Today, we are discussing a particularly adorable and practical book called "Grandparenting Grandchildren" I believe this issue is significant in many households. It's not just a problem in China; the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren is a global one, including in countries like Australia and the UK. The proportion of grandparents involved in such upbringing is quite high in these countries.
So, what's the difference? It's about the amount of time the grandparents spend with the grandchildren. At the beginning of this book, it informs readers that if grandparents are involved in child-rearing for 1-2 days a week, it's beneficial for their health. However, if it's more than 5 days, it becomes stressful and burdensome for them, adversely affecting their health. In China, I think it's more common for children to live continuously with their grandparents, with the elders participating in the child's upbringing every day of the week. This can indeed be tiring, and understanding from both sides is essential.
The core of this book revolves around the learning and growth of grandparents. We've discussed "The Awakened of the Family". If you've heard of it, you'd know that it's not about changing the child but about how the child changes us. So, is there a possibility of change for grandparents in their sixties or seventies? If you are familiar with the book's description of a child's developmental process from 0-5 years, I believe that since grandparents love their grandchildren, they can grow along with them.
There are several principles for intergenerational upbringing. The first is the understanding and assistance of parents towards grandparents. We must realize that the elderly aren't as strong as us, so we should be more appreciative of them. At the same time, grandparents should learn to respect the decisions of the parents. The real decision-makers in child-rearing should be the child's parents. Therefore, decision consistency is crucial. What does that mean? If a child notices discrepancies between the grandparents and parents, or between both parents, or even between grandmother and grandfather, they might exploit these differences, leading to more playtime, more sweets, etc. Thus, everyone needs to maintain consistency.
In the first chapter, we need to understand early childhood development. Once, when I took a taxi, the driver recognized me and asked what's most crucial in educating a child. I replied, "You have to put in the effort before they turn three." He laughed, saying he didn't understand anything before that age and asked how you'd teach them. Many overlook the importance of brain development in children from 0-5 years. Brain development during this period is crucial for their later learning.
Many parents think you shouldn't bother explaining too much to a child under 5 and wait until they start school. But by the time they are in school, learning challenges might already have manifested due to excessive stress or insufficient physical activity affecting their brain development. The problem this book addresses is how grandparents can collaborate with parents to ensure the full and optimal development of a child's brain before they start school, fostering an abundance of neural connections.
All our parenting revolves around the child's brain. Some say genetics plays a significant role, as different families have different genes, leading to varying academic performances. However, genes aren't the primary determinant, according to recent scientific studies. Because every gene has an expression issue, for instance, someone might have introverted genes, but they might not be expressed in their life. Why? It's determined by the external environment. If a child grows up in a cheerful, happy, and benevolent environment, their introverted genes might not manifest at all. Hence, there's a saying, "Genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger." The environment determines gene expression. The internal connections of the brain have a series of numbers, which are quite startling, highlighting how vital the age 0-5 is for children.
“Babies are born with over 100 billion neurons,……The numbers of connected neurons increases rapidly and becomes more complex as your grandchild is exposed to a vast array of life experiences. In the first year the brain doubles in size, with new connections forming at a rate of more than 1 million per second. By the time your brandchild reaches early adulthood there will be over 100 trillion connections formed, with 90 per cent in place by the time they are five years old. The brain continues to undergo dynamic changes until your grandechild is in their mid-twenties.”
Do you all now understand why the stage involving grandparents in child-rearing is especially important? Generally, grandparents step back when the child starts school. During the 0-5 years when grandparents are involved, the child will complete 90% of the neural connections in the brain. The child psychologist Satya once said that adults can't teach children; adults can only create a learning environment for them, because adults simply can't teach children.
The information a child learns before the age of 3 is equivalent to the sum of their entire future life, which we can see through the neural connections.
“Your grandbaby’s brain is highly sensitive and responsive to stimulation of the senses (touch, hearing, vision, taste, smell, body position and balance) the sounds of language and the feeling of movement. Additionally, in the first few months of life a baby must feel loved, secure and cared for, so the optimal pathways for emotional development are put in place. This is often referred to as the ‘sensitive period’.”
Many grandparents have a peculiar theory, suggesting that when a child cries, one shouldn't hold them. They believe that if you hold the child every time they cry, they will develop a habit and cry constantly. This notion is actually incorrect. In fact, when a child cries and is ignored, their sense of security diminishes. A child whose sense of security is compromised will cry even harder because they have no other way of communicating. Infants in their early stages don't have any means to protect themselves, other than projecting their distress onto you through their cries, hoping you will care for them. Therefore, crying is the only way for little ones to communicate. At such moments, they need an immediate response. When they cry and someone promptly attends to them, they can trust that their environment is reliable and safe.
“Interestingly, from two years of age the brain does not just build connections, it also performs ‘housekeeping’, cleaning up unused brain connections in a process called ‘pruning’. Pruning eliminates inactive neurons as a way of increasing efficiency of the working brain network, with up to 50% of neurons present at two years pruned by ten years of age. This is why children exposed to multiple languages during the first few years of life have a greater capacity to speek these languages ‘like a native’ compared to those who do not learn new languages until school age. The neural pathways responsible for language acquisition have ‘fired and wired’ through experience and are not ‘pruned away’.”
