Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A review of the book "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five" by John Medina

We strive to be good parents but easily get baffled or exhausted with the million things that go into being one. One way to go about it is to focus on your top priorities and not pay too much attention to other stuff. For eg , I'm extremely particular about what my toddler eats, but don't bother so much if he literally rolls in mud at the playground. But HOW do we prioritize? What's really important to YOU and YOUR family?

Is it ok to say "you're such a smart boy" a lot? Is it ok to skip talking to your baby cuz huh, they don't seem to understand words anyways? How much TV time is ok? How do we respond to their emotional highs and lows? How does parents fighting in front of kids influence how their nervous system develops? How important is it to help him make friends ? How do we teach him to empathize?

So heres a brilliant book written by Brain Scientist John Medina, who dips into his vast repertoire of brain research , picks out a few topics and beautifully unravels some of the mysteries. This book is not just a fact book as it's laced with plenty funny anecdotes and stories from history as well as his personal life. We already know, that what happens in the first 5 years profoundly impacts a child's whole life, and Medina helps further to clear some air and focus on what may be the most important aspects of parenting.

Some major take aways from the book :

(1) 4 things proven to help a baby's brain during pregnancy : normal weight gain, exercise, nutrition and low levels of stress. for eg including Omega-3 in the diet can impact a 6 month old babies' performance in cognitive tests that measure memory, recognition & attention. Or a severely stressed pregnancy can change the temperament of the child, lower his IQ, inhibit ability to concentrate etc.

(2) The relationship between parents : babies and small children don't always understand the content of a fight, but they are aware that something is wrong. To reduce marital stress owing to the new born, couples need to regularly practice empathy. In fact it's an independent variable that predicts a successful marriage ! Empathizing is a two step process: describe the emotional changes you think you see & make a guess as to where those emotional changes came from.

** if a marriage has 3:1 ratio of active-constructive v/s toxic- conflict interactions your r'ship is divorce proof! Best marriages have 5:1, how's that for food for thought!**

(3) brain boosters, ie fertilizers statistically guaranteed to boost a child's intellect:
(i) breast feed for a year - as it contains taurine, an amino acid for neural development and Omega-3
(ii) talk to your baby - a lot! Not just goo-goos and gaa-gaas, variety and number of words matter ! And it has to be YOU, a real life person, NOT a DVD! In fact the amount of TV a child should watch before the age of 2 is ZERO.

pic: the times when screen time is an absolute must! at the salon!

(iii) guided play, Mature Dramatic Play- for eg a child and group of friends playing 'chef'. Children acting out imaginative scenes controlled their impulses much better than they did in non - mature dramatic play situations.
(iv) praising effort, not IQ- What you praise defines what your child perceives success to be , and what separates high performers from low performers is not some divine spark by put the 'effort', deliberate practice.

(4) help your child make friends: Paying a lot of attention to their emotional landscapes and teaching empathy

(5) how a parent responds to the child's emotions profoundly matters to his future happiness and is one of the greatest predictors of how he will turn out as a young man! We need to understand that behavior is a choice even though emotion is not. So let's not judge emotions or hope that they will 'snap out of it' , and help them 'label' their feelings. Without labels, a child's emotional life can remain a confusing cacophony of physiological experiences.

Sounds like too much ? Hell yeah it is! But it is a great read and if we can actually implement even a fraction of what we take home, it'll be a job well done!

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