Hippocampus? Amygdala? The hippocampus and amygdala are two very important parts of the brain. They work closely together to help regulate emotions and memory. As parents of young children, supporting them in learning how to regulate their emotions (a.k.a. meltdowns, tantrums, being over excited, etc) is critical during the first five years. According to Dr. Joan Luby, a researcher and psychiatrist at the University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the type of nurturing affection a baby received from a caregiver can have profound positive outcomes on the functionality of the hippocampus and amygdala. Children with nurturing caregivers have higher volume levels of both the amygdala and hippocampus. In fact the volume level of the hippocampus showed at least to be 10% larger than children with “not-so-nurturing” caregivers.
What does this all translate to? Well, children with larger volumes of these parts of the brain will have increased functionality and control of their emotional responses and sharper memory skills. Basically, a healthy and nurtured amygdala and hippocampus lend themselves to your child having greater control over their feelings. Plus, this increased ability to regulate their feelings will hopefully lead to less meltdowns and tantrums. Less tantrums. . . sign me up for that!
The key here is to parent young children with positive guidance and nurturing interactions. There are many ways, which most I’m sure parents are already doing, to continue to support healthy development of your child’s amygdala and hippocampus. A few include:
- cuddling and hugging, physical touch
- schedule special quality time together doing an activity
- being silly together, laughing
- talking about emotions and feelings
- making eye contact, active listening
- modeling appropriate responses to emotions
- attending positive guidance parenting classes
Here is my challenge to you. The next time your children struggle with frustration or overwhelming emotions, flip the lens in which you perceive them. Instead of seeing them as acting ornery, stubborn, or combative, see the situation as their amygdala or hippocampus needing a hug. I know, that sounds kind of silly. However, changing your perception takes the blame away from the behavior and it leads you straight to the source that needs your immediate attention. Their amygdala and hippocampus are needing a nurturing hug.