Describing the brain as “complex” is a true understatement.
Understanding the structure and functions of the mind can even be a challenge for doctors and scientists. However, there are some basic concepts in brain science that can help humans with emotional regulation, social interactions, and learning. Young children are more than capable of grasping these basic concepts. When we help children make connections between their experiences, emotions and actions, they gain more control and their emotional behavior matures.
Psychologist Carol Dweck researched this concept with Stanford University and found “teaching students about how their brains work—in particular, that the brain is plastic and can develop new capacities with effort and practice—makes a big difference in how constructively kids deal with mistakes and setbacks, and how motivated they are to persist until they achieve mastery.”
So, how do we introduce this complex topic to young children?
PBS published an article titled “Three Things All Parents Should Teach Their Kids About the Brain.” The authors outlines 3 “big ideas” to begin sharing with your children about their brain.
1. The Brain is the Boss: Most children (and probably some adults) believe the brain is only for thinking and remembering. The PBS article explains, “…it’s actually in charge of your entire body — like the body’s boss, engine or coach. The brain controls everything you do, including automatic functions like breathing and digesting food, movements like running and scratching your nose, emotions like being happy or grumpy and processing sensory information like hearing and tasting. Without your brain, you couldn’t do ANYTHING.” Mention and explain this often so your children begin to understand the brain IS the boss!
2. The Brain Changes: We see our bodies change as we grow. We get taller, our hair grows longer, and our facial characteristics change. It’s not so easy, however, to notice your brain changing. “Teach your children that their brains are growing and changing every day. People aren’t born with a certain level of intelligence and talent that stays static throughout life. Instead, our brains undergo considerable development — particularly between ages zero and 10. So tell your kids to help their brains grow strong by eating healthy food, getting plenty of sleep and paying attention at school.”
3. Different People Have Different Brains: Around 2 years of age is when you may notice your child exhibiting true empathy. Around this age is when children begin to realize other people do not have the same thoughts and feelings as they do. “Social skills like communicating, making friends and resolving disagreements become much easier when you acknowledge other people’s thoughts and feelings. But before your children can do that, they need to understand that other people have their own thoughts and feelings in the first place.”
Keep it simple but discuss it often! We think you’ll see a real difference in your child’s emotional responses, self-regulation and social skills when these concepts are introduced. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.
Harvard University, Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains
Momentous Institute, Why We Should Teach Kids About Their Brain