Being a parent is not easy. It’s downright difficult in fact.
Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. They should, but they don’t. Its hard enough looking after their basic needs like feeding them, washing them, dressing them… but trying to understand them?! Its nigh impossible. I couldn’t tell you how many times in one day I find myself staring incredulously at my child after she has pulled her latest stunt repeating “seriously?!” or “really?!” and asking the all resounding question “why…???” (as in why did you do that? and why did I ever have children?!)
Why do our children do the things they do? What on earth is going on in those brains of theirs? I don’t know about you, but even after three kids its still a mystery to me. I’m definitely no baby brain expert!
Thankfully, baby brain experts do exist. I am lucky enough to have one in my own neighbourhood – a local Maida Vale mum by the name of Silvia. Silvia first studied Psychology in Germany and went on to specialise in Neuroscience in London. She used her knowledge to advise companies on neuroscience related topics. Rather than letting her knowledge go to waste when she had kids, Silvia thought up the brilliant idea of using what she knows to help us poor struggling parents understand why our little ones do the things they do. The great thing is, the course is not designed to prescribe any particular parenting style, rather it offers a scientific explanation of what is going on in our children’s heads. What we choose to do with the knowledge we acquire is simply up to us.
I was fortunate enough to attend a taster session of the babybrains course on Tuesday at the 3 House in St Johns Wood. This was my first visit to the 3 House – usually you need to be a member in order to attend the classes, but you don’t for Babybrains (which is fortunate because membership for a family alone costs £230!). It is a fantastic space for kids and their parents. 3 House offers a whole range of classes from art and ballet classes to ukelele classes (go figure!). Classes are held upstairs. Unfortunately you have to leave your buggy downstairs which can be a bit inconvenient if your little one happens to be sleeping in it (like mine happened to be) but the light and airy space more than makes up for it. Silvia came prepared in any case, and there was a big, soft, orange mat placed purposely in the middle of the room for our little ones to lay on while our older ones laid waste to the bowls of crackers and raisins on the floor.
The taster session was designed for us to learn which social milestones our babies and toddlers have achieved and what impact that has on our relationship with them. We started off the session by filling out a short questionnaire. This was basically a test of how much (or how little in some cases) we knew about our baby’s memory and ability to learn, among other things. Unfortunately (or fortunately in my case) I never found out how I did. You don’t until the end of the course, when you are asked to complete the very same questionnaire to demonstrate just how much you’ve learned.
Before launching into the content of the taster, we were asked to go around the room introducing ourselves and our babies and giving a brief explanation of why we came. There were about seven of us mothers, with either a young babe in arms, or with a toddler in tow. The reasons we gave were varied, but we all had a common goal – to be able to understand our children so we can communicate better with them in the hope of becoming happier and more capable parents.
With the introductions over, it was time for the science lesson to begin. We learned about how babies only a few days old can imitate us. For example, if you stick your tongue out at them, they stick their tongue out at you. Not a huge thing in itself, but think about the repercussions! Our children are great imitators. In other words, its no use telling them to do what you say and not do what you do, because they can’t help but imitate you. Another interesting scientific fact we learnt was that babies are naturally drawn to whatever it is that you happen to be focusing on. That’s called joint attention. Time to switch off America’s Next Top Model and start watching some National Geographic documentaries :0)
The taster was originally meant to go for 15 minutes but it went on for a good 45 minutes. That probably had something to do with my toddler switching off the projector at one point and another toddler blinding himself by staring into the projector when it eventually came back on! Silvia, however, wasted no time in engaging us in a little game which involved 2 participants and a chocolate. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for eating. Instead, one participant, “Sally” started off with the chocolate and put it in a box. She then walked away. The other participant, Anne, who observed what Sally did, then took the chocolate out of the box and put it in her own bag.
Sally came back, and we were then asked where Sally would look for the chocolate – first, from the point of view of a baby, then a toddler, and then finally a 4 year old.
A normally developing child from the age of 4 should apparently know that Sally would look for the chocolate where she last put it – in the box. By that age, the child’s brain should be developed enough to understand and predict the behaviour of others. A toddler, on the other hand, would look in the bag, as her brain is not sophisticated enough to predict other people’s beliefs. She only remembers where the chocolate currently is. Of course, a baby would have forgotten the whole shenanigans. The implications of this, Silvia explained, is that our children, at least under 4, don’t purposely look to terrorise us. When they do things that annoy us, they aren’t trying to annoy us because they can’t think that way yet – they don’t know how to manipulate. I think my 2 year old must be the exception to the rule…
The taster of this course was simply that, a taster. There are a whole range of topics that are covered in this course that runs for 6 weeks. These include Memory, Social Cognition, Genetics & Environment, Language, Learning & Development and Discipline & Siblings. Each session runs for 2 hours, between 1-3pm on Thursdays at the 3 House and 10-12pm on Tuesdays at 61a Clifton Hill. The first sessions start the week beginning 14 January. Each session costs £20 (if you want to pick and choose) but to get the full benefit of the programme, you can pay £110 to attend all the sessions.
Do yourself, and your kids, a favour, and gain some invaluable insight into why your kids do the things they do. For more information, including how to book, visit the Babybrains website.