First Three Years of Life: Check!

I haven’t written a blog post for something like six months to a year because frankly, I’ve been in depths of parenting myself. When my daughter was little, I was constantly consuming information about childhood brain development in the first three years of life. I was making all these connections between the bad behaviors I witnessed in the classroom as an inner-city behavior interventionist, and what the latest research said about the increasing lack of self-regulation in kids due to overstimulation and underdeveloped parts of the brain. I would wake up at ungodly hours with blog post ideas racing through my mind, and I couldn't sleep until I got them out of my brain and on to my blog. Right now it’s 4:31 am, and here I sit again wide awake, and it feels sooooo good to be excited about sharing again.

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written, ever, then you know that the human brain grows 85% in the the first three years of life in the area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive function, learning, working memory and self-regulation (the ability to manage ones own thoughts, emotions and behavior). Well, guess what mommas… we are T-minus 23 days away from my daughter’s third birthday. I have (almost) made it! I am on the home stretch, rounding the bases. I have parented a child for almost three years, and have I ever nurtured that little brain into a full blown articulate, bilingual, self-regulating, reasonable, smart, even funny, big brain that is trying to figure out and make sense of this complicated world.

Also, if you know me at all, then you know that making it here was a HUGE struggle on my part June came out colicky, red-headed, fiery and ready to take on the world (aka me!) My boss wouldn’t let me come back to work after three months as originally planned because I was in such bad shape. I sat in her office with a 2-month-old June screaming her head off, and she said, “Yeah, why don’t you just come back next school year. You’ve got a lot on your plate.” I got shingles when she was four-months-old from physical exhaustion; my mom had to fly me home from Texas to Indiana so I could get some self-care. I thought the colic was bad, but I’d take it any day over the terrible-two’s; at least then she was a tiny baby that I could physically manage. I had to cancel a completely paid for trip to Mexico with my friends and kids AFTER CHECKING IN AT THE AIRPORT because she was melting down so badly, I literally couldn’t physically handle her. I’ve left multiple parks, birthday parties and neighborhood gatherings with a screaming, red-faced June under my arm. None of this is an exaggeration.

When people hear these stories, they are usually shocked. I guess because I founded a business that’s named Calma kids, one would think that I had a Calma kid of my own. Ha. Nope.

When I founded Calma in February of 2017, I never wanted it to be about parenting. I wanted the programming and trainings to strictly focus on managing classroom behavior because that’s what I knew, and that’s what I was good at doing. Personally, I was in an abyss of parenting struggle. Also, my daughter was only one-year-old at the time, so I didn’t want to be that know-it-all mom who was telling everyone else what to do with their children while struggling to manage my own.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by an amazing, very supportive, and very busy, group of mom (and dad) friends who convinced me to put together a parenting workshop. They encouraged me that even though I may suck as a mom myself, I had years of experience & training as a behavior interventionist, had consumed all the latest parenting books, was obsessed with childhood cognitive development research, and that they simply didn’t have more than a couple hours to learn what I knew. So, I did, and it’s been the most successful part of Calma kids thus far. Even still, I felt like a complete fraud. I was shocked when my friends showed up on Saturday mornings, and paid me actual money to learn what I had to share, and I would pray that the attending parents who didn’t know me personally would never see my parenting in action.

But now, almost three years later, here I sit, finally feeling like I'm getting the hang of this parenting thing. I’m definitely seeing the results of all this intentional parenting stuff from the first three years of life both by June’s intellect and behavior. And, now, I know I have something to share with other parents, as a parent, because I haven’t only been professionally trained, but I have experienced the struggle, and am now on the other side of it. Sure, June and I still have our bad moments, even bad days, and if she’s anything like me as a teenager, then I haven’t seen the worst of it. But, I’m out of the abyss, and excited to dive into the parenting side of Calma kids because calm & loving minds begin and end at home, and if my struggle can help ease yours, then we all win.

The Most Serious Threat to a Child's Healthy Development is the Absence of Responsiveness from a Parent

neglected child brain.png

I've seen this picture floating around on the internet. The left brain is that of a three-year-old who experienced normal cognitive growth in the first three years of life. The one on the left is of a child who experienced extreme neglect in the first years of life. It is amazing that we can now see how important the interaction between a child and caregiver is to cognitive development. I know when I saw this imagine I thought, "Aw. That poor child who experienced neglect, to no fault of his own, is clearly starting life behind the other child who experienced normal cognitive growth. I'm so glad my child hasn't suffered from neglect." But, according to Paul Tough's book Helping Children Succeed, this is where we as parents have to be very careful because "neglect doesn't mean abuse in the traditional sense, but the mere absence of responsiveness from a parent or caregiver."

