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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Filtering by Tag: Critical Thinking

The terrorism talk - what every parent should know​

Tremaine du Preez

If you're a parent of enquiring minds you've had to face the terrorism question. If you're lucky it was only, What is a terrorist?. If you're less lucky you had to satisfy,What is ISIS? and if you're downright unlucky, your offspring demanded an explanation for, Why does someone kill for ISIS? Honestly, I'd rather have the S.E.X talk than this one.

I've had all three questions and more. My initial reaction was to quote the news of the day and Mr John Kerry in particular with; They are psychopathic monsters.Replacing psychopathic with 'evil' to fend off further enquiry. That about covers it, doesn't it? They're the bad guys - end of story.

I'm not a scholar of terrorism, politics or religion but if that truly was the end of my explanation, I would be failing in my efforts to raise a child that is capable of reasoning with a curious and critical mind. A mind open to the possibility that we are not helpless in the fight against terrorism nor indeed the bully next door.

How can we discuss the frightening yet inscrutable concepts of terrorism with our children? As a parent you know that your beliefs will shape your children's beliefs and actions, which will ultimately shape tomorrow's neighbourhoods and societies. Helping children understand an evil that is foreign yet right in our midst is a contemporary parenting imperative.

So how do you explain the inexplicable to impressionable minds? No matter how true it is, telling your children that terrorists ar 'psychopathic monsters' will engender even more fear and more helplessness against the 'bad guys'. Showing our children instead that the problem has a caus, and therefore a solutio, will do the opposite. In critical thinking we call this a thought experiments and, with the help of expert knowledge, it goes like this:

Q: What if we knew what makes an ISIS fighter?

What if we knew that ISIS fighters who had been interviewed in prison are generally ignorant about the religion and politics of their paymaster, that they know little of it's most extreme requirements? What if we knew that the average age of a fighter is 27, with 2 children. That they came of age in a war torn Iraq during the American occupation that began in 2003. As teenagers they couldn't go out to parties or even have girlfriends. Many of them grew up without fathers. They blame the Americans for this and leaving them in the middle of a civil war where food, safety and shelter were scarce and fear was plentiful. Violence a way of life. For many of them, fighting for ISIS is seen as a way to avenge that. To take action and not wait for someone else to do it on their behalf.

Armed with information like this, we have a way of making the truly incomprehensible, comprehensible. As uncomfortable as it is to think and talk about, we can only change what we understand.

Q. What about the big question? What is ISIS?

What if we knew that ISIS was formed around ancient texts called the Prophetic methodolog. Texts that followers are not allowed to question, for to question them would mean certain death. These medieval texts were written at a time of war when brutality and bloodshed were the norm. Experts like Bernard Haykel tell us that the Islamic State is trying to recreate these earliest days and reproduce its norms of war. They want to create a ast empire filled with loyal subjects who abide by their extreme laws. Much like Hitler and his Nazi party, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people who disagree with their beliefs. They see the world in black and white. Their propaganda tells us that they categorically reject peace and aim to bring about the apocalypse in all of its headline hyperboles, even if it means their own destruction. Perhaps this is why we find them so hard to understand yet their propaganda is clear and available.

Q. Why do they commit acts of terror?

It would seem that terrorism is their way of making us (their enemy) feel afraid. They hope that fear will create intolerance and hatred, driving a wedge between different religions and people. Perhaps they've been watching Star Wars' reruns and know that hatred is the path to the dark side. If we are weak, full of hatred and focused on what divides us more than what unites us as people we will be easier to conquer.

Q. Am I powerless to help?

While the the leaders of the free world go to war against ISIS, hunt their leaders and stop young people from traveling to Syria to join them, what can we do? We can fight a movement that is closing young minds to the beauty and potential of a free world by opening our children's minds to their own power. This means giving them information and tools to think critically, to probe and dissect confusing information and the permission to question everything. verything.

Because physical freedom is nothing without freedom of thought.

1. Lydia Wilson's report at
2. Graeme Wood's study of 'What ISIS Really Wants' as published in the Atlantic, March 201
3. Bernard Haykel, the foremost secular authority on the Islamic State's ideology.

