Content warning: This article contains sensitive topics.
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Child development specialist Nathan Wallis speaks with Simon Bridges about developing a structured, organized mind too early and how this leads to a large take on anxiety and depression later on.
Parents should stop treating babies and toddlers like “little 7-year-olds,” says neuroscientist Nathan Wallis.
Developing structured numeracy and literacy learning too early stifles creativity — and fueling shocking teenage suicide rates in Aotearoa New Zealand, says Wallis.
“Probably the biggest factor in our teenage suicide rate is the fact that we don’t allow creativity under the age of 7,” Wallis explains in the latest issue of Things General Famous interview podcast hosted by Simon Bridges.
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“We bring in that structured, organized mind too early, which leads to a huge intake of anxiety and depression because this is really about black and white thinking.
“We teach them to read when they are 3 and have taught them black and white thinking. So when a 15-year-old gets depressed, when he’s been in this structured thinking from the age of 3, he finds a solution: ‘I’ll go jogging’, if that doesn’t work, he gives up, locks himself in his room, takes more risks. “
Meanwhile, Wallis notes, “The kid who was playing at 7, built a dam on a river, failed 19 times before it worked 20 times,” tends to keep looking for solutions until they find one that works.
New Zealand has one of the lowest suicide rates among young people in developed countries.
Wallis, a 51-year-old father of three, grandfather and foster father, is particularly interested in the first 1000 days of a child’s life. This includes the longstanding debate between nature and nurture over what shapes the youngest minds.
In an insightful and advice-filled chat with Bridges, he says structured math and literacy learning, like showing babies flashcards to teach them words, is counterproductive for the youngest children. That’s because research shows that the brain isn’t ready for repetitive, pattern-based learning until children are 7 years old.
Wallis is certain that many people who grow up to be inventors “come from a childhood where they didn’t learn to read until they were 7, so their creativity could flourish”.
Younger children need child-led learning, he says. While it may look “messy” and like a “waste of time” to the adult brain, it actually teaches resilience and creativity.
Kita reality instead of ideal
Wallis has gained a large following thanks to his expert insight and advice on modern parenting, a range of qualifications and the ability to translate complex neuroscience into easy-to-understand advice.
He has worked as an early childhood educator, university lecturer and childhood trauma expert, advising various government departments.
He recognizes that the realities of modern life stand in the way of the perfect, research-based parenting path. For example, he says: “There is no scientifically based benefit if children are in a day care center in the first three years of life”.
“The benefits are all for the economy – parents get upset when I say that, like I’m going to smack them for taking their kids to daycare, but I don’t because I’m taking my kids to daycare … We all live in the same modern world, we are spoiled for choice.”
“We are going the way of focusing [business] and we want everyone to work and we’re not worried about what happens to the babies that are put into institutions.”
He wants New Zealand politicians to structure society in a way that makes it easier for parents to stay at home and develop a primary relationship with a young child.
“We can realize people’s potential much more if we treat our babies like human beings from birth, whereas now we treat them like human beings, someone who will become worthy of human rights when they are born. from 18.”
Why Wallis is a “walking contradiction”.
Wallis admits he’s a “walking contradiction” to much of what he talks about.
He’s built a successful life for himself after spending his formative years in a “once were warriors” household fraught with “abuse, violence and addiction” — something he’s incredibly open about with Bridges.
Wallis notes that despite his birth father’s absence and troubles with his mother and stepfather, he had anchors — a “grandmother” (who wasn’t a birth relative) and an aunt who was just 12 when he was born, according to more steadfast sources Support. Such “resilience factors” were key to its development, he says.
He states that 50% of a child’s outcomes “are determined at birth and have nothing to do with parenting.”
“It’s possible to be a wonderful parent and have a delinquent child. It’s possible to be a delinquent parent and have a wonderful child.”
As a consultant, he wants to be “helpful and trend-setting”, not “judgmental”.
“We must be compassionate to all parents.”
For the full interview, in which Wallis also talks about the dangers of gadgets and why primary school students should have the right to vote, see stuff.co.nz/generallyfamous.
There is a new episode of the podcast every Wednesday at 5 a.m.
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Where to get help
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to speak to a trained advisor.
- Fear New Zealand 0800 FEAR (0800 269 4389)
- Depression.org.nz 0800 111 757 or SMS 4202
- kids line 0800 54 37 54 for people up to the age of 18. Open 24/7.
- lifeline 0800 543 354
- Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access the free resource and information service.
- Trust in rural support 0800 787 254
- Samaritan 0800 726 666
- Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Yellow cobblestone road 0800 732 825
- thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
- What works 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18 year olds). Telephone advice Monday to Friday from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Online chat is available from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
- youth line 0800 376 633, free text 234, email [email protected], or find online chat and other support options here.
- If it is an emergency, click here to find your local Crisis Assessment Team number.
- In a life-threatening situation, call 111.