Investing in the Child’s First 2000 Days

When people ask me why we decided to homeschool our child when he was 3 years and 10 months, I tell them that I want to get to know his learning style better so I can match it with my teaching style as a parent. I have always believed that learning starts at home.

In one of the pediatric conferences I attended, the first 2000 days in the child’s life was in focus. There are only 2000 days between the time a baby is born and when he or she will begin kindergarten. During that time, brain architecture is forming, creating either a strong or weak foundation for all future learning. Harvard University neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff says, “Brains are built not born.” What happens in the first 2000 days sets the foundation for the next years of life.

Child development is a dynamic, interactive process and it occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments.

RELATIONSHIPS. When the child feels safe and secure, he can focus his attention on exploring. Children who receive sensitive, responsive care from their parents and other caregivers in the first years of life enjoy an important head start toward success in their lives. The secure relationships they develop with the important adults in their lives lay the foundation for emotional development and help protect them from the many stresses they may face as they grow (Werner and Smith, 1992).

EXPERIENCES. Experience strengthens connections in the brain. Neuroplasticity allows structural and functional changes in the brain brought about by experiences and training. Neuroplasticity in the first five years of life is the most critical period of human development. After the critical period, the brain may never again show the same ability to make changes in neural connectivity. During the first 2000 days, children’s brains grow fastest between the ages of 0 and 3 years.

ENVIRONMENTS. The young brain is very plastic and soft-wired, the child’s environment plays an important role. When the child is in a nurturing environment, with quality early learning experiences, children are more school ready.

It is primarily because of the maximal plasticity of the brain during the critical first years of a child’s life that I have decided to take on the major role of being my son’s first teacher. We are now in our fourth quarter and I must say, we were able to get to know each other, with my son wearing the hat of a learner while I wear the hat of a teacher. Our daily routine is far from perfect but as a mother, through direct observation, I am slowly understanding how he learns best. We have incorporated creative activities so that at an early age, he will realize that learning can, and should be fun.



Are we creating more “disabled” children?

Parents are expected to guide their children and facilitate learning and growth. In this day and age of exposure to varied media and we hear stories about children hurting themselves because of an online game, as a parent myself, I am worried about the welfare of my son.

On hindsight, people with bad intentions have been around even during our time. Technology just made it easier for evil-doers to reach out to our trusting kids. It is now up to us, as parents, to adjust our ways and parenting skills to address our children’s needs. My take on this is, BE WHERE THE CHILDREN ARE.

I sometimes hear myself saying the same words I heard from my parents, “noong panahon namin…” (“during our time…). These words are usually uttered when we try to discipline our kids. But the truth is, OUR time is totally different from THEIR time. The kids of today have never known a world without the internet. They have never known a world when one has to go to the library to research on something or get a book to know the meaning of a word. Our kids are now overwhelmed with information with just a few clicks. They are equipped to converse online to either finish school projects or engage in games. They build robots and not just put together Lego blocks. They design clothes through Apps aside from manually making paper dolls. The children of today live and breathe creativity and innovation, so why put square pegs in round holes?

Because THEIR environment is changing, parents have to adapt as well. What was effective for us in terms of instilling discipline may not work for them. And because we are forever students, parents must also learn new parenting skills. Our teaching style must match our children’s learning style.

I work mostly with parents whose children were diagnosed to have developmental disabilities. There are some parents who became overly protective such that they opted for their kids to stay at home.  They believe that their children will always be dependent on them and that they will not be able to take care of themselves. As a therapist, I think the parents’ mindset is more disabling than the child’s physical disability. To say that a child can only reach a certain level of functioning and not provide a nurturing environment where the child can learn and face challenges limits the child. An invisible cage has been placed, who are we to put boundaries on the capabilities of our children? Who are we to put a lid on a cup that is meant to be filled with varied experiences and learning opportunities?