Tremaine du Preez is an executive coach, Huffington Post Blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from AmazonHer next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon.

Do good grades guarantee success after school?

Tremaine du Preez

Or is it time to rethink our definition of smart?

According to the latest OECD results the smartest teenagers in the world belong to Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. All three cities ranked in the top 3 globally for math, science and reading in what is touted as a test of critical thinking. All three are confucian heritage societies with a long history (since the 10th century) of being grade-orientated. Back then anyone could become a government official by passing the Imperial Examinations with position and rank based on test scores alone. Later, through the Song Dynasty, achievement in formal tests was the only way to advance in a career outside of government too. This system of being able to clearly define and measure someone’s aptitude based on explicit metrics seemed to have stuck. In a country of 1.3 billion people with cities like Shanghai at 23 million strong, heaving under 9,700 inhabitants per square mile, perhaps this is not surprising at all. But do these consistently admirable test scores result in superb critical, creative and agile thinkers able to solve humanities most pressing problems or at least drive innovation forward? 

Comparing apples and apple seeds

To answer this let’s compare apple seeds to apples as we look at the current scientific contributions of a nation’s adults based on their H-Index (a ranking of the quality of scientific output) with the OECD (PISA) academic ranking for science from that country’s teenagers in brackets next to it. 

H-Ranking (PISA ranking)

1. USA (28th)                 6. Japan (4th)

2. UK (20th)                  7. Italy (32nd)

3. Germany (12th)          8. Netherlands (14th)

4. France (26th)             9. Switzerland (19th)

5. Canada (10th)            10. Sweden (38th)

It would seem that high scores in math and science aren’t necessarily correlated with an increase in scientific contributions from a nation’s adults. Yet math and science are exceptionally important as building blocks of knowledge. But only building blocks. In my experience as a lecturer in critical thinking, I’ve learnt that a school system that teaches children what to think at the expense of how to think is missing a golden opportunity to create a nation of ground breakers, scientists and entrepreneurs.  

When is a goldfish not dead?

This is a story from a parent of a child at a Singaporean school in primary 2 level (age 7 to 8 years). She retells the tale of her child’s attempt at answering a comprehension test question as follows;

Excerpt from a paragraph: “… and the cat ate the goldfish” 

Question: What happened to the goldfish?

Answer by pupil: The fish died. 

Surely a most natural conclusion to being eaten by a cat, written in a satisfactory full sentence. But this answer was marked as incorrect. The correct answer, she was told, was that the fish was eaten by the cat. Death was implied when in fact there was no proof of it. Thus there could only be one correct answer. This is an example of a false dilemma where we limit our answers based on our own limited view or knowledge. For progress to continue our children have to grow up to be smarter than their teachers. This creates a dilemma in education. How does a teacher evaluate thinking beyond the boundaries of a curriculum that they are trained in, or their own ability?  

When grades don't mean what they used to

Employers are rapidly looking beyond grades to hire the thinkers and managers of tomorrow. In a company that produces the purest most valuable data that money can buy, it’s no surprise that Google’s recruitment processes have benefitted from their lead in analytics. Lazlo Block, their SVP of people ops and principle architect of their interview process made headline’s recently when he revealed what most Googlers already know; that academic success at college or one’s GPA (grade point average) is the least important metric in their interview process, in fact, he went on to say that it is discounted in the final selection stage. Their 16 years worth of data on recruitment have revealed that there is no link between formal academic success or technical ability and potential to add real value to a company that transacts in new technology.  

So what are employers looking for then?

