This Christmas we are giving our 2 1/2 year old daughter a child’s toolbox and toolbelt. She enjoyed playing with one at a recent birthday party and the idea stuck with me. It sort of hit me over the head today while talking with David that as parents, we are trying to provide E with the tools she will need to be happy, content and successful in life. That solving problems requires knowing what tools to look for and where to find them. Well, here is an actual toolbox and belt to start with. As she grows and learns from others in her village, it will be OUR job to always make sure that the box is big enough.
Yesterday we had a caregiver come to the house and help with my daughter while David worked. She said that in all her years being a nanny, she has learned the most loving gift you can give your child is your time. Makes sense to me.
I like to eat – I would definitely consider myself a foodie. Following the massive nausea during my first trimester, eating became a pleasure again. When else can you eat just about anything (missed the sushi) and in any quantity you want (well just about). I didn’t realize how good I had it until very soon after I gave birth.
Eating was now a marathon sprint between breastfeedings, diaper changes, laundry, dishes, bathroom runs, you name it. I’m quite serious when I say that I did not chew my food for the first couple months. Nope, I inhaled and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I didn’t realize how good I had it at THIS point, until a short while later.
At 2 months, my breastfeeding daughter developed an intolerance to the dairy protein in my diet, so I changed to soy products. OK, we’ll live. Some time after that, soy became suspect. Doc said to try rice products and to avoid all dairy and soy. Hmmmm, I had a Whole Foods down the street, so that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I never realized how many foods have either dairy and/or soy ingredients. Now, having forgotten what it was like to chew, I missed the fleeting taste of soy during inhaling. Let me tell you folks, as far as I’m concerned you CANNOT get rice cheese down your palate fast enough.
10 years of music lessons
There’s another powerful way to fine-tune a child’s hearing for the emotional aspects of speech: musical training. Researchers in the Chicago area showed that musically experienced kids – those who studied any instrument for at least 10 years, starting before age 7- responded with greased-lightning speed to subtle variations in emotion-laden cues, such as a baby’s cry. The scientists tracked changes in the timing, pitch, and timbre of the baby’s cry, all the while eavesdropping on the musician’s brainstem (the most ancient part of the brain) to see what happened.
Kids with rigorous musical training didn’t show much discrimination at all. They didn’t pick up on the fine-grained information embedded in the signal and were, so to speak, more emotionally tone deaf. Dana Strait, first author of the study, wrote: “That their brains respond more quickly and accurately than the brains of non-musicians is something we’d expect to translate into the perception of emotion in other settings.”
This finding is remarkable clear, beautifully practical, and a bit unexpected. It suggests that if you want happy kids later in life, get them started on a musical journey early in life. Then make sure they stick with it until they are old enough to start filling out their applications to Harvard, probably humming all the way.
Labeling emotions is neurologically calming
Here’s what we think is going on in the brain. Verbal and non-verbal communication are like two interlocking neurological systems. Infants’ brains haven’t yet connected these systems very well. Their bodies can feel fear, disgust, and joy way before their brains can talk about them. This means that children will experience the physiological characteristics of emotional responses before they know what those responses are. That’s why large feelings are often scary for little people (tantrums often self-feed because of this fear). That’s not a sustainable gap. Kids will need to find out what’s going on with their big feelings, however scary they seem at first. They need to connect these two neurological systems. Researchers believe that learning to label emotions provides the linkage. The earlier this bridge gets constructed, the more likely you are to see self-soothing behaviors, along with a large raft of other benefits. Researcher Carroll Izard has shown that in households that do not provide such instruction, these nonverbal and verbal systems remain somewhat disconnected or integrate in unhealthy ways. Without labels to describe the feelings they have, a child’s emotional life can remain a confusing cacophony of physiological experiences.
Emotions must be central
Parents face many issues on a daily basis in the raising of kids, but not all of them affect how their children will turn out. There is one that does. How you deal with the emotional lives of your children – your ability to detect, react to, promote, and provide instruction about emotional regulation – has the greatest predictive power over your baby’s future happiness.
Fifty years of research, from Diana Baumrind and Haim Ginott to Lynn Katz and John Gottman, have come to this conclusion…The critical issue is your behavior when your children’s emotions become intense…enough to push you out of your comfort zone. Here are the six spices that go into this parental rub:
- a demanding but warm parenting style
- comfort with your own emotions
- tracking your child’s emotions
- verbalizing emotions
- running towards emotions
- two tons of empathy
The brain’s day job is not for learning
First, I need to correct a misconception. Many well-meaning moms and dads think their child’s brain is interested in learning. That is not accurate. The brain is not interested in learning. The brain is interested in surviving. Every ability in our intellectual tool kit was engineered to escape extinction. Learning only exists to serve the requirements of this primal goal. It is a happy coincidence that our intellectual tools can do double duty in the classroom, conferring on us the ability to create spreadsheets and speak French. But that’s not the brain’s day job. That is an incidental byproduct of a much deeper force: the gnawing, clawing desire to live to the next day. We do not survive so that we can learn. We learn so that we can survive.
This overarching goal predicts many things, and here’s the most important: If you want a well-educated child, you must create an environment of safety. When the brain’s safety needs are met, it will allow its neurons to moonlight in algebra classes. When safety needs are not met, algebra goes out the window.
Well, at 2 years old, there seems to be something of a daily roller-coaster ride between cuddling in mama’s arms, and running as fast as she can towards the busy street (despite my screams for her to stop). Have mercy. I’ve come to expect the split personality – “no I don’t want that, take it away” followed immediately by “it’s MINE, you cannot have it”.
She is a passionate one, bellowing out her thoughts with such fervor, someone in earshot might think she’s protesting. Her fury has the same intensity. We’ve started a mini collection of drums and noise makers to go to when we “need to bang” on something. When she is having a moment, I suggest she choose a drum to “bang on until you feel better”. I act it out sporting a mad face. Between my looking silly impersonating a mad toddler, her feelings being acknowledged, and an outlet being offered, the drums haven’t been needed to diffuse the situation (yet).
In January of 2009, during Becca’s third trimester, I was laid off from my job as a cabinetmaker. Whoa! Well, as fortune would have it, the layoff gave lots of free time to complete the furniture I was building for the nursery. And the approaching deadline kept me plenty busy.
I converted an old bookcase into a changing table, adding four storage drawers.
Using all scrap wood, I built a pair of chests, with cherry for the cases and maple for the top.
This is my friend Bill’s house and shop where the furniture was built.