At KVC Hospitals, we use neuroscience-based treatment resources to help youth develop a foundation for a healthy future. How do we do this? We teach them about how the brain develops, different types of stress, emotion regulation and more to help them better focus, organize, problem solve and build resilience.
What Neuroscience Tells Us about Healthy Communities
Neuroscience research shows us that for communities to prosper, their youngest members – babies, children and teens – must have the opportunity to develop healthy brains. And we aren’t just born with healthy brains: They are built throughout our childhood and adolescence. How does the brain develop? It’s similar to how a house is built. Our brain needs a strong foundation, walls and a roof to weather life’s storms.
Every interaction we have from early childhood into adulthood helps shape our brain. Positive interactions with parents and caregivers are essential to help build a strong foundation and strengthen our brain’s ability to withstand stress and adversity. Negative experiences such as abuse, exposure to violence, neglect, poverty and parental substance use or separation can derail brain development.
If we understand how the brain develops and works, we can better understand the impact that positive and negative interactions have on our brain.
How does the brain develop?
The brain has many separate functions that work together. Three key functions for healthy brain development are the frontal lobe, limbic system and brain stem, which are all responsible for stress management.
The Frontal Lobe
The area located in the front of our brain is responsible for our executive functioning skills, including:
The middle area of our brain helps manage our memories and emotions, including:
- Long-term memory
- Emotions that generate action (rage, panic and terror)
The base of our brain helps manage our bodily functions and physical reflexes, including:
- Bodily function (heart rate, temperature and respiration)
- Motor control
If the brain is experiencing high stress, also called toxic stress, the frontal lobe might shut down and the brain then relies on the limbic system and brain stem. This can cause emotions to become irrational and difficult to manage. This may be a reason why some children, teens and adults exhibit dysregulated emotional behavior such as acting out or fighting.
What is toxic stress?
There are three types of stress a person might experience. These include:
- Positive stress: aids in our growth
- Tolerable stress: we learn to work through & problem solve
- Toxic stress: leaves long-term negative impacts on our health and wellness
Toxic stress occurs when we are exposed to events that cause severe distress such as abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, or not having a supportive caregiver. When a situation like this occurs, the body’s stress response system is activated. Increased heart rate, adrenaline, and hormone levels become toxic to the brain and body.
Resilience is our ability to overcome and work through difficult situations and life’s challenges. Positive experiences help strengthen resilience by building skills, including:
- Executive thinking
- Body regulation
- Emotion regulation
- Interpersonal skills (ability to identify and connect with safe resources)
As resilience and other skills are built, we’re able to buffer the impacts of toxic stress. It’s important to start building resilience early in childhood and throughout our entire life.
So, how does the brain develop? It’s built when all three parts of the brain are fully developed, allowing youth the ability to manage stressful situations, interact well socially and exhibit good behavior. Parents, caregivers and other community members all play a part in ensuring that children and teens have the opportunity to build healthy brains by having positive interactions with them, being a role model, providing guidance and creating a safe, nurturing environment in which they can grow.
How does the brain develop? Read more!