Parenting Diaries: Creating a Stimulating Environment for Your Kids

Disclaimer: This will seem like a parent-bragging, ego-boosting post. Read this with an open mind and know that the real objective of this post is to show you that the things I listed here work.

“Why didn’t you tell me that?” My friend responded when I told her I started reading books to Little O when she was a few weeks old.

I didn’t tell her because she was an experienced mom of four, and I was a first time mom.

Her oldest is 11 years old and youngest is three years old.

We’ve been talking about early childhood development the past few days because her youngest was diagnosed with probable ADHD.

…And I want to help her.

Although experts haven’t figured out the exact cause of ADHD, they assume it’s genetic. Whatever the reason is, parents can still create a screen-free environment that will stimulate their children in a balanced way—neither understimulated, nor overstimulated.

And a stimulating environment greatly helps how the child will grow.

In Utero Preparation: How to Prepare for Your Little One

D and I are nerd parents, and we’re not ashamed to admit it. My sister even calls us “theoretical parents” or what I’ll define as “by-the-book parents”. We’d like to think we’re informed parents, not so much as theoretical parents. The latter one is purely following the instruction manual whereas the former is filtering the things you’re learning and selecting the ones you can apply in your situation—not everything on the book needs to be followed.

  1. Watch YouTube videos: YouTube has great content from doctors, midwives, and teachers. From knowing what to pack in your hospital bag to how to swaddle a baby, we learned everything in YouTube.
  2. Listen to podcasts: Podcasts are a great start for those who want to know more about early childhood development or parenting. On Spotify, you can search keywords such as “sleep training toddlers” and related episodes from different podcasters will show up.
  3. Talk to people: I talked to a few friends about my pregnancy, and that was about it. How to parent? That’s a different topic.
  4. Talk to the baby: Research shows that talking to the baby in utero makes the baby familiar with the parents’ voices. Before D would start work in the evening, he’d put his head on my tummy and talk to Little O. I, on the other hand, read Oh, the places you’ll go by Dr. Seuss aloud.
  5. Play classical music: Although this has been debunked, we did it before we found out the story behind this myth. But no loss here, even if classical music won’t make the baby smarter, at least she was introduced to music early on.

Welcome to the World! Now what? Day 1 to 5 years old

Little O is 1 year old and 7 months (19 months), I wrote “to 5 years old” because the first five years of a child’s life is the most critical for their physical, cognitive, socio-emotional, and intellectual development. It’s in the first five years when their brains develop the fastest compared to any other stages in life.

Here are some of the things we do—and you can do, too—to stimulate a toddler’s growing brain:

1. Don’t stress about the small stuff.

More people should know that how the parents are in the first few days, weeks, or months would influence the baby. My British client was the first one to tell me this. She said if the parent is stressed, the baby would be stressed, too. The baby can feel what the parents feel.

D and I were pretty chill in the first few months (until now actually). That’s why Little O is pretty chill, too. She slept for 16 hours a day when she was a newborn.

2. Continue talking to the baby.

You will feel like you’re talking to the air because your baby isn’t responding, but it’s good for them. They’re getting input that will promote language development.

3. Read books to your little one.

The best “toy” for newborns is a book. I started reading to Little O when she was a few weeks old. I asked my pre-school teacher friend “What’s a good toy for newborns?” She answered: “Board books.” And then I went online to shop for a board book set.

Little O is so used to reading that when she was 5-6 months old, she’d crawl towards me as soon as I start reading one of her books aloud. Now that she’s one year old and seven months, she gets one of her books and hands it to me.

Reading is one of the the most powerful activities you can do with your kid. They’ll learn about sounds, words, and how letters are supposed to be written (more about this in the bragging part of the post).

4. Let the baby play.

Jean Piaget, a child psychologist, said “Play is the work of children.” Kids, especially those under 5 years old, have nothing to do but play. And it is through play that they learn things.

Go old school and get them blocks, kitchen set, dolls, crayons – the non-techy toys! I learned about Montessori when Little O was a few months. I wanted to buy all the wooden toys I can see online but I prioritized her safety. I was unsure whether these toys were made with non-toxic materials or not. The safe, “credible” brands are a tad expensive for me. So, for the first few months her toys were made with cloth (puppets) or plastic. Today, she has a few wooden toys.

