Brain development: what’s love got to do with it?

Mum cuddling child
Category: Parents

With Valentine’s Day taking place this week, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on relationships and love – and what this means for babies and children. Love is an important part of brain development. Babies rely on love, and the love of the parent is the fist love they’ll experience. These experiences stay with them for life.

When we are born, our brain has all the cells we will need, but connections between those cells are yet to develop. These connections form the structure within our brain and affect everything from our interpretation of the world to the way we learn and the way we cope with the stresses of everyday life. Brain connections form as a collective result of all of our experiences.

If a baby experiences love and affection, their brain develops healthy and positive connections. These healthy connections help to develop children into confident individuals with a sense of safety and security in the world. If children feel safe and secure, then they’re ready to learn; they have the confidence and natural curiosity to explore and investigate. The love a child experiences impacts on their emotional, physical and social development.

One great way to show a baby love is to spend time cuddling together. Cuddling produces bodily changes by producing the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin helps us bond to others, but also helps to calm and soothe. This naturally produced hormone connects us to others and impacts on our emotional wellbeing. Close physical contact plays a major role in calming babies, while also helping to promote positive social-emotional development. Through these early experiences, babies are able to learn emotional regulation – which helps us cope with different situations.

Babies rely on loving interactions with adults. They are naturally social, and seek to engage adults through smiles, coos, babbles and gurgles. Babies need love and they seek loving relationships. The relationships they have with loving adults help them to make sense of the world around them.

So this Valentine’s Day, take the time to celebrate love as one of the most important gifts we can give babies and children. A loving relationship is one that will have a positive and lasting impact on a baby’s development.

Check out some great related book recommendations in these book lists for babies: 12 Baby Books all About Love, 9 Books About Mummies and Daddies

Tracy Cooper

Tracy is Scottish Book Trust's Senior Early Years Trainer.