Most children by age 3 are able to label the various parts of the human body and describe their functions. Feet are used for walking, eyes are for seeing, mouths are for eating and talking, and so on. However, the concept of the brain and it’s utility is sometimes glossed over by parents and teachers because, frankly, it can be difficult to explain. But your child is never too young to be aware of the brain and the power it has.
Studies show that when a child is aware of the function and power of their brain, they build individuality and foster greater control over thoughts, feelings, and actions. Teaching children about the brain at an early age lays the groundwork for strong self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It empowers them to feel a sense of control over what they learn and how they learn.
Children who understand their brain learn to accept challenges and feel that it is in their power to overcome them.
As children get older, having an understanding of the brain will help them become self-advocates in and out of school. For example, their brain may learn better with visuals, or need a quiet environment to understand a lecture. If they know this about themselves, they can advocate for themselves. This will not only help children become successful in school, but it will teach them to take control of their own learning, a skill that is needed throughout life.
Teach your child that…
- Every person has a unique brain which gives them their own special skills and talents.
- The brain makes certain activities very easy for some and while other activities are more challenging. Everyone’s brain works and learns differently – and that’s okay. For example, you can teach them that while their brain may struggle with math or reading it excels in art or music.
- Their brain is always changing and is capable getting stronger, just like the muscles in their body. Their changing brain can always learn new skills and overcome new challenges.
For all children, particularly children with language or learning disabilities, learning about the brain will help them develop empathy and perspective taking skills. If a child learns that each person’s brain has different thoughts and feelings, they can understand their peers’ perspectives more easily. If they know that each brain is unique and has a varied set of strengths and weaknesses, it will be easier for them understand that their peers may have their own talents and limitations.
Children with strong social awareness, or awareness of the perspectives of others, are more successful socially and academically. Perspective taking skills are critical for success in social activities, such as conversations, pretend play, and conflict resolution.
Academic skills, such as group work, reading comprehension, persuasive writing, etc. also require strong perspective taking skills.
It’s important to teach children from a young age that sometimes everyone’s brain gets overwhelmed with strong feelings, whether they are feeling tired, distracted, angry, excited, etc. Learning how the brain works helps children regulate their bodies and their brains when they are having strong or uncomfortable feelings.
Lessons on the brain also help children develop a vocabulary to verbalize what they are feeling and what they need in an effective way. Instead of crying, whining, or shutting down, children who understand the brain can express that they doesn’t understand the lesson, are distracted by their peer, or simply need a 5 minute break.
How can I teach my child about the brain?
While this may seem like a topic that is more suited for older students, it’s important to start teaching this concept and using ‘brain vocabulary’ when children are young.
Children learn words when they hear adults using them, so around 3 or 4, you can start to reference the brain in your conversations.
You don’t need to be an expert on neurology to help your child develop a basic awareness of their unique and powerful brain. You can simply reference the brain in your conversations with your child, particularly when discussing your mental states.
Begin by using phrases such as, “my brain is thinking…” or “your brain is thinking…” when chatting about how each of you is feeling. Use this language in reference to story characters when you are reading a book or watching a show together, or if they notice someone having a strong feeling.
Ask them what they think that person’s brain is thinking about or feeling. By using this vocabulary, you are calling attention to the very skill that you want them to develop: an understanding that all people have brains, and everyone’s brain creates unique thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc.
Lizzie Gavin a speech-language therapist and the founder of LG Speech Therapy, a private speech therapy practice in New York City. She specializes in treating language, learning, and social communication disorders. You can contact Lizzie through her website, LGSpeechTherapy.com or her email address: [email protected].