How to Raise a Smart Baby
Confused by the sheer number of smart baby toys, books, and videos? Relax. All your baby really needs to boost brainpower is you.
By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Academic achievement. College scholarship. Presidential aspirations.
These used to be phrases parents tossed around at their kid’s high school graduation.
Today, it’s a new form of “baby talk.” From maternity wards to toddler play groups to mommy chat rooms, how to raise a smart baby is a key focus of conversation and concern.
“Parents have always wanted the best for their babies, but now it seems there really is a much more focused attempt, and more worry and concern about doing the right thing to encourage baby’s growth and development, particularly brain development,” says Nina Sazer O’Donnell, director of National Strategies for Success By 6, a United Way of America learning initiative.
The concerns are not without merit. While a portion of a baby’s 100 billion brain cells are prewired at birth – mostly the ones connected to breathing, heartbeat, and other physiological survival functions – it is during the first five years of life that much of the essential wiring linked to learning is laid down.
“What occurs during the first five years of life can have an enormous impact on not only how well the baby’s brain develops at the moment, but how well that baby learns and grows throughout their lifetime,” says Christopher P. Lucas, MD, director of the Early Childhood Service at the NYU Child Study Center and associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine.
While experts say baby brain development is still largely a mystery, what we do know is just how great a role natural parenting instincts can play in putting your baby on the fast track to success.
Trust Your Instincts
As society gave birth to a brave new high-tech world, parents everywhere began assuming that high-tech learning was essential if baby was to grow up and prosper.
Turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.
Indeed, one popular form of smart baby technology – learning videos such as Baby Einstein – recently received low marks in a study designed to evaluate their effectiveness in helping baby brain development. The research, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, showed that not only were these so-called baby brain tools not helpful, they may actually slow word learning.
But experts outside the study say it may not be the videos themselves that lead to these dismal results, but more a matter of what the videos replace: Good old-fashioned one-on-one parent-to-baby contact.
“It may be as simple as the fact that for every minute a baby is in front of a screen, they are not engaged with a loving, familiar caregiver… and infants learn from loving adults,” says Jill Stamm, PhD, author Bright From The Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind From Birth to Age 3.
O’Donnell agrees: “What mattered to babies a thousand years ago is still what matters today: You, the parent, are your baby’s best learning tool.”
Indeed, experts conclude that talking to your baby, playing with your baby, paying attention to what interests your baby, and using those interests to foster curiosity lays down the wiring that ultimately stimulates your baby’s brain to grow and develop.