Did you know that humans are born without fully developed brains? The rest of our organs, though small, are fully developed. And even though most of the development occurs between birth and age ten, the brain doesn’t fully mature until our early twenties!
Do you know what that means? It means that the brain’s critical part of decision-making, problem solving, and reasoning (a.k.a. the prefrontal cortex) usually develops by age 25. Yet in our society, at the age of 18, one is considered an adult and given privileges and responsibilities, such as voting or enlisting in the army.
When I was 18 years old, my mom decided to move near San Diego, California and asked if I wanted to move with her. Because I was “in love” at the time (and also couldn’t wait to be on my own), I chose to stay behind in Los Angeles and thus began my adulthood. I do have to say there were definitely some poor choices that I made for myself back then. Perhaps it could’ve been the rebellious streak coming out, finally, after so many years of being restricted from doing fun things (a.k.a. being grounded all the time) and discovering myself freely.
I found it quite interesting to learn that statistics say that because an adolescent’s prefrontal cortex is only partway through the process of being fully developed, the ability to plan and organize can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for a typical 18-year-old.
Here’s an interesting fact: babies are born with one billion neurons in their brain. Talk about fascinating! If you think about it, that is probably as many stars as there are in the Milky Way. And because neurons are not yet connected at birth, brain development is all about growing connections or circuits between neurons. How neurons get connected and how strong the circuits get “wired” has to do with emotions. By age three, the weakest connections start to dissipate, while a connection that is used repeatedly in the early years remains permanent.
For instance, if a child is experiencing a continuous, positive experience with playing a family board game, the neuron connection with that will remain permanent. The same goes for a negative experience of the child witnessing her parents arguing all the time.
Statistics state that when young children are exposed to continuous stress, negative parenting, an unhealthy diet and various other environmental issues, it can have adverse long-term effects on health and emotional wellness as an adult. One solution for moving through negative experiences is to introduce preventative actions. This is exactly where this book comes into place for parents wanting to learn these preventative tools, as well as continuous skills for every stage of development, which will help build a strong connection between the parent and the child.
Research has shown there are four basic emotions universally experienced. They are happiness/joy, sadness, fear/shock, and anger/ disgust.
To fully understand why children’s emotions and feelings can sometimes bring up “unwanted behavior,” it’s essential to understand where these emotions come from and how the brain works.
So where do these emotions come from?
Emotions activate in the brain, specifically in the limbic system, which is located in the middle of the brain. An important component to learning is our memory, which involves the limbic system. Think of the limbic system as the mediator between thoughts and feelings – it translates and directs emotions and behavior. Thus, why emotions play an important role in making good decisions and being able to think clearly (similar point to what I interpreted with Michelangelo’s quote in the beginning of this chapter).
Priscilla Vail, author of Emotion: The On/Off Switch For Learning, best describes a great analogy for this. She explains how the emotions are like an off and on switch to learning. So when a child feels joy and reassurance, she is able to connect, learn, and create more freely – hence her switch is on. But when she is upset, feels threatened or loses her sense of connection, it is hard for her to focus–especially under continuous emotional distress, which can actually stifle her ability to learn – hence her switch being off.
It is during these stressful times that her prefrontal cortex tends to shut down. Consequently, it can be frustrating and confusing at times for children when an adult says, “use your words,” because when they are in that moment of angst and upset, it is difficult for them to form their feelings into words. If you think about it, when was the last time you (with your fully developed brain) were able to learn or remember something when you were scared, mad, or depressed? Now put yourself in your child’s shoes, with her not-so-fully-developed brain, and imagine how she must feel whenever these emotions arise? A lot of frustration can erupt, including unresolved past feelings that may surface.
Excerpt from Tangee Veloso’s book, Taming Your Wild Child: 7 Proven Principles for Raising Connected and Confident Children. To learn more about Tangee Veloso and the philosophy within her book, come register at The Ultimate Mom’s Summit where Tangee will be one of 40 guest speakers sharing their tools, resources and expertise to empower moms at: https://re346.isrefer.com/go/UMS17/Tangee/