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.
The benefits of bonding
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 -- for example: 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 his relationships with others.
The biggest influence in your child's life: YOU!
There is no question that the most important influence on your child in those early years is you, the parent. Scientists have discovered 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 she 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 potentially 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 you, the parent, can do more than we ever thought possible to expand your child's emotional and intellectual development -- and thus her successful performance in life. Your influence extends beyond the chromosomes you bestow upon your offspring in the womb.
Science has shown that you may even be able to selectively override or activate certain genetic instructions by the way you behave with your child as she grows. 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 like you are so influential in your child's development that I like to call parents the true "gene therapists." (More on that in a minute.)
If such responsibility makes you anxious, I hope this blog 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 you really need to do is take advantage of your child's natural curiosity. Pay attention, respond calmly, and lovingly. Most of all, you 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.
The secret ingredient
There is one other critical ingredient you need to blend into the parental recipe for helping your child develop self-esteem, motivation, and reach her full potential. This ingredient may surprise you because it is one area that parents and educators seem to know the least about. In fact, I believe that this aspect of learning that I am about to explain may just turn out to be THE single most important thing that you can do to help your child blossom fully and achieve future success and happiness.
What is that ingredient?
You, as the parent, must be able to show your child how to ease anxiety and stress as she goes through life. By reducing anxiety, I believe your child can enter that relaxed-alert state of consciousness that allows all humans to access a larger share of the brain's creative resources. Once your child knows how to attain that relaxed-alert state of mind, it won't take long to see positive results. She'll be well on her way to becoming a better student and finding a sense of self that leads to true happiness.
In this blog, my aim is to offer the best practical advice to parents today about what you can do, in your own home and family, to create the optimal environment for your child. In my next blog post, I'll be sharing some tips that you will be able to put into practice at every stage of growth to help nurture your child's social, emotional, and cognitive growth.