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Childcare and Parenting from Brain Science Perspectives: Brain Development, Sleep, and How to Relate to Children

Column October 7, 2022

Usually, we childcare workers spend our days with the children, communicating with their hearts and minds.
It is often said that there is no right answer in childcare, but I feel that this is because there are more ambiguities in the way each childcare worker thinks about childcare, feelings, what is good and bad, etc., rather than scientific evidence in a positive sense.

The following is a report based on a training course I (Monami) recently attended, "Childcare from a Brain Science Perspective (Instructors: Naoko Narita and Yuji Kataoka).

There are three main points.

  • Brain development
  • The relationship between brain growth and sleep
  • How children and adults interact with each other

From these three perspectives, I would like to share with you what I learned at the training about childcare from a brain science perspective.

 

Brain Development

The brain can be broadly divided into the following three categories.

  • The physical brain = the brain for living
  • The smart brain = the brain of humanity
  • The mental brain = brain for society

The "physical brain" is the one that affects childcare and raising child the most of these three.

The physical brain develops between the ages of 0 and 5, and is the most important brain that forms the base of the "smart brain" and the "mental brain. Therefore, promoting the development of the "physical brain" and nurturing a strong "physical brain" will lead to the development of other brains in the future.

Each cell in the brain is connected by synapses, which are junctions created by stimulation from the five senses. At birth, there are no synapses; they are created by stimulation from the five senses. In daily childcare, children increase the number of synapses, connecting cells to each other.
These synapses connect cells to each other, building a network in the brain, transmitting information, and the brain works by signals passing through the synapses.
When a signal runs through the same synapse many times, the brain recognizes it as important, thickens the synapse, and leaves the network behind. That is called "pruning".

The "physical brain" can be remodeled because it is an important brain that is indispensable for life. This process of remodeling is called "plasticity,"and the period between the ages of 0 and 5 is the most plastic period.

 

The Relationship between Brain Growth and Sleep

Brain plasticity (remaking the brain) is stimulated by adjusting one's lifestyle.
Lifestyle is the foundation of brain development. On top of that, learning and are built up like building blocks.

The most important aspect of lifestyle in brain development is sleep.
The desirable amount of sleep for children between the ages of 3 and 5 is approximately 10 to 13 hours.
Ideally, a 3-year-old should get 12 hours of sleep, including an hour of nap time.

The key word when it comes to brain training is "do it yourself”.
Even if the child is not currently getting the ideal amount of sleep, if the child continues to get the ideal amount of sleep for a week or so, the plasticity of the child's brain will kick in and the child's lifestyle will change. Then, the child's behavior in the morning will change like this.

  • They will wake up “on their own”.
  • They will get hungry “naturally”.
  • They will feel like defecating “on their own”.
  • They will feel like do an activity “on their own”.

Also, at night, they will fall asleep "on their own".

Creating this "do-it-yourself" situation is what is necessary for the "physical brain”.
And the first step in creating a "do-it-yourself" situation is to take an appropriate sleep.

So, what can adults do to help children adjust their sleep and lifestyle habits?

It begins, first of all, not with going to bed early, but with getting up early.

The keys to getting up early is...

  • If you are spending happy and fun time with your child such as skin-ship time or playtime at night, let’s bring those time to the morning.
  • Get some morning sun when you wake up.
  • Take protein and exercise the stomach and intestines.

Taking a bath in the morning is also effective.

 

How Children and Adults Interact with Each Other

Children grow up watching and copying adults’ behavior. This is called "mirror neurons." Suppose, for instance, an adult does a sideways roll and uses the motor cortex of the brain. Therefore, even though the child is not doing the cartwheel and is only watching, their physical filed in their brain can get stimulated as well as adults do.

Currently, due to this pandemic, there are many restrictions in terms of wearing masks and going out.
When children wear masks, they cannot see the expressions on the faces of adults. Because of this situation, adults should be more conscious than usual to make good eye contact with the child, make large, slow movements, and stimulate the child's mirror neurons.

Also, while adults may be anxious, it is very important for children to feel "safe" with adults. Children can grow up in a safe environment with a secure adult. Therefore, it is important for adults to reduce anxiety, sleep well, eat well, laugh well, and deal with stress when they notice it.

 

In Conclusion

Through this training, I felt that it is not easy to adjust one's lifestyle and obtain the ideal amount of sleep in today's world especially for dual-income or nuclear families.
However, Mr. Narita explained, "By being conscious of sleep first, rather than setting aside time for playtime with children. Then children's brains will develop properly. By nurturing the base of the physical brain, the other brains such as the smart brain and the mental brain, which grow up later, can grow without collapsing during the development process.”

Children are growing day by day. If we are conscious of children's brain development and review their lifestyle, starting with sleep, even if it is just for a week, we may be able to change their diet, lifestyle, and mental stability.

Monami

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