Friday, June 21, 2024

Episode #68: Early Intervention: Why It Matters and How to Make the Most of It

Show Notes: Today, we have a very special guest with us, Jill Urbane, The Mentor Mom, who has been working with families for nearly three decades. In this episode, we'll be diving into the topic of early intervention for children from birth to age 3, and exploring the foundational knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to foster healthy growth, development, and learning in your child. So, whether you're a new parent or a seasoned caregiver, sit back, relax, and get ready to learn from one of the best in the business. Connect with Jill: Website: Instagram: YouTube: Connect with Us: Support this channel: Music Used: “LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.  Artist:

Early Intervention for Children Age 0-3
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Early Intervention for Children Age 0-3

Show Notes:

Today, we have a very special guest with us, Jill Urbane, The Mentor Mom, who has been working with families for nearly three decades. In this episode, we’ll be diving into the topic of early intervention for children from birth to age 3, and exploring the foundational knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to foster healthy growth, development, and learning in your child. So, whether you’re a new parent or a seasoned caregiver, sit back, relax, and get ready to learn from one of the best in the business.

Connect with Jill:

Connect with Us:

Support this channel:

Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Meet Today’s Guest:

Jill Urbane, aka, The Mentor Mom, is a Parent Educator and Social Worker who has been working with families in their homes for nearly thirty years. She is passionate about supporting families by providing them with the foundational knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to help parents foster healthy growth, development, and learning in their child while finding their parenting mojo.

You can learn more about Jill and her services at

You can find links to her social media accounts and resources for families at



Episode #68: Early Intervention: Why It Matters and How to Make the Most of It

Early Intervention for Children Age 0-3

(Recorded June 12, 2023)

Full Transcript of Interview:

Tonya: Welcome to Water Prairie. We appreciate you joining us today. I have a friend here today that I want you to meet, and her name is Jill Urbane. Jill is also known as the Mentor Mom, and she’s a parent, educator, and social worker who’s been working with families in their homes for nearly 30 years.

She’s passionate about supporting families by provide, by providing them with the fundamental knowledge, understanding, and skills needed to help parents foster healthy growth, development, and learning in their children while finding their parenting mojo. And we’re going to be talking a lot about this in the next little bit.

Um, but before that, welcome to Water Prairie, Jill.

Jill: Thank you so much for having me here. I’m so excited to chat with you.

So those that are listening, Jill and I have been going back and forth for over a month now trying to find a mutual time when we could talk, so I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

So, so thank, thank, thank, thank you for, for working it out for me today.

No problem. Got to roll with the punches.

Exactly. Exactly. So the, um, this season we’ve been talking to our guests about, um, a little bit more about themselves. That’s separate from what the interview is about by playing a game called Two Truths and a Lie.

And I’ve asked Jill to provide three facts or pseudo-facts about herself to share with us. And your job, listener, is to guess which ones are the truths and which one is the lie. And, um, you can do this by posting your answer in the comments on the YouTube video if you’re watching that. Or you can go to Instagram and Twitter and write your answer on the post that matches this episode.

So, Jill, what are your facts?

My facts are that I am a solo musician, that I have a cat and three St. Bernard’s, and that I have written a parenting book.

Excellent. All right, listeners, don’t go now, but when you finish listening to this, go and guess, or go ahead and write in the comments if you’re watching on YouTube.

We’ll see how many of you are able to guess this correctly and we will post the answer a week after this episode releases. You’ll be able to find what the correct answer is. So, Jill, what I want to talk today is about the field of early intervention and parent educating and my family did have people involved in our lives in those fields and I can’t tell you how much we valued that because there was so much that I didn’t know, especially with my first child.

And, um, and I can remember just picking their brain on everything. But for you personally, what inspired you to become a parent educator and social worker?

Well, it’s kind of interesting because it was never on my radar. Um, I, I wanted to be a psychologist and then I found out that I had to do a lot more schooling than I really felt like doing.

So I decided to become a social worker and I always thought that I was going to be in the mental health field. Well, I worked in mental health, like in psychiatric hospitals and things like that while I was working on my undergrad degree. And. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but it, you’re limited.

I was stuck in a hospital and I just didn’t like being confined the entire time. And I thought, maybe I don’t want to be in an office all day long. And, um, from there, I ended up getting a job working for the Department of Corrections. And while I was working there, it was with young, um, young offenders between the ages of 15 and 21 that were, uh, maximum security.

And I was struck by how brilliant so many of these young men were and how tragic it was that many of them were going to be serving life sentences. And as they would share their stories, I would find out that they all had very similar backgrounds and histories. And it was a lot of neglect and abuse and trauma.

And from there, I thought, I wonder if there’s something I could do to maybe keep these young men from ending up here, you know, support them and their families. So there I ended up in children’s protective services. As difficult as that job was, I did that for about five years. I actually really fell in love with being in people’s houses.

