Transcript: How to Boost Your Baby’s Brain Development
It’s very important that you begin interacting with your baby in a way to ensure they develop and can achieve their maximum potential. This is important to implement from day one and throughout their early years whilst their brains are still developing.
In this episode I speak with Elizabeth Agrapidis, a pediatric physical therapist, teacher and mother of two. Elizabeth helps parents with their children’s physical development and we talk about why encouraging movement is so important to your baby’s brain development.
Helen Thompson: Hi, Elizabeth and welcome to First Time Mum’s Chat. I’ve been really excited about interviewing you today because I know you’ve got a lot of knowledge on pediatric and physical development for babies and for moms, so welcome to the podcast.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Thank you so much for having me, Helen. I’m excited too
Helen Thompson: So can we start by just getting you to introduce yourself and telling me a little bit about what you do.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Sure, my name’s Elizabeth Agrapidis. I live in the United States. I live in Texas and I am a pediatric physical therapist and I am a teacher. I don’t teach currently, but I have, I taught general physical education and then a children with special needs education and then I am also a mother of two. And sometimes that tends to be the most qualifying factor when you put these things into practice. So, I work for myself now and I love it because I get to help moms when they need me, how they need me and early development. Just helping with whatever is at that stage without having to wait for someone else to agree. So that’s what I’m doing right now.
Helen Thompson: So you’ve got a lot of experience there in the brain development side then, so you know, a lot about the brain development. So can you tell me a bit about brain development?
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Sure, so what I was going to talk about today is how you can help to build your baby’s brain. And I know that sounds a little maybe generic and so I wanted to talk about how movement is the key and the foundation to all areas of development. So movement is, it’s just super important. Until you’ve seen it happen when they don’t have the movement, along the different stages but I don’t think it’s as clear how important that is. And so all areas of development by that I mean there’s the body, you have strength and flexibility and then there’s the sensory system, which includes all everything else. But sensory kind of drives the motor, but motor, which is movement drives the cognitive, like the learning and the brain and so that’s what we’re going to talk about today. That movement activities build that brain structure. The practical side of what I’m saying is that a lot of moms sometimes get stressed out about if they’re doing things right and then if the baby’s doing things right and then what if my baby doesn’t like certain things.
Am I messing them up or how important is that? You know, it’s kind of this grey area that I’ve seen, you know, a lot of mom guilt and stuff, come in there, you know I’m sure you, you know what I’m talking about.
Helen Thompson: I’ve done a lot of childcare development because I come from a childcare background and also I sort of know about brain gym as well and the importance of movement. So, yeah, so I, I’m very aware of what you’re talking about, but I know that first time moms may not be.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Right, so that’s what I see too, is what I like to do is take these kinds of complex things, then break it down to what does it mean and what can I actually do about it?
So that’s where I like to live and so it’s more helpful to people that way. So I was going to say a little bit about the baby’s brain that how at birth, it has like a hundred billion connections already, and that all of these connections are going to keep expanding. It’s almost like a Facebook.
So you messaged someone and then they messaged 50 friends and they messaged 50 friends and so it’s, the brain is kind of like that. If you form a connection and then you repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, it just grows and grows and grows. And so the other part of that is that those connections can actually be lost and like pruned away if they’re not used.
And so that’s why there’s so much talk about cognitive development and do this for your baby. That’s why it’s because you want to keep those connections forming. And so what they need is opportunities to move so they can learn. They learn by trying things and then succeeding and by failing.
And when they’re trying different movements and different things, the failure is as important as the success, whether it worked or not, because you have certain brain structures that that’s their whole purpose. So your cerebellum, for example, it’s supposed to be able to do that for you. So that’s when it’s developing is when they try things and it’s like, oh, that didn’t work. Oh, I fell over again to try again. That’s a lot of information.
So, it has to be woken up and a lot of these toys that you see a lot of times moms, you know, come to me, we work on that. What toys do I get?
Helen Thompson: Cause there’s so many out there aren’t there it’s a bit daunting.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Have you noticed that they all say all these amazing things that they do on the box? You know,it creates this and that and in the brain, that they say that a lot on the boxes. And so the mom’s like, okay, I’m going to get the toy.
