We’re all born brainy !

100_0108When Catherine Windsor aka Kate Middleton drove away from hospital the other week with her day old baby she did an interesting thing. She waved to the ecstatic crowds with her left hand, but her right hand was resting gently on the baby’s stomach as he lay in his car seat for the first time in his short life. She was so tuned in to her baby that she knew instinctively not to let go physical contact with him, but to re-assure him with her touch. It was rather beautiful, and I wished that all babies could have had that gentle bonding with their parents, meaning I wished that all babies could be secure and happy!

I find it incredible that we all, from day one, possess nearly all the neurons in the brain that we will ever have – nerve cells to you and me – even though most are not yet connected in networks. And this connecting process is so rapid in the first year, that by twelve months, the baby’s brain is close to the adult brain. Sound, sight, touch, taste and smell are the senses through which from birth to one year we learn about the world, usually through playing.

From eighteen months to three years, when the brain is at its most active, children are like sponges, soaking up words, information and new skills. It’s amazing to me that between the ages of eighteen months and three, the toddler’s brain is twice as active as the adult brain.

And this is also when the structures of the brain that are sensitive to language and social-emotional responses develop, while motor development, or physical skills are developing at a rapid pace too.

When we actually look at what babies learn to do in those first few years of life, the range of skills, physical, mental and emotional is awe-inspiring. By the time children reach three to six years, they enter the fastest growth period for the frontal lobe networks, including emotional development, speed of processing, memory and problem solving. By six years, the brain is at ninety per cent of its adult weight.

And at the same time babies are learning how to be people! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked to, sung to, cuddled, included, and have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain to do with emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to grow into considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes babies feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Babies who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong.

Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with behaviour like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children, and sometimes, angry violent adults.

Enlightened child experts now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain – those hormones of loving connection.

I researched this stuff for an article in a parenting magazine I write for. It blew me away to realise what intelligence and potential are already contained within those tiny wizened little day-old babies. It’s so easy to think that just because they can’t talk or communicate with us yet, that they don’t have the thoughts and feelings that research shows us they do. Maybe it’s we who need to work on our communication skills, rather than the babies, who seem to be doing huge amounts of unseen work and learning while we change their nappies and feed them and put them to sleep.

They are so hard-wired to learn and absorb and connect with our world, that as long as we cuddle and talk and sing to them, they seem to do most of the work themselves. Babies are such miracles of complexity and potential, and each single one, wherever it is born in the world, has all this potential and complexity. And yet at this moment we all know too, that only some babies will have the chance to become who they were born to be.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I want to spoil my grandchildren – and that is all the time – I make them their favourite pudding. For one it’s chocolate mousse, for another a family favourite we call pink pudding, and for everyone – a lemon meringue tart.

I usually make the pastry case ahead, so all there is to do later is to squeeze two lemons and make up their juice to half a pint with water. Use some of the liquid to mix with an ounce of cornflour, and boil the rest before stirring it on the cornflour mixture. In a pan, boil it for three minutes, then stir in an ounce of butter, an ounce of sugar and the grated rind from the two lemons. Cool slightly, add three egg yolks and pour this mixture into the tart case. Bake in a moderate oven for about 25 minutes or until set.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, gently fold in three ounces of castor sugar, and pile onto the lemon tart. Dredge with castor sugar and return to a cool oven until the meringue is set and slightly browned.

 Food for thought

If you have not often felt the joy of doing a kind act, you have neglected much, and most of all yourself.   Anonymous

 

 

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76 Comments

Filed under babies, consciousness, cookery/recipes, family, great days, happiness, human potential, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

76 responses to “We’re all born brainy !

