Monday, December 20, 2010

Brain Rules for Baby

I recently read the book, Brain Rules for Baby, by John Medina and I found it to be interesting, pertinent and well written. Medina's "Brain Rules" are things "we know for sure about how the early-childhood brain works." They're not fads or the latest innovations and many were reassuring to me, as a parent of a young toddler. These rules kept emphasizing the importance of simplicity; of basic toys; of talking to and playing with your child. They talked about the negative effects that television, texting and all these "educational" toys are having on children today. Basically, these rules sound like words that I have heard directly from the mouths of my parents.

I'm not going to try and summarize the book but there are a couple of parts that really stuck with me. Medina said that, "having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about." How true that is! I couldn't have said it better myself. Luckily, in my case, there is less terror as I have parents that I respect and look up to; parents that I can talk to when I have questions about how to be a good mum. Talking to Mum and Dad makes being a parent less terrifying and more fun. It also helps to have a husband that sees things the same way I do (most of the time, anyway.) Jim and I turn to each other sometimes and just shrug our shoulders. We don't know how to react when Lilly looks at us with a defiant smile and sprints in the opposite direction. It's a smile that's as much cute as it is naughty. Watching such a tiny person sprint is hilarious. Knowing that she's running away on purpose isn't quite so funny. And Jim and I have to learn, together, how we're going to react to it.

According to Medina, all of the following are myths:
  • Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby's future math scores
  • Exposing your infant or toddler to language DVDs will boost his vocabulary. He says that most DVDs actually reduce a toddler's vocabulary and while the number and variety of words you use when talking to your baby boosts both vocabulary and IQ, the words have to come from you--a real live human being.
  • To boost their brain power, children need a room piled with "brain-friendly" toys and a library of educational DVDs. In reality, the greatest brain-boosting technology in the world is a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.
  • Continually telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence. Medina says this actually makes them less willing to work on challenging problems. Instead, parents should be praising their children's effort instead.

The introduction to the book is fantastic. I specifically enjoyed Medina's job description for being a parent:

"Why would anyone willingly take on the line of work? The interview for the job, that single act of sex, is certainly fun. But then you get hired to raise a child. There are wonderful moments, but the essence of the contract is simply: They take. You give. You never get a paycheck with this job, only an invoice, and you'd better be prepared for some sticker shock. You'll be out more than $220,000--before the college loans. This career comes with no sick days or vacation time, and it puts you permanently on call nights and weekends. Its successful execution will probably turn you into a lifelong worrywart. Yet thousands of people every day say yes to this job. There must be some compelling reason."

I found this book to be a great read, but like I said earlier, so much of it seemed like common sense. The fact that it's a best seller suggests that there are more than a few people out there looking for parenting advice and while I enjoyed reading it, I couldn't help but reflect on how sad it is that our society needs a book to tell people to turn off the television and open a book. Or to put away the DVDs and educational toys and give children musical instruments and legos. I understand that things change but children today need the same things that children needed 50 years ago. And in many cases, they're not getting it. I am by no means an expert in the field of parenting but I think that my parents, having raised four children in what has always been a happy family, are as close to experts as you can get. If they wrote a parenting book, I guarantee it would be a best seller.

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