Given the choice, everyone and I mean everyone would like to have the privilege of ‘a head start in life’, and there is no ambivalence about this. For the vast majority of the population however, this option does not exist. So the unprivileged resort to a lifetime of struggle, while holding on to an unfulfilled and undying wish for a head start in life. It is intriguing that most parents sincerely do wish and do try ‘full heartedly’ to give their children a head start in life. Yet, the end result is that, when these children reach adulthood and then look back upon their early life, they tend to feel that, their parents failed to give them even the basics of what was needed for the development of a healthy brain.
It is often noted that for some strange reason, most couples, after becoming parents, find that their first instinct is to relive their own childhood. They try to give and bring to the child all those things which they had wanted but did not receive, when they themselves were children. The parents seem to embrace an obsession, which is to fulfill their unfulfilled past. I am not saying that this act is right or wrong, but in my view this is missing the whole point of parenthood. Being obsessed with the process of correcting their own past, these couples are unknowingly making new mistakes (e.g. by overprotecting the child and restricting their freedom, the parents are stopping self-direction). Any unhealthy obsession with the past thwarts the healthy development of the brain, and brings forth unintended and unwanted results in the long run.
For the healthy development of the brain, the early years (ages 0-12) are considered to be the most important. And any prolonged exposure to stress during these early years can have devastating effect on the brain, and the effects tend to last a lifetime. But stress is not the only entity with potential to hamper the healthy development of a brain. The biggest cause in my view is the absence of or deprivation of any of the benign factors that ensure healthy development. Marian Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Berkeley, has identified five such factors, which she believes are prerequisites for the healthy development of the brain. These five factors are equally important and therefore I do not list them in any sequential order:
HEALTHY AND NUTRITIONAL DIET
CHANGE AND VARIATION
What is interesting is that just like a plant needs sufficient amount of sunlight, water and some compost for the healthy growth, the brain too needs a constant supply of these five elements and in a sufficient quantity. But the real progress in brain development occurs with ‘self-direction’. The self-direction can be best described as the sixth factor as it is dependent on the pre-existence of the five factors. It is with self-direction that the mind comes into its own. According to many researchers, the real learning, the important and most valuable learning, actually takes place through self-direction. We may say that it is self-direction that nourishes the mind and that it is self direction which helps to restore the mind.