  1. Thank you for having shared this information in such an articulate and moving post. It always shocked me to see mothers gossipping about the most disturbing things in front of their toddlers, as if they couldn’t understand a word. Coincidentally, I just recently wrote a story for my blog about going to your baby when it cries. (Here’s the link in case you’d like to look at it: )

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  2. Dear Valerie,

    I would love to be able to go back in time and show your post to my parents. One would think that after all the eons humans have been having babies there would be a solid, tried and true instruction manual for parents. ‘Do this, you get that. Do that, you get this.’ What a novel concept.

    I loved your post.

    Kia Ora,

    Doug

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    • Thank you Doug… you’re so right… the trouble is that too many expert male professionals think they’ve found the answer – which seems to mean suppressing the maternal instinct in order to tame the child!
      I knew nothing when I had my children, so simply treated them with the same courtesy, kindness and respect that I use with my best friend. It meant that everyone was happy and well mannered…
      Do as you would be done by is the golden rule for everything, from child-rearing to peace-making it seems to me !
      love Valerie…

      Like

  3. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    this could be that long awaited manuscript on how to be parents
    though there is no diagrams for each energy is so different the gentle touch
    within bonding is a similar energy we all crave even if there are no words formed yet
    a wonderful post Valerie, Thank you for sharing
    Take Care
    )0(
    maryrose

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  4. All new parents should read this Valerie. It’s amazing how much we mistrust our instincts these days. A baby’s cry is hard to ignore for a reason!

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  5. Pink pudding? I am curious. Lemon meringue pie is a favourite in this house too. I do so agree about the importance of those first years for our precious babies. But there are still great mysteries about them, I think, for there are many mothers, including myself, who strived to be the best of mothers, yet have children who are broken by anxiety and depression and addictions. Did we try too hard? Is there a role here for epigenetics? There is much to learn and I am encouraged that New Zealand is at the forefront of research with this longitudinal study http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/about-us/how-we-began/history-of-the-study and with more specific areas of brain research through various brain research institutes.

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  6. I know what you’re saying Gallivanta… I feel that children reflect their environment until they reach their teens, and then heredity and other factors come into play, including – if you believe in them – the legacy of unfinished business from other lives.
    There’s also much evidence to show that how the mother felt, and her emotions during pregnancy affect the child’s nervous system, but that’s a whole story itself….

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    • Pushed the button before I meant to…
      it is so hard to see our children going through the pain that you describe.. you have my greatest sympathy. The sweep once said to me as he had a cup of tea after cleaning the chimney, ‘you are only as happy as your saddest child’. I felt it was so true….
      Thank you so much for the Dunedin study, which I’ve always found fascinating in the reports I’ve read…particularly as so much of what they say bears out what I’ve learned from counselling people..
      Pink pudding – easy and simple – I’ll give it to you in the next post !!!!

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  7. Oh Valerie, I am so happy to be a mother! Everyone had given me no hope of every having any child. Today, my son is my greatest strength and most loyal supporter. Motherhood is about unconditional love, for we hold them but for a few years until they reach out into the world to find their place and their mission. May we remember that every child is a gift.

    My husband and I went out for coffee on father’s day a couple of months ago. The owner of the coffee shop told us that he didn’t have any children. I thought of all the “children” that he had hired to work in his coffee shop over the decade that we had come to know him. Even years later, they always come back to visit. We told him, of all of the fathers we knew, he had the most children of all….

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    • What a lovely lovely comment Rebecca – two beautiful stories that warm the heart… What a gift your comment to the coffee shop owner was, and what a gift he was to all his ‘children’

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  8. Clanmother, that is so sweet and right of you to say that to the coffee shop owner.
    Valerie, I’m completely supportive of your post. I was a Koala-bear mum, loving to have my baby as close a possible. Later I read, I was an attachment-parenting mum, which sounded spot on to me, associating the ‘attach’ with ‘touch’.

