All children go through phases of challenging behavior, whether it’s temper tantrums, defiance, whining, or bedtime struggles. We often feel helpless when our children are in a difficult phase, and we are at our wit’s end as to what to do.
Neuroscience, the brain, and nervous system study can provide valuable information to help us understand and navigate these challenging phases. By unlocking the secrets of your child’s brain, you can better understand how they learn, think, and respond to the world around them.
This knowledge can help equip you with parenting tools and solutions that feel good to you and your child. Learning some basic principles of neuroscience and how they apply to your child’s development will give you valuable insight into their behavior, emotions, and cognitive processes.
Unlocking the secrets of your child’s brain will help you promote healthy development and foster a positive learning environment for your child. By learning about neuroscience, you can gain an invaluable understanding of your child’s brain and how it works.
10 Basic Neuroscience Concepts You Want to Understand
Before we dive into how neuroscience can help us understand our child’s behavior, emotions, and cognitive processes, let’s first understand what neuroscience is.
Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. It focuses on how these systems work together to control our behavior, emotions, and thoughts.
When it comes to your child’s brain, there are ten key things to remember.
- The brain is not fully developed at birth. When a child is born, their brain has nearly all the neurons or nerve cells it will have for the rest of its life.
- This is different than the cells elsewhere in our body. In most of the rest of our body, we are constantly making new cells to replace the dying cells. For example, our red blood cells exchange entirely every 120 days.
- After birth, your child’s brain begins to create connections, called synapses, between the neurons. Everything a child experiences creates neural connections. Everything they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and think about creates connections.
- By the time they are two years old, their brain is creating as many as two million new connections every second.
- A child will prune away many of these connections as they get older. These connections are strengthened or weakened in response to experiences, which is why early experiences are critical to brain development.
- Your child’s brain is shaped by their genes, all their childhood experiences, and the environment in which they grow up.
- The brain is composed of different areas that all serve different functions. The prefrontal cortex, for example, is responsible for decision-making and impulse control, while the amygdala is involved in processing emotions, especially the emotions of stress and fear.
- Understanding how these different parts of the brain work together can help us understand our child’s behaviors, emotions, and thought processes
- Neuroscience research has shown us that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control, is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This is why teenagers often struggle with impulse control and good decision-making.
- Between the age of zero and seven a child’s brainwaves are in an alpha and theta pattern when they are awake. This brainwave pattern is the same pattern as a person in hypnosis or meditation. So you may want to consider your little ones are walking around in a permanent state of hypnosis. They are open to suggestion, and are being programmed by their environment. They spend their first seven years in a super learning state.
These neuroscience basics highlight the importance of providing children with a safe and nurturing environment during their early years. This can significantly impact their brain development and who they become as adults.
Unlocking Five Secrets of Your Child's Brain
Now that we understand some of the basics about your child’s brain and the role that experiences play in a child’s development let’s explore some of the insights that neuroscience can offer to help you better understand your child’s brain.
One of the fascinating and crucial features of a child’s brain is its plasticity, or the ability to adapt and change in response to environmental stimuli. This plasticity is especially pronounced in the early years of life when the brain rapidly develops and makes new connections between neurons.
This process is known as synaptogenesis, and various factors, including genetics, experience, and exposure to different stimuli, drive it.
During the first few years of life, the child’s brain undergoes a series of critical periods, or windows of time, during which specific neural circuits are particularly susceptible to being shaped by experience.
For example, the visual cortex is responsible for processing visual information. It undergoes a critical period in the first few months of life, during which exposure to different types of visual stimuli can profoundly impact the development of this area of the brain.
1. The Importance of Play
The first brain secret: play is important.
The importance of play is one of the critical things that neuroscience has taught us. Play is not just a way for children to have fun; it’s also an essential part of brain development. When children engage in play, they use their imagination and creativity and develop problem-solving skills. All of these developmental skills contribute to the development of the prefrontal cortex.
