BRAIN FACT: Early Interactions Directly Impacts The Way The Brain Is Wired

Friday, April 30, 2010

Early interactions directly impacts the way a brain is wired.

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The Military Child: The Effects of Deployments and Stress on the Brain

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Currently, 1.7 million children under the age of 18 have a parent serving in the military.  About 900,000 of them have had one or both parents deployed multiple times.  This post is designed to bring awareness to the unique needs, strengths, courage and sacrifices these children and families face. As we recognize and appreciate those serving in the military it is valuable to do all we can to to support the families and the youngest generation affected. This issue is extremely personal to me as my granddaughter is a military child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said:
"military children and adolescents exposed to parental deployment experience ambiguous loss and stress, often beyond normative levels that may become toxic if not detected and address in a timely manner."
A study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics supports the AAP's statement and found that children of service members are 2 1/2 times more likely to develop psychological problems than civilian children.   This was found to be a result of high stress levels in the parent who remains at home when a spouse is deployed.  Many people may think babies and toddlers are too young to be aware of what is going on around them, however, as I've said many times before on this blog, children are very intuitive and can pick up when you are stressed which in turn makes them stressed.  When a child is stressed, cortisol, the stress hormone, is released.  High cortisol levels in the brain can lead to a child feeling overwhelmed, fearful, a distortion of thoughts and feelings and a brain that is wired for hypersensitivity in life. 

Fortunately, the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics study found that military, family and community support groups help reduce family stress during deployments.  There are actions each of us can take to help military children whether we are a service member, a parent at home while the other parent is deployed, a teacher, a caregiver, or a community member.  Below are ideas of what you can do to help a military child through a deployment or a difficult time.

Parents At Home
  • Consistent and loving caregiving will help mitigate stress levels as much as possible and help make the child feel safe.  
  • Maintain routines.  This will help the child's brain know what to expect and feel less stressed.
  • Turn off the news.  Hearing stories about the war may scare or make the child worry.
  • Give emotional support.  The child may not yet know how to express their feelings verbally so recognize when behavioral outburst may be a result of feeling sad or scared.  If they are able to talk give them the words they are looking for such as "Are you sad?" "Do you miss Daddy?" and make them feel safe talking about their feelings.  If they aren't yet able to talk, make them feel safe by hugging them or holding them.  Zero To Three has a great guide that helps interpret some of the child's actions and what they might mean and how to respond.  Check it out here.
  • Have the child draw pictures or cards to send to the deployed parent.  This allows the child to express their feelings and feel a connection to the deployed parent.
  • Ask for help.  Remember to take care of yourself so your are able to take care of your child(ren).  If you are stressed your children will be affected by it.  Have a friend, family member, spouses club, or community organization watch you child so you can have a break or attend events with other deployed families for support.
Deployed Parents

     Prior to Deployment
  • Make sure you child knows they are loved and they you are not leaving because of them.
  • Be Honest.  As soon as you start preparing for deployment explain what is happening to the child, don't try to hide it from them.
  • Talk to you child.  Let them tell you they are scared or don't want you to go and share your feelings with them as well.  It will help them realize that its okay to have these feeling and to talk about them.
  • Get them involved.  If old enough, show them on a map where you are going, learn about the area together.  If possible take them on a tour of the ship you'll be on or to the equipment you'll be using.  This will help them have a clearer understanding of what you will be doing while your gone and where you'll be.  Easing some of the uncertainty.
  • Make something together that they can use to pass the time.  Ideas include a calendar with pictures of you and the child that they can mark off the days until you come home, a paper chain with the links representing the number of days you'll be gone--the child can take one chain down each day.
  • Make a video of you reading the child's favorite book that they can read a long with.
     During Deployment
  • Send emails, letters, cards, pictures, and items from the area as much as possible.  They will feel special when they receive something from you in the mail.
  • Call or Skype if possible
  • Make a video of you reading another book so they have a new one to read along with you.
Caregivers/Community Members
  • Recognize distress symptoms in children such as clinging, unexplained crying, choosing adults over same-age children, acts of violence, etc.  and do your best to lessen those anxieties.  Tips on how to deal with these signs are available in Zero To Three's guide Honor Our Babies.  
  • Help Midigate stress for the parent at home.  Offer to cook a meal for the family, watch the children, do yard work, etc.  The reduction in work load can help reduce a parent's stress level, and even the offer of support helps.
The need for more research on the affects of being a military child is apparent but in the mean time please help spread the word about the needs of these military children and families.  These children make a sacrifice so their parents can defend our country.  Please help their brain develop well through your support. 

