Let’s start with the good news: babies are born with a whopping 100 billion neurons in their brains, and during the first few years of development they grow trillions of neural synapses. However, before you start researching medical schools (Harvard is nice, but you have to wade through all of those photo-taking tourists), or plan on how you’ll spend your child’s Jeopardy! winnings (like on a dream vacation to Melbourne), you need to hear the bad news.
Actually, it’s not really bad news. It’s more of a warning, and it goes like this: those trillions of synapses’ need to be stimulated in order to stay connected. If this doesn’t happen, then the synapses’ that aren’t wired together will disengage. In other words: if you don’t actively and continuously provide your beloved baby with enriching and stimulating experiences, then he or she will have less to work with later on, cognitively speaking. Kind of scary, isn’t it?
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend a fortune on educational resources or risk having a therapist call you in 30 or 40 years and say something like: “Hi, your child has authorized me to let you know that everything that has gone wrong in their life is your fault. Have a nice day.” Instead, you can all of the following:
- Speak “parentese” to your baby, which is when you slowly draw out syllables in a high-pitched voice. Yes, you’ll look kind of silly doing this (so keep cameras at a distance or you could end up on YouTube or Instagram for all of the wrong reasons). But you’ll be helping your baby absorb the full spectrum of sounds in the language. Gottttttt itttttttt?
- Stick out your tongue and encourage your baby to return the gesture. This helps your baby cultivate tongue control, which will support eating and speech development. Who knew that sticking your tongue out could be so productive?
- Listen to different types of music, which vary in both tone and meter (read: you don’t have to listen exclusively to that Baby Shark song, and you’re welcome). Music helps your baby stimulate and develop neural pathways. And you never know: in the process, you may plant a seed that one day sees your child become a famous concert pianist or violinist. (Pro tip: save a fortune by renting instruments for your child or adolescent from a place like the Manchester Music Violin Shop, so you can confirm that they’re serious — otherwise clear space in your basement and budget for a wide range of dusty instruments that time forgot.)
- Sing together, and gently rock your baby to the beat. And unlike choir practice where you veer off script at your peril, you can and should encourage your baby to make spontaneous sounds and movements, as this fosters their learning ability.
- Get off the grid! When you aren’t enjoying yourself on the web and gracing places like Chicklish with your presence (we love having you here!), put away your laptop, tablet, smartphone and smartwatch — and maybe tell Siri or Alexa to chill for a while — as you spend quality one-on-one time with your bundle of joy. This bonding time will make your baby feel more secure, which in turn will encourage them to explore, learn and discover.