According to Tough, there exists a whole spectrum of environmental factors that fall short of the traditional definition of trauma but still have an adverse effect on brain development. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that one of the most serious threats to a child's healthy development is the absence of responsiveness from a parent. When children are neglected, especially in infancy, their nervous systems experience it as a threat to their well-being, and researchers have found that neglect can do MORE long-term harm to a child than physical abuse. 

I know I spent a lot of time surfing the internet, or listening to podcasts when my baby was up during the middle of the night. And, now that she's two, there are definitely times that I am on my phone or have to get something done when she's around, preventing me from giving her 100% of my attention. It's impossible to provide that to your child when you're required to do other adult things, like respond to a work Email, or make dinner or, God forbid, enjoy a 5-minute conversation with your friend or spouse. It is never my intention to guilt anyone for how much or how little time they can set aside to fully engage with their child, but to simply share what the research says about the importance of each and every interaction you do get to provide..


The brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, 95% in the first five. But, according to Dana Suskind in Thirty Million Words, "the brain doesn't just grow in positive ways on its own."  "The way parents shape the development of a child happens through the sharing of energy and information," according to Daniel Siegel of the Mindsight Institute. "When you drive energy through a relationship, in how you communicate, you're actually driving energy through the senses of a child. Those streams of energy are going through the nervous system, and as the child is having those experiences, neuronal firing is happening, making connections in the brain, wiring the architecture of the brain." Interactions between young children and their caregivers quite literally build the architecture for the child's brain. Building a sturdy foundation in the earliest years provides a solid base for mental function, life-long learning and overall health. 

The good news is that what a child needs to develop optimally is free, and available to all caregivers immediately. The more challenging news, is that optimal cognitive development is completely dependent on the caregiver providing a warm, loving language-rich home environment full of plenty positive serve-and-return interactions. In fact, Suskind states that every single word spoken to a child builds the architecture of their brain. Serve-and-return interactions, including eye contact, touch, singing and conversation, are said to be the bricks that lay a strong foundation for all other healthy development. Research shows that without a sturdy foundation, to support future development, children are at risk for a life-time of health problems, developmental issues and even addiction. 

I feel so fortunate to be living in a time where such incredible insights are being discovered through research. Just a decade ago, we had no little idea what was happening in the brain based on our environment. Now, we have research-based practices that show us exactly how we can ensure our children are receiving what they need for optimal development. And, the best part, to me, is that it doesn't require some fancy program, or expensive technology; it simply requires parents to lovingly engage with their children.

To learn research-bsaed strategies to intentionally and mindfully engage with your children, sign up for Calma's Mindful Parenting Workshop, or contact me for more information

Calm & Loving Minds Begin at Home: Mindful Parenting

Right after having my daughter, I started a blog called "The Mommy Brain: Where this Mommy Comes to Organize her Brain" to share the research I was consuming about brain development in the first three years of life. I wanted to share the research with anyone who would read my silly mommy blog because I was simply shocked that the brain was not mentioned in any of the prenatal or parenting classes I took, and I took several. We're told to breast feed, we're told to vaccinate, we're told about attachment parenting, to sleep train, not to sleep train, and there's no shortage of lists about what we're supposed to buy before baby comes. But, I was never informed about how important the first three years of life are to cognitive development, and how big of an impact a lack of such development will have on a child's life-long learning abilities, and ultimate well-being and success. As Paul Tough states in his book Helping Children Succeed, "The science tells us that parents and caregivers, and the environment they create for a child, are the most effective tool we have in early childhood for improving that child's future."

You see, the latest research shows us that, unlike almost all other organs, the brain is unfinished at birth, and that it grows 85% in the first three years of life. The 85% brain development happens in an area called the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of two very important functions for life-long learning: self-regulation and executive function, otherwise known as the ability focus on a single activity for an extended period, the ability to understand and follow directions and the ability to cope with disappointment. But, the brain does not just develop in positive ways on its own. It is completely dependent on the parent providing the child with face-to-face serve-and-return interactions in a calm & loving home environment. As Dana Suskind so bluntly states in her book, Thirty Million Words. Building a Child's Brain, "Children are not born smart. They're made smart by you talking to them."


