Pediatricians often tell new parents that their child's brain is like a sponge from the minute they are born. They soak up everything that's going on around them. Neuroscience research has shown the early years are especially crucial for kids' brain development & focus. This period lays the foundation for who that child will become.
From birth to age 5, a child's brain is growing at warp speed. Neurological and brain development in early childhood is shaped by every interaction children have. Even experiences that may seem insignificant to an adult, like meeting a new person, teach a child how to interact with the world around them. That’s because the brain’s size and shape are constantly changing in response to encounters during this period.
During the prenatal period, emphasis is put on genetics (nature). There’s no doubt genes are important. Genes are the blueprint of life. However, environmental stimuli (nurture) are just as important.
In fact, even when the blueprint isn’t great, if a child grows up in a nurturing environment it’ll have a positive impact on brain development. Attentive parenting and proper kids brain nutrition are fundamental factors for brain development & focus.
|Age, Developmental Stage
||Stage of Cognitive Development
||Biological Changes in the Brain
Babies are born with 100 billion neurons connected by 50 trillion synapses.
A neuron has an average of 2,500 synaptic connections at birth.
Cranial nerves are myelinated.
The brain reaches 25% of adult size.
Newborns have basic reflexes for survival, e. g. rooting, sucking, startle, grasp, etc.
The cerebellum and prefrontal cortex continue making new neurons.
Synaptic density is reduced to half by age 2.
Myelination continues and proceeds from the back to the front of the brain and from the center to the sides.
The brain reaches 50% of adult size at age 1.
Babies must establish trusting relationships with caregivers.
Motor development proceeds in descending fashion:
The baby explores the environment and learns from it
- Raises head at 1 month
- Sits without support at 6 months
- Walks alone at 12 months
Starts building vocabulary
By age 2 or 3, each neuron has formed an average of 15,000 synapses.
A toddler’s brain has about 1 quadrillion synapses.
The brain grows to 80% of adult size.
Walks up and down the stairs unsupported
Hops and skips
Learns to speak in short sentences
Thinks in symbols, so Piaget called this sub-stage the “Symbolic Function Substage.” The child engages in role-playing and makes up imaginary friends.
By age 5, the brain reaches 90% of adult size.
Plays cooperatively with other children
Learns to play competitively
Learns to count, read, draw, write, recite the alphabet
Enters the Intuitive Thought Substage. The child develops primitive reasoning, asking many questions and wanting to know why things are the way they are.
|Concrete Operational Stage
Frontal and temporal lobes grow significantly.
Gross and fine motor skills are more developed
The child’s world view becomes more realistic and less fantasy-oriented
Begins formal schooling
Cognitive functions are more efficient. Arithmetic, word recall and reading become easier.
Develops inductive reasoning
The frontal lobe reaches adult size and neuronal density.
Sex hormones increase in response to pituitary and hypothalamic stimulation.
Growth spurt starts
Secondary sexual characteristics start to form
The child becomes aware of body changes
Understands from other people’s perspective
|Formal Operational Stage
Significant synaptic pruning and rewiring take place due to marked hormonal changes.
The limbic system develops faster than the prefrontal cortex.
Components of the limbic system:
- Hypothalamus—regulates bodily functions and is influenced by the emotions
More conscious of body image and looks
Starts to be influenced by peers
Wide mood swings
Much longer attention span
Solves more complex problems
Develops abstract thinking and deductive reasoning
Myelination of the brain is complete except in the prefrontal lobe.
May engage in risky behaviors
Becomes romantically interested
Parent-child clashes may occur more often
Height of identity crisis. The child is less influenced by family and more influenced by peers.
Begins planning for the future
Prefrontal maturation picks up and involves:
- Gray matter volume reduction
- Synaptic pruning
- White matter (myelin) growth
Parent-child conflict resolves
The young person becomes more self-assured
Experiences more cognitive and emotional growth
|22 years onwards
The hippocampus continues to make new brain cells but at a slower rate.
As many as 500 trillion synapses are present.
Prefrontal maturation continues until early adulthood.
Good nutrition, exercise and constant mental stimulation prevent brain aging.
