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Headstarts: 100 Tips for Raising Clever, Confident, Creative Kids

Headstarts: 100 Tips for Raising Clever, Confident, Creative Kids

by Dr. Cindy Pan

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The very latest research on childhood development distilled into 100 easy-to-understand tips to raise clever, confident, creative kids   An invaluable aid for parents focused on giving their children the best possible start in life, this guide outlines practical tips to help provide children with major advantages in both the classroom and the playground. It


The very latest research on childhood development distilled into 100 easy-to-understand tips to raise clever, confident, creative kids   An invaluable aid for parents focused on giving their children the best possible start in life, this guide outlines practical tips to help provide children with major advantages in both the classroom and the playground. It distills key findings from the very latest international cognitive science research into short pieces covering an array of areas, including the importance of teaching a child positive thinking patterns, the benefits of hugs on brain development, how to help a child tackle math and science, the best age to learn a new language, and the benefits of good nutrition.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Medical practitioner Pan and research scientist Woods (Duke Univ.) compile some key findings from the latest cognitive science research into one- to two-page summaries, confirming what most of us already know—breast is best, kids need hugs, and sugar doesn’t make you hyper. Labeled 1-100 and written in a concise and zippy style, the authors offer a new format more than anything, but that makes it perfect bathroom reading.
VERDICT Stick it in the magazine rack next to the toilet where it is probably likeliest to be read by both mom and dad. The book’s cover is worth bonus points.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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100 Tips For Raising Clever, Confident, Creative Kids

By Cindy Pan, Vanessa Woods

Allen & Unwin

Copyright © 2011 Cindy Pan and Vanessa Woods
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-74176-631-8


Don't be too hard on yourself

'It's got to be-ee-ee-ee, perfect ...' goes the popular eighties' song where a woman sets out the conditions for all her future relationships. Good luck, honey!

For career mums juggling the dual roles of worker and mother, being a perfectionist can be a recipe for stress, depression, conflict and lower overall satisfaction with themselves and life.

Of course there are lots of rewards (such as the thrill of achieving) that come from perfectionist behaviour, features of which might include being organised, hard-working and committed to your goals. But sometimes perfectionists are motivated by guilt, fear of failure, or fear of others' disappointment or censure rather than the rewards of a job well done. It is when the fear of negative consequences is greater than the lure of positive ones that this form of perfectionism becomes less healthy, leading to decreased satisfaction and leaving the perfectionist vulnerable to dejection, shame, embarrassment and a generally low mood.

It is important for mums, especially career mums, not to put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect and to realise that sometimes the best outcomes will be achieved by aiming for 'good enough'. Most importantly, setting realistic standards and having the satisfaction of defining and achieving your own goals rather than any socially prescribed standards is the key to a less stressful existence.


Is one too many?

Everyone has their own opinion about if and how much women should drink during pregnancy, and the research is no different. If you want a research paper that says drinking a few glasses of wine per week is fine, you can find it. If you want one saying that even one glass a week can cause serious behavioural and academic problems, you can find that too.

What we know for sure is that heavy drinking causes Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is the leading cause of mental retardation in the Western world. Some symptoms of FAS are stunted growth, facial deformity and brain damage. What researchers can't decide on is whether 'heavy drinking' is one glass of wine a week or four.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome isn't all you have to worry about when a glass of wine feels tempting. One study we looked at showed that even drinking one glass of wine a week increased the chances of having a child with depression and a lower IQ (particularly in mathematics).

However, another study showed that mothers who drank between one and two glasses of wine a week had boys with less behaviour problems and girls with less emotional and peer problems.

The problem is that nothing works in isolation. Maybe mothers who drink a couple of glasses of wine a week are more likely to be less rigid in other areas, like discipline and encouraging academic achievement. Maybe these same mothers are less stressed and more willing to take care of themselves and their needs, which has a positive impact on their kids.

So the facts as far as we know are: drinking four glasses of wine a week while pregnant can definitely cause serious damage, and a couple of glasses a week could be either harmful or not. The choice of what to believe, and what to do, is up to you.


