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Making Baby Genius

No More Mozart?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 10, 2001 -- Want to boost your baby's brainpower? When preschool interviews loomed for my toddler twins, I got to thinking about that "Mozart for Babies" CD. We'd played it twice and abandoned it when it got on everyone's nerves. The "Learn Your Colors" flash cards met a similar fate: The kids simply scattered them on the floor.

But with academic competition right around the corner, I wondered now if we'd revved up our babies' brainpower enough. Had we missed learning opportunities during the much-talked-about birth-to-3 age period?

New research has given parents a flood of information on how the brains of infants, babies, and toddlers develop, and the marketplace has responded with a slew of products that promise to give your child a leading edge. But this information seems only to have added to the confusion about how to best stimulate young children intellectually.

A Window for Learning

Thanks to science, we know that the auditory cortex -- the part of the brain that processes sound -- develops early, which is why it's easier to learn music and foreign languages before age 12. But what's the best way to teach young children music and language? Should I be waving Spanish flash cards at my toddlers?

Not at all, says noted child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan, MD, co-author, with T. Berry Brazelton, MD, of The Irreducible Needs of Children. Instead of worrying about filling your baby's brain with information, concentrate on building a nurturing relationship, he says. Crucial early childhood learning -- everything from social skills and emotions to how to count to 10 -- occurs in the context of the parent-child relationship.

"What we've learned from new brain research is that kids need a lot more interaction than we thought before," Greenspan tells WebMD. "Flash cards are not very good. Anything that is memory-based is not very good. Things that are learned by doing and interacting are better."

So, being a sensitive, involved parent is more important for a child's development than scheduling vocabulary lessons. This was reassuring news, as far as I was concerned. The idea that learning takes place in the context of relationships made sense, too. When I played Spanish language tapes in the car, hoping the kids would pick up some phrases, they just sat in their car seats staring into space. But when their adored baby-sitter spoke to them in Spanish as she playfully changed their clothes, the kids laughed and smiled and seemed to be soaking up every word.

"It's the caring relationship that children have in the early years that builds the brain," says Diane Trister Dodge, MA, co-author of Building Your Baby's Brain. "You don't need videotapes and flash cards to build your baby's brain." Talking, singing, and reading stories to your children involve a tremendous amount of learning, she says, noting that emotional growth and intellectual learning happen together, not separately.

The key is to tailor each interaction to what your child likes, says Greenspan. For instance, if you warble a high-pitched "oooo" and your baby smiles, build on that by lowering your pitch to "mmm, mmmm," followed by a deep "boom, boom." The idea is to engage your baby's senses while deepening your intimate relationship with each other.

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