How a child’s brain develops through early experiences

Science tells us that the experiences we
have in the first years of our lives actually affect the physical
architecture of the developing brain this means that brains aren’t just born
they’re also built over time based on our experiences.
Just as a house needs a sturdy foundation to support the walls and roof a brain needs a good base to support
all future development positive interactions between young
children and their caregivers literally build the architecture of the
developing brain building a sturdy foundation in the
earliest years provides a good base for a lifetime of good mental function and better overall
health. So just how is a solid brain foundation
built and maintained in a developing child one-way is through what brain experts
call serve and return interactions imagine a tennis match between a
caregiver and a child but instead of hitting a ball back and forth across the
net various forms of communication passed
between the two from eye contact to touch, from singing
to simple games like peek-a-boo these interactions repeated throughout a
young person’s developing years are the bricks that build a healthy foundation
for all future development. But another kind of childhood
experience shapes brain development too and that’s stress. Good kinds of stress like
meeting new people or studying for a test are healthy for
development because they prepare kids to cope with
future challenges another kind of stress, called toxic
stress is bad for brain development. If a child
is exposed to serious ongoing hardships like abuse and neglect and he has no other caregiver in his
life to provide support the basic structures of his developing
brain may be damaged. Without a sturdy foundation to
properly support future development, he’s at risk for a
lifetime of health problems development issues, even addiction. It’s possible to fix some of the damage of toxic stress later on, but it’s easier,
more effective and less expensive to build solid brain architecture in the
first place One of the things building study
brain architecture supports is the development of basic emotional and
social skills an important group a skills which scientists call executive function and self-regulation can be thought of like air traffic
control in the child’s mental airspace. Think of a young child’s
brain as the control tower at a busy airport all those planes landing and taking off
and all of the support systems on the ground simultaneously demand the controller’s
attention to avoid a crash. It’s the same with the young child
learning to pay attention plan ahead and remember and follow lots of
rules like all of us, kids have to react to
things happening in the world around them while also dealing with worries,
temptations and obligations on their mind As these demands for attention
pile-up air traffic control helps a child regulate the flow of information prioritize tasks and above all find ways
to manage stress and avoid mental collisions along the
way. Having this ability is a necessity for positive and level mental health. Developing affective air traffic control,
overcoming toxic stress and building solid brain architecture
are things kids can’t do on their own and since strong societies are made up of healthy contributing individuals it’s up to us as a community to make
sure all young people have the kinds of nurturing experiences they need for positive development. To
build better futures we need to build better brains.

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