Your sweet little angel has 10 tiny fingers and toes, a tiny mouth and perfect nose. Quite naturally, you’re in love with her and think she’s the most special baby in the world. You want to give her the tools to succeed in life and nurture the genius in her, of course. Is this realistic, or fair, to believe your child may be a genius? Certainly! At birth, all babies have more neurons in their brain than Albert Einstein did at his peak. We are born with the greatest number of brain cells that we’ll ever have. With each passing day, we lose brain cells. “Use it or lose it” is real. The ones we keep are the ones that are connected to other brain cells. These connections are the result of learning and learning is a very serious business for babies. In this article, we take quotes from a bona fide genius, Einstein, to prime your own baby’s internal genius.
“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted!”
From birth to three years old, a baby’s brain produces more than a million neural connections each second! Babies are constantly learning! How to regulate their breathing (even when they’re asleep), how to burp up excess gas, how to focus their eyes, grow, balance their bodies, and so much more! We can’t see all of these steps being learned. We only see when something hasn’t been learned or isn’t functioning properly, like a colicky baby, late walker, or child with dyslexia. How do you determine which skills makes a baby a “genius”? Is it the early walker? Is it the precocious, sassy preschooler? Is there an IQ test for babies? The measure I’m going to use here is that a “genius” baby is one who builds an extra-ordinary amount of brain connections in all areas. This foundation will set up the child to be open to new ideas, ready and willing to learn, able to create, problem solve, see the bigger picture, access higher level brain functioning, and be adaptable to new situations or challenges.
Babies and children without necessary brain and nervous system development can prone to delayed development or dysfunctional systems. Examples of delayed development in a baby include “wet lungs” or incomplete heart valves at birth. Into the school years, physical and emotional delays can present as bedwetting or being prone to temper tantrums. Incomplete or incorrect neural networking can cause malfunctioning of the brain or other systems. This can appear as immune hypersensitivity, hormonal imbalance, dyslexia, clumsiness, anxiety, or lack of (age appropriate) impulse control.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex.
It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction”
How can we facilitate the formation of proper neural networks in a baby and young child? Parents today feel pressured to invest in many “enrichment” toys, lessons, videos and apps. It can be overwhelming to parents – “What really matters?” and “how do I do all this when I’m having a hard enough time drinking my morning coffee before it gets cold”? That’s not to mention the costs. Baby products and services are big business and if you’re on a limited budget, you’ll want to allocate your remaining funds wisely.
The best news is that more is not always better, and simple is better than sophisticated when it comes to babies. Especially in the beginning (the first 6 months), the baby has so much internal wiring to do, that there is very little need for external stimuli. What baby needs most is close contact with a caring adult. When the baby feels the security of her most basic needs being met – fed when hungry, diaper changed when wet or dirty, warm enough (but not too hot), familiar sounds (mom’s voice and heart beat), and a loving embrace, then the baby’s brain and body can freely go about its business of internal organ development and control.
To enhance the learning in the early months, your best investment is in a baby’s carrying wrap, sling, or soft sided carrier. When you carry your baby, you are stimulating, and helping baby regulate his sensory pathways. You are both a bridge and a buffer for your baby’s budding senses. Baby notices your familiar movements, smells, sounds, face, touch and taste first before becoming increasingly aware of the outside world.
When the baby has had enough of the outer world, he can retreat away and rest, comforted in your embrace. Meanwhile, you can have your hands free to go about your own activities. “But won’t it hurt my back and shoulders to carry my baby all day?” As a chiropractor, I’m a big proponent of self-care for new moms. Yes, parenting is physically demanding, especially when recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. While babies can seem all-consuming, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Take the time to care for yourself, too, and you’ll be a more effective parent in the long run.
Breastfeeding is another way to enhance your baby’s learning, especially in the first 6 months. “Natural” doesn’t mean it isn’t complex. With nursing, your baby learns how to feed and digest, different flavours, and how to communicate with parents their hunger and satiation. This is also a part of bottle feeding, but breastmilk has added benefits of varied flavours from mom’s diet, antibodies to build their immune system library, oxytocin to bond more easily with mom, and an adaptive food to meet baby’s immediate needs. Even if a mom can’t exclusively breastfeed, nursing some of the time is better than giving up entirely. Emotional stress in the mom or baby can make breastfeeding and milk production much more difficult. This is why breastfeeding success is highly correlated to a mom feeling supported. Stress in a baby, which can be from birth trauma or more current fears or pain, can affect nerves and brain function to make it harder to latch on or have a coordinated suck. Nerve dysfunction can even create physical barriers to nursing, like tongue-tie or lip-tie. In many cases, moms and babies who get chiropractic care go on to have better breastfeeding experiences.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.
