Wiring a Child's Brain: Key Parenting Points

by Thomas Verny, M.D.

As we now know, we can no longer separate the mind from the body, or nature from nurture. Even more important, our new knowledge will change the way we parent and teach the young.

Here are some sound recommendations for optimizing an infant’s potential in the areas of language, intelligence, and social skills, and for raising bright, healthy, and loving children.

Preconception

• Obtain information about which physical and chemical toxins to avoid before conception and during pregnancy.
• Honestly assess your readiness for the challenges of pregnancy and raising a child.
• If problems of a medical, psychological, or financial nature surface, you should avail yourself of professional help.

Conception

• Every child, ideally, should be a wanted child.
• Every child should be created as an expression of the love the parents feel for each other.

Pregnancy

• Mothers and fathers should become as aware as possible of their births, their childhoods, and their relationships to their peers.
• Parents should explore their relationship to each other, honestly discussing their hopes and fears.
• Parents must learn to appreciate the fundamental humanity of the unborn child and to communicate their love to him.
• Parents ought to strive to bond with their unborn child prenatally and postnatally through talking, singing, dancing, visualization, and play.
• The pregnant mother must do all in her power to reduce stress during pregnancy. If there is a threat of or actual violence, she must remove herself from it.
• The mother should attend prenatal classes if possible, with her partner.
• The pregnant mother must abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and all "recreational" drugs.

Labor and delivery

• If at all possible, the mother's partner should be present. If she is giving birth in a hospital, it is advisable that a professional support person such as a midwife or Doula accompany her.
• Unless there is a medical problem, the birth should be free of medical interventions. That means no unnecessary fetal heart monitors, anesthetics, or analgesics, and no episiotomies, forceps, inductions, or C-sections unless medically necessary.
• Only friends and relatives that the parents know and trust should be present during labor and delivery.
• Only professionals who love and respect babies should birth them.

After birth

• Say only complimentary things about your newborn. Remember, your child is listening.
• Insist on holding your baby right away and rooming in with her.
• Resist the administering of silver nitrate eye drops to your newborn and other routine medications and tests, or at least delay them for a few hours after birth so the two of you have a better chance to bond.
• Oppose circumcision or any form of genital mutilation unless required for religious reasons. This is a practice that is no longer medically indicated or psychologically desirable.
• Leave the hospital as soon as possible.
• Nurse your baby for at least three months. If you cannot breast-feed your baby, bottle-feed her while cradling her in your arms and giving her your full attention.

First few months

• If you are isolated, vulnerable, or depressed, ask for help. Visits by nurses or social workers have a demonstrably positive impact.
• If your baby develops colic or cries a lot or does not sleep much, don't assume that it's your fault or that you are an incompetent parent. But do make sure you get help.
• If the baby becomes ill, don't wait until tomorrow — take him to a doctor today.
• If you are a single mother and you are beginning to lose your patience with your child, call a friend, a family member, a women's support group, or a social agency. Whatever you do, don't yell at, shake, or hit the baby.
• Infants require a lot of attention. They cannot take care of themselves. But they are also a source of great joy. Have fun with your son or daughter.
• A baby can teach you many important lessons. Be prepared to learn from your child.

First few years

• Talk to your toddler as much as possible.
• If you can manage it, do not send your child to day care until he or she is at least two.
• Try to be responsive to the needs of your child rather than your own.
• Always treat your child the way you would like to be treated in return.

Each chapter of Tomorrow's Baby concludes with a set of key parenting points such as these. Points are excerpted from Tomorrow's Baby: The Art and Science of Parenting from Conception through Infancy.

About the author: Thomas R. Verny, M.D., D. Psych., FRCPC is the author of six books, including Tomorrow's Baby and thirty-five papers and articles. In 1998, he collaborated with Sandra Collier to create Love Chords, a compilation of classical music for pregnancy published by The Children's Group of Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

Dr. Verny is a psychiatrist and the founder of the Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Association of North America (now known as the APPPAH), which he served as president for eight years. In addition, he is an adjunct professor of prenatal and perinatal development at St. Mary's University, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute. Dr. Verny has lectured and given workshops on prenatal and perinatal psychology throughout the world. He has also discussed his research on many major radio and television programs, as well as in newspaper and magazine interviews. He lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife.

Copyright © Thomas Verny. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.