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5 Steps to Support the Baby's Brain

How parents can support the developing brain

This is a summary of some notes I've taken during a course delivered by Tower Hamlets Council.

Between 0 and 2 the child needs to develop trust in adults and in relationships in general. If the child has good-enough role models, they will learn to rely on the support to be available. However, if the baby is neglected, their self-esteem will be impacted, causing problems with the development of identity.

If the child doesn’t learn that adequate support is available, they will be more likely to feel shame and self-blame. It is so easy for the child to come to the conclusion that it's their fault. This will stop them to reach out onto the world, both physically and psychologically. This is also why we encourage play in children, so they can learn to experiment with possibilities.

The way the child plays is important to determine how much they feel able to maintain contact and tolerate the uncertainty of possibilities. If the play is impoverished, the child won't develop enough confidence to adventure in the world. We can think about this lack of 'OK-ness' as result of neglect. Bruce Perry describes this type of neglect as ‘the absence of critical organising experiences at key times during development’ (Perry, 2002). The parent has to actively organise the child’s brain; for example telling them what’s happening, describing things and so on. The parent or caregiver, has to organise not just activities, but also the thinking. If you don’t organise the child’s brain, it won’t organise itself. There is this crucial period of neuro-plasticity when the child’s brain needs external stimuli. In particular we’re thinking about:

  • Spatial recognition
  • Sensory perception
  • Motor skills
  • Conscious thought
  • Language
  • Memory

Memory is crucial for the development of attachments. Until 4 to 5 months, the child doesn’t display specific attachments; this is because of the development of their memory.

The brain goes through something that is called ‘experience-dependent development’. This means that the development happens because of and according to the experience.

The caregiver needs to provide a ‘good-enough’ support (see in Winnicott) to form good-enough brains. Consciously or unconsciously, the caregiver/parent will follow these steps:

1) Share the focus
E.g. have the same interest as the child. Pay attention to what the child is noticing

2) Support and encourage

3) Name it
This can be about naming a feeling, an object or a person. It also demonstrates the child that language and words are important.

4) Take turns. Back and forth. Helps the child navigate interactions. This is important especially for verbal communication (I speak, you speak, I speak, you speak)

5) Practice endings and new beginnings. Moving with the child when they’re ready to change activity.

Those steps are not always done in a sequence and the caregiver will naturally switch between them. What matters is that the baby receive enough of those interactions to promote the growth and development of their brain.