Play is also an excellent way for children to learn about their emotions. When they engage in imaginative play, they can explore different emotions and roles. When we see our child struggling with emotional regulation or a behavior, play is a good place for us to explore the underlying causes of that behavior. Play is also where they can explore and express different roles. i.e. the bad kid role. Plenty of opportunities for free or self-directed play and playing with others are essential to developing the prefrontal cortex which is essential for emotional regulation, problem solving, creativity, and perseverance.
2. The Impact of Stress
The second brain secret: stress can significantly impact a child’s brain development.
When a child experiences chronic stress, it can change the structure of their brain, making it more difficult for them to regulate their emotions. Studies have shown that chronic stress disrupts the architecture of a child’s brain and can lead to poor learning, memory, and the ability to regulate their emotions.
When parents provide a safe, loving, and secure environment, their child’s brain will develop normally. This normal brain development leads to better emotional regulation and the development of emotional intelligence.
3. The Role of Attachment
Third brain secret: attachment is a crucial factor in how a child’s brain develops.
Of course, we want the best for our children. We want them to grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and successful individuals.
While we may know some of what this entails, the neuroscience behind child development is much more complex than we might think.
Attachment refers to the emotional bond that develops between a child and their caregiver. This bond forms through consistent and responsive interactions between the caregiver and child, which provide the child with a sense of safety and trust in the relationship.
Research has shown that a secure attachment is crucial for a child’s emotional well-being, as it helps them develop a sense of self-worth and the ability to form healthy relationships with others.
On the other hand, a lack of attachment or an insecure attachment can lead to emotional and behavioral difficulties in the child, as they may struggle with self-regulation and may have difficulty trusting others.
From an evolutionary standpoint attachment was critical to a child’s biological and psychological survival. Overall, the neuropathways for attachment play a critical role in shaping a child’s emotional development and can have long-term effects on their well-being and relationships throughout their life.
4. The Importance of Emotional Development
Fourth brain secret: In addition to understanding the brain’s physical development, neuroscience also sheds light on children’s emotional development.
Emotions play a significant role in a toddler’s growth and development. Emotions are a natural part of life. Children are born with the ability to fully experience a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to anger and frustration. However, the ability to regulate those emotions is built over the next 25 years as their brain grows and develops the connections needed to understand and regulate them.
Parents must let their children experience the full range of their emotions. When they learn that all emotions are ok and can experience both positive and negative emotions, they will build the neural pathways for regulating their emotions.
A child can’t build the neuropathway to regulate anger if their angry emotions aren’t allowed.
5. Language Development
Fifth Brain Secret: another area of child development that neuroscience has shed light on is language development. Language is a crucial skill that enables children to communicate with others and express their thoughts and feelings. It is also essential for cognitive development, providing a foundation for learning and understanding the world around us.
Neuroscience research has shown us that language development is a complex process involving multiple brain areas. Different brain regions activate when we speak or listen to language, including the auditory cortex, Broca’s area, and Wernicke’s area. These areas work together to process and understand language.
Research shows that the first few years of life are critical for language development. This is the period when the brain is most receptive to learning language. Children exposed to language-rich environments during this time are more likely to develop strong language skills. In contrast, children who experience language deprivation or have a limited language exposure environment are at risk for language delays and difficulties.
Exposing children to different races and languages is another possible important benefit. Recent studies may indicate that frequent exposure to people from many ethnicities during early childhood may be one of the best ways to raise anti-racist children.
In summary, the child’s brain is a complex and dynamic organ that undergoes significant changes in its structure and function during the early years of life. These changes are driven by various factors, including genetics, experience, and exposure to different types of stimuli, and they profoundly shape the child’s cognitive and behavioral development.
As our understanding of the child’s brain continues to evolve, so does our ability to provide effective parenting tools and strategies. These tools give the experiences our children need to be successful in all the areas of their life; emotional, physical, academic, social, and in their chosen careers.