Oral Language Development is More Important Than You Think Embracing Motherhood

Oral Language Development…More Important Than You Think

Oral language development has fascinated me ever since my time as an elementary school teacher, while getting my Master’s degree in Language Acquisition, and especially now as a mother to four young children.

Oral language development is one of the most important aspects of a developing young child’s brain. According to SEDL’s (an affiliate of the American Institute for Research) Reading Resources, it is “highly correlated with later reading proficiency”. The research also shows that, “Most language development occurs indirectly through language exposure rather than through explicit instruction,” meaning that as parents, we don’t need to teach our babies and toddlers specifically targeted language lessons, we just need to give them lots of exposure to quality language experiences.

But what are quality language experiences? Does this simply meaning talking more or leaving the TV on? I love how people say that if you want to be a better reader, simply read more. So thusly, if you want to make a child better at oral language, simply talk more. But these statements are so overgeneralized and the truth lies instead in the details of what those statements mean.

Children are not just passive receptors of their environment. They want to engage, they want to be stimulated, challenged, and acknowledged every step of the way. Many people look at children as though they are not ready to learn until they are much older, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They are ready to learn from birth, but it’s all about meeting them where they are and providing the language experiences that best fit their stage of language development. (This is called teaching in the zone of proximal development where learning is slightly challenging.)

First, let’s take a look at the stages of language development to see what is appropriate at each age level. Children may not fit into these categories perfectly, but it gives you an idea of how the focus changes from learning how to make sounds to asking questions.

Stages of Language Development

Newborns (0-3 months)

During this “4th trimester”, their brains are finishing the growth that couldn’t happen in the womb. They need you close. They need to feel your heartbeat and drink in your scent.

0-3 months newborn held by mommy and surrounded by siblings

Basking in the Glow of Newborn Julian

They need to look in your eyes and feel you smooth their head and coo to them that everything is going to be all right. They need to feel safe, comfortable, fed, and warm. This is the bonding time where it all begins and your heart will completely melt when you start to hear them coo their first sounds. They have a voice!

Infants (3-6 months)

It’s so amazing to see infants leave the newborn stage. The memory of birth is just starting to fade as you hold your child with wonder and fascination instead of just shock and awe. Their eyesight is just starting to become fully functional and they are now a bit more comfortable with this world outside the womb. They have been soaking up the sights and sounds around them and are now ready to start mimicking what they see and hear.

3-6 months mommy holding 4 month old baby

Bonding with 4 Month Old Elliot

They love to look at your mouth and it’s fun to make exaggerated sounds. You can enjoy having “conversations” by saying something sweet and then waiting for them to respond. If you wait, you’ll hear them try to coo and copy you. When they are done, say something sweet again and then pause to let them respond. It is the cutest darn thing ever.

Babies (6-12 months)

Just look at the diagram below to see the explosion of synaptic connections by 6 months! This is when babies’ brains are in an optimal place for learning.



Synaptic Pruning

There is a big misconception that because babies cannot produce language at this point – that they aren’t ready for it, but they are! They are just in the listening and learning phase for a little while. Because mylenation is just starting to form (the fatty sheath around the synaptic connections that helps the signals transfer faster) it takes lots and lots of repetition of the same thing in order to make this connection speedy.So pick things that are important to repeat.

6-12 months 7 month old baby on mommy's lap

Watching Your Baby Can Read with 7 Month Old Ophelia

This is when I like to start showing Your Baby Can Read videos, reading familiar books over and over again, and teaching the ABCs. This is a very crucial window, don’t miss it!

Emerging Toddlers (12-18 month)


You will notice that they will now start to produce what you have been repetitiously teaching them. It will seem as if they just suddenly learned it, but really, it started building when they were 6 months old.

12-18 months one year old loves reading books

One Year Old Ruby Loves Reading Books

As their vocabularies start to explode, I’m often reminded of Helen Keller when she has that magical moment with her teacher Anne Sullivan and everything just clicks and she feverishly wants to know the names of everything. This is what it’s like at this stage. They understand that words have meaning and they want to know the names of things. So tell them! Tell them the names of every single thing their curious little minds discover.

Toddlers (18-24 months)

At this stage, they will actually be able to start communicating with you in ways that you can understand. They will start to use short phrases and they will be able to repeat simple nursery rhymes, songs, and chants.

18-24 months, 19 month toddler writing

19 Month Ophelia Loves to Learn

If you have been working on the ABCs and nursery rhymes all along, your heart will just melt when you hear them sing them. During this stage, I find it very helpful to repeat whatever they say to provide clarity. You’ll know when you get what they were trying to say right or wrong depending on their expressions.

Two Year Olds (24-36 months)

This stage is what some refer to as the “terrible twos” and I believe that this is because their brains comprehend and want to articulate way more than they are capable of expressing. You just need to help them find the words for what they are trying to say as they begin to assert their independence.

 2 years, two year old ruby smells the roses and learns about her world

2 Year Old Ruby Learning About Her World

At this time, I like to use a lot of teaching tools to bring as many different modalities of learning together such as ABC fridge magnets, flashcards, and puzzles. Doing activities with your children and talking to them about what you are both doing is one of the best ways to facilitate language growth at this point.

Three Year Olds (36-48 months)

This is when children seem to take special interest in certain characters, topics, and toys. Use their interests to help them develop more specialized vocabularies based on whatever they are fascinated by.

Elliot (3)

3 Year Old Elliot Playing with his ABC Transformers

It could be anything from superheroes, to dinosaurs, to space exploration, to princesses. Help them to learn the specialized vocabulary that aligns with their interests as they continue to expand their vocabularies.

Four Year Olds (48-60 months)

At this age, any content that interests them can be used to teach vocabulary. They will be full of curiosities and questions and it is so very important that you don’t brush their questions aside, especially if it’s because you don’t know the answer. Show them what you do when you don’t know the answer to a question, like use google on your phone, look in a book, or ask an expert. It might be a good idea to have a real or electronic notepad to keep track of all of their questions. We enjoyed having a question wall for awhile because they were asking so many questions that I couldn’t keep up and I wanted to remember to get to them.

4 years, little girl exploring outdoors, language development

4 Year Old Ruby Exploring Her World Outdoors

I love this Einstein quote: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” When children ask why the leaves change color, use words like photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, and oxygen. Sometimes your explanations might be a little over their heads, but the more you talk about it and learn about it, the more it will make sense. And for you religious folks, when your children ask you something like, “Why do we have colors?” simply saying, “Because God made it that way”, is a really good way to get them to stop asking questions.

Tips and Tricks for Optimal Oral Language Development

1. Vocabulary

Start by teaching your children the names of things. Everything in this world is new to them and the best place to start is to teach them what everything is called. Start with family members, things about them (body parts, clothes, etc.), and things in your house, then move on to things in the outside world. When you’re changing diapers, talk about the clothes you are putting on them, when you’re eating, point out the foods that are in front of them, when they are playing with toys (especially educational toys such as alphabet blocks and shape sorters), talk about what they are and what color they are, and how you are using them. The best way to teach vocabulary is in the moment, so be there in the moment to teach your children the names of things when they want to know what they are.

2. Monitor Your Speech

Speak clearly, speak slowly, and carefully enunciate your words to ensure that you are understood. Get down to their level, make eye contact, and really talk to them. Especially after babies are 6 months old and older, you want to avoid the goo-goo-ga-ga baby talk. You’re not going to talk to them like you’d talk to another adult, but you don’t need to use a made up language with poorly crafted words either. The most important thing is to make sure you have their attention. When or if you lose it, just adjust your speech until you have it again. You might need to use a funny voice, really over enunciate what you are saying, or speak with fewer or simpler words, but just keep trying something until it clicks or wait until a better time.

