The human brain is pretty complicated, so understanding your child's brain and how it develops can seem like a daunting task. KCA, experts in neuroscience, have researched and broken down 5 positive behaviours we can incorporate into our children's lives to encourage healthy brain development - this practice is called Five to Thrive.
What is Five to Thrive?
Five to Thrive are building blocks that help create and maintain healthy brain function in children. These can be applied to any new experience throughout your child's daily life. Each step happens consecutively and contributes to helping the brain grow strong.
Research shows that the relationship you build with your child during their early years can affect how their brain develops throughout childhood. There is a direct correlation between having a more positive relationship with your child and healthier brain development. This is because “being with people who love us feeds our brains”.
Human connection is important to our wellbeing and keeps our brains working well. To build a healthy brain, babies need to experience connected relationships - maintaining these connected relationships through adulthood benefits our wellbeing.
When babies have a new experience, their brain cells build a connection. Once this initial connection has been made, another connection isn't made even if they repeat this experience, as one has already been established. Therefore, it's important to make the initial connection as positive as possible.
Your baby's brain will develop the most throughout the first 3 years of their life, so it's important to introduce healthy habits within that time frame.
The 5 behaviours are (in order):
- Respond: acknowledge what happened.
- Cuddle: offer physical comfort to the child.
- Relax: show that you’re relaxed to help them remain calm.
- Play: encourage the child to move on from what happened.
- Talk: allow the child to talk about what happened.
Let's look at an example of a toddler who was playing, fell over, and is now upset.
The first step is responding and acknowledging that they’ve fallen over. This is an important process as it lets you create a space where your child is open to reassurance and comforted by your awareness. Allowing yourself to be available to your child can help them feel safe and create a sense of belonging. Your awareness of the situation will strengthen your bond and your child will begin to recognise that they can emotionally open up to you.
From here, cuddling your child establishes a connection that helps calm them down. Unlike adults, young children struggle to calm themselves down, so cuddling can help pass on the stress of feeling hurt over to the parent.
Being close to your child allows your nervous systems to co-regulate. Your child’s brain will begin to recognise physical touch as a coping method in times of distress. Alongside this, it allows them to build up trust within your relationship.
Relaxing goes hand in hand with cuddling. If your child can see that you’re relaxed and not in distress, this will help calm them down. This helps develop a pattern of self-regulation. In time, your child will understand how to comfort themselves and relax in stressful situations.
This non-verbal communication conveys how the adult is feeling and reiterates the notion of calm, helping your child stabilise the situation so they can move on from their injury. Playing also helps them process what just happened and stimulates the brain. Through this, your child will build up mental patterns for managing and understanding their emotions.
Talking through the situation with your child helps them understand their feelings, meaning they can feel better and conclude what has happened to them. Creating a narrative allows your child to recognise the importance of verbalising their emotions, which will help them understand them better.
How do I go about implementing Five to Thrive?
This isn't a singular process that you'll go through with your child. It can be applied from situation to situation, whether resolved instantly or through an extended period.
The Five to Thrive approach encourages a positive, loving experience between you and your child. Your child will learn some basic foundations for understanding their emotions - this pattern allows their brain to grow strong and flexible. We understand that life can't always be calm and regimented (and things might not always go to plan). However, learning and implementing this process may help you combat some otherwise difficult situations.
Using this method also allows you to identify where particular behaviours may stem from. If your child's needs aren’t being met within any of the categories, they may display some behaviours that you can identify and correct.
How will this benefit my children?
By not responding to your child, they may struggle to create a core sense of identity and have difficulty bonding with others. They may also develop a tendency to control others and demand attention.
If you don’t engage with your child, they may struggle to recognise their emotions and the emotions of others. They may have trouble understanding social cues and become disinterested in social interactions.
If you don’t stay relaxed in stressful situations, your child may struggle to regulate emotions such as panic, rage, and volatility. If they have difficulty dealing with stressful situations, it may result in dissociation.
Not playing with your child can result in them being unable to take turns and share with others. They may also not be able to take accountability for their actions and understand discipline.
Finally, by not talking through the situation with your child, they may struggle to understand what is being said to them and how to differentiate between what is and isn’t real. This can also result in having difficulty managing time.
Final thoughts from Kami
Once you have put this into practice, your child can form a healthy understanding of the process. They'll build familiarity with the actions and eventually learn to soothe themselves in these situations. These habits will deliver a consistent, effective message that it's okay to ask for help from others when a situation is too big to handle alone.