You’ll be surprised by the power of these easy, everyday moves. During his first years, the development of your child’s brain will grow trillions of brain-cell connections, called neural synapses. The rule for brain wiring is “use it or lose it.
Synapses that are not “wired together” through stimulation are pruned and lost during a child’s school years. And, amazingly, a toddler’s brain has twice as many neural connections as an adult’s. When you provide loving, language-enriched experiences for your baby, you are giving his brain’s neural connections and pathways more chances to become wired together. In turn, he will acquire rich language, reasoning, and planning skills. Give your baby a physically healthy start before he is born. Stay healthy while you are pregnant, and be aware that certain drugs can be destructive to your baby’s brain in utero.
Many children who were drug-abused in the womb struggle with severe learning problems and suddenly act with unprovoked aggressive behaviors. Studies have also revealed that cigarette smoking during pregnancy causes lower fourth-grade reading scores. Respond to infant coos with delighted vocalizations. Slowly draw out your syllables in a high-pitched voice as you exclaim, “Pretty baby! The areas in the brain for understanding speech and producing language need your rich input. Babies respond well to learning simple sequential games. When your baby points, be sure to follow with your gaze and remark on items or events of interest to her.
This “joint attention” confirms for your baby how important her interests and observations are to you. Foster an early passion for books. Choose books with large and colorful pictures, and share your baby’s delight in pointing and making noises — say, the animal sounds to go along with farm pictures. Use diaper time to build your baby’s emotional feelings of having a “lovable body.
Stroke your baby’s tummy and hair. Studies have shown that babies who are not often touched have brains that are smaller than normal for their age. Also, when diapering your baby, you are at the ideal 12 to 18 inches from her eyes to attract attention to your speech. Choose developmentally appropriate toys that allow babies to explore and interact. Toys such as a windup jack-in-the-box or stackable blocks help your baby learn cause-and-effect relationships and “if-then” reasoning.
If a baby stacks a big block on a smaller one, the top block falls off. If he successfully stacks a small block on a bigger one, he “wires in” the information. Respond promptly when your baby cries. Soothe, nurture, cuddle, and reassure him so that you build positive brain circuitry in the limbic area of the brain, which relates to emotions. Your calm holding and cuddling, and your day-to-day intimate engagement with your baby, signal emotional security to the brain.
Build trust by being attentive and focused. Babies who are securely attached to you emotionally will be able to invest more life energy in the pleasures of exploration, learning, and discovery. Use body massage to decrease your infant’s stress and enhance her feelings of well-being and emotional security. Loving touches promote growth in young babies. Research has shown that premature babies who are massaged three times daily are ready to leave the hospital days earlier than babies who do not receive massages.