developmental milestones

How Can Play Promote Language Development?

Written by Alexandria Pistilli, M.Sc. Candidate Child Studies Concordia University.

Montreal, Canada.

The first few years of a child’s life are critical for language development. From birth to around 5 years of age, children’s brains are wired in such a way that it is easier for them to learn languages during this period. For this reason, the environment that we create for children can either promote or limit opportunities for language growth. Luckily, research shows that play can increase children’s language abilities.

1-    Ask wh-questions: Wh-questions (who, what, where, when, why, how) have shown to not only increase children’s vocabulary size, but also their verbal reasoning skills. This will allow you to encourage speech from your child while you both have lots of fun. Extend on what your child’s response (e.g. “What are you making?” “Toast” “Are you making toast for your dolly?” and have them question their actions (e.g. “What are you making?” “A tunnel” “Why do you need to make a tunnel?”). Point out objects and ask them about their properties, what they can be used for, etc. 

2-    Encourage a conversation. Allow your child the opportunity to respond to your questions. Our first instinct is to answer for them when they are taking time to respond, however, when we allow children time to think, they may surprise us! Even when their response doesn’t make much sense, go with the flow, and continue prompting them for more.

3-     Let your child take the lead. This will make sure they are engaged and that they are following their own interests. They are more likely to grasp onto language when they are immersed in their experience. Children have much shorter attention spans than adults do, so it is normal for them to switch activities rather quickly. As long as they are enjoying what they are doing, they will be more attuned to what you are telling them, making them more likely to pick up on new words. During play, it is important that you are supportive, attentive, and responsive. However, this is one of those situations where your child can benefit from being the boss!

children playing.jpeg

4-    Take play outside. During the warmer months, going outside can be refreshing for kids. Washable paint or sidewalk chalk is a great way to work on language in a creative way. By asking your child about what they are drawing, they will practice their language skills by responding to you in a situation that is different from what they are used to. It is important to generalize play to different contexts (so not just in the play room of your home). Practicing to write their name in sand, paint, dirt, etc will encourage your child to experiment with their writing skills too. This is a good opportunity to let them explore nature, see animals, and the changing on the seasons.

5-    Use familiar themes. It is easier for children to re-enact themes that they have scene before such as shopping, eating, playing doctor, teacher, restaurant, etc. You can add characters or plot twists to get your child thinking and practice their problem solving skills. This will extend their language and thinking skills. 

6-    Use props during story time. Interactive storybook reading and guided play are two great ways that parents can get involved in stimulating this growth in children. Accompanying books with props is a great way to engage your child while reading to them. For example: If the book is about farm animals, use toys or puppets to act out the story. Acting out parts of the story with your child will not only make reading fun, but it will get your child talking and allow them to be immersed while you teach them new concepts and words.

7-    Be present.  The best way to communicate with your child is when there are no interruptions- refrain from using your phone or watching tv in the background. Use this block of time to have some fun with your child while helping them build their language skills. Working together to complete a task such as a puzzle or building a tower or even playing princess involves both the effort of yourself and your child. Remember, you’re bonding with your child, practicing important skills with them, and most importantly, having fun!


  1. Rowe, M., Leech, K. & Cabrera, N. (2017). Going beyond input quantity: Wh-questions matter for toddlers’ language and child development. Cognitive Science, 41, 162-179.

  2. Ribot, K., Hoff, E. & Burridge, A. (2017). Language use contributes to expressive language growth: Evidence from bilingual children. Child Development, 1-12.

  3. Massey, S. (2013). From the reading rug to the play center: Enhancing vocabulary and comprehensive language skills by connecting storybook reading and guided play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41(2), 125–131. doi:10.1007/s10643-012-0524-y.

  4. Williams, M., & Rask, H. (2003). Literacy through play: How families with able children support their literacy development. Early Child Development and Care, 173(5), 527-533. doi: 10.1080/0300443032000088276

  5. Ginsburg KR. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. American Academy of Pediatrics. 119, 182-191.

The Science Behind Tantrums: Information on Emotion Regulation

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of

Montreal, Canada.

While babies depend on their parents to regulate their emotions, toddlers need to learn how to manage their emotions independently, know as "emotion-related self-regulation" or "emotion regulation”. Being the parent of a toddler also comes with its challenges. How can parents help their toddler better understand their emotions and possibly reduce the number or severity of emotional outbursts (tantrums)? The emergence of self-regulation is an important milestone in child development. Toddlers will eventually learn to calm themselves (self-regulate). However, they need some help to develop this skill. What is important is how parents and caregivers respond to their emotions and how they help them create strategies to manage their emotions. I found an amazing review paper by Eisenberg et al. in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology in 2010. I will summarize the major points of this article and focus on defining emotional-regulation and discussing some tips for parents.

