A baby’s brain development is not solely defined by genetics (nature) but also by the environment (nurture). How a child is nurtured is equally as important as the child’s genes.
The most rapid brain growth and development occurs in the first 1000 days of life. Experiences can shape the process that determines whether a child’s brain will provide a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behavior and health.
Below are some simple tips of ensuring optimal environment or experience for your child:
1) Allowing for free or unstructured play
Play is a natural way to learn. Play influences the development in a holistic way. It is the chief vehicle for the development of imagination and intelligence, language, social skills, and perceptual-motor abilities in infants and young children.
2) Story telling or reading
Reading to your child from infancy stimulates language and cognitive skills, builds motivation, curiosity, and memory. Reading is to the brain what exercise is to the body. A reading or listening brain is actively growing, changing, and making new connections in children. Reading also makes children emotionally intelligent. The reading process itself plays an important social function.
3) Doing simple household chores
Involving the kids with household chores engages them in activities that promote movement-cued development of the brain. This includes big motor tasks such as carrying a pitcher of water or tray of food, organizing the groceries, or sweeping the floor. Other activities such as folding their own clothes and using the clothespin to secure the laundry are examples of fine motor skills which toddlers need before they actually learn how to write.
4) Ensuring adequate sleep
- Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
- Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours.
Adequate sleep duration for age on a regular basis improves attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and physical health. Poor sleep habits are associated with an increase in injuries, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience increased risk of self-harm. Establishing a bedtime routine is important in ensuring infants and young children get adequate sleep each night.
5) Maintaining regular physical activity
We all know physical activity has many known benefits, and it also appears that regular physical activity benefits the growing brain. Playing a sport and participating in group games foster teamwork, discipline and resilience. Physical activity and fitness can also benefit academic performance.
6) Giving hugs and cuddles
Parents and caregivers play a very important role in promoting positive ways to nurture brain development. Parents should create a safe, consistent environment to ensure that children know they're physically and emotionally protected. Give your children hugs and cuddles anytime, and in times when they need it most (e.g. during a tantrum). This way, you create a safe place for them emotionally. Ask for free hugs from your children when you feel low or happy, and tell them how you feel.
7) Eating a balanced and nutritious diet
Nutrition plays a pivotal role during the development of the brain. Nutrients can impact the brain in many ways, supporting structural brain components, aiding specific brain functions, and providing energy for structure and functions. Ensure you provide a colorful plate daily to guarantee that appropriate and adequate amounts vitamins and minerals sourced naturally from vegetables and fruits are included.
8) Visiting your pediatrician regularly
Healthy body, healthy brain. Make sure you don’t miss your regular schedule of well child consults with your pediatrician and ensure shots (vaccination) are given on time. Your child`s pediatrician has an important role of ensuring that the physical, mental, developmental and behavioral health is on track.
9) Learning a musical instrument
Learning to play a musical instrument can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills. Playing an instrument makes you use both sides of your brain, which strengthens memory power.
10) Cooking a dish or baking a simple pastry
In preparing a dish, a child is allowed to apply their knowledge by counting, measuring and following a sequence or direction. It enhances their problem-solving skills and creativity. Following recipes is also another way to strengthen their comprehensive skills and understand the different process like mixing or blending. Cooking is like a science experiment at home. Children learn and practice basic science concepts such as evaporation and melting.
1) Csikszentmihalyi. An Exploratory Model of Play. American Anthropologist. 1971
2) Paruthi S et al. Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2016
3) Cooking with Preschoolers. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cooking-preschool.html
4) Musical benefits. https://www.learningpotential.gov.au/articles/musical-benefits
About The Expert
LOUDELLA V. CALOTES-CASTILLO, Child Neurologist
Dr. Louddie is active in both academe and clinical practice. She believes in work/life integration and is unceasingly learning and re-learning the amazing brain from her four little rascals and her extended children (her patients).
She completed her Pediatric Residency and Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital. She took further specialty training in Neuromuscular diseases in children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne Australia and completed a Summer School of Myology at the Institut de Myologie, Pitie-Salpetriere, Paris France.
She is currently a Clinical Associate Professor and an attending physician of the Division of Pediatric Neurology, University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital. She is also a guest faculty of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health where she teaches both basic and clinical neurosciences. She has served as a Board of Trustee of the Child Neurology Society of the Philippines from 2017-2018.
Dr. Louddie is affiliated with various hospitals such as The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center - Global City, ManilaMed, and National Children’s Hospital. In MedMom – Institute of Human Development, as their child neurology consultant, she collaborates with other medical specialists and allied health professionals in the care of children with special needs. She has empowered the Muscular Dystrophy Association of the Philippines (MDAP) as they launched the First Muscular Dystrophy Run in the Philippines.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.