5. Play with the baby.

Letting them play alone is important, but playing with them is as equally important. Playing with your little ones help develop their early language skills, social skills, and cognitive skills.

If you let a child play with a Lego set alone, s/he’ll learn how to build things. If you play with the child, and say things like “I’ll build a tower. I need all the green Lego pieces and a few black pieces.” Then the child is learning more than building things, s/he’s learning new words as well.

6. Play some songs and sing with the baby.

Songs are important for their language acquisition. Again, even if the kid doesn’t talk yet, s/he’s getting input from what s/he hears (more about this in the bragging part!)

Songs can help with gross motor skills because who can resist dancing to some tunes, right? You can encourage them to move around to action-oriented songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes and If You’re Happy and You Know It. Do the action and the kid will follow!

7. Be silly with the baby.

Parenting doesn’t have to serious 100% of the time. Learn to have fun!

8. Let them move.

“Freedom within limits.” – Maria Montessori. Never limit the child’s movement. If possible, have a “yes space”. A space where s/he can roam around freely and safely.

When Little O was learning how to crawl, we removed our bedframe, so that in case she falls down from the bed, it wouldn’t be that high. When she was learning how to stand, we got a playpen, so she has her “yes space.” The space allowed her to walk (with guidance from the playpen wall/fence) at 10 months. When she became more move-y, we converted the other bedroom to a playroom. It was a playroom in the morning and her Tita’s bedroom at night.

9. Let them get hurt, they’ll learn.

This is a difficult thing to do since it’s our job as parents to keep them safe. But there are times when you have to allow them to get hurt.

Rushing to your little one when s/he falls is the natural response, but don’t scream (like what parents usually do). The more you scream, the higher chance they’ll cry. Little O trips from time to time, and yes, we rush to get her, but then we just say “Uh, oh. You fell. That’s okay.” So far, I have never heard her cry from falling.

10. Let them be independent.

Whatever you think your little one can do alone, let him/her do it. If you think s/he needs help, ask him/her “do you need help with that?”

11. Let them explore.

Kids are curious cats. They’d touch anything and everything. When they do this, instead of simply telling them “Don’t touch that.” Explain why they can’t touch it “Don’t touch that because you’ll get hurt.” Or if what they’re touching is safe, explain to them what that item is. Name it and tell its use. I know it’s such a nerd thing to do, but remember – we’re stimulating our kids’ brains!

12. Don’t teach because let them learn through play.

I hate to admit this, but I tried teaching Little O how to read because of the book “How to Teach Your Baby to Read” by Glen Doman but then I read this book that negates the previous one “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less” by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Diane Eyer, and Michnick Golinkoff.

After reading that book, I stopped what I was doing with Little O, and let things be. Even until now, I haven’t taught her the ABC. Although she has an alphabet poster on our bed wall (to cover the socket), but I don’t drill her “A is for apple.” She knows the letter names (not symbol yet) because of the alphabet song.

Full transparency: I don’t teach her the ABC, but I do teach her the sound of each letter. What’s the difference between teaching the letter names and letter sounds? Knowing the letter sounds makes it easier for them to decode written language, letter names on the other hand are just “names”. I’m not sure if I’m making sense, but it’s how I do it. *wink*

13. Don’t get mad!

I’m impatient, but I don’t scold Little O because I know she wouldn’t get it. Not to belittle her, babies may not seem like they understand what you say, but they do. They may not know what you mean but they can feel that you’re mad.

And let’s say maybe they really can’t understand what you’re saying, then what’s the point of getting mad?

14. The most important tip – Repeat everything daily.

No explanations needed.

Bragging Part of the Post

I’ve only been parenting Little O for 19 months, so why should you believe me? Let me tell you why, and yes, there’s some bragging here.

She’s talkative.

I guess one talkative person plus one talkative person is equal to one talkative person?

My friend B receives random videos and pictures of Little O because he’s a brother from another mother. I guess he showed one or two videos to his friend (whom I know by name and vice versa).

