Monday, August 08, 2011

Brain Rules for Baby: The soil for a smart baby

If only 50% of IQ is genetic, that means that what we do as parents to nurture our children DOES make a difference!  However, before anyone's brain can focus on learning, they must feel safe in their environment.  This is good to remember as a teacher too.  If kids are worried about the teacher getting angry, they can't focus on learning. 

4 Basic Parenting Actions
1.  Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains important salts and vitamins.  It can prevent ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections.  Breastfed babies, on average, score higher on cognitive tests and get better grades, especially in in reading and writing.  Some ingredients that breast milk has that are needed by baby are taurine (amino acid needed for neural development) and omega-3 fatty acids.

2.  Talking to your baby: The more parents talk to their children (even early on), the better they did at reading, spelling, and writing when they start school - and the higher their IQ.  The variety of words spoken, their length, and complexity is nearly as important as the number of words spoken. Giving positive feedback is also important - in the form of interaction (eye contact, imitating, laughter, and facial expressions).  Reward a baby's language attempts with more attention. 
     Start talking to them as soon as they are born.  2,100 words per hour is recommended - which is considered a moderate rate of conversation.  "Parantese" (speaking in a high pitched tone with a sing-song voice) is easier for babies to understand because each word and the sound of each vowel is distinct.    

3.  Guided play: Make time for open-ended play that focuses on impulse control and self-regulation.  This allows for the development of creativity, language, and problem solving.  This also helps to reduce stress, and improves memory and social skills.  One example of this kind of play is mature dramatic play, and a school program called "Tools of the Mind."  (In this program, students make a play plan and they practice pretending in a creative environment.   

4.  Praising effort rather than accomplishment or IQ: High performers are willing to put in the effort to sustain their focus, control impulses, and delay gratification.  Telling kids "their smart" doesn't help them to understand what they need to do to be successful.  They will also begin to see mistakes as failures, rather than something to learn from.  Praising hard work helps kids have a growth-mindset, rather than a fixed mindset.  This will help them to see a mistake as a problem to solve, and will lead to them spending more time working on difficult tasks, rather than giving up when things get challenging.

What to Limit
Something to keep in mind about TV/video games/computers is what content they are being exposed to because

     a.  Kids are good at imitation and acquiring information 
     b.  Our expectations and assumptions influence our perception
1.  No television before the age of 2:  Television can lead to hostility.  Studies have shown that there is an increased risk in bullying behavior with the more hours of tv (and the violence shown) watched before the age of 4.  There is also a stronger chance of attention problems with an increase in the number of hours of tv watched before the age of 3.  Even having the tv on when no one is watching can cause distraction from more important activities like imaginative play.  Research is showing that tv watching can affect reading scores and language acquisition.
    However, after the age of 5, some tv shows have shown an improvement in brain performance IF they involve intelligent interaction.  Medina suggests watching these TV shows with them to help them analyze and think critically about what they experience.

2.  Don't put a TV in a kid's bedroom.  Kids with TVs in their bedroom, on average, score lower on math and language arts tests.

3.  Limit video game playing:  The risk of video games is their often sedentary nature and the lack of exercise (and obesity) that it can lead to.  Aerobic exercise is also good for your brain, and can increase executive functioning abilities.  The earlier you start kids on a regular exercise routine (that you do with them), the more likely it will be become a lifelong habit.

4.  Don't "hyper-parent": Putting too much pressure on kids can be counterproductive
     a.  Extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking (a good example of this are parents who insist their kids are advanced in math, when really they don't have a clear understanding of the calculations they have memorized)
     b.  Pressure can extinguish curiosity
     c.  Continual anger or disappointment can cause toxic stress and learned helplessness (and can lead to depression)

Next up, the seeds for a happy baby...

1 comment:

  1. Hey there, nice post. I just wanted to add that the scientific research on breastfeeding shows that all of the bonuses mentioned are very, very small--like 2-3 points on an IQ test--and can be wiped out by a mother who is too exhausted with trying to breastfeed to talk to her child. I BF'd and pumped when I went back to work, mostly at first because I believed the hype but then because I was too cheap to buy formula, and I'm lucky it worked for me. But we're so fortunate to live in America with great access to formula and clean water, so formula is a great alternative if BF doesn't work out.