The first year of a baby’s life can be full of sleepless nights, teething and lots of laundry. The mantra of year one development for many parents is ‘sleep, eat, poop’. It is a year of huge changes for everyone in the family.
While you may see an adorable little baby or a helpless infant that requires constant care and attention, in reality your little cutie houses an amazing little ‘super-power’ brain that started work the day she was born.
Baby brains are little dynamos. They decipher language sounds with amazing capabilities that will literally disappear when their brains move on to other areas of development. A baby’s brain is working overtime as they listen to every word that they hear. They are comparing and contrasting all the language sounds in their environment. The brain is deciding what is important and what is not.
One requirement in this process is the voices must come from real people – canned voices from video or recordings do not have the same impact. Babies respond best to the gentle communication of a loving parent providing a steady stream of singing, talking, reading, and a narrative of daily life.
In the first year of life parents provide the foundation for their child’s cognitive and language development. Research that measures brain responses supports this.*
In families that live with significant financial struggles or other factors that create a high-stress home environment, children are often not processing enough language. In a high-stress home there can be less language directed at our babies and less variety in the language babies hear during the course of their day. Sometimes negativity and tension present in the language that babies hear in their environment can affect their ability to respond to it since there is an emotional component in a child’s ability to respond to and process language. All of these factors affect how the baby’s brain develops and how much language they are able to process.
As a parent, how can you have the most impact on your baby’s brain? Communicate! Parents have the power to help their child’s brain develop to its optimal potential in that first year. You don’t need a fancy tech device or expensive program. You just need to make an investment of time and talking.
About the author: Cindy Sommerfeld is a speech language pathologist and children’s book author. Her “StoryLines” ArtPrize entry will be featured at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s downtown Grand Rapids headquarters at 86 Monroe Center NW Sept. 21 through Oct. 9.
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