If a child wishes to learn a language to the level of a native speaker, it's best to expose them to it as early as possible. Some children live in environments where they hear German, French, and English simultaneously. They can integrate all three languages and might even create new vocabulary words. However, there's no need to be overly anxious. For Chinese people, speaking fluent Mandarin is essential. If the child starts learning English or German in primary or secondary school, they might not achieve native fluency, but they will certainly be proficient. Don't get too stressed; this is just based on scientific research.
There are several stages of brain development in children. Let's look at the respective benchmarks:
Critical motor skills
Reading and writing
Skipping and marching
Drawing a full person (fine motor control and body awareness)
Following four or five sequential instructions
Thinking skills and emotional maturation build on automatic movement and understanding of what's happening to the body and how to respond
Complex movement patterns start to build Mature catching and throwing
Holding pencil in mature grip (fine motor coordination)
Eye movement control
Moving eyes smoothly across the midline of the body.
Two- to three-word phrases
Automatic movement patterns mean higher thinking skills can improve following instructions, understanding time, space and direction and build more complex speech patterns
Motor skills more complex and refined
Left and right side of body can work together and independently
Handedness and crossing the midline occur
Speech starts to take off
Preferred hand develops
Balances on one leg for 5 seconds
Balances for 1-2 seconds on each leg while rocking from side to side
Movement helps develop understanding of own body, space, time, 'how do I fit?'
Hanging by hands
Balance and posture improve
Movement stimulates the senses
Crawling on tummy
The senses stimulate movement
Birth to 6 months
Automatic reflexes stimulate the senses and movement
This outlines the basic standards of brain development in a child before the age of 5. There's a logic here: movement stimulates thought in our brain. When reading history, you'll notice emperors, both in China and the West, who were confined to a small courtyard due to court conflicts and grew up to be "foolish emperors." Why? Lack of movement. When children don't move, their brain development is hindered. So, it's crucial for grandparents to play and explore the world with children. The objective isn't just to exercise their muscles but to stimulate their brain, since there's a close link between movement and brain function. From infancy to toddlerhood, there's a shift from reflexive movement to intentional movement patterns. This means babies operate on reflex, but gradually they must reach a state where the brain controls the body. In this process, repetition and practice are key. This is the responsibility of caregivers.
In the next chapter, we'll discuss playing sports with children. Children under 5 need 3-5 hours of activity daily. This isn't a competition; it varies by individual but typically falls around 3-5 hours. For grandparents, this isn't easy because taking care of children can be exhausting. A child learns to control larger muscles before the smaller ones. So, don't underestimate actions like running, jumping, or standing on one leg. They're closely related to writing. If they can't control large muscles, they can't control the smaller ones. Therefore, everything from body control, to holding a pencil, to sitting still and focusing on studies, is related to sufficient physical activity during childhood.
There's a progression chart for these motor skills, which I think can be referenced. From bottom to top, or from infancy to age 5:
Begin with: Abdominal wriggling reflex.
Then: Prone crawling (always turn the child belly down; it's crucial for their development. Don't feel sorry for them if they always look up; it's exercise).
Followed by: Quadrupedal crawling, walking, fast moving, two-footed jumping, one-footed jumping, brisk walking, coordinated walking, hopping, coordinated posture control, sitting still, task handling, and finally, being ready for formal learning.
This represents the progression of a child's movement development.
What is the primitive reflex of infancy? It is a reflex that is inhibited by autonomous actions. You'll notice that babies often twitch, and this is due to the primitive reflex, which commonly occurs in babies within their first 12 months. To get through this phase, one very important exercise is tummy time. I didn't pay much attention to tummy time in the past, but in reality, it is very important.
“Babies who do not spend adequate time on tier tummies are often propped up before they have developed adequate core strength and postural control. These babies have restricted movement opportunities and may not fully inhibit the primitive reflex responses.”
That is, help him to lie on his stomach frequently, let him play while lying there, lifting his head to interact with you. This can effectively reduce the primitive reflexes in his body.
And then, engage in more activities, preferably barefoot. What do scientists call feet? They refer to them as the baby's "second pair of eyes". This means that a child's feet are like "eyes" that can sense the ground, so it's best to be barefoot. Encourage them to crawl and be active. Then, practice eye exercises. During these exercises, move an object from left to right and from right to left, prompting them to turn their heads and eyes.