3. Zone of Proximal Develompment

When you’re speaking to children in order to teach them something, you first of all need to know developmentally where they are. Are they starting to make sounds? Are they asking about the names of things? Are they starting to put together sentences? You want to start with where they are and then go just one level above that. So if children are speaking just one or two words at a time, you’ll want to start modeling more complex sentences and phrases that are just slightly more complex than what they are saying. For example, if they point to your cat and say, “Kitty.” You can repeat the phrases, “Kitty sleeping. Pet the kitty. Nice kitty. Gentle.” You wouldn’t want to say, “Yes, that’s our cat Ferguseon and he’s 14 years old. He’s diabetic and in the beginning stages of feline leukemia so we will just let him continue sleeping.” This is so over their heads, that they will lose interest and no learning will take place. And if you just repeat “Kitty”, you’re keeping it too easy and not providing them with enough of a challenge.

4. Get Down on the Floor and Play

Get down on the floor to play with your children and talk about what you are doing. For example you might say, “Do you see the blue ball? Can you roll it to me? Good job! You found the blue ball! Now I’m going to roll it to you. Ready, set, go! Good job! You caught it!”

playing with legos with a toddler

Daddy and Baby Ruby are Playing with Legos

This is one of the most simple things you can do and it’s a fun bonding experience as well. By getting down on the floor with them you are entering their world in a way that helps you to help them navigate it. The worst thing you can do is to talk down to your children when you’re not at their level and expect that they will understand you. The distance from your towering voice and their little world down below is a gap easily bridged by a little crouch. And hey, it’s time you worked those quads anyways! Here’s a video of me and Ophelia playing on the floor in a great example of some oral language development play.

5. Talk About What You’re Doing

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, just talk to them about everything and anything. Talk about what you’re doing as you get them dressed, buckled in the car, and on the drive to the grocery store. At the store, describe everything you see. Talk about the food you’re putting in the cart, point out the numbers on the aisles, and stop to look at the lobsters and the swimming fish. Anytime you do something, talk about it. These experiences are the best ways to build background knowledge and learn language.

6. Listen and Repeat

Encourage your children to talk about whatever they are doing. To get children to talk more, you can start by repeating the last thing they say and then pause. This encourages them to speak openly without you dictating what they say with overly specific prompts. If they don’t have much to say, you can prompt them with simple questions like, “What’s this? What color is it? How many ____ are there? Can you find the triangle?” Pausing after a question is very important with children. During this “wait time”, they are processing the question and formulating a response. Far too often, we answer our own questions after we incorrectly assume that the child wasn’t capable of answering it, when the reality is just that he or she needed more time. Here’s a video of Elliot talking to me while playing his Minecraft game. Notice how I just kind of rephrase what he says as a way to encourage him to keep saying more.

7. Nursery Rhymes, Songs, and Chants

Learning new things is all about memorization and memorization is all about associations. The more associations you have with something, the more embedded in your memory it will become. This is why the repetition of nursery rhymes, songs, and chants are so easily embedded into long term memory. The more children can memorize, the stronger the neural pathways in their brain will become and they will be primed for learning how to read and doing math. (Especially if they can memorize the ABCs and how to count. See my blog: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs.)

Nursery rhymes are a great place to start because really young children do not have a very long attention span and so anything that engages them is a great place to begin. Nursery rhymes with hand motions like the Eensy Weensy Spider, I’m a Little Teapot, Ring Around the Rosy are a great combinations of simple repetitious chants with basic movements that help make memorization easier. Check out my YouTube Playlists for nursery rhymes, simple songs, basic vocabulary, and more.

8. Read Books

Books, of course, are great ways to engage children with language and experiences that they might not otherwise be able to have. I love reading everything from word books, to magical fantasies, to books about favorite TV shows like Dora, to nonfiction books. Whatever is exciting to both you and them is a great place to start. Keep in mind that it’s not just about reading the books, it’s about engaging with them. You can do this without reading a single word. Look at the pictures and talk about what you see. By encouraging this picture reading, you will familiarize your child with how to hold a book, how to turn the pages, and how to be a reader. (See my blog: How Children Really Learn to Read.) Here’s a video of Ophelia picture reading a Dora book with me encouraging her by repeating what she says and posing simple questions.

9. Answer Questions

Share your curiosities and passions with your children and provide a model for what it means to be a life long learner. Show them that you value questioning by listening to them and honoring the importance of the questions they ask. Encourage them to ask why and answer their questions in detail. If you don’t know the answer, tell them so and then look up the answer together.

10. Favorite Things Books


When they are ready, make favorite things books. Print out pictures of their favorite things or print out pictures of them doing things. Then, look through it together and write down what they say next to each picture.

letters v and w from favorite things abc book

Favorite Things ABC Book

I love having a little pile of blank books laying around and letting the children decide how they want to use them. Sometimes we write stories, sometimes we make books about whatever they’re passionate about, sometimes we make ABC books, and sometimes we make books about the things we’re learning about.

In Conclusion

If you spend a lot of quality time with your children, then oral language development should happen without giving it a second thought. Oral language is the foundation for all further learning. The earlier children’s brains can be stimulated, the more connections they will have in their brains and the stronger they will be. So get down on the floor and play with your child, talk with your child, and listen, really listen every chance you get.


stop yelling at your children, guiding children towards positive behaviors

Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors

When it comes to parenting, I think one of the biggest challenges is the management of behaviors. My husband and I are constantly discussing and reflecting on how to raise our children so that they are obedient, respectful, and make good choices. By continuously discussing what is working and what is not, we can make sure that we are on the same page when it comes to handling misbehaviors.

From my experience and training as a teacher and now as a parent, I have come across some amazing resources that have helped me to shape my management philosophy.

  • Alfie Kohn – As a teacher, I loved his theories of cooperation and curiosity in the classroom and his emphasis on internal motivation rather than external rewards.
  • William Glasser – His choice theory which gives children a sense of power and his five basic needs that he says all children must have met (adapted from Maslow): survival, love/belonging/connection, power/significance/competence, freedom/autonomy, and fun/learning.
  • Love and Logic – The focus here is about being calm and in control, allowing children to make their own choices, and implementing logical consequences in order to guide and teach them.
  • Positive Parenting – We just listened to this amazing webinar and loved Amy McCready’s explanation of how kids need attention and power, how punishment (anything that makes kids feel blame, shame, or pain) leads to lying and revenge, how to implement consequences that are respectful, related, reasonable, revealed in advance, and repeated back, and how not to piggyback on a consequence by blathering on and on about how they made a poor choice.

Our Parenting Philosophy

My husband and I love our children so much, and we simply want what’s best for them both now and in the future. We want them to feel loved and cherished and know that they are the light of our lives, but we don’t want them to walk all over us. We want them to be respectful to us, to themselves, and to others. We want them to be ready to enter the world without us beside them, and to be as amazing to the world as they are to us.

We also believe that children are inherently good, and that the mistakes they make are opportunities for guidance rather than malicious attacks on us personally that we must make them pay for with punishments. This mindset is not always achieved in perfect balance as we are humans who make mistakes, but it is what we strive for.

