Why do so many parenting books come to such opposing conclusions? I am convinced it is because most don't have a robust-enough scientific filter. Just try to find a consensus from parenting experts about how to get your baby to sleep through the night. I can't imagine anything more frustrating for first-time parents.
The same myths (and same big questions) come up again and again when I talk to groups of parents about child brain development.
I wrote "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five" to answer those questions -- and debunk the myths, too. Some of my favorite myths? Will playing Mozart to the womb make your baby smarter? Will listening to DVDs boost your toddler's vocabulary? And do toys that promise to exercise your baby's brain actually work?
What's behind those truths? The unyielding force of evolution.
Most scientists believe humans survived because we formed cooperative social groups. This forced us to spend lots of time in the land of relationships, getting to know one another's motivations, psychological interiors, and systems of reward and punishment.
Two benefits emerged. One was the ability to work as a team -- useful for hunting, finding shelter, and defending against predators. The other was the ability to help raise one another's children. The skirmishes between birth-canal size and baby-skull size meant females needed time to recover from giving birth. Somebody had to take care of the kids. Or take over the nurturing if she died. That communal need was so strong, and so critical to our survival, that researchers have given the phenomenon its own name: alloparenting. If as a parent you feel as though you can't do it alone, that's because you were never meant to.
Though no one has a time machine capable of whisking us back to the Pleistocene, evidence for these tendencies abounds today. A baby is born eager to connect with his family and is prewired to relate to others. One mother reported watching American Idol with her son, age two. As the host interviewed the crying contestants who didn't make it, the boy suddenly jumped up, patted the screen, and said, "Oh no, don't cry." This skill requires deep relational skills, illustrating as much a biological process as it does a sweet kid. All of us have natural connecting abilities.
If you understand that the brain is interested foremost in survival, and that the brain has a deep need for relating to others, the things that best develop your baby's brain will make sense.
John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and author of the New York Times bestseller "Brain Rules." His latest book is "Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five." He is an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.