All parents want their babies to grow up to be smart and successful. But what can you do to help your infant achieve such lofty goals? The answer may be surprisingly simple and cost-effective.
Technology is a huge part of everyday life. But if you think technology is the key to helping your baby’s brain develop, think again. Research has shown that despite the name, educational videos such as "Baby Einstein" not only don’t help baby brain development, they might actual slow down the baby’s ability to learn new words. (1)
The same is true of teaching tools such as baby flash cards, language videos or listening to classical music by Mozart.
"There is no evidence that any of these products can improve a baby's intelligence," says Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. (2)
So what can you do to help your baby grow into his or her full brain power? Experts recommend going back to the same things that have helped babies learn for thousands of years — one-on-one time with mom and dad. (1)
Science shows that at birth, a baby’s brain has billions of nerve cells. As the baby experiences new things, these nerve cells start to make connections and pathways in the brain. As the baby’s senses provide new information, the brain starts to recognize patterns.
Each time a sensation is repeated, the pathways become stronger as the baby starts to learn and understand and even anticipate what may come next. This type of learning starts almost as soon as the baby is born, which is why a newborn can recognize his mother’s face in just a few hours.
So what can you do to help your baby learn? Experts recommend spending one-on-one time sharing your life with your baby.
Here are some examples:
1) Bond with your baby
Feeding time, diaper changes and just spending time together are all opportunities for your baby to look in your eyes, explore the texture of your skin and enjoy your loving attention. Your baby needs human interaction, not impersonal time in front of the television. So turn off the TV and spend time cuddling, singing or reading to your baby. (4)
2) Narrate your day
It may seem strange at first to describe in detail everything that you do. But talking to your baby is the best way to help him learn the patterns of language. Some experts say that describing what you are doing as you go through your day can actually boost his IQ and give him a head start when it’s time to learn reading, spelling and math. (3)
You can encourage your baby to join the conversation by leaving quiet spaces between your talking. Be sure to respond to whatever noises she makes to help her learn about the give and take of conversation. (4)
3) Talk up high
You may feel silly at first using your high voice, but it can actually help your baby learn. Drawing out your vowels and talking in a high-pitched voice can help your baby’s brain learn to distinguish between vowel sounds, which helps him learn about language. Babies also have an easier time mimicking words spoken in a high voice. (3)
4) Share facial expressions
Making funny faces may seem like play, but it is also a way to help your baby learn about communication and how to read emotion on the faces of others. This can help him later in life with teamwork and long-term relationships. (3)
5) Point things out
Literally point your finger at things as you talk about them. It may take some time before your baby learns to look where you are pointing rather than at you, but by about nine months your baby will start making the connection between the words you say and the object you are pointing to. (3)
6) Get out of the car seat
Of course, safety has to come first. But when you’re not driving, try to limit the amount of time your baby spends strapped into a seat. Whether it’s a car seat, high chair, or stroller, being strapped in means your baby can’t reach, touch or explore the world around him.(3)
7) Get the giggles
Make funny noises, blow on his toes or tickle him all over. Learning to laugh together is a step toward developing a sense of humor. Tickle games also help your baby learn to anticipate what is about to happen.(4)
Babies love to explore by touching the world around them. Instead of getting upset over a lost box of tissues, let your baby pull the tissues out of the box. Help him crumple them up and smooth them out. Or hide a small toy under a tissue so you can discover it together.
Or try taking a walk through your own home to discover the variety of textures on safe objects. Is the window glass hot or cold? Is the curtain rough or smooth? Let your baby touch her world and help her fill in the words for what she is experiencing.(4)
Turning away from the TV, whether as a learning tool or as a time-filler, is a key step in encouraging your baby’s brain development.
"Some caregivers believe that when they plunk a baby in front of a TV and she sits quietly, not making a fuss, that she is a happy and contented baby. But what many don't realize is that when babies are stressed, very often they respond by shutting down, and when they do that, learning isn't taking place," said Nina Sazer O'Donnell, director of National Strategies for Success By 6, a United Way of America learning initiative.(1)
If you have questions about your baby’s development talk to your pediatrician or health care provider.
Reviewed June 3, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) How to Raise a Smart Baby. WebMD. Colette Bouchez. Web. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
2) How Smart Is Your Baby? Parenting.com. Carolina A. Miranda. Web. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
3) 5 secrets to raising a smart baby. BabyCenter. Jessica Kelmon. Web. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
4) 50 Simples Ways to Make Your Baby Smarter. Parents.com. Heather Moors Johnson. Web. Retrieved June 1, 2016.