That’s where I fell in love, with being in people’s homes, because even in the midst of the crises that were going on as a protective services worker, and how difficult some of those situations were, these were families that were in pain. That had many of the parents themselves had had, you know, neglect and trauma and those things happened in their past and it was just really real and raw to be able to be in somebody’s home when they’re at their most vulnerable and try to figure out how to support them to improve things for both them and for their children.

So I did that for about 5 years and then I started having, I started my family and it was just. Too much worrying about other people’s kids when I had kids at home, and I just I wanted something different that would allow me a little bit more time with my kids because as a CPS worker at 10 o’clock at night, you got to go out, you got to go out.

And I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to have to do that to my kids. Kind of not have that kind of control or not knowing when I would be home because if you have to do a removal and you have to go to court and you got to do this and you got to do that, it could be hours. So an opportunity to came, came up for a local school district that was creating their own early intervention program.

And I badgered the special ed director. for three months for that job. Every week I called her, have you hired anybody? Have you hired anybody? And she’s like, no, no, not yet. Not yet. And so finally she just gave it to me. I think she was just like, okay, nobody else wants it as much as you do. You can have it.

And I didn’t know anything about early intervention. I didn’t know anything about working with young children with developmental delays. And I loved it. I, I found that young kids are like little puzzles and you got to figure them out. And even though there may be some similarities with some of the things that might be impacting their development, what you do to work on that is very different from family to family to family to family.

And that was very intriguing to me and exciting to be able to have. I, I always, even 25 years in, still have to put my thinking cap on to try to figure out new ways. So that’s kind of how I ended up into it. It wasn’t the path I thought I was going to take, but I ended up where I was supposed to be because I love it.

So you’re a parent educator and, and a social worker, so the social worker is what got you into the parent educator position. And we’ve talked about early intervention a little bit on the podcast already, but can you describe the concept of early intervention and why it’s important for children from birth to age three?

So early intervention is a home based program for children who have been identified with some sort of delay. And, um, in the state that I’m in, and in most states, there are two areas within which children can qualify.

They can have a delay, and that’s like this big umbrella. Lots of kids under this big umbrella. And then underneath this other, there’s a teeny little umbrella, and that’s the special education umbrella. So, a child can be under the big umbrella and the special education umbrella, or they can just be under the big umbrella.

So in order to be under the special education umbrella, they have to have a 50% delay in one or more areas. As far as the big umbrella, I think it varies from state to state. It used to be back in the day that it was a 10% delay, or just a delay, and now we’re up to a 20% delay for young children to qualify.

And I always want to be clear with families who are looking into intervention that it is an educational model, not a medical model. So one of the first things I do whenever I start in a home with a family is I ask them what they, what they think we’re gonna be doing together, and sometimes they’re like, well, you’re here to work with my child.

And I’m like, okay, I’m actually here to work with you. And they’re like, oh, and I’m like, because we’re not here to do therapy with children. We’re here to teach you what to do with your child. I always say intervention happens between the visits. It’s what parents do with the tools. So it’s a coaching model and what it looks like for families is, you know, we come in, we’ve already identified some areas that the family has said that they have concerns about and if the child’s qualified.

We’re gonna work on looking at what do you want to work on? What have you been doing? What’s not working? Okay, here’s some strategies that we’re, that we’re going to use to try to work on this and then I’m going to model it and show you how to do it with your child and then I’m going to have you do it with your child and I’m going to coach and provide feedback.

That’s really the essential part of it is as an interventionist is having the parent practice these strategies while we’re there and give them the feedback because there’s all these little subtle nuances to these interactions with our young children, so subtle that sometimes parents are missing opportunities or misreading body language from their little one. So when we practice those strategies while we’re there, and the parent can be like, oh, okay, I got a different result that time because I did this. Then they can then use that strategy across the week in various different routines, because parents have more time with their children than a therapist does.

They have a more of a relationship with their child than a therapist does, and they have the best teaching structure as opposed to what a therapist has, and that is daily routines. If you infuse a strategy into, just say, mealtimes and snacks, that’s like five to six little mini therapy sessions every day.

Over the course of the week, it adds up to a lot more learning and progress for young kids. So, I’m highly biased. I think early intervention is one of the best ways to work with, with young children to see the most progress. Is if the parents have the tools, that’s where we’re going to see the transformation.

So for, for a parenting coach to be involved through early intervention, It doesn’t have to be a medical delay, or a medical delay.



Correct. And, you know, and one thing I want your listeners to know, too, is this does not have to come from a, from a doctor, a referral for early intervention.

There are a lot of parents out there that I see in Facebook groups and, um, and social media that are like, well, I’m going to talk to my doctor about making a referral for early intervention. You can contact your local state intervention agency and make a referral yourself. It does not have to come from a medical professional.

