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Friday, May 22, 2009 | Permalink

My Aha Moment parenting this week came while I was reading some brain research. Neuroscientists have found that the critical period for the development of certain parts of the brain coincides precisely with the critical period for attachment development—during the first three years of life.

Dr. Allan Schore, from the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, has done a lot of research on the orbito-frontal cortex. If you’ve lost track of yours, it’s located above the eyes in the forehead area between the left and right hemispheres. The orbito-frontal cortex plays a central role in the development of empathy, emotional memory, infant attachment and emotional regulation. Schore believes that the process of parent-infant attunement has a direct impact on the development of the orbito-frontal cortex. The neurons located in this area are particularly sensitive to the emotional expressions of the human face.  When a parent holds her baby and gazes lovingly at him, it stimulates the neurons in this area to develop.  These neurons form the foundation of the child’s later moods, relationships, self esteem, and ability to control himself.

My Aha moment was realizing that the majority of babies in the United States are in daycare during much of this developmental period.  Are their brains developing optimally?  I doubt it.  How many daycare workers are holding babies and gazing lovingly at them?  They simply don’t have time. As Penelope Leach says, those infant smiles are so slow in coming with babies.  You smile at a two month old, and it takes her awhile to make contact with her facial muscles and smile back at you.  That dance is part of what develops the neurons in the orbito-frontal cortex.  But by the time the baby smiles, the daycare worker has moved on. Even while feeding, babies are often propped with bottles rather than held.  I’m not criticizing the daycare workers.  They are ill-paid and usually have little education in child development.  Why should they be expected to love all those babies the way parents would?  In fact, how could they?  But even if they have the inclination, they certainly don’t have the time.

All of which means that the epidemic of children unable to regulate their emotions and behavior – and often growing into adults who are medicated – may be related to the prevalence of infant daycare in our society. Even when kids come out ok, how much better off could they have been if they’d had more of those loving gazes?

This is the kind of subtle effect that it’s hard to trace, that may not show up in studies of kids in daycare.   So all this worrying parents do about playing classical music for their babies to make them smarter, and getting them to read early?  And here we may be compromising their brain development – and their later happiness and life adjustment - in much more fundamental ways.

My other Aha moment was how many times I’ve heard the view that something that happens before a child can talk won’t affect them, because they won’t remember it.  And here we’re finding that some of the most important brain development takes place mostly before kids can talk! I’ve had parents say to me that babies don’t need their parents when they’re little – that anyone could be holding them or feeding them.  They point out that babies often don’t seem to know the difference during their first six months.  Well, babies may not show that they know the difference, but their brain development, and their life adjustment, turns out to be shaped by those early interactions.  Seems to me our society needs a little Aha Moment about this!  READ POST

Saturday, May 02, 2009 | Permalink

“You don't drown by falling in water, but by staying there."
--Tina Nocera

When you walk into your home, do you feel wonderful?  Or like you're drowning?

You know all those things you walk past and sigh?  They wear you down, or build resentment.  They slowly poison you and your family. It's Spring!  What better time to give your home a once-over so that it better supports your family? 

This weekend, gather your family for a few hours.  If the kids resist, explain that in a family everyone pitches in and works together.  Grab a pad of paper, a box, and garbage bags. Walk through your house together.  Anything you're ready to give away goes in the box. Anything you can throw away goes in the garbage.  Anything that repeatedly annoys you gets written down on the pad.  (Each person is limited to four things, so the list doesn't get overwhelming. You can always do this again next month!)

Then sit down over pizza and talk about your list.  What can you fix today?  Keep the list manageable and give everyone tasks according to their age and ability.  Brainstorm how the whole family can tackle the remaining issues over the next month.  If an item will cost money, budget how to accomplish that goal over time.  Set up a jar, label it, and celebrate as everyone starts contributing funds (in the form of cash or checks).

Fix as many things as possible this weekend and then celebrate with ice cream. Brainstorm together how you can keep your home feeling this orderly in the future. Your whole family will feel more connected, energetic and empowered. Your kids will have learned some terrific lessons. And you'll begin next week feeling like you can walk on water.
May your weekend be filled with miracles, large and small.   READ POST

Friday, April 03, 2009 | Permalink

Everyone knows that stress is bad for us, but why?    READ POST

Sunday, March 29, 2009 | Permalink
Saturday, March 21, 2009 | Permalink

Most senior citizens say they wished they had spent more time with their children, and that the years of child-raising, in retrospect, passed in the blink of any eye. Most fathers, and even more mothers, say that they want to spend more time with their children, especially in those tricky afterschool hours when kids could use supervision on their homework.   READ POST

Sunday, November 30, 2008 | Permalink

Let's be honest about babies and toddlers.  They need us.  Developmentally, they need the concentrated loving attention of a permanent attachment figure who adores them.  (Which by definition excludes paid caregivers.)

Women in our culture are given a terrible, unfair choice:  either meet our children’s needs or meet our own. Excuse me, but why aren’t men faced with this choice?  READ POST

Saturday, November 29, 2008 | Permalink