Raising Children: Neuroscience and The Brain
Understanding Brain Development, Raising Children, and Parenting Strategies
Raising children is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences in life. As parents, caregivers, and educators, understanding the intricate workings of a child’s brain can significantly impact our approach to nurturing their development. Recent advances in neuroscience have shed light on how a child’s brain evolves. Below are suggestions on how parents can support a developing brain for the child’s life-long success.
The Developing Brain:
Early Brain Development: During a child’s early years, the brain is able to grow, change, and adjust at a rapid rate. Neuroscientists have discovered that the first few years of life are crucial for laying the foundation of cognitive, emotional, and social development. This information can drive parents in their decision-making regarding screentime, parenting choices, and more!
- What to do: Increase person-to-person playtime and decrease screentime: Between 18 and 24 months screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver. For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
- What NOT to do: Beat yourself up over needing to work fulltime, your child being in daycare at an early age, single-parenting or split-parenting! If you are interacting with your child when you are together they are learning!
Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize in response to experiences and environmental stimuli is known as neuroplasticity. Parents can harness this phenomenon by creating enriching and nurturing environments that promote positive brain development.
- What to do: Allow your child to fail, to cry, and to work through anger by rewarding and consequencing socially acceptable behavior (not only what you would tolerate as a parent)
- What NOT to do: Allow your child to believe they can treat all adults the way they treat you.
Parenting and the Brain:
Responsive Parenting: Neuroscience emphasizes the importance of responsive parenting. Consistently meeting a child’s needs, such as feeding, comforting, and playing together, supports the development of secure attachment and fosters healthy brain connections.
- What to do: Play with your child to show them how to respond to situations and frustrations in real-time. Reference previous times the child has seen certain situations and how others responded positively.
- What NOT to do: Tell your child to to do something the first time (without them seeing someone else do it) and expect them to be able to do it on their own.
Stress and Brain Development: Chronic stress can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Understanding how stress affects the brain can empower parents to create emotionally safe environments that promote resilience and emotional well-being.
- What to do: Allow your child to feel stress at a level they will be experience in the world. Tell your child and your child how you handle stressful situations and use examples that are age appropriate.
- What NOT to do: Block age-appropriate, stressful situations from your child. Blame others for your child’s actions so the child can avoid feeling appropriate stress. Allow or create an unpredictable environment around the child (abrupt changes to scheduling, constant screaming, etc.). Affirm unreasonable/extreme responses to stressful situation.
Emotional Regulation and Social Development:
Emotional Regulation: The brain’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and emotional regulation, continues developing into early adulthood. Parents can support this process by teaching children self-regulation skills through modeling and guidance.
- What to do: Remember Wait Time: Affirm the child’s feelings, give wait time for processing, then draw attention to the consequence of your child’s actions.
- What NOT to do: Enter into a power struggle- try to keep the focus on teaching and learning, solid rewards and solid consequences.
Empathy and Social Skills: Understanding the neural basis of empathy and social skills can help parents foster healthy relationships and emotional intelligence in their children. This can be completed through connection, modeling, teaching, and setting clear expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
- What to do: Be clear about empathy and social expectations in your family. Expect your child to use the same rules with those inside and outside your house.
- What NOT to do: Expect your child to treat those outside of the house differently than how they teat their family.
Additional Thoughts on “Raising Children: Neuroscience and The Brain”
As mentioned in the video, the human brain possesses a natural inclination to fill in gaps in our learning, hearing, and comprehension. This innate ability is advantageous in situations demanding swift responses. However, when combined with a child’s developing brain, it can potentially lead to challenges outside the home.
Parents can actively foster their child’s brain development by modeling expectations, holding them responsible for both acceptable and unacceptable actions, and nurturing critical thinking skills. Encouraging the idea that initial thoughts may lack complete information or accuracy provides an enhanced opportunity for the brain to evolve and adapt, ultimately benefiting the child’s future development.
- “The Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- Dr. Patricia Kuhl
- John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth
- Bruce Perry
- Dr. James Heckman
- Dr. Adele Diamond
- Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen
- Dr. Daniel Goleman
- “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr
- American Academy of Pediatrics