Gets into a serious relationship
Raises own family
May pursue graduate school, get a job or both
Builds a career
Rational thinking develops with prefrontal maturation
Early Childhood Brain Development Facts
Did you know a baby is born with billions of neurons? Even more incredible are the trillions of neural connections that link those neurons! Those connections, called synapses, are the foundation on which the rest of the brain will develop. They are formed every time a child experiences something.
Babies are so small and fragile when they enter the world, yet miraculous things are taking place right below the surface of their soft, little heads.
A baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons when they are born. No wonder moms are tired during pregnancy, their bodies are making all those! While some areas of the brain, like the cerebellum and the prefrontal cortex continue making neurons after birth, what really matters are the connections that carry the information children have gathered up to the nerve cells in the different areas of the brain. For example, when a parent picks up their baby a connection is formed.
When a baby enters the world, they have 50 trillion neural connections, also known as synapses. By the time they reach adulthood they’ll have around 500 trillion.
As a child grows, their brains are rapidly developing new neural connections. We're not talking about 100 new synapses a day, either.
“A toddler’s brain is forming more than 1 million connections every second.”
DR. COVER THREE
Research shows that they’ll have roughly 15,000 neural connections per neuron by the time they are age two or three. They started out with approximately 2,500 per neuron. In total, a toddler’s busy brain has about 1,000 trillion synapses.
About those synapses - the neural connections are like interstates carrying the knowledge to and from different areas of the brain. Over time, the brain sheds the neural connections that it isn’t using.
Neuroscientists call that synaptic pruning.
Depending on their experience, the connections formed and kept will determine if they're going to be intelligent, loving, kind, and empathetic, as opposed to ignorant, mean, and selfish. That is why parenting is so critical for kids' brain development & focus.
The relationships kids have and their experiences during the first 3 years of life will have a profound impact on the rest. Even if a child doesn’t specifically remember this part of their life, their brain’s connections do. All this neuron generation, synapse pruning and removal requires energy and nutrients. That is where optimal nutrition comes in. Helping kids get the proper nutrition can be difficult when they are picky eaters and so modern food companies have made herculean efforts to make food entertaining and sweet, which is not always ideal for youngsters.
The Standard American Diet has been shown to fall short when it comes to providing kids with the proper brain nutrition leading many parents to look to supplements to bridge the gap.
Parent/Child Relationship Impact on Brain Development
Imagine a person planted an acorn and grew an oak sapling. The young tree is growing just fine but then the person starts neglecting it. Over the next few years, the tree is given minimal attention and care. When it grows into a young tree, it’s not very attractive. Its leaves are thin and its trunk is scrawny.
Next door to that person’s house, a neighbor also planted an acorn. They watered it every day, fed it plant food, and nurtured it with love and attention. Now it’s a beautiful tree with vibrant, full leaves. The trunk is sturdy and it’s providing plenty of shade for its caregiver.
Now, imagine those trees are humans.
A child who is well-loved, cared for, and fed a rich, balanced diet, has a far better chance of growing into a well-adjusted, successful adult, compared to one who is not
As mentioned, a child’s neural connections are rapidly developing. If a parent is kind and happy for the most part, their toddler is growing "kind-and-happy" connections. As the child ages, those synapses get stronger and healthier. Those connections will follow them to adulthood and they'll know how to build strong, healthy relationships.
The flip side can create children who will have a much harder time fostering healthy relationships in adulthood, or maintaining focus. They could also be less likely to be successful if their parents failed to create a healthy learning environment.
Child Brain Development Timeline
Neurological and brain development in the early years of a child's life occurs very quickly. The brain is creating and pruning connections rapidly. It’s not all happening simultaneously though. Brain development stages differ depending on the age of a child. For example, a 3-month-old baby isn’t going to form the connections that allow them to comprehend abstract thinking. They’re still working on basic motor skills. The abstract thinking comes after their new neurons are built!
There are four important children brain development stages according to French psychologist Jean Piaget:
Sensorimotor Stage (birth to 2 years)
During the sensorimotor stage, children learn about the world using their senses. They touch, smell, lick, bite, and see their way around their world. That's why babies are constantly putting items in their mouths.
