25 April, 2011

How We Parent

The reason we bring a child into the world is different for each of us based on our wonderfully unique beliefs.  David and I believe that children are born with a purpose in life.  In addition, we believe that we, as parents, are meant to help guide our children and provide them tools to use throughout life.
As we were deciding to have children, we asked ourselves: What do we need to do as parents to ensure our children are raised to the best of our ability?

To help us answer this question, we began researching early childhood development. We knew that the first three years of life were very important developmentally, and we were amazed to learn about the human brain development and its relationship to parenting. 

Medical research shows two major phases in life when humans have a significant amount of brain development: 

     1. Conception through age 3, and
     2. Age 10 through puberty. 

This is not to say that our brains do not develop at other times in our life, rather, our brains are always growing and changing. During these two phases, our brains build bridges easily forming our basic patterns for life. “Early experiences impact the development of the brain and influence the specific way in which the circuits of the brain become “wired.”  The outside world shapes its development through experiences that a child’s senses – vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste – absorb.”[1] 

These bridges are the basis for shaping our brain for how we will think, feel, move and learn throughout life. The bridges can be re-wired outside of these two phases; however, it is more challenging to change once they have been created. 

Some interesting facts about brain development during conception through age 3 are:

          1.     The brain begins development around the 27th day of gestation when 
          the neural tube closes and the brain and spinal cord begin development.
          2.     The brain begins working in the 5th week after conception.  
          This allows the fetus to begin moving in the 6th week.
          3.     In the second trimester, the brain develops critical reflexes: breathing, 
          sucking, swallowing, etc.
          4.     Around birth, the cerebral cortex begins functioning.  
          The cerebral cortex is responsible for mental life, such as thinking, 
          remembering, and feeling.
          5.     At birth, the basis for the creation of bridges exists, 
          but they are not fully connected.  
          6.     From birth to age 3, the initial bridges rapidly form many of our 
          natural tendencies.  (Gross motor skills, vision, fine motor skills, speech, etc.)
          7.     By age 3, there are well over 1,000 trillion bridges created.
          8.     A 3 year olds brain is twice as active as an adult.

So, with 1,000 trillion synapses being created within the first 3 years, what can we do to help our children create a healthy foundation?  For us, the answer was to create an outline of our goals for parenting.

We knew that we needed to begin reviewing how we behave as individuals because children learn from their parents’ behavior.   As a result, we decided to review our personal behaviors and determine the following:

          1.     What behavioral traits do we like within ourselves and want to keep?
          2.     What behavioral traits are we lacking within ourselves that we want to create?
          3.     What behavioral traits within ourselves do we need to let go?

After we answered the three questions above, we created an outline of our ultimate parenting behaviors!  This outline is a list of behaviors we want to emulate as individuals.  By emulating these behavioral traits during a significant developmental phase (the first 3 years), we hope our children form a solid and loving foundation for their lives.

Below are examples of behavioral traits we want to model and instill within our children. 

          1.     Love others and our self.
          2.     Respect all living, and non-living, entities.
          3.     Learn how to express emotion in a healthy manner.
          4.     Maintain a positive outlook on life.
          5.     Maintain an inner calmness.
          6.     Live life with joy.
          7.     Live life with gratitude.
          8.     Live life with compassion.
          9.     Laugh.
         10.  Learn how to communicate lovingly.
         11.  Meditate daily to rejuvenate.
         12.  Exercise to maintain overall body health and strength.
         13.  Spend time in nature.
         14.  Create a healthy diet which will nourish.
         15.  Forgive.
         16.  Live in the present moment.
         17.  Embrace patience.

In order to help us model the above behavioral traits, we created an outline of basic “how-to’s”, some of those I have outlined below (the number below relates to the number above):

         1.     Show love to our children and others. 
         2.     Teach respect and use the word respect daily.  We praise our 
         children daily for taking respectful actions.
         3.     Allow our children to express their emotions and do our best to be 
         supportive of them during difficult times.
         4.     Project a positive outlook on life to our children.  While we may have a 
         negative thought, we do not express it around our children. 
         (For example:  Look, it is raining.  Isn’t that wonderful!  
         The rain helps to provide us and the earth the needed water.  
         Rather than, aw, what a gloomy day, it is raining and cloudy.)
         5.     Make every effort to remain calm during all situations around the children.  
         We express our frustrations in private.
         6.     Find joy every day with our children and activities we partake in.
         7.     Express our gratitude often.
         8.     Be compassionate to our children and others.
         9.     To laugh and play and enjoy time together.
        10.  Communicate in a calm manner.
        11.  Create a meditation ritual that is done daily and will expand as they grow. 
        12.  Get outside and move regularly.
        13.  Spend time outside talking about the beauty of nature.
        14.  Eat natural, whole foods. 
        15.  Forgive others and our-selves.
        16.  Children naturally live in the present moment.  
        We as adults try to follow their example and live in the present 
        moment with them.
        17.  Remember that everything does not happen in accordance 
        with our personal time frame and that is ok.

We are so grateful that we created these outlines to help us parent. These outlines have become our parenting goals.  They remind us of what we strive to accomplish as individuals and as parents.  They help us focus on the positive.  By focusing on the positive, we are able to fully enjoy our children and ourselves.  In addition, we are able to use the not so positive moments motivate us to be better individuals and parents for our children. 

While we created our parenting goals prior to conception, I believe that creating an outline like this at any time in your life is a wonderful concept.  Whether it is for parenting, or just self-improvement.  The written outline helps to provide focus and incentive to make personal changes.

As we move through life, our parenting goals change and grow with new experiences.  We have done a lot of growing as individuals, and are proud of how our children are becoming their own unique, special individuals.  We don’t always meet each goal.  But hey, we are human!

So, here is to loving ourselves, loving our children, and loving our parenting.  

What do you think about our approach to establish parenting goals? What do you think of the brain studies?  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions to help parents take advantage of the immense development within the first three years of a child’s life? 


[1] North Dakota State University - http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/famsci/fs609w.htm


  1. I love your proactive approach to parenting. Writing down the goals is a great way to solidify your beliefs, but also to get on the same page with your partner. I just listened to a podcast featuring an endocrinologist and her focus that day was on sleep. She said there are two critical times in a child's life to get a lot of sleep. The first is in the first three years (well, that's obvious). The second is when the child begins to enter puberty starting at age 10! This creates a more balanced system as it's making some huge changes. Having been around 10 year olds for many years now, I know it's a trying time for parents. Staying focused as a parent and working on the connections will take time, patience and love.
    Taking advantage of the first three years. We are reading to our kids as much as we can, and we are asking them lots and lots of questions. For example when one points out a flower and says 'flower' we will praise, but then ask what color is the flower? We are encouraging them to play and explore all over and trying to give them opportunities that we know hold interest for them. We praise, praise, praise right now. Instead of saying 'good job' we often will praise the effort. For example "you worked really hard to fit in all of those puzzle pieces." So, we don't always praise the end result, but we praise the effort.

  2. Thank you Stephanie! I agree with your statement on sleep too. Babies do the majority of their brain development when they are asleep. As a result, it is important to help facilitate good sleep for your child. And it is so fascinating to hear how the sleep seems to correspond to the two crucial brain development periods. It makes sense!

    It also sounds like you are doing a wonderful job with your children. Spending time with them, loving them, reading. It is such a fun and special time, your note helps to remind me of how quickly they grow and to enjoy every minute!

    Thank you for your comments, and enjoy your parenting!!