You are pregnant but it was not planned however you have made a decision to have the baby. You are a little scared and nervous. You are still continuing with behaviors that you did when you were not expecting a baby. You are living in a stressful situation and your fetus is being stressed.

Research tells us that the neural circuits for handling stress are vulnerable during the fetal stage and early childhood education periods. Early experiences shape how quickly these neural circuits will be activated and how well they can be turned off. This circuit starts in the retina, and synapses first at the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus and then at the primary visual cortex. The neural circuits function just like the electrical box; if one wire is missing or disconnected it throws off the entire system. Brain Development is no different.

Neurons are the basic material of the brain. These cells are responsible for communicating messages in the brain and from the brain to the rest of your body. This is also called synapses development. When the neurons are not used, the synapse connections decrease. It is very important for you to stimulate your infant. One way to do this is by repetition of sensory experiences. You must interact with your infants in order to help their brain development. You should provide sensory activities for your infants/toddlers, any activity that promotes awareness of one or more of the five senses: hearing, smelling, seeing, speaking and feeling (touching).

You can do the following to help brain development in your infant, these are all sensory experiences:

  • Play children’s music for your infant/toddler
  • Play multicultural music for your infant/toddler
  • When your infant/toddler points to an object you should name it
  • Take your infant/toddler to different places
  • Be gentle with your infant/toddler

Giving your infants many experiences helps your infant’s brain to develop. Here are a few sensory activities that you can do at home:

  • For you can put dry beans in a bottle and shake it for your baby when she is old enough she can shake. You should add different items to the bottle and discuss how the sounds are different.
  • You can put ice in a bowl and have your infant/toddler play with it, while you ask how does it feel .That is cold you are giving your child language.
  • You should be reading books that are age appropriate to your baby
  • Talk with your baby (not gibberish use whole language)
  • Identify different shapes such as, the television is a square; the door is a rectangle; the toilet bowl is a circle; your pots are also circles, I am sure that you get the idea.
  • Do not leave your baby/infant in front of the television
  • You should also have age appropriate books available for your baby/infant to read on their own
  • Purchase developmental toys for your baby(toys they can interact with)
  • Purchase open ended toys (e.g. Leggos, play dough, sand, etc.)
  • Name your baby’s body parts when you are giving her a bath
  • Name the color clothing while you are dressing your baby
  • Give your baby an empty card board box for her to discover introduce the concept of in and out

You can put the baby in the box and say wow you are in the box and when you take the baby out say now you are out of the box. You can add items to the box also. You should start this when your baby is sitting up. Babies love to do drumming on empty boxes.

You should also allow your baby to move around freely. This means making your space baby proof. When babies are able to move freely they do not hear NO often. They get a chance to explore and build self-confidence. When a baby hears “NO” most of the time it restricts her ability to explore as the word “No “adds an element of fear/hesitation within your baby. Just imagine if someone is saying No you most of the time would you be motivated to try anything new?

You are preparing your baby for the world which begins the minute you got pregnant. Once your baby is home you are obligated to socialize, guide and positively discipline your infant/toddler.

You should try your best not to put your infant/toddler through too much stress, Dr. Perry , Director of Child Trauma programs at Texas Children’s Hospital and Bay nor College of Medicine says” During development the brain grows and organizes itself in a use-dependent way” .Those parts of the brain that are not getting stimulated and activated will be modified. If the stimulus is extreme, as in the case of abuse, then the fear response is on all the time. These children can end up having the persisting physiology of the same fear that they experience during the trauma.”

Many parents put fear into their infants and toddlers by not allowing them space to grow. If you have your child strapped in a stroller most of the time this restricts the child’s gross motor development. If you have a pacifier in the child’s mouth most of the time and do not speak with infant/toddler this restricts their language development.

If your toddler is climbing on the table and you shout from across the room, ”Pooky don’t go up there” you are restricting the child’s brain development. You need to support the infant by making the space safe for her to climb. Add a pillow to the floor to cushion the child if she falls and you should get close and observe, be calm and if the toddler needs support provide it. This is one way of building self-esteem in your toddler. You are also giving your toddler an opportunity to take risk and trust that you will be there to support her adventures.

Last week I was in Central Park, the section for infants and toddlers. Most parents had their children getting wet, getting in the sand box etc. This African American mother had a cute little girl. She allowed her on the swing, slide and the spider web. She did not allow the child to play in the sand box, she put her back in the stroller and when the toddler indicated that she wanted to go into the water the mother kept her in the stroller and placed some water in her hand and threw it on the toddler’s feet. As she pushed the stroller towards the exit the child began screaming. There was no interaction between the child and the mother while the child was screaming instead the mother just kept pushing the stroller. Another observation that I made; the child was not dressed for the park. This is a major problem in our community. Many parents spend money on purchasing expensive clothing for young children and then restrict the infant /toddler’s natural process of development because they do not want the “clothing to get messed up”. Children are born naturally curious and want to learn, however many parents hinder their children’s natural process of brain development. A young child must be given opportunities to practice critical thinking and logical reasoning. Infants and toddlers must be given opportunities to take risk. Confidence and self esteem is built during these critical years. However, the infant must be given opportunities to feel that she can accomplish things with the adult support when need. Many parents in the African American/Latino community place an emphasis on the wrong things during the critical years of brain development. Last month I had a table at a flea market in the Bronx I was selling children’s books and I was there all day and did not sell one book. I had books for infants and toddlers, just an observation.

