By Amy Susman-Stillman, Ph.D.
Director of Applied Research and Training
Center for Early Education and Development, University of Minnesota
New information about the brain development of infants and toddlers has some parents wondering what they should do to promote their baby's healthy brain development. What is the best food? Should I buy baby videos? Use flashcards? If I don't do everything possible before my baby turns three, have I missed the "window of opportunity?"
Brain development is a part of healthy child development. The overall things you do to promote a happy and healthy child are the same things that support healthy brain development.
Keep your baby healthy with regular checkups, immunizations and screenings from your health care provider. Early brain development is rapid, and the perceptual systems (e.g., vision, hearing) are coming online quickly. If there is any indication your baby might have a problem in these areas, early intervention is recommended to minimize those problems before brain patterns are set and harder to change. Feed them healthy food, and make sure they have breast milk, fortified formula or whole milk as those drinks contain the iron and fats that a baby's developing brain needs.
Snuggle and cuddle your baby. Your love, comfort and reassurance help babies learn that they can trust the world around them. In fact, comforting babies when they are stressed is one of the first ways they learn to cope with stress. Research shows that babies who receive warm, supportive care are better able to handle everyday stresses than babies who receive erratic or insensitive care.
Play with your baby! Babies and their brains learn best through active playing-with you. There is no one game or activity that "builds the best brain." Rather, activities that your baby enjoys and that you enjoy together-talking, singing, laughing, moving-will do the most to encourage your baby's curiosity and sense of excitement about learning.