71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2011
This book is for parents or anyone interested in the dramatic changes in our brain and behavior that we humans undergo during our first quarter century of life. Let me tell you what got me interested in this book.
It is written by two neuroscientists, one (Aamodt) who is the former editor-in-chief for Nature Neuroscience, a highly respected scientific journal, and another (Wang) who is a professor and researcher at Princeton University, and is also a father.
In spite of the impressive scientific credentials of its authors, it is written in an approachable style. As Moira Gunn points out in her interview with Aamodt, the book's 30 chapters, most around 10 pages long, are interspersed with subsections with nearly two dozen practical tips, several myth-busting insights, and the occasional speculation. Each of the 30 topics is about a certain period in a child's life, with the periods overlapping with each other. So while chapter 4, "Beyond Nature Versus Nurture" covers from conception to the college years, chapter 11 on "Connecting with Your Baby Through Hearing and Touch" is limited to the period from the third trimester to age 2, chapter 13 on "The Best Gift You Can Give: Self-control" is about children from 2 to 7 years old, and chapter 25 ("The Many Roads to Reading") covers from 4 to 12 years.
I gave the book four stars initially (September 14), but now that I've gone through the whole book, I'm giving it the fifth star. I think it is the second book that any parent with newborns or pre-teens should get...I say second because "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" is not trying to be comprehensive, but the topics it does cover, it covers it in a no-nonsense way, deeply rooted in science as of 2010-11.
In today's digital world, it can be hard to judge the reliability of advice we find online; this book manages to document the basis for (I think) everything substantive it addresses, doing so in a way that is unobtrusive and does not distract you when you are reading it. Because of their credentials, you may not have the time or inclination to check their references, but I find it comforting to know that if I am skeptical about something Aamodt or Wang say, they gave me enough information that I can go online and check on the subject in detail.
I wish there was a book organized like this on other subjects: "Welcome to Your Retirement Plan" perhaps...?
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2011
As both a developmental neuroscientist and a new parent, I am keenly aware of how much the brain changes throughout the lifespan. Of course, knowing facts about brain development and being able to effectively use that information to enrich your child's development are two different things. This book does an excellent job of reviewing the scientific literature and giving advice on how to practically apply that information in your everyday life. After reading this book, I feel like I have a better understanding of how my child interacts with and learns about the world, and I know what I can do to help encourage his development.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Parents desperately need to know about their child's brain, because there are sensitive windows of development with outcomes that last a lifetime. Parents have work to do at certain times, and they need to know what it is.
One thing I liked about this book is that it's thorough and responsible...all the stages, all the science is up-to-date. The authors have studied and worked in neuroscience for years. I'm an avid read of books like this, and I loved the extensive glossary, the hundreds of scientific references, and the detailed index. I appreciated this book far more than the pop science treatments of the developing brain that get a lot of the science wrong.
But all this rigor is actually a problem. It's as if the authors wanted to write a book for parents and ended up writing a book for other scholars and scientists. For example, the development of the prefrontal cortex happens during adolescence and is hugely important to the development of the basic structure of a child's intellect. Here's some of what the authors have to say about it:
"In a longitudinal study of children, the pattern of developmental changes in cortical thickness predicted intelligence more strongly than did the adult configuration at age twenty....Dendritic branching in neurons was also correlated with intelligence in a few studies."
This is a technically accurate description of the research. But what does this mean to a parent? Nothing.
The problem is the authors know their business but they've been writing for scientific peer review for decades, and so this is how they like to write about the topic. But this kind of writing doesn't communicate to parents. There are some important, practical points to be made, and these are buried in this kind of review of research.
I think few parents will be able to wade through all this technical description, but if they do they'll be convinced that there are stages of brain development that are important to the successful growing up of their child. But aside from being aware, what should they do as parents? There's not much of this in the book, and what's here is hard to find among the 300 pages of responsible scientific journalism.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2011
"Welcome to Your Child's Brain" has provided me a lot of good insight and good science to help me understand the growing brain of my 5- month old. I appreciate how Aamodot and Wang have made brain-development accessible and practical to non- neuroscientists without talking-down to the reader. I also like that the book covers such an age range, this makes it more of a resource for me that I can refer to as my child grows rather than a one-time read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2011
Aamodt and Wang do a marvelous job of distilling neuroscience into usable information for us parents. Their recommendations are practical and useful. The book provides a much-needed glimpse into child development, and explains many of the frustrations that we have with our kids.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2012
As a new parent I thought that I had a pretty good idea of how to raise my child, but soon I began questioning my knowledge, recognizing that it is little more than a collection of personal observations mixed in with the popular tales. As a child grows and develops many questions for how to deal with different developmental stages arise, but where are the reliable answers? Cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology seem to abound with theories and research, but they are of limited merit for parents with no time to delve into such a body of research. This book compensates for some of the discontinuity between scientific knowledge and practice and deserves the praise. In what following I will mention several notable concepts picked up from the book.
