The brain is one of the very first things to develop in an embryo, even before other organs have developed. By the time your child is born, he has a fully developed brain, although parts of his brain may not reach full maturity until adolescence. In fact, when he is born, his brain contains over 1 billion brain cells! Interestingly, how your child’s brain develops has a lot to do with the environment that he is in.
What are the parts of the brain?
The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain, and is divided into four different lobes, each of which controls different cognitive functions. The temporal lobe is the part of the brain that is responsible for language, hearing and smell. Memories are also stored in this part of the brain.
The frontal lobe controls fine motor skills and becomes more active as speech develops. The parietal lobe controls space and perception and the occipital lobe is responsible for interpreting visual stimuli. All parts of the cerebrum continue to mature throughout childhood, and neural connections can continue to be made even into late adulthood.
The brain stem is the part of the brain that controls very basic bodily functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and reflexes. This part of your child’s brain is fully developed at birth. The thalamus is responsible for delivering signals from the body’s sensory organs to the cerebrum, where it will be processed.
The basal ganglia control voluntary movements such as clapping, walking, or waving. The brain also contains the limbic system, which is responsible for unconscious behavior. The hypothalamus gland, which although located in the brain, is actually part of the endocrine system, controls some of the automatic body functions.
How do your interactions with your child influence brain development?
Recent research is beginning to indicate that a child’s environment has a large impact on how his brain will develop. For example, if you spend a lot of time reading and talking to your child, neurons will make connections in the part of the brain that controls language, basically strengthening it.
A child is born with the brain cells that give him the capacity to develop any number of skills. However, if the neurological connections are not being made, the brain undergoes a natural pruning process, which basically does away with unused circuits. The good news is that this pruning process allows the remaining circuits to become more efficient.
If you want your child’s brain to become developed in a variety of areas, you must provide adequate stimulation in the areas of physical activity, music, language, and spatial reasoning, among other areas. Begin as soon as your child is born. A child’s brain undergoes an enormous amount of development during the first year.
How can I make sure that my child’s brain gets enough stimulation to develop properly?
During the first two months, you can stimulate his eyesight by using mobiles and letting him see and respond to your facial expressions. Also, talk to your baby frequently. He is learning the language at this point, although it will be many months before he talks. Also, touch your baby, and play gentle games, such as softly bicycling his legs. As your baby gets older, he will be ready to play with and respond to simple toys.
Let him practice grabbing a toy that you are holding, and play simple games of peek-a-boo, which teaches object permanence. Continue to have a high level of interaction with him. Did you know that levels of parental interaction with infants and young children are directly related to IQ? Of course, genetic factors also play a role, but you cannot underestimate your importance in your child’s development.
After six months of age, make sure that your child has plenty of opportunities to build his strength and to practice crawling and walking. You will also want to label objects when you are out and talk about them. Take lots of pictures, put them into a photo album and use them as a bedtime story occasionally. Talking about past experiences stimulates your child’s memory.
As your child gets older, give him plenty of time to learn new information, and make sure that learning is fun. Provide plenty of opportunities for him to interact with his peers, and expose him to as many interesting situations, such as trips to the zoo, as are feasible. You also want to make sure that you have plenty of age-appropriate toys that focus on a variety of skills. For example, puzzles build spatial skills, while blocks can build both spatial skills and fine motor skills.
What stimulation should be avoided?
Keep in mind that negative experiences also influence the development of your child’s brain. This is one reason why you should be especially careful when choosing a caregiver. If a child is exposed to abuse, neglect, or violence at an early age, the experience can literally affect how his brain becomes wired, just as hearing the positive sound of the language you speak to him can also cause these changes in a good way.
You want the neural connections that your young child makes to be beneficial ones. A stressful environment can cause a young child’s body to produce too much cortisol, which is constantly produced, will remain elevated, causing the child’s brain to have a smaller cerebral cortex.
Cortisol also affects the limbic system and can cause him to be unable to control emotions well, which can lead to behavioral problems. A high level of stress and the associated elevated cortisol levels can also cause memory problems.
As a parent, you will want to provide as many stimulating activities as possible, while making sure that your child is not exposed to overly stressful situations. This will promote optimal brain development. You, the parent, have more control over your child’s early learning experiences than you probably imagine!
Make the most of it, and not only will your child experience the advantage of having an easier time later in life with cognitive tasks, but you will be forming the foundation for an excellent relationship with your child.Make the most