Get clean

We're assuming no one who buys this book is likely to be snorting coke off their coffee table, but just in case you are one of the 3.4 million Australians who are daily smokers or one of the three million Australians who have taken illicit drugs in the last twelve months, this hint is for you.

If you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant, or think you might be pregnant, you have to clean up your act. No last E at one last dance party, no goodbye cigarette. The days of carefree experimentation are over, at least for you.

All drugs will damage your baby's development, some in ways we haven't yet discovered. For instance, ecstasy has been linked with cardiovascular and musculoskeletal deformities in babies whose mothers took the drug during pregnancy. Prenatal marijuana use is related to hyperactivity, problems with attention and delinquency in children as old as ten.

Taking cocaine even occasionally when you are pregnant can severely affect the language skills of children for the first six years of their life. Although after that the kids may catch up, language skills help kids settle into school and make friends. Delays in language development can lead to social awkwardness, as well as low test scores. Using cocaine while pregnant has also been linked to poor attention, lower IQ, and poor motor skills.

Warning signs plastered over cigarette packets tell you that smoking is bad for your baby, but they don't say how. Cigarette smoke has over 2500 chemicals, with carbon monoxide, nicotine and tar the most toxic to your baby's health. Smoking can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and severe vaginal bleeding. Your baby has a one in ten chance of being premature, which increases the risk of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, learning disabilities, asthma and, last but not least, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Get smart and get clean. It's not just about you now.


Demand feeding: breast and beyond

Along with providing the best source of nutrition for around the first six months of a child's life, breastmilk reduces the risk of infectious and chronic digestive diseases in infants. Less well recognised is the role breastfeeding can play in modifying or balancing maternal control over how a child eats long after they're weaned.

Previous research has shown that highly controlling feeding strategies can have a negative impact on babies' and children's ability to adjust their intake in response to the energy content of foods. High levels of parental control over what and how much their children eat is also associated with greater fat levels in kids and a heightened desire for and increased consumption of those fabulous forbidden foods.

Infants eat primarily to satisfy energy needs. The advantage of breastfeeding is that, since the mother cannot readily determine the exact volume her baby drinks, the quantity consumed is largely determined by the infant, with the mother assuming that the baby is sated when sucking stops. With bottlefeeding the mother may be guided by how much is left in the bottle, encouraging the baby to keep feeding until the bottle is empty — the infant equivalent of 'finishing what's on your plate' regardless of the child's innate, instinctual sense of fullness.

Current research suggests that mothers who breastfeed for the first year of their child's life learn something crucial about how the child can — and should — play a role in regulating their own nutritional intake. Demand feeding practices in particular make a mother more responsive to her infant's cues and enhance shared mother–infant responsibility, not just in early babyhood but well into the toddler period.

Breastfed babies may also be exposed to a far greater variety of flavours and odours from their mum's diet via breastmilk compared to babies given only commercial formula preparations. This seems to have a positive influence on the baby's subsequent acceptance of a greater variety of solid foods, since effectively he or she may have 'tasted' them at the nipple.

Women who breastfed for a year or more needed to exert less control over their chilren's eating habits later, and while their kids had higher energy intakes, they were taller and leaner (but not heavier) as toddlers.

Even if breastfeeding was not for you, it's good to share the responsibility for healthy eating with your toddler, young child and teenager. In doing so you should generally avoid using 'treats' or desserts as rewards for eating 'good but nasty-tasting' food; enforcing rules about clearing the plate; making children eat when they're not hungry; inflexibly refusing children food when they are hungry just because it doesn't fit with an arbitrary schedule; chiding them for eating too much or too little or the wrong thing at the wrong time; reprimanding them for playing with their food instead of simply chowing down like eating machines, regardless of whether or not they feel hungry or like the food. Some or all of these examples of parental control over feeding can end up teaching kids to override their own hunger and fullness cues.

The best tool we each have for guiding energy and nutrient intake is our own innate sense of hunger and fullness. Babies and toddlers know how much is enough and, left to their own devices, they will neither starve nor gorge excessively. We need to trust our kids to develop their own sense of self-regulation to avoid burdening them with our generation's often problematic, overly restrictive and self-punitive approach to food. So relax. If they're hungry, let them eat; if they're not, let them be.