For an extremely easy way to support military families organizations can provide, brain development activity packets. These unique and beautiful packets provide parents with ideas, knowledge and information they need to .... even during busy every day life!

If you would like to learn more, contact me about doing a presentation about the effects of stress on developing brains. It would be a great pleasure to share information to create further understanding!

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexia Riveracorrea

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BRAIN FACT: It Is More Difficult To Change The Brain Once It's Wired

The brain is always changing and making new connections.  However, it is more difficult to modify after it has been originally wired. 

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BRAIN FACT: Consistently Paying Attention To and Meeting The Needs Of An Infacts Impacts Relationships Later in Life

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Consistently paying attention to and meeting the needs of an infant wires the brain and impacts how a child will form relationships later in life.

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The Brain is Attracted to Fun and Novelty

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Those of you that have been following this blog know how often I talk about how much the brain tunes into novelty. Additionally, I emphasize during presentations on how much the brain also loves fun.

This video clip from The Fun Theory exemplifies this point perfectly. It demonstrates how attracted the brain is to something new and fun.  Does the clip make you want to do this?  Enjoy!

BRAIN FACT: The Brain Is Wired Through Repeated Experience

What wires a brain is repeated experience.

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Child Abuse—We Can Make A Difference Through Creating Awareness

Monday, April 26, 2010

While it is great to have April dedicated to Child Abuse Prevention—it is certainly something that needs to be addressed EVERYDAY! We need to continuously promote awareness of the effects of experience on the developing brain.

It is wonderful to know that things are going in a positive direction. In 2008, it was reported that child maltreatment decreased! However, there were reports of suspected child abuse and neglect involving six million children across the US. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reveals that almost a third of these children are younger than 4 years old.

Abuse any age has an impact, but because we know that 90% of the brain develops from birth to age 5 we really need to care about these statistics. It is critical to do all we can to create awareness of the impact abuse can have and do all we can to continue to see a decrease in these numbers.

Following are simple points that you can use to help create support for the prevention of abuse and neglect. Share this information with people in your family, co-workers, and friends. Create an e-mail for people to forward, post it on a bulletin board at work, or post on your social networking sites!

Through large numbers of us simply using this month to create greater awareness, hopefully we can see a decrease of large numbers of abuse in reports next year!
  • The brain creates connections based on repeated experiences. Repeated abuse or neglect will develop a brain based on these negative experiences.
  • Repeated experiences become encoded in memory. This results in the development of expectations of the world and relationships. Negative experience can influence a child’s expectation to be treated badly.
  • Children’s brains that are exposed to chronic stress are 20 – 30% smaller than children raised in a nurturing environment.
  • A child experiencing an uncaring caregiver may become uncertain about their safety, distrustful of others, and uncertain about their own abilities.
  • The brain is continuously on alert for safety in the environment and the people in it. If a child is exposed to an unsafe environment this creates high levels of stress in the brain.
  • High levels of stress negatively impacts the memory, attention, and thinking areas of the brain.
  • Children who are living in chaotic, unpredictable environments, have brains that are wired very differently than a child having primarily nurturing and consistent experiences.
  • A critical time for the emotional areas of the brain to develop is from birth to 18 months. Babies that do not have their needs met in a loving and consistent way (neglect) develop behaviors focused on control.
  • Children experiencing repeated trauma, stress ,and abuse will develop more of the fight or flight areas of the brain. These children’s behaviors will primarily focus on survival.

For more information or tips to prevent child abuse in your life or the lives of others click here.

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5 Year Old Activity Packet Winners!

Congratulations to the Winners Below!  They have each won a "Help Me Thrive While I'm Five" Brain Development Activity Packet.

Jan S.
Kevin F.

To find out more information or to order your specially priced packet visit

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BRAIN FACT: The Amount of Speech That Is Heard In the First Three Years Correlates to the Level of Adult Vocabulary

The amount of vocabulary and speech that is heard in the first three years has found to correlate to the level of adult vocabulary. 

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BRAIN FACT: Exposure to Green Spaces Results in Better Coordination and Concentration

Friday, April 23, 2010

Studies reveal that children regularly exposed to green spaces for play have better motor coordination, fewer attention-deficit disorders, and have more ability to concentrate.

