The art of childraising

Dec 13, 2010 —
John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, has a lifelong fascination with how the mind reacts to and organizes information. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School — a provocative book that takes on the way our schools and work environments are designed. His latest book is a must-read for parents and early-childhood educators: Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child From Zero to Five You might ask, “What does this topic have to do with small business? Well, if you’re having issues with your kids, you’re not going to be on top of your game at the office.

Q: What’s the gist of what one should do to foster emotionally health and intellectually successful kids?

A: Take these comments with a grain of salt, though. Every brain is wired differently from every other brain and learns in ways unique to that wiring. This means there are few “one-size-fits-all” parenting recommendations you can actually make, even if we all agreed what optimal actually means.

Early pregnancy. Do nothing. The early in utero baby brain is pumping out neurons at the rate of 8,000 per second. For weeks. This takes lots of energy. A peaceful lack of interference from amateur parents is probably the best piece of advice at this stage.

Late pregnancy. Go get a pedicure. Or a massage. If you are pregnant, spend a lot of time doing activities you enjoy. If you are the partner of someone who is pregnant, treat her like a queen. Why? Late pregnancy is a stressful time, even if you are trying to enjoy yourself. That’s okay; the baby’s brain actually likes healthy dollops of “typical” stress. What’s not good is atypical stress, the type where you don’t feel like a queen but more like a serf. Out of control stress can actually hurt baby brain development.

Toddler years. Turn off your television, unless you want to get into the habit of anesthetizing your child’s natural exploratory tendencies. Even second hand exposure has been shown to be harmful. The best thing for a toddler’s intellectual development at this stage is a cardboard box, a set of crayons and two hours.

Elementary years. From the research of Diana Baumrind to Haim Ginot and John Gottman, it is clear that the single greatest predictor of parenting success is what a parent does when the child’s emotions run hot. Parents in the US respond in surprisingly predictable ways — total of four behavioral clusters or “styles” — only one of which is optimal for brain development. It’s a bit much to explain in this space, but the book details all four styles.

Teen years. As kids mature, practice authoritative parenting and inductive rule-setting. Authoritative parenting is a behavioral alloy: copious amounts of empathy mixed with unassuming, but iron clad regulations. Inductive rule-setting is where adults consistently explain to their children the reasons for the policies they deploy. It has to do with compliance rates.

Here’s a simplistic example. Poorest compliance: “Don’t touch the dog or you’ll get in trouble.” Highest compliance: “Don’t touch the dog or you’ll get in trouble. The dog has a bad temper and I don’t want you to get bitten.”

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