Child brain development: ages birth through three

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This is an article from our “Doctor’s Corner” series, brought to you by Samitivej Hospital. Make sure to read the entire series!

Looking at a newborn baby is both awe inspiring and a little overwhelming for most parents. For the next 18 years parents are primarily responsible for molding and shaping their newborn into a healthy and happy contributing member of society – no pressure right? Yikes!

Child Brain Development

But now is not the time for parents to wonder how they could have thought they were ready for such huge undertakings . . . parents take a breath . . . Remember parenting happens one day at a time. Moreover, remember every parent makes mistakes, hindsight is always 20/20, and with the aid of unconditional love and a decent amount of patience everything will work out.

Parents play an instrumental role in their child’s development right from the beginning, as the brain goes through a significant change between birth and three years of age.

Looking for a doctor for your child development questions? We recommend:
Pikul ArsirawechPikul Arsirawech, M.D.
Behavior Counseling Pediatrics, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Samitivej Hospital
Questions about your pregnancy, child birth or life with an infant? Ask the Doctor!

At birth, an infant’s brain is made up of more than 100 billion neurons. Neurons can be likened to fiber optic cables, sending and receiving information that governs everything from conscious and unconscious movement, thoughts and feelings, and speech to vision.

Some of these neurons are connected from birth, allowing babies to hear, begin to see, experience touch, keep their heart beating, breathe, sleep, and make sounds. However, most connections have yet to be formed such as those governing language, abstract thought, and impulse control.

Connections (or synapses) are created when the area of the brain that corresponds with a function is stimulated. Therefore the more positive and varied a child’s interactions are, the more positive and varied the connections between neurons will be.

A healthy toddler can create two million connections per second, and by the age of three, he or she may have created quadrillion connections. With proper consistent stimulation these connections will strengthen and remain intact.

Alternatively, negative environments also impact brain development. Children who grow up in stressful environments where abuse and neglect take place, or who suffer from poor attachment to their caregiver, experience the release of a hormone called cortisol in quantities that are too high. High levels of cortisol may result in neuron death and a reduction in the number of synapse connections that are formed.

How can parents create an environment that encourages development?

Establish a routine that grows with the child. Feeding times, nap times, and play times should be scheduled (but not too rigidly). Children find comfort in knowing what comes next. Toddlers, especially, have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, so having an established routine and letting them know ahead of time when an activity is due to change can help prevent a toddler’s “melt down.”

All children are unique, with different and constantly evolving temperaments and personalities. Try to notice how a child shows how he or she is happy or upset and tailor responses accordingly. If a child indicates he or she wants to play – play with them; but when it’s obvious that a child has had enough stimulation, switch tactics – perhaps go for a quiet walk. Redirecting a child when he or she is becoming frustrated will prevent escalation.

Talk, read, and sing to a child as a way to encourage language development and relationship bonding.

Provide positive feedback for good behavior.

Create areas in your home that are safe for a child to explore and learn. Likewise visit places that allow for such experiences. For the average toddler, fancy restaurants do not provide opportunities for exploration. Expecting a young child to calmly sit for two hours is unrealistic.

Avoid over-stimulating environments. Provide appropriate input across all areas of development for your child’s young brain.

A Challenging Period of Early Childhood Development

Between the ages of 12 months and three years toddlers begin to develop language but can struggle with expressing their wants and needs. Moreover, the part of the brain that is responsible for impulse control is just starting to develop.

To help speed up this process parents can encourage their children to communicate the feelings they are physically expressing with words. In age-appropriate language, explain the concepts of excellent and poor behavior, the rationale behind it, and the age-appropriate consequences for their behavior. And always remind them that regardless of the behavior they are still loved unconditionally.

With regards to consequences, “timeouts” allow toddlers to calm down and regroup. Sometime around the age of two years they are able to understand the concept and comply. One minute for each year of age is an appropriate amount of time. The key is to be consistent and use timeouts for extreme negative behavior (e.g. hurting another child).

Don’t forget parents need care as well. You should find a healthy balance. Ensuring you receive adequate rest, exercise, good nutrition, and social interactions that may not include children can help prevent parent burnout.

Samitivej, We Care!

Pikul Arsirawech, M.D.
Behavior Counseling Pediatrics, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital

For further information, please contact:

Child Health Institute
Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
2st Floor, Building 2
Tel: 66 (0) 2711-8236-7
Call Center: 66 (0) 2711-8181
E-mail: info@samitivej.co.th
Facebook: www.facebook.com/samitivej


Videos

In this video interview, Dr. Pikul Arsirawech, M.D. discusses the effects of modern technology on young children’s brain development.

In this video interview, Dr. Pikul Arsirawech, M.D. discusses the ability of young children to differentiate between two languages.

Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via Compfight cc

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