Being mom or dad is the most important job in the world. The first 3 years of life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a baby’s brain and shape their abilities to learn and grow.
We want to give our children the best they can. Yet, many of us have no choice but to work long hours, often away from home, to support our families.
It’s about time. We need to give our infants the best start in life. We have one chance to get it right.
The first thousand days of life have a profound effect on a baby’s future – their brain development, health, happiness, ability to learn in school, well-being and even the amount of money they can earn as an adult. In this formative stage of life, a baby’s brain can form more than 1 million new brain connections every single second – a pace never repeated again.
So early moments matter. That’s why the right food, stimulation and care – or eat, play, love – are essential to a baby’s brain development in the first 1,000 days of life.
Parenting Master Class on Early Child Development
Why do babies need human touch?
There’s pretty good research evidence now about the importance of touch in newborn babies. Not just for human beings but, in fact, all animal species. We talk sometimes about kangaroo care, about placing a newborn baby on the mother from a very early stage. And that’s comforting for the child, it’s calming for the mother. So for lots and lots of reasons touch is extraordinarily important.
How much should you actively engage with your child?
Children are innately curious; they want to explore their environment. Everything’s so new, it’s a big world out there and so parents shouldn’t get in the way of that. We should make sure the child is perfectly safe. We shouldn’t try to structure the child too much. But there are many learning opportunities. For example, singing to the child, reading, taking them for a walk down the street: “there’s a tree,” “there’s a doggie,” “there’s a car,” “there’s a house.” So there are lots of those things, but don’t get in the way of the child, because children are naturally very curious.
Why do babies sleep so much?
Babies don’t know that the norm is to sleep at night-time and be awake during the day. So they sleep in bursts of three or four hours usually, wake up to have a feed and then go back to sleep. As their brain develops, there are reasons for them not to sleep because there are things to be curious about. They’re engaging with their world. When, say, parents are talking or reading to them, to them, they get into some predictable pattern, being awake for longer periods of time, engaging and interacting with their parents and the world around them and then falling asleep again.
Can a baby’s brain be stimulated while it’s in the womb?
For some time, a number of years ago, it was thought that babies being exposed to classical music made them smarter. There’s no real evidence that babies listening to classical music makes them more intelligent. On the other hand, it certainly doesn’t hurt. So if parents want to introduce music into the household, that’s a great idea. Because as parents enjoy the music that feeling is passed onto their infant. So there are lots of reasons why music is good for young children. However, being smarter is not one of them.
How does nutrition affect brain development?
A baby will get all the nutritional needs they need from breastmilk. And we say that it’s really important for mothers to breastfeed. After that, that’s when there’s a danger period for some children in some countries, where there’s food insecurity, where the quality, the diversity isn’t there, where there isn’t enough food to put on the table. That can result in both cognitive stunting. That is, the child is delayed from a developmental point of view, but also from the physical point of view.
How should you approach and encourage language learning?
As the young infant and toddler starts to develop language-like, very simple things like ‘dog’, ‘bye bye’, ‘ta ta’, etc., parents can reinforce that. We can mirror and mimic that. Young children love repetition. So to hearing the same song again and again, listening to the same book again and again, they’ll start to see what the patterns of language are. So talk to your children a lot, sing to them. At the same time don’t dominate the conversation, take turns – ‘serve and return’.
In those early years of life, what babies need is responsive caring. They need a nurturing environment. They need parents that are tuned in to the young child. Parents are their babies’ first teachers. As the parents are talking, singing, reading to the child or creating other stimulating experiences, there’s this explosion of learning, all of these networks are being developed in the child’s brain. And learning in those very early years is critical because it sets the foundations for lifetime learning. If parents provide all of that, then the child’s brain will grow and mature and fulfil all the potential that we want from all of our children.
What is baby talk?
Baby talk is about how we say things rather than just a silly and cute way of talking to babies. When parents or other caregivers use baby talk, we use normal language, but make it simpler. We repeat words a lot and speak slower. We also exaggerate our facial expressions. For example, we open our mouths wider, we raise our eyebrows and we smile a lot. So a baby can not only just hear baby talk, but they also can see it. Parents should immerse their babies in speech. Listening to more baby talk helps babies build their own language abilities.Baby talk works like a spotlight. Babies hear a lot of sounds around them. But when they hear baby talk, they know it’s time to start listening and paying attention. And this happens for two reasons. First, baby talk is easier to listen to. When babies are very young, they do not understand the meanings of words. But they hear the exaggerated pitch and they learn from it. Second, babies like listening to baby talk. They like the exaggerated melodic patterns and the positive emotions in this kind of talk. And this helps them pay more attention to it compared to speech that we use with adults. When we see a baby, most of us instinctively use baby talk. But it still does not come naturally to everyone. Parents should start practicing baby talk from early on so they can learn what type of it to use. The best time to practice it is when we engage in daily routines with our babies. For example, when we’re feeding, bathing, or playing with them.
If you want to add a little more variety to what you say, you can also try describing pictures in books or describing your baby’s favorite toys, which they would like very much.
Baby talk helps babies establish a special bond and connection with their parents. This makes them feel loved, safe, and comfortable.
Baby talk also stimulates babies’ brains preparing them for the difficult task of learning language.
Protection, stimulation and healthy eating are the three things that are crucial for early brain development. So, Eat, Play, and Love.