When a child is born, their brain is about 25% of the size of an adult brain. It will double in size during the first year of life. By the second stage of development, the brain is roughly 80% of the size of an adult's. Synaptic density reduces to half by age two.
That's why it's critical that parents, caregivers, and others treat toddlers kindly and show them love. There is no “do-over” for this crucial stage of brain development.
Preoperational Stage (Ages 2 to 7)
Cognitive growth is still happening very fast during this stage. By the age of 5, a child's brain will be 90% of the size of an adult's.
Children will usually learn how to communicate in whatever language they will primarily speak during this critical developmental phase. It's the best time to teach them multiple languages because it's easier for a child to learn.
A child will also learn how to think symbolically during the preoperational stage. The ability to focus, short-term memory, long-term memory, logic, and reasoning are all developing during these years.
Concrete Operational Stage (Ages 7 to 11)
Children are more aware of other people's feelings during this stage. They learn to apply logical thought to objects. The neural connections for abstract thinking are not developed during this stage. That's why kids have a hard time understanding the long-term repercussions of their actions.
Formal Operational Stage (Ages 11 to adulthood)
The brain isn't fully developed until it is about 25 years old. Thinking becomes much more sophisticated after age 11 as the experiences a child has strengthen the synapses developed early on.
During this stage, a child learns how to think abstractly. They hone their problem-solving skills and the type of person they're going to become is made clear.
|Get your kid the best brain supplements out there
(Brain) Food Matters
Nutrition and healthy brain development go hand-in-hand during the early years of a child's life. If the right brain nutrition for kids is missing, a child's brain will not grow properly. That's why you'll notice many baby formula and food are enriched with nutrients like iron.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicina have found that various nutrients support specific brain functions and development. Vitamin deficiency could have a profound and lasting negative impact on a brain.
According to Harvard Health, the first 1,000 days of a child's life are particularly important. The brain is busy creating its neural connections between the billions of neurons floating around in there.
If a child is fed unhealthy food devoid of balanced nutrients, their brain will not be able to function properly or achieve its true potential. The child’s ability to focus will decrease and the important neural paths the brain is creating will slow. A deficiency can also affect the size and complexity of cells.
Bridging the Nutritional Gap for the Brain With Rich Supplements
In order to support kids' brain development & focus, some parents may turn to nutritional supplements formulated for kids' brains. Ideally, getting everything a kid needs from whole foods would be great, but the amount of nutrients that the brain needs are hard to obtain from the standard American diet consistently. If mom and dad have a picky eater on their hands, feeding the brain properly without supplementation is near impossible.
Supplements, like our Kids Brain Boost smoothie, allows parents to sneak brain foods for kids into their diets without the squabbling. Busy parents can give their toddler one nutrient-packed snack that will promote healthy brain growth. If they have an older child, supplementing their diet with healthy snacks that allow them to sneak their vitamins in will help their child focus and get better grades.
What should they be eating?
Well, there are specific ingredients proven to promote healthy brain growth in children.
Omega 3s are thought to be the building blocks of neurological development. Kids who get the proper amount of omega 3s are at a decreased risk of developmental delay. They often have better communication skills and fewer behavioral problems.
Researchers have also found kids who eat foods rich in omega 3s have improved cognitive function and development.
This nutrient makes sure that the blood vessels in a child's body are flexible and strong. By helping the blood move through the child's body safely, the brain is able to build the connections it needs for the future.
Iron is extremely important brain food for kids. The body uses iron to develop the central nervous system and help a brain function. Neurodevelopmental studies found the nutrient helps develop neurotransmitter systems, as well. If a child does not get the proper amount of iron, it can lead to lifelong neurological delays.
This is another essential nutrient for brain development in the early years. Uridine helps with membrane synthesis in the brain. Combined with choline and the omega 3 fatty acid DHA, uridine helps determine how many synapses will grow in the brain.
This antioxidant helps with many bodily functions including cognitive function and the growth of connective tissues and blood vessels.
Brains need protein to produce neurotransmitters that will carry messages to the different parts of the brain using the connections developed in a child's early life.
