Category Archives: Cognitive

The relationship between attachment, attention and memory skills

Attachment became a buzzword in pediatrics and developmental psychology when London’s psychiatrist John Bowlby used the term to describe the deep emotional bond that two people share across time and space. He proposed that this can be best observed in the child-parent relationship, which led to extensive research about the importance of the role of the caregivers in a kid’s emotional, social, and cognitive development.

In his 1969 book Attachment: Attachment and loss: Vol. 1, he stated that attachment can be thought of as a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings. Its power goes well beyond a kid’s social and emotional skills; it’s even been discovered to foster a child’s cognitive development.

In 1997, a team of researchers from Washburn University published a very interesting article on the journal Child Development. They studied the link between attachment and a preschooler’s memory and attention skills. They had 68 3-year-olds participate in various attention and memory tasks, and compared the results with their attachment style. They found that when asked to stay focused and afterwards recall stories about interactions with parents, children that felt sure about their relationship were better remembering than the children that weren’t so sure about the consistency of their relationship. Then in 2015, a group of psychologists from the University of Nis and the University of Belgrade found that children that had a good and solid relationship to a trusted caregiver had many advantages in their emotional development, including enhanced conversational, memory, attention and conceptual reasoning skills! So, when you nurture your relationship with your preschooler, you are not only encouraging her to have a good self-esteem and learn how to make and keep healthy relationships, but you are actually helping your child’s cognitive skills as well!

If you want to read more about this topic, you can check out Duke’s University handout here:

Responsible use of media to support my child’s development

n 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an update on its guidelines for children’s exposure to screens and medias. According to their recommendations, children between 18 and 24 months of age can be exposed to high-quality children’s media if you help them understand what they are seeing, and between 2 to 5 years old they can have up to 90 minutes a day of high-quality programs for children.

The organization Zero to Three has some important reflections on how to use technological media to support your kid’s learning and development, as well as his memory and attention skills. Here are some of the highlights:

  • When you and your child use media together, try to ask questions and talk about what you are seeing, both to strengthen the connection between you and your son, and to help him make sense of the content.
  • Aid your child in connecting what you’ve seen together on a screen with real-life objects and situations. You can point out animals you recognize from a loved cartoon program, or activities you’ve seen on a tablet game.
  • Be careful not to overwhelm your child with loud sounds and vivid colors of a screen. Even if it’s just the TV playing on the background, this can be distracting for young children.
  • Avoid situations in which your child is having scree-time or using digital media without supervision.

Above all, the most important and nurturing experiences for your child are those he has in the real world with you. Kids learn by observing and doing in a trial-and-error kind of way. The things he dynamically experiences with his senses will be the easiest to recall and learn from. When you use digital media alongside your child, try to use it in ways that foster your relationship.

Encouraging my preschooler to ask questions

Preschoolers are known for their curiosity. So many of the things surrounding them constitute brand new experiences while their own capacity to take in and process the world is constantly being updated! Because of this, around 3 or 4 years of age, you’ll probably notice that your daughter is suddenly very invested in knowing how things work. Since she relies on trusted and loved people to help her figure out the world’s mysteries, at this developmental stage your child will be asking lots and lots of questions, from the mundane and seemingly simple, to literally rocket science.

It is vital for your little girl’s cognitive development that she feels comfortable asking questions, because by doing so she is taking an active role in learning. According to the book Transdisciplinary play-based assessment, by developmental psychologist Toni Linder, between 26 to 32 months your child will begin asking “where” questions, at around 40 months of age she will do “who” inquiries, and then around 42 to 49 months of age, you can expect her to start asking you “when” and “why” questions.

Here are some tips on how to encourage your child’s reasoning and curiosity skills:

  • Be interested in the questions asked and in what your child finds attention-worthy.
  • To keep the task fun, offer her plenty of interesting things to discover.
  • Provide answers that invite your child to further explore something together, rather than answering with “yes”, “no” or “because that’s just how it works”.
  • Explore what the five senses can tell you about something.
  • Model asking questions and sharing knowledge without being rude.
  • Encourage thinking about why and how something works, like when painting, playing with water, cooking or baking.

