Positive Relationships

o Positive Relationships: Brains are built from the bottom up, over time, based on experiences. Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard University says, “When caregivers are sensitive and responsive to a young child’s signals and needs, they provide an environment where social, emotional, and cognitive processes can develop. And because responsive relationships are both expected and essential, their absence is a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being.” Bottom line: There is no development without relationships! What is your child trying to tell you? Observe them, play with them, take turns, and enjoy building a relationship with your child.

Back and Forth Engagement

o Back and Forth Engagement: Children are active learners, and their genuine participation is a key ingredient for healthy brain development. This back and forth engagement has been called serve and return, serve and volley, a ping-pong game, and a dance. Imagine
a game of volleyball or a tennis match—an infant or young child “serves” by babbling, cooing, or crying, and an adult “returns” by appropriately responding with eye contact, words, or a gesture—building and extending the child’s learning. This back and forth engagement builds and strengthens neural connections in the child’s brain, and these connections support the development of social, emotional, and cognitive capacities. Serve and return allows parents to continue to build upon their relationship and teaches the child that they are listening and engaged in what the child is interested in.

Executive Function Skills (The How of Learning).

o Executive Function Skills: These skills help the brain act on and organize information. According to Dr. Phil Zelazo of the University of Minnesota, these skills are typically measured behaviorally as cognitive flexibility (to consider alternative perspectives and think flexibly in response to changing circumstances); working memory (to keep information in mind so it can be used); and inhibitory control (to resist automatic or impulsive behaviors so one can engage in goal-directed reasoning, reflection, and problem solving).

In closing, we know as parents and caregivers, you may feel as though brain building is a big role, but we want to assure you that you already have everything it takes! By focusing on the relationship, turn taking, and the child’s natural curiosity for the world, children will grow and develop skills that promote a life time of learning.