Want to raise successful kids? Harvard, MIT study says doing one thing at age 4 could make them happier and wealthier in life

Thanks to modern science, there are a number of effective — yet obvious — strategies to smart parenting. But last year, a group of researchers at MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania found that one of the best things parents can do for their children is to have frequent back-and-forth exchanges with them. 

The findings suggest that doing this at an early age (typically between ages 4 to 6) will help develop, foster and improve what is perhaps one of the most important skills that contribute to success in life: Communication.

What’s more, a number of studies have supported the idea that children with stronger communication skills are more likely to have healthier relationships, longer marriageshigher self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life.

.. We talk to our kids all the time — both directly and indirectly. “Sit here.” “Hurry, we’re going to be late.” “Great job!” “No, don’t do that.” “Alexa, read us a bedtime story.” The secret, however, is to have back-and-forth conversations.

For the study, researchers evaluated 36 children using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the differences in how the brain responds to different conversational styles.

They found that the Broca’s area, a region of the brain that focuses on speech production and language processing, was much more active in children who engaged in more back-and-forth conversations. Children who had more activation in that region of the brain scored higher in tests of language, grammar and verbal reasoning skills.

“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children,” John Gabrieli, the senior author of the study, told MIT News. “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”

.. Back in 1995, a landmark study found that children from higher-income families appeared to have much greater language and communication abilities, and it was thought to be correlated with the fact that those children were exposed to about 30 million more words during the first years of life, compared to children of lower-income families.

But findings from this recent study suggest that the “30 million word gap” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status,” Gabrielli said. “Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking.”

The point isn’t to have deep philosophical conversations with your children, but to instead carry conversations that require back-and-froth dialogue.

It’s not difficult to make that leap, and they’ll benefit in significant ways in the long run; interactive conversations help improve communication skills as a whole, and that’s a necessity for success in any future career. When it comes to your child’s success, maybe talk isn’t so cheap after all.

What world-class communicators do differently: 3 lessons from neuroscience

Dr. Goulston is a clinical psychiatrist. At one point he noticed that the same techniques he used to mend broken marriages and help suicidal patients worked just as well in other realms, realms like hostage negotiations and poisonous workplaces. When he sat down to think about it, he realized that despite the vastly different contexts in which they occurred, social violence, personal squabbles and workplace disputes have something in common: they are all about people trying to get through to one another in a stressful and highly emotional situation.

In his experience, such problems often get out of hand when we apply too much pressure at precisely the wrong time.

Something similar happens when we can’t get people to do what we want them to do. We push harder, we argue, we shout, or we swing the other way, pleasing, pleading, cajoling. In short, we upshift. And the other person responds with even more resistance, lashing out, becoming defensive, shutting us out.

A better way is to downshift, to stop talking and start listening so you can discern the emotions under the seemingly crazy behavior. When you shift your focus down to the root cause, to the raw emotion, you create traction that pulls the other person towards you. And that’s when you can get through to them.

Peering at your own grey matter, you’d notice that you have not one but three brains laid on top of one another. There’s the outer layer — the neocortex, which we usually think of as our brain. It’s the most recent, most evolved part that controls our higher-order functions, all that intellectual brilliance and impeccable manners we like to show to the world. But there are two other, much older parts wrapped around each other below the neocortex: the reptilian, or lizard brain which triggers our survival instincts and fear responses; and the mammalian brain, our emotional center, the seat of all feelings and moods, and also memory.

The upshot of this arrangement, Dr. Goulston says, is a kind of Jekyll and Hyde situation where one moment you are a perfectly reasonable human being and the next you’ve turned into “a cornered snake” or “a hysterical rabbit”. Because our neurology hasn’t caught up with modern times, our lizard brain sees potential threats everywhere and when it does, it flicks a switch that diverts resources away from our brain and into our limbs, to prepare us for fight or flight.

The best thing to do in this situation is to recognize that and to somehow move people form lizard or mammalian brain back to human brain it before you deliver your message.

Here are three ways to do exactly that.

1. Make the other person feel “felt”

It’s hardcoded into our DNA, this need to feel understood, or “felt”, by others. And when it’s not met, people act out. Rage, resistance, and even more mysterious afflictions like procrastination and underperformance at work are often just a way of saying “I’m having a hard time and nobody gives a damn.”

But faced with such situations, we often do precisely the wrong thing.

We tell the other person oh you are overreacting or stop acting like a drama queen or okay, let’s calm down here. And what’s the message we are sending? That we are not taking them seriously. That their problems are silly and don’t matter to us. And so to the other person we are just like everybody else. Why should they listen to us let alone do what we want them to?

The key, counterintuitively, is show that you empathize by acknowledging their negative emotions.

Here’s a classic technique adapted from hostage negotiations that shows how this can work in practice.

First, attach an emotion to what you think the other person is feeling, for example frustrated or angry or afraid.

Then, when you have a chance to talk in private, say: I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling and I think it’s frustration (or anger or fear).

