Being a parent is a hell of a problem-solving challenge. And we are totally unprepared for it.
We need to learn how children learn.
Whether it is the Prime Minister recommending it or not, a growing number of parents are feeling the need to educate themselves about child development. Why has something that used to be considered an innate ability become such a struggle for millennial parents? Why are people choosing parental education?
It is not only about postnatal depression, which could definitely be addressed with just a little education. And it is not only about getting your children to perform better, which could indeed make them more successful (however you choose to define this over-used word).
There are four main reasons why understanding infant brain development is crucial for every parent in this day and age.
Mums and children learning together at Babybrains™.
1. We have lost "the village.”
For millennia, groups of mothers and children shared their working and resting moments. All children were familiar with all adults and vice versa. If the mother had to go for a wee behind a bush, the child would probably not even notice. Peers were there for entertainment and aunties were there for protection. If milk or contact was needed, a few minutes wait would suffice to get it sorted. Today, however, when we choose to spend time with our child -- whether taking maternity leave, unpaid leave, quitting our jobs, or a combination of all of these things -- spending time with our children often means a mum and child(ren) stuck in a flat (or a house, if you are lucky) for most of the day. No wonder the child gets obsessed with mummy. No wonder mummy gets obsessed with the child. (And no wonder having a wee becomes a major issue.) Dealing with this obsession is one of the most difficult challenges parents face today.
The solution is probably not to go back to a hunter-gatherer type of society. Our way of life does have a lot of advantages. Would you give up good movies? Books? Skyping with your parents? Visiting friends in other countries? But knowing about the mechanisms behind a child's so-called "neediness" allows parents to:
to interpret it correctly,
modify their environment and their habits in a way that helps maximising the benefits of being together and minimising the downsides. First and foremost, parents should make sure they hang out with other parents and children doing something useful for several hours every day.
2. Our parents' advice is often outdated.
With the industrial revolution, parenting has been revolutionised too. Some age-old practices have been suddenly dismissed because of the amazing scientific and hygienic changes. Western people took on hospitalised birth, use of nurseries, mass-schooling and so on. These practices brought obvious advantages for survival rate and practicality. However, it is now becoming clear that we have gone a little too far.
In order for the child to survive, we have sometimes done things that prevents her from thriving. In order for "the mum to have a good rest," we have prevented the energy-releasing bond to her child from blossoming. In order for most children to get an education, we have prevented each individual from enjoying their own unique learning process. Industrialising parenting has often ended up making life more difficult rather than more simple.
This is not to say we are not better off today than 150 years ago, and it is not so say that we are not hugely grateful to our parents and grandparents for giving us all what they thought it was best for our development. But we don't need to stop progress out of gratitude to our ancestors. We can build upon what they have given us.
3. The knowledge is there for us to grab.
Better than ever before, we can look for information and take it in. Before we buy a toothbrush, we research it on the internet to find out all the pros and cons. We look for the most conveniently priced provider, and we finally make our decision about the right brand for us. We use brokers to choose our mortgages. Those who can afford it get help in choosing outfits that most suit them.
Why would we not look for information and advice about our children's development? Why would we delegate it all to an obstetrician, a pediatrician and a head teacher?
Psychology and neuroscience journals are bursting with information about how the infant brain develops. We know so much more today than 50 years ago about what a child's brain can and cannot do at different ages. We know so much more about how to feed information to the brain so that it easily, quickly, and pleasurably absorbs it. We know so much more about which things develop on their own and which need practice. Why not learn this knowledge?
You can be part of developmental neuroscience. Check out www.facebook.com/essexbabylab.
4. Parenting matters.
You might think that parenting in the first months and years is not particularly worth investing in. Better to save the money for a great high school, right? WRONG!
As you can see in the picture below, the brain's readiness to learn in most cognitive domains peaks before the fourth year of age. This is when you set the foundation, as if you were moulding some still-fresh cement. It is on this basis that all further learning develops. Who does not want sound foundations for their children's education and wellbeing?
To sum up, we need parental education quite simply because we do.
We need to use knowledge to compensate for the support we don't have. We need to liaise between our slowly-evolving brain and our fast-progressing society. Developmental knowledge is readily available, and getting it is the highest-impact investment we can make for the happiness, fulfillment and success of our children. And our own.