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Book Notes: The Toddler Brain

February 21, 2019


 The generation before us had this concept that babies’ minds are tabula rasa (clean slate). It was formerly espoused that it is our job as parents to fill our children’s minds like pouring water into a bucket. But modern science has made leaps forward in understanding how our child’s brain works. Instead of a tabula rasa, our child's mind can exactly be the opposite. As ana said in her book, The Toddler Brain:


“A young child’s developing brain is more like a “use it or lose it” machine, ready from day one to strengthen neural pathways that are repeatedly put to good use while pruning away connections that aren’t. It’s the strength of these early connections that really matters. What strengthens these neural connections? The answer is deceptively simple: us. All of the early, everyday experiences we share with our children serve as the key ingredients necessary to effectively build and strengthen their neural networks, their brains, and ultimately the toolkit of skills they’ll need to succeed.”


Talk about carrying a lot on our shoulders, right? It is such an important task that as parents (who just wants to survive each day, let’s be honest) should have a strategic plan in mind. Jana distinguishes here a difference between a strategic plan (which she recommends) and a long-range plan. A long-range plan makes assumptions that the “current knowledge on future conditions is sufficiently reliable.” However, we all know that this is almost impossible. A strategic plan however is designed to be responsive to a dynamic environment and more focused on strategies rather than a checklist of must-dos and to-haves.


A strategic plan is apt especially for days when you have to give in and retreat, so as to win another day. I kind of liked that analogy. It also aligns with the principles of positive discipline : you plan for the end-result, and then you take it day by day. So if you envision your child becoming a compassionate, confident, and kind-hearted adult --- then you can use that as barometer on whether it is worth it or not to set hard rules on what color shirt he wants to wear today, at 3 years old.



Another thing I like about the book is how she has likened Parenting to Business. I really haven’t got a mind for business, but I will say she has got a point on how looking at business management today can tell us the kind of future our child will be growing up in. She cited examples from current books such as the Start-up of You, Grit, Ted-X speakers, Peter Drucker, Daniel Pink’s Drive, among others. She has outlined good tips on how to encourage self-management and how to encourage it early in our kids. We all know what IQ is (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient). But she said, there are 7 areas which must be strengthened to develop what is needed for the future to come: Qi (pronounced as key). Qi is a set of universal life skills --- in most contexts, these refers to flow of energy or life processes that sustains and connects the living.


The 7 areas are:


  1. Me – Self-management Skills that include self-awareness, self-regulation, self-control, attention and focus

  2. We – People skills that allows us to understand, share and play with others

  3. WHY – skills that include questioning curiousity and inquisitiveness

  4. Will – Self-motivation and drive

  5. Wiggle – Physical and Intellectual restlessness

  6. Wobble – skills that allow for build and foster agility, adaptability, and resilience

  7. What If -  Skills that encompass curiousity, imagination and creativity


She goes on to describe each are in the next chapters of her book, and she offered strategies on how to strengthen these areas as parents. For example, as suggestions on strengthening “Me”, Jana expounds on how we should: model the behavior, rely on routines, enhance our emotional vocabulary, encourage emotional expressions, use time-away instead of time-out, encourage taking turns, role play, beware of background TV, rest and recess.


It took me a while to get through the book, but I blame that on my own brain (I love fiction more). It is however a good read for parents. It is current, well-researched and the suggestions are not so far-out that it would be impossible to follow. Some of these things we are already doing, but it was just nice to have solid data to back us up.  If the hard copy is a bit pricey for you, I recommend the kindle edition (that’s what I got) so that you can just click it open when you find yourself having some wait-time in your hands in your daily commute, or the cafeteria at lunch, or when the little dictator has taken his nap for the day, (or your me-time in the bathroom, as was my case, hahaha!) Fair book trails!



Later days, 







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