Brains Are Built Not Born:
15 Key Factors impacting the development of babies’ brains
1. Brains are built not born.
Brain development is shaped by experiences – experiences that begin even before a child is born. The life experiences of mothers and fathers before conception and during pregnancy shape the building of babies’ brains.
2. Experiences build our brains.
Brain development is “activity dependent.” The parts of our brain that are activated by repeated experiences grow stronger – and those that are not engaged may drop away. The brain is a “use it or lose it” machine.
3. Trauma shapes the brain.
Brains are shaped by experiences. Traumatic experiences, especially repeated or prolonged traumas, impact the development of children’s brains. History lies within us – historical trauma impacts our minds and bodies. The areas impacted by trauma are those that influence memory, learning and emotion.
4. Serve and Return: Interaction shapes brains.
When adults respond to a baby they build their brain architecture. All future development built on this initial brain architecture. Social interaction with a caring adult is the most important form of stimulation for a baby – it stimulates their brain and builds trust and security. TV cannot replace interaction with caring adults.
5. Talking and listening to your child will make a difference.
Language is fundamental to the rest of cognitive development. Talk to your baby about what is happening around them – pretend that your baby is “telling you” something when she coos and gurgles. Expand on what she “says” and answer her “questions.” Imitate the baby’s speech sounds. Talking to your baby in a loving and interested way will develop her brain and her sense of confidence and safety.
6. Crying is a smart thing for babies to do.
Crying may be nature’s way of ensuring that babies receive enough back-and-forth interaction – holding, talking, snuggling and singing that will help their brain develop.
7. Holding a baby supports healthy brain development.
Think of the actions that take place when you hold a baby as “sensory nourishment” or food for the brain. Hold the baby when they need to be held – they will tell you they want to be held by crying, fussing, reaching for you or gazing at you.
8. Babies experience stress and fear.
Caring relationships with adults that help children understand how to respond to fear and stress are the most important factor in ensuring that babies brain development is not derailed by toxic stress.
9. It’s impossible to spoil a baby with your love and attention.
You can’t spoil a baby by holding them. Hold infants when they need to be held. Respond to their cries. Infants who are responded to are less demanding as toddlers.
10. Babies can’t manipulate.
Babies brains are very immature. Crying, spitting-up or soiling a just-changed diaper is not done deliberately or to annoy an adult. Babies aren’t trying to annoy adults by doing something over and over – they learn through repeating “experiments.”
11. Tantrums teach children important coping skills.
Experiencing frustration is an important process for toddlers as it helps them learn how to get through difficult situations.
12. Physical punishment often leads to more misbehavior not less.
Children can’t listen or learn well when they feel scared, hurt, or angry. Instead of teaching children how to behave responsibly, physical punishment is more likely to increase problem behaviors including resistance, power struggles, anger, and rebellion.
13. Physical punishment can wire a child’s brain in unhealthy ways.
Physical punishment can interfere with healthy brain development. Children build and keep brain connections that are reinforced by experience. Physical punishment, pain, and fear can wire and shape a child’s brain in unhealthy ways that lead to unwanted behaviors. These problems include aggression, conduct problems, depression, and substance abuse. Children who are hit are more likely to hit their friends and siblings.
14. Young children learn more when we follow their lead than when we try to teach them.
Toddlers often learn from what they have seen others do. Learning happens quickly when it takes place in the course of natural daily conversations. Language growth is best supported by talking directly with children about their own actions, feelings and attempts to speak.
15. Young children cannot be expected to control their emotions.
Children develop the capacity to control their emotions, such as asking for help instead of throwing a tantrum between the ages of 3 and 5. Self-control comes with time and brain maturation.