Early Childhood Brain Development
Why should caregivers know about brain development?
The brain is the part of the body that allows us to feel joy
or despair, to respond to others in a loving or angry way, to use reason, or to
simply react. These capacities don't just magically appear, they result
from the interplay between a child's heredity and the experiences they have
At birth, the brain is unfinished. The parts of the
brain that handle thinking and remembering, as well as emotional and social
behavior, are underdeveloped. The fact that the brain matures in the
world, rather than the womb, means young children are deeply affected by their
early experiences. Their relationships with parents and other important
caregivers don't just influence their moods, but actually affect the way
children's brains become "wired." Researchers now confirm that the way
infants are interacted with and the experiences provide for them have a major
impact on the child's emotional development, learning skills and how they
function later in life.
How does the brain
At birth, the brain contains about 100
billion cells that are yet to be connected into functioning networks. By
the time a child is three, the brain has formed about one thousand trillion
connections between these brain cells. Some of these connections become
permanent, while others disappear as the child grows. How does the brain
know which connections to keep? Connections that are used repeatedly
during the child's early years become the foundation for the brain's
organization and function throughout life. In contrast, a connection that
is not used results in a lack of development or even the disappearance of these
connections. For example, a child who is rarely spoken to or read to in
the early years my have difficulty mastering language skills later on. By
the same token, a child who is rarely played with may have difficulty with
social adjustment as he or she grows.
Brain cells are designed for making
connections. Each cell sends signals out to other brain cells and receives
input from other cells. The signals, in the form of electrical
impulses, travel down the length of the nerve cell. With the help of
chemicals (such as serotonin) they travel from cell to cell, creating
connections. Repeated activation of networks of neurons strengthens these
What should be done
to encourage appropriate brain development?
When a caregiver rocks, touches, talks to,
sings to and smiles at an infant, this promotes brain development. Babies
experience relationships through their senses - vision, hearing, touch, smell and
taste. They read the way you look into their eyes, they see the
expressions on your face, they hear you cooing, singing, talking and reading,
and they feel you holding or rocking them. Touch is especially important,
as holding and stroking stimulates the brain to release important hormones
necessary for growth.
Children who receive warm and
responsive caregiving and are securely attached to their caregivers cope
with difficult times more easily when they are older. They are
more curious, get along better with others children, and perform better
in school than children who are less securely attached.
Infants communicate their needs,
preferences, and moods to the adults who care for them by the sounds
they make, the way they move, their expressions and the way they make
(or avoid) eye contact. Children become securely attached when
caregivers try to read these signals and respond with sensitivity.
They bring to trust that when they smile, some will smile back, that
when they are upset, someone will comfort them, and that when they are
hungry, someone will feed them.
Your might think that a newborn
might get spoiled with all this attention, but studies show that
newborns who are more quickly and warmly responded to when crying
typically learn to cry much less and sleep more at night. A baby
expresses his distress by crying. When the caregiver responds with
food, warmth, or comfort, the baby tends to be calmed. The
stress-response system in the brain are turned off and the infant's
brain begins to create networks of brain cells that help the baby soothe
Infants learn from "conversations"
even when they cannot understand what you are saying. When
babies hear the same words over and over, the parts of the brain that
handles speech and language develop. The time used to change a
diaper or feed an infant can be an opportunity to spend some individual
time with that child, talking, singing and expanding on their own coos
Read picture books and stories to
infants. By 6 months, infants show excitement by widening their
eyes and moving their arms and legs when looking at a book with pictures
of babies or other familiar objects.
By providing consistent and responsible caregiving, you
can ensure that a child will have the best opportunity for healthy emotional and
social development. Every important caregiver has the potential to help
shape a young child's future.
1. What is most important in what affects the way
children's brains become "wired"?
How does the brain know which "connections" to keep?
3. A part of
how babies experience relationships is through the sense of taste.
4. Reading to an infant is an important part of secure attachment to a caregiver by
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