A Parent’s Influence On Their Child’s Developing Brain

By Michele Eathorne

Brain development has been a hot topic in recent years within the field of early childhood development. Recently when I was reading the article "Building the Brain" by Katherine Stevens, I discovered new facts about babies' brain development that I wasn't aware of  21 years ago when my daughter was born.  

As a parent, I naturally sang lullabies to my daughter, read books to her, and talked to her as I provided her care. I didn't realize just how important these responsive and attentive child-adult interactions were. According to Stevens, during the first 1,000 days of a child's life, over 70 neural connections are formed every second, shaping the architecture of a young child’s brain. Those connections are largely driven by a child’s interactions with parents, and other caretakers, in the very first months of life and are just recently being understood.  Again, as the old adage says, parents are their child’s first and most important teachers! 

But do parents know how significant their role is in their children's brain development? I certainly did not.  Parents, across all socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups, are deeply committed to parenting well. Large percentages of parents underestimate the full scope of how early their children are aware of and impacted by interactions with adult caretakers and what’s going around them, both positive and negative (Stevens, 2017). 

Here is a sample of beliefs that were addressed from a survey conducted by Zero to Three and the Bezos Family Foundation:

  • Many parents believe that reading aloud to children doesn’t have an impact until they're 2 years old but in fact, reading aloud to a child builds future language skills starting at 6 months.
  • Many parents believe that talking to children doesn’t matter until 3 months or older and some don’t think it matters until they are 1 years old when in fact, talking to a child supports growing language skills starting at birth.
  • Many parents think children can only experience fear and sadness starting at age 1 to 2 years but in fact, infants can experience feelings like fear and sadness starting at age 3 to 5 months. Children are affected also by parent’s moods and can sense if they’re angry or sad starting around 3 months of age. 
  • Children are affected by shouting in the home, even when they’re asleep, starting at 6 months and that a child’s brain development is significantly affected by witnessing repeated violence beginning at 6 months.

Based on these findings, The Bezos Family Foundation created a project called Vroom which provides a valuable opportunity to learn about and try out tips and tolls that make use of everyday activities to promote brain development. Vroom was launched in 2014 and is funded by the Bezox Family Foundations.  Vroom offers a library of over 1,000 downloadable tip cards in both English and Spanish that inspire interactions between children and their parent/caregiver along with videos and other digital materials.  It has a free app that makes it portable, accessible and versatile in those everyday activities for children of various age ranges.

Check out the following Vroom resource below to learn more and see what it has to offer you:

https://www.facebook.com/joinvroom

http://www.joinvroom.org/

 

References:

Stevens, K. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-07-14/babies-brains-are-shaped-by-interaction-at-earlier-age-than-parents-assume [Accessed 11 Jul. 2017].

Hamilton, J. (2017). Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain. [online] NPR.org. Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain [Accessed 11 Jul. 2017].