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Building Healthy Minds

Building Healthy Minds

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by Stanley I Greenspan, Nancy Lewis

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Every parent wants to raise a bright, happy, and moral child, but until Stanley Greenspan investigated the building blocks of cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development, no one could show parents how and when these qualities begin. In this book Dr. Greenspan, the internationally admired child psychiatrist, identifies the six key experiences that enable


Every parent wants to raise a bright, happy, and moral child, but until Stanley Greenspan investigated the building blocks of cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development, no one could show parents how and when these qualities begin. In this book Dr. Greenspan, the internationally admired child psychiatrist, identifies the six key experiences that enable children to reach their full potential. In Building Healthy Minds, he draws upon discoveries made in his research and practice as he describes the many ways in which games, fantasy play, and conversations with and without words encourage this development. No one has looked so deeply into the very earliest stages of human development, and no other book makes such vital and effective information available to every parent.

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Da Capo Press
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0.85(w) x 6.00(h) x 9.00(d)

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How You Know Your Baby Is Falling in Love with You
You'll know that your baby has reached a new rung on the developmental ladder when she resonates with the emotion you express to her with an emotional reaction of her own. Her ability to love you and to respond in many different ways to your emotional overtures also reveals just how adept and smart she's becoming. For example, if you greet her with a big, bright smile, she may beam with delight. If you wrinkle your brow, she may look perplexed as though she were imitating your worried facial expression. When you make clucking noises, your baby may struggle to work her mouth into a shape that mimics yours, even though she can't yet duplicate your sounds. You can try to get a duet going between the two of you that consists of shared smiles, frowns, other facial expressions, and rhythmic arm and leg movements.

A second and equally important indication that your baby is emotionally responsive is the obvious pleasure or joy she takes in your company. Her loving smile or yelp or gleeful sounds when she first sees you in the morning and the excited squeals or waving arms she produces in response to your voice are all her ways of showing you her loving feelings.

By five months or so, your baby will show you (and other key caregivers) her growing capacity to form a loving relationship by behaving in a variety of ways. Some of these include:

  • Responding to your smiles with a big one of her own
  • Initiating interactions with loving looks and smiles
  • Making sounds and/or moving her mouth, arms, legs, or body in rhythm with you as you move in rhythm with her
  • Relaxing or acting comforted when you hold her or rock her
  • Cooing when she is held, touched, looked at or spoken to
  • Looking at your face with rapt interest
  • Anticipating with curiosity and excitement the reappearance of your face or voice
  • Looking uneasy or sad when you withdraw in the midst of playing with her
  • Becoming angry (with a furrowed brow or piercing cry) when she's frustrated by something you are doing
  • Recovering from distress, with your help, within 15 minutes
Your baby may even show very specific preferences, and radiate excitement when you amplify her pleasure by:
  • Talking and babbling to her, using a variety of high and low pitches and soft to loud tones
  • Offering her a range of different facial expressions while talking and babbling
  • Touching or massaging her, using gentle touch while telling her what you are doing
  • Gently moving her arms and legs while talking to her and looking at her
  • Moving her horizontally or vertically, fast and slow, through space while beaming at her with big smiles accompanied by lots of sounds and words
As your baby relates to you and expresses loving feelings, various motor, sensory, language, and cognitive achievements are also often taking place. The milestone of falling in love usually organizes and gives purpose to these skills. For example, when your baby is physically capable of reaching out and grasping something, she will more often attempt to reach for something that she is interested in and takes delight in. There's nothing more interesting in her world than you, and her love for you will continue to spur her on as she learns to reach, grasp, sit, and eventually crawl toward you, the object of her affection.

Similarly, her maturing senses help her recognize you in more and more ways. Over the past few months, your baby has become able to see your entire face clearly, and can recognize you from a distance. Initially she could only perceive your nose, mouth, or eyes as isolated features. By the time she is four months old, she may be able to see the pattern formed by the features on your face and hear more sound patterns, as well. Now, when you greet her with a cheery "Good morning, little Anna Banana!" she may be able to associate this rhythm of sounds with your reentry into her world each day.