When Lazlo Block says they are looking for incredible curiosity, intellectual humility and resilience he isn’t saying so because it sounds all googley but because he knows this is what has brought them to where they are and will take them forward. Not only does Google know what skills will drive innovation and sales but they have designed a recruitment process to help them identify candidates who have these qualities - and aren’t evil, of course. Resilience is highlighted several times because someone who has known academic success most of their life has probably never gotten down and dirty with failure. Internally, Google fails a lot, that’s the nature of exploring unchartered territory. Without resilience, no new app or technology would be shuttled into the future. It’s not only tech companies that are looking for mental agility, capacity to learn and a healthy relationship with failure, many traditional companies are also looking for recruits with so much more to offer than good academics, especially demonstrable emotional and intercultural intelligence - an area of research I delve into in depth in my upcoming book Raising Thinkers

Given that employability today and tomorrow is less about math scores and more about adaptability, resilience, social, emotional and raw intelligence you might be wondering how, or if, your child is learning these skills? What steps is you child’s school taking to go beyond test scores to foster and measure skills crucial to employers today? How are you, dear parent, doing this and how is any of this communicated through reports and CV’s?  

I don’t know about you but my son’s school report is still all about maths and science measured on traditional metrics. This is still how schools rank and grade pupils because its far easier to do than set up a system to say, measure emotional intelligence or other intangibles. Unless we as parents change the definition of success academic children may not have the opportunity to develop those intangible talents that employers are after and children that aren’t considered academic may be considered underachievers despite their valuable talents, simply because these skills aren’t defined and measured. 

Next time we’ll start looking at each of these intangible talents and how to help foster them in your children, and perhaps even yourself. 

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.

Dentistry in Singapore: For your health or their wealth?

Tremaine du Preez

Toothache is a pain. Having a root canal and crown that costs $4000 in Singapore is heartache, especially since dental insurance here is too expensive to be worthwhile. I grind my teeth and have successfully cracked all 3 of my back teeth so it was no surprise then when the dentist took a quick look at my tooth with a UV light and declared that yet another tooth had fallen victim to my disregard for relaxation. I had ground it down and cracked it very badly. Yes, it was as painful as it sounds.

“Help me doctor, I’m in pain, how do I fix this?” 

“The same way we’ve fixed all the others – root canal and a gold crown. Let’s fix up an appointment to have this done soon because I’m on leave for three weeks next month.” He looked so sympathetic and understood how uncomfortable it all was for me, but there was no other way to stop the pain. I liked him, he had time for me, we laughed together. Yet, something about this visit bothered me. My dentist, at a very reputable and popular expat style clinic, spent very little time looking at my tooth and a lot of time explaining why I should have a root canal plus a crown. But what do I know about teeth? I’m not a dentist.


But I’m also not a fool.  Even though I’d been down this road before, I wanted to get a second opinion, just to be sure. The next dentist I saw was very reluctant to contradict a fellow practitioner. Although she couldn’t find any crack in my tooth, she strongly recommended a root canal to solve the pain and I was booked in for the very next day for emergency treatment. OK, so I needed a root canal and a crown but there’s no crack in the tooth, so why is it hurting? I asked this question directly and her answer was, “That just happens sometimes, the nerves get sensitive.” 

I was now in pain and fed up. 

Did I just accept what these two well trained and well respected professionals told me, did I just go along with their recommendations because they were dentists and should know more about my teeth than I do? After all, I did already have a second opinion from a separate clinic. The critical thinker in me could back off now.

But I wanted decent answers and so went off to a public dentist who had no financial incentive to sell me a treatment I didn’t need. He prodded and poked my tooth and the adjacent ones. I yelled in pain as he applied scalding then freezing cotton swabs and an electrical current through my tooth (I kid you not). No sitcom to watch on an overhead TV, no coffee in the waiting room, actually no waiting room to speak of … you get the picture. By this time I was wishing I hadn’t been so foolish to think I knew better and would have preferred the root canal there and then. Could this dentist even be as good as a private one? 

I was now in pain and fed up and doubting myself.

Finally a giant telescope on a floating arm appeared above me. He studied my pearly whites through his Carl Zeiss lenses. And what did he find? I lay trembling, fearing the third and final call for a $4000 treatment that would involve much pain, multiple doctor’s visits, and baby food for two weeks. 

“Mmm,” he finally said, “Well, I can’t find any cracks but it’s very clear that the filling currently in the tooth is old and leaking. It needs to be replaced.” 

