for release January 19, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Note to Editors: Second of a three-part series on babies and early childhood
How to Give Your Baby the Best Possible Start
I would have loved to keep having babies, but after the third we decided everyone has to stop sometime. So now I fulfill my baby urges by enjoying the babies of my nieces and nephews, babies at church, everywhere! My kids look away when they see a cute baby in a store because they know I'll embarrass them by cooing loudly.
Children learn more in their first five years of life than any other period say the early childhood and neuroscience specialists. Even what adults learn as they work towards a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, for instance, or launching the shuttle, is nothing compared to what children go through as they learn to walk, talk, think and comprehend.
We all want our children to have the best chance at being intelligent, happy, successful persons. Stanley Greenspan, a professor of psychiatry and author, describes six key ways to enhance intelligence and aid emotional growth in babies and young children (Building Healthy Minds, Preseus Books, 1999). Wisely, Greenspan emphasizes moving beyond child development theories that only focus on a child's genes or thinking skills. He says the key to the entire puzzle is his or her continuing relationship with you. So the important thing is to give your child lots of experiences with you that tend to nurture and round out the total intellect and spirit (rather than giving your child hours of flash cards, or educational computer programs). "The vital interactions that help build a healthy mind also lead to the actual growth of neuronal connections in the brain," says Greenspan. "For example, your soothing touch not only fosters your baby's ability to feel close and intimate with you, but also releases growth hormones that enable his body and brain to grow."
In a nutshell, some key stages and tasks in helping your child's intellect grow:
* Stage 1: Becoming calm, attentive and interested in the world. By regularly tending to his needs, you help your infant calmly regulate himself to his new world and explore its sights, sounds, tastes and touches.
* Stage 2: Falling in love. From months three to six, your baby will grow in the ability to give and receive love from parents. From this he'll experience security, warmth and pleasure.
* Stage 3: Becoming a two-way communicator. By the time she is nine months old, the emerging toddler will be exchanging gestures with you as well as experimenting with expressions, sounds and actions.
* Stage 4: Solving problems and forming a sense of self. By the time she is about 1 to 1 ? years, she will be figuring out how to solve problems-and sometimes involving you-like grabbing your hand to get you to help her.
* Stage 5: Discovering a world of ideas. You can explore creativity through pretend games, scenarios or games.
* Stage 6: Building bridges between ideas. This task is the creation of logical bridges between ideas-or analytical thinking. It can emerge from more elaborate pretend play or questions, such as asking him why he wants to do something. While you may not get an answer, it will help him develop the link between ideas and action.
Now, before you worry about progressing with your child through these stages, let me hasten to say that most parents do these things naturally with their child-second nature. When we smile at our baby, he learns to smile back. We don't usually stop and think: oh, now we are developing stage 2, he is developing the capacity to love people.
I was leafing through some "advice" given to me by other moms at a baby shower. My two favorite tips from there fit in with the advice from the experts, which says to me that parents usually instinctively help their children develop. Gwen advised, "Put some of baby's things (toys, books, videos/cassettes) on low shelves along with your books. It will make him feel important and he will be less tempted to always be in your things." And two, "Don't be embarrassed by the love your baby may show in the first year. Just enjoy it. It may include putting toys in your mouth, putting a bottle in your mouth, or chewing on your nose. Just laugh and hug her back."
What is your best advice for new parents? You can also request a free copy of my book, Working, Mothering and Other "Minor" Dilemmas. Write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 765 words; end material = 105 words
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