How to Guide Children Towards Positive Behaviors

The following ten steps are what has worked for our family using the above mentioned resources as a guide with continuous reflection and adaption. I don’t think that there’s one cookie cutter approach to positive parenting. Whatever approach you take has to work with the dynamics within your household. The important thing is to have a plan in place. If you’re always winging it, it forces you to be reactive rather than proactive which can make for a very chaotic household. I highly recommend using this list as a springboard of discussion to then make your own list based on what works for you.

1. Basic Needs Must Be Met

Children (and adults for that matter) first and foremost need to have their basic needs met. Just making sure that this happens will minimize behavior disruptions right off the bat. If our children are exhibiting negative behaviors, the first thing we do is check to see if one of these needs haven’t been met. At the same time, if we find ourselves quick to anger and working with a short fuse, we check to make sure OUR basic needs are being met too.

  1. Survival (Food, water, sleep, comfort, health, stress, etc.)
  2. Love (Lots of cuddles and attention, not being super busy trying to do a thousand things all the time)
  3. Power (Giving them choices and making them feel like they have some control over their lives)
  4. Freedom (Allowing them the autonomy to exert their free will when it’s appropriate)
  5. Play (Making sure that they have plenty of time for imaginative play)
  6. Learning (Providing them with challenging activities and stimulating experiences)

2. Choice Theory Gives Children Power

It can be a little tricky trying to meet a child’s need for power without feeling like your power is being compromised. That’s why we love using choice theory with the little things so that they fill their “power buckets” so to speak. By letting them choose what to wear, where to sit, what game to play, and so on, it makes them feel like their opinions matter and they have a say in what happens. Then, when we need to make choices that aren’t negotiable, like “Time for bed!” it doesn’t feel like we’re the only ones with the power.

When using choice theory, you’re not asking open ended questions like, “What would you like to eat for breakfast today?” You’re picking two options that both work for you like, “Would like waffles or pancakes for breakfast?” In doing so, you’re not compromising what works for you in order to meet their needs. Truth be told, you’re not really giving them as much power as it feels like they’re getting, but that’s the beauty of choice theory!

Choice theory can work really well as a way to get things moving along within the structures of a routine too. Just make sure you always provide two choices that you can live with. If you want your child to put their pajamas on for example, ask them, “Would you like to wear the snowman pajamas or the owl pajamas?” That way, when they choose to wear the snowman pajamas, they are buying into the next step of the bedtime routine in a way that gives them power and choice. We like to use this strategy a lot as a way to distract them from emotional meltdowns as well.

3. Tell Me What I Can Do, Not What I Can’t Do

My husband has a wonderful strategy for intervening whenever the kids are fighting over something and he overhears a negative comment like, “Don’t play with my cars!” He steps in and says, “Tell your sister what she CAN do, not what she CAN’T do”. This inevitably leads to the one demanding a change in behavior to really think about what the other child can do instead. Sometimes it’s giving them some other toys to play with and sometimes they establish a way for the other child to participate in their play.

This also works really well as a reminder for us as parents that we shouldn’t be telling children what NOT TO DO so much as we should be showing them what TO DO instead. For example, you’re on a road trip and you hear a loud whiny voice in the backseat, instead of shouting, “Stop making that sound!” you could instead say, “Use your words”. Kids react in the moment based on what they are feeling, and if we want them to behave differently, we have to show them what that looks like.

4. Minimize Behaviors with Distractions

Many behaviors can start to bubble up when kids are tired and hungry and it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve for getting through these tricky times.

  1. Positive Encouragement: Instead of saying, “Put your pants on right now!” say, “I wonder if you can put your pants on by yourself now that you’re four years old? You can? Good job! I’m so proud of you! Daddy come in here and see what he did!” Sometimes when we assume a positive outcome, we get a positive outcome.
  2. Redirect: By directing their attention away from the thing that is making them frustrated, you can help children to move more quickly onto the next activity and hopefully avoid any conflict. Let’s say that your son is starting to whine about putting his coat on, don’t spend time trying to convince him that it’s cold outside and he needs his coat, just start putting it on and as you do talk about where you are going and get him excited about it. You might say, “When we go shopping, I’ll let you pick out one treat. What do you think you’ll want, a treat or a toy?” (Did you notice the choice theory in there too?)
  3. Humor: Use a funny voice, make a joke, be super silly, just do whatever it takes to get over the little roadblock.
  4. Game: Sometimes when our children get a little reluctant about heading upstairs to go to bed, I’ll say, “Let’s count how many stairs there are. How many do you think there will be?” Or we’ll say, “Last one up is a rotten egg!” My brother’s girlfriend Mae Belle told us this great trick for getting kids to brush their teeth. Her mom always told her and her siblings that their eyes changed color when they were ready for bed. So of course they wanted to rush right to the bathroom mirror to take a look. Once they were there looking at their pupils growing smaller in the bright lights of the bathroom, it was that much easier to get them to the next step of brushing their teeth. I love this!
  5. Song: Make up a silly song about what you are doing or sing your child’s favorite song to distract them. This works especially well with songs that your child likes to sing along with. (The Eensy Weensy Spider, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, If You’re Happy and You Know It…). I love using this during diaper changing time. I sometimes like to pause before the last word of each line so that my child will fill in the blank.
  6. Listen: Sometimes, children just need to be heard and by listening – really listening to their problem, we can help talk them through it. Sometimes we think we know what the problem is, but we’re totally off the mark. For example, at school the other day, my daughter appeared to be not following directions as my mom popped in to visit her class, but upon further questioning, she learned that she was trying to do the task perfectly (cover all of the black space within a circle with white shreds of paper in order to make a snowman) and when she talked to her about doing her best instead of being perfect, she was as happy as can be!
  7. Timing: My Aunt Sue told me a good one the other day about how she would always time her boys as an incentive to get them to do something like go to the bathroom, get dressed, or do some other kind of chore. They would be so excited to see how many seconds it took them to get it done!

5. Minimize Behaviors by Being Calm

If your child is just starting to misbehave or has a minor transgression, you can escalate things and make them much worse by doing the following.

  1. Getting Angry and Yelling: By letting them get to us, we can get sucked into the situation and respond with anger which leads to frustration and yelling. Your child is already angry and frustrated, so piling your anger onto the situation might feel good (or inevitable) in the moment, but it’s certainly not going to make the situation any better. The last thing you want to do when your child is yelling is to yell, “Stop yelling!!!” 
  2. Using Sarcasm: A child who is crying and throwing a tantrum does not need to hear you mimic them to show them how ridiculous the tantrum sounds. You are the adult and you need to guide them out of this behavior, not by shaming them into a better behavior, but through patience and love and being the change you want to see.
  3. Lecturing: I honestly cannot think of any situation where any lecture in the history of the world has ever worked on any child in any circumstance. Ever. Period. I mean, think about it, you’re angry, upset, emotional, and feeling perhaps a little guilty over your actions. Sure, it’s one thing to hear a simple, “That’s not okay, I do not want to see you _______ again.” But to go on and on and on about how the action was wrong, how it hurt others, how it hurt you, what they should have done instead, how you’re so disappointed, and so on is not an effective method for getting them to change their behavior. The best thing to do is to keep your guidance short. If you really want to talk about it, wait until later, but seriously, keep it short then too. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes hearing an endless tirade about how wrong they were.

6. Minimize Behaviors Using a Stern Voice

I do not advocate for yelling, ever, but there is a difference between an angry, whiny, sarcastic or loud voice and a stern Mommy or Daddy voice that says, “I mean business”. Save this voice for when you really really need it. This will ensure that it is most effective. We use this voice when our children do something in the moment that is just totally not okay. For example, when they hit someone, when they are about to run into the street, when they throw something spitefully on the floor, or when they say a bad word. Without missing a beat, we say, “_______, that is not okay! It is not okay to hit people!” If the offense warrants, we’ll bring them close to us or we’ll move away from that location and on to something else.