Parenting style and environmental circumstances in general have limited, though measurable, effect on child development under good enough conditions. If you do not neglect, abuse or constantly chastise your child, the home conditions are considered good enough. One important recommendation for parents: relax, do not over-think it and enjoy watching how your child's brain develops itself.
Most pregnancies turn out fine as long as they are allowed to run the full course. Expectant mothers should avoid drugs, smocking, alcohol, and stress and should pay attention to their nutrition (not the same as dieting).
Both heredity and the environment determine brain development. The interactions between environmental and hereditary influences are non-linear and are entangled in closed causal feedback loops. Inherited personal characteristics bias a child toward a particular environment which subsequently may cause epigenetic modifications to some regions of the DNA. Therefore, identifying strictly environmental and hereditary causes for a particular behavior when the two components are coupled may be impossible. One conclusion is that heredity or the environment separately does not determine particular developmental outcomes, but the interaction of them does. The possibility to change the environment therefore gives some wiggle room in developmental outcomes.
By birth the addition of new neurons is nearly complete and structural brain development continues by elaboration of axons, dendrites and formation of new synaptic connections. In fact, a huge number of nonselective synapses is being formed during the first year, and unused synapses are gradually pruned during sensitive periods of development. A sensitive period is a developmental interval when experience has a particularly strong effect on the construction of brain circuitry. The quality of a child's experience during sensitive periods can have a permanent effect on the construction of brain circuits. The formation of native language and deficits of visual acuity in infants with surgically removed cataracts are manifestations of the crucial importance of specific experiences during sensitive periods of development.
Sleep enhances remodeling of brain circuits in response to experience and is implicated in memory consolidation. A baby's sleep can be made more regular by establishing a regular feeding schedule. Children learn to associate particular cues with sleep, therefore a consistent bedtime routine is essential for falling asleep.
Most behavioral gender differences are too small to matter because variability within each sex group in most cases is greater than between the sexes. The noticeable differences are that the boys are significantly more active and aggressive than girls. Girl's brains mature earlier; their brains are moderately better at inhibitory control and fine motor coordination when starting school. On the other hand, boys are better at mentally rotating objects through space which predicts performance on the math part of the SAT.
Babies can hear before they are born, starting at the beginning of the third trimester. Loud noises can cause partial hearing loss throughout the lifetime.
Babies who are not snuggled enough in early life become developmentally delayed, which is not an issue in most households.
Flavor preferences learned in infancy can last a lifetime. Small children can be taught to like vegetables after consuming them multiple times. Seeing parents and siblings eat vegetables and participating in the preparation of food seems to work as well. Combining a new flavor with a familiar well-liked flavor also helps to develop new food preferences.
Preschool children's ability to resist temptation is the best known predictor of eventual academic success. Self-control can be improved at any age (no sensitive period there). Parents can help their children to self-regulate by encouraging children to pursue their own interests, i.e., the activities children like to intensely concentrate and engage in.
Play is necessary for forming normal social interaction. Outdoor play improves vision. Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to become myopic.
Exercise is vital for cognitive ability. Children should be physically active at least an hour a day, and it is best to introduce them to sports which then can become lifelong hobbies.
People cannot perform multiple attention-demanding tasks. Attempting to do multiple things at once merely switches attention.
Babies are born with specific temperaments which show strong heritability, although environment also plays a role in shaping their adult personality. In particular, culture has a strong influence on personality development.
Children are extremely emotional because the parts of the brain which produce raw emotions (amygdala) mature earlier than the parts that interpret and manage them (prefrontal cortex). A child's ability to recognize and regulate emotions improves throughout childhood. Parent should coach their children on experiencing emotions and suggest constructive ways to deal with them.
By age four children develop the capacity to think about other people's state of mind such as emotions, desires and beliefs including false beliefs.
A child is likely to remember more if there is time to process the learned information between training sessions. The most likely reason is that breaks between study sessions allow time for the newly acquired information to be consolidated. Since memories are reconsolidated learning, tests, except for the multiple choice test, improve learning. Also varying timing, location, and the presentation of different examples of the learned concepts improves memory consolidation.
