Parenting comes with heavy responsibilities and one responsibility we take very seriously as parents is that of ensuring that our baby develops his maximum potential. The question is how can we best enhance our baby’s development?

In recent years it has become accepted wisdom that a certain amount of stimulation is needed to optimise a babies’ development. The reason is an interesting one. A baby is actually born with all the necessary brain cells for all areas of development. In order to make sense of the world, the baby’s brain must make connections between these brain cells. It is sensory input or stimulation from the environment that assists in the formation of connections between brain cells, thereby developing intelligence and coordination. If, however, a brain cell is never used it will eventually disappear. For instance, if a baby never hears a musical instrument being played he will eventually loose the brain cells that could contribute to musical brilliance. It truly is a case of ‘use it or loose it’.

This information is enough to send any parent into a frenzy of stimulate, stimulate, stimulate! But is the case of ‘the more the better’ really true in this instance? The answer is no! If a baby’s immature brain is subjected to an overload of stimulation it reacts by becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated. In this state, the brain cannot use all the well-intentioned input. For instance, a 6-month-old who becomes overstimulated during the course of a mom’s and babies’ stimulation group, will not benefit at all from the stimulating activities.

We need to have a balanced view of stimulation. This means that we do not avoid over stimulation at all costs and do nothing for our children. But rather that we modulate stimulation in order to enhance development. We do this through an enriched but not over-stimulating environment and routine.

We can use the following principles to ensure that we provide an optimal environment for development and learning:

  • Timing is of the essence when it comes to stimulation.
    • Do not stimulate a tired or irritable baby, rather use calming input to help him settle down for sleep.
    • Introduce games, toys, and activities at times when he is alert but calm so he can benefit maximally from the experience.
    • Rather than planning your day around stimulation activities, incorporate development-enhancing activities into your routine.
    • Do not over-schedule your child, taking him from one stimulation activity to the next and don’t schedule classes at sleep time.
  • Watch for signs of overstimulation and do not stimulate him at that time. It is better to remove him from the stimulation or environment in order to avoid further stress.
  • Do not overwhelm your baby with an array of bright, state-of-the-art toys.
    • Two to three toys on the playmat will encourage meaningful play instead of overwhelming your baby.
    • Babies often respond best to the most simple of everyday objects – like a box or spoon.
  • Be sure to allow your baby just to play with no pressure to achieve a developmental goal.

The key to a contented baby who benefits maximally from his world is to modulate the stimulation he receives.