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What Einstein Knew About Parenting

Beyond Einstein's famous physics contributions, his wisdom can benefit parents.

Nobel-prize winning physicist Albert Einstein was considered by many to be a genius. Even his brain stood out as being having “additional convolutions and folds rarely seen in other subjects” as well as a “greatly expanded” prefrontal cortex (related to planning, attention, and focused perseverance) and left side (which facilitates sensory inputs).

Einstein’s own parents were very nurturing and encouraged him to be independent and creative, so it’s not surprising that some of his quotes align with some great parenting truths.

Make Room for Awe

"He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed." ~ Albert Einstein

The ability to focus on moments of awe that are hidden deep within chaos, slog, or struggle is an important parenting skill. Modeling or creating opportunities for awe may also help children develop empathy and feel more connected to the world around them. After an arduous 2 ½ - hour trip to the very-pokey pediatrician, a parent may still marvel that her sick child asked to bring home a lollipop for his baby brother. While frantically cleaning the house for an upcoming birthday party, a parent may appreciate that her older children colored birthday banners for their younger sibling without being asked. After watching her toddler-son for 12 hours, a parent may still feel goose bumps from a sweet cuddle he gave her before drifting off to sleep. In the midst of challenge, these parents know how to focus on, celebrate, and "be awed" by what's right.

Trust Yourself

"The only real valuable thing is intuition." ~ Albert Einstein 

As a parent's great-grandmother, neighbor, child’s coach, and friend tell him what they believe is the best way to sleep-train, potty-train, and feed his child, he appreciates the diverse input but chooses to trust his own wise gut. As a friend raves about the fabulous swimming lessons her son attends, a parent resists because he knows deep-down his child is not ready. He uses his intuition to respond to his infant's needs and feedback signals. Even among a marching band of outside opinions and "shoulds," he heeds his own voice. 

Embrace Humility

"Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them." ~ Albert Einstein

Research suggests that humility is "robustly associated with" kindness and other prosocial behaviors. Instead of just coping with "passive humility" (dealing with mistakes as they occur), a humble parent embraces "active humility" (where she gets curious about her weak spots, laughs about them, loves them, and works on them). When a parent screws up, she remembers that the failure-feeling exists only because she cares so much. She knows that in the messiness of trying and failing yet not giving up, there is love. 

Be Proactive

"Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them." ~ Albert Einstein 

Looking for patterns such as “My son behaves best at preschool when he’s played outside for an hour before we go” or “when I push a play date to 2 hours, my child acts out” is a key to proactive parenting. Exceptions are also important, such as “My daughter behaves great when it’s just the two of us” or “My son sleeps through the night when we put him to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual.” A third way to be proactive is to focusing on positives. A genius parent pays more attention to imagining and building what he wants to have happen than on problems.

Time for Play

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." ~ Albert Einstein 

It’s easy to feel pressured to always be “teaching” young kids their letters, numbers, language, reading, and more. While these things are of course important, free-play is the best ingredient to foster imagination, problem-solving, and relational skills. Pillow forts and puppet shows, dollhouses and dress up boxes, parks and yards -- these, not worksheets -- foster ingenuity and creativity.

Thanks, Einstein, for the theory of relativity (and these other things too).

Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (2017), is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs Sign up for her blog, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.