I have also met parents of typically developing children who have made a decision regarding their child’s future. It is not about finding their children’s core gift, it’s about what they have decided on what their children’s path should be. Some parents have paved the way, making sure that only one path is visible, and that path is the parents’ path and so, the children would have no choice. Other parents have modified the child’s environment to make sure that their child will always succeed.

We also have to reflect, are we preparing our kids to live OUR lives? Isn’t it also disabling when we do not allow our children to make decisions and solve problems on their own? Isn’t it disabling when we make them feel incompetent in finding their own path? Isn’t it disabling when we just teach WHAT to do and not teach HOW and WHY we do things?

When our kids make the right decisions, we celebrate with them. When they fail and fall, we make sure that we are with them in getting back up again. Either way, we are trying to create INDEPENDENT and COMPETENT adults who will be resilient in this fast-changing world. We teach values that will define our children. We equip and not disable, we highlight lessons from failures, we encourage and not judge them because of their errors. In the end, we, as parents, will be our children’s safe haven because we love them, unconditionally.


A Sense of Urgency

It was June 1993, I was 20 years old when I officially reported for work in a special school in Quezon City. I requested for a month-long rest after graduating in UP Manila so I can enjoy my summer vacation with my family in Albay. The internship program was a roller coaster ride for me so I thought one month would be enough to recharge. It was not too long to forget the knowledge and skills I gained from the internship year and not too short for me to still feel exhausted.

A week before my first day, my mom and I looked for a place for me to stay in Katipunan. Since I will be working full-time in Cupertino Center for Special Children, she advised that I might as well live in Katipunan so it will just take 5-10 minutes for me to travel to work. I was under a return service program because I was a scholar of the Macapagals aside from receiving a scholarship from the University through the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). I would always ask my parents if I can convert their budget for my tuition fees to my personal savings but of course, they would just smile and give me a hug.

It was in Cupertino where I came across Mistral’s “Su Nombre es Hoy” (His Name is Today). It was written at the back of the special school’s packet for parents. Knowing Cupertino’s mission and vision for children with special needs, I knew I was in the right place. Our team was composed of mostly special educators, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists and psychologists. We were trained by varied institutions like UP, Ateneo, UST and Miriam. It was such a joy to work with people who want to give the best service possible. The child was at the core of our endeavors. I learned a lot from colleagues and the children of Cupertino. It was such a happy place for me that I stayed for seven years.

Much of what Trails Center is today is because of the things that I learned in Cupertino. Our programs were heavy on parent participation. The importance of the parents’ involvement in their children’s education and therapy is consistent with evidence-based practice. Researchers agree that caregiver participation and higher levels of engagement of parents in their child’s therapeutic setting lead to better outcomes (Doss, 2016).

Guided by Mistral’s words, “Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot”, Trails specialized in Early Intervention. We created programs for children as young as 2 years and 6 months. Most of the running group programs for children with delays are provided once to twice a week. Parents are given feedback at the end of the session as well as suggestions on following through at home. We believe that parents are their children’s best therapists and educators. That is why I pray for the parents who have initially inquired about intervention because their children were diagnosed with a developmental disability but they opt to wait and hope for their child’s skills to get better. Acceptance of what your child can and cannot do is the key to better outcomes in terms of intervention. Sadly, there are a lot of people who still think that developmental disability is like a communicable disease, “mahahawa ka sa classmate mong may Autism”. Others don’t want their kids to be labeled or associated with children having disabilities. In the age of Inclusive Education, educators and therapists have so much more to do.

To parents who have children undergoing therapy, I hope these reminders will help you.

BE GUIDED. Your therapists received specialized education and training to do the things they are supposed to do but as parents, you spend the most time with your child. Ask your therapist for ways on how you can integrate specific goals into your daily interaction with your child. Your therapist can formulate a therapy plan but you have to help your therapist in carrying them out.

