That little person in your care was born with more than just astounding good looks and irresistible cuddliness. A newborn baby has a brain that is by far one of the most extraordinary creations on Earth!
By the time a baby enters the world, her brain is more than ready to connect…to grow…to learn…to become stronger by the minute.
As your child’s earliest nurturer, you have a front-row seat to watching this process unfold. What’s more, you get the distinct privilege of being the Project Manager for one of the most complex and miraculous architectural projects ever designed!
Scroll down to learn what is happening within your DHH baby’s remarkable brain in these earliest years of life.
- A baby’s brain begins to develop before a mother even knows she is pregnant. It will continue to grow and mature for about 25 more years. Brains are “plastic”–flexible and ever-changing–over the course of a lifetime. The first five years, though, are the critical window during which the most important foundations will be laid for language, reading, mental and emotional health, and relationships.
- During a baby’s first three years of life, his brain will grow bigger and form more connections than it will for the rest of his life! In a mere three years, your baby’s brain will…
- triple in size
- be 80% of its adult size
- form around 1,000 trillion neural connections (That’s also written as 1,000,000,000,000,000. I think. Because my own brain lost track of zeros…🤪 )
- become coated in myelin, a fatty substance that helps messages travel more quickly through the brain
- Your baby’s brain is like a complex puzzle. It is made of many unique pieces that fit together over time. Daily life experiences impact how quickly and cleanly the pieces come together. Our goal as nurturers is to provide moment-by-moment interactions and experiences that help connect these brain-puzzle pieces. This process is called “integration.” Integration of the brain is a lifelong, ever-changing process!
- Three key ingredients have a bigger-than-we-can-even-imagine impact on how a little one’s “brain puzzle” is assembled. These ingredients also serve as the strengthening “glue” that holds all the pieces together throughout your child’s life. They are:
Healthy earliest relationships: These are marked by sensitive attunement, high levels of responsiveness to baby’s needs, and HEAPS of comfort and compassion.
Access to rich language as early as possible: To the brain, language is language! Visual language such as American Sign Language, spoken language(s) used in the family’s home, or a combination of both–bilingualism–nourish your DHH child’s growing brain like nothing else can.
Daily experiences: These allow your little one to interact with the exciting world around him and the people in it. Young children learn by seeing…hearing (with their technology when necessary)…touching…tasting…experiencing…doing. Opportunities to explore and play are invaluable!
What This Means for YOU!
Neural (brain) connections are supported by–drum roll, please!–your daily nurturing. Your ordinary day-to-day routines and interactions with your DHH baby are top-of-the-line brain-building tools!
As many neurologists say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Baby’s brain gets a boost of strengthening, connective “glue” every time you:
- make eye contact
- have face-to-face time, such as on the changing table, in a rocking chair, during a meal, in the tubby, playing on the living room floor, or strolling down the street
- touch your little one in ways that are soothing, playful, and present
- respond sensitively to her communication, even in those earliest months: eye gaze, crying, cooing, fussing, wriggling, reaching, grasping, grunting to get or do something, babbling (in sign language or spoken language), and pointing
- use language, either visual (such as ASL) and/or spoken, to explain all that is happening around you
- put language (visual and/or spoken) into songs, rhythms, rhymes, and other enticingly silly forms
- read books together
- play lots and lots and LOTS
To Take With You…
Next time you scoop up your little one, may you have a renewed sense of awe and curiosity. May you see the HUGE potential swirling within that beautiful little body. May you believe with confidence that you are the right Project Manager to support the building of that incredible brain!
(Then go get some rest, because nurturing a miracle is exhausting!)
To learn more about your young DHH child’s wondrous brain, visit the following sites:
- Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University: “Brain Architecture”
- Child Mind Institute: “Supporting Healthy Development”
- Hearing First: “Start with the Brain and Connect the Dots”
- Visual Language and Visual Learning Lab: Family Information Center
- Zero to Three: “Brain Development”
The information contained in this blog post comes from the above resources, as well as the excellent book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.