What’s Going On In There?

Understanding what’s going on in the brain of a child

Haley Wolfenbarger, reporter

While the human brain doesn’t fully develop till mid- to late-20s, even after it’s fully developed it still continues to mature. But did you know what the development of a child’s brain is like? Having this knowledge can better help you as a parent, babysitter or just as a curious person just why exactly children act the way they do.

What’s happening in the minds of children?

Long before a child exits the womb, he or she is constantly learning new things. Unborn children can learn the language of their parents, sounds, syllables, etc. Although they aren’t capable of speaking, they can understand the difference between negative to positive sounds, which can affect the way they feel. An unborn child is also very aware of their surroundings, like touch and sound—and they love interacting with their parents.

Once a child is born, he or she enters a new stage of learning and development because new senses come to them, such as sight or and taste. Studies have shown that too little interaction with babies can cause emotional and relational damage to them, resulting in them thinking or feeling negatively towards their parents. They grow up to feel unloved and have higher risk of depression, and tend to function worse in almost every way compared to children who grew up acknowledged by their parents.

The more interaction, and the more knowledge you give to children, the more likely they will become more intelligent at an early age; we always associate babies with unintelligent, or incapable of doing things on their own, but that may be because we don’t teach them the skill they are capable of learning at that age. Toddlers could actually be reading and speaking fluently if they’re taught a language from a young age. A fun fact about toddlers is that they can in most cases learn certain skills sooner than most children are taught them. This does vary depending on the child’s mental health, but the common healthy child is much more intelligent than we assume. If you want to discipline your child, be careful, because depending on their development, you might actually just be damaging them rather than training them. There is an age where children know right from wrong (that is if they are told so from a young age), but before they can even know right from wrong, all they have is curiosity. If you decide to spank a young child for doing something wrong, they won’t understand that they did something unacceptable, all they’re thinking is that they’re being physically harmed, and not learn from the discipline.  

What stunts mental development in children?

There are a few obvious reasons why a child’s development might be hindered, but not everyone is aware of. Abuse is one of the main causes of stunting a child’s mental growth; whether that be physical abuse, or verbal abuse. Some examples of verbal abuse would be, “You’re not good enough,” “you can do better than that,” really anything that would make a child feel devalued as a human being. Saying things like this to a child will make them want more approval from their parents, so they might change, or try to improve for their parents rather than for themselves as an individual; it would cause them in the future to seek others approval, and cause them to become people pleasers. Instead of saying negative things like the following example, you could instead say, “You are doing great, but there’s lots of room for improvement.” This can make a child feel like they did good, and that they can improve. 

Excessive screen time is another example. Instead of a child exploring new things in the real world, making new relationships with people in real life, and getting all the sunlight they need for growth, they are staying indoors, receiving an excessive amount of blue light from screens (which can harm the body from producing its natural melatonin), and lastly, it’s hard to have relationships with people when screens take over your life. 

Giving children what they want, whenever they want it, especially when they throw a fit, will in fact stunt a child’s brain from developing maturely. I know, this should be common knowledge by now, but with the amount of parents that spoil their children, that never say no to them, it would be necessary for people to be reminded of this fact; a person who complains all the time, who needs to have their way over anything else, who throw a fit or threaten when told no, are indeed results from being a spoiled child growing up. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your child anything they want at all times, it’s nice to get a gift every now and then from a parent, saying yes to a child isn’t wrong, and children need to have some fun in their lives, but if you say yes to everything, you’re setting your child up for failure in the future, when they leave the home, and expect the world to be exactly like their household growing up, they won’t be ready for the real world, and won’t handle it well either. 

How can you as a parent improve your parenting skills with the knowledge of child brain development?

Train them young, reading and writing can be learned faster and more effectively if you start them out young; prepare them for the real world outside of the house, how to respond to stressors, how to be a pleasant person, how to adjust when things don’t go according to plan. Be supportive of their success and encourage them to become more successful. Always be there for your child, from birth, till their teens, even after they move out, always acknowledge them. Don’t treat your child like a child if you’re expecting them to be more like an adult, treating them like a child will keep them acting like one, and encourages rebellious behavior; treat them like mini adults, and they will start becoming more and more responsible.  

A child’s intelligence is underestimated

It’s normal for adults to think that children don’t know what they’re doing, or that they can’t do certain responsibilities on their own because of how young they are, and in some cases, this is true, but only because they weren’t taught it when they could’ve learned it perfectly fine! Children are curious by nature, and when they aren’t fed more curiosity, or given explanations, they won’t grow up to be as intelligent as they could’ve been. Treat children like they’re capable, mini adults even, and if they mess up, encourage them to try again, it will help a lot.