Plunking your baby down in front of the TV isn’t the best way to stimulate her brain development – even if the show has “Einstein” in the title. Talking to your baby, cuddling, and taking "floor time" are far more powerful.
by Linda Crisalli
The Walt Disney Company recently decided to offer refunds for their Baby Einstein video products. According to a 2003 study conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, more than a quarter of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one Baby Einstein video, so we’re talking about a substantial number of products. Apparently the decision to offer the refunds resulted from communications from a team of public health lawyers who threatened a class action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices.
I agree with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. This national organization has spent years encouraging Disney and other companies to admit that their products do not increase a baby’s IQ. These companies have marketed several videos with overt or implied claims of making your baby into a genius, but the fact that many babies appear transfixed while watching the videos doesn’t mean that they’re learning anything—or even that so much video exposure is good for them.
The letter sent to Disney from the legal team cited a study showing a link between television exposure while children are infants and young toddlers and attention problems when they are in elementary school. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for babies under age 2.
So is there anything that you can do to foster your child’s early brain development? The good news is that the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, there is a lot you can do. Even better, it’s easy, fun, and extremely satisfying.
Coos, cuddles, and floor time
When it comes to stimulating brain growth in your little child, parenting still means good old-fashioned personal interaction. Today’s most sophisticated research on babies’ early development supports the idea that just cuddling your baby, talking to her, and getting down on the floor to play with her are the most powerful, enriching, and educational things you can do.
A 2007 report from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (a collaboration of scientists and scholars from universities across the United States and Canada), summarizes recent scientific advances in understanding the importance of sensitive periods for brain development. The report states that “the foundations of brain architecture are established early in life through a continuous series of dynamic interactions in which environmental conditions and personal experiences have a significant impact on how genetic predispositions are expressed.”
The report goes on to stress that specific experiences will directly affect your baby’s neural development during sensitive periods of his infancy. This doesn’t mean that there are, say, two critical weeks during your baby’s first year when you have to sing a certain number of lullabies in order for his brain to develop fully. But it does mean that your everyday interactions with your baby are more important than you might think.
“Recent equipment and technological advances have allowed scientists to see the brain working,” writes Sean Brotherson, a family science specialist at North Dakota State University. “What scientists have found is that the brain continues to form after birth based on experiences. An infant’s mind is primed for learning, but it needs early experiences to wire the neural circuits of the brain that facilitate learning.”
If you are engaged in “dynamic interactions” with your baby instead of depending on videos or educational toys, you’ll naturally be targeting the sensitive periods of your baby’s brain development. Every time you talk to your baby, you are helping his brain develop. Don’t assume that because he can’t talk yet, he isn’t listening! He doesn’t have to understand the words you use to understand the concept that you are communicating to him.
Talk to your baby about anything and everything. Use lots of eye contact. Smile (a lot!). Laugh. Sing to her—she won’t care if you’re not an opera star. Cuddle with your baby. When he coos and babbles, repeat it back to him. High-quality, caring, responsive interactions will do more to develop your little one’s emotional wellbeing and cognitive abilities than all the educational videos in the world.
Linda Crisalli has extensive education, training, and more than 40 years experience working with and on behalf of young children and their families. Linda lives in the Seattle area, near her two grown children and four precious grandchildren.