Showing posts with label Brain Rules for Baby. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brain Rules for Baby. Show all posts


Brain Rules for Baby: Updated and Expanded!

Brain Rules for Baby has grown! The book now features a chapter on the science of sleep -- the No. 1 question parents ask Dr. Medina.

sleepy baby - new chapter
"How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?"

John Medina introduces the new sleep chapter: video

A note from John Medina

I was hesitant, I admit, about adding a sleep chapter to Brain Rules for Baby. The science about getting your child to go to sleep is fairly wobbly.

But you keep asking me about it. Whenever I lecture, whenever you write me, the question “How do I get my child to go to sleep?” keeps reappearing like a public-television fund-raiser.

I do understand your need for junior to get regular sleep. I know one couple who decided not to have any more children because of the toll their first-born’s sleep habits took on their marriage. The issue can’t get much more important than that.

So I get it. Here is your chapter.

Besides, the professor in me can’t help but want to show you how weak-kneed science can be when it’s yoked to real-world problems. Infant sleep is a terrific illustration of science’s strengths and limitations.

In the Sleepy Baby chapter, you will discover two powerful, opposing ideas about how to get your baby to go to sleep. They’re not mutually exclusive, but they don’t tolerate each other very well. Which one you end up believing depends more on personal preference than peer review. It would be nice if the data were better behaved, but they’re not.

I do provide a solution, however. If you are having trouble getting your child to go to sleep, you will find this chapter useful. And if it solves your problem, feelings of love for your child will once again expand in your heart, like a second Big Bang. That’s the most compelling reason for me to add a new chapter on sleep.

Get the book!

eBook (PDF)

Just want the sleep chapter? Get it here.

Each ebook comes in PDF format, which you can send to your Kindle or other reading device.

Become a fan of Brain Rules for Baby on Facebook.

P.S. Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow is due June 17th!


To fans of the Brain Rules books

As John Medina’s editor, I worked closely with him to shape Brain Rules and then Brain Rules for Baby. It’s been a thrill to watch both books climb onto the bestseller lists while getting rave reviews from you. I’m grateful for the books on a personal level as well. I imagine you feel the same way.

Brain Rules for Baby is the one book I asked my husband to read before our baby was born. (I even considered threatening that we couldn’t have a baby until he read it.)

Then our baby arrived.

I wanted to revisit some of the things I’d learned, but suddenly I had no time for long books. And while I understood why doing this or that was beneficial for baby’s brain, I still had questions about how. (Speak 2,100 words an hour to your baby? Seriously? How?) I dug back into the original research. Thus, my new book, Zero to Five, was born. I’d love to tell you about it.

Zero to Five has exhausted new parents in mind

  • how to give baby’s brain a boost—including specific language you can use or actions you can take.
  • bite-sized information in a clean design. Flip the book open to any page and you’ll get something out of it.
  • spiral-bound, so it stays open. You can read while holding baby, or keep your place when you get interrupted two minutes later.
  • anecdotes from my first two years with baby, just to liven things up (I made it—phew!)
  • beautiful photographs of real families. These make Zero to Five a truly special book.

I’m excited to share this book with my fellow Brain Rules fans. It’s due June 17.

Want a sneak peak of the book, free? Click the yellow "free tips" button at

Tracy Cutchlow is the editor of the bestselling books Brain Rules for Baby and Brain Rules. As a journalist, she has worked for MSN Money and the Seattle Times. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Zero to Five on Facebook and Twitter


Interview with John Medina

Many parents are concerned about the sleep patterns of their children but in some cultures (Argentina, Spain), staying up late seems not to be a problem. Finally, is there any impact of bedtime or sleep pattern on babies and toddler’s cognitive development?

The most important factor appears to be establishing a consistent bedtime rhythm, regardless of what schedule you follow.

There is room for variation. Different people have different internal clocks – under partial genetic control - regardless of culture. These differences begin to appear in childhood. Some kids turn out to be natural night-owls, for example, and seem to be at their cognitive peak at night (we call them late chronotypes). Others show peaks in the morning (we call them early chronotypes) – and there are all shades in between. What chronotype your child possesses is important for parents to determine - and for kids to follow. Getting the proper amount of regular sleep certainly influences positive cognitive development. But what “proper” means may depend on what child you are talking about.

Several studies showed the benefits of co-sleeping, but some articles also highlight the fact that frequent awakenings during the night can generate stress for babies. Finally, do we know what is the global impact of this practice on sleep quality?