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  9. The other day I got a text from my eldest daughter sent to me and my youngest daughter which said “George George Morrison Morrison Wetherby George Dupree”. Within seconds youngest daughter replied with “took great care of his mother, although he was only three”. We then spent a fun five minutes taking it in turns to reply with the next line of the poem (Disobedience, by AA Milne) until it was complete. Then we all carried on with our working day. It was a poem I used to read them when they were tiny and they probably haven’t heard it for nearly 20 years but something sparked the memory after all this time and a simple thing like that brought tears to my eyes. Whatever you give as a mother, you reap back tenfold.

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    • Dory – I love it – and I love that poem too – we used to chant it too… I must see if my almost middle aged children remember it !!!
      Those moments are so precious aren’t they!
      And I can promise you times just as good when you have your grand-children !!!!

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      • I did, too–and the whole of When We Were Very Young. Love being able to pass on the books of our childhood to our children (and, one hopes, theirs too).

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  10. Parents should all have this excellently-written piece as compulsory reading at the beginning of pregnancy. A good deal of the development is taking place even in utero, and studies have shown that music and even some language is absorbed there, partucularly during the last ten weeks.

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  11. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm, good friend, and for your great comments.
    Yes, the latest studies are fascinating aren’t they, including pictures of babies in the womb sucking their thumb, and laughing…
    The sad thing about writing this is that all we bloggers are already converted, and I doubt that any new mum would get to see this !!!
    ah well, nil desperandum…

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  12. Thank you, dear Valerie, for this important arcticle you shared with us. It is so important to be aware of everything you mentioned there. Actually we should react instinctively loving and caring to a baby.
    Greetings from the hot Norfolk coast
    Klausbernd

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    • Klausbernd, I was so bucked to read this comment from you,as I know you are the expert.
      And as you say, our instincts tell us what to do if only we listened to them and trusted them !
      I envy you your beautiful Norfolk – warm wishes, Valerie

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      • Well, dear Valerie,
        there has to be a ballance between instincts and the intellect. For me the mind is as important as intuition or instincts.
        Greetings from Cley next the Sea
        Klausbernd

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  13. What a lovely post on parenting. I once taught parenting classes, altho the folks who should have attended were not the ones who did…

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  14. Wonderful food for thought, thank you. Yesterday I watched as my lovely grandson ran across the sidewalk lite up with joy and barrelled full force into my husband, who also lite up from within. As the two of them stood outside hugging mightily, I watched people walk by sniffing in disdain as this small White child hugged, giggled and screamed Grandpa J at this tall Black man who lifted him up and stood for 5 minutes simply talking quitely and chuckling. Yes, love, affection and acceptance goes a very long way (for both of them).

    Thank you for this one. I have been in awe at the parenting my son and daughter-in-law have done with my treasured grandson. You have shown me with this why he is such an amazing child.

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    • Oh Val, what a gorgeous picture of your darling grandson and your husband… the bond between children and grandparents is such a precious one… I always feel it’s one of the most precious gifts of my life. That joy that each feels is just so special. I often gloat on their smiles to send me to sleep!!!.

      Thank you, I’m glad the post meant something to you… It’s strange, I couldn;t think what to write as I haven’t been well, and thought , oh maybe this that i wrote for a magazine would be OK, and amazingly – it seems to have hit a spot..

      Like

  15. This is…without trying to be funny…frankly mind blowing! I wonder if the separation style of parenting is responsible for what appear to me to be sociopathic tendencies in recent generations? Kind of sobering and empowering, too, to think how things could be improved with a lot more hugs as kids! 🙂 (I know it’s not as simple as that, but it does make you think!)

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    • Hello Alarna – I do agree… I’d like to have posters in supermarkets and waiting rooms saying ‘The more you cuddle your baby the happier/ cleverer he’ll be,’ and ‘Crying babies need cuddling etc !’
      We carry them in car seats instead of holding them, and push them in push-chairs which face away so they have no eye contact or any other contact with us… I could go on and on..!!!.
      I remember looking after a sulky mean child while her rather hands-off parents moved house, and when I said to the children as I always did :
      ” lunch-time, first to wash their hands gets a hug and a kiss”, ( they all did), and this child rushed ahead of the others and leapt into my arms and was a different child….

