Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah
We often think that we can make our children smarter by using educational toys like flash cards, computers or mobiles. We are then actually far away from the reality that true intelligence depends on the quality of their early emotional experiences and relationships, especially with parents. Children use their feelings in much the same way they use their vision and hearing – as a way to understand and become more familiar with their surroundings and the world around them. The intelligence levels of the little ones depend on how well they are engaged in relationships and how their feelings are part of ongoing interactions.
The minds of our children go through six basic stages of development in the crucial first few years of life. Handling them well in these six stages will help us lay the foundations for intellectual growth.
STAGE I: When children are making sense of the world. In the first three months of life, babies learn to decipher the countless sensations that surround them, as well as their bodies’ responses to these stimuli. A crucial part of their task is learning to stay calm so that they can focus on stimuli like people, objects and events in order to make sense of them. This ability to pay attention is the foundation for the rest of their intellectual development. As parents we need to understand that our voice, face and gestures will help the little ones discover their senses more effectively than leaving them alone for long periods of time with rattles, mobiles or other objects that have no emotional connection for them.
STAGE II: When children are developing intimacy. Upto six months of age, babies begin to take pleasure in relating to others. They mimic their parent’s grins and coos and experience a joy in intimacy that later develops into empathy and love. As parents we need to ensure that our little ones spend many hours each day with loving people – us, grandparents or even a loving care giver. Often both parents are working these days, and we still need to make some unhurried time to cuddle and play with them.
STAGE III: When children are forming a sense of self. From three to twelve months, babies understand they can use communication to make things better. They smile to get us to smile back, and reach their arms up to signal that they want to be picked up. At this stage, we need to communicate with them, and also need to understand their signals!
STAGE IV: When children are discovering social problem solving. From twelve to twenty months, children discover more complicated patterns in their world and learn to figure out steps involved in getting what they want. As parents, we need to use their natural inquisitiveness as an opportunity for problem solving.
STAGE V: When children are creating emotional ideas. Beginning at eighteen months and continuing to two and a half years, children make a professional transition in their cognitive development. They begin to understand the concept of symbolic meaning, that one thing can stand for another. They are also able to imagine doing something before they actually do it, and they can put a name on emotions, such as anger, rather than simply acting on impulses.
STAGE VI: When children are learning to think. At the age of thirty months and older, they continue to put ideas together in increasingly complex ways. They start to think about what and why questions. They begin to recognize the difference between the past, the present and the future, and they reflect on experiences. As parents, we need to encourage our children to create elaborate scenarios and learn to answer open-ended questions.
Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah is Associate Professor of Paediatrics, Guwahati Medical College. She can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org