Core Concepts of Childhood Development

Core Concepts of Childhood Development

To develop effective solutions to the problems of children and families, we must first understand the nature of child development. Many of the brightest and most respected people from the fields of psychology, medicine, education and sociology have described the basic ingredients of early childhood development. This is what we know about how children develop, described as six core concepts that for the foundations necessary to prevent and solve significant problems. 

See the Real Impact of Love or the Lack of It

Studies on children's brains reveal the real impact a mother's love or lack of love has on the developing child.  The article below was written by Jill Reilly

The brain's size is determined by how the child was treated by their mothers.jpg

Horrifying scans that show the real impact of love: Brain of a neglected child is much smaller than that of a normal three-year-old

  • According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause - the way they were treated by their mothers

  • Both of these images are brain scans of two three-year-old children,

  • The brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby.

But being a nurturing mother is not just about emotional care - it pays dividends by determining the size of your child's brain, scientists say.

Both of these images are brain scans of two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists, this sizeable difference has one primary cause - the way each child was treated by their mothers.

What is shocking: According to neurologists the sizeable difference between these two brains has one primary cause - the way they were treated by their mothers

The child with the larger and more fully developed brain was looked after by its mother - she was constantly responsive to her baby, reported The Sunday Telegraph.  But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.  According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.


A mother's love is fundamental to how a child's brain develops

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced - the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function. And sadly there is a chance they may never develop and come into existence.

Life decisions:

The brain on the right is more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left

These have concerning implications for neglected children that are taken into care past the age of two.  It also seems that the more severe the mother's neglect, the more pronounced the damage can be.

The images also have worrying consequences for the childhood neglect cycle - often parents who, because their parents neglected them, do not have fully developed brains, neglect their own children in a similar way.

But research in the U.S. has shown the cycle can be successfully broken if early intervention is staged and families are supported. The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child's development.

This article was originally published: 13:16 EDT, 28 October 2012 |


About the Developing Brain

The developing brain.jpg

What about the developing brain?

[The original article is found here.]

This look at the developing brain is the fourth part of a series we have titled “Concepts and Skills of Parenting.” It is adapted from the book Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love. To read Part 1 — which provides a look at secure attachment at the start of life — click here. Part 2 explores the core concepts of child development. Part 3 examines the importance of trust and reciprocityin the formation of secure attachment. 

Scientists have learned more about the brain in the last decade than in all of history. Advanced technology has given us amazing insights into the brain’s inner workings. The human brain is the most complex structure known: 20 billion neurons, 2 million miles of neuronal fibers, 100 billion cells, trillions of connections (Kutulak 1996).

The old concept that the brain was a self-contained, hardwired machine that was unchangeable after childhood has been thoroughly debunked. We now realize our brains continually develop new connections, and that experiences actually change our brain’s chemistry, structure and genetic expression throughout life. However, it is our experience with forming relationships in the first few years of life that are most important to shaping the brain’s development and behavior. This is because a child’s brain grows at the quickest rate during the first three years of life. It reaches 75 percent of its adult size by the third or fourth year (and it is fully developed around the age of 25). 

Nature versus Nurture

There has been an ongoing debate — commonly known as “nature versus nurture” — about the influence of genetics or environment on a child’s development. We now know this is not an either-or question. Development is a result of both nature (biology and genetics) and nurture (experience and environment). Nature supplies the blueprint or potential, and nurture is the architect that determines the final result. This partnership in your genes and your environment is at the core of who you become. A child’s environment consists primarily of close emotional relationships — and these attachments are the most important social factor affecting the developing brain. The social world of the child during the first 45 months (9 months in the womb, three years after birth) actually determines how the brain and mind are formed and how well they work. 

The Triune Brain

The human brain is composed of three distinct but intersecting areas — brain stem, limbic system and neocortex — a triune brain. The brain stem is the most primitive part, and it controls basic states of arousal, alertness and physiology (think heart rate, breathing, body temperature). The limbic system is the center of emotion, social behavior and attachment. It regulates emotion, memory, motivation and stress. The neocortex is in charge of complex information-processing functions, such as abstract thinking; reasoning and awareness; and the ability to observe our own thoughts, feelings and actions (MacLean 1990). 

These three parts of the brain continually exchange information. Under conditions of threat and heightened emotion, the limbic system takes control it the automatic reactions of self-preservation, commonly known as “fight-flight-freeze” response. When feeling secure, safe and calm, logic and reasoning are switched on by the neo-cortex. Thus, children who feel frightened and insecure because of the absence of nurturing and protective caregivers are less apt to use logic and more likely to remain in their limbic brains — emotionally aroused, highly anxious and reacting on the basis of self-preservation. Children learn best when they feel calm, safe and nurtured. When attachment is disrupted, a child’s brain is more focused on self-preservation and survival and less on being inquisitive and learning. 

The limbic system plays a pivotal role in the emergence of attachment and is most altered by the stress of compromised and insecure attachment. To better understand this, it is necessary to know the difference between a closed-loop and open-loop system. The former regulates itself with no help from the outside world. For example, our circulatory system is a closed loop; our blood continues to flow inside our body regardless of how others behave. 

The human brain — especially the the emotional limbic system — is an open-loop system. It relies on attuned and caring input from attachment figures for healthy growth and functioning. 

Baby’s experiences with caregivers shape brain formation and functioning

How children and caregivers interact directly affects the child’s brain formation and operation. Most affected by this relationship are parts of the brain that regulate self-control, the release of stress hormones and the way genes are expressed. It is common for children with histories of abuse and neglect to have elevated stress hormone levels and problems with self-control. They are often impulsive, inflexible and have temper tantrums. Inherited tendencies, such as mental illness, alcoholism and hyperactivity are more likely to emerge without the buffer of secure attachment. 

So a child’s ability to self-regulate — which we’ll discuss in the next part of this series — is very important.

This article was written by Dr. Levy. Terry Levy also has written about the interplay among attachment, trauma and the developing brain.