Kids are our future. That's why it's so important for us to unlock their full potential and equip them with the skills they need to succeed in life. We want kids to be happy, healthy, successful adults who have a positive impact on the world we live in today.
Today’s guest, Janet Doman, comes to us from The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. She tells us how parents and society impact growth and development, and what we can do to put our kids on the path to success.
In the interview:
01:59 – From stroke patients to children. Janet shares the experiences that molded her current advocacy.
06:33 – What makes a smarter child? Good child rearing is purposeful, not accidental.
12:03 – Child versus adult learning. Kids learn faster, but we still have potential for growth and development.
16:39 – How old is too old to learn? So when does the brain stop developing?
19:08 – Just how active should kids be? Are current rearing methods restricting children’s motor development?
26:40 – The barriers that society puts up. Society subscribes to some practices that can hinder kids’ growth.
29:41 – On dads and their babies. The roles dads play that most moms can’t.
33:24 – Giving kids their independence. Why small kids should have more freedom, not less.
35:16 – Summary. The key points parents should take away.
Today’s episode is an unusual one for a business podcast. It’s about children, and what we as entrepreneurs can do to ensure we’re raising great kids.
Having worked a lot with adults and their human potential, James thinks it’s easy to overlook children. So today, he’s invited an expert in that area, referred to him by client and friend Stephan Spencer. Our guest is Janet Doman from The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.
The Institutes was founded by Janet’s father in 1955. She had the good fortune to live on campus, and so was able from an early age to watch her father at work, before eventually joining him.
From stroke patients to children
How much does Janet think children absorb habits and behaviors from their parents?
She would say probably 95 percent. Little kids who are around their parents watch them every minute of the day. And they have huge respect for adults.
The Institutes must have been amazing, like Hogwarts, says James.
It was magical, says Janet, although unlike Hogwarts, at first, her friends there were 60 to 80-year olds, who had suffered either traumatic head injuries or strokes. These were the focus of her dad’s work when he first started the Institutes.
Over time, they were edged out by children. When Janet’s father was satisfied that his protocol could get stroke patients back on their feet, back at their jobs, and doing what they could do before, he decided to look at little kids. It didn’t make sense, he said, that they were saving 70 and 80-year-olds, while three-year-olds languished in institutions.
So then Janet’s companions became severely brain-injured kids. And by 1963, they were doing amazing things with these children, like teaching them to read, and discovering that they not only could learn to read at three and four, but if they started at two, they learned even better, and adored it.
This made Janet’s father uncomfortable. It was crazy, he said, that brain-injured kids were becoming bookworms, while in the city of Philadelphia, 45 percent of children would fail to learn to read at all. So he developed a way to help well kids learn much, much better as well.
James can relate. As a child, he was lucky to spend much time with his grandparents, who taught him many lessons – about painting, about light and shade, about balance and about old-school discipline. It must have been a treat for Janet to learn from that generation and then help teach youngsters.
The makings of a smart kid
James imagines Janet must have seen those children through to adulthood by now. Does she have any stories to tell of remarkable things they’ve done?
So many stories, says Janet, it’s hard to pick one. But she is struck by how unique each kid’s story is. The world tends to think smart kids come out of one cookie cutter.
People have a curious relationship, she says, with making human beings much smarter than they are. And it turns out we are, in a substantial way, raising little kids by accident instead of on purpose, which is a big mistake.
From conception to birth, a baby’s brain grows from one cell to 35 centimeters. From birth till two and a half years, it grows another 15 centimeters. To that 50 centimeter brain, we add only five centimeters through the rest of our life.
So in the first three years of life, learning is so easy for the baby. He learns a language with no effort at all. Or two or three, if he’s in a bilingual or trilingual household.
Probably the single most important thing that parents and grandparents need to know is that the brain grows by use. If we provide stimulation, and we provide opportunity, there’s almost nothing we can’t teach the small child, and he’ll learn it effortlessly.
He can read, he can write, he can do math, he can do anything presented him. He can have superior physical development by then, too. He can learn to swim, like many babies in Australia.
Janet recounts a story told to her at a baby swimming class. One of the Aussie babies’ parents had taken their kid in a boat off Queensland. Three miles off coast, they realized the baby was not on the boat.
In a panic, but going cautiously, they headed back. Twenty minutes later they spotted a speck in the water. Nearing it, they recognized their two-and-a-half-year-old floating happily on her back, waiting for them to pick her up.