The image below shows the difference of two three-year-old brains, one of which developed normally, and the other that experienced extreme neglect. But, something very important to note here is that neglect does not mean abuse in the traditional sense, but the mere absence of responsiveness from a parent or caregiver, according to Tough (p. 23). There exists a whole spectrum of environmental factors that fall short of the traditional definition of trauma but still have an adverse effect on brain development. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that one of the most serious threats to a child's healthy development is the absence of responsiveness from a parent. When children are neglected, especially in infancy, their nervous systems experience it as a serious threat to their well-being, and researchers have found that neglect can do MORE long-term harm to a child than physical abuse. 

neglected child brain.png

I was on maternity leave as an elementary school behavior interventionist at the time that I was reading all of this research, and it was like a lightbulb went off in my mommy brain! I realized I had been approaching my most challenging students needs all wrong because they didn't lack the will to behave and learn; they lacked the ability to do so because of their experience in the first three years of life. That part of their brain that would have allowed them to sit still and absorb information was simply underdeveloped. This was no fault of their own, or even their parents. We parents (myself included) are all so busy, stressed and distracted that providing a child the attention and interactions they need in the first three years of life takes knowledge of the research, intentionality, constant prioritization and practical application. Those moment-to-moment interactions are incredibly important to our children's development. In fact, according to Tough, "what matters, in general, is warm, responsive face-to-face, serve-and-return parenting, which can be delivered in many different flavors. That parenting approach, however it is carried out, conveys to infants some deep, even transcendent messages about belonging, security, stability, and their place in the world. And, those mushy, sentimental notions find their articulation in the infants' brains in precise neurochemical reactions: the formation of a synapse, the pruning of a dendrite, the methylation of a DNA sequence. All of which contribute, directly or indirectly, to the children's future success in school"  (p. 72). 

It is with this in mind that I developed Calma's mindful parenting workshop because it is clear that Calm & Loving Minds begin at home. In this 4-part workshop we will explore the science of the brain in the first few years of life, and real-life practical tips to develop it. The workshop content is an amalgamation of the latest research from childhood Psychologists, Pediatricians and educators, my experience applying such research to my daughter, and the ways in which my husband and I work to rid ourselves of constant distractions to become engaged, mindful parents. I hope you will join us for one of our future workshops to ensure your child develops a calm & loving mind that is prepared for life-long learning.

Research from: Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind, MD, Simplicity Parenting by Jim John Payne, M.Ed., Helping Children Succeed by Paul Tough, The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne, Ph.D., No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne, Ph.D., The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel Ph.D. Also see Calma's library

How To Keep a Positive Attitude As a Single Parent (by Daniel Sherwin)

By: Daniel Sherwin Founder of, a Website with tips for single parents. I find Daniel's content incredibly helpful for staying positive, healthy and happy. There's been a lot of talk about mental health lately, and it is so true what he says about our responsibility as parents to stay on top of self-care and mental health in order to create a safe and loving home environment for our children. "The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in." Please read, enjoy and support Daniel is his efforts to help parents create calm & loving homes for their children.  

"Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It takes huge amounts of energy, time, money, and emotional effort to raise a child in a healthy and happy home, and it can bring so much stress and anxiety that you may begin to second-guess your decision to have children at all. Don’t worry; this is normal. For single parents, especially, the task of raising a child while keeping both of you happy and sane may seem overwhelming, in part because everything falls on your shoulders.

It’s important, therefore, to have a plan of action when it comes to staying positive and being the best parent you can be. The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing.

Here are a few of the best ways to gain a “gratitude attitude”.

Practice self-care

It’s so important to take care of yourself, not only because you are the one responsible for the wellbeing of your child, but because it will help you be the best parent you can be. Daily exercise, a well-balanced diet, and careful attention to your mental health will help you stay happy and healthy. Of course, this means never abusing substances as a means of forgetting your problems or “dealing with” your anxiety or stress. For more tips on how to make good choices, read on here. 

Work hard, play harder

It’s a given that you’re going to work hard; as a single parent, that’s all you do. But it’s important to play just as hard, and that means you’ll have to work out a schedule that allows you to add a bit of fun to your days. Going through life drudging through the same old routine of work, dinner, dishes, chores, helping with homework, and everything else you have to take care of will grow old very fast and may lead to resentment at the fact that you’re responsible for everything. Taking steps to incorporate things that make you happy will allow you to make the most of your days and keep in mind what’s most important.

Be your own cheerleader

Being a parent is often a thankless job, so it’s up to you to be your own cheerleader. For every success you have in a day, treat yourself in some way. It doesn’t have to be anything big; splurge on the fancy yogurt when you give a great presentation at work, or plan a night out with friends after a long week of getting the kiddos to school on time with everything they need in their backpacks. These may not seem like huge accomplishments, but they don’t have to be. Just by patting yourself on the back for all your hard work, you’re allowing yourself to celebrate single parenthood rather than being stressed by it.

