When a child is born, she has a brain with literally trillions of nerve cells but these cells are not connected to each other. What makes the connections? The most important thing that enables your child’s brain to develop the interconnectedness between brain cells is YOU! The brain develops most rapidly during the first three years of life. A toddler’s brain is ten times as active as that of a teenager or an adult. Knowing this makes you the most critical person in developing your child’s brain and what you do with this brain will be one of the most important things you do for your child.
Yet what you have to do is simple. It doesn’t take money or special toys. It merely takes you. Here are some brain facts with suggestions for developing a strong brain for your toddler.
Brains are built from the bottom up! This means that toddlers are learning things that build the foundations of their brains. They are learning about relationships and communication; basic building blocks of intellect.
The interactive influence of genes and environment shape the developing brain! We can’t really help the genes we are given but we most certainly can make an environment that nurtures a child’s brain. You don’t need lots of toys, but the toys you do have should involve activity that you both can do together. Have races with the old matchbox cars, read a story together, color a picture or use playdoh to make some shapes.
The brain’s capacity for change decreases with age and the toddler’s brain prunes around age three! This really brings home the point that we have some limitations on the time we have to develop strong healthy brains. I am not suggesting that we can’t make changes if a child is older but it sure is easier to make changes prior to age three.
Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably intertwined throughout the early years! In many ways, these three areas are intertwined because the brain is so new. Toddler’s are learning about emotions in others and themselves. This also aligns with their social skills.
Stress damages developing brain architecture, which can lead to life-long problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. So please don’t argue in front of your children. Model the behavior you want your child to display. Provide for basic needs. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. We don’t want to damage the brains of our children.
Children need a stable, environment where they feel loved and are nurtured to become the best they can be. Play with your toddler. Read to your toddler. Sing to your toddler. All of these things make children safe and secure while developing their brains to their fullest potential.
Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.