It is much more effective to praise children for their specific efforts, rather than generally. For instance, it is better to say "you did a great job building this castle", than "you are so smart".
Reasoning ability is mostly controlled by genes and modestly by the environment. Educational baby videos are detrimental to development, especially before the age two. Listening to classical music does not make children smarter. However, learning to play a musical instrument has some cognitive benefit.
Children before age 5-6 lack the capacity to distinguish letter "b" from "d" and mirror images along the vertical/horizontal plane in general. Studies show that babies watching videos claiming to teach reading are doing nothing more than forming associations between sounds of the word and symbols on the card, rather than reading them.
A moderate amount of stress is helpful for developing coping skills in children: it should be high enough to notice, but low enough that they can handle it. Chronic stress causes hippocampal damage leading to impaired learning.
Children's behavior is strongly influenced by the positive or negative consequences that immediately follow a certain action. Setting appropriate expectations for behavior and selecting the right consequences (rewards or their absence) will convince your child to follow the household rules. Children yearn for parents' attention, thus completely ignoring the problem behavior is usually an effective way to stop it. Conversely, a parent's approval, expressed enthusiastically should be the best reward for positive behavior rather than toys and food. Another good type of reward is letting children exert more control over their lives: the right to decide what is for dinner, etc. Yelling and spanking are not effective means of behavior modification in the long run and lead to fear and anxiety. In order to suppress undesired behavior, parents need to promote positive behavior by explaining to the child what exactly the positive behavior constitutes and reinforce it when it occurs.
I gave 4 stars rather than 5 because the books is too wordy and the figures do not have titles. Also, in the next edition it would be nice if the book included the summary of important concepts such as listed above.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have to say I enjoyed this book a lot. As the father of a 6-month-old, it's been amazing to watch my daughter pass some of the big developmental milestones at the same time I am reading about changes that are (or will be) going on in her brain as she grows up.
To me, "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" really stands out for two reasons:
1. The authors clearly and concisely summarize results from the current scientific literature without resorting to the over-simplification of this topic that I sometimes see on talk-shows or even in other books.
2. Although the book is a fascinating read on its own, it also contains a lot of useful information. I definitely have a better idea of what (and what not) to worry about after reading it.
I think it will be very helpful to have such an informed overview of the most recent science handy as my daughter gets older.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2012
I picked up this book after hearing Dr. Wang interviewed on KPCC's Madeleine Brand radio show and have found it not only incredibly fascinating, but also insightful.
I'm not a parent who obsessively reads parenting books, like one would with an owner's manual for a car, but I do own several and use them more as a resource for understanding how my child is developing. But this is where Dr. Wang and Dr. Aamodt's book really stands out: it's not intended as a parenting book per se, but instead, offers a behind the curtain look at how a child's brain develops. Through this insight, you can derive techniques to parent your child. For example, in order to keep my soon-to-be four-year-old daughter from jumping on the bed, I asked her to instead, show me how a snail would eat the pillows on the bed. She immediately started to pretend that she was a snail and the jumping stopped. My goal was achieved because I learned in this book that children from a neurological perspective, respond better to imaginary play than to barked commands - and are better able to stay focused on this play -- for a longer period of time, than if you give them an order.
This is just one example, but the explanations in the book about how spoken language develops - and the effect of being bilingual has on brain development (my daughter is bilingual in both Japanese and English); the myth of multi-tasking; how music is influential in memorization; how both neural development AND the environment affects general brain development; and much much more really gave me the feeling of 'peeking behind the curtain' to see how people become who they are. Not to overstate it, but it's also helping me understand how adults might possibly have developed into the people that they are.
To sum up, Welcome to Your Child's Brain is one of the books that has changed the way that I view things. This isn't meant as hyperbole, but I believe that it's helping me be a better parent. And that, in the end, is why I picked it up in the first place. Definitely recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I thought this book was going to be difficult for me to read as an over 50 woman with no kids. However, I found it to be so light-heartedly scientific that I enjoyed it way more than anticipated. All of us were children once, so it is relevant even if you don't have kids. My grandmother, when she was 82, told me that in her mind she was 17. Bathroom mirrors be damned. I love the way children can learn so quickly and I wonder can we learn from them?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2011
Very enjoyable reading, between nursing, pumping, & changing a newborn & chasing the two year old. It really is a fun read and 2 y.o. Amy enjoys the exhibits & instant, albeit experimental interaction with us as we read it. Can't beat the price either!