A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a mother’s brain. You can read that here. I thought this week I would follow up with a look into a child’s brain, and why a mother’s guidance is vital to our little one’s development.
A child’s brain in the first 0-3 years is the most pliable than any other time in their lives! There are so many connections being formed at such an unbelievable rate. They learn to sleep, walk, talk, form relationships, form preferences, discover feelings, understand connections and symbols, learn how to cope and process… it’s incredible. If an adult were given those tasks, it would take them MUCH longer to accomplish those skills. Imagine a 35 year old human being given the task to learn to sleep, walk, talk, form relationships, etc… ALL in 3 years! Our brains may be bigger, but they are not as pliable as a child’s. The older you get, the less pliable your brains get and the more set in your ways you become. It is way more difficult to learn to play piano at 50, than it is at 5. All the stimuli that we are feeding to our children is being soaked up like a sponge, because their brain is developing so fast! We as parents are absolutely mirrors to our children. What they see from us, they will learn, and they will become.
The cool thing is, is that kids have a developmental window for certain skills where their brain is most likely to soak up that specific info and create very strong connections to use for the rest of their life! Some quick examples:
Because the different parts of the brain are sponge-like at different times based on a child’s age, parents need to be aware what the best times are to help our children learn about the world. Are you gonna teach your 1 year old math? Probably not the best use of your time. Are you going to start teaching your 8 year old Russian and expect them to be fluent just as fast as they learned how to communicate when they were 1? Probs not. I mean you could, but the brain will not soak it up as quickly has it could have 7 years prior. This is why babies in 2 language households can become dually fluent so quickly! Prime sponge time!
Something I have always found fascinating is that emotional control (learning to express our feelings appropriately) starts very young. I’ve always said that I think we should teach emotional control starting in preschool, and we’d have a lot less criminals, addiction problems, and broken families. Teaching your child about how to recognize their feelings and how to purposefully control their response between ages 1-6 is a going to be a GAME CHANGER in their future relationships and ability to communicate as teens and adults! Jerry Springer and Maury Povich would be out of a job if we taught kids how to express their feelings in a healthy way.
So… it’s our job to optimize our child’s learning to give them the best chance at life. Not a big responsibility or anything, right? We are LITERALLY handed a wet nakey little human one day and being told, HERE. Make them a good adult, mmmk?
Our wet nakey little human then instinctively cuddles up to our chest and finds comfort in our heartbeat. They look into our eyes and recognize our voice. We then have the amazing task and gift to mold their understanding of life. A child’s brain is completely wired to learn from the moment they take their first breath.
So if a mother is wired to love, and a child is wired to learn…how do I go about making sure my perfect little babe has the best chance to become an awesome adult? How do I give them a 10/10 life!?
First, a child experiences the world through YOUR eyes while they are growing and learning. You are their Mama-guide. You teach them how to cool down when they get angry and want to hit, that all people are not safe people, how to bring happiness and light into their life. You teach them that flowers have a light and airy smell, that only certain creatures can live in the ocean and breathe underwater, and that dogs don’t like it when you pull their tail. And that is only the start ☺
Give yourself a pat on the back Mama, this is a huge job and you’re doing great without even realizing it. You teach them all these things while loving them fiercely, praying for patience, and answering lots and LOTS of questions.
If a child’s brain is a sponge in the first years, imagine how much not only their primary caregiver affects them, but think about how their environment plays a role in their development. Children who are exposed to stressful situations early on are unfortunately proven to struggle later in life, due to toxic stress affecting their brains early on when their development is fragile and delicate. This creates a blueprint for future stress that really puts a hindrance on their ability to learn to cope through future hurdles in life. Stress actually has more of an impact long-term on a younger child than an older child! Isn’t that crazy?
I get this question a lot: What if my child has been exposed to stress early on? What if they didn’t learn these skills during the optimal times? What if they witnessed some scary stuff when they were really little…will they remember? IS MY KID DOOMED!?
Great news: Your child is absolutely never doomed! A child’s brain is very, very resilient. And with the right tools, new connections can always be formed and new skills can always be learned, it just might take some extra help and extra love. They may not remember specific incidents that had a negative effect on their development, but their brain subconsciously remembers that there was a reason they felt scared and could not go on to other tasks because it needed to be busy protecting itself. I always refer parents to play therapy for their child if they are concerned about their child being affected by a stressful event early on in their childhood…a death, separation, violence, divorce, abuse, etc. It makes a huge difference for a child’s emotions to be validated, and taught that they are safe, loved, and free to explore the world with a loving parent as their guide.
Did you know the average 4 year old asks over 400 questions a day? (Those of you with a 4 year old definitely already know this.) It is because they truly have no idea WHY…about everything! That is a huge cognitive developmental milestone for them! They are learning to use their brain to process the world. How cool is that? That WE get to witness a human seeing the world for the first time? We get to see their eyes light up for the first time ever when something makes their little hearts happy…we get to see them forgive their brother or sister when they have been woefully wronged over their tumbled down Lego tower. We get to see them make others feel special and loved and learn empathy. Our children will learn about the world and soak up their surroundings regardless of who is there to teach them. Our job as mothers being teachers is as important as it is incredible. Who better to teach them about life, than the ones who gave them life?
(This is the most amazing article I have found explaining in detail the brain development of young children 0-6yrs old. It covers everything from brain functions, to optimal ages for brain growth and learning, like I wrote about above. This website also has an amazing comprehensive infographic that sums it all up if you just want to take a quick peek! If you do have a good 10 minutes, I strongly suggest you scroll through their site. Check it out if you are interested in what your child is able to comprehend and learn.)
– Nicole L.
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