Empowering You to Parent with the Brain in Mind
Parents are the first and most influential teachers in a child's life... 85% of the human brain develops in the first three years of life so we want to help you with tips and tools to make every day count and help you maximize your child’s potential.
Our goal is to help you raise smart, capable, and compassionate children.
We hope these Simple Ideas With Profound Impact will make the difference in your child's life.
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Welcome to the BrainFit Kids blog. We’re so happy that you found us. If you’re a new parent, congratulations on landing the most important job in the world! Our goal at BrainFit Kids is to help you raise children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. Children who have self-confidence, are not afraid to try new…Learn More +
We are super excited about the launch of our new website and free email course. BrainFit Kids is a labor of love. It is the culmination of two lifetimes of research, learning, and experience; combined with the passionate application of that knowledge by two very dedicated parents. It has taken several years of hard work…Learn More +
Toddlerhood is a time of many feelings. It’s a time of discovering new feelings, of not always having the words to put to feelings, and of figuring out how to express feelings. In My Heart does a beautiful job of describing feelings in ways that may feel very familiar to a toddler and it helps them to find the words to put to the multitude of feelings that they are experiencing.
Name of Book:
Summary of Book:
Sometimes my heart feels like a big yellow star, shiny and bright.
I smile from ear to ear and twirl around so fast,
I feel as if I could take off into the sky.
This is when my heart is happy.
Happiness, sadness, bravery, anger, shyness . . . our hearts can feel so many feelings! Some make us feel as light as a balloon, others as heavy as an elephant. In My Heart explores a full range of emotions, describing how they feel physically, inside. With language that is lyrical but also direct, toddlers will be empowered by this new vocabulary and able to practice articulating and identifying their own emotions. With whimsical illustrations and an irresistible die-cut heart that extends through each spread, this unique feelings book is gorgeously packaged. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)
Recommended Age Range:
2 – 6 years. Note this is a younger age range than is listed by Barnes & Noble. They list the range as 3 – 6 years. We think that it’s a book worth introducing as early as 2 years as this is when toddlers are first starting to struggle with the ability to express their feelings and this book does a great job of introducing various “feeling” words into a young toddler’s vocabulary.
Why We Like It:
Jo Witek’s book, In My Heart, does a beautiful job of addressing the vast array of feelings that a toddler and young child are experiencing. Young children can struggle with putting feelings into words and may express their frustrations or feelings of discomfort or sadness in various non-verbal ways when they don’t know how to express themselves.
It is our job, as parents or caretakers, to create a safe and trusting relationship so a child can feel comfortable enough to work through those struggles. It is our job to be aware of the various manifestations of these feelings, to help children work through them, and give them tools to express them. It is our job to let them HAVE those feelings. Even the ugly, messy, uncomfortable ones. Because all feelings are valid. It is so important for a child to understand that it is ok to have feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, and fear along with all the other wonderful happy feelings we experience. By creating an environment in which a child feels safe to have a wide array of feelings and supporting them as they work through their feelings we validate who they are and what they are going through.
Very little people have very big emotions. And it can be overwhelming for them. It can be overwhelming for us, as the adults in the room as well. In My Heart works through the full gamut of feelings in such a beautiful and fun way. The illustrations in the book are whimsical and playful and the descriptions of the various feelings are spot on and age appropriate. We’ve found this book to be a wonderful tool to introduce vocabulary related to feelings into the lives of little ones.
Having just made a major cross-country move with many bumps and unexpected twists and turns along the way we have gone through many, many feelings in the last few months. Having a book like this was so helpful to open conversations about different feelings as we navigated (and are still navigating!) that journey.
Others in the Series:
- Brave As Can Be: A Book of Courage
- Hello in There!: A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting
- With My Daddy: A Book of Love and Family
- In My Room: A Book of Creativity and Imagination
- All My Treasures: A Book of Joy
We are now into our fifth month here at the BrainFit Kids blog. If you’ve been following along since the beginning you now have a pretty good grasp of the basics that go into creating a well developed and functioning brain. If you’ve been applying those basic concepts with your children you should be seeing some solid results in terms of their development.
Today, we’re going to look at another important core principle that the developing brain adheres to right from the start. Remember, the first core principle is that brain development is progressive. The second core principle that we observe at work in the development of the human brain is that brain development is synergistic.
Synergy is defined as the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.
There is a tendency in the biological and medical sciences to always reduce the whole into its constituent parts. It’s a way of looking at the world that dates to the 16th century and is most commonly known as reductionist thinking or the reductionist paradigm. Most of our modern medical miracles are the result of reductionist thinking. It’s a very useful way of looking at the world. But, it has its problems and it cannot explain everything.
Another way of looking at the world involves seeing how parts relate to one another and influence one another. This is called systems thinking or the systems paradigm. This is how we see the human brain and its development. The human brain is a system unto itself, that is part of the central nervous system, which interacts with and influences other systems (circulatory, digestive, respiratory, etc.), which comprise the human person, who lives in relationship with other human persons, etc., etc.