PATIENCE IS KEY. Therapists cannot “fix” your child overnight. All the problems and concerns will not disappear with a magical therapy wand. Journey with your child in unlocking his potential. A positive attitude towards therapy and possible outcomes help in achieving goals for your child.

CHECKLIST. Make a checklist or schedule of the things that your therapist has suggested to include in your child’s daily routine. For children with motor delays, specific exercises may be given. For children with speech delay, increasing opportunities for interaction with other children may be recommended.

COMMUNICATE PRIORITIES. Your therapist will surely appreciate your input regarding your family’s priorities in terms of expectations. I have had a father come up to me and say that he wants his daughter to learn a sense of privacy before teaching her the other concepts in social language. Since there are non-relatives staying in the house, he wants her preteen daughter to learn the importance of privacy. Together with the parents, I came up with a program.

COMPARE NOTES. One feature of a mastered skill is generalization. We can say that the child has mastered a particular skill when it is exhibited in varied contexts. It is important to provide feedback if the skills you were able to observe at home are also exhibited in school and in other non-structured contexts. This is our rationale for school and home visits because we may have children who are highly verbal in the clinical setting but they do not recite or talk in front of his class.

The bottom line is, parents are the first advocates of their children. If we want children to advocate for themselves, parents have to pave the way.





Trying Threes

Recently, my soon to be three-year-old son has been more dramatic. Initially, he would just cry when he doesn’t get what he wants. Now, he rolls over, screams and cries. It takes more time to bring him out of the shower, change his clothes and actually get out of the house. He has become more particular about the clothes and shoes that he will wear. He also attempts to give commands to family members around the house. I used the word “attempt” because he still knows that there are rules that he has to follow. Now I know why some mothers call this stage the “Trying Threes”.

Christian’s  favorite words are “ayaw”, “Etan lang” and “no”. I have observed that he wants autonomy e.g. “No hawak, Mommy”, “No touch”, “Akyat Etan lang”. We have our series of battles and as a parent, it has been a challenging matching game. I have to match my reaction to his behavior. My goal is clear: I have to elicit more acceptable behaviors than unexpected ones. One thing is for sure, my almost “threenager” son makes sure that his Mom feels her age at the end of the day.

I am sharing these pointers that have worked so far. His behavior changes over time so I have to keep my bag of tricks to match his newly discovered antics.

Provide specific rules.

These rules should be short and clear. One cannot overwhelm the little ones with rules like “You don’t eat in the bedroom because the ants might come and they will bite you. When they bite you, you’ll have rashes and then you go to the doctor”. Simply say, “we eat together in the dining room”. Emphasize what the child should do. Sometimes, we are too focused in telling our kids all the things that they shouldn’t be doing and in return they simple ask, “so what am I supposed to do now?”

Be consistent.

It is important for these rules to be clear and short so other members of the household can remember them too. It is better to work as a team so no one will end up as the wicked witch in the family. It is easier for children to follow rules when adults are also consistent with their expectations. When my son appears to be possessed while having a tantrum and my husband finds it hard not to soothe him, he would just leave the room and allow me to handle Christian so we will be consistent.

Validate feelings.

Make sure to associate actions with feelings. We cry when we are sad or upset. We shout when we get mad. We whine when a task is difficult. Tell your child that it is okay to be sad or mad. We can express these emotions in a more acceptable way. We can always tell them to “use their words” instead of throwing or banging things.


When Christian is too upset and no amount of words can pacify him. Redirecting him to more acceptable tasks and items work to comfort him. Good thing that he loves animals including insects. So when I cannot stop him from running and grabbing items in the grocery store, we would look for spiders and he slows down.

Catch good behavior and reinforce it.

I think it’s more natural for parents to notice bad behaviors instead of being generous in praising good behaviors. We have to be aware of our words and actions. Praise the times that our kids were able to eat properly, brush their teeth well or pack away their toys neatly. When we give more attention to acceptable behaviors, we reinforce them.

Offer them choices.

