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Parenting is a journey filled with challenges and rewards. As parents, we have the incredible opportunity to shape our children’s minds and help them build resilient and intelligent brains. The field of neuroscience and psychology has shed light on the importance of certain parenting practices that can have a profound impact on our children’s development. In this article, we will explore seven essential parenting rules based on research from Harvard psychologists and other experts in the field. These rules will guide you in creating a nurturing environment that fosters flexibility, resilience, and intelligence in your children.

1. Cultivate Growth, Be a Gardener, Not a Carpenter

Just as a gardener nurtures plants to grow on their own, parents can create an environment that encourages healthy growth in their children. Instead of molding them into specific outcomes, like a concert violinist or a successful CEO, provide a rich landscape of opportunities and experiences. Allow your child to explore their interests and passions, and adjust the environment accordingly to support their growth. By embracing the role of a gardener, you foster independence, adaptability, and a love for learning in your child.

2. Talk and Read to your Child: The Power of Words

Research shows that even at a very young age, children benefit greatly from exposure to language. Talking and reading to your child from infancy builds a strong foundation for language development and future learning. Engage in conversations with your child, describing emotions, actions, and the world around them. This not only enhances their vocabulary but also helps them develop empathy and understanding of others. By providing a language-rich environment, you are setting the stage for their cognitive and emotional growth.

3. Explain and Reason: Building Cognitive Flexibility

Children are naturally curious and often ask, “Why?” Instead of dismissing their questions, take the time to explain and reason with them. When you provide explanations, you make the world more predictable for their developing brains. This helps them understand the reasons behind rules and behaviors, enabling them to regulate their actions more effectively. By fostering cognitive flexibility through reasoning, you empower your child to make informed decisions and develop a deeper understanding of the consequences of their actions.

4. Focus on Actions, Not Labels

When addressing your child’s behavior, it is essential to focus on describing the activity rather than labeling the child. Instead of calling them “good” or “bad,” describe their actions and their impact. For example, if your child hits their sibling, say, “Stop hitting your sister. It hurts her and makes her feel annoyed. Tell her you are sorry.” By focusing on actions, you help your child develop a more accurate and nuanced understanding of their behaviors. This approach promotes self-awareness, accountability, and the development of a growth mindset.

5. Lead by Example: The Power of Imitation

Children learn by observing and imitating adults. They find joy and a sense of mastery in imitating everyday tasks that may seem like work to us. Encourage their natural inclination to imitate by providing them with child-sized tools and involving them in age-appropriate activities. Whether it’s sweeping the floor, gardening, or cooking, allow them to participate and learn alongside you. However, it’s crucial to remember that they will imitate both positive and negative behaviors. Lead by example and be mindful of the actions you model for them.

6. Embrace Diversity: Expose Children to Different People and Cultures

Exposing children to diverse experiences and people is vital for their cognitive and social development. Encourage interactions with individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages. Research suggests that babies who regularly interact with speakers of different languages retain critical brain wiring that facilitates language learning in the future. Similarly, exposing babies to diverse faces helps them develop better facial recognition skills. Embracing diversity not only enriches your child’s understanding of the world but also promotes inclusivity and empathy.

7. Foster Agency: Encouraging Independence and Decision-Making

Applauding agency in your child helps build their confidence, decision-making skills, and independence. Allow them to make choices appropriate to their age and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions. When children feel empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their lives, they develop resilience and problem-solving abilities. Celebrate their achievements, no matter how small, and provide guidance rather than dictating their choices. By fostering agency, you are nurturing their ability to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing world.


As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children’s brains and fostering their resilience and intelligence. By following these seven parenting rules based on research from Harvard psychologists and other experts, you can create an environment that nurtures flexibility, curiosity, and empathy in your child. Remember to be a gardener, not a carpenter, and provide a rich landscape for growth. Talk, read, and reason with your child, empowering their language and cognitive development. Focus on actions rather than labels, leading by example and embracing diversity. Finally, foster agency in your child, allowing them to make choices and develop independence. With these guiding principles, you can raise resilient and intelligent kids who are ready to navigate the complexities of life.

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