25 tips: The best of the best for your baby

November 23, 2010

We've been analyzing the wonderful advice in John Medina's book BRAIN RULES FOR BABY, and it comes down to these notes that you can print out and tape inside the pantry door for easy reminders:

1. During pregnancy, eat an extra 300 calories a day. Well-nourished babies have bigger brains, and brain size is roughly associated with intelligence or brainpower.

2. Eat lots of fruits and veggies during pregnancy, plus folic acid, foods rich in iron, iodine, B12 and omega 3. It's possible your child will be born loving veggies if you expose them inutero.

3. Do 30 minutes of aerobics daily during pregnancy and after. Long walks are best. It's a great stress reducer and good for keeping glucocorticoids away from baby's neurons in the brain.

4. After the baby's here, reduce the stress in your life!

    A. List the areas where you feel out of control and work on getting rid of toxic stressors. See www.brainrules.net for stress-busting ideas/techniques.
    B. Husbands, cherish your pregnant wives and new moms. Develop "kind" patterns during the pregnancy. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids.
5. Reinvent the "tribe" concept before the baby comes...try to befriend more neighbors, pregnant couples, widen your bunch of friends by hosting a freezer "cooking party" to make a 50-day supply of ready-to-eat meals. The more community members you have to help when times are challenging, the better.

6. Work on your marriage:

    A. Check in with each other 2x a day to see how your morning is progressing and to help prepare for the evening together.
    B. Schedule intimacy regularly - try to make it partly spontaneous, partly planned.
    C. Develop an empathy reflex with your partner, where you answer a situation with kindness instead of being accusatory. Instead of "why did you spend so much on shopping?" try, "you sound tired honey. Was it crowded at the store? I know the baby needed some supplies, so come home and we'll chill out together."
    D. If you have a fight in front of your children, make sure to reconcile in front of them so they learn how to fight fair and how to make up.
    E. Balance the housework load.
    F. Talk about any marital problems you're having. Sign up for conferences, read books, get some diagnostic tools or professionals to help you.
7. Try to find an affordable mental health expert before your baby is born. Depression affects as many as 1 in 5 new parents. Having one you can afford whom you trust on stand-by is key.

8. Breast-feed for one year for a smarter, healthier baby.

9. Talk to your baby a lot - describe everything you see. "Mommy is opening up the mail. Look we got all bills today: one from the electric company, one from the car repair center..."A new baby prefers exaggerated vowel sounds in a higher pitched voice or "baby talk." 2,100 words per hour is optimal - that's a lot of talking. So get going. It will develop their communication center in the brain.

10. As your child learns to crawl and walk, make playing their "home education."

    A. Develop a playroom where there are play stations: a place to draw and paint, a corner with musical instruments, a costume box, blocks, picture books, funny tubes and gears in a math/science station (things you might throw away that are mismatched pieces but might spark your toddler's curiosity as long as they're safe), and lots of Legos and cardboard boxes. Kids like nothing better than to have old wrapping paper cover big cardboard boxes and to build their own fort/playhouse/castle.
    B. Play opposite day to stimulate their brains. Tell them if you hold a picture of the sun, you want them to say "moon." Or use a spoon and pan for a drum. You hit the drum once and have your child hit their drum twice to create intelligent thinking. The best suggestions on creating a "leadership brain" is in Ellen Galinsky's book MIND IN THE MAKING.
    C. Come up with "plans" for what to construct in your play space. If your older toddler wants a construction site, help them "build" one outside in the sandbox.
    D. Do not hyper-parent. Playtime should be loosely structured and not stressful with an open-ended quality. The more your kids feel strangled emotionally, the more stress hormones they'll have. Teach your children to focus, then let them loose. As Medina puts it, your child doesn't need Mandarin lessons, algebra or early reading flashcards by age 3...they need free playtime.
11. Take a critical look at your behavior. Make a list of all your behaviors: Do you laugh a lot? Swear often? Cry easily? Have a quick temper? Rate your list, label what you don't like, then vow to change them.

12. Get in the habit of praising your child's effort (wow, you worked hard on that!), not just the outcome (you won the game, great!). Children who are praised for trying will try harder.

13. Trade reading time for digital time - for every minute they read, give them "screen" time with either a TV, computer or Wii type game. Let them pick up the reading habit first.

14. Chart your child's emotional landscape. Make a list of your baby's "let's stop that activity now, mom" cues. Is your child turning their head, crying or twisting out of your arms? Maybe they need a break from the activity. Jot down a few sentences describing your child's likes and dislikes. It helps you get in the habit of paying attention and gives you a baseline of behavior.

15. Help your child make friends the same age. Interact with one child on a play date or with multiple age groups. See how much your child can handle at one time.

16. In front of your kids, verbally speculate about other people's perspectives/feelings. It helps create empathy. Say out loud, "I wonder why that driver is so impatient. Are they headed to the doctor?" Or: "That person is laughing as they talk on their cell phone. I wonder if they're joking with their best friend."

17. Read together. Try to have a habit like pajama/book time every night or at some other predictable time. Make it a family tradition that everyone looks forward to.

18. Develop empathy with your children. Describe the emotion you see. Try to guess where it came from.

19. Determine your style of handling emotions or meta-style. A helpful test is in John Gottman's book "RAISING AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT CHILD."

20. Practice verbalizing your feelings. State out loud what you are feeling, like "I feel sad today. I wanted to be at the concert, but the tickets were sold out." It helps your child know that they can share their feelings with you and not be criticized.

21. Save up for 10 years of music lessons. Long-term music exposure greatly aids a child's perception of others' emotion, which will help them make and keep friends.

22. Guide your child to a $50,000 career. Surveys show that people who earn more than that (in 2010) dollars are no happier than ones making $50-grand. So 5-figures is a good goal.

23. Remember to CAP your rules - make them CLEAR, deliver them in a consistently warm ACCEPTING environment, and PRAISE a child who follows the rule to reinforce the behavior. Don't forget to explain the rationale behind the rule.

24. Make sure your punishments fit the FIRST list: FIRM, IMMEDIATE, RELIABLE or consistent, SAFE emotionally, TOLERANT or patient. Children rarely remember all the rules on the first try.

25. Videotape yourself parenting and try to analyze what you're doing right and wrong or what you'd like to change.

GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY YOUR BABIES AND TODDLERS AT EVERY STAGE!

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