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“Feeding” your child’s brain—helping our children recover from trauma . . .

Updated: Mar 18

There is an overwhelming amount of well-documented research that tells us that a child’s brain development can be significantly impacted by pre-birth early childhood trauma.  Children coming out of backgrounds where there was inadequate pre-and post-natal nutrition, chaotic and abusive living environments, and frequent transience

often experience delayed brain development.  The results?—Cognitive/intellectual delays, poor impulse control, sleep pattern impairment, sensory integration problems, and poor critical thinking skills just to name a few.  These are children whose’ delicately developing brains are malnourished and possibly even starving.

Babies are born with over 100 billion brain cells—that’s a lot!  Brain development experts and researchers have discovered that the first three years of life are the most critical for healthy brain development.  Think for a minute of what your adopted or foster child may have experienced in those first three years if he or she was not in a safe environment—the negative impacts can be profound.  Notice in the attached color diagram of the brain, the small, round purple-colored section called the “amygdala.”  This is the section of the brain, simply put, that is responsible for the perception of emotions like anger, fear and sadness, as well as the controlling of aggression.  It also helps a person to sense danger and threat.  The amygdala is part of what is called the “downstairs brain”, or the part of the brain (beginning with the brain stem) that develops first in a pre-born infant.  Many children from chaotic backgrounds, however, do not have an adequate development of their “upstairs brain”, particularly the cerebral/prefrontal cortex (the large pink/orange section of the brain diagram-- this section of the brain enables a person to have critical thinking skills and impulse/emotional balance).  Thus, the child’s internal control system is governed largely by their amygdala, and that is not good.

What is good?  Just this—in the right environment, our kids’ brains can begin to heal and mature!  Research has also borne out that when traumatized children are in a consistent nurturing, loving and structured living environment, their brains begin to make new and healthy synaptic (brain cell) connections that eventually help them improve their behavior, and react to challenging situations with less fear and aggression.  This process of brain-healing is known by the fancy term neuroplasticity.  What can parents to do “feed” their child’s brain in a healthy way?  The solutions are not complicated, but do require stick-to-itiveness on part of the parents.  Here are some helpful suggestions:

  • As much as possible, stick to a highly-structured daily schedule  (waking up, meals, going to bed, bath time, etc.)

  • Healthy snacks every 2 hrs. (helps regulate blood sugar, which affects mood)

  • Proper hydration—kids often resist drinking water, but be persistent in encouraging them to do so—this is especially important (along with a healthy snack) after they’ve had a behavioral meltdown.

  • Plenty of non-competitive play and exercise outside, especially in the sunshine--(sunlight provides Vitamin D, a natural mood enhancer)

  • Adequate sleep—weighted blankets, nightlights, gentle back massage, story time, singing and sound machines can help

  • Offer frequent and consistent praise to your child, even in the small things he/she accomplishes.

  • Be an active listener to your child—- avoid multitasking when your child is talking to you.

  • Do things together as a family—outings, picnics, petting zoos, hiking, etc..  Try to avoid events where there are large crowds around you.


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