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What role do parents play in a baby’s brain development?

Mother and Father look up toward baby being held up in the air

Parents are another important part of the developmental equation. Infants prefer human stimuli—your face, voice, touch, and even smell—over everything else.

They innately orient to people’s faces and would rather listen to a speech or singing than any other kind of sound.

Just as newborn babies are born with a set of very useful instincts for surviving and orienting to their new environment, parents are equally programmed to love and respond to our babies’ cues. Most adults (and children) find infants irresistible, and instinctively want to nurture and protect them. It is certainly no accident that the affection most parents feel toward their babies and the kind of attention we most want to shower them with—touching, holding, comforting, rocking, singing and talking to—provide precisely the best kind of stimulation for their growing brains. Because brain development is so heavily dependent on early experience, most babies will receive the right kind of nurturing from their earliest days, through our loving urges and parenting instincts.

In spite of all the recent hype about “making your baby smarter,” scientists have not discovered any special tricks for enhancing the natural wiring phase in children’s brain development. Normal, loving, responsive caregiving seems to provide babies with the ideal environment for encouraging their own exploration, which is always the best route to learning.

The one form of stimulation that has been proven to make a difference is language: infants and children who are conversed with, read to, and otherwise engaged in lots of verbal interaction show somewhat more advanced linguistic skills than children who are not as verbally engaged by their caregivers. Because language is fundamental to most of the rest of cognitive development, this simple action—talking and listening to your child—is one of the best ways to make the most of his or her critical brain-building years.


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