Brain development is a bottom up process. At birth your brain size is 25% and by age 5 it is 90%. These are the critical years for setting the foundation for life time of learning. The brain is just like a bean if you plant it you must nurture it in order for it to grow.

You should remember that brain development is built over time this process begins before birth. Sometimes when I am walking or driving in the community I observe caregivers speaking to their toddlers in a very negative way. If you do not treat your child gently and respectfully she will grow up to be a problem to the community. Children live what they learn and it begins at home.

In order for your child to be successful in school she must be socially and emotionally ready for school by age 3 they must have these skills according to the Head Start Report that was done in 1992 and was published by Zero to Three. This report was honored by the United Nations in 1994 for contributing to the world’s greatest resource “our children”

  • Confidence- A sense of control and mastery of one’s body, behavior and world, the child sense that she is more likely than not to succeed at what she undertakes, and that adults will be helpful
  • Curiosity- The sense that finding out about things is positive and leads to pleasure
  • Intentionality- The wish and capacity to have an impact and to act upon that with persistence (this is clearly related to a sense of competence of being effective).
  • Self-control- The ability to engage with others based on the sense of being understood by and understanding others
  • Capacity to communicate- The wish and ability to verbally exchange ideas, feelings and concepts with others. This is related to a sense of trust in others and of pleasure in engaging with others, including adults.
  • Co-cooperativeness-The ability to balance one’s own needs with others in a group activity.

Children who lack these skills before they get to school will become a part of the cradle to prison pipeline. Development is a process that occurs in stages and when a stage is missed it is very difficult if not impossible to revert. For example, a child who is in the 2nd grade and is not able to read on her level; teaching the child the alphabet may prove to be frustrating because the developmental process was compromised. The child begins to feel incompetent has no self-confidence and a number of negative social emotional feelings will arise in the child.

These are some of the consequences when you do not give your infant and toddler the skills that they need during the critical stages of brain development which is birth to age five.

Here are some statistics from a 2012 Children’s Defense Fund report that will help you get a better idea of the challenges to look out for that face Black parents:

The Achievement Gap

Black Children Fall Behind Early On

  • At nine months Black babies score lower on measures of cognitive development than White babies.
  • At 24 months the gap in cognitive development has more than tripled between Black babies and White babies.
  • At 4-years-old Black children scored significantly behind White children in their proficiency in letter, number and shape recognition.

Too Many Black Children Enter School Behind

  • Black children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs at a higher rate than White children, but the programs often are of lower quality.
  • On average, Black children arrive at kindergarten and/or first grade with lower levels of school readiness than White children.
  • Black children spend more time on average watching television daily, are less likely to have regular mealtimes and have far fewer books than White children.30

Retention, Suspension, Expulsion and Corporal Punishment

  • Black children are two and a half times as likely as White children to be held back or retained in school.
  • Although Black students comprised only 17 percent of students in public schools in 2006,

they represented:

  • 35.6 percent of all students who experienced corporal punishment.
  • 37.4 percent of all students suspended.
  • 37.9 percent of all students expelled.

These statistics can be reversed if parents give their infants/toddlers the school readiness skills that are necessary for school success.

Working in childcare centers for more than twenty years I have observed many of these statistics. Three year olds that are out of control and have to spend several hours in the Director’s office instead of in their classroom. This usually happens quite often and the parent has no time to come in for a visit because she needs to get to her welfare to work program or does not want to miss work. After a while the children in Johnny’s class begins to see him as a “bad boy” he begins to internalize that label and continues that behavior because that is the only way he gets attention. He begins to feel that acting out is the solution for getting his needs met.

Eventually we had to decide on zero time out and redirect instead. However, many of these children have emotional problems and needs professional intervention.

As the report mentioned “Black children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs at a higher rate than White children, but the programs often are of lower quality”


  • National Scientific Council on The Developing Child, summer 2005 working paper
  • Brain Research and Early child Development by Kathleen Cranley Gallagher
  • Early Childhood and Brain Development; Children’s institute International winter 1999
  • The Science of Early Childhood Development:
  • Head Start Report: The emotional Foundations of School Readiness
  • Portrait of Inequality July 2011 Black Children in America. 2011 Children’s Defense Fund.