Feeding the Growing Brain
By Family Education and The National Association for the Education of Young Children
New insights into brain development affirm what many parents and caregivers have known for years: 1) good prenatal care, 2) warm and loving attachments between young children and adults, and 3) positive stimulation from the time of birth make a difference in children’s development for a lifetime.
Ever look at a baby and wonder what she’s thinking? Well, there’s a lot more going on in there than previously thought. According to the newest brain research, babies’ brains begin crackling with activity before they’re even born!
At birth, an infant’s brain houses 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons. Immediately, connections—or synapses—between the cells form as the baby experiences her surroundings and makes attachments to caregivers. This network of neurons and synapses controls various functions, such as seeing, hearing, and moving. If a child’s brain is not stimulated from birth, these synapses don’t develop, impairing her ability to learn and grow.
The impact of environmental factors on a young child’s brain development is dramatic and specific, not merely influencing the general direction of development, but actually affecting how the intricate circuitry of the human brain is “wired.”
How humans develop and learn depends critically and continually on the interplay between an individual’s genetic endowment and the nutrition, surroundings, care, stimulation, and teaching that are provided or withheld.
Warm and responsive early care helps babies thrive and plays a vital role in healthy development.
What does this mean for parents?
Practice these four parenting tips which will help ensure a child’s healthy brain development and emotional stability for years to come.
1. Be warm, loving, and responsive: Studies show that children who receive responsive caregiving, such as touching, rocking, talking, and smiling, cope with difficult times more easily when they are older. They get along better with other children, and perform better in school than kids who are less securely attached.
2. Talk, read, and sing to your child: Communicating with your child gives him a solid basis for learning later. Talk and sing about daily events. Read stories in a way that encourages older babies and toddlers to participate by answering questions, pointing to what they see in a picture book, or by repeating rhymes and refrains.
3. Encourage safe exploration and play: While many of us think of learning as simply acquiring facts, children learn through playing. Blocks, art, puzzles, and play-acting are some activities that help children develop curiosity, confidence, language, and problem-solving skills. Let your child choose many of her own activities. If she turns away or seems uninterested, put it aside. Let her pick it up again later when she’s interested.
4. Use discipline as an opportunity to teach: It is normal for children to test rules and to act impulsively at times. Parents need to set limits that help teach children, rather than punish them. For example, tell your child what behavior is acceptable and communicate positively: say, “Feet belong on the floor, please,” instead of “Get your feet off the chair!”
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