This friend of his said “She’s (referring to Little O) talkative even if there are only three of them at home.” There’s four of us at home, 2 speaking adults, 1 deaf-mute adult, and this talkative kid.

And my friend said “What do you expect? Mica is talkative.”

She can speak in sentences.

Yesterday, I played jazz nursery rhymes to her, and guess what she told me? “I want tinkle stai” (Translation: I want twinkle star).

D is the silly parent. He can creatively play with Little O. The other day, he put O’s toys inside her tucked in sando. Batman’s car in the back, and Joker’s and Wonder Woman’s vehicles in the front. She was having fun. When D removed a car, O said “put it in”.

She can outsmart her “supposedly” smarter parents.

The other day, she tricked D (and me), so she can go to her favorite spot on the bed. She likes staying so close to the wall, so I would need to lie down on my right side to breastfeed her. My body wasn’t having it that time, I needed to lie down on my left side.

So, D and I switched places. He stayed in Little O’s favorite spot, I stayed in the middle, and Little O would stay on the left side of the bed. But she didn’t like it. She was annoyed and she said “keyi keyi” (Translation: Carry, carry.” to D. And he did.

30 seconds into carrying her, she said “dede” and tried to wiggle her way down. D put her back on the bed, and as soon as she was on the bed, she rushed to her favorite side – the side D was on before carrying her.

D and I were shocked, and we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves because we were tricked by this girl.

She sings.

Remember the nursery rhymes I mentioned above? Here’s the proof that they songs are good for language development.

Just this month, I was shocked that she sang “tinkle stai how I wanda” (Translation: Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder…” It has been a few months since we played that sleeptime song. We used to play it every night since birth, and we stopped when she was a year old. Was it stock knowledge?

That’s not all! She can continue the song one’s singing:

Adult: Old McDonald had a farm….
O: eya eya o (Translation: e-i-e-i-o)

Adult: little thumbkin, little thumbkin where are you?
O: ir a em, ir a em (Translation: Here I am, here I am)

Adult: The wheels on the bus go…
O: nyound and nyound (Translation: Round and round)

She “reads.”

She knows the right way to hold books… And knows if a book is upside down or not.
In the Einstein book, the author said when you read to, they will be familiar with the letters and how they should be written (i.e. know when it’s upside down).

Little O before 18 months old, knew when a book is upside down. I saw her rotate an upside down book, and I thought “oh wow, this is what the author was talking about.” Then she rotated it to the upside down version again, and I thought “it was a coincidence.” And then, she rotated it to the right position again! That confirmed it – she knows when letters are upside down or not.

I know I’m not supposed to be comparing kids but I’m doing it to prove that reading works! One time, Little O was hanging out with another kid her age. The kid looked at the book upside down as if trying to make sense of it, and I wasn’t shocked because the kid wasn’t being read to.

She can focus.

I tried reading to the previous kid I talked about, and he would just grab the book from my hand.

Little O, on the other hand, would sit down on my lap and “read” books. There are times she’d “fast forward” the reading session by turning the pages while I’m still reading.

There are also times she’d get a book, and “read”. I wouldn’t say pretend read. Though she can’t read yet, she’s doing the act of reading.

But everything of course is not perfect…

D and I have our lapses too – one of which is rocking or carrying Little O to sleep. We ignored what the doctor said “cry it out” and chose to carry her to sleep.

When she was a newborn, I’d play Gabriella Bee’s Obladi, Oblada on repeat and walk back and forth the room to make her sleep. When Permission to Dance by BTS was released, we switched to that song (no wonder it was one of my most played song in 2022).

I don’t always have the best sleep because she frequently asks for dede at night. We let her get used to being comforted by dede or by being carried that’s why she hasn’t learned self soothing yet.

Parenting is a journey.

I’d say there’s no right or wrong parenting, but there’s actually “wrong parenting”—it’s when you physically, psychologically, and emotionally abuse your kids. But that’s not the point here; Even if you think you started parenting “incorrectly” because you didn’t do the things I shared, you can always course-correct. It’s never too late.

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