The problem I see parents having with this strategy is that they don’t commit to it. They start off with a kind of soft, mumbled, “Oh no, that’s not okay,” but it’s hard to hear their voice as they trail off. You have to say it with confidence and it has to be loud, not yelling, but loud, and very stern. It has to mean business and be ready to not take any excuses. In the best case scenario, the child is shocked out of their bad behavior, realizes the importance of the rule, and everyone can simply move on. If not, however, or if the child immediately does it again, then consequences must be implemented. I’ll get to that in a minute.

7. The Importance of Routines

There are lots of routines that we go through in a day/week/month, but the two most important times of our days are the morning and bedtime routines. We work hard to work out routines for both of these times that works best for everyone. If we start to encounter any rough patches during these times, we don’t make a big deal about it and just get through it however we can. Then later, we talk with each other about what made things rough and adjust our routine in order to help things run more smoothly the next time. The important thing about these routines is to be as consistent as possible. If you’re in a hurry, don’t skip bedtime stories to try to rush things along. Instead, read shorter stories or only spend ten minutes wrestling instead of twenty.

8. Establish Rules

By establishing rules, children will have clear expectations about what is okay and what is not okay before a misbehavior occurs. When establishing family rules, you don’t want to make a list of every minor transgression that might occur, but rather think of the big ideas that you want to permeate the choices your children make. A big idea like “Be Respectful” encompasses so many other things like using your manners, treating others with kindness, using positive words, and so on and is much better than listing all of those examples individually. It’s also best whenever possible to word rules using a positive voice rather than a negative. Maybe one or two that are really important or have become an issue like, “No throwing things” or “No hitting”, but you don’t want an entire list of “what not to dos”.

Here are our rules. We spent time making this chart together with the kids and talking about it. I drew little pictures of examples for each one. The kids thought they were just hilarious, but it really helped them to understand what they meant. Talk to your spouse about what rules work for you and let the kids add their input too. One thing I LOVE doing with rules is role playing. So for the rule about obeying I’ll say, “Now pretend that Daddy just asked you to go to bed. Show me what would NOT be okay.” They have so much fun shouting NO, stomping away, and saying mean things to Daddy. Then I ask them to act out what a good example would look like and then we talk about the differences.

rules chart

Rules Chart

My husband and I reference the first rule (Obey) most of all. Before we made our rule chart, my husband and I noticed that the biggest problem we were having with our children had to do with listening. We wanted them to obey the first time we asked them to do something without having to cajole and coddle a response or action out of them. We find ourselves saying, “What’s the number one rule?” more often than any other rule. The “Show Respect” rule encompasses lots of things like saying “please” and “thank you” and being kind to each other. Our kids came up with “Share” rule and we like to remind them of that too! The throwing rule was a special one we had to add just for our son who for some reason became obsessed with throwing things in the house.

Rules are different from jobs. Jobs are what each family member contributes to the family unit and when children are clear about their jobs, they are clear about what is expected of them. I also like to talk to them about what our jobs are as parents and they enjoy seeing that even babies have jobs to do!

family jobs chart

Family Jobs Chart

9. Implementing Consequences

When I thought about writing this blog, this is where I thought I would start, but then I realized that there is so much more that goes into behavior management than just dealing with the misbehaviors. By doing everything mentioned above, you will have created an environment that does not encourage misbehaviors. But even still, rest assured that they will occur! We have to expect that they will occur and look for times when we can guide.

That being said, there’s an ebb and flow to implementing consequences. Sometimes you’ll find yourself implementing them a lot as your children push to see where the boundaries are, but they should not be a part of your regular everyday life. If you are constantly experiencing misbehaviors and doling out consequences, you really need to look at the root cause for why this is happening and make adjustments in your routines, time, attention, or whatever else is bothering your children.

  1. Have Clear Expectations: By establishing the rules before a behavior occurs, children will have a good idea of what is expected of them. It’s much easier to behave when there aren’t any surprises about what is allowed and what isn’t.
  2. Misbehavior Occurs: Ask yourself, “Is this a behavior that they KNOW is wrong or is this a gray area?” Let’s say for example that it’s time to go somewhere and you ask your child to put on her shoes and she either ignores you or says “no” when she KNOWS that the number one rule is to obey, then it’s time to move on to step number three. Now let’s say that she comes home after the first day of school and throws her backpack and coat on the floor. You have never talked to her about the expectations for what to do with these items so you might say, “When you come home from school, I expect you to hang up your coat and backpack. Now, tell me, what are you going to do when you get home from school.” You should not implement a consequence for something that they weren’t sure was expected of them. Now, if she comes home from school a few weeks  later and throws her coat and backpack on the floor after doing it correctly for weeks, it’s time to move on to step number 4.
  3. Choose Your Battles: Decide if this is the best time to teach a lesson or not. If their basic needs have not been met, you altered the routine, you were not clear on expectations, or you are feeling particularly angry, these are all good examples of when you might want to let the behavior go and make an example at another more appropriate time.
  4. Give Them a Choice: Whenever a misbehavior occurs, I think it’s important to give children a choice before moving on to a consequence. By giving them a choice, you’re providing them with the power to choose what is right for themselves; you are not making them do it. So for example in the shoe scenario, you could say, “You need to obey me when I tell you what to do. Now, you can either put your shoes on, or I can do it for you.” That is really a very minimal consequence, but for children who are motivated to do everything themselves, it can work really well!
  5. Counting to Three: This is sometimes more effective than giving a choice. You just have to be careful how you use it and how often you use it. Now, I’m not talking about saying, “3, 2, 2 and a half, two and a quarter, two and an eighth, I’m serious, 1…one half, one quarter…0.” I mean, saying, “I’m going to count to three and by the time I get to 0, you’d better be putting your pajamas on or else you’ll have a consequence.” As soon as you start saying “3”, they should be moving. Say the numbers quickly and be ready to follow through immediately. You may have to follow through on this a time or two before it really becomes effective. 
  6. Logical Consequence: Try to implement a consequence that is fitting to the misbehavior. Let’s say that with the shoe scenario you get to the point where you need to implement consequences, an example of an illogical consequence would be to take away her ipad for a week whereas a logical consequence is that she loses the freedom to put on her shoes. Logical consequences should be easy to come up with based on the situation you are in. A logical consequence for them not picking up their toys would be to take the toys away for the rest of the day, a logical consequence for not turning off the ipad when you ask them to is that they lose the privilege of playing it for the rest of the day or the next day, and a logical consequence for hurting someone is hugging them, saying sorry, and making them feel better.
    1. What About Spankings? We grew up getting spanked and turned out just fine (or did we?), but a new meta-analysis of research of 160,000 children over five decades shows that the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased aggression, anti-social behavior, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties. We used to think that a little bit of spanking was okay, but we don’t spank at all anymore, and our children are very well behaved.
    2. What About Time Outs? Time outs are a form of punishment just like spankings, that assumes that the child is intentionally being bad and deserves to be punished for this bad behavior instead of redirected, guided, or instructed on how to get through the difficult situation. Sometimes children choose to walk away from a situation that is frustrating and may even choose to go to their rooms to cool off (as parents, we might choose to do this as well if we feel like our emotions are taking over a situation), but that is different from isolating a child as a punishment for bad behavior.
  7. Follow Through: Now, once you say that you’re going to give a consequence, you have to immediately follow through with it no matter how much they whine or protest. The biggest mistake people make with consequences is that they make a consequence that they really don’t want to follow through with. Let’s say for example that you’ve planned a big outing to the zoo. You’ve got snacks, diapers, toys, friends are meeting you there, and you have the whole day planned out. But then right after you’ve purchased your tickets, your little one starts to throw a tantrum because they wanted the monkey crackers not the hippo crackers and you say, “You need to stop that right now or else we’re going home.” So now if your child doesn’t stop the tantrum you will have to go home, and honestly, that’s more of a punishment to you. So first of all, make sure you are prepared to follow through with the consequence. In fact, when you present it, just expect that you will have to follow through with it. Start mentally preparing for what you will do when you have to implement the consequence so you will be ready to act right away. In tantrum situation, maybe a better solution would be to take your child away from the group to decompress and figure out the motivation for the tantrum. Are they hungry? Tired? Overwhelmed? Sometimes a good cuddle and some reassuring words can work wonders.
  8. Move On: After you have implemented the consequence, you may say one quick little thing like, “I hope that next time ___________ happens, you’ll make better choices.” And that’s it! You do not want to spend a lot of time lecturing them at this point. Just let it go and move on.
  9. Don’t Repeat the Consequence to Elicit a Behavior: Moving on also means that you still need to move on from the behavior, and if you just gave a consequence because little Johnny wouldn’t put his pajamas on, you still need him to put his pajamas on. You really have to use your judgement on this one. He may be obedient enough to just start putting his pajamas on, but if not, just do it for him. The worst thing you can do is to start counting again and implementing consequence after consequence. This will only make the child progressively more hysterical and it will only make you angrier and angrier turning you into a big bully doling out punishments relentlessly. As you’re putting his pajamas on say, “I hope that tomorrow when I ask you to put your pajamas on, you’ll make a better choice and put them on right away.” And then tomorrow, awhile before bedtime, you can ask him, “What are you going to do when I ask you to put your pajamas on tonight?” Guiding children towards positive behaviors takes patience and time. It doesn’t happen immediately or even overnight.
  10. Be Consistent: If one day you’re totally fine with them spending hours on the ipad (maybe because you needed to get a few things done) and then the next day (when you’re all caught up on everything) you suddenly you get angry for them being on it too much, this inconsistency can confuse children. If having them limit their ipad usage is really important to you, then explain that to children beforehand and follow through with the limited use. And if on occasion, you want allow them to spend hours on the ipad, at least explain that this is a special occasion.
  11. Hugs: You might not be able to do this right away if your child is emotional and still coming down from a meltdown. But at some point following the incident, find the time to hug your child and say I love you. You want to let them know that it’s the behavior you were displeased with not them.

