brain rules for baby

The mom was extraordinarily attuned to her child’s emotional cues. She knew that her baby’s turning away probably meant he needed a break from the sensory flood he was receiving. Mom withdrew, waited patiently, and did not resume until baby signaled he was no longer flooding. He could then be delighted when mom returned, smiling, rather than staying overstimulated by her persistence and probably crying

The dad seemed to be pouring it on. “Whenever somebody gets something I want and I don’t, I get sad, too.” Silence. // Then the dad said the line most characteristic of a verbalizing parent. “We have a word for that feeling, honey,” he said. “Do you want to know what that word is?” She whimpered, “OK.” He held her in his arms. “We call it being jealous. You wanted Ally’s presents, and you couldn’t have them. You were jealous.” She cried softly but was beginning to calm down. “Jealous,” she whispered. “Yep,” Dad replied, “and it’s an icky feeling.” “I been jealous all day,” she replied, nestling into her daddy’s big strong arms

They do not judge emotions // Many families actively discourage the expression of tough emotions like fear and anger. Happiness and tranquility, meanwhile, make it to the top of the list of “approved” emotions. To parents of Dougs all over the world, there is no such thing as a bad emotion. There is no such thing as a good emotion. An emotion is either there–or it is not. These parents seem to know that emotions don’t make people weak and they don’t make people strong. They only make people human. The result is a savvy let the children be who they are attitude

Both responses completely ignore how Kyle is feeling at the moment. One seems to actively disapprove of Kyle’s grief; the other is trying to anesthetize it. Neither deals with his intense emotions. They give him no tools that might help him navigate through his grief. Know what Kyle might be thinking? “If this is not supposed to matter, why do I still have this big feeling? What I am supposed to do with it? There must be something really wrong with me”

They have a list filled not with emotions that are approved and disapproved but actions that are // Almost half a century’s worth of research shows that “blowing off steam” usually increases aggression. The only time expressing anger in that style helps is when it is accompanied immediately by constructive problem solving // They seem to have an intuitive sense that people produce lasting change only in response to a crisis. And they welcome these intense moments of possibility

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” is an attitude as common in these households as it is in certain political circles. The problem the child is having may seem ridiculously small to the parents, not something that should take up precious time. But these parents realize they don’t need to like the problem to solve it. They regularly replace the worlds “potential catastrophe” with “potential lesson,” which puts a very different spin on what a catastrophe is

a willingness to make the right choice–and to withstand pressure to make the wrong ones, even in the absence of a credible threat or in the presence of a reward–is the goal of moral development. Which means your parenting objective is to get your child to pay attention to and align himself with his innate sense of right and wrong. This takes time. A lot of time

3. Acting on principle. Eventually, the child begins to base her behavioral choices on well thought out, objective moral principles, not just on avoidance of punishment or peer acceptance. Kohlberg calls this coveted stage post conventional moral reasoning. One could argue that the goal of any parent is to land here

The surface regions are preoccupied with assessing facts. The deeper regions are preoccupied with processing emotions. They are connected by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This is oversimplified, but think of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex as the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco (emotions) to its northern neighbor, Marin County (just the facts, ma’am)

1. Clear, consistent rules and rewards
a: Your rules are reasonable and clear: Nanny’s solution? Next day, she brings in a physical chart with rules and expectations written right on it–including a reasonably formulated time for bed–then mounts it where the entire family can see. The chart produces an objective authority where the rule is (a) realistic, (b) clearly stated, and (c) visible to all
b: You are warm and accepting when administering rules: communicate safety to the little guy–note her immediate empathy–and she later upbraids Mike’s dad, telling him he needs to choose a calmer, more measured response // When rules are not administered in safety, the brain jettisons any behavioral notion except one: escaping the threat
c: Every time your child follows the rules, you offer praise: Instead of waiting for your 3 year old to get on the swings, you can reinforce his behavior every time he gets near the door
d: You also praise the absence of bad behavior: Praising the absence of a bad behavior is just as important as praising the presence of a good one
> When warm, accepting parents set clear and reasonable standards for their kids, then offer them praise for behaving well, children present strong evidence of an internalized moral construct, usually by age 4 and 5

2. Swift punishment
> Why were Mom’s strategies failing? Because her punishments were actually providing the little girl what she desired most: Mom’s undivided attention. As difficult as this might seem, Mom’s best shot at breaking this cycle was to ignore her daughter when she misbehaved // Instead, Mom would reinforce her daughter’s desirable behaviors by paying rich, undivided attention only when she acted in accordance with the laws of the family
a. Letting them make mistakes: Punishment by application // Research shows that children internalize behaviors best when they are allowed to make their own mistakes and feel the consequences // This is the most effective punishment strategy known
b. Taking away the toys: Punishment by removal // Or you give him a time out. Jail time for crimes is the adult form of this category
> Let your yes be yes and no be no. Consistency must be there not only from one day to the next but from one caregiver to the next
> This evolutionary need to safety is so powerful, the presence of rules themselves often communicates safety to children

3. Rules that are explained
> You can use this after a rule has been broker, too. Say your child yells in a quiet theater. The punishment would include an explanation of how his yelling affected other people and how he might offer amends, such as apologizing // Kids with a more fearful temperament may react catastrophically to the sharp correctives their fearless sibling shrug off. They need to be handled much more gently. All kids need rules, but every brain is wired differently, so you need to know your kid’s emotional landscapes inside and out–and adapt your discipline strategies accordingly