May 15, 2018 — By Wendy Sachs
First Three Years…..
In the first three years of life, more than a million neural connections are made each second in your child’s brain. These connections do not just affect cognitive abilities like reading and math, but also affect their relationships, social skills and our emotional health as adults. The brain also goes thru a period of pruning, where pathways not being used are lost so that the brain is more efficient. This is why we often say the brain is “use it or lose it” in the first 7 years.
While in the past we turned to tactics like flash cards and memorizing the ABC’s thinking we helped brain development, current research shows that early experiences and connections are more crucial to the process. Our relationships and attachments with infants establish trust and are the basis for everything that follows. While baby snuggles and making silly faces with infants give us joy, these experiences are actually forging pathways in the brain and setting the stage for all kinds of learning.
Support Healthy Brain Development….
So what are some things we can do to support healthy brain development in those early years?
- When your baby makes a noise or movement, respond with words, noises or movements. Having a back and forth “conversation” with your child even before words are being used might seem insignificant but, this call and response action develops the architecture of the brain.
- Offer up a little stress. This helps even young babies learn to problem solve and build genuine confidence. Place a toy just out of reach and allow baby to scoot or crawl to grab it. As your child grows, ask questions and coach thru a problem before swooping in to help. Allowing the brain to practice being stressed is very beneficial.
- Less is more when it comes to toys. Letting baby explore one or two toys at a time instead of a plethora of choices can help baby develop focus. Watch for clues on what interests your child the most. Toys that are simple and used in a number of different ways offer many possibilities for exploration and imagination. In fact, most research shows that infants in their first year prefer human faces over any toys. So, enjoy a game of peek a boo and save noisy complicated toys for later on.
- Expose baby to a multitude of languages. We know that babies distinguish the sounds of different languages around the age of only 4 months. We also know that the brain connections disappear if not used. Take a walk in Chinatown or speak Spanish around the house. Children learn languages and specific sounds from actual people in their life.
- Much like our muscles, the synapses between neurons in the brain, the connections, strengthen with repeated use. So, when baby reaches for “Goodnight Moon” for the 200th time and crawls into your lap, assure yourself that you are doing your part for her future brain health!