Minding Your Baby’s Mind

An article I read and completely agreed with. Pasting here for all of you.

Minding Your Baby’s Mind

By Christin Taylor


Every time molecular biologist John Medina taught parents about their babies’ brains, he noticed something interesting: They didn’t seem to care. “Even though I was talking about cells and molecules, I would get the same five questions every time,” Medina says, listing them:

1. How do I get my kid into Harvard?
2. Does my baby have an active mental life in the womb?
3. What’s parenting going to do to my marriage?
4. How do I raise a happy child?
5. How do I make a moral child?

__Parents might be surprised to learn there’s a neuroscience behind each of these questions. Thus was the birth of Medina’s new book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five (Pear Press, 2010). “I wanted to make this book organized around those heartfelt, insightful and good questions that people are asking but no one’s addressing,” says the author, who uses science to answer these questions and to dismiss some myths about parenting.
__“The great thing about science is that it takes no sides—and no prisoners,” says Medina. “Once you know which research to trust, the big picture emerges and myths fade away.”

Myth #1: Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby’s future math scores.

The truth? Leave your fetus alone, says Medina.
__“Morning sickness is legendary for nausea, but it also makes you so doggone tired, you don’t want to move. The baby is going, ‘Good, good. I’m spitting out 8,000 cells per second. I need time to concentrate, thank you.’ ”
__If you want your child to do well in math, the greatest thing you can do is teach your little one impulse control, writes Medina. Citing results of a study by researcher Walter Mischel, Medina explains how children who could delay gratification for 15 minutes scored 210 points higher on their SATs than children who could only last one minute.

Myth #2: To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3, a room piled with brain-friendly toys and a library of educational DVDs.

The truth? Medina says that if your toddler’s brain could talk, it would say, “Quit buying me electronic gadgets. I need lots of open-ended play. I need cardboard boxes, and crayons, and two hours. I don’t need flash cards. If you really want to improve my cognitive development, talk to me, say words to me. Interact with me. Understand my behavioral cues.”
__Medina cites the work of Ed Tronick, who, for decades, has been studying the emotional lives of children and the way their parents interact with them. Tronick coined the phrase interaction synchrony, which Medina defines as knowing your babies’ cues, when you’re over-stimulating them and when you need to be with them.
__The worst thing possible for your toddler’s growing mind, Medina says, is your flat-screen TV. He advises parents to create a “chocolate factory” in their homes for their toddlers— a room built for your toddler’s growing brain (based on Willy Wonka’s chocolate plant). Every playroom should include the following elements:

• Lots of choices
• A place for drawing
• A place for painting
• Musical instruments
• A wardrobe filled with costumes
• Blocks
• Picture books
• Tubes and gears

__“Anything where a child can be safely let loose, joyously free to explore whatever catches her fancy,” he explains.

Myth #3: Continually telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence.

The truth? Medina voices the impact of such a myth on a kindergartener’s mind: “If you are going to praise me for my intellectual accomplishment, don’t tell me I’m smart. It’s toxic for me to hear that.” Medina cites the work of Carol Dweck, a Stanford scholar and researcher, who used the term fixed mindset praise to describe the way parents may inadvertently clip their child’s intellectual stamina in the bud.
__“Little Johnny gets an A,” Medina explains. “A fixed mindset praise says, ‘Oh Johnny, you got an A on the test. I am so proud of you. You are so smart.’” Knowing that mom and dad are happy with him when he gets an A is like a “dopamine lollipop” for little Johnny, says Medina. Thus, when he gets a C, Johnny believes this means he’s not smart. It becomes a personal failure, upon which he fixates over and over.

__“Johnny’s depth of understanding is pretty limited,” says Medina. “He’s interested in pleasing an authority figure. And children raised with fixed mindset praise don’t get very good grades, even if they are smart. If they get to Harvard, they collapse under the weight of the intellectually robust environment.”
__If you want your child to do well in Harvard and other intellectually rigorous schools, Medina says, use growth mindset praise: “Oh Johnny, I’m so proud of you. You must have studied really hard.” As Medina explains it, “Now you’re appealing to intellectual grease, not horsepower.”
__Parents who praise their kids’ efforts, not achievements, raise children who love running into problems. “They are so happy to get a challenge. If they get a C, they feel like they have control over it,” Medina says. “They say to themselves, ‘I didn’t study hard enough.’ Not, ‘This is a personal failing.’”
__According to Medina, kids raised with growth mindset praise are focused, tenacious and don’t take failure personally.

