Arizona Early Childhood Workforce Registry

Caring Relationships: The Heart of Early Brain Development

May 23, 2017
J. Ronald Lally and Peter Mangione

Of all that brain science has taught us over the last 30 years, one of the clearest findings is that early brain development is directly influenced by babies’ day-to-day interactions with their caregivers. Even before birth, babies have a built-in expectation that adults will be available and care for their needs (Shonkoff & Phillips 2000). Their very survival depends on this availability. If babies’ expectations for protection and nurturance are met, their brains experience pleasure and delight. These pleasurable early interactions stimulate the brain, motivating the baby to relate to those who care for them with confidence and ease. If their expectations are less than adequately met, their confidence in getting their needs met through relationships may be challenged. When this occurs, emotional and social development suffer, and, because babies’ emotional base is the foundation for all other learning, so do intellectual and language development (Greenspan 1990; IOM & NRC 2015).

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