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Your Child’s Brain – Neurobiology for Parents

The goal of this article is to give parents a brief but thorough overview of how your child’s brain develops, functions, and what you can do to best support their neurological development. Basic knowledge about your child’s brain development and how it can impact their behavior will give you realistic expectations for them at their particular stage, and can help you empathize with them in difficult moments.

  • Babies are born with billions of neurons and trillions of neural connections organized like a web, and in the first five years of life there is a tremendous amount of development as early experiences are programmed into our nervous systems. In the first year specifically, the right hemisphere of the brain grows more rapidly than the left, as it is the more central hemisphere in developing attachment with close caregivers. A baby’s earliest experiences with caregivers, whether positive or not, are thought to have the biggest impact on their development through the lifespan. Watching a young baby’s development, you notice that they do something new almost every single day.
  • From birth until age four, brain development along the back and sides begins to take off, which supports a foundation for hearing, vision, language, and physical development. During this time you will notice your child focusing on various tasks and projects that may seem arbitrary to you, but can greatly influence their physical and cognitive development along a predictable course.
  • As your child begins school somewhere between 5-7 years of age, their cerebral cortex and cerebellum grow which allows for developmental gains in social skills, learning, and coordination. Children at this stage love to begin to branch out and make friends, show off their knowledge, and begin to engage in more difficult physical feats as well as team sports.
  • From ages 8-12 before adolescence begins, children develop improved memory and higher-order thinking. This is because their frontal lobes start to increase in growth, signaling the beginning of refinement of the brain’s efficiency and complexity. At this age, preteens are capable of more advanced cognitive reasoning, creativity, and deeper relationships with peers and adults.
  • Adolescence, aside from young babyhood, is perhaps the period of brain development with the most rapid and significant changes. The teenage brain undergoes major restructuring and changes in grey matter in an effort to form the base for a fast-working, powerful adult brain. Mood swings and difficulty regulation emotion are common results of this complete overhaul of the neurological system.

Luckily, we don’t have to use fancy interventions or buy expensive learning toys in order to support healthy brain development in our children. The best possible way you can support the integration of your child’s neurological, physical, and emotional systems is to have a healthy relationship with your child. This means providing them a safe, stable, nurturing environment where they feel understood and validated, while allowing them the freedom to make mistakes so they can continue to learn and grow.

Sylvester, E., Scherer, K., & Siegel, D. J. (2023). Relationship-based treatment of children & their parents: An integrative guide to neurobiology, attachment, regulation, and discipline. W.W. Norton & Company.

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