“Root canal?” I squeaked?

“No need.” 


“No Need,” he confirmed as he whipped off the old amalgam filling and popped in a new one. 

The pain was gone by the time the anaesthetic had worn off. I was healed!


What did it cost? $89. 


Any doctor’s incentive is both to care for patients, make a living and avoid litigation whilst doing so. In a city as expensive as Singapore this balance can easily tip and financial gain can become the driving motives. Every one of us was taught from a young age to respect experts and listen to their advice, because they know better than we do. “The doctor said you have to take your medicine little Jake. So you have to take it.”

Of course, they do know more about their field of expertise but nothing stops us from questioning their frames and motives and to keep demanding answers until we get them. 

Now don’t let me start on the cardiologist in Singapore who sent me for a $2000 CAT scan that I absolutely didn’t need. I went, paid, got ripped off, felt like an idiot for being taken in – but I’m so much wiser for it.  

Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your child for the journey of a lifetime will be out soon.

The 7 Habits of Good Decision Makers

Tremaine du Preez

If you are a professional of any kind from a banker to an HR executive, a COO or a dentist – you are continuously weighing up options and deciding on the best trade, payoff, treatment or even the best thing to say in a presentation or to a customer. You are a professional decision maker and I’m betting that your success depends largely on the quality of your decisions – both large and small. A good quality decision isn’t always the one with the best outcome. What’s far more important than hitting the bull’s eye every time is to foster a good decision process that ultimately results in incrementally better decisions and hence gains from those decisions over time. So what are the consistent habits or behaviours of professionals who make more good than bad decisions?

Decision Science

1. Be very clear on what is fact, judgement and opinion 

At a dinner party this week, a friend and well respected fund manager said quite boldly that everyone is selling China. Everybody? Selling? If everybody is selling than who is buying it? Stock markets only function effectively because of an asymmetry of beliefs – where someone wants to get rid of a position and someone wants to own that same position – so they trade. His statement could not possibly have been a fact or a judgement based on fact but an opinion formed around a trend or what this person had observed in his own limited sphere. It’s fine to believe in our own opinion (self deception is one of the oldest survival techniques and a fascinating topic of decision science) but let’s be very careful when making important decision using opinion as our raw data and not the facts that those opinions interpret. 

2. Understand the quality of your information

The internet is now our main font of knowledge; easy, convenient and omnipotent. Google is the McDonalds of information – serving up super-sized helpings of data that have been processed and flavoured by those that have gathered and interpreted this information. You choose the quality of the information that you consume in much the same way that you decide between McDonalds or Subway for lunch on a Tuesday. If you base your thinking, and hence decisions, on quick to access and widely available information (accepted without verification of its underlying data), then your decisions will disappoint on average. Quality information takes time and effort to gather just like a healthy, well balanced meal - there is no quick way around it. Test conclusions, verify interpretations and go to the source of data whenever you can. Actually, go to the data source always. You’ll be glad you did. 

3. Distrust how information is packaged and presented  

It was Socrates who first proposed that all information occurs within points of view and frames of reference and that all reasoning proceeds from some goal or objective. The poor man was executed for his outrageous thinking. Today this reasoning separates good decision makers from the rest. Without fail, every piece of information that is presented to you is done so through someone else’s frames and hence has been structured in a way that furthers their own cause. Always ask yourself what motivation the journalist, stock broker, surgeon, CEO or any other has when transmitting information. If you have sourced data yourself then beware, that data is filtered through your own mental frames as well.

4. Develop a habit of deciding how to decide first

Do you know what a metadecision is? No?  It is the simple act of deciding how you will decide before you jump in and make a decision. It begins by checking that you are, in fact, solving the right problem then asks you to decide how you will solve the problem with what tools, data and resources. It sounds like a mini project plan because it is. The metadecision forms the very first step in a good decision process because it anticipates challenges, ensures that you are using the best possible tools, ensures that your team members are all on the same page and actually speeds up the decision process. Einstein is said to have said that;  If I had only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes finding the solution. Even if it wasn’t the great man himself who said this, every great decision maker knows this. 

