child's prefrontal cortex development
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9 Facts About Your Child’s Prefrontal Cortex Development That Will Help You Understand their Behavior

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Have you heard talk of your child’s prefrontal cortex area of the brain? Maybe you have.  Maybe you haven’t, but I’m willing to bet, your child’s prefrontal cortex development has played a role in some of your frustrations.

Have you wished you didn’t have to repeat yourself so often to your children? Has your child ever walked up to a shelf of books and, one by one, dropped all the books to the floor? There’s nothing like hearing the sound of the toys you just organized into labeled tubs dumping onto one heaping pile in the playroom! Do you have a child who asks, “Why?” every time you tell them something?

Guess what? Your child’s prefrontal cortex development is likely the reason for these behaviors.

When you learn about the functions of the prefrontal cortex and lack of development in children’s prefrontal cortex, you will better understand your child’s actions and emotions when you understand your child’s prefrontal cortex. As a result, it will become much easier for you to have empathy for your child when their behavior does not meet your expectations. You will understand why it is so important to use positive parenting. 

intentional parent

It benefits parents to know what their children are up against in brain development, so you can align your expectations of your child accordingly. I know it changed the legacy of our family!  If you care to read about my aha prefrontal moment, it was the reason my husband and I stopped spanking!

There is plenty of information out about the child’s prefrontal cortex, but I have carved out the information I believe will benefit your family the most. I will show you the traits that affect the child’s behaviors the most. The traits that children tend to get in trouble for. 

Secondly, I even share actions you can take to ensure your child has a prefrontal cortex that thrives. Finally, if you read to the end, you will find a letter to you from your child. Surprise!

This post has affiliate links to help keep this blog running and I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

What Is The Job Of The Prefrontal Cortex?

The human brain develops from back to front, so the prefrontal cortex develops lastly.  This part of the brain manages processes such as:

  • emotional control
  • reasoning
  • logic
  • problem-solving
  • planning 
  • memory
  • focus and attention
  • developing and carrying out goals or directions
  • impulse control
  • developing a personality
  • transitioning from one task to another

So you can see that if the child’s prefrontal cortex is the last to develop, a lack of these skills could make meeting adult expectations a challenge in some cases.

7 Facts About Your Child's Prefrontal Cortex That Are Game Changers

Yes, it’s that important. The frontal lobe matures in spurts and takes years to develop. Basically, the skills the brain uses to think, learn, read, remember, pay attention, and solve problems.

And get this, 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)

9 Characteristics of the Development of A Child’s Prefrontal Cortex That Have a Profound Impact on 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 about what the behaviors were. Go back up to the above 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 selfish. Young children are not able to understand the points of view of others. They may realize others’ feelings, but it is a challenge for them to realize what should be done about these 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) 

Related Article:  7 Easy Tips to Be a More Patient Mom

7 Facts About Your Child's Prefrontal Cortex That Are Game Changers

3. An Underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex Makes Transitioning From One Task To Another Difficult

When you ask your child to stop doing what they’re doing and come do something you want them to do, it’s a really big deal for them to stop and come. The child’s prefrontal 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. The more you are connected in your relationship with your child the more they want to please you.

Related Article:  4 Simple But Effective Ways for Connecting With Your Child

Every time your child makes the decision to follow your request, it strengthens this area of the child’s 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. Every time the child chooses to transition on their own free will it cuts a deeper rut in their brain that will eventually make the transition smoother.

In order to help your child develop transitioning, give them a warning that a transition will be taking place soon. You can say: I’m setting a timer for 3 minutes. When it goes off, you will turn off the TV.

In order to develop transitioning, it helps for you to connect with your child before you announce a transition. You can say: I see you have built a tall tower. Tell me about it.

4. An Underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex Makes Multi-Step Directions Tough for Younger Children

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.

Sample language: Put on your shoes. Then, get your bag. Then load up in the car.

You may notice that your child does the first step and thinks they’re done. That’s because they focus on one aspect. This language will scaffold them up to multi-step directions. It doesn’t hurt to practice multi-step directions in free time. You can say: Please go pick up that Lego and put it in the bin. When they are good at accomplishing 2 step directions, then you can move to 3 step and so forth.

Or you may have experienced your child zeroing in on one characteristic of their dad. His glasses. So they’re constantly pulling at his glasses. When the child looks at Dad, their brain zooms in on one aspect or object on Dad. And also, children are very curious!

5. Children’s Thinking Is Super Concrete

It is not until ages 7-11 that children 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 is furniture. To move to a higher level of thinking would be for them to generalize on their own that these items are very useful for the family.

Other’s use of figurative language can trip them up because they are more in the literal category. Another area this affects is object permeance. An example of this is when they see a pool ball go into the hole. A younger child would think it disappeared forever. That’s why a good game of peek-a-boo is so entertaining.

The more the child develops their operational thought, the more they will be able to solve problems in their head without having to encounter a real-life scenario

6. Children Lack Impulse Control

Often times, parents expect kids to share their belongings, but this is something that develops gradually over a period of time. It is best to encourage children to take turns. It’s real life. Think about it. If you’re working at your computer and your husband walks up to you and needs it, do you automatically give it to him. No. You get your job done, and then it is his turn.

Other important areas affected by impulse control:

  • Stealing
  • Destroying Property
  • Lying
  • Explosive Anger
  • Harming people or animals
  • Chewing on things or pulling on hair or eyebrows
  • Lying
  • Compulsiveness

When these behaviors occur in children parents tend to overact because it raises a fear in them that they are raising a bad person. If we understand that the child is up against an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex we can support them instead of responding in anger.

The best way to help your child is by:

7. An Underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex Inhibits Empathy

Due to a lack of life experiences and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, children have trouble showing empathy. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Since a child’s brain is hyper-focused on “me”, it takes them some years to share the focus with others.

