I loved the Brain Rules book. The original discussed why the brain works the way it does (including the studies) and gave specific activities one can do to boost the efficacy. An example: the brain is a major consumer of oxygen, so scientists have found that intense exercise improves function by getting more oxygenated blood to the brain.
I need to re-read it as it has been a decade. I recently got the baby one.
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.
This is 1,000% true.
As a scientist, I was very aware that watching a baby’s brain develop feels as if you have a front row seat to a biological Big Bang. The brain starts out as a single cell in the womb, quiet as a secret. Within a few weeks, it is pumping out nerve cells at an astonishing rate of 8,000 per second. Within a few months, it is on it’s way to becoming the world’s finest thinking machine.
Some notes I took.
- Perception begins at weeks for most senses. And memory persists after birth, but stimulation too early is harmful and later not going to make a genius.
- Everything is a balancing act. During pregnancy especially weight, nutrition, stress, exercise.
- Chronic or acute stress passes those hormones through the placenta and children seeing it stunt brain growth observing it. Husbands need to keep their wife not stressed. Happy is the ideal, but at least not stressed. This can be 8 IQ points.
- Exercise can reduce pushing time and reduce the time baby is without oxygen and reduce stunted brain development.
- Kinds of intelligence:
- Record information, aka crystallized intelligence.
- Desire to explore
- Verbal communication
- Decoding nonverbal communication
- Ingredients for happy kids:
- a demanding but warm parenting style ( responsiveness & demandingness)
- comfort with your own emotions
- tracking your child’s emotions (don’t ignore & don’t helicopter)
- verbalizing emotions (describe emotions)
- running toward emotions (emotions are reflexive; behavior is a choice; be consistent with rules on behavior; turn intense feelings into teachable moments)
- two tons of empathy
- Behavior modification basic principles.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. The thing I liked the most about the original was he named a rule and went on about why it is important and the research justifying it. This book lacked that simplistic and novel model, which put me off.
The hairy baby sleeping
A 2018 Pediatrics study found sleeping through the night overrated. Though, to be honest, I have skepticism about the potential for its validity due to:
- it was based on self-reporting by the mothers
- it only measured development through age 3.
RESULTS: Using a definition of either 6 or 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, we found that 27.9% to 57.0% of 6- and 12-month-old infants did not sleep through the night. Linear regressions revealed no significant associations between sleeping through the night and concurrent or later mental development, psychomotor development, or maternal mood (P > .05). However, sleeping through the night was associated with a much lower rate of breastfeeding (P < .0001).
— Pediatrics. 2018 Dec;142(6). pii: e20174330. doi: 10.1542/peds.2017-4330. Epub 2018 Nov 12.
Fleur has long shown an interest in what we are doing. I call it “nosy” while my wife calls “curious”. Given her newfound mobility, she follows us around and tries to get into what we are doing. That includes the chores. She especially gets upset if she is kept apart from us while doing the chores. Her wanting to participate makes me hopeful getting her involved soon will benefit both us (more slave labor) and her:
Giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance, according to research by Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. In 2002, Dr. Rossmann analyzed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives— in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. She found that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.
I’ve written before about singing to Fleur to get her attention and how music is good for the brain. If this fMRI data on human brains compared to macaque monkey ones holds up, then there might be a developmental difference in brains that allows us to be more attuned to musical tones.
“When the researchers looked more closely at the data, they found evidence suggesting the human brain was highly sensitive to tones. The human auditory cortex was much more responsive than the monkey cortex when they looked at the relative activity between tones and equivalent noisy sounds.”
The researchers wondered what kind of auditory experience our ancestors had that caused this difference. The same structure also responds to speech, which might explain some of our qualities of speech. Music and talking are intertwined. So, child development being responsive to music makes sense in that they are wired to learn and we adults are doing so with both music and speech.
I noticed a while back Fleur would track my own attention habits. She also lingered on things, even returned to them well after I stopped.
Yu and IU colleague Linda Smith evaluated attention span in infants at play. The team employed head-mounted cameras to track the eye movements and gazes of three dozen parents and infants aged 11 to 13 months, who were turned loose in a play space and asked to simply play as they would at home with brightly colored plastic objects.
This kind of “free play” data enabled Yu and Smith to chart childhood concentration and learning in ways that traditional experiments involving a single child at work on a computer or other task could not, notes cognitive neuroscientist Sam Wass, of Cambridge University and the University of East London. “They show that what the parent is paying attention to, minute by minute and second by second, actually influences what the child is paying attention to,” he notes. “These kinds of social influences on attention are potentially very important [and] most scientists tend to ignore them.”
When parents paid attention to a toy during play, the infants also continued to focus on it—even after the mom or dad had turned elsewhere. The authors likened this effect to the way a parent will initially hold the back of a bike while their child learns to peddle before letting go and sending them off on their own.
We also try to label things to which Fleur is paying attention. And have also noticed the problem the article describes of not having much success getting her to shift her attention to something.
Highlights from an Inc article on the benefits of music on the brain caught my attention:
- Musical training reorganizes neuron structures in the brain, specifically the corpus callosum which integrates the two sides plus areas involving verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy.
- It improves long-term memory, in part because it teaches the hippocampus how to store memories and recall them on demand.
- It improves executive function, things like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making decisions, and problem solving
- Musicians tend to be more mentally alert with faster reaction times.
- They tend to have better statistical use of multisensory information, so they are better able to integrate inputs from the various senses.
- The earlier a musician starts, the more drastic the changes.
- Music reduces stress and improves happiness.*
- Increases blood flow in the brain.
* Wonder if all this singing we do with Fleur plus Galahad’s piano practice is part of why she is a happy child? After all, we’ve been leveraging singing as a way to distract Miss Wriggly.
Some researchers at U. Rochester and U. Cal. Berkeley attempted to estimate how much information a child learns to acquire a native language.
To put our lower estimate in perspective, each day for 18 years a child must wake up and remember, perfectly and for the rest of their life, an amount of information equivalent to the information in this sequence:
Even at the lower end, it suggests the presence of mechanisms in the brain that help in language acquisition. I guess a question I have is what is the threshold for there not to be one? (The upper end is almost 2,000 bits a day.)
And we are talking about every bit here being new information. Similar to the Five Books a Day post, these are NEW bits every day.
The amounts are staggering to me. And it strikes me how impressively children learn about the world, categorize the data, and synthesize it into information. The challenge as a parent is to ensure the child gets enough exposure to acquire all this data.