The toy might be great and it might not be great but the thing that makes the baby develop is their interaction with the toy. So the toy by itself is not going to do all these amazing things, right. But the baby trying things on the toy, that’s what their brain and their body and everything starts to get organised.
So what can you actually do about this? So my first thing is to give them the opportunity to succeed and to fail, right? So they have to have the opportunity. Floor time for one, you know, on the floor. And so I know that there might be some, some problems that pop up for people like problem solving. And I’ll kind of touch on that in a minute, but just to tell you where, what you can do, giving them the opportunities so where their brain can kick in, and then they’re buying their brain. Everything can work together. So floor time, what I mean is on their tummy, on their back. And their visual system can be engaged and their movement system will be engaged. And then there’s other sensory systems, your vestibular, which helps with balance and get all of those things are used and strengthened when the baby is playing on the floor.
And I think that when all of this sounds a bit much to people, it doesn’t feel like play anymore. And sometimes they feel stressed about, well, what am I actually supposed to do? And what if my baby hates the positions and you know, that can really touch people up. What I help people with a lot is the, the moms who’ve been searching already and then you’re spending all this time searching, and then you’re like, okay, I’m going to try this one thing. There’s a lot of stress that gets kind of built up in that kind of situation and it should still be play and if the baby hates it, my opinion is if there’s some reason that the baby hates it and then we problem solve through it.
Helen Thompson: It is always baby led, would you agree with me saying when you’re doing things on the tummy or the back to stimulate them, that if they’re upset, you just take them away and you give them a cuddle and then you’d go back to it. Would you agree with that?
Elizabeth Agrapidis: I agree with that. I tend to use the term like guided, right. So it’s baby led in the fact that if they’re not, there’s like a state, we call quiet alert state. It’s an actual one. Right? So if the baby’s not in a quiet alert state, they’re not really open to learning at that moment.
And it doesn’t mean don’t put them on their tummy on your chest. It doesn’t mean don’t do anything, it’s just not the optimal. They might be hungry, they might be tired, they might be annoyed or sick or something and so if they’re not really in that state, It kind of goes along with what you’re saying, baby led, they are just not going to be receptive to whatever you’re doing and that can feel like a failure to the mom, right?
Helen Thompson: I always say in baby message, the quiet alert state, It’s where I say to mums, that’s when to massage, because if you’re massaging them, when they’re not in that state, they’re not going to enjoy it, they’re not going to get the benefit from it. So that’s basically what you’re saying here. If you’re trying to stimulate your baby, when they’re not in that state, they’re not going to be able to enjoy what you’re teaching them when their brain just isn’t going to work.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Right, it can be over or under, and then, it’s almost like, it’s shut off and there there’s some cues that babies give you that I teach on, like kind of how to watch for their feedback. But when I say you guide the baby, right? So if you, you want to work on rolling for example, and they’re in that quiet alert state, you want to, baby led, meaning if they’re interested in a certain toy and it’s to the right and they’re looking at it, you don’t want to be so methodical that you’re like, we’re working on rolling to the left right now, they have to look left, right? And I’m not trying to make fun. We get so in our heads sometimes about it has to be so specific, but if the baby’s looking to the right, that’s a perfect opportunity to work on that rolling exercise, going to what the baby’s interested in, because then it’s going to be happy and it’s going to be smooth and then they might even help you and then that’s a more open to learning kind of opportunity. So I think the trouble comes in when the baby hates tummy time, or the mom. Sometimes there’s even been a negative relationship with the position already created.
And so then anything that they tried doesn’t work. And so sometimes they’re right. Like it’s not working and it needs a little bit of tweaking. He needs a little bit of problem solving and we might have to back up a little bit. I do workshops on this sometimes. I might have to back off a little bit and re-establish that it, it can be a positive, fun situation and they don’t have to be so stressed. And, and then you build the positive back on.