There are pros and cons to cosleeping and the current state of research gives no clear recommendation. There is no permanent damage done if you cosleep with them. There is no permanent damage done if you do the tried-and-true Cry It Out protocols. You can say that frequent awakenings not only stress the baby, they also stress the parents. Continuously stressed parents usually don’t make continuously good parents. Whichever style gives the adult more sleep is generally the healthier option.

Of course this has global implications. The less sleep you get, the more susceptible you become to anxiety and depressive disorders. Sleep loss also affects how you age. The global impact of depression and a poor transit through aging is incalculable.

Baby-wearing, with scarves for example, is increasingly used in western societies, but it has been practiced for centuries in other parts of the world. Does this practice have an impact on babies’ psychomotor development? By fostering visual or tactile exploration of the world for example. And do we know if the induced proximity between parents and babies strengthens the attachment?

I know of no studies conclusively determining whether baby-wearing has either a negative or a positive effect on a baby’s psychomotor development. It’s important for kids to move, for sure, but it’s also important they feel safe. And though safety cues are extremely important for a baby, how that is perceived depends on the child. Some babies seem to love scarves. For others, it’s their worst nightmare.

There are a variety of family structures, from nuclear families to multi-generational families. Does growing up in an extended family and multiplying interactions have an impact on children’s learning abilities, language acquisition or social skills?

I am deeply in favor of multi-generational families. The exposure to multiple intellects provides terrific opportunities for kids to hear alternate points of view -  and learn a great deal about navigating social relationships in a safe, loving atmosphere. Provided the family has a safe, loving atmosphere, that’s a net positive intellectual experience

In some countries, at an early age, toddlers spend much more time with their peers than with their parents and are very independent. What can be the impact of this early autonomy on their cognitive development?

Its not about providing autonomy. It’s about providing perceptions of safety, as I mentioned previously.

The reason is that the brain – even a child’s brain - is the world’s most sophisticated survival organ. If the child feels safe in an independent peer-filled environment, their brain development will maximized. And if that happens, I am all for early independent interactions. But not all kids feel safe in an independent peer-filled environment at an early age. Some get that later.  Parents should pay very close attention to what type of baby they have brought into the world, not into what country the child was born - and decide for themselves how much autonomy they can stand.

Conversely, in some cultures, parents are especially present and try to stimulate their babies’ intellectual growth from the very first months. What are the effects of this enhanced involvement on children’s development?

The greatest predictor of intellectual success is the emotional stability of the home - not the presence of toys or devices built to improve infant cognitive development. Most of those products haven’t been tested, and the few that have been tested don’t work very well. One study actually showed it did more harm.

If you want to maximize your child’s intellectual growth, the best thing you can do is to go home and love your partner. 


5 Brain Rules for Parents

There's a great ongoing conversation over at the Brain Rules for Baby Facebook page amongst new parents who have learned from Brain Rules for Baby. Author Dr. John Medina recently shared his 5 essential Brain Rules for Parents:

1. You are going to make lots of mistakes.
2. That’s okay. 
3. If you pay close attention to the safety needs of your children, – both the emotional and physical ones - you will almost always win.

4. If you treat your kids like they were merit badges, you will almost always lose.

5. Be prepared to live with contradictions. The parenting social contract is singular: they take and you give. Yet if you do it right, it won’t matter. You would die for them anyway, which means parenting is the best way to become a saint. Or a martyr. It is hard to believe that ripping your heart out of your pleural cavity and pinning it to your shirtsleeve could be the best thing that will ever happen to you. But it is. Parenting is probably the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is so much on the right side of worth it.


New Brain Rules for Baby Videos

We are excited for you to meet Brain Rules Baby, who shares parenting wisdom from Brain Rules for Baby in these 60-second videos.

Watch Out - Your Kids Are Watching You More Than You Think

That's right, kids are really good a imitation.  Even a 13-month-old child can remember an event a week after a single exposure.  Even when you don't realize it, your kids are watching the world around you.  What you allow into your child's brain influences their expectations about the world, which in turn influences not only what they are capable of perceiving, but their very behavior.

View on YouTube

Under 2? No TV for you!