In short, your baby's growing use of her muscles and senses, and her ability to respond to patterns of sights and language are all promoted and somewhat organized by her growing involvement with and love for you. In turn, these same abilities help the baby express her love for you, and further cement your intimate relationship. The vital role love plays in this process is made tragically clear when we consider the plight of some Eastern European orphans who were warehoused in institutional settings and deprived of steady one-on-one relationships with loving adults. Although they may have mobiles hanging over their cribs, babies and children in these conditions rarely give them a glance and become increasingly self-absorbed. Over time some of these children lose the ability to move energetically because they have no one to reach out for. Many show severe weaknesses in their cognitive, language, sensory-processing, and fine-motor skills. Some fail to gain weight and some even die. Without the nourishment of love, a whole variety of developmental skills simply will not blossom. That's how important love is....

Why Falling in Love Is So Important
Why are we placing so much emphasis on your baby's ability to form a relationship, rather than on her cognitive or motor achievements? Helping her build a sense of love and trust would seem reason enough, but there is another equally compelling fact to consider. Emotional interactions are also the source of her intelligence, morality, and self-esteem. The loving, intimate connection forged between you and your baby sets the stage for your child's higher thinking skills.

Luckily for parents, cognitive skills are best developed through loving, one-on-one interactions with their children, and not in self-conscious "enrichment" programs. Many popular parenting books urge parents to buy flash cards, fancy mobiles, computer software, and educational toys to stimulate their babies' intellectual growth. All of these items, however, pale in importance when compared to your baby's need to be wooed into a loving and playful relationship with you. When your baby flashes you a joyful smile, she's conveying a whole wealth of information about herself to you. As she melts you with her grin, she's not just passively radiating her love for you. She wants to see you so much that she's shifting her body and learning how to use her muscles to better focus on you. She's also turning to the sound of your voice because she is excited by your voice and wants to see where the sound is coming from. Your baby displays her yearning for you in the way she strains to prop herself up on her forearms, or rolls over to get a better look at you, or eventually tries to remain sitting upright without falling. She is driven to practice these new physical milestones because she has taken a passionate interest in you and the world you introduce to her.

Your baby's happy smile of recognition thus reveals the fact that she can understand the rhythm of your words (a cognitive, or intellectual skill), can coordinate her body in her search for you (a motor skill), and can recognize you by sight (a visual-spatial capacity). Her beaming smile lets you know she is doing all these wonderful things. Think of it this way: the most reliable way to tell if the weather is beautiful is to step right outside and take a look. You don't have to monitor the barometric pressure or humidity, or glance at a wind sock, to know that atmospheric conditions must be nearly optimal and contributing to your general sense that the day is bright and balmy. At this stage of her development, your baby's shared joy and interactive smiles are evidence that many of her cognitive, sensory, and motor skills are all working together, under the direction of her loving interest in you and the world you bring to her.

Interestingly, when your baby is between two and four months old there are growing neuronal connections, particularly in the portions of the brain that are involved with emotions and relating, connecting vision with the other senses, emerging motor skills, and making sense of and eventually creating patterns related to looking, listening, moving, smiling, crying, and other expressions of affect. This facilitates the baby's ability to begin to make more sense of what she feels and sees and to gradually construct three-dimensional images. She is then better able to comprehend the emotional, visual, and auditory patterns that make up you, the person she loves. As your baby signals her joy and happiness to you, as well as her sorrow and annoyance, important portions of her brain get activated. In fact, her entire preverbal communication system is in part supported by these developing neuronal connections.

Your joyful interactions with your baby may spur brain growth in those areas that involve emotional expression and signaling, which in turn facilitates her ability to fall in love and build an increasingly complex relationship with you. Over time, your loving, nurturing relationship will foster your child's verbal abilities and problem-solving and reasoning skills, and the development of parts of the brain that support language. Here we see evidence of a wonderful sort of reciprocity: aspects of brain growth related to loving, emotional interactions lead to relationships and interactions that in turn promote a flowering of aspects of brain development involving communication, verbal reasoning, and logic skills.

These research findings support the importance of early experience for the growth of the brain and the mind, though we should remember that the specifics differ from individual to individual. Each person's brain may react to and organize these experiences differently. In fact, various portions of our brains can be used to perform the same functions, as we observe when some children grow up with parts of their brain missing and yet learn how to relate, communicate, and think.