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  16. Yes, all beings thrive on love and positive reinforcement. 🙂

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  17. I have learnt something today, thank you😅

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  18. Wow – what a great post, well-researched, information-rich and eloquent, as always. It reminded me of one of Einstein’s very best quotes:
    “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    I hope it’s acceptable to add a personal note, as it does strike a painful chord: I must be one of those who were left alone to cry as a baby.
    According to my narcissistic mother, who made sure to keep the legend of her “grand, heroic” motherhood in the centre of attention, I did cry a lot, and she never failed to repeat “how desperately she run to comfort me every time I cried”.
    Since I was informed recently that she is a delusional narcissist, it has gradually become clear that the very opposite of her stories was the case. (If my mother was callous enough to leave me alone for whole nights when I was only 3-4 years old, she was capable of everything else.)

    I very much wish your post will be read by those mothers who are in the position to apply them.

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  19. Thank you so much good friend, so glad you enjoyed it… and what a wonderful wonderful quote from Einstein – as you say, one of his best – what a man !
    I understand completely with where you’re coming from, and sympathise greatly.. my parenting was also disastrous, my mother finally disappearing when I was six, and my father away at war…The upside is that i think these experiences teach us so much that maybe we are more empathetic and sensitive than we might otherwise have been… but I don’t under-rate the cost !! Go well, sister…

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  20. Valerie, your words are informative and inspiring, and show an innate knowing of childhood. I say innate because I believe knowledge of being a child and being a parent was, is, a part of our soul. It is my contention that we are born into this common reality from a heaven like existence, knowing where we come from and that we are accompanied by a guardian angel. However, after birth, the only connection we retain is the ability to see angels. We become firmly rooted in this world, as it should be.
    It has been said that babies have remarkable powers of observation and a strong survival instinct. Further more, as you relate, research suggests very young children have an intellectual capacity in excess of common belief. Sadly, without the nurturing you describe, many are lost into the precarious ways of the uncaring adult.
    Children gradually loose the ability to see their angel bystanders, given usual parental responses to their child’s ‘fantasies’ in their attempts to describe their invisible companions. No child of a certain age wants ridicule by their peers on playing with unseen angels. And so, in a sense, children become indoctrinated with their humanity, for good or bad.
    The one person I know who still sees angels, and just a short few years ago started writing of her experiences, is Lorna Byrne. And I accept her sincerity, absorbing all that she has written. Given that Lorna still has great difficulty in reading and writing, I find it remarkable that she has done so well, gathering a following in the hundreds of thousands.
    Thank you for your post,
    Love,joy,peace.
    Andrew.

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    • Thank you for your long thoughtful comment, Andrew… there is so much that we still have to learn about consciousness and our place in this world and the universe, I feel… yes, my grandchildren loved talking about angels…
      I haven’t come across Lorna Byrne, so thank you for telling me about her, I must follow up… so good to hear from you, warm wishes, Valerie

      Like

  21. Pingback: Clarity is growing | Use Your Words

  22. Dear Valerie,

    Your article struck many chords with me on several levels so I’ve been gathering my thoughts to form a comment.
    Branded a radical for natural childbirth and breastfeeding in the 70’s and 80’s, I don’t recall leaving my babies to “cry it out”, despite claims I would “spoil” them. How would comforting and cuddling them spoil them?
    Although we had some trying moments and personality clashes, my children are talented and functioning young men.
    Do I regret all the time spent rocking, nurturing and singing to them? No. I miss it.

    Thank you for sharing your insights. I’m enjoying getting to know you through your lovely writing.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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    • Dear Rochelle,
      Lovely to read your thoughts on the blog… I think you and I would have been a great support to each other back in the days… yes, the disapproval I received in the sixties for cuddling my babies always bothered me but never stopped me !!!
      They were such precious times weren’t they ! And thank you for your generous comments…Valerie

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  23. Beautiful and amazing post!