It’s exciting to see motor development in babies and children. Proprioception, the ability to feel body position in space, joint position, muscle contraction, and movement, should account for 80% of our total nerve communication. We are meant to be moving and this should be the background activity in the brain. Ideally, babies are not confined to seats (car seats, rockers, exersaucers, floor seats, strollers, high chairs) unless they are eating, for safety, transportation, or short periods of time. The default for toddlers and very young children should be moving around, unless it’s time to eat or sleep. Brain development requires a lot of movement. Happiness requires movement, too, because movement stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. Constant motion is also necessary for core muscle development for athletics and concentrating in school. In the absence of adequate movements, kids can be jittery, prone to depression, and feel more pain. Motor development doesn’t require expensive equipment. Floor space that is clean and safe, plus time with you, are the only necessary ingredients for your baby to learn to turn over, sit up, crawl, stand and walk. There will be frustration and falls and learning these skills will require a lot of practice. Misalignments in the baby’s spine and pelvis can be impediments to progress in this sphere, so if your baby is struggling, it is worthwhile to bring him to the chiropractor.
“What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right”
Toys for ages 6 months to 3 years old are best if they are simple, so they can make sense to the child. Electronic toys are very popular, but they rob babies and children of rich learning experiences. Why crawl on your hands and knees pushing a wooden train on a track when you can turn a battery-operated train on and watch it go? Have you seen toddlers with electronic books press the buttons on each page and show no interest in the actual story? Teaching your child to clean up their toys or help sort the laundry isn’t as fun as playing a video game, but these are valuable life lessons with far-reaching effects (including saving your sanity so you can have more time, energy and inclination to play with your kids). Doing things by themselves gives the baby and child a sense of satisfaction, social skills, motor skills, and a massive amount of new brain connections they’d never get from using technology. Sitting too long and hunching over a tablet or smartphone is also creating poor posture, neck and back pain in kids even before school age.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
What about flashcards, apps for learning, and educational programs like “Baby Einstein”? Don’t worry about pushing facts on babies and toddlers. Imagination begins with toddlerhood and must be encouraged as much as possible with open-ended toys and games, such as Play-doh, Lego, dolls, action figures, tea sets, blocks, sand toys and wooden trains. Once again, simpler is better. Reading books to your baby helps open up new worlds beyond their daily routine. Some may ask, “But don’t videos do the same thing?” The answer is, “No”. Videos flash millions of bits of information per second, most of which goes over the heads of young ones. Technology gives a superficial level of learning, rather than a true understanding. Similarly, when it comes to health, suppressing symptoms with medication is not the same as fostering true health with good nutrition, exercise, chiropractic care, and supportive, loving caregivers. When you read to your baby (or child), you read at your baby’s pace… repeating some words, explaining things, and pausing for your baby to take in the experience. When you describe a scene, your children imagines what’s happening and fills in the details by themselves. In addition, and they develop empathy as they picture themselves as the hero, villain, bystander and sidekick in turns. Anything becomes possible, especially as you and your children go on to make up your own stories.
“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only one”.
If humanity is important to you, as in empathy, tolerance, compassion, kindness and social skills, then start the roots early by modelling them to your baby. Be attentive to your baby’s needs, delight in their joys, share in their sorrows, express how you’re feeling (parents have feelings, too) and teach them to help themselves and others (within reason). This means putting down the phone and being present when you’re with your child. You don’t need to hover over them all the time. They can be doing their own thing near you, confident that if they need you, you’ll be there for them.
“Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.”
When you’re in a place of weakness… pain, fear, anger, overwhelm, or grief… you will learn to be reactive. This means you’ll do the easiest action to produce an immediate result, even if that result is not the most favourable. A child that feels neglected, say because of a new baby in the house, may act out to get attention from the parents, even if it’s negative attention. From a place of strength, you have the opportunity to be proactive, and make choices to get you a more desirable result. With learning and adequate nerve connections from many experiences up to that point in time, a child can see the big picture and decide to “not sweat the small stuff”. Excessive nerve distress puts a child into a place of cognitive weakness. The pain can be from physical injuries, emotional distress, chemical toxicity, or mental stress. In this state, the child may act out with temper tantrums, have difficulty concentrating, wet the bed, have stomach pains, be hypersensitive, break out in hives, lack impulse control, or even purposely hurt themselves. Your child cannot hear reason from this place of weakness, and the lessons your child does learn can be distorted from the truth. The older sibling can learn, “I’m not as cute as the baby, therefore my parents don’t love me anymore and I’m worthless”.
Nerve distress can bring a child into a dark, lonely place. Chiropractic adjustments are the most natural way to reverse this distress, along with caring parents willing to create an environment conducive to healing, learning and thriving. There is no need to wait until a problem is debilitating before seeking help. There is also no need to pressure yourself to be perfect. In our own imperfection, we teach our kids the world is imperfect, too. The genius children, however, will have the ability to adapt and find solutions to make this world a better place.
“We have to do the best we can. This is our sacred responsibility.”