Or say: I’ll bet you feel that there is no way you’re going to be able to do what I’m asking you to do, isn’t that true? Then wait for the person to agree or to correct you.

Keep doing this until you go over all of the emotions you think are playing out. For example, you can follow up with: And I’ll bet you’re hesitant to tell me straight out that you can’t get it done, isn’t that also true?

This does two things:

a) you show that you’ve put yourself in their shoes, and

b) you get them to say yes repeatedly, which creates a positive momentum, a cascade of yesses.

Then dig deeper. Ask them: How frustrated are you? Or: And the reason you’re so frustrated is because. . . ?

Then sit back and listen. Don’t interrupt. Even if you don’t like what comes out, even if it stretches the truth so much that you have to jump in and set the record straight, don’t.

Finally, ask the other person to suggest a solution. Here are three good questions to ask: Tell me — what needs to happen for that to get better?

United Airlines Says Corporate Clients Seek Customer-Policy Fixes

Recent passenger incident prompts call for airline “to do the right thing”

He also said crew members traveling as passengers much check in an hour before a flight’s departure time.

.. “It’s clear we have further to go to elevate our customer experience,” Mr. Munoz said, and declined to comment more specifically on those changes until the review is complete.

.. Backlash against United had been particularly intense in China, a key market for the carrier, after media there identified Dr. Dao as Chinese. He is Vietnamese-American. Mr. Munoz said he met with officials at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago and will visit China in a few weeks on a previously scheduled trip.

Understanding Hillary


Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?

.. And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will. Their Hillary Clinton is spoken of in superlatives: brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes.

.. Her explanation for the Gap is simple enough. “There’s a lot of behavioral science that if you attack someone endlessly — even if none of what you say is true — the very fact of attacking that person raises doubts and creates a negative perspective,”

.. if anything, people preferred watching them campaign to watching them govern.

Hillary Clinton is just the opposite. There is something about her persona that seems uniquely vulnerable to campaigning

.. Hillary Clinton, they said over and over again, listens.

.. “I love Bill Clinton,” says Tom Harkin, who served as senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015. “But every time you talk to Bill, you’re just trying to get a word in edgewise. With Hillary, you’re in a meeting with her, and she really listens to you.”

.. Modern presidential campaigns are built to reward people who are really, really good at talking. So imagine what a campaign feels like if you’re not entirely natural in front of big crowds.

.. When Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, she tried to do something very strange: She tried to campaign by listening. It was called her “listening tour,” and the press did not like it

.. “What they missed was she was actually listening! By the time she finished those listening sessions around New York, she really knew more about New York, about the issues there, about what was on people’s minds.”

.. These notes, Rubiner recalls, really did lead to legislation. Clinton took seriously the things she was told, the things she read, the things she saw. She made her team follow up.

.. You do not need to assert any grand patriarchal conspiracy to suggest that a process developed by men, dominated by men, and, until relatively late in American life, limited to men might subtly favor traits that are particularly prevalent in men.

Talking over listening, perhaps.

.. “Listening is something women value almost above everything else in relationships,” says Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate. “The biggest complaint women make in relationships is, ‘He doesn’t listen to me.’”

.. Women, she’s found, emphasize the “rapport dimension” of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? Men, by contrast, emphasize the “status dimension” — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

.. Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies. And winning allies is how Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

.. One way of reading the Democratic primary is that it pitted an unusually pure male leadership style against an unusually pure female leadership style. Sanders is a great talker and a poor relationship builder. Clinton is a great relationship builder and a poor talker. In this case — the first time at the presidential level — the female leadership style won.

.. Campaigns built on charismatic oration feel legitimate in a way that campaigns built on deep relationships do not.

.. Elaine Kamarck argues that “successful presidential leadership occurs when the president is able to put together and balance three sets of skills: policy, communication, and implementation.”

.. The problem, Kamarck says, is that campaigns are built to test only one of those skills. “The obsession with communication — presidential talking and messaging — is a dangerous mirage of the media age, a delusion that inevitably comes crashing down in the face of government failure.”

.. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by forming a coalition. And part of how she forms coalitions is by listening to her potential partners — both to figure out what they need and to build her relationships with them. This is not a skill all politicians possess.

.. “Because they don’t listen, they can’t ask good questions. They can’t absorb the information you’ve given them.”

.. “Not just hear the words people are saying but really hear what the implications are. That’s where she’s good. In fact, she’s better than anyone I’ve ever worked with.”

.. But Clinton doesn’t just listen to learn — she listens to flatter, to win allies. “If you are going to suck up to people who write memos, reading their memos is the best way to do it,” says one official who has worked with her, who admits to being pleased that Clinton had absorbed his work.

.. A staffer from her time at the State Department recalled her habit of inviting career foreign service officers to meetings and then referencing something they’d written deep in an old, obscure report. “It made their year,” he says.