5. Control for the impact of emotions on your thinking 

Did you know that the hormones that make you feel sad also promote thinking and the hormones that make you feel so happy you could sing increase your appetite for risk in much the same way that red hot anger does. Emotions result from a cocktail of various hormones generated in response to information we receive (and interpret) through our own 5 senses. We can’t stop or remove the effect of emotions on our thinking but we can identify them and ensure that, when making important decisions, we control for the effects of our mental state – whether that be tiredness, frustration, disappointment, confidence after a successful deal or irritation at our boss. Everyone of these impact how we process and frame information. 

6. Tell convincing stories to understand risk

All decisions involve risk – the bigger the decision the larger the risk but also the reward for getting it right. Risk assessment and management tools are only as useful as the skills of those who program and use them. Housing bubbles from ill thought out economic policy, stock market crashes, bank runs and corporate failures are part and parcel of our complex and risky political, financial and business environment. The risks that cause these things are usually the ones that no-one paid attention to or could have foreseen when making the decision or setting policy. Whilst it’s very hard to know what you don’t know the ability to imagine alternative futures is becoming more important around the board room table. In trying to understand the risks to your project allow team members to create narratives of future scenarios from the most likely to the most implausible. To be communicated as stories with characters of fact or fiction. History has shown us that the most unlikely scenarios at the beginning are the ones that do the most damage at the end. 

7. Judge decisions by their process not their outcome 

This is the fundamental premise of decision science - that good decisions are never random inspirations hastened by a moment of genius or lucidity - a process is used (consciously or subconsciously) by anyone who makes consistently good decisions because no-one is consistently lucky. 

Do you have a decision making process that allows you to reflect on and refine your approach to problem solving? I won’t dictate a decision process as it’s as personal as your belief system but sound processes usually make space for 

- A metadecision

- An understanding of how information is framed

- Checking for motives, mental mistakes and biases in all stakeholders

- Counteracting the effect of strong emotions

- Thorough scenario analysis

Good decision making is a science of skill and knowledge the more you practice it, the luckier you’ll become.  

About the author: Tremaine is a behavioural economist and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in Asia. Follow Tremaine on Facebook for weekly thoughts on thinking and raising your children as critical thinkers at or her blog at 

Her latest book, Raising Thinkers - Preparing your Child for the Journey of a Lifetime will be out soon.

3 Lessons from Neuroscience to get Breakthrough Solutions from your Brainstorming Sessions

Tremaine du Preez

illustration19 Trema#39AD5C.jpg

The brief for a new project is in and your team is gathered for a brainstorming session. Everyone puts their thinking caps on and the idea free flow begins. After two hours of caffeine and cold pizza, someone comes up with a brilliant suggestion. The team loves it and you all work out who needs to do what to make it happen. That’s how brainstorming works for you too, right? Easy, creative, with breakthrough ideas? No? I didn’t think so because brainstorming seldom works as advertised. What you may have found rather is that you end up with compromised solutions. Perhaps louder members of the team drown out the introverts. Some participants free ride or refuse to offer ideas to avoid criticism. Others feel they are too junior to participate meaningfully. Perhaps the team leader already knows exactly what 

she wants to do and so steers the team towards her idea. I bet you can add your own brainstorming blues here. If you already know the issues then skip over to the solution on the next page.

Here’s the other tried and tested trouble with all of this. I’m sure you’ll recognise a few.

  • Not everyone has a good grasp of the problem to be solved and history of the issue. Has everyone read the brief?
  • Volume and not quality of ideas is encouraged in traditional brainstorming. This wastes mental energy and time.
  • In bigger groups, team members have to wait their turn to share their ideas, sometimes those ideas get lost in the process.
  • Very strong ideas can get diluted down.
  • Not being allowed to criticise and wanting to blend all the ‘best’ ideas tends to create compromised solutions.
  • Nobody is responsible for coming up with a breakthrough solution and so free-riding is encouraged.
  • Personal investment in the process can be low and rewards, if any, go to the group.