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BRAIN FACT: Exposure to Nature Directly Effects the Physical Health of the Brain

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The quality and quantity of exposure to nature directly affects the physical health of the brain.

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BRAIN FACT: Natural Settings Do Not Require As Much Brain Power As Paying Attention

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When paying attention a great amount of brain power is used. Natural settings don't require as much effort and allows the brain to relax.

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BRAIN FACT: Nature Helps the Brain Relax After Stressful Or Negative Experiences

Monday, April 19, 2010

Research demonstrates that nature helps the brain relax and restore itself after experiencing stress or negative emotions.

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APRIL NEWSLETTER: Learning and Nature Issue

Check out the April issue of the braininsights newsletter here.  This month's issue focuses on Nature and the Brain in honor of Earth Week.

View past newsletters or sign up to have the free newsletter delivered to your inbox here.

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Last Day to Enter To Win "Help Me Thrive While I'm Five"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today is the last day to enter to win one of five "Help Me Thrive While I"m Five" Brain Development Activity Packets.  Enter to Win Here

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Making the Connections to Healthy Brains

Friday, April 16, 2010

It is wonderful that there is an increasing amount of information  (and growing interest) about healthy diets, reducing stress, and the need for physical activity to keep our bodies healthy. However, when doing brain trainings I find this valuable information is often not correlated to the effects on the brain.

At the end of April I will have the wonderful opportunity to co-present at the Georgia Dietetics Conference in Atlanta.  Lauen Zimet from Healthy Insights and I will be conducting a workshop entitled, “What’s Better than Healthy Brains?. This session is designed to provide  valuable information to increase awareness that if something is healthy for our bodies it is also benefiting our brains.
Following are some of the points that assist in creating a realization between what is healthy for the body is also healthy for the brain:

Hunger creates stress hormones because the brain doesn’t have what it needs
  • When the brain is deprived of the glucose it needs this can lead to out of control behavior. A child doesn’t have the capability to deal with the feelings that occur such as: anxiety, agitation, aggression, feelings of panic, and confusion. These feelings may become temper tantrums.
Hunger may also simply lead to a child not having enough energy to learn or play.
  • A child can play and learn very well after eating nutritious foods. When children eat a well balanced meal, especially breakfast, this boosts levels of serotonin (a “feel good” chemical) in the brain. 
  • Ensuring  children have enough sleep also helps keep brain system in balance.  Sleep creates natural calming in the brain which stabilizes children’s moods
  • Physical activity is also needed for optimal brain function. When children are active the brain simply gets more of the oxygen it needs
It is so easy. When the brain gets what it needs, plenty of sleep,  adequate nutrition, and the opportunity for physical activity  (ideally outdoors) it operates at it’s best. All of this results in children that are in better moods, and are eager and ready to learn.

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BRAIN FACT: Playing Stimulates the Emotion Regulating Area of the Brain

Physical play stimulates the emotion regulating areas in the brain.

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Brain Power Through “Smart” Investments

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Envision a world filled with happy children who are eager to learn, are healthy, feel confident in their abilities, have well developed language, strong math and reading skills, are creative and curious, get along with other children, are physically fit and active, and are self disciplined. Picture all of these children developing into adults in the community, contributing their skills and abilities.

Due to a wealth of research we are extremely fortunate to have the knowledge of all that contributes to making this dream possible. Ongoing scientific evidence continues to demonstrate that through meeting a child’s needs for nutrition, sleep, safety, play and loving experiences a child’s brain will have the chance to develop optimally.

The sad news is all children don’t have the opportunities for experiences that create the likelihood of this vision. Too many of our young children are exposed to multiple risk factors that can affect the development of the brain in unhealthy ways. Risk factors may be inadequate nutrition, neglect, substance abuse, maternal depression, chaos, exposure to environmental toxins, lack of time in nature, trauma and abuse, limited predictability from caregivers, high levels of stress, and lack of quality of daily care,

All of these influences can contribute to a brain being “wired” in a way that leads to emotional and learning problems. Children’s brains learn very early how to adapt or survive in the environment to which they are exposed.

We need to ensue that everyone understands the positive impact this knowledge can have. We also need to make sure everyone knows how dangerous it is for us to ignore this information. Children will benefit most if everyone is involved in first creating an awareness and then invest in implementing change. Making this happen must take place at an individual level, in families, in childcare facilities and schools, through business and community organizations and in local and state government.