And what is the, like, how would, how would a parent find that, who they’re calling, because state to state it’s going to be different.

Well, so here’s the lovely thing. You can go to and there, on their website, they will have every single state’s early intervention program identified. You can click on the link, find your and then that will allow you to go to your state’s early intervention website and find the link for your local uh, county district and however that works.

Like in ours, they come in through the intermediate school district and some Some different areas. Sometimes it’s you have to go through your local school district themselves, like if you’re in this particular school district, so it can vary there, but the resources are right there on the to get started to at least be able to identify your state’s program and how you would access services.

We’ll put a link to that in the show notes too, so that if you’re listening, that’ll at least get you started, then you’ll, you’ll want to look from there to find your state. So, a parent could be, if they do have a child who has physical delays, um, you know, something that, that would require other help, they could be working with someone like yourself as well as an OT or a PT in addition to that, correct?

Oh yeah, I have lots of families, you know, and every family is different. I have lots of families who just start with the early intervention. I have some families who started with talking to their doctor and doing some outpatient therapies and then seek out the early intervention on top of that.

I’ve got some families that are doing both. I mean, it’s really up to the family and what their preference is.

So we were talking about some of the… If they were, you said now it’s 20% delayed?

In, in the state that I’m in.


But I, I think that, I think that might, it might be different in every state. I’m not exactly sure on that.

Alright, so whether it’s 10% delayed, 20%, whatever it may be. Um, what area of delays are we talking about?

It can be any area of delays. It can be a motor delay. It could be a speech delay. And I’ll say that that is probably 90% of the kids that I’ve worked with over the last 25 years. The speech delays are the most common developmental delays amongst young children, affecting actually one in five kids is going to have a speech delay.

Um, it could be, uh, social, emotional, it could be health issues. It can really be like, and there’s some instant qualifiers like low birth weight can automatically qualify a child for services. So what I always tell parents is if, if there’s anything that you’re worried about contact your agency, because what’s the worst thing that can happen?

They come out, they do an evaluation, and they say, ah, we’re good. Here’s some other resources that you can access in the meantime. Or they say, yeah, we think we can help you. Don’t wait. Right. Don’t wait.

So for, for our family… Now, this was 20, 21 years ago now, I think it was. Um, I didn’t know anything about early intervention.

And I’m, I’m assuming that a lot of our parents are listening if it’s their first child. They, or maybe not even their first child. Maybe it’s, if it’s a later child, but the first child that’s had a delay. Um, it’s hard to know how to even get started. So, for us, I, I called our local school and just asked.

Because, because my first concern, because we’d already met with the doctor about my daughter’s visual impairment. And, had her first appointment, so she was, I think, eight months old, and she was eating her glasses. So my question was… Does anyone out there know how to keep a, keep a baby wearing glasses?

That was, that was my first one there. But that connection got us connected with the School for the Blind, with Early Intervention, with an OT. Um, and so, you know, start somewhere to get that call and start asking the questions. And even knowing now that what you’re looking for is the term Early Intervention.

I didn’t know that at the time.


Would, would help. But, um, but once we got connected and had that parent coach there, Then I had someone I could ask to get us connected with a vision teacher and with, to at least know, I didn’t know what those words were yet. And so that was someone who was more connected beyond just helping me as a parent because they had connections with everyone around.

So that’s where I see really the value here of having you come and share with, with my audience. Because I want them to hear that there’s more than just having occupational therapy. There are other options there. And because Emily was being served at the time that Christopher was born, when we noticed some delays with his speech, that was who I went to and asked, you know, can we have him evaluated?

Where do we need to go with that? And, um, and so they, they were able to help us see that, yes, there were delays. In his case, it was a physical tongue tie. That was causing that. And so, again, they helped us know what questions to ask and where to go. So, um, so parents, if you’re listening, the worst case is they’ll say, it’s all fine, they’re within the right range. Right. So, the best thing is, if you do need help, they can help you get connected with where you need to be. And they may be the person that you need.

Exactly. And I’ll say this, that I know plenty of parents who are regretting that they waited. I don’t know any parents that I’ve ever met who regretted getting help soon, sooner and reaching out. So.

And this is 2023, there’s no stigma associated with making that call. So no, you know, in years past, there were times where you didn’t want to have a label on your child. Today, there’s more understanding, there’s more support for you giving that child the chance to, to hit those early milestones and to be on track by the time they get to school.

And that, to me, that’s the biggest piece of early intervention is you’re getting them ready for the rest of their life.

Oh yeah.

And those little delays early on can snowball. So getting them where they need to be and, and it’s not too late. You know, if they’re three years old, it’s not too late.

Oh my gosh.

The earlier you can address it, the easier it is for you and, and for your child.


