The power of the brain is very interconnected. In early years, children learn symbols to understand meanings. For example, outstretched arms may mean a toddler wants “up,” or hugs may be a symbol of love and security. But over time, these key elements found in the emotional centers of the brain begin to organize responses that happen. Additionally, life experiences combine to form our understanding of abstract concepts, such as justice, pride, forgiveness, anger, and security. Adults play a critical role in the lives of children. Helping children to organize their world takes time, patience, and warmth, but these efforts form the building blocks to positive, human interactions. These are some practical tips that may help you be a more present parent during this critical stage in your child’s life.
Give consistent loving care.
If a child is raised in a loving setting, they will learn to love. Children who are ignored or not nurtured will not fully develop all areas of their brains.
In research with infants, it was shown that gently massaging premature infants three times per day for 15 minutes helped them gain weight, be more alert, and cry less. These infants were released from the hospital sooner than infants who were not massaged. Additionally, low light, skin-to-skin holding, and being near the mother’s heart can improve growth and save medical costs for premature infants.
Pay attention to hearing and language.
Repetition forms connections. Talk to the baby so they will begin babbling. Name what you are doing, name items, point and show expression on your face.
A lot of ear infections can slow down language development because babies cannot hear words repeated to them. It is therefore important to observe children especially when they have any illness that may affect their hearing ability . It is easier for children to learn two language than it is for adults. For example, children whose parents speak Spanish and English create two maps and strengthen their use of both languages when both these areas of the brain are used in childhood.
Watch babies notice the world at 2 to 4 months.
Watch the health of the eyes to assure babies are taking in the colors, faces, and shapes around them. Each neuron is attaching to 15,000 other neurons during the first months. The development of vision peaks at 8 months. In research with infants, it was found that if cataracts were not removed by age 2, children were unable to see since the vision centers were not used and did not develop.
Look for teachable moments.
Every day offers windows of learning for children. When you are dressing your child, name items, colors, and count. When you are fixing dinner, let toddlers play with plastic dishes. When you can, name things that are the same, different, bigger, smaller, hot, cold. When you drive in the car, point out things like trees, cars, big trucks, and stop signs.
Use music because it relates to math skills.
By exposing children to complex music sounds (Mozart, not hard rock), children will develop the same areas of the brain required for math and spatial reasoning. Using mazes, copying patterns, and drawing shapes has been shown to improve with exposure to complex music sounds.
Know that emotional connections can be stressful or relaxed.
Vivid memories are often tied to emotional reactions to particular situations. The more vivid the memory, the stronger the print in the brain. The limbic system regulates emotional impulses and helps us make decisions about what to do…run, cry, react, whine, turn away. If the goal in childhood is survival and coping skills around survival are taught, this will become permanent. If trust is nurtured, then this will become part of the child’s nature. Neglect or trauma during childhood could cause learning and behavioral problems later in life.
Be gently physical.
Children need to move their small (fingers and toes) and large (by running and jumping) body parts. Expose your child to a safe variety of physical activities as they grow. During the child’s preschool years, think of all areas – climbing, splashing, slow and fast movement, hard and soft areas, different textures like clay, and paint.
Mirror behaviors you want in children.
Children will pick up many behaviors of the adults around them. If parents’ voices are loud, children may be loud; if parents use soft warm touches, children will learn the same. If children see patience in adults looking for solutions to problems, they will see that learning is a process with many steps.
Being a parent definitely shows us a different side to ourselves because of this precious responsibility. If not already, apply a few of the tips in this blog post and you’ll begin to see how growth is mutual when it comes to our young ones.
Enjoy the parenting journey