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How do you raise resilient, rational, regulated, happy and successful learners? Here are my 10 ‘golden rules’, based on; my research and work with parents and children over the past forty years; the work of others across many disciplines – from Piaget in the 1950’s to Jordan Peterson (see credit note below); and that of Margaret Sasse, the Founder of GymbaROO.
1. Start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start.
Start during pregnancy and before if you can. If you are reading this after your baby is born, don’t fret. Start now. You may want to just skip to rule 2.
Exercise and stay as healthy as you can while pregnant. Your baby will benefit from you looking after yourself. Take your nutritional supplements and eat well, this helps the neurological system wire up as soundly as possible. Move! Dance, swing, sway, rock, and keep your exercise going as long as your obstetrician allows – yoga, pilates, gym, run, walk… whatever you can. Babies exposed to movement, even in utero, are born with higher neurological scores. Sing every day, even if you are out of key. The vibrations from your voice are very stimulating to your growing baby. Play music too. Watch GymbaROO’s free online series for expecting couples to understand how to give your baby the very best start to learning and life.
2. Avoid bogus advice. Start thinking critically.
The online world is full of fake news and bogus advice. It’s impossible to avoid in our effort to stay connected. Critical thinking will help you weed out the not-so-good advice from the good. Find trusted sites that sit well with your parenting style and sites that are recommended by your local early childhood professionals.
3. Get off the couch. Get into active play.
Movement is the key to all learning. Yes, it’s even important for your newborn. So, aim for unwrapped, on a mat on the floor, on the tummy, as much as your baby will tolerate. If your baby does not like tummy time, there’s a reason. Find someone who cares and will help, (see rule 4). For crawling babies, toddlers and up, go outside if you can, as much as possible. Climb. Run. Jump. Swing. Hang. Spin. Tumble. Lots. The brain needs the body to move and learn new skills to grow, mature and get ready for learning at school.
4. Worried? Find someone who listens, cares and will do something.
Concerned about your child? “Your child will grow out of it,” does not cut it. Neither does “You don’t know. I do, I am the professional.” “You’re a single mother and too busy to really know what’s going on.” “You’re being a helicopter parent who over-cares,”…you might be, but there may also be something going on with your child and you can sense it. Search until you find that professional for you and your child. I recently had a friend whose new baby cried and cried and cried. All day. For two months. “It’s normal” she was told. It’s not. She just needed to find someone to listen, to find a solution and to reassure her she was not a terrible mum, which, of course, she thought she was. (Baby now sleeps like a baby).
5. Know what you want for your child. Find like-minded people.
Avoid the knockers. I cringe when I hear people criticise others wanting their children to do well. Recent incredible results published about the GymbaROO UP school’s program (daily movement activities) raised one respondent who called all the parents of the successful group of children as ‘tiger mums’… Wow! The bitterness in the tone of those words (and others that sat around it) was sad. We can’t change attitudes like this. But we can find like-minded people who will support our own goals and desires for our children. Wanting your children to be happy and successful is a great goal.
6. Hold on. Let go.
Balance care and protection with the freedom to explore. When children explore they are learning by trial and error and learning to find solutions for mistakes made. Once babies are on the floor and happy, let them reach out, bat objects, roll over and crawl. Let them try and try again until they succeed. Success evokes incredible happiness and positively rewards effort. Children who are protected too much are just as likely as children who are not protected at all, to have emotional problems such as anxiety, depression and aggression and this translates to social problems in later years.
7. Ban junk. Eat fresh.
Guts and brains are linked. What children eat affects how well their brain works. Think about what food you put in your supermarket trolley. Read labels. Carefully. Limit sugar. Even some of the ‘good food’ may be making your child unwell… so sometimes even a ‘heathy diet’ needs modifying for your child. (See Sue Dengate’s brilliant website for more on this topic).
8. Turn off screens. Talk. Listen. Read. Sing.
Communicate, face-to-face with your baby and small child. Screens don’t respond to a child’s body language or utterances, only human faces do.
Read. Read. Read. Children who are read to regularly really do better at school. They are spending up-close time with a parent, they are engaging and interacting and they are learning that those pictures on the page actually mean something.
Sing. Sing. Sing. The singing voice is incredibly important for development. It sets up vibrations that stimulate every part of the body. Singing also introduces a child to rhythm and beat. We live in a world regulated by the rhythm of life. Those who cannot get into the rhythmical groove, struggle to fit in.
9. Sleep well.
We all need a good night’s sleep. Sleep is very important to development. It is while we are asleep that the brain ‘defrags’ and lays down long term memories. Babies need 14- 16 hours of sleep a day, toddlers 12-14, and preschoolers 12 hours a day. Is your child getting enough sleep? If not, find someone who cares (see rule 4), investigates ‘why?’ and does something about it. It may be lack of routine and rules. It may be diet. It may be lack of activity. It may be structural, medical or neurological. Find out.
10. Go to GymbaROO.
At GymbaROO you will find like-minded people (rule 5) who will encourage you to help you child be the best they can be. We will teach you songs to sing (rule 8) and show you activities and games that keep your child active at home every day (rule 3). We encourage your child to explore and learn by trial and error (rule 6), to learn new skills and to build on skills learned (rule 3). Our staff genuinely care for families and will listen to your concerns. If we can’t help, we will find someone who can (rule 4). We provide parents with lots of research-based information about development during class and via our GymbaROO websites (rule 2), including nutrition (rule 7), and importantly we hope that our active program helps your child sleep well at night (rule 9). Our free online Active Babies Smart Kids website gives expert advice and developmental games and activities for parents of babies – newborn to crawling (rule 2) and helps pregnant mums and dads learn about their newborn (rule 1).
Maybe you have some own rules of your own… but I hope that these golden rules of mine provide you with a little more to think about and perhaps act on, and in the long term help your children be the best they possibly can be. Above all, love, laugh and hug as much as possible, enjoy your children and your parenting because before you know it you’ll find yourself passing on your own golden rules to your children for their children.
Credit note: I have just finished reading Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life. An antidote to chaos. If you have not read it, (and read it again as it’s full of really important observations and interpretations that take time to digest, reflect on and consider), I would highly recommend it. It certainly made me think, and as I was thinking, I realised that maybe a few basic rules, yes rules (Peterson’s book explains why rules provide necessary guidelines for life), may help parents raising children in the first five years of life. So with credit to Peterson for adopting his idea, I have focused a little more on parenting and childhood, (he does make some excellent observations in both).
Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Research and Education General Manager for GymbaROO and KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development. More on Dr Williams here.
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