Top 5 Ways To Stimulate your Child’s Brain Development

Mon, 07/15/2019

On a list of questions I am often asked in the office, this tops it. What games should we play, what toys to buy, what should we be doing at each developmental stage, etc. - to help our baby reach their full potential. Below I narrowed a list down to my top 5 ways to help stimulate your child’s brain development that I share with families.

1. Give Love
I know you are thinking, “duh!”. But truly this is the most important. Countless research has demonstrated that receiving love and affection from an early age helps children become more successful as adults, better in school and more positive relationships with others (1). Most of our neuron pruning happens in those first two years of life. Children who do not receive love and affection from a care giver in these crucial stages are more likely to develop mental illness, learning disabilities and unhealthy, destructive relationships (2). The evidence does not get more obvious than this.  I also stress this in my office because the fact that you are asking me or reading this article means you are already doing it! You are loving your child unconditionally and wanting to know what more you can do. He or she is already getting the most important factor for a successful future. What does this look like? Do you comfort your child when they are hurt or sad? Give hugs and cuddles and kisses? Feed and change them when they need it? If you said, check, check, check you are already doing an amazing job.

2. Read
Early reading to your child stimulates language development and their own early reading skills (4). I do not believe you can start too early. I recommend incorporating a book into your bedtime routine early on. This can be done if you are rocking after a bath or with your night feed. We know that infants comprehension develops long before their ability to express words and being able to see and hear many different words will help bring this all together. As they get older I strongly stress active reading. What does this mean? As you are reading a story, ask - what do you think happens next? Why do you think the mommy bunny is sad? Can you find the yellow truck on the page? This takes reading and brain development up a whole notch. Now you are helping teach your child how to express emotions with words and how too critically think about the world around them.

3. Simple, Interactive Toys are Best
Avoid the flashy lights and computer screens. Instead - pull out your old Lincoln Logs, stacking blocks and giant wood puzzles. We consider how your child interacts and uses these types of toys so important, that developmental pediatric specialists will use these to assist in the diagnosis of learning disabilities. Early on toys are used to help children interact with other kids and adults to form positive relationships. Children then hone in on their physical skills through stacking blocks or large puzzles. The evidence constantly states that hands-on toys that fuel imagination and stimulate interactions with others are the best for development (5).

4. Change of Scenery
A newborn only sees about 12 inches away but by two months this grows to 18 inches. Also by 2 months your infant starts to track. They are able to lock onto your eyes and follow you as you move around. Your baby’s vision develops to light, shapes, colors and motion. At birth, vision helps them learn to recognize and identify faces. Smiling, and facial interactions with your infant will help them develop their own facial expressions. By three months of age, they can tell the difference between your happy and angry expressions. Changes in visual stimuli will also help develop their vision and support neuronal pruning in the brain. Take your child out on walks, the park or even the mall! Getting out and changing up your environment is healthy for both of you.

5. Food!
There is so much I can say here and honestly, this topic probably deserves its own book. For those of you who know me, you know how strongly I feel about the power of diet but this starts early on. As infants, encouraging your child to us their hands and explore different textures helps stimulate their mind. As they get older, food can have a powerful impact on their focus and energy levels. See my monthly Powers of Diet articles for details but in general, hi-protein, low-sugar breakfast is key. Some kids tend to be more sensitive to some foods such as dairy or processed foods (nitrates). I often recommend experimenting with decreasing or eliminating some of these triggers from a diet to see if there is a change in their focus or behavior.

References for Further Reading
 1. Winston, Robert, Chicott, Rebecca. The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children. London J Prim Care (Abingdon). 2016; 8(1): 12–14.
2. Masilko, J. Kubzansky, L, Lipsitt L, Burka, SL. Mother’s affection at 8 months predicts emotional distress in adulthood. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Jul; 65(7): 621–625. Published online 2010 Jul 26
3. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Supporting the Parents of Young Children; Breiner H, Ford M, Gadsden VL, editors.
Washington (DC): ; 2016 Nov 2.
4. Moss, JF. The bedtime story and language development. Am J Dis Child. 1976 Feb; 130(2): 180-2.
5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Ignore the Flashing Screens: The Best Toys Go Back to the Basic. December 3, 2018.
6. Healey, Aleeya, Mendelsohn, Alan. Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era. American Academy of Pediatrics. Vol 143. Jan 1 2019.