The Parent Quiz (VIDEO)

October 19, 2010  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments
Parents need facts, not just advice, about raising their children. Too bad those facts are difficult to find in the ever-growing mountain of parenting books. And blogs. And message boards, and podcasts, and mothers-in-law, and every relative who's ever had a child. There's plenty of information out there. It's just hard for parents to tell what to believe.

That's why I wrote "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five." It's based on science that most parents (unless they subscribe to scientific journals) don't get a chance to see. The great thing about science is that it takes no sides -- and no prisoners. Once you know which research to trust, the big picture emerges and myths fade away. To gain my trust, research must first have been published in the refereed literature and then successfully replicated.

Scientists certainly don't know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives parents their best chance at raising smart, happy children.

Surprises in "Brain Rules for Baby" include:

• Why men should do more household chores
• What you do when emotions run hot profoundly affects how your child turns out
• Why you shouldn't praise your kid's intelligence
• The amount of TV kids under two should watch
• The best predictor of academic performance

Know the answers? Test yourself in the video "The Parent Quiz." In the first half, you'll watch a dad, Michael, deal with the baby crying, the wife sighing, and the goldfish dying. In the second half, I give a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"-style quiz:

More videos detail key insights from the book, from how to deal with temper tantrums to the benefits of breast-feeding.

Nature and nurture may be split 50-50. But there's a great deal parents can do with the influence they have.

More content:
Watch Part One "Parenting Fail?"
Watch Part Two "The Parent Quiz"
Brain Rules for Baby on Facebook
Happy baby - How to head off temper tantrums

Brain Rules for Baby – Book Tour

September 23, 2010  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five is coming out in just two weeks. John Medina is hitting the road and speaking in Portland, NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco! View the book tour page or check out the schedule below.

Thursday, October 7 @7pm -- Portland
Portland State University Smith Memorial Student Union
1825 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97201
Tuesday, October 12 @7pm -- New York City
Riverdale Country School
5250 Fieldston Road
Bronx, NY 10471
Wednesday, October 13 @1pm -- New York City
Barnes & Noble Upper East Side
150 East 86th Street (Lexington)
New York, NY 10028
(212) 369-2180
Thursday, October 14 @7pm -- Philadelphia
Episcopal Academy
1785 Bishop White Drive
Newtown Square, PA 19073
Saturday, October 16 @9am - noon -- New York City
NYC AEYC Conference
Food and Finance High School
525 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019
Cost $50; Register (note: select "keynote speaker only" on the form)
Tuesday, October 19 @7pm -- Seattle
Town Hall Seattle (Great Hall)
1119 8th Avenue (8th and Seneca)
Seattle, WA 98101
Cost $25 (includes copy of Brain Rules for Baby or Brain Rules) Buy tickets
Friday, October 22 @6:30pm -- Seattle
Children's Trust Foundation
Fundraiser at The Edgewater Hotel
2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67
Seattle, WA 98121
Cost $75 (all proceeds go to Children's Trust; book is included) Register

Monday, October 25 @7pm -- Chicago
Cornerstone Center
1111 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60610
RSVP: Archie Jeter, 312.427.5399 or
Tuesday, October 26 @7pm -- Cleveland
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Legacy Village
24519 Cedar Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124
(216) 691-7000
Thursday, October 28 @4:30pm -- Denver
Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center, University of Denver Campus
2344 East lliff Avenue at University Boulevard
Denver, CO 80208
There is no charge, however you are required to register.

Friday, October 29 1:30pm - 3:00pm -- Denver
Children's Museum of Denver
2121 Children's Museum Drive
Denver, CO 80211
(303) 43307444
Book signing (come anytime between 1:30pm - 3:00pm). Bring the kids in costume for Trick or Treat Street!

Wednesday, November 3 @7pm -- San Francisco
Walt Disney Museum Theatre
104 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94129
Hosted by Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM)
Thursday, November 4 @7pm -- Los Altos Hills (SF Bay Area)
Foothill College
12345 El Monte Road
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Hosted by Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM)

Q&A with John Medina

September 7, 2010  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments
Q&A with John Medina, author of the forthcoming Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five (Oct 12).

Latest news: Fall 2010 Book Tour Schedule

How important is "nurture" in brain development?

The nature/nurture debate is summed up in this old joke: A third-grade boy comes home and hands his father his report card. His father looks at it and says, “How do you explain these D’s and F’s?” The boy looks up at him and says, “You tell me: Is it nature or nurture?”

