Kids' Brains

0-3 Year-Old Brain

Every baby is born with a brain that contains hundreds of billions of neurons. From day one, those neurons connect—and the brain begins to get wired for life. Even kids that can’t yet talk are looking, listening and relating to you non-stop, which shapes neural connections. Every time you interact with a child you’re doing something major: shaping a growing mind.

During these years the Prefrontal cortex, Amygdala, and Hippocampus are learning how to work together. We call this integration, which is vital for overall brain health. The parts integrate by having repeated experiences that strengthen and wire together the neural connections.

During this period the amygdala is in charge of getting needs met. When baby or toddler cries, it means he needs something and cannot communicate what it is.

Leaving a toddler to cry for more than 5 minutes, or lecturing, setting limits, yelling, or ignoring will not work at this point. The amygdala has hijacked the rest of the brain. The child is not available to problem solve or remember what he might have learned in the past that would help him at the moment. Putting him in “time-out” may give him time to recover, but does not give him tools for the next time.

Remaining calm and helping him to regain some control is the first step toward building a healthy brain.

The 4-5 Year Old Brain

The prefrontal cortex has grown substantially.

The hippocampus has developed a memory bank of situations and responses.

The amygdala and prefrontal cortex are better able to communicate to manage needs and troubles in a more productive way. Millions of neural connections have formed.

The child is better able to communicate needs and is beginning to have a repertoire for solving problems.

The foundation for learning continues to develop. The task remains to get better at solving problems, managing emotions, and paying attention.

The child still needs reminders and practice of the strategies he has to calm himself down and modeling of these skills from the adults around him.

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