Traditional brainstorming can be like mixing all the colours on a colour palette together. No matter what colours you start with, you will always end up with brown. Mud brown. 

Better Brainstorming for Breakthroughs

Neuroscience knows that there are better ways to induce creativity. Even trying one of them will yield noticeable results. Ready?

1. Prepare for the storm

If someone has ever demanded creativity from you on the spot, you will know how hard it can be. This is usually what’s required of us in a brainstorming session. 

Participants are seldom expected to prepare for a brainstorming session. But imagine if they did? Asking each participant to think of, or investigate, their own best suggestion before coming to the session will vastly improve the quality of the ideas presented. Now nobody can eat the free pizza without offering a good idea in return. Better still, unfeasible ideas will not make it through the door. Each participant should share their own idea before the free flow of ideas begins, so no idea or person is drowned out.

2. Warm up mental muscles

Are you looking for creative solutions? A little innovative thinking or inspired problem solving? Luring someone away from their desk and then expecting genius ideas on the spot defies the laws our brains are subject to. In order to make new mental connections, the frequency that the brain operates at has to be lowered. Some relaxation or interesting stimuli should do the trick.  So, to coax the brain into a creative frame of mind, try some of the following;


Display unusual or interesting items or photos.  Let each person pick one and suggest an unusual use for it. - 1 min per person. (I had a colleague who used to bring in a rubber chicken, you know, the kind that has just been plucked and is ready for the pot.)

Disruptive thinking

Prepare a list of products, services or practices that the company or group already offers. Ask participants how they would improve upon it if they had a generous budget. 

Fames and biases

Ask individuals to identify a piece of conventional wisdom that is used in the office, city, country, society etc, and then how it could be challenged. 

3. Think up a storm

Of course, you can get straight down to business as you usually do. But the 5 to 10 minutes you invest in mental preparation will vastly improve the quality of your brain storming session. Now the group is ready to be productive.

Here are some tips to extract maximum value and creativity from the group. 

Keep the group as small as possible.

Put everyone on the same page.

Assume nothing. Ask for ideas about what caused the problem or led to the need to brainstorm. This will set the scene and make sure that everybody knows exactly what he or she is there to do. Write up different suggestions and notice how many you receive. Clarify and correct wayward ideas and faulty thinking. Note any ideas that are new and sensible. 


Look for loose associations that can contribute lateral thoughts. Naming a new trendy shoe? How about exploring the names of hip or upcoming neighbourhoods in your target market. An energy drink? How about popular trends in action movies? My dad is an undertaker who is forever looking to improve the quality and range of services that he offers. He visits biker clubs and extreme sports groups along with medical associations   and frail care centres to gather information on how to improve his offerings and best meet the needs of his clients in unique ways. Yea, he’s very cool, for an undertaker.

Kick conventional wisdom 

Challenge comfort zone thinking with some provocative questions: 

  • What frame we are currently using?
  • This issue can be reframed as ... 
  • Are we solving the right problem?
  • How do I/we feel about this?
  • What do I/we believe but cannot prove?
  • What conventional wisdom are we using
  • What is the current status quo?
  • What would shatter this status quo?
  • Are we asking the right questions?
  • What if our success was guaranteed? 

Shy team members? Play card games

Ask for ideas and solutions, which would ordinarily be spoken, to be written on cards instead, anonymously. Group the cards into similar themes.  

Remember that brainstorming is a process to generate ideas that lead to solutions. It’s not meant to generate the final solution. For that you need a more structured and analytical process.

Found these useful? Like my FB page here for more brain games over the next few weeks. 

What your child learns before going to kindergarten has the greatest impact on his intelligence in later life.

Tremaine du Preez

Everyone’s intellectual potential is set in infancy, at home, before they even get to school. Do you know how to build your baby’s brain during the most crucial period of cognitive development?


Here are some tips from the Raising Thinkers Series out in December 2014.