10. What to Do When You Lose Your Cool

To expect that you’re never going to get mad and lose your cool is absurd. Just expect that it’s going to happen from time to time. We are all human and we all make mistakes. As long as yelling and getting angry isn’t your “go to” strategy for dealing with misbehavior, and as long as you realize and acknowledge that you made a mistake, everything will be fine. It’s actually good for kids to see you make mistakes, especially when you can talk to them and say something, “I’m sorry I got mad and yelled at you. I was just getting really frustrated when you wouldn’t listen to me. What I should have said instead is ________. Can you forgive me?” If you do this, you model to them what they should do when they get angry and make a mistake.

In Conclusion

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout this entire process is communication. All of this means nothing if you cannot share your expectations with your spouse and be on the same page. If Daddy tries to implement a consequence, but the kids know that Mommy won’t uphold it, they will learn you to play the two of you against each other. You both have to talk often about what is and isn’t working for your family and be willing to revise your behavior management plan as needed. You also need to clearly communicate with the children what your expectations are of them. They will thrive in an environment where their actions elicit predictable results while you and your spouse can enjoy more peace and harmony in your home.

**Update: I wrote this blog 9 months ago when we were having some behavior management troubles. We weren’t on the same page, there was too much yelling, and our children’s misbehaviors were a problem. After watching McCready’s webinar and discussing and revising the blog numerous times, we finally had a shared vision and a plan. It took months and months of us working together to finally implement this plan successfully, but wow, what a difference! We are not blindsided by misbehaviors anymore and we both deal with them calmly and consistently which has led to a much more peaceful household.

My Number One Priority as a Mom

My Number One Priority As a Mom

The most important thing to do with your children isn’t teaching them the ABCs, developing their oral language, teaching them how to read, or instilling manners or math skills. And while these things are important, they mean nothing without this…your love, your presence, your undivided attention…YOU.

I’ll do anything for my kids, and I want them to grow up knowing that I’ll always put them first – not with just my words, but my actions too.

Now, putting them first doesn’t mean that I put myself or my marriage second – because children need a happy mother, a happy father, and parents who love each other.

happy couple winter hat

Happily Married for Two Years

What it means is that I don’t want them to feel pushed aside because I needed to clean the house, work on my blog, or go on a date with Daddy. I want them to know without a shadow of a doubt that they are top priority and that I’d do anything for them.

Putting them first means that I will teach them things that will prepare them for the future and challenge their minds, that I will be there to set boundaries and hold them accountable, and that I will provide them with nutritious food and teach them how to make healthy choices. But most importantly, I will hold them. 

When they come to me with open arms, I will drop everything to squeeze them tight. I will hug them, cuddle them, smooth their hair, and scratch their backs until they pull away from me to go play. I will fill their tanks with so much love that they will have the confidence to be away from me and still wear my love on their sleeves.

Hugging our children is simply the best!

Family Photo

When children feel loved, they can take on the world. It gives them confidence, strength, and the ability to love others. It makes them feel important and like they matter. Having parents who love them is what gives children their wings.

This is what that love looks like…

1. Hug, Kiss, Snuggle, and Cuddle

With four kids five and under, I have my hands full! I am constantly busy doing dishes, laundry, preparing food, setting up learning stations, writing, and any other number of things. Lately, I’ve realized how much I have to prioritize because it seems that I can never completely tackle my “to do” list. 

That being said, cuddles, hugs, kisses, and snuggles always take a top priority, especially when I can tell that my little ones need me. Even if I’ve just started making a batch of sourdough muffins or I finally found a time to sit down and write, I will stop whatever I’m doing to drop down and give a hug, or go to the couch and read a book, or just rock them on my lap and smooth their hair.

cuddling a newborn

Cuddling Newborn Ophelia

Even when my kids are happily engaged and playing and I’m elbows deep in chores, whenever I see a little body race by, I do not hesitate to scoop it up in a big bear hug and smother it with kisses, or give a head scratch, or a little back rub. 

I do not take these moments for granted. I know that they will only be little once and so I kiss their chubby cheeks, snuggle up on the couch with a pile of books and silkies, hug them tightly, and cuddle them close whenever I can.

2. Say I Love You Often

Sometimes, we tend to not say the things that are implied as often as we should. It might seem obvious by your actions that you love your children, but I think that they still need to hear you say it many many times every single day. It shouldn’t be something forced that you say on the hour, but whenever you feel it well up inside of you, just say it! 

Whenever you find yourself completely in awe of this life that you carried inside of you, that shared a body with you, that you nursed, cuddled, and rocked through so many things – whenever you get an ache in your heart because you can literally feel it growing with love, about to burst with joy, say it out loud! Tell them exactly how amazing they are and how complete they make you feel.

children in winter coats hugging

Ruby and Elliot Hugging

3. Play

My kids have these amazing imaginations and play these crazy intricate imagination games with little figures and houses, building toys, or dress up clothes. my husband and I love getting on the floor with them and introducing new ways of play. Sometimes we’ll show them a new scenario and other times we’ll just follow their lead.