There are some factors parents can’t control and some they can. There’s seed, and there’s soil. All the nurture in the world won’t change the fact that 50 percent of your child’s potential is genetic. Good news: As a parent, you can only do your best. That said, even as a professional geneticist, I am convinced we can exert far more influence over our kids’ behavior than is popularly imagined. It’s a very, very big task that takes a lot of work. The hardest job in the world. And also the most important.

Isn't brain power a matter of genetics?

For all of us, nature controls about 50 percent of our intellectual horsepower, and environment determines the rest. This means two things for parents: First, no matter how hard your child tries, there will be limits to what his brain can do. Second, that’s only half of the story. Aspects of your child’s intelligence will be deeply influenced by his environment, especially by what you do as parents.

What's the best thing a pregnant woman can do for her baby to be?

If I were to give a single sentence of advice based on what we know about in utero development during the first half of pregnancy, it would be this: The baby wants to be left alone.

At least at first. From the baby’s point of view, the best feature of life in the womb is its relative lack of stimulation. The uterus is dark, moist, warm, as sturdy as a bomb shelter, and much quieter than the outside world. And it needs to be. Once things get going, your little embryo’s pre-brain will pump out neurons at the astonishing rate of 500,000 cells a minute. That’s more than 8,000 cells per second, a pace it will sustain for weeks on end. This is readily observable three weeks after conception, and it continues until about the mid-point in your pregnancy. The kid has a great deal to accomplish in a very short time! A peaceful lack of interference from amateur parents is just what you’d expect the baby to need.

What are some things parents can do for their babies?

Here are a few things to do:

- Address the Four Grapes of Wrath new parents face: sleep loss, social isolation, unequal workload, and depression
- Talk to your baby a lot. This is as simple as saying, “It’s a beautiful day” when you look outside
and see the sun. Just talk. At infancy, do so in “parentese,” those clusters of exaggerated vowel
sounds at high frequencies. A rate of 2,100 words per hour is the gold standard.
- Focus on face time, not screen time. Babies love to gaze at human faces. Mom’s is best of all. TV
before age 2 is harmful to children.
- Praise effort, not IQ. Praise your child’s effort (“I’m proud of you. You really worked hard on that”) rather than innate ability (“You’re so smart!”).
I'd like to share with you an excerpt from the introduction to my next book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five (October 12, 2010). Stay tuned for more information on the book and Fall book tour.

Every time I lectured to a group of parents-to-be about baby brain development, I made a mistake.

The parents, I thought, had come for a tasty helping of science about the brain in utero—a little neural crest biology here, a little axonal migration there. But in the Q&A session after each lecture, the questions were always the same. The first, delivered by a very pregnant woman one rainy night in Seattle, was “What can my baby learn while she is still in my womb?” Another woman asked, “What’s going to happen to my marriage after we bring our baby home?” A dad delivered the third question, with some authority: “How do I get my kid into Harvard?” An anxious mom asked the fourth question: “How can I make sure my little girl is going to be happy?” And the fifth belonged to a downright noble grandmother. “How do I make my grandchild good?” she asked. She had taken over parenting responsibilities from a drug-addicted daughter. She did not want the same thing to happen again.

No matter how many times I tried to steer the conversation toward the esoteric world of neural differentiation, parents asked variations on these same five questions—over and over again. Finally, I realized my mistake. I was giving parents Ivory Tower when they needed Ivory Soap. So, this book will not be concerned with the nature of gene regulation in the developing rhombencephalon. Brain Rules for Baby instead will be guided by the practical questions my audiences keep asking. “Brain Rules” are the name I give what we know for sure about how the early-childhood brain works. Each one is quarried from the much larger seams of behavioral psychology, cellular biology, and molecular biology. Each was selected for its ability to assist newly minted moms and dads in the daunting task of caring for a helpless little human.

I certainly understand the need for answers. Having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about. I know firsthand: I have two boys, both of whom came with bewildering questions, behavioral issues, and no instructions.

I soon learned that’s not all they came with. They possessed a gravitational pull that could wrest from me a ferocious love and a tenacious loyalty. They also were magnetic; I could not help staring at their perfect fingernails, clear eyes, dramatic shocks of hair. By the time my second child was born, I understood that it is possible to split up love ad infinitum and not decrease any single portion of it. With parenting, it is truly possible to multiply by dividing. My wife and I still marvel at how different our sons are from us, and yet how similar. Having kids is like mailing yourself a letter from the most delightful, meaningful future you can imagine.

