Did you know that 90% of a child’s brain development happens before age 5? A robust body of research has confirmed that magic in everyday moments - showing affection, comforting, and playing with children - helps build strong healthy brains. The experiences a child has during this time will shape the architecture of her brain and build the connections that allow her to develop lifelong skills like problem-solving, communication, self-control, and relationship building. Read on for 5 tips that you can use to boost healthy brain development in your child!
1. REDUCE SCREEN TIME
The first time we learnt how screen time affects our children’s brain, we were shocked!
A recent 2019 study published in the Journal JAMA Pediatrics documented associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids. Brains of children 3 to 5 years old were scanned and found that those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter – an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills. What this means is, our children are not forming optimal connections for learning and growth.
The recommended screen time guideline by World Health Organisation is none at all for babies up to 2 years old. Children between the ages of 2 and 4 should spend no more than 1 hour in front of screens each day.
This is an important message that more parents need to be aware of. Toddlers and kids today have an endless amount of entertainment at the touch of their fingers via their ‘portable’ screens that follow them everywhere from the dinner table to the car and to bed, and it’s not helping their brain development. Dr John Hutton, a lead author said, “the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years. That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”
2. READ DAILY
Making reading part of your daily routine is a great way to connect and bond with your child. Reading aloud to your child from an early age not only helps them learn language and early literacy skills, but the back-and-forth interactions that occur when parents read to their children can help shape their social and emotional development.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine said, “When parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, this creates an opportunity for the children to think about characters and the feelings of those characters,” he said. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”
3. ALLOW TIME FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
For young children, physical activity means the opportunity to move around and play with other children. Physical activities promotes healthy growth and development. It helps build a healthier body composition, stronger bones and muscles. But did you know allowing your child time for movement and physical activity has far reaching benefits besides physical health?
Physical activities help with brain development! During exercise, nerve cells in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain are triggers to multiply and form new connections. This results in improved concentration and a better memory. If you have a child who has difficulty focusing on an activity, do some physical exercises such as jumping jacks before coming back to the activity. You might find that he/she is more focused than before! Exercise releases dopamine, a feel good mood booster which helps regulate children’s emotions. Having a child who is cranky? Try taking a walk outside!
Finally, active physical play outdoors is a great way for children to make friends and being part of a social group definitely contributes to a child’s self-esteem.
4. MAKE TIME FOR PLAY AT HOME
Neuroscience now offers stronger evidence that play is so important for a young child’s developing brain. Parents are best poised to provide a nurturing environment that encourages playful exploration for healthy mental, emotional and social development in children. All children have a strong desire to engage and connect with others, especially their parents. When parents play an active role in their children’s play, whether in providing an environment conducive to play or as a playmate, they are not only supporting their children’s discovery of the world, but also providing opportunities to connect with them through joyful play.
For more play ideas, visit our play & learn section on our website HERE!
5. DISCUSS ABOUT FEELINGS
A holistic development in a child also involves helping them to become more emotionally and socially aware. Help your child’s emotional and social development by acknowledging his/her feelings often and discuss ways to cope with them.
To help children develop insight into their own actions and behaviors, discuss feelings often and ways to cope with them. For example, you can describe what you have observed when your child is throwing a tantrum. Validate their feelings with words like, “You are feeling upset because don’t want to leave the playground”.
To help children develop a sense of empathy, try guiding them to see things from the other person’s perspective. For example, when a younger child interrupts an older child’s play and gets angry, instead of simply telling the older child, “you should share with your sister”, help him develop empathy by stating your observations “I think your sister wants to join you in your play because you look like you’re having fun! What do you think?" Click HERE for strategies on how to manage your child's temper tantrums!
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