By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Once upon a time, we were all children. (And thanks to my parents and siblings and the umili, I had a happy childhood.) Nobody is born an adult or an adolescent. We all are born more or less 3 kilos then grow to be 40 or 50 kilos or even more! The newborn does not know how to walk or talk like adults do. No newborn knows how to use the spoon or wee-wee by himself. We all learn all the things we know and do as we grow.
Where does a child learn? Siempre, from his//her immediate surroundings. For a newborn, his immediate surroundings is his/her mother most of the time, and other caregivers- father, lolos, lolas, siblings, etc. Think of the newborn as a new computer or a blank piece of paper- nothing yet in his memory. This theory is as old as Aristotle and our experience supports it. (There are theories of inborn knowledge, though, but we will not discuss this now).
When does a child start learning? As soon as he is born and continues to do so for life. The new memory bank will soak up every sensory experience of the baby because they need to survive in this world. So nature provided that babies are born, not in the laboratory with cylinders and microscopes, but in families with moving, talking and feeling creatures. Babies are also equipped with senses (also even still at the womb) so they can relate with their environment. Children are the best imitators. And so it is important for the people in the child’s immediate environment to show desired behavior and language. When my first apo was born, I reminded myself and the parents to always wear a smile when facing the baby so that he will imitate the smile. We also need to watch our language. The problem now is that, in many households, there are strangers in the child’s immediate environment. Strangers who are mean, violent, cursing and exhibiting other strange undesirable behavior. I am referring to TV and internet and all those unwholesome downloadable videos. The child sees those behaviors and will imitate them, even if he does not understand and does not know the consequences of such behavior. Be careful whom you invite to your house.
As the baby grows in stature he also expands his surroundings outside the house and he gets to see and hear chickens, dogs and pigs. The baby imitates the sounds, “mama”, “dada”, “bow wow wow”. As babies grow, they have to have someone or someones to teach them basic survival skills like learning to eat solid food and drink from a cup. Breastfeeding seems automatic for a baby but some mothers need tutoring on how to breastfeed properly. And how do we teach children? We show them how to. As mentioned earlier, they are the best imitators- they imitate what they see and hear. These images, sounds, smell and feel are imprinted in their brain, just like what you place in the computer is stored in its memory. Since children have new memory, they will pick-up or learn new things fast and they are constantly learning. Kasi nga their memory is not yet full. And retrieval is fast also. So be careful when you promise something to a young child- he will remember and will “singil” you if you forget. Not fulfilling a promise, especially if done repeatedly, will lead to distrust.
As the brain is used and as memory is stored and processed, the brain develops. Memory is important for survival – memory is how we learn. Researches show that babies and young children learn best in a healthy and caring environment including warm and responsive relationship with their main caregivers. In Igorot culture, main child caregivers are still parents, although grandparents are now getting popular as nannies. Thus the child’s relationship with you, as parents, and other household members greatly impacts on the future of the child. “Future” here means his whole future- his life in the coming years. The Australian parenting website (raisingchildren.net.au) says “Lots of time spent playing, talking, listening and interacting with these people helps your child learn the skills he needs for life, like communicating, thinking, problem-solving, moving and being with other people and children.”
Take note, dear parent or caregiver, that newborns can only see up to one meter so breastfeeding is important because the infant can see the face of the mother and promotes bonding. As the baby grows older, he can see farther distances but still will take time to focus. Observe how young children will stare at pictures. It is thus really not healthy for babies and young children to watch TV or movies or videos because the images change so fast so the effect is blurring and such will only strain their eyes. I don’t even recommend those nursery rhymes in videos unless these are slow moving. I would rather have the audio tape or actual singing or play-acting. When you tell stories from a book, don’t flip the pages so fast- let the child set your pace. Let him go over all the images in the page and react to them before going to the next page. This way, he gets enough time to process the information he has seen and heard before tackling another image and idea.
Let them explore and experiment but just keep an eagle’s eye on them. They will get wet, soiled but then that’s how they will learn- the more senses they use, the better their memory, just like adults. Have them engage in spontaneous play, let them imagine and be creative. These activities will also be opportunities to practice what they have learned (meaning what they have seen and heard and touched.) My four-year old grandson loves to play with water so we taught him to water the plants. A friend shared that when her son started pretending to sing with a toy as microphone, that was the time she started teaching him to sing. And when they ask questions, give them simple answers.
Keep options as minimal as possible because children are not yet experienced in decision-making. Especially for food, don’t ask him “What do you like to eat?”. What does a child know about proper food? If the child chooses, he can eat sweets all day. But we, parents/carers, know that’s dangerous. You, as the parent or caregiver, are in the best position to choose what is healthy food and the best way to prepare it. Regarding food and health, the parent and caregiver, is the key role model. If you choose to eat banana instead of cake, then your child will most likely eat banana. If you take him for a walk instead of watching video or TV, then he will learn that walking is a fun way to be together.
It is still Children’s Month, let’s celebrate the joy and wonder of children and let’s keep the child in us alive. **
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6