When it comes to the mental development of your baby, every activity counts


An infant’s environment has a significant effect on brain development; it’s during this early stage of brain growth that determines how well one thinks and learns, not just during childhood but also in the long run, as adults.

The brain’s “wiring system” is developed in the first years of a baby’s life. Brain activities create tiny electrical connections called synapses, and the amount of stimulation an infant receives directly affects how many synapses are formed. Repetitive and consistent stimulation strengthens these connections and makes them permanent. Those connections that don’t get used may drop away.

That consistent stimulation with our developing infant is the very thing parents need to nurture in order to raise their children to be physically healthy and emotionally stable. Thankfully, science has paved the way for us to understand the blueprint of our own nature, particularly the use of our basic senses to convey and receive signals of emotion.

There are a lot of things you can do to assist in the intellectual development of your infant. It doesn’t have to be limited to holding, touching and cuddling.

Below are some things that you can do, according to the California Childcare Health Program, to stimulate your baby’s brain and ultimately enhance his or her intellectual capacity.

Love and affection are very real needs. A young infant is incapable of trying to manipulate or control you. They simply have a biological need for your love, including your tender and responsive attention and affection. This unconditional love allows for the creation of strong self-esteem and increased development of brain circuitry.

Talk and sing to the infant, especially with a kind voice, a wide range of vocabulary, and a lot of expression. For example, give a running commentary on what you are doing as you make a meal, fold laundry, or write out a shopping list. Your conversations, stories and songs are building their vocabulary, demonstrating emotions, modeling ways to act, and even teaching problem-solving skills.

Respond to the infant’s requests without hesitation. You will not spoil them. You will not only be responding to their immediate needs, but teaching them that they can communicate with others and their needs can be met, giving them a strong sense of trust and emotional stability, as well as teaching them that they are important and worthy of your attention.

Encourage imitation. The infant is constantly analyzing you and figuring out ways to mimic your voice and facial expressions as a means of learning about the world around them. Respond to them when they imitate others by showing your delight with their squeals, giggles, chortles and gurgles.

Let the infant experience different surroundings by taking them on field trips: to the grocery store, the mall or the park. Put them in a body carrier and visit area museums, aquariums, zoos and farmer’s markets. By doing so you are providing an exciting adventure for them as they are experiencing new sights, smells, sounds and sensations. Every outing is enriching!

Let the infant explore different textures and temperatures (not too extreme). Provide a safe environment for exploration, as they need time to discover things for themselves.

Read books. Expose the infant early to the world of literacy. Even though they cannot follow the story, they will love the pictures and the sound of your voice —plus it’s a great way to connect with each other and strengthen emotional attachment.

Play music, as it heightens and delights the infant’s senses. Try singing or playing lullabies and songs that repeat patterns and rhythms. Try dancing to music.

Touch the infant. Gently hold, cuddle and rock an infant, watching for what they like best. Keep in mind that bathing, diapering and feeding are opportunities for nurturing touches and eye contact. Avoid leaving an infant for long periods of time in a swing or infant seat.

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