New parents will observe the signs of rapid brain development in the infant and can participate in this exciting process, making sure the baby has both a safe and stimulating environment. Especially rapidly the brain of the baby develops in the first two years. Here are a few examples of what you can do to help your child.
Infant’s nutrition is vitally important during rapid brain development and has an impact on its lifelong functioning
(Cheatham, 2019). Ensure absence of malnutrition and avoid toxins in your baby's food. There is a clear relationship between nutrient intake and function of the brain, especially critical before age of two because of the impact on the future cognition, behavior, and mood. Maternal milk is superior in many regards, especially for the first twenty-eight days, in its protective qualities and nutrition
The brain of an infant is immature and requires external stimulation for further development. Cerebral cortex is the folded outermost layer of the brain with many grooves to increase surface area and to allow more information to be processed. In adults, it makes up about half of the total brain mass, and contains about fourteen-sixteen billion nerve cells. It is responsible for high-level cognitive activities like memory, reasoning, abstract thinking, learning, language, behavioral control, problem solving, and decision making
(Cleveland Clinic, 2022). Social interactions during the first years of life, especially with the caregivers, are extremely important for the optimal development of the child’s brain. Multiple aspects of adult-infant exchanges are associated with many neural responses in children from infancy to adolescence
Be observant and attentive with your baby, because the quality of your parenting will determine their cognitive abilities in the long term. When possible, take turns in playing and talking with babies, they learn better this way. Protect them from stress and trauma
(CDC, 2019). Not all children are equally receptive of parent’s behavior. For example, maternal sensitivity when infants are six months old results in better executive functions later in childhood, but only provided the baby was born with a normal or larger well-balanced hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memorizing, specifically for transfer of information to long-term memory
Create an environment for your baby that would enhance brain development. Encourage movement, surround the baby with interesting objects, sounds, and light. Environmental deprivation in infancy has severe and permanent effects. The brain of an infant has high plasticity, which makes it highly adaptable but vulnerable as well. Parts of the brain can take the functionality of other parts in case of physical damage or disease. This ability decreases with age, when specialization has already progressed.
Some of the methods parents tried in the past are considered now as not helpful. Widely advertised educational media products for small kids not only have no persistent effect, but often have negative developmental consequences for the child, including time lost on these programs instead of more beneficial activities like independent playing. Plus, time spent on these gimmicks by the parent instead of spending some good time with their child. Such products are unsupported by science and can interfere with your baby’s active development.
If you want to adopt a very young child, please consider the age of the baby at the time of adoption and the challenges of further development if the infant had been severely deprived in the very first years of life. Children's cognitive recovery depends on the age of the adoption: before six months of age the recovery will likely be complete, between half a year and two years - children remain with significantly lower abilities, and after age of two even lower. The typical outcomes of such deprivation are chronic cognitive, perceptual, and social dysfunctioning, particularly in learning. They are associated with permanent changes in brain connectivity and structure. Such negative outcomes are especially severe in children from orphanages with lack of appropriate communication with caregivers, and less, on average, in children raised in low socioeconomic environments and poverty. Early experiences like that are especially detrimental to language development, which in turn, limits educational opportunities. Their effects are impossible or difficult to resolve
(Kolb, 2022). From age one to four, I myself had limited attention from adults, and it was not only emotionally challenging to make corrections later in life, but also difficult to recognize the issue in the first place, especially if it is more subtle as it was my case.
In case I would have adopted a child who experienced severe neglect for the first year of life, I would need to adjust my expectations and develop a different approach to helping her in further development, compared to a child adopted at birth. Based on my possibly limited knowledge, I would do my best to optimize the child's nutrition, give her a feeling of safety and freedom, and engage together in playful communication, reading aloud, playing cards and chess, gatherings with other kids, going on mini-adventures in nature, and educating myself further.
Cerebral Cortex: What It Is, Function & Location. (2022). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23073-cerebral-cortex
Ilyka, D., Johnson, M. H., & Lloyd-Fox, S. (2021). Infant social interactions and brain development: A systematic review. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 130, 448–469. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.09.001
Nolvi, S., Rasmussen, J. M., Graham, A. M., Gilmore, J. H., Styner, M., Fair, D. A., Entringer, S., Wadhwa, P. D., & Buss, C. (2020). Neonatal brain volume as a marker of differential susceptibility to parenting quality and its association with neurodevelopment across early childhood. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 45, 100826. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2020.100826
Cheatham C. L. (2019). Nutritional Factors in Fetal and Infant Brain Development. Annals of nutrition & metabolism, 75 Suppl 1, 20–32. https://doi.org/10.1159/000508052
CDC. (2019). Early Brain Development and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/early-brain-development.html
Valentine, C.J. Nutrition and the developing brain. Pediatr Res 87, 190–191 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-019-0650-y
Kolb, B. Brain Effects of Environmental Enrichment and Deprivation. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved 7 Sep. 2022, from https://oxfordre.com/psychology/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-722.