They feel “empowered” when they are the ones making their own choices. We have to be smart in providing choices since we know that these choices should be favorable for both parties. When your child refuses to wear his socks, simply ask, “Do you want the one with the shark, the one with robots or the one with cars?” The outcome is clear, he has to wear socks so “no socks” is not an option.

These pointers have worked with children with special needs too. Children will always try to manipulate people in their environment to make things easier for them. It is then up to us, the discerning adults, to teach our kids to adapt to their environment. Children will always try to do things their way but we have to facilitate the development of skills for them to adjust to changes and comply to rules. It saddens me when I hear parents at work say, “eh ayaw niya eh”, so we see kids who are picky eaters and others who do not even know how to brush their teeth. I would always tell parents that although their children might have delays, it does not mean that they cannot learn the things that we teach them. Their diagnosis is the reason why they cannot do the things expected at their age but it is not an excuse for them not to achieve their full potential.



21st Century Skills

According to the book Growing Up Wired by Lee-Chua, et al., parents of today are called digital immigrants while our children are digital natives. They have never known a world without the Internet.

I have heard parents complain about their children’s short attention span and lack of social skills because of their preference for gadgets. For me, these five points have made it easier to for me and my child to know our boundaries regarding gadget use.

TEACH. Teach your child that gadgets are merely tools. The advantage of having internet access is that you can retrieve information in just a click of a button. As a therapist and a mom, I use images and videos to unlock new vocabulary. When my two-year-old son asked about the sound he heard while it was raining, I searched for YouTube videos on thunder and lightning. Since he is still young, we make sure that adult supervision is given 100% of the time. We watch with him so we can talk about Baby Bus videos and sing Dave and Ava songs together.

MODEL. As parents, we cannot expect our kids to limit the use of gadgets when we ourselves are glued to them. Research has shown the benefit of introducing picture books to children early in life. It is easier for children to exhibit emerging literacy skills when they are exposed to parents who also read with them. We also have to expose them to varied types of texts. Needless to say, we actually have to buy books for our kids, we have to provide a print-rich environment if we want to have young readers at home.

REGULATE. Just like any other activity, regulation is key. We cannot allow our kids to stay online just because it gives us the peace and quiet we long for in the household. Make sure your young children develop their communication and social skills through constant interaction with people. Ample studies have supported the importance of play. According to a recent study, “the important thing is not just talk to your child, but to talk with your child”. In the study, cognitive scientists from the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research linked interactive dialogue (versus just exposure to words) to improved language skills in  children.

PRIORITIES. A lot of parenting websites have already shared developmental milestones so parents can monitor their children’s performance. Priorities change as the child grows older. I have met parents who were successful in implementing gadget-free weekdays to prioritize homework and family bonding time at night.

OPPORTUNITIES. Provide choices as alternative to games and time for gadget. We cannot expect our kids to just turn off their gadgets without providing alternative activities. We cannot expect them to stop and reflect. Provide a schedule for sports or any outdoor activity, reading time, pretend play, and simple board games.

Technology will always offer something new, its novelty has always attracted children. It is then up to us, the significant adults in their lives, to teach them the importance of filtering important information, identifying good sources of data and being in control of one’s time. After all, thinking critically, making judgments and making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities are part of the 21st century skills that they are expected to learn.

In sum, my dear parents, we cannot expect the mastery of skills that we did not teach.


Our Child’s Nature

It is his nature to be strong and brave.

It is my nature to keep him safe.


It is his nature to be independent.

It is my nature to keep him close.


I have to remind myself that although it is my nature to protect him, I cannot be the obstacle for his nature to explore.

My nature to keep him comfortable should not hinder him in trying and failing for these will teach him life skills.

My nature to keep him happy should not deter him from discovering that it is okay to be sad sometimes.

My nature to reinforce his abilities should not prevent him from discovering his own strengths and weaknesses.


Christian is a survivor, even as an infant.

I will make sure that his nature to be brave and strong will be carried into adulthood.