When they reach the stage of learning to walk, assist them in standing stably, and again, being barefoot is best. Go to the park and play hand-eye coordination games with them, which I believe adults can manage too. As they approach preschool age, they will be active, ride bicycles, and run barefoot. Engage in memory games with them, such as placing a few items on a plate, then removing one and asking which item was taken, which item is missing, or which color is missing, etc. There are matching games where they identify which items pair together. There are numerous toys for this game, or you can invent your own. Play the "Red Light, Green Light" game: red means stop, green means go. Ask questions like "Which light is it now?" or "Can we cross now?". Adults can play these simple games with children. These activities can promote brain development in preschoolers. So for grandparents, physical stamina is a significant challenge. Can you spend 3-5 hours every day with the child? This not only benefits the grandparents' health but also ensures that children get ample physical exercise to stimulate brain growth.
The next topic is behavior shaping. This is a concern for many parents. Why do some households raise unruly children who shout, cry, and do not observe public order, while others raise obedient ones? Yet being too obedient might also be an issue. How do you shape behavior? First, we need to understand that the neural connections for emotional regulation in the brain are present in children as young as one year old. Many believe that children can't control their emotions before the age of three, but this is not the case. At one year old, children already have neural connections that regulate emotions.
“Emotional maturity, and the ability to control emotional responses, builds (or not) alongside life experiences. Self-esteem, self-control, self-confidence are very important to behaviour and relating to others, but they do not come without a lot of opportunities for brain maturation in infancy and early childhood. Rules, customs, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, self-control, listening, manners and principles of co-existence are important to emotional development and need to be instilled early if children are to successfully manage the challenges that everyday life brings.
It’s never too early to teach these important values and it is easier to do before a child starts school and has your support. Assuming grandchildren will learn these skills when they get to school is setting them up to fail.”
Because we shouldn't wait until that period to start learning, children should learn these things before the age of 5. Like the books I mentioned before, they talk about teaching children all these behavioral patterns before the age of 3.
“Young children thrive emotionally in a loving, consistent, reliable, predictable and supportive environment that encourages them to follow rules, become self-sufficient and independent, develop self-discipline and control, develop good listening, mananers and, by the time they start school, how to work in a positive manner in a group without a parent guiding and supporting them. In contract, young children who are exposed to a high-streee environments, inconsistent care and routines that lack structure and support where carers are frequently changed and inattentive will often develop behavioural challenges that potentially lead to mental health problems and isolation from important family, school and social networks”
Please note that there are a few key terms here: reliable, predictable, and stable family environment.
Why do we say that parents who are alcoholics, or those who frequently argue, have a negative impact on their children? This is because the state of a person after consuming alcohol is different from their normal state. This drastic contrast and change can leave the child feeling lost and uncertain. Moreover, many parents take out their frustrations on their children. When they are happy, they treat their children well, but when they are upset, they shout at and even shove or neglect their children. This inconsistency also leaves the child feeling lost and uncertain. When a child feels unsure about their surrounding environment and cannot find stability or a sense of security, they won't know how to regulate their own behavior. Hence, if you find that a child is unruly, they might resort to shouting as a means to get what they want, because they feel that without making a fuss, they get nothing. Therefore, a stable and friendly family environment is a crucial foundation for children.
“When toddlers start to ‘throw tantrums’ they are actually trying to determine the boundaries in their life, and it is up to caring adults to help them learn what these are – in a supportive and loving way. Don't think that children will just ‘grow out of it’, because whatever action you take at that moment in time will make a big difference to your grandchild’s long-term success in life. A very famous long-term study undertaken in Dunedin, New Zealand, has followed the lives of 1000 children from birth to adulthood and continues to this day. They found that if children at five years of age do not have impulse control, then at 35 years they have worse outcomes in relation to crime, drugs, stability of relationships, reduced socio-economic status as well as an increased rate of depression, addiction and poorer health.”
So as a grandparent caring for young children, see these stressful moments as great opportunies to help your grandchildren learn to control their emotions, curb impulses and learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not. What makes all the difference to your grandchild is how you manage this stressful moment. If you are warm and loving, and they rules are predictable and consistent, your grandchild will quickly learn to understand the boundaries, follow your rules (e.g. ‘Put away your toys before you start another game’), become self-sufficient (e.g. ‘Can you do this without my help?’) and develop self-discipline and control (e.g. ‘Almost … don’t get upset! How about trying again?’). You are also the perfect person to encourage good listening and manners.
A reminder in regard to your own emotional responses: You cannot pretend to care or pretend not to be angry or upset, frustrated or ‘fed up’, because infants and children are very good at ‘reading’ your body language. If you feel unable to manage your own emotional response at a ‘difficult’ moment, be aware that you will be watched closely by your grandchild! Whatever you do, your grandchild will see you and learn. ‘This is how I should behave when I am angry or not coping.’ The brain contains ‘mirror neurons’ that not only reflect and learn from what a child does, but they reflect and learn from what others around them do as well!”
Don't pretend in front of your child; treat them with sincerity. For instance, when my son was younger and began to use crying as a way to solve problems, I would patiently and gently tell him that crying won't help. "When you cry, daddy doesn't know what you want. You need to tell me. We should talk about things. I know you feel upset, I know you're unhappy. When you feel a bit better, you can talk to daddy." So, from an early age, he understood that there were boundaries, and crying wouldn't solve problems. He knew his father loved him and was willing to listen, so he first needed to stop crying, and then address the issue. This is how I gently set boundaries for my child.
