Raising My Baby to His Full Potential
The Best Gifts are Still Free
Every parent wants to provide the best for their child. Advertisers explote that desire by telling us that our children need the most expensive toys, the most expensive education, the most expensive learning tools on the market today. However, it has been my experience that the best gifts are still free.
Children of previous generations learned in school without all the latest gimicks and expensive teaching toys. In fact, I would contend that they learned better than our children today. To be considered educated a person used to be required to speak Latin. Today most children barely speak one language with proficiency.
So, what was the secret of those earlier generations? A stable enviornment with a nurturing constant guardian and time and space to discover their world and themselves.
The research regarding the importance of environment, a nurturing caregiver and loving touch to child development is piling up. When John Bowlby first concluded "the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment" it was considered controversial. However, further research has made his findings the view of today.
René Spitz was the first to show systematically that social interactions with other humans was essential for children's development. He observed children raised in low staffed orphanages and children raised by incarcerated mothers. Though the state of development between the two groups was similar at age four months by one year of age those without a mother lagged badly behind the other children. They were less playful, less curious and more subject to infection.
Harry Harlow's experiments with rhesus monkeys demonstrated that the need for affection in babies was stronger than the need for food or heat.
This affectionate touching is also needed by your child. According to the article Brian Development: What We Know About How Children Learn "Loving interactions with caring adults strongly stimulate a child's brain, causing synapses to grow and existing connections to get stronger." The book Environmental Influences on Neural Plasticity, the Limbic System, Emotional Development and Attachment claims that the first three years of life are a critical time for the development of those connections. In fact the book claims that if denied sufficient stimulation these nuclei may atrophy, develop seizure-like activity or maintain or form abnormal synaptic interconnections, resulting in social withdrawal, pathological shyness, explosive and inappropriate emotionality, and an inability to form normal emotional attachments.
A recent article in the New York Times "The Experience of Touch: Research Points to a Critical Role" points to the importance that touch alone play in child development. According to the article, chemicals released in the absence of physical touch trigger a slowing of the infant's metabolism and thus a lowering of its need for nourishment. Such a response increases an infants survival if separated from its mother, but in the long term such a response is detrimental to the infant's development.
Research by Theodore Wacks, a psychologist at Purdue, showed that more skin-to-skin contact for infants resulted in a mental development advantage in the first six months of life. Kathryn Barnard, a professor of nursing at the University of Washington, further concluded that infants that are held more showed superior development eight years later. She claims, ''Body contact is very beneficial between parents and children right up to adolescence.'' Dr. Sandra Weiss, a professor in the department of mental health and community nursing at the University of California medical school at San Francisco, found that even rough-housing, as a form of touching, produced in children a positive feeling about themselves and a more accurate sense of their bodies.
The book From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development also concludes that "children grow and thrive in the context of close and dependable relationships that provide love with nurturance, security, responsive interaction, and encouragement for exploration".
From conception to kindergarten your child's development is proceeding at a pace that exceeds any other stage in life. The book suggest you foster the development of curiosity, self-direction, persistence in learning situations, the ability to cooperate, demonstrate caring, resolve conflict with peers, and the capacity to experience the enhanced motivation associated with feeling competent and loved.
The book Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention says that your child's brain is more densely wired between ages 3 and 10 than at any other time. Thus this is a critical time for language development and the process that facilitate logical thinking. However, videos and cds do not encourage language acquisition. Children need verbal interaction with their caregivers.
The research agrees what children need to reach their potential is a stable, loving, relationship with a consistent caregiver.
The Work of Dr.John Bowlb
Harry Harlow & Rhesus Monkey
What about Education?
All this is not to say that education does not play a role in our children reaching their potential. In fact, the book Long-term effects of earlychildhood programs on cognitive and school outcomes concluded that early childhood programs can produce short-term benefits for children on intelligence quotient and long term benefits for school outcomes. However, according to Handbook of EarlyChildhood Intervention the programs that achieved success were not narrowly focused. Comprehensive, broad-based programs with strong parental involvement components are the best choice.
However, I mentioned education last because I believe our culture has a tendency to focus on education to the determent of other aspects of childhood development like free play and parental involvement. Remember your child has all the time in the world to become educated but only a limited time to be a child. Let him enjoy that time.