When children ask questions, they are learning how to solve problems

Every time you answer one of your son’s questions, you are actually fostering his cognitive development! Specifically, your kid’s reasoning and problem-solving skills which, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, are developed between 36 and 48 months of age.

A developmental psychologist and researcher from the University of California, doctor Michelle Chouinard, decided to study further how kids use questions in order to solve problems. In 2007, she looked at the link between the children’s questions and whether or not they actually gained new information from the answers in order to solve a problem. A group of 4-year-olds were asked to figure out what a hidden object inside a box was. Half of them were allowed to ask questions about the object to help themselves, while the other half had to guess blindly. As you can imagine, there were lots of different ways in which the young kids could’ve used the questioning opportunity in distracting ways, but this wasn’t what happened! Children that asked questions were significantly more likely to identify the hidden object, which indicates that preschoolers actually use the new information to change what they know about a problem in a way that allows them to solve it.

What this study tells us is that question-asking is one of the ways in which preschool children naturally learn about the world. The questions they ask might seem random, but in fact they are directly related to both their surroundings and stimuli, and where they are in their cognitive development. You can expect your kid’s questions to get more complex as he ages, but also you will soon start to notice that your little one draw conclusions without having to ask you for the answer. So, enjoy this moment and remember that your kid’s capacity to ask questions is a very powerful tool that will accompany him throughout his life through curiosity, problem solving and conceptual reasoning skills.

The importance of my 2-year-old endless “why”

After hitting the 24-month mark, you might notice that your toddler’s verbal and cognitive skills have developed so much and so quickly, that she is starting to be increasingly interested in understanding how things work, especially how they relate to one another. In fact, you might have become so accustomed to hearing the “why” question coming out of your little one’s mouth, that you even hear it in your dreams. Although sometimes it might be complicated to answer a young child’s emerging questions all day-round, the answers they receive are precious to them as they are their main source of information to understand the world.

Following the American Academy of Pediatrics guides about early childhood development, the endless “why” inquiries mean that your daughter is working on building cognitive skills that will later allow her to solve problems and think using abstract concepts and categories.

In fact, many cognitive psychologists wondered about how asking questions can help children’s development. In 2007, Michelle Chouinard from the University of California analyzed the way children formulated questions and what they did with the newfound knowledge. She found that kids between 2 and 5 years of age indeed ask questions with the intention of understanding something, it’s not just to get an adult’s attention for a moment. She also discovered that the type of questions and the complexity of the answers a kid deems satisfactory changed over time. Older children have more developed conceptual and abstract thinking skills that allow them to seek answers that go beyond describing something. They actually inquire about cause-and-effect relationships. Amazing, right?

Can my preschooler distinguish appearance form reality?

As adults, our understanding of the world relies on our ability to differentiate appearances from reality. We know from experience that not everything is what it seems. For young children this is not always as clear, as they sometimes seem to confuse reality with appearances. Can my 3-year-old girl already tell the difference between them? Let’s take a look at what developmental science says about it.

In 2006, psychologist Gedeon Deák from the University of California at San Diego investigated the extent to which preschool children understand the difference between appearances and reality, as well as between reality and fantasy. He discovered that as early as 3 years of age, children are capable of discriminating reality from misleading appearances in multiple tasks. What was interesting was that he observed that preschoolers could easily and accurately describe real and fantastical or fake aspects of an object or situation, but their failing to do so depended not on their cognitive capacities, but on how understandable and clear were the questions about the objects. This led him to suggest that, even if 3 or 4-year-olds can seem challenged to represent reality in their minds, they are, in fact, naturally and flexibly describing appearances and an independent and different reality. Your young child’s mind is already capable of more than what’s easily assessed! Impressive, right?

