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Brain Rules for Baby Book Summary

Brain Rules for Baby Book Summary

By Lily Talley

Have you ever wondered what are the best ways to raise your child to be smart and happy? Author Dr. John J. Medina tackles this question with the book Brain Rules for Baby. Dr. John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and is an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He is also the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University. This book summary will discuss the numerous scientifically proven ways to help raise your child to be both smart and happy. The themes and advice of the book can be boiled down to a single sentence: Be willing to enter into your child’s world on a regular basis and to empathize with what your child is feeling. This information mainly applies to children zero to five years old. More information can also be found at Medina’s website: www.brainrules.net.

The book summary is divided into the following sections:

  • Pregnancy
  • Relationships
  • Smart Baby
  • Smart Baby Soil
  • Happy Baby
  • Happy baby Soil
  • Moral Baby
  • Practical Tips



During pregnancy, babies develop an active mental life in the womb. A stressed mom can cause the baby to feel stressed. It’s important during pregnancy to eat right, stay fit, and get lots of pedicures. The four main things that affect baby brain development in the womb are: weight, nutrition, stress, and exercise.


Key points:

  • In the first half of pregnancy, babies want to be left alone.
  • Don’t waste your money on products claiming to improve a preborn baby’s IQ, temperament, or personality. None of them have been proven to work.
  • In the second half of pregnancy, babies begin to perceive and process a great deal of sensory information. They can smell the perfume you wear and the garlic on the pizza you just ate.
  • The mother-to-be can boost baby brain development in four ways gaining the proper weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising moderately, and reducing stress.



Having a happy marriage is critical to a baby’s happiness. You will surely feel a greater level of stress during your transition into parenthood.  Sustained exposure to hostility and stress can erode a baby’s IQ and ability to handle stress, sometimes dramatically. The four most common sources of marital conflict in the transition to parenthood are: sleep loss, social isolation, unequal workload, and depression. Talk these four areas over together, and have a plan on how you will deal with each one. James Baldwin’s quoted, “Children have never been good at listening to their parents, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Your child’s brain seeks safety above all. By bonding and spending close and large amounts of time together, you will help your child feel safe. Empathy works so well because it does not require a solution. It requires only understanding. According to behaviorist John Gottman, couples that regularly practice empathy see stunning results.


Key points:

  • More than 80% of couples experience a huge drop in marital quality during the transition to parenthood.
  • Hostility between parents can harm a newborn’s developing brain and nervous system.
  • Empathy reduces the hostility and increases understanding.

The four most common sources of martial turbulence are: sleep loss, social isolation, unequal distribution of household workload, and depression. Talk over the most common sources of marital turbulence.


Smart baby

The brain cares about survival before learning. If a baby feels threatened or unsafe, learning will not occur. Five important character traits that you can help your child develop are:

  • The desire to explore
  • Self-control
  • Creativity
  • Verbal communication
  • Decoding nonverbal communication


  1. The desire to explore

The topic was raised of what traits separate creative, visionary leaders from less imaginative, managerial types who carry them out. Over 3,000 executives were studied and the following common characteristics were found:

  • An ability to associate creatively. They could see connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, problems or questions.
  • An annoying habit of consistently asking “what if.” They also asked “why not” and “how come you’re doing it this way.”
  • An unquenchable desire to tinker and experiment.

The biggest common denominator of these three traits is a willingness to explore. To summarize, the three traits in one word: ‘inquisitiveness.’ A lot of children ask tons of questions when they are 4 years old. And by the time they are 7 years old, they stop asking many questions because their teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. By high school, students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up in the corporate world, the curiosity has been drummed out of them.

  1. Self-control

A study found that children, who could delay gratification for 15 minutes on average, scored 210 points higher on their SATs than children who lasted one minute. The ability to focus is critical.

  1. Creativity

Creative entrepreneurs have a stronger ability to cope with ambiguity in life. Can you predict creativity in kids? Psychologist Paul Torrance created a 90-minute exam called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. The test has been taken by millions of people and is the go-to standard for evaluating creativity in children.

  1. Verbal communication

At birth, babies can distinguish between the sounds of every language that has ever been invented. We are born with the capacity to speak any language. But by the age of one, babies can no longer distinguish only between the sounds of every language on the planet. Human learning in its most native state is primarily a relational exercise. By helping your child develop their verbal communication, they will be able to relate to the people around them. You can literally rewire a child’s brain through exposure to relationships.

  1. Decoding nonverbal communication

Learning sign language may boost cognition by 50 percent. Learning how to read and decode another person’s face can take years of experience. The only way to improve this skill is by interacting with other people. That’s why babies need human time in their earliest years and not computer or television time.