I say that like I’m a professional, I’m a professional mom, so,

who, who, who has, has walked that already.

Exactly. I understand. Exactly. So, um, but I do remember, um, you know, early on not knowing, you know, should, do we want to say anything about what it is that we’re facing, do we want, you know, and it’s just cause I didn’t know.

I had never run into anyone that had ever been in that situation before. Um, probably quite a few that should have been, but didn’t know either. Mm hmm. So, um, so I’m hoping that. You know, 20 years that have passed, make that a little bit easier for everyone.

Well, and you know, I, I often frame it to parents, uh, in, in, from the perspective of like a health concern.

If, if you were concerned about your child’s breathing or that they were running temperatures or you know, fevers or you would, you would seek out help right away. You wouldn’t delay. It shouldn’t be any different when it comes to development, because in those early years, this is where children, if you think about their development as being a house, these first three years, they’re building that foundation.

And what can happen sometimes with kids with development is they may be moving forward and hitting most of the developmental milestones, but they might be missing some we call those scattered skills. It may not seem like a big deal now, but later on down the road, one of those little skills that they might have missed out on or didn’t really perfect or get down 100% can impact this learning skill later on.

So that’s why it’s really important that we want to make sure that we have strong and solid development because it is the foundation on which all of their future learning is going to take place.

That makes sense, because you think about, you know, they, they learn to roll over, they learn to sit up, they learn to stand up. There’s all the, if you missed any one of those, the next one can’t happen because.


You had to get the muscles built, you had to have the stability and the balance and everything to be able to get to the next level. I mean, that’s a simple explanation, but, you know, and, and speech develops differently than, than physical standing, things like that. But um, and from what I know, I’m far from being a professional on this, but I know somewhere along the way I read that there’s parts of the brain that are, that are developing through those different motions that are happening with, between rolling over and crawling and things. Am I right? Or do you know?

Yeah. Well, uh, you know, motor skills are. They matter. They’re, they’re really, really important, especially when it comes to speech, uh, because we don’t really think about the fact that speech is very much a motor planning, uh thing, a procedure that we’re doing. We have to figure out how to move our lips, our tongue, our cheeks, expel a certain amount of air to produce certain sounds.

There’s a real motor planning complexity to it. And some kids struggle with that piece. I’ve had a lot of students that I’ve worked with over the years. They have apraxia, which is a condition where they’re struggling with that, that, that motor planning part of speech. And a lot of times there might be little gaps in some of their.

Bigger motor development that was impacting this motor development. So if there’s motor planning here that we’re struggling with, chances are there is maybe some very imperceptible to most people. Uh, motor planning issues and some of those other larger motor movements. So that’s why it’s really important to make sure that they are doing all of those things with appropriate quality because a little one might be walking, but if they’re not transitioning down to the floor smoothly, if they’re struggling to find where their body is in space, our motor plan, our, our, our motor development and our sensory development, when those things are out of alignment other development areas are going to be out of alignment.

Interesting. You know, you see different comments here and there, but like I said, I’m not a specialist in this, so it’s always interesting to hear why they all matter with each other. So that’s interesting.

Everything that we do, everything that we do, comes out of our motor development.


Well, think about this, like our motor and our sensory, you and I don’t necessarily, well, I do because I’m clumsy, but most of us don’t have to think about when we’re walking down the steps. We don’t have to think about how to adjust our body in space and how to lift our leg and where to grab the banister and to do all of those things because they become autonomous through time and practice.

Young children don’t have any of those neural pathways built to know how to do that. And if they don’t build those neural pathways and I have to think about what I’m doing, it’s going to make it more difficult for me than to focus on your talking and you want me to say words. I’m just trying to figure out how to stand and not fall down.

So I can’t focus any energy in learning from you right now because I’m trying to master this skill. We have to layer these skills on top of each other until they become autonomous and second nature and they’re not thinking about it. So that’s a really important piece to understand, particularly with really, really young kids.

But you know, it was here, the, um, what is the phrase, um, that they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

It’s true.

It’s, it, I mean, it’s, it’s kind of the same thing if it’s not, if they’re not automatic behaviors.

And that’s something I don’t think parents really understand. The brain is designed to only do one thing. It can only concentrate on one unfamiliar new task at a time.

So once I learn how to walk and walk well and it becomes second nature, now I can learn how to talk and walk. Right? And then when I learn how to talk and walk, you know, I always use the analogy of a drummer playing a drum kit. They don’t start out being able to do all of it. First they do the boom tap, boom tap, boom tap.

Then they might add the high hat boom tap. Then pretty soon they can add in the fills because those other Skills became autonomous. Their body didn’t have to think about it. That muscle memory it’s, it’s a really, really complex, complex process.

