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Top : Parents Corner : How Talking and Touching Actually Build Brain Cells

How Talking and Touching Actually Build Brain Cells

~ Dr. Tian Dayton

Every day we read articles about the importance of early learning in math, mobiles and cognitive skills of all kinds but there is a new trend in child research making itself felt. Neuroscience is producing studies by the truckload that are clearly pointing to the truth that as mothers many of us have always intuited; we are our children’s “enriched environment”. There is an increasing awareness of late, that sound emotional development actually underlies and drives the growing child’s capability of acquiring cognitive skills, their capacity to self regulate and their ability to have comfortable relationships with others.

The intimate dialogues that we share with our children actually build their neurological wiring. Studies have shown that even at birth the child responds positively and specifically to the tones of the human voice, reports Peter Russell in The Brain Book. “A high speed film of a newborn baby when slowed down many times and examined frame by frame shows that tiny gestures on the part of the child are synchronized with specific tones and syllables from the parents. Sounds other than the human voice, however, produce no such response….While he is in the womb the child learns the sound of the mother’s heartbeat, and after birth the sound of a human heart will have a very soothing effect on the baby.”

Children are born with 100 billion unconnected or loosely connected neurons, or nerve cells, according to these studies. And each experience, such as seeing a mother's smile or hearing a parent talk, strengthens or forges the links between cells. Pathways in the brain that go unused eventually wither away. Thus, a child's early experiences can help determine what that child will be like in adulthood. When we cuddle, coo and talk to our children we are laying down a language of love upon which they can build throughout life.

A child is born with over 100 billion neurons or brain cells. That's enough neurons to last a lifetime, since no more neurons will develop after birth. These neurons form connections, called synapses, which make up the wiring of the brain. At age eight months an infant may have 1,000 trillion synapses. However, by age 10 the number of synapses decreases to about 500 trillion. The final number of synapses is largely determined by a child's early experiences, which can increase or decrease the number of synapses by as much as 25 percent. The brain operates on a "use it or lose it" principle: only those connections and pathways that are frequently activated are retained. Other connections that are not consistently used will be pruned or discarded so the active connections can become stronger. This means that all of those loving moments we spend with our children not only feel good in the present but actually strengthen their ability to love and be intimate throughout life.

This research also underscores the importance of talking to our babies in order to help them develop language. Children usually begin talking after the first year of life. By eighteen months they have a vocabulary of about half a dozen words and by two over two hundred. But a child from birth is sensitized to the parents’ voices and attends to them especially. Our babies select our voices out of other sounds or voices to pay rapt attention to.

  • The power of early adult-child interactions is remarkable. Researchers found that when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age two than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them. However, mere exposure to language through television or adult conversation provided little benefit. Infants need to interact directly with people. Children need to hear people talk to them about what they are seeing and experiencing, in order for their brains to fully develop language skills.
  • When an infant is three months old, his brain can distinguish several hundred different spoken sounds. Over the next several months, his brain will organize itself more efficiently so that it only recognizes those sounds that are part of the language he regularly hears. During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to relearn sounds it has discarded, so young children typically learn new languages easily and without an accent.

God has a plan. And in God’s plan mothering is a spiritual path. We mother as God’s arms and hands on earth. Our children have been lent to us by God and we, as mothers, have the awesome charge of demonstrating God’s love to them so that they can take love in through all of their senses, so that they can actually have the experience of being close and cared about. The warm, daily exchanges we have with our children are what build their emotional, cognitive and spiritual worlds. They are what teach children how it feels to be loved so that they can learn it, hold it and pass it along to another generation.

Tian Dayton PhD has a doctorate in clinical psychology a masters in educational psychology and is a certified Montessori teacher. She is a frequent guest expert on TV and radio and is the author of fifteen books the most recent being Modern Mothering: Teaching Your Kids to Say What They Feel and Feel What They Say. For more information log onto

Submitted on : 7-Dec-2005

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Top : Parents Corner : How Talking and Touching Actually Build Brain Cells

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