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Nurturing Your Child's Brain Development: 5 Key Tips

I was blown away by the information presented by Dr. Claudia Anrig and Dr. Lawrence Palevsky. Dr. Claudia is a pediatric and family wellness Gonstead chiropractor who literally wrote the book (3 editions to be exact) on pediatric and pregnant care and is a dear mentor of mine. Dr. Palevsky is an outspoken holistic pediatrician practicing in New York featured on many health talk shows and podcasts.

There was so much valuable information shared, but what I was blown away by, was about principles of disease, health, and brain development that Dr. Palevsky presented. It's definitely too much to go over at once, but I wanted to share what he taught on brain development in children.

First, a little on neural development. For simplicity sake, we will simplify with the brain is broken in to 3 major sections, the forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. The brain develops from the hindbrain forward. The hindbrain is dominant at birth and is the most rapidly developing section of the brain. The hindbrain is our "reptillian" brain and is all about survival. It is where our instinct, involuntary movements, fight or flight response, immediate gratification, fear anxiety, anger are all housed. It is where our impulsive, emergency/urgency lives, and it is subconscious, as all the processes happen without us having to actively think about it. Basically, it's the part of our brain that says "If I don't have what I need, I'm going to die!" So it makes sense that it is dominant in infancy, because when we are first born, we really do need all the things we need in order to live!

The midbrain is where memory of experience is and is preverbal. It is where emotions, sensory, and physical development occurs. This is where involuntary movements become voluntary, and where babies are highly observant and "soak everything in." This is also where they learn there is a world "other than mother" and learn separation and safety. Since it is preverbal, you will often see babies and toddlers learning through modeling during development of midbrain.

The forebrain is more dominant when we are older. It starts to develop in children around 7 years old, but the forebrain doesn't fully develop until 28-30 years old in men and 25-28 years old in women approximately. It is where our focus, attention, complex thought, comprehension, rationalization, language, voluntary movement live. Forebrain activity is hindered by hindbrain dominance.

Hindbrain -> Midbrain -> Forebrain
Forebrain activity is hindered by Hindbrain dominance

Knowing this, Dr. Palevsky explains that for neurocompromised children are in hindbrain dominance. Hindbrain dominance can have children exhibit things like difficulty focusing, decreased attention span, increase in involuntary repetitive movements, reduced language, etc due to the reduction of forebrain activity. And that sounds a lot like ADHD or ADD spectrum. Hindbrain dominance is a sign of stress. When we have environmental, physical, and mental stresses, it taps into our hindbrain. Too much stress accumulated during development can put our children into hindbrain dominance.

The key to restore normal forebrain activity is to quiet the hindbrain. There are several ways to address stress. He talks about assessing sleep patterns, chiropractic, food, and parenting. It goes without saying that chiropractic adjustments have a profound affect on the plasticity and neural flexibility that benefits the child. The purpose of this is to give you tools to use at home.

Dr. Palevsky says "The way out of the hindbrain is curiosity." Here are the top 5 biggest takeaways of his recommendations when it comes to home and household.

  1. Reduce food stressors. 70-80% of hindbrain dominance is due to inflammatory, allergen food stressors. This includes dairy, grains, soy, sugars, starches, and processed foods. Basically, if it comes in a box, it's a no-no. We want food full of life and nutrient rich. *Cooked and not raw is best for digestion and processing, because childrens' digestive systems are not fully developed yet.*

  2. Don't swaddle. What? Yeah, I thought that too. He never recommends swaddling because it restricts baby's natural involuntary movement patterns. Involuntary becomes voluntary, so the more involuntary movement they experience, the better they can make that transition and thus develop from hind to mid to forebrain. Additionally, if their movements are restricted, their muscle tone is reduced and compromises their neurology development. In chiropractic we are proponents of spinal tone and know it to be essential for proper neural integrity.

  3. Avoid video games.  Video games dominate in the hindbrain- tapping into the immediate gratification centers and impluses. Even after the game is stopped and turned off, the brain keeps going. This takes away hind to midbrain development.

  4. Don't speak in commands to your child. Dr. Palevsky says that when we say "do this" or "don't do that," we are hindering their midbrain development. He notes that firstly, hind and midbrain are pre-verbal, so dictating commands is talking to their forebrains, which again aren't developed yet under 7 years of age. He also notes that development of midbrain is through safe exploration, and commands limit those experiences.

  5. Allow your child to experience their emotions to a situation fully. Even if that experience leads to a full on meltdown, you need to let the child fully express it. He says all too often, he notices that parents try to cut off an emotional experience that their child is experiencing. If good, they will want to dictate "isn't that great? wow. don't you love that?" (again talking to undeveloped forebrain). If bad, they will again command "don't cry" or distract with a toy, food or object. The reason these are not ideal is because in cutting off the experience, they hinder midbrain development.


"The way out of the hindbrain is curiosity."


For me as a parent, the latter 2 were hard to grasp. Especially when he mentioned another key point is that it's the child's job is to learn, experience, develop and grow and our job is to make it safe for them. So how do we make a safe environment without telling a child what to do/not do? The strategy he shares is to acknowledge them, set boundary according to you, and support them in their reaction/emotion. For example, instead of saying "don't play near the outlet" you can instead say "I'm not going to let you play over there... I need you to play here instead." If they cry or are upset acknowledge their experience with "I know, it's hard, and I know you don't want to, but I can't let you over there..." and support with "I'll be here with you." Then be silent, let them fully experience their emotions, and at a point they will recover, and begin to play and interact with you where you want.

What helps me think about this is when Dr. Palevsky reminded us that the hindbrain is the "if I don't get this I will die" part of the brain, and these experiences help the child develop to the midbrain where they learn "I didn't get what I want, and I didn't die." Eventually it will be able to help them decipher between a need and a want and understand "If I don't get what I want it's not the end of the world" in their forebrain development.

These lessons for children can also help in adolescent and adulthood too, because there are times where we may be experiencing hindbrain dominance to a lesser degree, and we can use these tips to help reduce stress in ourselves, and to recognize signs in loved ones and better approach them as well.

I am definitely in need of a tweaking of my parenting to my children after learning these concepts, and am working on implementation with our kids with my husband. It does take a village, so it's hard to get the whole family on board (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc), but my forebrain tells me if it's for my kids, I'll do the best I can! I hope this helps and inspires you too!

* NOTE- Remember that regular adjustments are so important! They help to regulate the body's sense of normalcy. Dr. Palevsky gets adjusted twice a month for ongoing wellness maintenance and prevention, and so should you!

Dr. Claudia assessing and adjusting Dr. Palevsky. Fun Fact- after he got adjusted, he started to sing because he felt so great!

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