Your toddler’s first three-word sentence or his new-found artistic talent all have their beginnings in his neurological development. Although temper tantrums don’t normally bring a smile to anyone’s face, it is cause to rejoice this show of independence which signifies that his brain cells are learning to talk to one another—that the synaptic pathways between brain cells are connecting. And that, mom, is a very good thing.
How the Brain is Wired
Your toddler’s brain is twice as active as yours. That’s probably the reason you’re so tired at the end of the day and he still has enough gas left for another round. Your baby is born with a 100 trillion brain cells or neurons that function as the transmitters of information. They transmit, or communicate, by sending electrical impulses between tendrils, or dendrites (about 15,000 for each cell). The more an experience is repeated or stressed–like recognizing mommy and daddy gets a big hug, pulling the cat’s tail gets a big meow, smiling cute gets an extra spoonful of ice cream–cements the experience and increases the synaptic responses between neurons. By the time he’s a toddler, his brain is wired with about 1,000 trillion connections. All of this in the head of your 3-year-old.
Amazing!Factors Influencing Neurological Growth
Any experiences that stimulate you toddler’s sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch, in other words, his five senses, also stimulate the brain to reinforce and strengthen its “wiring.” This circuitry promotes learning. Providing stimulation such as reading a colorful storybook (sight), the scent of flowers (smell), the sound of singing (hearing), the taste of food (taste) and the feel of the cat’s tail being pulled (touch), all contribute to your toddler’s daily neurological development and learning. Other factors that are important for neurological growth are healthy nourishment, varied experiences, love and nurturing, sensitivity and positive feedback.
A Toddler’s Learning Window
Windows of opportunities open and close as your toddler ages. His brain becomes receptive to certain learning experiences, more so than others. These are generally referred to as developmental milestones and are contingent on his neurological development. For example, he learns to see, to recognize shapes and patterns and to organize information. He learns how to make sounds and noises that come out as intelligible words. His motor functions allow the first steps in potty training (thank goodness) and he learns to play make-believe with other kids.
Parents’ Contribution to Development
There are two rules of thumb when contributing to your little one’s neurological growth–provide a stress-free environment and enriching experiences. Your toddler’s brain development will slow due to chemical interactions if he feels stressed, so make sure his environment is safe, nurturing and predictable. Expose your toddler to new experiences. This helps his brain to compare old information with new and strengthen existing neural connections. But don’t go overboard. Too much stimulation can also be stressful and frustrating, causing the brain’s learning abilities to slow to a crawl.