Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Parent? Yes, You Do

We don't need to carve out time or cash for fancy classes; we don't need to drill a 2-year-old on the ABC's to make him smart. We simply need to be present with our kids as we eat a meal, give them a bath or brush their hair.
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"I'm really rushing all the time. I don't have enough time just to sit down with them."

"I always worry: Am I doing enough with my kids? Am I doing the important stuff that they need?"

We can all relate to the parents at the beginning of this video. The ending will bring a tear to your eye:

That's the incredibly touching message behind Vroom. It's a nonprofit campaign to show parents the brain-boosting power of everyday interactions with our kids.

We don't need to carve out time or cash for fancy classes; we don't need to drill a 2-year-old on the ABC's to make him smart. We simply need to be present with our kids as we eat a meal, give them a bath or brush their hair. In other words, the things we're doing already. And in those moments, if we can get our kids' eyes to light up, as Vroom puts it, their brains light up too.

Vroom has come up with ideas -- backed by brain-development research, of course -- for getting our kids's eyes to light up during these everyday moments.

1. Simple ideas for interacting
Daily Vroom app

Say it's time for dinner and you have the Vroom app on your phone. You choose "We're at home" and then "Mealtime" in the app. Based on your child's age, an activity pops up. One example:

Before the Ding

Microwaving or cooking something? Turn meal prep time into a fun game with your child. Together, name as many red things in the room as you can before the microwave beeps or the cooking timer goes off. Have your child find the first one, then you find the second. Take turns counting until the timer goes off.

Then the app tells you the brain-based reasoning behind the activity. That little interaction does so much more than shooing our kids over to the TV so we can make some food.

Vroom is just one of many efforts in this national movement focusing on early learning, from age 0 to 5. Other online tools being developed to give parents more information about brain development:

2. What happens in the brain during interactions
The Importance of Early Interactions by I-LABS

Brain science tells us a few things are most important for parents to understand: baby's first 2,000 days, interactions, imitation and emotion. The Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences has created educational modules to teach us about these things. I-LABS, at the University of Washington, is co-directed by neuroscientist Patricia Kuhl and psychologist Andrew Meltzoff. (They also advise Vroom.)

You have to register to use the modules, and the interface is clunky, unfortunately. But the information is rock solid. Within the Interactions module, look for the videos on pages 7 and 12 to see examples of parents' simple interactions with children.

These are training modules. For example, you might watch videos of parents interacting, then learn the importance of what's going on in them, then watch the videos again and list which important elements you notice. You'll gain a broad perspective on brain development.

These videos show quick snippets of parents and children interacting in their own homes. A narrator describes the things children are doing and interested in at different developmental stages. (Other videos in the series cover themes such as play and temperament.)

4. Core Concepts in Early Development by Harvard's Center on the Developing Child

"Serve & Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry" explains in two minutes what's going on in your child's brain when you respond to your child's cues. Also see my post "Reading your newborn's 'engage with me' cues."

5. What simple interactions look like
Kinder-4 by the Zurich Department of Education

What a cool presentation for a collection of videos. The short films linger on adults' interactions with children: playing with magnets in the kitchen, exploring clothespins in the laundry room, dressing dolls, building with blocks.

The "landscape view" shows how each video fits into the everyday experience. But also try searching by theme or age and watching from there. You'll get text explaining the importance of each interaction that you don't get in the video narration. For example, "Dad is also asked for his help in finding the right block. This expands and develops Ilke and Irem's social abilities and skills." In 13 languages.

In Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, I talk about this brain research and give ideas for interacting with your child. I share some of those ideas in "10 activities you can do with your infant," "Baby-tossing dads are on to something," and "A baby's view from a carrier vs. a stroller." But it's great to see examples, by real parents in real situations, in action.

And the message in that Vroom video above -- that each of us already has what it takes to give our children what they truly need? That picture is worth a thousand words.

What's your favorite everyday moment with your child?