Brain Development

How well brain develops by age 6 determines a child’s health and performance in school and throughout life. While we know that the development of a young child’s brain takes years to complete and also know there are many things parents can do to help children get off to a good start and establish healthy patterns for life-long learning. “Well begun is half done.”

The human brain begins forming very early in prenatal life, but brain development is a lifelong process, because the same events that shape the brain during development are also responsible for storing information throughout life. The major difference between brain development in a child versus an adult’s learning is that the child’s brain is far more impressionable in early life than in maturity, which means that young children’s brains are more open to learning and enriching influences but are more vulnerable to developmental problems.

Which is more important in brain development, nature or nurture?
Genes or nature and environment or nurture play very different roles while interacting with each other at every step of brain development. Generally speaking, genes are responsible for forming all of the brain cells and general connections between different brain regions; while experience is responsible for fine-tuning those connections, helping each child adapt to the particular environment such as geographical, cultural, family and school. For example, each of us is born with the potential to learn language. Our brains are programmed to recognize human speech, to discriminate subtle differences between individual speech sounds, to put words together, and to pick up the grammatical rules make sentences. However, the particular language each child masters, the vocabulary, and the dialect and accent with which he/she speaks are determined by the social environment in which he/she is raised, beginning even before birth. Genetic potential is necessary, but DNA alone cannot teach a child to talk.

Does experience change the actual structure of the brain?
The answer is yes. Brain development is activity-dependent.
Like computer circuits, neural circuits process information through the flow of electricity. However, the circuits in our brains are much more flexible. Every experience, such as reading a book, riding a bicycle, sharing a story, excites certain neural circuits and leaves others inactive. Those that are consistently used will be strengthened, while the others may be dropped away. This is called “pruning”, which benefits neural processing, making the circuits work more quickly and efficiently.

Since providing a brain-using environment for kids to grow is so crucial for their brain’s development, that’s why most of our parents give their kids toys, video etc, to nurture the kids to be smarter and wiser.

Parents’ Guide to the Teen Brain

We used to think that teenagers respond “not normally” because of their hormones, or attitude, or because they simply need independence. But when adolescents’ brains are studied by researchers through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), it was found that they actually work differently compared with adult brains. Teenagers’ brain is still in the progress.

By learning how adolescent brain development, parents can understand the teens’ behaviors, such as impulsiveness, rebellion, high emotions and risk-taking, which are “normal” teenage behaviors, so that parents can guide the confusing and frustrating teen years and teens’ behavior and personalities as they get older better.

By scientists, the human brain takes 25 years to fully develop. With the advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers can see how the brain actually functions, what parts of the brain use energy when performing certain tasks. For instance, research found that the particular part of the brain “lights up” when performing a visual task.

It was thought at one time that the foundation of the brain’s architecture was laid down by the time a child is five or six. In fact, 95 percent of the structure of the brain has been formed by then. Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., together with colleagues found that an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, appeared to be growing again just before puberty(age 11 in girls, 12 in boys). The prefrontal cortex acts as the CEO of the brain, which is responsible for complex judgment and decision-making, such as controlling planning, working memory, organization, and modulating mood. It was observed, as the prefrontal cortex matures, teenagers reason better, develop more control over impulses and make judgments better.

It was found that the frontal cortex gives adults the ability to distinguish a subtlety of expression. For the teens, this area wasn’t fully operating. That’s a possible reason to explain that the teenage years seem so emotionally turbulent, and the teens seem to be misreading the feelings on the adult’s face.

Reactions, rather than rational thought, come deeper in the brain, than the frontal cortex, some neuroscientists suggest that an immature brain leads to impulsivity, or “risk-taking behavior.”

Jay Giedd and his colleagues’ research confirm what other neuroscientists have outlined over the past 25 years that different parts of the brain mature at different times. In particular, it has shown that the frontal cortex of human beings matures relatively late in a child’s life.

Some researchers argue that the idea that adolescents are difficult because their frontal lobes aren’t mature is one we should be very cautious of. We all know there are adolescents that are hard to get along with. However, there are adults with mature frontal areas that are hard to get along with for the same reason. In addition, there are very young children who seem to have no problem with this. Very immature brain structure, yet results in very sophisticated behavior. Therefore, moving from structure to function, deciding what behavior is caused by what part of the brain is much more complicated.

Besides a few well-defined sensitive periods for certain types of vision, hearing, and first-language learning, the brain is capable of growth well beyond the first few years of life. It is found that an important part of the growth is happening just before puberty and well into adolescence.

To learn more parenting skills, please refer to great parenting books.

Tips for Parents in Helping Children’s Brain Development

Parents act as a very important role in a child’s brain development. Infants prefer human stimuli. Such as parents’ face, voice, touch, and even smell. Just as babies are born with a set of very useful instincts for surviving and orienting to their new environment, parents are equipped with loving, nurturing and protecting them. Parents’ touching, holding, comforting, singing and talking provide the best stimulation for babies growing brains. Because brain development is so heavily dependent on early experience, babies need receive the right kind of nurturing through parents’ loving and parenting instincts.

Although all parents want to make their baby smarter, scientists have not discovered any special way for enhancing the natural building phase in children’s brain development so far. Normally, loving and responsive care giving provide babies with the ideal environment for encouraging their selves’ exploration, which is always the best way to learning.

Language as a kind of stimulation has been proven to make a difference. Infants and children who are conversed with, read to, and engaged in lots of verbal interaction show more advanced linguistic skills than children who are not. Because language is fundamental to most of the rest of cognitive development, talking and listening to children is one of the best ways to make the most of their critical brain-building years.
Reading to children is crucial for their brain development. It is never too early to introduce books to a child. It is very important to nurture the emergent literacy of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. These are some tips that parents can help children to build their literacy skills, which contributes to children’s brain development.

For babies and toddlers,

  • Sing nursery songs to help developing a young child’s ear for language.
  • Read aloud to the child for a few minutes at a time, gradually increase later on.
  • Play music and audio books to the child.
  • Use picture books and point to things and name them.
  • Ask questions, such as “What is it?” or “what is it doing?”
  • Set aside a regularly scheduled time each day for reading, such as before bedtime, make it a part of the child’s routine.
  • Let the child play toys including electronic ones.
  • Take toddlers to libraries and bookstores for story hour.

For preschoolers,

  • Tell stories to them.
  • Encourage the child to join in while parents read, let him/her fill in a rhyming word or repeating line.
  • Ask questions, such as “What do you think is going to happen next?” or “Did you know why it happened?”
  • Move your finger under the words as you read aloud to help preschoolers connect printed words to spoken words.
  • Begin teaching the letters of the alphabet, starting with those in the child’s name.
  • Draw pictures and name them using letters and words.
  • Play audio and videos programs.
  • Encourage the child read picture books, and ask parents questions.
  • Let the child play toys including electronic ones with multimedia features.
  • Introduce the child good online contents, such as games, video programs.
  • Take preschoolers to libraries and bookstores frequently.