Know how to say no

It can be difficult for a single parent to say “no” sometimes, either because they feel guilty about all the things they can’t provide for their child or because they just don’t have the energy for another argument. Instead of saying “no”, find different ways to communicate what you want. For example, when your child wants more television time, say something like, “I’d rather you did your reading for class first.” It’s a way to compromise without starting a fight. For more tips on how to keep things positive at home, check out this article.

 Stay on top of your finances

One of the most stressful parts of being a single parent is handling your finances. Some days it may seem like there’s never going to be enough money, which can cause quite a bit of stress and anxiety. Those feelings can be internalized and come out in a different form, such as yelling at your child over a small infraction. Stay on top of your mental health by staying on top of your finances; create a budget and stick to it.

Remember that no one is a perfect parent; some days, the best you can do is feed, clothe, and bathe your child, and that’s okay. Think about the best ways to create a more relaxed, happy attitude in your home and stick with it."

Thanks for helping Calm & Loving Minds Achieve, Daniel. 





Stop Stressing. It's Hurting Our Kids.

Our brains are worrying about the past or stressing about the future most of the time. They were developed this way from our ancestors, and this used to serve us well to protect us from danger, or to prepare us for action from harm. In the lecture The Science of Mindfulness Ronald Siegel explains why. "Imagine our ancestor Lucy was looking at some bushes, and spied a beige shape. She could have made two possible mistakes. The first mistake would be to think, 'I think it’s a lion, when it’s actually a beige rock.' The second mistake would be to think, 'Eh, it’s probably a beige rock when it was really a lion.' The cost of the first mistake is needless anxiety. The cost of the second mistake is death. So, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once. The ancestors that did focus on the moment by enjoying a luscious piece of fruit, or the campfire, statistically, were not our ancestors because they died before reproducing. Our ancestors were the ones that spent each day remembering every bad thing that had happened, and spent much of their lives anticipating more trouble in the future. This is the mind they bequeathed to us." Therefore, our minds were not designed to be focused on the present moment; they were developed to worry, perseverate, anticipate and plan. 

According to a recent article in Pediatric News by Barbara Howard, MD, (Mindfulness and Child Health) a lot of personal distress is due to negative thoughts about one’s past or fears for one’s future, and these negative thoughts can paralyze us with anxiety, take away pleasure, interrupt our sleep, stimulate physiologic stress responses, and have adverse impacts on health, and we're passing this on to our kids. 1 in 5 children report that they worry all or most of the time, according to the American Psychological Association, and nearly 50% show signs of stress through headaches or lack of sleep. The most common current issues in child health are anxiety, depression, sleep problems, stress, and even adverse childhood experiences, all of which appear to stem from our culture, according to Dr. Howard. 

But, it doesn't have to be this way. Today we have the luxury of not worrying all of the time, so we should take advantage. We have to work to balance our negative thoughts, or the cost is our own well-being, and the well-being of our kids. According to Dr. Howard, the most promising method to managing stressful thinking, for both children and their parents, is to learn and practice mindfulness. The below video claims mindfulness is a super power because it allows you to create a buffer between a stimulus and your reaction to it. Practicing mindfulness allows you to observe negative thoughts, just like you're watching them in a movie, instead of getting carried away by them or letting them take over. If we can reduce negative thoughts by simply letting them pass by or choosing not to engage with them, we reduce stress and anxiety, and have more brain space to enjoy the pleasures of life. 

Teaching this skill to our kids is imperative to their health, happiness and overall well-being, too. According to Dr. Howard, the goal of mindfulness is to listen to one’s own feelings and thoughts as “just thoughts.” Being aware that feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, tend to rise and subside just like the weather beyond your control is a form of “emotion education.” Teaching children to let these feelings pass by, rather than respond to them, is the goal. And, when children are empowered with this skill of self-regulation, it is nothing short of a super power. 

Click here for mindfulness audio for children and teens to empower them to check in with their body using a body scan, self-regulate using the breath, and to simply observe their emotions instead of respond to them. 

CONFESSION: I used to be so negative, extremely stressed and a constant worrier. One day, years ago, my husband pointed this out and I thought, "Yuck! I don't want to be like that. Who would ever want to be around someone like that?" So, I began to pick and choose what negative things I talked about, then I began to pick and choose which negative things I cared about, and in doing that I realized that, I really do control what negative thoughts I choose to engage with. Sounds profound, huh? Well, it really was for me who just played victim to my negative thoughts. I definitely still have a lot of work to do to rid myself of the old Negative Nellie, but at least now my husband still wants to be around me. 


