Brain Development in Older Kids Part II: How Can I Help?
Ah, the old nature-versus-nurture question! Genetic makeup definitely is a large component of who we are and how we learn. However, if you look at identical twins with exactly the same DNA, you will ALWAYS find two separate, individual people. There will be differences in appearance, even if they are slight. Personalities, interests, and experiences vary vastly, however.
If identicals are not the same person remade twice… then there must be something beyond genetics determining what makes a human, right? As your child continues to grow, are there things you can do to encourage, support, and facilitate positive growth and experiences? Absolutely!
While nothing guarantees the kind of adult your child will become, there is one truth that repeated studies show is incredibly impactful and absolutely necessary at every stage of development: unconditional love and acceptance. Knowing that they have a permanent spot in the comfort of a loving family breeds a sense of self and confidence and reduces the fear of failure.
Preschool Age: 4-5
As your child’s brain hones and tightens certain skills, such as fine motor and social understanding, there are some amazing opportunities you have, as a parent, to promote brain development.
- Encourage Independence. It is undoubtedly faster to dress your child than to beg him for twenty minutes to get dressed and put on his shoes. But by planning accordingly (i.e., start thirty minutes before you actually need the task completed), you foster a sense of independence and accomplishment that can only come from “doing it myself.” This may also mean you let go of some things, such as a shirt on backwards.
- Offer Acceptable Choices. No one wants to feel like they have no control in their own lives. Four-to-six year-olds are no exception. By providing them with several options that are acceptable to you, you are empowering them to make choices. This is also a great training tool for the brain. Ask if they’d like to color or play with play dough; go to the playground or go for a nature walk.
- Ask Questions, Then Wait. You may ask your daughter what she did today, only to be met with a long pause. Instead of then guessing or leading her, be patient. Her brain is trying to recall the events of the day, sort out which ones are relevant (played tea party with a friend) and which are not (went to the restroom), and then formulate sentences to convey the thoughts her brain is processing.
Elementary Age: 6-9
As your elementary-age kid begins to develop their sense of self, as well as a sense of the world around them, how it works, and their place in their world, you have an incredible ability to speak to their sense of self and encourage their brain’s development.
- Support Interests. If your daughter is into sports, attend her games. Let her see you cheer her on. Let her see that her interests are important to you. If your son says he wants to be a chef, let him cook alongside you. Allow him to suggest ingredients or recipes. And when the inevitable failures happen, help them manage pain or disappointment. You’ll be setting them up to develop critical coping skills.
- Avoid Criticism. There is a difference between correcting something and criticizing something. Realize your son or daughter has an internal dialogue going on, telling them what’s good or bad about themselves. They may also have external voices, from classmates, teachers, and others reinforcing these notions. Choose your words carefully and don’t contribute to the self-doubt. Instead of telling them their hair looks stupid, ask if that’s the look they were going for. Instead of telling them they played the game terribly, offer to practice with them after school. Be a safe place for your child, whether in times of success or in times of doubt or failure.
- Encourage Healthy Relationships. Know your child’s friends and who they spend time with. Encourage good choices. Ask questions. When they spend time alone, make sure the aloneness is from a place of want-to, not have-to. Watch for confidence versus despair. Remember that aloneness is not the same as loneliness.
This potentially awkward age between childhood and adolescence is ripe to shape the thoughts, opinions, morals, ethics and actions that occur in adulthood. As you approach this tricky stage, be open and honest in your dialogues.
- Truth and Consequence. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you set limits, stick to them. Let your child know what the consequence will be if a limit or boundary is crossed. It may be a natural consequence or a discipline. But whatever it is, help them learn that (1) all choices have consequences, good or bad; (2) that they are in control of their choices; and (3) you can be trusted. You will follow through and keep your word be it pleasant or unpleasant.
- Morals. Many lifelong morals will be instilled during this impressionable stage. Be willing to have open, ongoing conversations. You will help shape the way your child perceives and acts upon moral and ethical issues, such as sex, alcohol, and drugs. Your words and actions will imprint on their choices in how they treat others, be it race, work ethics, lies versus truth, etc. These are usually not one-time things, and hopefully the conversations and actions have been occurring and lived out consistently for years. Still, these concepts will take root during this time. Even if its uncomfortable, allow the questions to be asked without judgement. Be willing to give reason or support for your views.
Embrace Your Influence on Brain Development
It’s an incredible thing to watch kids develop and grow into these amazing individuals. They can inspire you in ways you never imagined. Witnessing the unique gifts and personalities in each kid is mind-blowing. It is definitely an awesome responsibility to influence and help shape and craft young brains towards adulthood. If you want to know more about your influence on the brain development of older childhood, ages 4-12, feel free to contact us at 888-549-5519, or open a live online chat in the lower right of this screen.