Expert shares what goes on inside your toddler's brain

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Coping with toddler behaviour can get the better of you. One moment they are all happy, giggling and smiling. But the very next moment they could be throwing a fit. It can be perplexing for parents. However, coping with toddler behaviour can become child’s play when you understand what goes on in that tiny brain.

So, how do you do that?

Coping with toddler behaviour: Learn how from an expert

Dr Laura A Jana is a paediatrician and an award-winning author of the book The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today That Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow.

She says: “Parents need to understand what kids don’t understand.” That means, as a parent you need to have realistic expectations from your little one.

So, you may not expect your two-year-old to know how to tie a shoe lace. Parents are aware that they don’t know how that’s done.

But you may expect them to not bite their elder siblings. Now, that seems like a realistic expectation, right? But it’s not quite so. In reality, your little love doesn’t know either — both how to tie a shoe lace and that it’s wrong to bite others.

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Coping with toddler behaviour | Image: file image

Your child’s capacity is based on their individual level of cognitive and emotional development. And that’s why your expectations from your baby should be based on that.

It’s crucial for parents to know that some parts of your child’s brain that relate to skills will develop differently. And once you know this, it may help you in coping with toddler behaviour. 

Coping with toddler behaviour: Simple parallels that can help you understand what goes on in your toddler’s brain

1. A game of ping pong

Dr Jana explains that since your child’s birth, you’ve been instinctively trying to spend quality time with her. Whether it is playing, talking or interacting with her, it is all based on your instinct. This kind of back-and-forth is extremely crucial and is known as the “serve and return” concept.

She says: “Serve and return has been tied to literally connecting neurons and pathways in the developing brain”.

So, here’s what happens. When you respond to your child’s cries or other communication in an appropriate manner, your baby’s brain forms neural connections. These help in building social skills. Here’s a video that gives a visual display of how this works. 

2. A mirror

Do you find your tot mimicking pretty much anyone and everyone? Dr Jana explains that this kind of copying has to do with the “mirror neurons.” And it’s a sign that their brain is properly developing.

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Coping with toddler behaviour: Why do toddlers copy you? | Image: file image

Research has revealed that when your child watches an action performed by someone, neurons are fired in their brains. These neurons in your child are similar to the neurons fired in the other person’s brain. 

So, by merely watching someone, your baby feels the way the other person does. Your child will mirror whoever is closest to them. So, if your child seems to be copying you, then it’s not about what you are saying. But it is about the feelings projected by the baby’s brain.

The Society for Neuroscience says that this system of mirroring is the basis of many things, right from social skill development to language to empathy and so on. 

3. Play-doh

Dr Jana shares that rather than a sponge, your child’s brain can be compared to Play-Doh. It is extremely malleable at the start, but later on it becomes difficult to shape.

She shares, “External experiences help to shape the architecture of the developing brain.In the first five years, for the least amount of effort you get the biggest return. All the stuff that’s cute and warm and fuzzy and nice to do with young children has more meaning and impact than people realise.”

She also adds that a caring, responsive adult is a crucial influencer. Talking about shaping your child’s brain beyond the age of five years, Dr Jana shares: “I always tell my patients, the last time I checked it’s possible to rewire a 100-year-old house. It’s just going to cost a lot more, take a lot longer, and not be as good as if you’d done it right in the first place.”

4. A weekend in Vegas

Impulse control is the word, mum. And we all know that even adults can be terrible at this. Moreover, your little one has an absolutely valid, biological reason for being impulsive.

Their pre-frontal cortex is still not fully developed. This is the part of your child’s brain that is responsible for skills like impulse control, aggression, self-regulation and reasoning. But despite this factor, maximum development takes place in the period of thee to five years.

So, do remember that if your child seems totally sane at one moment, they can just completely turn around and act crazy the next moment. And when that happens, just take a deep breath and remind yourself that your little one is still developing that part of their brain that helps them make good judgement. 

5. A cave-person

The amygdala, the part of brain that controls the fight or flight response, is not fully developed when your child is within five years.

And that’s why toddlers cannot understand a real threat and a perceived threat. So, when your little one throws a big fit when he sees his own shadow, there’s no point trying to calm him down. 

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Coping with toddler behaviour: How does the fight or flight response help in developing good judgement? | Image: file image

Dr Jana explains this saying that in the early human times, an evolutionary response to a saber tooth tiger was to run away — and not wonder whether the beast was hungry or not. 

Mums, having this knowledge can definitely help in coping with toddler behaviour. So the next time you think your child is being irrational, do remember the information in this article and see which of these parallels are at work.

 

Sources: Romper, Science Daily, Centre on the Developing Child

ALSO READ: Useful tips to teach manners to your toddler

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