Many things help your child’s brain development - and they also help us adults keep our brains healthy throughout life. Environmental factors (such as natural poisons or toxins) and lifestyle both have an impact but there are steps we can take to keep a healthy brain and mind.
This guide has useful tips for parents which will help give your child the best start in life.
The brain needs the right nutrients to ensure that it develops and functions properly. Our bodies need a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins and some fats and sugars. These can be gained from a variety of foods like meat, fish, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
The brain needs energy – which means carbohydrates. Although junk foods can provide a quick sugar fix, or ‘sugar high’, they do not feed the brain properly and can cause inconsistent blood sugar levels – resulting in a ‘crash’ in energy. Slow releasing carbohydrates, such as porridge and wholemeal bread, are most effective in burning energy gradually. Proteins are good for the brain, as well as iron (red meats, spinach) and also potassium, which can be found in bananas, mushrooms, beans and avocados.
The Mind website explains the importance of good diet for mood, and there are many articles and research studies stressing the importance of drinking water. Since the brain (and our bodies) are mostly made of water, we need to consume at least 2 pints per day, or we risk the brain becoming dehydrated. A glass of water can make the brain work 14% faster.
Exercise is good for the brain - it releases endorphins that make us feel good! This helps to fight off mental health problems' such as depression, and can help us to feel happy and optimistic. Encourage your child to go outside, run, play, have fun and feel the benefits!
Health implications such as cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking can all compromise blood flow to the brain, so from a young age, educate your child on how to follow a healthy lifestyle.
As well as keeping us fit and happy, exercise also enhances sleep, which is fundamental for a healthy brain...
Sleep is vital for the brain because it gives us the opportunity to regenerate. Sleep helps to enhance the brain’s development and memory. A decent sleep can also improve the way in which we think.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, we spend around 40% of our childhood sleeping so it is of vital importance. A lack of sleep can cause problems with behaviour – children can become irritable and reluctant to concentrate at school.
Toddlers need 11-14 hours a night, 3-5 year olds between 11 and 13 hours, 6-13 year olds need around 9-11 hours and for all other ages around 8 hours are recommended. NHS statistics show that only 50% of 11-17 year olds have the recommended amount of sleep. This can be detrimental to both their development and their education.
It’s vital that parents realise the importance of early brain development. Save The Children suggests that around 130,000 youngsters are unfortunately not at the level they should be before they start primary school.
Some parents fail to accept how important the early years are for brain development and 61% of parents questioned are under the false impression that learning at school is most significant.
Give your children lots of opportunities to be creative and let their imaginations run wild – craft activities, singing, dancing, playing fancy dress and making up stories. The home is a great place for younger children to start learning. Give them tasks to focus on to help keep their brains active. Spend time reading with them and give them chance to expand their vocabulary – reading is one of the most important factors but it's often overlooked. Seldom is enough time is spent on it.
Maths is equally as important. A useful tip is to introduce children from an early age to counting money, measuring ingredients or identifying items. Parents need to help keep children’s brains mentally stimulated and constantly challenged.
Memory games are a brilliant idea. Test your children at memorising items, create a challenging treasure hunt or make a ‘mystery box’ where they have the chance to work the touch sense. Other useful games for mental stimulation can be puzzles, card games, jigsaws, ‘Simon Says!’ or even a family game of scrabble!
Due to hormones, many changes occur in teenage brains. Try and encourage your teenage child to focus on their education, and help them recognise the importance of sleep. Sports and hobbies can be a good release for them, so encourage these as much as possible. Due to the popularity and accessibility of technology, everything we need is available at the touch of a button and we can obtain information instantly. Don’t let your teenager spend hours sat in front of a TV, computer or mobile phone screen, as this can severely compromise their social and communication skills. ‘The Guardian’ article suggests introducing regular periods of ‘family time’. There are also many useful ‘Brain Training’ apps available for download on smartphones and Ipads.
To maintain a healthy state of mind we need to always push ourselves to the limit and set challenges. Expanding our skills gives us focus and forces our brains to concentrate on something previously unknown. Learning a new sport, language, skill, or how to play an instrument can teach discipline and give our brain the opportunity to be pushed to the limit. We feel good when we have set our minds to something and succeeded.
In order to keep brains healthy we need to find the correct balance. Ensure that children follow a nutritious and varied diet plan, recognise the importance of sleep and exercise and fill their lives with challenges and brain stimulating activities.