By creating a super-enriched environment, parents can increase brain growth during their child’s early years. It’s all about stimulation that opens up new nerve pathways in the brain. Those increased nerve networks make it easier for children to learn throughout life. The first six years are important, but the first year is the most critical.
Janet Doman, Director of The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential and co-author with Glenn Doman of How Smart is Your Baby? challenges parents to recognize their babies incredible potential. Dolman describes her book as an owners manual for newborns.
“Babies are very, very smart,” says Dolman. “Smarter than your wildest dreams.” Dolman is angry that in North America we patronize children by dumbing down life for them. “We bundle babies up and treat them like idiots from day one. Everything has to be dinosaur shaped or Count Chocula. Kids see through it and they’re bored. Were giving them patty-cake when they’d rather be learning French.”
French? Why Not Cantonese?
The capacity for learning a language peaks in infancy. The brain grows explosively during the first year of life, faster than at any other time. A baby’s brain more than doubles in weight by the end of his first year.
When a baby is born, the brain is not fully formed. As much as 75 percent of a baby’s brain grows after birth. Babies are born with about 100 billion neurons (brain cells) that are mostly unconnected. While neuroscientists once thought that genetics mainly determined intelligence, new evidence shows that a baby’s environment is a major factor in how the neural pathways become connected.
Everything a baby experiences through the senses stimulates the growth of these neural connections. New experiences, new growth. It’s what scientists mean when they say babies are wired for learning.
Building A Better Brain
The brain literally grows by use, says Doman. But nature is ruthless. Human babies have a lot of potential, but if it’s not used, brain cells are sloughed off. It’s use it or lose it.
Doman, who has worked with brain-injured children, acknowledges that not every child arrives with a fair shake. Some are disadvantaged, but many small neurological problems can be fixed. All of us are born with the same brain cortex.
“We fall so far below our genetic potential, that it’s asinine to compare one child to another,” Doman says. She even hates the title of her own book, imposed on her by an over-enthusiastic publisher, because it encourages comparison.
In the nature versus nurture debate, she believes that we can do much more than we do now, but you don’t have to dance around in a purple dinosaur suit to do it. In fact, Doman says parents should never do anything with their kids that makes them uncomfortable or be bullied into going against their intuition. That includes following advice from mothers-in-law, pediatricians and experts like herself.
“The best thing you can do is to view your baby as smart,” says Doman. “From day one, talk to your baby as a person. Babies come with a love of learning. The question is: Do we get in the way or help them?”
Moms The Word
Doman is unapologetic about asking that parents invest time in their babies for the first few years, placing a huge demand on parents to provide the necessary stimulation. While Doman says she respects that many mothers (and fathers) need or choose to work, she would like to see greater recognition of parents who choose to stay at home.
“Mothering is not valued as a profession and it should be, Doman says. It’s the oldest profession, not the other one.”
Toronto pediatrician and mother of four, Dr. Cathryn Tobin, counters that mothers and fathers need to pursue their dreams too, setting an example for their children to follow. The issue is about finding a balance. She says, We don’t need to inflict guilt on parents by challenging them to be perfect. It’s all about finding time to meet the needs of every member of the family.
Not everyone applauds the rush toward creating baby Einsteins. Pediatrician Dr. Cathryn Tobin questions the obsessive focus on brain building. She says, “Babies need a loving environment as well as social and language development. Do they need to be hurried intellectually? No.”
The danger of intellectual fast-tracking comes from the pressure that parents may place on their child, especially down the road where they may have unrealistic expectations. Plus, a child’s problem-solving or creative side could suffer.
“Your energy is better directed at just enjoying your baby during that first year at home, Tobin says, pointing out that 75 percent of Canadian mothers and most fathers work and shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Don’t destroy that time by thinking you have to cram everything into the baby’s brain before going back to work. There’s so much more to children than that.”
Janet Doman’s Tips on Building a Better Brain for Your Baby
1. Respect your baby’s intelligence: Talk to your baby about everything you’re doing. Use real words.
2. Teach your baby the name of everything.
3. Pay attention to your baby: He will tell you what he needs, if you give him a chance.
5. Create a stimulating environment: Eliminate the chaos of extraneous noise; provide one stimulating item at a time; stop before your baby wants to stop.
6. Pay attention to the frequency, intensity and duration of stimulation. Use the five pathways into the brain: seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, smelling.
7. Live on the floor: Babies need ample time on their bellies to crawl and later to creep. These are critical stages of mobility.
8. Avoid devices that confine your baby: No playpens, walkers or jumpers.
9. Keep morning time sacred: Its the best time for the baby. If you leave
the baby with someone else, try to do it in the afternoon or evening.
10. Spend time at home: Parents and babies lose precious time together when they constantly pack up and go out. PC