NURTURING A CHILD’S MIND

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
NURTURING A CHILD’S MIND
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My sister has a bright 3-year-old son. She is determined to nurture and develop his mind and brain to the best of her ability. How can she expand his horizons?

A. At 3, a child is curious about everything and brimming over with questions: “Why, why, why?”

Valuing children’s curiosity encourages their drive to explore, investigate and understand.

But parents needn’t have all the answers or respond right away: “That’s an interesting question. Can you remember it so we can talk about it tonight at supper when I have more time?”

For children to learn, they must develop their ability to be patient; pay attention; persist even when they fear they may not overcome a challenge; face their mistakes; and focus even when frustrated.

Thus children take the measure of their abilities and potential. This self-confidence, along with a sense of optimism, helps children see problems as opportunities to find solutions.

Patience, focus and tenacity may not be the first skills that come to mind when considering how to expand a child’s horizons. Instead, we think of teaching him about colors; numbers; the alphabet; names of animals, trees and flowers; and the world’s countries.

A child who develops the character of a learner can take on these challenges and many more, and he will always seek new horizons on his own.

Of course it helps to expose an eager child to the world’s sights and sounds – music, or a second or third language.

But watch for his signals about how he learns – with his eyes, his ears, when he is in motion, or all of these.

Also look for clues to when he has had enough. If you overload a child, pressure him or present him with tasks he can’t yet handle, you may make him feel unsure of himself as a learner, or worse, like a failure. The risk of too much teaching is to turn him off learning. Challenges should be just a small step beyond – and within his reach.

One sure way to expand a child’s horizons is to talk together, ask questions and listen – about everything, even life’s small details. This helps extend a child’s language skills, which are critical for learning.

Children’s strongest motivation comes from the adults who care about them. For example, children will want to read if they see adults reading.

It inspires children when they interact with adults who are excited to learn and who encourage them to do likewise, without pressure or judgment.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton heads the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.