The interactions you share with your infant not only foster connections within her growing brain that enable her to express her emotions, but they also offer her a first taste of logic and lay the foundations for future altruism and caring. As your love magnetically pulls her into the world, your baby becomes more excited about the sights, sounds, touches, and tastes that surround her crib. You'll be literally enticing her into an awareness of things outside her own body. Obviously, the more sensations your baby can tune in to, the richer her understanding of the world will be. Because she loves you, she is drawn to those things outside her own body that are a part of you, including the sound of your voice, the look on your face, the smell of your breath and skin, and the tenderness of your touch. As her trust and confidence grows, she can pursue her own budding interests in the world as well.

Similarly, your baby's first lessons in being logical, or understanding that she can make something happen (which will be further developed in the next stage of her development), arise out of the way you interact with her. When you exchange smiles with her, she'll come to realize that by catching your eye and grinning in a certain way, she can count on a return grin. The more involved your baby is with you, the more opportunity she has to learn these first lessons. Her desire to understand things, and to learn to use her wondrous eyes and ears and little hands, comes in part from her relationship to you and her other caregivers. If she could sing now, her theme song would be "Love Makes the World Go Round."

It may be hard to see how your child's sense of morality, or eventual ability to make good choices and to want to do what's "right" rather than what's "wrong," comes from her love for you. But, as we will later discuss at length, the mutual caring you experience together leads your baby to sense that human relationships can be worthwhile. Briefly put, your baby experiences loving compassion and caring from the gentleness of your touch, the warmth of your smile, and the rhythmic soothing of your rocking. Your caring teaches caring. Because you don't reject her when she's cranky, or pull away when she's distressed, your child learns that physical closeness and love can be found in your arms. Out of such seemingly ordinary experiences as being embraced even when she's angry or sad comes your baby's dawning sense that human beings like herself are worthy of being cared for and loved even when they are cranky. Over time, a deepening regard for other people may take root. As she develops an eventual sense of shared humanity that "they" are like "us" and "we" are like "them," and appropriate reasoning skills, she can begin to care about how "they" actually feel.

The courtship now under way between you and your baby will in many ways contribute to the kind of adult she will grow into. Your patient, involved wooing helps her know the powerful intoxication and comfort of human closeness. By drawing your child into a loving one-on-one relationship with you now, you will be enabling her to eventually extend this sense of shared humanity to other family members, friends, teachers, and mates. Infants who are denied the ability to experience empathy and love with at least one compassionate caretaker may be more likely to grow into self-involved, aggressive children or adults, indifferent to the feelings of others.

Your baby's budding sense of self is forming as well. She now feels part of a relationship and is sensing that the world of emotional relationships and interactions is different from the world of things. Positive self-esteem also blossoms during this stage of development. Your baby learns that you are patient and don't desert her when sleepiness or an upset stomach make her whiny or tearful. When you try to comfort your baby with loving looks and tender touches, she knows -- even before she can express the sensation with words -- that she is valued and esteemed. She feels a gut-level acceptance of her self, in all its uniqueness, in the relaxed way you hold her close to your heart.

Excerpt from Chapter Two: Stage 2: Falling in Love from Building Healthy Minds: The Six Experiences That Create Intelligence and Emotional Growth in Babies and Young Children by Stanley Greenspan, M.D., with Nancy Breslau Lewis, Copyright © 1999.

Meet the Author

Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., author of the widely used and praised books The Challenging Child and (with Serena Wieder, Ph.D.) Engaging Autism, is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at George Washington University Medical School and lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Building Healthy Minds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With six kids and one pair of twins - I needed help. What a wonderful book to help parents of newborns. Listening and gestures are the real keys to building healthy minds - but not only in babies. What better author to let us in on divine secrets but Dr. Greenspan! Yes, we are a very busy family - but if you are provided with key sections of games and various life saving tips - as in this book - it will be a doable plan for your busy life. Another book that offers similar creative down to earth ideas would be Mommy-CEO (for all parents) by nationally syndicated parenting expert and columnist, Jodie Lynn. Both authors are some of the best in their professional chosen fields. Everyone often wonders who listens to parents? Both of these authors do - and their books prove it.