Understanding Why They Do What They Do – Brain Development

familyWhen I teach on child development I often say “my two passions are brain development and temperament”.

For more than twenty years I have loved sharing with adults how children’s brains physically grow, connect and shape who that child becomes. Take that developing brain and put it alongside the ‘nature AND nurture’ of temperament and you have the answers to many of childhood’s great mysteries. Questions like “Why do they DO that?” or “What were they THINKING” can often be answered by taking a look at children’s brain development and temperament.

The Science of Parenting has many resources but some of my very favorites are the Ages & Stages publications and the Just in Time Parenting newsletters (in both English and Spanish).  When you zero in on exactly what children are capable of knowing and doing based on the age of their brain we often find that our parenting expectations change.

For instance, if our toddler has a large vocabulary we may mistakenly think that they are capable of also controlling their emotions. While checking the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may actually find that their emotions at this age are really too ‘big’ for the child to actually control on their own.

Or, if our preschooler is struggling with aggressiveness or defiance, we may find that after reading the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may need to offer them more choices and opportunities to control their decisions.

Whatever the age of our child, learning about what their brain is capable of is always a positive tip for our parenting toolbox. And in case you are worried, your child’s brain is not actually fully grown and connected until their early 20’s – that’s years not months.

Check out the other development resources found in our Everyday Parenting section.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Music and Child Development

We’ve talked about music in terms of resilience and mental health – but what other benefits can children gain from experiencing music?

According the Environmental Rating Scales Institute, children can gain language skills, fine motor skills, social skills, balance and coordination, expressing emotions, creativity, a sense of rhythm, and listening skills through music and movement. It can also promote group learning in settings like a small group, child care, or preschool. Awesome things for our kids, right?!

Plus, music can also support cultural diversity for children. According to our publication Supporting Cultural Diversity, which can be found under any age on the Everyday Parenting page of Science of Parenting, music supports cultural diversity through “instruments, music, folk songs, and dances from different countries. Music activities are great activities for building relationships and learning English and other languages. The repetitive nature of songs allows children to become familiar with new words and phrases.”

With all of these benefits related to music, the next question is, “now how do I help my child get all of these benefits?” Well have we got some good news for you – music can be super easy to incorporate into your child’s life. Some simple strategies can include listening to (age-appropriate) music together in the car together, singing your child’s favorite songs before bed, encouraging your child to use instruments (simple ones like maracas for your younger kiddos or having an older child involved in band), or even just having dance parties on the weekends.

Learn more about the science behind music and the child’s brain from our previous blog, Is it Magic? Or is it Music? from guest blogger, Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

After all this music talk, let us know how you incorporate music throughout the day to encourage your child’s development!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Aunt of four unique kiddos. Passionate about figuring how small brains develop, process, and differ. Human Sciences Specialist, Family Life in western Iowa with a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences and Design minor.

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Routines Promote Healthy Emotional Development

I catch a glimpse of the calendar and know that school will begin shortly, and that means many families will get back into a routine that will include hustle and bustle to get family members to school, day care, work, and sporting events.

For children, settling into a routine that includes school, homework, sports, playtime and family meals is very important. Children and youth do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent. When we eat and sleep with regular consistency, our bodies adjust and we feel good! Conversely, when we avoid sleep and eat the wrong foods, we pay the price in how we feel!

A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics reports that family routines support children and their emotional development. And it is the social / emotional health that enables children to thrive in the classroom.

Routines that include singing, bedtime snacks, storytelling and connection with family caregivers are helpful for a good night’s rest. The nurturing we do to help children adjust to “back to school” is proving to be helpful in long term adjustment in both school and home settings.

Talking about the upcoming school routine can help alleviate any anxiety your child may have. Keep communication lines open with your child so that they can feel comfortable discussing with you the fears or questions they may have about the new school year. As a family, your routines are making a difference!

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Is it Magic? Or is it Music?

So do you ever wonder why when you tell a 3 year old to “clean up”, they completely ignore you, but once you start singing that oh so popular “Clean Up Song”, that same 3 year old happily and energetically starts cleaning up? Is it magic or is it music? That’s the question we asked guest blogger Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

Join in on our conversation with Elizabeth below.

..”Well, of course it is the music. Believe it or not being involved with music, be it music listening, instrumental playing, singing, or dancing has many benefits for a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Children learn to coordinate fine motor movements of the hands when learning an instrument. In fact most instruments require you to do completely opposite actions with each hand. Yeah, you remember how hard it was to get that left hand to do anything productive on the piano. Dancing includes the coordination of larger muscle groups of the whole body. Then there is the mental/cognitive aspects that include reading and pairing symbols with letters and meanings, leaning a whole new language (I mean what does forte really mean, how about adagio), and then somehow translate all of this into a motor command for your fingers or voice. Now, what about the emotional responses to music. Music is a mechanism to appropriately express feelings. I mean give a teenager some headphones and if you dare a drum set, and watch out! Finally, making music together teaches children how to work together to produce a final masterpiece. Really, there is no part of the human brain that isn’t involved with music.”

But what is it specifically about music that holds this power over human behavior? How can music encourage a toddler to clean up or help them learn their ABCs and why does this even matter?