The science of self-regulation. 

The development of emotion-regulation is related to several aspects of child development, including attention, executive functions, and effortful control. Many of the capacities involved in emotion regulation appear to have a temperamental basis (Eisnenberg et al. 2010). This means that a child's mood,  how they approach and react to a situation, their level of fear, sadness or frustration (all part of temperament) can influence their ability to regulate their emotions.  Emotion self-regulation is defined as the ability to control one’s behavior, cognition, attention, and emotion when challenged (Heatherton and Wagner 2011).

Effortful control: Managing your attention and behaviour.

Effortful control is one of the main aspects of emotion regulation. It is defined as the ability to voluntarily manage attention and inhibit or activate behavior as needed, to adapt to the environment (Rothbart & Bates 2006, Rothbart 2012). This is what allows a child to shift their attention from something that is causing a stir in their emotions (a sibling taking their toy away) and inhibit inappropriate behavior (hitting or yelling). However, this isn't simple. Let’s break it down and start with attention, the "manage attention" part of effortful control.

Attention is also important for emotion-regulation.

Focused attention (i.e. staying focused when making a puzzle or reading) slowly begins to develop at around 8 to 10 months. A baby begins to stay focused longer on something they are doing. As a child gets older, they are able to stay focused for longer periods of time (however, for small children you can expect sustained attention to be, in minutes, about their age). Having control over your attention is important when regulating emotions, for example, if a child takes your toy away you can shift your attention to another toy, otherwise staying focused feeds your frustration. Some studies have shown that parents can help their child learn an emotion regulation strategy known as "reorienting attention" (more on strategies in Part 2 of this article).

Inhibiting behaviour and emotion regulation.  

The "inhibitory control" aspect of effortful control. Inhibitory control starts to become more evident around 24 to 36 months (Gerardi-Caulton 2000). You can see it best when playing a game of "Simon Says" with toddlers/preschoolers. If they struggle with refraining from, for example, touching their nose if you do not say "Simon Says", this suggests that it might be beneficial for them to play it more often to practice inhibition. In research, inhibition control is studied via delayed gratification, which requires that a child sit in front of something sweet (cookie/marshmallow) without eating it. They are told that if they do not eat it after a specific number of minutes, then they will get an additional treat. Interestingly, studies have shown that the lower a child’s ability for inhibitory control, the more they externalize (aggression, defiance, delinquency) their problems (Hill et al, 2006, Spinrad et al, 2007). Click here to read an interesting study on inhibitory control and emotion regulation. 

Emotion Regulation and the Role of Caregivers/Parents

The environment also plays a huge role in the development of emotion regulation. A great deal of research has looked into the important role of parental socialization of emotion regulation/effortful control in children’s lives. Eisenberg et al. (1998) proposed that socialization of emotion regulation can occur in at least 3 ways 1) socializers’ reaction to children’s emotions, 2) socializers’ expression of emotion in the family or toward the child and 3) socializers’ discussion of emotion (the "socializer" is the parent or caregiver). Let's look at these 3 in more detail.

1)    Try your best to stay calm through the storm.

Parental reactions to children’s emotions have been extensively researched and findings have suggested that sensitive, responsive parenting is linked with lower negativity and more regulatory behavior (Propper & Moore 2006, Li-Grining 2007). In addition, this type of parenting has also been shown to lower cortisol response to emotional arousal in children (Blair et al. 2008). Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Researchers refer to this as “maternal sensitivity” and an interesting study in 2007 (Belsky et al.) showed increased maternal sensitivity predicted better attention in first grade. Maternal interactions characterized by warmth and support are also thought to foster emotion-regulation skills.

Parenting styles have also been studied in relation to emotion regulation. Authoritarian (high on strict control and low on warmth), negative and punitive parenting has been associated with lower levels of effortful control (Xu et al. 2009). Researchers suggest that supportive responses along with emotion coaching may help children to reduce their negative emotions as well as help them understand the emotion while non-supportive may induce more negative emotions and dysregulation (Eisenberg et al. 2010).

A toddler’s emotional outbursts (aka temper tantrums) are difficult for both the child and parent. Janet Lansbury, a parenting expert says it best, “ I also know that staying calm and centered in the face of even the darkest of my children’s emotions is imperative to their well-being”. Her books and blog provide parents with important information including how parents can remain calm during a tantrum and how to calm an angry child

2)    Model emotions and behavior for your children.

One of my past Curious Neuron articles discussed the importance of refraining from arguing in front of babies. This remains true for toddlers. Research has shown that toddlers will learn emotions by imitating those found in their environment and use this to guide their own emotion regulation strategies (Morris et al. 2007). Given that parental expressivity guides a child’s emotions, parents need to be aware and mindful of their emotions (towards children and adults) around their children. 

