INTERNET Author and child psychologist Alison Gopnik says parenting never stops and parents have to put their all in trying to raise the child Sudhamahi Regunathan

E very mother knows the responsibility of answering the question from her toddler... “Mummy why does the sun shine?” or “How are flowers made?” Knowledgeable answers are difficult to give and after listening to this talk by Alison Gopnik, author of “The Philosophical Baby” and other books on babies and children, even that attempt of yours will become feebler.

Says Gopnik that as we know more we see less, that our consciousness narrows as a function of age. “... if we want to think about a way of getting a taste of baby consciousness as adults, I think the best thing is think about cases where we're put in a new situation that we've never been in before... when we fall in love with someone new...what happens then is not that our consciousness contracts, it those three days in Paris seem to be more full of consciousness and experience than all the months of being a walking, talking, faculty-meeting-attending zombie back home...and coffee mimics the effect of those baby neurotransmitters. So what is it to be like a baby? It's like being in love in Paris for the first time after you've had three double-espressos. That's a fantastic way to be, but it does tend to leave you waking up crying at three o'clock in the morning,” says the author and child psychologist.

Interesting observations

Gopnik's 18-and-a-half minute talk is packed with interesting observations that every parent would like to know more about. She begins by saying that a baby addresses the difficult task of understanding what is going on in another person's mind very early in life.

The baby seems to figure it out better than adults! An experiment quoted by Gopnik reveals that when the child is 15 months old, the child is not able to understand your mind.

She or he understands only his or her own. Whereas when the child is 18 months old, the child is concerned about what you think and feel and tries to respect that.

The experiment involved placing two bowls, one full of raw broccoli and the other full of tasty goldfish crackers. Babies of all ages preferred the gold fish cracker! The 15-month baby handed you a goldfish cracker when you stretched your hands out while the 18-month baby listened to you and tried to process the information. The experimenter professed great love for broccoli so the baby gave her a goldfish cracker but also a broccoli.

Continuous parenting

Now if that is something that is revealing, hear the next one which will be heartening to fatigued parents. One secret every parent knows is that parenting never stops. Gopnik says your children may be better off for that. “ turns out that there is a relationship between how long a childhood a species has and how big their brains are compared to their bodies and how smart and flexible they are...there's something about the long childhood that seems to be connected to knowledge and learning.”

“We human beings...have bigger brains relative to our bodies by far than any other animal. We're smarter, more flexible, can learn more and survive in different environments...and our babies and children are dependent on us for much longer than babies of any other species,” says Gopnik giving the example of her 23-year-old son who still requires attention now and then!

The downside of these long years of learning which she calls the learning strategy is that one is helpless and that is why parents have to put their all in trying to raise the child. Of course, she adds that while the children learn, adults should be putting their learning into practice.

That makes another convincing argument why a strong foundation should be laid in the children. Gopnik shows children do complicated calculations in their head and can pay attention to diverse things at the same time. That is why so much learning is possible in childhood.

A talk which is a must for parents of all ages.

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