…in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always. (Urie Bronfenbrenner, a founder of Head Start)
The “serve and return” interaction between parent and baby – in which young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions, and gestures and adults respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back at them – builds and strengthens brain architecture and creates a relationship in which the baby’s experiences are affirmed and new abilities are nurtured.
In humans, these experiences begin before your baby is born, as he or she senses and responds to the environment of the womb. This early experience influences the basic architecture of brain circuits that mature at this early stage.
After birth, experience plays an increasingly important role in shaping the brain. It can even change a baby’s genetics! How Early Experiences Get Into the Body:A Biodevelopmental Framework
Babies as young as 4 months are able to distinguish different emotions in adults. Rutgers researchers used the game of peekaboo to act out anger, fear, and sadness for the babies and found that they reacted differently to each one. For example, over the course of the experiment the infants paid more attention in response to anger and avoided looking when sadness was conveyed. “These patterns suggest that the babies are sensitive to the meaning of each expression,” according to Diane Montague, Ph.D., study researcher and currently an assistant professor of psychology at La Salle University in Philadelphia.
The Questions you Answer for your Baby
- Do people respond to me?
- Can I depend on other people when I need them?
- Am I important to others?
- Am I competent?
- How should I behave?
- Do people enjoy being with me?
- What should I be afraid of?
- Is it safe for me to show how I feel?
- What things interest me?
Brain research is also showing us that our babies teach us a lot about how to love, too. When we smile at a baby, the baby’s prefrontal cortex lights up like fireworks. Guess what? When the baby smiles at us, we get fireworks too. That’s probably a part of what makes babies so addictive!
- Play with your baby – use your body to play, too! Cuddling and massaging – silly songs, kisses – all help your baby to be in a state where they are ready to learn about relationships and their own inner world.
- Love on her/him – never be afraid to respond to you baby’s cries and help them get back to a feeling of security.
- Touch – cheek to cheek, massage, “grooming!” are all an important part of being a baby mammal.
- Eye contact – “the window of the soul”! – helps your baby to see how much you love them.
- Show her the world – from the safety of your arms
- Respect who he or she is – help them grow into the person they are uniquely meant to be