Family Play Time

Family Play Time

They need their tanks to be filled with love before they are ready to go and play on their own. One of our favorite things to do is to just play together. It’s an honor to be let into their worlds and it’s an insight into their brains and a little glimpse as to what is going on inside.

4. Tickle, Wrestle, and Fight

Every night before bed, my husband wrestles with all of the kids, and it is pretty much their favorite part of the day. It motivates them to drop whatever they’re doing and put their pajamas on so that they can race into the bedroom to fight their dad. He loves it too, and it is so cute to see them roughhouse and play. I’m a little better with the tickles than the wrestling. 

I know how to find just the right tickle spot…under the neck, behind the knee, or right on the belly! The kids love interacting with their grandpas through wrestling and fighting too. I think that wrestling is a very important part of the expression of love.

Tickle Time with Grandpa

Tickle Time with Grandpa

5. Listen

When you listen, and I mean really listen, you stop talking, you pause, you wait. With little children who don’t have the biggest vocabulary, it can be easy to speak for them and to supply an endless stream of chatter to make up for their silence. But when we learn how to slow down, stop talking, and really listen, we can hear so much more. If we get down to their level and get into their world they will open up in ways we couldn’t imagine.

Grandmas Love to Listen

Grandmas Love to Listen

6. Arrange Your Time

I know that we all have a thousand things to do and a million places to be, but we can make our lives as peaceful or as hectic as we want them to be. Trust me, we have gone through five moves and made some major life changes in the last five years so that we could be where we are today. 

When we had our first child and I came back into the classroom after an amazing 12 week maternity leave, a mother said something that really stuck with me. She actually wasn’t my student’s mother, but his grandmother who had taken custody of him and we were chatting about me being back at work. I said that of course I would love to be at home with my daughter, but I explained that I made more money than my husband and we couldn’t survive on one income. I explained how we didn’t have a choice, but even still, she said to me sweetly, “You can never get that time back.” How rude of her to say, I thought. Doesn’t she know my situation? 

Now that I’m staying home with my next two children and I see them throughout every single moment and milestone, I mourn for the time that I wasn’t with my first two while they were in daycare and I was juggling too much. We have worked hard to make our children a priority and it is a decision that I don’t think we will ever regret.

Being a Stay at Home Mom

Being a Stay at Home Mom

In Conclusion

There are a lot of things that I like to blog about pertaining to how kids learn, how to use food as our medicine, how to use the best parenting strategies, and my journey into motherhood, but nothing, absolutely NOTHING is as important as what I’ve covered in this post. Yes, all of the things that I write about have helped to bring our family to its current state of happiness, but the number one priority above all is love. It’s about giving your children all of you, the best you, the real you, and it’s about enjoying every moment in the moment and realizing that these sleepless nights, endless cuddles, and constant companionship represents but a fleeting time in our lives that we should embrace.

How to Identify and Deal with Lip Tie and Tongue Tie

After having problems establishing a breastfeeding relationship with our first three children, I discovered what a lip tie was. After having our fourth child, I finally learned what a tongue tie was. Had I known about these two conditions from the very beginning, it would have made things a heck of a lot easier! This is the information I have gathered doing extensive research, talking to experts, and through my own experience. This is the information I wish I would have had with my first child from day one and what I would like to tell anyone else who is going through the same thing.

First of All, Let’s Talk About Frenula

Frenula is the plural form of frenulum. A frenulum (also called frenum when in relation to the upper lip) is a small fold of tissue that secures a mobile organ in the body. The maxillary labial frenum is the membrane that attaches the gums to the upper lip and the lingual frenulum is the membrane that attaches the base of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

When a baby is growing in utero, the tongue starts to develop at about 4 weeks. By 6 weeks, the frenulum cells attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth begin retracting from the tip of the tongue increasing the tongue’s mobility. Disturbances during this stage cause ankyloglossia, or tongue tie. The tip of the tongue will continue to elongate after birth which is why some people believe that the tongue will “stretch” with age and growth, although that is not the case.

Look at Your Frenula

Before going any further, I suggest that you look in a mirror and lift up your upper lip. You may notice a stretchy piece of tissue hanging out up there, and you might even be able to feel it with the tip of your tongue. You may also feel nothing. Next, lift up your tongue and look for the stretchy piece of tissue lying underneath. Move your tongue around and notice the range of motion you have. Then try sticking your tongue out. Notice how far you can stick it out. Can it go down the length of your chin or up to the tip of your nose or does it barely leave the confines of your teeth? After you explore your own frenulums, examine your spouses. The two of you will probably be much more willing participants than your children, and it will give you a good insight as to what to look for since genetics will probably play a role in the type of frenulums your children have.

Are the Frenula Causing Problems?

The mere existence of frenula does not constitute a problem, it is when they are so restrictive that they prevent breastfeeding from occurring that is a problem. When the frenum of the upper lip or the frenulum of the tongue start to cause problems, they are referred to as lip ties and tongue ties. If there is a lip tie, there is probably a tongue tie also, but a tongue tie does not necessarily indicate that there will be a lip tie.

What is a Tongue Tie?

Being tongue tied is medically defined as having ankyloglossia, which is caused by having an unusually short or thick membrane under the tongue that is attached abnormally close to the tip of the tongue and causes restricted movement of the tongue. People with more severe cases of tongue tie cannot stick their tongues out very far beyond their teeth.

Tongue Tie, Photo Credit: Kate via Flickr, 2008

Tongue Tie, Photo Credit: Kate via Flickr, 2008

This can cause breatfeeding problems with babies and speech problems as they get older. As an adult, the worst of the lingering effects are typically the inability to french kiss properly and the inability to lick an ice cream cone. Here’s a great 2 minute video describing what tongue tie is, the symptoms associated with it, and what it looks like to get it removed using the scissor method.

What is a Lip Tie?

Having a lip tie occurs when the membrane under the top lip is unusually thick and attaches under the gum line. It is not as common or severe of a diagnosis as being tongue tied, although it does have its own host of problems. I’ve read that severe lip ties will usually correct themselves by the time a child reaches adulthood due to tripping and falling or any other number of accidents that can lead to the lip tie being torn, but Dr. Kotlow, a leading expert in tongue and lip ties, believes this is not the case. He explains how if a severe lip tie is not corrected, “it can lead to dental decay on the upper front teeth, gaps (diastemas) between the two front teeth, orthodontic or periodontal problems later in the child’s oral development, and poor lip mobility or function, especially during smiling and speaking.”

Lip Tie

Lip Tie

Other resources that I’ve looked at say that once all of the permanent teeth come in, the gap may just fix itself. Here’s a great 2 minute video describing what a lip tie is, the symptoms associated with it, and what it looks like to get it removed using the scissor method.

Different Classifications of Tongue and Lip Ties

Although you cannot diagnose tongue and lip ties by looks alone, it’s a good place to start. One of the first things to look for to see if your baby is tongue tied is to see if your baby’s tongue makes a heart shape when he or she cries. This is a tell tale sign that it is being tethered too tightly to the floor of his or her mouth.

