development; this is also when it’sthe most vulnerable to harm and themost capable of recovery. As we getolder our brain circuits stabilize andthey become harder to change.
Epigenetics: Our health—includingour brain development—is largelybased on epigenetics: the geneswe get from our parents and ourenvironment (how and where welive). Epigenetics can also be thoughtof as how the environment influencesgene expression.
Executive function: This learnedability is like the air-traffic controltower at a busy airport wherehundreds of planes take off and landsafely. Executive function allowsus to focus, hold and work withinformation, filter distraction andswitch mental gears. We need it tohelp manage information, prioritizeand complete tasks, handle stress andpractise self-control.
Mental health: A person’s emotionaland biological well-being, which isinfluenced by social, environmentaland biological factors.
Neural connections: Billions ofconnections that let the neuronscommunicate at lightning speed. Inthe first few years of life, our brainforms 700 new neural connectionsevery minute. The Center on theDeveloping Child at HarvardUniversity says “early experiencesaffect the nature and quality ofthe brain’s developing architectureby determining which circuits arereinforced and which are prunedthrough lack of use. Some peoplerefer 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 to for sturdy
Serve and return: An interactiveprocess that builds brain architecture.
Think of it as a game of tennis orvolleyball. A child begins with agesture or sound—a “serve”—andyou respond with a supportiveand encouraging “return.” Thiscan continue with a “volley” ofexchanges. We have these sensitive,responsive exchanges throughoutour lives, but they’re critical inearly childhood because they’re thebuilding blocks for a healthy brain.
Stress: We experience three typesof stress.
• Positive stress can be motivational;
we can feel it when we’re gettingready for a big meeting at workor playing a game of hockey. Thistype of stress helps us deal withadverse situations and becomeresilient.
• Tolerable stress is the result of aserious event that eventually goesaway, such as when a loved onedies, or a car crash. People oftenovercome tolerable stress with thehelp of supportive relationshipswith family, friends and others.
• Toxic stress is chronic, unrelentingand unpredictable. It can beharmful, especially to children,and it’s often the result of neglect,abuse or extreme deprivation.