While most Australian children continue to throw their Christmas
presents around this weekend, breaking many along the way, one expert
has a word of advice for their parents: forget about showering them
with gifts, do not over-schedule their time and get down on their level
to engage with them as much as you can.

It may seem
obvious, but Professor Frank Oberklaid says some parents may not
understand how sensitive their children's brains are to their

The founding director of the Centre
for Community Child Health at the Royal Children's Hospital says that
after good nutrition, immunisation and protection from injury, children
need strong relationships with their carers more than anything else to
grow into healthy adults.

''Parents need to
understand that what children crave is not fancy toys or to watch
television or DVDs. What they crave is their parents' love and
,'' he says.

''It doesn't have to cost
money. Sit them on your knee and read a book together, walk down to the
park and treat it like a nature study lesson. It's about spending
quality time.

The rewards of such interaction can
be immense. Professor Oberklaid says that while a child's genetic
make-up is the hardware of their brain, their environment is the

''In the early years of a child's life, their environment literally sculpts their brain,'' he says.

environment where children and families are stressed, for example,
where there is child abuse, sexual abuse, mental health problems in
parents, family violence, those sorts of things, cortisol [a hormone
that helps control stress] levels go up in children's brains and
persistent cortisol levels interfere with brain development.''

disruption can lead to developmental delays, language problems,
learning difficulties or conditions such as attention hyperactivity

''If you look at some of the conditions
we see in adults, such as mental health problems, family violence,
crime participation, poor literacy, heart disease and obesity, they
often start on pathways from those early years
,'' he says.

Professor Oberklaid says some parents also have trouble adapting to their child's age, particularly during adolescence.

people try to parent a 12-year-old as though they're a six-year-old
without understanding that part of the work of a 12-year-old is to
start to push boundaries, to develop his or her identity. Similarly,
part of the work of a two-year-old is to have tantrums, to really test
the limits … and part of the work of a six-year-old is to become a
little more independent as they go to school,'' he says.

''You have to understand that parenting is a journey and you need different skills and temperament for each of those times.''

more recent phenomenon is the ''over-scheduled child''. Professor
Oberklaid says some parents are so stressed in their work or personal
lives that they try to do too much to enrich their child's life.

children are so busy with ballet on a Monday, French on a Tuesday,
sport on a Wednesday that they have diaries where they need to book in
time with their friends,'' he says.

''Parents are
delegating their child's development to all these experts, but kids
don't need all of those things, they just want to hang out with their
parents, sit on the floor and do fun things with them … If you open
yourself up to them, kids will always lead the way.''


Source: The Age – http://tinyurl.com/ycex33p