You can help your child to develop empathy by responding to your child and others with empathy. In order to go the extra mile in supporting them you can:

  • Discuss other family member’s feelings
  • Discuss the feelings of characters in books
  • Notice and talk about the feelings and emotions of the people you encounter at the store
  • Talk about the feelings and responses of those on the media you are watching. You can even pause and discuss.

8. Child’s Prefrontal Cortex Development Timeline: The prefrontal cortex matures lastly.

For this reason, adolescence (age 10-19) is the easiest time of life to develop an addiction. This is a time when kids start to experiment with things. Though they may believe they’re just going to try something, it can become a habit and then an addiction due to lack of logic, reasoning and impulse control.

Explaining and sharing with your kid about the development of a child’s prefrontal cortex may help them think twice about trying things that can become addictive.

7 Facts About Your Child's Prefrontal Cortex That Are Game Changers

And Last But Not Least Teenage Brain Development:

9. Child’s Prefrontal Cortex Development Timeline: The middle prefrontal cortex RE-DEVELOPS during the teenage years. 

WHAT??? 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 on things, 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.

Related Post:  8 Truths About Teenage Brain Development Every Parent Must Know

Ways To Help Successfully Develop Your Child’s Prefrontal Cortex:

1. Acknowledge your child’s perspective and empathize. Say: I know it’s hard for you to stop playing and come put on your shoes, but it’s time for us to leave now.

2. Allow expression. Say: You’re having a hard time this morning. It seems things aren’t going your way and it’s gotten you frustrated. It’s still not OK to yell at us. Tell us you are frustrated, and we will support you.

3. Listen to your child’s feelings. Say: I can tell you’re mad because you told me that you hate me. You are mad that I said no more cookies. You could say, I don’t like Mom’s decision. It’s OK not to like my decision. It’s not OK to yell at me. Those words hurt.

4. Teach your child problem-solving. Say: You’re disappointed because it’s raining, and we didn’t get to go to the park as planned. How about we think of some alternatives that would be just as fun.

5. Show patience in their moments of struggle. Say: You’re so mad your brother demolished your Lego creation.  I understand, and it’s not OK to hit.  Tell your brother how you feel.

6. Be there for your child during these moments. Say: You’ve got big emotions. Would you like a hug? I bet a hug would make you feel better. Let Mom hug you and you can cry if you need to.

7. Try to control your “upsetness” when a child is acting like a child. Say: Wow.  You’re really feeling silly aren’t you.  Silliness is fun.  You must want me to play with you. Is that true? How about some roughhousing.

The Best Foods For Developing Your Child’s Brain

In order to create this list, I did hours of research. I used the foods that appeared on the most lists of research by neuroscientists. After getting that list of foods, I researched how that food benefits a child’s brain. 

Start feeding your child these foods as soon as your pediatrician gives you the ok and your will eat them. Many pediatricians don’t even know the best foods for brain development. Also, the FDA list does not have your child’s best interest in mind either. Money motivates both.  I have done the research for my own children, and now I’m sharing it with you.

Printable: Healthy Family Grocery List Cheat Sheet

  • Omega-3 Enriched Eggs, eating the yolk is important
  • Avocados
  • Salmon
  • Berries: Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
  • Cauliflower/Broccoli
  • Beef
  • Walnuts, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Pistachio, Brazil Nuts, Macadamia
  • Spinach and Kale
  • Almond Butter or Almond Milk
  • Chickpeas, Lentils, Black Beans, Kidney Beans
  • Green Peas
  • Carrots 
  • Turmeric
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Hard Cheeses

Parental Reminders For When Your Child’s Behavior Starts To Get On Your Nerves

  • In trying times, repeat to yourself, “His frontal cortex is underdeveloped. His frontal cortex is underdeveloped… He is not trying to give me a hard time. He is having a hard time.”
  • As Dr. Joseph Chilton Pearce said, “We must be what we want our children to become.” Self-regulation. Get you some! When we model self-regulation, we paint a picture for our child what the expectation looks like.
  • When your child’s behavior really gets your blood boiling, breathe deeply and remind yourself, This is not an emergency. We are safe. We are OK. We are loved.

**Remember you have 18 years with your child. Give yourself and your child grace! Don’t stress if mastery hasn’t happened by kindergarten.  And I’m referring to you as well.  Our cognitive development is a journey we take with our children.  

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 affect 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 your children. 

Call to Action

Now that you know enough about your child’s prefrontal cortex development, you can make educated decisions on how you positively parent. You will show your child more empathy where their behavior is concerned, and you will be intentional about modeling behaviors that will develop a thriving prefrontal cortex for your child.

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 your 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 communication with 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]

Book Recommendation:


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.

Quotes On Child Development

  • “Children are not things to be molded, but people to be unfolded.” ~Jess Lair
  • “You can not make people learn. You can only provide the right conditions for learning to happen.”~Vince Gowmon
  • “The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration.” ~Jay Giedd
  • “The more risks you allow your child to take the better they learn to look after themselves.” Roald Dahl
  • “A spirited, unruly student is preferable. It’s much easier to direct passion than to try and inspire it.” ~Joan Desmond
  • “If we want our children to move mountains, we first have to let them get out of their chairs.” ~Nicolette Sowder
  • “No significant learning occurs without significant relationship.” ~James Corner
  • “The best way to preserve a child’s vision is to let them see things their way rather than yoyurs. ” ~Jacob Liberman
  • “You don’t remember the days your dad held your handlebars. You remember the day he let go.” ~Lenore Skenazy
  • “A naughty child doesn’t exist- a child who acts out is simply a child with unmet needs.” ~Birgitte Coste

More Articles On Development

Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours!  Remember to have fun, laugh and give God the glory! I love you! SS

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