A compendium of child development terminology common (and not so common) to the modern parenting experience. The following terms are 1) arranged in good-enough alphabetical order, 2) often overheard at playgroup, 3) likely mispronounced by brag-hags, but 4) nonetheless very important for parents to know.
The Brain Domain
Even before the birth of your baby, hundreds of millions of neurons, or nerve cells, have already formed. To imagine the main parts of a neuron, hold your hand about 12 inches from your face, with your fingers outstretched. Imagine that your palm is the body of the cell, and your forearm is like the axon (carrier) portion of the cell. Look also at your fingers, the tools you use for reaching and grasping. Those fingers are a lot are like the cell’s dendrites (receptors).
Information comes from the outside world, through your child’s senses. Whatever your baby sees, smells, hears, tastes, and feels will spark an electrical impulse. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that carry the impulses, information, instructions from cell to cell. Cells to cells, to be more precise. The signals pass through dendrites, through the cell body, and on to the axon, then across a synapse (think “gap”), to the next dendrites of the next neuron.
Myelin is an important substance (think “fat”) that literally greases the skids on the of the neural network of the nervous system. Electrical impulses speed along with the assistance and protection of a myelinated sheath that covers the axon. Myelin is also insulation (think “electrical cord”). Signals don’t leak out along the journey.
The vast neuronal network of your baby’s brain has the lifelong capacity to master new information, and to respond to the environment by organizing itself around the stimuli. If strong connections are required, strong brain cell connections will grow.
What parents really need to know about baby brains:
- Experiences cause reactions in the brain. (impulses)
- Reactions create connections. (synapses)
- Connections create networks.
- Information travels along these networks
- Repeated experiences, lead to thicker, stronger connections and more efficient networks.
- Potential connections or weak connections will not remain. They will eventually be winnowed away as the nervous system makes choices.
If the lack of appropriate stimulation in the environment signals “why bother?” to the brain, it won’t get itself ready to transport the complex information that life will provide. Think “traffic jam.”
related articles: Let’s Face It: Babies Are Brainier Than The Rest Of Us, Learn How Your Baby Learns
Learn \’lərn \
[Parent's job description]:
to observe, to know what to expect from your baby; when to expect it, and what to do about it.
[Baby's job description]:
to stare at, wonder about, poke, shake, experiment, drop, smile at, and taste. Several times per day, during the first three years of life.