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Updated: Feb 20

Why Neuroplasticity Matters

We all want the best for our children, but sometimes we don’t know how to connect with them to give them that. At times like those, it’s helpful to look at what science has discovered about the brain’s capacity to change and grow. Rest assured, you don’t have to become a neuroscientist or spend hours reading articles on PubMed; I’ve done most of that work for you!

In summary, I’ll show you some simple ways to enhance your child’s neuroplasticity. If you are unfamiliar with the term, this is the ability of the brain to change over time—and how this can lead to better outcomes later in life. We’ll start with an overview of what neuroplasticity is and why it matters when raising kids (spoiler alert: it matters a lot!). With this in mind, we’ll dive into practical steps parents can take today to help ensure their child has access to as many opportunities as possible later on down the road.

Neuroplasticity and the mirror neuron system

Mirror neurons are a part of the brain that allows us to learn by watching. These neurons have been found in the motor cortex but also in other areas of the brain, such as those responsible for processing emotion and social behavior.

The discovery of mirror neurons is groundbreaking because it helps explain how we can deeply understand what other people are feeling and empathize with them. It’s one thing to say you “feel their pain” or “understand what they’re going through,”—but now researchers know why that happens!

Connect with your child by talking, reading, and singing daily.

Talk to your child

Talk about what you see, what you hear, and what you do. As parents, we tend to forget how important this is because we always talk at home! The more words children hear in their everyday life, the more likely they will understand the language when they start preschool and school.

Read with your child

Reading aloud promotes a love of learning in children by developing early literacy skills and fostering an interest in books that will last a lifetime! Reading out loud is also an excellent way for both parent and child to bond over a shared activity — especially if one loves reading more than the other.

Sing with your child

Singing creates a multi-sensory experience. Music demands cognitive and neural challenges that require accurate timing and control of pitch and provides various ways of creating sound. Singing influences auditory and motor functions that build new neural pathways.

We tend to forget how important this is because we are always talking at home! When you make up stories with your child, you are helping them develop a sense of imagination and creativity. Stories can also help children think about feelings or experiences they have had in their own lives.

Make looking into your child’s eyes a habit

Make looking into your child’s eyes a habit. This can be done by simply making eye contact when you talk to him or her or while they are eating. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that babies who are exposed to eye contact at an early age learned how to read emotions better than those who weren’t made to maintain eye contact with their mothers.

This is because neuroplasticity occurs when new neurons form connections between brain cells, which is how we learn new things. In this case, the neural patterns related to understanding social cues are formed while looking into your baby’s eyes—and they become ingrained forever if the experience continues throughout childhood.

The benefits reach far beyond socialization: research shows that as a result of making consistent eye contact helps children develop trust, empathy, independent thinking skills, self-confidence, and, ultimately, happiness.

This is one of the easiest ways to connect with your child and give them a head start in life. These connections can be implemented from birth.

Choose your tone and words wisely

Words tell your child how you feel about them. Let your child know that you are proud of them, and use encouraging words to express how much you care.

Use words to connect with your child and tell them what you are doing and why. This will help them learn more about the world around them and give them a fundamental understanding of cause-and-effect relationships in the real world.

As you connect with your child, describe their feelings. If they are sad, make sure they know it’s okay to cry, but then encourage them by telling them everything will be alright in time (even if it doesn’t seem like it right now). This can be an incredibly effective way of helping a kid cope with trauma—especially if their parents have been through similar experiences themselves!

Using terms like “This is scary” rather than “You’re afraid” helps children understand that fear is normal but manageable (and makes us all feel less alone!). Use this kind of language when explaining any new situation as well.

Use words to make your child feel powerful. If your child asks for something that you don’t think is a good idea, tell them why! Explain why it’s not an option and give them an alternative solution that might work better for everyone involved.

As I’ve noted, this can be especially useful when teaching children about boundaries, like “no,” and why they shouldn’t be used to get what they want. This is also an essential lesson for helping kids understand their rights as individuals in society—like when someone asks them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.

Use your words to connect with your child on a deeper level. When your child comes home from school upset because someone hurt their feelings, ask what happened and listen carefully for any clues that might explain why this happened (e.g., “Johnny wouldn’t let me play with his toys”). Then use those clues to help your child develop ways of making things better next time.

Responding to your child’s feelings, even if they can’t explain them yet

How do you respond when your child is sad, angry, or frustrated? Do you ask what’s wrong or assume they are feeling a certain way because of something earlier at school or with a friend? The answer is important because how we react to our child’s emotions can impact how they respond to them later in life.

Emotions are contagious, so it makes sense that, more often, parents recognize and acknowledge their children’s feelings. Even if they can’t explain them yet, the more likely you will connect with your child, and kids will be able to identify their own feelings as they grow older.

When we respond negatively, for example, by telling kids not to cry or get so upset—it sends messages about how it’s okay for us adults but not for them. This can lead to suppressing strong emotions rather than expressing them appropriately and learning how that feels good too!”

As your child grows older, they will also learn from watching other people behave around each other. If your child isn’t always on their best behavior when they go out with other kids, don’t worry. All things considered, they will pick up some good habits along the way!

We hope this information allows you to understand how to connect with your child more deeply.

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