We aren't in a confrontation with our children, nor are we engaged in a power struggle. Instead, we need to teach them where the boundaries are and how we should interact with others. For grandparents, it's the same. Sometimes, due to physical fatigue and a lack of understanding of neuroscience, grandparents can have direct conflicts with children. They might either be overly indulgent, listening to every demand and setting no boundaries, or they may clash with the child, arguing and even fighting. Neither approach helps the child understand societal norms or the rules within the family.
Exercise helps to alleviate emotions, so it's important to foster a good motivation in children. Do you all know what the motivation system is? It's the 'I want to do this,' 'I hope to do this,' 'I actively want to explore this,' rather than 'I am forced to do this.' Many parents require their children to read, write, memorize English words, or jump rope. All of these are good activities in themselves, but the forcefulness of parents can cause children to lose their motivation. Everyone, please note, what problems arise when motivation is lost? If the motivation system in the brain is not active, stress hormones will be activated. The same goes for adults. If you're forced to work overtime or go to work, your stress hormones will be activated, leading to anxiety, depression, and aggression.
“Leading neurobiologist and Professor of Medicine, Joachim Bauer has found that children who do not actively move search for other ways to stimulate their motivational system. Screens, junk food and highly sugared and artificially colored and flavored drinks are also stimulants. They are also highly addictive. If children do not get their ‘fix’ they become impatient and aggressive; in fact they behave as if withdrawing from drugs of addiction.”
This point is so crucial. In daily life, a large number of parents come to us to share their concerns, asking why their children are so engrossed in electronic games. You'll find that most children who love video games also have a penchant for drinking sugary beverages. These two habits are interlinked. Why are they connected? Because both of them are tied to an underlying element called addiction.
The characteristic of addiction is a lack of motivation. This means that the child feels unmotivated in their daily activities. They feel as if their lives are controlled by others, that whatever they do is forced upon them by someone else. The only continuous pleasure they can derive is from these addictive behaviors or substances. That's the crux of the issue. Therefore, it's imperative to help children develop their own motivation. Questions like 'What do you want to do?', 'How do you feel about it?', 'What's your plan?' and affirmations like 'Alright, go ahead and do it as you see fit.' This is about letting children know that they have the power to make decisions and choose their own paths in life. When they grow up with this mindset, they won't have severe addiction problems. They could play video games and easily put them down when needed, or choose not to drink certain beverages. It's entirely possible to nurture such children.
To cultivate a child's adaptability is to raise their self-esteem. The higher a child's self-esteem, the stronger their adaptability. So, how can we elevate a child's self-esteem? It's essential that when a child does something correctly, parents must acknowledge it and explain why it was right. This affirmation enhances the child's self-esteem. Once self-esteem rises, their adaptability also increases. Moreover, laughter is vital. When a child aged two or three is with their grandparents or parents and they laugh heartily at something amusing, their bodies release plenty of endorphins. These endorphins help regulate their emotions, making their explorations more enjoyable and motivating them. Hence, adults can play, have fun, and laugh wholeheartedly with children.
We observe that many families lack laughter. Perhaps there's some laughter when the child is under three, with parents finding their toddlers cute and treating them like toys. Note that this isn't truly laughing with the child; many parents laugh at them, treating them like a cute pet or toy. While you find it funny, the child might not. What's most precious is interacting with your child, playing, and genuinely laughing together. That's the healthiest sound in a household. Therefore, use laughter to stimulate the production of endorphins.
If a child exhibits various so-called "misbehaviors," like showing aggression, being glued to electronic screens, or frequently getting upset and crying around parents, these behaviors might indicate a "minor malfunction" in their brain, a problem with their neurotransmitter secretion. What should we do? A few key terms come to mind: consistency, patience, and adaptability. When caring for a child, our approach should be gentle yet firm. I set boundaries, but I'm always gentle. With patience, I can tolerate the child's mistakes and promptly point out when they do right. Many parents think, "Finally, I don't need to comment," when their child does something right, overlooking this crucial step. In reality, when a child does something correctly, we must express our recognition promptly with patience.
When a child turns to you in need, you should be able to respond quickly, rather than giving them the cold shoulder. We've seen many parents who choose to ignore their child, thinking it's better to calm down and discuss later. In fact, what we need to do is to address the child's emotions and show understanding towards their emotional expressions. You don't necessarily have to fulfill their demands. If every time a child cries or makes a fuss and you immediately appease them, they will gradually learn the pattern: 'As long as I make a fuss, my demands will be met.' So, when a child is crying or fussing, you might not have to satisfy their request, but you need to validate their emotions: 'I know you're anxious, I know you really want this, and I understand.' That's what emotional validation is. You don’t necessarily have to agree with their perspective. You can wait until they calm down and then discuss and negotiate, and fulfill their demands when necessary. Another issue to note is sensory-motor integration. Many are now attending classes on sensory integration (the full term being 'sensory processing integration', referring to the brain's ability to coordinate with the body. It's the capacity to take in sensory information from the environment, process it, and respond appropriately).
