It’s the brain’s fault!

It’s the brain’s fault!
The latest findings in brain development also explain the behaviour of 2-year-olds.

The latest findings in brain development also explain the behaviour of 2-year-olds.

The brain of a 2-year-old doesn’t work the same way as yours. Why? Because it’s still developing. First, a young child’s brain contains little white matter (myelin). “This white matter facilitates information processing,” explains neuropsychologist Miriam Beauchamp, Director of the Université de Montréal’s ABCs Developmental Neuropsychology Laboratory. “Since a child has less, messages he receives aren’t processed as efficiently.”

Furthermore, 2-year-olds have billions of neurons, but the connections between them haven’t all yet been made. In other words, he is missing a few connections that allow the different parts of the brain to communicate effectively! A child’s frontal lobes are still not completely developed either. These lobes are especially important since they are responsible for functions such as reasoning, planning, problem solving, understanding abstract notions and controlling impulses. Lastly, the limbic system, which controls emotions, is still not fully developed in 2-year-olds.

We just misunderstand!

Much of the behaviour seen in 2-year-olds, then, can be explained by the fact that their brains still haven’t reached their full potential. In public places, for example, children are exposed to many stimuli: objects, colours, sounds, movements, etc. “It’s just too much for a developing brain,” says French psychologist and psychotherapist Isabelle Filliozat. “When a child can’t play, run or keep his brain busy with something, the stage is set for a potential tantrum. We think that it’s a temper tantrum when instead it’s more a way of releasing a sensory overload.”

The terrible-two stage is not a crisis, but rather a normal stage of development.

Another example: when you tell a 2-year-old that it’s time to go to daycare, you expect him to stop playing and get dressed. Except that at this age, a child still can’t make the link between ending play and getting ready for daycare. The key is to give your child clear and simple instructions. For example: “Put your game away and put on your coat. We’re going to daycare.”

At 2 years old, children also have a hard time restraining themselves. “Even if they know they aren’t supposed to do something, they aren’t always able to control themselves,” explains France Capuano, professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Department of Education and Specialized Training. “You think that your child is provoking you or testing your limits when it’s just that his ability to resist temptation isn’t yet fully developed.”

The long and the short of it is that, at 2, your child still has a hard time controlling his actions, emotions and thoughts. But his brain is working very hard to get better at it.

Limited language, frustrated child!
A 2-year-old’s language skills are still developing, too, and he may get angry when he has a hard time expressing something. This often results in hitting, pushing, having a temper tantrum or throwing things. You can help your child find the words to express what he’s feeling. For example, you could say: “You’re mad because your sister took your toy. You can say it. Say: I’m mad!” As his language skills improve, his tears, tantrums and aggressive behaviour should diminish. Karine, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, found this to be true. “Ever since Charles-Philippe started talking more, he has fewer tantrums. For example, when he needs help, he says: “Help, mommy.” When he wants attention, he says: “Coming, mommy?” And if he wants to keep playing, he says: “Play more.” It’s so much easier!”