There is a lot of research regarding the importance of a baby’s first 1000 days of development. Aside from the obvious physical development which takes place from conception, this timeframe is absolutely crucial for brain development. The period when the brain has the most plasticity, by the time a child turns 3, their brain will have reached 80% of its adult size. In fact, the relationships, experiences and environments that a child is exposed to during this time lay the foundation for all development that follows.
Neuroscience educator, Nathan Wallis, emphasises the importance of this period on brain development:
Wallis goes on to explain that the information gathered on the environment an infant is exposed to is then used to shape the brain accordingly. To put it simply: the more complex the environment, the more complex the brain development.
Before parents run out and expose their infant to a myriad of sources in the hope of extending brain development, it is important to understand where the brain gets its information. The most integral source of information for the brain during this data-gathering period is what is known as the “dyad” relationship. Better known as the one-on-one relationship – the dyad is a child’s primary carer. In most circumstances, this is a child’s mother, however it could also be a father, grandmother or other carer that spends the majority of time with the child.
Through their bond with the child, the dyad, or primary carer, is providing their developing brain with a flood of information which helps form a brain that is capable of dealing with a complex world. Astoundingly, the amount of words spoken within the dyad relationship by the time a child turns 3 can be used as a predictor for long term cognitive outcomes.
However, it takes more than just words. Wallis stresses that the integral part of the dyad relationship is being attuned to each other. Simply talking at, or around a baby does not develop the brain’s pathways and connections. Interacting and engaging with the baby is what activates the data-gathering function in the brain. It is important to use eye-contact and facial expressions to lay those important foundations for cognitive, social and emotional skills.
This reinforces the importance of parents spending those crucial early years caring for their children, however, Wallis has another important message for parents who may worry they have put their children into formal care too young.