Americans 2 years of age and older now spend an average of four hours and 49 minutes per day in front of the TV—20 percent more than 10 years ago. And we are getting this exposure at younger and younger ages, made all the more complex because of the wide variety of digital screen time now available. In 2003, 77 percent of kids under 6 watched television every day. And children younger than 2 got two hours and five minutes of “screen time” with TVs and computers per day. The average American is exposed to about 100,000 words per day outside of work. Fully 45 percent of those words come from television. The fact is, the amount of TV a child should watch before the age of 2 is zero.

View on YouTube

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How do you get a baby to sleep through the night? We have no idea.

I am often asked why Brain Rules for Baby doesn't include advice on how to get your child to sleep through the night. The omission is deliberate, and my recent answer to one reader's question via e-mail explains the reasoning. I thought you would like to see the answer, too. Thanks for all of your interest in the book. It means a great deal.
-- John

Dear Reader;

You raise an important issue regarding sleep, one of the most critical in the early months of child-rearing. Unfortunately, I cannot give a response equal to its criticality.

If you are having problems with getting your child to sleep through the night, you have probably read everything you could on the issue. In that journey, you might have noticed there are many different opinions about how to get kids to sleep through the night - often by experts in the field. You might further have noticed that these well-established researchers and clinicians often appear to say contradictory things. The advice can almost be put into a continuum. On one end, there are researchers like Dr. Richard Ferber, interpreted as saying draconian things like “let your kid tough it out at night” (that’s hardly a fair characterization, by the way). On the other end is pediatrician William Sears and family who is interpreted as saying “respond to every demand at night” (also hardly a fair characterization). Here are the two references from these seasoned medical professionals, which make great comparative reading for the views they hold:

Solve Your Childs’ Sleep Problems”,

Richard Ferber, 2006


The Baby Sleep Book

William Sears et al, 2005

Why the contradiction? BECAUSE NOBODY REALLY KNOWS HOW TO ADDRESS THE SLEEP ISSUE. There does not appear to be a one-size-fits-all answer, which is why any advice which claims to be THE ANSWER does not pass my “grump factor”, as a scientist. My standard response, therefore, is to appeal to the wisdom of the real expert, the parent – YOU – and say something like “Every brain is wired differently from every other brain. Go out and buy both of these books and expose yourself to the various recommendations. Then determine which strategies (or combinations of strategies) your child – based on your knowledge – is most likely to respond. Try these strategies in a systematic fashion, and progressively design new ones until you find the strategy that does work.”

I have an example of this flexible, deliberate approach in my own child-rearing experience.

It was almost seven months before my eldest child slept successfully through the night. What worked for me was to give him a “modified” Ferber protocol – a gentler version of his recommendation, which took almost a week to execute successfully (I literally took off time from work to do it, relieving my poor exhausted wife).

My youngest child also had trouble getting to sleep. But when I tried my “modified” Ferber strategy, it did not work for him. What did the trick was a modified “Sears” strategy. And it also took about a week to become successful too. Living proof for the fact there is no over-arching strategy that will work for every child.

I wish you well. Solving this riddle is one of the toughest tasks in the early years of child-rearing.

John Medina


Discipline Advice: A Magic Trick for Getting Kids to Follow Rules

Let's say little Aaron has been punished for a moral infraction -- stealing a pencil from classmate Jimmy -- just before a test. The punishment was subtractive in nature -- Aaron would have no dessert that night. But Aaron was not just punished and left alone.

He was also given a magic follow-up sentence, one that makes any form of punishment more effective, long-lasting, and internalized.

Watch this video from to see an example (watch on YouTube):

Explanations given to Aaron ranged from "How could Jimmy possibly complete his test without his pencil?" to "Our family doesn't steal."

Here's what happens to Aaron's behavior when explanations are supplied consistently over the years:

When Aaron thinks about committing that same forbidden act in the future, he will remember the punishment. He becomes more physiologically aroused, generating uncomfortable feelings.

Aaron will make an internal attribution for this uneasiness. Examples might include: "I'd feel awful if Jimmy failed his test," "I wouldn't like it if he did that to me," "I am better than that," and so on. Your child's internal attribution originates from whatever rationale you supplied during the correction.

Now, knowing why he is uneasy -- and wanting to avoid the feeling -- Aaron is free to generalize the lesson to other situations. "I probably shouldn't steal erasers from Jimmy, either." "Maybe I shouldn't steal things, period."

Cue the applause of a million juvenile correction and law-enforcement professionals. Inductive parenting provides a fully adaptable, internalizable moral sensibility -- congruent with inborn instincts. (Aaron also was instructed to write a note of apology, which he did the next day.)