Connection Calms

I was working as a behavior interventionist at an inner-city charter school a couple years ago, and I distinctly remember the moment I realized that what my most behaviorally challenged kids needed was simply more connection, not more rules and discipline. I was called into a classroom to encounter a five-year-old boy walking around clearly very angry, chest puffed out, a scowl on this face, his hand in the air giving his entire Kindergarten class the middle finger... five.years.old. I guess my mommy instincts kicked in, or something, because I looked at that child and, I thought to myself, "the last thing that kid needs is another stern disciplinary response from another angry authoritative figure. What that kid needs is a hug." Since then, my whole approach to working with "behaviorally challenged" children changed to a connection first approach. 

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One Year, Twenty-nine Words

One Year, Twenty-nine Words

Hi. Bye. Bubbles. Mama. Dada. Granddad. Up. Aqua. Ball. Baba. Tickle. Poof. Boo. Moo. Banana. Purple. Hello. Uh-oh. Quack. Woof. Puff. Chris. Thank you. Gus. Diaper. Good. Book. Ooops. and Butt paste... This is the list of words that we have heard our daughter June say in recent weeks leading up to her first birthday compiled by her grandparents, her dad and myself. If you've read my blog, or if you know me at all, I hope you know by now that I am not writing this to brag. As an educator, I am so passionate about sharing any information I can with other moms, dads, caregivers, or anyone willing to read, that will help them to know how important their role is in their child's brain development. In fact, in her book Thirty Million Words, Dr. Dana Suskind says, "the most important component in brain development is the relationship between the baby and his or her caretaker."

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Simply Tune-in

In her book Thirty Million Words Dr. Dana Suskind informs us that a child's brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, and that growth is completely dependent on the language environment in which the child is exposed to, which WE, as parents, provide (or not). In her book, she guides us to create the optimal language environment in "three simple steps", called the Three T's: tune-in, talk more and take turns. Lately, I have been making a very conscience effort to "tune-in" with my daughter, June, for the few hours we get to spend together each evening by putting my phone away, turning my thoughts off and engaging in her little world.

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I recently started back to work as a character development teacher after having spent seven months at home with my daughter, June. I have been shocked at myself because I thought I would soak in every precious, golden second I could with her after going from being with her 24-hours a day to approximately four, if I'm lucky. Instead, too often, I find myself thinking "I'm just going to grab my phone to turn on music for us", and ten minutes later I'm still checking Emails, or texting my mom pictures of her, or watching another clip from The Late Night Show about the political craziness our country has found itself in. I have to constantly remind myself to put my phone away, and tune-in. 

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ATTN: Busy Moms! Talking to Your Babies is Even Better than Reading to Them

Dana Suskind, the author of Thirty Million Words, just tweeted this article about a recent study in Ireland that shows that chattering away (or as we Americans say, "talking") to babies is EVEN BETTER than reading to them. If your child is anything like mine this is great news because my little wiggle worm won't sit still long enough for me to put socks on her feet, so forget about reading a whole six-page children's book.

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ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE… and language

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE… and language

I keep seeing this fact: By the age three 85% of brain development has already happened. Unlike any other organ in the body, the brain is underdeveloped at birth, and the development of your child’s brain is almost completely dependent on one thing: Y.O.U. And not only that, if those parts of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, aren’t nourished in the first three years of life, then those parts of the brain simply may never develop. An underdeveloped brain is totally preventable, yet almost entirely untreatable after the age of three. 

That’s a lot to handle, huh? First you have to grow this baby in your body for 9+ months, and now you have the responsibility of growing its brain for the first three years of its life?! Luckily for us, two women have done a ton of research on how to develop your child’s brain to its fullest capacity, and guess what: it’s FREE, accessible, available to all mommies and daddies, and, in fact, you don’t even have to leave the house in the hot mess state that you inevitably are as a new mom to get it. The only two things your child needs for their little brains to grow are love and language, and, momma, you got that.

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Baby Talk to Your Babies

Baby Talk to Your Babies

I was talking with my neighbor the other day about raising kids and he said, “Yeah, my boy has some behavioral issues, and we did everything we were supposed to do." He listed a few things like we don’t put him in front of screens, he plays outside a lot, and he also said, “and we never talked to him like he was a baby.”

I thought “Uh oh. Am I not supposed to be talking to my little June like she’s a baby because I do all the time!” She’s too cute not to. I mean I even talk to my husband and dog in baby talk… it’s just how we roll around here.
That exact day I read in Thirty Million Words that baby talking to your baby is not only okay, but good for your baby’s executive function and self-regulation development.

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