The day your baby was born, his brain was already packed with almost all of the neurons (brain cells) he would need for life. More than 100 billion - 3 times as many stars as there are in the milky way.  Even though the neurons of the brain already exist at birth, those that control higher order thinking, language and abstract thought as well as emotional regulation, can’t grow and develop till they are actually put into use. Neurons are activated through stimulation from the environment after birth. So, no matter how much Mozart you consumed during your pregnancy, your baby will recognise your voice, and little else when he is born. But then the fun begins. 

Once out of the murky, calm womb up to 2 million synapses per second fire through your baby’s mental circuits, in response to their young brain’s experiences.  A synapse is a connection between two brain cells. The more often a connection is used, the more stable it becomes. These connections eventually form memories, which is how we all learn. 

 “The growth in each region of the brain depends on receiving stimulation in that particular area.” - Child Welfare Information Gateway

The number of connections between neurons also determines the brain’s physical growth and intelligence.  Bigger brains have better circuity. This allows more messages to travel faster between different parts of the brain1. For example, continuously talking to babies will repeatedly fire language neurons and create connections that lead to the formation of memories and physical growth in that area. These language memories form a very important foundation for higher order learning.  Growth in brain volume after infancy may not compensate for poorer earlier growth.2 The first three years are the most important for the development of intelligence. How then can we encourage stronger, faster connections between neurons in our baby’s brain? 

If you want to give your baby the best cognitive start in life, your mission is fairly straightforward: to help your child build up sufficient networks of good strong synapses in the areas of her brain that support memory and language. These, in turn will open up the learning pathways to support higher cognitive functions. 

Here are some tips to help your chubby-cheeked cherub develop to his or her full potential. 

Language development

Your child’s first year is all about sounds. Talk, talk, talk to your child, face to face. Your child will hear sounds from the TV and from around him, but he needs to see your mouth moving and the body language that goes with the sound in order to catalogue words correctly. Your child is most engaged when you are close enough to make eye contact (remember your baby is short-sighted for the first few months). Keep sentences short and repeat important ideas. 

Try this: 

What’s in the box? Everyday, around the same time, introduce your baby to 2 new objects that you pick out of a box. Hold it up and ask “What is this?” Then let your child explore it, either let them grasp it or turn it around slowly so that they can see all of it. Describe it as you go. When he’s had a good look tell him what it is and show him how it’s used. No special equipment required.  

In your baby’s second year the brain’s language centres evolve dramatically as synaptic activity increases. Vocabulary expands exponentially, but only if they are exposed to many words and things to name. Eventually, pull objects out of the box, ask what it is and let your baby tell you. Then give them cuddles for being so smart. 


Scaffolding.  Is your little girl reaching for a toy that is just outside of her reach? Your first instinct is to pick it up and give it to her, right? Think again. This is both a behavioural and cognitive learning opportunity. Scaffolding happens when you follow your child's lead in activities that they initiate.  You provide just enough support to challenge her to the next level without overwhelming her with frustration. So nudge the toy to just within her reach. She still has to try to get what she wants. She is learning that she can help herself, that this requires effort and that mommy won’t just hand her whatever she wants when she wants it.    

Stranger anxiety and going to new places

At around 8 months old, your baby’s conscious memory stabilises. He begins to understand that objects can exist even when he can’t see them because now he can remember them. Your baby can look at a partially hidden toy and know what it is because they have a complete picture of it stored in memory. This is when stranger anxiety can begin because a stranger is someone that they don’t already have a mental image of. Going to visit granny and Grandpa for the summer? Even if your child has seen them before a few months ago, she will have forgotten them by now. So show her lots of pictures of granny and grandpa being sure to name them as you do. Skype often so that, when they finally meet up, there is familiarity rather than fear.   

Starting kindergarden soon?

Again, build up memories of the kindergarden so that it isn’t so frightening the first time you leave your infant or toddler there with complete strangers and lots of different things and noises. Look at the school’s website, explain the different pictures they have on it. Walk past the school and point out the different things in the playground. 

 Found these useful? Like my FB page here for more brain games over the next few weeks. Next week: Embracing your toddler’s tantrums.