Key points:

  • There are aspects of your child’s intelligence about which you can do nothing; the genetic contribution is about 50%.
  • IQ is related to several important childhood outcomes, but it is only one measure of intellectual ability.
  • Intelligence has many ingredients, including a desire to explore, self-control, creativity, and communication skills.


Smart baby soil:

Breast-feeding is a critical brain booster. It is also wise to talk to your baby a lot because it will help increase their IQ. Maybe the biggest takeaway from this section is to “Praise effort, not IQ.” So what will happen when you say, “You’re so smart” to your child? You child will begin to perceive mistakes as failures. They may become more concerned with looking smart than with actually learning something. They may be less willing to confront the reasons behind any deficiencies, less willing to make an effort. They will have a hard time admitting failure. What you could say instead could be, “You really worked hard.” Instead of praising your student for being smart, praise them for working hard. You could also say, “I’m so proud of you. You must have really studied hard.” This way, they will simply perceive errors as problems to be solved, then go to work on figuring it out.  Kids praised for effort complete 50% more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence.


You should also provide guided play every day. Give them lightly guided, open-ended play; not open-ended use of electronics. TV before 2 years old is harmful because it can lead to hostility and trouble focusing. A preschooler who watches three hours of TV per day is 30% more likely to have attention problems than a child who watches no TV. All your child needs is a fresh box of crayons, a plain cardboard box, and two hours. Encouraging an active lifestyle is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Exercise can increase executive function scores anywhere from 50% to 100%.


Another critical area of discussion is on being too lax or hyper-parenting. Three dangers of hyper-parenting are:

  • Extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking.
  • Pressure can extinguish curiosity.
  • Continual anger or disappointment becomes toxic stress.

Write this across your heart: parenting is not a race. Kids are not proxies for adult success. Focus on open-ended play, lots of verbal interaction, and praising efforts- which are all statistically guaranteed to boost your child’s intellect from almost any starting point.


Key points:

  • Here’s what helps learning: breast-feeding, talking to your children, guided play, and praising effort rather than intelligence.
  • The brain is more interested in surviving than in getting good grades in school.
  • Pressuring children to learn a subject before their brains are ready is only harmful.
  • Activities likely to hurt early learning include overexposure to television, learned helplessness, and being sedentary.


Happy baby

Babies are born with their own temperament. A massive research project was conducted called the Grand Study, which examined what consistently makes people happy. The results showed that your relationships to other people, is what truly matters. The more intimate the relationship, the better. About 40% of married adults describe themselves as “very happy,” whereas 23% of the never-married do. Other behaviors that predict happiness include:

  • A steady dose of altruistic acts.
  • Making lists of things for which you are grateful, which generates feelings of happiness in the short term.
  • Cultivating a general “attitude of gratitude,” which generates feelings of happiness in the long term.
  • Sharing novel experiences with a loved one.
  • Deploying a ready “forgiveness reflex” when loved ones slight you.

Learning how to make friends, and how to keep friends, is what you will need to help teach your child if you want them to be happy. Help teach them to be nice, sensitive, kind, outwardly focused, and forgiving.


Key points:

  • The single best predictor of happiness? Having friends.
  • Children who learn to regulate their emotions have deeper friendship than those who don’t.
  • No single area of the brain processes all emotions. Widely distributed neural networks play critical roles.
  • Emotions are incredibly important to the brain. They act like Post-in notes, helping the brain identify.


Happy Baby Soil

When your children’s emotions become intense, enough to push you out of your comfort zone, there are a couple factors to help you cope:

  • A demanding but warm parenting style- warm parents mostly communicate their affections for their kids, while hostile parents mostly communicate their rejection of their kids. The best area to be in is responsive and demanding.
  • Comfort with your own emotions.
  • Tracking your child’s emotions in a journal.
  • Verbalizing emotions with a discussion such as the following, “You seem sad. Are you sad? I think I know why. You’re sad because Sally got all the presents and you only got one. Is that true? We have a word for that feeling, honey; do you want to know what worth that is? We call it being jealous. You wanted Sally’s presents, and you couldn’t have them. You were jealous.” Labeling emotions helps to calm big feelings.
  • Running toward emotions. Wise parents do not judge emotions, they acknowledge the reflexive nature of emotions, know that behavior is a choice, and they see a crisis as a teachable moment. They think a “potential catastrophe” can instead be a “potential lesson.”
  • Two tons of empathy. Empathy takes a lot of practice. For example, if your child is thirsty but the drinking fountain is broken, you can say something similar to, “You’re thirsty, aren’t you? Getting a big gulp of cold water would feel so good. I wish that drinking fountain was working so I could lift you up and let you drink as much as you wanted.”

Key points:

  • Your infant needs you to watch, listen, and respond.
  • How a parent deals with their toddlers’ intense emotions is a huge factor in how happy they will be as adults.
  • Children are happiest if their parents are demanding and warm.
  • Emotions should be acknowledged and named, but not judged.


