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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina [Book Review]

Parenting is an altogether new experience which can’t be matched by anything else; nor can it be described in words. Every child, parent and their relationship is unique; it may vary depending on genetics, circumstances, relationships, upbringing of parents and what not. New parents tend to have a million doubts and there are plenty of help books ranging from how babies grow to how to parent. Today we will review one such book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina. Dr. Medina writes about queries he has seen in new parents and his thoughts on how to raise smarter babies.

About John Medina

Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist studying human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders. He also teaches at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He has written six books on topics ranging from brain development to depression to brain diseases. Brain Rules for Baby is his latest book.
The book starts by setting certain contexts – first with set of myth busters and later certain limitations in how research can help in better parenting. This book specifically focuses on age range till five years. According to research, first five years are the ones which will have profound impact on human brain development.

Chapter 1 The importance of healthy pregnancy

First part of the book deals with the fact that a healthy pregnancy is important for a healthy baby. While this section may sound repetitive and clichéd( especially if you had read a ‘what to expect while expecting’ type book), Dr. Medina reiterate and stresses the fact that a healthy pregnancy is indeed the foundation stone of everything. The author continues his approach of starting with myth busters, then providing insights into researches being done and finally some ‘best practices’. He continues with an explanation of how the senses get developed while in a mom’s womb. The chapter is closed by discussing on four key things that can aid a baby’s brain development while inside the womb — gaining the right weight, having a healthy and nutritional diet during pregnancy, controlling stress and having the right amount of exercise being done.

Chapter 2 How parents’ relationship affects the baby

Any parent would vouch for the fact that their life completely changes once their little one arrives – be it the day-to-day interactions or aspirations. This chapter of the book talks about how the dynamics of husband-wife changes once they become parents. Dr. Medina discusses how overwhelming it can be when the new one comes home and how both the parents can become exhausted and depressed. He goes on to discuss how fights can affect the baby, what can be done to help such situations and so on. Being able to empathize with each other is the most important factor that can aid new parents in such situations.

Chapter 3 Why it is important to make your baby feel safe

This chapter deals with the fact that babies always want to feel safe. I think this is especially the reason why they feel more comfortable and attached with moms! This chapter discusses in detail about IQ tests, how IQ can be different depending on measuring situations, why IQ tests may not be considered the final say etc. Also a discussion on the role of genes is provided. Later, he discusses about five ingredients that constitute a child’s intellectual abilities – the desire to explore, self-control, creativity, verbal communication and ability to interpret non verbal communications.
Research indicates developing the ability to keep distractions away is more important than the IQ. It has been proved that this ability helps to mound smarter children. Encouraging creativity and an inquisitiveness also helps. Dr. Medina continues to discuss about how babies develop verbal communication skills and non verbal ones. It is interesting that the baby is most capable of naturally learning the dominant language spoken during the first six months. Author also argues that expressions shown to her ( for example using your own face as opposed to a puppet to narrate stories) are equally important. Research also suggest that developing this non verbal capabilities help her to be a better team player as well as being innovative.

Chapter 4 Importance of humans as companions; not electronics

Quoting from the book, this chapter is about another key ingredients to better parenting – caring/love and attentive guidance to the child. Author starts the discussion with another myth buster — a child’s brain is not looking to learn new things; but to survive. Four brain boosters as he calls it discussed in this chapter are importance of breastfeeding, talking to your baby, playing or cuddling with her and praising or encouraging the efforts she makes.
It is a good read to learn how speaking to your baby often can help her improve his IQ as well as the ability to grasp things quickly. The chapter also discusses about how creating a playful environment helps rather than exposing to screens. The key learning for me from this chapter was that simply praising the kids for each and every small success or say smart every time is not the right way; instead praising the efforts put by them irrespective of the outcome is more important.

Chapter 5 Raising a happy child

This chapter is all about what is happiness, how to raise a happy and emotionally sound child. The author reiterates some of the facts that happiness is driven from acts like altruism, being great full, gratitude and forgiveness. He continues with the discussion on why to help your child make friends. The chapter is heavy in its content and speaks of two key things – how emotions and empathy play important roles in a child’s development. The chapter alludes a bit on how genes can also play a role in child being happy. I remembered the discussions Sonja Lyubomrisky had in the book The How of Happiness.

Chapter 6 Controlling emotions

This chapter continues with the discussion on emotions, attachments and how a parents reaction to any act of a child affects her. It’s interesting to know that a baby at birth itself, express disgust, distress and interest; within six months she can express anger, sadness , fear, surprises and joy; and in another year or so, she can feel other emotions like jealousy, embarrassment, guilt or pride !
The chapter continues to discuss on various research done on parenting styles. Later he conclude that an authoritative style ( high on responsiveness and a high on demandingness) is the right way to approach it. The key learning from this chapter for a reader is about how labeling can control emotions. The author gives a nice example of a father teaching his daughter about jealousy.

Chapter 7 How to raise a moral baby?

This chapter is all about erratic behaviors in children. To be honest, when I reached this chapter; I was getting bored with the author’s writing style of circling around and around without coming to the point. The three key factors according to the author to raise a moral child are setting clear & concise rules and associated rewards , swift punishments in the event of non compliance and all rules to be well explained (meaning the rationale behind the rules). It was a reiterating fact that we should not only praise good behavior; but also the absence of bad behavior.

Chapter 8 Developing good sleeping habits

This is the last and new chapter included in the updated edition of the book. Dr. Medina talks about two schools of thought about how to handle sleep in babies. Later he also provides a suggestive approach to improve your baby’s sleeping habits. The first school of thought is championed by William Sears is NAP aka Nighttime Attachment Parenting. This is perhaps the old school of thought that vouch for being with the baby whenever you can so that she feels comforted and safe.
The second approach is championed by Richard Ferber called CIO aka Cry-It-Out. In this the baby is let alone get pacified herself through a stepped approach of soothing the baby. These are two extremes and perhaps depend on various factors like culture, your own comfortness, circumstances etc. The author suggests to give a trial and error method to find out which suits the baby better. He also advises not to change any sleeping patterns before six months.
The book ends with reiterating the importance of encouraging empathy and controlling emotions as key factors of a smart and happy child. A resource list pertaining to each chapter Is also provided in the end.
Overall a good book, a bit dragging with circling back of same discussions. I would consider it to be a one time read. I believe each parent child relationship is unique and a learning curve for both!


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