Brain Development

Early Childhood Brain Development

  • Your baby’s brain grows so much during their first 3 years of life, making interactions with a loving adult especially important.
  • Relationships, experiences and the environment all affect how the brain develops.
  • Learn about simple activities you can do every day to help your baby’s brain grow.
  • Stress and trauma can negatively impact brain growth.


When a child feels connected, secure, and protected with their caregiver, it has a wonderful effect on brain development. It lets them know their caregiver can meet their needs and actually helps the front part of the brain (the frontal lobe) grow. Healthy relationships, experiences and environments early in a child’s life actually improve their well-being later in life.


Babies need nutritious foods in order for their brains to grow – starting during pregnancy. Some extra calories and protein are important parts of a pregnant woman’s diet.

Once a baby is born, their fast-growing brains depend on nutritious food. Breast milk has the best mix of nutrients (although an iron supplement is usually needed after six months). Formulas with iron are great too as are “fortified” cereals, when your baby is old enough to eat solids.

When your baby is old enough to eat solids, offer them lots of brain healthy foods like meats, oatmeal, whole grains, berries, beans, and vegetables. These will need to come in a pureed form (i.e. baby food) until they are old enough to chew food pieces.

Visual Interactions

Babies need to look at things regularly. This helps their vision develop correctly and helps their brain grow by encouraging exploration and discovery. As they get older, toddlers will need interactions that improve their visual skills. Below are a few simple tips for providing those interactions for your child at different ages:

0-8 months 12-18 months
  • Look into baby’s eyes, make   different faces and see how baby responds
  • Show baby toys that are different in size, color, feel and shape
  • When they are older, babies will start to grab at objects.  Give them ones to stack, bang together or sort.
  • Allow your child a safe place to explore and pick up objects to look at.
  • Provide toys to build hand-eye coordination (chunky puzzles, stackable blocks, shape sorter)
  • Play peek-a-boo or other games where you hide an object and then reveal it.
8-12 months 18-24 months
  • Share books with your baby. Even if there are no words, show them the pictures and talk about them.
  • Let baby touch your face.  Describe your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
  • Let your baby practice dropping and picking up objects.
  • Let your toddler explore dirt, sand and water with shovels, buckets and other tools.
  • Give your toddler some paints or colors to explore with.
  • Do a silly motion or dance and watch as your toddler copies you.
  • Go on a nature walk and let your child point to, touch, and name things you find. Name any items they may seem unsure about.

Verbal Interactions

The number of words a baby hears early in his/her life is linked to their intelligence.  How amazing is that! Talk, sing and read to your baby as much as you can. As they get older, let them “read” to you. Ask questions and engage in a conversation – even if you can’t really understand them. Below are some ways you can stimulate your child’s brain and language development:

0-8 months 12-18 months
  • Talk to your baby. Watch as baby turns his/her head to find you.
  • Name items to your baby.  Walk around the house and point out things like the couch, light switch, kitchen, etc.
  • Read! It can be a magazine, menu, or words on a sign. If you have a picture book, make up your own story or describe the pictures.
  • Have a conversation with your toddler. Ask them questions and see how they respond.
  • Introduce your toddler to other toddlers. Notice how they play and talk to each other.
  • Follow their lead. Let toddlers show you the way – name objects and people as they go.
8-12 months 18-24 months
  • Copy your baby when they make sounds. Repeat any words back to them.
  • Sing songs. Show baby hand motions to go with the music.
  • Give them a variety of toys.  Describe what they look like and do.
  • Your toddler will start putting 2-4 words together. Encourage them by repeating back what they say in a complete sentence – “Yes. Mommy will get you some milk.”
  • Explore their senses. Talk to them about what they see, hear, taste, smell and feel.

Negative Factors that can affect brain development

Exposure to stressful experiences can slow brain growth and impact learning and social-emotional skills later in life. It can slow a child’s ability to learn new skills, create healthy boundaries, communicate needs and feelings and can also lead to health problems.