The best way to understand child development is to adopt a flexible, contextual approach, understanding that development happens as a child's neurobiological system interacts with many factors (parents, teachers, peers, schools, communities). Old concepts such as "nature vs. nurture" have given way to more dynamic and complex ways of seeing child development as occuring in a complex web of dynamically interacting risk and protective factors.
Recognizing the importance of inherent tempermental traits that a child brings to his or her interactions (such as emotional intensity, persistence, adaptability to change) - and the fit of these traits to that of others in the family, for example, can shed light on why some family relationships go smoothly while others are destined for frequent frustrations and misunderstandings.
Placing these dynamics in broader socio-cultural context can help to shed light on how risk factors such as poverty, high family conflict, mental health and substance abuse issues, discrimination, negative influences of the media, poor parent attachment, trauma, etc., might accumulate for some children and lead to poor outcomes. However, understanding the potential negative effects of risk factors may shed light on how to offset risks via enhancing the presence of protective factors such as improving attachment relationships, educational opportunities, and and enhancing stability and social support.
Circle of Security International
Circle of Security Animation: "Good Enough" - Examines how we can meet our children's needs to promote healthy attachment as they grow.
"Shark Music" Video - Attuning responsively to children's emotions builds their capacity to self-regulate and can enhance attachment and resilience; yet self-awareness regarding how children's difficult emotions can trigger old habits, parenting stress and reactivity is critical.
Knowing about normal child developmental milestones is key to determining if and when your child may be in need of additional supports or interventions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' website Healthychildren.org provides an overview of what to expect across a range of areas of child functioning.
Revamping approaches to parenting via clear instructions on how to retrain old reactive/ineffective parenting habits and develop the capacity to have collaborative, constructive conversations with your child, just when you thought it wasn't possible!
Understanding the basics about brain development and functioning has everything to do with having that "aha!" moment in understanding your child's behavior and figuring out what to do about it. And, luckily, recent developments in brain science (or rather, explosions in brain science) have met up with mindful parenting experts like Daniel Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. to create helpful and readable parenting books such as: The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind (Siegel & Payne Bryson, 2011).
Consider how young children seem to become easily overwhelmed by their emotions, much to parents' dismay. Logic often seems lost on young children who are in the midst of a tantrum, where their emotional brain regions are flooded and cortical areas associated with emotional control are not yet fully developed. Even teenagers who visually can appear quite mature seem to act impulsively and make poor decisions compared to adults - and speaks to the importance of parental involvment in teen's lives.
Now brain science explains what actually happens when children (and parents) become flooded with distress. Their "fight or flight" stress response kicks into high gear, dominated by emotions like fear and anger - and rational thinking takes a back seat!
Children can benefit from understanding some very basic lessons about brain functioning and how it relates to self-regulation, learning to be aware and compassionate in the present moment, welcoming and valuing their emotions, and gradually learning to evaluate the nature of their thinking. Raising children with mindfulness may help them to be better prepared to learn, modulate their feelings, be empathetic and attuned with others, and better able to manage stress. Research is now exploring positive benefits of mindfulness on brain development.
Adults can teach mindfulness to children in everyday moments by teaching and practicing together. Parents who practice mindfulness themselves may create a less stressful environment for children, mirroring a calm, compassionate demeanor. Mindfulness can also be cultivated through the senses, using opportunities such as mindful eating, listening, seeing. Daily mindful breathing (even for just a few minutes) may help reduce stress and encourage greater awareness, acceptance and clarity of thinking. Exercises in mindful listening in relationship with one another may also help to improve relationships and social skills.