Did you know, that when a baby is born, his brain is ½ the size of an adult brain? By the time he is 3 years old, his brain has grown to 80% size of an adult brain. This is incredible growth, in just 3 years.
How does the brain work, and how can we foster this development?
Within the brain are billions of nerve cells, known as neurons. The neurons have to connect with other brain cells in order to work. Some of these connections are present from birth – for example, the ability to breathe, to suck, to cry, and others occur as the baby grows and develops. The connections occur when experiences or skills are repeated over and over.
For example you don’t learn how to fly a plane with just one lesson – you need multiple opportunities to practise in order to be competent. Babies are the same – in order to learn to walk, or stack blocks or feed themselves – it doesn’t happen with just one instruction from us. This is why a young baby will drop toys (or food!) over the high chair repeatedly. Parents often think that the child doesn’t want the object. What the baby is learning, is when I drop this book, it goes bang, and when I do it again, it still goes bang. When I drop the orange it rolls away, sometimes it rolls left, sometimes right… they are looking to make the connection (in their brain) between action and response. Once they’ve dropped the book often enough, then they no longer need to do it, because they know it will go bang.
Whilst our skulls are hard, the brain within is fragile, and like glass, it can be easily damaged. This is why we need to ensure proper care of the brain, especially in the early months, when baby’s neck muscles are not yet strong, and they struggle to hold up that heavy head. Babies should never be shaken, as their fragile brain bangs against the inside of the skull and can lead to death or serious permanent damage of the brain and it’s function.
We also need to protect babies and children’s brains, by ensuring that they are securely placed in car seats, and later, wear helmets whilst bicycling.
Brain development is also fostered by diet. In order for those connections (known as synapses) to be strong in the brain, they need a protective coating of myelin. The myelin coating enables the brain cells to function more efficiently. Myelin occurs naturally in breast milk, and is added to formula milk. For this reason, formula milk should always be made up according to the directions (not diluted), to ensure the baby receives the correct amount of myelin.
Another thing which fosters healthy brain development, is to limit screen time. It is well documented, that TV, because of the fast moving images, affects the developing neural pathways. When these babies grow, they seem to require constant activity as they’ve grown to see this activity as the norm. Many Paediatric services now recommend no screen time before the age of 2 years of age, and less than 2hrs per day for ages 2+, due to the effects on the developing brain. I hear your shock…. what will I do with them? Think back to your childhood – more walks in the park, or playing in the backyard, digging in the garden, cooking with Grandma, craft work, collecting leaves and snails etc.
It does make you wonder, doesn’t it, with the huge increase in children on medication for ADHD, the children who have poor social skills and the children who have no impulse control, which we’ve seen increase dramatically over the past 20 years, since we have had more screens in the household – be they TV, DVD, computer, X-box etc – makes you wonder….
Being a parent is a huge responsibility, which includes, as far as possible, doing everything we can do to nurture that precious developing brain.
Image by kaceyjordan via Flickr