“Grandchildren with sensory-motor integration problems are apt to give the family more trouble than other children. They are less happy, and things are just not right for them. They are fussy and cannot enjoy being with the family or playing with other children, as much as normal children do. Losing a game is very threatening to their incomplete self-concept and so they ruin games. Sharing toys or food is difficult. They are forever trying to make themselves feel important, so they cannot think about the needs of others. Because their brain responds differently, they react differently to circumstances. They are overly sensitive, and their feelings are often hurt. They cannot cope with everyday situations or new and unfamiliar situations. They become very anxious as they do not always understand what is happening, nor what is expected of them. This anxiety can turn a child into a virtual firecracker, ready to explode at the slightest provocation.”
The so-called sensory-motor integration issue is: you observe if a child can coordinate actions like hitting a ball, skipping rope, playing games like tossing sandbags, and "eagles catching chicks". If their movements are coordinated, it indicates that their brain development is healthy. However, if a child can't hit a ball properly or can't hop correctly, they may have sensory integration issues. Following that, these issues can lead to minor brain hiccups, manifesting as emotional problems. Apart from movement, diet may also play a role in this, which will be discussed in the next chapter. So, what should we do for children at different ages?
From 0-12 months, when babies cry or seek help, we should respond quickly to give them a sense of security. Our expressions, tone of voice, and touch will provide this security. Parents and grandparents should treat babies gently. There should be consistent routines, such as when it's time to eat or play. You'll find that children love routines, and once established, they like to adhere to them. This is much easier for them than adults. However, many families fail to establish routines by ages 0-3, making it challenging when the child turns 5 or 6. Humming or singing lullabies can stimulate brain development effectively.
From 1-2 years old, start establishing rules and habits. For instance, a 2-year-old might enjoy hitting you or pulling your hair. Don't hit, scold, or shout at them; they aren't doing it maliciously. Distract them and shift their attention to something else. In a child's life, try to say "No" less often. It's better to tell them what they can do rather than what they can't.
Recently, I met a friend with a nearly 3-year-old boy. Initially, in an unfamiliar environment, he hid in his father's arms and played roughly. Someone suggested distracting the child with a toy, and it worked. Later, the child told his dad he needed to use the bathroom. After they returned, I told the dad to praise the child for communicating. The father did, and the child was delighted. Such small actions can build a child's confidence and teach them to communicate their needs. It's not difficult, but many parents are in the habit of saying "No" without explaining the right actions.
Between 1-2 years, ensure adequate sleep and physical activity. From 2-3 years, a child's curiosity blossoms, and we should encourage exploration. I heard of a friend's child who found an ant nest and wanted to bring it home. The mother agreed, and they raised the ants in a glass box from age 3 to 9. The child grew up achieving remarkable things, maintaining a close relationship with his mother, staying healthy, and doing well in many areas. It all started from satisfying his curiosity. Encourage exploration but set boundaries. Create more laughter and avoid constantly urging children. Let them control their pace, which is more important than adhering strictly to meal times.
From ages 3 to 5, there needs to be a set of rules. It's important to establish these rules with them and also allow them to participate in independent exploration. Within a structured framework, ask the child for their thoughts and suggestions. If they think changes are needed, ask them how they might like to make those changes. This is about letting the child participate in rule-making and allowing them the room to make mistakes.
Learn to reflect emotions. Because children between 3 and 5 can already speak, they might express their dissatisfaction a lot. At such times, we need to reflect their emotions. This is emphasized in a book we've mentioned before, called "You Are Your Child's Best Toy". Tell them, "I know you're upset right now," or "I understand that you're angry," or "I can see that you're hurt." This is called reflecting emotions. Never underestimate the power of this kind of acknowledgment. Many parents overlook this and jump straight to reasoning with their child. But reasoning without acknowledging their feelings can make the child feel isolated and unvalidated. What they truly need is to feel understood and supported by their parents.
Moreover, during ages 3 to 5, you can instill a sense of time in children. For example, when Doodoo learned not to be late at around three or four, I praised him, telling him that punctuality is a sign of respect for others. And when a child talks about the future, give them positive affirmations. Whether they want to be an astronaut or a lawyer, encourage them. Sadly, many parents might say things like, "With your attitude towards studies, you'll achieve nothing." Instead of dampening their spirits with negativity, be optimistic. Ensure they get adequate sleep. All of the above are related to the establishment of behavioral patterns.
In my view, the more relaxed the parents are, the better the outcome. If parents are constantly battling, arguing, or losing their temper with their children, it only makes it harder to shape the child's behavior. Negative emotional outbursts can stiffen a child's brain, preventing the formation of active neural connections.
The next section is about diet. The gut is crucial. There are approximately 1500 types of bacteria in our gut. Interestingly, neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which we often talk about, are partly synthesized in the gut. After synthesis, they enter our brain through the gut-brain axis. As described by Yinye (CEO of Huada Group and author of the "Life Code" series), there's a "telephone line" between the gut and the brain. So, improving gut health can effectively alter the brain's state.
