Babies’ Brains – What Parents Should Know

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Interesting morsels that parents should know about baby brains…

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

1. Babies are born too early

When humans first evolved and began to walk on two legs, our pelvis became narrower. As we got smarter, our brains also increased in size. A narrower pelvis and a bigger head meant that babies had to be evicted from the womb “about three months before they are fully mature” or they would not be able to get through the birth canal safely. When babies are born, their brains are only a quarter the size of an adult brain. As such, babies behave like an external foetus at birth and require a fourth trimester outside the womb. During this time, they are highly needy, yet devoid of social skills.

2. Parents’ responses wire their baby’s brains

It is important to respond promptly to a baby’s needs. Fears that this would be spoiling the baby are unfounded. At this stage, your baby’s prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning – is poorly developed, therefore, they cannot be disciplined or spoiled. Babies are learning about hunger, loneliness, discomfort, and fatigue. They are also learning about having these pains relieved by their caregivers.

3. Silly faces and sounds are important

“Parentese, or baby talk, is another seemingly instinctual response that researchers have found is critical to infant development. Its musicality and exaggerated, slow structure emphasizes critical components of a language, helping a baby grasp words.”

Lise Eliot, neuroscientist and author of What’s Going on in There?

Parentese is the sing-song voice that most adults instinctively use when communicating with infants. Parentese helps to stimulate your baby’s language processing areas of the brain and extend your baby’s attention span.

Photo by Ana Tablas on Unsplash

4. Baby brains grow very rapidly

At birth, your baby’s brain resembles an ape more than it does the adult brain. After birth, your baby’s brain will grow rapidly, reaching 60 percent of its adult size by the time your baby turns one. By the time your baby is in kindergarten, her brain will have reached its full size. Despite that, the brain does not finish developing until your child is 25 years old.

5. Baby brains are more like lanterns, whereas adult brains are more like a torchlight

Baby brains have more connections and less inhibition than adults. This is why they are usually aware of everything around them. It is the brain’s biological way of ensuring that a baby learns all that is essential for survival. This is also the reason why babies can learn even when they do not appear to be paying attention. Pamela Hickein, Right Brain Kids, explains that there three ways to learn – directional learning, peripheral learning, and 360 degree learning. Only babies and young children are capable of all three, while adults are directional learners.

As babies mature, their brains will prune the unused connections and strengthened the important connections. While this process helps them find order in their world, it also reduces the ability to innovate and make breakthroughs. Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, believes that it is the ability to think like an infant that makes people creative.

6. Babbling signals learning

When babies start babbling, they are indicating an interest to learn. Talking to babies makes them smarter, therefore it is important to interact with your baby’s babbling.

7. Optimal level of responsiveness for maximum development

Most parents respond to about 50 to 60% of a baby’s babbling. You can improve your baby’s language development by responding up to 80% of babbling. It is important not to respond to every sound because above 80%, learning declines.

Parents also naturally “raise the babble bar,” by slowly responding less to sounds they have heard a baby make many times (like “eh”), but excitedly repeating a new sound that comes closer to a word (such as “da”.)” This helps babies piece together sounds that are important and thus develop language skills.

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The responsiveness is fairly instinctive since parents will generally respond less to sounds they have heard a lot of, but will be more excited about a new sound that is similar to a word. This level of responsiveness from parents helps babies identify the important sounds from the unimportant sounds.

8. TV doesn’t help development

Watching TV doesn’t help a baby’s development because babies need interaction to learn. Babies will only respond to things that respond to them. So if you want your baby to learn, you have to interact with your baby.

9. Baby brains can be overwhelmed

Baby brains are easily overwhelmed. It is important not only to stimulate your baby’s learning but also to recognise when your baby needs a break. To help your baby calm down, rocking, dimming the lights, or swaddling can help. For babies 12 months and older, learning to calm down and sleep may enhance their skill development.

10.Babies don’t respond to sounds like adults do

Children find it harder to distinguish voices from background noise which is why they don’t necessarily respond to adults talking to them. Think about those times you call your child to come off the playground but she ignores you.

It is important not to have music or TV constantly running in the background because it can interfere with their ability to distinguish the voices around them. If they can’t hear well, it will impact their language development.

11. Babies need more than Mom and Dad

“According to research presented in the journal Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development in 1995, children seem to do best when they have at least three adults who consistently send the message: Hey kid, I got you.”

It is important for babies to spend time with a non-parental caregiver. It may be a grandparent, an aunt, a family friend, or a teacher.

Photo by Khoa Pham on Unsplash

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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