Child versus adult learning
The story puts James in mind of his own two-and-a-half-year-old, who loves swimming. Of course, swimming is part of the Australian culture. He knows, too, adults who are scared of water, like his father who only learned to swim as an adult.
This leads James to ask: if the brain develops through use, what of the people who didn’t receive great child rearing?
At the Institutes, says Janet, most of their experience was with kids who were eight, or 10, or 15, or 20. And they couldn’t crawl, they couldn’t creep, they couldn’t walk. Some were blind, some were deaf, because of an injury to the brain.’
“The brain is the most changeable organ of the body.”
These children have gigantic potential. And if you provide the appropriate stimulation, and effective opportunity, then they will change, because the brain runs everything. It is the most changeable organ of the body.
When does the brain stop developing? Our brains are changing every moment. We are learning till the day we die.
In the last 10 years, it has been found that in the first 12 months of life, a baby creates new brain cells. And to keep those cells, they have to use them. Otherwise, at the end of 12 months, they slough off.
We are also creating new brain cells till the day we die. And the most recent research says that to keep them, we have to do something we’ve never done before.
James knows of research where people in retirement homes are asked to play video games, half an hour a day. The results are astounding gains in memory retention and conversational abilities. Use it or lose it.
How old is too old to learn?
And you can stimulate at any point in life, says Janet. The idea that an 80-year-old is toast is nonsense.
“The idea that an 80-year-old is toast is nonsense.”
She recalls a lecture by researcher Marian Diamond who experimented with enrichment and deprivation in rats. The last slide she showed them was of a brain almost black with interconnections between the cells. She called the slide “wisdom”. It belonged to the oldest rat she had.
Janet feels as strongly about 80-year-olds as about eight-month-olds, both groups that are essentially dismissed by society. We put them in wheelchairs, we bundle them in blankets, we hope they’ll sleep a lot. When in fact, we should be doing the opposite.
In Asia, says James, they’re very active, and living with the family. And they don’t have retirement homes or childcare places.
He remembers his grandmother, who drove herself to a tennis match at 80. When James was 18, she chaperoned a party at his house. She said to him, If I was your age, I would try every single drug possible. She had been an actor when young, and James learned a lot from her, like the notion that people were over the hill at a certain age was incorrect.
Just how active should kids be?
At the other end of the spectrum, James thinks of his kids. His experience with each has been different, and dealing with them at different stages in his own life has been fascinating.
He spends a lot of time with his two-and-a-half-year-old, because he can, and is impressed by how active kids are. He recalls putting a step tracker once on one of her brothers, and he racked up around 50,000 steps in a day.
So how much activity should a kid really be getting?
At the Institutes, says Janet, they feel very strongly about motor development in all stages. But especially in the first six months, because that’s when babies are being bundled up in blankets, restricted right at birth.
Adults who do this think babies love it, and they sleep a lot anyway. But that’s just what part of the world wants, for babies to sleep and not be an annoyance.
When a baby needs to sleep, Janet says, he should sleep, but he shouldn’t be sleeping because he’s paralyzed from the neck down and there’s nothing else he can do except sleep.
The baby should have the opportunity to discover in the first few days of life that they’re mobile, that they can move themselves. What’s happening is the opposite.
In the first six months of life, says Janet, we should design the house to be baby-friendly, so he’s always on a warm, safe, smooth floor. She suggests making a little baby crawling track, with one end elevated, so when we put the baby at the top of that track, he will find that even the slightest motion of his arm or his leg is going to move him forward.
And so he learns very rapidly, I can move. I did that. And I can make it happen again. And again. It’s probably one of the most important lessons in all of life: I can do something myself.
James’s daughter is obsessed with jumping at the moment. On the stairs, from the couch to a beanbag, over and over. Which is great, says Janet. All James has to do is make sure she’s safe, not stop her.
And James is experiencing a parallel sort of freedom, a childlike mode, in his surfing. Every day, he paddles up to four miles in a session, launching himself onto waves. It’s like a release from the years he was chained to a desk in his job.
So if you’ve got kids, he says, allow them their stimulation. And if you’re an adult, and you feel like you missed out, it’s definitely not too late. If you’re really getting on in years, it’s still not too late.
The barriers that society puts up
James’s mom, for instance, is a wiz with her iPhone, commenting on Facebook, doing FaceTime and things. And society had some belief that older people shouldn’t be able to do this.