Nowadays, children's gut health is deteriorating, and it's related to several factors: our food contains antibiotics; mothers taking antibiotics during or after childbirth; an increase in formula feeding; the prevalence of processed foods with additives and preservatives; the omnipresence of antibiotics, junk food, chemicals, and toxins, causing each generation's gut health to decline; exposure to environmental chemicals, especially those leaching from plastics when heated or microwaved; and the overly "clean" diets which aren't conducive to maintaining gut bacteria and the development of a child's immune system.
“Children diagnosed with autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been found to have lower numbers and diversity of gut bacteria. Children with worse gut function have an increased severity of the disorder. Children who have poor nutrition and gut health may have difficulty learning, exhibit poor behaviour, be sluggish and have limited energy, or on teh opposite end, be hyperactive.”
Therefore, the gut plays a significant role in an individual's brain development.
Another issue is gut permeability, commonly referred to as "leaky gut". Many books we've previously discussed mention gluten and how gluten intolerance, along with excessive sugar intake, can lead to leaky gut. A leaky gut can result in symptoms such as poor sleep, irritability, and aggressiveness. If excessive sugar enters the bloodstream due to a permeable gut, it leads to high blood sugar levels. Many teenagers develop diabetes primarily because of leaky gut. Many parents make the mistake of feeding their young children a very fixed diet, which isn't advisable.
Concerning our food concerns, it's evident to many of us the presence of chemicals in our environment. Living in an environment dominated by plastics is detrimental. We also recognize the additives in our food, like preservatives and pesticide residues. But what we often overlook are the chemicals present in natural foods. These natural foods contain chemicals too, such as salicylates, amines, glutamate, dairy products, and gluten. While these are inherent in natural foods, it becomes problematic if you consume them daily. Consuming the same food every day can lead to an accumulation of these chemicals in the body. Once there's an excess, issues like gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, or excessive salicylates can arise, leading to leaky gut, which subsequently affects our overall health.
There's also the issue of food additives. So, what's the solution here? The author says:
“Read labels and avoid food addictives and preservatives. Avoid processed food and ‘fast food’. This includes processed meats. The more distant a food looks from how it looked when it was fresh, the more additives and preservatives it generally has and the more utrients removed. Basically this means that it’s best to eat food that have no additives- foods that are fresh, or fresh-frozen, unprocessed and unrefined. The old saying ‘if it looks like something your grandmother wouldn’t have eaten, avoid it’ still very much applies!
Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables very well before eating – not just rinse under the gap. Most of these have been sprayed multiple times with anti-bug and anti-disease chemicals that are designed to ‘stick’, before they are picked. Research has found the most successful way to remove chemicals from fresh foods is as follows: Add 1 tablespoon of salt, or 30 grams (1 oz) of baking soda, to 3 liters (6 pt) of water. Soak your fruit and vegetables for fifteen to 20 minutes, then wash under fresh running water. You can use water and lemon juice on more delicately flavored fruits like raspberries and blueberries. ”
After weaning, children need to drink more water. Do not let them replace water with beverages or milk; they need to drink plenty of water. As much as possible, prevent children from consuming high-sugar, flavored, and brightly colored carbonated drinks and sports drinks. Provide them with moderate amounts of pure fruit juice. If a child can eat whole fruits directly, that's the best. However, don't let them consume an excessive amount of fruit. This is about dietary habits, and we need to grow and learn about this together.
The next topic is sleep. I feel the importance of sleep doesn't need much emphasis since everyone knows sleep is a process of brain restructuring and sorting. For instance, the author's child once mentioned that he rides a bicycle during the day, and at night when he sleeps, he's still riding. This is accurate because sleep is a time for review, reorganization, and learning. We often experienced this when we were young; if there was a problem we couldn't solve during the day, after a night's sleep, we suddenly knew how to solve it. Why? Not because of a sudden inspiration, but because during sleep, the brain sorts and processes information. Apart from reorganizing, there's also the cleaning function. The brain secretes cerebrospinal fluid at night which cleans the brain by washing away impurities. Thus, if a person doesn't sleep for prolonged periods, it can harm the brain's white matter. Chronic sleep deprivation can easily lead to Alzheimer's disease in old age. The onset of Alzheimer's is showing signs of occurring earlier, with many in their forties or fifties already showing symptoms.
So, how much sleep should a child get at different ages? Sleep promotes brain development and learning and helps us relieve stress, making it essential.
Hours of sleep necessary for a healthy brain
Babies under 4 months
Children, especially infants, should sleep on their backs. This is because children's bodies can jerk involuntarily, and such movements might suddenly wake them up in the middle of the night. A method to help infants sleep better is swaddling them. Once swaddled, their limbs don't move, and they can sleep peacefully. However, once they wake up, the swaddle should be removed to let their limbs move freely. Additionally, if infants snore, they should see a doctor. Snoring could indicate enlarged tonsils which can affect a child's breathing. Prolonged breathing difficulties during sleep can affect the brain's oxygen supply and development. So, don't neglect it if your child snores.
