lenges and plan solutions.

#9 Honor your child’s interests.

Say your daugh­ter is fond of earth­worms. She res­cues and car­ries them home in paper cups. And let’s say you hate worms. Before you say, “Yuck,” look at her face. Is she emo­tion­ally invested in these crea­tures? Curi­ous and com­pas­sion­ate? Eager to share her thoughts with you?

This is bad? No, this is wonderful!

#10 Make fun a priority.

Play helps chil­dren learn. It stretches the imag­i­na­tion, encour­ages think­ing skills, strength­ens motor coor­di­na­tion, and enhances social devel­op­ment. Our daily charge should be, “Have fun!” — not “Be good!”

Fun, like man­ners, empa­thy, and the desire to read, begins at home. If you know and show how to have fun, chances are your child will, too.

So, dress up for Hallowe’en. Play make-believe games, like “I’m the kid and you’re the Mommy.” Cel­e­brate Back­wards Day; eat dessert first.

Switch the ini­tial sounds of words to cre­ate “Spooner­isms,” such as “Please heed the fam­ster,” or, “Remem­ber to toss your fleeth,” or “All ready for proc­cer sac­tice?” Because they are old enough to get it, preschool­ers are tick­led by such … nensonse.

Have Silly Con­tests. Who can crunch car­rots the loud­est? Blow the biggest bub­bles? Invent a word to rhyme with “rac­coon”? Stare into another’s eyes with­out laughing?

Make music together. Music restores order, improves com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and is one of life’s great­est plea­sures. Home­made rhythm instru­ments include spoons, pots and pans, oatmeal-box drums, pen­cil “mal­lets,” and cigar-box gui­tars (sturdy boxes encir­cled with rub­ber bands). Inex­pen­sive kazoos and slide whis­tles can add hilar­i­ous “melody.”

Beat a sim­ple rhythm and invite your child to join in. Take turns fol­low­ing each oth­ers’ beat. Change from sim­ple to com­plex, from slow to fast, from loud to soft. Mak­ing music is espe­cially fun when you and your child actively make it happen.

Some of the most impor­tant skills your child needs at school come from lessons that begin at home. Try these and you will help get your child on the path to success.


Cour­tesy of Carol Kra­nowitz, Editor-in-Chief of S.I. Focus, author of The Outof-Sync Child and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, and co-author with Joye New­man of Grow­ing an In-Sync Child. See www.out-ofsync-child.com , www.in-sync-child.com and www.sifocus.com .

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