You’re listening to Parenting in the First Three Years, the place where we explore the strategies and soul of parenting from pregnancy through the first three years of life. I’m your host, Ann McKitrick. Thank you so much for joining me.
So Deborah, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. I am so excited to talk about this subject because I love thinking and talking with you about brain development. Uh, really young babies. So, thanks so much for being here. Well, thanks for inviting me. It’s always such a pleasure talking with you and having our like-mindedness exchanged again.
Thank you. Yeah. So today, we’re talking about balanced brain stimulation, and that sounds kind of technical when you are thinking of a tiny little newborn in your arms, but I wonder if you could just kind of define what, what does that even mean? What do those words mean? Well, the brain doesn’t like [00:01:00] to be either overstimulated or understimulated, so either one can cause dysregulation in the brain, so we just want to do what we can to keep it balanced, especially for the youngest babies, they can get overstimulated so easily and, you know, as the brain matures.
It can handle a little more stimulation, which of course is a good thing. So it’s like I said, it’s this balance. So we want to be providing stimulation for the brain through the experiences that the brain needs, makes the connections between the neurons based on experiences. overstimulation
Is a concern because it causes that stress and that dysregulation. So, again, it’s just this balancing that we want to create. So, I’m, I’m thinking to myself, you know, like, I know when my brain is [00:02:00] overstimulated and how that makes me feel, but how do we know what. Newborns or six month olds or 12 month olds are, are feeling inside their brains.
How has that, how’s that even known? Well, having a perspective of the understanding, first of all, that we need to be aware. That’s the biggest key that we as adults need to realize that, yeah, it can be overstimulated or it can be understimulated. And let me just tell you a little bit of why I created the packets about this topic.
In the first place, I was doing some consulting work at a child care center, and I walked into the infant classroom to work with that teacher, and very well intentioned, she had a baby laying on a blanket on the floor, which was good, wasn’t strapped into a seat, and laying on the floor, and she’s shaking a rattle in front of the baby, so she’s trying to stimulate, give him an [00:03:00] experience, but she’s She was talking as she’s rattling and the rattle is, of course, making a noise and it’s this visual stimulation and the auditory stimulation of the rattle along with her voice.
Plus in the classroom, there was loud music playing. So it was overstimulating to my brain for all of that going on. And the baby was turning away and trying to naturally do what it could to not be so stimulated by all of this was going on. So it was doing this body language and showing I can’t take all of this in.
Yeah. So that’s, you know, a true telltale sign. And if you think about babies, you can think about that they do that, right? So, in this situation, there was also a baby that was strapped into a infant seat. And the infant seat or the carrier thing the baby was in, I call them babies in a bucket, was that [00:04:00] seat was placed in a crib.
So the baby’s all strapped in and facing a blank wall. So that baby had no stimulation. It didn’t have its own ability to stimulate itself through movement and no visual stimulation. It could, of course, hear all the music that was going on, but no visual stimulation. So that baby was very understimulated.
Right. So, so again, the, the awareness of. Those levels of stimulation is so important. So a baby might get more into the question is they might turn away. They might sometimes hiccups occur as a result, um, crying. You know, you’re just totally dysregulated, can’t handle it. Sometimes they might just shut down and really young babies might just go to sleep.
I can’t handle all of this. So those are some of the ways that they might be showing it. [00:05:00] Okay. So that’s how you could tell if a child is understimulated. Well, how do you know if you’ve got it just right? You know, like what would be some things that parents could look for with that? You know, how do you know?
That’s when the baby’s going to be engaged. And you’re going to have the eye contact and they’re really tuned in to looking at your face and your expressions. And of course, they love that and need that they’re learning so much through that. So that would be or they’re actively. You know, an older, older baby, like you mentioned, a six month old would be playing with something and mouthing something and interacting with something.
So, it’s their engagement is the biggest key. You can see, even like a real young infant, it might seem like maybe it’s under stimulating, that they’re just looking up at some shadows on the wall. That’s interesting to them. If you’re watching them and see that going on. I remember one [00:06:00] of my daughters as a baby and she was born in May.
So she had the opportunity to be outdoors a lot. And I remember her laying and looking at the leaves moving in a tree and. That’s a lot of positive stimulation, but it wasn’t over stimulation. They were engaged in. And so you can watch that all happening. Yeah, I love being outside with, especially with really young babies, but really all children.