3)    Discuss emotions with your children.

Talking to children about different emotions can help them understand their own emotions and help them self-regulate. Studies have shown that children whose parents discuss emotions with them tend to have higher levels of regulation. With children as young as 2, you can start introducing emotions through books, games, and play. For instance, you can use stuffed animals with younger toddlers to model certain emotions and behaviors during various scenarios such as getting a toy taken away by another child. The book Happy Hippo, Angry Duck was the first book I used to introduce emotions to my toddler. Throughout the day I would mimic the faces shown in the book and refer to the animals (each has a different emotion) when I was experiencing a certain emotion. With younger kids (5/6 and under) you can also leave emotion flash cards lying around the house. When they are experiencing an emotion you can link it to the picture and word to help them understand the various emotions. As she got older, I introduced the characters from the movie Inside out. There are a set of books for toddlers/preschoolers that are great for introducing emotions. After introducing my daughter to these books, we would refer to the characters throughout the day. For example, if we were outside I would ask “If you were Joy, how would you feel right now about all this snow” or “If you were sadness/fear how would you feel about all this snow”. I would then guide her about feeling happy there is snow, or sad that there is so much snow and that it is cold and not summer or afraid of all the snow, respectfully. With older children, you can use another Inside Out book that helps guide them through the thought process of why they used certain emotions in a situation and if they could have reacted differently. 

In summary...

In part 2 of this topic, I will cover how creating an attachment with your child can help with their emotional-regulation, the importance of sleep and I will discuss some emotion regulation strategies. There is no magic potion to stop temper tantrums or to get a child to develop strong emotional regulation strategies. It takes time, hard work, patience, deep breaths, lots of love and more patience. When my daughter struggles with her emotions, I remind myself that she needs my guidance. I can't get upset at the fact that she is learning and needs my help (although lack of sleep thanks to my baby can make some days difficult to think this way!)

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How to include your child in the kitchen

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. in neuroscience and Founder of



I know, I know....the first thing you thought of when reading the title was, "this will get messy!". It's true. It will, I won't lie, but what I am here to convince you of today are the benefits of including your child (as young as 1) during meal preparation. Here are a few tips to help guide you and to help your child begin their wonderful journey of learning, exploration and confidence building. 

Step 1: Familiarize your child with their new environment.

This can start very young. You simply want them to "hang out" with you. When you are cooking, you can place their high chair in your kitchen (or as close as possible). If your child likes to move around, have a few cupboards or drawers that are "safe" for them to explore. I have a drawer filled with children's plates, cups, bowls, facecloths and Tupperware. My children know they can play in this drawer. The double benefit is that my daughter has learned to get her own dishes for a meal since she can reach them and my 8-month old knows he can crawl there and empty it. I have a cupboard door that is filled with more containers and the bottom 2 shelves of the pantry have safe items they can also reach for and play with (which usually means throwing them on the floor). 

Step 2: Create their space.



 I first had my daughter in her high chair. As she got closer to 2, I started sitting her on the kitchen island. You could also buy a learning tower that allows children to stand at the level of the counter. Or you can make this super cool Ikea hack that I found on the Happy Grey Lucky blog (I have added this to my husbands "to do " list but he doesn't know it yet!). You can also get a small table that you place close to your kitchen and have them work on their tasks at their own level. As long as they know they have their own space. Having their own space gives them a sense of belonging in your kitchen and if you place them in a location that is safe and not in your way, it removes some stress from you as well.

Step 3: Give them responsibilities.

It can be as simple as having them add salt and pepper, top off the meal with shredded cheese, place the food on a pizza, placing the pieces of vegetables you cut off into the garbage bowl, or breaking a banana into pieces and adding them to a blender for a smoothie. There are even knives that children can use nylon knives for kids. They only cut soft food items such as fruit, boiled eggs, and soft cheese. I noticed that the more roles and responsibilities I gave my daughter during meal preparation, the more she built her pride and confidence. She enthusiastically waits at the table for all of us to try our first bites while waiting for our reactions. 

As your child builds on their skills, their roles will grow. Before you know it, you will be making homemade bread and pasta with your children! I will read the recipe wit my daughter and she helps me gathers the food we need. She breaks the eggs, whisks, stirs and uses the teaspoons and measuring cups. Measuring spoons and cups are still a work in progress though. I think I end up with more rice or flour on the floor than in the cup!

