Building the Brain's Air Traffic Control System
Early Childhood Brain Development
Today we are going to be talking about Early Childhood Cognitive Development. I will be referencing the article, "Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function". You can read the article yourself by following the link below. First things first, cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child's development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of the developed adult brain and cognitive psychology. The brain’s “Air Traffic Control System” is defined as, a set of mental skills that work like the air traffic control tower at a busy airport and is a key part of development in the early years.
The main idea of this article, ["Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function"], is to stress the importance of building the skills we need to multitask and have impulse-control. As adults, we are able to make dinner, help the kids with homework, and be planning tomorrow’s day, all simultaneously. We also possess the capability to remain silent, when the lady in the grocery store is being rude or when we are cut off by another driver, during rush hour. While these skills are essential to us being productive adults, not everyone possesses them. They are not instincts that we inherit at birth. Rather, they are skills, learned, and built, starting in early childhood years.
Why is it necessary that children begin to develop these skills early on? It is necessary for them to be functioning, productive adults and adolescents. Long story short, these skills are essential to prevent children from struggling as they progress into adolescence and adulthood. The skills that I am referring to are known as Executive Function; a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, monitor errors, make decisions with available information, revise plans, and resist the urge to let frustration lead to hasty actions. These functions are crucial building blocks for the early development of both cognitive and social capacities. If children do not begin to develop these skills early on, they will struggle to pay attention in school, interact well with others, and transition into adulthood.
How are Executive Functions developed through early childhood? Scientists are continuously trying to pinpoint the key brain regions on whose development the healthy emergence of these executive functions depends. In doing so, we will be more equipped to better teach children and develop newer executive function milestones with our growing knowledge. For now, we know that a child’s environment of relationships is very important in the development of executive capacities. A home where a child is not put down for not possessing a certain skill set, better motivates a child to develop these qualities through play, and problem-solving. On the other hand, a chaotic environment, where toxic stress occurs, can result in a child’s cognitive impairment. Highly stressful environments lead to poor self-regulatory behaviors and impulse control. Failure to develop these skills during childhood creates a very troublesome road for the individuals as they grow and are expected to have met certain milestones. As individuals progress into prepubescent and teen years, they will be held accountable for actions taken, or failure to act, despite the fact that they had never been able to learn and successfully practice these executive functions. Take note that these capacities are vulnerable to disruption early in the developmental process. Ages three to five provide a window of opportunity for dramatic growth in these skills, as well as a dramatic decline if a healthy environment for growth is not provided. Growth continues through adolescence and early adulthood.