… And so it begins
A human being’s development before birth is remarkable indeed. In nine months she or he expands from a single cell to become a being with round 15,000,000,000,000 cells. The neurology (the tissue which becomes the brain and spinal cord) appears within the first 3 weeks after conception and has over 250,000,000 neural connections between its cells by birth.
All the basic sensory skills emerge during the child’s prenatal journey. Around week 16 the baby can spot a flashlight placed against the mother’s tummy and by the 29th week, the baby actively turns towards the source of light. Similarly, by the 16th week, the foetal heart rate will synchronise with voice rhythms or music – what we call in NLP rapport. Babies prefer voices and classical music to drums and rock music and will turn towards the higher female voice if given a choice between male and female voices. In one study, mothers read aloud a short story, twice daily during the last 12 weeks of their pregnancy. At birth, their babies showed a marked preference for this story, even when read by another person. Touch can be felt on all body surfaces by 20 weeks after conception, and many babies will press their back against the uterine wall if the mother strokes her abdomen.
Birth And The Sensory Basis Of Bonding
Birth, most of us would agree, is a fairly major change. The change in sensory information at birth is total.
Visually, the newborn instinctively searches for a human face. If one comes within 10-30cms of its eyes, it will spend 80% of its first hour looking at that face. In that case, by 45 minutes after birth, the eyes’ muscular ability to focus at various ranges and follow movement will be fully functional. The baby will then tend to smile whenever a face is presented. If the baby does not see the face it seeks during that first 45 minutes, the smiling response will be delayed up to 3 months. This whole process is a key element in the sensory bonding between mother and child. Research repeatedly demonstrates the importance of the birth experience.
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The First Year: Getting The Kinesthetic System Up And Running
The development of kinesthetic control over the first year of life is truly impressive. Nearly one-half of the growth in brain tissue after birth occurs during the first year. This growth includes not only the expansion of the cerebral cortex, where sensory representations and “thinking” occur but also a change in the nature of the neurology. The simple reflex actions of a newborn – like the startle reflex, where a newborn’s arms and legs jerk out in response to a loud noise are replaced by controlled responses.
By 5 months old, a baby will attend to a kinesthetic stimulus – touch, smell or taste 3 times longer than a visual one, indicating that the kinaesthetic sense is dominant. The “object constancy” emerges at around this time as well – the emotional ability to trust that a parent who goes away will come back is connected to the child’s cognitive ability to trust that objects in the world are constant – they don’t just appear or disappear. The discovery of object constancy is what fascinates babies in the game “peek-a-boo”, where a parent hides their head or an object, and then makes it appear again, to the delight of the child. Up till 7 months or so, the baby brings each new object to its mouth, to explore it kinesthetically, and it is only by the end of the first year that it fully trusts vision.
By 10 months, one of side of the brain is clearly dominating and evidence of left or right handedness begins to emerge. Research shows that children who react to a challenge like a parent leaving the room with curiosity have more left hemispheric activity. Those who react with crying or panic have less left hemispheric activity. This second personality pattern is correlated with later anxiety, depression and learning disorders. Teaching parents to respond to their babies with more reassuring tones and actions can eliminate the problem in just a few sessions.
Most of the distinctions we term submodalities in NLP have emerged by the end of the first year; visual distinctions such as distance and colour, auditory subtleties such as identifying a parent’s voice in a crowd, and so on. Memory is also fully intact, so that a 6-month-old can remember a four step sequence of pictures after seeing it 5 times, and will still recall the sequence months later.
The ability to dissociate and to take a second or third position is a much later development though, so trauma at this early age cannot be dealt with as effectively as after, say, 7 years old.
By a year old, many babies will have said their first words. These are preceded by months of babbling – constructing pseudo-sentences with the phonemes used in that person’s language. They are also preceded by the use of symbolic kinesthetic gestures, for example, an open hand meaning “I want”. Research suggests that for every word they can say a baby understands a hundred words spoken by others, so by age one a baby has a grasp of quite a lot of what’s said around them.