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Humanity’s greatest problem

Our species’s greatest problem is that every new brain needs more attuned care than any parent finds pleasant to give. The proverbial “village” expertly provided this attuned care for the hundreds of thousands of years of our species’ development. Today, with our isolated western lifestyles, we are suffering from what researchers call an “epidemic of neglect.”Continue Reading →

There is no such thing as a Brain. It’s a Brain Burger.

British pediatrician D. Winnicott used to say:

“There is no such thing as a baby. There is a baby and someone.”

The same applies to brains. Our brains do not operate independently of relationships, which are conditioned by the environment in which we live.Continue Reading →

All we need, in one drawing

Brains are for two things: pursue life and avoid death. On an ongoing basis, they need the will to pursue food, drinks, mates, whatever makes us live. After spurts of saving us from the claws of death, they need to calm back down and get on with the business of life. The settings “will to live” and “calm back down” are mainly hardwired during childhood when our genes interact with our environment (our caregivers, in the first years) to shape our brain.

Let’s be clear: it is fiendishly difficult for humanity to deliver on these two simple needs that every new generation has from the older one: a solid base from which to explore the world, and safe haven from stress. Two brilliant Marias, born fourty years apart, explained why.Continue Reading →

What was the climate of our childhoods?

Most people think of childhoods as either happy or sad, sunny or stormy. That’s probably because most of us think of our own upbringing as a rather sunny one (see what Alice Miller has to say about this), and a few have shared or have heard friends share traumatic experiences – so we know stormy ones exist, too. The one type of childhood environment I have rarely ever heard people describe is overcast. Is it because it doesn’t exist, or is it a blind spot, not worthy of discussion? If we turn out sane enough, that logic goes, we might as well consider ourselves lucky enough and get on with life.Continue Reading →

The sad paradox of early childhood

The sad paradox of early childhood is that the activities associated with babies are perceived to be so low in adult intellectual content, that we don’t realize how critically important they are for their brain development. In fact, secure attachment is the single most important developmental goal in the first years of life. All social, emotional and cognitive skills hinge on it.Continue Reading →

Personality Physics: the Discovery of Reactivity

A recent conversation with fellow parents sent me looking for what developmental research says about whether human beings are born with personality. Can we say that our neonate was born “a loner”, “affectionate”, or “opinionated”? Or do we lose credibility by straying beyond “calm”, “alert”, “irritable”, and “physically active”? Are personality traits coded in our genes? Or are they shaped by experience into the neural wiring in our brains? What I read surprised me. At the core of personality lies a nucleus, partly genetically determined, whose intensity has far reaching effects.Continue Reading →

In which country would you have liked your brain to be manufactured?

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” ” – David Foster Wallace

Around the world, we raise human beings each swimming in our cultural ponds of beliefs, values and habits. They feel so natural we do not even notice them. The clearest way to see our environment is to compare it to others. Researchers over the past years have set out to ask parents from different countries a few questions about how they help their infants’ brains develop.Continue Reading →