The importance of rules and routines for a child's brain, according to Álvaro Bilbao
Álvaro Bilbao filled the classrooms of the school, virtual (of course), with more than 400 parents who came to listen and learn from the neuropsychologist and author of the book El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres (The Child’s Brain Explained to Parents).
The neuropsychologist, both in his books and in his talks, reminds us that in order to care for our children’s brains, first of all, “the most important thing is affection. A brain that does not receive affection in the first years of life will grow up with serious difficulties, both emotionally and intellectually” And why does love affect intellectual development? Answering this question, Álvaro explains the three levels of the brain: “A rational brain develops over other brains, which are the primitive brain (the one that asks us to eat, to sleep) and an emotional brain (which seeks affection). Only when that emotional brain has received the affection it needs can it have full intellectual capacity”. He also makes a rigid distinction between affection and overprotection, warning all parents about how the brain itself works. In the face of any challenge, two regions in the brain are activated: “the amygdala, a red nucleus that tells the brain that it has to be afraid because that is dangerous; and the prefrontal cortex, which says it is capable of dealing with that problem”. As he always explains, there is a struggle between these two parts of the brain. However, if there is an overprotective parent who wants their child to have no problems, the only thing that will remain in the child’s brain is that fear, causing “the child will not learn to solve problems because it will be the parent who will do it”. That is why the brain teaches us that “the way to teach children to make good decisions is not to avoid problems but to let them have successes and mistakes and help them learn from them”.
10 routines that strengthen our children’s self-esteem, according to Álvaro Bilbao
This neuropsychologist, trained at Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore) and the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability (London), is above all a father of three children, and therefore offers practical examples that we can all, with effort, carry out with affection, the basic ingredient for the proper functioning of the brain:
1. Have breakfast together and kiss each other goodbye.
2. Our children are the first thing I take care of when I get home.
3. Talking to them about how our day has gone
4. No mobiles! We listen to them with full attention
5. Validate your feelings without judgement
6. I am interested in your things
7. I correct you with respect
8. We have dinner together
9. I spend some time playing whatever they ask me to play.
10. Every night I give them a kiss before going to bed.
Work-life balance and tiredness do not always allow us to do the 10 steps suggested by Álvaro Bilbao, and in his talk at the BBVA’s Learning Together event, he explained that “it is important that we understand that dogmas, rigid rules, are not very good for children’s development. I am the first person who always advocates that children should read every night before going to bed, firstly, because it makes it easier to go to sleep and, secondly, because reading enriches their vocabulary and we know that this is extremely important for their intellectual development and academic performance. However, it is also important for parents to communicate with their children and to be congruent with their feelings. So, even though story time is a routine in my house, if I am very tired one day, whether it is nine o’clock or half past ten, I will tell my children: “Boys, I am very tired today”.
Few rules and clear routines
Álvaro Bilbao argues that a timetable, organisation, rules and routines make family life easier, while at the same time moulding our children’s brains, because with order and knowing what will happen next, children will be in a comfort zone, and much calmer.
As she explains in her book, translated into more than 14 languages: “One of the most defining abilities in human evolution has been our ability to know the future. One of the ways to empower their brains is “to have a clear field to work on, that is, to prepare it; to decide which part we want to start with, prioritising; and to decide how we are going to continue, planning; they will allow the child to start acquiring the control they need to materialise their intentions into results”. This can only be achieved by setting clear rules and routines. “An effective strategy is to set clear limits and create times when the child can enjoy being free of rules.
A famous quote from Charles W. Wendte, highlighted in his book, is “success in life depends not so much on talent as on the ability to concentrate and preserve what you want”.