In the previous post, I introduced how effective interactions consider the developing child. Before elaborating on how you may consider the developing child in an interaction, it is interesting to note that the study of development in children did not begin until the early 20th century, and then the research focused on studying abnormalities in children. Fortunately, this caused researchers to see the value of studying children in general, and now there are theories available to help explain how children develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially.
One of the newer areas of study describe the development of a child’s brain. At birth, the infant sees, hears, smells, and responds to touch. Then almost immediately, the newborn’s brain starts to build connections and pathways to further enable the child to see, hear, smell, learn, and reason in a more developed way. The brain continues to be a work in progress throughout childhood.
Although genes begin the process of brain development, it is known that the life experiences of the child take over this process. A child’s experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. Repeated actions or experiences help etch these pathways into the brain. The repetition causes these connections in the brain to become well-worn pathways, permanently etched into the brain. These brain connections give the child a unique pattern of mind, thought, and emotions. Depending on the experiences of the child, the pattern of thinking is developed, and this influences how the child thinks and learns each moment and possibly in future moments.
It is interesting to note that according to this research, an average eight-month infant, living in a stimulating, secure, and loving environment, will have sparked 500 trillion of these connections. By the age of two, this infant will have developed around 1000 trillion of these connections. It’s not necessarily the exact number of connections that I think is fascinating, but the vast amount of connections that are occurring during this time in a child’s life. Pathways of thought are forming every day, and much of the connections are grounded in the child’s everyday occurrences.
Between birth and age 6, the child is forming perceptions related to emotions, interpersonal relationships with other people, and expectations. The child’s working memory is actively forming these connections and developing perceptions. The emotional well-being of the child is grounded in this development. This activity continues until around the age of 10, with the onset of physical changes due to puberty. Then the brain begins to prune some of these connections. The brain starts ridding the connections that are not sufficiently strong, have been neglected or are used infrequently. This pruning process will assist with speeding up electrical impulses and stabilizing the connections.
Now pause for just a minute here.
Stop and think about how critical your interactions are with a child from birth to age 10. You are potentially establishing perceptions for the child’s character traits, interpersonal communication and relationships, just to name a few of the main perceptions in development. What brain connections would you want your child to develop? How are you helping your child develop more beneficial brain connections?
The pruning process continues through puberty, and by the age of 18 the number of connections will be reduced to around 500 trillion – the same number as an 8-month old; however at 18, the connections are much stronger and powerful. These connections will remain largely stable into adulthood. The brain connections that started with the child’s first breath and were accumulated through life experiences will now influence how the child will think and learn each moment as a soon-to-be adult.
As a caregiver to a child, at any age it is critical to provide a nurturing environment. Your daily interactions impact brain connections and pathways. You can have a strong influence in developing a child’s perceptions. You can influence what pathways are strengthened by how you interact with them. This is a fundamental reason for learning more about how you Teach, Encourage, Listen, Love a child, T.E.L.L. a child. Your words and actions have emotional and intellectual consequences.
Today, take time to identify what you may be doing to impact your child’s brain development. Consider the different stages of development and think about how you can interact more appropriately. If your child is younger than age 6, think about what brain connections and pathways you are helping your child create. How are you establishing connections that are critical for the healthy development of your child? What essential connections do you think are critical for the healthy development of the child?
How will you interact now knowing very early on in your child’s life, you can help develop perceptions on virtues such as hope, will, purpose, competence, trust, truth, joy, and love? How will you interact knowing you can help hard-wire a child’s brain for understanding independence, choosing between spontaneity and restraint, or building self-confidence, just to name a few?
If your child is older than 10 or showing signs of puberty, realize the brain is in the process of pruning the connections and pathways. New ideas will be connected to already-established brain pathways, which makes asking and listening to the child’s thinking even more critical.
A child’s brain will be strengthened continuously through your actions and words. The connections you help the child make during childhood will have a large impact on the child’s adulthood. Start today thinking about the brain connections your child may already have. Which pathways would you like to strengthen?
Clearly, common sense would tell us that you communicate with a one-year-old child differently than a four-year-old, or a teenager. As the child gains experiences in life, the child collects ideas and develops perceptions. What the child understands at a young age is clearly different than what the child understands at an older age.
An effective interaction is developmentally appropriate for the child. The interaction:
- Involves a child’s current understanding
- Encourages a child to make better sense of a situation
- Gives a child an opportunity to express current thoughts and feelings, and be heard
- Is loving, shows you want only what is best for the child in the present moment.
#6: An effective interaction T.E.L.L.s a child in developmentally appropriate ways.
In every interaction, adults are informing a child about something, whether it is about what the child can expect from you, how to speak and think around you, what the situation could possibly mean, etc. There are many things we T.E.L.L. a child whether we realize it or not. A child is constantly seeking to understand. The child can only understand what she is developmentally capable of understanding in the moment.
What is developmentally appropriate can be as simple as making sure you speak and think in such a way a child understands. Or you can make sure you speak and think in such a way you communicate what is best for child’s well-being and personal growth in that moment.
Interacting in a developmentally appropriate way can also mean speaking and thinking more about how children develop physically, cognitively, and socially. There is good information available to help you better understand the growing child. I will be looking at some of these ideas in the next posts.
For now, try and think about how your words and actions are developmentally appropriate for the child. Ask yourself how your words and actions are being comprehended by a child. How do you know a child understands your words and actions? Are your words and actions appropriate for the child in this moment of time? Do your words and actions allow the child to develop for better, or worse? How are you helping the child develop empowering thoughts, skills, and behaviors?