There’s one magnificent (and free) method that every parent can use to improve their child’s learning abilities.
“The biggest single public health deficit and failure…today is the fact that almost no parents of newborn children have been told or taught that they can improve their child’s learning abilities significantly by exercising their baby’s brain in the first three years of life,” wrote George Halvorson, former head of US health care company, Kaiser Permanente, recently.
He’s right. The effects of a bit of brain exercise can be profound. Learning levels are not set before birth. The basic biological fact is that brains develop. And they do this by growing neural pathways most rapidly in their first 1000 days in the world. There is a great opportunity to positively influence your child in his/her early years. Fortunately this is a lot easier to achieve than you might think.
It doesn’t particularly matter what you play – it’s how you play. Loving, focused connection is the magic that helps brains to grow.
Daily attentive play ensures that you are nurturing your little one’s early learning potential while also building and strengthening your relationship. The two are a powerful mix for brain growth. Whatever stage your baby or toddler is in, try to dedicate at least five minutes of focused attention every day.
Play is a vital part in a child’s development, it’s how babies learn. It doesn’t particularly matter what you play – it’s how you play. Loving, focused connection is the magic that helps brains to grow.
Face-to-face interaction with your baby is the most powerful tool for brain growth, according to scientists. “A mother’s emotionally expressive face is the most potent stimulus in the infant’s social environment,” says neuropsychologist Dr Allan Schore in research published in the Infant Mental Health Journal. When a mother (or primary caregiver) and child look into each other’s eyes, both know that the loop between them has been closed and this creates a “potent channel for reciprocal influences,” says Shore.
This intimate, private conversation is not only necessary to form those incredibly special bonds we have with our little ones, it also opens the flood gates for the hormones and brain chemicals essential for optimal brain growth. Schore explains that the infant’s right brain is especially tuned to grow when it receives stimulation “coming from the smiling and laughing joyful face of a loving mother”.
“Feeling loved and connecting with a human being is the foundation of our social experience. In life, if we have lot of positive early social experiences, it bodes well for the way we see the world, whether we can trust another, how we make friends and ultimately how we connect in society. Bonding is linked ultimately to success in all areas. Set aside time each day to play, touch and talk and make this a habit – make it consistent,” adds occupational therapist, Megan Faure.
Meaningful daily interactions with mom create not only a sense of safety and connection, but also “a positively charged curiosity that fuels the burgeoning self’s exploration of new environments,” says Schore. Exploration can only happen when a young child feels secure in his bond with mom (or primary caregiver), and this leads to more advanced learning.
While five minutes doesn’t sound like much, whether you’re a working or stay-at-home mom, it can be tough to find the time. But once you get into the habit of carving out a little time to connect with each child every day on their own, it not only gets easier to schedule, but you will look forward to the closeness the interaction brings.
“Whatever stage your baby/toddler or child is in, he needs at least five minutes of your focused attention every day, which is uninterrupted,” says Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi.
“In the first three months your baby doesn’t need any toys – mom or dad’s face is all he wants and needs. When he gets older and can tolerate more stimulation, you can offer a variety of toys but remember to offer them one at a time, hiding extra toys out of sight so as not to overwhelm your child,” says Nubabi occupational therapist Carly Tzanos.
As you get into the habit of being with your baby purposefully and connectedly every day, you will undoubtedly both benefit from and relish the time together. Plus you are giving your baby’s brain the best possible boost. Those five+ minutes a day may well be the best investment you ever make.
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