Baby Brain Connection

                   Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy


                             Playing & Interacting


Background information for "Playing & Interacting"

“Our children are our future, and their lives are shaped by our caring presence in their worlds. Whether we are parents or teachers, grandparents, or neighbors, the climate we create of compassion and kindness is the garden in which the circuits of the child’s social brain grow. " (Daniel Siegel) 

​Nurturing and stable relationships with caring adults are essential to healthy human development beginning from birth.
These early and secure attachments contribute to the growth of a broad range of competencies, including: a love of learning, a comfortable sense of oneself, positive social skills, multiple successful relationships at later ages,and a sophisticated understanding of emotions, commitment, morality, and other aspects of human relationships. Stated simply, establishing successful relationships with adults and other children provides a foundation of capacities that children will use for a lifetime. 

​Parents and their caregivers need to provide a consistent safe and caring environment in which children can live, learn and thrive. With he birth of a new baby, both parents and infants and parents teach each other and learn how loving connections are made. Simple things like touching, talking with, or cooing to babies actually affect how their brains develop and how babies will handle stress and build relationships later on in life. “Experiences with parents help the brain get organized,” Dr. Danielle Z. Kassow of the Seattle-based Talaris Research Institute, says.“Any experiences that are loving, warm, nurturing such as singing, playing or reading together  affect the wiring of the brain.” 

Babies need lots of direct connections and interactions with their parents and caregivers. They need touch just like they need food. The more you touch, hold and respond to your baby, the healthier, happier and smarter he’ll be. Touch helps his brain develop. It releases soothing hormones in him—and in you. Hold your baby close as often as possible. (If using a baby carrier, follow the instructions carefully.) And, be sure to look into your baby’s eyes often, which helps build a loving connection between you.

​The“serve and return” interaction between parent and baby builds and strengthens brain architecture. This describes the connections made when young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions,and gestures and adults then respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back at their babies. These interactions also create relationships in which the baby’s experiences are affirmed and new abilities are nurtured.Children who have healthy relationships with their primary caregivers are more likely to develop insights into other people’s feelings, needs, and thoughts,which form a foundation for cooperative interactions with others and development of an emerging conscience. Sensitive and responsive parent-child relationships also are associated with stronger cognitive skills in young children and enhanced social competence and work skills later in school. Thus, there is a very important connection between social/emotional development and intellectual growth. Having a quality home environment that includes toys, activities, and interactions with family members is also strongly related to early cognitive and language development, performance on IQ testing, and later achievement in school.” ("Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships," National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, Working Paper #1, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University)

Communication is not simply about sounds.  Gestures also matter. Researcher Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, found a direct correlation between parents gesturing to their kids in infancy and the child’s later vocabulary. Cooing, reading, making music together, making silly faces, and all those other fun things you do with children help with their development. In fact, at this age, all play is learning. Symbolic play, such as pretending to drink imaginary juice, also increases cognitive skills and later language development, according to a 1997 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development. There’s no need to spend a fortune on educational toys. When it comes to helping young children develop language and communication skills, parents can be the best toys in the room.”

Babies communicate.  Over time, you’ll learn his language. When your baby coos, he’s asking you to chat. When he cries, he’s asking you to feed him, keep him warm,change him or hold him—or he’s telling you he’s sick or in pain. He is saying ‘stop what you’re doing’ if he turns away from you, cries, squirms,opens and closes his hands, pushes you, or flails his arms. Watch your baby to see the state he’s in and approach him in the same way. If he’s alert and active, approach him in a playful way. If he’s quiet or upset, approach him quietly. If he startles when you speak, try a gentler way of speaking. When you respond, include positive words. Your baby may not understand the words, but he will understand the tone of your voice. 

Brain research says that the developing brain tends to pay attention to one thing at a time. Sometimes we over stimulate our babies.  Your baby will give you signs such as yawning, closing his eyes, crying, or clasping his hands together. If your baby seems to be over stimulated, pick him up, speak softly, and hold him close in order to reduce his stress.