One of the best ways to look for a tongue tie is to lie the baby on his or her back on your knees with his or her head facing towards you and his or her feet facing towards your knees. Then, tilt the baby’s head back and stick your fingers underneath the tongue to elevate it. You can also get a pretty good look when he or she is crying. To look for a lip tie, look to see if the top lip flanges out while nursing. You can also simply lift up the top lip and look.

These pictures below have been compiled by Dr. Kotlow, one of the most renowned pediatric dentists, known for his skill at correcting tongue and lip ties. He comes highly recommend by Mommypotomus who also has a great blog about tongue ties. You’ll notice that there are many different classifications.



Symptoms of Tongue and Lip Ties

Looking at the symptoms related to tongue and lip ties is actually the best way to diagnose them. So here are a list of symptoms to look for in both mom and baby that could be the result of tongue and/or lip tie.

  • Symptoms to Look for with Mom
    • Nipple pain and/or erosions
    • Nipple looks pinched, creased, bruised, or abraded after feeds
    • White stripe at the end of the nipple
    • Painful breasts/vasospasm
    • Low milk supply
    • Plugged ducts
    • Mastitis
    • Recurring thrush
    • Frustration, disappointment, and discouragement with breastfeeding
    • Weaning before mom is ready
    • Tired momma, from being up in the night every hour for feeding night after night after night
  • Symptoms to Look for with Baby
    • Poor latch and suck
    • Unusually strong suck due to baby using excess vacuum to remove milk
    • Clicking sound while nursing (poor suction)
    • Ineffective milk transfer
    • Infrequent swallowing after initial let-down
    • Inadequate weight gain or weight loss
    • Irritability or colic
    • Gas and reflux
    • Fussiness and frequent arching away from the breast
    • Fatigue within one to two minutes of beginning to nurse
    • Difficulty establishing suction to maintain a deep grasp on the breast
    • Breast tissue sliding in and out of baby’s mouth while feeding
    • Gradual sliding off the breast
    • Chewing or biting on the nipple
    • Falling asleep at the breast without taking in a full feed
    • Coughing, choking, gulping, or squeaking when feeding
    • Spilling milk during feeds
    • Jaw quivering after or between feeds
  • Symptoms I Had: With our fourth baby, Julian, I was not getting very much sleep because he was up every hour or two (or sometimes every 30-45 minutes) to nurse. And when I would nurse him, I wasn’t able to just lay down and nurse, I had to either sit up on the edge of the bed or in the rocking chair to help him latch on. My nipples weren’t really sore (after four babies, they got pretty tough), but he was rolling the nipple around in his mouth and falling off the nipple repeatedly. When he would nurse, there was a noticeable clicking sound from his inability to form a secure latch. He especially had trouble maintaining a latch during my letdown and he would sputter, choke, and pop off the breast. He would also fall asleep mid feed and as a result he didn’t fully drain the breast. This led to me getting plugged milk ducts (which I massaged away after applying a hot compress and drained completely using a breast pump) and I believe that this is what led him to have a lot of green poops (from not getting enough hindmilk). He was also taking in a lot of air during feedings which resulted in him being gassy, needing to burp and fart a lot, and getting the hiccups. When he had gas (which was often), he would get really fussy and squirm, wiggle, and grunt…even in his sleep. He would also puke a lot, but he also would nurse a lot, so weight gain was not an issue. Finally, at his six week checkup, the midwife noticed that he was tongue tied. Once I started researching the symptoms, it all made sense.

Temporary Relief

If you are waiting for a corrective procedure or trying to decide if you will get one, the following strategies may help to provide some temporary relief.

  • Stretch the Lip Tie – To help with stretching out both Ophelia and Julian’s lip ties, I would put my finger under their upper lips and roll up. I tried to remember to do this before every feeding. To help them latch on, I would have to grab my breast and angle the nipple down, wait until they opened their mouth, and then torpeedo my nipple in there! Once they latched on, I would sneak my finger under their lips to flange it out. By the time they were three months old, I didn’t have any problems with their lip ties anymore.
  • Sitting Up and Leaning Forward to Nurse – Getting a good latch is difficult enough as it is, but when you’re dealing with a lip and/or tongue tie, it’s even more challenging! This seems to help.
  • Burp Often – Because they are taking in a lot of air, it can help to burp during a feeding by either patting their backs or putting them up on your shoulder. I would also try to angle their bodies to make them more upright while nursing. Also, keep burping periodically even long after the feeding.
  • Hold to Sleep – Now, I’m a really light sleeper, so this works well for me, but it can be dangerous, so use this strategy with caution! What I do is prop a big tower of pillows in a U-Shape around me for support. Then I sleep with pillows propped under my arm and my head leaning against a pillow. When we sleep, I hold his upper body upright and about every 3o minutes or so when he gets fussy, I would pat his back, bounce, and rock him until he calmed down. We are six weeks after the procedure and Julian is 3 months old, and I still actually hold him while I sleep every night. I think I’m just used to it now!
  • Belly Band Over the Boobs – You know that thing that you put over your pants when you’re pregnant so that you can leave your pants unbuttoned as your belly grows? Well, I pull that over my breasts because my nipples are just so dang sensitive. It’s a much more comfortable alternative to wearing a bra at night and makes it easier to nurse too.
  • Air Time – Putting breast milk on my nipples and just walking around without a shirt on felt good (I just had to remember to close my curtains!)

Options Moving Forward

You have several different options depending on your specific situation. You will want to consider the following: the problems you’re having breastfeeding (If it’s not causing any noticeable problems, I would recommend leaving it alone.) the availability of a skilled practitioner in your area or your capability of traveling, your financial situation and insurance coverage, the age of your child (over 6 months is almost too late), and so on. Here is a list of the next possible steps.

  1. Wait and See – If your symptoms are not that bad or if you feel like they may be caused by something else (a poor latch, strong let down, flat nipples, etc.) you might want to take a wait and see approach. Dr. Kotlow however. strongly advises against this for a lip tie because he does not feel that it will get better with time. But with Ophelia and Julian’s lip ties, I saw that they did, although they were not extremely severe. It was really hard to get a good picture, but you can kind of see Julian’s below. It attaches below the gum line and was kind of tight at first, but seemed to stretch out over time. 

    Julian's Upper Lip Tie

    Julian’s Upper Lip Tie

  2. Best Time to Act – Keep in mind that the younger the child, the easier it is to deal with this procedure. Once you go through with the procedure, not only will your child have to physically heal, but he or she will have to learn how reuse his or her tongue based on the release and the new muscle use related to the increased mobility. The best time to get a procedure done is before the child is 3 months old, and really, the younger, the better. Usually, when the child is over 6 months old, the doctor won’t do the procedure in the office, and it will have to be done in the hospital with anesthesia.
  3. Pediatrician’s Opinion – We did not need a referral to get an appointment with a specialist, but you might, and this would be a good place to start to learn about your options. Just keep in mind that some pediatricians are not familiar with tongue or lip ties or worse yet, might not believe in them and make you feel silly for even asking. We took our fourth baby, Julian, to see his pediatrician because we had no idea where to even start. She said, “Yup, that’s a tongue tie!” and suggested that we see an ENT for a frenectomy (also known as a frenulectomy, frenulotomy or frenotomy – which is the removal of a frenulum). When he cries, you can see the heart shape of the tongue and how it is tethered to the floor of his mouth.
    Julian's Tongue Tie