Kids who are punished without explanation do not go through these steps. Parke found that such children only externalize their perceptions, saying, "I will get spanked if I do this again." They were constantly on the lookout for an authority figure; it was the presence of an external credible threat that guided their behavior, not a reasoned response to an internal moral compass. Children who can't get to step two can't get to step three, and they are one step closer to Daniel, the boy who stabbed a classmate in the cheek with a pencil.

The bottom line: Parents who provide clear, consistent boundaries whose reasons for existence are always explained generally produce moral kids.

Note that I said "generally." Inductive discipline, powerful as it is, is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. The temperament of the child turns out to be a major factor. For toddlers possessed of a fearless and impulsive outlook on life, inductive discipline can be too weak. Kids with a more fearful temperament may react catastrophically to the sharp correctives their fearless siblings 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.

Brain Rules in the News:
Forbes - Being There why it still pays to meet in the flesh
Our 365 - 6 Questions for John Medina
Radio New Zealand Interview with John Medina
Sound Medicine (NPR) Interview


Breast-Feeding Debate Closed? Brain Science Weighs In

I remember meeting up with an old friend who had just become a mother. Baby in tow, we entered a restaurant. She immediately insisted on sitting at a private booth, and after five minutes, I discovered why. Mom knew that her baby would soon be hungry. When he was, she discreetly unbuttoned her blouse, adjusted her bra, and began breast-feeding. The baby latched on for dear life.

Mom had to go through all kinds of contortions to hide this activity. "I've been thrown out of other places because I did this," she explained. Though shrouded in an oversize sweater, she was visibly nervous as the waiter took her order.

If America knew what breast milk can do for the brains of it youngest citizens, lactating mothers across the nation would be enshrined, not embarrassed. Though the topic is much debated, there's little controversy about it in the scientific community.

Breast milk is the nutritional equivalent of a magic bullet for a developing baby. It has important salts and even more important vitamins. Its immune-friendly properties prevent ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.

And in a result that surprised just about everybody, studies around the world confirmed that breast-feeding, in short, makes babies smarter. Breast-fed babies in America score on average eight points higher than bottle-fed kids when given cognitive tests, an effect still observable nearly a decade after the breast-feeding has stopped. They get better grades, too, especially in reading and writing.

Why? We have some ideas (watch on YouTube):

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months of their babies' lives, continue breast-feeding as their kids start taking on solids, and wean them after a year.

If we as a country wanted a smarter population, we would insist on lactation rooms in every public establishment. A sign would hang from the door of these rooms: "Quiet, please. Brain development in progress."


Kids Lie Every 90 Minutes -- And That's a Good Thing (VIDEO)

Kids are bad at lying, at least at first. In the magical fairy dust of the childhood mind, kids initially have a hard time distinguishing reality from fancy, which you can see in their eagerness to engage in imaginative play.

They also perceive their parents to be essentially omniscient, a belief that won't be completely destroyed until the 20-kiloton blast of puberty. The fuse gets lit early, though, around 36 months, when kids begin to realize that parents can't always read their minds. To their delight (or horror), children discover they can give their parents false information without its being detected. Or, at least, they think they can. The child's realization that you can't always read his or her mind coincides with the flowering of something we call Theory of Mind skills.

What is Theory of Mind? This video explains:

This timeline suggested to researchers that children have an age-dependent relationship with certain types of moral reasoning, too. There's evidence that kids are born with certain moral instincts, but it takes a while to coax them into their mature form.


Babies Pick Up On More Than You'd Think

At first blush, babies seem mostly preoccupied with more mundane biological processes, like eating and pooping and spitting up all over your shirt. This fooled a lot of researchers into believing that babies weren't thinking about anything at all. Scientists coined the term "tabula rasa" -- blank slate -- to describe these "empty" creatures. They regarded infants as merely helpless helpings of cute, controllable, human potential.

Modern research reveals a radically different point of view. We now know that a baby's greatest biological preoccupation involves the organ atop their necks. Infants come preloaded with lots of software in their neural hard drives, most of it having to do with learning. Want some startling examples?

In 1979, University of Washington psychologist Andy Meltzoff stuck out his tongue at a baby that was just 42 minutes old, then sat back to see what happened. After some effort, the baby returned the favor, slowly rolling out his own tongue. Meltzoff stuck his tongue out again. The infant responded in kind. Meltzoff discovered that babies could imitate right from the start of their little lives (or, at least, 42 minutes from the start of their little lives).