There’s just such a. A gentleness about being outdoors, you know, in most environments, sometimes it’s not so gentle, but that’s true. And that’s a good point. I mean, there are environments that are just going to be over stimulating just the, the chaos within, within a home or out on a city street with a lot of.
Car noise and that kind of thing. So it’s not just the direct interactions, but overall environment that’s going to cause that as well. Yeah. [00:07:00] So if you know that you’re going to be in a place where your child is going to be very overstimulated, let’s say you’re going to go to a. Football game or something, you know, with it, with your baby, what do you suggest for parents?
What can they do to help help their child manage that? Again, awareness. So it’s seeing things from the baby’s perspective. You’re going to want to think through what are they going to be experiencing? And we’re caring mammals, you know, the babies, babies need to be close. And that’s comforting. So, in that situation, have that closeness and that comfort.
Don’t just carry them in a baby bucket. They don’t, then they’re missing that, that closeness and that connection and your touch and feeling your heart beat and all of those positive things. That’s going to help with that situation. An older child, a little bit older, you’re going to want to… Explain to them.
We’re going to [00:08:00] do something new and different. And these are the kinds of things you’re going to see there. And you’re gonna there might be some loud noises, you know, just preparing them and thinking through it again as from their perspective. Do you have any thoughts about the Little earphones that babies wear when they go to loud places like that.
Yeah, that’s an example of Thinking through what it might be for their their perspective, you know, even older children preschool children When there’s loud noises like one that I see all the time is those hand dryers in a restroom You’ll be kids hate those loud noises one of my grandsons Develop this Technique where he put his arms over his ears and then put his hands out like this so he could muffle the sound a bit.
That’s great. He solved his own problems. He did. Yeah. I remember a long time [00:09:00] ago seeing some videos of a baby that was, it was, it was a newborn. It was very, very tiny little baby, just maybe days old. And the, the researcher was talking to the baby and using this, this parent ease talk, you know, kind of sing song and slow.
And the, the baby’s movements were exactly in rhythm and. In sync with the words that were being spoken, of course, this is in slow motion, you know, to be able to actually see this happening. But do you think these 2 things are kind of related? Is that would, would that be a, an example of. Of a brain that is balanced spot right there.
Yes, yes, when there’s synchronization, that is, that’s a signal that things are balanced. So yeah, you bring up a very good point, using voice. I talk about this a lot, that children tune into tone of voice, and an example I use is, you can say the exact [00:10:00] same words. And be activating the brain in very different ways.
Right, yeah. So, I’m gonna warn you. The first one is threatening sounding and scary sounding. But you can say the words, Come here! Right? That’s gonna activate the stress response system of the brain. It sounds like a threat. It’s loud. It’s scary. You can say the exact same words, Come here. And it’s nurturing and calming.
So, The point is voice donation makes a difference and how you’re activating or stimulating the brain, right? So using calming voice to get that over stimulation calm down is a positive. You want to stimulate the brain, you can jazz it up a bit. Yeah, let’s have some fun and do the serve and return and let’s put together and using that the parent ease and the higher pitch and the, The slower pace, let’s play together and they watch your [00:11:00] movements of your mouth and then they get engaged because it’s fun and stimulating.
But if it gets to be too much, you watch that baby, you do the attunement, you tune into how they’re responding to it. Now are, have they had enough? Are they turning away? Well, then. Go back to the calming voice. Yeah, I love the way babies will do that. You know, like I often will catch a child’s eye in the grocery store or, you know, just when I’m out and about and, you know, I do it from a distance and I’m very safe.
But oftentimes babies will just kind of stare at you. And sometimes I’ll smile and I’ll wave, you know, and say hi and they will engage and then they’ll turn their head like they let, you know, so clearly when they’re done with this, this interaction with you and I just love the way they, they know what’s good for them and when they need out.
The art of observing your child is one that grows with time for new parents. It’s one [00:12:00] that really is, is such a delightful thing to do to watch your kid and learn from them. It is. That’s such a good example. And, and on a side note to that about the observing and tuning in, there’s a lot of research on the effects of using screens when you’re with your baby.
Thank you. Because it results in that distraction that prevents you and that’s what the research shows that a lot of times parents are missing those cues as a result. So the other aspect of it is the research done, the still baby or the still face experiment. Why don’t you describe that because maybe people don’t know what that is.