When thinking about these two seemingly contrarian ways of looking at the world, it is not necessary to reject one in order to embrace the other. Indeed a much fuller understanding of what is actually going on is only achievable when one is able to see the validity of both paradigms.
When we apply systems thinking to our understanding of the human brain we see the brain’s parts (medulla, pons, midbrain, cortex) as not merely individual physical structures with unique responsibilities but also as parts of a greater whole that relate to each other, that influence and affect each other, and that, when working smoothly together, provide for a level of performance that is only possible through the relationship that the parts have with each other. It’s a lot like a symphony orchestra!
By this I mean that as the different parts of the brain develop, all of the brain’s functions develop together simultaneously and work together to produce an overall level of ability. Each function influences the development of the others. If you improve one function, all other functions will improve to some extent. The opposite is also true. If a child loses ability in one area, other areas of ability will suffer. This synergy produces an effect that is different from and greater than the sum of the individual effects of each function alone.
So, what does synergy look like in the real world of young children? Imagine a young baby of between 3 and 7 months of age before you. Typically, assuming development is proceeding as it should, this baby will have a certain level of ability in every area of function.
In vision, the baby will have the ability to converge her eyes as she tries to focus them on an object, a face, etc.
In tactile ability, the baby will have a good appreciation of pleasant touch (caresses, tickling, etc.) as well as some sense of spatial awareness and balance. This spatial awareness will manifest itself in the form of the ability to hold a sitting position and the ability to push up onto hands and knees and then hold that “quadruped” position.
In mobility, the baby will begin to experiment with moving forward in that quadruped position eventually developing the function we call creeping.
Lastly, in manual ability the baby will now have the ability to reach out with one hand and pick up and object using the whole hand, a function known as prehensile grasp.
All of the functions that I just described are functions that are controlled by the part of the brain called the midbrain. Every time the baby uses any of these functions she is developing her midbrain. The more she uses them, the more her midbrain develops. If she is denied the opportunity to develop or use any of these functions, the development of her midbrain will be affected.
So, imagine this little baby is down on the floor getting some tummy time. She pushes herself up into a quadruped position and holds the position. She then looks at a little piece of lint on the floor a few feet in front of her. She may rock back and forth a few times as she focuses her eyes on the piece of lint. She then looks up and sees her favorite toy on the floor on the other side of the room. She starts to creep towards the toy. All the while she has her eyes focused on the object of her desire. Finally, she reaches the toy and with one hand reaches out and picks it up.
What you just witnessed is synergy in action. You saw the functions of vision, hearing (the auditory mechanism is involved in balance), tactile ability, mobility, and manual ability being performed simultaneously; and all the while this little girl’s midbrain is getting a ton of input and producing a ton of responses (output).
The beauty of this principle is that it gives us lots of clues about what to do when development is not proceeding as we might hope. Consider the function of convergence for example. Typically, children with convergence problems are treated with surgery, glasses, patches, and/or eye exercises. These are all reductionist approaches. When we see a child who has convergence problems we use a systems approach and apply the principle of synergy. Why? Remember, convergence is a function of the midbrain. Children cannot converge their eyes at birth. Their vision is monocular. They begin to develop convergence and binocular vision when their midbrain starts to develop. So, rather than focus our efforts on the eyes, we focus on the brain. Makes sense since that’s where the problem is. Specifically, we have the child creep, creep, and creep some more. Over the years, we have completely solved convergence problems in many children who were slated for surgery for strabismus (crossed eyes), just by having them creep… which is to say just by developing their midbrains!
Go ahead and watch some synergy in action! It’s a beautiful thing!
A few weeks ago, one of our followers on Instagram posed a great question – “why is it that some parents don’t see raising their child as something so complex, and that they just think that their children will be fine with whatever happens in life?”
Because it is a question that touches on a lot of important issues I promised in my Instagram response to answer it more fully in a blog post. So, @brookehilder, here goes! I’ll start by rephrasing and simplifying the question. Why do some parents leave their child’s development to chance rather than take an active role in promoting it?
Let me begin by talking about parents. Here at BrainFit Kids we have the utmost respect for and confidence in parents. We believe with our hearts and souls that the best chance that every child has in life rests with his or her parents. This is because of what we call the anthropological reality of the family bond. Woven into the very nature of what it is to be a human being is the love that exists between parent and child. This is no ordinary love but a special kind of love that only a parent can understand. There is no sense in trying to explain it to someone who is not a parent. You simply have to experience it for yourself. But once you experience it, you will never be the same person again. Ask any parent.
We’re convinced that parents really do want the best for their children. We have always taught that parents know their circumstances and their children best and they should decide what is best for them and their children.
We know that parenting is a tough job. Raising children often involves making sacrifices and establishing new priorities. Parents today face challenges and pressures and decisions that are unique to our modern era.
