When a new baby is born, everyone is excited. The parents are proud and grandparents are quick to tell everyone about the new, special addition to the family.
During these early days there aren’t a lot of thoughts about the baby’s brain. But as the new little one continues to grow, everyone is excited about her progress. Everyone is sure the baby is very smart. Everyone has a lot to learn.
Research on the brains of babies continues to teach us much. We know now that her brain is about a quarter the size of the brain she will have as an adult. We also know that her brain cells are waiting to still be connected. Using them is what connects them and, most importantly, if they aren’t used, they disappear.
These facts about the brain are just from one scientific breakthrough that has changed what we know about the importance of the early years of a child’s life.
We also know the brain never stops changing throughout a person’s life. The most intense period of growth of the brain is during the first three years of a child’s life. Even at age 3, the child’s brain is twice as active as an adult’s brain. (Just a note: Her brain will even still be changing when she is a teenager.)
The child’s brain develops based on her genetics and her life experience. The quality of her relationships and experiences in the first years has a deep and lasting impact on how the brain gets “wired” and moves on. Even in these first years you are making a difference that sets the foundation for her development in every aspect of life. This is one more important way you are your child’s first teacher.
Brain development and behavior are bound together. They continually influence each other. Each brain can develop in many different ways depending on genetics, experience, relationships, health and nutrition. This means that what you do as her parent in these early days of her life are influencing her future.
The importance of what you do as a parent begins earlier than we used to think it did. This is not a cause for anxiety. It is an opportunity to make parenting more rewarding than ever while still being one of the most exciting and joyful opportunities a parent will ever have. You are in a position to make positive, long lasting behaviors a part of her life. What you do as a parent today can make a difference in who your child becomes tomorrow.
Make sure she feels loved. Make sure she knows she is important to you. Be sure to open the world to her. Tell her about things around her. Let her learn about the world from you.
Read books to her even while she is a young baby. Talk about the pictures in the books but even talk with her about the stop signs and the signals. Let her hear your voice and the voices of other important people in her life. Take her places and talk about the experiences to remind her of them. Listen to what she has to say even if you don’t understand it.
You are introducing your new baby to the world. Enjoy your time together. Be open to learning about the things you will be teaching her. Be sure to include daily hugs and kisses.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation. For more information, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-681-2250.