Sparking brain development
Touching, talking with, reading to and playing with kids sparks brain development. These actions aren’t only filling your child’s brain with memories and information, they are affecting physical growth. New connections develop between brain cells, and brain matter is electrified with activity. Early brain development is the foundation of human adaptability and resilience. A child’s first three years are a window of opportunity for parents and caregivers because positive early experiences can have a huge effect on well-being throughout life.
Sandra Turner Brown, director of the Lipman School at the University of Memphis and an expert in early childhood education, says learning through TTRP is happening from the beginning of life, preparing children for a lifetime of adaptability.
“In order for a child to develop,” says Brown, “they must know they are being paid attention to.”
As children grow, they become more and more aware of the world around them and the people in it. They begin to experiment with their own behavior, motor skills, and identities. “Children naturally engage in associative dramatic play,” says Brown. “Play is the individual’s creative expression, and responding to them and engaging with them during this stage validates a child’s thinking process. Kids try on roles, and how adults respond to them guides the roles they grow into as adults.”
Be a positive role model
Children need positive role models; the more the better. Having many caring people in a child’s life means more influences and more adaptability, and may lead to better outcomes. These caring people are often family members but can also be school staff, familiar faces at the store, friends at church, and people in other social settings.
“Speaking with children rather than talking to them; this is key,” says Brown. “Intelligence and cognitive ability is definitely connected to being spoken with and not talked to.” Family routines like shared dinners and trips to the zoo give kids the chance to talk about things they are interested in. With a little imagination, parents can transform even mundane chores like grocery shopping into opportunities for brain-boosting conversation.
Allowing a child to make choices is also important in validating her growing identity. “At dinner time, offer two healthy choices and let your child stick with the choice she’s made,” says Brown. “When she picks something, go with it.”
Brown suggests a similar approach to clothing. “One morning, a boy came to school and as he was being dropped off, his mother told us he had dressed himself. Everything was on backwards, shoes on the wrong feet, things were inside out, but he was very proud. And the mother allowed him to make his own decisions and didn’t impose her choices on him. Over the span of the day, he realized his mistakes and corrected them, one after the other. Some major learning took place there, far more than if the mother had simply fixed everything herself.”
Touching, talking with, reading to, and playing with your kids can be fun (and sometimes exhausting), but it’s a crucial part of parenting. The truths learned and perspectives gained through TTRP can have life-long benefits for children. These simple, gentle moments can lead to adaptable, empathetic people who are equipped with the tools they need to be happy, able adults, and, somewhere down the line, good parents — just like you.