Most of us enter parenthood with the highest aspirations for our children. Will he read by age 3? Will he be deemed “gifted” in elementary school? Will he become a doctor, engineer, or great world leader? It’s fun to “dream big” for our offspring, but at the core of these hopes is our desire to have intelligent children. While some intellectual prowess is genetic, raising smart kids has much to do with opportunities we give our children to grow and develop. And it all begins when they are babies.
Today we’re sharing 5 ways to raise smart babies. None of them involve pricey tutors. None of them require brainiac parents. With a little effort and a lot of love, anyone can set their baby on a bright and promising path.
1) Prenatal Brain Power: What mom eats, does and thinks during pregnancy is connected to how a baby’s brain will develop. A baby’s brain grows more in the womb than at any other time in his life. Therefore, all of the nutrients, activity and even thoughts transferring from mom to baby really does matter. Beyond the obvious recommendations – taking prenatal vitamins with DHA, not drinking or smoking, avoiding toxins – moms should eat a well-balanced healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3s, good fats, fiber, calcium and whole grains. Additionally, moms should use their brains productively during pregnancy. When moms read, play music, and have stimulating intellectual interactions, growing fetuses benefit. Conversely, when mom is stressed and anxious, it creates a hormone surge that baby receives and can affect the hard wiring of his molding brain. For many new moms, worrying is unavoidable, but managing these emotions through exercise, meditation or sharing with a partner can calm the body for mom and baby’s sake.
2) Breast Milk = Brain Food: Breast milk is the best possible nutrition for your baby. It’s formulated by nature with the perfect nutrients for your baby’s body and brain to grow and develop in every way. Specifically, breast milk contains 400 nutrients that cannot be replicated in other foods. Countless studies indicate that baby’s who are breast fed show greater cognitive abilities throughout life than those who are not; and the longer the baby is breast fed, the more benefit he reaps. Breastfeeding also involves touch, nurture, warmth and responsiveness – all of which contributes to smarter, more well-adjusted human beings. Babies do not need much in their early months of life, but love and tenderness are essential. Skin-to-skin contact helps babies develop physically and intellectually (babies who are held more actually have larger brains!), and as mothers and babies sync, a mother’s milk can respond to her baby’s needs to effectively provide what baby needs to grow and thrive.
3) Loving, Expressive, Learning Friendly Caregivers & Environments: For thousands of years, babies have blossomed without high tech gadgets. How? Through human interaction and loving environments. Babies are drawn to faces where they can begin forming emotional connections and having meaningful experiences. Active, engaged play is one of the best ways for your baby to learn. This evolves as your baby grows. For newborns, it can be as simple as smiling, singing and trying to elicit those first smiles and giggles. As your infant gets older, games of peek-a-boo, sensory books or shaking instruments can be engaging. Be sure to make lots of eye contact, be animated and remain attentive to your tot during playtime. Find ways to peak your baby’s curiosity and foster his interests from an early age. A passion for learning starts now. In fact, our brains map out the way in which it will learn within the first five years of life. This is when we’re producing and connecting brain cells that will dictate our thought processes for a lifetime. Also, be responsive to your baby’ cries. A child develops a sense of security from knowing someone is there to tend to his needs.
4) Brain Boosting Toys: Studies show that videos and high tech gadgets are not the best toys for babies, contrary to what manufacturers may want you to believe. What is important is that you have simple toys that are appropriate for your baby’s developmental stages. For the first four months or so, you are probably the best toy your baby can have. Make funny faces, sing songs, talk – he really can’t focus on many tangible things but people are tops to a newborn. After the first few months, introduce brightly colored and highly textured toys and books, especially things baby can bat at with his hands or kick with his feet. As he progresses in infancy, play together with mirrors, balls, stacking toys (cups, bowls, blocks, whatever!) and anything that makes noise. Water play is fun for babies, even if it merely consists of a small dish of water that he can splash around. Concepts like numbers and letters are for older one-year olds and beyond, so focus on fun, interactive toys that capture your baby’s attention and require imagination.
5) Reading & Talking – The Brain’s “Other” Food: It is never too early to start reading and talking to children. Constant chatter and reading books aloud, even adult books, can bolster a baby’s vocabulary from the start. The more exposure a baby has to a variety of words, the more efficiently and productively he will grasp language. When talking to your baby, narrate your day using lively messages with short, digestible phrasing. Address your baby by name as if you’re having a conversation. In fact, often engage your baby in babble conversation and respond as if it means something to you. It certainly does to him! Ask questions and wait for him to respond. Look at him just as you would anyone else you may converse with. When reading, be as dynamic as possible. Use hand gestures and find rhymes with repetition and swinging cadence that will delight your baby’s ears. Make reading a habit early in life. Even if your little one cannot concentrate for long, read a short bedtime “story” with rhymes or lift-able flaps to keep your baby’s attention.
You don’t have to be born a genius to raise a smart baby. Smart babies come from parents who give them smart opportunities to grow, develop and expand their minds through nutrition, love and learning through play.