Exactly what type of brain development happens in the first three years?
Early stimulation sets the stage for how children will learn and interact with others throughout life. A key area of brain growth in the first three years is the system which is critical for experiencing, communicating and regulating emotions. During the first three years the brain is being ‘hard-wired’ in response to its environment. It works a bit like this: when a baby cries, he releases the stress hormone, cortisol. If his mother picks him up and comforts him, the baby feels safe and is calmed and releases the endorphins (opiods) which calm him down and ‘regulate’ his distress.
The baby’s brain has not yet developed the facility of ‘managing’ emotions himself. When the mother consistently and lovingly responds to his distress the baby learns to read and react to inner cues and over time learns to self soothe. This is why the quality and nature of care a baby receives in the first 30 to 36 months is so crucial.