Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brain development under 3

In the first 3 years of your babies life something magical happens. Not only do you get to witness, experience and revel in your child's amazing ability to learn to feed themselves, crawl, walk, talk and more, but what is happening inside their tiny brains is also quite amazing and very important.

Babies are learning about themselves every day. And it is within this first crucial 3 years that babies learn and decide who they are. (Am I good or bad? capable or not capable? Is this safe? threatening? encouraging or discouraging?) And who is teaching them these things? As a primary caregiver we are the sole determining factor of much of this discovery. This is a lot of responsibility. 

A little brain trivia for you: New research has shown that when babies are in the fetus, the human brain begins life as a small cluster of cells. By the 4th week of pregnancy, these cells have begun to sort themselves out according to the function they will one day perform and migrate to the part of the brain they are destined to occupy. NATURE provides the fetus with more cells than they need. Some will not survive and other will join in a network of connections called synapses.

By 2 years old, a baby's brain has the SAME number of synapses as an adult. By age 3, he has more than one thousand trillion connections - twice as many as his parents. By age 10, the brain begins to prune away excess synapses. (those that have not been used enough) By adolescence, have is discarded. If you think your teenagers are so ridiculous and make the dumbest decisions, that is because the last part of the brain to develop is the frontal cortex - which hold all our reasoning, judgment, impulse control skills - this process doesn't end until the age of twenty! YES twenty!

Now let's go back to learn a bit more about how the brain develops for children under 3. Babies learn best in the context of relationships. The brain changes its structure in context to the environment around it. What your little one needs most within the first 3 years is not flashcards and dvd's, but real human connections. Brain development is all about connections with others and your babies brain is wired to seek out this connection from birth. The brain is flexible and can adapt to change or injury. There are windows early in a child's life where important learning takes place such as vision and language development. If these windows are missed, it may be difficult to acquire those abilities. This learning is within the first year of life.

Signing is great way to connect with your baby. That early communication is essential to their growth and development and sense of self. If your child can get their needs and wants met, they feel a trust and bond with that person who can meet those needs. They get a sense of 'self worth or self confidence' when they know that their feelings and thoughts matter. Signing parents tend to take more time and pay more attention to their child's cues and body language. They slow down and notice more about their children than non signing parents tend do. This is based on research funded by the Federal Government and the National Health Institute. Pinoneered by two doctor moms and child development experts Dr. Linda Acredelo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn.

How you and your child's other caregivers relate to her - how you talk, play and nurture -is far more important than what toys they have available. Young children learn best when they live in a reasonably stimulating environment and are unstressed. What children need to grow and develop is unhurried time with caring adults who focus on the child and follow his cues without distraction or expectation.

When you are signing with your children, there shouldn't be a stress or expectation for them to sign back, just as there is no expectation for them to talk to you within the first 2 years. Your inviting information, inviting conversation, inviting relationships with no expectations. Make signing fun, sing songs, play pretend games, dance, move, shake, hug, cuddle, read and connect with your baby. The first three years are vital for this kind of bonding and nurturing.

Remember you chose to be a parent/caregiver and it is a job. Treat it as such. If you need to adjust your life to be able to slow down and teach skills like, getting dressed, potty training, sitting at a table, going shopping and other life skills, then do just that, slow down, breath, enjoy. Take time to play in the bath with them, make mud pies in the dirt, read and cuddle on the couch, go for walks and talk about nature. Take up a swimming class, a baby and yoga class, a signing class, story time at your local library. Connect with other moms and babies of like mindedness. Your children are learning from you and their environment every day. They learn by observing. How you and other caregivers interact with her will shape the person she or he is to become.