Brain Rules for Baby

According to John Medina, molecular biologist, professor, and author of Brain Rules for Baby, most parents are obsessed with the same things when it comes to their children, and babies in particular:  how to ensure that they grow up to be smart, happy, well-behaved, socially well-rounded, and successful (eventually).  A tall order for most newborns, to be sure, who, at least on the surface, seem to have only 4 things on their minds:  crying, eating (drinking milk), sleeping, and pooping.

However, in Brain Rules of Baby, John Medina writes that there are a lot more things going on inside babies’ brains than any parent can imagine – even before they are born.  Besides being busy making neural connections with every other part of the body, babies’ brains (and adult brains) play a big part in ensuring that they grow up to be that happy, well-adjusted Harvard graduate.

Most people who have children, or have taken Sex Ed. and Health classes in high school are familiar with the old “nature vs. nature” argument when it comes to the development of babies.  These days, however, thanks to the ever-growing research on child development,  we know that it’s not as black and white as that.  The concept of “nature vs. nature,” is quickly being replaced by “nurture and nature,” in explaining how babies develop.  The seed is just as important as the soil in raising a happy, smart, moral baby.

With that in mind, John Medina explains in Brain Rules of Baby what new, eager parents can, and can’t do – to ensure that they raise smart, happy, moral babies from the womb onward.

Starting from pregnancy, there are things that parents should, and shouldn’t do to help the development of their babies.  The best thing parents can do to help their babies develop in the womb:  absolutely nothing.  According to John Medina, and other researchers, fetuses want nothing more than to be left alone to develop, at least in the early parts of pregnancy.

Research shows that brains’ primary MO is not to learn, but to survive, so to ensure that your baby grows up smart, happy and moral, the first thing to do is to create a safe environment with reliable parents or caregivers. Only when babies’ brains are convinced they are safe, can they start to focus on other things, such as learning and socializing.

Surprisingly, John Medina points out that the two most important things in raising a book-loving, god-fearing, happy child:  empathy and emotions.  Children who learn how to empathize with other people, and who are aware and in tuned with their and other people’s emotions, grow up to be happy, and moral, and therefore successful adults.

Though research shows that some babies are naturally more empathetic and emotional than others, there are things parents can do to train their children to become more empathetic and emotional, up to a certain point.  Not surprisingly, parents must, to some degree, practice what they preach.  They too, must learn to be more empathetic and emotional in order to set good examples for their children (not as easy as it sounds).

To summarize the important points of his book, he offers the following brain rules for babies:


  • Babies develop an active mental life in the womb
  • Stressed mom, stressed baby
  • Eat right, stay fit, get lots of pedicures


  • Happy marriage, happy baby
  • The brain seeks safety above all
  • What is obvious to you is obvious to you

Smart Baby:

  • The brain cares about survival before learning
  • Intelligence is more than IQ
  • Face time, not screen time

Safe Baby, Smart Baby:

  • Praise effort, not IQ
  • Guided play-everyday
  • Emotions, not emoticons

Happy Baby:

  • Babies are born with their own temperament
  • Emotions are just Post-it notes
  • Empathy makes good friends
  • The brain craves community
  • Empathy soothes the nerves
  • Labelling emotions calm big feelings

Moral Baby:

  • Babies are born with moral sensibilities
  • Discipline + warm heart = moral kid
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no

A lot of the “brain rules” are familiar to most of us – things that seem to be common sense and natural, but other rules are not so obvious, and are quite surprising.  So whether or not you believe everything John Medina says to ensure you will raise a smart, happy, moral, baby,  or whether or not you think most of what he says is just good old common sense, Brain Rules for Baby is an enjoyable, thought-provoking book for any new parent wanting to do their best to help the development of their new bundle of joy.


Brain Rules for Baby:  How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five (2010) – John Medina

Pear Press; 214 pages

Personal rating: 3.5/5

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