Yeah. Never, never even thought of that, that it makes perfect sense. So we’ve talked a little bit. You said speech was the most common reason that you see. What are some of the other common ones that you would see as far as developmental delays or disabilities that you see in young children?

Um, I work with, you know, I have everything, honestly. I mean, I work with little ones who have motor delays, you know, that they’re not walking or they’re not crawling.

They’re not pulling to stand. They’re not getting into sitting. Um, I’ve worked with, um, students who are on the autism spectrum. A lot of times they’re little ones. They may not have a formal diagnosis for that yet. So that’s where that speech piece comes in. So, like I said, about 90% of the kids that I’m working with have some sort of communication, uh, delay.

And some of those kids are kids who may eventually later on be identified as being on the autism spectrum. I’ve worked, you know, with children with Down syndrome, with different, you know, genetic disorders, with health impairments, preemies, um, little bit of everything. But speech is by far the most common.

What I would think, um, preemies would be a, a big one too, just because they’re catching up from day one and trying to get back on so that would only help them get on track as they’re trying to, well, cause depending on how, how early they were to, they’re still, some of them aren’t even born yet as far as their, their actual age should have been.

Yeah, I worked, I think the youngest preemie I worked with was, uh, 25 weeks. Yeah.



That’s a long time before.

That is.

I mean, if you, if you think about their, their actual due date, when it was supposed to be, how old they are really before they’re even supposed to have even been born yet. And so they’re really not even three months old yet. They’re, they’re.

Exactly. And that. And that’s why when we’re working with children that were born prematurely, we are adjusting their age. So depending on how many weeks early they are, we’re not going to expect them to be at a one year level if they were born, you know, three or four, you know, a month, two months early, we’re going to expect them to be at, A 22 month level.

So 14 months. Yeah. They’re a year.


How long, and this is totally off what I was going to be asking you about, but I’m curious about this now. Um, so you have a, you have a preemie that’s, that’s six to eight weeks early. How long before they are in sync with their peers?

You know, it it really honestly depends on the child.

It depends on the family and the parent and whether or not they’re doing the strategies. I mean, there are a lot of families that I work with who struggle to implement the strategy. Sometimes it’s because they’ve got a lot of other things going on on their plate and for some parents.

And kids.

Yeah, exactly.

Exactly. And you know, and for some parents to it’s it’s working on building up that confidence that they can do this. Yeah, exactly. They feel where they, it feels uncomfortable to do some of the strategies that we’re talking about because it’s not a second nature. Like I remember with my first, I knew that I should be talking to him a lot, but it felt really weird.

I’m putting your sock on, sock off, cup, juice, you know, going through the grocery store. Oh, what kind of cereal should we get it? It felt really, really awkward. I have never done self talk by myself like that. But by the time I had my second one, it was like, Oh, what do you think we should get today? Should we get some bananas or should we get some apples?

And she’s like, you know, two months old in her car seat while we’re going through the, through the grocery store. So for some families, it’s, it’s, you know, overcoming some of that uncomfortableness, but the more parents can get in there and do the strategies and do them consistently and tweak the areas that need to be tweaked, the better the outcomes are going to be for the kids.

So I’ve had lots of preemies that have caught right up really quickly. We’ve had some preemies that we’ve evaluated that didn’t even qualify for services.

Wow. The, uh, you’re reminding me of, um, when my kids were little. So Emily was my first, and Christopher’s 22 months younger. Um, so, We knew by four weeks that Emily had a vision issue.

We didn’t know what it was until she got a little bit older. But we got involved with the School for the Blind, and one of the classes that I went to there was a literacy class. Um, and you, you don’t think about your eight, nine month old with literacy, but what they taught us was literacy begins from day one, day one, and it’s visual most of it.

So they’re watching us. They’re learning how to put the world together before they ever read that first word. And um, and the part they were trying to point out to us was when your child doesn’t see what’s happening. There’s a gap in their literacy because they don’t understand the meaning of words before they even start understanding the words themselves.

And so they had us, um, bring her as close as we could and to start describing everything that we’re doing. And so I’d, I’d slide her eye chair over right, right by the counter when I’m mixing up the eggs and I’m talking about it. Because what clicked was, we’re in the grocery store, I’m buying that carton of eggs.

And she’s not seeing that carton of eggs. And then I’m getting home and I’m putting it in the fridge. She’s not seeing it go in there. Um, there’s no way for her to connect the grocery store visit with the scrambled eggs on her plate.


Where by the time my son was born, he saw all of that and more. And so it all connected with him. Um, and so we just started… narrating everything. So by the time Christopher was born, he was born into the world of narration. Um, by the time he got to preschool, the speech specialist, because he was in a, he was the only peer model in the whole preschool that he went to.

And because it was, it was Emily’s special needs preschool that we put him into. And the speech, um, specialist would go and grab him because she said he had this. Huge vocabulary for a three-year-old who still had speech delays as far as being able to say certain sounds.

