You’ve just had a baby. Congratulations! You have created a new life and your baby has finally arrived after many long months of waiting. The priority right now is to keep your baby fed and healthy… and to get some sleep! If you are managing to do those three things right now, then well done!
Am I supposed to help my baby’s brain to develop as well?!
However, you may have read about how important it is to help your baby’s brain to develop! How on earth are you supposed to add this into all the other things that you need to do to help look after your little one?
The great thing is, that helping your baby’s brain to develop healthily is not “too much” if you are just a little thoughtful about what you are doing and how you are doing it. All your baby needs right now is security, love and positive interactions with you. By that, I mean that if you smile at your baby, and talk to them as they are looking at you, you are doing all those three things at once! You are giving them security, love and you are interacting with them by talking to them. And it doesn't have to all be about you, others can also help provide that security, love and interaction.
Babies need stimulation and interaction
But you might ask whether there is any point doing anything yet whilst your baby is so small.
The point is that babies’ brains need stimulation and interaction in order to grow. The neurons in their brains – millions of them are there at birth – need to make connections between each other in order to strengthen them and make them permanent. If you talk to your baby, the synapse connections are made, strengthened and developed into thought processes and actions. Your baby is actually learning from their very first day from the interactions they have and the environment they experience. In fact, science is showing that babies have actually started to learn whilst they are in the womb. Scientists at the National Institute of Health in Washington DC, USA, suggest that babies are able to differentiate sounds and melodies and the voice of their mother whilst they are in the womb. They are also able to distinguish between different languages, recognising the sound of their mother’s language. All of these prenatal experiences help to facilitate future language learning and also provide the basis for attachment with caring adults.
So, what do I need to do to help my baby’s brain to grow?
- Talk to your baby as if they can understand, and as if they are going to respond to you. You are helping them to learn how to communicate
- Sing to your baby – you are helping their language development
- Try to keep their environment calm and happy – you will be building their sense of security
- Cuddle them and let them know how much you love them – you will be helping them to develop emotional security and attachment
- Maintain eye contact with them whilst you talk – you will be helping them to use their eyes and to focus, and later this is an important social skill
Help them to be ready for school….
Did you realise that by providing these early experiences and interactions for your baby, you are helping them to develop their brain AND you are actually helping them to get ready for school! I don’t suppose you have even considered school yet! Your little one has only just been born after all. But, if a child is ready for school, then they will be ready to learn and to reach their potential.
What does it mean to be school ready?
School readiness refers to all the different things that will help a child to be ready for entering a more formal school setting - both practically, emotionally and educationally. Things like being able to listen, to talk to an adult, to use a toilet independently, to hold a pencil and to sit on a chair. All of these skills take time to learn – and if your child already has mastered these skills, then they will be ready to concentrate on other, more significant, learning. You don’t need to worry about teaching your baby these actual skills right now – it would be silly to expect your baby to sit up and hold a pencil until they are much older! But, if you are letting them hold a rattle and shake it about – you are helping the bones in their hands to strengthen so that in time they will be able to hold a pencil. If you talk to them and look at them directly, they will be learning to return your gaze – which in turn will help with their concentration and their communication skills – which are important foundational skills for future learning.
It all starts in tiny little ways – just micro steps really. But, these little steps will build up to help your child be prepared for learning for their whole lives!
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[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3813619/. (2018).