Young Brains Are Works in Progress

Kids do stuff that amazes us, surprises us, and often dismays us. It’s certainly not because they have only half a brain, but kids brains are different. At birth and in early childhood they are much smaller than adult brains. They need good food, enough sleep, and lots of stimulation in order to grow. Then, when brains reach full size, there are other important changes that happen. Into their early 20s your kids will need practice making good decisions, managing their emotions, and planning ahead. Here are some ways you can help make the growing process a little easier for everyone.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Make sure your children have plenty of time to play with others and by themselves.
    • Engage your children in different types of activities (art, listening to stories, make-believe games, using their hands and fingers) that stimulate different parts of the brain.
    • Give your children creative, fun challenges. Ask things like, “What could we make with this empty cardboard box and this paint and paintbrush?”
    • parents with children 6 to 9
    • Teach your children words they can use to describe their feelings. For example, a child may feel pleased, excited, content, or thrilled instead of just happy.
    • Make informal learning experiences fun: Compare prices at the grocery store, read billboards and street signs, study and observe nature.
    • parents with children 10 to 15
    • Don’t nag or rescue your kids when they forget to follow through on a responsibility. Let natural consequences occur (e.g., kids who don’t put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket run out of clean clothes to wear).
    • Have family meetings to talk about plans that affect the whole family. Invite input from everyone. Keep it clear that while your children are growing and deserve more independence, you are the parent and it’s your responsibility to set boundaries and consequences.
    • Share opinions on current events, or certain values or beliefs. Listening to them can provide you with fresh perspective, and the conversation will help your kids learn how to express their opinions, listen to others, and engage in a meaningful discussion.
    • parents with children 16 to 18
    • When your children receive long-term school assignments, offer to help them plan and make decisions in order to finish on time.
    • Allow family members to leave discussions when they are too angry or upset to resolve conflicts peacefully and reasonably. Agree on a time to try again.
  • When your kids have trouble making a decision, offer to talk it through, help them make a plan, or generate a list of pros and cons. Point out that not making a choice is making a choice—it’s choosing to give someone or something else the power to influence what happens.

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