In my previous blog post, I shared how science shows that parents are the true gene therapists: the most influential aspect of your child’s life. My aim with this blog is to offer the best practical advice to parents today about what you can do, in your own home and family, to create the optimal environment for your child. At every stage of growth, you, as a parent, can dramatically affect your youngster’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. You will discover that you can have a profound impact on your child’s ability to learn and succeed in the world.

What you need to know about your child

When I talk about this great power parents have to expand their children’s learning abilities, on both my Houston radio show and my Public Broadcasting Station TV-interview show, I hear parents ask one question over and over: “But what should we do? After all, most of us were not trained to be ‘teachers’?”

You don’t need formal training or a fancy degree. Your child – every child – is born with what Madame Maria Montessori, a highly respected childhood educator and doctor, called “an inner teacher.” Madame Montessori believed that children do not need “formal education” to learn much of the important social, emotional, and intellectual behavior in the early years. They are naturally driven to explore.

But what your child must have is an environment rich with the toys and tools that helps her master the progression of skills necessary to build self-esteem and, ultimately, academic success. Your child learns by testing herself against her surroundings. The very act of venturing out beyond your motherly reach and making discoveries about how the world looks, feels, and tastes, adds to the mass of connections in her brain. Your child moves to a higher level of intellectual expansion with each foray.

Your child needs one more thing, too. The most important ingredient in that stimulating home – the one ingredient that will play the largest role in ensuring that your child reaches the outer limits of her capabilities – is you.

You have to be there.

You have to be around when your young adventurer returns – to play, or to talk, or to simply check in with you – if you want to solidify the progress so far. Your presence builds the kind of trust that leads to self-esteem. You can’t create a secure bond with your child by correspondence. When two people want to have a baby, they have to be there, in a room, together – at least for a little while. For parenting, too, you have to be there to respond to your child’s needs and connect. Not just for a few moments. Bonding is one instance where “less” is not more; “more” is more.

There are certain things that your child can learn at your knee that she cannot learn anywhere else. A feeling of security that leads to emotional maturity is one of those things. In the early years, it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort. Your child learns that she can trust you and your partner by seeing that you are simply there when she needs you. When she toddles back to the kitchen after exploring the living room, she knows mom will look up from paying bills or stirring the pot to give an approving smile. Such loving parental involvement helps build the kind of bond that creates emotional stability and maturity for life.

The payoff is huge.

If your child is emotionally mature, she will have the potential to possess many advantages. She may sit still and concentrate. That’s one of the reasons she may tend to be more self-motivated and advanced than emotionally immature children. She may be more willing to take reasonable risks. She can stick with a problem better, too – what I call “pushing past their effort.” In short, she may possess those qualities that are essential to learning readily and working with people effectively.

Loving touches are also critical to a child’s long-term health and happiness. Cuddles and hugs show your child that she is wanted, valued, and worthy of love. That produces a child with strong self-esteem.

Also, skin-to-skin touching bolsters the immune system and decreases stress. Premature babies given daily massage gain 48 percent more weight and are discharged from hospitals, on average, six days earlier. Infants who get massages show lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their urine – a hormone that destroys important immune cells.

In addition to fostering emotional maturity, you, the parent, are also critical in facilitating intellectual development. When you and your spouse understand what your child needs as she progresses from one developmental stage to the next, she will be able to participate in a way that makes that passage as joyous as possible. Timing is very important. There are prime times, or windows of opportunity, when the human brain is particularly efficient at specific types of learning. If you expose your child to the right concepts and skills at the right time, when she is thought to be most receptive to that type of knowledge, you’ll find that she may learn effortlessly. When this happens, learning seems utterly natural. It becomes a true pleasure for both you and your child.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.