Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Best Ways to Build Your Baby's Brain


New insights into how a baby's brain grows show that parents can have a profound effect on how smart their child later becomes. The brain grows more during infancy than at any other time, doubling its volume and reaching approximately sixty percent of its adult size by one year. As the brain grows, nerve cells, (called neurons) proliferate, resembling miles of tangled electrical wire. The infant is born with much of this wiring unconnected. During the first year, these neurons grow larger, learn to work better, and connect with each other to make circuits, which enable baby to think and do more things.

Today’s parents feel a lot of pressure to do everything right when it comes to their baby’s development. But it can be confusing to read all of the different books, articles, and reports about brain development—and, you shouldn’t need to have a PhD in psychology to make the best parenting decisions. It is important to learn about the different stages of development your children will go through, but don’t miss out on all of the joys of parenting because you are trying to decipher all of the articles on brain development.

The Deal in Plain English
Let’s talk about the basics really quickly. First of all, you need to know that neurons are brain cells that process and transmit information. A newborn baby has 100 billion neurons, with a limited amount of time to make trillions of connections between them. The baby’s brain doesn’t continue to create neurons, but it does triple in size during the first two years of life.

A baby’s brain development is incredibly important. However, the door to development doesn’t slam shut once those first years pass. The brain continues to grow and develop throughout life.

Baby Edutainment
Our competitive American society drives the desire to take advantage of a baby’s early learning years. However, this does not mean that parents have to work overtime finding devices to stimulate their baby’s mind. These devices are called baby edutainment, and are supposed to both entertain and educate. Baby edutainment includes all of the CDs, DVDs, flash cards, and electronic “educational” toys that are designed to stimulate your baby’s brain.

You probably think that more stimulation will make your baby smarter, but that isn’t true if you aren’t creating the right kind of stimulation.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two years old shouldn’t watch any television. In fact, TV and videos over stimulate a baby’s brain. Your baby might watch, but there is no interaction. Your baby cannot learn and grow from watching a one dimensional screen. As well, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a Seattle based researcher, has published research that shows the more television children watch as toddlers, the more attention problems they will have later in life.

Do Educational Videos & CDs Help Your Baby?
Research has shown that educational baby videos and DVDs do not make your children smarter. A recent experiment at the University of Washington split infants into four different groups. One group had a native Mandarin speaker play and talk with the babies for twelve sessions through a month. The second group watched a video of a Chinese speaker playing babies, while the third group listened to audio recordings of the Chinese woman playing. The fourth group didn’t have any exposure to the language.

The results? Only the babies in the first group—the ones who were exposed to the actual person—could recognize any Mandarin sounds.

What Does It All Mean?
Learning involves interaction, which your baby cannot get from an electronic device. If you do spend the time interacting with your baby, playing with an electronic toy together, it will be more beneficial than leaving the baby to play (or watch) alone. However, babies get enough stimulation without any of these DVDs, CDs, and electronic toys. Instead of trying to initiate your child’s learning with a machine, you can allow your baby to learn from his natural, surrounding environment. Babies need downtime, and it is okay if they experience boredom—parents don’t need to constantly worry about keeping babies entertained. In fact, it is during this downtime that children learn how to entertain themselves, creating their own preferences for playing.

It might be hard to ignore all of the marketing out there that tells you to buy all of edutainment products, and it will probably be harder not to “do what everyone else” seems to be doing. But it comes down to the simple fact that your baby needs special time with you, not an electronic device. The most important thing you can do for your baby is spend quality time together.

1.     Laugh & Coo: Laughing with your baby is a great, interactive experience for both of you. By getting your baby to laugh, you can learn what she likes or thinks is funny. Plus, she will learn by seeing what makes you laugh.
2.     Talk: The best way to help your baby develop language skills is to talk to her. She will learn from listening to the people around her.
3.     Sing: Singing to your baby will entertain her, but also expose her to more language. This is a fun way to help your baby develop.
4.     Cuddle & Love: Everyone needs some cuddling and loving, especially your little tyke. Instead of setting your baby in front of a screen, cuddle and talk with her.
5.     Read: She might not grasp the idea of your reading to her at first, but she will eventually. By reading, you will help to stimulate her language development. For babies, read books that are cardboard, cloth, or some other textured material (other than paper). This way, your baby can touch and hold the book. Point out the pictures, and even sing parts of the story.
6.     Play Silly Games: There is plenty of time in life for your baby to be serious. So, play sill games together. Not only will your baby have fun, but I bet you will to.

I don’t think there are any wrong or right ways to parent, as long as there is no abuse or neglect involved. However, I strongly believe that you can give your children the best opportunities by spending personal time with them instead of relying on electronic devices. It is difficult wading through all of the different studies and marketing out there, but what it comes down to is that the most recent studies show that so-called baby edutainment is not the best option for your baby.

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