Raisin' Brain: Maintaining Homes for All Kinds of Minds
By: Mel Levine
Parents can do much to establish a domestic milieu that helps every child to develop his or her very special and sometimes very specialized kind of mind. How does this get accomplished? Let's take a look at some of the measures parents can take to foster optimal intellectual development, to be highly effective at "raisin' brain."
First, parents need to become mind readers - not in the supernatural way, but in a more practical down to earth manner. They need to monitor with care and open-mindedness their child's development over the years, so that they can come to know her or his particular strengths, shortcomings, and areas of talent and natural inclination. Children most often possess minds that differ substantially from those of their siblings; so each child needs to be observed and thought about as the possessor of a uniquely wired brain. As they gain insights into their children's distinct profiles, mothers and fathers can strive constantly to help each child strengthen strengths at the same time they are seeking to shore up any important gaps or areas of dysfunction.
Parents need to instill intellectual content into home life. While children require time for rest and recreation, welcome respites from the rigor of school, it is also important that there not be a huge gulf between the cognitive content of school and the home. For example, there can be a wide difference between language use at home and school. It can be helpful for parents to encourage the use of good literate language abilities at home, just as they receive emphasis within the classroom. So a family can have a rule stipulating, "in this home, we always speak in full sentences - no single word responses, grunts, or verbal "cop-outs" such as "stuff" and "thing." Life at home should include opportunities to discuss issues in the news, to share opinions, to elaborate on daily experiences and, in so doing, to be building and refining thinking and verbal communication skills.
An optimal home for all kinds of minds is one in which life is not so totally structured (i.e., kung-fu Monday, oboe Tuesday, soccer Wednesday and Friday, etc) that imaginary play, brainstorming and downtime to entertain oneself are eliminated totally from the life of a kid. The active pursuit of some totally liberated time is a much-needed part of healthy brain growth. Also, parents should see to it that their children are not being overdosed with what I like to call "visual-motor ecstasy," a range of activities that entail exhilarating rapid movement, tend to be nonverbal, and are mostly devoid of any intellectual enrichment. These intensely stimulating pursuits have their place, but they can be detrimental when they dominate the home lifestyle of a child. Equally deleterious are excessive exposures to TV and the Internet.
Parents need to develop close collaborative relationships with their child's school, so that what is being learned at school can be reinforced at home. Parents of children who are struggling with certain academic demands need to have an open line of communication with teachers, so they can ensure that the school has a firm grasp on the educational needs of the child, while the school can feel that parents are aware of what is being done support the child in the classroom. Sometimes a parent needs to advocate vigorously for a struggling student whose educational care seems inadequate.
The list below delineates some of the most important roles parents play in maintaining a home that is most suitable for "raisin' brain":
- Parents who are learning about neurodevelopmental function in general and are vigilant and responsive to their own children's emergent profiles.
- Parents who serve as the principal early detectors of dysfunction.
- Parents who act as benevolent taskmasters, teaching their kids how to work.
- Parents who find and nurture individual strengths and affinities in their children.
- Parents who advocate for kids without "fighting all their battles" for them.
- Parents who operate as interested and concerned "sounding boards" for their children.
- Parents who collaborate and communicate actively with schools.
- Parents who model some form(s) of intellectual activity for their children (e.g., reading, writing, going to museums).
- Parents who can be overheard boasting about each of their kids on a regular basis.
- Parents demonstrate both love and respect for their children.
- Parents become educated consumers of their children's education as well as any interventions that are ever deemed necessary.
- Parents provide an intellectually stimulating atmosphere, so that language, literacy, and higher cognition are strengthened at home as well as in school.
- Parents who help their children develop efficient organizational/strategic tactics for academic and other forms of work output.
- Parents who are very careful to treat siblings as individuals, people who are expected to differ from each other in their strengths and weaknesses.
- Parents who serve as sensitive schoolwork consultants to kids without doing their work for them.
- Parents who establish a lifestyle that balances freedom with responsibility and structure with opportunities for spontaneous self-expression.
None of these roles is entirely easy to accomplish. Yet, in the long run, the effort pays off, as parents are able to take genuine pride in their children's unique strengths and accomplishments.
Levine, M. Raisin' Brain: Maintaining Homes for All Kinds of Minds. All Kinds of Minds Newsletter, January 2006.