Right, the articulation piece.

He still hasn’t stopped talking.

I always tell parents, I’d say… So we saw the value of that. Yeah, you’ve, I always tell parents, you want to be the noisy parents. You want to be talking all the time. You want to be making silly sounds all the time because we want our kids to be noisy kids. I know it sounds like later on, you’re like, I don’t want them to be noisy kids.

But if you want your kid to talk, you’re going to have to do a lot of talking.

And I became, I became very adept at narration of everything. And now I work part-time as a, as a cashier in a grocery store. I see parents coming through and I hear them talking to their kids. And I love it every time I hear it because it’s like it might seem kind of wacky to other people, but you see exactly what they’re doing.

They’re, they’re sharing the world with their child. And that child is going to have a higher level of literacy earlier because they understand all these things and they’re identifying the fruits that they’re picking up, you know, everything. Um, and so it’s, it’s kind of, kind of fun to see that. I wish I had had that before because I had no idea what I was doing. I just felt really strange doing it.

Well, you know, comprehension is, uh, you know, there, there are, there are five pillars, um, or pre-language skills that need to be in place for language to really start coming with young kids. And one of those is comprehension. And I think that a lot of times in my experience that parents focus so much on the talking, getting the words out, and they don’t realize, we need to put just as much, if not more, energy into working on our children’s understanding of what these words mean, because I can’t tell you I want a banana if I don’t know that that word represents that object.

And they estimate that a child has to hear a word about… 250 to 500 times before they’re going to be able to say it. Some kids, it may be a thousand and some kids, it may be more than that. So the more you do that label and that narration, like you’re talking about, every time you say that you are helping build this neural pathway in the brain between and make these connections of this object is always paired with that word. So until I understand it by demonstrating that I can point to it in a picture book, or I can, I can get it when you ask me to, or I can look at it when you name it until I can do those things. I’m not going to be able to say it. I had a mom today that was like, she’s not talking.

She’s not talking. Well, she’s not following directions. She doesn’t, when you say, where’s the ball, she doesn’t turn to look. She doesn’t understand that where means I should be scanning my environment. If I’m not understanding those things, how am I going to. Just randomly start talking. Comprehension has to come first.

When playing games like, like the, the, I can’t talk without stuttering here, Peek A Boo.

Peek A Boo, yeah.

So playing Peek A Boo, you’re saying, where, where, where’s Joey? Here he is.

Mm hmm.

Is teaching that word. I never thought about that before.

Well, that’s actually, that’s actually one of the markers on one of the evaluation tools we know we use is that what does their child respond to a game like pat a cake or peek a boo when they’re just hearing the words by doing an action.

So if I say, do you want to do pat a cake? And the child puts their hand together. Their understanding and that’s comprehension. Or if we say, do you want to play peekaboo and they lift the thing up to cover their eyes, that is comprehension. So it starts at even the youngest of ages.

So one of the other things that we did, um, and I haven’t, I don’t think I’ve ever told many people about this, but we made, um, story boxes and part of it was because of Emily not seeing the pictures inside the books.

So I had little stuffed animals and little objects to represent. But the pictures would have been inside the book. And so every, every shoe box that went with the book, she could pull them out and as we turned the pages, I would hand her the piece that went with it. So then she could hold it and play with it.

And Christopher, by default, benefited from that same story box. Um, and so our books became alive with, with, and I, I know we don’t have, I’m sitting in the playroom right now. I’m not seeing any of the boxes anymore, but for years we had those boxes with, um, little balloons and everything in it, depending on whether it was good, good, Good Night Moon or, um, you know, all the, all the stuffed animals for the, what was it? Brown Bear. What was the. Yeah.

Brown Bear. Brown Bear is a big one. Yeah. Yeah.

So, um, so, and we had, had the board book to go with it, but, um, but it made it fun and it was, um, you know, it wasn’t an exciting book as far as not, it was still suitable for bedtime. It’s just, you know, when we finished, everything was back inside the box cause we’d have them all laid out.

Um, but that’s, that’s something too that I think, you know. helping to put that definition beyond just a picture. They could feel and see the, the shapes of things.

Well, and let’s talk about what you were doing there because that was a killer strategy that you were using there because you were adding a sensory component to it.

The more senses that are involved in a learning activity, the stronger the learning that’s going to take place. So, if somebody’s just telling me something, That’s one modality, auditory, right? But if they’re telling me, showing me, and then walking me through it and allowing me to touch and participate in it, we’ve got three, four other sensory systems moving there.

So we have more cells and neural pathways being built, which means stronger learning. That’s why, like, nowadays, I mean, back in the day, I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, they were like, you can’t chew gum while you’re, you know, while you’re in school or taking tests. Well, now. What are they saying?