.. In her answer, she offhandedly, but knowledgeably, referenced Congressman Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 idea, which would force agencies to spend 10 percent of their appropriated funds in communities where 20 percent of the population has lived in poverty for more than 30 years.

Most people listening to the interview probably wouldn’t really linger on the paragraph, but you can bet Clyburn will notice Clinton’s comment, and it will mean something to him.

.. People in Washington do not expect those in power to be particularly attentive to their work or curious about their past, and Clinton uses this to her advantage. “You hear people say, ‘She’s so different in person,’” says Podesta. “That’s what they’re finding so appealing. When people don’t know her well and they encounter her, people are taken with the fact that she is interested in them.”

.. In each case, Clinton is contacted by somebody who’s smart and credible but doesn’t have a ton of political clout. In each case, the message is that the policy her husband is either administering or making is flawed in some very technical way. And rather than ignore that message, or become defensive about it, she listens. She dives into the details — details that would numb many professional policy staffers, to say nothing of most politicians.

.. People who are on the other side of Clinton’s focus — who know how rare it is for a major politician to take a deep interest in their wonkish obsessions — find themselves unusually enamored of Clinton.

“When you’re with her,” says Tom Nides, who served as Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, “you know she is actually listening to you in a way most people in her place don’t need to do. That’s why she has that level of loyalty in the people who have been around her a long time.”

.. Clinton’s great mistake, her vote for the Iraq War, is an object lesson in the dangers of listening to the wrong people. “If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons,” she said, having listened to the wrong intelligence assessments.

.. She justified her vote by saying she had listened to President Bush and she would trust him — “I will take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible” — and there is probably no sentence she has uttered that she regrets so bitterly.

.. The stories of Clinton receiving a midnight email from an old friend and throwing her campaign into chaos are legion, and it was all the worse because she often wouldn’t admit that’s what was happening, and so her staff ended up arguing against a ghost.

.. In an exhaustive review of private communications from her 2008 campaign, Joshua Green wrote that “her advisers couldn’t execute strategy; they routinely attacked and undermined each other, and Clinton never forced a resolution.” Under duress, Clinton’s process broke down, and her management proved cumbersome, ineffective, and conducive to staff infighting.

.. Clinton’s daily speeches reflect the more prosaic trade-offs of inclusivity. The laundry lists she often gets criticized for are no accident; they’re the product of a process in which many groups and many advisers are consulted, and Clinton wants to make sure they see the contribution in final product.

.. It is hard to say what she stands for because she has not singled out a few very large, very ambitious ideas on which she would like a mandate to govern.”

.. Compounding these potential problems is that there’s one group Clinton absolutely can’t stand hearing from: the press. She believes the media offers wall-to-wall coverage of trumped-up non-scandals that ultimately prove hollow. She resents the fact that when the stories finally fall apart, the press just moves on, but the damage lingers in the public’s view of her. And, well, she’s right. Whitewater, Travelgate, Benghazi — there’s no politician who has been at the center of so many scandals that have turned out to be worth so little.

.. Republicans and the media really have treated her unfairly, so why shouldn’t she dodge press conferences and conceal transcripts?

.. A start might have been refusing Goldman Sachs’s 2013 offer to accept $675,000 for three speeches. Now, instead, Clinton has pocketed the money and refused to release transcripts of the speeches. It’s an action at odds with the charge that she’s an endlessly calculating politician — no politician concerned only with her future electability would have given those speeches.

.. Her answer is that the media abdicated its role as gatekeeper of a civil, substantive discourse. “I do think — and I keep saying this, because I believe it — I think the media environment where people are rewarded for being outrageous, for yelling at each other, for saying things that are untrue without being held accountable for it has contributed to this attitude of divisiveness and separation,” she said.

..  Asked at a Democratic debate to name the enemies she’s most proud of making, she replied, “The Republicans.” For all her talk of finding common ground, of reaching out, of respecting each other, she stood up, on national television, and said she’s proud of the enmity she inspires in roughly half the country.

.. Within the space of a couple of sentences, Clinton refuses to apologize for calling Republicans her enemy, says she works well with them, blames them for saying worse about her, laments that this is how politics works now, and then says, “We’ve got to try to get people back to listening to each other.”

.. Republicans often complain of leaving meetings with Obama after being lectured about their own political self-interest. He seems more interested in hearing himself talk than in listening to what they want, they complain.

..  “The Republicans I know think she’s just as horribly liberal as Obama but she’ll be better at compromising and working with others.”

.. Colleagues say Clinton uses the tension between her and Republicans to her advantage. Former adversaries feel awkward when they first meet her — they expect bad blood, bitter feelings, sniping. Instead, she’s friendly, charming, interested in them. She treats them like an old friend. She — here it is again — listens intently to what they say and tries to find common ground.

.. If someone spent years defaming me, trying to destroy my career, trying to destroy the careers of the people I love, I would probably have a bit of trouble befriending them. Most people cannot compartmentalize like this. It’s probably not healthy to compartmentalize like this. But Clinton does it.