Eight Brain Health Tips for Busy Parents

publication date: Apr 14, 2020
author/source: Dr Mouna Attarha



1. Learn one new song or rhyme each day 

It’s easy to cycle through the same songs and rhymes when we interact with our children. “Old McDonald,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” are wonderful classics that are effortless to recite, but learning lesser known songs directly engages the memory networks of the brain. Each day, lookup the lyrics to a song you know of but haven’t learned, browse children songs on YouTube for a new one, learn a classic song in a new language, or memorise the words to a new rhyme you can find online or in children’s books. You’ll get a fun brain workout that you can apply in your daily life, and your child will benefit from the novelty of your evolving repertoire. 

2. Compute basic calculations in your head, even if it takes longer 

We often rely too much on the computation abilities of our devices. We go to our calculator for simple addition problems, use GPS to find destinations nearby, and Google measuring units we should know by heart. Stimulate system-wide networks by trying to do these basic things on your own. With time and practice, you’ll become faster and need your devices less. 

3. Create a short book or poem for your child

Reading and word play are transformative for the developing brain. With libraries closed, the books at home can feel repetitive and stale. Exercise your creativity and write your own children’s story using an idea you’ve always wanted to see. Grab some printer paper, fold it in half, bind at the seam with a stapler, and start writing. Your child can illustrate (or scribble on) the pages for added fun. 

4. Practice delaying gratification

Sometimes long, stressful days can feel like a constant tug-of-war between what you want to do and what you should do. We may find ourselves over-eating, skipping exercise, binging on the news, and endlessly scrolling through app content on our devices. Stimulate the frontal cortices of your brain by delaying your immediate desires in exchange for the more favourable outcomes that come later for making the better choice. You’ll strengthen your discipline and feel a great sense of accomplishment. 

5. Make exercise a (remote) group activity

There’s temptation to put off exercise when we don’t have others to hold us accountable. Round up a friend or two and either set up a teleconference or attend an online class together, such as yoga, pilates, stretching, and body weight training. You’ll get in your workout and also feel more connected. If you prefer solo exercise, block out 20  to 60 minute chunks on your calendar the day before, and stick to it. Stroller walks (and runs) are great, and you can add variety by trying to walk a bit faster each time you go out, trying some fancy footwork (like skipping), or taking a new route.

6. Make healthful snacking easier

A healthy brain is not made in a vacuum. Food is fuel, but sometimes taking care of children means skipped meals and snacking standing up. In the absence of planning, the items most tempting to reach for first are the packaged goods in the pantry. Make healthful eating more convenient by keeping some fresh vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds to hand.

7. Schedule your media consumption, then take a media break

The news is anxiety-provoking these days, but we may miss out on important information if we abstain entirely. To reduce stress and sustained elevations in blood pressure, schedule a block of time devoted to media consumption on your calendar the day before and then move onto a new activity once you’re caught up on the highlights. Turning on your settings for Screen Time (iOS) can also provide an objective record of how you are doing.


8. Take a break from multi-tasking and engage your undivided attention

Parents have to be great multi-taskers to accomplish all that’s on the ever-expanding to do list, but constant divided attention comes with a cost. You may feel like you’re never fully present. To stimulate the attention networks of the brain, take intentional 15-minute breaks to be in the moment and breathe. You can spend those minutes meditating by yourself, reading a book, or focused on playing with your child. Whatever activity you choose, allow the activity to consume your headspace. Since I’m involved in the development and validation of BrainHQ online exercises and assessments, I should mention that I find a short (10 to 20 minutes) BrainHQ workout each day is a great way to force yourself to focus.


Dr Mouna Attarha is a Senior Research Scientist at Posit Science, and, these days, she alternates with her husband in caring for their 17-month old child, while each continues to work from home.