Book Review: Brain Rules For Baby by John Medina

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hey all! So as most of you know, I have been neglecting my blog lately to get things done before my little man arrives. One of the things I've been doing is reading - a lot. So I wanted to share with you a few nuggets of information from some of the baby sleep & brain development books I've been reading. I know moms & moms-to-be are too busy to read every single book & website out there! 

Throughout my reviews, please remember: Some of it I don't agree with, some of it I do, some I only agree with to a certain extent. I'll explain what the author's perspective is and then make it clear when I'm telling you what I think about it. You don't have to agree with me or the author! I'm very accepting of other people's different beliefs. So please comment and tell me what you think! I think it's great for us to have a community discussion. Hope you enjoy this new series! 
Author Qualifications:
John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist with a "strong interest in the genetics of psychiatric disorders." He founded the Talaris Institute in Seattle, "whose original mission involved studying how infants process information at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels." (p 3) He is also the father of two boys. (Note: he is NOT a child psychologist or pediatrician.) 

Stand Out Nuggets:
-Keep it quiet in the first half of pregnancy, baby's brain does better with lack of stimulation. So turn down the noise! "No commercial product has ever been shown in a scientifically responsible manner to do anything to improve the brain performance of a developing fetus." (p24)
-Baby can hear mom's voice, and remembers. "During the final six weeks of pregnancy, women in a study were asked to read the Dr. Seuss book [The Cat in the Hat] out loud twice a day...When babies were born, they were given a pacifier hooked up to a machine that could measure the strength and frequency of their sucking...The babies then heard tapes of their mother reading The Cat in the Hat or a different story, or heard no story at all...The babies who had heard Dr. Seuss while in the womb appeared to recognize, and prefer, a tape of their mother reading The Cat in the Hat." (p33-34)
-Four things proven to help baby's brain in pregnancy: gain just the right weight; eat just the right foods (folic acid, omega-3s, balanced diet); avoid too much stress (chronic is bad, some mild stress is just fine); exercise just the right amount.

-Be good to your spouse because baby can feel your energy and seeks safety above all. Baby's brain is less able to develop appropriate stress-coping mechanisms when in an emotionally unstable home.
-Biggest mistake when parents fight: fighting in front of your child without resolving the conflict in front of them. Model how to fight fair and how to make up.
-Four biggest reasons you'll fight: sleep loss; social isolation; unequal workload; depression.

Seeds of Baby Brain Development:
-There are aspects of your child's intelligence about which you can do nothing; genetic contribution is about 50 percent. 
-Five Ingredients of Intelligence: the desire to explore; self-control; creativity; verbal communication; interpreting nonverbal communication.
-Executive function is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. 
-Torrance Test of Creative Thinking - the go-to standard for evaluating creativity in children.
-DVDs & tapes (ha!) don't work. Baby needs a real person to learn language!
-Learning Sign Language may boost cognition by 50 percent. Helps them learn nonverbal communication (body language). People with this skill make for successful entrepreneurs. 

Soil of Baby Brain Development:  
-Survival is the brain's priority. Create a safe environment so brain can thrive.
-Four Baby Brain Boosts: Breast feed for a year (breast milk contains turine & omega-3s, essential for neural development); Talk to your baby - a lot (don't assume they don't understand because they can't yet respond!) but don't overstimulate; Play! (more creative, better at language, better at problem solving, less stressed, better at memory, more socially skilled); Praise effort, not IQ (kids praised for IQ give up and choose easier problems to get rewards/approval, and feel worse when they fail.)
-"Parentese" is "high-pitched tone and a sing-song voice with stretch-out vowels...helps infants separate sounds into contrasting categories." (p 130)
-Mature Dramatic Play & the Tools of the Mind Program - Create a play plan, practice pretending, one big playroom (tons of settings & options)
-No TV before age 2! No creativity, no interaction, can lead to trouble focusing, frustration & hostility, and delays early language development. Jury is still out on iPads because they're so new.
-Under pressure: extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking; pressure can extinguish curiosity; continual anger or disappointment becomes toxic stress.

Seeds of a Happy Baby:
-Best predictor of happiness is having friends.
-Children who learn to regulate their emotions have deeper friendships than those who don't.
-There may be a genetic component to how happy your baby can become.
-Some babies are high-reactive (sensitive) and it may just be genetic.

