Overview

Everything that happens to us shapes our brains. When caring adults and children do activities together, like talking, singing, reading and playing games, they help children begin to build a strong brain. More resilient brains are also shaped by positive interactions and experiences and safe lifelong relationships.

As children grow, caring adults can help children learn how to control their feelings, learn new skills, cope with stress and build healthy relationships. The following tips can help guide meaningful interactions between you and your child.

Development and interaction

The interaction between your child and you as a responsive caregiver can be thought of as “serve and return” like a game of tennis or volleyball. The child “serves” by reaching out for interaction with eye contact, facial expression, gestures, babbling and touch. As a responsive caregiver, you can “return the serve” by speaking back, playing games like peekaboo, and sharing a toy or a laugh.

These simple back and forth interactions are the building blocks of your child’s early brain development. They help your child learn how to control their emotions, cope with stress, and learn skills that will serve as a foundation for later development. Below is some useful information about development and interaction.

  • The development of your child’s brain affects physical and mental health, capacity to learn, and behaviour throughout life.
  • Your child’s brain development continues after birth.
  • Your baby is learning from the moment they are born.
  • All babies need stimulation for their brains and feelings to develop.
  • What your baby learns from his or her environment affects the number of brain cells and the way they are "wired". This "wiring" sets the foundation for future brain growth and development.
  • Your baby’s brain needs positive and repeated stimulation to organize itself and form strong connections.

Attachment

Attachment is the close emotional bond that forms between babies and caregivers. When your baby has a secure attachment with you, they learn to trust and will be more able to form attachments with others as they grow. Below is some additional information about attachment.

You build secure attachment with your baby when you:

  • hold, hug and cuddle them
  • provide gentle care and handling
  • have skin-to-skin contact
  • smile and talk gently
  • sing and read
  • comfort them when they cry

Attachment between you and your child becomes stronger when you spend time together and:

  • respond to their needs with nurturing care
  • comfort them when they need you, especially when they are sick, hurt or upset
  • let them know that they are loved, that you're there for them, and that they are important

Your child learns in many ways through the early years. They learn when they communicate, and explore. They also learn through their emotions and by interacting with people. Below is more information on learning.

  • Children are born with curiosity. They learn by exploring and playing. Make sure their environments are safe and then let them explore.
  • When your child plays, they learn about their world, themselves, and others. They strengthen their skills and get ready to learn new ones by having time to practice. When you join your child in exploring their world, they learn new things. As they play, you can help them think of new ways to do things and solve problems. Children learn best when you follow their lead and build on their interests. Learn more about exploring with play.

Positive parenting and discipline

Positive parenting helps you feel more confident and less stressed about raising children. You’re likely to have fewer arguments with your partner. Kids who grow up with positive parenting do well at school, make friends, feel good about themselves and are less likely to have behavioural or emotional concerns as they get older. For more information, read about 5 steps to positive parenting.

Relationships

Life is busier with a child in the family. Whether you are sharing parenting or parenting on your own, it can be easy to forget about working on adult relationships. Having strong relationships and good communication with other adults is important for your mental health and shows your child what healthy relationships are like.

By caring for yourselves and taking care of your relationships, you are developing a safe and secure place for your new baby to come home to.

  • Respect your parenting partner's strengths and allow for different perspectives on a situation.
  • You may have different parenting styles than your partner, but what is important is to agree on the overall expectations you have for your child and to be consistent as much as possible.
  • A "hands-on" parent in the first few months will be a more effective parent over the long-term.
  • You can strengthen your parent-child relationship by:
    • showing plenty of affection
    • setting aside time alone with each of your children
    • respecting one another's feelings
    • keeping promises
    • having fun together
    • providing a child-friendly environment

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