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12 tips for raising a healthy child

Oct. 09, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Babies are born with millions of neurons that sends messages across the brain. These neurons are "wired" by forming conncections -- synapses. Genes have a role in this brain development of the early years, but it is also strongly influenced by the environment. Positive interactions with nurturing caregivers profoundly stimulate young brains.

As children get older, pruning begins. Synapses not being used, or connections not made, will be eliminated -- the "use it or lose it" rule. Connections made repeatedly in the early years stay and become stronger.

What does all this really mean? Simple: Babies' brains need stimulation to develop their full potential.The best way to accomplish this is through human interactions. Your voice, your attentiveness, your gentle touch.

The kind of care a child receives plays a big role in how the brain chooses to wire itself. Success By 6, a national initiative of United Way of America and the nation's largest network of early childhood coalitions focused on improving school readiness through community change, promotes the importance of early brain development so that all children are ready physically, intellectually and socially to begin kindergarten.

The Brain Under Construction Zone, an initiative through our local Success By 6 with United Way of the River Cities, systematically reinforces the 12 Tips for Raising a Healthy Child:

1. The first years last forever. Wiring a brain is like wiring a house; it works better if you start from the beginning.

2. You cannot spoil a baby. Be warm, loving and pay attention to your child's sounds, movements and expressions.

3. Talk, read, and sing to your child. You are your child's first teacher.

4. Have a regular schedule. Children find comfort in the same routine every day.

5. Play is the work of the young child. Encourage safe exploration and play.

6. Pay attention to your child. Be aware of how, where and with whom your child spends his time. Choose TV, radio and internet carefully.

7. Take care of yourself. You cannot take care of your child if your basic needs are not also being met.

8. Discipline to teach, not punish. Use discipline as an opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. Never hit or shake a child.

9. Choose quality child care and stay involved. For local information on approved childcare sites call LINK at 1-800-894-9540.

10. Children develop at different rates. Celebrate each child.

11. Give your child a childhood. Children need unstructured time. More is not always better.

12. Children need to know they matter. Show your children they are loved for who they are.

These messages are designed to improve and enhance parent/child interaction, starting with simple activities that parents can do with their children to stimulate learning. The goal for the Brain Under Construction Zone project is to build awarenesss and understanding of the importance of early brain development to the future success of children.

Lena Burdette is the Community Initiatives Coordinator of Success By 6 for United Way of the River Cities. Contact her at 304-523-8928, extention 7. or by email lena@unitedwayrivercities.org.

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