The brain is without doubt our most fascinating organ. Parents, educators, and society as a whole have a tremendous power to shape the wrinkly universe inside each child’s head, and, with it, the kind of person he or she will turn out to be. We owe it to our children to help them grow the best brains possible.-L Eliot (1999)
Every baby is born with 100 billion brain cells. Some of these are connected at birth, but most of them are not. It is these connections that will happen in the first five years. Therefore, more the connections the smarter and efficient will be your child’s brain function. But between feeding, changing nappies and catching up on lost sleep, our focus is never truly on making these connections. As our kids grow older, our focus is only on whether they sit, stand, walk and talk on time. We fail to realise that these developments are connected to brain growth, which means just like we take care of feeding our babies we require to focus on feeding the growing brain too.
Here are Terrific Twenty Brain Boosting Ideas on how to nurture your child’s growing brain, after all 98% of the brain develops in the first five years.
- More than three quarters of the brain is made of water– Ensuring that your baby is hydrated, is key. Kids can never drink a glass of water at a time; they are more comfortable taking small sips. This may get annoying to us; however think about how it actually helps your child’s brain- as the brain needs to be properly hydrated in order to be alert.
- Positive emotions greatly enhance memory- The brain has an emotional filter called amygdala. This part of the brain filters all incoming stimuli and information accepting it only if it is emotionally stimulating. This means more the positive emotions we expose our kids to, the more memory development will be enhanced. The happier and stimulating the interaction and activity, the more likely children will learn for life.
- Stress, the number one enemy of your child’s growing brain – Positive stress is good for the brain. Giving simple challenges to our children in the form of games and activities assist brain development. On the other hand, negative stress is damaging and harmful for a child’s brain growth. When we scream, shout, threaten, punish, be overly protective or anxious, when we compare our kids or have too many expectations all these lead to negative stress- corroding and crumbling the growing connections in young brains.
- Our bodies require fat, protein and carbohydrates for healthy growth- What does the brain thrive on? – It requires neurotransmitters for growth and development. Therefore, when you keep stress away from your child and expose your child to positive emotions ,neurotransmitters will be released helping your child with benefits of long term memory formation and retention, focus, attention and goal setting. It also helps your child be better behaved with the ability to control impulses and be calm.
These neurotransmitters can be easy to remember with this acronym No. S.A.D, which means keep all negative emotions away from your child, say no to sad!
- Norepinephrine- Responds to novelty and aids in memory formation.
- Serotonin- Helps control impulsivity, calms the brain, aids in reflective behaviours.
- Acetylcholine-Helps with frontal lobe functions and in formation of long-term memories.
- Dopamine-Assists in focus, attention and goal setting.
- Diet affects memory development and brain growth-Foods that have additives can be harmful for growing brains, as additives are chemicals that can interfere with neurotransmitters. Keep kids away from junk food, control salt and sugar intake.
- Breast-feeding your baby for the first twelve months of life can boost IQ levels- If for some reason you have to stop breast feeding early, then be sure to select an infant formula that has brain-boosting nutrients.
- Your growing toddler needs a diet that is optimal for brain growth- Even the slightest deficiency in vitamins, minerals or essential nutrients such as iron or iodine can harm the growth spurt of the brain.
- Sleep enhances memory retention-The brain is constantly collecting stimuli and information throughout the day and which means it requires organising all this stimuli and information correctly for long term retrieval. The brain does this during sleep time. For this, your child requires adequate sleep (nine hours) to be able to assimilate information and transfer to long term memory. Children below the age of 3 years need their nine hours at night and a couple of hours of nap time in the day. There are two cycles of sleep (non REM and REM sleep) – during one cycle the blood goes to the brain and the brain works on organising and rejuvenation and during the second cycle the blood supply is more to the body and the body muscles rejuvenate. So, in short if your child gets insufficient sleep then either the brain or body will be tired and fuzzy, leading to confusion and loss of what is learnt.
- Most moms complain that their kids are fidgety- Well, in brain terms fidgety is good. Why? Because small muscle activity stimulates brain growth, which means more your kids touch, fidget, and move-more the connections in the brain. So, let them fidget!
- Neuroscience has two significant areas of research– the first is the term is ‘plasticity’, meaning that the brain structure in young kids can be shaped and nurtured with the experiences we provide to them in the first five years. This experience can be in the form of nurturing, stimulation, attachment, food, bonding etc. These good experiences will impact brain structure.
- The second significant research is the presence of “mirror neurons”– These neurons are stimulated when we watch someone do something. In fact, research has proven that these neurons fire in the same way when we are performing the task. Therefore, remember, ‘kids learn by imitation’. Their language, behaviour, social development and emotional development will all be based on what your child sees in you and your family.
- Both sides need to communicate efficiently for a smart brain-There are two sides of the brain-left and right side which means for a smart brain, both left and right sides of the brain need to communicate efficiently. Activities like creeping, crawling, climbing, walking, marching, dancing will help both sides of the brain communicate. When both sides of the brain can easily communicate then subjects like maths, language etc, will be more easily understood by children.
- Shaken Baby Syndrome is the cause of many deaths and harms the young brain- Parenting is not easy. Parents need to be honoured for this lifelong commitment they make and at times a parent can lose their cool and end up hitting or shaking their kids. Shaken Baby Syndrome is the cause of many deaths and can also can harm to the brain as shaking may cause your baby’s brain to swell, bleed or bruise.
- Aromas stimulate mental alertness and memory- Ensure that you use baby products that have stimulating, yet non irritating aromas- best is vanilla. Be careful in selecting play dough too, remember the best play dough should be soft and smell like vanilla cake! Play dough gives stimulation to all the senses and so is a great activity for growing brains.
- Colours also stimulate mental alertness and memory – Young children prefer primary colours. Be careful of over stimulating the environment your child is in, but also beware of under stimulation as too many muted colours can be boring for kids.
- Multi sensory toys– While selecting toys for your child keep in mind the more multi sensory the activity, the more likely is your child to process the learning from the activity. Buy toys that are multi developmental and help all growth domains like balls, stackers, books, blocks, play dough, soft toys, peg puzzles etc.
- Did you know that the common garden ‘slide’ helps nurture brain development?– Yes, it teaches young kids self regulation and impulse control as they wait to climb (patience) , then climb the steps (effort) to reach the slide and then get the exhilarating slide down.(reward)
- Singing fires neurons in the brain and stimulates brain growth-Sing often to your kids, buy rhyme collections that have soft music and words that your child can relate to.
- Pause after you give instructions to your child-It takes a while for your child to process information, so pause after you give instructions to your child. Why? Because of the large network of neurons in your child’s brain. Information and especially instructions take a while to be processed. So give that space to your child else you will stress out your child.
- Memory increases by re-visiting information-As you complete the song or story your toddler chimes, ‘again’, this is because ‘memory increases by revisiting information frequently’ and so ‘again’ is a common word in the toddler’s vocabulary.
Use these Terrific Twenty Brain Boosting Ideas everyday and make them a part of your parenting style.
IQ is not fixed at birth. Experience changes the brain – (Healy, 2004).