Meet JoAnn Deak, Our Expert Guide to Growing Minds

All around The Children’s School, you see the joy and comfort that close friendships bring. The ability to make friends is one of the most rewarding skills a child can develop, and will be paramount throughout life. At our first Parenting Lecture, psychologist and educator JoAnn Deak will delve into the intricacies of children’s first friendships and offer ideas for supporting your child’s budding social life.

Dr. Deak proposes that parents and teachers think of their role raising and guiding children as being “brain sculptors.” Drawing on the latest research, she offers a neurological interpretation of the impact of relationships and social interactions on children. The areas of a child’s brain that manage emotions are forging connections as swiftly as the brain regions that allow for the development of physical and intellectual capacities. Hence, children need to experience both warm relationships (with friends) and a measure of social conflict (with foes) to hone all their relational skills and build their emotional intelligence.

The author of several books, Dr. Deak has written a unique one just for children: an owner’s guide to the growing brain. Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain is not just a jaunty introduction to neuroscience, explaining the names and functions of different areas of the brain, but an inspiration for children to shape and stretch their own neural pathways. They can be “neurosculptors” of their own minds! Her message is an empowering and optimistic one: that even as you struggle to learn something new or to conquer an intense fear, you are strengthening your brain.

Many ideas in this book will be encouraging for children: that making mistakes is one of the best ways to stretch your brain, that the part of your brain that manages your feelings will grow more connections and become more flexible, and that doing things you don’t enjoy or do very well will get easier as your brain strengthens. The science is made approachable with bright illustrations and a mouse and a bird, both wearing neckties, who make funny comments from the sidelines (“The pink stuff is busy!”). Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain has been heaped with awards and offers word-loving children some multisyllabic gems, like hippocampus and amygdala.

So here’s to the two things our brains need most, at any stage of life: stimulating friendships and food for thought!