THE BLOG
09/08/2014 12:09 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

Your Baby's Brain, Part 2: Environmental Influence

In Part 1 of Your Baby's Brain, we broached the topic of how nurture is as important as nature when it comes to your child's development. Today, we take a look at environmental influence on your child's development.

Of all the animals in the animal kingdom, humans are one of the only species born with highly underdeveloped brains, which develop after birth. Therefore, creating a warm and loving environment for your baby that is as safe and secure as the womb, will nurture your baby's brain as it matures. For example, studies show that babies who are deprived of social and emotional interactions may fail to thrive, and may have developmental delays and other behavioral and neurological deficits.

On the other hand, in my experience working as a researcher and human behavior expert, with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Doctorate of Education, I have witnessed that an environment filled with warmth and stimulation inspires the genes to reach their fullest potential, strengthening neural-connections, while helping your child adapt to his/her environment. Actually, every physical experience, including bonding and touch, has the potential to biologically impact your child's brain development. And it is at this early stage of development, that neural-pathways grow. How they grow, often will be determined by their environment. Nurturing, bonding, and touch are the very behaviors that, in particular, help determine your baby's development .

Well-Bonded Equals Healthy Well-Being

For example, cuddling, caring, and paying attention, can help create a well-bonded child, and that well-bonded child often becomes secure, with a good sense of self, simply through the positive social interactions of mother and father. I've seen it time and time again in my research. Though it goes without saying that baby's physical needs must be addressed, and they must have a safe environment in which to grow, I believe it is your baby's sense of well-being that promotes healthy brain maturation.

It is through the day-to-day activities of caring for your child that you have the greatest opportunity to influence your child's brain growth. Eye contact, talking, kissing, hugging, rocking, cuddling, and holding, all contribute to the verbal and non-verbal cues that your baby learns to recognize, express, and imitate. And all the while your child is digesting and associating information to build a foundation -- not only for language and relationships, but also for ideas and creativity.

In these first years of life, your baby is not only building language and communication skills, but also his or her personality. It is here that I believe we can intervene and help a genetically predisposed shy child, for example, to become more socially confident. It doesn't take a village, it takes a family... observant and involved parents. And it is those family core connections that can foster both optimistic and competent growth in your child.

In Part 3 of Your Baby's Brain, we'll take a look at the windows of opportunity, when your child's brain may be more susceptible to environmental influences.