Brain Development

Brain Development

Let’s talk about brain development! 

Brain development is such an important part of understanding and making sense of behaviours, thoughts and feelings. 

When thinking about how a brain develops, it can be helpful to think about it the same way a house is built. 

Like any strong house, it is important that we start off with a secure foundation. Our sensory development is the base of our brain architecture and this is where we develop senses such as hearing and vision. Next, we have the development of the basic and instructional processes, this includes things such as our feelings, impulses, and bodily functions. Finally, we move into our higher order of thinking, here we have the ability to explore insight, use our imagination and have empathy. Each part of the brain develops in this order. There is about 90% of growth from the age of birth to age 3! Meaning that those first 3 years of life have such a huge impact on our growth and development, and the connections we make from the experiences we have. 

Neurons are our brain cells and they create connections. The brain has the ability to create millions of connections, and the brain has the ability to change in response to an experience. This is called Neuroplasticity. In the first few years of life, more than 1 million connections are formed every second. Neuroplasticity is how the brain’s physical architecture adapts to new experiences or information, by creating new neural pathways based on what is seen, heard, touched, thought.

So now we have an understanding of how the brain is built, and how all the parts work together. But what happens when the parts stop working together? When we allow our emotions to over take our usual process of thinking, we lose the roof of our house, which we learned is our higher order of thinking. Therefore we are no longer thinking rationally and all of those thoughts and feelings from the main part of the house come spilling out. In those moments we need to find a way to get our roof back on so that we can process and feel those emotions in healthier ways. Kids do not have the ability to regulate those emotions yet, and they need an adult to help them make sense of those feelings and put the top of their house back on. This is the process of co-regulation. 

Co-regulation means caregivers providing support to children to understand and manage their emotions. Through this continuous process, children begin to learn how to self-regulate their emotions. Children can start to learn to do this in other places such as school, or extra curricular activities, knowing that they have support from their caregiver to make sense of all their feelings and emotions when they see them again. 

For children to learn how to self-regulate they first need to learn how to co-regulate. For self-regulation to develop, children need to experience safety and security in their relationships with their caregivers. This process of developing self-regulation takes time, support and consistency. The brain is not fully developed until mid to late 20’s and the last part to develop in the brain is the area responsible for planning, prioritizing and making good choices. Therefore, even in the adolescent years, children depend on caregivers to support their emotional regulation, through the process of co-regulation. 

Here are some great resources to learn more about brain development and emotional regulation! 

Books:

  • The Power of Showing Up by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Podcast:

  • The Child Psych Podcast 

Websites:

References: 

Center on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu

Clark, D. (2013, October 30). Building your child’s brain is like building a house. Active For Life. https://activeforlife.com/building-childs-brain-like-building-house/

Elgin, W. by Jenna. (2022, May 6). Using co-regulation to build self-regulation in Kids. Helping Families Thrive. 

Lyons, Dr. S., Whyte, Dr. K., Stephens, R., & Townsend, H. (2020, January). D E V E L O P M E N T A L T R A U M A – beacon house. Beacon House. 

https://beaconhouse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Developmental-Trauma-Close Up-Revised-Jan-2020.pdf 

Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2021). The power of showing up: How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Ballantine Books 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). The Teen Brain: 7 things to know. National Institute of Mental Health. 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-7-things-to-know