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I’m thinking about the high stakes of parenting. Thing is, the more I learn about early child brain development, the more I’m astounded by the opportunity and simultaneous great responsibility it is to care for and nurture young children during their first few years. The reality is: the brain is rapidly evolving as children grow– the connections between brain cells shift and change based on experiences children have. I mean, the brain really just learns how to think as our children age, especially as infants and toddlers.

I’m at the national American Academy of Pediatrics meeting this weekend in Orlando. I’ll be sharing ideas and things I’m learning on Twitter and my Mama Doc Facebook so please follow along if you’re interested. Yet in the immediate I wanted to share a couple things I heard this afternoon about early brain development that can easily change how we think about our children’s lives now.

The first speaker I was lucky enough to hear is Dr Pat Levitt an expert on early brain development from University of Southern California. He shared some fantastic science. Here are 4 quotes from his talk and 5 ideas for what we can do to incorporate science into everyday life while raising children:

Early Brain Development: 5 Ideas And Opportunities

  1. “Child development is the foundation of prosperous communities.” Simply put, everything we do to support young and older children will impact our future communities. Every minute you spend with a young child or spend advocating for better environments for young children has impact on their entire life. A stunning reality when you really think about it.
  2. “Toxic stress damages brain architecture. Yet resilience is not an internal character strength, but rather is built…” IDEA: don’t forget that as your children have unfortunate or undesirable experiences, how you teach them to cope will last their lifetime (at the cellular level). Learn more about early brain development and watch videos about what goes on in the first few years at Developing Child from Harvard. When thinking about stress they say, “Learning how to cope with stress is an important part of development.” Supporting children while they recover from an uncomfortable experience will always be worth your time.
  3.  ”Children make 700 synapses (connections between brain cells) per *second* during birth to 2 years.” The connections that form are potentially redundant and thereafter are pruned back and remodeled by experience for years and years. Children make TONS of connections and then thoughtfully trim them back via their experiences. Every trip to the park shapes their brain! The pruning process continues throughout our lives and into adulthood — the white matter between our ears shifts and changes into our 5th decade!  IDEA: Sing, talk, involve, and eat up the world with your children every day when you can. Know every  second you spend with them shapes their brain for a lifetime. That’s opportunity.
  4. “Kids who hear more words will learn more words.” IDEA: Use big words (like “SAT words”) every single day. Don’t ever shy away from complex phrases, complex words, and new descriptions. Turn off the TV whenever you can—children learn from hearing you talk more than they will ever learn from characters on TV.
  5. After Dr Levitt completed his talk Dr Andrew Garner took the stage to talk about toxic stress. In the opening of his talk he stated, “Childhood adversity has lifelong consequences.” He went on say that although hardship early in life is insulting to a child’s brain we have to keep in mind that, “Adversity is not destiny.” In childhood, adversity  changes the risk pattern and the probability and less than optimal outcomes in health but we can all advocate for children early in life to mitigate the lifetime complications. The fortune for us all: every child you support through social services and early education changes your world not just theirs.