Helen Thompson: Because I teach a bit of tummy time as well, so I understand exactly where you’re coming from too, to build on it rather than to force it, if they don’t like it just build on that skill and encourage them, but don’t force them as they’re really upset, just think, okay, let’s try something different. Let’s try a different tactic, get them involved in something else.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Right. Yeah. I agree with that but I wanted to say another way that you, what you can kind of do about this whole creating their brain thing is your time with them. So the time that they’re with you, the way that you interact is really important as well and being pregnant. And so for the baby, think it’s way simpler than what we think, usually. You know, we have all these thoughts about what could be the problem for them. It’s pretty simple, you know? So if, if this is your time to be with them, so it’s like 20 minutes, let’s just say, try to be present in that 20 minutes.
So I teach mums, we take the stress out of it a little bit. It’s like the dishes, they can wait a little bit. It’s very important time. You know, you’re basically creating who they’re going to be, day by day. That’s how important you are and this relationship is you’re creating who this little person is going to be.
And so when you’re creating their brain, you know, and their interaction with you is, is going to make them who they are. There’s so much dyslexia these days when they’re older and in ADD and ADHD, and it’s not diagnosed very young.
It doesn’t really show up until school age. Right. But my kids are 11 and seven now and their friends, there’s just so much of it. I did a little bit of research on it and so I do know for sure that premature babies, if they have a decreased birth weight, they’re more at risk for these diagnoses later in life. And so even if your baby wasn’t in that category, right, you need to nurture their brain from the beginning, very purposefully, right. You’re setting them up for success.
So if you knew that doing these things, maybe you don’t feel like it. Maybe you’re tired, right. But doing this this little bit of time and being present with them and lowering your stress about another task that you might have, would set this baby up for so much more joy and success and less difficulty later, of course you would do it, right. We don’t always see the connection now till later.
Helen Thompson: I know from a childcare background, but I know sometimes first time moms might not know the answer to this. So you’re talking about the connection with your baby’s brain and how to develop it but what kind of things would you do to connect with your baby’s brain? I mean, I know you’ve got the facial expressions, communication, laughing and talking with your baby and I love mirror play. So what are some of the things we could do to support the moms?
Elizabeth Agrapidis: I had a couple of things listed, but the floor time that I was mentioning, when I say floor time, I guess that can be kind of vague, you know, but mirrors are great and music toys that are not too overwhelming, blocks with simple colors on them. Things, things that they can interact with, but it’s not, it’s not too challenging, it’s not too easy, but things that they can practice doing and then see the result of like what their body movement would do. So like if they’re floor time, and they’re trying to bat something with their hand, they see the result of like moving and so when they move their hands, their brains like, oh, I did this and I get the feedback of hitting the thing and that it, it makes this really fun sound, so then it’s like a reinforcement. But when I said number two was, their time with you, I feel is more important than the interaction with the toys, right. We have these fancy toys, which I love but I recommend turning the TV off when it’s your play time, because it’s very distracting.
So if you think of it that way, their little baby brain who just came out, is getting all this conflicting input and information. It can overstimulate, which is not in our optimal state to learn, and then they can get cranky and then you’re, oh, they hate this, I don’t want to do it anymore. They hate the activity and it’s not always that, right. And we hand them maybe not as babies, but they get phones and different things when the moms need a break but the moms sometimes doesn’t know what to do.
Cause if the baby’s overstimulated, they can take that as the baby doesn’t like tummy time, I don’t know how to do it, or they don’t like whatever, and I don’t know how to do it and so here just hold this, but actually that’s going to have the opposite effect.
So I’m all about balance, you know, I’m not saying don’t ever give your two year old a phone, but what I’m doing is I’m just teaching you how these connections are made and then the best way for you to help them is playing on the floor, having them be able to practice things that interact with toys that interact with you.
So the facial expressions and I was just teaching one of my clients this week. I said, do you talk to her with exaggerated kind of happiness? And she was like, probably not. She’s kind of a more reserved, quiet mom. So I did some examples, you know, I was talking to her baby on our zoom session.
And so I’d say, what are you doing and what is that toy and show it to me? And so the inflection, and it sounds exaggerated but the baby sees me and then she was imitating me.