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  24. Just spent the weekend ‘spoiling’ our granddaughter by holding and loving her silly! Just the best ever, right? Thanks for spreading some common sense about nurturing our young!

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  25. Judy Crompton

    Dear Valerie,
    How interesting to finally catch up with you after about 60 years and find that we have so much in common. I was at Slim School with you and am delighted and charmed to read more about the headmaster whom you knew well and clearly loved and admired. I found him sympathetic but quite scary in his black robe……but then, I was quite easily intimidated when I was 14. Your description of Big Bertha (the gun) was very evocative. What a privileged bunch we were, not withstanding the awful food, to have had so much freedom at school. I am sure that being allowed/encouraged to roam around the jungle gave most of us the courage to become world travellers and to give our children a lot more freedom and responsibility than children seem to be allowed now.
    Then, I discovered that you have an interest in infant attachment. This really did my heart good. One of my daughters, Andrea Leadsom is the MP for South Northamptonshire and has been pleading its cause for many years now……to the point that no MP can possibly claim not to know about it, or about her desire to have funds diverted from the over-3s to therapy for parents of the under 2s where there are attachment problems. Last year I ran a huge conference on the subject where the speakers were Prof. Susan Greenfield and many more experts in the field. It is now fairly well understood that future emotional and psychiatric disorders (and, sadly, future criminality) stem from experiences before the age of two.

    I am delighted to be in touch with you again and look forward to reading more of your blogs. It is unlikely that you will remember me but my name at school was Judy Kitchin.

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    • Dear Judy,
      I certainly do remember you – when I was a senior girl, you were one of the sweet little junior girls, and you had a lot of character too… weren’t you in the choir???
      So good to hear from you, and hear what wonderful things you’ve been doing with your life, congratulations on your conference, and you must be so proud of your clever daughter.
      Yes, I too have been on this bandwagon for years, and forty years ago was pushing people like Bowlby and Winnicott, and interviewing people like Spock and the Robertsons – even Dr Seuss!
      I fell foul of the psychology department at Auckland University when writing about not leaving your baby to cry, while they were running a sleep clinic, training parents to leave their babies to cry! They got so angry with me, one professor even used to ring me and harangue me at home !!!
      Now I write for a parents magazine, and there is so much research to back up what I knew back then, and also learned from years of counselling people. But it still doesn’t seem to get through to people like George Osborne when they talk about mothers making a ‘lifestyle choice’ when they choose to look after their babies, does it!.
      Great to hear from you, and I’d love to know more about your work…Valerie

      Like

  26. Amy

    Thank you for the post, Valerie! This is an important part of the growing stage, but not all the young mothers are aware. It must be a difficult adjustment for the baby who is just detached from mother physically…

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  27. A great post. My dad doesn’t show much emotion, he’s all about controlling emotions. I am a very emotional person and that was hard growing up but I accept who I am and I am glad to be that way now.

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    • Thank you, so glad you enjoyed it – if it’s of interest to you, I found when I was counselling people that those who needed to control were people who had felt insecure and uncertain as children, and controlling their environment and the people in it, made themselves feel safer…

      Like

  28. What a brilliant post! I always believed in giving as much love as possible and comforting whenever needed. I learned this from my Mumwho,as a young Mum in 1940, lived with her parents as my Dad was away in the war. Encouraged by my stern Granny, Mum raised my older brother by the Truby King method and hated it,leaving her baby at the bottom of the garden so that she couldn’t hear him crying, feeding him four hourly by the clock. How she regretted that and made sure that, as the next baby, I was raised with all the love and attention I could possibly want!
    Being a Granny is wonderful too and reassuring my daughters that they won’t spoil their babies by loving them is the best thing we can do.
    Thank you for this post which should go public – at the very least it should be Freshly Pressed!
    We love Lemon Meringue Pie too! 🙂

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  29. Hello Sally – thank you so much for your generous encouraging comments.
    Truby King is one of my bug bears – un-maternal men controlling child rearing and trying to train mothers not to follow their instincts ! – it was a heartbreak wasn’t it !
    I knew so little about looking after babies, and was so far away from family, that i just did what I thought the baby wanted – and that seemed to mean lots of holding and cuddling !!!
    How lovely to have grand children small enough to cuddle !!!!