That's an extraordinary finding. Imitation involves many sophisticated realizations for babies, from discovering that other people exist in the world to realizing that they have operating body parts, and the same ones as you. That's not a blank slate. That's an amazing, fully operational cognitive slate.

Capitalizing on this finding, Meltzoff designed a series of experiments revealing just how much babies are prewired to learn -- and how sensitive they are to outside influences in pursuit of that goal. Here's one of those experiments (Watch Deferred Imitation on YouTube):

Yes, infants come equipped with an amazing array of cognitive abilities -- and they are blessed with many intellectual gadgets capable of extending those abilities:
  • They understand that size stays constant even when distance changes the appearance of size.

  • They display velocity prediction.

  • They understand the principle of common fate: The reason the black lines on the basketball move when the ball bounces is because the lines are part of the basketball.

  • Infants can discriminate human faces from nonhuman faces at birth and seem to prefer them. From an evolutionary perspective, this latter behavior represents a powerful safety feature. We will be preoccupied with faces most of our lives.
How did babies acquire all of this knowledge before being exposed to the planet? Nobody knows, but they have it, and they put it to good use with astonishing speed and insight. Babies create hypotheses, test them, and then relentlessly appraise their findings with the vigor of a seasoned scientist. This means infants are extraordinarily delightful, surprisingly aggressive learners. They pick up everything.

Which is one reason you want to be careful about what kind of television shows your children watch. You may also want to take a look at the behaviors your kids see most often: yours.

More Resources
The Art of Childraising - interview with Guy Kawasaki
Brain Rules Videos - all the segments from the Brain Rules DVD
Brain Rules for Baby Videos - watch videos ranging from temper tantrums to TV viewing


'Parentese': Can Speaking To Your Baby This Way Make Her Smarter? (VIDEO)

For the longest time, we couldn't figure out the words coming from our nine-month-old son Josh.

Whenever he took a car ride, he would start saying the word "dah," repeating it over and over again as we strapped him into his car seat, "Dah dah dah, goo, dah dah, big-dah, big-dah." It often sounded like a child's version of an old Police song. We couldn't decode it and would just respond, a bit sheepishly, "Dah?" He would emphatically reply, "Dah." Sometimes our response made him happy. Sometimes it didn't do anything at all.

It wasn't until we were tooling down the interstate one fine, sunny day, moon-roof wide open to the clouds, that we finally figured it out.

Josh saw an airplane flying overhead and shouted excitedly, "Sky-dah! Sky-dah!" My wife suddenly understood. "I think he means airplane!" she said. She asked him, pointing to the sky, "Sky-dah?" Josh cheerily replied, "Sky-dah!" Just then a big noisy semi-truck passed us, and Josh pointed to it with concern. "Big-dah, Big-dah," he said. My wife pointed at the truck too, now shrinking in the distance. "Big-dah?" she asked, and he responded excitedly, "Big-dah!" Then "dah, dah, dah."

We got it. For whatever reason, "dah" had become Joshua's word for "vehicle." Later, Josh and I watched a ship cross Puget Sound. I pointed to the container vessel and guessed, "Water-dah?" He sat up, staring at me like I was from Mars. "Wet-dah," he declared, like a mildly impatient professor addressing a slow student.

Few interactions with children are as much fun as learning to speak their language. As they learn to speak ours, heaping tablespoons of words into their minds is one of the healthiest things parents can do for their brains.

Speak to your children as often as you can. It is one of the most well-established findings in all of the developmental literature -- which is why it is among those detailed in my new book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child From Zero to Five."

The linkage between words and smarts was discovered through some pretty invasive research. In one study, investigators descended upon a family's home every month for three years and jotted down every aspect of verbal communication parents gave their children. They measured size of vocabulary, diversity and growth rate of vocabulary, frequency of verbal interaction, and the emotional content of the speech. Just before the visits were finished, the researchers gave IQ tests. They did this with more than 40 families, then followed up years later.

Through exhaustive analysis of this amazingly tough work, two very clear findings emerged:

1) The variety and number of words matter.

The more parents talk to their children, even in the earliest moments of life, the better their kids' linguistic abilities become and the faster that improvement is achieved. The gold standard is 2,100 words per hour. The variety of the words spoken (nouns, verbs, and adjectives used, along with the length and complexity of phrases and sentences) is nearly as important as the number of words spoken. So is the amount of positive feedback.