You want to read more about your preschooler’s capacity for differentiating between reality and fantasy? Here you can read the full article referenced above:

How kids learn to match objects by their shape and function

Have your ever wondered how did that your 3 or 4-year-old develop his understanding of characteristics and proprieties? When your little one pinches soft food with a fork and feeds himself, does he actually understand how eating utensils are used or is this behavior pure imitation? In what moment is this cognitive milestone achieved? In this article, we’re going to talk about how preschoolers develop their ability to find relationships and patterns between objects, their physical characteristics and their abstract proprieties.

Around the 3 years mark, children are still learning to identify and classify objects by their shape and color, amongst other physical characteristics. Between 3 and 4 years of age, kids start to develop a more complex understanding of objects and their abstract qualities, like how they are used and what are they for. Older children and adults, on the other hand, think effortlessly in terms of function and complex cause-and-effect relationships.

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Problem-solving with tools

Young children are the definition of fast learners! When they are just 12 months old, they are already taking in as much information as possible about the world that surrounds them and the objects within it.

With all the information they gathered in their first years of life, kids around 3 and 4 years old are ready to start understanding that objects have specific functions, and how to use them properly. You might be witnessing this when your preschooler starts using a fork to feed herself or when she starts playing with mechanical toys and understands how to make buttons, levers, and moving parts work. When your young child uses daily objects with an objective, that’s an indicator that she is setting the bases for what will later be the understanding of cause and effect.

Researchers from the Cognitive Development Lab of the University of California at San Diego have found that between 3 and 5 years old, children acquire the understanding of the abstract concept of “function”, learn that every created object is defined by its use and that the same object can be used for multiple purposes. This age marks a very important developmental mark for your child’s learning of how the world works.

You can encourage your daughter’s intentional use of objects and her problem-solving skills with some of the following ideas:

  • Encourage playing with mechanical toys or with the mobile objects in the playground.
  • Have your child play with simple puzzles or with peg-puzzles.
  • Notice buttons and levers in your daily life and point them out to her. You can, for example, go to an accessible cupboard and ask your little one “How can I open the door to the cookies?”.

Boosting my child’s conceptual reasoning

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that, between 36 and 48 months of age, children start developing their conceptual reasoning skills. These set is crucial for categorizing the information they get from the world, and for organizing it according to the characteristics of every object.

A big part of conceptual reasoning involves understanding the implicit mathematical ideas behind the differences, similitudes and relationships of more vs less. Around this age, your child is working hard at understanding the concepts of size (big vs small), distance (close vs far), speed (fast vs slow), height (high vs low), weight (heavy vs light) and order (first vs last). Apart from pointing out these characteristics, so that your child starts noticing them, it’s important to support his understanding of the numerical concepts organizing these ideas.

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The importance of conceptual reasoning skills

According to the Cognitive Development Lab of the University of California at San Diego, children go through some dramatic cognitive changes during their preschool years. Approaching 4 years of age they have already developed enough mobility, physical strength, emotional independence and vocabulary to process a vast new array of information about their world: their name and age, who is part of their family, what games they like, who are their favorite characters, the routines they have during the day, etc. But in order to continue their development, they now need to gain the necessary skills to organize all that new information.

We all organize what we take in from the world as categories and concepts, but these cognitive skills take years in the making. Kids start developing their conceptual reasoning skills around 48 months old and this allows them to understand the characteristics of the objects that are around them in a way that, afterwards, will allow them to solve everyday problems. Understanding concepts is what allows young children to discriminate between things that are edible and things that are not, the implications of hot and cold, and that birds fly in the sky but they can’t do so below the ocean.

There are lots of things you can do to support and encourage this important developmental process in your child! One idea could be labeling things you see in daily life and connecting the word to its characteristics so that your child notices the connection. For example, depending on your child’s age, you can start small and simply help her notice characteristics by saying “What a pretty insect! Insects are small”, or “Oh! It’s cold today! Let’s have a hot breakfast”, and then move to more complex things like “Look, it’s a bird! Birds fly in the sky, like we walk on the ground”.