The Secret to Helping Babies Develop Focus & Attention-Span

Jul 02, 2022
The Secret to Helping Babies Develop Focus & Attention-Span

A group member in my respectful parenting Facebook group recently asked how can we expect a baby’s brain to learn and grow if we keep them confined in a simple play area with minimal and simple toys. 

To answer this very apt question, I’ll ask you to take a journey with me to your local grocery store. Let’s say you want to buy ketchup. When you reach the aisle with ketchup, you see twenty different sizes and kinds of ketchups. How do all the choices make you feel? Technically they should make you happy. After all, choices are great so the more the merrier... no? Chances are though, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. It’s TOO MANY choices. Depending on how your day has been, your brain might not even feel like analyzing all the choices and you might say, “Forget it! I’ll do this another time.”

Or best case scenario, you scan all the choices, read some labels and pick one bottle... you’re a little unsure of your choice though, “Should I have bought the upside down one? But that cost more than the upright one... is that worth the price difference?” Ultimately, you might walk away with a bottle of ketchup... a few units LESS happy than when you arrived. You bought the ketchup but you have some lingering feelings of doubt. 

So that’s one way to see why babies don’t like too many choices. They feel very overwhelming to them. They might even cry when they’re left alone in a place with too many bright colorful and noisy objects. 

Another way to explain this is my more favorite way.. is to examine their brain. 

When babies are born they have thousands of extra synapses (neural connections)- more than they will ever need. (To read more about what synapses are- read the post I’ll link below). As we get older, the extra synapses are “pruned off” (or cut off). All the extra synapses in babyhood make it hard for babies to focus on things. One scientist explained it as this; if we (adults) walk into a room, our vision is like a flashlight.. we can focus on what we want to focus on and block out the rest. 

Babies’ vision is more like floodlights turning on in a room- they see everything with equal “brightness” and can’t focus on a few things. This causes them to get overwhelmed and over stimulated when there’s too much stuff around them. It’s also why babies hate crowded and loud places. It’s all just too much for their brain. 

In other words, when babies have only a few simple things around them, safely enclosed in a finite space (yes space), they’re truly able to focus on the task at hand and learn and grow.When they focus on the same few objects, they strengthen those synapses and those are the synapses that won’t be cut off. The cutting off of synapses (called synaptic pruning) is a KEY process in brain development. In other words, reading your baby the same book, giving them the same simple environment, the same predictable routine BUILDS synapses and their brain grows! How neat! 

Fun fact: this is also why kids like watching the same movies so many times or why they like reading the same books or asking the same question many many times ?

(Check out the posts about synapses and yes spaces by clicking the tags)

Video about synaptic pruning and picture credits: