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Ask Katie - How Play and Cuddles Enhance Brain Power

Isn’t it interesting how we all differ when it comes to brain power and learning.

As a Chiropractor, I get to work with many children who have learning difficulties or challenges, and I am fascinated with how children vary in their capacity for learning. Interestingly though, the outcome of learning and intelligence is often also enhanced by the simple things, and aspects of life we sometimes take for granted.

Recently I have started a postgraduate Diplomate program in Melbourne that focuses on Chiropractic and brain development in infants and children. One of the areas we are interested in is how learning actually occurs in children. Human evolution is a great starting place to understand learning and behaviour.

Human Beings became separate and unique from our most common ancestors in so many ways, but it seems that one very distinct and essential difference was the fact that humans had a much longer post uterine dependent period. What this means is that we remain dependant on our mothers for a much longer period than any of our ancestors. Researchers have found that this prolonged dependency was crucial to our brain development and success in life today. It is now known that this important period, where the infant is dependant on its parent (or caregiver), is an essential part of how our brains ‘wire’. It is during this stage that we become ‘wired’ for learning later in life, and hence influences how successful one is later on in life.

It is well known that infants during their first two years of life operate predominantly from the right side of their brain (Schore, 2000). What this means is that during this time the infants world is shaped through the experiences shared with them by their parent or caregiver. A strong secure attachment between the mother (or caregiver) and the infant allows the baby’s limbic system to grow and develop. The limbic system is absolutely essential to our survival and our ability to thrive when under stress. This efficient right brain function is a resilience factor for optimal development over the later stages of the life cycle. A secure attachment leads to a child that is more able to learn and develop successfully.

So how do we incorporate this information into our lives? Well it means that the more time we spend with our young infants in a way which is mindful, loving and focussed, the better we are wired for learning and success. One essential way to promote great learning in our babies, is by giving them plenty of tummy time. This activates certain brainstem pathways in the brain that are essential for our normal development and learning later in life, (Floreani-Barham, 2009). I often hear mothers tell me that their baby doesn’t ‘like’ tummy time, this is often more reason to practice it with your child.

This day and age, many of us are very distracted with how busy our lives are, underpinning this need to ‘keep up’ is a strong need to always do the best for our children. As a consequence, many parents can fall victim to being in a constant state of ‘doing’, and by default we allocate very little time to just ‘be’ with our children.

With the first two years of life being driven by a right brain dominance, and also the time when our children’s brains are ‘wired’ at an extraordinary rate, it is important that parents focus on things that assist with this development. So what this means is more playtime, less structured and organised play. More time spent with each other, on the floor and playing is essential, and critical to ‘wiring’ them to be great learners.

Often led by convenience, many end up ‘plonking’ our infants in front of the TV. On face value it is easy to assume that the children seem to enjoy this time, however many studies confirm that babies brain development is adversely affected by television watching. Media, whether playing in the background or designed explicitly as an infant educational tool, “have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than two years,” concluded the Association of American Pediatrics. “While television is on, there’s less talking, and talk time is very important in language development,” said Dr. Ari Brown, from the Association of American Pediatrics.

There is evidence to suggest that educational television use may affect language development, increased TV time could lead to developmental delays and attention problems. Playtime with your child enhances their development in ways that are hard to quantify. Along with play with your child, independent play is also valuable, this is when problem-solving. imagination, thinking creatively and entertaining themselves come into play.

When children are under chiropractic care, we notice that this also assists with learning and behaviour, it seems as the body comes back into balance, the child is able to express itself fully in way which is conducive to great learning and success, (Smith, 2007).

So yes, it’s very interesting how we all differ when it comes to brain power and learning. What is more interesting is how much we can influence the outcome of our children’s development through the ‘simple things in life’. Play more. Your childrens development depends on it!

References:

Floriani-Barham J, (2009), Well Adjusted Baby

Schore A, (2000), Attachment and the regulation of the right brain; Attachment and Human Development, 2(1), pp 23-47.

Smith, J. (2007, January 20). “Chiropractic Care May Help Children With Learning Disorders And Dyslexia.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/61111.php.

American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee, (2011), Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years. Pediatrics, Vol 128 No. 5.

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