During sleep, there's a phenomenon called the Moro reflex. The Moro reflex is a primitive response in children. Just as children are little creatures, they too possess instincts that drive them towards favorable conditions and away from harm, thus having certain responses that allow them to survive and protect themselves. If the Moro reflex appears, it is often because the child is under too much stress. One might wonder, how can an infant be stressed? It's possible. You might not be aware, but they might experience significant stress in their minds, perhaps due to a lack of adequate comfort and so on. To reduce this excessive physical jerking response, the sudden night-time crying caused by the Moro reflex, our solution is gentle touches and massages. Moreover, adjusting the diet to prevent excessive strain on their stomach can also reduce the Moro reflex.
The biggest takeaway I had from reading this book was its explanation of bedwetting. We wet our beds when we were young, and children do it too. I recall "Dudu" wetting the bed only once or twice in his childhood, which is quite remarkable since he rarely did it. However, I've seen many children his age wetting their beds; it's a widespread occurrence. What's the reason behind bedwetting? Bedwetting is due to the Galant reflex from the infant's spine. What's the Galant reflex? It's when a primitive reflex hasn't been eliminated yet. When a child's primitive reflex has faded, it means they can now control their body with their mind, indicating activities like standing or crawling, symbolizing the continuous reduction of the primitive reflex.
How do you test for this Galant reflex? Have the child lie prone, then use a finger or a pen (without breaking the child's skin), and gently slide down one side of the child's spine. If you notice that their buttocks move towards the side you're sliding down, it means the Galant reflex is still present. If you slide down the right side and the buttocks move right, or slide down the left and the buttocks move left, it indicates the reflex is uncontrollably influencing their body. As long as the spinal Galant reflex exists, the pressure from the child's bladder won't be transmitted to the brain, leading to bedwetting.
So, how can one reduce this spinal galant reflex? The methods are actually quite straightforward. Every day, massage the lower back and buttock area of the child, giving it a rub and knead; engage in crawling games, as crawling aids in the movement of the buttocks and stimulates and relaxes the muscles of the lower back; have the child repeatedly roll over, from one side to the other, treating it as a game, and ask the child: 'Can you roll back and forth like an egg or a ball?' and have them roll on the bed; have someone strong assist the child in doing handstands, as it helps stretch the back muscles, and children also enjoy the upside-down sensation; after the age of 3, they can engage in some lying-down exercises, for instance, holding onto their feet and moving like an overturned beetle. Grabbing their feet, they can move like a beetle turned face-up.
Lastly, there's a crucial point that I want to remind those parents who are prone to losing their temper:
“Bedwetting may also occur as a result of high stress levels and emotional insecurities. Helping your grandchild feel safe, loved and secure, a regular routine and a ‘never-mind’ attitude when accidents happen will go a long way in supporting a good night’s sleep.”
Being a parent is tough. When a child wets the bed, it means a lot of extra work—sun drying the bedding, washing it, and it can be really frustrating. As a result, many mothers become anxious and irritable. After a bedwetting incident, they might lose their temper, and some even resort to physical punishment. The more you shame or hit the child, the worse the bedwetting may become, as their nervous system can't regulate itself under such stress. What the child needs is understanding and love. Instead of exacerbating the situation, consider working together on a solution and downplay the issue. As their nervous system matures, the frequency of bedwetting will reduce since the bladder's signals will be promptly relayed to the brain. This is some knowledge regarding sleep.
Up next is the topic of language and brain development. The author stresses the importance of distancing children from high-tech products. It's not just about keeping them away from phones but from all kinds of high-tech toys. Nowadays, many people like giving toys as gifts. What kinds of toys? They feel that electronic toys are better—those that light up and make 'tick-tock' sounds, remote-controlled airplanes, and others that seem cool. Scientific experiments have proven that when a child starts playing with electronic games, they tend to speak less. Have you noticed that when a child is deeply engrossed in playing with a noisy toy car, they just observe and rarely speak? This is not conducive to their brain development. We've discussed an important book titled '30 Millione Words' Language is the true stimulant for their brain development. Also, DVDs aren't effective. Many scientists have conducted experiments: one group of children learned a foreign language through human instruction while another group learned via DVDs. The results showed that, despite being taught the same content, the children who watched DVDs didn't learn effectively. This is because learning a language requires feedback. We need responses and reactions to truly learn. Thus, DVD programs and other audio-visuals cannot replace human interaction; there's a significant difference between the two.
During playtime, to help children build relationships, explore the world, develop reasoning skills, and diversify their cognition, the best method is reading, especially picture books. Many parents complain that picture books are too simple—with only ten words on a page, yet they're pricey. Children can't handle pages full of text. Therefore, the design of picture books is scientifically based on a child's developmental stage. Some might only have one word per page, but children love and are willing to read them. So, parents should read picture books to their children to effectively promote their relationship-building, world exploration, etc. Furthermore, avoid electronic games. The more primitive the toy, the better—those traditional toys made of wood, bamboo, and stone without any electronic components. Electronic games can hinder brain development and reduce the child's tendency to speak.
