Daily Habits to Boost Your Baby's Brain Power
New life is exciting and beautiful — and terrifying, especially when you’re responsible for the well-being of that new life. The number of things you should and shouldn’t be doing as a parent can be daunting, especially since experts say brain development is “activity dependent” or reliant on how you interact with your baby during those first few months. Talk about pressure.
When a baby first enters the world their brain weighs only a quarter of a typical adult brain, which is about 3 pounds. It continues to grow and develop during the first several years of their life. Brain development is genetic, but is also determined by a child’s relationship to the world. This is where you come in. You can help build a foundation for future learning, health and success by challenging your baby’s mind and keeping them well-fed, healthy and happy.
We’ve curated a list of easy daily habits that can boost your baby’s brain power from an early age.
Whether you’re pro or anti baby talk, there’s no denying the benefit of gabbing with your little one. You may feel silly at first, but talking to your baby stimulates their mind and encourages early language development, which is a predictor of future academic success, according to a report from the Communication Trust. The report found that a child’s vocabulary at age two strongly predicted their readiness for school, and that early language development was the most important factor influencing literacy levels at age 11.
Lesson learned? From talking to your baby while they’re nursing to running through your to-do list with them as you run errands, gabbing with your baby is hugely helpful in boosting your baby’s brain power.
If You Can, Breastfeed
If you’re able to breastfeed, research suggests you should. The act of breastfeeding and the makeup of breastmilk can help lay the groundwork for an intelligent and well-adjusted baby. One study published by Springer Nature found that breast milk facilitates cognitive development and affects the growth and development of the brain. The study referenced other research that associates breastfeeding with higher scores on neurodevelopment and cognition tests, which have medical, biological and social implications.
If you’re unable to breastfeed — like many mamas are — there are other alternatives. You can look into receiving donated breastmilk or find a formula that works well for you and your baby.
When there’s laundry to do and dinner to make, making time to read to your baby (who might not even talk yet) may seem like a pointless aspiration. However, a regular read of kid-friendly books like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Goodnight Moon” can work wonders for your child’s IQ.
They may not understand what you’re saying, but they’ll pick up on your tone, rhythm and inflection, and by reading regularly together, they’ll be exposed to a variety of words. All of these things will serve them well when it’s time for them to try reading on their own.
Sign to Each Other
Imagine being unable to communicate your needs. You’re hungry, but instead of grabbing a snack or suggesting that your partner starts dinner, you have to wait, unable to express your needs. Chances are you’d likely be hangry by the time your needs were met.
This is something babies experience regularly. And when crying is the only way to communicate that a need isn’t being met, both parent and baby may end up frustrated and annoyed. By teaching your baby basic signs (and learning them yourself), you can communicate with each other before your baby’s verbal skills have fully developed. Infants who learn baby sign language are said to have improved self-esteem and confidence. Screaming and crying may decrease, and signing could be a lifesaver during the toddler stage when your child is so frustrated they’re unable to speak clearly.
Set Aside Time for Independent Play
When you have a new addition, it can be easy to hover, crooning over your baby’s tiny fingernails and tufts of hair. Babies need lots of snuggling and lots of love, but it’s also important for them to learn to be on their own. Setting aside time for independent play each day will encourage your child to be self-reliant and will teach them to focus their attention, learn from their mistakes and explore their surroundings at their own pace.
Even though it may be hard at first to give your baby space, you’ll be glad you did in the long run. The learned habit of independent play will ensure your child doesn’t need you to entertain them as they grow up.
Build a Healthy Relationship
It may seem obvious, but just like it takes time to build friendships and partnerships, it takes time to build a relationship between you and your baby. The quality of your relationship shapes the way your baby sees the world. When they laugh, cry, smile or pout, they garner a reaction from you. This simple interaction teaches them how to think, communicate, understand, show emotion and behave in the world, and how they can expect to be treated when they express themselves in various ways.
When you respond to their emotions in a warm, loving, patient way, you make your child feel secure, leading to a safe, happy relationship. This parent-child relationship gives your baby the confidence and security to one day explore the world, knowing that you’re there to support and encourage them.
Enjoy Snuggle Time
This daily habit is an easy one. You may not be able to keep your hands off your little one — and you shouldn’t resist the urge to continually give your baby plenty of physical touch. Regular cuddling teaches social intelligence and will make your child feel secure, confident and empathetic — qualities that continue through to adulthood.
Simply put, regular snuggling is an easy task with big, lifelong rewards.
Choose 'Smart' Toys to Play With
It’s pointless to put cheap, plastic toys in front of your little one that don’t stimulate them or meet their current needs. For example, during your baby's first few months of life, they only see black, white and grey, so those bright colorful toys that you think of as eye-catching and engaging, may not be.
During the early months, toys that make noises or have high-contrast patterns may be your best bet, while later in life, your child may learn from toys that stack or flip.
Play Games Together
Sounds and sight are important senses in the early days of life, but don’t underestimate the value of play. Play — especially hand-based play — is huge in a baby’s early development. When you roll a ball back and forth or let your child interact with an activity gym, you’re helping them build their motor skills.
Games like peekaboo, helps reinforce the concept of object permanence, the idea that you or an object still exists even when it’s not visible. An easy (and fun!) game of peekaboo helps reinforce this important concept and builds memory skills.
Let Them Get Messy
Part of learning is seeing, smelling and feeling, but the act of indulging those senses isn’t always neat and tidy. It’s healthy and natural for your child to want to dig in the dirt or smear sand all over their clothes; they’re experiencing and exploring, which leads to learning.
Messy play allows kids to be kids, while encouraging the development of coordination, concentration, and their gross and fine motor skills.
Use Cleaning Up as a Learning Exercise
After you make lunch, you’re expected to clean up after yourself. This social expectation is a lesson that should be taught early on. When your child makes a mess, involve them in the act of cleaning up, no matter how minor their role is. Cleaning up after yourself teaches responsibility, consequences and the basic life skills needed to thrive in our world.
Even when your kids are young, have them clean up alongside you, encouraging them to put their blocks back into the bin. Starting the habit of cleaning up early will help them (and you) later in life.
Even as infants, we look for patterns in the world around us. When your baby cries, laughs, falls or giggles, your reaction to that action or emotion tells them what they can expect in the future.
Being consistent in the way you react provides reassurance and teaches your child how they can expect others to respond to those actions or emotions outside your home.
When Teaching Language, Get Interactive
If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know visual connections are key to learning. It’s one thing to hear the French word “maison” and another to hear the word while your teacher points to a picture of a house.
The same goes for your little one. As they’re working to master words and their relevance, it’s hugely helpful to point to the item you’re verbalizing. This practice is especially easy to do at meal time. Point to the carrot as you say “carrot” to help better build that connection and establish strong language skills. Many babies’ first word is “momma” or “daddy,” and you can encourage that verbalization by pointing to yourself when saying your name.
Give Them the Freedom to Roam
When you’ve got a crawling toddler, it’s tempting to put them in a playpen or strap them into a seat, so you can have a moment of peace and get some things done. Sometimes, there’s no way around it, but experts like Jill Stamm, author of “Bright From the Start,” claim restricting your child’s movement is detrimental.
She says babies should have the freedom to respond to the world around them by moving toward something, grabbing hold, touching and adjusting their position. This freedom sets the stage for improved focus and concentration as they grow.