Soil of a Happy Baby:
-Babies need you to watch, listen, then respond. If baby turns his head or arches his back when you're shaking a toy in his face, he's probably overstimulated and needs a break! 
-The parenting style that creates the happiest kids (good emotional regulation, academic achievement, empathetic, obedient, less depressed/anxious, healthy, not violent, rich friendships) is one that is highly responsive to kids emotions while still demanding. (Opposite is Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful)
-Be comfortable enough to understand and communicate your own emotions - track your emotions; verbalize them; run toward them; have empathy!
-Don't judge; acknowledge the reflexive nature of emotions; recognize that behavior is a choice, emotion is not; see a crisis as a teachable moment.
-One study found that 10 years of music lessons, starting before age 7, were found to benefits kids' ability to read subtle variations in emotional cues much more quickly & accurately than those without musical training. (p 209)

Moral Baby:
-Babies have an innate sense of right & wrong.
-In the brain, regions that process emotions and regions that guide decision-making work together to mediate moral awareness. Lose emotions and you lose decision-making.
-Moral behavior develops over time and requires a particular kind of guidance. 
-How parents handle rules is key: realistic, clear expectations; consistent, swift consequences for rule violations; and praise for good behavior.
-Kids are most likely to internalize moral behavior if parents explain why a rule and its consequences exist. 
-Punishment limitations (p242): Punishment suppresses behavior but not the child's knowledge of how to misbehave. Punishment provides very little guidance on its own (need teachable moment). Punishment always arouses negative emotions and can produce resentment if administered incorrectly.
-"Three-year-olds spanked more than twice a month were 50 percent more likely to be aggressive by age 5." (p 248)

Visit the book's website, BrainRules, for more information.

What I Think:
As you can tell, I've complied a lengthy overview for this book (more than I will for future reviews) because I really enjoyed this book! It was such a fast read because the author is funny and relates real-life experiences to scientific studies. Though he is not a child psychologist, his unique perspective of the brain displayed how some things are not in our control (seeds/genetics) and others are (soil/parenting). The book is very well laid out (lots of bullet points & summaries), and there is a great section in the back that lays out more tips for new parents.   
Overall, this book reinforced many of my personal beliefs with scientific evidence. It fed my curiosity of child brain development in that way. Where I learned from this book was from the specific examples of how to foster an emotionally safe environment that promotes creativity, inspires learning, and nourishes your child's emotional health so they can be happy! 
One thing I wish the author would have elaborated on: how to deal with a "high-reactive" aka sensitive baby. I found more information & suggestions on that in The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, which focuses on the first 3-4 months of baby's life. (Which I will review later in this series!)
The place where I most find myself looking for parenting advice is effective & age appropriate punishment. This book is great because it gives real life examples of conflict and resolution. However, there is not much discussion about kids under age two. 
Essentially: learn how to read your child's emotions so they can learn best. Be perceptive and responsive to your child and have demanding (yet not unreasonable) expectations.

The Takeaway:
This books has a few nuggets of information that are good for pregnant women and new parents, but its mainly focused on kids as they grow. While the author does mention babies frequently (especially when it relates to stress and over-stimulation), the book is more focused on early childhood development after baby is +9 months. I chose to read this now because I expect that I won't have much time to be reading when my baby is 6 months!

I hope you all enjoyed this book review! The next few will not be as lengthy, but I was feeling inspired today. Let me know what you think. Do you agree with the author? Would you read this book? Is the sort of information interesting to you? Or are you more curious about the basics of how to handle a newborn? I love reading your comments!

xo kristen genevieve


  1. I can't thank you enough for posting this. It really is a benefit! This book sounds interesting, but I just haven't had a chance to read much these days. Overall, it makes some great points, but I also think every baby is different and it's not a size all model. I completely agree that maintaining a stress-free, loving environment pre & post-baby is super important. It makes sense that the baby is picking up on vibes. In our classes, I remember them mentioning Harvey Karps' theories so I am intrigued to see what his book said. They did warn us about over-swaddling, but in general his take on things seems to be a lot of praise. At this point, I just want to know how to care for a newborn since I feel so clueless. However, we must learn everything since babies grow quickly, right? Thanks so much for taking the time to write this.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read this! I know it's a little past the newborn stage, but as you said & I mentioned, I doubt I'll have time to read when the baby comes like I do now!
      I am working on my review of Harvey Karp's "Happiest Baby on the Block" which will be up soon. I was hesitant to agree with him because I'm not a person that subscribes to the "attachment parenting" style, which you can tell he definitely leans that way, but he argues that the first 3 months are very different than 3+ months, and so I can empathize with his practices more in that light.
      What reason did they (I assume that means the hospital birthing class) warn against over swaddling? Spoiling the baby with attention or something like that? I'm curious.


Blog Design by Nudge Media Design | Powered by Blogger

Hover Pin It Code