Nature vs. Nurture/ Seeds and Soil

True to his quest to cover parent’s practical questions, Medina organizes his book around the genetics of a baby’s brain and the sociological impact parenting has on it. As a result, the brain rules cover both hard science (“The brain cares about survival before learning”; “Intelligence is more than IQ”; “Babies are born with their own temperament”) and practical parenting advice backed by research (“Praise effort, not IQ”; “Empathy soothes the nerves”; “Discipline + warm heart = moral kid”).
__Medina does this because he believes that nature and nurture are intimately joined in babies’ brain development. He calls the genetics seeds, and the social influence soil.
__“Seeds are the DNA. I have an XY complement and you have an XX complement, and there’s DNA in them thar hills. Then the seed has to be planted in soil, and then it has to grow up. If you have great seeds and great soil, you’re going to get a good one.”
__For this reason, Medina dedicates a whole chapter to marriage and helping partners navigate the brutal effects of new parenthood on their relationship. Parents should not be surprised to discover that there is neuroscience to back this up, too.

Happy Marriage, Happy Baby

Medina says there are a couple of “big fat reasons” why he dedicates so much time to helping parents not fight:

1. “Kids can pick up on it. And infants can rewire their nervous system (it’s called a compensatory response), and that rewiring puts them on a heightened state of alert.”
2. When exposed to a “huge amount of fighting and no resolution, kids get infectious diseases, they are more prone to get pediatric anxiety and depressive disorders, and they show, in later years, no real loyalty to parents. In fact, some grow up to be rescuer children”—children who become their parent’s confidant. “That’s toxic,” he says.

__So is there hope for kids exposed to fighting?
__Medina says yes, there’s a way around these detrimental outcomes. Parents need to add a second ingredient to their fighting: resolution.
__“The research is clear. It’s not the presence of fighting that matters, and it does not hurt our kids’ brains, but…after you’re finished fighting, you also have to resolve in front of your children.” Parents may go off and resolve their conflict in private, but Medina says that’s not enough. The key is to make up with your partner in public, in front of the children. “If a kid sees mommy and daddy fight and the next day sees them okay, he’s thinking, ‘Huh? Weren’t they fighting?’ If they see you resolve emotionally and verbally, the kid has a chance to learn that a) fighting is okay, and b) here is how you resolve it.”
__If children never see their parents resolve the fight, Medina says an asymmetry develops—all fighting, no making nice—and the presence of that asymmetry is devastating.

The Power of Empathy

When faced with a strong emotion from your spouse or your children, Medina tells parents to turn to empathy first.

1. “Describe the emotion you think you see.”
2. “Make a guess as to where it came from.”

__By learning how to empathize with your partner as well as your little ones, you will teach your toddler and preschooler, through example, how to empathize with others around them. Children who learn to step outside of themselves in order to understand another person’s feelings are better able to control their own impulses, thus leading to higher SAT scores years down the road. And children who are able to empathize with playmates make better friends. Medina cites the landmark Harvard study of adult development to show that friendships are the single best predictor of a child’s happiness as they grow up.
__Empathy not only has the power to stabilize marriages, but also the power to shape your child’s intelligence and happiness.

Children are Human Beings

Ultimately, Medina would like parents to understand one thing about their baby. “A child is a real live human being from the get-go, not your merit badge. They are not a personal reflection of your intelligence or the success of your life. They are little people, who need to be treated as people…That’s why I wrote the book



41 thoughts on “Minding Your Baby’s Mind

  1. Here’s a Scientific American study about Myth #3. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids . Praise the effort, not the result.

    Loved this…thanks!

    About the resolving fight thing…you know there were times when I listened at my parents’ door sometimes to hear how they discussed what they were furiously fighting about. I’m aghast to admit that, but I know why I did it. It scares a child to see their parents mad at each other…they need to see them settling whatever it was in a more mature manner.

    Still, I’m confused on this…sometimes we sort out our huge disagreements in front of our kids…but sometimes it’s too ‘adult’ to talk about in front of little ears. So maybe a bit of both private and public ‘making nice’ is okay.

  2. Fantastic article, thanks for sharing!I have learned what’s written in myth no.2 the hard way! In spite of having a room full of so called educational toys, the child is happiest hanging with me in the kitchen and banging on some pots and pans 🙂

  3. Come stay with me this summer then and meet Carol Dweck:-) We live bang next door to where her professional haunt is!

  4. Rescuer children? Hits home. I’d say people shouldn’t bother having kids, if they aren’t stable enough to not burden a child with their unresolved issues.

  5. Thank you. It was quite insightful. Those pointers interesting to implement. I use the blogworld to update my “literary” knowledge. Please keep sharing such nuggets.

  6. So agree with the “resolution” point on Happy Marriage, Happy Baby! We all know not to fight in front of kids but if we end up doing it anyway, we do need to show “resolution” to them as well (even if partially) so that they know how to important it is to make up and say sorry if you have hurt someone. So true!

