My Child's Brain Development
Parents and caregivers: do you know that every encounter you have with a baby helps to determine his or her future? When you look at a baby and smile and coo, parts of the baby’s brain begins connecting dots. By the same token, every time a baby’s needs – hunger, wetness, human touch – go unmet, millions of the dots, which are needed for important connections, wither and die. The result? Who that child is and will become is changed forever – for better or for worse.
To take an interactive look at your infant and young child's brain development, please click here to visit ZERO to THREE's Baby Brain Map.
Touch, talking and things an infant sees and smells all build connections – if done with continuity in a loving, consistent and predictable manner. These connections die if not maintained. If there are no experiences, the connections are pruned back and the brain remains small. There is mounting evidence that early experiences can dramatically alter the way genes are expressed in the developing brain. Good experiences help any brain develop well.
Infants are learning almost from the time of conception. Much work has been done to study how and what an infant learns while still inside his or her mother's body. This is a fascinating field. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has demonstrated how it is possible to capture a baby's attention at birth and engage the child in interaction. Interactions with people and objects are as necessary to the baby as healthy foods.
Touch is critical to development! Of all the sensory experiences, touch is how the infant first knows he is loved. It is the source of comfort. Holding is reassuring in the face of strangeness. Touch literally sends signals to the brain telling it to grow (make connections).
The root of all emotional feeling is in the brain stem. It takes nearly one and a half years for a child to learn how to control her feelings. How well she does this depends solely on the parents. Children mirror what is around them – like sponges, they absorb.
Child care aimed at learning about others, about oneself, and learning how to control and use one's environment, is invaluable. The professional organization of prison wardens correlates the need for investing money in the first three years of life as prevention with a later necessity to build prisons.
A child's ability to communicate begins at birth. By six months of age, a child can duplicate the sounds he hears. The more words the infant hears, the more connections are made. Children need to interact with people to learn a language. They learn words by hearing them repeatedly. It is critical to engage them in conversation.
Everything is learned through play. Play is linked to mental development. It is the experience, NOT the toy, which aids growth in the brain. It has been found that children who do best on tests are those whose parents play with them.
Children have an affinity for music from birth. They need to be involved in music, not just listen to it. Infancy is not too early for a child to experience music as a form of recreation, enjoyably integrating the sounds and vibrations into her bodily movements.
Reading to children has a tremendous impact on their lives. It melds the parents' relationships with the child to the active reading experience. Sharing a book leads to learning to read. The more you do it, the more connections will be made in the brain.