“Interestingly, it starts with the rhythmic and harmonic structure of music and how the brain processes this signal. First, by nature music is a “cleaner” signal. There is less noise in a music signal than in a speech signal. And the brain likes a “clean” signal, especially a developing brain. Second, precise temporal stimulation of neural structures leads to plasticity (making new connections in the brain). Basically, if the brain (neurons) fires together, it wires together. Music is a highly organized rhythmic structure that allows for synchronization of multiple brain areas. Most importantly, music listening increases dopamine in the brain. Guess what, in order to learn anything, you need dopamine! So, stimulating the brain with a clear and synchronized signal along with the increase in dopamine is precisely what is needed for neural plasticity (i.e. learning).”

Now, back to that 3 year old cleaning up. Why did music work?

“Well, singing was a clear signal that was easier for the child to process and make the neural connection and or association that the signal meant to “clean up” regardless if they processed the meaning of the actual words or just the musical tune. But what about the ABC’s? Well, music synchronized neural activity along with increased dopamine and established new connections for alphabet order. Now just imagine how many neural connections are being made by playing an instrument, dancing, and making music as a group! Music is magic – brain magic!”

Share with us how you have used music in a way that seemed magical!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Dancing with a Wallflower or Parenting the “Slow to Warm Up” Child

shutterstock_219620059My daughter is the ultimate “wallflower” when it comes to dancing through life.  I am fortunate to have had the personal experience of parenting  a “slow to warm up” temperament child.   I will share some parenting strategies or “dancing  steps” that I have learned over the years that I think have enhanced our relationship and her development.

First—as a parent I know Hannah well.  I know when she is stressed.  I know when she is scared.  I know when she is apprehensive.  I have learned when she needs support and when she needs a little push.  I have learned how to support and not hover.  This ability to read our kids temperament is the first and most important step in creating the “goodness of fit” that we discussed in our latest Science of Parenting podcast.

I lovingly call her my “wallflower”.  Many times she was overlooked in classroom or in social activities because she was quiet and easily over powered by those with more eager, robust temperaments.  She required more time to adjust to new situations, new environments, and new people.  She was and continues to be highly sensitive to sounds, food, smells, and textures.  She requires time to observe, and become comfortable.  Large groups, busy places, and surprises were hard for her to adjust to.  I learned early in her life—to provide early notification and discussion of what she was going to experience.  Coaching and communicating were important for her comfort.  She is almost twenty now, but still finds comfort in familiarity.

When parenting a “slow to warm up” child, it is important to nurture their development and self-esteem.  They need acceptance.   This means encouraging strengths ( for example- ability to play on her own, or to observe what’s going on around her carefully), and providing support when she needs it (visiting and exploring a new class in child care to help her feel comfortable).

When you notice and appreciate the similarities and differences between you and your child, you can adapt the way you parent in order to meet your child’s individual temperament needs.  This helps your child feel loved, confident, important, and capable.  Sensitive parenting helps your child know and feel good about themselves as they mature.  Lastly, encourage your child to engage in activities that they enjoy.  Avoid the “shy” labels.  Give ample time to help them get used to the idea of doing something new.  Advocate, coach and encourage.

American society tends to view sensitivity and “shyness” as negative traits, but as a parent of a —slow to warm up now adult child I have learned that they have much to offer.  They are perceptive, observant, caring, empathetic and deeply in touch with their feelings and emotions and importantly those of others.  Traits not always easily found in others.    Love and value your kids for who they are.   I love my wallflower….Hannah.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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Summer Camp

86489804-campers280The 4-H camp, sports camp and music camp brochures are arriving and the kids are begging for a summer adventure. But other than fun, is there any value to camp?

According to the American Camping Association, more than 8 million kids attend summer camp every year. So obviously camps are an attractive summer activity for many families.

We’ll take a look at some research on whether camp experiences can contribute to the healthy development of young people.

During May, we will examine the research and discuss how to help children choose an appropriate camp. Join us!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Dogs, cats, chickens, hamsters

I considered myself a lucky kid. I grew up on a farm with lots of space for animals. Pets were just a normal part of life. The fish, turtles, and hamsters shared our home. The cats occupied the back steps while the chickens and dogs roamed the yard.  They were our companions and playmates. It was never a question if we were old enough to have a pet; they just kept coming!

But for most parents these days, the question of when to get a child a pet is worth some discussion. One point for consideration is what is your purpose for having the pet. Is it for companionship and play? Or do you want your child to take responsibility for part or all of it’s care?

Let’s start at the beginning. Babies aren’t old enough to handle or take care of pets. Toddlers want to touch and grab pets. As the kids grow into the preschool age years, they are able to better understand how to handle a pet and fill the water and food dishes. I suspect that the “I wanna dog” (or whatever) gene really kicks in during the elementary years.

The good news is that school-age kids are old enough to assume some pet chores and can play with the pets responsibly. The bad news is that this age children may have short attention spans and change their minds often. So that dog wanted now may be not so much fun three months later. Preteens and teens have the capabilities to be responsible. But they are also getting into the “busy” years and pets will have to compete for their time.

No matter your decision as to when to add a pet to your family, realize that  as the parent you have the final responsbility for its care and well-being.

Note: Check out the ASPCA web site for some good thoughts about the right pet for your child’s age.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Episode 9 – Children’s Brains

There’s a reason that kids act like zombies sometimes, and it’s all in their brains. Children’s brains keep changing from birth through the teen years and into early adulthood. Learn how parents can help those young brains develop — listen to this month’s Science of Parenting podcast.

ISU Extension materials

From University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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