Parenting: How to raise a smart, happy baby

September 14, 2010

This week's blog is about how to raise a smart, happy baby from the get-go, based on concepts from a wonderful new book I'm reading by a developmental biologist who is also the father of 2 boys. John Medina's book, Brain Rules for Baby, spells out in real-life situations how to get the wonderful, bright, happy child you long for. And even though I'm already the mom of a 10-year-old, there's already new information I'm learning…and of course, that I'm willing to share!

For the next 8 weeks, I'll summarize the helpful hints in Medina's chapters and give you examples from my own parenting experiences.

To whet your appetite, here are some quick myth-busters:

    1. Playing Mozart in utero will NOT increase your baby's math scores. Teaching your little one impulse control will boost their math tests.

    2. Playing foreign language DVDs will NOT improve your child's vocabulary. Talking to your child constantly WILL dramatically help their vocabulary. With my 10-year-old, I used to provide both sides of the conversation long before he could talk, so that Jake would learn not only to be communicative, but HOW I like to be talked to and how to be emotionally invested in the day-to-day life of the people you love. For example, when Jake was a one-month old and I was standing next to his crib, I would say, "Good morning, sweetheart." Then I would answer myself and pretend I was him talking back and say, "Good morning, mama. How did you sleep?" Then I'd answer myself and say, "I slept well, honey and you?" Then, I'd take the role of baby Jake again and answer saying, "I had a good night too, momma, what's for breakfast?" All day, I'd keep up this kind of double conversation, which had to sound silly to anyone walking in the room. But I do the same thing now with my 5-month-old twins. Which does a couple of things: It doubles the amount of conversation they're hearing, it lets them hear my soothing voice that much more. It teaches them to answer when I talk to them and to give me more than a word here and there, which I'm hoping will come in handy when they're teenagers!

    3. Telling your child they are smart WON'T boost their confidence. Telling them you like how hard they worked on a challenging puzzle or drawing will. Praise their effort instead of their I.Q.

    4. Starting a foreign language early will NOT be a guaranteed way to get them into Harvard. Spending time with them drawing, coloring and playing with SIMPLE toys like cardboard boxes will. Avoid T.V. time.

    5. Children do NOT find their own happiness without guidance. The greatest predictor of happiness is having friends...and that requires good nonverbal communication. Believe it or not, learning a musical instrument boosts your child's nonverbal skills by 50-percent.

The key to raising happy kids is knowing that the human brain wants 2 things more than anything: to survive and to connect with others. So once you've given your little one plenty of food and rest, the biggest advantage you can give them is constant hugs, kisses, whispered words, regular 2-sided conversations until they learn to talk, coloring time, play time, reading time and exercise.

How can you pull all this off? Obviously if you have a partner, babysitters/nannies or older children, they can help. But even without a large "village" of people to help you, you can put your loving stamp on your kids' intellectual, social and mental I.Q.

For example, my 10-year-old ran his first triathlon this summer. Ever since then, he's been teaching the twins to do a "Baby Triathlon." He lays each boy down and gently shows him how to swim with his legs, run his legs over to his bike, use his baby arms to grab his pretend helmet and sneakers, ride his bike in the air, then put his pretend "baby-cycle" on a pretend bike rack and run to the finish line - at which point Jake declares either Hunter or Zeke the "winner." By the time Jake is finished the 3-minute exercise, the twins are giggling and cooing with delight, looking lovingly in Jake's eyes and waving their arms for more. It's all about the human touch…and Jake knows how to do it naturally!

Then there's our morning story hour. I plan to take the newborns to our local public library for the weekly story time when they're toddlers. But months ago when they were just born, I started reading to them each morning. I hold the book so that they can see the pages, the pictures and get the idea that we love reading at our house. It won't be long before they'll reach out to try to help turn the pages and smile or wave their arms when they see a certain "favorite" book…long before they can verbally "tell" me it's their favorite.

I also talk to the twins when they are crying so that they hear a soothing voice when they're sad, hungry or tired. But I also do it so Jake hears how I soothed him 10 years ago when he was a baby...and I continue showing Jake by my actions how to be a great, empathetic dad if he chooses to have children someday. Parenting skills don't develop overnight. It takes years...and I believe many great examples of seeing good parents in action. So Jake hears me say to Hunter, "I know you're crying because you want me to pick you up again, sweetheart...but it's Zeke's turn right now for some hugs and Jakes is busy with his homework. Mommy just held you for 20 minutes. Let's find something else to make you feel better. How about your soft blanket?"

Medina's book emphasizes again and again that happy children come from EMPATHETIC parents...parents who acknowledge their needs and emotions, who handle their emotions respectfully in a disciplined framework...and who are calm themselves.

Hope those are some ideas to get you started. Next week we'll talk about what you can do during pregnancy to grow a smart, happy baby!

Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.