When two parents are working outside of the home, whether by necessity or choice, it can be difficult to reconcile their baby’s deeply ingrained biological and physiological needs with their own social and psychological needs. That is something that each family must figure out for themselves. We think that’s the way it should be.
So let’s get back to the original question – why do some parents leave their child’s development to chance rather than take an active role in promoting it?
I think it is safe to say that from the moment a couple learns they are expecting a child, they begin to have hopes and dreams for their little one. Some parents have really specific dreams but mostly parents dream that their child will grow up to be healthy, capable, successful, and happy. And so the little bundle of joy is born and then many parents cross their fingers and hope their dream comes true. Why? There are probably as many reasons as there are parents but here are two reasons that most parents share.
First, for most of recorded history the standard dogma about child development, particularly child brain development, has been that it is the luck of the draw. Remember, we have been at this game for more than forty years. As the popular Farmers Insurance commercial says “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”! The phenomenon of neuroplasticity (the idea that the structure, chemistry, and function of the brain is influenced by experience) was proved and recognized as scientific fact in other mammals (dogs, cats, mice, rats), as early as the 1950’s. But neuroplasticity in human beings was denied. As recently as twenty five years ago, the medical, education, and psychology establishments taught that the human brain was not affected by experience or its environment.
While we now know that neuroplasticity exists in human beings, the popular belief remains much as it was forty years ago… if you are lucky enough to be born with a good brain you will do well in life; if you are unlucky and are born with a compromised brain you will struggle. So, it is no surprise that many parents assume their child will be fine. In a certain sense, this assumption is a bit of self-preservation because if it’s the luck of the draw anyway and there isn’t much you can do about it, much better to just think positive!
Second, the rise of the professional class (medicine, education, psychology) over the past hundred years or so has resulted in a shift of responsibility for many aspects of our lives. Generations ago, parents truly were responsible for every aspect of their child’s development. Without any fancy degrees or special knowledge, drawing on their personal experiences growing up and relying on wisdom passed down through the generations, parents managed to raise children quite successfully. Knowing nothing about neuroplasticity, mothers and fathers managed to bring us from the caves of the prehistoric age to the modern age. In the process they raised some pretty extraordinary humans. The philosophers of ancient Greece, the geniuses of the Italian Renaissance, the Founding Fathers of the American experiment in democracy are just a few examples of amazingly capable people who were once children who were raised lock, stock, and barrel by their mothers and fathers.
Sadly, some parents today feel insecure about this responsibility because, after all, they are just parents! What do they know about raising children? Part of the insecurity parents feel is due to the fact that generally we have smaller families today so many parents have little personal experience to draw on. Part is due to the fact that, as least in the United States, the family is not the close unit it once was and we are a much more mobile society. So parents often can’t rely on the wisdom of previous generations. So they turn to professionals!
Education professionals in particular are only too eager to capitalize on this. All one needs to do to see how far this has gone is to look at the push for universal daycare and universal early childhood education. After denying neuroplasticity for decades, professionals today try to justify having every child in daycare or school as early as three months of age on the basis that it is important to take advantage of neuroplasticity!
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. We believe that every child should get the best quality care and a good early education. Indeed, that’s what BrainFit Kids is all about! We’re all for taking advantage of neuroplasticity! It’s just that we believe that parents are perfectly capable of doing this and can do so much better than professionals. What parents need is knowledge and our support in making that possible.
So, what’s a parent to do? Well, that really depends on how parents see their role and how much of themselves they want to and are willing to invest in it. Again, that is something that only parents can decide. But for those who want to take an active role in fostering their child’s development, the answer is education. Unlike a new car, little babies don’t come with a manual that tells you how they work. We started BrainFit Kids to fill in that knowledge gap.
Parenting With the Brain in Mind is about parents having an awareness of two things – the absolute miracle going on inside the head of that little baby they love so much and the extraordinary influence they have on that miracle. Once parents have that knowledge and awareness they can never look at their child or themselves in the same way again. That leads to children who are more capable and struggle less.
Speaking about struggle, today we have an epidemic of children diagnosed with attention problems, behavior problems, and learning difficulties. More than 5 million American children take drugs for attention problems alone. These children suffer terribly as a result of their limitations. The tragedy is that much of this suffering is completely avoidable. When parents have more knowledge and awareness about child brain development they are in a much better position to help and make a difference!
I’ll end with two final thoughts. As you make your own personal decisions as to what works best for you and your family, understand that there is no such thing as perfect parenting. You can parent with the brain in mind, which is to say with a very important purpose, but you can’t possibly be a perfect parent. So cut yourself some slack and just do your best. And keep in mind that raising children is the ultimate responsibility because, as Wordsworth said, “the Child is father of the Man”; children are our future! So long as you recognize the importance of that responsibility, you and your children will be just fine and our world will be a better place.