Do you remember that first moment when you cradled your newborn in your arms and saw her gazing back at you? It's a feeling I will never forget -- such overpowering love and such an awesome sense of responsibility. In those first few days, when you learned how to hold, comfort, and feed your baby, it seemed very clear how essential parents are to the survival of their offspring. I am happy to let you know that you remain just as important even as your baby grows beyond that period of utter helplessness.
Every hug you give, every lullaby you sing, every game you play is laying the groundwork for who your child will become. Your loving presence in the early years is critical. New technologies, such as PET (positron emission tomography) scans of the brain, demonstrate how the simple acts of cuddling, rocking and talking to your child can stimulate growth. Children deprived of such attention -- orphans left untouched in a nursery for too long -- do not develop critical areas of their brains. Even less dramatic examples of inadequate nurturing can result in disastrous long-term effects on a child's mind and body.
There is no question that the most important influence on your child in those early years is you, the parent. Scientists discovered in the 1990s that early experiences may be even more important than a child's genetic make-up in determining not only how a baby grows but how he will later be able to learn and reason. A couple of decades ago, neuroscientists thought that the structure of the brain was determined by genetics at the time of a baby's birth. But now we understand that early childhood experiences have even greater influence over how the neural circuits in the brain are wired.
It is a remarkable moment in human history. We know that parents can do more than we ever thought possible to expand our children's emotional and intellectual development -- and thus their successful performance in life. Our influence extends beyond the chromosomes we bestow upon our offspring in the womb. Science has shown that we may even be able to selectively override or activate certain genetic instructions by the way we behave with our children as they grow. The home environment and parental interactions can actually "turn on" or "turn off" some of those genes that determine a variety of important behaviors. Parents are so influential in their children's development that I like to call them the true "gene therapists."
If such responsibility makes you anxious, I hope this blog post will help you relax. You don't need fancy toys, flashcards or a degree in child development to properly stimulate your baby. Infants are born curious and ready to soak up information. They are tiny scientists, learning about the world through homegrown experiments -- dropping their bottles or banging on pots and pans to see what happens.
All that parents really need to do is take advantage of their child's natural curiosity. Pay attention. Respond calmly and lovingly. Most of all, parents need to understand the developmental stages your child is going through. Armed with that knowledge, you will be best able to do the right things at the right time.
10 simple things parents can do to motivate curiosity and confidence in their children:
1. Bond: bonding is everything. A well-bonded child will have good self-esteem, good sense of self, and good self-image. This will create confidence and confidence will lead to competence.
2. BE THERE NOW: At every stage of growth, you, as a parent, can dramatically affect your youngster's social, emotional and cognitive development. You will discover that you can have a profound impact on your child's ability to learn and succeed in the world by just being there.
3. Talk: you can raise a child's I.Q. by 20 percent simply by speaking in complicated language rather than short commands. Research on 20-month-old baby's shows that children of talkative mothers averaged 131 more words than children of less chatty mothers. That gap more than doubled by the age of two.
4. Let your child show you her interests by making a safe environment filled with objects that are stimulating, colorful and easily manipulated.
5. Create a print rich environment.
6. Read to your child in an interactive way, letting her participate in telling the story.
7. Let child activities be child-centered. Keep activities open-ended so that your child can play creatively and imaginatively
8. Allow your child to choose. Give your child choice from opportunities that you predetermined
9. Gently let your child, from time to time, be frustrated. If you teach her how to deal with frustrations created by you, she will be able to cope with frustrations created by the world
10. Positively reward success intrinsically with a smile, a hug, or a cuddle.
Raising Curious & Confident Kids is a new blog series geared towards ushering in the next generation of leaders in science, tech, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM). How can we give children the curiosity to question and more confidence to create? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.