You can reinforce language skills through interaction: looking at your infant; imitating his vocalizations, laughter and facial expressions; rewarding her language attempts with heightened attention.

Children whose parents talked positively, richly and regularly to them knew twice as many words as kids whose parents talked to them the least. When these kids entered the school system, their reading, spelling and writing abilities soared above those of children in less verbal households. Even though babies don't respond like adults, they are listening, and it is good for them.

2) Talking increases IQ.

Talking to children early in life raises their IQs, too, even after controlling for important variables such as income. By age three, kids who were talked to regularly by their parents (called the talkative group) had IQ scores 1.5 times higher than those kids whose parents talked to them the least (called the taciturn group). This increase in IQ is thought to be responsible for the talkative group's uptick in grades.

It takes a real live person to benefit your baby's brain, so get ready to exercise your vocal cords. Not the portable DVD players, not your television's surround sound, but your vocal cords.

What should you say and how should you say it? Find out in these videos (also on YouTube):


More Brain Rules Resources
- Brain Rules Multimedia on Exercise, Sleep, Stress, and more
- Brain Rules Sleep Slideshow Sleep well, think well
- Take the Parent Quiz What's the best way to handle a temper tantrum?
- Brain Rules for Baby Podcast John talks with Geoffrey Grosenbach about parenting
- Brain Rules for Baby Introduction Share the intro with a friend


How Much TV Should Kids Be Allowed To Watch?

The issue of kids' exposure to TV doesn't throw off as many sparks as it used to. There is general agreement that a child's exposure to television of any type should be limited. There is also general agreement that we are completely ignoring this advice. I remember as a kid waiting every Sunday night for Walt Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" to come on, and loving it. I also remember my parents turning off the television when it was over. We don't do that anymore.

Americans two years of age and older now spend an average of four hours and 49 minutes per day in front of the TV -- 20 percent more than 10 years ago. And we are getting this exposure at younger and younger ages, made all the more complex because of the wide variety of digital screen time now available. In 2003, 77 percent of kids under six watched television every day. And children younger than two got two hours and five minutes of "screen time" with TVs and computers per day.

What effect might this have on our children's brains? It's not good news.

For decades we have known of the connection between hostile peer interactions and the amount of kids' exposure to television. The linkage used to be controversial (maybe aggressive people watch more TV than others), but we now see that it's an issue of our deferred-imitation abilities, coupled with a loss of impulse control. One personal example: When I was in kindergarten, my best friend and I were watching "The Three Stooges," a 1950s TV show. The program involved lots of physical comedy, including people sticking their fingers in other people's eyes. When the show was over, my friend fashioned his little fingers into a V, then quickly poked me in both eyes. I couldn't see anything for the next hour and was soon whisked to the emergency room. Diagnosis: scratched corneas and a torn eye muscle.

Other examples come from studies that looked at bullying, attentions spans and the ability to focus, and secondhand exposure to TV. Watch this video to find out the results:

Disturbing stuff. Since the first studies on television, researchers have discovered that not everything about TV is negative. The effect depends upon the content of the TV show, the age of the child, and perhaps even the child's genetics. Before age two, TV is best avoided completely. That includes videos that claim to be baby brain-boosters. (More on that, and video games, in my new book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart, Happy Child from Zero to Five.")

After age five, the jury is out on this harsh verdict -- way out, in fact. Some television shows improve brain performance at this age. Not surprisingly, these shows tend to be the interactive types ("Dora the Explorer," good; "Barney and Friends," bad, according to certain studies). So, although the case is overwhelming that television exposure should be limited, TV cannot be painted with a monolithic brush.

Here are a few recommendations for TV viewing the data suggest:
  1. Keep the TV off before the child turns two. I know this is tough to hear for parents who need a break. If you can't turn it off -- if you haven't created those social networks that can allow you a rest -- at least limit your child's exposure to TV. We live in the real world, after all, and an irritated, overextended parent can be just as harmful to a child's development as an annoying purple dinosaur.

  2. After age two, help your children choose the shows (and other screen-based exposures) they will experience. Pay special attention to any media that allow intelligent interaction.

  3. Watch the chosen TV show with your kids, interacting with the media, helping them to analyze and think critically about what they just experienced. And keep the TV out of the kids' room: Kids with their own TVs score an average of eight points lower on math and language-arts tests than those in households with TVs in the family room.
More parenting videos on detail key insights from the book, from how to deal with temper tantrums to the surprising way a "cookie test" can predict SAT scores.


