Nathan Wallis

Neuro-scientist Nathan Wallis believes that the first 1000 days of a child’s life, from the date of conception, are the most crucial for the child’s development.

Research tells us that the human brain is designed to be moulded by the environment during this time.

He visited Cromwell College to present sessions for teachers and for parents on what the research tells us about the developing brain, particularly the teen brain, and how to respond to anxiety and stress.

Nathan trained as a teacher, then a counsellor, then re-trained as an early childhood teacher, before joining the research world as a neuro-scientist. 

Some might find it controversial that he favours new-borns spending their days with their one main relationship, and is against them attending childcare during this time. 

He favours the Scandinavian model of mothers being paid to stay home for the first year of their baby’s life.

I strongly agree with him on one issue – that we should spend most taxpayer money on the early childhood sector, and less as the person grows.

He suggests that if we had $50,000 to spend on a child, to best support their intelligence, success and mental health as an adult, it is better used for a parent to stay home in the first year of life, than to send them to an expensive private school later on.

There were so many excellent messages in Nathan’s presentation, that it is best summarised by way of his top tips:

* If you have a beating heart, you are capable of healing

  • parents do not have to be perfect; they just have to be there and be good enough
  • the parts of the brain that are for survival, movement and emotions (which Nathan calls ‘the things that your dog can do’) need to be satisfied before you can engage your cognitive brain
  • the parent who just wants to be a friend he calls the ‘jellyfish parent’
  • rituals are good, and help kids feel calm and safe
  • if we feel threatened or unsafe, there can be no learning
  • boys who learn a musical instrument or a second language before the age of 7 are likely to be more emotionally connected and empathetic
  • adolescent’s higher brain is largely ‘closed for renovations’ for several years from about age 15, so they need to be supported by adults
  • teenagers are pre-disposed to see anger, so use their name and actively show you are not angry
  • encourage teenagers to think and discuss – don’t worry about the topic so much
  • if you want to engage a teenager, do it one-to-one
  • dancing, singing, drama are all great for the teenage brain, and help with all their learning
  • have conversations in grey areas, rather than those with right or wrong answers
  • for everyone, the most dangerous substances are caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and sugar, and by far the worst one is sugar, so NO high energy drinks
  • If a teenager is upset, don’t say ‘calm down’ – acknowledge that he is upset, and encourage deep breathing.

For more of Nathan’s research findings, videos, and radio broadcasts, google his name – there is plenty on-line.