What does a baby’s brain need?
Of course, for a baby’s overall healthy growth, she needs nourishment, safety, warmth and sleep. But a baby’s relationship with her primary caregivers has the biggest effect on how her brain develops.
Face-to-face interaction—making eye contact with baby while you talk to and smile at her—will help her focus attention and stimulate her vision and hearing as she enjoys getting to know you. Your baby will thrive in her relationship to you; this attachment is critical for her well-being.
“One of the biggest recommendations for parents of infants is to respond to them consistently and warmly every time they cry,” says Diane Bales, Ph.D., associate professor and human development specialist at the University of Georgia. “Interaction with people is crucial to brain development.
It’s not possible to spoil an infant by picking him up, comforting him and taking care of his physical and emotional needs. A baby whose parents respond consistently learns that the world is trustworthy. This helps build a strong, secure attachment between baby and parents. Secure attachments, in turn, lead to more independence and better academic and social skills as children get older.”
The strength of this very early attachment has a huge effect on a child’s later life. Children who were raised in orphanages by numerous caretakers sometimes have severe social difficulty later in life.
“A child who has no early attachment to one or two adults will walk off with anyone who smiles at him,” says Robin Blitz, M.D., of the Arizona Child Study Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, who works with adopted children and their families. “Kids with attachment disorders also don’t have a lot of remorse if they do something that hurts another person.”
Parents of adopted children from orphanages sometimes have to work very hard to create a strong bond when it did not happen in the child’s first years.
NEXT: The power of reading