1 Ed Bullmore, professor of psychiatry at Cambridge. Cambridge Neuroscience Department
2 Catharine R. Gale, PhD, Finbar J. O'Callaghan, PhD, Maria Bredow, MBChB, Christopher N. Martyn, DPhil and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Study Team (October 4, 2006). "The Influence of Head Growth in Fetal Life, Infancy, and Childhood on Intelligence at the Ages of 4 and 8 Years". PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 4 October 2006, pp. 1486-1492. Retrieved August 6, 2006.

Under pressure? Frustrated with your boss? Lashing out at others and blaming them?

Tremaine du Preez

It may be time to to check in with your emotional intelligence. 

Dare to take the EI test?

This is my most popular ‘just for fun’ test that really gives you something to think about. If you are still hanging on to the belief that EI is optional or fluffy, think again, quickly. The hormones that regulate our emotional state have the potential to cause havoc with our ability to process data and make sound decisions. 

An understanding of your emotional language and triggers is essential to making sound decisions. This is exactly what researchers have found. From entrepreneurs, to Fortune 100 CEOs, those that are successful in reaching their professional goals are either highly emotionally intelligent or know that they aren’t and surround themselves with people who are. Well, that’s a relief. You don’t have to be the cool calm and collected guy with high EI. If you are the one with a hair-trigger temper or nerves that are constantly offended, that’s ok. You just have to know your own emotional language and stop it from affecting your thinking. You won’t win ‘boss of the year’ but you’ll be better at reaching your goals. Where do you fit in?


Mark true or false (honestly) next to each statement and tally up your trues.


1. I never try to avoid tough conversations.

2. I know exactly what makes me angry.

3. There is someone I don’t like but I’m not exactly sure why.

4. I know what makes me sad.

5. I always consider how my words or actions will make someone else feel before I speak.

6. I put time aside everyday to reflect on my behaviour and interactions.

7. I never say things that I regret later.

8. I’m OK with saying sorry.

9. I know exactly what I do well. 

10. I know exactly what I can’t do well.

11. I can say NO to my boss/client when I know I can’t meet his/her expectations.

12. I am interested in hearing other people’s opinions.

13. I can usually find something to respect in others, even those younger than I am.

14. Colleagues value my feedback.

15. People tell me I am patient.

16. I am calm under pressure.

17. I think very long and hard about my mistakes.

18. I think very long and hard about my successes.

19. I love challenges that no one else can solve.

20. I can listen to someone without interrupting.

21. My mood never affects my interactions with other people.

22. I don’t mind if plans change.

23. I don’t mind if MY plans are changed.

24. I don’t get irritated if someone can’t follow my instructions.

25. I try not to lose my temper in public.


Grand total   Number of trues?

How did you do?

Rating - number of trues

        20 - 24:     Emotionally gifted, the world needs more of you 

        12 - 20:     Emotionally competent.You’ve clearly spent time reflecting on your EI

        below 12:    Human like the rest of us with the potential to improve


Over the next four weeks we’ll explore the four corners of EI; self awareness, self regulation, social skills and motivation, just in case you need a primer in any area. 

Copyright @tremainedupreez 2014, all rights reserved

Operation Parenthood

Tremaine du Preez

It’s no secret that we are preparing our dimpled darlings for jobs that don’t yet exist. By their very nature we cannot yet conceive of these unknowable jobs of the future, just as our parents could not have imagined us becoming a bitcoin trader at a hedge fund on Wall Street. (If you haven’t had a teenager explain bitcoin mining to you yet, I highly recommend it. It’ll stretch your mind and make you feel ancient all at the same time.) 

We may not know what the future looks like but we do have a pretty good idea of the mega trends that will shape our children’s environment along the way. A megatrend is an existing trend that has already gained so much momentum that its trajectory is likely to continue under most reasonable future scenarios. These trends give us a framework for hanging potential futures on. They’re not perfect but certainly more reliable than history, given the rate of disruptive change in most sectors today. They allow us to model a range of outcomes and their implications for the skills that will be most in demand when our children get there. 

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