Laughter, the breast medicine

It seems like a good chortle before breastfeeding can be beneficial to babies, especially if they are allergy prone and suffer from allergic eczema.

It has been found that allergic eczema is frequently associated with chronic stress, sleep disturbance and decreased levels of a hormone called melatonin (involved in sleep and stress responses). It is thought that relaxation by laughter may increase melatonin levels which may, in turn, reduce allergic responses.

According to one study, laughing before breastfeeding increases the levels of melatonin in breastmilk, and infants drinking this melatonin-boosted milk have been shown to have reduced allergic responses (as measured by skin wheal reactions to common allergies such as house mite dust and latex).

Women who watched humorous DVDs (such as a Charlie Chaplin movie) as opposed to non-humorous ones (such as weather information) produced breastmilk with significantly higher melatonin levels and their babies' skin reactions to common allergens were significantly decreased. It seems that watching Dawn French, Benny Hill, Basil Fawlty and the Chaser Boys, not only gives you a good laugh, but can also beautify your baby's complexion.


Breast is best

Your nipples are chafed and raw. Your boobs ache. The teeth pushing through those little gums are leaving scars. Not only that, you fantasise about leaving the baby with your mother for a month so you can get a good night's sleep.

Breastfeeding, although supposed to epitomise the unique connection between mother and child, can sometimes be a pain in the, well, breast. But if you are finding it uncomfortable, fight the temptation to switch to the bottle before your baby is six months old because breastmilk is important to your baby's development and health, especially if they have a version of a gene called FADS2.

The FADS2 gene is involved with processing fatty acids, which in turn helps brain development and function, although no one knows the exact mechanism by which this happens. Children with this particular genetic variant (and most do have it) who are breastfed can gain seven points of IQ.

Breastfed children attain higher IQ scores than children not fed breast milk, presumably because of the fatty acids uniquely available in breast milk. The association between breastfeeding and IQ is moderated by a genetic variant in FADS2, a gene involved in the genetic control of fatty acid pathways. Children with the 'C' version of the gene (90 per cent of the 3000 children in the study) had an IQ advantage of about 6 to 7 points, regardless of the mother's socioeconomic status and birth weight of the baby.


Childproof everything!

All parents occasionally wonder whether their children are deliberately trying to ruin years of careful decorating with suicidal tendencies. From falling off fashionably high bar stools to cracking their heads on the art deco coffee table, children seem determined to run right into the least child-safe area of the room and hurt themselves so you have to ruin the decor with childproofing.

Unfortunately, we aren't born knowing that sharp edges hurt when you fall on them, that swimming pools are death traps, or that cutlery and power outlets don't mix. We have to learn this information, and it takes a while to absorb it all.

Take heights. When babies who have just started to crawl are put on top of a 1.3-metre-high 'cliff', they crawl right off it (luckily, in the experiment a transparent piece of plexiglass stops them from actually falling). Newly mobile, babies haven't learnt what a steep drop looks like, or what it means.

That's why you have to put railings on the balcony, lock the gate to the pool, and cover the sharp corners of your lovely coffee table with ugly foam padding. At what age can you return your house to the Vogue Living version originally intended? It's different for every child. But no one knows them better than you, and you're the one most likely to notice when the penny finally drops about hairdryers not making good bath toys.

For at least the first few years, your children need you to look out for them until they develop the wisdom to look out for themselves.


Excerpted from Headstarts by Cindy Pan, Vanessa Woods. Copyright © 2011 Cindy Pan and Vanessa Woods. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. Cindy Pan is a general practitioner who regularly appears on television and contributes to women's magazines. She is the author of Pandora's Box and Playing Hard to Get, and has two sons. Vanessa Woods is a journalist and a research scientist at Duke University. She is also a feature writer for the Discovery Channel, has written for New Scientist, has made documentaries for Disney, is the author of It's Every Monkey for Themselves, and blogs regularly for Psychology Today. She lives in North Carolina.

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