Not Your Mother’s Parenting

shutterstock_98703734Parenting for Your Baby’s Brain- Then and Now

Do you sometimes wonder what’s going on in babies’ precious little heads? The experiences parents choose for their baby shape her. What a responsibility! It’s always been a daunting task, one for which we don’t even get an operation manual. We have to figure it out for ourselves, often with the help of our own parents who learned long ago how to navigate in very different “waters”. Let’s look at some of the ways parenting has changed from the 70’s and 80’s to 2015.

Today’s parents have the benefit of recent neuroscience research. We now know that full term babies have 100 Billion brain cells of which only 25% are connected to each other and functioning. The rest of the connections grow through the child’s experiences—engineered by parents and caregivers. When little ones feel safe and know that they are loved, they are eager to learn. Touch and loving eye contact create a sense of safety, giving them freedom to try new things. Don’t worry about spoiling a baby. They grow and develop best when they know that they matter to the grownups who care for them.

“Children should be seen and not heard”


We used to hear this from adults who were frustrated with noisy, distracting children. This philosophy downplayed the importance of interaction for babies’ brains. Ignored by their adults, many little ones felt isolated. Without interaction, children’s brains become stressed, restricting the formation of connections. Playpens were common in the 70’s and 80’s.  With baby playing in an enclosed space, moms could get their work done, and they could still watch, talk and listen to the kids.  Children were safe and entertained, but they couldn’t explore their world.


Babies now often spend their time in carriers, experiencing their parents’ movements and activities. This is a far better way to create connections between the child’s brain cells. Parent and child are able to enjoy each other singing, dancing, and sharing activities.  Parents are better able to become their child’s favorite “toy”. They love to study Mom’s or Dad’s face, and learn how to get smiles.  Climbing into his world on the floor develops his brain and helps him learn about relationships.

Entertaining Children


Children across time have learned by playing. In the 70’s they liked, trucks, dolls, and other toys. An entire generation grew up watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Sitting and reading the same book over and over together in a rocking chair has always been a wonderful way to help them explore relationships and learn about their world.


In the past ten years, electronic options with bright moving visuals and engaging sounds keep children occupied and quiet, tempting busy parents to rely on them.

Unfortunately, screen time develops mostly passive connections in their brain at the expense of active skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”[i]

For more “bang for the brain”, babies and toddlers need face-to-face interaction with a parent or consistent responsive caregiver. Examining a real leaf, empty boxes, plastic containers and other real-live experiences with their adults awakens their creativity, wonder, and teaches them to play. When either the parent or the child is focused on TV or other screens rather than each other, children miss out on critical development opportunities. Most important, the screen doesn’t respond to the child’s communication, so they learn they don’t matter.

Babies are gifts—even when they keep us from sleeping. Find joy in your time together, and everyone will have a stronger brain.


(footnote i)


Building Baby’s Brain Class:

Contact Family Resource Center at 715-833 1735 to register for Building Baby’s Brain class on  June 16, 2016 5:30-7:00.


First published in Queen of the Castle Magazine, Nov. 2015

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