Your Child's Brain
Why should families and parents know about brain development?
Early experiences and influences are critical to the development of children's brains and their lifelong health.
At birth, the infant's brain is unfinished. The parts of the brain that handle thinking and remembering, as well as emotional and social behavior, are underdeveloped.
The brain matures in the world, rather than the womb. This means young children are deeply affected by their early experiences. Relationships with parents and other important caregivers do not just influence the young child's moods, but actually affect the way children's brains become "wired," building the architecture of the brain.
Infant and young child experiences and relationships have a major impact on the child's emotional development, learning skills and how they function later in life.
Here is how the young child's brain develops:
1) The outside world shapes the brain's wiring, everything your child experiences effects directly the connections the child's young brain is developing.
2) The outside world is experienced through the senses - seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting - enabling the brain to create or modify connections.
3) The brain operates on a "use it or lose it" principle.
4) Relationships with other people early in life are the major source of development of the emotional and social parts of the brain.
What can families and parents do to help their child's brain develop well?
A mother feeds her child, looks lovingly into his eyes. A father talks gently to his newborn daughter as he changes her diaper. A caregiver sings a child to sleep at naptime. These are the everyday moments, the simple, loving encounters that provide essential emotional nourishment.
Touching, rocking, talking, smiling, and singing all effect brain development. Babies experience relationships through their senses. They read the way you look into their eyes, they see the expressions on our face, they hear you cooing, singing, talking and reading, they feel you holding or rocking them, and they take in your familiar smells.
1. Be warm, loving and responsive toward your young child.
A baby expresses his distress by crying. When the parent or caregiver responds with food, warmth or comfort the baby tends to be calmed. The stress response systems in the brain are tuned off and the infant's brain begins to create networks of brain cells that help the baby soothe himself.
2. Talk, read and sing to your child.
Babies learn from "conversations" even when they cannot understand what you are saying. When babies hear the same words over and over, the parts of the brain that handle speech and language develop. The time used to change a diaper or feed an infant can be an opportunity to spend some individual time with that child, talking, singing and expanding on their own coos and gurgles.
3. Establish routines for your child.
Daily routines help to reassure young children.
4. Encourage safe exploring and play for your child.
Play is an important learning experience. Adults should encourage babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers to explore, and then also be ready with a positive response when the child needs to return to them for security.
5. Know about the developmental milestones of young children.
As you play with your young child, if you think there may be a delay in the child's development, talk with your healthcare provider or pediatrician. A healthcare provider can connect you with local resources, such as Early Childhood intervention.
Find information about developmental milestones here:
Developmental Milestones: The First Two Years
Developmental Milestones: Ages Three to Four
Developmental Milestones: Ages Four to Five
By being consistent with and responsive to your infant, toddler or pre-schooler, you can ensure that your child will have the best opportunity for healthy emotional and social development. Sometimes life can hand you challenges. Think before you act - Tips to Help You Think Before You Hurt a Child - for more information on tips that will help, visit: http://kids.delaware.gov/pdfs/PreventionTips
TO LEARN MORE about your child's brain, you can check out these short videos that we think you may really enjoy:
Brain Hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLp-edwiGUU
This short, three-minute video depicts how actions by a range of people in the family and community can affect a child's development. The video shows how actions taken by parents, teachers, policymakers and others can influence life outcomes for both the child and the surrounding community.
The three-part series titles "The Core Concepts in Early Development" from the Center and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.
Or, you can explore The Harvard Center for the Developing Child, which posts great information and changes often with new materials and videos posted.