At birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons. During the first few years, a child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development—producing more than a million neural connections each second.
This development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment. In a positive environment, the brain’s neural connections and pathways have a better chance of becoming wired together.
This in turn ensures rich language, reasoning and planning skills – right from childhood. As a parent, you can take several steps to ensure that your child has a strong start in life and enjoys good brain as well as physical development.
Here are the top 10 ways to enhance brain development in children.
1. No Smoking during Pregnancy
To give your baby a physically healthy start before he or she is born, you must not smoke at all as well as ensure that you do not expose your unborn child to secondhand smoke.
Smoking is the number one cause of adverse outcomes for babies.
The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke can be destructive to your unborn baby’s brain. When you smoke during pregnancy, that toxic brew gets into your bloodstream, which is your baby’s only source of oxygen and nutrients.
A 2015 study published in Acta Paediatrica reports that smoking during pregnancy negatively affects fetal brain development.
Alterations in brain structure and function have been seen in children exposed to prenatal smoking. This can lead to learning disorders, behavioral problems and relatively low IQs in children.
2. Breastfeed Your Baby
Breast milk is very important for newborn babies. Apart from building a baby’s immunity, it’s also good for the brain!
The fat and cholesterol found in breast milk ensures proper brain development.
A 2010 study published in Pediatric Research reports that breastfeeding is associated with a higher cognitive level, at least in males.
Another study published in 2016 in the Journal of Pediatrics found that preterm babies who were fed more breast milk within the first 28 days of life had larger volumes of certain regions of the brain at term equivalent and had better IQs, academic achievement, working memory and motor function.
So, here is another good reason why you should consider breastfeeding your baby. Breastfeeding in the first few weeks of your baby’s life contributes to notable gains in intelligence and motor skills.
3. Introduce Music Early
By introducing music into your child’s life as early as possible, you can enhance their brain development.
Music promotes cognitive health. In fact, it leads to dopamine release, which spurs motivation to keep learning. Music can make studying fun and help children grasp things in a much better way.
Taking music lessons at a young age can also make a significant difference in a child’s brain development.
A 2006 study published in Brain shows a strong connection between musical training and brain development. Researchers found that young children taking music lessons have better brain development and improved memory over the course of a year as compared to children not receiving musical training.
Another study published in 2013 in the Journal of Neuroscience reports that musical training before age 7 helped brain development. Children who started taking music lessons early had better connections across the corpus callosum, which connects the left and right hemispheres of the cerebrum.
4. Strictly Limit Screen Time
No matter how busy you are, do not use it as an excuse to add more screen time to your child’s day.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children under age 2. Even for older children, limit screen time to just a couple of hours a day.
Too much screen time is linked to impaired academic performance, less time for creative play and contributes to problems like obesity, violence, sleep problems and behavioral issues.
Also, increased screen time means less interaction between you and your child. Such interaction is important for a child’s overall development.
A 2009 study published in Pediatrics reports that TV viewing between birth and 2 years of age was neither beneficial nor deleterious to child cognitive and language abilities at 3 years of age. However, unadjusted analyses showed lower cognitive abilities among those who had more hours of TV exposure during infancy, depending on maternal, child and household characteristics.
As a parent, it’s important to spend more time with your child rather than keeping them busy watching TV, playing with your mobile phone or other gadgets.
5. Read Books to Your Child
As a parent, you must ensure that your child starts reading books at an early age. To do so, you must read to your children every day, beginning when they are babies.
Make it a bedtime ritual and read something interesting to your child. Even though babies will not recognize the words, they start understanding you are getting information from books, magazines and newspapers. This will help build an interest in books and reading.
According to a 2015 study by AAP, reading to young children is associated with differences in brain activity. It can help with language acquisition and literacy skills.
AAP encourages parents to begin reading to their children from birth to foster early learning and create connections in the brain that promote language development.
6. Exercise is Important
Whether it is a small child or an adult, exercise is important for everyone, even including babies. In fact, regular physical exercise is a simple, yet important, method of ensuring better cognitive development in your child at an early age.
It helps boost memory and improve learning capabilities, while also reducing the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in later stages of life.
Exercise also helps improve circulation of blood and oxygen to the brain. This ensures improved nerve functioning that enhances your child’s overall physical, cognitive and psychological health.
A 2008 study published in Educational Psychology Review reports that systematic exercise programs may actually enhance the development of specific types of mental processing known to be important for meeting challenges encountered both in academics and throughout life.
Another study published in 2010 in Brain Research found that children who are physically fit have a bigger hippocampus and perform better on a memory test than their less-fit peers.
7. Feed Your Child Healthy Food
The habit of eating healthy food should be ingrained right from childhood.
Growing bodies need good nutrition not just for physical development. It is important for mental development, too.
To provide the right nutrients for your child’s growing body, feed them spinach, berries, apples, oatmeal, broccoli, dark chocolate, oranges, kale, watermelon, milk, legumes and all sorts of nuts and seeds.
Avoid fast food, junk food, processed food and beverages loaded with artificial sweeteners. Such foods do not provide the necessary nutrients to your child and can even cause great harm to their health.
Also, allow your infant to eat with their hands (make sure they wash their hands properly before eating) to help develop fine motor skills. It also lets your child explore textures, understand what foods do, develop hand-eye coordination and have fun while eating.
No matter what, never have the TV on in the background when you serve food to your child.
8. Say No to Caffeine
Caffeine can be found in energy drinks, soft drinks, and chewing gums marketed to children and young adults. Too much caffeine can hamper your child’s brain development.
Caffeine disrupts the formation of key connections in the brain. Plus, it affects behavioral and structural markers of brain maturation.
A 2013 study published in PLOS ONE found that pubescent lab rats that consumed caffeine experienced reduced deep sleep and delayed brain development.
Keep a close eye on your child’s caffeine consumption and limit it to ensure healthy brain development.
9. Invest in Creative Toys
There’s an endless number of toys in the market. But to ensure good brain development in children, it’s important to be selective and buy some creative toys.
Playing with the right toys helps a child develop skills that include coping, language and communication, emotional regulatory, cognitive flexibility and social skills.
Creative toys do not have to be expensive. The objects of play must be simple and safe, and allow imagination to flourish, freedom of movement and range of complexity.
Invest in simple toys that can keep your child engaged and make him or her more constructive and creative as an adult. Be sure to get some toys that involve the hands, as small children respond well to learning simple sequential games.
10. Spend Time with Your Little One
Last but not least; you must give your valuable time to your child to ensure proper brain development.
Speech development begins at birth, so while breastfeeding talk about something or sing a song to your baby. When you go outside, point things out and name them.
Enjoy your child’s early years by talking with them, taking walks with them, going to the park together, enjoying meals together and reading together.
These little interactions add up and contribute to a child’s brain development as well as emotional and speech development.
- Have meaningful conversations with your growing child.
- Be attentive to what your child is pointing at or saying.
- Build trust in your child by being attentive and focused.
- Use body massage to reduce your infant’s stress and enhance feelings of well-being and emotional security.
- Set up a safe environment for your crawling baby or toddler.