The human brain develops from back to front, so the prefrontal cortex develops lastly. This part of the brain manages processes such as:
- focus and attention
- developing and carrying out goals
- stopping your impulses
- developing your personality
Basically, the skills the brain uses to think, learn, read, remember, pay attention, and solve problems. The frontal lobe matures in spurts and takes years to develop.
The brain is so active in childhood that half of the calories consumed by the average 5-year-old are used to fuel the brain. 90-95% of brain growth happens in the first 5 years.(source)
My Purpose For the Post:
Being educated on the functions of the PFC and lack of development in children’s prefrontal cortex helps you to empathize with your child’s behavior much easier. It benefits parents to know what their children are up against in brain development, so you can align your expectations of the child accordingly. I know it made a difference for me! If you care to read about my aha prefrontal moment click here.
There are many characteristics to learn about the PFC’s development. I chose the traits that I found to affect the behaviors that children tend to get in trouble for.
7 Characteristics of the Development of the Prefrontal Cortex That Have a Profound Impact on Your Child’s Behavior:
#1. The human prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until around the age of 25!!!
Some researchers go as far as 30. I was so glad to hear this. I’ve always looked for an excuse for my behavior in college! Just saying.
Now take a moment to think back to the last few times you’ve had to correct your child. Think what the behaviors were. Go back up to the 9 bullets that tell you what the prefrontal cortex plays a role in. Are things starting to make sense?
#2. Children believe that everyone shares their thoughts, beliefs, or feelings.
This is not selfishness. Young children are not able to understand points of view. They may realize others feelings, but it is a challenge for them to realize what should be done about the feelings. For example, if Dad is upset, his child may give him a pacifier. This cognitive skill is not fully developed until age 11. (source)
When you ask your child to stop doing what they’re doing and come do something you want them to do, it’s a big deal for them to stop and come. Their frontal cortex is still developing the ability to switch from what they want to what you want. In fact, you are counting on your child wanting to please you in order to follow your request. This is another reason for you to stay connected to your child.
Every time your child makes the decision to follow your request it strengthens this area of the brain. She has to make the decision on her own to develop self-discipline. If you make her do it or pick her up and move her to where you want her to be, it doesn’t count.
When children 5 years old and younger encounter a situation, they focus on only one aspect or object. When multiple events or objects of importance become involved, their brains are challenged.
#5. Children’s thinking is super concrete.
It is not until ages 7-11 that they are even beginning to develop the ability to think logically about concrete events according to Piaget. The expectations should be lower when speaking hypothetically to them. An example of this, in the beginning stages, a child knows an item such as a couch and ottoman are furniture. To move to a higher level of thinking would be for them to generalize on their own that these items are very useful.
#6. The prefrontal cortex matures lastly.
For this reason, adolescence (10-19) is the easiest time of life to develop an addiction.
And Last But Not Least For Parents of Teenagers:
#7. The middle prefrontal cortex RE-DEVELOPS in the teenage years.
WHAT??? Yes! During these years, this area of the brain will re-calibrate and master each of the skills AGAIN. You may notice some of the same behaviors in your child that you experienced with him during the very early years. You may find that your child goes through stages during the teenage years that he skipped in the early years. Examples: chewing, throwing a fit when you say no, clothing issues, eating issues. Yes, this is due to brain development. Listen to a TED Talk about it here.
Ways to Help Your Child Develop in These Areas:
- Model healthy emotional intelligence (Get ideas here)
- Patience in their moments of struggle
- Practice empathy
- Do not take behavior issues personally. Look at them as opportunities to develop the child.
- Be there for your child during these moments. Just be there. The child who feels they have a strong safety net develops emotional intelligence easier.
- Consider that all of your interactions with others are reflective (driven by your goals and values) or reactive (driven by your feelings right now).
- Try to control your “upsetness” when a child is acting like a child.
- In trying times, repeat to yourself, “His frontal cortex is underdeveloped. His frontal cortex is underdeveloped…”
- Remember you have 18 years with her. Don’t stress if mastery hasn’t happened by kindergarten.
I could continue, but my objective is not to stress you out. Awareness of your child’s developmental stages, and making a conscious effort to stay in control of your emotions positively affects your child’s development. Dr. Laura Markham says that our #1 responsibility as parents is to pay attention to our emotions, but not to act on them.
A healthy prefrontal cortex that’s integrated with the rest of the brain is a much greater predictor of success in life than IQ. A healthy prefrontal cortex should be high on our wish list for our children. (Source)
Call to Action
Having developmentally appropriate expectations helps you feel less frustration and take your child’s behavior less personally. You have ideas about what’s appropriate based on the beliefs of your family, society, or culture in which you live.
You send your children messages about who you think they are and how society views them through your language, spoken or not, and interactions. All of these beliefs go into how you decide to handle your child’s behavior.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Please consider my prefrontal cortex development and stay conscious of it when I test your patience. Understanding the developing brain is a key component of you being a mindful parent. When you know what to expect at each stage, it is easier for you to be emotionally and lovingly present to me.
All of my behavior is a communication to you. When I challenge you with my behavior, I want to tell you that something is not right or that my needs are not being met. I am dealing with big feelings. I need support and guidance. When you help me through these times, I will learn important social and problem-solving skills that will help me throughout my life.
Thank you and I love you,
Your Child’s Name Here
The Whole-Brain Child offers a revolutionary approach to child rearing with twelve key strategies that foster healthy brain development, leading to calmer, happier children. Additionally, the authors explain the new science of how a child’s brain is wired and how it matures. By applying these discoveries to everyday parenting, you can turn any outburst, argument, or fear into a chance to integrate your child’s brain and foster vital growth. Furthermore, the book is complete with age-appropriate strategies for dealing with day-to-day struggles and illustrations that will help you explain these concepts to your child.