If we want success for our children it is up to us, the adults in their lives, to become aware of where change is needed and then work together to continue doing all we can to see improvements take place. For this vision to happen for all children, it is up to us to develop strategies to eliminate the detrimental effects on young children, and fund programs and services which can improve the life chances for all children.

For information on how you can easily create further awareness sign up for BRAIN. This is an initiative I started in January to make a real difference simply through sharing information with those who care!

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BRAIN FACT: It Takes Much More Repetition, Time, and Consistency to Change Once The Brain Has Been Hard Wired

Once the brain is developed it takes much more repetition, time, and consistency to change what has already been hard wired.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For optimal brain development, high quality early learning experiences should be available to all children, regardless of the setting they are in, and regardless of their abilities, special needs, and regardless of family income.

As I often say to audiences at the beginning of brain presentations , “ I am thrilled that  technology allows the study of the brain, like we've never seen before”. When Scientific research began demonstrating that a child's early development is largely determined by the daily environment and experiences, rather than genetics alone, I became extremely excited. I was an early childhood educator at that time and knew the impact of the early years, but having scientific evidence to support the dramatic difference quality early childhood educators make was very reinforcing.

The good news is that advances in brain research have demonstrated the enormous importance of the early years in determining a person's future success in learning and in life. It is now known that a child’s brain continues to develop long after birth. The term “brain development” means more than just intelligence building. It means the actual structural changes that take place in the brain. The experiences a child has in the early years activate the actual physical connections between brain cells that make the brain grow—in other words, the brain's "wiring." We now understand that school readiness is based on this brain wiring, most of which takes place before age 5. This wiring develops best when a child is exposed to good nutrition, a variety of positive experiences, hearing rich language, and has opportunities to develop relationships with caring people and to learn through exploration.

Conversely,  constant exposure to stress, limited stimulation, poor nutrition and lack of  nurturing relationships all lead to types of brain wiring that can contribute to emotional and learning problems. Brains learn very early how to cope with the environment to which we are exposed, sometimes with harmful results.

This information is critical because 13 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are not in the care of their parent during the day, including 45% of children under the age of one. Early childhood professionals who are trained and are knowledgeable about early brain development have a dramatic and very positive influence. These dedicated educators and care providers create healthy learning environments and the loving interactions growing minds need. 

However, the significance of the early years is still not fully recognized. Only 10% of early childhood education programs meet national accreditation standards!   Our education system and entire society cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive experiences they need in infancy and early childhood; the costs in terms of lost potential and increasing rates of emotional and behavioral problems are too high. Brain research show us what children need; our challenge is to ensure that every child receives it!

The following clip clearly demonstrates and explains the difference early educators can make.

Please thank the quality educators in your life for the difference they are making in many children's lives and please share any experiences you have had to illustrate the value of a positive educator. We want to recognize those who make an impact!

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Enter to win one of five brain development activity packets I'm giving away this week as part of the launch of the new "Help Me Thrive While I'm Five" Activity Packet. 

There are three ways to enter:
1. Leave me a comment below
2. Sign up to receive blog postings delivered to your inbox
3. Subscribe to the free braininsights newsletter

The packets are also specially priced this week.  Find out more information about the activity packets here or here

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BRAIN FACT: Lack of Consistent and Quality Experiences Leads to Loss of Brain Potential

The absence of consistent and quality experiences leads to a loss in brain potential

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Play: Where Learning Begins

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When you think of a baby or child, what is it that they want to do most? They want to play!  Babies are born ready to learn, they want to explore, touch, taste, smell, poke, pound, and throw everything they can get their hands on. This is learning and this is what their developing brain needs.

Through “hands on” experiences young children are learning about their environment and how things work. Just realize that everything is new to them! They need to use all of their senses and try things out in various ways. Through play children find out they can make things happen and they have an effect on their world!

You will also see children do the same actions repeatedly. Through repetition the brain verifies that what it is experiencing is true.  Picture a child in a high chair with a ball. After learning about the ball through putting it in their mouth, the child will likely throw it on the floor. He will lean over and watch the ball bounce and roll. He will motion to have an adult give him the ball again. He needs to throw the ball again so his brain can see that it will bounce and roll again. After he has had enough food to eat, he may throw any extra food on the floor to see if it bounces and rolls like the ball did. He is learning about the similarities and differences between all the interesting things he comes in contact with everyday. His brain is making connections through all of these experiences.

