In 1996 a young couple, Julie and Bill Clark, from Alpharetta, Georgia, invested $18,000 of their savings to produce a VHS (remember those) product called Baby Einstein. Julie, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom, and her entrepreneurial husband quickly added an extensive line of videos with names like Baby Van Gogh and Baby Mozart, beginning a Baby Einstein line-up that would eventually include multiple videos, educational toys and even a television show. The target audience for these videos was infants and children ages 3 months to 3 years (or perhaps more accurately, the parents who put their babies in front of these videos, so that mom or dad could jump into the shower, guilt free.) In any event, the Clark’s business skyrocketed, growing from $1 million to $10 million to $400 million in a little over a decade. Popularity and profits soared and, in 2001, Disney bought a majority share of the company. Estimates were that one in three American households with a baby owned at least one Baby Einstein product.
- Take time to get to know your baby. Attunement, that is the accurate reading of an infant’s internal state (calm, anxious, uncomfortable), is tied to almost every positive cognitive, emotional and behavioral outcome for children. This can’t be rushed, and means that rather than worrying about performance, you are learning to recognize and delight in your particular child’s signals.
- What interests your child, interests you. If I could make it through three boys with rats and mice and lizards, you can too. The world is a never-ending source of wonder and engagement. Don’t be dismissive of your child’s interests. Many of them are likely to change and you can’t possibly predict where their interests will lead them. One of my oldest son’s friends was preoccupied with odd plants throughout childhood. He now teaches at a prestigious university and is one of the country’s experts on ferns.
- Let your child lead the way on coaching, select teams and lessons. Often there is no faster way to kill an interest than to insist that your child is so talented that lessons are necessary. “Your voice is beautiful. I think you should take lessons twice a week” is one reasonably predictable way to help your child lose interest. The singing that was a pleasure has now become one more “work” place. Most kids will ask for instruction when they want more.
- Welcome mistakes. Not only are they inevitable but they also help your child develop competence and resilience. Yes, I wrote a New York Times best-selling book and, yes, the first draft really sucked. To get better at anything kids need to push themselves and that means making mistakes. Model a healthy way to deal with mistakes and feedback. “I really learned something today when my boss pointed out . . . ” as opposed to “My boss is a jerk. I cried all afternoon after he picked apart my project.”
Madeline Levine, Ph.D., is a nationally known psychologist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician, consultant, and educator. Her New York Times best-selling book, The Price of Privilege, explores the reasons why teenagers from affluent families are experiencing epidemic rates of emotional problems. Her follow-up best-selling book, Teach Your Children Well, focuses on expanding our current narrow and shortsighted view of success and providing concrete strategies for parents. Her two previous books, Viewing Violence and See No Evil, both received critical acclaim. Dr. Levine began her career as an elementary and junior high school teacher in the South Bronx of New York before moving to California and earning her degrees in psychology. She has taught Child Development classes to graduate students at the University of California Medical Center / San Francisco. Dr. Levine lectures extensively to parent, school and business audiences both nationally and internationally.