Cognitive Development Part 1: The First Three Years

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This is the first in a 4-part series of articles on child cognitive development. Make sure to read other articles in the series: Cognitive Development Part 2: Years Four Through Six; Cognitive Development Part 3: Education and What You Can Do; and Cognitive Development Part 4: A Medical Point of View from Samitivej Hospital.

At some point, every new parent looks deep into their young child’s eyes and wonders exactly what he or she is thinking. Are they hungry? Happy? Angry? Sad? Are they learning and growing, or is something wrong? The first three years of a child’s life are crucial to overall cognitive development, yet it is also the time when it is most difficult for an adult to communicate with him or her.

Cognitive Development Part 1

Thankfully, there are ways to tell if a child’s mind is developing as it should, as well as ways to help them along. To find out more, we spoke with Naresh Indhewat of Bangkok’s BrainFit Studio (2F Ploenchit Center, Sukhumvit Soi 2; 66-2/656-9938-9), an institution which specializes in neurological and behavioral development. In this series of articles, we’ll share some of his professional advice on how you can help your child get off to the best mental start possible.

What you should look for in the first three years

According to Indhewat, there are a large number of milestones in the first three years, but one of the most critical is “overall language development.” This helps give a general picture of how the brain is growing. Indhewat says, “Early language development is a good indication of overall cognitive development. The first milestone with regards to language development is to speak clear words at around one year old. Before this, during the first year of life, a baby’s brain is taking statistics on speech sounds spoken to them, developing listening accuracy and sound representations in the brain for further language development.”

By the time a baby reaches three years of age, they should have progressed beyond this stage. After an infant begins to intuitively understand language structures, they should begin building their own vocabularies.

“An average three-year-old child should already have a library bank of 900 words,” says Indhewat.

Possible warning signs

So what do you do if your child doesn’t seem to be on the right language-learning track?

Indhewat says, “Children that take longer to speak clear words may have auditory processing issues.” He adds that in Bangkok, sometimes children may have a difficult time learning to speak because of early exposure to multiple languages. Since infants and toddlers are struggling to identify speech and grammatical patterns, they may have a hard time if they’re processing both Thai and English.

If your child seems to be a little bit behind, don’t panic. Not every child will follow the exact same developmental schedule, and if your toddler’s vocabulary seems a bit low, you can always work to help build it. Do keep a close eye on them though, and watch carefully for signs that your child might have difficulty concentrating.

Ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Does your child seem to have trouble paying attention to a single topic or individual?
  2. Do you routinely have to repeat instructions?
  3. Does your child seem hyperactive or sluggish?

Once again, children develop at their own rates, and these signs are not necessarily cause for alarm. Parents who are concerned or even just curious about their child’s behavior should seek out a professional opinion.

What you can do to help

Much of young child’s progress depends on the parents. Though we’ll cover educational options around Bangkok in an upcoming segment, there are plenty of things you can do in the home to help ensure your child’s mental growth.

One of the most important ones is alarmingly simple. According to Indhewat, “The best way to develop accurate listening skills in a child is for parents to speak to them, a LOT, and in a quiet environment.”

It certainly sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, many parents misinterpret this basic requirement. It is crucial that the baby be with actual humans, rather than merely listening to words from an electronic source.

“Simply placing children in front of the television is not the same,” Indhewat warns. “It is proven that human interaction is needed for an infant’s brain to register speech sounds. In fact, the American Speech and Hearing Association recommends no television for children under the age of three.”

The good news is that merely by spending quality time with your baby, you’re helping their brain grow.

Photo Credit: Chris_Parfitt via Compfight cc

Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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