During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to re-learn sounds it has discarded, so young children typically learn new languages easily and without an accent. After about age 10, however, plasticity for this function is greatly diminished; therefore, most people find it difficult to learn to speak a foreign language as well as a native speaker if they only begin to learn it in adolescence or adulthood(Hart, B. & Risley, T. (1995) Pruning takes place throughout life but is far more common in early childhood.
Animal studies have also shown that there are certain windows of time during which the young are especially sensitive to their environment studies in monkeys have revealred that they need consistent social contact during the first six months or they will end up extremely emotionally disturbed. All of this tells us that our brains shape and reshape themselves in ways that depend on what we use them for throughout our lives. The quality of experiences and relationships in the first three years of life has a deep and lasting impact on how the brain develops.
The richer the environment, the greater the number of interconnections that are made. (Schiller, P. (2001) More importantly, early experiences can determine how proficient a child becomes in a particular skill. Researchers found that when mothers frequently spoke to their infants, their children learned almost 300 more words by age 2 than did their peers whose mothers rarely spoke to them (Hart & Risley, 1995). Unlike the age old question of nature vs nurture, Stanley Greenspan, a pediatric psychiatrist at George Washington University, believes, “Nature affects nurture affects nature and back and forth.
Each step influences the next” (Hart, B. , & Risley, T. R. (1995)). In other words, experience can alter the structure of the brain. More specifically, the brain can be “rewired” to alter intelligence and ultimately, behavior. As Newsweek reported on February 19, 1996, “Early-childhood experiences exert a dramatic and precise impact, physically determining how the intricate neural circuits of the brain are wired” (Hart, B. , & Risley, T. R. (1995).
These early experiences are so essential to the child’s brain development that they have been shown to actually alter the brain’s structure. Furthermore, research has also indicated that “experience is needed to “turn on” selected genes, thus shaping the expression of genetic characteristics. (Hart, B. , & Risley, T. R. (1995) A single incident, such as a mother who screams at her child, or a father who arrives home drunk and beats his child, can create pathways with lasting effects.
Much of the literature shows the effects of early experiences in brain structure, yet it is also important to analyze the effects of these experiences in other areas such as social-emotional development of a child. Children who receive sensitive, responsive care from their parents and other caregivers in the first years of life enjoy an important head start toward success in their lives. The secure relationships they develop with the important adults in their lives lay the foundation for emotional development and help protect them from the many stresses they may face as they grow (Johnson, 2008)
Researchers who have examined the life histories of children who have succeeded despite many chal- lenges in their lives consistently found that these people have had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult (usually a parent, relative, or teacher) beginning early in life (Werner & Smith, 1992). If, however, the child’s needs are met only sporadically and pleas for comfort are usually ignored or met with harsh words and rough handling, the infant will focus their energies on ensuring that his/her needs are met.
They will have more and more difficulty interacting with people and objects in their envi ronment, and the brain will shut out the stimulation it needs to develop healthy cognitive and social skills (Lieberman & Zeanah, 1995). Poverty is another huge factor which can impact brain development. Poverty is usually associated with low levels of stimulation which can have detrimental effects. Infants and children who are rarely spoken to, who are exposed to few toys, and who have little opportunity to explore and experiment with their environment may fail to fully develop the neural connections and pathways that facilitate later learning.
Despite their normal genetic endowment, these children are at a significant intellectual disadvantage and are likely to require costly special education or other remedial services when they enter school ( Hawley 2000) According to Barbara Wolfe, professor of economics, population health sciences and public affairs, By age 4, children in families living with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line have less gray matter (brain tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions) than kids growing up in families with higher incomes (Barncard 2003).
Studies have also shown that Compared with children from “near-poor” families, with incomes 150% to 200% higher than the federal poverty level, the poorest children showed significant maturational lags in brain regions, including the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the hippocampus all areas involved in critical thinking skills, such as reading comprehension, language usage, and associative learning (Barncard, 2013). We know from nonhuman animal studies that being left in cages without toys and exercise, without stimulation and opportunities to explore, can cause a decrease in the generation of neurons and synapses in the brain,” (Barncard 2013) A watershed study on the topic found that by age 3, the observed cumulative vocabulary for children in professional families was 1,116 words; for working class families it was about 740, and for welfare families 525.
Additionally, it reported that a child’s brain suffers when deprived of a stimulating environment, and is 20 to 30 % smaller than brains of normal children (Begley 1997, p. 1), and Begley also cites the 20 to 30 % statistics (Begley 1997, p. 32). The brains of deprived children also have “fewer synapses” (Begley, 1997, p. 32) Thereofe although the hardware is in place and ready to wire it requires ‘earthly’ experiences and human interactions for the cells to forge the neurological net- works that will become the foundation for thinking and reasoning, language, physical movement, and social and emotional behaviors. Despite many of these daunting results, this is not the end for these children. Many of these problems can be mediated through positive parental and adult relationships.
Past research has shown that warm, supportive parenting is associated with increased self-efficacy, optimism, and sense of worth in children (Bandura, Maccoby, Maccoby & Martin, 1992). Another notable article, studied the lasting health effects of good parenting, the latest research returned to rural Georgia eight years after researchers completed their first clinical trial of a seven-week program called the Strong African American Families Project. Of the 667 African American mothers and their children who participated in that trial, researchers returned to 272 of the child subjects, who were by now 19 to 20 years old.
They collected blood samples ere looking for levels of six immune system proteins that set the stage for chronic, low-grade inflammation in a body, which in turn contributes to such conditions as obesity, insulin resistance, coronary heart disease, depression and drug abuse. Eight years after their mothers had participated in the trial, the young adults whose mothers had received the parent training had levels of inflammatory markers that were significantly lower than those of mothers who got no such training.
The difference was most dramatic in the young adults whose families were most disadvantaged. And the gap was most striking when the parenting of the participating mother had been judged highly improved by the training. All of this suggests not only that a positive parenting program makes parents better at listening and responding to a child: as that child grows into adulthood, his mental and physical health alike may be improved by having had a better parent (Healy, 2014)