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The developing brain

You may have heard people say that children have immature brains, but what does this mean in terms of how we parent them? Understanding this is the key to happier parenting, I'm sure of it. What I'm about to share with you will explain so much!

Ok, so let's take a look at the brain, there are two key areas that we will be looking at today:

Picture Credit: LinkedIn

The 'limbic brain' or limbic system is a structure of elements that are responsible for our desires, drives and emotions. This part of the brain is almost completely formed at birth. So when you witness your child having a huge emotional outburst, they are operating from their limbic system.

The Neocortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for sensation, action, cognition and consciousness. Let's look at this in a little more detail.

The front part of the neocortex here is the frontal lobe which contains the prefrontal cortex. Now, here is where it gets really interesting. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for our higher cognition such executive function (decision making and organisation for e.g.), logical thinking, rationale and emotion regulation. However, it doesn't fully develop until we are in our mid to late twenties. Read that again. This part of our brain does not finish developing until we are almost 30yrs old.

So that means, our children's brains are wired to respond emotionally, rather than logically. As they mature and their brains develop they can practise using the skills for regulation and logical thought processes, however their brain defaults to an emotional response.

You may have noticed that when your child is having a tantrum, no matter what you say, it's almost as though they can't hear you? That's because they are operating from their limbic system. They can hear you, but their ability to process your words, formulate a response and communicate back with you is impeded by the more powerful limbic brain in that moment.

Let's pause to let that sink in...

How many times have you thought your child was being 'unreasonable' when actually the part of her brain responsible for reasoning (prefrontal cortex) is simply not fully formed yet? Sure there are plenty of neural pathways already formed and literally millions of connections being created every day, so we do see evidence of logical thought and rationale when our child is calm and regulated. However, the truth of the matter is that there are MORE pathways and connections already cemented in the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is being bypassed during periods of upset of emotional dysregulation.

I hope that this knowledge allows you to take your child's dysregulation a little less personally, which will also enable you to respond to them, rather than react. If you'd like to read more about techniques to use when your child is having an emotional outburst, that hold this information and your child's wellbeing in the centre, I think you'll enjoy this post about Co-Regulation.

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