How To Raise a Successful Child: Part Two

Brain of a baby under X-ray

“It is impossible for a human to learn if they are afraid.”
~ Dr.David H. Rose,
Award-winning Neuropsychologist and Educator

Continuing the series on How To Raise a Successful Child, I thought it important to address the challenge of fear and its impact on learning, that I learned after many years of working alongside Dr. David H. Rose, who has a deep pool of knowledge and experience in the science of the brain, children, and teaching. Something he told me one day, formed the basis of much of my own professional belief system: it is impossible for a human to learn if they are afraid.


Think about this. If a human is afraid, they have one of two absolutely normal reactions: fight or flight. You are afraid and you either become hostile or you want to run away. Perfectly normal and expected. How can you take in and process new information if you are in fight or flight mode? Well the short answer is, you can’t. You’re not going to remember or be able to synthesize anything except how to survive. You can’t learn new things if you’re in survival mode.


Now if this is true for adults, imagine what it feels like to be a child and to be afraid. In fact, there is a lot to be afraid of and it isn’t just about survival. Let me list some examples and let me know if any of these invoke memories:

  • Fear that you are going to be bullied
  • Fear that someone won’t like you
  • Fear that you’re not good enough
  • Fear that you will lose the competition
  • Fear that you will fail the test
  • Fear that you won’t understand a concept and you are supposed to
  • Fear that things at home aren’t perfect
  • Fear that you’re going to disappoint your parents
  • Fear that your teacher will be angry with your performance

This is a short list of opportunities to be afraid. Do you think your child may think about any of these fears? I bet you probably had some of these and many more. Imagine how stacked the deck is against kids, when they are going through any (if not several) of these thoughts, for them to concentrate? For them to take what they’ve learned and be able to apply it while in any mode of fear is incredibly difficult. I won’t even include the challenges that happen when a child hits adolescence (oh it is terrifying when your body and hormones are changing too).

How do I Address My Child's Fear? 

“Would my child learn more if they were not afraid?” Well actually, yes, they would. Imagine what a very young child is like, how wondrous the world is to them, and how every day is full of learning moments, couched in exploration and play? Well there are quite a few things that help us return to this state of receptivity, even as adults. Play. Entertainment. Fun. Love. Creativity. These are moments that generally aren’t part of the taught school curriculum, but if you think about reducing the barriers to learning, you might introduce some creativity or love. It’s very hard to be afraid when you are having fun or being entertained.


Let me bring all this back to Akili Kids!, what we are hoping to do and why we are doing it. If a child loves Bob the Builder, and is entertained and delighted, they are not afraid at that moment. A message of sharing, task persistence or empathy is much more surely delivered through this medium, than to try to forcefully explain to a child that they must share (and they are afraid of you!). By modeling ideal behaviors and keeping kids in the “fun mode” (a very un-scientific description) you increase the probability that they will retain the message.


In summary, every day we think about messaging and content for children, how to keep them engaged, excited, entertained, and receptive. In order to do this right, we have to bring kids to a place where that fear does not exist, and where their imaginations can run free and unhindered. Only then, in that moment, can we serve them with foundational learning messages that could help them their entire lives.