The Neuroscience of Child DevelopmentTrying to understand the neuroscience of child development can be a difficult task. That’s why we wrote this blog – to help give you a better understanding of your child and their brain.

Did you know that a child’s brain does not stop developing until the mid-twenties? That is a long time to wait for such an important organ to finish growing! This most likely explains why children often do things that don’t make sense to us as adults – throw tantrums, cry, fight, etc. These behaviors are normal as a child develops. Unfortunately, tantrums, crying, and fighting are all hard on parents and caregivers who already have so much on their plate.

Understanding Your Child’s Behavior

A helpful way to approach these behaviors is to focus on why it is happening. The brain has several different parts each with its own function. The left brain helps you think logically and organize information. The right brain helps you experience emotion and read social and nonverbal cues. The brain will integrate the two parts of the brain in order for them to function together as one. Just like a pair of legs, the brain functions best when it is using both sides. Horizontal integration occurs when left brain logic interacts with right-brain emotion. Vertical integration occurs when learned behavior and thoughts interact with primal instincts. Both types of integration are important, but they do not happen right away. In the book, The Whole Brain Child, the authors say, “We want to help our children become better integrated so they can use their whole brain in a coordinated way. For example, we want them to be horizontally integrated, so that their left-brain logic can work well with their right-brain emotion. We also want them to be vertically integrated, so that the physically higher parts of their brain, which let them thoughtfully consider their actions, work well with the lower parts, which are more concerned with instinct, gut reactions, and survival.”

Understanding Left & Right Brain Integration

Integration is learned and developed over time through lessons, experiences, and basic activities. Throughout childhood, adolescence, and into young adulthood our brains continue to change and make new connections. The more connections we have, the healthier our brain will develop. Brain development depends somewhat on genes and heredity, and it also depends on nurturing through food, shelter, and sleep. Recent studies have shown that one of the most profound impacts on brain development are the experiences we have throughout childhood. These things include the people we interact with, places we spend time in, things we read and watch, things people say to us, the kind of disciple we receive, the emotions we experience, and the things we learn. In other words, the most profound impact is life experiences! The Whole Brain Child says, “Rather than trying to shelter our children from life’s inevitable difficulties, we can help them integrate those experiences into their understanding of the world and learn from them. How our kids make sense of their young lives is not only about what happens to them but also about how their parents, teachers, and other caregivers respond.”

As a parent or caregiver, you have an important role in your child’s brain development because you can provide them with the experiences they need in order to foster a well-developed, integrated, and resilient brain. You can also learn to use everyday situations as a tool for development and growth. The second part of this blog will teach you strategies to foster an engaging, stimulating, and emotionally safe environment for your child.

If you feel you or your family could benefit from working with a counselor, Garrett Counseling has a team of counselors trained to support children, adults, and families. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to learn more about our services.

**The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. & Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. was used in the writing of this blog.