Okay. Well, yeah, so there’s this still face experiment where there’s a video that’s out that’s quite popular, and this is a mother and a baby having the serve and return interactions, and they’re having this [00:13:00] great time, and the mom is responding to the baby, then the baby’s reacting to her, the mom looks where the baby’s pointing, so she’s following the baby’s lead, it’s all beautiful.
And then the experimenter asks the mother to just not react. Have a still face. And what you see very quickly start to happen is the baby’s dysregulated. Why aren’t you responding to me? I can’t get you engaged. And her body language changed. She starts screeching. She points to try to get the parent to do that again.
And the mom is not responding. And this baby is just totally, you can see all the body language totally dysregulated. Crying and threshing in her seat and that kind of thing. And then the experimenters ask her to, to re engage and it’s so hard to watch. I know, I kind of hate that video. Yes, yes. [00:14:00] And when she re engages, it takes a little bit until the baby comes back to the synchronization together.
And she comforts the baby and she touches the baby and she starts talking to the baby again. And then the baby. Re engages with her. Right. So bringing that up is that if you’re on your phone, you’re actually doing a still face. Yeah, it’s, I will put the link to that, to that YouTube video on the show notes of this episode, because it is.
It is very, very informative and hard to watch, but just so you know, if you’re listening to this, it only lasts. I mean, she only has that still face for 30 seconds. I mean, they don’t, they don’t torture this poor baby, but it still feels like torture to me to see them crying like that. It does, it does. Yeah.
You know, it is kind of a good hard truth of. Of how important our engagement is, [00:15:00] and it’s not that we have to be 100 percent on all the time, but if it gets. Dis synchronized or unsynchronized, just the restoration of it is what’s important to, to keep top of mind. That’s it. That’s it. That restoration is key.
Um, that disruption and then repair. The repair part is, is so critically important. And yeah, we’re human. We’re, we’re busy. There’s all kinds of things going on. There might be other children. There’s things all day long. Demanding our attention. So just having the awareness, like I said, like you made the point.
We’re not perfect. We’re not going to be engaged every single second and recognizing that, but When we do engage what is important to look for, right? And I think I’m not going to say this precisely, but I think I read recently that it’s like, if you can just get it right, like, 30 percent of the time, [00:16:00] everything’s going to be just great.
You know, we don’t have to be perfect parents. You know, we just need to be right, you know, as, as good as we can in that moment. But perfection is not what anybody is demanding. Yeah. And doing that repair is key. Like, Oh, you really wanted my attention. I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention to you. Was I? Yeah.
That’s it. You know, as adults. Would we want our spouse or other family members to do that? Oh, you were trying to talk to me. Oh, I’m sorry. I was distracted. I’m paying attention now, right? Yeah. Yeah. As adults, I have to say that to my friends all the time when I get distracted. Well, this has really been helpful.
I think it’s going to be very insightful for parents of, of little bitties, but also for, you know, for older kids as well. So as we wrap this up, do you have parting word of encouragement for parents who might be listening? Yes, and it very much goes along with the points we were just discussing and that is [00:17:00] to give yourself a break because I do a presentation on the way in which the brain focuses attention and often we as a people that care about children at the end of the day, think about.
Hmm, I didn’t get that done. I should have handled that differently. I wish I would have whatever. And instead, if we refocus our attention and think about, well, what did I do well today? What do I feel good about that? I did today. And we can give ourselves a break and, and when you do that, there’s probably a lot more things that you feel good about that you did accomplish or you did handle well.
And your brain starts going down that, that path. And once you go down, begin that path, there’s more of that comes in. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And I did that. And wow, I felt good about that. That’s right. Right. So do that for yourself. Yeah. It’s a great mindset switch. Well, thank you so much. I’m going to put all of the links [00:18:00] to find Debra’s work and all of her wonderful resources in the show notes, and you’ll be able to find her and look her up.
Okay. Thanks so much, Deborah. Well, thank you to all that are listening, because it’s obvious you care about children. That’s why you’re listening. Thank you. Appreciation to you. Yeah. Thank you so much. If you love today’s episode, take a minute and subscribe to our podcast. And one last thing. I’d love to pray for you and your baby if you’d like for me to.
You can email me at ask at nurtured noggins. com. Your request can be as simple as just one word, or it can include an explanation. Either way, you can trust that I will pray for you. It’s a quiet, simple way that I can connect with you and your family and support you in your parenting journey.