Studies now show that 90% of a child’s brain development occurs before their fifth birthday. As parents, what’s the best way to support their development during these crucial years? Remembering these key parts can help give your child the best start possible that will carry them into their teen years and beyond!
STIMULATE THE FIVE SENSES
Your baby’s five senses develop from birth (before, actually!) and using age-appropriate activities helps them continue to improve their sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. One of the best ways to do this is to make eye contact and exaggerate mouth movement while talking to your baby. These activities can help them continue to develop their eye control.
Music is highly beneficial for children of all ages and can be used from the start to expose them to various sounds and beats. Just make sure to keep the volume low, as babies’ ears are highly sensitive. Popular choices are classical and jazz, but ethnic and vocal selections are also beneficial.
Exposing your child to a variety of age-appropriate objects also helps them develop their sense of touch. For toddlers, water and sand tables are a great toy to help improve their motor function and give them different types of materials to experience. For a less messy version, fill a container with cotton balls, measuring cups, and uncooked beans. (You’ll want to monitor this activity.)
As your child grows, you may notice they’re kinesthetic learners, meaning they prefer learning hands-on. Emphasizing this type of play throughout the day is beneficial for these types of learners.
Once you begin solids to your baby, you can work on slowly introducing a variety of foods. Children often need to try foods more than once before they like them, so keep trying! As they begin to get more of their nutrients from solids, feeding them a mix of foods will continue to develop their smell and taste.
Cooking with toddlers is also a great way to improve their smell, taste, and touch, as well as coordination. They can stir, dump, count, and taste while preparing lunch or dinner. It’s going to take longer and will get messy, but it’s an invaluable learning experience for them.
READ WITH YOUR CHILDREN OFTEN
As your child develops from infancy into their toddler years, then into elementary age, find books that meet their development level. Even though infants won’t necessarily understand what you’re reading, it’s important to read to them at least once a day to start introducing words and sounds. Researchers believe this can help improve speaking and reading comprehension later on.
The best books as your toddlers grow:
- 0-6 months: Focus on reading out loud, rather than the book itself.
- 6-12 months: Choose books with one person per age. This can help improve comprehension.
- 12-18 months: Read books with a variety of images with a sentence or two per page.
- 18-24 months: Focus on books with repetition and more advanced vocabulary than in the past.
Once your child begins preschool and moves into elementary school, find books that are challenging, but accessible. And read with them every day!
DISCUSS FEELINGS WITH YOUR CHILDREN
An open dialogue about feelings that starts when your children are young can help them better understand how emotions affect them, as well as helping you catch depression and other conditions sooner.
When talking with children about feelings, don’t classify them as good or bad. This may lead them to repress “bad” feelings and act out in other ways.
The essential piece is to share with your preschool-aged children why you’re feeling happy, sad, or neutral. This shows it’s okay to talk about emotions and learn how to better express them. By providing your children with the right tools, you can help them learn early on the best ways to process emotions.
SUPPLEMENT WITH OMEGA-3 AND DHA
Omega-3 and DHA are fatty acids that are known to support brain function in children. These healthy fats make up over 60 percent of our brain. When our cells are deprived of these essential fatty acids, they will try to create replacement fatty acids that are similar, but not nearly as beneficial.
To help your child’s brain development, feed them a diet rich in Omega-3 and DHA. Foods include high-quality fish like salmon and tuna. If your kids don’t like seafood or you’re a vegetarian/vegan household, flaxseed also provides these valuable “brain fats” that support healthy brains.
Supporting our children’s brain development is an important part of their early years, but it can also be overwhelming! Focusing on their senses, reading often, talking about feelings, and emphasizing a healthy diet are all ideal ways to promote healthy brain development. These tips will help you provide the best foundation possible so they can grow into healthy and happy kids that are ready for a bright future.