We all love our kids.
We think they’re the brightest, cleverest, funniest, most talented beings on the planet.
But at the same time, we’re realistic.
They’re not as smart as US.
Kids are still kids. They have a lot to learn. They’ve got to master a few little things before they tackle quantum physics, like self-discipline, sharing, and doing what they’re told.
Dr. Ross A. Thompson of the University of California, Davis, has a different opinion.
Dr. Thompson is on the scientific advisory board for the National Institute for Early Education Research. He’s also president of Zero to Three, an initiative to make sure kids have the support they need in the first three years of life.
He thinks kids are a lot smarter than we think.
Babies, in particular.
He believes that babies and toddlers are masters of:
- Statistical learning
- Scientific reasoning
- Mind reading
And he’s currently on a book tour—where I caught his talk—to spread the word…
Your child is more like Einstein than you think.
The more you appreciate the power packed inside that tiny head, the more you can help your child develop into the genius he or she was meant to be.
Your Child’s Brain
During the first year, the developmental milestones that make parents cheer with delight are physical. We notice when our babies can sit upright on their own, bang two blocks together, or get finger foods into their mouths.
But the brain’s developmental milestones go unnoticed, because we can’t see what’s going on beneath that skull.
If we could, we’d see an explosion taking place. A baby’s brain expands at a mind-altering rate. Synapses bloom between neurons, while pruning hones those neural networks into a well-oiled thinking machine.
It takes a lot of energy to feed brain development. Even though your baby is kicking and wiggling like crazy, nearly two thirds of her metabolic energy is going to her brain.
And your baby is making mental connections you can’t even dream of.
She’s learning language. Picking out words from the stream of sounds coming from the people in her life. She’s learning physics. Discovering the inescapable pull of gravity and the solidity of matter.
Her learning strategies include statistical learning, or noticing which things go together. She also learns through scientific reasoning, making hypotheses and testing them (“Will this cup drop if I let go of it?”).
But her favorite learning strategy of all is social reference, looking to others for cues as to how she should respond.
Babies are exquisitely tuned to their caregivers. They are constantly trying to guess what’s in their caregiver’s mind.
Is Mommy going to give me a cracker? Will Daddy be happy if I do this? Is Nanny mad at me?”
Babies want to know what’s in our minds. They want to know what we like, what makes us tick, and how they can get more “good things” (like hugs, praise and treats) by pleasing us. They try out different behaviors to test our reactions.
Babies are SO interested in other people that scientists have been forced to revise their assumption that babies are naturally egocentric, or self-focused.
When a toddler sees an adult trying to accomplish a goal—like putting some beads into a paper cup or shutting a door with his hands full—the toddler will intuitively guess what the adult is trying to do and assist.
Kids are helpful. They want to please us. To please us, they have to understand us. So they invest a lot of time into figuring out the basics of human psychology.
Our children know—or can make an excellent guess—what’s going through our heads most of the time. They do this even before they can speak.
If you’re upset or anger or stressed, your baby knows it. And your baby responds by feeling distressed, too.
Your Role in Raising a Genius
A baby’s main two concerns are:
- “Is the world safe or dangerous?”
- “Who is there to protect me?”
Her answer to those questions will shape the adult she becomes.
When a parent responds to a baby’s needs promptly and interacts with her child in a warm, nurturing, highly-responsive way, the child learns that the world is safe and that she can run to her parents if she’s ever afraid.
This secure attachment forms a solid foundation from which to explore the world.
And that’s really what matters most, says Dr. Thompson.
Not the latest educational toys.
Not classical music.
Not Baby Einstein DVDs.
But rather sensitive parenting.
Her favorite toy is YOU.
The more you can interact with your child, responding to her gurgles and coos, anticipating what she wants, providing a running narrative of your day, the more you give her exactly the kind of stimulation she likes best.
Your job as a parent is to keep her environment safe and the stress in her life manageable. With that foundation in place, you can work on the fun stuff, like letting your little genius figure you out!
She’s learning from you. She’s watching you like a hawk. Interacting with you is the best part of her day.
And you never know…
She just might end up knowing you better than you know yourself.
Just in time to push your buttons!