Moral baby

The following tips were given on how to raise a moral baby:

  • Babies are born with moral sensibilities
  • Discipline+warm heart= moral kid
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no
  • Rules and discipline require parts: clear, consistent rules and rewards
  • You are warm and accepting when administering rules
  • Every time your child follows the rules, you offer praise
  • You also praise the absence of bad behavior
  • Explain the rules. Without rationale: “Don’t touch the dog, or you’ll get a timeout.” With rationale: “Don’t touch the dog, or you’ll get a timeout. The dog has a bad temper, and I don’t want you to get bitten.”

Regarding the topic of punishment:

  • It must be punishment
  • It must be consistent
  • It must be emotionally safe
  • It must be swift

Here’s an example of swift punishment: If your child has a tantrum and takes his shoes off in a store, instead of arguing with him to put them back on, let him walk outside a few feet in the snow. It will take about 2 seconds for him to say, “Mommy, I want my shoes on.” This is the most effective punishment strategy known.

Key points:

  • Your child has in innate sense of right and wrong.
  • In the brain, regions that process emotions and regions that guide decision-making work together to mediate moral awareness.
  • Moral behavior develops over time and requires a particular kind of guidance.
  • How parents handle rules is key: realistic, clear expectations; consistent, swift consequences for rule violation; and praise for good behavior.
  • Children are most likely to internalize moral behavior if parents explain why a rule and its consequences exist.

The themes and advice of the book can be boiled down to a single sentence: Be willing to enter into your child’s world on a regular basis and to empathize with what your child is feeling.


Practical Tips



  • Leave the baby alone at first. The first half of pregnancy you don’t have to speak French or play Mozart. Your baby’s brain is not yet hooked up to her ears yet.
  • Take in an extra 300 calories a day.
  • Eat fruits and veggies. Folic acid, omega-3, iron, iodine, vitamin B12 can be very healthy.
  • Do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day.
  • Reduce the stress in your life.


  • Work on your marriage.
  • Start morning and afternoon inquiries. Check in twice a day on each other, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • Schedule sex regularly.
  • Develop the empathy reflex in your partner.
  • Reconcile deliberately. If you have a fight in front of your children, reconcile in front of your children to set an example.
  • Balance the housework load.
  • Address your sticking points.

Smart Baby

  • Breast-feed for one year. The longer the better.
  • Describe everything you see to your baby.
  • Make play plans.
  • Do not hyper-parent.
  • Take a critical look at your behavior. Kids learn through your behavior. Do you laugh a lot, do you swear a lot? Do you exercise regularly? Do you enjoy friends?
  • Say, ‘Wow you really worked hard.’
  • Trade for digital time. Greatly limit the amount of gaming/web surfing in exchange for “credits”. Credits are earned through things like chores, or hours of reading.

Happy Baby

  • Chart your child’s emotional landscape in a journal.
  • Help your child make friends of the same age.
  • Speculate on another’s point of view. Verbally speculate what another person might be feeling.
  • Read together.
  • Develop an empathy reflex with your children. Describe the emotion you think you see, and then make a guess to where it came from.
  • Determine your overall emotional style.
  • Practice verbalizing feelings. “Sarah you look sad. Are you?”
  • Save up for 10 years of music lessons. Research has found that kids musically experienced for at least 10 years, starting before age 7- responded with greased-lightning speed to subtle variations in emotion-laden cues. Kids without musical training didn’t show much discrimination at all.

Moral Baby

  • CAP your rules. “C” stand for Clarity. “A” stands for Accepting. “P” stands for Praise.
  • Explain the rationale behind the rule.
  • Effective punishment FIRST:

“F” stands for firm.  The punishment must mean something.

“I” stands for immediate. The closer the punishment is delivered to the point of infraction, the more effective it is.

“R” stands for reliable. The punishment must be consistently applied whenever the noxious behavior is displayed. Inconsistently applies rules are confusing and lead to uneven moral development.

“S” stands for safe. The rules must be supplied in an atmosphere of emotional safety. Children have a hard time internalizing moral behavior under conditions of constant threat.

“T” stands for tolerant. Be patient, as your child will rarely internalize rules on the first try.

  • Videotape yourself parenting.
  • Enjoy the journey.

About the author:

Lily Talley is the owner and director for Seattle Learning Center, with over 10 years of experience in teaching. Seattle Learning Center is a childcare center and preschool located in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. The school focuses on education, creativity and physical fitness. If you would like to learn more, please visit www.seattlelearningcenter.com or call 206-673-3080. We look forward to serving you.

Feel free to share this article with anyone who will benefit. Please keep the content unaltered and in its complete and original form. Thank you!


Medina, John. Brain Rules for Baby. Seattle:  Pear Press, 2010.


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  • bobbyy

    Thank you!!!