The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child has found that babies’ brains make over one million new connections per second! That is so many new connections that their brain will literally double in weight in the first year. Many concepts go into healthy brain development. Still, five key ingredients play an important role in the growing brain and the relationship between the baby and the parent. Relationships are critical because relationships between baby and caregiver create the foundation for the baby’s emotional development and mental health. According to Zero to Three, the key ingredients are:
Research on healthy attachment tells us that a strong positive relationship with at least one caregiver is essential for healthy brain development. When children feel safe and secure in their attachment with a caregiver, they are free to go off and explore with confidence and know that they are there for them if they need the caregiver. This builds self-confidence and self-esteem from a very early age. You can build a healthy relationship with your baby by bonding through skin on skin contact. Baby massage is great for this. The strokes encourage bonding and attachment. You can also make eye contact and talk to your baby often to form a healthy relationship. Holding your baby in a sling or vertical carrier, so they are close is a great way to bond as well.
2. Responsive Caregiving
When the parent or caregiver uses responsive interactions, the child is in the lead, and the parent responds to what the child is interested in. Suppose the child reaches for a ball, the parent comments on the ball and how the child is playing with the ball. Responsive interactions are back-and-forth interactions between the parent and child and are really important in early communication. Babies begin to understand this back-and-forth communication as early as three weeks! Practice this by talking to your baby all day long and watching her cues. When she looks toward the dog, comment on the dog, and when she reaches toward a toy, hand her that toy and explain what it is.
By showing respect to babies and treating them as individuals who have value and meaning, we lay the foundation for their own self-respect. Practice this by telling your baby what you are doing before you do it, for example, “I am going to change your diaper now.” You can ask your baby yes or no questions, such as “Do you want a bath?” even if they are too young to answer. You can maintain eye contact and explain things going on in your baby’s world.
Routines make your baby’s life predictable, and the use of routines helps to build brain connections that support memory and organization. Also, routines build a sense of safety and security in young children. Parents can build routines around bedtime, morning, mealtimes, and playtime. Songs and nursery rhymes help to create routines. When babies hear the clean-up song, they know playtime is coming to an end.
Babies’ brains can establish connections in response to what they see, hear, smell, taste, and experience. When experiences are repeated, the brain connections grow stronger. When babies hear the same stories or songs over and over again, the brain connections fire off, again and again, making them stronger and stronger. You can help build connections stronger by intentionally creating repetition. Play the same games and fingerplays, sing the same songs, tell the same stories, read the same books repeatedly. We repeat to remember. This is great for brain development.
Babies’ brain connections are forming at an unbelievable rate. It is so exciting to know that we can do things to optimize this early development for a lifetime of new learning and good mental health.