Play: Where REAL Learning Begins!  --  www. braininsightsonline.comTo create optimal learning these connections need to be made through interactions with real objects. He will not learn how a ball bounces and rolls if he only sees a picture of it on a flash card. He also will not know how a ball feels by watching a ball on a video or television show.  When children are watching videos or tv this is a missed opportunity for real learning and strong connections being made in the brain.

Play also provides the opportunity for the development of a child’s muscles.  Wiring in a child’s brain takes place through the repeated movements of physical activities.  When children are watching television or even DVD’s that are said to promote learning, children are actually not learning as much as they could if they were playing instead. Scientific research demonstrates interaction creates much more brain activity than observing.

Play is natural. It is what children want to do. (It is actually what adults love to do as well) It is how our brain learns best and it is where learning begins. Play is essential to healthy and overall development.

It is necessary also to not only have play take place at home, but children need “hands on” learning and physical activity opportunities at school also.  Share and promote the need and benefits of play. And have lots fun!

I invite you to share any play ideas or additional information on this topic . We can all benefit from your comments.

For play ideas go to the unique and easy to use brain activity packets! Additional posts on play can be found on this site here.

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BRAIN FACT: The Brain Learns Best if Learning is Fun

Research shows that the brain learns best if learning is fun.

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Five Year Old Activity Packet Now Available AND A Giveaway!

Monday, April 12, 2010

I am so excited to announce that the sixth packet in The Brain Development Series is Now Available!

Help Me Thrive While I’m Five provides 40 activity ideas to promote learning throughout everyday life. The activities are designed for providing the fun and stimulation the five year old brain needs even when parents are busy. The brain likes to have some challenge and needs ways to learn and interact with people and objects. Each activity in the packet also includes a brain insight on the back of the card. These insights give adults an understanding of the benefits gained through doing the activity.  Children love to have new and fun experiences.  This packet provides all of this in an easy to use format.

The packets are available at a special introductory price of $7.99!!  All other activity packets are also on sale.  To find out more information or to order visit the braininsights website.


To celebrate the release of Help Me Thrive While I'm Five, I will be giving away FIVE of these packets!  

There are three ways to enter:
1. Leave me a comment below, 
2. Sign up to receive blog postings delivered to your inbox
3. Subscribe to the free braininsights newsletter. 

Rules: Open to U.S. Residents. Giveaway ends 04/18/10 at 11:59pm. Winner will be notified via email. Winner is responsible for responding within 24  hours or a new winner will be picked. If you don’t respond, you will not be eligible. 

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BRAIN FACT: The Impact of Experiences and Interactions Is Greatest In the Early Years

The impact of experiences and loving interactions or the impact of these missed opportunities is greatest in the early years.

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Week of the Young Child: Early Years Are Learning Years

This week, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is celebrating the Week of the Young Child!  The goal of this week is to bring awareness to the needs of young children and their families and this year the theme is "Early Years Are Learning Years." 

The focus of NAEYC and this week fits perfectly into braininsights' mission and what I continue to say though my presentations, packets and blog posts. I am participating in the Week of the Young Child to do my part to continue to focus the attention and bring awareness to the role we all have in influencing a child's early years. As I repeatedly say, we ALL benefit from ALL children with well developed brains and the early years are the time that make the most impact.

However, some startling facts exhibit that we must improve our efforts and do much more for our nation's children. Statistics show 24% of children under the age of 6 live in poverty and 12 million children do no have enough food to eat.  Additionally, as I've continuously stated, high quality early childhood programs help children now and in the future, however, less than 10% meet national accreditation standards. This is information that needs to be common knowledge so we can improve outcomes for all children. Nutrition, quality care and the effects of poverty all directly impact brain development. We can not afford to have any of our children miss the opportunity to develop their brain in optimal ways.

In an ongoing effort to create awareness, throughout this week I will continue to post a daily brain fact and will also post a daily blog that corresponds to the Week of the Young Child's subthemes.  This week's schedule is as follows:
Tuesday - Play: Where Learning Begins
Wednesday - Early Educators Make An Impact on Brains
Thursday - Brain Power Through "Smart" Investments
Friday - Making the Connections to Healthy Brains
Check back each day for a new blog post and brain fact or sign up here to have the postings delivered directly to your email inbox.  Enjoy and share these for the benefit of our wonderful children! 

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