Early Emotional Communication Builds Learning Capacity
When you think of what babies need to grow and learn, certain physical supports like food, clothing, and shelter come to mind. But babies also require loving connections with caring adults to build their brains. As much as good nutrition and physical protection do for development, healthy emotional exchanges are where intellectual growth and language proficiency prosper.
Research has shown that the quality of a child’s interactions and experiences with a primary caregiver (mom, dad, child care provider) from the prenatal period to age 3 is instrumental in determining a baby’s emotional, social, and intellectual trajectory. Not only are positive experiences with a primary caregiver essential to the development of happy, healthy babies, but they are also strong, accurate predictors of success in school and in life (Andreassen & West, 2007). In fact, a baby who is rocked, held close, talked to and loved has a higher likelihood of developing a brain that is larger, with stronger connections between brain cells, than a baby who is not given close contact (Schore, 2001). These babies also tend to develop secure, healthy relationships with their caregivers, cope better with difficult situations later in life, and are more curious, social, and academically successful than babies deprived of consistent, positive physical contact (Burchinal, et al., 2002).
Take a moment to think about what this means. Babies need to be around those with whom they have an emotional connection – parents, other family members and consistent child care providers. It is through the back and forth exchanges that occur during these connected times that brains get developed. Infant learning doesn’t happen because of the availability of expensive educational toys and activities. Science tells us that early development is best supported by making available to babies, throughout the day, those people with whom babies are most connected. Let’s work as a society to make that happen.
Andreassen, C. & West, J. (2007). Measuring socioemotional functioning in a national birth cohort study. Infant Mental Health Journal, 28, 627-646.
Burchinal, M. R., Peisner-Feinberg, E., Pianta, R., & Howes, C. (2002). Development of academic skills from preschool through second grade: Family and classroom predictors of developmental trajectories. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 415- 436.
Schore, A. (2001) Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health.