How A Pair Of Cookies Can Help Predict Your Child's SAT Scores (VIDEO)

A healthy, well-adjusted preschooler sits down at a table in front of a giant, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. It's not a kitchen table -- it's Walter Mischel's Stanford lab during the late 1960s. The smell is heavenly.

"You see this cookie?" Mischel says. "You can eat it right now if you want, but if you wait, you can have two of them. I have to go away for five minutes. If I return and you have not eaten anything, I will let you have both cookies. If you eat this one while I'm gone, the bargain is off and you don't get the second one. Do we have a deal?" The child nods. The researcher leaves. What does the child do?

Mischel has the most charming, funny films of children's reactions. They squirm in their seat. They turn their back to the cookie (or marshmallow or other assorted caloric confections, depending on the day). They sit on their hands. They close one eye, then both, then sneak a peek. We took a camera into a preschool to see what would happen for ourselves (watch The Cookie Test):

The children in Mischel's experiment are trying to get both cookies, but the going is tough. If the children are kindergartners, 72 percent cave in and gobble up the cookie. If they're in fourth grade, however, only 49 percent yield to the temptation. By sixth grade, the number is 38 percent, about half the rate of the preschoolers.

Welcome to the interesting world of impulse control. It is part of a suite of behaviors under the collective term "executive function." Executive function controls planning, foresight, problem solving, and goal setting. It engages many parts of the brain, including a short-term form of memory called working memory.

Mischel and his many colleagues discovered that a child's executive function is a critical component of intellectual prowess. We now know that it is actually a better predictor of academic success than I.Q. It's not a small difference, either: Mischel found that children who could delay gratification for 15 minutes scored 210 points higher on their SATs than children who lasted one minute.

A child's brain can be trained to enhance self-control and other aspects of executive function. But genes are undoubtedly involved. There seems to be an innate schedule of development, which explains why the cookie experiment shows a difference in scores between kindergartners and sixth graders. Some kids display the behaviors earlier, some later. Some struggle with it their entire lives. It's one more way every brain is wired differently. But children who are able to filter out distractions, the data show, do far better in school.

Learn more about why in my new book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five." Watch more parenting videos at


The #1 mistake parents make with praise (VIDEO)

Does your child give up easily? It could be because of a common parenting mistake.

Ethan's parents constantly told him how brainy he was. The wiry son of a highly educated professor in Seattle, Ethan was indeed smart. Every time he sailed through a test, his parents would say, "You're so smart! You can do anything, Ethan. We are so proud of you." Sounds nice. Sounds encouraging, right?

Wrong. Little Ethan quickly learned that any academic achievement that required no effort was the behavior that defined his gift. His parents, with the best of intentions, consistently tethered Ethan's accomplishments to some vague, innate characteristic. Researchers call this "appealing to fixed mindsets."

When Ethan hit junior high school, he ran into subjects that did require effort. He could no longer sail through; for the first time, he started making mistakes. Ethan had no idea what to do when he failed, except to conclude that he must not be smart anymore. He got discouraged, then depressed. Quite simply, Ethan quit trying, and his grades collapsed. Research shows that Ethan's unfortunate story is typical of kids regularly praised for some fixed characteristic.

Research shows a simple solution. Certainly, scientists don't know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives parents their best chance at raising smart, happy children. What should Ethan's parents have done?

Rather than praising him for being smart, they should have praised him for working hard. On the successful completion of a test, they should not have said, "I'm so proud of you. You're so smart." They should have said, "I'm so proud of you. You must have really studied hard." Big difference. This appeals to your child's controllable effort rather than to mysterious, unchangeable talent. It's called "growth mindset" praise.

More than 30 years of study show that children raised in growth-mindset homes consistently outscore their fixed-mindset peers in academic achievement. There's more detail about why in my new book, "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five."

Children with a growth mindset tend to:
• Have a refreshing attitude toward failure. They do not ruminate over their mistakes.
• Perceive errors simply as problems to be solved. "I love a challenge," is one delightfully common statement.
• Spend more time on problems--and solve those problems more often, too. Kids regularly praised for effort solve 50% to 60% more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence.

Because they believe mistakes occur from of lack of effort, not from a lack of ability, the kids know exactly how to remedy mistakes: simply apply more effort.

You can watch this in action in the following video, from

More parenting videos detail key insights from the book, from how to deal with temper tantrums to the surprising "cookie test."