We used to think that babies and young children were just miniature adults. They needed to be seen but not heard, and essentially treated as just smaller versions of our much more clever selves. But research into infant brain development has changed so much of our understanding of just how special young people are.
What We Know to be True
The first three years of a child’s life set the pattern for the type of older child and adult they will be.
Love, affection, cuddles, consistency and gentle talking all help to “join the dots” in their brain.
This doesn’t mean parents need to spend every waking hour playing and singing to their babies. Most learning happens in the day to day routines of family life, with high points of excitement every once in a while.
Read on to see what you can do to help your baby’s brain development.
What Research Tells Us About How Babies Learn
- Babies are primed to seek lots of attention and affection. Your baby’s cute little face, cooing sounds and excitement when they see you are all designed to help you engage with them.
- Affection and emotional connection helps their brain to grow.
- Your baby can interpret your feelings. From as young as four months your baby will pick up on your mood. If you’re happy they’ll respond by smiling and waving their arms but if you’re tired or sound cross, they will look away. They may even start crying.
- Although your baby is little, their feelings can be very big. Sometimes these may almost overwhelm them. This is why you’ll need to stay close and help them to calm. One of the important tasks of childhood is to learn how to self regulate feelings. Until your baby can do this, they’ll need you to help them make sense of what they’re feeling.
- Talk to your baby every day in that special “babyese” language. Your singsong voice will help them to feel safe and loved. Call your baby by their name, play with them and be sensitive to the cues and signals that they give you. Every day in a thousand different ways, you will be supporting your baby’s growth and development.
- Think about your own reactions to situations. Your baby will read your facial expressions to see if a situation is safe. If you appear comfortable and confident, then they will feel secure. If you’re anxious and guarded, they will follow your lead. It’s important to be authentic with your feelings and for your little one to see you experience a range of emotions.
- Even when your baby is very young, they will be learning if a situation is dangerous. A baby’s brain changes in a negative way if they grow up in an unpredictable home. When there are unhealthy adult relationships and chaos around them, a baby’s brain has to invest energy into staying alert. Think about your baby’s experiences of their world and try to put yourself in their position.
- Go to a playgroup with your baby. Seeing other babies will help your baby to build social skills. And the networking opportunities for you with other mums and parents will be helpful.
- Play music every day. Put on a CD, listen to the radio or download your favourite artist.
Top Five Tips to Boost your Baby’s Brain Power
- Feed your baby healthy, nutritious food and milk. Ideally, breastfeed your baby for as long as you are both happy. If you’re not breastfeeding, then the only safe alternative is formula milk up to the age of 12 months.
- Be sensitive to the cues and signals your baby is giving you. Although they won’t be able to tell you in words what they want, their body language and facial expressions will give you a big clue about what their little heart desires.
- Cuddle and kiss your baby, often. Lots of loving and gentle affection will help your baby to feel safe, secure and loved. This means their energy will go into growing and learning, not feeling anxious and vigilant.
- Read to your baby every day. Make the time to sit and read out loud to them. Doing this will help to build their language skills and let them know they are precious enough for you to spend your time with.
- Look after yourself and your partner. Although you’ve probably heard it before this is such an important message that it’s worth repeating. You won’t be able to care well for your baby if you’re not in a good place yourself. Eat well, rest and sleep when you can and take some time out when possible.
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About the Author:
Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.
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