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Education and neuroscience

Mathilde Mironi Apr 26, 2022 3:43:51 PM
Education and neuroscience

For most people, it is natural to calm, secure and comfort their child. It is also proven by neuroscience that it favors development.

Indeed, in order to allow a young child’s brain to best develop its intellectual and affective abilities, kindness and empathy are necessary. Let’s have a further look at scientific research on this subject.

The brain of a young child

According to neuroscience, it is important to understand that the brain of young children is immature. It is said to reach its maturity at the age of 25.

A young child is controlled by the archaic brain, which explains a lot of reactions. It is impossible for him to control his impulses and to reason himself. He therefore reacts in a spontaneous and instinctive way and his emotions are very intense. Sadness, fear, angriness can turn into total tsunamis! I’m sure you have already observed this?

According to neuroscience, tantrums and whims do not exist. It is also false to say that young children try to provoke us. Why? Because from 0 to 3 years old, a young child can simply not control his emotions. He is overwhelmed and does not understand these emotions. He needs help in understanding what is happening inside.

When a child is left alone with his emotions, the amygdala of the brain activates the secretion of molecules of stress such as cortisol or adrenaline. In important quantities these molecules can be toxic for the brain. Some neurons can be destroyed, especially those in relation to memory, coping with emotions, resilience and relational abilities. Therefore, it is not productive to stress a child when in the process of learning, at school for example. This type of stress can be caused by physical or verbal violence like humiliation, shouting, threatening…

Educational postures to favor the maturation of the brain

To soothe the amygdala which balances the nervous system, it is crucial to put words on the emotions of a child. This attitude is very benefic for the maturation of the brain which is fragile and malleable. If you see your child getting angry because he cannot have a sweet for example, you can say “I understand that you are frustrated because you want this sweet, but unfortunately, you cannot eat it right now.”

Given that the brain is malleable, the relations and behaviors observed have an influence on the child, in particular as regards his intellectual and emotional development. As you know, children always imitate us, we are examples for them. Therefore, the more an adult is kind and empathetic with a child, the more he will be kind and empathetic with others. This is also why a child must be in a position to observe adults that can express their disapproval without any violence.

The pediatrician Catherine Gueguen explains that to allow the brain to develop, a child needs to receive unconditional love from his parents. This means their presence, their attention, kind words and acts. He also needs encouragements and empathy. For that, parents must embrace all their children’s emotions, should they be pleasant or unpleasant.

An adult must be able to transmit his/her values, while being firm. Embracing all emotions does not mean that there are no limits. On the contrary, it is important to say no to inadequate behaviors in order to assimilate that they are not adequate.

We have to find a good balance (yes, this is the most difficult part!) and let the child be curious and lively, encouraging and trusting him in order for him to trust himself. This will help him open up to the world and to others.

The positive behavior of the adult will have a direct effect on the development of the brain. With time, the child will be able to gain control and step back on different situations. The production of hormones of well-being (Oxytocin, dopamine) will increase, together with grey matter and resistance to stress. This will give them solid foundations for life!

More on the subject

  • The book « Pour une enfance heureuse – Repenser l’éducation à la lumière des dernières découvertes sur le cerveau » written by Catherine Gueguen
  • Podcast La matrescence : Dr Catherine Gueguen - Comprendre son enfant à travers les neurosciences