The Human Brain from Birth to Age 3

Did you know that, unlike other vital organs, the human brain is not fully developed at birth? In fact, our brains grow to 85% of their adult size between conception and age 3. Most of us know that prenatal care, childhood immunizations and well-baby care, child safety and proper nutrition are important for raising healthy infants and toddlers. What may surprise you is the basic nature of the most critical factors in human brain development. If you think I’m referring to educational toys, think again. Research into the brains of infants and toddlers reveals:

  • Young children’s emotional connections with their parents and other caregivers are the driving force in developing their intellect, language skills, and other basic skills and abilities. Nurturing, responsive relationships and security are the keys to their future cognitive, behavioral, and social/emotional health.
  • Continuity of care allows infants and toddlers to bond securely with their caregivers, allowing their brains to develop to full potential.

During this brief window of opportunity in a child’s life, we can either nurture or neglect their brain development. Consider this:

  • A child who doesn’t receive enough physical and emotional support may never learn healthy stress-management skills and will be at risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment throughout life. This calls for us to work harder to prevent and address early childhood neglect and abuse.
  • Frequent turnover among a young child’s caregivers disrupts the attachment and security they need for proper brain development. Yet, recent data indicate the average annual turnover among caregivers in the U.S. is [an alarming] 30%.

Have we over-intellectualized our child-rearing beliefs and practices? As sophisticated as the human species is, getting back to basics – giving our babies genuine and constant love, attention, and security — may be the greatest gift we can give them and their amazing brains.

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