The Amazing Baby Brain Part 2: The power of positive parenting

  • Article
  • 4 min read May 17, 2018

Brain development begins approximately 2 weeks after conception and continues until young adulthood. The time between birth and age 3 represents an important opportunity to help contribute to the basic wiring of the infant’s brain.

After establishing a strong platform of nutrition, here are 8 things that research shows can contribute to a healthy infant:

A Back-and-Forth Parenting Style

The infant brain is sensitive to experiences in the first few years of life in comparison to later years. Immediately after birth, the infant starts learning by seeing, hearing, moving and feeling. Meanwhile, parents learn about the infant’s personality, moods and the ways to soothe them. The cooing, sing-song, face-to-face “baby talk” that we all do begins a conversation. Babies react by looking, listening, smiling and, later on, kicking their feet and making their own sounds. In fact, within the first year, infants learn to discriminate among sounds specific to the language they are exposed to in their environment, which can be linked to language skills in later life. These serve-and-return interactions help trigger healthy brain cell growth and development.

A Stimulating Environment

If everything in your world was an unknown, you would study every object to see what it did and what you could do with it. That’s what infants do all day. An environment filled with lots of new things will help them learn.

Talk, Talk, Talk and Praise

Even before they have their own words, babies understand ours. (This video “The Still Face” explains it all.) Words, expressions and relationships sharpen the infant’s social skills. It makes the infant feel secure. By age 3, some experts believed children from higher income families may hear 30 million more words than children from lower income families. Additionally, new research suggests children who experience more conversation with adults, regardless of income or IQ status, have greater brain activity in the area of the brain responsible for language.

Serve-and-Return with Books

Read to infants. Point, say what pictures show and let infants study them. They will make sounds that later will become words. Look for books that match their interest. Ask them questions as you read to build self-expression. Some experts believe that having the story relate to a child’s interest or personal experiences, taking the time to explain the story to the child, asking the child open-ended questions about the story, and asking the child to retell or elaborate on the story may help with early literacy development. Read magazine covers, signs on the road, labels at the store and even posters to get them involved.

A Daily Family Routine

A regular routine may lower stress for the whole family. While establishing a daily routine that works for your family, make sure to find time to read together. Set up a regular bed time that allows for enough sleep and includes a get-ready-for-bed routine – wash, brush teeth, get on pajamas and book time. Having regular times for breakfast, lunch, snacks, naps (or quiet times) and play is another great habit to establish early on.

Different Kinds of Play

Play is a great teacher. Jig-saw puzzles can help teach patience, persistence and experimentation. Building blocks can help teach creativity and make-believe. When children pretend together, they learn sharing, compromise, self-control and communication.

Muscle skills need practice. There are two kinds: one, where we learn to control our body for crawling, walking, running, skipping, climbing and jumping; and two, where we learn to move objects around with our fingers, hands and feet or with a stick, bat or paddle. Make time for each. If you can practice outside, even better.

Teaching During Stress

Between ages 1 and 3, the emotion and stress centers in the brain are rapidly developing and can be impacted by the external environment. This can make the child irritable and easily frustrated, leading to loss of self-control and causing meltdowns. Try to think, rather than react. “What is my child feeling and why?” Usually, they’re feeling one of four things: tired, hungry, bored or frustrated. Controlling emotions takes practice. Tantrums are an opportunity to teach them to use words instead of screaming. One of the most important lessons for toddlers is learning how to calm themselves.

Relationship-based Discipline

Screaming, threatening, matching fire with fire or hitting a child are all causes of another burst of emotion. This doesn’t teach self-control – it blocks it. Once you and the child are both calm, relax your face and quiet your voice. Sit eye-to-eye. Gentle touch will communicate your connection with them. Ask what happened and why, and then listen. Let the child speak. Acknowledge their feelings. Give them words – “you were angry” or “it wasn’t fair.” Tell them what was OK and what was not OK about their behavior. “Biting, hitting or kicking someone is never OK. But you can always use words to say what you feel.” Finally, ask them how they should act next time.

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In Part 1, we discussed how a baby’s brain develops and the role nutrition plays from pre-natal to toddler.