My children also amplified the meaning of my work as a scientist. Watching a baby’s brain develop is like having a front-row seat to the Big Bang. It starts out as a single cell in the womb, quiet as a secret. Within a few weeks, it is pumping out nerve cells at the astonishing rate of 8,000 per second. Within a few months, it is on its way to becoming the world’s finest thinking machine. These mysteries fueled not only wonder and love but, as a rookie parent, I remember, anxiety and questions.

Too many myths

Parents need facts, not just advice, about raising their children. Unfortunately, those facts are difficult to find in the ever-growing mountain of parenting books. And blogs. And message boards, and podcasts, and mother-in-laws, and every relative who’s ever had a child. There’s plenty of information out there. It’s just hard for parents to tell what to believe.

The great thing about science is that it takes no sides—and no prisoners. Once you know which research to trust, the big picture emerges and myths fade away. To gain my trust, research must pass my “grumpfactor.” To make it into this book, studies must first have been published in the refereed literature and then successfully replicated. Some have been confirmed dozens of times. Where I make an exception for cutting-edge research, reliable but not yet fully vetted by the passage of time, I will note it.

To me, parenting is about brain development. That’s not surprising, given what I do for a living. I am a developmental molecular biologist, with strong interests in the genetics of psychiatric disorders. My research life has been spent mostly as a private consultant, a for-hire troubleshooter, to industries and public research institutions in need of a geneticist with mental-health expertise. I also founded the Talaris Institute, located in Seattle next to the University of Washington, whose original mission involved studying how infants process information at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels. That is how I came to talk to groups of parents from time to time, like on that rainy Seattle night.

Scientists certainly don’t know everything about the brain. But what we do know gives us our best chance at raising smart, happy children. And it is relevant whether you just discovered you are pregnant, already have a toddler, or find yourself needing to raise grandchildren. So it will be my pleasure in this book to answer the big questions parents have asked me—and debunk their big myths, too. Here are some of my favorites:

Myth: Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby’s future math scores.

Truth: Your baby will simply remember Mozart after birth—along with many other thingsshe hears, smells, and tastes in the womb. If you want her to do well in mathin her later years, the greatest thing you can do is to teach her impulse control in her early years.

Myth: Exposing your infant or toddler to language DVDs will boost his vocabulary.

Truth: Some DVDs can actually reduce a toddler’s vocabulary. It is true that thenumber and variety of words you use when talking to your baby boost both his vocabulary and his IQ. But the words have to come from you—a real, live human being.

Myth: To boost their brain power, children need French lessons by age 3 and a room piledwith “brain-friendly” toys and a library of educational DVDs.

Truth: The greatest pediatric brain-boosting technology in the world is probably a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons, and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.

Myth: Telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence.

Truth: They’ll become less willing to work on challenging problems. If you want to get your baby into Harvard, praise her effort instead.

Myth: Children somehow find their own happiness.

Truth: The greatest predictor of happiness is having friends. How do you make and keep friends? By being good at deciphering nonverbal communication. Learning a musical instrument boosts this ability by 50 percent. Text messaging may destroy it.

Research like this is continually published in respected scientific journals. But unless you have a subscription to the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, this rich procession of findings may pass you by. This book is meant to let you know what scientists know—without having a Ph.D. to understand it.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal

June 21, 2010  |  Posted by Dr. Madhavan | No Comments

Benzodiazepines are a class of medication used to treat anxiety and insomnia.  These medications have been around since the late 1950s and their role in treatment has changed over the years.  Initially benzodiazepines were a staple treatment for people suffering from “nervous conditions” (now called anxiety disorders).  Over the past 20 years, these medications have given ground to Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) in the treatment of anxiety.  Despite this, they remain effective tools in treating anxiety due to their rapid and predictable clinical effect and good tolerability.

After prolonged use or use of high doses, a person’s brain develops a tolerance to benzodiazepines.  This tolerance is not just for the specific medication, but for the entire class of medications.  If a person were to miss several doses of the medication in succession or were to dramatically decrease their dose quickly, that person might experience benzodiazepine withdrawal.  This is a syndrome characterized by an increase in anxiety, irritability, nausea, insomnia, and head and body aches among other symptoms.  In most cases, this is a miserable period of days or weeks that will gradually abate.  However, in some cases this can lead to a life-threatening situation requiring hospitalization.

Generally, the treatment of benzodiazepine withdrawal involves replacement of the missing medication and then gradual tapering of the medication.  People taking a benzodiazepine should consult with their medication prescriber before deciding to reduce or stop one of these medications.