I haven’t been sleeping well lately, and I have my newborn son to thank.
My wife and I welcomed our 3rd child on 11-11-11, and, as parents tend to do, I’ve been thinking about what kind of person he will someday become. Is he pre-destined to have certain physical, emotional and cognitive attributes, based merely on his genetics? Or, can our child rearing skills guide him to be a caring, intelligent, strong, considerate, football-loving, world-renowned Neurosurgeon?
We’ve discussed previously some interesting facts about the human brain, and how our brains can be changed and molded, with the right stimuli, throughout a lifetime. But in my opinion, some of the most interesting facts about the human brain have to do with its development during the fetal and infancy stages.
If you know what kind of person you want your child to be, it all starts just after conception…seriously. Research has shown that the mother’s own physical and emotional environment plays a major role on the development of the fetus. Most people understand that an expecting mother should take care of herself if she wants to give her fetus the best chance of being born a healthy baby (unfortunately, this doesn’t protect against ‘chance’ fetal developmental abnormalities or rare genetic conditions). But a mother AND father can influence much more than the general health of her fetus.
If you want your child to have larger than average limbs (giving him/her a head start on that athletic scholarship), create a stress-filled womb. If you want your child to have a larger than normal frontal cortex (read “brain”), create a nurtured womb. If you want your child to like Rock and Roll music, play a Rolling Stones album through big headphones placed on your belly.
In his book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Bruce Lipton lays out the science behind what truly shapes us as human beings…and it’s not our DNA. He discussed how our environment (both physical and emotional) plays a much larger role in our development as a person than does our DNA. Because parents have control (mostly) over the environment in which the fetus and, later, baby will develop, it makes the job of parenting all the more important. This is why I can’t sleep at night.
Want to stress out new parents? Explain to them about Windows of Development. A child’s brain has a ‘window of time’ during which it will develop a specific skill efficiently and rapidly. If the brain is not exposed to the right stimuli, it will not develop properly. There are many of these windows: language, visual, musical, logical, mathematical, curiosity, emotional, spiritual, physical, and values, to name a few. As an example, the ‘visual’ window occurs from birth to about 6 months. If an infant is deprived of visual stimulation in this time period, he or she may become visually impaired. I wouldn’t necessarily say that parents need to know what all of the windows are, but it is important to know that the types of stimuli you provide for your baby will play a major role in developing that precious brain and shaping the type of person he or she will become.
Despite my incessant worrying if my wife and I are providing the best environment for optimal brain development, I won’t let the importance of these early stages consume me. Yes, learning is waaay easier when our brains are young and pliable. But, if we fail to teach him 4 languages before the age of six, or if he can’t kick a ball without falling on his face, I will remind myself that neuroplasticity is every parent’s best friend. Our brains are always ready to learn new skills and change, at any age. That being said, he just turned 2 days old, and I don’t think it’s too early to teach him how to throw a football.