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BABIES have special needs for thriving.
Caregiver positive touch(holding, carrying) keeps DNA synthesis and growth hormone going. Separation from a caregiver's body, shuts both down (Schanberg, 1995). (Have you noticed how distressed a baby gets when isolated? Separation hurts.) Intelligence later in childhood is related to head size growth in the first year of life (Gale et al., 2006).
Caregiver responsiveness to needs.
Babies don't have any capabilities for self-care at birth. They need caregivers to teach their bodies and brains to stay calm so they can grow well. When young babies nonverbally gesture discomfort, it means they feel pain and should be attended to right away. Babies should not have to cry to get needs met because crying releases cortisol, killing brain cells.
Until around age 5, children need protection from stressful situations. Their brains are not yet capable of dealing with loud noises or sudden visual transformations. They need the caregiver's compassionate physical presence to get calm from sudden distress. Later on the child will learn to comfort self when the caregiver is unavailable, based on this early sense of security and systems that were coached to calm themselves.
When a baby starts to gesture discomfort indicating some kind of imbalance, the caregiver can provide touch (carrying, rocking) or the breast for non-nutritive suckling or breastmilk. Meeting a baby's needs quickly when a baby communicates a need builds the child's confidencein the self's ability to get needs met. This confidence stays with the child thereafter.
When babies are left to cry, they build a more stress-reactive brain (for the longterm) that will have a harder time calming itself. Later on, depression and aggression are more likely. They learn not to trust the world or people, thereby becoming more focused on themselves. In contrast, caregiver responsiveness to the needs of the baby fosters a pleasant personality. In cultures where babies do not cry (because they are not separated from a caregiver, left unfed or untouched), there are no "terrible twos" (see here).
Provided the mother is not malnourished, breastmilkprovides all the nutrition needed to build a well-functioning brain and body. Neurotransmitters like serotonin are fostered by alpha-lactalbumin, rich in tryptophan, in breastmilk. All immunoglobulins are provided by mother's milk plus antibodies for any viruses and bacteria in the vicinity. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months if not longer ensures these benefits will be unimpeded by the pathogens and imbalances that formula encourages (see here).
Frequent, on demand breastmilk feeding.
Breastmilk is mostly amino acids which are fundamental to building a good brain. The baby feeds frequently to flood the brain with these needed building blocks. If the baby is put on an adult-centered schedule or an infant formula that makes babies sleep deeply (which is unnatural), opportunities to provide brain-building nutrients will be missed, not to mention the distress it will cause in the baby. This again leads to a stressed brain, less optimal growth, less flexible self-comforting.
It's important for adults to remember what children are designed to be doing during childhood--challenging social play outdoors in the rhythms of nature. During the school-age years, children build their sense of belonging, competence, autonomy, purpose, as well as trust and understanding of the world. This is best done through self-directed play.
But children these days must be in school during these key years. How can parents in the modern world help children thrive despite needing to be in school all day? Here is a general needs checklist to think about for every school aged child.
Does your child have self-directed free play time (no electronics or structures) outside in nature? A child's work is his or her play. Children build confidence as they learn to guide themselves outdoors. Full-body play is how the brain grows and builds knowledge for use throughout life. Lots of ideas here.
Does your child get enough sleep? (10 hours on average) See guidelines here. If not, cut out computers and television 90 minutes before bedtime. Establish a quiet routine to look forward to together (e.g., reading a book). Not getting enough sleep can lead to symptoms that look like ADHD. See more on sleeping from this PT blogger.
Does your child avoid highly processed food with its disturbing additives?See more here. Processed food typically has "excitotoxins," flavor enhancers that addict the tongue but kill brain cells.Try to wean your child off these foods with natural foods. Even manufactured breads can lead to gluten allergies. Bread that you quickly fry in a pan (fry bread) and dip into a homemade sauce is better. Try barley flour for high fiber and great nutrition.
Does your child eat wholesome foods? Try ways to make vegetables tasty with sauces and cheeses.
Does your child feel like he or she is an important member of the family? Are his or her ideas listened to and respected? This will foster a sense of belonging which is linked to wellbeing.
Is your child called on to contribute to family well being in some fashion (e.g., taking out the garbage, setting the table)?
Does your child have a skill under development, a skill that can be shared with the community (e.g., lawnmowing, babysitting, playing a musical instrument, being a volunteer)? This is a protective factor against risky behavior in adolescence.
Does your child have autonomy to make choices and take risks on his or her own? Don't over guard your child from activities you, your parents or grandparents were able to do at the same age. See specific ideas here.
Do you read together? Build an interest and capacities for reading by sharing interesting stories.
Does your child have at least one friend to spontaneously call on to play with and hang out?
Does your family share in happy routines that build a positive family identityand cohesion?
Does your family participate in a larger community (e.g., church/synagogue/temple, neighborhood) where you all feel welcomed and supported?
All these things contribute to developmental assets, skills and supports that help children thrive.
Here are proven practices that facilitate mental and physical health.
GOALS AND MOTIVATION