We must also be cautious in the kitchen. I introduced my daughter to the word "danger" around 15 months. I explained that the knife was "danger" to help her understand not to touch it or to put her hands down on the cutting board. As she spoke and understood more (closer to 2 years), I taught her to say "STOP" when she wanted to eat something from the cutting board (i.e. if I am cutting a vegetable or cheese that she would like to eat). When she says "stop" I place the knife to the side of the cutting board and she takes her piece. 



Step 4: Pretend you are filming your own cooking show.

Make it fun! Especially if they are babies and are just "hanging out" with you. This step is great for language development. They will learn new words and learn that it's fun to be silly. I would literally start cooking by saying "Hi, I'm Cindy and today we are cooking pasta!" I would take each ingredient and show it to my then 1-year-old daughter, allowing her to touch the food. As she got older I asked her to hand me over the items I needed. She became my sous-chef! If you have an older child, have them talk through the recipe and describe what they are doing. If they get used to this, later on when they start school, they can relate to this for oral presentations and public speaking (i.e. if they fear their oral presentations you can say "just pretend you are on a cooking show like you have been doing since you were 4! You are great at it!". 

Step 5: Relax, everything will be ok and your child will build important skills.


Yes, meal preparation and clean up will be longer, however, you do not have to include them every day. Obviously, week days are tough, but on weekends we can include them at breakfast, lunch or supper. If your child, is older and can cut on their own, including them during the week can help speed things up. Through this experience with my kids, I have learned to let lose a little in the kitchen. Messes can be cleaned and changes to the recipe are not the end of the world. Your child will build on motor skills from cutting, learn to take risks as they get older (by experimenting with recipes), build a sense of pride and confidence which will follow them throughout their academic life, and they will build important executive function skills when following a recipe such as planning and organizing (you will be grateful that they have these skills when you are not stuck completing their school project due to difficulties in planning and organizing!).

Have fun cooking!! Please share your experienesof cooking with your children with us and any tips you might have for other parents! 


Some child-friendly recipes we enjoy.

Here are some recipes to help you get started: 

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Game: Smash the Lego tower

The first few months after giving birth to my son were not only challenging for me but for my daughter as well. Our day-long play dates had been taken over by a small baby who needed lots of "mommy time". I had to be creative in order to entertain her while also nursing, changing diapers or getting my baby to fall asleep. Now that my baby is 6 months, I noticed a spike in his interest to play with his older sister and I have been trying to think of activities that I can do with both children.

In fact, my son is now on the move and his mission is to take anything and everything his sister plays with! Until now, reading books, singing, and playing with puppets were the main activities we did together. These activities stimulated both my daughter and my son. However, the other day I got an idea from watching my son smashing his sister's Lego towers. This could become a game! We all had lots of fun playing this game and now my daughter will ask me to play "Smash the Lego tower"!

I hope you enjoy playing this game with your children as well!



Target Age:

A baby that can play on their tummy and a child who can build Lego Duplo towers.


Lego Duplo blocks and a Lego Duplo baseplate. (Baseplate can be bought at the Lego store)

Activity Layout:

Have the older child build a few Lego Duplo towers and have them place these towers to the side of a Lego baseplate (the green baseplate in the picture). We built about 10-12 towers. You could even ask them to build some towers of the same colour and others with mixed colours.

Place your baby on their belly (or sitting if they can) beside the baseplate and have your toddler say "1 2 3 GO". At "GO" you and your toddler (or only your toddler if you want to be the referee!) have to place ALL the Lego towers on the baseplate BEFORE your baby knocks down a single tower. You might have to model the sense of "speed" and winning for your toddler if this concept is new to them (email us at if you need help with this). Encourage your toddler to move quickly and if your baby isn't smashing the tower show them how to do it. The first person to reach 5 points wins. You can model the points using the single legos. You can ask your toddler if they are winning or their sibling is by looking at the "Lego point system". Ask them which one has more points (see picture). 

Point system to help toddler visualize who is winning. 

Point system to help toddler visualize who is winning. 

When we first started playing, I would place my towers closer to my son. As he began to understand the concept, I started placing them further away from him. 

If this becomes too easy for the older child, you can even blindfold them or have them place the Lego towers with their non-dominant hand. 






In this activity, we are targeting Social/Emotional and Cognitive milestones for both 6 months of age and 2 years (see images below).

We are also targeting executive functions skills for 2-year-olds. This activity fits in the "Active Games" category for executive functions where a child is required to speed up, slow down or even "freeze" (see image below). 

Developmental Milestones: 6 months

Developmental Milestones: 6 months

Developmental Milestones: 6 months 

Developmental Milestones: 6 months 

Developmental Milestones: 2 years 

Developmental Milestones: 2 years 

Development Milestones: 2 years

Development Milestones: 2 years

Have fun playing with you kids!

Cindy Hovington, PhD

Founder of Curious Neuron