The brain’s capacity to change and
reorganize with input from the
environment. Usually, the brain is most
plastic during early development; this
is also when it’s the most vulnerable to
harm and the most capable of recovery.
As we get older, our brain circuits
stabilize and they become harder to
Our health—including our brain
development—is largely based on
epigenetics: the genes we get from our
parents, and our environment (how and
where we live). Epigenetics can also
be thought of as how the environment
influences gene expression.
This learned ability is like the air traffic
control tower at a busy airport where
hundreds of planes take off and land
safely. Executive function allows us to
focus, hold and work with information,
filter out distraction and switch mental
gears. We need it to manage information,
prioritize and complete tasks, handle
stress and practise self-control.
A person’s emotional and biological
well-being, which is influenced by social,
environmental and biological factors.
Billions of connections that let the
neurons communicate at lightning speed.
In the first few years of life, our brain
forms 700 new neural connections every
minute. The Center on the Developing
Child at Harvard University says “early
experiences affect the nature and quality
of the brain’s developing architecture by
determining which circuits are reinforced
and which are pruned through lack of
use. Some people refer to this as ‘use it or
lose it.’ ”
Parents, adults and caregivers
Throughout this issue, we refer
to parents, adults and caregivers
interchangeably. Children need
nurturing, supportive and encouraging
adults for sturdy brain development.
The ability to bounce back from setbacks
and cope with life’s ups and downs.
Resiliency includes skills such as
problem solving, empathy and emotional
regulation, which is the ability to show
emotions in ways that won’t hurt oneself
Serve and return
An interactive process that builds brain
architecture. Think of it as a game of
tennis or volleyball. A child begins with
a gesture or sound—a “serve”—and
you respond with a supportive and
encouraging “return.” This can continue
with a “volley” of exchanges. We have
these sensitive, responsive exchanges
throughout our lives, but they’re critical
in early childhood because they’re the
building blocks for a healthy brain.
We experience three types of stress.
•;Positive stress can be motivational;
we can feel it when we’re getting
ready for a meeting at work or playing
a game of hockey. This type of stress
helps us deal with adverse situations
and become resilient.
•;Tolerable stress is the temporary
result of a serious event, such as a
car crash or the death of a loved one.
People often overcome tolerable
stress with the help of supportive
relationships with family, friends and
•;Toxic stress is chronic, unrelenting
and unpredictable. It can be harmful,
especially to children, and it’s often
the result of neglect, abuse or extreme