Smarten up your little one’s brain

Dr Carol Cooper is a prolific writer and broadcaster as well as a practising family doctor and mother of three boys, including twins. She graduated in medicine from Cambridge University. She shares her thoughts and ideas on how parents can help their young child’s brain to develop.

In your experience, does a child’s cleverness come more from what it is taught than from the brains of the parents?
“It’s a mix of nature and nurture. So while the child’s genes do matter, experiences are vital too.”

Can you explain the importance of supplements in a child’s diet?
“Children with faddy diets can benefit – that’s probably many if not most toddlers. Also vegetarian children. But extra vitamins or iron will not make your child more clever unless there’s a shortage of them in his diet.”

What do you consider to be the most important factor in aiding a child’s brain development – learning games, parental bonding, healthy diet?
“All of these are important, but if I had to choose one then I would put parental love and security above everything else. I’d put diet second.”

Do you believe an apparently slow child can improve their brightness with the right development?
“Yes, absolutely. In fact bright kids can become brighter with the right stimulation.”

What recommendations would you make to parents worried that their child may be a slow learner?  
“All children differ, so discuss with health visitor or GP – there may be a specific treatment. Other things being equal, stimulation and positive feedback will always bring out the best in a child. Always concentrate on what your child can do, not what he can’t.”

Can you comment on the current campaigns (such as on channel 4) to highlight the problem of children leaving primary school unable to read?
“It’s difficult to comment in detail without pointing the finger at teachers. However parents can help a lot – remember the child still spends more hours at home than at school. Read to your child, and read books yourself.  Households where books, newspapers, magazines etc are enjoyed also raise kids that have an enduring love of reading.”

Dr Carol Cooper’s top five tips to encourage your infant’s brain development

Says Dr Cooper “There are many early influences that can have a profound effect on a child’s success in later life.  Parents just need to remember a few very simple golden rules to ensure that their baby gets the best head start in life.”

  1. All infants are eager to learn. Give your child simple activities and toys that involve building – such as stickle bricks or building blocks – to develop creativity in the brain, and to help your child grasp the basic concepts of maths and physics
  2. Good nutrition is essential: Omega-3 provides natural building blocks for brain development. Brain cells are made up of DHA – an Omega-3 fatty acid, which we need to ensure is regularly supplied through the diet. Omega-3 is present in breast and most formula milk, so once your child begins to eat solid food it is a good idea to safeguard their intake with a supplement. Haliborange has a great new product – Omega-3 for Infants, which you can add to your baby’s food once a day. It’s made from plant rather than fish oil, so it’s acceptable to a baby’s delicate taste buds.
  3. Use touch often.  This is a vital sense especially for the young.  Infants have a huge number of sensory receptors, and touch is the first tool they use to learn about the world.  Touch also provides the security that all infants need to develop and learn.  And it shows your love.  Your loving relationship with your child forms the model for all your baby’s future interactions and relationships.  Give plenty of praise and positive feedback, to provide the basis of a secure environment in which your child can learn and make the most of their potential
  4. Infants have good hearing from birth and babies adore music.  Go ahead and sing your heart out. Singing will stimulate your baby’s brain and help set the foundation for language skills.  Learning the rhythm of music is also linked to good mathematics skills later on in life
  5. Make your child laugh. You can help your child develop a sense of humour by trying out games like “This little piggy”. Unlike adults, babies love it when you tell a joke over and over and this helps them learn to pay attention, and to develop their memory.

Special thanks to Haliborange Omega-3 for Infants for help in compiling this article.

Buy Dr Carol Cooper’s book Clever Baby.

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