Are you surprised to discover that the one I finished first, and am reviewing now, is the one that affirmed me in my parenting quest? Jill Stamm is the Cofounder of New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development. Her book, Bright from the Start: The Simple Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind from Birth to Age 3, was in the new books section at our library and I took the bait. I love books about how the human brain and body work, so I figured this would be a helpful book.
It was a joy to read. I am doing a splendid job as a parent! In fact, I think I learned to be a splendid parent from my own parents, because most of what I have been doing is just stuff that comes naturally to me ... things my own parents did while raising me. Indeed, I think one of the author's primary goals is to let parents know that while nurturing your child's brain development is important (who doesn't want their children to be smart and successful?), it is also easy and natural.
Jill Stamm's book is well-structured, dividing the basics into three alphabetical building blocks. She encourages parents to provide Attention, Bonding and Communication. At the end of each section, she provides suggestions of activities which build in these three areas.
In the first section, on Attention, she explains the numerous things going on in the brain during infancy and toddlerhood. She encourages parents to lavish their infant with attention and quick response to needs. She instructs parents to build their child's ability to hold attention while learning new things.
She also speaks of the benefits of breastfeeding. Now, I wasn't a champion breast-feeding mom (the longest I ever endured was six months), but I do believe in the benefits it provides. What Stamm taught me was that the very physical act of breastfeeding is nurturing brain development because of the action of switching sides (think, right-brain, left-brain, mid-hemisphere line, etc. crossing over the line, stimulating both sides).
Furthermore, the first section encourages limiting television. This, is my one down-fall as a parent. I do allow my children (even my 1 year old) to watch more television than they should. Reading about the importance of teaching your child to hold attention on activities has encouraged me to allow less television time and given guidance about which shows are best suited for infants and toddlers.
The second section focuses on Bonding. Here she explores why physical touch and emotional trust is key to nurturing brain development. She discusses why a secure attachment to a few caregivers (one is optimal) is critical in developing a strong emotional start and nurturing brain development more effectively.
My main goal with my children has been to establish a strong relationship between parent and child within the first five years of life. Stamm concurs, "The quality of your child's first relationships has broader and longer-lasting effects than any other factor in your control." She explains that a sense of security allows the child to use more energy on brain development.
In the third section, she focuses on Communication. She encourages parents to talk to your child extensively, read to them a lot and introduce them to the patterns and pleasures of music. She gives book and music suggestions, but encourages parents to choose things which appeal to them and to follow the child's innate interests.
I would love to write another post, explaining my own personal reactions to Jill Stamm's observation, because there is just so much to say about how we nurture our children. But, the thing which really drew me into this book more than anything else was the story of the author, which she laces throughout the book.
Jill Stamm was a 28 year old fifth-grade teacher, when she learned that her newborn daughter, born four months prematurely, would possibly not live and would certainly be multiply handicapped. Her first daughter, Jenny, did survive with handicaps, and her life encouraged this author to learn all that she could about brain development. Her second daughter, Kristin, is now training to be a neuroscientist. As Jill Stamm talks of brain development and how parents can nurture this, she speaks from a personal realm of watching both sides of the spectrum develop. Her story is fascinating. Her insights are helpful and presented in an affirming way.
In the acknowledgements, her words touched me again. She writes: "And, my Jenny, who has taught me that every person in this world has a right to be ... that, regardless of whether they bring very little, or a lot when they arrive, each shows what it is to be human by just their very existence." I knew, going into a pregnancy in my 40's, that we would face the possibility that our child might be born with some form of disability. I was open to that possibility because I agree with Jill Stamm. We were fortunate to be blessed with three healthy, capable children, and I intend to nurture them to the best of my ability. It would be wonderful if Jill Stamm would go on to write a separate book, an autobiography, so that those who aren't seeking ways to develop the young mind could also benefit from the story of her life and the lives of her daughters.