    Julian’s Tongue Tie

  4. ENT – That’s an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist in case you didn’t know (I didn’t). Some people feel like this is the best place to go for getting a tongue or lip tie procedure. For us, we needed something close that was in our network, and this was the only option. We had to pay $45 for the office visit and we were quoted that the procedure would be $450, but six weeks later, we have yet to get a bill. (Maybe insurance is covering it after all?)
  5. Pediatric Dentist – Some people feel like this is the preferred specialist for this procedure. I think that it all depends on what is most convenient for you. If you can travel and money isn’t an option, then you might have the freedom to research all specialists nationwide and find the best of the best.
  6. Scissor Method – This is the most common way of doing the procedure, and what we did with Julian. Depending on the severity of the tongue tie, a topical and/or local anesthetic may be used, the membrane may be clamped to stomp blood flow, a nurse (and you if you can handle it) will hold the baby down, the nurse will prop up the tongue with q-tips or some other tool, then the doctor will go in with one or two snips, and then he or she will then cauterize it with silver nitrate if there is a lot of bleeding. When Julian had his cut, I was really shocked by the amount of blood, but the doctor assured me it was normal. He breastfed right after the procedure and the bleeding stopped after a few minutes. (His next poop was pretty black from all of the blood he swallowed.) There is a concern with this method that the doctor won’t cut enough (I’m sure it’s scary going into a little baby’s mouth like that with a pair of scissors, especially if they are screaming!) and there won’t be a full release, but we did not have this problem.
  7. Laser Method – Some say that the laser method is superior because it can penetrate through more of the tissue for a more complete release and immediately cauterizes the wound, but it is not easy to find someone who will do this. (It takes a steady hand and a lot of skill.) Here’s a list of nationwide providers that will do the laser method.
  8. Questions to Ask – If you have several options within your area, it might be a good idea to ask some of the following questions to narrow your search such as: 1) How often have you done this procedure? 2) How often do your patients come back for a revision? 3) What is the procedure like? 4) What are your thoughts on the scissor method versus the laser method? 5) What do you recommend for aftercare?

After Care

After the procedure, some say that doing exercises to help the muscles learn what they are supposed to do and to make sure the tongue tie doesn’t reattach and scar tissue doesn’t form is absolutely crucial. I personally felt that my son would strengthen his muscles by nursing and that the wound would be given sufficient time being stretched every time he cried. (I mean, I wish I could soothe him perfectly so that he never cried, but that has yet to happen.) To be honest, I felt like he had been through enough and I could tell he was in pain when I tried to do the exercises, and I just couldn’t bear to put him through any more. I can see how the lip tie would reattach if the lip continued to not to flange out while nursing, but I can’t imagine that the newly detached lip wouldn’t flange out. At any rate, you may want to rub a finger over the wound periodically to ensure that it doesn’t reattach.

Typically, babies feel discomfort for the first 24 hours after the procedure. Older babies and toddlers will typically feel discomfort for the first 48 hours. Breastfeeding and skin to skin are the best first lines of defense. Arnica is a good natural method for pain relief, or there’s acetaminophen (dosage should be given based on the child’s weight not age). Ibprofen should not be given to children under the age of 2 months and topical numbing ointments containing benzocaine (Orajel/Anbesol) should not be given due to health risks.

After Julian’s procedure, he was in a considerable amount of pain for the first 48 hours. I ended up giving him some acetaminophen every couple of hours for the first two days and then periodically after that as needed. The wound was white for about the first 10 days and then it looked pink again. They say that with a successful tongue tie revision, you should be able to see a diamond shape. It was really hard to look under Julian’s tongue to see if this was the case but I could tell things were better based on our nursing relationship.

The Ideal Diamond Shape After a Tongue Tie Release

The Ideal Diamond Shape After a Tongue Tie Release

We are now 6 weeks past our frenectomy date and I feel like I am finally noticing a difference. To be quite honest, he improved ever so gradually, that it was hard to notice on a daily basis, but when I reflect back to the way things were 6 weeks ago, it’s really a night and day difference. The clicking went on for some time until it finally faded away. He still pops off the breast during my let down from time to time, but that could just be due to my really powerful letdown. He is sleeping better and best of all, I am able to nurse laying down! He still wakes up to feed every 2-3 hours, but that is WAY better than every 45 minutes! At first, I really questioned whether or not getting the procedure was worth it (holding him down screaming, the needle under his tongue for the local, and the blood spurting as the doctor cut all we’re absolutely brutal), but now I am definitely glad we did it. I think that maybe we would’ve had a better experience had we found a pediatric dentist who could do the laser procedure, but that just was not an option for us.

Body Work

Some people recommend chiropractic or CrainoSacral Therapy both before and after the procedure to help release the muscles needed to nurse. CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance. In her article, CranioSacral Therapy: When Can It Help, by Dee Kassing, BS, MLS, IBCLC, she states that,

“If there is misalignment and imbalance of the skull bones, this can affect the function of the palate, tongue, and other structures of the head. This can cause the palate to be too high or uneven, or the facial muscles to be too tight. Imbalance of the structures of the head, as well as trauma from the birth process itself, can cause constant irritation to the nervous system. This constant irritation may also cause hypersensitivity, which can sometimes be the underlying cause for babies who gag and cannot accept anything in the center or back of the mouth.”

We took Julian to get some CST before his tongue tie release when he was about 5 weeks old, and while it didn’t make breastfeeding better per sae, it changed him in both subtle and powerful ways. He always seemed to be just a little bit fussy, and afterwards he was SO CALM. I would definitely recommended CST for every infant after birth (But that’s another post!). I kept meaning to take him for some post CST, but the timing just never worked out. It is definitely something I would recommend to anyone getting a frenectomy. To find someone who does CST, you can call chiropractic offices that specialize in infants and see if they recommend anyone.

Happy Julian

Happy Julian

More Personal Stories

Like I said, all of our children have had either a tongue tie, lip tie, or both. Too bad I didn’t learn about what they were until recently.

  • Ruby – Looking back, we had a very rough start to our breastfeeding relationship, and now I know that it was due to her having a lip tie. She couldn’t get a good latch, she was constantly popping off the breast, she would spit up A LOT, she couldn’t drain the breast and had green poop, she took in a lot of air while nursing because of the constant on and off and as a result she was very gassy and fussy. Now she is five years old and has a noticeable gap between her front teeth. And sure enough, when we lift her upper lip, there’s a lip tie. It doesn’t seem to be too serious, however, and we are hoping that the gap will close when her permanent teeth come in. If not…braces!
  • Elliot – Looking back, I can see that I had a lot of the same problems with Elliot that I have had with Julian. I just had no idea about tongue or lip ties at the time! I nursed Elliot until he was 18 months old, but had to wean him (before either of us were ready) because it was just too painful. Now, he is four years old and has some speech problems. He cannot say the /r/ or /l/ sound and has trouble with the /c/, /g/, and /th/ sounds. We had the ENT look at him when we were there for Julian’s appointment and he said that he definitely had a tongue tie, but that it wasn’t bad enough to warrant surgery. We have decided to just work with him on correctly pronouncing his letter sounds and hope for the best.
  • Ophelia – Our midwife pointed out that she had a lip tie right away even though I had no idea what that even was at the time. Per her advice, I worked on stretching it out as she suggested and flanging her lip out when she nursed, and it never really became a problem. When her baby teeth came in, there was no gap in between her top front teeth.
  • Julian – I noticed that he had a lip tie right away, so I was able to stretch it out and it wasn’t really an issue. I asked our midwife to look at it during our 6 week visit, and she discovered that he was actually tongue tied. And that is when all of this research began. Full circle.

For more reading on the matter, check out these resources: Breastfeeding a Baby with Tongue-Tie or Lip-Tie (Resources)