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A child's interactions with caregivers shape the physical architecture of the developing brain.
Our brains begin developing before we're even born. As we age, brain pathways develop to enable early behaviours. These early structures will form the foundation for healthy brain function and mental health throughout our lives.
What determines how our brains are structured? Contrary to what many believe, it isn't just how we're born. Experiences also shape the way our brains develop. As a caregiver, the interactions you have with your child literally build the architecture of the developing brain through a process called "serve and return."
We know that:
View Science in Seconds: Early Brain Development
Young children naturally reach out for interaction with others. Like players in a volleyball match, children and caregivers send signals back and forth through eye contact, touch, games and songs.
As a caregiver, be sensitive and responsive to your child’s requests for interaction and "return the serve" by speaking, cuddling or sharing a toy or a laugh. During your next game of peekaboo, remember that you're building healthy brain structures that will serve your child for a lifetime.
View Science in Seconds: Epigenetics
Researchers describe three types of stress that shapes brain architecture.
Positive Stress occurs during events like attending a new daycare or getting an immunization shot. It is not bad for children. In fact, positive stress, if controlled and short lived, helps young children develop healthy brain structures for dealing with future stress.
Tolerable Stress can occur after the death of a loved one, a frightening accident or parental separation or divorce. Support from parents or other concerned caregivers is necessary to prevent these stressful events from becoming toxic. If good adult support is available the child can adapt, and healthy brain structures can recover.
Toxic Stress is frequent and prolonged exposure to negative experiences, such as abuse or neglect, in the absence of adult support. Toxic stress is not good for anyone and is especially harmful for the developing child. Toxic stress can disrupt brain architecture and is linked to problems later in life with learning, development of skills and abilities, behaviour and health.
View Science in Seconds: Children's Mental Health
The Foothills Children’s Wellness Network believes that it takes everyone — parents, families and communities working together — to raise a happy, healthy child who has all the foundations to become a happy, healthy, independent and fulfilled adult.
Whether or not a child lives in a nurturing environment or faces toxic stress, parents need support. Where toxic stress is involved, very often the parents are struggling with challenges like addiction or other mental health problems. By supporting the recovery of parents in these situations, we can improve the future health and wellbeing of the child.
All families need support, which is why the Foothills Children's Wellness Network exists. By supporting the success of children we ensure that each new generation has the human potential to maintain and build the prosperity of Alberta. That’s why there’s every reason for communities to support parents in making early childhood everything that it should be.
Families face a variety of factors that can influence their ability to live happy, healthy lives. Some are obvious like having enough food to eat and a safe place to live, but there are many other factors that can impact our lives.
Having a rewarding job and enough money to live on is important for the health of parents and their children. Stress at work or unemployment can have huge impacts on health and family life. Having enough money to access the opportunities that you need for your family is crucial to your overall and long term health.
Getting a good start in the early years, both before baby is born and after set the stage for a lifetime of learning, well being and health. If you have questions about how your community or home living environment might be affecting your children and yourself please contact the FCWN.
Food on the table and a place to call home are obvious factors in the health of our families. Every family has different expectations and needs when it comes to these two important health factors. If you or someone you know is having difficulty accessing a safe place to live or enough healthy food please reach out to one of these organizations.
Contact your local Family and Community Support Services (FCSS)
In pregnancy good nutrition is essential to healthy childhood development and early brain development. Access to medical care in pregnancy and beyond is essential for every family. Medical care can be accessed through a variety of health care providers – take the time to ask in your community who the local health care providers are.
Contact Health Link at 1-866-408-5465 or
The more we can do to make it easier for children and families to eat healthy and be active, the better it will be for all of us. Families are encouraged to eat together as this promotes healthier eating and better family relationships. Families are encouraged to walk, play and connect with each other in their own communities and to be active any way they can.
Living in a community where you feel you belong, where you can get help if you need it and where you feel safe and respected helps us all to be healthy. It can be difficult for families to feel comfortable asking for help. This is normal. Reach out to your community, ask for help, talk to other parents, get involved.
Contact any of our partners to find out more about the services and resources available in your community or call FCWN 403-995-2702.
Knowing the development milestones and the ages at which they typically occur can be helpful for assessing the health and development of your child.