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  30. Dear Valerie, I have just come back to this post to re read it and the comments before I read your latest post. I am so moved by all the wonderful comments. Extraordinary. Hope you are feeling better.

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    • They are wonderful responses, from so many different angles and all so heartfelt, aren’t they… so glad you saw them all too… Thank you, I’m slowly putting myself together… it’s been a long winter this end !!!!

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      • Perhaps a good helping of your Pink Pudding would be restorative. I made a lemon meringue pie by the way but that was a happy coincidence that we were both thinking of them on the same day. It was so successful that I decided I would use up the rest of the pastry in an apple cream meringue pie. That was not very successful. I was guessing the ingredients and I didn’t guess well.

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  31. What a wonderful article, Valerie. I hope your words reach as many parents of young children as possible. Those early years are so important as a basis for child development and in today’s busy world, I am afraid many parents don’t take or have the time to sufficiently nurture their young. Even sufficient quality time vs. quantity time can go a long way. Our children are little adults and their needs should be respected as such. I wish I had realized a bit more of this with my own.

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    • Thank you Shirley, you are so right in all you say… I wish we could have posters everywhere saying things like cuddling is good for your child, cuddling makes your child clever, when baby is crying she needs to be cuddled and so on !!! If pigs could fly !!!

      Like

    • A free book yes please!I\’s alayws better than paying. But it\’s not like I can\’t pay it\’s just that my money is better left with me and free is alayws better, isn\’t it yes, enter me in the wonderful competition!

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  32. When I see a parent pushing a baby in a shopping cart at THE SUPERMARKET, ignoring the little one, I always want to all her the opportunity to speak to the baby, explain shapes and colors, and share the enrichment of the environment. Should I? Or might the harried mom tell be to “bug off?”

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  33. Tough one, isn’t it… I always stop and admire the baby and then say something like – you know the more you cuddle them and talk to them, the cleverer they get? – and then if they’re receptive go on and and say – the happier they are, and how bad it is to let them cry etc….No one – so far – has objected ! they seem to like to have permission to cuddle their babies – which is sad, and they are often grateful and relieved….to have their instincts validated….I make it my life’s mission !!!!

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  34. Oh, Valerie! Once more you write on a subject most dear to my heart. I have long been a student of bonding and bonding issues. Thank you very much, Dear Friend…your words will fly through time for anyone searching about babies, and intelligence and bonding!!

    Wonderful!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Thank you dear Linda, it’s amazing how often we connect through ideas like this, isn’t it…it seems and feels so obvious, doesn’t it… hope someone who needs it does hear about it !!!

      Like

  35. It’s amazing what we learn through experience, I remember living at the hospital with my daughter after an operation she had within 12 hours of birth and being amawed that she never cried. I couldn’t feed her but always puts my hands on her and lifted her as best I could (she had lots of things connected to her). One morning I read the nurses notes which said she had cried and a note next to it saying Mum was out of the room, as if the two events were connected, which I realised they were and was amazed and kind of shocked to really understand that a baby has such an awareness of whether the mother is in the room or not. We spent 3 weeks living in the same room, almost 24/7 so while it was a difficult start, in many ways it was truly special as well.

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  36. Claire what a wonderful story, I can’t stop thinking about it. So beautiful – and how it shows us how aware and intelligent even newborns are, and yet so few people seem to know this – certainly too few mothers….It makes me wish I could start again, and be so much more aware myself – fifty years ago I thought it was ok to have the baby sleep in her own room – ouch.!!!!..

    Like

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