Hype vs. Reality for Developing Your Baby’s Brain
A few months ago, I attended a lecture from a speaker who talked to parents about the remarkable nature of brain plasticity. She was a Ph.D., well informed about brain anatomy, who told us that we could achieve almost anything with specific brain training for our children. Then about a week later I read a blog post written by a popular parenting educator that suggested the same thing. I’m sure it won’t be long before someone will be pitching a “Build-a-Brain” business on the ABC television show “The Shark Tank.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum I attended a scientific meeting of neuroscientists and developmental psychologists who are doing research on brain development. It was VERY CLEAR that the hype doesn’t match the hope created by the “change your brain” promoters. In other words, no one can provide the guarantee of a medical intervention; for example, “take this pill and it will regulate your blood pressure.” That level of preciseness is somewhere, perhaps not too far away, but definitely in the future.
However, these scientists could predict what short circuits brain development. There is a lot of evidence that the stress of unpredictability, disorganization, inconsistency, and instability elevate blood cortisol levels. And elevated blood cortisol is associated with depression, lack of concentration, obesity and a host of other health and learning problems.
But let’s focus on the positive. What the best of the “train the brain” scientists are really saying is “the secret of getting ahead is getting started.” With brain development progressing at warp speed during the first 3 years, we know enough to recommend that every parent should really consider purposefully supporting their baby’s progress. Here’s a short list of ideas:
- Start with your own self-assessment. Can you be predictably organized, relatively calm, moderately consistent, and willing to lead? (Note: not perfect but confident at least 80% of the time)
- Think of the brain as a muscle that wants and needs exercise in order to grow. For example, Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Ocean Orchestra toy builds on play patterns that exercise baby’s brain. In addition, give your baby small achievable challenges appropriate to age. And don’t feel badly about requiring your older infant to follow directions and respond to your requirements and requests. That’s brain exercise.
- Remember that emotional growth is a component of brain development on balance with knowledge building. Stay age appropriate.
- Read a little bit about brain development so you have some helpful hints. My suggestions are listed below in the order of easy reading to heavy lifting.
- Follow through with some of the suggestions made in these books and on this blog. Ultimately all the info you will ever read here points to good outcomes for kids.
You can’t mold the brain like silly putty any more than you can dissolve your post-baby belly fat by chewing on green coffee beans. But you can provide excellent conditions for keeping the “enemies” of positive development at bay. No parent would let a baby simply get sick. And you simply can’t let your little one lose ground with social skills and learning either.
Suggested Reading Links: