Why is he doing that?  The low down on the brain.


Ever wondered why your pleasant, easy going compliant two year old has turned into an emotional monster over night?

Well the great news is it’s a normal stage of brain development.  

The bad news is you need to buckle in - it could take a while for her to learn to regulate these emotions in a better way.

We believe all parents should be equipped with basic information from neuroscience. Conscious, or knowledgeable, parenting will help you understand your children’s behaviour a little better and how you can support them to learn and develop into awesome, intelligent, empathetic and resilient adults who are nice to be around.  It will also save you hours of frustration, and zillions of two year old melt downs.

So your four year old is willing to stop, listen to reason, even to negotiate when you say that the guinea pig sleeping in their bed is not such a great idea. But your two and a half year old isn’t listening? Being parents, you have experienced that two year olds aren’t into negotiation or reason.  Meltdowns can be quick, aggressive, severe.

A quick low down on why.

  • Essentially human brains develop from back to front.
  • We have three areas of the brain, each with a different function. One for survival, one for emotive response and one for cognition, or higher thinking.
  • Development, or maturity, of these is cumulative and sequential.
  • Once we have developed all three, somewhere between 25- 30 (dependent if you’re a male or female, or the oldest sibling) we are good to go and move back and forwards between them depending on the situation- whether we sense a need to run from danger, or want to negotiate an awesome new piece of furniture down in price.
  • The key to understanding your child is that he or she has not yet fully developed all three areas of the brain.

The survival centre

The brain stem controls our core survival functions like breathing, body temperature, pain receptors,heart rate, hunger and runs them automatically so we don’t have to “think”about doing them.

Initially primal reflexes are responsible for survival but your baby soon learns how to get what he or she needs to survive-by crying, smiling or gooing and gaaing, and forming an attachment to get your quick response.

It is the survival brain that is constantly looking out for danger and taking action if there is a threat. It takes in all the stimuli in the environment and decides - am I safe?

If a baby’s needs are not met or an attachment to a responsive caregiver isn’t formed, the next stage of brain development will be delayed. The brain will be too busy attending to survival to worry about any higher function.


The emotive centre

While not fully functional until adulthood, development of the emotional centre, or limbic brain is the focus between the ages of 0-5.

This area processes memory,emotions, the response to stress and is responsible for nurturing,caring, separation anxiety, fear, rage, social bonding and hormone control.

Your toddler is operating primarily from the limbic system or the emotional centre of the brain. Self-expression, communication of needs and reactions to stimuli are expressed in the form of feelings-sometimes gigantic ones . This is why your two year old really, really wants the guinea pig to sleep in his bed!  He hasn’t yet developed control or regulation over his emotional response, or the last brain which has the ability to think rationally and control these emotions.

This second tier dealing with emotion and memory is often referred to as the ‘seat of learning.'

What this means is that it is crucially important that time and attention is spent on developing the emotive centre of the brain as a foundation for learning and development of the last brain.


The executive centre

This is the last area of the brain to be developed, continuing through the mid-20s.

There are developmental spurts and sensitive periods-3-6 years; 11-12 years; and around 15 years.

It is responsible for rational thought, problem-solving, planning, attention, creativity, self-awareness and understanding and interpreting emotion.

Children at different stages have varying levels of access to executive functions of the brain.

Your two year old is emotionally driven, acting from the emotive area of the brain, and hasn't yet mastered logic, reasoning or language to help work through and express these feelings.

Helping your child cope with these BIG emotions.

 See our blog: Helping your toddler deal with BIG emotions.

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