Seven Essential Daily Activities in a ‘Healthy Mind Platter’ to Balance Your Child’s Brain
New research is telling us that while we sleep, our brains are having an internal shower. It’s fascinating to think that while we are deep in slumber for the optimal recommended time for our age (for adults the magic numbers are seven or eight hours per night), the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in our brain increases dramatically to wash away harmful waste proteins that have built up between our brain cells during waking hours.
Without this cleanse, researchers are finding that our risk of brain diseases, such as Alzheimers, may increase, let alone issues of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and good old brain fog. This explains why sleep is ESSENTIAL to our health, and why a nourishing night’s sleep is the ultimate elixir.
Now, take our children. Their little brains are processing serious learnings from their day. From birth to age five years, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life. In the early childhood years, at least one million new neural connections (synapses) are made every second, more than at any other time in life.
In our previous blog, we highlighted the advice by Dr Daniel Siegel that he shares in the book he co-authors with Dr Tina Payne Bryson, The Yes Brain Child. If you’ve read this best-seller you will know it’s a beautiful guide that explains that if we want our children to have mental strength and feel receptive to saying yes to more things - “Yes” to new opportunities, friendships, challenges, hobbies, dreams, ideas and foods - then we need to help them to achieve this Yes approach.
Siegel’s message is that when a child's brain feels balanced, he or she is more likely to live with a Yes approach of flexibility and imagination, rather than when they are out of balance and quickly respond from a No mindset, ruled by fight or flight.
Siegel says the first key to balancing our children’s brains is to maximise their sleep, which helps achieve better emotional balance and behavioural regulation. Our previous blog steps through this first approach.
The second approach, says Siegel, is that children need a ‘Healthy Mind Platter’, which in his experience involves seven daily essential mental activities to optimise brain matter and create wellbeing.
These seven mental activities are mentioned on page 65-66 of the book and below. As you read them, it’s worth considering how they affect us as adults to help imagine how children benefit from experiencing the full platter of these “servings” each day and how it builds and integrates their brain.
Focus Time: When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Play Time: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
Connecting Time: When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connections to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.
Physical Time: When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
Time-In: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
Down Time: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
Sleep Time: When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
As Siegel says, “By giving a child opportunities every day in each of these servings, you promote integration in her life and enable her brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental activities strengthen her brain’s internal connections and her networks with other people and the world around her. Too much or too little of any of these endeavours over time can be problematic."
Siegel explains that, for example, a child who may prefer to read and draw is achieving plenty of down time and focus time to nourish themselves through reflection and rest, however they may be missing out on play time and physical time which involves exercise and the resulting endorphins, connecting with other children, as well as having spontaneous, joyful experiences.
Or perhaps you have a very active child who is always on the go. They love sport, are busy each week day at school, and crave to be amongst friends and family, which ticks all the boxes for creativity, connection and moving their bodies, however, are they getting enough down-time and rest time, and giving their bodies and minds the chance to rest, recharge, reflect and focus?
The aim is not to try to achieve a perfect schedule but rather to teach our children how to find balance in their daily lives so that they are primed for the Yes Brain approach to life. However, we know we can only guide as role models - so, dear mama, how is your personal healthy mind platter looking today?