What advice can neuroscience offer a parent who would like to prepare their child to be successful in school, career and life? Probably the most important advice is that success is a relative term that each parent must decide how to define.
Not all children can be valedictorians of their high school class, so if a parent decides that this is the academic goal for their child, most will be sorely disappointed. But there is no limit to the percentage of students who can graduate. Nor is there a limit to the number who can leave high school with a career goal in mind. Certainly, there is no limit to the number of high school seniors who can be accepted to a college or university of their choice. And finally, and perhaps the most important when the goal is perpetuating the species, the individual must be able to work with and sustain positive relationships with others.
In the United States today, high school degrees are no longer sufficient to guarantee financial stability and security, so pursuit of a career that necessitates some form of higher education is a worthwhile goal for parents. For a child to reach that goal there are specific requirements. First and foremost, an individual must be able to read fluently and adequately comprehend what they read. Unfortunately, however, learning to read is not easy for all children. There are prerequisite cognitive capacities that a child needs to be a fluent reader. Second, an individual must be able to handle numbers and understand basic numerical concepts so that he or she can earn and manage money, understand debt and monetary risk and balance a budget. Third, an individual must be able to get along with others, maintain intimate relationships and learn to manage other people to attain group goals.
Upon high school graduation, most parents would like their brain child to have a map for this future: career goals, security goals and relationship goals. Career goals will come through academic success and a work ethic, security will be achieved through ability to earn and manage money, and relationship goals will be attained through social skill attainment.
The valuable information that parents can glean from brain science is that each of these goals is attainable for all of your children. The remarkable thing is that the human brain is actually designed to achieve all of these. In most cases, a parent need only to follow his or her natural parental instincts and provide an environment rich in language and conducive to experimentation to achieve these goals.
In essence, raising a “brain child” simply requires talking to and playing with your infant. The magic here is that the human brain evolved under the circumstances that language and play actually build brain structures that support academic success and social success. Because the brain evolved over thousands of years, parents do not need, nor is it helpful, to expose very young children to television, or cell phones, or iPods or Baby Einstein. The brain is designed to develop very well when it is exposed to very simple and time-tested information like nursery rhymes, nursery songs, play routines, cuddling and play.