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Providing Your Baby With the Right Developmental Experiences

Nothing is more important to new parents than the optimal development of their child.

Basically, once we have decided that we want to become a family we are investing our whole future into growing that foetus, delivering him or her safely into the world and then nurturing them into becoming a healthy, strong and well-developed individual.

Unfortunately, babies don’t arrive with either a survival guide or a user’s manual. We, as parents or carers, have to learn as we go and it’s not always easy to work out the right or wrong way to proceed.

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University suggests that there are three core-concepts in early development that influence exactly how we will turn out as we grow towards adulthood.

These three concepts are:

  1. Experiences Build Brain Architecture
  2. Serve & Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry
  3. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development

Although the terminology may seem a little wordy the basic premise is sound. In an effort to better understand this study, each concept has been unpicked in order:

Experiences Build Brain Architecture

Although our genes provide a basic blueprint, it is our early experiences which affect how, if at all, these genes are expressed:

  • Our brains have the greatest ability to absorb and adapt in the early years and this ability fades/decreases as we get older.
  • Therefore, our early circumstances and experiences have a far greater impact on us than anything that happens in our later lives.
  • Our emotions, motor skills, behavioural control, logic, language and memory will be affected by our experiences.
  • These early influences will provide us with either a strong or a weak foundation on which to base our later learning, health and behaviour.

Serve & Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry

The most essential experience we have, that of ‘serve and return’ interaction, happens between a small child and the significant adults in their lives. This is the interaction which will help to shape the baby’s developing brain.

  • Young children naturally search for interaction with others, through their babbling noises, facial expressions and gestures – This is known as the ‘serve’.
  • Adults generally respond back with meaningful vocalisation and gestures – This is the ‘return’ and is the interaction which the baby requires to build up the neural connectors in different areas of the brain, thereby building the emotional and cognitive skills that children need in later life.
  • As the child grows and responds, the process develops through verbal and then visual learning, eventually developing the links between the spoken word, pictures and eventually written form.
  • Ensuring that interaction is consistent and continual is the way the foundation is built.
  • Each learning stage builds on the one before and provides the healthy foundation for the learning behaviour and health that will follow.

Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development

Learning how to cope with adversity is a crucial part of healthy development.

  • However, whilst short-term stress can promote growth and healthy development, long-term (toxic) stress is detrimental.
  • Without caring adults to provide a buffer for the child, ongoing or unrelenting stress can weaken the architecture of the developing brain.
  • Extreme and prolonged poverty, neglect, abuse or severe maternal depression are all examples of toxic stress.
  • The long-term consequences are poor learning ability and negative behavioural patterns. These are ultimately detrimental to both physical and mental health.
  • Toxic stress can be avoided if we ensure that the environment, in which a child grows and develops, is nurturing, stable and engaging.

In a nutshell, providing your baby with a nurturing and stable home and offering plenty of interaction, on an ongoing basis, is the absolute best way to ensure that your baby grows and develops into a strong, healthy, well balanced and dependable personality.

For further information on these theories of the developing child, please follow this link

December 8, 2017

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