Brain scientist John Medina has a refreshing aptitude for making neurology accessible to the general public. In "Brain Rules for Baby," he argues that one's behaviour as a parent in the child's first five years of life "profoundly influences how she or he will behave as an adult."
Medina cites seven ingredients of intelligence, starting with the two basics: memory and improvisation, or, the ability to record information and the capacity to adapt that information to different situations. A desire to explore, self-control, creativity, verbal communication and decoding nonverbal communication round out his definition. Starting with pregnancy, Medina identifies four keys to encourage baby's brain development: appropriate weight gain, good nutrition, moderate exercise and low stress levels. From there, he advocates for a year of breastfeeding, talking to your baby frequently, engaging in open-ended play, and taking care to praise effort over IQ.
Medina then turns to happiness, another elusive term, which psychologist Daniel Gilbert breaks down into three aspects: emotional happiness, moral happiness and judgmental happiness. Behaviours that predict happiness include satisfying relationships, performing altruistic acts, displaying gratitude, sharing experiences with a loved one and practising forgiveness. Raising a happy child primarily involves teaching him/her to socialize effectively, displaying emotional regulation and empathy. How? By creating a demanding by warm parenting style, by feeling comfortable with your own emotions, by unobtrusively keeping track of how your child feels and by verbalizing emotions.
Considered individually, Medina's "rules" may seem like no-brainers but his synthesis of information paints a complete, comprehensive picture of best practices in child-rearing. Crucially, he even reminds us that healthy spousal relationships also play a major role in raising a smart, happy child. Beware of sleep loss, social isolation and unequal workload and strive to communicate openly and empathetically.