As your baby grows, you’ll get to know his special personality: what he likes to play with; how she calms herself. Let those who watch your baby for you know what your baby likes and dislikes. (Rando)

Children learn about feelings from their parents. Even before a baby fully understands your words, he is learning about the world from them. Expressive or cautious looks and an enthusiastic tone will guide, warn,and comfort him. As a baby grows, he develops the ability to both read the expressions and emotions on his parent’s face. He is guided by emotional expressions.

A baby learns by listening to the tone of his parent’s voice. Even if a baby doesn’t understand your words, he does understand the feeling communicated through your tone. He understands what certain phrases and tones imply, like“IT’S OK to play with that” and “DON’T do that!” He makes decisions - what to do - or not do – next - based on your expressions, tone and words. With your encouragement or caution, your baby learns how to navigate his world. 

You can help your baby learn by being expressive! Be enthusiastic! Babies love it — and you will love it too. Speak to your child in a positive way.Don’t be embarrassed to expressively say, “ROLL THE BALL TO ME!” or when offering a warning, “CAREFUL, that coffee is very HOT!”  Match your face to your feelings. Express your feelings clearly, so your face, words, and tone communicate what you mean. Your baby will understand you best when your facial expression, tone of voice and actions all match.

Babies are natural copycats. They are born with a natural ability to copy basic facial expressions. So when you smile, your baby might smile too. If you stick your tongue out, your baby might stick out his tongue in return. Babies learn a lot by watching what you do and then trying it themselves, whether it’s positive or negative. So it’s really important to watch what you do. Do you yell when you’re stuck in traffic? Do you blame others when you get frustrated with yourself? Whatever you do, your baby is probably learning something from you, her most important teacher. By age one, babies can remember and imitate actions they observed a month ago from family members and even from everyone he meets. Your baby might even copy what she sees on TV.  Research shows that children under the age of two are on average are exposed to at least two hours a day of TV. A study reveals that even toddlers 14- to 24-months-old will copy simple actions they see on TV, which means that any TV exposure should be monitored for content (and less time watching).

Babies are needy, and often it is hard for parents to respond to what seems as constant demands. You cannot“spoil” a baby. Answer your baby and you show her the world is a safe place.If she cries repeatedly and you don’t answer, the stress will affect her now and in the long term.  A baby who never cries has learned that what she does doesn’t matter to anyone.A healthy baby knows she matters; her parents show her she does by responding to her. Also, don’t hit or yell at a baby. Research shows that children who are harshly disciplined actually behave worse! Respond in calm, loving ways and you’ll help her brain develop in a healthy way. This will make things easier for you later. Finally,never, ever, shake a baby because it can cause permanent brain damage and sometimes death.If you feel you might lose control, leave the baby in her crib and get help right away! Ask for help—it shows you care enough to be a good parent.

Parents may experience some “bumps in the road.” If you just can’t seem to smile, play with, or respond to your baby, you could be suffering from depression. If it lasts over two weeks, get professional help—for your health and your baby’s. Counseling may help to make sense of things, gain control over your actions and heal, and seek suggestions for better and more effective ways to parent your child. A baby can read a lack of interest in your voice, body movements, and expressions. A repeated lack of interest from you can affect your baby’s development. Sometimes a main caregiver needs a break and can workout some time with a spouse or other parent to trade childcare in order to get time for oneself. Networking with other parents is also very helpful to share resources and strategies for parenting. If you are having a hard time adjusting to being a parent, get help from family, friends, neighbors or members of your church—or call a local parenting hot line.

Sometimes parents have experienced very little parenting for early childhood literacy in their own lives.  They may tend to parent in similar ways to how they were raised. Through research and observation, we now know the importance of touching, cuddling, talking, playing and interacting, and reading, all of which impact children at a very young age. Parents can make choices to play a new and different parenting role. There are many resources available in local health clinics, home visitors, neighborhood libraries, and other parental providers.

Children who have a greater number of one-to-one conversations, positive interactions, and whose parents regularly read to them are going to be able to read much easier and have greater academic and  social success in school and life than children who do not have these experiences. Play and interact, and then play and interact some more.