By the age of five, a motivated, skilled, capable adult has or has not been born in the brain of a child! At birth a baby has all the brain cells they will ever have, the key is the connection between them. This is what makes the brain work. This is what makes us move, think, talk, and do everything! The creation of neural connections (synapses) occurs during early childhood. During these early years synapses are created at the rate of one million per second, as we age that number decreases dramatically.
Creating Neural Connections
How do we create these connections? By doing. Encourage your child to interact with everything and everyone around them. To the child it comes naturally, but we often discourage it without realizing it. Have you ever heard yourself say, “Don’t put that in your mouth” or “Don’t touch that” or “Sit still for once!” You know you’ve said each one of these phrases multiple times. Did you realize you were discouraging a learning experience? Children learn by doing, touching, tasting, and moving and they learn lightning fast. Unlearning something is difficult, we’ve all let that nasty word slip out around a child only to hear it be immediately repeated, and repeated, and repeated! Peak learning time is around two years old, and that’s when the synapses are the most active.
“From birth, young children serve up invitations to engage with their parents and other adult caregivers. Babies do it by cooing and smiling and crying. Toddlers communicate their needs and interests more directly. Each of these little invitations is an opportunity for the caregiver to be responsive to the child’s needs. This ‘serve and return’ process is fundamental to the wiring of the brain. Parents and caregivers who give attention, respond, and interact with their child are literally building the child’s brain. That’s why it’s so important to talk, sing, read and play with young children from the day they’re born, to give them opportunities to explore their physical world, and to provide safe, stable and nurturing environments.” Brain Development – First Things First
Adverse Childhood Experience
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are “potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years).” Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC They are common, as many as 61% of us experience them, but studies are starting to suggest that it may be as many as 75% or higher. Most are related to violence (experiencing or witnessing) in some form.
In 1995, physicians Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda conducted a study of the child and adolescent histories of 17,000 people. Upon comparing these results to the adult’s health record they discovered a solid connection! The higher the ACE score, the higher the amount of medical care they needed as adults. In fact, it could be predicted with surprising accuracy.
Those with a score of 4+ were twice as likely to develop cancer. Each experience increased the chances of chronic depression and use of medication. Those scoring 6+ would see their anticipated lifespan shortened by approximately twenty years. These scores can be used to predict alcoholism, domestic violence, smoking, and much more. If you’re like me, you are now wondering what your score is. You can take the simple 10-question test yourself here What ACEs/PCEs do you have? « ACEs Too High
Parents who work to strengthen family and home, who strive to ensure their children feel valued and work to promote learning, and who involve themselves and their children with other youth and caring adults will be actively decreasing the chances of ACEs.
Our job as parents or caregivers is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for our children to learn and grow in. Here at Box Elder Family Support Center, we have professional instructors and classes to help you learn the skills needed to be a great parent. We also offer safe childcare during those classes. It’s an excellent way to learn and experience for all of you. Here are three quick learning tips:
Learning Interpersonal Skills
Learning is not just about learning to read, write, and do math; it is also about interpersonal skills such as empathy, emotional communication, teamwork, and sharing. For example, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain the importance of developing children’s empathy in their book The Whole-Brain Child. Empathy begins with acknowledging one’s feelings. Therefore, they suggest helping children in this age group to first label their emotions (“I feel sad”) and then tell the story about what made them feel that way (“I feel sad because I wanted ice cream and you said no”).
After a child has learned to label their emotions, you can start to ask questions that teach them to consider other people’s feelings. One way is to have them do chores with you. As you work together you can both talk about how you feel doing something. “I feel sad there are so many dishes to wash, but I love to blow soap suds!” Then blow some bubbles at each other to get some smiles going. Remember to share how happy and good you feel once a chore is finished, and how much you enjoyed doing it with them.
Learning About Everything
Learning should involve all areas of study, with an equal opportunity to find them all enjoyable. A big part of life is learning to deal with change and new things. If we praise a child for performing well on a math problem but point out their mistakes at the piano they may “learn” that they can’t play piano, only do math. If we practice music and math, our abilities increase. We need a chance to practice all skills so that we are not afraid to try something new. A valuable employee is one that isn’t afraid to tackle whatever job you assign them. A successful entrepreneur is a “jack of all trades.” The most successful people are those who are constantly learning new skills and ideas. Focus on the joy of the journey more than the end performance.
We put ourselves in a box once we are labeled. Even if that box is “you’re so smart” it locks us away from things we try and don’t excel at. We’re so afraid of losing that “smart” label that we hide things we don’t do well. How many authors had their most famous works rejected numerous times before they were printed? How many inventors tried making their idea work umpteen times before they succeeded? An adult who believes in themselves enough to keep trying was born in the brain of a child who was encouraged to try again. Mistakes and errors are part of learning, they are good experiences.
We’d love to meet you and share in your learning and growth. Stop by and share things you’ve tried as a parent, and we’ll share our experiences with you. We can all benefit from spending time with each other, no matter how old or young we are. We want to learn with you and about you.