Curcumin boosts the growth hormone responsible for memory and learning. The nutrient also supports a healthy response to inflammation, including inflammation in the brain.
If a child is not getting enough choline, brain development will be impacted. It is an essential vitamin for human beings. Research from Oregon State shows that this neurotransmitter is involved in memory and muscle movement. Choline deficiency could also lead to cognitive deficits.
Start Making a Difference Now!
First and foremost, the most important thing parents, caretakers, and other attentive family members can do to help children's brain development is to show them love. Hug kids and spend time with them. Encourage kids while they are trying and learning, especially in their early years.
Nourish Your Kid with Rich Brain Food
We are what we eat. Provide your child with a balanced diet and supplement the key brain nutrients that are hard to obtain at ideal amounts from regular foods. You’ll supply the building blocks for a brain that will help behavior, focus, and grades.
Understand that children who are 2 years old have no self-control and it's not on purpose. Their brains haven't developed those connections yet. Patience will go a long way and all of the affection adults show children while they are young pays off long-term.
Read, Read, Read
Adults should read to children every day. Studies have found that children whose parents read to them regularly as babies have better vocabularies and higher language skills than kids who were not read to. If a parent reads five books a day to their child, a study found their kids will have heard 1.4 million more words than a child who wasn't read to.
Parents should play games with their children in the early years to teach them critical thinking skills. Researchers suggest reading to kids and then connecting the book to an experience the child has had to help them draw parallels. Mom and dad can then play a game with them and have the child name some differences between their experience and the book's story.
Get Down on the Floor
Adults need to get down and play with their children. Even if it's just to help them build blocks or fit shapes in the holes in a bucket. Activities like these are great for cognitive function. They also give parents an opportunity to connect with their children on a very basic level.
The child will see that mom and dad are interested in their life and it'll help them form healthy neural connections.
Introduce Babies to New Things
Taking a baby out of the house and letting them use their senses to explore the world around them will optimize brain development. They should play in the grass and grab it with both of their hands.
Parents should bring their little ones to nature and let them pick up acorns or crunch leaves with their feet. Take their toddler to the beach and let them run through the sand and feel it between their toes.
All of these experiences will help their brains develop.
Respond to Your Baby Kindly
Every parent gets frustrated occasionally, but how a parent responds to their child's stress will stick with them forever. Babies cry because it is the only way they can communicate. Go ahead and pick them up when they're upset. When a parent comforts their child, healthy brain connections are formed.
Speak to Them Often
Parents should speak to their babies all the time, even when the child can't talk back. When they are giving their child a bath they should tell the baby what they are doing. If they take their toddler for a walk, mom and dad should point to trees, leaves, grass, people, benches, etc.
If the baby lives in a multilingual household, parents should speak to their toddlers in all of the languages they speak. That helps the child form the connections in the language center of the brain.
Neglecting a Child Is Mentally Devastating
Prolonged neglect leads to problems with language skills, poor grades, an inability to focus and poor relationships with peers. A child whose parents don’t spend time with them, or sit down to eat together, doesn’t grow the important “love-and-nurture” connections in their brain. Busy and neglectful parents are literally causing insufficient neurological development in their child. That trauma will stick with a child for the rest of their life.
Discipline Is Important
Parents should be authoritative and set expectations for children, but not be overly harsh. Understanding healthy boundaries helps the kids develop connections in their brains. Failing to build a child’s discipline is just as damaging as being unkind, but it impacts different synaptic connections.
Help Build Those Synaptic Connections
Every second of a child's life is impacting their brain development. Each experience is as important as the last and all of the moments are creating vital neural connections in their brain. One million connections every single second are formed.
Parenting is critical from the first moment of a child's life. Equally as crucial is the food the parent gives their little one. Brain nutrition for kids will impact brain development in a profound way. If a child is not eating the right nutrients, or not eating them amounts, their brains will not get close to their true potential. Those critical synaptic connections will not form and the rest of the child's life will suffer the effects.
These early years are the most influential on kids' brain development & focus. Think of a child's brain like it's a house. If the foundation is laid properly, the rest of the construction is easier to complete and more resilient.
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