Posted on by Village Green Nutrition Team
Early childhood is an important time for the development of a child’s brain. At birth, a baby’s brain contains an amazing 100 billion neurons. During the first few years, 700 new neural connections are produced every second. And did you know that a toddler’s brain has twice as many neural connections as an adult’s?
There are many factors that contribute to a child’s brain health and development, and many of these things can have lasting benefits. Here are ten great habits that families can encourage to help support optimal brain health in children.
1. Promote Healthy Eating
Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can support healthy brain function and development. Some of the most important foods for brain health include:
Vegetables are dense in nutrients including, folate and vitamin E, which are vital for mental function and overall brain health. Berries, especially blueberries and strawberries, have been proven to promote cognitive function.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, and certain types of fish, like salmon, are crucial to supporting the brain, especially for avoiding depressive symptoms and states.
2. Encourage Play
Play, especially play with peers, helps to encourage the development of your child's prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain plays a critical role in regulating emotions and problem-solving.
The prefrontal cortex does not reach its full maturation point until about age 25, which means you can support your child's brain health from birth and continue to do so until their early years of adulthood.
Playing with your child and encouraging play with peers helps your child to learn how to navigate social interactions in a positive manner, and it teaches them that life doesn't have to be so serious all the time.
3. Limit Screen Time
Children who grew up living in the age of iPads, iPhones and other digital devices have learned to associate their sense of joy and happiness with a screen. While these devices can be extremely helpful, too much screen time can be detrimental to your child's health. They may experience negative and uncomfortable symptoms including:
- Poor sleep
- Weight gain
- Dry or irritated eyes
- Vision impairment
- Poor posture
To help them avoid these negative symptoms, set a reasonable screen time limit. They can use these devices, but they should use them in moderation, and be sure to engage in other activities, as well.
4. Connect with Nature
We all have coping mechanisms that help us to deal with everyday life. You can better prepare your child for the stresses of daily life by teaching them how to connect with nature.
A walk by the river or deep breathing meditations in nature are powerful ways to self-soothe and de-stress. With an arsenal of healthy coping mechanisms at hand, your child can move forward in the world with courage and self-belief that they can handle anything that comes their way.
5. Read to Them
Reading to your child, especially during the early years of child development – that is, before kindergarten – supports brain health and development by improving their grasp of language. Research published by the Pediatric Academic Societies found that MRI scans of a child's brain during a parent read-aloud showed activity in the part of the brain associated with understanding language.
For the developing child, reading to them can help build their vocabulary, foster social-emotional skills, promote brain processing speed, as well as provide an opportunity for you to bond with your child.
6. Stimulate with Music
Music doesn't only sound good. Exposing your child to music and encouraging them to play with musical instruments and rhythms can be beneficial for your child's brain and overall health in many ways.
- Better mood regulation
- Reduced stress
- Improved emotional responses
- Reduced pain
- Feel-good feelings
Music speaks to the soul in a way that words cannot. Encourage your child to listen to music and to play and produce sound – to be free and to have fun!
7. Ensure Quality Sleep
Sleep is crucial for the brain, especially for younger children. It promotes better brain functioning, which is noticeable in focus and concentration, as well as reaction speed.
This is why the CDC recommends that those ages 6-12 sleep a total of 9-12 hours per day, and those ages 13-18 get a total of 8-10 hours of sleep per day. The younger your child is, the more sleep they need. This is an easy way to support your child's brain health.
8. Inspire Daily Exercise
Exercise has many benefits for brain health. It increases blood flow to the brain and has been shown to boost memory and thinking skills. Exercise has also been shown to increase brain size and improve academic performance. To support your child's brain health, encourage them to get out and move daily.
Children mirror the patterns and behaviors of their first role models: their parents. It helps your child a lot to see you embody the healthy lifestyle you encourage for them. Consider becoming regular workout buddies!
9. Spark Their Creativity
Arts and crafts are a fun way to help stimulate and spark your child's immense capacity for creativity. Creative endeavors give your child the chance to express themselves and explore. Making art also grows new neural connections and builds fine motor skills.
Creative projects encourage kids to think outside the box to produce works of art that are true to them. This can give them more confidence to bring their unique perspective to other parts of life, such as in school.
10. Be Their Comfort
Unconditional love and support for a child go far to raise a healthy, loving family. Showing your child that you are there for them and that you hear them out, even if you don't necessarily understand, reinforces the security and love that they will feel. Providing a positive and safe environment helps to create a healthy mental and emotional foundation for life.
Support Your Child's Brain Health
We all want our kids to grow up safe, healthy and happy. These lifestyle habits can help to set the stage for healthy brain function and development throughout life.Contact us for more information about brain health for kids, as well as adults. Village Green Apothecary also offers individualized health and wellness services to help you achieve optimal health.
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