Helen Thompson: Yes. Cause babies love doing, as I said before, they’re like sponges and they imitate what you’re saying and you’re developing their language and you’re developing their social skills, which has also to do with the motor development that we’re talking about. So what you’re saying is we’re doing by interacting and talking with our baby with we’re developing all those other skills as well, which incorporates the brain development.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: Right. it all incorporates the brain. The brain is just learning all the time. Yeah. Another thing that is, is I think is good is music. Putting on, it can be your favorite music, it can be their favorite music. And not with the TV and the music toys. So choose like music and then dance around the room with your baby. You know, if their head control is not there yet, we do safety first, you support their head, but the movement is good and it can be fun.
I also have number four on my list was a touch and massage. And so infant massage, I actually have some articles, references to tell you that massage is directly related to brain development. I can’t quote those, I apologize.
Helen Thompson: It encourages them to start the crawling process, because as they’re lifting their head and as they’re sort of lying on the tummy, it’s actually teaching them to start that movement of crawling and sort of rolling over and the most important thing is it helps them lift up the head.
Elizabeth Agrapidis: So I have whole trainings on each one of these topics that I, so I could, like you said, we can talk about this all the time. I was actually going to mention that at the end that if you kind of want more on this topic in a little bit more guidance on it, I have a training that I’ve titled three ways to increase baby’s brain connections today.
And so it’s this same stuff that I talked about was like an intro to it, but I’ve done a few kind of consecutive ones. And so it’s just, you can come to my Facebook group. I’ll give you the link in a little while, and I’m also doing a free workshop and so you can continue to follow and get more information on all this, because what I’ve seen is a lot of moms are searching online, right?
You Google, Google’s not really your friend, but we think it is and then they find things and they might not work. And so then they don’t know, was it the wrong information, was it me, did I do it wrong? My baby, something wrong with them and something’s not right. Or maybe it just wasn’t maybe that wasn’t the most appropriate thing for your baby, but you don’t know that when you’re just doing general searches.
And so I’m really hands-on, and in the Facebook group they can ask me questions and then I do trainings and I actually have this really cool free workshop coming up on September 14th to 17th. So if you want any more help with the implementation, right because all the words like Helen, you’re saying all the words can sound great. And sometimes it’s hard to put them into practice.
I have whole trainings on tummy time and I have trainings on rolling, because each thing a mom sometimes thinks that it’s independent right, of everything else and it’s really not, right. Like the brain gets stronger when they’re doing tummy time. And their neck gets stronger and their back gets stronger and their vision gets finer and their vestibular system is being created.
And so as all these things at the same time, that’s happening to make your baby also kind of less frustrated, right? They want to move, they want to learn this stuff.
Helen Thompson: Yeah. And it’s encouraging, it’s play, it’s making it playful for them too, which is really important. Life should be fun and playful. So, yeah. If somebody wanted to find out more about you and what you do, how would they go about doing it?
Elizabeth Agrapidis: So, if you wanted to join the workshop, my website is abilifit.org. So it’s abilifit.org and there’s more info on the workshop and there’s a sign up sheet and you just enter your name and email and you’re in, and then you get a legal pop-up to the Facebook group. If by some chance, you find me and the workshop has already finished or you find me somewhere else you can also just join the Facebook. But the website will be the easiest place because I’ll have more workshops coming up, but yeah, if you wanted some more detail on this topic or you want to learn more about the, motor skills, the movement, tummy time or rolling or if you’re having some issues with it, you know, I can definitely help with that.
Helen Thompson: Thank you so much, Elizabeth. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. I think we’re sort of on a similar page, so I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you and thank you for coming onto the podcast.
I really enjoyed talking with Elizabeth, who shared some great tips to engage with your little one and to encourage that all important cognitive development.
You’ve no doubt gathered from other episodes that I’m a big believer in reducing the use of the television when engaging with your little one and Elizabeth and I are on the same page with this!
If you’re stuck for ideas or activities then check out some of my other episodes such as the ones on tummy time, where I shared some ideas and activities that you can do. You may also find my 4 Simple Tummy Time Routines freebie of help which you’ll find on the tummy time episode pages.
I’ve included links in the show notes to Elizabeth’s website where you’ll find information on coming workshops and activities.
These can be accessed at mybabymassage.net/podcast/034.