How To Make The Most Of The Critical First Two Years Of Baby's Development, Including Brain Building Activities.
“The first two years of your baby’s life is a time in which your child experiences the greatest amount of growth and development,” says child development specialist Dr. Dave Allen of Haydenburri Lane.
“Think of a young brain as a computer,” suggests The Helen Doron Educational Group. “It has incredibly sophisticated hardwiring, but no software.” A baby has to develop his own software in order to utilize the power of his brain.
“Brain growth and activity in the first two years is unmatched,” says S.H. Jacob, Ph.D., author of Your Baby’s Mind: How to Make the Most of the Critical First Two Years. “The brain is hard-wiring itself with every action and experience.”
Here are just a few ways you can stimulate your baby’s “software development” during this two-year window of opportunity.
Babies are able to communicate with you as soon as they’re born. In Dr. Spock’s The First Two Years: The Emotional and Physical Needs of Children from Birth to Age 2, America’s favorite pediatrician urges parents to listen to their children. “Listening means focusing your attention,” writes Spock, “not in a worried way, but in an observing manner.”
As you tend to your baby – feeding her, cleaning her, putting her to sleep – spend time looking and listening to her, too. As you observe your baby, you’ll begin to understand her – what her cries mean, what she’s learning and how she’s developing.
“Shower your baby with words,” recommends the National Center for Family Literacy. “Even though he may not understand the words, he’s storing up the sounds of language.” Talk to your baby about everything. For example, when you’re out for a walk together, describe the sights and sounds you encounter. “Look at the fluffy white clouds in the blue sky. Listen to the big brown dog barking.” Your baby may be too young to join in the conversation but he’s learning from hearing your words.
“Read to your baby every day,” suggests Jamie Loehr, M.D. and Jen Meyers. In their book Raising Your Child: The Complete Illustrated Guide, A Parenting Timeline of What to Do at Every Age and State of Your Child’s Development, Loehr and Meyers describe the immediate benefits of reading to your baby. “She’ll love to snuggle with you, look at the beautiful illustrations and listen to your calming voice.”
The National Center for Family Literacy promotes the “loving relationship” that results from sharing stories and books with your baby. “Even when your baby is too young to know what a book is, he loves to hear your voice reading to him.”
Feed the senses
“As you hold your baby, he learns about you through the senses of touch, smell and sound,” says David Hill, MD, who is a pediatrics expert on JustAnswer.com. "Feed all of your baby’s senses."
Loehr and Meyers also encourage parents to expose baby to new environments so he has new things to look at and observe. By exposing your baby to an ever-changing environment, you create a scenario that challenges the brain – How are things different? How are they the same? “Honing discrimination skills involves all five senses and is the underlying premise for learning,” says neurologist David Perlmutter, author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten.
“It is critically important for optimal development that children have a lot of loving, touching, caring interactions,” advises Deborah McNelis of Brain Insights. Your baby needs opportunities for interaction in which she uses all of her sense with a variety of objects and people.
A baby needs the freedom to move around to properly develop.
“Don’t confine your baby to a swing, car seat carrier or bouncy seat,” advise Loehr and Meyers. This confinement, coupled with the important and successful Back-to-Sleep campaign to prevent SIDS, has resulted in babies spending an inadequate amount of time on their tummies.
As a result, pediatric therapists are seeing dramatic increases in early motor delays. Pathways, a national not-for-profit group raising awareness of such delays, encourages parents to use tummy time to “to strengthen baby’s neck and back muscles.”
The ability to move around will strengthen not only your baby’s core muscle groups but will allow her to explore and play independently. “Get on the floor!” says author Meri Ramey-Gray of BabiesGuide.net. “Play on the floor every day. The amount of development and love that grows is huge.”
“The most happy children are those whose parents approach activities with no expectations of an end-result,” says Julie Averill, founder and director of Kids at Work in Manhattan. “Babies learn through the process of going through life at their own pace.”
Monica Brady, mom of 4-year-old twin girls and owner of Mommy Brain Reports, tells parents to “just be in the moment” with their babies. “All you can do is spend as much quality time as you can with the baby,” encourages Brady. “Engage them. Play with them. Stimulate their senses. Talk to them. They learn from you.”
New parents want to hold the baby, make faces at her, sing to her, feed her and play with her. “There’s a reason you want to do this stuff,” adds Hill. “To make the most of your baby’s first two years, follow your instincts. As your baby grows and develops, your heart will tell you exactly what your baby needs for optimal growth and development.”
So what’s the bottom line for making the most of your baby’s first two years? “Relax and do what comes naturally,” says Hill.
For more tips on raising smart children: