Motor Milestones: Learning to sit independently

Watching your baby begin to develop independence can be exhilarating. Your child enjoys this process too, since she is able to explore with a different perspective the world that surrounds her.

One way your baby begins to gain independence is learning to sit on her own, but this does not happen overnight. First, a series of steps and motor skills are required for her to master this milestone.

Being able to sit upright means your baby’s neck and back muscles are strong enough to carry their weight in an upright position and she has gained control of her head.

According to Pediatrician Melissa Goldstein M.D., a baby’s development starts from the head down. At 4 months, babies are able to sit down with support from a caretaker or furniture. By 5-6 months, most can sit by themselves in a tripod position in which they position their hands on the floor in front of themselves for reinforcement. At 7 months, they will probably sit on their own for a few seconds with no support and free hands to explore and grab objects around themselves. At this point they might even be able to sit up when they’re lying down on their tummy and push themselves up from the surface with their hands. Finally, by the age of 8 or 9 months, they are likely to sit steadily on their own for a few minutes. Continue reading

The importance of our Social and Emotional development

We often emphasize IQ as the strongest predictor of success and we overlook emotional intelligence -the greatest factor in determining later success. 

We tend to overlook social-emotional development when it comes to observing our baby’s overall development. We take a closer look at motor milestones and worry about their future IQs. However, emotional stability and the ability to control and detect feelings is arguably a better predictor of success.

If this argument does not seem convincing, let’s recap a study that was conducted a few years ago. In his now famous marshmallow experiment, Walter Mischel studied delayed gratification with 4 year-olds. The children were given a marshmallow and were told that they could eat it now or wait until the experimenter came back 15 minutes later, in which case they would get another one. Some kids were unable to control their impulses, while others although struggling and closing their eyes to avoid temptation, were able to wait for their reward. Further studies found that the performance on this marshmallow test predicted success at the end of high school more accurately than their IQ scores at that time. Those that had impulse control, later did better on their SAT scores than those that were more impulse driven. They were more conscientious and better socially adapted. Thus, all the intelligence in the world will not be effective if a child lacks emotional intelligence.

How to raise caring children

Early in children’s lives we see the beginnings of compassion, empathy, and caring, but in order for those qualities to flourish and for the kids to become full ethical people, adults need to help them out.

When children can empathize with others, they’re more likely to be happier and more successful later on in life, having stronger relationships with others. It’s important to strive to cultivate children’s concern for others. As part of their Making Caring Common Project, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education has shared a few guidelines to raise caring, respectful, and ethical children.

1. Strive to develop loving relationships with your children

If you want your kids to be caring and respectful, then treat them that way! Tend to their physical and emotional needs, provide a stable and loving family environment, show affection, talk about things that matter to them, and praise their efforts and accomplishments.

2. Be a strong moral role model

Children learn by observation, they will repeat the things they see other adults they respect do. Make sure that you are practicing honesty, fairness, and caring yourself! It’s important that when you catch yourself not being such a great role model in front of your kids, you acknowledge it and work on it!

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The Nature and Nurture of Motor Development

“Once your baby has mastered his reaching abilities, he is taking his first step into exploring the physical world.”

The rate in which your infant acquires his motor achievement has little relevance to his IQ score or any cognitive performance, as long as he lies in the normal range. Motor skills involve much more than just movement, these skills lead to an understanding of the social and physical environment. Once a baby masters his motor milestones, his experience will become broader and his perception of the world will drastically improve. Acquiring these skills comes hand in hand with a sense of independence, a higher self-esteem, stronger muscle growth, and better coordination of neural circuits.

What motivates these developments? It was thought to be just nature’s job, but it seems that nurture also plays a role as reinforcement. It is a combination of a programmed sequence of neural maturation and consistency in daily exercise. The neuromuscular maturation is indeed “hard wired” and its pace determines this progression. If there is no neuromuscular maturation, then practice will not influence the development at all. The motor cortex is one of the first areas of the brain that shows electrical activity but it takes a while for it to fully mature.

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Why babies crave repetitive motion

Balance, the ability to sense and adjust to gravity and perceive any kind of acceleration, is a fundamental sense. But if this sense is fundamental, why is it often ignored?

Known as the vestibular system, this sense functions below the level of our cerebral cortex and we often take it for granted. The vestibular nerve is the first fiber tract in the brain to begin myelination (a process by which a fatty layer accumulates around nerve cells enabling transmission of faster information for complex brain processes). By only 5 months after gestation, the vestibular apparatus is ready and the vestibular pathways to eyes and spinal cord have begun the process of myelination, so the entire system works effectively.

How does this system work? The auditory system’s cochlea is part of a maze which sits in the vestibulum in the inner ear. Given that movement consists of rotations and transitions, the vestibular system consists of both the semicircular canal system (sensing angular acceleration in three planes) and the otoliths (sensing linear acceleration: gravity and translational movements). The receptor cells of the otoliths and the semicircular canals send signals through the vestibular nerve fibers to the neural structures that control the eye movements, posture, and balance. What is projected from this anatomical basis of the vestibulo-ocular reflex is essential for an accurate vision. These projections to the muscles that control posture are also necessary to maintain an upright position. The brain obtains this information from the vestibular system and from our ability to sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of our bodies to understand our motion and dynamics.

The Neuroscience Underlying Your Baby’s Laughing Response

What does laughing communication reveal about your baby’s brain? 

Have you ever played hide and seek with your baby? What is the sequence of brain understanding in which your baby becomes aware and realizes that you might actually still be there, even though you are out of sight? For the first few months of a baby’s life, if you are out of sight this basically means you don’t exist.

Eye tracking is a process that is developed around 4 months of age. It is when a child is able to follow an object with his eyes. However, a child will not be aware when you take an object away from him because he does not realize that the object is out of sight. Around 4-8 months of age, babies develop a better visual acuity and a more mature motor control. This will lead the infant to reach for objects, regardless of how hidden they are. This is indicative that the child is beginning to realize that the object that is out of sight is still there. Around 8-12 months of age, memory is developed to the point that they can remember the object. If an object is completely out of sight, they will still look for it. This is precisely why they enjoy playing Peek-a-boo and love removing cloths to discover hidden objects. Continue reading

Wiring up the visual brain: Nature & Nurture

“Vision will become the lens through which your baby will perceive and learn about the various properties of the world.”

The vision takes up 30% of our cortex, compared to the 8% of touch and just the 3% of hearing. Each of the two optic nerves carrying information from the retina to the brain consist of millions of fibers. It is one of the most sophisticated aspects of human development. This development occurs so quickly that is dominates the human sensory experience. This process is crucial and will become the lens through which your baby will perceive and learn about the various properties of the world.

Firstly, how does this phenomena occur? Babies begin with a rather limited visual experience, but this wiring occurs in two phases. The first phase of this development is nature’s part of the job, establishing a crude wiring diagram. Big groups of neurons use a host of programmed molecule cues to help guide axons to near current locations. The second phase, however, is influenced by nurture. The baby’s visual stimulation generates electrical activity. Neighboring axons compete for space in the brain’s unrefined map and the pruning process occurs. Depending on the timing and level of electrical activity, axons either lose their synapses or link into accurate targets. This evolutionary adaptive process is called synaptic pruning; the “fittest” or most active connections that complete this wiring journey are able to successfully refine this crude map into a more precise representation of visual space.

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Grit: Your child’s best predictor of success

How can we prepare children to succeed? In an increasingly competitive world, many parents worry that their children will be left behind if they don’t grow up to have high IQs and test scores. Because this is what leads people to success, right? Not quite. New research has shown that the qualities that matter more than test scores and talent, have to do with character. One specific trait that psychologists and educators are now focusing on as a key ingredient in happiness and success is grit.

The idea of ‘grit’ was popularized by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth. According to Duckworth, “Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Teaching grit promotes resilience and perseverance. In her research, Duckworth argues that more than anything, grit is what predicts who gets to the finish line of hard goals in life, because, despite failures, adversity, and slow progress, these people maintain interest and effort.

Interestingly, research shows grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to talent; and, unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed, grit is something everyone can develop! So if you fear your children are not gritty enough, don’t worry, grit can be taught!

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