I have no doubt that what occupies the mind of both new and seasoned parents is our child’s development. We want to be able to predict our child’s behavior and character with expert precision, but this, of course, is only a daydream. Instead, as I’ve come to realize through observation and of course extensive new-mom research, our kids will truly surprise us.
We should never underestimate our kids, and there are so many factors that go into behavior and learning that we should also never underestimate the positive impact we can have when we understand their neurological development and how we can better guide them towards positive developmental outcomes.
Use the following stages of neurological development to better support your child and understand the powerful role you have as a parent when it comes to your babies’ brain development.
Between birth and 2 years old, a child is getting used to experiencing the world around them through their senses. Using objects and their sensations, a child will begin to understand and master each environment they interact with. It’s all trial and error for a while, and when they reach the age of 1 a child will learn object permanence (understanding that an object continues to exist outside the field of vision).
Babies are also developing socially and emotionally and will look to their parent for support. According to Sarah Lytle, Ph.D., from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, this is called social referencing or social cognition; for example, when a child engages with someone they don’t know they usually look to the parent to gauge how to respond. Show them how to respond through your own interaction to build confidence and independence.
A child will usually utter their first word around the six-month mark. To help your child develop their language skills use your gaze, which they will follow when introducing them to a new word. Place emphasis on words with your eyes by moving them slowly. And lay off the baby talk (although we are encouraged to use a baby tone) and use words correctly, in full and in complete, grammatically correct sentences (which so happened to be an “I told you so” triumph in my household.)
Here is where a child’s language skills go up a few notches. Between the age of 2 and 7, a child will develop numerical understanding and learn the difference between past and future. During this stage, our kids will have a handle on concrete situations; however, more abstract concepts will take more time to grasp.
In an earlier post about toddlers, The Terrible Twos, I wrote about different phrases we can use to help manage and support a toddler, and it’s during this stage that these will become powerful tools. From the age of 2, a child will find it difficult to think outside of their own wants and needs. For now, ‘self’ can be an overriding factor when it comes to sharing or caring about others.
Parents can work at developing and building a child’s level of empathy by using the “Sally-Ann test” and reading stories where they will need to put themselves in a character’s shoes.
The last two stages of neurological development are the Concrete Stage and the Formal Operations Stage. Between the ages of 6 to 12, the former enters a child into the age of reason, where they grasp abstract concepts and empathy. However, a child at this stage still requires further development in regard to systematic reasoning. Lytle suggests that parents should be sensitive to a child’s emotional welfare during this stage, as marital spats or a parent who might be suffering from stress or depression could negatively impact their psychological development.
The latter concerns a child’s development from 12 throughout their teenage years. This is where you will see greater capacities for hypothetical thinking, complex reasoning, and a greater understanding of moral issues. However, our work is not done: teenagers often evaluate situations using their amygdala (emotional center) of their brains and our prefrontal cortex is actually not fully developed until we are around the age of 25. Give children during this stage the opportunity to express themselves, participate in active problem solving, and make judgment calls.
Who knew learning a little neuroscience could make a real difference to parenthood? Raising children is never easy but educating ourselves is half the battle.