Additionally, there's the issue of children needing glasses. Hence, it's crucial to limit screen time. From 0-3 years old, the author suggests no screen exposure at all. Keep the TV off and ensure the child doesn't see phones or televisions. From 3-6 years, limit it to a maximum of 1 hour per week. From 6-12 years, a maximum of 2 hours per week. It's best if the child is involved in creating this plan. I remember when Doodoo was young, after starting elementary school, he set a plan of 20 minutes daily, amounting to about an hour or two weekly. This greatly preserved his eyesight. Engage more with children, play traditional games, and use traditional toys. This is about language and brain development.
Next, the author's favorite topic, which also aligns with her expertise, is music—listening, singing, and dancing. Music during pregnancy is also crucial. Although we don't advocate for prenatal education for everyone, we do understand basic principles. For instance, the mother's levels of adrenaline and dopamine during pregnancy can influence the child. If the mother frequently argues, feels anxious, experiences pain, smokes, or drinks during pregnancy, it can severely impact the child, even causing fetal deformities. Hence, it's beneficial during pregnancy to listen to soothing music like Mozart, which helps the child's peace and rhythm.
After birth, parents or grandparents should sing to the child, maintaining a rhythmic pace. Dance with the child with beats like "dong dong dong." It makes the child happy and helps develop a good sense of rhythm. Nothing is more joyful than creating a song and singing it with your child. If circumstances allow, turn daily conversations into songs. When reading a picture book, find a familiar tune, like "Jingle Bell Jingle Bell," and sing the book's words, letting the child connect rhythm with what they want to say. These are fun activities; don't view them as burdens but as opportunities for joy, fun, and laughter.
Another point concerns curiosity, imagination, and creativity. How can we help children continually cultivate curiosity and imagination about the world? I believe this is something every parent hopes for. But there's a secret I want to emphasize: do you know why curiosity diminishes? Curiosity decreases due to stress. The greatest enemy of curiosity is stress. We've seen many parents who are keen to push their children to do certain things, to "outshine" others, to win competitions, and so on. Such excessive pressure can quickly kill a child's curiosity. That's why we often see many kids who are obedient and outstanding in primary school, attending various extracurricular activities, learning a lot, but then dropping out or disengaging in junior and senior high school. It's because the pressure is too much, and their curiosity is exhausted.
What are the ways to stimulate a child's curiosity?
Always pay attention to the child. Children crave attention from parents and grandparents.
Maintain a positive attitude.
Encourage children to try to complete tasks independently, even if it's just a small part.
Actively participate in the child's life.
Praise them after they try or complete a task.
Acknowledge their responses, and consider their opinions.
Look for the "right or appropriate" aspects of their suggestions or opinions.
Don't force them to do what's deemed "correct", especially if it's only correct in the eyes of the parents. There aren't always fixed rules.
All of these can help foster lasting curiosity in children. Also, spend more time outdoors; nature is the best teacher. You can often take children hiking, to forests, or to lakes. Play the "why" game with children. Before the age of 6, they often ask "why?" about everything. Parents shouldn't just say "you'll know when you grow up" or "don't ask me, I don't know". Even if you don't know, you can look it up. Buy books that can answer the child's questions, do your homework, and read those books. Many parents hand the book to the child saying "read this if you don't understand". But what's the point of that? You should read and discuss it with the child. In doing so, children gain not only answers but also a close parent-child relationship, respect, and admiration for their parents, all of which are vital. They can also gain self-esteem, feeling valued and important.
Also, tell stories to children, do arts and crafts together. A great trick is to take your child to see where you work, to understand what mom and dad do daily. Many children grow up not knowing what their parents do because they never share.
The last section talks about buying gifts. When choosing gifts for children, prioritize suitability, safety, and durability. A toy that poses a slight challenge is more interesting. For instance, rocking chairs are great gift choices, as are strollers, beds, and car seats. Beware of small parts that can be swallowed. Consider rhythmic toys, like maracas. Have you ever thought of gifting maracas? Children love them and can play with them continuously.
The author says there's one thing you can always buy: books. She stresses, "Book, book, and book." At different stages, many interesting books are suitable for children. There's also a thoughtful tip from the author: always keep the receipt for easy returns, as children might not like the gift. Quality toys that are durable and safe can be passed down through generations.
I haven't talked about parenting books for a long time, but when discussing this simple yet intriguing book on cross-generational parenting, I felt a wave of nostalgia and love. It reminds us of the growth journey of children and our roles, not just as parents but potentially as grandparents too. Mutual understanding and tolerance are essential, as is shared learning and progress. The essence is that the entire family forms an ecosystem. In the process of raising children, it's not just the child who benefits and progresses, but also all the adults involved. This is the direction a healthy family should strive for.