They’re saying, chew gum while you study.

And chew spearmint gum so that it stimulates the neurons and all.

Exactly, and then when you take your test, chew that same gum because it makes recall.

Use the same pencil.

Exactly, because it all makes recall easier for the brain. Right. So you were doing a fantastic sensory strategy right there.

Well that and I can’t take credit for that. There was in that literacy class or something similar to that at the school for the blind is where so shout out.

It’s awesome.

to Perkins School for the Blind, their toddler program. Yeah, I learned skills during that and it’s and again It really wasn’t because Emily has a low vision. She’s not she doesn’t have a severe Um, vision loss, but the details and books weren’t really there.


And so that’s, and at the time we had no idea, you know?


We were still trying to figure out what she could or couldn’t see, but, um, but by default, Christopher, again, that three-year-old vocabulary came from all these exposures Yeah. That we’re in there. So it’s, um, so, but, but that’s something that I will continue to do as gifts to, to kids and all because it, and, and it was fun for me. You know, parents, you, you get tired of reading stories sometimes.


It’s a lot more fun when it’s interactive with it, because then you’re not having somebody squirming. They actually have something to do while they’re listening to the story. So, um, the, um, so when I did your, your introduction, I said you’re helping parents find their mojo.

Um, what advice do you have parents that are, for parents that are having trouble finding their mojo as a parent?

Well, I think that when we think about parenting, you know, the first thing I always say is that it’s going to be an ongoing process of learning about who you really are as opposed to who you thought you were and what kind of parent you thought you were going to be.

We all go into parenting with these, I’m going to be this kind of mom and it’s going to go this way. And then our kids come along and say, I don’t think so. So what I find in, in, in my many years of working with parents, I think parents who struggle to find that mojo are parents who are lacking tools, right?

When we have more tools in our parenting toolbox, it makes it easier for us to parent with more confidence and know what it is that we’re doing. And that’s why I think that the early childhood years are probably the most challenging years because we’ve got these new little humans that we’re responsible for and they don’t come with an instruction book and I can read this book or that book over there, but it’s doesn’t seem to be working with my child and now I feel like I’m a bad mom or a failure.

I’m not going to be any good at this. And so it’s really easy for us to start kind of beating ourselves up or second guessing ourselves. And so I always say that if we want to have that good parenting mojo, you’ve got to start from the beginning by getting as many tools in your toolbox as possible. And the tools that I recommend the most, number one, understanding development.

Understand how little ones brains work, understand social emotional development. Those are the two where parents get stuck the most, because when we understand the development and what’s driving the behaviors and the things that we’re saying, then it makes it so much easier to make sure that we’re meeting our children where they’re at.

Too many times parents are expecting kids to have this skill up here, and they’re still way down here. With their brain like parents will say my two year old is so mean he’s doing this and they don’t have the ability to be mean it to just so y’all know they’re they’re just trying to figure out their world.

That’s all they’re trying to do. They’re not trying to drive you crazy. They’re not trying to be difficult. They’re going through so many social emotional stages as a toddler. So when we understand that we can look at what’s going on rather than it being a challenge to who we are and what we think that they need to be doing as a parent, we can look at it as, Oh, okay.

He’s struggling with this skill. Okay. Let me see how I can better support him through this.

How can parents find what those are, like what they should expect?

Well, my number one recommendation for every parent on my, my must read list is The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel. In that book, he talks about how the brain in young children works and it is just, it’s so beautifully written in such clear and easy, concise turns. You don’t turn in, he’s not trying to turn anybody into a, uh, a brain surgeon or a neurologist or anything like that, but he, he really helps break down like how the progression of development happens in the brain. Like for example, kids don’t really get to the analytical part of the brain, the logical part of the brain, until anywhere between five and seven years old.

So when you’re expecting your child to be able to manage these big emotions, they’re not, they’re not there yet, right? They’re still, they’re still gonna resort to the feelings. And it gets particularly challenging, I think, when we’re talking about preschoolers because preschoolers start having this huge growing vocabulary and this imagination and talking and telling stories and all of that, but then they’ll have a meltdown because you gave them the wrong colored cup.

And it’s like, wait a minute, you need to, and they’re doing this, they’re not doing it on person, on purpose. They are just in the middle of feels. And when they’re in the middle of the feels, I have no access to any kind of higher level thinking.

I can remember, um. with my son, removing privileges, not as a punishment, but what we realized was his world was getting too big for him.

And so he would have these meltdowns. And so we would, we would go back to just two, two, two, two choices. It was just an either or nothing else was factored in until he could handle that again. And then we would slowly start adding in. And there was a phase there around four or five. Where we had to go backwards, I don’t know how many times before we finally could emotionally handle having five choices to get it.

