Biggest Thing New Parents Often Overlook
After nine months of preparing and planning for their baby, new Christian parents often overlook one of the most beneficial things to do once a newborn finally arrives: read to them.
The benefits of reading to a child from birth are so well-documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 issued a special policy statement for its 62,000 members to actively promote reading to their patients’ parents.
New Brains Work Fast
The fascinating nuts and bolts of how God wired human brains for processing words and their meanings hold the keys to family life and faith.
Language is the gateway to knowledge and making meaning of the world around us, including God. The more we know through science about how He made us, the more we appreciate the massive activity and potential within babies from the start.
Due to rapid brain growth in the first years of life, with trillions of connections made between billions of new cells, the latest studies place the most critical brain-building years between zero and three years old.
In one study conducted by Stanford University, researchers concluded that the differences among children, regarding their ability to process language, can be measured as early as 18 months. That ability is largely the result of the number and context of words a child has heard.
“What we’re seeing is the beginning of a developmental cascade,” said Anne Fernald, Stanford University associate professor of psychology and the study lead. Even poverty—long thought to be an overwhelming disadvantage for a child’s achievement—can be overcome with parent awareness and training.
“The good news is that regardless of economic circumstances, parents who use more and richer language with their infants can help their children to learn more quickly,” Fernald told the Stanford Report.
Word Quality Matters
Recent studies also confirm that the quality of conversations involving the child, and not just quantity of words spoken, is a reliable predictor of a child’s vocabulary and I.Q. Television and overhearing unrelated conversations do not have the same benefit.
“It’s not just about shoving words in,” Temple University researcher Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek told The New York Times. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone.”
But does it matter if babies hear a book about Jesus or about Winnie the Pooh? Christian parents should think intentionally about that. If word quality matters, then the Word of the Bible and all that springs from its rich pages much matter most. We know that God gave humans a spirit of worship from birth: “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). Jesus said his sheep know his voice (John 10).
My own daughter, Anna, was an “awake” baby from the beginning. Given the physical limits of what you can do with a newborn, reading together became a frequent, favorite ritual of ours throughout the day. During this early time, I realized that of course she isn’t understanding any of the words, even those of baby-focused Bibles. But she turned her ear to listen to my voice, so my desire was to feed her soul.
“Language is the fuel for a child’s mind and heart,” says Graham Blanchard Education Director Lynda Greene, a grandmother. “This is important to know for all who are nurturing the development of the little ones they cherish.”
In the midst of rapid brain development, babies are learning “to give and receive love; to roll, crawl, stand, walk, and run; to talk, joke, rhyme, and sing,” the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families notes.
Isn’t that just like God? He outfits a new soul, according to His special plan (Psalm 139), with the mechanism to connect with Him and others from the very first day of life. Babies are preset, so to speak, to learn best from the people who love them most, including God.
Parent and Child Grow Together
As parents read biblical truths aloud to their child, they also nurture their own faith. Whispering the words of Jesus in an infant’s ears can give much needed reassurance during what can otherwise be an unpredictable time, the early years of parenting.
When my daughter was an infant and toddler, I often read to her a beautifully illustrated adult translation of Psalm 23. The passage became a great source of comfort to me knowing how God was watching over my little lamb and leading me by still waters.
Once babies grow and start to enjoy books on their own, they start to participate in the selection and ritual. Books that tie faith and God to children’s everyday lives become like old friends for them. Sometimes, they’ll even pull out their favorite book and “read” it, while mom and dad read their own old friend, the Bible.
Newborn Promise Project co-author Callie Grant heads Graham Blanchard Inc, which creates children’s and parent’s books for building families up in Christian Faith. Find out more at http://www.grahamblanchard.com. This article is adapted from an earlier piece published by CBN.Com.
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