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Encouraging Brain Development, from Birth to Three Years Old

Parents play an instrumental role in their child’s development right from the beginning, as the brain goes through a significant amount of changes between birth and three years of age.

At birth, an infant’s brain is made up of more than 100 billion neurons, allowing babies to hear, begin to see and touch, as well as to keep their hearts beating, breathe, sleep, and make sounds. However, most connections have yet to be formed such as those that govern language, abstract thought, and impulse control. Connections (or synapses) are created when the area of the brain that corresponds with that function are stimulated. Therefore, the more positive and varied a child’s interactions, the more positive and varied the connections between neurons . A healthy toddler can create 2 million connections per second, and by the age of three, he or she may have created 1,000 trillion connections. With proper and consistent stimulation, these connections will strengthen and remain intact.

Alternatively, negative environments also impact brain development. Children who grow up in stressful environments where abuse and neglect take place, or where children suffer from poor attachment to their caregiver, causes the release of a hormone called cortisol in quantities that are too high. Such levels may result in neuron death and a reduction in the number of connections that are formed.

How can parents create an environment that encourages development?

  • Establish a routine that grows with the child. Feeding times, nap times, and play times should be scheduled (but not rigid). Children find comfort in knowing what comes next. Toddlers especially have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, so having an established routine and letting them know ahead of time when an activity is due to change shortly can help prevent a toddler’s meltdown.
  • All children are unique with different temperaments and personalities that are constantly evolving. Try to notice how a child displays various emotions and tailor responses accordingly. If a child indicates he or she wants to play, play with them but when it’s obvious that a child has had enough stimulation, switch tactics, perhaps going for a quiet walk. Redirecting a child when he or she is becoming frustrated will prevent escalation of such moods.
  • Talk, read, and sing to a child as a way to encourage language development and a bonding relationship.
  • Provide positive feedback for good behaviour.
  • Create areas in your home that are safe for a child to explore and learn. Likewise, visit places that allow for such experiences. Understand that, for the average toddler, fancier restaurants do not provide opportunities for exploration. Expecting a young child to calmly sit for two hours is an unrealistic expectation.
  • Avoid excessive stimuli or over-stimulating environments but provide just enough input for the young brain across all areas of development.

And don’t forget that parents need care too! Ensuring parents receive adequate rest, exercise, good nutrition, and social interactions that may not always include children can help prevent parent burnout. Take a breath… remember, parenting happens one day at a time. Every parent makes mistakes, hindsight is always 20/20, and with the aid of unconditional love and a decent amount of patience, everything will work out ok.

By Pikul Arsirawech, M.D., Specialist in Behavior Counseling Pediatrics, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital

Editor’s note: This article is sponsored content from Samitivej International Children’s Hospital, and it is reprinted here with permission of the hospital.

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