  7. great read. needed this after reading the following headlines this morning:

    “Abercrombie & Fitch is now marketing bikinis with heavily padded tops to girls as young as 7 or 8.”

    Madness and disgusting!! hmmm..let’s see…raise our daughters to be future leaders or bikini models…future leaders or bikini models…future leaders or bikini models?

  8. I also just read Stamm’s Bright from the Start. It echoes a lot of what is said here (but focuses on ages birth to 3). The big things for me is that at that age how much of the brain’s development depends on how the child is nourished emotionally by their caregiver. We often separate the two as adults but I hope that parents know that they are linked. Parents don’t like to hear this (especially working moms like me) but consistent caregiving, prompt attention (not to be confused with indulgence), hugs and kisses actually allow the brain to develop – the rationale in short is that the brain thrives when it’s secure and instead of using its energy figuring out who is paying attention to it or how its needs are being met, it can use it to learn new things.

    The brains of musicians are decidedly different from non-musicians (both left and right hemispheres are more equal) – this doesn’t mean much in terms of intelligence. Just an interesting fact in terms of how the brain develeops to let musicians do what they need to – i.e. read and understand scores, think ahead and send messages to their hands, all at the same time.

    Sorry for the long comment.I’m going to read this book now. Thanks for posting.

  9. This is a good post – packed w. lots of great parenting tips. Sadly for my fetus I listened to ACDC on my way to work over the Golden Gate Bridge in the mornings although my husband always tried to play classical whenever he was near. I don’t think any of this had any effect at all which corroborates your post.

    From first-hand experience I strongly agree with the need for open-ended play. I always find that it’s about 5 minutes after a child complains that they are bored, and I do nothing/give them no electronics, that they have some sort of creative epiphany: it might be building a tent out of sheets, writing a poem, staging a play, composing a song on the violin, or just playing a game of dolls with their sibling – it never fails: boredom ALWAYS precedes spurts of the greatest creativity.

    And I think (particularly in American society) we tend to rob our children of this much needed down-time. So much thought and creativity is borne from it though. (-:
    Anyway thanks for the post!

  10. delurking to say — loved this post. a lot of my research is in this area, and it distresses me to see the prevalence of the myths over the truths. (although, of course, this means my kid will be the one that ends up at harvard :-p).

  11. I particularly liked myth #1. The number of people that told me I should be playing Mozart for my baby when I was pregnant! Overall, though, I feel there are too many books and insights and instructions about parenting. Isn’t most of it instinct and common sense anyway? I also dislike how things are expressed in terms of SAT scores. I know he’s addressing a common parental concern but do people really need to be encouraged in this direction? Why can’t the focus just be on happy, not smart?

    • aah… an Amy Chua-esque question. Years ago Kodi’s Mom and I debated this in a civil manner – I wrote a post, she wrote one in response. I wrote my response and so on. Then a bunch of sad pathetic trolls jumped in and said they hoped my kids ended up being happy beach bums and nothing more. I was amused… and felt really sorry for the children they were rearing.

          • beach bum! its one of my favourites, though as i grow older, i realise that it might not be as romantic as it sounds (to me), and there may not be much to comb there, really. but beach bum is an awesome job, as it were. trolls. ogres. orcs.

          • Abeyaar, what is wrong with being beach bums assuming it comes to that? I am actually working towards that goal, and I am going to take personal offence here.

            Also, yeah, trolls need to come back MM. I have sorta not laughed-till-the-tears-rolled while reading this blog for a loooong time. Nutshell: get your less meeker version out. NOW.

            • absolutely nothing at all. Rather have a beach bum kid than a rabid right winger burning down pubs or a supersuccessful corporate type who burns out or dies at 30. But there I was talking about giving my child the freedom to play and discover himself and there were these two women (I still have their IP addresses!) going purple in the face and saying that mothers like me deserve beach bum kids who are of no use. i repeat, as long as they aren’t bad!

  12. PS: @ Kenny, dark comedy and saya – the deep concern you three have for me is touching. bring on the trolls indeed. the OA will put out a supari if you dont shut up because he has to live with the grouchy me for days after a troll attack

  13. so assuring to read this post, I am a SAHM mother I do not watch TV at all, so read, surf and Youtube a lot in the spare time, whenever I come across 2 and 3 year old kids reading like a 10 year old and all that right brain stuff I wonder if I have done enough ‘nurture my kid’s potential’ as they say. We read story books, draw, paint, swing and slide run to the park every other day when the weather permits. Husband says that these little kids who can read and do math at such an early age will be no different than our kids in the long run. Beanie must have turned 4 year old now congrats to the little brat (Bean).

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