Help a Child by Understanding Brain Development

In the simplified diagram below, brain development proceeds from the bottom (the brain- stem) up, and from back to front. While all parts of the brain respond and develop in every human at any age, it can be helpful to use this “map” to remind us what capacities children can use to cope with overwhelming situations, and how these capacities change over time.

Brain diagram

Economic hardship, extreme family stresses, illness, accidents and mental disorders which appear in adolescence may inhibit or divert this developmental process. Social support and appropriate services can make all the difference in limiting the severity and duration of these disruptions.

The following example, using a common life event rather than an a traumatic one, illus- trates how chronological age affects impact. Remember: Children respond with the brain they have at the time.

  • A two-year-old will be upset by a family move to a new home because routines are changed, and things are moved. She did not know this could happen!
  • A 12-year-old will be upset by a family move to a new home because he loses friends; his school and neighborhood experiences are discarded; and he must learn everything all over again. He may be furious, resentful, and dejected.
  • A 25-year-old may not care if parents move to a new home; her life is elsewhere, and home is where she comes for holidays.

NEXT:  Making space for the child’s experience

Read the 20-page series “Helping Children Cope…” which includes this page.
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