There are many factors that help students achieve and be successful in life and at school. The school’s wellbeing policy looks at social, emotional and spiritual learning programs that teach our students the skills to maintain a good level of mental health, develop and maintain effective pro-social behaviours and develop a level of resilience in order to deal with challenges and difficult events.
An article, “Emotions and Relationships shape the Brains of Children” written by Dr Michael Nagel explains how relationships at an early age shape a child’s brain. Good mental health starts right at the beginning of life. This newsletter article is written for Primary and High School parents. It is never too late to start putting practices into place to help your child and the earlier you start, the better.
Below is a summary of the article.
Human beings are social beings. We thrive when relationships are positive, and when they are not, we can face myriad physical and psychological challenges. This is true of all the people regardless of age but more so during childhood, when the brain is busy maturing and evolving through the interplay of nature and nurture. As such, understanding the links between emotional and social development and relationships is integral to anyone who works with children or who is interested in child development and welfare.
The emotional development that occurs throughout childhood is often taken for granted by most adults. Given the importance of a child’s emotions, relationships and social interaction’s and their link to a variety of measures of success in school and in later life.
The first few years in the life of a child are perhaps the most critical for all aspects of development. Relationships around the child have a profound impact on that child’s immediate and long-term mental health. It is important that we look at the different components that make up the development of the emotional and mental health of a child.
There are generally three major areas of the brain; the brainstem, the limbic system and the Cerebral cortex. Each of these areas are connected and influence one another. At the base of the brain, the brainstem to connected to the spine. It is important as it involves the reflexes and autonomy functions including our fight or flight reflex, as well as many of our inner drives, including hunger and sleep.
The limbic system is the emotional epicentre of the brain and is in between the brainstem and cerebrum. This is where emotional development occurs and assists in regulating our emotions. Because the emotional part of the brain (limbic system) matures much sooner than the cerebrum, children often have difficulty regulating emotions and displaying degrees of immaturity.
The cerebrum is comprised of two hemispheres and sits relatively high above the brainstem and as usually identified as the region of the brain where thoughtfulness and organised thinking occurs. Feelings of anger, sadness and anxiety, among others, are experienced. This region of brain does not fully mature until the late 20’s.
Overall brain development and maturation occurs from lower regions to high regions and roughly from the bottom up to the front and from the inside out. This is an evolutionary principle that our most instinctive and primal reactions to threats occur through the interplay of structures within the limbic system and brainstem. Since the limbic system matures first, it will make a fight or flight response to make sure you survive. This is why babies react immediately to any form of environmental stimuli. There’s a difference between how babies and adults might react to particular events depending on the regions of the brain and how they work to process the environmental stimuli. Almost everything we do begins with or is linked to our emotions and, as such, the importance of the interplay between emotional and social development cannot be understated.
Experiences in the real world matter. The developmental interplay needed for aspects of healthy neutral development, behaviour and learning is a social process requiring cascades of interactions between individuals and the environment in real life experiences. We learn to make better decisions and become better planners by making not so good decisions and then correcting our behaviour. Such decisions corrections and indeed all aspects of our behaviour are not made in a social vacuum but instead rely on continuous feedback from others and, as such, our emotional and social development are in inextricably linked.
Many experts in the field of psychology and child development would suggest that attachment is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the child’s emotional development. Simply stated, attachment refers to a child’s emotional bonding with another person or the creation of an enduring emotional tie between two people. Attachment and bonding are not just emotional necessities but are influenced by the powerful neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain, such as oxytocin.
Like many of the components of emotions and emotional development, is that emotional regulation involves a complex array of structures and processes in the brain, generally, improves with age and is a product of both nature and nurture. Experiences (nurture) matter and, as such, relationships and strategies for positive relationships and emotional development are critical considerations for any individual raising or working with children.
In the next newsletter article we will look at what strategies can support the developing emotional brain and what the bible has to say about emotions.
In His service,