Does Janet find some pushback to the freedom and opportunities they’re suggesting for kids and elderly?
She does think most of the world imagines little kids don’t really understand. They don’t get it. They don’t talk. When in fact, they are talking from a very young age, we just don’t understand them very well.
In Australia, she thinks, it’s less of a problem. But America is a country that’s somewhat hostile to kids. You have a better shot, she says, of taking a pit bull into some restaurants than taking a kid.
She recalls seeing an old magazine article about the Soviet Union, where dozens of small children were grouped together weeks after they were born and cared for by people who were not their parents, while their mothers went back to work. The accompanying centerfold was of a large group of two-year-olds, sitting on identical toilets, looking at the camera with dull eyes.
That was 1970. If the Soviets had forced that setup on Americans, there would have been war. But now it’s 2021. Americans are having babies, and six weeks later the kid is in daycare or with 10, 15 other babies.
On menfolk and their babies
One of the great things though about the last 10 years and working from home, says Janet, is that a lot of fathers have been able to get back in the driver’s seat with their kids.
Women in the US, she says, are funny about men and babies. There’s this idea that a man wouldn’t know what to do with a kid. It’s women’s experience that dads do things with babies a mom would never do. But they’re great things.
One of the things dads do much better than moms is they’re on the same wavelength with the baby. They enter the baby’s space with the spirit of play – Hey, what do you want to do? Let’s do it. And then they sneak off and do it.
Dads will toss the baby up a bit. And then as the baby gets a little stronger, toss them up a little more. Mothers will never do that. And they scream when they see the father doing it. The kid is screaming too, but he’s screaming, Again. Do it again, please.
It’s true, says Janet, that mothers are the best teachers.They are great teachers. But when it comes to problem solving, dads are the best, far better than mothers. Dad will say to Mom, Let the baby do that himself. Mom will say, Oh, no, he needs my help. I don’t like to see him struggle. Dad will say, Let him do it. He can do it. Dad understands that any time a child can do something himself, he should do it. It’s a big thing for a child to do something himself.
Giving kids their independence
A great message, says James. He can relate. His daughter is fiercely independent. “I’ll do it.” And he thinks Janet is right. He doesn’t want to deprive her of that opportunity for growth by doing things for her.
As a coach, too, he knows he can’t solve all his customer’s problems for them. But he can give them tools that help them solve it for themselves, and it’s much more meaningful if they’re participating in their own solution.
So what he’s hearing is we should have a think about the environment, the way we’re raising our children. Let them be more independent. Create a safe place for them to be more free to move, give them more mental stimulation, let them try things. Have a look at our relationship as mom or dad with our baby.
Maybe have a rethink as well about ourselves as grown-ups, that we still have the ability to learn, our brain is still evolving, that we can take on new skills and languages.
James took up surfing when he was 42 years old. The people in the water with him have often been surfing since they were six or 10. So he’s at the surfing mental age of about 16 or 18, which is why he’s so excited about it. But as he gets older, the more the world is opening up. It’s an exciting thing.
Wrapping it up for the audience
What would Janet like people to take away from this episode?
Jumping off from James’s surfing, says Janet, she cannot look at an image of a surfer in the curl of a massive wave without saying, how can anyone doubt the human cortex? It’s such a clear example of the superiority of the human being, the ability that the human brain can do anything.
A man in the United States climbed a sheer rock face in four hours, without ropes or equipment, a feat that should have taken days. That was the human cortex. For him, that’s what the brain is capable of.
“We have a brain many times bigger than what we’re using. The potential is gigantic.”
We have a brain many times bigger than what we’re using. The potential is gigantic. Whoever came up with the size of the brain had big plans for our species.
Could we have more serious problems right now that threaten our planet? We need the next generation and the one after that to be much more capable, to be able to sail through life easily.
Kids shouldn’t hate school. School should be the simplest thing in the world, or they don’t even need to go to school. That would be fine, too. You can teach a baby to read. And the sooner you start, the easier it is. Janet believes you can teach your child anything that you can present in an honest, factual, and joyous way. And you can have the time of your life doing it.
The time between birth and the age of six goes so fast. And Janet meets so many parents who look back and say they were so tense and busy. They put importance on things that weren’t important. Just put your attention on your kid, turn off the iPad, turn off the computer, turn off the Wi-Fi, and be with your kid. And he’s going to take you to places you’ve never been. And it’ll be great.
If you want to contact Janet Doman, her website is iahp.org.
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