Because it was just an overwhelming thing. And it, you know, and so I think a lot of times you’re right. It’s just, it’s more than they’re ready for. But we forget. Because they seem like these little adults and these little bodies. And they’re able to have these conversations, and they can tell us all these amazing things.

But they’re still little, little bodies still. Emotionally, they’re not there yet.

Yeah, I like how he uses the analogy in his book of a downstairs brain and an upstairs brain. And the downstairs brain, I always tell parents, that’s where toddlers are living. The downstairs brain is all the emotion and the feeling.

I can’t have that. I’m mad. I’m falling down on the floor into a big meltdown. And preschoolers, they… They’re up in the right side of the upper brain, which is still the emotional part. It’s not over to the logical side yet. And they’re up there. They’ve got some stairs from the downstairs brain to the upstairs right side.

They’re not opening the door and peeking in on that analytical side yet. And every now and then they tumble down the steps into the downstairs brain. So when, when we understand that these emotions that they’re feeling are just them struggling with a limit or not getting something that they wanted, and it’s not that they’re trying to be difficult, that they’re just in the middle of emotions.

Our job is always to calm them, connect with them. Then we can look at whether or not we need to correct a behavior and talk about what we need to do next time, or whether or not we can just redirect them and move them onto something else.

I like that. Calm, connect, and then maybe Correct?

Yeah, it’s either correct or redirect.

It depends on the situation. I always say that we have to correct if it’s something that involved like hitting or potentially hurting somebody or hurting themselves, right? If they’re just mad and like today had a little guy, he was mad and he threw the wipes across the room, not towards anybody or anything, he just threw the wipes across the room.

You know what, I’m not, I’m gonna redirect there. I’m gonna say, oh, let’s go over here and try this now. Right? Because it didn’t hurt anybody. So I’m not gonna, I’m gonna pick him, choose my battles. He’s in a bad mood. Let’s just move on and find something fun to do. And he’ll forget that he did that. So it really depends on the situation.

But if it, if it involves something that could harm somebody or harm themselves, that’s when we definitely want to do a correct, but correction should always take place when our kids are back in a happy mood.

Right. Right.

We don’t, we don’t want to try to do it when they’re still in the middle of the feels because that’s just gonna,

they’re not going to hear you.

Right. Right. Right. No.

It doesn’t even exist.

Angry, upset, scared brains don’t hear at all.

No. And that’s not just for toddlers.


That’s pretty much anybody.

Well, you know, and I honestly, I think if parents looked at what was going on, what’s going on with their children in those moments through the lens of what would I want as an adult.

Their responses would be markedly different, and they would probably be a much better fit for their child in those situations. Because what we want in those situations is sometimes to be left alone, to be given some space. Sometimes in those situations, we just want comfort from somebody. You know, what we don’t want is to be yelled at. What we don’t want is to be shamed. What we don’t want is to be lectured. And none of those things have any kind of efficacy.

Right. When half the time, the emotion that we’re feeling is, we’re already feeling that way. So, we don’t, we don’t need it to just be rubbed in there even. So for our parents that are listening, if they want to get in touch with you, um, what’s the best way to contact you?

They can contact me through my website, which is

You’ve shared a lot of information with us. You’ve told us what, what you’re doing professionally, but what else do you have going on?

So I offer a couple of different services. So I am available for one to one coaching and all of this is available on my services page or on my website. I also have a low cost monthly membership program for parents who are.

Looking for that support where I do once a month, we do a group coaching session. So if you’re like, Oh my gosh, I’m, this kid is driving me crazy. I don’t know what to do about this behavior. We address that together as a group. I give you some strategies and feedback. Um, it has a community that’s involved.

So you get ongoing support that I pop in there and answer questions and share resources. And then once a month I do a workshop with my members. Like this month, we’re going to be doing it on sensory system and sensory strategies, because it is such an important part of development for young children.

I’ve done them on parenting styles. Um, I’m going to be doing one on attachment and attunement, which is. The biggest indicator of whether or not our children are going to have mental health issues later on. If we don’t get it right. So every month I’m doing some kind of topic. I’ve done one with a certified sleep coach, which was really, really helpful for the members who are struggling with their little ones having sleep regressions. So I do that once a month. And then for those parents who are struggling with their little ones, uh, language and communication, or maybe they have an infant and they’re wanting to make sure that their little one stays on track with their communication. I have an online digital course called how to get your toddler talking.

Oh, wow. Oh, nice.

It’s everything that I’ve learned. Yeah. Yeah. All on my website.

Oh, good. Well, Jill, thank you for taking the time to talk through these things. I have so many more questions, so we may, we may have to connect again sometime down, down, down the road. But I appreciate you taking the time today to go through all this.

I, I have, even having gone through this stage myself, I have a better understanding now of what your job is and how that connects with the whole picture of early intervention. So thank you very much.

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’d love to come back.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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