Lend Me Your Frontal Lobe
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
A child of 8 is better able to control their emotions than a 4-year-old, and a 16-year-old is more capable of making better decisions than one of 12. That’s because the frontal lobe, which is responsible for our executive skills, is the last portion of the brain to develop – often not fully developed until the mid-'20s. In a time-lapse video, the NY Times created an informative video that illustrates this visually.
The frontal lobe is responsible for managing our goal-directed behaviors or executive skills. As children grow, they have lots of opportunities to maximize the development of this portion of the brain. Parents, teachers, and anyone who interacts with a child can move this growth along by acting as good role models, patient caregivers, and nurturing adults.
Children with parents who can show how to monitor their stress, control their impulses, and manage their routines give that child many advantages or protective factors. A good model of self-control recognizes their feelings of frustrations, verbalizes a word to describe the emotion, thinks in a helpful manner out loud, then practices calming strategies.
With a patient adult, children can make mistakes and learn from them. If the child fails to master a skill, the helpful or attentive adult takes the time to show them how, in different ways, over time, repeatedly, and with plenty of encouragement. A shy, reticent boy can learn to explore the world with a supportive parent. Showing, not just telling, helps that child try new things and develop self-confidence.
Another important process is for a parent to recognize that all children have unique strengths and weaknesses. Some kids are better at keeping things neat, while others seem to lose track of their belongings in a habitual manner. The child who is forgetful needs lots of patience, modeling, and coaching to strengthen their attention and memory.
The environment can be altered to create opportunities for success. If organization is hard, selecting a designated location that can be easily accessed, while repeatedly practicing the habit of staying organized can build the neuronal connections to generalize change. By creating predictable routines that shape the child’s development, the child can demonstrate their potential. Consistency of routines also helps develop the connections in the brain.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, neural pathways in the brain that are underutilized are often pruned or lost. The good news is that the brain still matures well into adulthood, giving parents plenty of time to provide the support for development. With that knowledge, it’s so important that parents provide experiences that create the necessary connections in the brain for optimal executive skills development.