Are babies born as blank slates?
Many parents tend to have this impression that babies are born as blank slates, and don't understand anything. Furthermore they may think that young kids especially infants are not thinking, feeling humans. Well, this couldn't be farther from the truth.
Scientific research going back to 80s and 90s has shown that even the youngest babies already seem to have some basic ideas about other people, about language, about the physical world—about the objects around them. For example, If you stick your tongue out at a newborn baby, the baby will stick his tongue out at you. The reaction may not be immediate, could possibly be delayed by let's say 30 mins, but it's there. To appreciate this you need to understand that new born baby has never seen a face before, not even their own. Yet they are able to look at someone's face and link it to their own facial expression.
Does your baby understands statistics and probability!
In a recent research study at Berkeley, seven month old babies were shown a box of mixed-up ping pong balls- 80% white, 20% red, and then the experimenter would take some balls out of the box. Sometimes experimenter would take out 4 white balls and 1 red ball, which was the expected distribution and predictable. But sometimes the experimenter would do the opposite and would take say 4 red balls and 1 white ball. It turned out that in that case the babies looked longer understanding that it was much less likely than the four white and one red balls. And babies seem to be sensitive to that probability. Looking longer at an unexpected outcome is a behavior that tends to be displayed by adults as well, and would be true for you as well.
Babies are just like scientists, exploring, trying all through different forms of play! So, while even grownups have a lot of trouble understanding probability, it turns out that little seven-month-old babies already are building an innate understanding of it.
Role of early years in development
Here's a video showing the brain development at various stages - conception to 6 years.
By age 3, brain is already 80% of the size of adult size, while the body is only 18% of the aveage adult size. So an unequal most of the brain development is happening in these early years. It is safe to say that 0 to 3 are the most important years for child's brain development.
These first 3 years are uniquely important for the reason that foundations for life-long skills are laid during these years. These skills include
- Problem solving
- Self control
It is impossible to overestimate how important the early years are!
Your role as a parent in shaping your child's brain?
As a parent, you have a tremendous responsibility in shaping up the brain of your child. Everything you do, every interaction you have with them and every silly game you play with them is so unbelievably important. It is helping them understand the world, stimulating their brains.
Brain needs safety -
One of the primary functions of the brain is to keep you safe, if your brain is always occupied determining if the surroundings are safe (physically and emotionally), then the development of other functions isn't optimal. Children grow and learn best in a safe environment where they are protected from neglect and from extreme or chronic stress, with plenty of opportunities to play and explore. Under conditions where there is abuse, neglect, addiction or constant screaming, fighting in the environment, brain development may be restricted.
So the first thing you can do as a parent is create a warm, loving environment that helps your baby feel safe and loved.
Serve and Return -
Many brain experts believe that most important thing you can do to support brain development of your child is to follow a technique termed "Serve and Return". This basically includes tuning into your child's signals, words, facial reactions and then responding in a sensitive way. This loving back and forth connection nurtures positive brain growth. For example, if baby serves a smile, a coo etc., you make the same sound back. If baby points to something, you look at that and point to it too. It may feel awkward at first, but more you try the better it gets.
Helpful stress -
A little bit of stress goes a long way to build a strong healthy brain. There is a difference between healthy stress and harmful stress (discussed in first bullet point).
Helpful stress is related to exposing child to small new everyday challenges while providing parental support. These everyday challenges can help the child learn new skills and how to solve problems. These will vary by age of child, some example include -
- Tummy time - when first introduced to the baby and baby isn't really ready.
- Figuring out a puzzle that they don't know how.
- Trying to catch a ball for the first time.
Through these child learns to tolerate stress with your support and mastering the new challenges that builds brain power and motivation to learn.
Learning through Experience
Your baby’s brain develops through use — by your baby interacting, observing and doing things.
You can help your baby’s development by creating a stimulating environment with different types of activities that offer your baby the chance to play. It’s through play that they learn important skills like talking, listening, moving, thinking, solving problems and socializing.
You can play and spend time with your baby by:
- Singing together - even if it is rhymes on Chu Chu TV :)
- Reading books - It's never to early to start reading books to your child. Make them sit in your lap and read books. They would start associating this warm feeling of togetherness with the books as well.
- Talking about what you’re doing and seeing - when giving a bath or changing a diaper or walking around in a mall.
- Playing games like peekaboo - teaches kids concepts like object permanency, and personal interaction
Food and Sleep
Last but not the least, we cannot undermine the role of nutrition and sleep in healthy brain growth.
- Breast milk - The ingredients in breast milk support healthy brain development. The fatty substances in breast milk promote more rapid formation of myelin, the protective coating on the axons of neurons. Certain non-nutrient ingredients present in breast milk— including enzymes and hormones — may influence the rapid development of neurons during infancy.
- Healthy food — Once your baby is ready for solid foods, a balanced diet of fresh vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy and proteins (such as meat, chicken and eggs) is required to promote healthy brain. Certain foods such as avocado, berries, brocolli are known to contain nutrients that foster brain development.
- Sleep - The Vitamin "S" has a strong correlation with cognitive development. Getting enough sleep is not just important for the child, but also for the parents. This is an important topic and there's a lot of things to talk about. So we'll cover this in more detail in our next post in this educational series. Stay tuned!
Hope you find this post on brain development useful. Continue doing the amazing work that you are already doing as a parent!