Raising a Smart Baby: How to Build Your Child’s Brain Power

You don’t need special training or tools to do this. Your baby just needs you and the world around them to learn! As you think about how to give your child their very best start, consider the following:

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Take care of yourself during pregnancy

Your baby’s brain development starts while they are still in the womb. Proper nutrition and avoiding things like smoking and drug or alcohol use can help your child to reach their full potential.

Regular healthcare during pregnancy can help to prevent complications and premature or preterm deliveries that can impact a baby’s brain.

Address your baby’s needs

You may have heard about psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of his pyramid are things like food, water, and shelter. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization.

The idea behind the pyramid is that in order to achieve one’s highest potential and purpose, lower level needs must be met.

This also applies to your baby. In order to achieve their optimal development, they need to be fed, clean, and warm. Until these basic needs are met, they can not achieve their fullest potential, so time spent feeding or cuddling them in preparation to sleep is time well spent.

Play together

Taking time to play with your child can help build a bond between you that sets a foundation for other relationships. Playing offers opportunities to practice important social-emotional, communication, and cognitive skills. It’s important not to neglect this special time, even with the youngest newborns.

Encourage good sleep

Sleep is vital at all ages for consolidating memories (helping us to integrate our experiences and gaining more knowledge), but it is especially essential for infants as their brains continue to grow and process information.

Provide nutritious options

It’s essential for optimal brain development that your baby gets proper nutrients. In the first year of life, the majority of those nutrients will be coming from breast milk or formula. You’ll want to make sure that your little one is drinking frequently and getting enough.

As they transition to solid foods, you’ll want to make sure they’re getting a rainbow of colors and a variety of food groups on their plates to feed their bodies.

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Read together

Believe it or not, you might want to read out loud to your baby even before they’re born. While this won’t impact their development, it will establish a pattern of reading together that can have benefits once they’re out of the belly and in your arms.

Books offer language learning opportunities, the chance to bond with caregivers, and exposure to things that a child may not be able to physically see.

Remember, the interaction between you and your child is an important part of what makes books so educationally valuable. Consider combining books with cuddles, songs, and silliness for some great brain growth.

Talk to your child

Language matters! The number of words you expose your child to impacts their vocabulary, and research has shown that speaking frequently with your child also can increase nonverbal abilities like reasoning and understanding numbers.

By making an effort to engage in positive conversations frequently with your child, overall development is likely to improve. (Better behavior, less anxiety, and strong self-confidence can all grow out of conversations.)

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Also, don’t forget to sing together and use music as another form of language. This is also linked to brain development.

Provide developmentally appropriate toys

Toys can help your child to master new skills. By choosing developmentally appropriate toys, you can offer your little one a reasonable challenge.

Mastering different ways to play with their toys can bring self-confidence, spatial awareness, and cognitive development. A ton of toys are not needed if the ones available encourage learning and growth.

Avoid screen time

Numerous studies have linked screen time in young children to negatively impacted brain development.

As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended in 2016 that children under the age of 18 months avoid screen time other than video chatting. After 18 months, the AAP recommends that only high quality programming be shown.

Between 2 to 5 years of age, it is suggested to limit screen time to a maximum of 1 hour per day of this high quality programming (shown with an adult present to provide real world connections and help your child understand what they are seeing.)

Stay active

Being active is important for mental and not just physical health. Physical activity releases endorphins, which can help fight feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also build self-confidence, increase self-esteem, and build cognitive skills.

Manage your expectations

Remember that growth takes time. Don’t forget to set realistic expectations based on generally expected milestones and celebrate even small accomplishments along the way.

Focus on exploration over memorization

While it’s very cool to see a toddler recite state capitals or multiplication facts, don’t get too focused on memorization as a sign of smarts.

Particularly in the early months and years, your child needs to spend lots of time working on their gross and fine motor skills. Developing these skills requires the opportunity to explore, touch, and move.

Even as your child ages, many words and facts can be learned in real world contexts. Offering this context can help with retention of information.

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